Thursday, April 30, 2020

Influential albums and social media compliance

For the last nine days I have been posting albums that influenced me on Facebook. The original assignment was for ten, so I will finish tomorrow.

Usually social media posts like that want you to tag other people so they have to do it, which makes me uncomfortable, but where I really departed from this one is that you are not supposed to put any explanations about the album, but just the album itself.

I can't do that.

I know I should be able to, but I think about things too much. I don't get to have geeky conversations enough. Why do you think I blog?

I mean, I don't like the chain letter aspect of these posts - "Don't just like!" - anyway, but what really gets me are the limitations. So many of them are "Just one word!" or "Only post this picture; no explanation!" That is not in my personality.

However, in over-analyzing that, I realized it probably makes it easier for other people to participate. Not everyone has the time or inclination for dissertations. I can conceive that for many people it would be less pressure, though I do not respond to it in that way.

For this particular one, I think it would be easy to just give your favorite albums or the ones that meant a lot to you emotionally, or that are really strongly associated with certain ages. Those are all valid topics, but for me an influential album is one that changes something. With many albums important to me, the importance is not because they changed anything but because they fit in with where I was. Of course, sometimes with the influential ones, their influence hit the way it did because of where I was. There's a lot that goes into it.

Therefore, tomorrow I intend to round up the ten, with explanations of the influence, but today's post is about defining the terms, and also why I find it so necessary to do this.

I understand if I come off as neurotic. I'd be worse without the blog.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Messier than karma

All right; now for things coming back to me.

This is a much messier story.

The short version is that a girl that I had helped several years ago saw something I tweeted and she messaged me that I had helped her and she was there for me.

It gets longer because of many different factors.

One is that the reason I was tweeting is that when I had recently posted about my sadness and frustration on Facebook, I had set off a lot of alarms and had people checking on me in various ways to make sure I wasn't suicidal. It is good to be cared for, but it felt like a lot of pressure.

Twitter would normally feel safer for things like that anyway. There are fewer people who know me personally on there, and it is easier to not be noticed. However, because of that period where I was spending a lot of time encouraging and shoring up teenage girls, it makes me reluctant to be the voice of discouragement. Maybe it's good for people to see that we all struggle, but maybe it would be taken as "If she is this down, what hope is there?"

But I need to be able to feel sad and express it. As much as people don't like seeing problems they can't solve, that happens sometimes. I am going to be sad for as long as my mother is alive, and then I am going to be a different kind of sad. It's not the only thing I feel, and none of it is forever, but it's there.

So I called out into the void, and someone answered back, and she cared about me because I had cared about her. It came back.

The other tricky thing about it is that I have recently seen some concern expressed in an adjacent Twitter group about adults encouraging teens to open up to them, when kids are so vulnerable and and it is so easy to mess them up, even without bad intentions.

I see their point. I have seen plenty of arrogance and plenty of bad intentions. I totally agree that having local, in person sources of help is better when possible.

But also, I was trying to do what's right, and responding to intuition and circumstances, and it usually wasn't in private messages. It would be easy to be insecure about it. I was then. It was hard to believe that I could ever be enough against so much pain.

Except, of course, that I was not healing their pain; I was just witnessing it and caring about it. Sometimes there was advice, or links to articles, but mainly it was just a reminder that you are not alone, and not the only person who has these feelings.

Sometimes it made a difference, and at different times people have come back and told me it mattered. It is probably good that has been spaced out, because I may have needed that more now, but I am sure there were times when I needed it before.

About a week before that, another girl did message me, asking if she could vent. Of course she could, and a lot of her issues dealt with feeling guilt about needing to put some needs of her own over those of her difficult mother (though it was not dementia).

It landed close to home, but then neither of us are alone. We related to each other.

Twitter has been out a lot lately, I am sure because of more people with less to do. I am not on top of things, and that had been pretty true before the virus, just because of Mom needing more attention.

But every now and then I still notice something and have something to contribute: validation or encouragement or a link to an article or a cat picture. I have told enough stories about homeless people now that I understand if you are wondering if I go looking for them. I don't, but they have found me enough that I probably am more alert now, and sometimes that helps.

I believe that staying open to it, we can do a lot of good.

But often that good is mainly only caring. Lamed-vov, but if there are enough of us, it will be enough.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The most pessimistic encouragement

I am changing the order in which I am writing these. So the part about something coming back to me? Not before tomorrow.

I think it was the last author event I went to when this happened. It was respite time and too soon to go home, so I decided to walk from Powell's to the Safeway on Lovejoy.

