Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Year From Hell

Yesterday, I had a brief e-mail exchange with a new blog friend concerning "years from hell." This friend lost her mother a year ago last Saturday, and her father shortly before Thanksgiving. And, in spite of the loss of her father so close to the anniversary of her mother's death, she refers to last year as her "year from hell".

My year from hell began in late 1991. Mary's mother, Dorthy (not a typo) became sick sometime in the late summer or early fall. She possibly had an inkling that she was sick, because she had started to write her life's story shortly before she went into the hospital. I gladly took on the job of typing her handwritten pages.

Dorthy was born sometime in the Depression. Her own mother died when Dorthy was relatively young, and her stepmother seemed less loving by comparison. She was still a pre-teen when she was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and was sent to live with relatives in New Mexico or Arizona. Thus, as reflected in those handwritten pages, her life began with significant loss, and a sense of rootlessness.

Sadly, Dorthy did not write more than a few pages of her story.

I met Dorthy when Mary and I started dating, in the latter half of the 80s. Dorthy immediately accepted me as part of the family, and loved me as if were another son. She quickly became for me a new positive image of a mother figure. Ironically, Mary came to claim that her mother loved me more than her.

Mary and I were not told what Dorthy's illness was, even after she entered the hospital. Mary suspected it was a form of cancer, related somehow to the TB she suffered early in life. Whatever it was, it claimed her in November of 1991.

Thanksgiving and Christmas had been very special holidays for Dorthy; she always pulled out all the stops. We were acutely aware of our loss as we made our way through November and December. We could have been easily mistaken for zombies.

My father died in January of 1992, just a week after his 65th birthday. As I have said a number of times before, Padre had essentially given up on life almost 15 years previously. Brother Dave once said that Padre had been committing slow-motion suicide from the time he was laid off in 1975. That was Padre's year from hell; his wife Wanda (my step-mother) died that same year.

Despite knowing all this about Padre, I was still pained by his death. I suppose I always held the hope, or fantasy, that he would rediscover life, and the man I had grown up admiring would be restored.

Mary and I drove to Midland, TX, where Padre had spent the last several years of his life in a curious symbiotic relationship with his mother. Our trip was made possible by our church, which passed a special collection plate to help cover our expenses, and a friend who loaned us his gas card. Mary's younger brother loaned us a CB radio to assist with the drive south. There had been some serious snowfall, even as far south as Dallas.

Brother Dave had already dealt with most of the necessary arrangements. The last item was a visit to the bank where Padre had his account. I rode with Dave. It was during this ride that I screwed up the courage to ask for Padre's guitar. As the eldest son, Dave was supposed to inherit the guitar. With tears welling in my eyes, I said I really would like to have it.

Brother Dave simply said that it only made sense that I have it, as I was more likely to play it (he jokes that the only music he plays is on his sound system).

That evening, Mary and I were invited to stay at Gran's, in the bedroom Padre had occupied. This was just too eerie for me, so we stayed at a local motel.

Padre's memorial service was on Saturday. Gran insisted on an open casket, and sat beside it weeping up until the time the service started. I did not even care to think about looking in the casket. I preferred my childhood memory pictures.

Padre's cemetery plot is in OKC, about 30 minutes east of where I now live. His internment was the Friday following his memorial service. Following a tradition he and his siblings had started (Padre was the youngest of four), I laid a single yellow rose - for remembrance - on his coffin.

My biological mother died a year later. But I do not include that loss in the official "Year from Hell".

A month after Padre's death, Bob died. Bob was Mary's brother; Mary was the oldest of three, and Bob was the middle child. The year prior to his death, Bob had become a crack addict, and his death was associated with that. Though I'm pretty sure no explosions were involved.

Both Bob and his mother had served in the Navy, and the "Navy Hymn" ("Eternal Father, Strong to Save") was played at both services. I still get misty when this hymn is played in church. It is, at best, a melancholy mist.

By the point of Bob's funeral, I had developed a routine for the receiving line. Shaking hands and saying, "Thanks for coming" had become as automatic as saying "Amen" at the end of a prayer.

I had the image, in the year or so that followed, that grief comes in waves. At first, it's very intense, like an ocean at high tide. Then, as months and years pass, the waves decrease in intensity. A high wave might reappear with certain anniversaries, but even those waves become smaller, or at least more bearable, with time.

My blog friend had an interesting image for this: "I'm heartened to hear that others have Hell Years and that they fade into some kind of past, maybe not fade from memory or touch, but at least take a back seat on the bus. "

I also think that grief has stages, similar to the ones Elizabeth Kubler-Ross discerned for death & dying. There may not be a one-to-one relationship, but there is definitely some journey from the initial shock to the eventual acceptance.

