A different Jewish New Year

L’shana tova. A good new year to all.  Since I met David, I’ve used Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services as my once-a-year opportunity to visit with Stew.  David knew, he didn’t mind, and only once did David  come with me – when we were courting.  He made it palatable for himself by calling himself a cultural anthropologist,  which meant he did insist on fasting and staying to the bitter end of YK.  I just now realized these high holy days will feel quite different from any previous:  I now have two dear departed ghosts to commune with.

I’ve been neglecting you dear blog friends. I promised more to come on the Barb 50th Anniversary.  And I did not come through.  That event took place mid August.  A huge success. 150 people, terrific PR.  I still hope to post what I wrote about it but in the meantime you can  get a good sense from my FB page and from http://www.sfgate.com/entertainment/article/Berkeley-Barb-underground-paper-50-years-later-6417936.phphttp://www.sfchronicle.com/entertainment/article/Lefties-come-home-for-Berkeley-Barb-reunion-6442444.php

David’s memorial was this past Labor Day. Another huge success. 100 people who sang, told David stories that brought him back to life and ate chicken & Portobello mushrooms barbecued by Dan, my wonderful son-in-law.  Had he lived,  Labor Day would have been our 6th wedding anniversary. I needed to be surrounded by friends & I was.  On top of all that, I sent 50 pages of Yippie Girl to a literary agent who turned me down with the best rejection letter ever.  “The writing has great style,'” he says then goes on “and doesn’t fall into the usual sins of memoir which are excessive misery and naval gazing…Yours is an important story and you have done a superb job of bringing to life a time and place that seems almost like a different country.”  While I liked this guy a lot I had qualms about him from the start after he told me didn’t really like the 1960s since his girlfriend had left him to become a hippie.  I am glad he saw on his own that he was not the right fit for me. So now I am on to another agent. We’ll see right?

On top of all this at the end of this  month I am going to Maine, then Woodstock for the opening of Justin Schein’s film about David’s cousin & Abbie’s and my friend Mayer Vishner. Film is about Mayer’s “existential project” – taking his own life.  After that NYC for 3 days then home Oct. 7.

All these are headlines.  Headlines that take up a lot of my time. Internally I still wake up way too early focusing on fear & creating my own worst case scenarios  “The night is dark and full of terrors,” opines one of the female characters in Game of Thrones – a show I can no longer watch because I find it is too scary.  Days are pretty much fine altho I am often tired.


Barb Anniversary: More to Come

Got back last night from a lovely 48 hour vacation with Nancy & Bruce in Inverness.  Before I left I swam back and forth across an estuary fed by briny sea water, surrounded by willows and hills of amber grass.  I am a Canadian. I grew up swimming in pristine Ontario lakes. I hate chlorine & swiming pools.   I  was too exhausted and too much in the moment to blog during the Barb events but this swim was left me high on endorphins and in great mood. I am still tired, but I have recovered enough to post my impressions of last week,  which I will do asap. 

Behind My Happy Face

I know I must move on emotionally from David and Stew’s deaths, even though I wake up every morning these days so depressed it’s painful. I despise the giant gap between the me who, after I have my coffee and my Chinese herbal happy meds, is ready to face her day and the other Judy – She Who Takes Possession of Me in that first hour beginning at 5:30 or 6 when I am semi-conscious. She Who Takes Possession wallows in sadness, clenches her teeth, sweats, feels nauseous; her heart beats so loudly even rational Judy hears it. SWTP cannot see the positive in her life.  Happened Monday morning and again on Tuesday, despite the fact that Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle began the article on our Berkeley Barb  50th Anniversary on the FRONT PAGE FIRST SECTION BELOW THE FOLD (!!!!!). And continues on a double spread inside.

My pic is fabulous; my bio on page 15 stellar and includes the paragraph I wrote for Yippie Girl about a confrontation I had with Max Scherr over his sexism. I was quoted 3 times in the accompanying article and my quotes were on point. My website address appears in print. Even Stew makes his presence felt from beyond the grave; he’s quoted once.  You’d think all this positiviity would leech into my subconscious and give me happier and less horrific wake-ups but nooooooo….

WTF, right?  Suggestions for moving on are greatly appreciated.


John, Diana, me & Gar

Article at:  http://www.sfchronicle.com/entertainment/article/Berkeley-Barb-underground-paper-50-years-later-6417936.php

Count Your Blessings

I have decided there is no such thing as always.  Always always changes. Never takes so long it never happens. Perhaps that’s why J.M. Barrie called it Never-Never land. It never did or could exist.

