Friday, July 31, 2009

Fish Pie

Sort of a casserole of a post here. A bit of cheese, a bit of white sauce, a bit of left over salmon, and Hmmm, tomatoes aren't going to work here, are they?

My nephew's coming to visit. The son of my kuh-RAY-zee brother. Now that my nephew is 17, he's decided that 17 years of this foolishness is enough. He's had the chance to witness the craziness up close and personal through the years leading up to the divorce, the years of the divorce, and the aftermath of the divorce. He put this foot down recently to say, "Enough. No more. I have no need to talk to that person again, he's an embarrassment as a father, and I won't visit him anymore." Nephew is not doing well in school and is sort of rambling about in his life. Ayway, he's coming out for a quick visit. We may be asking him to hang out longer.

Hobbes seems to be getting slowly better. He's got a waist again and has meat on his bones. He's blind as a doorknob, but his attitude seems to be coming back.

Went to the Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco yesterday with Neo. Haven't been to a botanical exhibit in years. For $5 it was a nice way to spend the day.

Read Susan Wiggs' Lord of the Night the other day. I was NOT expecting to like it -- I read Both Charm School and Horsemaster's Daughter and didn't care for either of them much. OK, so it had a nice cover and (Oh, look at that!) it's a reissue. And hey -- it's a RITA winner? Huh. Wonder how it will go. WOW. What a great book set in a great time period (Renaissance Venice). The May-December relationship is fantastic. Great great book. Not only on my keeper list, but also on my re-read list.

Poking along through Sabrina Jeffries Don't Bargain with the Devil. Jeffries is usually one of my comfort-zone authors. Sometimes she's fantastic, sometimes she's ok, but she's always a good fit for me. I don't get angry at her books or her characters while reading, and I know there'll be something to enjoy along the way, even if it's not one of her better ones. This one I'm just sort of reading it until I finish it though. Nobody's sparking my interest at all. I don't find this magician fellow at all believable as a magician -- he feels very "Victorian fellow in dark tails and top hat", when that personna was *invented* by a particular magician well after this one would have happened. But, and here's a great big HOWEVER, I still enjoy the book a fair amount and can enjoy reading it, even though it doesn't quite make sense.

I read a posting on a forum the other day that I'm pretty sure was someone telling me to fuck off and go home to my palace under a rock. Except maybe it wasn't about me. But I think it was. Except.... No. Definitely someone else. But? No. Stop it. Here, Suisan, what if it is directed at you? So what? Right? (I finally wrote someone else on email and asked her if I was out of line or if she was annoyed. She talked me down out of the trees pretty quickly. Which was nice.) Reminded me so very much of that bit in Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird where she's telling her students that they *will* experience paranoia and come to believe that everyone else in the reading group is talking about them, only to have one of her students call her to say that she's sure that everyone else in the group is talking about her. Turns out everyone in the group has been terrified that everyone else is talking about them. Agh!

Thursday, July 30, 2009


For someone who neither drinks nor has her act together mentally or emotionally, I am weirdly obsessed with watching Intervention on A&E. I'm also addicted to VH1's Celebrity Rehab. I remember saying to Dear Butcher one time, "There's a part of me that wishes that I had something that was this easily identifiable. 'Ten weeks rehab, one year sober living, live like this, and off you go!' But instead I'm just dealing with all the crappy stuff under the surface that makes people go get stoned to hide from."

Dear Butcher said, "That's really weird. But on the other hand, I know what you're getting at. That if you were able to stand up and say, 'Out of my way! I have X!' then it would be easier somehow." After a bit of a pause he added, "Thing is, all that crap you're working on, all these people don't even know is there. So maybe you just skipped a step and they don't know they've got decades of work ahead of them."

"Well that's depressing."

"Yeah. Why do you watch this stuff again?"

I guess it's cathartic. Or dramatic. Makes it all look easy and doable. Like a cooking show. I am never going to make ANYTHING I've ever seen on a cooking show. Ever. I've never looked at a recipe from the show online and I'm never going to. But I love the chopping and the stirring and then the reaching into the second wall oven to ("Here it IS!") pull out the finished cake/casserole/roast/dessert/glistening object. The addiction shows are like this. The whole show is a slow parade towards that second wall oven. (Is that why people used to put two in a house, so that the cooking show fairies would come live in the second one?)