For New Year's Eve 1992, Mary and I attended the celebration in downtown OKC. The evening concluded with fireworks. Thanks to the city's concrete canyons, it was almost like being under heavy mortar fire (at least the movie version). I had the notion that the fireworks were a form of "destroying" the old year.

So, Mary and I stood on a low retaining wall and shouted the year down: "Good bye!" "Good riddance!" "Be gone!"

It was not a cure, but it was a relief.
Post #1725

Self-Portrait, 28.Nov.06

Self-Portrait, 28.Nov.06

Took this picture with my Canon Rebel last night. Smiling at the thought of my friends, cyber and otherwise. Know that I am thankful for you. Each and everyone.

Shot by natural light, from the lamp to my right.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Published on Sister Blog

I was just published (~7 am MST), on Birdie Jaworksi's blog,
Beauty Dish. You can read my appraisal of Birdie's work here.

As related in that entry, Birdie was kind enough to send a free sample of the Avon Instant Manicure Kit. I wrote a review, and e-mail it to Birdie a little over two weeks ago. Those who know me well know I exerted super-human self-control by not posting it here before Birdie posted it.

The review appears here, if you prefer a direct link. It includes a lovely appreciation of this space, written by Birdie herself. After you've read all that, be sure to visit the rest of her blog - especially her Podcasts. You'll be glad you did. Money-back guarantee.

Idée d’jour

The chip on my shoulder's a little heavy. I have back problems now.
— Janeane Garofalo

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thankful for YouTube

Where else can you see most of the original Byrds perform "Mr. Tamborine Man" with Bob Dylan?

Judging from Dylan's relative health, and McGuinn's appearance, I'd guess this concert was around the time of the "Before the Flood" tour, early 80s.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Just Another Stooge

I am wearing a Three Stooges tie today. I bought it at a church 2nd-Hand shop sometime last year. It features the original members of the troupe: Moe, Larry, and Curly Howard.

When I was young, the best way my grandmother could get me to come in from playing was to say the Three Stooges were on TV. Channel 9 played the syndicated shorts late in the afternoon. To her credit, Grandmother H— took me to a live performance of the Stooges at Springlake Park. I have no doubt this sacrifice alone guaranteed her a star in her heavenly crown.

I wear the tie as a reminder not to take myself too seriously, on my 51st birthday.

Today, November 22, 2006.

It's a date that resonates for a number of people of a certain age, as April 19 and September 11 do for the current generation. It is on this date, in 1963, that President John F. Kennedy was shot.

So, it's a date that has haunted me. For several years following that coincidental tragedy, I declined any special celebration of my birthday.

As the Wikipedia link makes clear, there are a number of other coincidental occurrences on this date. I share the birth date with such luminaries as Hoagy Carmichael and Arthur Hiller. Ironically, original Stooge Shemp Howard died on the day of my birth, in 1955.

I am still haunted by the coincidence of Kennedy's assassination being on my eighth birthday, but I am certainly less sensitive about it.

I strive to grow old gracefully. I sometimes whimper – with tongue in cheek – when I note my receding hairline and enlarging natural tonsure. I am amused that most of my beard is gray, except for a small patch below my mouth. Sometimes, in b&w pictures, this combination makes me look like I have a goatee rather than a beard.

Newcomers to this space may be interested in the biographical sketches I wrote around this time last year. The index appears on this page (see item 7 under "Prose").

I may have been born an "old soul", but I'm getting younger all the time. I'm learning to laugh at myself. I'm beginning to recognize, and celebrate, my foolishness.

I'm just another stooge.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

In Memoriam, Robert Altman

I was sad to hear that director Robert Altman passed away last night at the age of 81. I won't say he was a genius, or that I loved every movie he made. But he was unique, if an acquired taste.

The first Altman film I saw was "Mash", as part of a double bill with "Patton". The general irreverence, confusion, and insanity made a deep impression on me. As a young teen boy, I was mildly frustrated by the brief nudity, but otherwise enjoyed the movie.

Padre and I went to see "Nashville" a few years later. Padre was especially impressed with Henry Gibson's jingoist character. Padre perceived the character as a good stab at that personality type (for whom he had little tolerance).

As I say, Altman's work was an acquired taste, and I can't say I necessarily acquired a taste for his style. What I saw, I liked; just not enough to seek out more of the same.

