Wednesday, February 27, 2008

That rules the night

I don't believe in astrology, but according to the Gallup Strengthsfinder program, one of my top strengths is "connectedness," a sense or conviction that all things are connected and that things happen for a reason. Perhaps that is why, having been born under what astrologists call a moon sign and bearing a variant of the name for the Roman goddess of the moon, I instinctively feel a connection to the "cold-hearted orb that rules the night."

I had heard about a total lunar eclipse on February 13 and meant to make a note of it, but lately at many levels life has been unkind, and my mind is churning itself ever inward in a quest to find relief from the outside pressures and internal emotional turmoil that are beating it back.

That's probably why I forgot about the eclipse.

Fortunately, J. noticed it and called me around 9:00 p.m., just in time to witness the loveliest moments.

The last total lunar eclipse that I witnessed was many years ago, perhaps a couple of hours later in the evening. I walked over to 55th Street and Lake Shore Drive and found dozens if not hundreds of people standing around, pointing and talking. It was an event, something to be planned for, enjoyed with others, and talked about afterward.

I was by myself but did not feel it. Like many, I stayed until after 12:30 p.m. or 1:00 a.m. so as not to miss a glorious moment. What was one day of greater weariness at work at such a time? The opalescent beauty of the eclipsed moon made my soul ache in a wonderful way, and the crowd around me, with whom I had at least this one moment in common, helped to ease it. It was a wonderful ache, the kind that can never be duplicated.

Now, as long as I am here at The Flamingo, I can see the moon rise over Lake Michigan from my living room window until it reaches a certain height in the sky. When J. called, I didn't have to take time to dress and go out. I could watch the eclipse the way I always like to watch the full moon—naked, exposed, unhampered.

Yet I think I might have preferred sharing the experience, if not with an empathetic, warm-hearted friend, then perhaps with an unknown and transitory neighbor.

I looked down to where I had stood for the previous eclipse and saw no one. It was too cold. A lone Chicago police car made its circuit of the parking lot before heading west, away from the dimmed, eclipsed moon. A steady line of cars passed each other in their north or south journeys on Lake Shore Drive. Places to go, people to see, no time for cold-hearted orb above.

The flurry of traffic in its oblivious rush reminded me of a warm evening many years ago, when a full rainbow arced over the sky, its ends disappearing into the the north and south horizons. I stood at the edge of the road marveling as much at the hurry that prefers the mundane to the extraordinary as at the arc of pale colors against the storm-darkened skies.

Perhaps wondering why I was standing in such an odd spot, the driver of a car finally stopped so the passenger could get out to snap mobile phone photos that could not have done this magnificence the aesthetic justice it deserved.

This night the moon was too high in the sky for anyone in a car to notice it, and there were no strange, lone womanly figures standing by the road to serve as a signpost. The police made their accustomed rounds of the parking lot as they do every night, and the world drove on, unaware of the event taking place thousands of miles away visible right over their heads.

I couldn't help thinking of a time when the world was, in theory, less connected than it is today—when western and eastern hemispheres were ignorant of one another; when there was no telegraph, telephone, or Internet; and when communication in writing or through messengers and emissaries took weeks or months to wend its way back and forth.

Anyone who was still awake might have looked up into the sky and seen the strangely darkened glow of the moon and felt connected to the universe the moon represents, to God or the gods, and to something greater than the work and cares that bind us together yet keep us apart. Those watching the moon's temporary transformation might have realized that they were not alone in their sense of awe and wonder. For a moment, they may have felt themselves transformed, too, into part of something great and magical, something that spoke to their mind, their heart, and their soul. And then some more practical person, perhaps a spouse or a parent, might have called them in out of the cold and the elements—or that practical soul may have felt themselves drawn to see what was so compelling and beautiful.

Sometimes I think that the more physically connected we are through technology, the less spiritually connected we are to the something greater in which our tiny planet exists.

We speed to destinations unimportant as the moon presides over all.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

After the party

Hodge looks as tired as we felt after two nights of partying with the puppets. A great time! More later.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Dream: Torso terror

I lifted the covering of an object on my dressing table and found a replica of the upper half of my torso. I tried to remember where it had come from.

I recalled that I had common gadget that would duplicate simple objects and that one day I had pointed it at myself. It had created this duplicate, which I had put aside to deal with later and somehow had forgotten. As I looked at it again, it frightened me.

It was perfect in every way—it looked like human flesh (I couldn't bring myself to touch it), and I could see blue veins under the surface of the skin, which had a healthy, living glow. Worse, the half torso was solid; I knew that if I touched it, I would feel warmth and bones and would sense the organs underneath.

