TODAY, MY FATHER CELEBRATES
HIS 90TH BIRTHDAY
Age 29 (Sharon, age 2; Lauren, age 3)
Age 87 (Sharon, age 60)
PRAYER FOR MY FATHER by Robert Bly
Your head is still
east and west.
That body in you
insisting on living
is the old hawk
for whom the world
If I am not
with you when you die,
that is just.
It is all right.
That part of you cleaned
my bones more
than once. But I
will meet you
in the young hawk
whom I see
you and me; he
you to the Lord of Night,
who will give you
you wanted here.
NOT A PRIME NUMBER . . .
Today marks the beginning of my birthday weekend. On Sunday I turn 63 which, let's be honest, is not a noteworthy birthday. It's an "eh" or "whatever" birthday. Just look at the number "63". So BOR-ING. What could possibly be significant about turning 63? Among a few other things (and I mean a few) Wikipedia reveals that 63 in Mathematics is:
In Astronomy, 63 is:
In other fields, 63 is:
See what I mean? Boring as hell.
HOWEVER, WHAT ABOUT THIS IN-YOUR-FACE POINT? . . .
. . . at some point, death becomes a normal part of life -- a faint dirge in the background that gradually gets louder. What is that point? . . .
With some heroic assumptions, we can come up with an age when death starts to be in-your-face. We will merge all sexual and racial categories into a single composite American. We will assume that there are 100 people your age who are close enough to be invited to your funeral. Your funeral chapel won't fit 100 people? No problem. On average, half of them will be dead . . . And why 100? Because it's easy, and also because it's two-thirds of "Dunbar's number," of 150, which is supposedly the most relationships that any one set of human neurons can handle. We're crudely assuming that two-thirds of those are about your age.
Anyway, the answer is age 63. If a hundred Americans start the voyage of life together, on average one of them will have died by the time the group turns 16. At 40, their lives are half over: Further life expectancy at age 40 is 39.9. And at age 63, the group starts losing an average of one person every year. Then it accelerates. By age 75, sixty-seven of the original one hundred are left. By age 100, three remain.
Uh-oh. Turning 63 appears to be momentous, if not alarmingly portentous. My contact list contains 572 cards. The infamous -- and highly coveted -- holiday card list contains 136 cards. I looked through that list yesterday morning and I couldn't bear the thought of deleting ANY of them. But the cards are stacked against that, aren't that? I'm at that point in my life when, as Kinsley writes, death will be in my face, even more than it has. Many beloveds have been diagnosed with cancer, or immune system (fuck the leprechaun [inside joke]) neuromuscular, heart and mental health diseases. I will have to let go of even more of my beloveds.
SO, MOVING FORWARD . . .
Pictured immediately above is the Twirler Kinetic Garden Stake that my beloved sister, Dawna Joy, sent to me for my 63rd birthday. (As most of you know, I typically don't open birthday cards or packages until my actual birthday, but my sister was so excited!)
I don't think I've ever shared how much I love the wind. I love walking in it. I love listening to it. I don't know why. Dawna Joy, a shaman, believes that I love the wind -- or the wind loves me -- because it is a power that is capable of communicating larger-than-life-language. "You must finish your memoir!" she concludes.
She is right.
. . . the wind has its reasons. We just don't notice as we go about our lives. But then, at some point, we are made to notice. The wind envelopes you with a certain purpose in mind, and it rocks you. The wind knows everything that's inside you. And not just the wind. Everything, including a stone. They all know us very well. From top to bottom. It only occurs at certain times. And all we can do is go with those things. As we take them in, we survive, and deepen.
" . . . at some point, we are made to notice."
I'm at that that point; that "death-in-your-face" age of 63. The wind is at my back with a certain purpose in mind. It's rocking me, from top to bottom.
I need to go with it. Finish the memoir. Take it in. Survive, and deepen.
Much gratitude and love to all.
SORRY, I JUST COULDN'T RESIST THIS ONE . . .
SERIOUSLY? . . .
On Tuesday, I received a letter from my health insurance agency -- CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield -- that contained a cover letter, the check for my June payment and a copy of the receipt I included with the check. The sender is identified as "CC00679." Here is part of the letter that explains why the check was sent back to me:
I had forgotten to write my group number along with subgroup number on the check memo "line":
WHAT? NO GROUP NUMBER?!
Here is a copy of the receipt I included with my check that CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield copied and sent back to me:
PLEASE NOTE THAT THE GROUP NUMBER IS ON THE RECEIPT
CAREFIRST BLUECROSS BLUESHIELD SENT BACK TO ME.