This changed with "The Player", which I loved. I'm fairly certain I saw every film he made afterward. Including what is likely to be his last, "Prairie Home Companion."

I have come to have an appreciation of his style, which helped me to appreciate the work of a number of directors who have similar styles – Alan Parker and Paul Thomas Anderson come immediately to mind. It's not likely we would have films like "Babel" or "Crash", with their interweaving storylines, if not for Altman.

Idée d’jour

The Pueblo Indians told me that all Americans are crazy, and of course I was somewhat astonished and asked them why. They said, "Well, they say they think in their heads. No sound man thinks in his head. We think in our hearts."
- Carl Jung [quoted in Parabola, Fall 2006, p. 43]

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Idée d’jour

Instead of getting hard ourselves and trying to compete, women should try and give their best qualities to men — bring them softmess, teach them how to cry.
— Joan Baez

Friday, November 17, 2006

Friday Five: Giving Thanks

As suggested by Songbird: “Please tell us five things or people for which you are thankful this year.”
  1. Brother Dave
    There's no question my older sibling and I are very different people. There's also no question that we each have inherited different qualities from Padre. There are some of Padre's qualities we hold in common – thoughtfullness, political and social liberal, integrity, and melancholia. Lastly, there's no question there is sincere brotherly affection between us, and mutual respect.

  2. Dame Julian
    a.k.a., her royal catness, fierce wild beast, furry fiend (et al)
    My house is less lonely with her charming companionship. There is little so homey and comforting as a cat purring in your lap in the evening.

  3. Friends, such as Pam, Ben, and Mary T. (not an exhaustive list).
    • Pam has proven to be a good friend practically from the day I joined our shared church. She knows how to poke my ego with just the right amount of tenderness. She knows how to be supportive. She's got a good ear, and is also willing to share (to an appropriate degree).

    • My musical collaboration with Ben is a positive experience. It's heartening we made some money at our first gig, and the coffee house owner looks forward to our return. We are mutually respectful, which means a lot to me. I recently expressed the opinion that I thought our instrumental abilities were about equal (about a 5 on a scale of 10), when I was surprised to learn Ben holds my own abilities in higher esteem than his own.

    • Mary T. has been a friend since 1999. She's supportive, and was one of the few non-church-going friends to show up for the gig last week.

  4. Warm bed
    I've been working on a song titled "I Fought the Bed, and the Bed Won", inspired by the fact that it's been a little harder to get out of bed on these chilly mornings. I've got a blanket, comforter, and – sometimes – a warm kitty cat.

    Sample verse: "My feet are chilly, and the room is cold
    The day has just begun;
    Don't call me lazy,
    Don't call me old...
    I fought the bed, and the bed won;
    I fought the bed, and the bed won."

  5. Talent/Giftedness
    I perceive that I am talented in a number of areas - primarily writing and singing. This is not to say I'm accomplished in either.
       I have a pleasant, but untrained, voice. I haven't done anything to deserve my voice. At most, I've done my best to take care of it (I quit smoking over 20 years ago), and to stretch my capabilities without straining the instrument.
       As for my writing, I recognize this talent through others' eyes. Based on the response I've received in the comments on this site, and in person, many people appreciate how I put words together.
       I don't mean to be falsely modest. I struggle to find that middle ground between recognizing where I am gifted, and taking credit for those gifts. "All good gifts," says the Apostle, "come from above." In other words, these talents are just areas in my personality that the Spirit has set a spark.

Idée d’jour

The things we hate about ourselves aren't more real than the things we like about ourselves.
— Ellen Goodman

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Green Tea

I drink a cup of green tea almost every morning, except the rare times I eat out for breakfast or make a four-cup pot of coffee (or single-cup espresso). Since I brew the tea in a travel mug, what I drink is actually equivalent to a cup and a half.

I began this habit late in 2000, after a co-worker gave me a tin of green tea leaves for Christmas. This co-worker is a native of China, and has given me loose-leaf green tea almost every Christmas.

Prior to 2000, the only time I drank green tea was when I ate at a Chinese restaurant. The tea seemed border-line tasteless, or weak.

Now that I brew my own, using leaves and a tea ball, I can make it as strong as I like.

Green Tea tin
The afore-mentioned co-worker recently returned from a month-long visit to China, and brought back a tin of authentic Chinese green tea, pictured above. Using my customary measurement (a rounded spoonfull), and standard brewing time (3 minutes), it makes a strong tea.

“Pile-driver on the tongue,” as I sometimes say. It's a fine way to start the day.