In the back of my mind I knew that this was incredible discovery—the ability to replicate entire body parts with a simple gadget, and that I should try to duplicate the effort. If I succeeded, I should announce the result to the world, or find a scientific team with which to work to explain it.

But all I felt was horror and fear and the need to get rid of the half torso—my half torso—as quickly as possible.

If I duplicated what had happened, I thought only that I would have two horrid half torsos to eliminate. If I failed, I would wonder how it had really come about, which was another dreadful thought.

I re-wrapped it and considered my options, a thought process hampered by my horror and terror.

I couldn't throw the half torso into a park district trash bin; someone would find it, it would be traced back to me, and I would be suspected of murder. I knew that no one would believe the only explanation I had—even I wasn't sure that I did.

I thought of burning it, but I couldn't do that unless I put it into a bag along with charcoals in a way and in a place that looked like I was having a barbecue. For some reason, I thought even this would look suspicious, and I also wondered about the smell of burning flesh and the possibility that human remains still could be found in the ashes, even if only charred bits of bone.

I was still pondering the problem, which seemed impossible, when I woke up. I realized then the illogic of a partial torso, which I also now knew to have been half or two-thirds size—how were the ends sealed off? How did the organs function, if they did? What kept it alive? Was it alive?

Now I also wonder if my fear was really of being caught, exposed, and punished, or if it was of destroying something that had been part of my being.

Melting ice, freezing heart

After days of cold and snow, snow and cold, and cold or snow, there was a partial thaw last Sunday. At this point, the ground is so saturated that the melting snow and ice run off into the street or pools on the grass. Now that it's cold again, the park reflects the odd gold of the streetlights at night.

By Sunday morning, so much water had run onto the north end of South Shore Drive that it had reached the hubcaps of a half-dozen cars parked in the lowest area.

When I looked out, I spotted a person (gender unseen) in knee-high boots, stabbing at the water between cars, occasionally making mopping or sweeping motions toward the park edge. This person worked hard at this for a half hour or more, as though he or she were trying to clear hidden, randomly placed drains, poke drainage holes in the pavement, and sweep the water back into the park, whence melting water was still flowing onto the street.

From an outsider's perspective, it was a Sisyphean task—perhaps the perfect metaphor for my life and the state of my mind. It was painful to watch, yet compelling in an inexplicable way.

Last Saturday, I took Hodge to the veterinary clinic for urine testing (crystals). I had decided to leave him for a few days because I needed to take a break from taking care of him, and I needed to be alone—completely alone—with my thoughts. I told the veterinarian that I would like to leave him until Tuesday evening, and she looked at me oddly and said, "You'll call Monday evening to let us know when you're picking him up?" She looked as though she thought it likely I would never return. No matter how I feel, though, a sense of responsibility wins out, which is why I am still here.

As she started to turn away with him to take him to the back, he reached out to me with both front feet and pawed my chest. The veterinarian told him, "Now, now, Mommy can't save you."

She couldn't have known that Mommy's under enough stress saving herself.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Quotations from D. H. Lawrence

[Lou]: "As far as people go, my heart is quite broken. As far as people go, I don't want any more. I can't stand any more. What heart I ever had for it—for life with people—is quite broken. I want to be alone, mother: with you here, and Phoenix perhaps to look after horses and drive a car. But I want to be by myself, really."
* * * * *
[Mrs. Witt]: "I'm convinced that ever since men and women were men and women, people who took things seriously, and had time for it, got their hearts broken. Haven't I had mine broken? It's as sure as having your virginity broken: and it amounts to about as much. It's a beginning rather than an end."
* * * * *
[Lou]: "I've got to live for something that matters, way down in me. And I think sex would matter to my very soul, if it was really sacred. But cheap sex kills me . . . I dislike [men] because they're not men enough: babies, and playboys, and poor things showing off all the time, even to themselves. I don't say I'm any better. I only wish, with all my soul, that some men were bigger and stronger and deeper than I am . . . No, mother, of this I am convinced: either my taking a man shall have a meaning and a mystery that penetrates my very soul, or I will keep to myself . . . And to [the spirit that is wild], my sex is deep and sacred, deeper than I am, with a deep nature aware deep down of my sex."

from St. Mawr by D. H. Lawrence

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Dream: Danger from the robot siblings

Virgil and I were at a carnival and volunteered for an act. We were placed inside a structure like a water tower. It was strange because we did nothing, and no one could see us.

