Trash Talk

3 a.m. The hour when body clocks switch from nighttime to daytime. The hour when our thoughts, if we’re aware of them, are weighty ones.

I rose and glanced out the window. Dismay! My trash bin looked like a dark cone with a triple scoop of darker ice cream perched not in, but on it. A similar thing had happened last week and caused the lid to come off when the trash guys came. They gave me a new one for free, but the next time it comes out of my pocket.

[Background: Our housing authority has strict rules about trash, codified in our leases, that we do not use another’s bin. (Has there bin too much trouble over it in the past?) The reality is that tenants do, forced to clandestine forays to the various bins, hoping that the curtain twitchers (every neighborhood has them, those who wait and watch for inevitable lease infractions) have closed their eyes for a few moments. I rarely have much trash, so mine has been a favorite bin. I embraced Reality and gave permission for my bin to be used, right there in front of god and everyone, in broad daylight. I did ask them (a) please bag the trash (early on, it had not) and (b) make SURE the lid can be closed. Them’s the rules, and I see good reason for them. Everyone heard the “yes” but did not hear my caveats. That’s Reality, too.]

On the heels of the dismay, I was glad I’d caught that bin with its lid down, and early enough to prevent its embarrassment when the collectors came in a few hours. Out I went in my jammies to see could I get that bag inside the bin.

Ah, but it was jammed tightly into the top three inches of bin. I laughed (silently). I couldn’t help but think of me trying to get myself into jeans several sizes too small. So tight, the zipper was unusable and I would just tuck the fabric back into a V. No danger of them falling off, for sure. Talk about muffin top!

I huffed and I puffed and managed to at least get the bag out of the bin. Never good at geometry, even I could tell that bag was never, ever going to fit. What had the neighbor been thinking? Tomorrow…no, actually, later today…I would gently but firmly let them know it was unacceptable to abuse my bin in that way. Wait…I have no voice, and no one’s going to want to read six chalkboards’ worth of my thoughts on the matter. Hmmm…

And then mind’s eye saw the neighbor who’s moving in a few days, going back to the never-ending tidying after her little children and baby are in bed. Only one trash bag left, she sees, and still so much to go in it. Wiping tears away, she fights exhaustion and continues to fill the bag. Jen will let me use her bin, she remembers. When she’s put all she can into the bag, it’s too heavy to lift. Hon, she says to her husband, will you bring this down to Jen’s place. And this gentle giant, who knows instantly that the bag will not fit but cannot bear to see his beloved in tears, says Yes. He brings the bag over, he stuffs it in as best he can, says a little prayer that the top-heavy bin will not fall over before the trash men come. For he and his wife–and indeed, all my neighbors–are kind-hearted, generous people who wish me no ill will.

As I drag the bag to a place where if the neighbors look out their windows, they will not see I have taken it, I remember all the times I moved and left boxes (of what I thought were treasures) behind. I remember leaving Ireland in 2004, dear friends helping me throw things into boxes for shipment and other things–bags and bags of them–into heavy-duty trash bags like the one I was holding now, leaving them (with embarrassment, with chagrin) for the landlord to take away and it was not even his job. And it was not free, yet he returned my full deposit. In cash, so I’d have it for my trip. I so underestimated the size of my stuff and what it would take to contain it, I missed my own going away party in Dublin.

And I thought of all the times my family and children and friends kept boxes for me. Out of love for me did they do this, not for what was in those boxes. I would sincerely and honestly believe I’d be back soon for what I thought were treasures. Days turned into weeks turned into years before I realized, here at 3 a.m. on a cool starry night in south-central Oregon, how profoundly kindly I’ve been treated over the years. And my heart ached and I wept and I wanted to ask forgiveness of my son, my daughters, my sisters, my brother, my friends, for my taking advantage, however unwittingly, of their kind natures.

And I thought, too, how we have this small bin of time here and we try to stuff too many things in it, thereby not appreciating any of it individually. How we buy all these trinkets and gadgets in the hope they will fill our holes and make us happy, but they end up just trash in the end. We treat trash like people and forget that real treasures (like people) cannot be bought, sold, or even thrown away.

