Sunday, December 31, 2006

Joyeux Noel, in retrospect

I have not been quiet this week because I had a depressing Christmas. I actually had a good Christmas Day. Meg called around 8:30 AM-they had been up for at least an hour with the baby by then-and came to get me at 9:30. Myla had just fallen asleep as I got there, so Meg put her down and we (mostly they) opened presents, including the baby's, until she woke up an hour or so later. We had saved a gift for her to watch unwrapped, but as soon as I began tearing the paper off, she burst into a loud wail, with big fat tears puddling up in her eyes and overflowing down her cheeks.

I am only slightly ashamed to admit that her loving mother and adoring grandmother bust into laughter at her reaction! Then, of course, we had to try it again to see if her response was the same. It was and I am much more ashamed to admit that we roared again. We did eventually get her quieted down, and put away anything else that was wrapped for a later time.

I was home by noon, and napping by one! Peggy (my best friend from childhood) picked me up at 5:30, and drove me to her house for Christmas Dinner. Her son, my god/dess son, Ian was home from Pitt, so the three of us exchanged gifts, and sat down to a wonderfully eclectic meal of stuffed salmon, green beans, pearl onions, homemade mashed potatoes, and cranberry-orange compote. Peg is a very good cook, and we sat around a bit drinking wine for a while.

Then Ian drove me home, came in, drank brandy and stayed to listen to me talk about the state of the world and my world in particular-an rare opportunity for me to vent a bit. And surprise Ian, too, because he has no real concept of my (or his mother's) life. As a trade off, he came up later in the week and unloaded his considerable misery on me, along with a lot of theories of comparative literature which are way above my head!

Ian left around 10PM Christmas night and I, who had joined him in a small amount of brandy, fell into my recliner/bed and slept the sleep on the righteous. All in all a good day.

Blessings, Margo

PS Don't drink and drive, but do enjoy your New Year's Eve!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Have a Joyful and Blessed Christmas

To All my Friends in Blog-land,

Thank you all for your concern, prayers, help, laughter and comments!

On this Holy Day, I count myself Blessed.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a Good Night.

With gratitude. Love, and Blessings,


Saturday, December 23, 2006

I Wish I Had a River

I wish I had a river
That I could skate away on...
Joni Mitchell

I have all my good enough Christmas plans in place. I am saving wrapping presents for tomorrow, so it will seem Christmas Eve-y. My new couch arrived, and it is absolutely wonderful. Meg has bought the cinnamon buns we always have Christmas morning. I am working very hard to be upbeat when I talk to anyone, and I definitely don't want to be a downer here.

But through my dark glasses, it feels as if even those I know who also suffer Christmas depression, who rush around too much and superhuman their ways through the Holiday madness into exhaustion, are doing better than I am. Mostly, I am lonely, a complaint I have whined over all year long. I have even had well meaning people offer advice ranging from relax and enjoy your solitude to well, get your butt out there and meet new people, join a group, volunteer, DO something. None of these people have been living with chronic pain, facing, then recovering, from major surgery. I have no doubt that I will do something as soon as I am able, but still I'm sad and alone, during all these long, boring days leading up to Christmas.

I have only to think of anyone who is incarcerated, or mourning the death of a loved one, or sick, or homeless, or hungry, or caught in a war over which they have no control, and I feel ashamed. I know as well as most, and better than some, that this is the season for giving, not throwing a pity party. A time to celebrate the renewing of light, both at Solstice and Hanukkah, and soon a celebration of family and heritage at Kwanzaa. A time to meditate on the birth of a child to a virgin, an event which many think is part of a cycle reaching back to ancient times. A time to be thankful for the family and friends I do have.

And I am thankful, truly, and do meditate on the meaning of the season, and, in my own small way celebrate, by having a tree and giving gifts. I have simply been stuck at home for too many days, with no way to get out and get moving. When I can drive, I will take my shiny bluewalker with the seat (for when I am dizzy or tired) and go people watch while I walk from one end to the other of the Mohegan Sun Casino- I live between the Sun and Foxwoods, which is the biggest casino in the western hemisphere. What a weird thing to have in the middle of the woods only 5 miles away!

I need to walk, and casinos are better than malls, because I spend less. (My gambling limit is $20 three times a year, and I stick to it.) Meanwhile, between bouts of misery and sorrow, I am working to be busy here inside, despite the gray days New England has been blessed with lately. I read journals, play online games and solitaires and roam the Internet. I sit on my new couch for a different view of the living room (in which I have been living, day and night, since October 20th). I am even sending out a few Christmas cards, though it is lucky that Christmas really ends on Twelthnight, or Three Kings' Day. This gives me plenty of time!

I really do wish those who love the holidays, or value the religious aspects of their holidays, or are lucky enough to be busy with family and friends and are loving it, the very best joy of the season. And for those who are struggling, I hope you can make it through the season with some sense of hope for the future. I know from personal experience that human nature is strong and resilient, and enables us to endure and even grow and change.

Blessings, Margo

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Christmas is Coming

Christmas is coming,
The goose is getting fat,
Please put a penny in
The old man's hat.
If you haven't got a penny.
a ha'penny will do,
If you haven't got a ha'penny,
God bless you.
-Old English Carol

It's coming on Christmas
they're cutting down trees
putting up reindeer
and singing songs
of joy and peace
I wish i had a river
I could skate away on...
-Joni Mitchell

Christmas is coming, all too quickly for nearly everybody I know. I have been meditating a bit on how I feel this Christmas, and these two songs seem to sum it up. The former is one we sang at Shipley, the all girls school I attended from four to fourteen. I can still see us, in our short, forest green, pleated gym-type uniforms, over long sleeved white cotton blouses, all wearing wite socks, brown tie shoes and our forest green bloomers over clean while undies. There we stood, lined up by height (me at the left end of the back row) singing Ye Olde Englishe Christmas Caroles to our assembled parents, the fathers having been coerced into coming home early (by commuter train) at a time when they would have much rather worked late, then hit the club car before confronting family Christmas duties.