APPARENTLY, "CC00679" IS NOT PERMITTED
TO ADD THAT TO THE CHECK MEMO LINE.
You see how much I pay a month for health insurance; healthy insurance that does not cover the additional cost of a 3-D mammography every year. How much did it cost in time and postage for CareLast BlueCrass BlueBalls to send me this letter?
WHAT'S A PERFECT RESPONSE?
CAPTION: "It's the only treatment option he has
under his current health plan."
UNCOVERING MORE TRUTH . . .
What does a memoirist do when she uncovers evidence that enhances or even changes what she had considered a finished story? Do you enhance or change the story?
This is a long post, I know, but I need some outside voices to help me with mine.
Many of you have read my story, "Deep Joy" -- the hyperlink will take you to an early draft of the story that was first published on June 2, 2009 in the previous iteration of Sassistas (when I referred to myself as "Flannista"). The draft has undergone many, many revisions since then; most significantly it includes more details and now has a new ending. This latest draft was vetted by my writing group, the Write Wing, and for all intents and purposes, I considered the story complete.
For those of you who haven't read the story or don't have time to read the story, it details my relationship with a girl named Joy when I was a junior in high school. She was a senior, had starred in the senior high production of "Our Town," and loved Sylvia Plath. I was completely smitten. My heart broke when she graduated and I thought I would never see her again. She sent me a letter that my mother intercepted and read aloud at the dinner table (before I had had a chance to read it); a letter that included this sentiment: "Parents are a real bitch. Don't you wish you could kill them sometimes?" Joy also included the Emily Dickinson's poem that begins, "Because I could not stop for death." "Deep Joy" continues:
When my mother finished, she methodically folded the letter and stuffed it back into her pocket. “We’ve been telling Sharie for some time to stop spending so much time alone, thinking those deep thoughts of hers,” she said. “Good thing I check her mail. Seems like she’s not so lonely anymore. She’s found a friend just like herself.”
My father, Lauren, Dawna and Merrie Lee stared at me blankly. Karen hissed, “So when do you plan on killing mom and dad? Better yet, how about yourself?”
I held the edge of the table with both hands. I imagined tossing a bomb into the lasagna casserole pan in the center and then ducking for cover. I thought of quoting some line from "Our Town," but I couldn’t think of any. Then I saw Joy rolling her eyes, and I wished I had never given her my address. That I had never met her. That she was dead.
I didn’t write back to her, and she didn’t write again. I spent the rest of the summer babysitting and watching television. I tried not to think about death. I tried not to miss Joy.
Last week, I discovered two dated letters that prove that I did, in fact, hear from Joy again. Two weeks after the above dinner table confrontation, Sallie Hogg, a high school friend called and asked if she could meet me outside the First National Bank in downtown Slippery Rock. The next morning, Sallie handed me an envelope that had been addressed to her. Inside was a sealed envelope and a note to Sallie:
I realized how strange you’re going to think this is but I can’t write to Sharie’s home address and I did still want to write to her. So, knowing what close friends you are, I am hoping that you will give this letter to her. The whole situation is really strange and, I feel, sad, but there’s nothing I can do about it. At least not right now. So if you would be so kind as to give this to her at school I would be really grateful. Maybe I can return the favor someday. Thank you!
Following is the letter to me delivered by Sallie:
I’m reaching out for you. I want to offer you all the love I have for you. Sharie, was our relationship wrong? Will you write to me? Sharie, I tried to give up but I wouldn’t. Something won’t let me. Did you know I was addicted to you? I didn’t find out until tonight. People would think this is queer, but we understand each other – at least as much as is possible for the time.
Sharie, you’re one of the few real people I know. You’re crazy and I’m crazy and who gives a damn? I do. I don’t want to but I do. Your mother called my house and told me never to come near you. Your mother shook me. What’s wrong? Why don’t you write to me? Can’t you handle this situation? Did you know that God doesn’t even know for sure if he’s real? (That soothes me.)
SHARIE, I AM YOUR FRIEND AND I MISS TALKING WITH YOU.
Sharie, I’m not writing this because I wanted to feel wanted. Well, maybe I am a little. But there’s something . . . did you know I like your name? Sharie – the way Shirley first pronounced it. You’re not Sharie Anderson, you’re just Sharie. Share.