I've stumbled now onto another show which truly gets under my skin. Alarms buzz and elbows sweat and the back of my neck gets tingly. It's the show, Obsessed, a spin-off of Intervention. Oooo, that hits a lot closer to home.

Look, I know I've got chronic depression. I've been depressed most of this year, and suffering from various forms of anxiety or panic attacks in the years leading up to this one. I know my grandmother had mild OCD, I've heard that her grandmother spent the last months of her life on her hands and knees scraping out the cracks between the floorboards with a toothpick. I know my mother obsesses and ruminates. I ruminate and pick fights with voices in my head. I know there's a strong tendency towards hoarding in my family. My aunt had eight saddles, about twenty bridles, countless collections of books and ceramics and iron work and letters and, of course, the horses.

My mother has a hugely cluttered house and way too many pets. We counted them all up once when I was a kid -- 93. Let that number sink in for a sec. 93 pets in a three bedroom Dutch Colonial in the suburbs. She hired help, so there were never piles of things preventing entrances into rooms, no clutter on the floor. For a bit there she went down to no animals, and slowly she started acquiring parrots -- I've lost count. I think there are twelve or fifteen now? Anyway, a significant number.

I've tried to keep the number of pets low, and for the most part I've succeeded, but my bugaboo is clutter. Piles of laundry. Piles of mail. Piles of "things that belong to the kids". Piles of "things that don't belong in this room." Piles that have been sorted. Piles that are waiting to be sorted. Piles of lethargy. Piles of guilt.

But the house is always workable. Unpleasant, but workable.

Now here's where I put in my big disclaimer on the rest of this post, because it's important here to note that recently I've gone on a Huge Purge of my things. I separated the 30 odd paperweights I don't want anymore from the rest of the collection. I took my old rug out of Phebe's room and replaced it with one that fits, even though I don't have room for my childhood (and honestly quite unattractive) rug. This means I'm seriously considering selling it because I don't need it or want it here. In the past month, I've taken at least twenty of garbage out of the house. I dropped off three dollhouses to Goodwill, along with four boxes of outgrown clothes. When I get my butt in gear, I can organize, toss, sort, and move on. It's just hard to ramp the engine up that high. OK, having said all that....

Last night I went out of my way to find an Obsessed episode on "On Demand" cable featuring an extreme hoarder. The sort who can't enter and leave his own house and is in danger of getting evicted for health violations. He doesn't have feces or trash on the floor, but he's filled his space up with antique store finds and clothing and objects that remind him of his mother. He sleeps on a mattress stuffed in a doorway because he cannot get to his bed. His electronic keyboard is in the bathroom. There are no visible chairs or tables anymore. You get the picture.

Poor weepy, pathetic, paralyzed Russ. How could he let it go on year after year? As he enters therapy camera follow him to an antique store where he buys *another chair*, another OBJECT, to stuff in his house. The chair will be used in celebration when therapy ends as a truly comfortable place to relax. It's a symbol of future success and companionship; purchasing it fills him with hope. It's so pathetic and so sweet somehow.

We see him struggling, with the help of a very sympathetic therapist, to give away a strange stuffed snowman with teeny stick arms, a giddy expression, wearing a lilac and lime green winter hat. It's obvious even to him that this object is not necessary, but he can't quite bear to part with it. After much discussing of his anxiety levels, the importance of this object, etc., he starts talking about why this particular stuffed snowman holds meaning for him.

The purple on the hat reminds him of his dead mother.

It was given to him when he was lonely. To give it away would remind him that he could be friendless and lonely again.

To give it away would be giving away some part of his mother all over again.

Oh crap. Breathe, Suisan. You are not like this. You do not have stuffed snowmen you are clinging to. You are not face down in the gutter reeking gin and flop sweat.

