What Is This?

I HAVEN’T SLEPT WELL LATELY.

I haven’t slept well lately. I wake up worrying about my husband, our children, their children, our pets, my health, my friends — especially those who are single or have health issues, healthcare workers, people who stock our grocery stores and check us out, immigrant families in detention centers, what our president might do next or not do, the world…

My life has changed dramatically in just a few weeks. No visits with kids and grandkids, no workouts in the gym, no church, no French class, no dance class, no boxing class, no choir, no in-person meetings, no social life.

I go about my days and try to keep an “attitude of gratitude.” After all, I’m one of the lucky ones. I can talk on the phone and FaceTime. I can work in the garden and take walks. I can read and watch TV. We can go camping with our trailer and change environments. But the lack of connectedness to other people is palpable.

I feel overwhelmed and powerless. My life as I know it is gone, at least for the present. An article I read in the Harvard Business Review pinpointed what I’m feeling: grief. And as the author, Scott Berinato, says, “If we can name it, perhaps we can manage it.”

His piece, “That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief,” March 23, 2020, HBR, centers on an interview with David Kessler, who co-wrote with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss

Kessler says, “We’re feeling a number of different griefs. We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change and this is the point at which they changed. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.”

“We’re also feeling anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain. Usually it centers on death. We feel it when someone gets a dire diagnosis or when we have the normal thought that we’ll lose a parent someday. Anticipatory grief is also more broadly imagined futures. There is a storm coming. There’s something bad out there. With a virus, this kind of grief is so confusing for people. Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. We’re feeling that loss of safety. I don’t think we’ve collectively lost our sense of general safety like this. Individually or as smaller groups, people have felt this. But all together, this is new. We are grieving on a micro and a macro level.”

I feel better having a label for my feelings. It allows me to breathe, to move around in my world, to appreciate the things I do have, to find new ways of living and being, and to remember that the most important things are the people we love and care about.

I can reach out to my family and friends – through phone calls, text messages, emails, FaceTime, Zoom, cards and letters, walks while we talk, birthday cakes dropped off at front doors, and prayer. I am not powerless to let them know I’m thinking about them, and I can do something each day to stay connected.

And in time, life will be “normal” again, even if it’s different.

Life with Parkinson’s

SOME DAYS

Some days when I wake up, I can’t see the time — on the clock on Gene’s bedside table or the one on my phone. My right leg is twitching , my toes are cramping and feel glued together, my back is stiff and achy, and my balance is … well, It’s shit. I must look drunk on the way to the bathroom.

But I take my meds, brush my teeth, and have a cup of coffee. I may be shaking on the right side, but within an hour, I’m doing pretty well. And if I stick to my schedule, the meds keep my tremor under control.

Such is my life with Parkinson’s. And yet, when I got an automated call yesterday from my health insurance provider, I answered “very good” to the question about my current state of health because, except for the Parkinson’s, it is very good. After all, when asked if I had this health issue or that one, I was able to answer “no” to every one of them. That’s because they didn’t ask me if I had Parkinson’s — or any movement disorder, for that matter.

The truth is, I can do pretty much whatever I want to, thanks to good medicine (doctors and chemicals) and lots of exercise. Like Alan Alda, my motto is “Keep moving.” And so I do. I work out with a trainer on Monday and Friday, go to a boxing class on Tuesday,  attend a Dance for Parkinson’s class on Wednesday, walk, hike, and garden.

This is my trainer Matt Jarvis, with me. Under normal circumstances, I work out with Matt twice a week, in a group.

On Thursday, I attend Tremble Clefs, a choir of people with Parkinson’s (and a few care givers), directed by a music therapist. You see, Parkinson’s tries to make everything controlled by your nervous system smaller — your movements, your handwriting, even your voice.

Having lived in San Francisco, Seattle, Faribault, MN, Phoenix, and Tucson, and having worked most of my life, I have lots of friends. And being in the Phoenix area with our five children (Gene’s two and my three) and 10 grandchildren, there is, under normal circumstances, lots of interaction with people of all ages.

This is my husband Gene and me with our nine grandchildren. The 10th, a baby boy,
was born 2 months later.

So I go about my days like anyone else, constantly aware of my disorder, but pretty much ignoring it. Even in this surreal time of COVID-19, life is good. And I am grateful.

Life with Parkinson’s

SOME DAYS

Some days when I wake up, I can’t see the time — on the clock on Gene’s bedside table or the one on my phone. My right leg is twitching , my toes are cramping and feel glued together, my back is stiff and achy, and my balance is … well, It’s shit. I must look drunk on the way to the bathroom.

But I take my meds, brush my teeth, and have a cup of coffee. i may be shaking on the right side, but within an hour, I’m doing pretty well. And if I stick to my schedule, the meds keep my tremor under control.

Such is my life with Parkinson’s. And yet, when I got an automated call yesterday from my health insurance provider, I answered “very good” to the question about my current state of health because, except for the Parkinson’s, it is very good. After all, when asked if I had this health issue or that one, I was able to answer “no” to every one of them. That’s because they didn’t ask me if I had Parkinson’s — or any movement disorder, for that matter.

