Saturday, June 30, 2012


An onomatopoeic word:
The initial "s" is steeling oneself;
The "t" is defiance of fear;
"Reng" is mental or physical force;
And the "th" as in "So there!"!

Strength is movement of muscles:  biceps, triceps, deltoid;
A ballet dancer's legs, a construction worker's arms,
A woman balancing a toddler on one hip and on the other a grocery bag;
It is made of frown lines, compressed lips, curled fists, a determined stare...

Female Ballet DancerStrength is measured in buckets of sweat,
Liters of tears held back,
Blood coursing through veins like a river in spate;
It is made of "No, I will not!" and "Yes, I can!"

Sometimes strength is going back
Into the burning building, the sinking ship;
Then forward, ascending, rock by rock
With someone who trusts you clinging to your back.

And also strength is getting up
Out of bed when there's nothing to do,
And no one (anymore)
To do it with.

It is summoning the breath
To blow out the candles on your birthday cake -- your ninety-first
And, on the whole, being glad that it's not too late,
Even now, it is not too late (though it may be mistaken for stubbornness)

To be strong.

Birthday Cake

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Coping with Clinical Depression

It seems I have a hard time staying happy.

One of the reasons is that my brain is incapable of regulating the neurotransmitter known as serotonin. I take medication for this and mostly it keeps me away from the edge of the pit. The latter, however, is always in range of my peripheral vision.

In truth, I have as many reasons for being happy as I have for not being happy. It's really a matter of which list pops into my mind at any given moment. I do have some control over this but not total control.

Some people still think that clinical depression is a fabricated disability promoted by the pharmaceutical industry. These same people think ADD is a mother's self-justification for being unable to control her child and that autism can be cured with a good spanking.  I've also heard people claim they're much too busy to be depressed.

The truth is you can be the busiest little bee in the hive and still wake up in the belly of the pit.

The logic of the pit dictates that doing your laundry is futile because your clothes will just get dirty again. Similarly, there's no point in making your bed so that you can unmake it sixteen hours later.

In the pit all books you try to read are aimed above your level of comprehension. Either that or they are insufferably boring. Assuming, that is, you are able to read at all. Music of any genre is an assault on your eardrums. Food tastes like cardboard and leaves you feeling bloated or sick to your stomach. Trying to follow a conversation is like trying to discern meaning in the chatter of monkeys.

In the pit every action, however small or ordinary, is exhausting. The mechanics involved in taking a shower or a bath seem so daunting that the thought of doing either one brings tears of frustration to your eyes.

You are certain that the vast majority of people hate you, that your very essence exudes a pernicious form of mental contamination.

You lie down with your eyes closed and pray to be able to sleep. Flash bulbs explode like firecrackers on the inside of your eyelids. Your body is assaulted by random aches and pains. You turn this way and that in your bed, seeking relief. There is a dense, heavy pressure inside you making it impossible to breathe normally.

Despair is no longer an abstract noun; it is a physical presence that has taken command of your mind and body -- heavy, hollow, dark, and all-encompassing.

Getting out of the pit is difficult even with all that medical science has to offer. Not everyone can do it and not every brain is receptive to pharmaceutical solutions, talk therapy, etc.

I am one of the lucky ones. I did not expect the SSRI drugs to work but they did. That is to say, they make me feel what I assume is normal. Or close enough to it.

Contrary to what some people think, anti-depressants do not get you high. They may numb you to a certain extent. You may find that you no longer cry even in situations where crying is appropriate. You may also find that they dull your sex drive -- but who cares since existing in a state of depression pretty much kills it. Mostly the SSRI drugs raise you to an emotional state where you are able to cope. But that state can become tenuous from time to time.

Physical activity helps, there's no doubt about that, whether it be swimming, running, walking or spending thirty minutes a day on the treadmill. Becoming absorbed in a project, any project, is also a good strategy. I don't mean busywork, though. I mean something you care about.

In truth, though, if you are genetically prone to clinical depression, you are never all that far from the rim of the pit.

You simply have to train yourself not to look down.

Monday, June 18, 2012

At West Park Pool


In the beginning there was the usual scene with the usual mix of people. In the roped off area a woman was attempting to swim laps while various tots and their misdirected projectiles strayed into her path.

Over by the diving pool, a chubby, generously freckled boy positioned himself on the lower of the two diving boards. Head down, arms extended he leaned forward as if to execute a dive, then apparently changing his mind, straightened, pinched his nose, bounced twice and jumped, plunging feet-first and creating a torpedo-sized splash . He did this three times in succession, so perhaps it was all part of a ritual he'd made up.  A diving board ritual.

