Reunion

So far being in DC feels like a reunion.  Beyond high school but not as fraught as the emotional purging that goes on at Vietnam Vet reunions. Noreen, Carole, Michael and I, former organizers of the Mayday Tribe, reminisce. . We look up old Mayday posters on line. We talk about the present: will Hillary make it?  If not her, then what?  We’re older, heavier, some among us in worse health.  The three recount an incident of which I have no recollection.

Here’s the story:  At least 30 of us are camped out in a large farmhouse in Allamuchy, New Jersey. It’s after Mayday, perhaps November of 1971. We are the remnants of the anti-war movement, of an organizion called PCPJ- the People’s Coalition for Peace and Justice. By now we are aware that the majority of Americans want the war to be over. But the anti-war movement is in flux; trying to come up with our next step. Should we get involved in the 1972 elections? Work for local candidates? Or gear up and go to San Diego to confront the war mongering Republicans? Jerry Rubin is in Allamuchy, as am I, Stew, the attorney Arthur Kinoy, his wife Barbara Webster, Carole, Michael and Noreen. I come downstairs into the farmhouse living room. People are sleeping on mattresses, the sofa, on the floor like a gaggle of puppies, as was our wont back in the day when we had no money for hotels. I’m up at 6 a.m. I nudge the women. I roll them over. To wake them up.  Their grunts, complaints and general chaos wakes the men up too. At six a.m. in a rural New Jersey farmhouse with thirty people formerly asleep in a dark wood paneled living room. 

“You were so militant, “Noreen says. “You were on fire.” 

“I chalked it up to pot,” is Michael’s explanation.

Why did I do this? Here’s how Carole sees it: 6 a.m. was the only time of day the women’s caucus could meet. Women were a faction: meetings of the whole were considered more important. No one wanted to get up; all of us had been up to 3 a.m. the night before. But I had Stalinist discipline; if you schedule a meeting you make it happen. The liberation of women was that important. I was the true-believer who took responsibility for waking people up. Still, not a single woman followed me up the dark wood stairs at 6:00 a.m. to talk about the women’s movement.

 Carole’s is the political explanation; my own is more personal.  I act better when I’m with someone who helps reign in my fire, who keeps me on an even keel, who moderates my passions. This incident occurred after I broke up with Stew. Did my rage at him now burn with such ferocity that I interpreted something he may have said through the lens of women’s liberation? Innocent remark or sexist insult, deliberate or unintended; any words emerging from Stew’s lips I considered suspect. Such was my self-righteousness: Stew could do no right and I could do no wrong. I could justify waking people up by generalizing my personal anger to the situation of every woman present; others needed to be free much as me. 

” Do you forgive me? ” I ask Noreen, Michael and Carole. I’m joking with a hint of serious. This is one of those occurrences Stew and I would label a breadcrumb sin; getting woken up at 6 am has no long term ill-effect, but none the less is painful enough that the memory lingers. Noreen and Michael take the humor further saying they’ve been silently holding the incident against me for years. Carole recalls saying fuck that shit, turning over and going back to sleep. This must be one among very few occasions when no-one paid attention to me, is Noreen’s expert opinion.  I like to think my 1960s self was more appealing than this funny yet trivial incident implies. Still, I’m glad to hear this story even if it despoils my image of the invincible Judy Gumbo? 