When I got there, there was a guy out front with a sign. I asked if he wanted anything, and he wanted something hot. It was late enough at night that the deli had closed, and there wasn't much of a selection in their warm case. I explained that to him, but gave him some money so he could choose what he wanted. If it had ended there, I would barely have remembered that it happened.

I went to the streetcar stop across the street and waited. I wasn't really paying attention until I heard shouting. The guy was cursing at the security guard and demanding his name and saying he was going to sue. He did not get a name, and eventually he came to the streetcar stop too.

He said that the guard had threatened him with the taser. I guess he had gone in to buy something. Technically, I gave him the money to do that, that's on me. So he was just going to go to McDonald's, because that would probably be better anyway, but he was still really upset.

He also told me that earlier that day a woman had kicked him out of McDonald's saying that they don't serve his kind there.

Now, it is possible to have some skepticism about that story, because McDonald's serves homeless people all the time. I also know that all of the restaurants downtown have locked restrooms to keep homeless people out of them, and most restaurants reserve the right to refuse service to anyone, and that people who don't have a lot of power can get pretty awful with what they have (like transit cops and store security guards).

We ended up riding the streetcar part of the way together, so we talked for a while. I will never forget the giant scabs on his hands. He had gotten an infection and they had to cut it open, but it was probably getting infected again because he had lost his antibiotics. Yes, that made me think of the story from the woman on the bus, and getting rushed off at the end of the line and not collecting all of her things in time. However, I had also recently read an article about HIV+ people in shelters, and how medication is often stolen because other residents hope it will get them high. Medical compliance is not easy on the streets.

This is the other thing that I will always remember, because I was so mad about it. I still am.

"I want to tell you something encouraging, like that everything's going to be okay..."
"But it wouldn't be true," he interrupted, accurately.
"So I'm just going to tell you that you're human, and that matters. And you have to remember it because other people won't."

It was probably the most pessimistic encouragement that I have ever offered.

I wanted to be able to tell him something better, but I couldn't. Maybe his response showed me why: he would not have been able to believe it.

It was clear that night that the world was terrible, but it has gotten a lot worse since then, and I did not see that coming.

The reasoning is still essentially the same: too many value money over people, and even those who would be better off under a more equal system take a lot of delight in the small superiority they can wring out of the current system.

When I worry about the homeless, that's why. I still think about both of them a lot, and I can't be optimistic.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Three encounters

I want to write a little about some interactions that I have had - mostly before social distancing started - and things that they have meant to me.

The first one started on the bus. I was waiting at Beaverton Transit Center and this woman got on.

She stumbled a little and she was muttering to herself. As she sat down in front of me there was a terrible smell of beer. It was easy to make certain assumptions.

I was not planning on having any interaction, but as she was talking to herself she mentioned losing five pairs of gloves. As it happens, I had an extra pair of gloves in my purse (preparedness girl, still), and I asked her if she would like them. She would, and that's how we started talking.

She had just been shopping, and had bought a five-pack of gloves. The bag with that and some food had been misplaced.

When you keep all of your possessions with you because you don't have anywhere else to put them, it would be hard to keep track of things; that's logical. I expressed sympathy, but then she explained that she sleeps on buses, and when they get to the last stop and hustle everyone off, that's when she loses things.

That made a lot of sense. $5.00 lets you on the transit system all day, and it is relatively warm. In some ways you might do better on the trains, but on the bus everyone has to get by the driver, and it is a smaller space. If people are looking for someone to harass, you are safer on a bus.

That is assuming that the harassment does not come from the transit staff. I have been noticing them getting a lot more authoritarian lately, and this was still before they changed the layout at Beaverton. You can no longer wait on the bus. Instead, everyone has to wait at the same spot until the bus is leaving. It is less convenient for people with homes, but I suspect it was aimed at the homeless.

I gave her a few dollars too, and she thanked me. She had given the last of her money and the rest of her breakfast to another person that day, but she was telling me that she believes that it comes back to you.

Right about then, someone got on with a pizza box. He sat near us and offered her some. As she was about to take it, the driver barked "NO EATING ON THE BUS!"

It is true that this is a rule, but it was like they had both been slapped. He pulled the box back and closed the lid, and her hand went back. Then he recovered and offered the box again, saying "You can take some but don't eat it on here."

She did, and thanked him, and then she looked back at me and said very pointedly, "It comes back to you!"

She then asked me if I knew where there was a laundromat, because she couldn't stand the smell of that blanket anymore. Maybe now that she had a few dollars and some food, then laundry was a possibility. I directed her to one that wasn't too far.

That was pretty much the end of it, except that I also suddenly realized how easy it would be in that situation to have someone else spill on your blanket, or throw up on it, or something where it isn't even your fault that it smells. You still can't just throw out the blanket, because it is still winter and who knows what you will lose next, or when you will be able to replace it.