I was too afraid to write back. A month later, another high school friend, Sue Albert, delivered a letter from Joy that said the following:
I thought I didn’t need you but I do. Oh God do I.
I have been submerged for 5 weeks. Where are you? The breeze is blowing in the window again. The sheep have returned to the fold. AMEN, brother, PRAISE GOD.
Sharie, please keep up the communication. . . . for a friend who may go under again at any minute?
And how many masks do you keep in your closet, little girl? I have many, all of which I am trying desperately to get rid of.
I know you read me, Sharie. It’s good.
Maybe each man is God and that’s it. But that’s too sad. I don’t like it that way. It’s futile. Since we don’t know, let’s make something up (like everyone else). Something really good and happy. Write and tell me what you come up with. Please write to me.
Again, I was too afraid to write back. The current draft of "Deep Joy" doesn't not include or make reference to these two subsequent letters from Joy. I had forgotten about them . . . even though I saved them in a file I discovered last week. This is the current ending for "Deep Joy" -- what happened after Joy's second and last letter to me (again letters I did not know about when I wrote this):
Two days before school was to begin, my mother came to the dinner table with the Butler Eagle. “There’s an article on the front page today that I think we all should hear,” she announced. She opened the paper and began to read:
High school valedictorian involved in fatal crash . . . Joy [xxxxx], valedictorian of the 1970 . . . driver of the car which killed Mr. and Mrs. . . . of Harrisville . . . Miss [xxxxx] is in critical condition . . . cause of the crash remains undetermined . . . Miss [xxxxx] was to have entered Princeton University . . . pursue a seminary education . . . funeral arrangements . . .
My mother’s words whirled outside me like startled birds. I didn’t want them to settle. I wanted to bat them away.
“What do you suppose caused the crash?” my mother asked all of us, folding the paper and setting it on top of her fork. Nobody said anything. She continued, “I think Joy was lost in those deep thoughts of hers and wasn’t paying attention to the road. I’ve always said that deep thoughts will get you nowhere. What do you think, Sharie? Has that ever happened to you?”
“No,” I replied. I pictured Joy sitting still in the Our Town cemetery scene.
“Better be careful when you drive, okay?” said my mother as she served herself lasagna.
“Okay.” I pictured myself in the middle of a pasture, a bullet hole through my head.
News of Joy’s accident followed me to school. Gruesome details were murmured over lunch trays. More were whispered during study hall. I was asked if I had seen her. No, I hadn’t. No, I don’t think she was drinking. No, I don’t think her father will have to sell his farm to pay for a lawsuit. No, I don’t know if she was paralyzed. Besides, she’s not my friend. Why are you asking me? Leave me alone.
But Joy’s voice and my vow to her haunted me. I had to see her. A friend who lived near her father’s farm told me one day that Joy had finally come home from the hospital. I was afraid to drive so I asked my friend to take me to her. Joy’s mother greeted me at the door, and whispered that even though Joy was sleeping, I could come in, but could not stay long.
Rays from a fierce afternoon sun spotlighted a hospital bed in the middle of the living room. Lying on top was Joy in a body cast. All I could see were her eyes, nose, part of her mouth, and the fingers on her hands. They were covered with scabs. On one side of the bed was an IV stand, on the other a chair with a Bible open to the Psalms. I stood three feet away, paralyzed. I was afraid to say anything to her, afraid to touch her, afraid that any connection would unleash a torrent of deep thoughts that would get me nowhere.
I never saw Joy again. Years later I heard that she had graduated from seminary and was pastoring a church in New Jersey. I wondered what she looked like, if she was confined to a wheelchair. If she was happy.
I contacted several friends to see if they knew Joy’s address or phone number. I wanted to let her know how grateful I was that she was alive and how heartbroken I had been when she almost died and I hadn’t been there. I wanted her to know that I loved Sylvia Plath and Emily Dickinson and that I occasionally read the Psalms. I wanted to tell her that I had learned that yes, deep thoughts can sometimes paralyze you, but that my mother had been wrong. Deep thoughts could get you somewhere. Deep thoughts could help you to be ready for whatever was ahead.
Decades later, I found Joy on Facebook. Her “About” overview revealed that she was married and had two children, but no other details. She had posted no profile or cover photo. I sent her a Facebook message, reminding her who I was and how much I wanted to know how she was doing. She did not respond. I contacted other high school friends, and surprisingly, one of them had Joy’s current phone number. I called the number, listened to the automated voice message and said, “This is Sharon, Sharon Anderson, your Sharon from high school. I tried to connect with you on Facebook, but maybe you didn’t get that message. I would very much like to know how you’re doing.” I left my contact information, hoping to hear from her. But I never did.
