Tuesday, May 13, 2014


In my struggle to find some inner quiet, I was thinking about a different crucifix, one I saw back in 2001 in Madrid. It dates to 1063, and was made in Aragon under the patronage of the King Ferdinand I of Leon and his wife, Queen Sancha. They poured enormous amounts of their money into the arts. For that I am hugely grateful.

The ivory crucifix haunted me when I saw it in the Museo Arqueológico Nacional. Christ is impassive, long. His feet rest on a board. He does not truly hang, and under him, a tiny figure holds him up. He skin is luxuriantly smooth; his eyes are kind, and yet piercing. The crucifix is bordered by intricate Celtic design. You know I love that. The area the crucifix came from, the town of Jaca in the north, was settled by Celts, and you can see its influence quite manifestly. On the back of the crucifix are the Agnus Dei, the symbols of the Evangelists, and more interlace. I commune with this Christ and feel peace, anytime I feel shattered. He helped me out today; He is much better than Xanax.

Then I got to thinking about how frustrating the world is, and how I am tired, and how I feel finished. But He reminded me that I haven't made it to Jaca (or Leon) yet. I have work to do. I need to visit the cathedral in Jaca, to find this playful Romanesque bear. To walk around all the capitals, to find the jokes on the margins.

For some reason, I feel most at home in the Romanesque. Is it that it was a transitional moment? Is it the continued strangeness of antiquity and Christianity in conversation, before the Gothic wiped out the last cobwebs? I need to walk down from the Pyrenees and see this view of Jaca, on the Camino, like those Romanesque peregrinos on the Roman roads that were old, even in 1063. I need to take another pilgrimage. It's time.

And if I am walking the Camino, I have to start in France and visit Ste. Foy in Conques. She started me on all of this back, back, back all those years ago as a confused young woman.

I think about walking meditation, and my beloved friend Boreth. And how clearing the mind by walking is the best medicine. I leave you with words from one of his essays on the body and peace:

As I prepare to go for a walk on the beautiful campus of the University of California at Santa Cruz where I now teach, I am reminded of the words of Maha Ghosananda, who led a peace walk from Thailand to Cambodia right after the Khmer Rouge genocide: 'The Buddha called the practice of mindfulness "the only way." Always in the present. At this very moment. From moment to moment. In all activity. In this very step.' 

From "Buddhist Walking Meditations and Contemporary Art of Southeast Asia," Boreth Ly, Positions, 20:1, 267-286.

Black Holes

A wonderful, thoughtful friend sent me a link to a video this morning. A video of a woman, a poet, speaking eloquently and emotionally about her girlfriend's experience. Trying to hold people together in the trauma ICU. My life is a whole lot less dramatic, but I still see death. I see teams assemble to save lives. To perform CPR, to give blood. Sometimes I come home and cry. It's all I can do. Or just go into that place of silence, holding my children, feeling their pulses and their breath. Giving thanks that they're alive.

I love how the video begins with the poet talking about how neither of them have normal jobs, so they're both at home on a Tuesday afternoon. I love that Nalini, Katie, Chris and I all have that strange schedule and can be together, too; and that we all work to support lives in different ways: in the ICU, in the ED, in pediatric oncology. I have never regretted this career change, and the friends I've found are more steadfast and understanding than I can describe.

Monday, May 12, 2014


I am exhausted.

I am tired of adoptees being told that our mothers' rights trump ours. That we don't really matter, or we have to work around other people's comfort levels, or blood ties aren't important, or any of a thousand things. We might be disruptive. We might disturb people's peace. We might wake up long buried feelings and make others uncomfortable. Our fathers were all "bad boys." So many possibilities for damage we might bring; never mind about our own feelings. Never mind that we have thought long and hard and lived with our own discomfort. Never mind.

Our mothers need protection from us, as the legislation in Louisiana and Missouri suggests. It's disappointing what people accept as their lot.

Never mind our health. We are not really human. We can do just fine without medical histories. Writing "Adopted, don't know" works so well.

Seriously, animals get treated better than we do sometimes. Purebred dogs have pedigrees. I knew my dog's sire's name but didn't know my own father's name. And before anyone trots out that no one really knows who their father is, please check yourself. That is pathetic. Yes, people lie about paternity, but that's not how the game is normally played.

I was talking to my MD today, we went over my  medical "problem list." Its length and seriousness sent me over the edge. I am angry. I am beyond angry, actually.

I guess what it comes down to is that I am more than a list of my problems, but they have set my world upside down. I could have been spared things on the list if I'd known more about myself, or if my circumstances had been different. It is what it is. On the other hand, I am impressed that I am still alive.

