Sunday, July 5, 2015

A Meditation on God, the Home Van and Everything....

I have not yet grieved the end of the Home Van driveouts - all the amazing experiences, all the people I came to know and love - Jerry, Eva, Private Bill, "Ernest T. Bass," all the volunteers and the donators.  The times we had.  It just ended, like a pebble disappearing into a lake.  I fell apart from long postponed exhaustion and stress.  Took up life on the couch watching reruns.  I don't know much about grieving.  When I was young, people just disappeared.  People believed, back then, in the 40s and 50s, that negative events should not be discussed around children.  It was believed that children would just forget about them and go on chasing butterflies.  If a parent died, his or her children did not attend the funeral.  A friend of the family would take them to a movie.  At some point they would be told, "Mommy went to live with Jesus."  It was like being a character in a TV show, one dimensional.  "Shots rang out, people fell dead," and then you walked off and ate a doughnut.  Nothing had happened, allegedly.  Nothing real.  Nothing was real.  I didn't know how to grieve.  But I can now feel a deep sadness within me.  The Home Van is gone and it took what was left of my middle-age with it.  I am now a tired old woman.  How do I do being an old woman?  Life is like a soap bubble.  And yet it all happened.  Mystics and even many scientists believe that linear time is an illusion.  So maybe it's still happening.

Goodbye Home Van.  Goodby Tent City.  Goodbye old friends.  I remember old Pete's hat - a leather cowboy hat decorated with feathers, spanish moss, and a tiny stuffed teddy bear.  I remember Eva's hallucinations of small children running through the woods.  If they were.  Perhaps, in times of extremity, parallel universes overlap.  Then we give it a label, "alcoholic psychosis"  Or, a glimpse into another world.  Or a little flash of Godness - they happen here and there - many to be wiped out by the shallow beliefs of our little neuron-fueled logic radios, many to be treasured forever in our heart caves.

In a parallel universe, Katey is bringing a cup of hot chocolate to an old man sleeping behind a dumpster on a very cold night.  It can't be much.  He will be out there all night and we will go home.  Still, maybe, just as there are flashes of Godness, in a dark and crazy world, we were flashes of reflections of Godness - and the chocolate is good.  Freeman makes it with double chocolate and real milk and sometimes melts chocolate bars into the brew.  The chocolate is good, and the moments of Godness - the reflections of these - maybe in unending mirrors - maybe that is what's Real, and what our soap bubble world is part of.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

RAIN

Rainy summer afternoons in the land of flowers,
where pink flamingos prance across the grass,
cats lurk beneath the stilted houses of our peaceful street.

Thank you Creator for the mercy of rain,
washing clean a hundred shades of green
no artist could create,
cooling down the desperate, sweaty bodies of the poor.

In the woods homeless people naked stand,
scrubbing head-to-toe with bars of soap.
"Thank you Jesus!  Thank you Jesus for the rain."

T-shirts washed and hung from trees
that will not fall on them today.


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Meditation on turning 70 while having chronic fatigue syndrome and anxiety attacks

If I could write a poem it
would be about the tattered fragments of myself
I so desperately hold together,
fearing the nakedness of death or madness.

I feel through me a pole of strength,
the kind firemen slide down,
fastened to the earth and then
attenuated toward an unknown sky.

I don't know how to fly.
Afraid of heights and 70 stories high.

One step at a time in this new childhood
of frail,
so much to remember,
one cup of cottage cheese,
one walk outside where cats and trees and sky
are huge, blinding, sudden,
New.
One vitamin,
one now.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

MY CAREER AS A PLAGIARIST

I will begin this account with a disclaimer.  I would now find this way of making a living to be unethical, but at the time I was 19 and my ethics were considerably more flexible than they are now.

At 19 I was, unbeknownst to myself and to the medical world in general, experiencing fairly severe PTSD.   The most troubling symptom was agoraphobia - the fear of open spaces.  I could not walk across a street or a parking lot.  I lived in a one room apartment in a little two-story hovel in downtown Norman, Oklahoma.  I could walk downstairs, turn the corner, and get to Grady's Grocery, universally known as Grungie's Grocery.  It was not a fancy establishment but they had food.  If I wanted to go across the street to the laundromat, I had to be drunk.  Only alcohol enabled me to cross an open space (of the medications available to me at the time).  I was too embarassed to seek medical help anyhow.  I'd never heard of agoraphobia and couldn't see myself going to some doctor and saying, "I'm afraid of crossing streets."

How was I supporting myself?  I could get to the laundromat and any other necessary places by being quietly drunk, but that just isn't an effective strategy for holding down, a job, or even getting past the interview.  So I knocked back half a bottle of Boone's Farm (icky-sweet wine, very cheap) and went to the campus newspaper and took out an ad in the paper saying that I could give people major assistance in writing, editing and typing term papers.  As I had hoped, this lead to a steady procession of rich frat boys who wanted me to write term papers for them and were willing to pay top dollar.  They would bring me the books needed to write the paper and I took it from there.