WHAT DO I DO?
A POEM TO MARK THE BEGINNING OF SUMMER . . .
red the cherries turn,
burning in the dark green sky,
a thousand suns, almost as red
as the true sun that's going down
right now behind the mock orange
and weigela, so hot you'd think
it would sizzle, hiss
as its light's put out
for the night.
At the heart of each cherry
there's a pit, a stone,
an architecture of bone,
the flesh ripening
so fast, so fast.
Robins steal the cherries one by one.
And who can blame them?
Such fierce burning.
This world, red in tooth
and claw, with so much loss
sometimes you wish
your heart could turn to stone.
But still, the flesh is sweet.
Now the sky darkens, and the cherries
cannot be seen. It is one of those soft
summer nights, after a day of bake oven heat,
the air playing with the hair on your neck,
the bare skin of your arms and legs.
In the grass, fireflies rise in their sultry dance,
little love notes that flicker, that burn.
IT'S ABOUT DAMN TIME . . .
I woke up yesterday morning, turned on "Morning Joe" and learned that the evening before, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) had delivered a blistering critique of Donald (t)rump's controversial housing comments at the Center for Popular Democracy's annual gala. From the Washington Post:
The line that is driving all the attention this morning is Warren’s suggestion, in the context of Trump’s 2006 comment that a housing crash might enrich him, that the Donald is a “small, insecure money-grubber.” But Warren isn’t merely dissing Trump’s manhood. Warren — who went on to note that Trump “roots for people to get thrown out of their house” because he “doesn’t care who gets hurt, as long as he makes a profit” — is making a broader argument. Trump is not just a small, greedy person, but a cruel one, too.
But wait, there's more:
“Donald Trump was drooling over the idea of a housing meltdown because it meant he could buy up a bunch more property on the cheap,” said Ms. Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts. “What kind of a man does that?”
She went on to argue that Mr. Trump was rooting for people to lose their jobs and be kicked out of their houses.
“I’ll tell you exactly what kind of a man does that,” Ms. Warren added. “It is a man who cares about no one but himself. A small, insecure money-grubber who doesn’t care who gets hurt so long as he makes a profit off it.”
And even more . . .
On Tuesday night, Ms. Warren also suggested that Mr. Trump pays no taxes while reaping the benefits of American public infrastructure. And she hit him for saying that he would undo the Dodd-Frank financial regulation legislation, wondering if Mr. Trump could even name three things about the law.
“Donald Trump is worried about helping poor little Wall Street?” Ms. Warren said. “Let me find the world’s smallest violin to play a sad, sad song.”
I don't know about you, but I'm relieved that SOMEone is saying (and tweeting) what we all know: "Let's face it. Donald Trump is about one thing and one thing only: Donald Trump."
When the "Morning Joe" segment about this ended, co-host, Mika Brzezinski said, "I don't care, but give that woman (Warren) a microphone and whatever else she wants."
Preach it, sister.
GOSH, I FEEL SO MUCH BETTER!
INTRODUCING . . .
WHAT I READ OVER THE WEEKEND THAT GAVE ME PAUSE . . .
DARK THOUGHTS . . .
From the New York Times magazine cover story, "Mr. Trump's Wild Ride" by Robert Draper:
On the TV, Fox had moved on from the election to footage of the smoky aftermath of a bombing in Baghdad. Trump rose from his seat and walked over to the screen for a closer look. “Boy, this ISIS,” he murmured.
I asked Trump if he had ever been to Iraq. “Never!” he said, sounding horrified by the thought.
“What’s the most dangerous place in the world you’ve been to?”
He contemplated this for a second. “Brooklyn,” he said, laughing. “No,” he went on, “there are places in America that are among the most dangerous in the world. You go to places like Oakland. Or Ferguson. The crime numbers are worse. Seriously.”'
(t)rump said it. Seriously.
LIVES ONLINE . . .
From a New York Times editorial, "How Facebook Warps Our Worlds" by Frank Bruni:
The Internet isn’t rigged to give us right or left, conservative or liberal — at least not until we rig it that way. It’s designed to give us more of the same, whatever that same is: one sustained note from the vast and varied music that it holds, one redundant fragrance from a garden of infinite possibility.
I'm still getting daily pop-up reminders (no matter what webpage I'm visiting) about the latest model of New Balance work-out shoes.