Suddenly there was a light and a mechanical voice calling, "Clear!" When the excitement was over, Virgil had disappeared, and the panel to the outside wouldn't open. I understood that something was about to happen in the tower that was dangerous or life threatening. I saw a woman at some controls and knew her to be a robot. I asked her what was going to happen.

"The chamber is about to be flooded with [unrecognizable chemical-sounding name beginning with a 't']," she said.

I asked if it were harmful, and she answered, "It will burn your lungs and sting your eyes, but it will not kill you. Do not breathe it."

"How long will it last?"

"Several minutes."

"But I cannot not breathe for several minutes."

She shrugged subtly and left as she had entered—mysteriously.

I banged the door with my fists, but this only hurt my hands and made little noise, and there was no answer. I took off a walking show and slammed it against the door repeatedly. It made a little more noise, but no one came, and although I had a sickening sense that the robot woman had lied about the gas, I realized that all I could do was to see what happened.

I don't remember the gas, except that I took her advice and breathed as little in as possible. It burned and stung a little, but not remarkably.

The robot woman returned finally and this time let me out. I had a flash of insight that I had been punished for being too slow to grasp the meaning of the "Clear!" warning and how to act upon it.

It also flashed on me that the robot woman hated me, so I asked her point blank. As she fiddled with the controls, she said, "I liked you well enough at first."

I continued to look at her questioningly.

"The more you talked and the more you worried, the less I liked you," she said both coldly and passionately. I tried to recall the conversation and what had turned her to hatred, but couldn't remember meeting her. I senses that she hated my emotions and my honesty about them.

I got out and saw her talking to her robot brother. I couldn't hear their words, but I could hear in my mind the one important thought that I needed to act on. "She seems to be all right; wait until next week's newspaper comes out with the photo of her with Clark Kent." But I was not Lois Lane, and I knew of no such sexually incriminating photo. I knew, however, that they could produce one if they wished, and that the public would accept a fake as real even knowing the ease with which it can be done. I didn't know what to do.

I noticed that when I breathed hard (with the emotional excitement), a fog came out of my mouth and enveloped people and things in its path in what seemed to be a harmless cloud. I experimented to make sure that it was really my actions and not coincidence. I confirmed that I was the cause.

I had a creepy sensation that the robot siblings were watching my every move and would be able to hear my every word if I spoke. At the same time, I was certain that they did not know that I had "overheard" them and that I was producing the odd fogs and clouds. To test this, I followed the robot man discreetly and enveloped his head and sometimes his followers in a cloud. I sensed his conviction that this was his own doing.

Satisfied with my tests, I sought help about the newspaper threat from—Virgil? Clark Kent? (I didn't know him.) Someone else? I don't know; I thought I talked to someone, although I'm not sure how I evaded the knowing eyes and ears of the robot siblings (perhaps the clouds I produced hid us?). I do not know if the fabricated photo was published. Most important to me, I do not know why they hated me and my honest emotions so.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Valentine's Day preview

Is this a preview of Valentine's Day?

I like how her left toes are curled. :)

Three days, three falls

Another day of snow.

Three days, three falls.

And numerous failed (?) attempts. Graceful I'm not, but nothing broken.

According to the good doctor, Hodge has a tender bladder.

Better that than other organs we could name.

Dream: Sickening anguish

I don't feel well today, and I meant to get over it this morning and to be at work by noon. I couldn't, as it turns out, and so I am home for the day.

Dreaming was not therapeutic.

I was at home with my dad, and family and friends. The place and the people were not from my memory, but I loved them as though they were real.

There was a tiny room, perhaps mine, with peeling paint and plaster. I tried to find where the water was coming from, but it eluded me. It was unreal.

I was overcome by a terrible, wrenching anguish that worsened with time, and I could not stop crying. I needed comfort, and there was none. My father in the dream mocked me, insulted me, treated me with contempt, and finally ignored me as though I were not there. So did everyone else. My anguish only deepened, and with it their contempt for me. I was no longer human, and there was no end in sight.

When I finally woke up out of this nightmare, I could not face another one. Yet this is not much better.

Yesterday's mixed bag

Yesterday was a mixed bag.

On the plus side, I completed CPR/AED (automated electronic defibrillator) training and now have a cute wallet card. I will, however, defer to seven-year-old Boy Scouts at places like airports. By the way, it's apparently an advantage not to watch television, because I had no delusion that I could resuscitate the dead, a gift only actors have.