It struck me hard then, but I have felt it more as I see that most places have shut down bottle returns, which is an important source of cash for many people. Also, a lot of places aren't taking cash anymore, or ordering food has to happen online and with the assumption of a car picking it up. Going through trash sounds terrible, but if you rely on it, it will have been a lot less productive for the past month.

Sure, there are shelters, but those have their own problems, in addition to being a great place to share diseases. Vancouver opened up a mall parking lot for people living in their cars, but if you don't have a car, that doesn't help. (Honestly, a lot of the people living in their cars still have jobs, a pretty big indictment of capitalism in itself, if you think about it.)

So I worry about people on the streets, along with a host of other worries, and primarily in the camp of worries that I can't really do anything about. It's just there.

But on another level, that story affects me because that woman was a kindred spirit, still believing in giving no matter how low her means were, and I love her for that.

When she told me "It comes back to you!", I felt that in my soul. It felt like a promise that things will work out, and an affirmation that what you do matters.

Next time I will write about one way in which that has been fulfilled.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020


One way my brain works is that a word or phrase will come to me repeatedly, trying to tell me something. Someday I will write about "garbage barge", but let's focus on "anodyne" for now.

As a noun it is a painkiller, but as an adjective it is more about being designed to not provoke or offend. I think of it when I play Spider Solitaire and Minesweeper, and I have been playing them a lot lately.

When I think about addictions, mine tend to be too stupid to count; I don't even play interesting video games. It can nonetheless be compulsive, and it has been very clear to me that this is an attempt to numb.

Things are hard. It is still true that it is more about the dementia situation than the virus situation, but the chronic stress is ongoing.

I have hives again. I get weird muscle tightness in my back and shoulders. There is a lot of anger and frustration, and I cannot turn it on my mother, so I hold it in and then get physical reminders that I did that.

I have plenty of things to do when I am not actively caring for my mother. I have things I need to do for personal goals and housework and organization, but I keep finding myself playing these stupid games, feeling the urge to, resolving not to and then giving in after another thing has gone wrong.

My brain is telling me that I am doing it to try not to feel. It's not working out that great.

For one thing, the more I get pulled into it, the less I sleep. While there is a limit to how much the tiredness can be remedied, the tiredness is vast enough that it should take anything it can get. It also takes away from reading time, which is like the one thing I still get to do.

Probably more to the point is that it's not working out that great. I mean, I am still feeling stuff, and any feelings I hold off are probably just holding off progress in working through it. In the past, letting myself feel anger has allowed me to like myself. I am sure there is a lot I still need to work on.

I also know that I am not just rejecting the potential pain, but also the current situation. This has been very ineffective in making the situation go away. It's all still there. Maybe I could hold onto denial long enough for something to change, but I would lose something by doing that.

The other thing I strongly believe, though, is that my not wanting this does matter. Not in a way to change it, but that it hurts and that my body physically hurts with somatic symptoms of emotional pain... I matter and that matters.

I still need to work on getting better.

If I find something helpful I will let you know.

You matter too.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Where credit is due

Still keeping things short and light this week.

Easter was not typical. There was no church - and while it is not the best Sunday activity - what I desperately wanted and needed was all of the regular cleaning done. We divvied up the tasks and they were completed. It won't last, but at least things were caught up for once.

We did still have a mostly normal ham dinner, but oddly, the conversation ended up focusing largely on my time in high school. Specifically, wonderment at my being friends with two hot guys.

Personally, I had to ask who the second guy was. (I knew whom else she meant.) Suddenly, I realized at least one sister was impressed with my past social life. It was surprising and kind of gratifying.

Actually, I got on well with many good-looking guys, though hanging out was more limited. I do know the secret of my success, which was two-fold.

One, having come to believe at an early age that I was completely ineligible for love, I compartmentalized all romantic feelings and hints of interest in boys, understanding that such hints acted as a very strong boy repellent.

Frankly, I don't recommend that one.

But the other - and maybe the compartmentalization helped with this - is that I always remember that everyone is a person.

I think this is helpful when I meet musicians now. I may have a moment of being star-struck, but then I remember this is a person and relate in that way.

I can give you an example from high school. There was one guy on the football team, and another, less athletic guy I knew did not like him. I found myself teasing the jock subtly, because of that, and then I saw that he took it as flattery and was ingratiated. Suddenly, I was like, why am I teasing this nice guy whom I personally have nothing against? (And also who won't get it, yes, but there's no point in being mean about that.)

