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“I was busy trying to change the future!

Do you know how lonely that is?!”

I didn’t say that, but I had just been describing my experience growing up. Paraphrasing is an excellent interpersonal response!  Roomie and I were arguing over who had paid the most attention. She could not deny that she was into all kinds of things always, noticing and learning. In the end, we credited my survival with Star Trek, blogging and seltzer.

1

At the grocery store, I had just snatched up a bunch of bananas when someone said, “Hi.”  (Yes, Lucasz started it.)  He was stocking in the produce section. I was surprised by how happy he seemed. I had felt assailed when we entered the store – the smell was incredible – like someone had sprayed powdered sugar in the air. I remembered someone in Antwerp telling me a story about an immigrant who, after years of labor had finally earned enough to bring his mother over. When she arrived, he took her to the weekend market, where she burst into tears, inconsolable at the sight of so much excess when she had scrabbled along her entire life on so much less.

I responded to Lucasz, commenting that it seemed kindof slow.  “No, it’s busy,” he said.

“Really?”

“Yes, it will get busier around six.”

“Is it slower in the morning, then?” He hesitated.

Maybe he said it depends, or something else to indicate it wasn’t necessarily so.

“Is there no predictable time when it’s quiet?”

Another noncommittal gesture, apparently not  . . . “You’re not from around here?” he half-asked me.

“I am! I’m just not always paying attention.”

“It’s because the music is off.”

Aha! Is that why the atmosphere felt different than usual, I wondered to myself. And, he’s really paying attention!

“Always at this time?” I asked.

He shrugged.

“Oh, something’s broken then.”

He might have agreed.

“Where are you from?” I asked him.

“Poland.” He grinned.

“A student,” He added.

“At UMass?”

“Yes. One more semester.”

“You’re almost done!”

Big smile.

“What will you do next?”

“Go home.” Another grin.

“Oh right, the immigration law. You can’t stay.”

“I could stay!” He insisted.

“But you want to go home?!” His certainty surprised me.

“Yes.” He explained he has family here, as well as back home. But also the buddies he grew up with: “half of them are there.”

“You wanna hang with them!” He nodded. Grinning.

“Is it a pack thing? Testosterone?” The question blurted out before I thought to censor it. “Sorry.”

“I don’t know.” He grinned again.

Turns out he’s been studying architecture.

“Oh, you have a better chance of a job there?”

He didn’t say, but probably.

Hmmm, I thought to myself. Europe is good.

2

The sensory shopping assault continued as I strolled the aisles, considering what’s actually seasonal now, wondering about fruits and vegetables being so large and uniformly shaped, considering that globalization has made it so we can pretty much buy anything anytime (if you can afford it), and the products scream for attention in a cascade of color, as if trying to out-brilliance each other.

I examined the rice, a staple: what brand? I have no idea what mom used to buy. Or anyone else. I’m familiar with Goya; I kindof like the idea of challenging protectionism. Then I think, yea, but its carbon footprint sucks as bad as everybody else’s, doesn’t it? The right kind of solution would be to shop local. Not ‘buy American’ – no implication of ‘buying white’ or ‘from citizens only.’ But to shop and by from the people who live here. Whoever they are. Wherever they’re from.

3

Fellow shoppers pass, intent on lists, scouring the shelves for desired items. We do not speak or make eye contact with one another. Without background music to mask the shuffle of carts and cartons it is less easy to ignore each other but we manage to do so. The smell of sweet vanishes under a boosting-disambiguationchemical barrage – should have held my breath and dashed past the cleaning aisle, ignoring it as firmly as the health and beauty products, the HBP as Beh told me later, teaching me about boosting as she checked my groceries out.

I believed her but wondered if I’m the only one out of touch enough not to know what it is so maybe I should put in a link. …. Yea, wikipedia’s disambiguation entry on boosting is enough.

Beh is a sharp cookie. Not only did she tell me about the theft economy working right under our noses at the Amherst Stop and Shop (they’ve got a detective on it) she’s pretty sure the cash from street sales goes to drug cartels. Who would guess amidst the massive glut of bootie that the underground economy is occupying the self-same space?

4

Roomie was taking her sweet day-dreaming time. I re-entered the store with the remaining empty shopping bags, curious about the guy still by the front door who I had overheard talking into his phone like a walkie-talkie when I had exited moments before. “Are you the detective?” I asked when we walked out again a few minutes later. “Oh yeah,” he joked, saying he was the Chief. Now I notice the Salvation Army sign. Reaching into my pocket, I commented that I had never contributed in this way before.