It was an interesting challenge, because my customers also gave me a grade-range to aim for.  Someone who'd never gotten better than a C- could not suddenly show up with A+ paper about Beowulf.  There's  a real trick to honing in on a C, but, as I've always said, "Necessity is the mother of desperation" and I learned to do it.

I still remember, fondly, one particular paper I wrote, for a guy who was dumber than a doorknob.   He needed, the next day, a two-page paper on the symbolic and metaphorical meanings of the black stallion in a particular novel, I forget which one, but it might have been something by D. H. Lawrence.  This genius forgot to bring me the book!  He didn't even know how to go about getting this book and looked blank when I mentioned the concepts of bookstores and libraries.   I asked him if he could remember anything the professor said about this book in class and he scratched up a few factoids.  So I told him I would do the paper but if it turned out to have nothing to do with the book and to pull in an F, it was on him, not me.

After some contemplation, I wrote a paper about the black stallion as a symbol of raging sexuality in a society centered around the concepts of decorum and self-control and was a metaphor for the struggle of young lovers in such a world.   I talked about black as a color associated with darkness (duh), sin and evil.   I made mention of the stallion, as sexual metaphor, being part of a tradition that went back to the ancient Greeks, who expressed man's animal nature in beings like Pan who were half-man and half-goat. I came up with two pages of this bullshit and charged the guy $20 (a lot of money for me back then).  

A few days later he called me and said the paper got a B-. 



Saturday, May 2, 2015

Fond Memories from Planet Child

When I was around nine my grandmother sent me down to the local grocery store to get a large, empty cardboard box for some project she was working on. The woman behind the counter went into the back and came out with a great big box with the word KOTEX stamped on all three sides in bright red ink and 84 point type.  I thought I was going to die of embarrassment.  I came up with the bright idea that if I put the box over my head, nobody would know it was me.  That meant, of course, that I couldn't see anything, but my house was a few blocks away along a route I was thoroughly familiar with.  I thought that by shuffling my feet, so as to know of unexpected obstacles on the pavement, listening for the sound of other pedestrians and stepping to one side, and keeping both my arms stretched out full length in order to be aware of any other obstacles, I could make it home anonymously.  I must not have been the sharpest blade in the drawer, to feel that this was an effective strategy, but it made sense to me at the time.  I did make it home under the box.  Everybody who didn't actually get to see Kathy Emond,  the little fat kid with the orthopaedic shoes, walking down the street under a Kotex box, got to hear about it.  I provided just about everybody in town with their laugh for the day.  I didn't run into anything either, but was in some danger of being run down by drivers laughing so hard they lost control of their cars.  Fortunately, traffic in North Bennington was a car about every ten or 15 minutes, so I was good there also, and eventually lived it down.

Then there was my brief membership in the The Bad Girls Club.  My best friend Carole and I had read Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.  We realized that we were tired of being good girls and decided to form the Bad Girls Club.  We drew up a document stating that each member of the club (all two of us) had to tell one lie every day, steal one thing every day, and curse on a daily basis.  The lying part was hard.  We ruled out lies that would get other people into trouble, like, "I saw Dickie Shaw smoking a cigarette behind his father's garage."  We weren't that bad.  We also had to rule out lies that could result in being caught and experiencing the inevitable retribution.  We were left with things like, "I saw my first robin out in the field this morning."  Still, there was a tiny, wicked thrill.  Stealing wasn't easy either.  All I can remember of that is my one big heist.  I stole a homemade rhubarb pie from my grandmother's kitchen and took it to my treehouse and ate the whole thing.  Shortly thereafter, I broke out into giant red hives all over my little thieving carcass.  My grandmother, who could put two and two together very easily in this case, was ecstatic.  She stripped me naked and made me lean over the kitchen table, whereupon she slapped a cold baking soda compress over every inch of me, while laughing nonstop, inbetween recitations of Bible verses about the fruits of transgression.  Carol and I ended up abandoning the club, although we would still curse once in awhile. 

In high school I was accepted into an advanced placement class at Bennington College.  One day I went to class only to find a note on the door that the professor was ill and class was cancelled.   I should have gone back to school and spent the hour in study hall, but it was a beautiful spring day and I realized that - Shazam! - I could be one of those thugs who cut school - a capitol offense.  I wandered down the streets of North Bennington, the sun on my back, my hair blowing in the breeze.  One big problem, in the first twenty minutes of this halcyon experience I met four grownups, all known to me and my grandmother, who said, "Why aren't you in school??"  I went straight to school then, but I didn't dare go to study hall because I had no explanation for the missing 20 minutes of criminal behavior.  So I spent the rest of the hour in the girls bathroom with my feet drawn up so the stall would appear to be unoccupied.  Man, it was hard to be bad in North Bennington, Vermont, you just couldn't catch a break.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

I love you tiny world of me

where secrets lurk like ladybugs
on undersides of leaves.
fears, failures, bad habits,
uncivilized thoughts,
unseemly desires.