I also learned that a colleague claims she would rather die than have her clothes removed for the administration of CPR (that is, until I reminded her that her children might not appreciate the result of such modesty). This led to the idea of a potential interview question, "Are you willing to have your clothes taken off?" and the natural extension of the following conversation.

"How did the interview go? Did you get the job?"

"No."

"No? Why not?"

"I wouldn't take my clothes off."

I celebrated this minor achievement by waiting in wind, blowing snow, and frigid temperatures a half hour for a bus. Even better, when I got off the bus and headed for the corner, I fell on a smooth patch of ice cleverly hiding under snow. This was really for the amusement of the nearby college students, one of whom, a female, offered to help. She must not be a physics major, because even I know that without traction there's no helping anyone slight up, let alone someone of my bulk.

I wobbled home on more ice and rewarded myself with tea, ham and goat cheese on peasant bread (later remembering that I forgot the heirloom tomato), and chocolate chip cookies. Then, while reading, I decided to warm up by taking a quick nap, just for a few minutes, just to rest my eyes . . .

And at 10:45 p.m. struggled out of one of the first untroubled sleeps I've had in a while.

I needed that.

And more.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Dream: The meeting of the mountains

I was looking at a cliff of shelf-like rocks, each of which was named after a mountain, for example, Mount Sinai. I tried to understand what I was seeing because it made no sense. I knew but did not believe that all the mountains of at least the Middle East connected here somehow. It should have been enlightening and the answer to a lot of questions, but it was strange and disturbing.

I found myself in school, headed toward what looked like a botanical garden display of plants and trees in a natural setting, not at all orderly. The teacher was telling us to have lunch, then, with the rest of a smaller group, to talk or write about the calming beauty of this display. She pointed out a half dozen tiny trees behind us that some children had planted, and someone noted that one of them was a straggly dandelion towering over the rest.

There did not seem to be enough time for lunch and the assignment, despite the nature of it, and I did not know who my group was. I walked off with a girl I knew. When I turned around, I saw P. H., a quiet friend from grammar school. I beckoned to her, and she caught up. I introduced her as P. H., but suddenly I could remember the first girl's first name only (and can't remember even that now).

I don't know why I introduce them; they knew each other. They seemed to be mutually jealous or suspicious, and suddenly I felt that I was missing something and had done something wrong. Between the lack of time and the tension, what should have been an easy, pleasurable assignment had become stressful.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Happy anniversary to me!

If my memory is correct, this month I celebrate (if that's the correct word) 35 years of menstruation, or approximately 420 flushed eggs. As much as I'm not keen on ritual, at least as practiced in American society, I'm feeling a strange need for a ritual to acknowledge this anniversary. With a ritual, perhaps I wouldn't feel so different and alone. Maybe I could share some of my secrets and fears, and maybe someone would understand them—really understand them.

Despite all the secret society filmstrips and lectures, I didn't even recognize my first period when I got it. All I knew is that during the afternoon I started to feel bad. It wasn't a headache, a stomachache, or anything recognizable. It was an overall sensation of ache, emptiness, pain, and malaise. I thought I was going to die and that that wasn't a bad idea, under the circumstances.

The feeling came out of nowhere, as did the light brown stains in the panties. After telling my mother how lousy I felt, I showed them to her and said, "Do you think this [whatever it is] has anything to do with it?"

I don't remember my adolescent cycles being painful, but then I had other things to focus on. PMS and dysmenorrhea seemed to come with adulthood, along with anxiety and depression. Welcome to the world of grown-ups.

Nothing helps PMS for me—for the past 10 days I have been tense, irritable, and despairing, despite knowing the underlying physical cause. Knowing and recognizing the pattern gives me no control over my feelings and little over my behavior. Last night I disappointed J. because I couldn't bring myself to go to the University of Chicago folk festival. I had slept much of the day, trying to block memories and feelings, and to sit at a uplifting concert with tension pummeling my innards and my heart seemed unthinkable. Even grocery shopping, which requires some effort but is at least as unemotional as it gets, was preferable. Poor J.

Over-the-counter painkillers help the dysmenorrhea, but as time went on I took too many of them.

On one memorable occasion, my period started when my aunt had taken me to Charlottesville, Virginia, to see Monticello, Michie Tavern, and Ash Lawn. For me, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see them, so I could not afford to feel terrible, and I didn't want to ruin my aunt's trip, either. (She wanted to go because she was approaching 70 and didn't know how much good health she would have left to take such trips. She proved to be wiser than she knew—after a very active life, she died at 71 of pancreatic cancer.)

So, in the morning I took more than the usual amount of ibuprofen, more than the dosage recommended for an entire day.