“They helped me out a lot,” he said.

“They helped my brother for awhile, too.”

“For awhile. Something happened.” He asked without asking.

“Things happen.” I replied. “Take care of yourself.”

“You too,” he said. And wished me blessings.

“Jackshit happens.” Roomie repeated.

What inflection is that, I wondered.  ”Nonsense,” she said. Light, like teasing. Except sometimes it can be harsh, “I guess it’s in the tone?” I mused out loud.  ”There’s a whole range,” she offered, “It can mean anything, a whole jackshit rainbow of meanings.”

Rio Rancho
New Mexico
19-21 & 25-27 August

Tommy and me
On the morning of 27 August, mom’s surviving boyfriend and I released her ashes into the Rio Grande river from the Alameda Bridge north of Albuquerque.

I had a lot of help, every single step of the way, from the wonderful women of the New Mexico Women’s Chorus, through friends from Ceremony, to family members including especially my brother. Mom herself guided me through the places she wanted to visit one last time, and made sure I checked in on Tommy.

Up

inflationMom wanted to be released from the air, but it is against FAA regulations to drop anything over the side of a hot air balloon.  So I just took her up in my backpack. We were framed by the rising sun to the east and the setting moon to the west. river and moon (turtle sighting!)Skimming down low over the Rio Grande, I saw a turtle swimming fast ahead of the current! balloon shadow under the three sistersMy co-riders were great. Vicki was taking care of ‘Mom’ before she knew what I was carrying in my backpack. Her sister Joann was having the time of her life. Roger and I had a nice conversation about doing the work of connecting (people to other people, within themselves, to larger contexts), Jean was being the adventurous one of her trio of friends/family, and Yong was enjoying tourism while her husband worked. Karen and I both managed to draw the hardest labor tasks involved with initial inflation and final packing. Joy might someday send me a photo of some of that!

Around

ABQ yard artI drove mom along her favorite road, Rio Grande Boulevard through Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. She loved cruising leisurely along at the 25 mph speed limit, gazing at flowers and fields and landmarks near and far.  Welcome to Los Ranchos de ABQflowers along Rio Grande Blvdhorse along Rio Grande BlvdCorrales

Down

Eventually we would turn along Alameda, cross the Rio Grande, and turn to wind up through Corrales. I found a spot that captured the view of the Sandias that she loved so much. There, I tended the objects I would use to send her finally on her way.9 roses, necklace, & goldfinch

I settled on roses because peonies are out of season.  (Mom’s mother, Rosaline, used to take peonies on family outings to her parents’ graves on Memorial Day.) The lavender was broken by the hot air balloon upon landing; the bit of sage was a gift from Ceremony. A male goldfinch had greeted me in Caroline’s yard upon return from Ceremony, and the necklace was a perfect find at Mama’s Minerals. About 9:30 the next morning, I warned Tommy that what we were doing wasn’t usual.  “Okay,” he said, and accompanied me onto the bridge.

Away

Lavender first, followed by a scoop of ashes. Alternating between a rose and ashes, I spoke a few words about each person’s relationship with Mom – highlighting when it was at its best or what seems notable about it to me.  Rich’s rose first, then Dad’s. Next came John’s, then mom’s siblings, Jane and Ed.  I included a rose for Bob Cockrum, one of mom’s childhood friends who is still in touch, and also for “Uncle” Sam. I included the wee bit of his cremains that Lee had given me: if their two spirits ever mix, the results will be awesome! Tommy had opted to keep his rose when I presented it to him the day before. Mine was last. We watched it float away through the shadow of the new bridge and out of sight.

Rio Grande looking north from the Alameda Bridge in Rio Rancho

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Albuquerque Sky

As the plane taxied from the gate in Dallas/Fort Worth to takeoff en route to Albuquerque last Friday, the sunset evoked Mom’s favorite landscape. As my brother said, mom found her peace here. Missing Frontier Restauranther these past few months has been odd, a sensation I rarely felt: I don’t recall experiencing homesickness, our bond just wasn’t like that. The intimacy of our relationship grew gradually over the years, culminating in a slow summer full of sweetness followed by a precipitous ten-day dive.