Typing this now I'm a whole lot more rational. I used to not be able to see any wood on my desktop. I used to not be able to move the keyboard a millimeter in any direction as it was held in place by mounds of mail and printouts and I-don't-even-know-what. Today I've got Hobbes' glucometer kit, two pencil holders, one coffee mug, a notepad, a Zorro figurine (Hello, Zorro.), a printer, and a rolodex on my desk (along with the monitor, keyboard and mouse). Wide expanses of wood abound. I can even put the glucometer back in the drawer and gain more space. I'm clearly not drowning in crap, and I've never been quite as paralyzed as this poor man.

But I completely recognize his impulse, his need to hold onto objects because they are like people and they are not as dangerous as people.

Many years ago, I gave away my grandmother's sewing machine. It was an awful avocado green thing in a rickety table, and I rarely used it. I knew it had to go elsewhere. But I had a terrible time giving it away. (Oh lord, just thinking about this process makes me start wringing my hands.) I was filled with guilt that I didn't appreciate it. My grandmother had loved it, I loved playing around on it when I was a kid, she gave it to me, knowing I'd love it and I really didn't use it at all. What a screw-up. She wanted me to love it. She wanted it to make me happy. There must be something wrong. If only I dedicated myself to making something with it, then I'd rediscover my love for the sewing machine. So I did. I made stuff. And discovered that I don't really like sewing. What the hell was wrong with me? I should like this. Thousands of women all over the world like to sew. What's wrong with me?

Eventually I worked through all that and said, "Screw it. Grandma would be horrified if she knew I was doing this to myself. Come to think of it, she used to curse this thing out. I'm not sure SHE liked it all that much either." I unscrewed the legs from the table, put the whole thing in the car, drove down to Salvation Army and donated it. And then I got back in my car, hugged my steering wheel and cried. I ended up asking my grandmother to forgive me for not enjoying her gift; I can only assume she did so because the tears dried up just that quickly, and I drove away from the sewing machine.

I'm not paralyzed by hoarding -- I mostly have a cluttered house. I know how to self-check and I know how to purge.

But it is odd and slightly scary to watch someone else express thoughts that flutter through my head. It means something. It reminds me of her. I won't be so lonely if I can hold it. At least they flutter through my head and don't take up permanent residence.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Deep Breath

Saul has a friend over.

That may not seem like a news item, but for us it's a momentous occasion. His friend also has behavioral problems, is highly competitive and prone to sulks and rages, but on the other hand, they understand each other. Parents understand each other too. When you call to say, "I think we're done" each side knows what the other is saying. Not that there's a meltdown right now, but you need to drop everything and get over here promptly.

It's cute to be down here and hear them giggling upstairs. I wish he had more than one friend, but a good one is better than having lots of bad ones.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Clicks and Morning's noises

I used to hate mornings. "I'm not a morning person," I'd moan into my palms, as if rearranging my cheeks would help me wake up.

On the other hand, I'm not an afternoon person (hunger, boredom, self-flagellation for not accomplishing more this morning) nor an evening person either (fear at the close of the day, heavy eyes, lassitude -- or the feeling that somewhere there's person who looks just like me wearing a dress with a splash of sequins at the shoulder stepping into a red-boothed cocktail lounge from some 1950's movie who's about to enjoy a smart cocktail and witty conversation and she's not me but I was her or she could have been me and I'll bet her couch doesn't have this weird musty smell).

I've learned over the years to like mornings. The only person in the barn, no music yet, just hay sifting and pellets crunching and the sweep of a broom, cold damp air, and birds. Once the horses were all fed, retiring to my kitchen, making my own cup of coffee and sitting at my funky table that never met up with the wall. Sipping that coffee. Cold feet, stained hands, warm throat. Best part of the day.

Now that I don't have infants my mornings are back.

Hobbes wakes me up at either five or six in the morning. He doesn't even consider going to Dear Butcher's side of the bed. He stands next to me in the pale dark wagging his tail so that it slaps my bookcase. Thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk. He's not anxious or annoyingly eager or begging. Just steady. Slow. "Hey Lady." Thunk, thunk. "Sun's up." Thunk, thunk. "It's time." Thunk, thunk. Doesn't that hurt, Hobbes?