It didn't work quickly enough, so I took more.

And more.

And more.

I don't know how much I took within the next hour or two or three, but I guessed later that it was somewhere between 18 and 24. Although I was woozy, naturally, I did enjoy the trip, one of the highlights of my life. But I vowed never to do anything so foolish again.

A few years ago, I quit taking ibuprofen and aspirin because I wondered if abuse of them had contributed to my hearing loss. Now I seem able to get by on the regulation dosage of time-release acetaminophen.

If I assume 22 years of PMS, 12 times a year, lasting 10 days on average, that means that for 2,640 days of my life I have been a physical and emotional wreck, whatever my actual circumstances. That's more than seven years. Seven years. For those seven years, which doesn't take into account the dysmenorrhea, I have not been rewarded with a spouse, children, or a happy and stable family life. It's been seven years of futility, of unrewarded pain.

Now, as I approach 47, remind me why I am supposed to dread menopause—the end of something that never really began but that caused a lot of misery for a lot of years.

When it's like this

even going to your third place (in my case, the library) to escape your worst thoughts is probably not a good idea, especially if you're going to have to wait 15 minutes for a bus.
I can feel my nose again. Mostly.

Dream: Dad and the snow glass

Before we knew quite what was happening and could stop him, my elderly father had climbed up onto a chair to get something out of a kitchen cabinet. The chair tipped over, but all that fell was a clear glass or stein, decorated with predominantly blue winter scenes and three dimensional snow like some of glass ornaments at the Christkindlmarket. We had never seen it before, but miraculously it seemed to be intact. Where was Dad?

I noticed then that the stein had broken into three unevenly sized pieces whose edges were polished instead of having the cloudy look of broken glass edges. I was nearly hysterical because I was afraid for Dad and somehow knew that he was part of the glass. We could restore him if only we knew how.

I appealed to Virgil, but couldn't tell if he understood me. I went outside into the snowy night to find help, perhaps from the skies or wind or trees.

Toes, tourniquets, and imagination

For the past week my right big toe has been in varying stages of infection. When this happens, I leave it alone, and usually it resolves itself in a few days.

By Friday, however, it was clearly demanding attention. It was and is red, hot, swollen, and tender. There seemed to be two options: amputation or antibiotics. Despite temptation, I opted to start with the latter supplemented with an antibiotic bandage.

Last night when J. and I returned from Whole Foods, I took my shoes and socks off first thing—and spotted blood on the bandage.

"Hmmm," I said, "where did that come from?"

"What?" J. said, focused on checking his mail using my DSL connection.

"Blood," I said, removing the bandage carefully. Usually my toe doesn't bleed. "Oh," he said. Nothing ruffles him when he's focused, although spurting blood might get his attention.

I peered at the bandage. I took off my glasses and peered more closely at the bandage flecked with red and at the toe, which was still red, hot, swollen, and tender, but which was definitely not bleeding.

Then it hit me what the "blood" was.

"Hmmm, never mind, it's the fuzz from my red socks," I said. "Hmmm," he said.

I may be more imaginative than intelligent, but at least I'm methodical.

Which brings me to tomorrow.

As far as I know, I'm signed up for a class on CPR/AED (automated external defibrillator). This should prove interesting, because this is the kind of practical, useful information and work for which I am ill suited. In a society where every pair of hands is needed to do something productive, like cooking, sewing, or crafting, I would be voted off the island immediately.

I'm reminded of my Girl Scout days, probably at least 35 years ago. One day, probably on a Sunday afternoon, I found myself in what I think was a community center or church in a neighboring town, participating in a first-aid class. The atmosphere of the place, which with its folding chairs and whitewashed walls and echoes of spaghetti dinners was perfectly ordinary and even institutional, combined with the dreariness of the day seemed to inspire my imagination with an impossible-to-describe feeling of both homeliness and novelty. Places that were new to me always left me feeling strange, probably because I did not get to go to many of them.

All I remember of the class is demonstrating our newly acquired skills on an adult dummy and a baby doll.

There was one other thing. I came away thinking that tourniquets were bad, a very last resort, because they meant amputation. This impression was so strong that I had it for years, until I was older, less imaginative, and more knowledgeable, when I finally understood the purpose and use of a tourniquet and that limbs didn't fall simply because one had been used.

While this is step one of enlightenment, it doesn't mean I could ever learn to apply one.

I think of one of my Girl Scout friends, an eminently practical girl who undoubtedly breezed through the program and who used to wonder occasionally how someone so "smart" could be so stupid, and who still seems to feel the same way about me. I suspect she is not alone.