Decades ago, inspired by some radical crip friends of mine (notably Mary Frances, and one or two others) and motivated by a penchant for creative fiddling, Mom had wanted me to apply for a patent on her over-the-shoulder bag that allows for the equal distribution of weight to the front and back. At the time, I was as intimidated by the process as she was, and it wasn’t too long before somewhat similar designs began to appear on the mass market.  I always felt that I had missed that moment for her; a regret that I carried even before she died. But otherwise there are relatively few, a tribute, I believe, to her insistence in carrying forth her mother’s ethic of not imposing on her children. At least, that is how Mom explained, in her last coherent conversation with me, the hands-off approach to parenting that was a source of angst for much of my life.

wood in snowNow, in retrospect, I discover depths of dimensionality that were obscure to me while she was alive, such as her singing with the New Mexico Women’s Chorus.  It was a bold move for mom to branch out from choral singing with church groups to join a group composed mainly of lesbians, whose eclectic choices of material ranges rather far afield from the Christian hymnal. As George said in the Chorus’ tribute to mom, “Elaine always tolerated our choices,” elicited a low rumble of appreciative laughter from the audience who had just been regaled with such numbers as the “Menstrual Tango” (by Jamie Anderson, this was Sangria Girl’s favorite), “The Lesbian Second Date Moving Service” (David Maddux), and a liberal adaptation of Paul McCartney’s “(Now) I’m 64.”

Reciprocal Tolerance

It is probably unwise to dwell too much on what an odd bird my mom was.  “I know she was awkward,” I told one member of the chorus. She responded, “That’s a good way to put it.” Then she told me how Mom often came to rehearsal with her own mini-electric keyboard, which she played according to some logic that had nothing to do with the numbers being practiced by the chorus.  “Everyone remembers her for that!” Oh boy. I couldn’t help but wonder at potential parallels: how often am I plinking away at my own tune at the edges of some group who’s trying hard not to let the annoyance get to them?! But Mom was usually responsive to feedback (hopefully me too!), and she brought interesting music from her background for the group to consider.

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I can’t imagine Mom acting in any of the skits. That would have been something to see!  But it seems she did break out and display her independence every now and then. “If she liked a different part, she just sang that one.”   The most common adjective used to describe her was quirky.  “She had her quirks, but then we all do,” one of the Directors told me. “That’s alright,” Emilio observed. “People remember odd people.” Some people really did click with her, and several appreciated that I had come to share, vicariously, in that part of Mom still reverberating in the rhythms of this vital community.  “I appreciated her sense of social justice,” a public school teacher told me, “she was always bringing me articles from Teaching Tolerance. It was her way of learning and passing it on.”

Singing for our Lives

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There were several numbers that really got to me.  The whole trip was emotional, of course, although I had not anticipated when, where, or how the grieving would strike: such as walking off the plane into an airport with no mom to greet me. Still, the loss was compensated for by an incredible sense of gain. This group of women whom I had only heard about in the barest sketch from Mom welcomed and embraced me – just as they had done, for several years, with Mom herself.  Living the talk, sharing the walk.

The chorus had chosen a beautiful song by Jane Siberry to dedicate to Mom, Calling All Angels. On the night of the performance however, a few soloists were ill and they weren’t able to sing this one.  Luckily I had heard it during rehearsal the night before. I was surprised at the first point that caught me in the throat during the concert. I have always enjoyed Dar Williams, but I don’t think I’d ever carefully listened to the lyrics of When I was a boy. The last stanza makes a surprising shift, from a woman’s gender assertions to a man insisting “when I was a girl,” and then recalling moments he had shared with his mother.  My brother leapt immediately to mind. You were there, Rich, in all the ways that matter, during childhood and now.

The last stanza of the song, May I Suggest, rendered by soloist Kathy Morris , also brought tears to my eyes. The wonderful thing that I have always experienced at both gay men’s and women’s choruses is the mix of humor and poignancy about real life.  So, while one of the Directors earned a posterboard advertisement – “Director Needs 1st Date” – from a helpful DSCN0540 member of the chorus, another member’s boss snapped photos of her in pap exam stirrups while she bewailed the rigors of maintaining the reproductive organs (“Women’s Health Medley” by Lisa Koch). I don’t think too many other members of the audience were crying in-between laughing, but there is a spirit of communality that can be felt when everyone is simply paying close attention – it generates a force invigorating the mix of joy and pain we all experience while living these, our precious and irreplaceable lives.