That said, I am tired of being Atlas. I am tired of bearing the weight of other people's bullshit and lack of concern. I don't even feel like Rodin's fallen caryatids today. That would require more strength than I have. I feel more like the plague-afflicted, suffering Jesus in the Isenheim Altarpiece. And yes, note John the Baptist pointing, although I give him a more sinister reading since he stands in for the Cabal and naysayers in general ("Ooh, look, Jesus is so angry and bitter and emotional. How embarrassing not to be empirical like we are.") The swooning mother: also a bit problematic.

I am going to bed. Not even looking at Velázquez or Sargent can help me tonight.

Sunday, May 04, 2014


It has been a week since my birthday. I may be half of 90, but I am still alive.

I spent most of the day in the wonderful company of my lovely friend Nalini, who took me to see two films: Manakamana, about people coming and going from a temple in Chitwan, Nepal; and Belle, about a mixed-race woman raised by her father's aristocratic family in late 18th-century England. I enjoyed Manakamana, although I think it could have been edited down to better effect. Some of the groupings of people in the cable car were very compelling; others were less so. I loved the grandfather/grandson pair; the chatty women; the daughter-/mother-in-law eating melting ice cream; the older couple, whom we saw both coming and going; and the young men in the rock band, who provided interesting cultural commentary. They would have been a thoughtful confounding of the setup of timeless-modern that the directors were positing. I couldn't stand the stereotypical white woman, who was going on and on about the horrible Himalyan foothills, and how there is no decent black-and-white film in Nepal, blah blah blah. Her pretentiousness made me want to slap her. On the other hand...we all know people like that are out there. Belle, by contrast, was a fictional telling of a true story about a woman raised by family, all extrapolated from a Zoffany portrait showing two young women, of different colors, as equals. Not typical of the time. At. All. I watched her struggle with her face, herself, her color: pulling at herself in the mirror. I don't know what it's like to want to change my color, but I do know what it's like to be different and pull at my face, wanting it to be different and like the people I am around. I loved that her father took her to his family, and insisted that they raise her: "I am not ashamed." Tears streamed down my face. I hope that was what my own father would have said, introducing me to his family. I hear from people that he would have done. I don't know. Is hoping crazy? "Do not be afraid. I am here to take you to a good life. A life that you were born to."

I drank Pimm's on my birthday. Two glasses. I wanted to be in England, my safe place. Where I can hide, act, pretend. Where when I was young, I knew I was an odd duck, but it was all right.

Then later in the week, on May Day, I saw an excellent film, The Skeleton Twins, about siblings who have not spoken in 10 years (starring Bill Hader and Kristin Wiig in dramatic roles). They are reunited after the brother attempts suicide. His sister takes him in, nurtures him gingerly, and they try to apply salve to each other's brokenness. Sometimes clumsily, sometimes with great skill. In one fabulous scene they reenact something from their childhood (or so it's implied): a lip synching/dance routine to an 80's power ballad. I cried again. They shared such history. I lost that with my brother. I will never have that, can never have that. And whatever history we can build, we're not doing a very good job of things right now. Are we going to be 90 and 85 and say, "What did we do?" So I reached out to him. No response. All I can do is try, but my best and his best may never match up.

"Mayday," I want to shriek into the wind.

Then I was cleaning out my closet and found a book of my grandmother's poetry that C had given me. I read through it last night, weeping. One particular short poem was funny but painful:


Later--when I'm older
When I'm grayer
Fatter, Bolder
Then I'll do it

Later, when I'm more 
Than ten pounds overweight
Later, oh three or four
Years, before too late.

Ha, Mimi. Did you do it? Did you? She died almost a year ago now. I hope she did what she wanted to do; unfortunately for me, that did not include welcoming me with open arms.

I hope that my brother can find it in his heart to meet me a little towards the middle. I hope that my mother can find a way to work with me on what happened with my father. It is not just my story, although I am the outcome of their meeting. I know that they shared more than a one-night stand. I understand the hurting, but talking might help.

What else?

I saw Richard Linklater's brilliant new film, Boyhood, that he made over 12 years, filming one scene a year and tracing in real time a family's change. It was marvelous to see in the three hours a boy grow to manhood and how his relationships changed, both with himself and with others. Ethan Hawke, playing his father, was subtle and amazing, as usual, and Linklater's eye: Tolstoyan, as Mark suggested, watching and registering without judgment. People are flawed. We all have strengths and weaknesses, if we can see them and honor them and try to change. "Life doesn't give you bumpers." That's for damn sure.

I am seeing more and more that life is trying to make the best of what we have, and fighting for what and whom we love.