To Travel On My Own

Tomorrow I travel to Washington D.C. Our nation’s capital. To be part of a conference: “Vietnam, the Power of Protest” www.lessonsofvietnam.com. I’ve been looking forward to it – I get to read to the assembled multitudes portions of the memoir of my 1960s hero Mme. Binh, she of the famous LiveLikker t-shirt – more on that in another post) but at the same time I felt sad much of today. I could not explain it to myself until my friend Ellen pointed out that this was the first time I would travel on my own since David died. The Intrepid Judy Gumbo of 1960s fame would ride off into the sunset by herself in Lindequist, her trusty blue VW bug (yet another story) ready to take on each and every challenge. To set out for adventure by yourself was the liberated women’s thing to do. But in 2015, with two dead husbands, two friends with possible cancer diagnoses, plus my many widow and one widower friend still writhing in the agony of grief (myself included) plus another friend whose husband decided he wanted a divorce after 37 years, it’s a different Judy Gumbo who will hit the road this time. How different am I now from that independent woman who graced the cover of the Berkeley Tribe in 1970 resplendent in her karate gi, air-punching any enemy in her path? I do know this: whatever the conference holds, I feel most like Judy Gumbo in her present incarnation when I’m surrounded by people I’ve known for decades. Why is that, I wonder?

Yes, I plan to blog about the conference. I will keep you posted.

Not a Chance

Will talking to my Judy Self relieve my loneliness? I asked in my last blog. Not a chance. If anything at night I am more lonely than I ever was. I woke up 3 times last night, (according to Fitbit) but it felt like once an hour to me. I couldn’t fall back asleep, I worried. I exaggerated into a panic all the little details of the morning:  had I spent too much money on new blinds to replace the one that broke in the bedroom; their wonky look and uselessness that was driving me crazy ? I couldn’t get them open to let in the daylight or shut it at night?  Why did I decide to go for the slightly more expensive color that matched and made me feel secure rather than the less expensive slightly off color green? Why do I beat myself up for making a mistake I didn’t make?  My anxieities feel silly and ridiculous when I wake up in the morning, but as the witchy woman says on Game of Thrones, “the night is dark and full of terrors.”

I am having big time trouble with this transition into singlehood. Through my attempts at meditation I’m awre enough to recognize the stress inside my body: my heart that beats so loud I can feel it inside my chest, my stiff hands, clenched teeth. The nails on my two ring fingers bitten to the quick while all the others are fine. I try to calm myself by focusing on my breath. It’s very hard. At some point last night I even summond David just to have a reassuring conversation. I remembered how he’d sing his silly songs at night; the ones in his unique made up language. I hummed the tune and sang a little to myself. I asked him: should I hire Odd Job Rob to install the blinds when they are ready, or try to do it myself?  “Odd Job Rob” David answered.  But when I woke up this morning I looked at the plastic fasteners that attach the blind to windows, remembered I’d done the job myself not so many years ago but with David’s help. Could I do it by myself? Do I want to try? This is the stupid spiral I devolve into in my current phase of grieving:  the second guessing, the ambivalence about decision making that is very unlike the Judy Gumbo I once was and hope to be again. And at 3 a.m. I have no one to talk to about it except the Judy Self inside my head.

Talking to the Self

I first got interested in the concept of the Self when I read Erving Goffman’s “Presentation of Self in Everyday LIfe” when I was a graduate student.  It gave me an idea: you can be aware of & control the you that you present to the world. How you dress, what you say – you can make those in the world around you look at you the way you want. Or at least to a degree. And you can pick up cues from selves around you about who they are as well. And so I did that. Being aware of how I present myself, my self,  gave me self-confidence.

Now, 50 years later in my mindfulnes (another topic) class we are learning to love ourselves. There’s an interesting exercise: imagine asking what someone who loves you would say about why they do.Then ask yourself what it is about yourself you love. Given deathworld, at first I had trouble coming up with someone who I could honestly say really loves me. What would David say? What about Stew? That was too sad, too hard so I decided to focus on a live person, a woman friend. She would say she loved my energy, my sense of humor & my compassion for her particular predicament. Next step was for my Self to tell my Self : Judy, I love your energy, your sense of humor and your compassion for yourself. The first two were easy, self-compassion is a much harder ball of wax.