In lieu of the planned dedication number, Mom got the whole concert dedicated to her before the final song, an original piece by Director Liz Lopez, “I Remember Falling.” I am hopeful the audio-recording comes out because it is quite a beautiful piece. And then, according to tradition, the New Mexico Women’s Chorus closed by inviting the audience to join in the singing of a popular civil rights anthem:

We are a gentle angry people, and we are singing, singing for our lives.”

Thanks Mom, for singing with and for us.

Elaine Johnson Kent
August 18, 1934 – September 30, 2009

Mom and I had many conversations in the 1990s about euthanasia. She was afraid of pain and did not want to suffer. I took a bunch of notes back then about what kind of service she would like, what to do with her body and such, trying to anticipate the kinds of information I would one day need. Eventually the topic slipped off the map.
When she went to the Emergency Room last spring, I began to watch and wait for her to let me know when it was time. I thought I was paying very close attention, but she fooled me for quite a while. I learned more about my mom’s parenting style in the last two weeks of her life than during the previous forty-six years. Through my childhood and adolescence, she had displayed no maternal instincts that I recognized. Her deepest lover, Albuquerque John, got it right: “You and your brother raised yourselves.” Whenever Mom told stories about how she had agonized over my brother’s and my safety, and felt our pain as hers, I was astonished at the disparity between our perceptions. I could not reconcile our respective versions of reality.

Abducted by Aliens
Mom called three weeks ahead of schedule to tell me she was ready to move from her beloved Albuquerque, NM to live the rest of her life with me in Amherst, MA. Within 72 hours, she was here. That very first night, I met my roommate in the hall at 4 am. “Did you just hear the front door?” he asked me. I had; what was going on? Mom burst back in. “Honey, we’ve been had!” She was in a state of total panic, convinced our lives were at stake. “That man” had made her sign a paper, and “they” were coming to get her. I tried to understand what was happening. The story she told was fantastic: a hidden life of crime, things done to her blood, how she would soon disappear without a trace. Over the next day and a half, she slowly came down from the double dose of prescription medications that she’d swallowed in an attempt to end the pain (of bone cancer, of increasing fatigue, of fundamental loss…). Mom had thrown me quite a curve! I wasn’t even looking in the right direction.

Call it Coincidence?
“If I had to say,” Mom explained to the social worker from The Hospice of the Fisher Home during the intake interview, “I believe in music.” Anticipating that I was going to need help at some point, friends had provided resources and I had done just enough homework to know who to call for help. Within hours of what looked to me like instant dementia, we had visits from the Clinical Director of the Hospice and from a representative of Elder Protective Services. Mom was reassured, “Massachusetts has the best protection in the country!” Between myself, my roommates, Hospice staff and a sweet neighbor, mom immediately had 24/7 companionship. It took a full two days to get Mom into the health care system, but by Wednesday evening she had suitable medication and proper referrals. Mom was lucid again, and it seemed we were getting the situation under control.
By Thursday afternoon the pain was back. My gaze was becoming clearer, but I still couldn’t see the ball.

or Carefully Coordinated Choreography
I didn’t tell Mom that she had called for rescue within a half-hour of my preliminary visit to The Fisher Home as I checked out potential (future) resources. I never expected Mom to qualify for palliative care so soon. While I was still in the mode of imagining us settling into some kind of home routine for at least a few months, the Hospice offered a couple of nights of respite care over the weekend, since the transition had proved to be so rough – and they happened to have a bed available. They were already gently facilitating my process as well as easing Mom’s. As Mom and I went to bed in my apartment Thursday night, Mom reassured me – despite my goof that had delayed a timely dose of painkiller: “Things are going to work out.” Of course I agreed, oblivious to the fact that our definitions of “working out” were hardly related.
The next shock came at the doctor’s office Friday afternoon, where Mom met her new primary care provider en route to the Hospice. “Not to be too blunt,” he said, after Mom told him in no uncertain terms that she wanted to die sooner rather than later, “but it’s going to happen. You’re going fast.” Cognitively, I processed the information, asking if he was talking about days or weeks. Emotionally, I could not absorb the answer: “Days.” At the Hospice, I said a teary goodbye to Mom, afraid she would die before I returned on Sunday but not believing it. I was also still struggling with my selfish desire for more time with her, despite her obvious and persistent clarity in not suffering the unendurable any longer. She made it through the weekend, relieved to be in good, constant care. Sunday and Monday were tough days, as no pain medication proved effective in catching up with or controlling the bone pain. Monday morning, one of the nurses explained that they were hesitant to start increasing the morphine because Mom was “still so alert” but all the alternatives were failing. As soon as they cranked up the dosage, Mom would begin to move closer and closer to unconsciousness.
Mom was calm as I explained the situation. I wanted her to agree that if we could find another way to control the physical pain, then maybe the emotional aspects could be addressed? “I don’t see any difference,” she told me, “they are mixed up together.” According to the Hospice guidelines for care, “Pain is what the patient says it is.” As long as Mom experienced pain, and told them, they would continue to provide medication. “It’s all done, sweetie,” she told me. Finally, I had caught up.