On either side of the long ends of the pool two men, in furious competition, hurled splash bombs back and forth. One of the men was very pale, bordering on chubby, and wore American flag swim trunks. His light hair was shaved almost down to his scalp. The other man was swarthy and hirsuite and somehow less obtrusive. Or so I thought.

Young men and women in life guard attire issued occasional warnings:  no running, no flippers when you dive, etc.

The big clock on the wall near the dressing rooms showed quarter to one when the very old woman arrived. She was clad in a one-piece dark blue bathing suit, the kind that serious swimmers tend to prefer. Her legs and arms were incredibly thin though she had a slight paunch due, probably, to long- expired stomach muscles. She wore a bathing cap covered with plastic hibiscus flowers in various lurid colors.

With the aid of a walker, she made her way cautiously down the ramp from the dressing room and around the side of the pool that led to the diving boards. Even children, who rarely look where they're going, managed to stay out of her path as she maneuvered around lounge chairs,  ice chests, spread-out towels, and various swim parphenalia.

She progressed all the way to the diving board, discarded her walker and began ascending the ladder to the lower board. A look of abject horror took possession of the life guard's face. He rose from his perch, his body poised for action, but said nothing. By now, at least half the people at the pool were staring at the old woman. "Hey, lady!" the man with the American flag swim trunks shouted, but the woman proceeded as if she hadn't heard him. And maybe she hadn't.

"She's planning to commit suicide right here at the pool," I thought and covered my eyes.

When I looked again the woman was in mid air having just executed a forward somersault. She made contact with the water head first, creating a modest splash. She swam over to the ladder, then gestured toward her walker. Her demeanor had the force of command and someone -- a teenage girl -- hurried to retrieve the apparatus. The old woman nodded her thanks and proceeded again over to the ladder.

This time she performed a perfect swan dive.

People began to compete for the retrieval of her walker and when the old woman executed a reverse double somersault, three-quarters of the population of the pool applauded.

"This is impossible," I thought. "This has got to be a dream. What about heart failure? What about osteoperosis?"

"She dives like an eighteen-year-old," someone commented, admiringly.

"Like a professional," someone else amended.

Positioned, once again, at the tip of the diving board, the old woman paused, glanced at her audience and made a gesture with her hands. Within seconds, I realized she was using sign language and that what she was telling us was that she would do one more.

And she did. Another perfect swan dive.

After that she floated on her back for awhile, facing skyward. The expression on her face suggested both utter weariness and total euphoria.

On her way back to the dressing room, people attempted to approach her but she waved them away.

Clearly she had done what she had come here to do and now...

now she was ready to go home.

Pool And Diving Board


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Two Days Ago...

Two days ago was pretty much like today. Except that I found out my laptop had a virus -- several viruses in fact. I also discovered that even though  comments on my blog posts appeared in my E-Mail, I couldn't actually respond to them via E-Mail. To put it more succinctly, my most recent responses to people's comments have all ended up somewhere in cyber space -- orbiting a central absence like useless asteroid chunks.

 "People will think you're rude," my daughter said, "if you don't respond."

I swear, I am not rude. Just incredibly technologically stupid.

Since beginning my blog, I have felt like someone who can't swim trying to stay afloat in ten feet of water. In over your head I believe is the expression.

Sometimes I'm tempted to discard my laptop and take up knitting or return full-time to designing scrap books. These are safe old-lady pastimes that are unlikely to offend or confuse.

How can a ten-inch wide machine with a keyboard and a screen come down with a virus? A virus is a microscopic organism that causes diseases, for heaven's sake! My laptop isn't feverish, so far as I can tell. It does, however, barf up ads and unwanted messages I'm obliged to mop up.

Apparently, the way a computer gets a virus is when the user clicks on something s/he isn't supposed to. How the hell is one supposed to know what's safe to click on and what isn't?

Once upon a time, I scribbled my deathless prose and immortal poems on a steno pad or in a notebook. Later I slipped a piece of paper into my typewriter and typed up the ones I thought might be worth saving. Neither my notebooks nor my typewriter ever came down with a virus. Some pages, though, were lumpy with scattered crusts of  white-out. Like Calamine Lotion smeared over random patches of poison oak.

Not that I don't enjoy playing Wordscaper and reading other people's blogs. But is it worth having to click and drag and cut and paste, upload and download, slash and burn, tag and label and twitter and tweet without having the faintest idea what you are actually doing? Is it worth misunderstanding the techno terminology and having people look at you like you had wondered out loud whether people in Spain spoke Spanish?

Long ago I purchased a book entitled Computers for Seniors for Dummies. What I actually need though is the one called Computers for Very Dumb Seniors or an easy reader version of the afore-mentioned books.

"If you hope to be a published writer you absolutely must have a blog." So my friends and relations have instructed me.

Maybe I don't actually want to be a published writer. Or maybe if I do I'll just wait for the world to beat a pathway to my door.