And I think of the idealist protagonist of Anne of Green Gables, whose daydreaming inattention to food storage led to a mouse drowning in the pudding, to her foster mother's chagrin. I can see Anne, ever the dramatist, mistaking red fuzz for blood (and citing an appropriate poem for the occasion) and envisioning amputation while bypassing the reason.

Thirty years of adult life and loneliness have stifled some, perhaps much, of my imagination and my tendency to skip the details and to react before thinking, and out of necessity made me a little more pragmatic and practical. The cares of adulthood seem to be the enemy of imagination. We don't have the time or the luxury not to be practical, efficient, and responsible—all things that sap the joy out of living.

I miss that Girl Scout, who was both bright and stupid and who frustrated everyone with a practical nature.

And I could use a friend like Anne.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Dream: Subterranean house maze danger

I was at a trade association meeting, which was being held in an old manor house (not a banquet hall). I spotted a woman from my high school graduating class who had visited my classmates.com page recently, although we had not known each other then. I tried to be friendly with her, probably because I didn't know anyone else, but either she didn't recognize me or she pretended not to know me.

Distraught, I wandered off and through twists, turns, doors, and stairways that I later couldn't remember, I found myself in the decaying bowels of the old house. At one point I was looking at where part of the house seemed to be rotting into an earthen bank, and something—dirt? a piece of the house? a rat or other animal?—fell away and downward. I was startled and frightened and very alone. No matter what I did, I seemed to go deeper and deeper and to get more and more lost.

It occurred to me that something dangerous was hidden here. Several times I found steps or stairs, but it would not be clear whether they were going up or down, and down seemed to be fatal.

Somehow, I came to a brighter, less decayed part of this subterranean world and heard voices and machines. I envisioned, and even may have seen evidence of, an underground war plant.

By now I knew I would be in danger if I were found. Finally, I came to a place that looked like a dusty cellar or basement, with food and clothes in storage, where I was discovered, although I couldn't see by whom. "Oh, I was looking for the coat room," I said sheepishly and genuinely enough, and they seemed to believe me and took me back to the meeting. They did not seem to realize I had been underground and seen much, much more.

There was a sexual element involved at this point, but I'm not going to go into that.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Dream: The eerie banquet hall

Note to self: Stop dreaming about banquet halls. They're boring.

I was in a large banquet hall, but it was neither full nor noisy. My chair was at the front, on the floor, facing the audience, so I did not think I was quite an honored guest. I didn't know who I was, why I was there, or what my role was to be.

I left to look for the bathroom, which had colored terrycloth towels. When I came out, a white towel was draped over my arm, like a waiter's napkin. Somehow, this was supposed to be part of some comedic business, almost as though my playing a waiter would be funny in itself, given who I was. Although the room wasn't empty, I don't think I saw or heard anyone. The sensation was eerie.

There was more, but I may have blocked it.

Johnny and Phil Cunningham

Never were such a pair.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

In today's mail

I received this today in the mail, from a "Hodge Schirf," with my return address:

Happy Valentine's Day
From the Cat

Dear Diane,

Who needs candy,
when you have sweet,
adorable me?

Love,
Hodge

Naturally, I wonder where the detonator is hidden.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Dream: The demon lover

I'm not sure where I was; it may have been a small, quiet social gathering. There was some odd business about throwing a bottle or glass of wine into the air. If it landed one way, one thing would happen or be true; if it landed the other way, another thing would happen or be true. I didn't understand the two ways a bottle or glass could land.

I struggled with the how and why of this decision-making technique and didn't know what was being decided. What was going on?

I found myself in a dark, cave-like setting, lying under a man I sensed to be a vampire or a demon. I could see observers and felt rather than heard them ask me to make a choice between staying with the vampire-demon and coming with them. I was reluctant to go, but horrified that I might have sold my soul to dark powers. I said something wonderfully poetic to them that amazed me with its beauty and poignancy. I think I chose to stay.

It was such a real and powerful feeling that I knew even in my sleep that I didn't want to write about it when I woke up. My fear of those dark powers was that great.

I was at a concert on Hilton Head Island, where the entire audience was covered by a sheet of white plastic so that they couldn't see anything. This was intentional. The featured performer was Ricky Skaggs, whose name I know and whose face and music I don't. I stuck my head out from under the plastic to sneak a look and saw that he was in white face, almost like a clown. The longer I looked, the more he resembled a clown. Perhaps that was the reason for the plastic cover--to protect his image or the audience from it.