The truth is, I can do pretty much whatever I want to, thanks to good medicine (doctors and chemicals) and lots of exercise. Like Alan Alda, my motto is “Keep moving.” And so I do. I work out with a trainer on Monday and Friday, go to a boxing class on Tuesday,  attend a Dance for Parkinson’s class on Wednesday, walk, hike, and garden.

On Thursday, I attend Tremble Clefs, a choir of people with Parkinson’s (and a few care givers), directed by a music therapist. You see, Parkinson’s tries to make everything controlled by your nervous system smaller — your movements, your handwriting, even your voice.

Having lived in San Francisco, Seattle, Faribault, MN, Phoenix, and Tucson, and having worked most of my life, I have lots of friends. And being in the Phoenix area with our five children (Gene’s two and my three) and 10 grandchildren, there is, under normal circumstances, lots of interaction with people of all ages.

So I go about my days like anyone else, constantly aware of my disorder, but pretty much ignoring it. Even in this surreal time of COVID-19, life is good. And I am grateful.

My Ikigai

wHAT IS AN IKIGAI?

What is an ikigai? Roughly translated from Japanese, it’s a “reason for being.” Some people explain it with a diagram of four intersecting circles: your values,  things you like to do,  things you’re good at, and what the world needs. The convergence of those things is your ikigai.

For me, it’s writing. Writing is the thing that can get me out of bed in the middle of the night because I simply must do it. Anne Lamott says the key to writing is keeping your “butt in the chair.” That’s not a problem for me. My problem is getting my butt out of the chair!

And when I wake up in the morning, the first thing I may think about is rewriting what I’ve written. It’s a self-imposed challenge to get a piece perfect. Of course it’s an impossible task, so I’ve learned to “cut bait” and move on. But I do love the process.

Another thing Anne Lamott says about writing is, “Every single thing that happened to you is yours, and you get to tell it. If people wanted you to write more warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” I love that. And I can think of plenty of stories about people in my life who “should have behaved better.” But those are for another time.

Today is not a good day for a sad story. Today, in honor of France and all they’re going through with COVID-19, I’m going to write about a French stranger who was kind to me last May, while we were traveling the country.

Gene and I were staying in a little hotel right on the Place de L’Horloge in Avignon’s city center. He was in bed with a bad cold, so I offered to go find dinner to-go. Across the Place is a gigantic “food court,” a line of outdoor cafes, with men in front of each one hawking their wares. There are large poster menus on easels in front of each restaurant.

I found a menu that had soup, and asked if I could get it “to-go” because my husband was sick in bed. The man said, “I’m sorry, madame,  we only can package hamburgers and pizza to-go. I said, “Thank-you anyway,” and turned to leave. He said, “Wait, madame. Where are you staying?” “Across the Place at Hotel De H’horloge,” I answered. “Well, Madame,” he said, “if you can wait about 20 minutes, we will fix a tray for you, and if you will please bring it back, you may take it to your husband.”

I ordered minestrone, caprese, and lasagna, paid, and sat down to wait. In about 20 minutes, out comes my lovely man, who’s about 5′ 8″, carrying a gigantic tray covered with a white linen cloth. He lowers the tray, uncovers it, and shows me crocks of hot soup and lasagna, a plate of caprese, dinner plates, cloth napkins, silverware, and little salt and pepper shakers. I stand up, he looks at me, and waves over a tall waiter, explaining to him in French that he needs to follow me to my hotel room with the tray.

Off we go across the Place, into the hotel, up the tiny lift, and across the hall to our room. I knock on the door and Gene answers, expecting me with a ham sandwich. Instead, here we are with a huge tray of food, which the waiter proceeds to set out on our desk, as if it’s a dining room table. I thank him politely, give him a tip, and away he goes.

Gene and I stand there, eyes wide open in disbelief. We put towels on the bed, plate our beautiful meal, and begin to eat. Five minutes later, there’s a knock on the door. It’s the waiter. “Pardon, Madame,” he says. “We forgot the bread!”  With that, he hands me a basket of bread and disappears. You see, in France you would never think of serving a meal without bread.


 

Back in the Saddle

Retirement is a Misnomer; My Purpose Hasn’t Changed

It’s been two years since I retired from my full time position with Arizona Theatre Company, and the main thing I miss is the writing. So I’ve decided to take my daughter’s advice and start blogging. Even if no one reads my blogs, I will enjoy writing them. So “I’m back in the saddle.”

Why is the word “retirement” a misnomer? At least, for me? Some people die — literally — of boredom, once they retire. They feel purposeless and don’t know how to fill their days. They get depressed. They give up on their new-found freedom.

Not me. I haven’t looked back. This is time I never had when I was working, time to do things purely for pleasure and in the process, be inspired every day by the interesting people I share the planet with. It is “indescribably delicious,” as the Mounds wrapper says. And I feel lucky.

What things am I talking about? Well, I will tell you in upcoming blogs. But for now, let’s just say I’m having more fun than anyone deserves to have! And I think it’s because, like the Japanese, I have an  ikigai (pronounced like “icky guy”), a reason to wake up in the morning. The reason may change from day to day, but it’s nearly always there.

And in the next blog, I’ll tell you about it.