It's cold in the kitchen. It's a stupid kitchen. Lots of windows that don't open and drafts that come through them anyway. The guinea pigs rattle their water bottles at me as I walk past. Tikk-a. Morning, lady. Tikk-a. Mr. Herriman, my aged neutered boar, often chews on the bars in the morning. Odddly, he doesn't "WHEEP! WHEEP!" like the girls. His wheeper seems to be broken. He wheezes faint puffs of air instead, like an old man stepping down out of a bus. I think he took up bar-chewing in the mornings the way an elderly bus rider might take up rattling his cane.

Dog goes out, gets hopelessly lost in the back yard and needs me to leap-limp out there to rescue him. He's blind -- sometimes he finds something in his vision, like today with the quilt thrown over the chair, targets it, and snakes towards it with desperate authority. Head down, front paws taking huge high steps, straight body lancing right towards the edge of the cliff. "I have no idea what this big white object is," his body says. "But it must be important if I can see it."

"No! No!" I'm calling out to him. "Here." His body stops, his head lifts to catch the breeze, as if he can smell my voice. And he decides the white thing must be the house and starts churning again. "No, Hobbes. Over here." And I have to tiptoe out the door, stepping over globs of dried mud on the patio, prickers everywhere, shards of wood my son has left in the aftermath of some experiment involving a hammer. Lay my hand on Hobbes' neck and talk him home. Always an adventure, dude. Can't wait until it starts raining again.

Dog can't be fed until 7. So that's an hour for me. He flings himself to the ground by the front door, bones clattering on the wood floor. The cat's gone out now with all the fluttering around the back door. The guinea pigs have rediscovered last night's hay and are burbling to themselves. The backyard birds are chuttering.

Blissfully, the chickens are still asleep. I don't mind the chickens too much during the day, but we've got one who Announces Her Movements with hugely loud cackles once or twice a day. If I could identify her when she's silent, I'd gladly remove her from the premises. As it is, I'm left with pelting her with wood shards and globs of dried mud once she gets going. That doesn't stop her, and it only makes me feel guilty, so now I just imagine her cartoon self exploding once I hear the first of fifty -three or more "ca-CAW!"s. Sometimes a random thought goes through her Jurassic head and that sets off a long string of ca-CAW! ca-CAW! ca-CAW! comments on how the world ca-CAW! ca-CAW! ca-CAW! needs to listen to the birthers ca-CAW! ca-CAW! ca-CAW! and Fox News and ca-CAW! ca-CAW! ca-CAW! show more respect for Sarah Palin. I hate that bird. But thankfully she's still asleep.

I need to make coffee. Problem is that running the water in the kitchen sink seems to make the guinea pigs think that a commuter train somewhere is going to leave without them. Many zoomies and laps around the cage. Where are my keys? Rosa, where did you put my briefcase? Get OUT of my way! Well, I was just sitting here eating breakfast, what's your problem? Hey! What? Hey! Did you see the time? Where are the keys? Lettuce orgies, festivals of veggies calm them down, but I was hoping to just make myself a pot of coffee without having to -- OK fine. Have some lettuce. And radishes. And tomatoes. Do you want some cucumber? Gosh, you guys are cute.

By then the coffee's done, the sun is up. There's some time to sit on my oddly musty couch (I must clean this thing. Maybe this afternoon. Stop kidding yourself.), inhale coffee steam, warm my hands and breathe.

The animals and me and warm hands. I think I am a morning person.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

"How the hell are you?" she wrote.

"Miss you," another wrote.

"Why don't you ever update?" my daughter asked.

"Are you OK?" someone else asked.

I dunno. I should have an answer. But I don't.

I haven't been writing because any time I pull up the blog I see that I haven't written since February and I don't know how to fill in that gap without writing a novel. I'm not sure I want to relive parts of it either.

I'm suffering from having people read my blog too. It's better and easier to write when it's confessional, but then people in my family read it and I want to curl into a ball. There are mutterings in the back of my head that are better left undisturbed -- or rather, they don't mind coming out into the light to play, but I can't quite handle the reactions they bring up in people I share my house with.