All this I thought in the wee hours Friday morning. Later, I sat where no one could see what I was doing and joyfully, mindfully rebagged the trash. (It fit in my bin after all. Next week it will be taken away.)

What goes around, comes around, truly. It’s my turn for the trash.

Best year…EVER

2020, for me, was the best year ever.

It’s true: 2020, for me, was the best year ever.

How can I possibly say that? Am I on drugs? (No) Did I spend the year on a different planet? (No. Well, not technically. Read on, Macduff…)

This is the year it all became clear. It was the perfect year to test my new-found ability to maintain inner peace and happiness, what with fires, floods, political shenanigans and betrayals, death, separation from loved ones, new (and old) health issues, racism and inequalities galore.

The inner peace and near-constant joy I experience now become more extraordinary in light of my 50+ years of depression. For more than fifty years, I experienced suicidal thoughts: my first suicide attempt was at age 14. The most serious attempt, which landed me in a psych ICU in 1991, taught me to never EVER let health professionals know how depressed I was, and make sure I succeeded the next time. For I was sure there would be a next time. I learned to bring myself back from the brink, though, by such methods as planning a trip to Ireland (I believed I was happiest there), or moving (to Ireland or, if I couldn’t afford it, to somewhere else), and finally by telling myself I had to clear out and organize all my papers and things so my kids wouldn’t have to do it. (That, actually, was the most successful deterrent. You have no idea how much I hated paperwork.)

Then, in 2020 — and thanks to COVID isolation — I saw the light. At first daily, then hourly, then minute by minute, I deeply learned these truths: that happiness has nothing, absolutely NOTHING to do with money, health, religion (or lack thereof), “life purpose” or even family and friends. It has NOTHING to do with where I live, be it the street or a mansion, or what the weather is like, or — and this was a very big one for me — how much I got “done.” It has NOTHING to do with how much education I have (indeed, I wonder if higher education got in the way of my learning these truths sooner), or where a person is on the ladder of success (there is no ladder; it is a fiction), if you’re crippled or an Olympic athlete, if you clean toilets for a living or run a Fortune 500 company.

As incredible as it may sound, I see no problems in the world anymore, for my world is what’s right in front of me and its nature reflects my thoughts and perceptions. If I experience any anxiety, frustration, or sadness, I know it is because I’m believing a thought that’s untrue for me, and I question it. I find it rather funny that for so many years I wrote articles and blog posts and whatnot about my life’s journey, exhorting others to try this method or that guru. Now that I’ve actually found peace and happiness, I can offer no lessons or instruction, hence the paucity of blog posts this past year. I cannot give you peace of mind: only you can do that.

Peace in your time is possible. It’s not “out there,” it’s within. It’s accessible to all, free of charge.

May 2021 be your best year ever.

Where there’s smoke…

This morning I finally had the opportunity to remind my neighbor not to smoke when he sits outside his front door because it goes straight up to my living room. He knows the rules well enough; he was just trying to get away with it a bit longer. (I’d been in Portland for several weeks, and he made the most of it.) I had to come within a few feet of him to relay the message and he became agitated. “We’re supposed to maintain distance!” he said. I said, “Of course you’re right,” adding under my breath, “I’m not that worried though.”

As I walked up the path to my patio, I wondered why I wasn’t worried. I should be! His cigarette smoke (and that of residents much further away) was his breath for heaven’s sake. All those germs! I live in a place full of vulnerable seniors with no means of escape. Alcohol-tinged smoke seeps through the walls and my apartment reeks when the residents, totally against the rules, take refuge from the pouring rains of Reedsport to puff away inside their homes. While I hate the smell, I can see how the stress of this pandemic has led even people who’ve been off cigarettes for years to start again, let alone the at-risk population with whom I share air.