I used to think of Richard Nixon
sitting on the edge of his bed
early in the morning,
wondering how he got caught up
in such turmoil, such contradictions,
how did his soul get encased in Nixon?

The endpoint of meditation is to know
i am not my thoughts,
i am not my feelings,
i am not my body,
i am not anything that changes,
i am not anything that ends.

whether we are sitting on a throne,
or sitting on death row,
it just happens until it's too late to unhappen,
and there we are,
beloved children of life.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

INTEGRITY IS A GIFT, NOT A VIRTUE

Children who grow up with serious family violence often enter adult life as persons who have very little integrity.  In my own case, by the time I reached junior high I was skilled in lying, stealing, forgery and lock-picking.  I depended on these skills for my survival, so I was very, very good at them and was only caught once.  I took a dime from my grandmother's purse.  I couldn't bear being the only kid who didn't get to stop at Pano's Drugstore on the way home from school.   My grandmother, who had supported two children, two foster children, and an alcoholic husband through the Great Depression by taking in washings, always knew to the penny how much money she had.  After realizing a dime was missing, she went down to Pano's Drugstore and asked if I had been in there and if I had bought anything.  Mr. Pano told her I had been in yesterday and enjoyed a coke and an ice cream cone.  I don't remember what punishment she meted out for that.  Corporal punishment was not considered child abuse in the 1950s.  There were trips to the woodshed, and being made to go and cut a lilac switch.  Generally, the number of blows administered were set in advance, and ranged somewhere between three and ten, according to the severity of the offense committed.  That sort of thing went on at my house, but it didn't stop at that.  There is what I once heard referred to as 'the humiliation of violence.'  That phrase always brings to mind being knocked to the floor and kicked repeatedly with my grandmother's gardening boots.  I was nothing.  Integrity was a luxury that did not exist in my world.

A child who graduates from high school with lying, stealing, forgery and lock-picking on her resume, slides quickly in the direction of drinking, drugging and promiscuity.  Magic substances blot out pain.  There is what passes for love and is, at least, touch - soft touches that have nothing to do with boots or lilacs.  There was no voice in my head saying, "You are better than this."  In my experience, I wasn't better than anything.

The down side does emerge.  Being a drunken, semi-employed slut isn't much fun in the long run, and becomes in its own right a threat to personal survival.  Personal survival is what it's all about in a violent family.  That is the priority that rules everything.  So I needed to find a way out of the morass.

My half-assed attempt to get a college diploma included taking a class in Shakespeare.  Reading Hamlet, I came across this line that Hamlet delivered to Gertrude, his shameless mother who was rolling around in the bed of her recently deceased husband's brother.  Gertrude was sort of like me.  She would do anything for a good time.  Hamlet says to Gertrude, "Assume a virtue if you have it not."
This line resounded through my entire being like the Voice of God speaking from the heavens.  

I had attended Sunday School throughout my childhood so I at least knew what virtues were. In fact, when I was in the third grade I ran across the Bible verse, "Be ye perfect even as your Father in Heaven is perfect."  I set a goal to become perfect, and even held to it for awhile.  It was a survival strategy.  I thought if I was perfect she would stop beating me.  But it didn't work so it was discarded.

Now, miraculously, the idea of practicing virtues had come back to me.  I went out and bought a notebook and made a list of virtues.  I then made a list of goals.  I would never again steal anything.  I would try as hard as I could to never tell lies other than ones like, "You look wonderful with that new haircut."  I would put money into a savings account.  Even if it was a dollar a week.  I would clean my little hovel of an apartment.  I would start going to church.  I would take notice of what good and virtuous people did and imitate them. 

Over the years, I developed integrity and a new and much better self-image.  I became the type of person who doesn't lie and steal because she's better than that.  Hamlet gave very good advice.

Now, as I work with homeless people, I often hear them being judged harshly for their behavior.  "They drink.  They do drugs.  They walk down streets at night looking for unlocked cars and take change from the drink holder.  They have babies they can't afford."  And so on and so forth. 'If only they would behave decently they wouldn't be homeless".  Many good people have these opinions.  They take personal credit for their goodness.   They don't realize that on the Merry-go-Round of Life they were blessed to get the brass rings marked "Goodness,"  "Integrity,"  and "Self Respect.

Many homeless people are amazingly good, kind, and decent despite the multitude of problems and traumas they have had to survive.  Those who aren't - I really understand.  I can now thank God for giving me those years of being dishonest and drunk and crazy.  I have many faults, but being a pious, judgmental prick will never be one of them.