After that, we always got along. People who have known each other for years may have old grudges and things that have just become habits. It's real to them, but it may not be relevant to anyone else.

Anyway, that is my personal guarantee. I may be a fan of your work, or think you are irritating, or be wildly attracted to you, or desperately wish I could shake some sense into you (even though shaking isn't how that works), but I will also remember that you are human and have feelings, and I will try and honor that to the extent that you are not causing harm.

Even if you are causing harm, I will try to acknowledge harm that you have received and your potential for improvement, but the harm needs to be stopped first.  Just so we understand each other.

Also, yes, in some ways I was very popular in high school. They weren't any of the normal ways, but still, I am owning that.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Web of kindness

There are many ways in which people are horrible, and I am sure I will get to those. Today I wanted to focus on some helpful acts that have been going on around us.

An older couple was not supposed to be going to stores, but they needed some things, including toilet paper. My sisters went for them. When there was no toilet paper available they came back here and pulled some from our supply.

That's okay, we have a line on a new toilet paper shipment - because of someone else's help - and it looks like we're going to be able to get two multi-packs. We're not going over any limits, but at least finding something somewhere is great. (We aren't out yet, but if this goes on long enough...)

One friend has been busily making masks, starting with a batch of 200. She gave us some for our household. We were actually able to help her get some wipes, but most of this is not reciprocal. We have helped people who have done nothing for us, and the people helping us don't owe us anything. It is strictly based on who needs what and who can help. That's why I used "web" instead of circle.

Those are things that have actually been carried out, but there have also been a lot of offers. Many people have checked to see if we need anything. Apartment residents are leaving contact information for other residents. People are holding fundraisers.

I had posted on Facebook Saturday about not being reckless, because some news items and items through friends seemed like there was a wave of recklessness going around, leading to some poor decisions.

I get that. There are plenty of reasons to feel worried, isolated, and powerless right now. It can bring out some darker impulses.

If we can reach out to help each other, that can help us feel more connected, and remember that we still have some power. Not everything is out of control. Maybe knowing that can relieve some of the worry.

Don't give up, and stay as safe as you can. <3 br="">

Friday, April 10, 2020

UPDATED: Album Review: Last Stop Crappy Town, full edition, by Reggie and the Full Effect

On March 22nd, James Dewees of Reggie and the Full Effect released a complete version of the 2008 album, Last Stop: Crappy Town. It includes three tracks that were recorded then, but not released.

This seemed like a good opportunity to take another look at Crappy Town, which has not been my favorite.

The first time I listened, it felt like it was all this angry growl-shouting, which I shall hereafter refer to as "screamo" (probably not the perfect term, but bear with me), and which has never been my thing.

Later, I listened again, and realized it was in fact more complex than that. I suspect one reason it feels like so much is that a lot of the songs have a screamo section, even though they have other things. So where with other albums there will be a song or two that does it, there is probably more total time spent on the screamo, as well as a higher frequency interval.

Having already gained a greater appreciation for the album, the next time I listened I found myself thinking, "This is really a journey." That was quickly followed by, "You mean like a journey on the Brooklyn train system, literally? Good catch!"

The release of the additional tracks seemed like a good opportunity to dive in again.

Here's one thing about that journey: tracks are not delineated in the download. Having listened to the original release, I can tell where the familiar tracks are, and where new things have been inserted, but there is no guide while you are listening.

It is interesting in that on many other Reggie albums (less true with 41), the connection between songs and their titles is often tenuous. Maybe at a concert you learn the origin of a title phrase, but without the context of why it goes with that song. You still remember - maybe with more effort than from some artists - what each song is called.

That is much harder on Crappy Town.

It also makes sense. The train journey is linear, and probably monotonous. There may be monotony on the recovery journey, but it is much more chaotic. Maybe it is hard to tell if the changes that you feel are even changes, and whether those changes are progress. The music reflects that.

There are concepts that come up over and over again, including betrayal and inadequacy and doubt and suffocation. Sometimes that comes out angrily (probably with the greatest frequency), but it also comes out in dread, or adrenaline, or a depression so overpowering that the words can barely come out.

Is there a pattern? I don't know. I have never been through rehab or ridden New York transit, and I cannot rule out that there is greater - or at least different meaning -  for people who have.

It did make me think of two things, coming from my more recent psychology reading. One is that while people tend to oversimplify and define overly broadly Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross's theory of the five stages of grief, it is not linear. Going through one stage doesn't guarantee that you are done with it, or that it is done with you.

Also, in Complex PTSD, Pete Walker referenced a theory that all addiction is rooted in abandonment. That feels like it could be an oversimplification too, but it really feels like there is truth in it.