That’s when it hit me. I’d forgotten my science in the fog of fear surrounding us all: the air we have is the only air there is. There’s no giant source of fresh air outside our world we can pump in. We’re breathing the same stuff as Aristotle, Shakespeare, and Hitler for that matter — only ours is much dirtier. We’ve been systematically, carelessly, selfishly destroying it in the name of “progress” for centuries. We’ve conveniently forgotten that this air is all we’ve got.

It’s not just stinky cigarette smoke that alerts us to what’s in the air. When I was looking for house-share accommodation, I noted some potential roomies allowed “no essential oils.” Whaaaa??! I laughed at that then, but now I can see their point. It’s as pervasive as the smell of cinnamon buns. Or farts, for that matter. A silent, violent one can be detected in church, let alone an elevator!

COVID-19 doesn’t smell like freshly baked pizza, unfortunately, nor do some of the world’s most dangerous gases, pollutions, and infections: carbon monoxide, air pollution like that in Salt Lake City, Ebola, AIDS/HIV. And while there’s no way to smell the danger, we know it’s here because people have died from it. Like the canaries of old used in the coal mines, the victims of COVID-19 have made the ultimate sacrifice for our insatiable consumerism.

Their deaths need not have been in vain. Already the positive effects of early containment policies are clearing the airways and circulatory systems of our ailing, suffocating planet. Yes, millions are out of work and economies have ground to a halt, but now we have a chance to do things differently. Humans are nothing if not creative and resourceful — especially when it comes to their survival — once fear has been dispelled.

Economic survival is not the same as physical survival: that myth must die so we can live. Investments do not, hate to tell ya, “grow.” People do. We’ve treated money as if it were alive for so long, we’ve forgotten that it isn’t. It’s a tool and nothing more.

Our real wealth lies within, with the knowledge that we’re all on this earth-ship together and linked inextricably by the air we breathe. I get that people want to do something about the virus, but “social distancing” (there’s an oxymoron if I ever heard one) is not the answer. We’ve been breathing the same air — stewing in our own unhealthy juices, one might say — for years. We’ve gotten so used to it, we don’t notice. Fact is though, folks, our shit does stink. No one of us is stink-less. We might not get the coronavirus, but we are nonetheless infected with false beliefs, one of them being that money can save us.

COVID-19 gives us the perfect opportunity to clean up our act. Since we’ve all either been exposed or will be soon enough, let’s stop avoiding each other and instead pool our resources and talents. There is no need to fear; it’s already here. And look at you! You’re reading this article. You’re surviving quite well, if you care to notice. You’ve got this.

We need clean air, folks. This isn’t a Chinese problem, or a Spanish problem, or even a medical problem. It’s our thinking that’s the problem: thinking that what we do individually is not affecting anyone else; thinking that economics will save us when it’s the very thing that caused the infections in the first place.

Do we really need governments to force us to take measures to protect ourselves? How much better to choose to consume less, to curtail our driving, to forgo the holiday that requires air travel. We can act like adults and stop behaving like spoiled children, with no thought for anyone but ourselves.

I’m so grateful for that smoking neighbor of mine, for he triggered the factoid from my fifth-grade science class: this is the only air we’ve got. We can’t run from it; we can’t hide. Not for long, anyway. It’s all around us, rich and poor alike. And instead of succumbing to the air of fear surrounding us, we can rejoice that we have another chance to save our world. We can let our innate compassion spill out to help our neighbors instead of shun them. With fear out of the way, our creativity and ingenuity will shine and new ways to move forward into a kinder, more inclusive world will emerge.

We can come out of this smelling like roses. It’s up to us.

tumor-o, and tumor-o, and tumor-o. . .

musings from a part-time mystic

Welcome to my blog, one I subtitle “Musings from a Part-time Mystic.” Since “coming out” about my cancer, I’ve realized how many of you wish me well, in the deepest sense. I have been remiss in letting you  know how I’m doing, and I hope in small measure to let you know now, using this blog space. I cannot guarantee “sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows, everywhere,” for there are cloudy days with nary a sweet to eat, and no rainbows on the horizon. While I will not spare you my dark thoughts, I shall not spare the bright ones, either.