SINGING HEARTS . . .
From a New York Times editorial, "To Write Better Code, Read Virginia Woolf":
THE humanities are kaput. Sorry, liberal arts cap-and-gowners. You blew it. In a software-run world, what’s wanted are more engineers.
At least, so goes the argument in a rising number of states, which have embraced a funding model for higher education that uses tuition “bonuses” to favor hard-skilled degrees like computer science over the humanities. The trend is backed by countless think pieces. “Macbeth does not make my priority list,” wrote Vinod Khosla, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems and the author of a widely shared blog post titled “Is Majoring in Liberal Arts a Mistake for Students?” . . .
. . . in my experience, programming lends itself to concentrated self-study in a way that, say, “To the Lighthouse” or “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction” do not. To learn how to write code, you need a few good books. To enter the mind of an artist, you need a human guide.
For folks like Mr. Khosla, such an approach is dangerous: “If subjects like history and literature are focused on too early, it is easy for someone not to learn to think for themselves and not to question assumptions, conclusions, and expert philosophies.” (Where some of these kill-the-humanities pieces are concerned, the strongest case for the liberal arts is made just in trying to read them.)
How much better is the view of another Silicon Valley figure, who argued that “technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing.”
His name? Steve Jobs.
My heart sang after I read this editorial.
CURING ANXIETY . . .
From a New York Times editorial, "Among the Healers," by Diana Spechler:
We live in a world where people cite Jesus as their inspiration for denigrating the poor, for hating immigrants and gays and women, for rejecting refugees and accumulating wealth, but in a corner of this world, down a cobblestone street in the middle of Mexico, lives a man who spends his days emulating Jesus: He takes in the sick, the haunted, the marginalized, the wicked (cartel members, corrupt priests and politicians, murderers). He offers hope to those who can’t afford the health care they need. He faces those who have so little and listens to their stories of hardship. He touches them and lets them know that their lives can get better, that good can overcome evil. And maybe most important, he tells them, you’re going to be O.K.
“What do you do to take care of yourself?” I ask Rafael.
He gives me a look that says that’s a ridiculous question, dismisses me with the wave of his hand.
But then he spends the next half-hour telling us animated stories from his childhood, how he found his sister when she was lost, how he knew when his uncle’s car broke down, how he met a pregnant woman who wasn’t yet showing and announced that she would give birth to twins. “I’m not pregnant!” the woman had protested because she hadn’t wanted anyone to know.
Maybe this is what he does to take care of himself. Maybe this is what I do to take care of myself, what the people in the waiting room do to take care of themselves: We trade stories. We use them to impose meaning on our lives. Maybe that’s all spirituality is: imposing meaning on our lives.
Back in the waiting room a few people shoot us dirty looks: Who are we to consume so much of Rafael’s time? Of theirs? The lights have been dimmed. The woman in the pink pantsuit is leading everyone in prayer. The woman who brought balloons and mopped the floor is on her knees, her hands pressed together, her lips moving silently, urgently, in a language I wish I knew.
Sometimes, you aren't going to be okay. Sometimes nothing is the answer.
I WOULD HAVE GIVEN MY EYE TEETH TO WRITE THIS SENTENCE . . .
Erdrich is a poet of lists, placing like and unlike together as if they were a series of Christmas lights, each individually illuminating, each gaining luster and brilliance from its placement, the whole blazing, incandescent.
TODAY'S TRUTH . . .
ON THIS DAY . . .
"I'M SUCH A HAPPY CHEWBACCA!"
You know who I'm talking about. If you don't, you are among a half a dozen Americans who don't.
Last Friday, a Texas mother of two, Candace Payne, did a live video on Facebook of her opening and trying on a Chewbacca mask. The video, embedded in this article* from the New York Times has garnered nearly 138 million views since it was posted. A social media star was born. [If the link in the article doesn't play, try the link included in the comment Judy posted at 6:43 a.m. in the sass stream.]
Candace has been interviewed on the Today Show and by the BBC and NPR. She has had to hire a publicist to handle her calls. I confess that I've watched the video at least three times a day since Friday evening, and it's done wonders for my depression and the hopelessness I've felt about this political season. The pain of this country needed the Payne of Texas.
Come on . . . admit it. You want to watch it again. So go ahead, click on the "this article" link in the second paragraph above and get ready to laugh until you cry.
Thank you, Candace! The force is clearly with you and now with us.
What brings you simple joy or
makes you laugh until you cry?