"9th and 4th" comes between "F" and "E". I think it is the one that fits in best with the other tracks, like I don't understand why it wasn't released. It is quieter, but thematically, it is important with a plea for help that is barely a question. There is not trust in getting an answer.

It is interesting that the official release with a video, "J", is sandwiched between the other two deleted cuts.

The final addition. "86th", is great. It has kind of an "Eleanor Rigby" feel, with lots of strings and wistfulness in its alienation.

The new track before "J", "14th", is really uncomfortable.

I haven't been able to identify exactly why. It grapples with faith and questions of meaning; I guess I like to see those questions receive a positive answer. This feels again like there is not hope for any answer, and what does it mean if there is no meaning or greater value to all of it? It must feel like that a lot.

I want to point out one more thing about structure, using the more familiar tracks.

"R" is musically one of my favorite tracks, taking on a heroic, adventurous feel. Lyrically, in the midst of those assurances that we can make it together, there is always an "if" that doesn't sound too hopeful. What are the chances of no mistakes, given all the mistakes that have come before?

So I think it makes a lot of sense that it is followed by "36th Street" where you are still trying to save children and addressing a "sister", but there is a much more oppressive tone. That then goes into "N", and the closing question, "Are you scared?"

So it is clearly a journey, but it's not concluded, or even certain of successful completion. That is honest for addiction. You have to hope that it often feels more possible, and more optimistic, but it doesn't always.

That makes this a good release for this time.

I don't know how much that influenced Dewees to release it now, but this is a time filled with fear and doubt and uncertain outcomes. It helps to have music that knows how you feel.

In the Instagram post he credits producer Sean Beavan, drummer Billy Johnson, and Slipknot bass player Paul Gray. Two of them are gone now, along with other losses that make that sense of abandonment more real.

There is music for that.

Stay safe and stay alive.

After the last Instagram update I have had a really hard time scrolling with it, but I got it to work yesterday, and low and behold that original post gave the new track titles, even though they should all be regarded as a whole, and there are reasons why that makes sense. I have updated the original post to include titles, which I hope is helpful.

Otherwise, let me just note my appreciation for my own journey of coming to appreciate and understand Last Stop: Crappy Town better. Songs Not to Get Married to (which Crappy Town echoes a lot, and that makes sense) infatuated me, and No Country For Old Musicians delighted me, and 41 makes me feel seen in a bad time that still hasn't ended.

Crappy Town cracks open pain. It's hard, but it's necessary. Once I was able to scroll down I saw many people expressing how the album helped them, or how they appreciated it more now after going through their own things. Of course. I get it.

And I already knew this, but it is still worth saying, even though Reggie gives you that veneer of silliness, there is always more.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

The mourning breaks

In yesterday's post I mentioned mass graves and backed up funeral homes. I have only heard of mass graves in New York. The backed up funeral home (and crematoria) stories have also been from New York, but if I heard of it happening in Seattle or the Bay Area, I would believe it. They have higher populations, and have been harder hit.

Things would have to to get much worse for that to be an issue in Oregon, even in Washington County (where I live, and where Oregon has the most cases.)

But no one is having traditional funerals anymore. You can't gather more than ten people, churches are closed, and it's just not happening until self-isolating is no longer necessary.

Previously, funerals have been our most controversial issue.

I have four living siblings. Two of them are very opposed to a funeral. They do not give this as their reason, but I believe that they do not want to deal with their emotions publicly, or at all. Another sibling would really want the condolences, I am sure, but the fourth probably would not.

I have thought about how we could work it out. Sit together, then "You three slip out the side door," with a car waiting, and then I wait with the other one to deal with people.

Without having any idea on how long COVID-19 or our mother's life will last, it might not be an issue. But realistically, we may not have a choice.

I could be fine with this, but I worry about a few different things. At first my worry was that it would seem disrespectful to my mother if we did not celebrate her life. Even more than that, I worried about closure, that maybe not going through the rituals of grief would leave my family with all of these unprocessed emotions and things would come out in other, more destructive ways. Or maybe it wouldn't come out, and eat them up inside.

When I have dealt with deaths in the past, I have seen in our conversations that there is this process of coming to terms with them being gone. It often surfaces as questions about details, but really it seems to be about working toward acceptance of the loss. A funeral, having communal and ritual aspects, could be really important for that.

As I have thought about this, I have realized that I could not set myself up for a more spectacular failure than making my goal emotionally healthy and adjusted Harris siblings. Seriously.

Beyond our family, I am sure there is going to be a toll taken by people not gathering to grieve and say goodbye to our dead. It feels like it could stall acceptance, and maybe leave more guilt. On the other hand, there are already so many difficult emotions floating around - with isolation and feelings of powerlessness and dread - that the one specific issue of not having traditional funerals may not be something you can look at separately.