I hope this way of thinking has solved the problem of who I can talk to in the many lonely hours I have no-one.   I’m used to processing difficulties and details with David and before that with Stew. Now, instead I am supposed to be aware of and talk to my Judy Self. Especially Judy telling Judy that she loves her.  And why. I’ve known for decades how to present my Self in public.  Now, at least according to the Awakening Joy folks, I need to learn to love my private Self.  The Judy that exists only in my mind. Tell her I love her & give her permission to tell the same to me.  That, they say, will move me toward happiness.  Sadly, it’s not the same as having my mammal as David would say. But it’s not crazy voices in ny head either. I wonder: will talking to my Judy Self relieve my loneliness?

So long Mr. Albert, 5 months gone for Mr. Dobkin

It’s not as easy to drop the Albert in my last name as I’d hoped. Not emotionally easy that is. I know becoming Judy Gumbo is the right thing to do, and I prefer to do the right thing with integrity.  But every time I ask someone to delete the Albert from a public mention, my heart asks if I am making a mistake by insisting on a sharp pang of physical sadness as fresh as if Stew had just died this week, instead of more than nine years ago. I justify making the change by telling myself it’s not fair to David now he’s dead for me to keep Stew’s last name, but not add his, but that’s a lie. It’s a story I tell myself to make myself feel better. If David was alive, he wouldn’t give a shit what name I used. Stew on the other hand, would be really pissed off at me for dropping his name, but still, it’s something I must do. In part it’s the old feminist thing: if I’m going to live my life in the present, on my own, I don’t want to define myself by a man. Even a  man I loved deeply, truly, with more depth and for a greater length of time than I loved David. It’s a good thing for me to drop the Albert. Jessica did it ages ago. I will retain Albert as my legal last name. Stew will always be with me. but now, in public I can return to Judy Gumbo – older, wiser, less impulsive but also now a WOTO – a woman on her own. 

I do, however, want to explain what I meant about loving Stew with more depth than David. Stew and I lived together almost 40 years. I was with David for just seven. Length of time creates depth in any relationship; that’s just the way life is. It’s not that I loved David less, it’s that I loved him differently. Elder love. In fact the sadness of no longer having David feels deeper than my sadness did for Stew – exactly because David & I had so little time together. I end my memoir with this sentence, “Today is the first day of the rest of my life, ” which is how I felt when I married Stew when I was 8 months pregnant. David’s death was five months ago.  Most likely it’s all the deaths and illnesses piling up, but David’s death day feels like the first day of the rest of the last of my life.  Don’t panic: I plan to be around for at least 12 more years (yes there’s a story to that number but I am way too tired to tell it. Go ask Jessica) But I will say this: The ending is closer in time than the beginning.

As to how I feel today? Up, down, up, down, like Simon says.

Bloggus Interruptus?

Four months and a week after David died, I feel more like myself. I say this with trepidation but I’ve gone through a least a week of reasonable wake ups.  Or wake-ups without panic which is a good  defintion of reasonable for me.  At times I wake up saying yes, I’m grateful I have a  life – a 70 year old incarnation of the younger Judy Gumbo who feels confident enough to act on her own without second guessing every decision,  a way of life dictated by that overwhelming worry that accompanies grief.  I even manage to focus not just on myself but more on what my friends are going through.  Until the evil eye who  lurks somewhere in the cosmos pounces and turns my life back into a piece of shit.

Right now I’m sitting in the airport waiting for my  sister Miriam to arrive for a week – long stay.  I’m looking forward to her visit; beyond that I’ll say no more, at least without discussing it with her first.  At the end of April I am going to Washington D.C. for a conference: Vietnam: The Power of Protest.  http://lessonsofvietnam.com/.  Making that decision was instrumental in bringing Judy Gumbo back. I plan to blog about, especially as I see old friends.  And in between I’m speaking  on two panels about Vietnam & activism: On April 22 at Contra Costa Community College and on April 26 at the Marsh. Most important to me  – apart from Simon of course who gets as much of my time as I can give him – ‘m back to writing Yippie Girl. This is what I mean when I say I have a life. So if I blog just intermittently at least you know the reason why.