I still have horrible wake-ups, even if my day is filled. When I have a lonely evening, wake-ups are worse. Whine, whine, whine. I am an other directed person, someone who Stew used to call a talking woman, I process and feel happy when I have someone close to talk to. But that’s gone now. I have no other except myself. Let me be clear: I am privileged to have many friends but friends are not around (nor should they be) when I’m in bed watching TV at night or to say to me, as David did when I’d ask him for reassurance:  “Everything is going to be all right.” If no-one says that magic phrase to me, how can I be sure?

The book I just finished reading for my book group, The Awakening by Kate Chopin, written at the turn of the last century, tells the story of a privileged woman in New Orleans who is so bored and stifled by her life and husband she – partially deliberately, partially through just following her existential path – manages to break free. But when she finally achieves that ideal state of relaxing self-fulfillement,  she is abandoned by her lover. Her solution – not thought out, just acted upon – is to walk deep into the ocean and surrender.

I can feel a piece of that woman inside me too: sad, bored, weighed down, fatigued, energy-less.  Oppressed by lack of intimacy. My right to pursue happiness promised to me in the Declaration of Independence is distant, not inalienable.  At the same time, I am privileged. My blessings are huge. My daughter, Simon, my home and friends, just to start.  I’m supposed to be in the Pink Section of the Chronicle this coming Sunday for the Barb stuff, for chrisssake!

I have forgotten a basic tenet of both Judaism & Buddhism – count your blessings: Judaism in morning prayers, Buddhism by reminding yourself, before you go to sleep and when you wake up, of at least three things or people you are grateful for. Count your blessings Gumbo – by which I mean the positive in my life.  I must do this at night & in the morning.  For as long as always lasts.

Still Angry After All These Years

This morning I woke up angry. My therapist tells me anger is a base emotion that covers up or displaces feelings that are more fine tuned: sadness, compasion, self-doubt, loneliness and especially joy and happiness.  My therapist may be right. This morning I felt angry at the small impermanent things – triggered for example when my newish bedroom blind that I really like fell down off the window. Again. There was no earthquake of physical disruption to make that happen. I think the blind may be constructed backward so I’ll have to disrupt my morning, go back to the blind shop, argue with the owner, maybe spend more $ on a new one. Feh. But my blind anger (not bad) is a cover for my anger at the universe, for David dying, for Stew dying, for Bets who has no good choices of anything to do about the cancer in her body; for myself at my sporadic memory which has wiped out cherished images from my past until they pop up again unannounced (which makes me happy) but then fade so fast I can’t hang onto them.

I had a lovely recollection of Stew while I was waking up, but now it’s gone. Perhaps never to return.  Behind all this is my anger as a political progressive at the state of the world. Mike Huckabee said this morning that Obama’s deal with Iran over nuclear proliferation would – get this -take the the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven!  I must admit, I get off on the energy I get from being angry. Like caffeine, anger is a high that never lasts but is exciting while it does.

Bets and I have come up with a punk chant about our and by extension the world’s situation. We’ll dress in black and stomp our feet. Who knows, maybe dye our hair. If we manage to rehearse we may perform at David’s memorial, yelling at the infinite over and over:  Fuckin sucks! Fuckin sucks! Fuckin sucks! Fuckin sucks!

All for now. The Barb 50th anniversary is eating up my life http://www.berkeleybarb.net . At least I’m enjoying it.

Follow up on Blind story:  I admitted defeat. I’d done my best to install the sucker but it continued to fall down. So I decided I would treat myself. I went to the blinds guy and paid an inordinate amount of $ to have Maurice come & install the blind for me.  By the time Maurice finished, which included an additional plastic part, he told me: “I’ve been doing this for 30 years. That was a hard one.”  Yay for me. I made the right decision.

I Wuz Drugged!

Three days ago I went back to Ativan. I woke up tired. The tired stayed with me all day. Then came nausea. And dizziness. And headache. I e-mailed my primary care doc. I don’t have the flu. My tzuris is likely a reaction to Ativan.  Oy! I’ve been drugging myself courtesy of Big Pharma!

My primary care doc says neither Xanax or Ativan are good for anyone over 65.

Diazepam has active metabolites that stay in the system a long time and can build up and cause confusion and other side effects. A recent study showed increased risk of dementia with use over 3 months. All of the benzo family can cause increase risk of confusion and falls, but not as bad. All can be habit forming and sometimes stop working and get into slippery slope of needing higher doses and then those stop working. If physical dependency develops the withdrawal can be very difficult.

Here is Kaiser’s message to their docs: ” Just say no to benzo’s over 65. ” But then my doc confessed she had a number of patients who stay on benzos & seem fine with it.  I wrote her back that  the Just Say No campaign produced poor outcomes because it did nothing to address the cause or issue that initially created the problem. And I would stop taking Ativan and go back to the smallest dose of Xanax (1/4 of a .5 mg tab) that will relieve my anxiety but not drug me.  This morning I felt  a lot more like myself –  almost high, in fact. But as soon as I thought about David, Stew,  my friend Nancy & her late husband Steve,  I teared up. My therapist says grieving takes at least two years. She also says that having down periods at this phase of grieving is pretty normal. Like Simon says, up, down, up down.