So there!

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Highly Traumatic Loss of My Floppy Bunny

Reverb Broads June 13, 2012 Prompt by Kassie:  What was your favorite childhood stuffed animal or toy?

There are certain things for which a mother should never be forgiven, and surely one of these unforgivable sins is throwing away your child's comfort object be it a blanket, a stuffed animal, a doll or an empty soda bottle.

Had my mother not thrown out my floppy bunny, I would be an entirely different person from the timid, oversensitive, highly-strung, overweight, still-unpublished writer I am today.

Yup, I can pretty much say for sure that all my present defects can be traced back to that single thoughtless, unconscionable action on the part of my mother.

"The thing had become unsanitary," she'd exclaim in her defense. As if that should matter.

I don't remember when I acquired Floppy Bunny or who gave it to me. All I know is his limp, cuddly form somehow kept the nightmare demons from devouring me entirely.

His original color may have been blue, or possibly light grey, but for most of my early childhood he was kind of a muddy beige.

Why didn't my mother just wash him, for heaven's sake?

The day I realized Floppy Bunny was gone my self-confidence went POP! like a huge piece of bubble wrap when someone in heavy work boots jumps on it. My sweet compliant nature turned ferociously self-defensive. I began to eat compulsively.  If someone asked me to do something I'd stick out my tongue or tell them to shut up.

My parents rushed me to a psychiatrist who instructed them to retrieve Floppy Bunny, but it was too late...

New stuffed animals offered by way of compensation were speedily rejected.

I knew I was doomed and my parents knew it, too.

When I grew up I became a stuffed animal addict. My compulsive purchases were not confined to bunnies either. My vast collection included tigers, elephants, monkeys, penguins, lemurs, and bears -- lots and lots of bears.

When I retired and moved from California to Northern New Mexico, I sold about half of my stuffed animal collection at a yard sale. It was the most difficult thing I've ever done and I wept copiously.

Once settled into a small efficiency apartment, I realized I didn't have room for the twenty-seven stuffed bears I had held onto...

At the present time, they are all confined to a large box inside my storage unit. I'm thinking of spending the night there once or twice a week just so they know I haven't forgotten them.

Basket Of Teddy Bears

Thursday, June 14, 2012

If I Could, I Surely Would (with apologies to Simon and Garfunkle)

GBE: 2 Prompt:  If you could live your life over...

I have had difficulty responding to this prompt though I'm not entirely sure why. Maybe because reviewing my past mistakes makes me cringe and feel sick to my stomach.

Mistakes? That sounds too mild,  like getting the answer wrong on a math test.

Misdeeds, gross misconduct, sins of commission and omission...not that I believe in sins, at least not in the Biblical sense.

Sometimes I have acted in a way that was harmful to others. I would change that, for certain, if I could.

If I could live my life over, I would not go looking for love in unlikely places; I would be braver, more willing to take risks; I would be more insightful and less self-absorbed.

Since humans are the only species burdened with a conscience, except for maybe dogs, I might choose not to be human at all.

I might like myself better as an osprey. One could do worse than feel the press of air beneath a six-foot wingspan, aim for the clouds, reverse direction and dive, beak arrowing down, turning at the last minute with talons extended to pluck an unwary fish out of the water. Not that the taste of raw fish compels me. It's the flying that appeals, the magnificent adjustable wings commanding the air.
Osprey Gliding
I have no doubt an ornithologist could tell me things about an osprey that would shatter my highly romanticized perspective but I don't want to hear them. In fact, rather than listen, I would stick my fingers in my ears and bellow the national anthem at the top of my lungs.

Sometimes I think I believe in reincarnation but not necessarily as determined by one's karma.

I don't really want to believe in karma because I'm pretty sure that, based on this life's karma, I would not be allowed to come back as an osprey.

More likely, I would return as a lumbering, panicky wildebeest running away from a cheetah or a lioness -- one of a million in a frenzied stampede toward a cliff's edge.

Only after several lives polishing and honing my wildebeest traits would I be allowed to return as an osprey.
Wildebeest Herd
But that, you must admit, is something to look forward to.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Safe Name Amendment

.Reverb Broads June 4 Prompt by Niki:  What did people tease you about growing up?  and
                         June 5 Prompt by Art and Soul:  Come up with a new constitutional amendment

What people used to tease me about was my Welsh name, Bronwyn (short o; y as in short i). I have expressed my suffering and resentment over this in a blog piece called You're Naming Your Kid What! which I hope you will take time to read.