The Hospice Experience
Each nurse and care provider told me only as much as I needed to know, judging what they sensed I could comprehend, at each step along the way. The attention, time, and energy they provide to patients is extraordinary. Mom and I talked for hours over ten blurry days, sharing memories, moaning and groaning about the freaking pain, laughing, teasing apart selected biographical details, and choosing to leave others forever unexcavated. In the end, I realized how consistently Mom chose not to impose herself on anyone, how deeply she respected others’ autonomy – including that of her kids, and – ultimately – how much she was willing to suffer in order to honor these family values. She did her best to protect us all the way through to the very end.

Goodbye, Mom
I asked Mom what she felt was important in her own life. She answered seriously: “She sang.” I revisited the idea of a service, and Mom scoffed. “She did this. She did that.” I asked if she remembered the choral numbers she had mentioned before. “Those were sung at Mamma and Daddy’s funerals,” she explained. “Do you want to keep the tradition?” I was curious. She just snorted. Probably her most characteristic moment had already occurred. When I bid her farewell for that weekend of respite care, I told her that I was glad she had been my mom.
“I’m glad,” she replied, “that we straightened your teeth.”

“August”
by Boris Leonidovich Pasternak

As it had promised, not deceiving,
The sun pierced through morning and ran
As one bright slanted stripe of saffron
Across the drapes of the divan.
It covered with its heated ochre
The nearby woods, homes in the place,
My bed – and even my wet pillow, -
A patch of wall by the bookcase.
And I remembered why the pillow
Was slightly moist. That very eve
I dreamed you all came through a forest,
One after one – to see me leave.
You came in crowds, in pairs and singly,
And then someone was heard to say:
It is, old style, the sixth of August,
The Lord’s Transfiguration Day.
Usually a light that’s flameless
Comes from Tabor this day each year,
And autumn draws eyes to her beauty -
An omen, marvelously clear.
And you passed through the tiny, trembling,
Bare and beggared alders into
The graveyard’s red-as-ginger forest
Which burned like pressed-out cookies do.
Importantly the great sky neighbored
With those tall, calmed-down tops of trees;
The distance for some time had echoed
With sounds of rooster’s reveilles.
Death stood like some state land-surveyor
Amidst the trees in that stilled place
And scrutinized me for my grave size,
While looking in my lifeless face.
And everybody heard it really -
The quiet words of one nearby:
My former, clairvoyant self was speaking
Which no decay can falsify.
‘Farewell, blue of Transfiguration
And second Savior Day’s rich gold.
Soften for me with woman’s kindness
The bite this last sad hour can hold.
Farewell, years of prolonged stagnation.
And you, woman, let’s say goodbye -
You who challenged humiliation!
I am your battlefield and cry.
Farewell, spread of the wings out-straightened,
The free stubbornness of pure flight,
The word that gives the world its image,
Creation: miracles and light.’

written between 1946-1953
translated and edited by Vladimir Markov & Merrill Sparks in Modern Russian Poetry, 1966

Brief ceremony to be held Tuesday, October 6, at 4:30 pm at The Hospice of the Fisher Home, Amherst MA. Join us there to nurture griefs and celebrate memories of your own loved ones, and/or come for dinner at Panda East (Amherst) (@ 6 pm). Mom loved sushi!
Obituary to be posted in The Albuquerque Journal, The Kansas City Star, The Denver Post, and the Mt Carmel Daily Republican Register (Illinois). Elaine was the oldest daughter of Roy and Rosaline Johnson of Mt. Carmel, IL.
Embedded: Requiem Aeternam by John Rutter
No gifts, please. Contributions can be made in Elaine’s name to the New Mexico Women’s Chorus, P.O. Box 40703, Albuquerque, NM 87106 or to the Samual W. Achziger Memorial Endowment Fund at World Learning, The Experiment for International Living, School for International Training.