Today got hijacked by the Berkeley Barb 50th anniversary. www.berkeleybarb.net .  I gave what I think will turn out to be a pretty good interview with a reporter from the Chronicle, I meet a reporter from California Magazine tomorrow, I solved a bunch of problems with then recruited 2 people to the panel I’m moderating on August 13,  yadda yadda yadda.  The old Yippie our detractors used to label as media whores kicked in.  Feels like I am retrieving the trust I had in myself for the things I know how to do.  It’s both a good and a distracting thing.


Ativan vs Xanax?

I’ve been sad most of the time for over a week. Perhaps two. My time sense is blurry. Beyond living with the fact of having two dead husbands, I’m not sure why exactly.  I thought I was sad before but this sadness feels different, deeper. I tear up more frequently; I feel fatigue, low energy, little desire to do, which is not like the me I used to be. I ask myself if I’m depressed, but while I can’t explain in words the difference between depression & sadness what I feel is different.  It’s a genuine sadness that arrives  at any moment like the Portland rain, stop and start, stop and start in downpours that combine in unpredictable patterns with sunny, joyful moments.

I had been taking 1/2 Xanax each time I’d wake up pretty consistently at 1:30 a.m. Even at that small dose I felt drugged when I’d wake up, as if my brain was packed away in grey fluff which didn’t wear off until late afternoon or early evening. I researched Xanax vs Ativan, read on Web MD that Xanax is bad for older people, their advice was to take Ativan. So I switched. I had taken Ativan in Viet Nam to tamp down my excitement & help me sleep but in Viet Nam I’d wake up happy, focussed and refreshed, due more my guess is to being in the country of my revolutionary dreams, and not the drugs. Just the opposite of my circumstances after David died when I retreated back to my familiar 1/2 Xanax.  I wonder, is it when I went back to Ativan over a week ago when my mood swings and extreme emotional vulnerability began?  Naturally I can’t remember.  Or am I just now letting myself feel a deeper sadness I’ve been repressing all along?

In Calistoga, before I met up with Rio & Metah, I spent a day floating on a plastic noodle in the refreshing, hot spring waters of Indian Springs.  It took the entire day of floating for me to feel relaxed. So stupid, right? There I was, surrounded by soothing warmth & I could not relax into the moment. Because I was alone. Even the most relaxing circumstances won’t allow me to escape the reality of David and Stew’s deaths. Be honest, Gumbo, you are the one who won’t allow yourself to relax.  I  know, I know I have to be gentle with myself, practice self-compassion, not let the self-critical voices creep in. Easier said than done.

I came back from Calistoga on Tuesday. On Thursday I had to deal with a very stressful situation not of my own making. I am not ready to reveal the details yet. This I can say: On Thursday  I woke up at 6 a.m. in a genuine panic. I texted Jessica, called my neighbor Ellen at 8:30 & woke her up, called Bets for legal advice, texted my tax preparer and, eventually, by the end of Thursday got enough support to come up with a strategy which I will implement after I draft this blog and have my coffee. But boy – did going through that ever take it out of me! I wanted to blog while it was going on, since I knew blogging would help me process, but I literally could not put a finger to the keyboard.  I wonder. Did my vulnerability and sadness get exacerbated by the anxiety of my circumstances or by my change in medication? Or both. How could I know?

At some point yesterday I decided I had had enough. I took this as a sign of health. I don’t know how I came to this decision, it may have been a fight or flight response but I decided not to hang around any more feeling sorry for myself. To get out of the house. As quickly as I could. I walked to Shattuck Avenue, slowing my pace only as the Berkeley heat got to me, and bought a ticked to the movie “Inside Out.” And saw it. By myself. I can’t remember the last time I went to a move alone. It must be decades. And the best part of Inside Out is that it is a movie that legitimizes sadness. It’s ok to be sad. Sadness plays a role as much as joy. And at the end, thank you Hollywood, after sadness comes joy. It may be weird to use a Pixar movie to elevate my mood but that’s what happened.


No turn on

At a party the other night I was introduced to a man named John. Let’s call him John Doe. I saw him checking out me out, then his eyes gravitated to two other women one a lot younger than me, the other not so much. Even tho I hate to think of myself as just another older woman looking for a man, I couldn’t help myself. I got a little jealous so I decided to check John out. I know it’s too early to do this & I can think of no-thing more obnoxious than having to make room in my life for someone else when I haven’t yet made room for myself, but the reality is I am lonesome for the conversation and the snuggles. I have along way to go to be relaxed with Judy Gumbo.
Naturally it turned out that John wasn’t interested in me; a former food writer for the Chronicle now for a blog; he came off as self-involved and self-important. He said he had a date & left early. True? Perhaps yes, to give him the benefit of the doubt.  My lesson? to introduce yourself to a strange man by talking about your two dead husbands is no turn on. 