Idée d’jour

As long as a man stands in his own way, everything seems to be in his way.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson, American writer and philosopher (1803-1882)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Yesterday, I wanted to check if a pen was still working prior to giving it to someone. I scribbled on a convenient piece of paper, and produced this:
Doodle 1
I've looked at that hap-hazard doodle since yesterday afternoon, and kept feeling like it resembled something. Finally, about an hour ago, it hit me:

It looks vaguely like a cat.

I suppose this has no more Rorschach value than discerning shapes in clouds. And it may have no more artistic value than any other doodle.

"Nutroot" Dream

B*sh and D*ck hunting
big game in dim twilight:
Hello, Prez Pellosi!
N.B. "Nutroot" is a locution coined by Bull Moose. The idea for this "American Haiku" originated with my friend and frequent lunch companion, Dr. Bob.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Idée d’jour

If we justify war, it is because all peoples always justify the traits of which they find themselves possessed, not because war will bear an objective examination of its merits.
— Ruth Benedict

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Gig

My friend Ben and I had our premier performance at the Red Cup last night. We both got there early (contrary to the anxiety dream I reported yesterday). Our mistakes were relatively minor, and I suspect the audience did not notice most of them.

The Red Cup pays performers in chits, rather than money. In other words, we each received a coupon good for $5, redeemable at the Red Cup. I know where I'm going for lunch next Sunday!

There's also a tip jar for the performers. Our friends were very generous (I'm pretty sure they were the only ones who threw money in the jar). My half of the take could buy at least one tank of gas. So, that's nice.

As I mentioned yesterday, our closing number was "A Day in the Life" matched with "Nights in White Satin". A couple of people were impressed we even tried "Day," and said we did well with it.

We had rehearsed some patter ahead of time. We rehearse most weeks in Ben's bedroom; Ben talks to the wall, and I talk to his master bathroom. We both ended up saying different things, and talking more, than we had in rehearsal.

I suppose this is symptomatic of my introversion. Prior to performance, I could barely get out ten words when visiting with Mary. Once I was behind the mike, and had a larger audience, I was practically chatty cathy.

Performance over, sitting back down with my friends, I was Gary Cooper's shy younger brother.

The crowd responded well, even folk who didn't know us. We both enjoyed ourselves, which is pretty important.

Now, back to Ben's bedroom to work on a second set.

Friday Five: What's Red and Blue and Purple All Over?

As suggested by Reverend Mother.

Those of us who are in the United States have just been throught quite a topsy-turvy election. During the campaign we heard a fair amount about red states and blue states, when in fact most of us live in some shade of purple. And so... a lighter look at those confounding colors:
  1. Favorite red food

  2. Tell us about the bluest body of water you've ever seen in person.
    I rode a sail boat on one of the Great Lakes, and destroyed my dress shoes in the Atlantic Ocean. I was drunk when I did the former, it was a stormy day, and overcast.
       Our group went to the Atlantic Ocean after dark, so it was hard to tell how blue it was. Any number of swimming pools have been strikingly blue, but I've never thought they really counted.

  3. It's movie rental time: Blue Planet, The Color Purple, or Crimson Tide ?
    Of these three, the only one I have previously seen is The Color Purple. Blue Planet sounds nice, but watching an IMAX movie on my home tv seems sacreligious. If I had a chance to watch it on an IMAX screen, I definitely would.
       That said, I'd rent Crimson Tide. Notice that it stars Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington. Gene always turns in a credible performance. And, judging by the year of release, this was when Denzel acted rather than coasted.
       Speaking of movie night, Curious George awaits this weekend. And Babette's Feast.

  4. What has you seeing red these days?
    The political situation had me seeing red, until Tuesday. Now, I am cautiously optimistic.
       Off the top of my head, then, I'd have to say rude drivers.

  5. What or who picks you up when you're feeling blue ? I have a passel of "feel-good" movies (e.g., Amelie) I can watch when I'm feeling blue. I also enjoy listening to classic blues, such as Bessie Smith or Billie Holiday.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Have You Seen This Blogger?

Young Omed
He who would become Dr. Omed as an 'Angry Young Man'

The last entry at Dr. Omed's tent show was posted Sunday, October 22. His last known sighting was in the comments on this very space, where he wrote (in part):
... I'm no saint. I was a monster. Now I'm just a ghost. A ghost of a monster. My bones turned to wishes and the wishes turned to smoke.
This, to my ear, seemed like an excellent beginning for a poem.

That last entry, which was mirrored at Dr. Omed's Daily Kos Diary, was a witty observation of the mess that B*sh has described as the "War on Terrah".