Sam Achziger Fund
c/o World Learning
Office of Philanthropy
1 Kipling Road
Brattleboro, VT 05302

somewhere between Albuquerque and Amherst

“I keep telling myself that no one can keep my mind from going fuzzy except me.”
~ Elaine J. Kent
20 July 2009

While hanging out with mom last week, I finally asked her about blogging. Did she remember the writings about Uncle Sam? I’ve been weighing whether or not to do this since very soon after the emergency notification posted to my Facebook Wall by my sister-in-law. That day, I blundered my way through the opening of the Bakhtin conference trying to pay attention but distracted with worry. The hospital would tell me nothing because mom had not authorized them to do so. By the time (two days later) that Michael asked me about lying (in relation to the conference topics and his research on blogs), I had a quasi-grip on mom’s medical situation halfway around the world. ChineseLampTree.jpgShe had talked her way out of emergency surgery to tend a bit of emotional/relational business that she simply refused to leave undone in face of the (admittedly very small) risk of dying under anaesthesia. We had spoken, and I cannot recall – ever – her being so clear, direct, and sure of what mattered most and what she needed to do about it. Not only did she convince the hospital psychologists that she was sane, “Sissie” had also convinced her siblings along with me and my brother that this was the way things were going to be. And so they were.
The surgery to remove a large mass from her colon was, wouldn’t you know, only the tip of the iceberg. We’re still waiting results of a bone scan, but we know that chemo of one sort or another lies ahead, and in the meantime – because why have one major ailment when two are possible?! – the vertigo she’d been having for a few months suddenly worsened, and was traced to a 70% blockage in both carotid arteries. She’ll have surgery to clean the plumbing in the left carotid in a few weeks….. the right carotid will get its turn in due time.
While I tried to stay focused on the last month of fieldwork, family members played tag team and kept mom company and in good care. Brother Rich, btw, has just been stellar.
Despite everyone’s love and attention, it felt good to finally lay my own eyes on mom some six weeks after the drama began! After learning results of the first battery of tests, we spent most of our time walking, talking, eating, and just hanging out. Over the weekend we had a wonderful day with my good, longtime friend Laurel, and then mom took the next day just to read. Mom gave me the book after she’d finished, to read on the flight home. “It’s painful in the beginning,” she said, “but stick with it. You’ll like it!”
After our fun day sightseeing I remained in tourist mode, so Laurel and I squeezed in a visit to the Albuquerque Museum of Art & History.prayer.jpg They had an exhibit called The Shape of Time, about Charles Ross’s massive earth/artwork Star Axis, that I wanted to see. The security guard allowed me to take photos of the brief description by museum curators, describing how “star geometry [is] anchored in earth and rock,” enabling viewers to track precession – the 26,000 year cycle of the earth’s shifting axis.

“It is all very beautiful and magical here –
a quality which cannot be described. You have to live it and breathe it, let
the sun bake it into you.
The skies and land are so enormous, and the
detail so precise and exquisite that wherever you are you are
isolated in a glowing world
between the macro and the micro, where
everything is sidewise under you and over you, and even
the clocks stopped long ago.”
Ansel Adams in a letter to Alfred Stieglitz from Ghost Ranch, 1937

Also on display was an incredible collection of black and white photographs by Craig Varjabedian. Ghost Ranch became the home and inspiration of Georgia O’Keefe, who named one her paintings From the Faraway Nearby.

lush and mountains.jpg
Do you ever lie [on the blog]?”
I practically choked. It was not only an inappropriate moment to be forthcoming and blurt fear but also inopportune. At least I’ve learned that over the years of externally processing emotional experiences – and living through the interactive, relational consequences. But there was the question, the challenge, the opportunity, the dare: the crisis, right in my face, immediately. Always – until that very moment – when people asked me about blogging I would explain that I write about the most important thing happening in my immediate subjective world. These things vary considerably, from politics in the world at large to learning about language or cognition or interpretation to microsocial interactions with friends. But in that moment I knew I had to choose along a public/private dimension – would that make it a lie?
No. Yet the dilemma remained. Why do I blog? Why have I kept at it all this time? Do I really believe in my earliest inspirations for doing this public process of developing a consciousness . . . or will I shrink at the sharpest moment?