Simple updates are these:

Hobbes, my diabetic dog. He's lost a lot of weight and developed cataracts from the high glucose levels. It took him all of four days to go completely blind from the onset of his first cataract. He's also had neuropathy in his face which caused half of his face to go slack. He's a mess. He makes me cry in frustration because I cannot get his elbow callouses to bleed on cue when it's time to run another blood glucose curve. For dog his size he should be on 8.5 units of insulin twice a day (17 units total). Currently he's on 20 units of insulin twice a day (40 units total) and he still has never registered a single blood glucose test in the normal range. (Yes, my meter works just fine.) He clearly has no pancreas at all. I was getting ready to euthanize him in June, when he suddenly rallied and started eating and putting on weight. (He likes Dear Butcher's ground mixed meat on top of his kibble with a heaping handful of baby carrots on the side.) He crashes into walls in the house, falls off the bed from time to time, and sleeps a lot, but when he's awake he's happy and playful and we'll keep looking after him until he stops eating again.

Bagheera, my lovely black cat. Bagheera was a Christmas present from Dear Butcher a few Christmases ago. He got into cat fight about two months back -- cost me $300 I didn't have at the emergency vet. Sigh. But he healed up fine. Took him to my regular vet for his yearly shots and a check up. Now I've just discovered a growth at the site of his rabies injection. Vet is very careful not to mention the word sarcoma, but I know about rabies injections in cats. I'm supposed to report back to her in two weeks as to whether it's growing. Sigh. Hopefully it's something else. Hopefully there won't be any advancement in diameter.

Neo, my eldest daughter. What an artist. We finished up her year of homeschooling and now she's all set to start up at the public high school in the fall. She went to classes this summer at California College of the Arts where she blew them out of the water. This fall I'll be taking her down to CCA every Saturday where she'll participate in a figure drawing class for high school students. She's a good kid still. Very proud of her.

Saul, you all know Saul. Saul is doing great, fantastic, wonderful, and well. He's still at Cornerstone, the program run by the county that works for him. He's got a good therapist there and is working through a lot of his anxieties. We had an IEP in April that was borderline awful -- my district wants him to come back to the Middle School here and there's no room for him in the Cornerstone Middle School program. But, we actually came away with a good solution. He's being retained next year so he can continue with his therapist, so he's repeat fifth grade. However, once a week he is going to try coming up to his home district's middle school so he can start transitioning into classes. I don't think the Friday thing is going to work AT ALL, but I'm willing to try it if only to say, "Look. Now we have proof that he's not ready to go into large classes."

Phebe, my youngest daughter, went away for a month-long sleep-away camp. She loved it. *Loved* it. She rode horses and swam in a lake and made me a lovely little ceramic pot and slept in a cabin in the woods with no electricity and wants to go back next year.

Me, the blogger. I dunno how I'm doing. Once I got Saul established, I basically fell apart. Right now I'm working on putting all the pieces back together, although I'm finding that some of them don't fit quite right. There's a lot of bruising and rough edges. I went to Kaiser for a check-up and told my doctor that I wanted to see someone in mental health -- I can't sleep and my mind keeps racing. I'm going to this decent enough guy, nothing special, but decent. Every time you go, they have you fill out a magazine survey: Give yourself three points if you've been sad more than five days out of the last week, one point if you've been sad any day during the last week.

I'm sitting in his office last time, saying that I broke out of some of my paralysis and attacked the house. Threw out bag after bag of garbage and sorted through every room. Took me about a month to pull the whole thing together, and I'm still no quite done. He looks at his computer screen. "Yes. I was going to comment that you are different this time. You've gone from a 21 to a 7."


"Your score. Last time you were an 'over twenty', now you're a seven!"

Oh good lord. Stop looking at the computer screen and Look At The Patient. I fucking hate Kaiser.


In other news, I got an email last night from a friend asking me if I'd run for school board. I only have a few more days to "pull papers" to get my name on the ballot. Yeah, with California's budget the way it is? With the HUGE cuts that are coming down the pike for public education AND public mental health (Saul's program) AND county services (Saul's program), now is the time for me to sit on the school board? Oh, I think not. I'd either be throwing things from the podium or sobbing into my shirt at every meeting. Would make for good cable access television, but it's not for me.