I have figured out some things. I can recover from this, but I don't think I can recover if when Mom dies, it happens through any neglect on my part. That initially meant being careful with medications and being alert to symptom changes. Now it it has the added aspect that no matter how good it can be in some ways for her to go sooner, I do not want that virus in this house. So it means more care about where we go, and how much hand washing we do. I try. I still touch my face too much.

I may not be able to recover if she dies after one of those nights when she is threatening to call the police to get to the bottom of why we are making her stay here, and keeping her away from her children, and why we never told her we were her children before. I can't control that, but it is a reason to keep from saying anything hateful. I have to try to stay gentle, no matter how firm I need to be.

I guess, ultimately, the best way to ease death comes from what we do in life. You will probably know people who die from this; is there anything you want to say now? Is there anything you want to change?

I was working on a ghost story once where the things you always wanted to say most were "I love you", "I miss you", and "I'm sorry". Generally, the ghosts already knew, too, but it still felt important to say.

It may also be important to tell someone off, and then to forgive them, or to forgive them without talking to them, or just to make peace with knowing that they won't make up for it. That's okay too.

Peace doesn't always have to wait for the grave.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020


One of the frustrating parts of my mother's deterioration is doing one recommended thing and then finding that it is not enough.

For example, everyone said it was important to have durable power of attorney papers signed. We did that. Then I went to a presentation on living trusts that pointed out all of the ways in which durable power of attorney would be insufficient. We filled out paperwork for the POLST (portable orders for life-sustaining treatment) registry, and then I was told that advanced directives are much better.

As it is, one of my better memories in all this was going over the POLST information. I remember at the time realizing that despite the memory issues my mother was already having, as we went over this she understood the questions and was making her own choices. I have paperwork for advanced directives, but I don't think that would be true anymore. A lot has been lost.

(Realistically, we have so few assets requiring estate management that I think we will be okay without a trust. We're certainly below the estate tax threshold.)

I am sure a lot more people are thinking about death now, but it has been on our radar for a while. The final death may not happen any time soon, but with Alzheimer's disease there is a long period of many losses, and many things mourned all along the way. That has taken a toll, but I still have a strong desire to do everything right.

"Right" is a loaded word.

Legally, we have as much paperwork filled out as is likely to happen. I think it will work. I suspect that the family being on the same page is more important than the difference between POLST and ADR. It may still get tricky. We said "no" to ventilators at a time before Coronavirus. I'd rather it didn't come up, it would probably still be the right decision, but it makes you stop and think.

Here's the one that is almost funny: Mom has always hated the idea of cremation.

I have always believed it is because of this kind of superstition that our church doesn't believe in cremation, which I recently learned was common with a lot of different churches. It's not common for the churches to be against cremation, but it is common for their members to think their church frowns on it. So I believed her logic was faulty, but nonetheless, if that was the way she felt, I would have to honor it, even though burial is much more expensive and complicated.

A few months ago we were having a discussion that was not even specifically about death, but cremation came up, and Mom said it was fine. Okay, great. We're off the hook. But is she still in her right mind enough to say that and have it be meaningful? I don't even know.

Previously I had thought our final decision would ultimately come down to money; now I am hearing about mass graves and funeral homes being backed up, and I don't know again. Things are always kind of uncertain anyway, but they are much more uncertain now.

That is not even our most controversial issue, and we may have even less control over that one.

More on that next time.

Monday, April 06, 2020

Re-becoming somebody

There was a time when I asked someone for feedback. It was on the draft of Family Ghosts, and it was specifically to see about whether I had some of the musical stuff right. I asked a musician I knew if he would look at it. I did feel like that was a weak area for me, but also I sent it to him because of some things that had hurt him, where I thought reading it might be helpful.

I ended up publishing before he got back to me, but then he sent me a really beautiful note that did not give any feedback on the musician parts at all. So it didn't help me, but it was good for him and that felt great for me.

Sometimes I have considered trying to monetize the blog or something (before it became so irregular), but even just adding ads would slow it down, and I don't want there to ever be a time when something I write could help someone but it isn't available to them.

That was part of my realizing I am not ever going to make money from this, but I still really thought that I would eventually sell a screenplay. That would give me the chance to do work I enjoyed, and help other people in their careers, and be able to live comfortably but also have some left to give.

It was probably always naive, but I held on to it right until the one-two punch of losing all of my files and then Amazon Studios no longer taking open submissions. That happened at a time when I was already caring for my mother and not able to take on other day jobs. Yes, I am now getting a little bit of money from that, but having spent a lot of time going through paperwork and red tape and government programs, none of that is meant to make you optimistic or encourage dreams.