Meanwhile, I was still disturbed by thoughts of and desire for the vampire-demon.

I overslept, hoping to see the demon lover again.

Monday, February 4, 2008

My aunt Dorothy

April 22, 1925 to January 12, 2008

Dorothy D. Dengate, 82, Bellwood, died Saturday at The Village at Morrisons Cove, Martinsburg.

She was born in Bellwood, a daughter of the late James M. and Dora E. (Davis) Hollen. She married George L. Dengate Dec. 25, 1944, in Bellwood. He died Dec. 12, 1992.

Surviving are a son: David J., with whom she resided; and a sister, Charlotte Mountz of Clearlake, Calif.

She was preceded in death by a son, William L.; four brothers; and two sisters.

Dorothy was a member of Logan's Valley Baptist Church, Bellwood.

She enjoyed doing crafts.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2008, at Logan's Valley Baptist Church, Bellwood, with the Rev. Robert Coddington officiating.

Interment will be at Logan Valley Cemetery, Bellwood.

In lieu of flowers, expressions of sympathy in Dorothy's memory may be made to Logan's Valley Baptist Church, Bellwood. Arrangements are by Jon C. Russin Funeral Home, Bellwood.

Harbingers of spring

Yesterday while I was on the way to Regenstein Library, a little flock of birds twittering around a little tree caught my attention. With a few exceptions, they were American robins, fluttering on and off the tree's tiny branches and trying to hop around in the several inches of snow that remained after last week's storms.

I thought about how seldom I see robins flock, even in this modest way.

And how magical that one of the first signs of spring would appear unexpectedly among the cold, wet vestiges of a harsh winter. In early February.

I hope they have enough to eat to keep warm.

This weekend's acquisitions

Baudelaire: Poems (Everyman's Library Pocket Poets) by Charles Baudelaire.
Paris Spleen: 1869 by Charles Baudelaire.
American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird, Martin J. Sherwin.
Best Women's Erotica 2008 edited by Violet Blue.
The Best of Best American Erotica 2008: 15th Anniversary Edition (Best American Erotica) edited by Susie Bright.
What Are You Optimistic About?: Today's Leading Thinkers on Why Things Are Good and Getting Better by John Brockman.
What Is Your Dangerous Idea?: Today's Leading Thinkers on the Unthinkable by John Brockman.
What We Believe But Cannot Prove: Today's Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty by John Brockman.
Cousin Phyllis by Elizabeth Gaskell.
Ravens in Winter by Bernd Heinrich.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Temptation

I resisted the temptation to roll the luggage cart with Hodge on it out the fire door and down the fire escape.


For one, I'd probably have had to pay for the cart.

And there would be questions.

Review: The Black Arrow

The Black Arrow. By Robert Louis Stevenson. New York: Airmont Publishing Company, Inc., 1963. 256 pages.

With the War of the Roses as its backdrop, The Black Arrow blends the romance of young love and the excitement of its hero's initiation into war and politics. The theme of loyalty runs throughout—loyalty to parents, guardians, leaders, followers, lovers, and oneself.

England's loyalties are divided between Lancaster and York, although the distinction makes little difference to the country's more practical citizens. "It is the ruin of this kind land," a woman said. "If the barons live at war, ploughfolk must eat roots." When the naive young hero, Richard Shelton, reassures her that men "cannot better die than for their natural lord," another man points out, "No natural lord of mine . . . I followed the Walsinghams . . . And now I must side with Brackley! It was the law that did it; call ye that natural?"

Despite young Dick's idealism, which makes him faithful to his guardian and to the men with whom he has served, despite many disturbing rumors, it soon becomes apparent that most men are loyal primarily to their self-interests, whether they seek power like Richard Crookback or favor and riches like Dick's guardian, Sir Daniel Brackley. Even the mysterious "Jon Amend-All" of the black arrow, whose objective is to revenge himself and his friends on Brackley, is found collecting rents from Brackley's cottagers, acknowledging that they will suffer the hardship of having to pay twice. The man behind "Jon Amend-All" is no beneficent Robin Hood, but as cold and crafty a political operative as Brackley himself.

Brackley's loyalties are soon explained. "I lie in Kettley till I have sure tidings of the war, and then ride to join me with the conqueror . . . Tosspot and Shuttle-wit run in, but my Lord Good-Counsel sits o' one side, waiting." As Clipsby says, "For, indeed, he is one that goes to bed Lancaster and gets up York."