The good doctor has noted how dispiriting the voting habits of his fellow Americans has been. I thought it possible that the dispirited feeling led him to a bit of writer's block.

Although it's possible to read too much into election results this Tuesday, I don't think it's too bold to say that B*sh's status as a lame duck effectively began Wednesday. Somewhere between the time he belatedly accepted Rummy's resignation and the time he held out a battered tin cup to future Speaker of the House Nancy Pelossi.

At best, the Democratic majority in both Houses will effect some meaningful changes. At worst, there will be a stalemate, and nothing will be accomplished. Decide for yourself which is preferable.

Long story short: come back, Doc! The political weather is bearable! And I really do hope to see those lines from my comment box in a poem in the near future.

Performance Tonight

The social event of the week occurs tonight, when my friend Ben and I perform at the Red Cup (8:00 p.m.). The Red Cup, as noted below, is in OKC, OK, near the SE corner of NW 31st and Classen. Parking is limited, so you may want to arrive early.

Ben plays electric piano and harmonica, and sings. I play guitar and harmonica, and sing. We take turns playing harmonica. For most songs, we harmonize; for a handful of others, one us is the back-up for the other one.

Our set list includes: a medley of classic I-IV-V songs ("Why Do Fools Fall in Love", "Blue Moon", "Unchained Melody", and a Chad & Jeremy song whose title I can't remember; "Devoted to You"; "Immigrant" by John McCutcheon; "A Song for You"; and "Turn, Turn, Turn". The final song is another medley - "Day in the Life" and "Nights in White Satin".

Not many people have the chutzpa to attempt "Day in the Life" with only two instruments, but we're going to give it a shot.
I had an anxiety dream early this morning. I was scheduled to perform with a former girlfriend (who isn't a musician in RL). The auditorium abutted some classrooms. I was either in class, or visiting with people in the classroom. Suddenly, I realized I was late for the performance.

I quickly ran to the auditorium, with my guitar slung over my shoulder in classic Johnny Cash style. There was no one on stage; apparantly, I had missed the whole first set. I quietly dashed up a side aisle, and went back stage.

What I can remember of the backstage area is interesting. The stair cases and hallways were very narrow; I had to walk sideways and hold my guitar in front of me to fit through. I was seeking Elsie, but she was no where to be found.

The stage manager tracked me down, and said I was past due for the second set, and shoved me toward the stage. I scanned the audience for Elsie, but couldn't find her. I had to do the second set on my own.

That's when I startled awake. It was 3:30.
The Red Cup is nothing like the auditorium in my dream. Ben and I are planning to be there at least 30 minutes prior to performance.

Hope you can make it, too.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Someone Else's Dream

I don't know why I appeared in someone else's dream. I accept, as a given, that the figure in Dee's dream was an aspect of herself wearing a mask that looked like me.

I also suppose that the role this figure played in Dee's dream says something about how she perceives me. She shared the story because it amused her, but it also offered me a view through a pane of Johari's Window.

Dee dreamed that several members of the office were playing Dungeons and Dragons. We were gathered around a table with a scale model of a castle on top of it. Dee remembered the castle was beautiful. I was the Dungeon Master for the game.

I had a small black box pewter figures were stored in. The box was about 2" deep, 4" long, and 3" wide. I handed the pewter figures to the players, and cautioned Dee not to allow the king figure get too close to the box.

"If you do," I said, "He will go back in the box."

Sure enough, Dee allowed the king to get too close to the black box. The figure did not jump into the box. The box seemed to suck him in.

That was all she could remember of the dream.

My Obituary

I was lead to this by Reverend Mommy

'What will your obituary say?' at

My epitaph will read: "He was a nice guy, and we kind of miss him."

Idée d’jour

O Liberty! how many crimes are committed in thy name!
— Jeanne-Marie Roland, revolutionary (1754-1793)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


A friend and I will have our debut as a musical duo next Thursday, November 9, at 8:00 pm. We perform at a local coffee house, The Red Cup, which is located near NW 31st and Classen. No cover charge, though earned tips are appreciated.

Although the address is officially on Classen, The Red Cup is actually set back from that main north-south street; in fact, it's behind a two-story optometrist's office. You have to know The Red Cup is there in order to find it.

We have about an hour's-worth of music prepared, so you should get home at a reasonable hour. We're well aware that some of you (like us) have to work for a living.

If you're within reasonable driving distance of OKC, I hope you can make.

Idée d’jour

Many a man thinks he is buying pleasure, when he is really selling himself to it. — Benjamin Franklin, statesman, author, and inventor (1706-1790)
Post 1700