Which brings me to why I titled this blog “broccoli for breakfast.” The healing process for this strange and wonderful condition called “cancer” (I use a small “c”) has led to my having ridiculous cravings for meals, not unlike those I got when I was preggers. Having broccoli for breakfast — steamed slightly to reduce (or is it enhance?) something someone told me wasn’t (or is?) good for me if I ate it raw; I get a lot of advice from a lot of people, and if it’s someone I trust, I try to do it (thank you Adrienne, Kat, Leah, and Kevin especially) — is one of the things I eat for breakfast I never would have before. People often think that those diagnosed with a Scary Disease, especially One That Ends In Certain Death! (or that they believe does so), are immediately going to (a) drink alcohol non-stop; (b) smoke pot non-stop; (c) sleep with as many people as they can, non-stop, of course; or (d) Give In To Some Other Terrible Habit, such as cigarette smoking. This has not been the case with me, I assure you.

Last week, for example, one of my dreams came true, something I wanted to see before I died: all my children came to visit me in DeKalb, Illinois, where I’m living now. Katrisa, J.R., and Leah came together for the first time in ten years. J.R. and Leah were able to bring their “spice,” Adrienne and Than, respectively (we missed you Kev!). I wish my granddaughter, Cassidy, could have been there, too, but she was staying in Denver with her biological daddy. (Miss you, Cassers!) I can’t describe what a joy it was to have them all in the Bird Cage, which is what I call my apartment. (It’s at the tippy-top of a three-story house circa 1870 or so.) I had joked with people I work with that “there’s nothing like a terminal illness to get the family together,” but I’m afraid my gallows humor wasn’t appreciated.

That’s another thing, the American way of dealing with death or unpleasant Scary Diseases. The Irish are so much more pragmatic about it. Instead of crossing the street to get away from me, like the Americans did after my mother passed away, the Irish crossed toward me, to offer a “Sorry for your troubles,” or to see if I needed anything. They understand that death is merely the other side of the coin we’ve named Life. We’re all going to face it; I feel lucky to have the heads up on the deal. As it is, I suspect I have more of that Norwegian toughness in me and will probably outlive “healthier” people — out of sheer stubbornness. My  refusal to acknowledge my own dire circumstances (or, when acknowledged, to write about them), I attribute to my bardic, dreamy Irish nature.

And write about this adventure I shall. I realized, as a dribble of butter escaped the floret I munched on this morning, that I may not ever get to the book I’ve worked on sporadically since, oh, 2000, I think, whose working title is “Musings of a Part-Time Mystic.” With this blog, I can throw in the poetry and pithy observations and blurbs and characterizations written in haste on the backs of envelopes and deposit slips, items I know I will find as I prepare to move back to Portland, Oregon. I can read your suggestions and recipes and jokes, and we can share cool pictures. I would like to keep this PG-rated, too, folks — I want my daughter Leah and her hubby Than to be able to participate, so no “F-bombs” or objectionable stuff. You can do that on my Facebook page, should you feel the desire to do so.

Just so everybody’s clear: It’s too late for conventional treatments (which I oppose, at any rate), so I’m going for Miracle Cure, okay? Can the Power of Love keep me alive? I believe it can — along with eating well, thinking well, and moving well. I love being a vegetarian-near-vegan. I want to learn yoga. I think Gillian McKeith rocks, as does Health Resources, where I’m getting my alternative treatments. I believe in the healing power of photographs, like those of my friend Lise, and my daughter, Leah, and even my own. I subscribe to the Healing Power of Squidges (more on that in another blog). My son’s music heals my soul. I love exchanging recipes and talking food and crocheting with Kat. I love nerding out on literature and life with my new friend, Jules. The memory of the conspiratorial chuckles of my Irish friend (miss you, Teresa!) never fail to bring a smile to my face, as do the memories of my other, still-live Irish friends, so witty and wise.

I am blessed with friends, old and new. I cannot even list them all, but I would wager they will show up in this blog. Why? Because it is of friends and family that my life’s tapestry has been woven; its rich colors and texture could never have occurred without them — without you.

Bless you all.