Fleeing from one danger into another, Dick finally understands that he cannot trust Brackley simply because he is Dick's guardian, or even Ellis Duckworth as his savior and protector. The only person upon whom he can rely is the girl he loves, who, ironically, was intended to be his wife in one of Brackley's financial maneuvers. The black arrow flies from Tunstall Forest to Kettley, then through wetlands back through Tunstall to the Moat House and on to Shoreby, with treachery and the threat of war hanging over all.

With every adventure, Dick's loyalty turns more inward on himself and his heart's desire. He is loyal to York because Ellis Duckworth is and Daniel Brackley isn't. When he finds himself rapidly in and out of Richard Crookback's favor, he is "neither glad nor sorry." Danger and treachery transform Dick into a more mature man who recognizes that loyalty is neither won nor lost so easily or quickly. In one of the novel's strangest and weakest scenes, he proves his loyalty to his bride-to-be by rejecting the advances of her best friend, peculiar as they are.

The series of events that makes Dick a man is his theft of the Good Hope, its subsequent destruction, and the death of the captain's man, Tom. "Dick's heart smote him at what he heard. Until that moment he had not perhaps thought twice of the poor skipper who had been ruined by the loss of the Good Hope; so careless, in those days, were men who wore arms of the goods and interests of their inferiors . . ." Dick achieves his aims, but at the cost of many lives and the prosperity of the innocent Arblaster, who mourns "my man Tom" until the end of his days.

As a protagonist, Dick is refreshingly and painfully human, at least outside battle. While brave, he lacks the ability to pick up on clues that are obvious to his less-sheltered acquaintances, including those about the true nature of Jack Matcham. He suffers remorse for what he has done and begins to ask others like Ellis Duckworth to reconsider their course. He has the mercy that Richard Crookback and Brackley lack.

Whatever its historical flaws (some of which Stevenson points out in footnotes), The Black Arrow is beautifully written, with well-drawn characters, a plot that rarely stalls, realistically bloody battle scenes, and dialogue that is often poetic without being jarring. While not Stevenson's greatest effort, The Black Arrow is exciting and fun for anyone of any age who loves a solid historical drama.

Sunday, 3 February 2008.
© 2008 by Diane L. Schirf.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Dream: Transparent pregnancy

I had gotten it into my head that I wanted to make love with man I knew who seemed willing but reluctant and sad. There was something odd about him, but I could not figure it out or why I was so driven. He warned me again that I would regret it but would not be more specific.

The next thing I remember seeing is what appeared to be transparent film with a pucker in it, which, to my horror, I realized must be the mark of where his penis had been before being pulled out by the root. The film was all that was left of him.

As for me, I was encased in transparent film. I knew now what he had tried to warn me about--this was pregnancy for his species, for which he must die. And I was trapped.

The campaign playground

If I were a Venusian newly landed on Earth and were trying to makes sense of the U.S. presidential primaries, I might think it's like a child's game where the winner is the one whose hand ends up on top. In this case, given the focus on insults, personal attacks, or whatever you want to call them, the winner is the candidate who comes up with the most convincing story. At least, that's how our Venusian might see it, because most of what she sees are attacks.

I don't doubt that elections of this kind have always been like this; I remember seeing some pretty good barbs from the 1800s. They remind me of children on the playground: "Your mother wears Army boots!" "Yeah, well, your father's a poofta!" The content of a campaign speech may be more adult, but the effort itself seems just as juvenile.

I've never quite understood the purpose of these traded barbs in politics. But, just as each playground combatant has supporters behind him who affirms his assertions (even without understanding them or knowing them to be true), candidates have their followers who seem to see each attack as a telling blow for their side, whether it is substantiated or not.

The rest of us probably wish they would just shut up.

I don't understand why a real leader doesn't arise who ignores the fighting and the petty sniping, who recognizes it for what it is, a lack of character, confidence, and leadership, a reversion to the ways of childhood. The differences between the candidates of each party are not that great, that is, McCain and Romney, and Clinton and Obama, are pretty similar. No one stands out. Undoubtedly, each is loyal to his or her party, and their plans for shaping the respective platforms are not radically different. I suspect most voters feel the same way and that most vote for the candidate they like best, not the one whose insults are most telling.

"Change" seems to be the buzzword for recent campaigns, so I suggest a real change that any and every candidate could implement right now. Ignore the other candidates. It doesn't matter what they did or didn't do; if their shortcomings are truly serious, I would hope that there are still a few honest journalists left to root them out and enlighten us. Ignore their insults. Stand alone. Focus on what you have done and can do and will do, and what you stand for. Differentiate yourself by rising above the fray. Show character. Take that risk.

Lead.