In fact, I find I can get bored talking about them. And that I use a lot of “I'”s and “me’s in my conversations. Am I the one who is too self-centered now?

Woman Worrier

Spent all day yesterday in the warm bath giant pool at Indian Springs in Calistoga. Floating on rubber yellow and green plastic noodles and lying on a white rubber floating mat splashing bathtub warm water over my body. What a relaxiing day, you’d think, right?  The reality is it took all day in the warm pool with hot sun beating down, alternating with reading Martha Grimes mystery novels about writers in New York City (learned a lot about agents and the publishing game) for me to feel relaxed. An entire day floating to get not fully but at least in part to that stage of letting go I remember from when I used to float on air-wings in much colder Canadain lakes when I was a child. A whole day. I know projecting my life forward into the future spoils the calmness of the moment but I have felt many more moments of sadness than happiness this entire last week. Am I addicted to my loneliness? I go back to it again and again. I’ve gone from Woman Warrior to Woman Worrier. Fuck this shit – even if I am alone I want to enjoy myself! Except its so rare that I feel happy.  Am I pushing myself too hard?

Natural Unhappiness

7:06 a.m. The meditation app I use most mornings as soon as I wake up (but after peeing) is Insight Timer. I go to Guided Meditations, Rick Hansen, 8:56 minutes . Rick’s voice tells me to leave behind two heavy suitcases : one that contains my worries about the future, the other my regrets about the past. I am to drop them on the sidewalk outside my house, just leave them there, come back into my house climb into my warm bed and feel the natural happiness of the infinite flow through me. I wish it was that simple.

I don’t have regrets about my past; what’s done is either done or I can twist it to my satisfaction as I tell my stories in Yippie Girl. But I am not yet ready to drop my worries about the future. Those weigh me down.  Am I wrong not to worry about the mere seconds it takes me to forget a thought, even though I repeat the thought to myself a few times just so I can remember? And what about the loneliness? I don’t want another man. Or woman for that matter. Perhaps its just where I am in the grieving process, but I can’t see going through the negotiations, the limitations, the compromises and the difficulties of dealing with another mammal (David’s term) in my life. But at the same time I miss David’s snuggles and having a human being with whom to share my problems: the tiny questions and the fun stuff that arises during the day. My widow friends do as I do: we look around in public spaces and literally do not see anyone who turns me/us on enough to make me come close to feeling attracted in a manner that would make the difficulties of getting to know, let alone make meeting a new person, worthwhile. Plus I must solidify my Judy Gumbo self before I reach out to any other, to have the “enjoy your day” Judy Gumbo be the person who greets me first thing in the morning, not this fearful woman  worrier for whom I feel little self-compassion. So my worry about the future is: am I doomed to live the rest of my life alone?

I must be just going through a moment in a process. If I let go of my suitcase of worries about the future, perhaps the act of letting go will change that future for me. 

8:00 a.m. Just starting to drink my morning Peets. Yum. Like REM says, “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.”  Weird, huh? 

72 In The Back Seat of a Car



I had a terrific but also hard birthday. For the  terrific go to my Facebook page,  Facebook is terrific for the terrific. And the mundane. Blogging is for details, for hitting the harder stuff, like Dylan says. Being with Simon in a close family situation was fabulous but also made me feel vulnerable. I am going through big transitions into a life I did not choose.  I’m no longer the driver of the car but all of a sudden I’ve become the grandma who sits in the back with the kid while the son-in law takes the wheel. How did I end up here?  One restaurant  we went to in Monterey had a special section for baby strollers. Someone had parked a walker amidst the strollers. Together in a single special area. I was struck by how Shakespearian that scene looked:  a white bread brew pub version of the seven stages of man in As You Like It, from the infant “mewling and puking in his nurse’s arms” to “second childishness…and mere oblivion.”  Time may be speeding by but none the less I felt like yelling “I am not yet close to the oblivion phase goddamnit!”

Still, for the first time this birthday I did begin to think about my mortality.  Unfairly, I blame David for raising that one. I know –  there’s nothing I can do about aging except to use the time I have to make myself into whatever combination of new and old Judy Gumbo I want to become. For the first time, I acknowledge I am over the hump. My life will end. Not in the grand revolutionary way I once envisaged, but the same as any ordinary mortal. What I need now is a good vision of who Judy Gumbo will be as an older woman, a widow and a grandma. I don’t have that vision yet.  In my early waking hours,  I question if I have the grit and determination I need to get there, But after coffee (2 tbsp decaf, 1.5 caf) I feel fine. Maybe I’ll up my caffeine ratio as well.