I enjoy being Judy Gumbo

At times. Such as yesterday at a 70th birthday/retirement party for my friends Ruth & Wendel. I had a warm, long rambling conversation with Dan Ellsberg. Dan is 84, he wears gigantic hearing aids;  in order for him to hear I had to speak directly into his ear, close up, which gave our conversation an unexpected intimacy. Somewhere between a father and a lover.  He asked about which folks had died ( sadly I can’t recall exactly who he asked about.) We discussed Vietnam, with special emphasis on my 2013 trip, so I handed him a flyer about our People Make the Peace book & an upcoming reading Oct. 17 in Berkeley with Rennie Davis.

“He’s been trying to contact me. I haven’t replied. Is he still with the little fat guy?” Dan asked, using a phrase all of us did to refer to the guru Rennie attached himself to after our movement died. I told him no, that when I last saw Rennie he was trying to work with folks in Vietnam to help mitigate the effects of agent orange. With some kind of organic chemical solvent. I applaud Rennie’s movitives but did not reveal how uncomfortable Rennie made me as he tried to “sell” the Vietnamese on this untested product. 

My time with Ellsberg was the kind of Judy Gumbo 1960s conversation I remember,  time-travelled into 2105. We talked about getting arrested at Mayday – Ellsberg did, I did not. A failure of leadership on my part; I got so stoned the night before I did not wake up my affinity group in time to get to the designated intersection. Which led an acquaintance to tell Ellsberg she had tried to get Rennie & other Mayday folks to set the demo start time later, but got nowhere. Then she owned up to having had an affair with Rennie. Which prompted Ellsberg to say his grandfather or perhaps great grandfather had an affair with Emma Goldman. How cool is that? I chose not to reveal my affair (save that one for the memoir). Protest  movements are hotbeds of schtupping- then, way back then & likely now. We may be gentle, angry people as Holly Near sings but that is no contradiction to being passionate. Hurray for protest. It brings out sexiness in all of us!

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. 

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.


Birthday Countdown: the Day Before

Stability: This word that accompanied my once again difficult wake up this morning.  Emotional stability not material in the Marxist usage of material world . The stability I once got talking things through with Stew or David. I know I’ve mentioned this before but I am what Stew used to call a talking woman – I process my feelings even more than ideas with friends but in the past I relied on my husbands for such emotional stability. With friends the conversation line is sporadic, with Stew and David my conversations and resolution of my questions were ongoing. Since David and Stew are gone, I process my emotions here, in my blog. Sadly, my blog cannot give advice or answer back.

I realized this morning that I must and can locate that stability within myself. I knew this in some abstract intellectual sense, but still, it feels like a revalation. That I can recognize my need for inner stability means I must have it down there somewhere right?  Does that make sense?

Except for the wake-ups, I’ve been doing this first birthday without David pretty well so far.  More than a week of evenings out, one on one, or two on one with friends. Tonite is Chez Panisse. Deciding who not to invite to this one was difficult. I knew six was the most I could handle, so I could hear and have real conversations. (I hope those I left out will forgive me but know that, unless you had to cancel, you and I have celebrated together.) Three of us who will be there are widows, two singles and one married woman. Since we widows must re-build our emotional stability by and for ourselves, I”d like to find out how singles do it. But not tonite, Tonite at Chez Panisse I will celebrate I got this far. I’m in a great mood now.

Birthday Countdown Day 3

When I was in my 20’s I thought deliberately about my life. I ran away from home on purpose, once when I was 9 or 10; and ten years later to escape my familty by marrying a man who turned out to be that cheating husband.  Before I dropped out in a liberating, existential, unplanned act to join the Movement, I had planned a career. A straight line life. This is what I mean by planning: to see a trajectory and act to follow it to its conclusion. When my end of the movement faded in the mid 19070s I planned a pregnancy, married Stew when I was 8 months along (still a rebel against bourgoise conformity)  and entered  two of three careers -sociologist followed by fundraiser – in which I was the family breadwinner. I retired, met & married David & now attempt  to be an author. Perhaps not altogether straight but still a line. Or so I saw it. 

 Stew often called me a naive optimist.  In all my plans and imaginings about what might happen with my life, I never included or expected to have two dead husbands. Yes, I fully indulged in the fantasy of a heroic death for myself or Stew on the barricades of revolution but Death did not fit in any way with my go-getter, optimistic image of myself.  I don’t want to sound too Stalinist but my Communist Party upbringing did teach me to be invested in achieving goals so I could live a worthy life.

I need acknowledgement for my life accomplishments on this birthday. Especially  getting through the deaths of the two people closest to me. But David isn’t here to give me that affirmation. Nor is Stew. Is that why I wake-up sad? D’uh.

Morning Thoughts

I won’t write long blogs for a while. I need to save my writing energy for Yippie Girl. But I’m going to try & write down morning thoughts. To crank up my writing brain for the day.