In view of my sixty plus years' experience  being called Bronson or Bronsoon or Brownwin or Bro. Nwyn, the constitutional amendment I am proposing requires that parents select their child's name from a government-approved list of highly-pronouncable, commonly-used, tease-proof names such as Jennifer or Mary or Jane. Resorting to alternatives such as Angharad (I don't care if it means "beloved" in Welsh) or Bartholomew or  Cuthbert or Damaris will result in IMMEDIATE INCARCERTATION (and, no, rich people, you cannot get off by simply paying a fine).

Will this amendment contribute enormously to the common good? Probably not but it will remove a number of potential targets form the vast, victim-strewn field of schoolyard bullying.

In other words, it will do some good and that, my friends, is good enough for me.
Romeo And Juliet
"Oh, come on, Juliet! What's in a name?"

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

That High School Nightmare from Hell Again

#ReverbBroads2012 Prompt for Day 2: What gives you nightmares? Also GBE2 Prompt:  High School

I have been informed that either my bachelor's degree or my high school diploma or both are being officially revoked.

A newly-formed Board of Examiners (in character not unlike the Spanish Inquisition) has met and determined that I lack certain requirements -- especially and most importantly in the field of mathematics.

Did I seriously think I was going to get away with graduating summa cum laude having proceeded up the mathematical ladder only as far as  Algebra One?

The heretic registrar who told me I could substitute Inferential Statistics for Alegebra Two has been arrested and is in custody awaiting trial.

As for me, I am sentenced to return to high school.

HIGH SCHOOL? What the hell! I am an old woman. Can't I just be grandmothered in?

I carry a stack of heavy books balanced on my left arm as we used to do back in the late fifties. I am climbing an enormous spiral staircase. I cling with my right hand to the banister which is slippery with sweat and lord knows what else. My traditional-age classmates hurry past me, skipping alternate steps while I huff and puff like an old steam engine.

I arrive in class out of breath,and sitting down, turn to a page where numbers have combined with letters from an unknown alphabet to form what might be quadratic equations but might also be something altogether new in the ever-evolving field of mathematics, Perhaps we are required to determine the density of a black hole or estimate the probable number of strings which apparently hold together the universe.

There are directions at the top of the page but they are written in the Cyrillic alphabet and I never studied Russian. No doubt I would find them indecipherable even if they were presented in English.

This is just too damn much! Now in the grip of righteous indignation, I rise, an image of wrath incarnate,from my seat. "I am math disabled," I yell. "I have severe discalcula and you cannot punish me for that! I am awesome in History and English and Languages and you cannot take away my high school diploma and my college degree. You are in violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and I'm suing your sorry asses!"

this is the point where I usually wake up.

I am destined to have this nightmare over and over again.  The issue is never resolved.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Some Wishful Identities

I would like to be able to say I identify with some lofty literary character like Bronte's Jane Eyre or  Sophocles' Antigone but I don't.

At my age (68) the options have become limited. There's the inimitable Miss Marple in Agatha Christie's mysteries but I'm nothing like her and completely lack her understated acuity. Then there's today's icon of robust old age -- Betty White -- but I don't identify with her either.

There's Whistler's mother who, as far as I know, is nothing more than a painting and, anyhow, not to disparage motherhood, but I'd rather not identify with any one's mother -- even Whistler's.

There's a part of me who identifies with characters like Xena, the Warrior Princess or Wonder Woman. There is much I could accomplish if endowed with super powers. For instance, I would turn my grandson's bully of a social studies teacher into a quivering rodent and place her in a cage with a very hungry cat. In the end, though, I'd have to rescue her, turn her back into a human, and hope she'd learned her lesson

As a child I wanted to be Annie Oakley or some sort of fearless, gun-twirling cowgirl. Alternatively I wanted to be a horse -- preferably a Pinto or Palomino. With my infallible equine loyalty and incomparable speed I would gallop to rid the world of evil. My uncanny ability to judge character would result in my instantly bucking off all bad guys who tried to mount me, allowing only those whose motives were pure to keep their seat. Is there some thinly-cloaked sexual meaning in this image? Maybe, but probably not. I was only seven or eight when I developed that aspiration.

In thinking further, I have probably identified most (in recent years) with Tyne Daley's character in the TV series, Judging Amy. As Amy's mother and a social worker, she was courageously confrontational and had no patience with hypocrisy and political posturing. She was brilliantly outspoken, firing off words that reduced her opponent's status to that of a stuttering imbecile. She had a soft side, too, which allowed her to fall in love and grieve deeply when her fiance died. I believe she must have influenced the creation of Mrs. Rafina Draminsky, the main character of a novel I wrote. I didn't realize it, though, until someone suggested the comparison.

These days I have pretty much given up wanting to be someone other than myself.  Not that who I am couldn't stand some improving...

Friday, June 1, 2012

When Embarassments Come in Threes

locked myself out of my apartment
went out to lunch wearing mismatched shoes

out to dinner - wanted honey with my sopapilla