The years have been beating me down, is what I am trying to say.

I started to grasp that more when there was one other creative thing I wanted to do. I saw a submission call for a comic opportunity, and I knew one artist whom I thought would be a great match. I wanted to let him know about it, but I also wanted to suggest we collaborate.

I ended up just passing the opportunity on. I tried drafting a message that suggested working together, but I kept filling it with all of these reasons not to work with me. I don't have any experience. I don't have any connections. I don't have any name recognition. It didn't feel right to not give those warnings, but it became too much of a negative message. I couldn't imagine introducing myself to anyone without the caveat "By the way, I'm nobody!"

In retrospect, you probably don't ever really need to specify being nobody; if they don't already know, they can probably figure it out.

Maybe I was too afraid that they would think I didn't know. I knew, but that was wrong too. I have been creative in many different formats. I have written things that have engaged and amused and taught people, and given them some catharsis for their own pain.  I shouldn't judge that by the money made, but you get judged for not having money. I have had plenty of chances to feel that.

When I made the decision that I could not get a new job, because I needed to stay with Mom, that felt right. Every way that I thought of in which it might work out turned out to be wrong. Instead, things I never could have expected or predicted happened, and it has sometimes been very affirming but also often hard. Even other people of faith have been pretty judgmental, because Christian faith is often remarkably capitalist.

I had lost a lot of confidence, at least for dealing with others. There have been multiple factors in coming out of that, but one more experience should help make more sense.

I was at a talk at a museum, before everything began shutting down. One other attendee shared some of her experiences, and it was very moving for everyone, I think, but also I felt like I should give her this ten dollars I had.

I was embarrassed to do it, partly because it might seem condescending, but also because I only had ten dollars, like it could look like I am simultaneously looking down on and pitying you, but also I am cheap. Those would just be perceptions, but I worried about them. I looked at some other things and went back, and she was talking to two other people.

I waited for a pause to insert myself, and I started off so apologetic. I didn't actually say "By the way, I am nobody!", but that was the spirit underwriting my offering.

Fortunately, she understood exactly where I was coming from, and said exactly the right thing, "I accept it with a good heart." She then said that she felt she had to come - they were talking about feeling impelled like that, and listening - but she was almost out of gas. I said that this must be for gas, then. One of the other people said, "She listens."

I was reluctant to accept that - too much like praise - but I have decided that along with needing to find a way to consider my own needs along with everyone else's, I need to stop apologizing for being poor and for having needs and for doing things that seem weird when I know they are important.

I listen and I follow. It may not always be accepted with a good heart, but I can't control that so I have to get past it.

I had just learned to get good at taking respite time; now I need to regroup and find a way of doing it again. A few hopes I'd held on too seem very unlikely now. A door closed on the mortgage issue, and now I am looking for a window. I do not know how long this pandemic will last.

But I have to be me. That means listening, and faith, and caring for others, but can't mean needing their approval. It generally does not mean clarity about resolution, but it does mean clarity for the next step or two.

I'll take what I can get.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

Interview: 5 questions with CHRIS BARRON

Chris Barron has been making music for over thirty years, writing the Spin Doctors' hit "Two Princes" when he was 19 (and performing it on Sesame Street with Elmo, Telly, and Zoe in 1995). He has also explored Norwegian fjords by boat, regularly commemorates #Caturday, and released his most recent solo album three years ago, which I reviewed yesterday:

Chris recently answered a few questions for me via e-mail.

Angels and One-Armed Jugglers will be three years old in October, and I have been reading things you said about it at that time. You referred to "the cocktail party at the apocalypse", which in retrospect seems overly optimistic. How are you feeling now?

That comment seems pretty prophetic now in light of the covid pandemic. I hate it when I’m right.

You also mentioned the responsibility of the artist to give some consolation, and I think it really does. Is there comfort you realize you provided now without recognizing it at the time?

You know, I write and I leave a little Easter eggs of hope and bright spots but I never really know what people are going to pick up on.

What other artists inspire you?

I grew up listening to Paul Simon and Bob Marley and the Beatles and the Rolling Stones but I also like to read Homer and Shakespeare and nerdy stuff like that. I’m a big Tolkien fan. I like to take inspiration from stuff outside of rock ‘n’ roll like painting and nature (and cats). Rock ‘n’ roll comes from the blues so you really have to know your way around the blues, I think.

What makes cats great?

Cats are utterly authentic. They brazenly do whatever they want to do. If they like you it’s a big compliment because they really don’t give a shit.