Here’s today’s 6/2/15.  David has supplanted Stew in my memories. He feels very present. I see his image walking, always from the back, shoulders slightly bent, big butt, skinny legs. Stew, even though I write about him all the time in Yippie Girl, feels more distant. But here’s my thought/or question of the day: If Stew died but I had never met David, I would see Stew around much more, right? There’d be no other man’s image to supplant his. I can tell you one thing, if Stew knew this, he would be really pissed off. 

Clutter and Quantifying Grief

Jessica told me two days ago I was on the verge of a melt down.  By which she meant I needed a good cry. She was right.  I’ve spent the two months since David died assuming I was grieving.  I’d tell myself the more quickly I could accomplish a task, the more rapidly my pain and sadness would pass and my energetic, flamboyant Judy Gumbo self would re-emerge. What foolishness. I was re-writing my own history; collapsing how I suffered the first year after Stew died into eight weeks. Now I’ve stepped back on Macy’s escalator, sobbing in its lonely basement, lonelier and sadder now than I’ve felt since David died. It may feel terrible but I see this as a good thing. I can feel raw pain.

Before my melt-down, in my “get things done and the pain will go away mode,” I cleaned up some clutter in  David’s office – Consumer Reports and Harvard Medical Letters in pristine condition, two and three years old.  David had used his three-hole punch on them, then filed the magazines by year in blue binders, to my knowledge never to be referred to or opened.  Did having them on his shelf give him some degree of …what? Comfort? An  unimpeachable knowledge base he could go back to should the time and need arise? Or did David just collect for the hell of it; he did come from an extended family with a few self-styled hoarders.  For sure David was an idealist. Perhaps his unsorted piles of stuff represented a commitment to projects he hoped one day to accomplish. But hey, it was his office to do with what he chose.  And now it’s mine.

As much as I can, I chose  not to live with clutter. I prefer clean lines and unimpeded surfaces; I like to “see the oak” as a  wise nurse and colleague in the rural Portland hospital where I briefly worked once told me.  But soon after I finished a very partial clean-up, I  began to miss the chaos of David’s clutter. His office was silent, sparse. No object moved or changed unless I made it happen.

After Stew died I’d visit his grave in Jones Pioneer Cemetery and pound the bare earth trying to wake him up. In bed at night I’d howl like a wolf, but during the day I’d focus on fight or flight: get the fuck out of Portland, dragging with me to Berkeley  a truckload of Stew’s and my stuff I was not emotionally able to discard. With David it’s been different. I live in a house I love, surrounded by David’s stuff but not by him. As every piece of clutter goes, a bit of David follows. When my clean-up is complete will I, by my own actions, have made what little I have left of David vanish too? If so, I couldn’t stand it.

There’s an article circulating in my circle from last Sunday’s NY Times titled Getting Grief Right.   Grief comes not sequentially in stages but in chapters, the author writes. I agree. I’ve said the same since Stew died: grieving is not linear. The author goes on to explain: the depth of your sadness is a measure of the love you had.  When I first read this sentence I rejoiced, I felt the author had given me the gift of a new and profound truth.  But then I began to wonder:  How do you measure depth of sadness?  Or love for that matter? I howled for Stew and beat the earth over his grave with my fist while with David all I did was sob and carry his ashes and totem stuffed eagle upstairs to their place next to my bed. Do my actions mean the depth of my sadness for David is less than my suffering over Stew? It sure don’t feel that way.

My love for Stew and for David was as different as the two men were – and if you are among those who knew them both you’ll understand.  I acted out my grief for Stew dramatically, appropriate to the times we lived in and revolutions we made.  My love for David was tempered by age and the difference between a relationship of 40 years and one of 7.  Everyone grieves in her or his own way. To see depth of sadness as a measure of love feels mechanistic, instrumental. My love for my two dead husbands was quite different but equally deep. And I am equally sad.


I hate to complain but it’s a mad/sad morning

I have two empty hours until I get on BART for SFO to land by end of day in Tucson.  I’m sad and angry. Hate it, hate it hate it. I know it’s not his fault but I’m angry at David for dying. Might as well be angry at Stew too while I’m at it.  I want to wallow in my sorrow, to feed like a vampire on my anger. Fuck this “being” shit. I’m gonna “do”. Maybe go read. No. I’ m gonna go walk at the Marina. To change my chemistry.

Much better now. I even saw a hawk.

Trying to write about David’s shiva

This past Sunday night. It was a wonderful and heartfelt event with over 100 family and friends in attendance.  Rabbi David Cooper from Kehilla put it best: “community, community, community.” But I can’t get my act together to express how I feel. Perhaps I’m not ready to accept the reality of David’s death yet.  If anyone who was in attendance would like to comment, I’d appreciate it.

Note to self:  Cleaning up the mounds of David’s stuff will not make the pain of his loss go away any more quickly.