“To be able to reproduce a feeling so that others could recognize it, and perhaps understand it for the first time, one had to have some idea of what it felt like in reality. To show that one knew meant revealing what one had felt.”

Edward “Linc” Lincoln in Smokescreen, by Dick Francis (1972, p. 82)

Linc, the fictional protagonist in Smokescreen, is describing acting, but I read it as any kind of performance. Performing (such as writing) can also reveal what one has not felt, what one does not know. The first time I had to interpret someone’s grief in American Sign Language (nearly 20 years ago), my mentor said something to the effect of, “Well, it’s obvious that you don’t cry.” (This deficit, fyi, has since been corrected.)

Of course Mom remembers the blogging I did about Uncle Sam.

    Mom, I’ve been wondering whether or not I should – or want – to do some blogging like that about you, about this. How do you feel about it?”

    Well honey I don’t mind. If you think it will help somebody. Or you.

    I don’t know if it will help anyone, mom. It might. It might not.

Of course I am hoping it might.

References/Resources:
Remembering Sam, Reflexivity< Limits and Possibilities of Mikhael Bakhtin, Reflexivity
“Don’t flatter yourself.” [about not lying in the blog] Reflexivity
Museum Day, [about Brother Rich] Reflexivity
photo-eye Gallery: Star Axis
The Shape of Time, photo one
The Shape of Time, photo two
to lengthening our shadows (a toast), [about precession] Reflexivity
Ghost Ranch and the Faraway Nearby, Craig Varjabedian
Georgia O’Keefe [a student team project] by James Adkins, Mona Manzanares and Jamie Long
Homage to a Mentor, Reflexivity
Smokescreen, Dick Francis
Rio Rancho (Albuquerque), New Mexico

Americans smile a lot. It feels good! :-) Occasionally someone gives a fake smile, one of those that is offered up because it is socially expected, but most of the smiles are accompanied with eye contact that acknowledges, somehow, what a pleasure it is to recognize mutual presence. No more carefully-controlled neutral (or somewhat suspicious) “European” expressions. warning mountainous road.jpgI mentioned to mom that I’ve hardly heard any Spanish – the monotony of English only accents how accustomed I became to the patter of diverse tongues. Now conversations around me unfold with too much information – I understand all the words, even if I lack context or background. She says people aren’t shopping (we’ve been taking multiple daily walks in the mall or Walmart), and I wondered if there are measurable effects of the bad economy according to language group.
After dropping mom for her PET scan I drove off to find a glass of iced tea. The Tomato Cafe was still under construction, so I wound up in Stoneface. I wondered how to reconcile their gang warning sign with the Lavender Festival.
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Dad called to explain that the first thirty pages of Deaf Sentence (by David Lodge) describes perfectly his life with hearing loss.
Between medical appointments, spectacular sightseeing. We began with local architecture, specifically contemporary modern, in a new neighborhood with a bit of everything, even the hint of gargoyle.
owl.jpgThe Lavender Festival was in Los Ranchos, with its long river-to-road lineas or tripas lots. We hooked up with my old pal, Laurel, and met some of her friends. I enjoyed the predatory bird exhibit.
From there, Laurel, mom and I took off to drive the Jemez, which turned into a long wander. We stopped at the Zia Pueblo. (I snapped the picture before the sign forbidding photography.) The New Mexico state flag features

“an interpretation of an ancient symbol of the sun as found on a late 19th century water jar from Zia Pueblo. This red symbol is called a “Zia” and is centered on a field of yellow.

Four is the sacred number of the Zia and can be found repeated in the four points radiating from the circle. The number four is embodied in the four points of the of the compass, North, East, South and West; in the four seasons of the year Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter; in the 24 hours of each day by sunrise, noon, evening and night; by four seasons of life, childhood, youth, adulthood and old age. The Zia also believed that with life came four sacred obligations: development of a strong body, a clear mind, a pure spirit and devotion to the welfare of people/family. All of these things are bound together within the circle of life.

The red and yellow colors are the colors of Isabel of Castilla brought to the continent by the Spanish Conquistadors.”