Please tell us a little about your Sesame Street appearance.

That was the pinnacle of my career so far. Those Muppets are very talented. (Haha) When you first get on the set, you can see all the sudden that they’re made out of felt and ping-pong balls and feathers and stuff but before you know it their eyebrows are going up and down and they’re making jokes and getting inside of your personal space and they just turn into these very real, very personal presences.

To keep up with Chris Barron, you can visit his web site at For cat content, there's more on Twitter:

Friday, April 03, 2020

Album Review: Angels and One-Armed Jugglers by Chris Barron

I have had a harder time getting this review posted than makes any sense, probably reinforcing that taking a break is in order.

For now, though, while it is not super new (2017), I have been enjoying listening to Chris Barron's latest, Angels and One-Armed Jugglers.

At one point I had been listening but without getting any writing done; I was going to scrap the review. However, this passage of music kept coming back to me, a refrain that was a positive in the face of darkness. This persistent phrase was from track 8, "Still a Beautiful World".

It is still a beautiful world -- despite many un-beautiful things in it -- and it is important to remember that.

So this is not the most timely review, with the album being three years old, but the trajectory makes it perfect.

I first reviewed Chris Barron in 2015, and I already knew about a case he'd had of vocal cord paralysis then. This album was being worked on then, and delayed, and then expanded. It was released after the inauguration of the current president, following a dark turn. I am listening to it now at a time of fear and dread and illness that the previous dark turns have not left us well-prepared for. And I was doing album reviews because I find I don't have the time and concentration to review larger bodies of work (and now I don't even think I can review a;bums).

All of those themes of being blocked, and working around then finding new obstacles... it's here, and without shying away from that, there is still hope and comfort within.

It's a good reminder that we need music, and paying attention to it matters, even when it's hard, and even when it is easy to feel insignificant.

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Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Object, subject

Shocking confession time: I sometimes wish that I had not managed sports in high school.

Okay, that is probably only shocking for people who knew me in high school.

I mean, it made sense at the time. I loved sports and I was not good at them. It even led to making some money, because I got paid for running the scoreboard for summer basketball and for keeping score at track meets. I lettered! (Three times for basketball and track, twice for soccer, but also for speech team once adding Student Congress earned me enough points.)

It was also something that I did without understanding why I was doing it or the effect it would have on me.

I wrote about my need to constantly be busy ten years ago. (I had not realized it was that long ago.) The Complex PTSD book used the term "busyholic" a lot, which may be why I am thinking of it now. Even having understood my desperate restlessness then, I had still not quite figured out that the real managing sweet spot - for me - was that it was taking care of other people. That made it a better fit for me.

I can't help but wonder sometimes what my life would have looked like if I could have asked myself what would be good for me? What did I want for myself and how could I make that happen?

When I think harder, that means so many changes that I don't even know that I could recognize myself. Ultimately, I think I have tended to be in the places that I needed to be, and that prevents me from getting too regretful (which makes me okay with being a manager).

But I have been where I have needed to be in a damaged and lonely state. Mainly I am sad about that, and sometimes it is anger. The anger is important, because that's when I know I don't deserve it, but I can't just hold onto it. I am not sure it would be good anyway.

Other than the concerns about the lack of support expressed yesterday, where I am stuck now is wheeling between knowing I need to care for myself, feeling all of my other responsibilities, and seeing so much need in the world that I feel like I need to take on additional responsibilities. I mean, I guess if you are pulled in enough different directions, not moving in any one of them is a likely result.

Still no answers. However, I am going to share a story and a desire.

One of the books that has been very inspiring in the realm of wholeness has been My Grandfather's Blessings by Rachel Naomi Remen. Early on she mentions a story from her grandfather - a rabbi - of the Lamed-Vov, 36 people in the world who see the suffering in the world and respond to it. "They respond to suffering, not in order to save the world, but simply because the suffering of others touches them and matters to them."

Later in the book there is a section called "The Thirty-Six", about a woman who was not suicidal but thought that death could only be a relief when there was so much pain in her life. Later things led her to see that her broken heart made a shelter for others. It disturbed me, and it felt like me.

As much as I want things to be different, I don't want to stop caring. I don't want to abandon my mother. I don't want to shut out the world.

I do want there to be room for me, where I can remember my value and respond adequately to that.

Even more - without saying that I literally believe that piece of Jewish tradition - I want there to be more than 36. I want there to be enough people who care that some of them care about me. I want there to be enough people who care that I don't have to feel responsible for all of it. I want there to be 36 million, or 360 million, or 3.6 billion people caring about the suffering in the world. Then I assume we would be working to save it, but we could do it too.

We wouldn't need to be lonely.

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