We then took the historic Jemez Mountain Trail National Scenic Byway winding up through gorgeous red stone and lush early summer greens – mom kept exclaiming at the abundance of foliage due to the higher than average rains this year. We stopped at the Walatowa Cultural Center, learning about the “4 climate zones, 5,000 years of human history and millions of years of geological ferment” (quoted from the museum timeline). This land is home to the Hemish, who built some 62 major villages, with 9-12 major pueblos, since 1275 (the approximate time they began to build permanent dwelling places in these areas where they already lived). I didn’t imagine my camera would do justice to the majestic views (although now I wish I had tried, sigh) of huge vistas, majestic stone, and the magical open vista of the Valles Caldera (see wikipedia for a few decent shots). We drifted on through Bandelier National Park, marveling at its mix of beauty and destruction; the Cerro Grande fire of 2000 still much in evidence.
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There was to be no science tourism, unfortunately. Security did let us in with no fuss (three white women in a old minivan apparently not enough to warrant more than the most casual wave-through – perhaps we fit the profile of “one of those liberals from Los Alamos” which we saw on an adopt-a-highway sign on the way down from Bandelier). Eventually (after what felt like a few passages through Area 51) we found the Science Museum (which closed two minutes prior to our arrival) but managed to enjoy the museum shop. I’m failing to capture the quality of the day’s light banter covering subjects ranging from family histories, genetic forecasts, singing fish, incidents and moments that didn’t happen, what we don’t know about geology, and other assorted random topics but I will say it was an entirely happy day!
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References/Resources:
About Los Ranchos
The New Mexico State Flag
Nee Hemish, a History of Jemez Pueblo, by Joe S. Sando
Cerro Grande Fire, National Park Service
Area 51, wikipedia

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Christi imagined a piece of Alec’s spirit in each balloon, including the parts of him held by and given to each person present. I thought of the pace of their departure, the wind picked them up so fast! I imagined their speed parallel with the way Alec lived, not that he was always in a rush, but once that boy had decided there was no hesitation. :-)
The weekend passed quickly, wedged between hectic work weeks for all of us. Yet the picnic at Alec’s gravesite flowed leisurely. The steady stream of arrivals began at one pm and continued until the release an hour-and-a-half later.
The mood was at turns festive, contemplative, sad, and peaceful. The day itself was beautiful. Uncle Dick, all the way from Port Angeles, WA, offered some remarks. Many in the crowd were probably unaware that his daughter, our cousin Saundra, died of leukemia when she was twenty. (Her memory is celebrated annually by the Peninsula Tennis Club.)
Uncle Dick shared some thoughts with us from an article by Mark A. Lorenson, You Can Not Lose the Ones You Love, which challenges the “conventional wisdom” that “we miss the ones we love” (47). Applying the philosophy that “we, through our current beliefs, are actually creating our experience of ‘missing’” (48), Lorenson proposes a reframing which Uncle Dick exhorted us all to try:

I love you and feel your presence.

In all ways, from everyone gathered and those whose thoughts were with us, a fitting tribute.

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We ate breakfast at Deb and Bill’s Cafe in Belton, Missouri. Under surveillance. One neighbor got a map to show us where Carrollton is – Austin is performing there with marching band today. Another neighbor congratulated Rich for finding a way to interrupt her life story. Christi (not one to mess up her schoolwork with doodles) recounted her stress-releasing strategy of making tic marks for each time the chatty nitwit (bless her heart) annoys her in class. Dad selected from “The Lighter Side” portion of the menu – until he learned he could have both corned beef hash and hashbrowns.
We’re wearing bracelets in honor of Alec’s life, celebrating being together on his account.
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I have a feeling Alec would have enjoyed the two-seater.

We had in time in College Writing (first year writing) on Thursday to do a round of check-ins, “What’s best about this class, What’s worst about this class, and something random.” I had not thought about participating (duh) and felt as on-the-spot as some of the students may have when it came to the end and – as a few students insisted – my turn. Alec and this trip to Kansas City was high on my mind, but I was thinking to myself, “No, that’s too personal; telling them might compromise the teacher/student boundary.” The students are interacting well, there was teasing and a fair number of comments and teasing about some of the things people shared. A minute or two before my turn, two of the boys had an exchange and one of them said, “Oh Snap.”
That was my sign to let them know.

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Hunter left the parachute guy for Alec; flowers were placed by Christi’s family. The Mount Moriah Cemetary was popular this Memorial Day.
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