Never mind, I did learn all the words of lots of old British Carols, and they come floating back to me at odd moments of the holiday season. I learned a lot more Advent and Christmas Carols when I sang in my church choir for a decade or so, long ago. I especially love Advent carols. Surprised that this pagan was so active in a church choir? Shouldn't be-I have always been interested in religion, ever since I left my Episcopalian universe for a Quaker boarding school- a study in opposites that sent me on to (eventually) major in Comparative Religion, a truly useful major for a woman planning to be divorced and needing a job badly.

Anyway, as an adult I put in a decade of hard labor in a local church. I don't think anyone else in that church went to more retreats and study groups and Bible courses during that time period. In the end I realized that I kept banging my head on misogyny and homophobia, with which the same denomination is still struggling to this day. Good thing I didn't hang out, waiting for change. In reality, by the time I left the church, the Goddess, the feminine side of the Divine, had claimed me, and I could no more refuse Her than Paul on the road to Damascus could deny his own, more dramatic calling.

As I hum the first song, I think about the historical Jesus and his birth story. More than two millennium later, we know something of the outcome of this birth to a young single mother, already in labor, riding a donkey into a strange town teeming with others vying for room and board, all because of some governmental regulation about taxes. Mary (a Goddess figure if there ever was one) didn't know about Christmas or Christianity, she just gave birth in the straw, accepted first, shepherds, then (no doubt) curious townies, followed by three Kings bringing offerings of unthinkable wealth, along with a warning to get out of town quick. And off they set for Egypt on that donkey with a new born. No wonder she pondered all this in her heart. Any mother would.

Christmas has come a long way. Mostly downhill. I am not out in the Christmas Crush (being home bound, still, six weeks after surgery), but most of the people I talk to are either strung out with stress, or tired of the whole idea. And, since I am watching more television than usual, even I have not escaped the rampant consumerism. The ads are all about buy, buy, buy, buy, spend, spend, spend. That child born in the stable or cave or wherever, grew up to be a man who would be appalled by it all. I am absolutely sure of this.

If the historical Jesus was anything like the stories his life generated, he would be far more likely to be putting his last penny into an old man's hat (on his way to heal some lepers, no doubt, then on to teach those without any pennies about the power of Peace on Earth) than out buying one of his disciples' kids a Tickle Me Elmo. Which I will no doubt be buying for my granddaughter Myla next year. I am quite able to admit I don't always practice what I preach (and I bet Jesus himself didn't either. He was human, after all.)

The second song is also one I hum every Christmas. Depression always creeps up on me as Christmas nears. It has been a year since Rene moved out, and the second song is about lost love, so you might think I'm in an anniversary funk. Except that I have hummed it every Christmas for years, long before she came into my life. I suspect it is a generational thing. My grandmother had perfect-Christmas-itis. She passed it down to my mother, who passed it down to me.

In my childhood home there was always too much alcohol, a Christmas Tree fight, and some sort of mild catastrophe that sent my mother into a tailspin. Which I recreated for Meg, who miraculously seems to have escaped such a need for perfection. I have rid myself of the need for a perfect tree and family dinner, but somehow I cannot pull myself out of the depression which settles painfully around my shoulders like the dimming of the light that comes along with the Solstice, the shortest day of the year. (Solstice is a pagan celebration, and the reason that Christmas was moved to this time of year. Many Biblical scholars believe Jesus was born in the spring or early summer.)

Over the years I have gained several techniques to cope with this kind of depression. I have come back to the most helpful of these: choose five things that will "define" Christmas for me. If these five things happen, the I will count it as a "happy-enough" Christmas, and let go of other hopes, expectations, and fantasies. This year's five are:1) get a tree up 2) give gifts to those I love 3) buy myself a couple of small presents to open Christmas Day 4) spend time with Peggy, and her son Ian, who is my god(dess)son and 5) spend time with Meg, Myla and Adam. There is a sixth which I always do anyway; make a donation to charity.

Then I go about making sure these five things happen. Luckily, I have also learned to choose thing that are quite possible. The (small artificial) tree is up, and only needs a few decorations. I've ordered nearly all gifts on line-for those I love and myself. Peggy has invited me for dinner-some oddball, non traditional meal, I'm sure. And Meg has invited me for Christmas breakfast and gift opening- a meal I have organized for the last two decades. She is even more excited than I am!

There. Christmas is taken care of. It will not stop the dimness of depression completely- it never does-but it will somehow bring joy into a life which is still on hold as I wait for healing and change. I hope the man who was the historical Jesus, the latest in a long history of dying and rising gods born to a virgin mother, would understand.

Blessings, Joy and Peace,


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Not So Good Day

Today has been a bad day-I have been hurting more than the last week or so. And I am once again feeling sad and lonely. I guess the two probably go together. I am down to taking pain pills twice a day (along with the fentynal patch I've been on for three years now), and spent the first half of the day waiting until the pain hit a level five and a half to take my first pain pill of the day.

I spent all day catching up on e-mail, going to various favorite sites and trying to convince myself that I am fine, just fine. And of course, in one way, I am fine. I saw my surgeon last week, and he was delighted, not to mention amazed that this long time diabetic healed so well (the incision, that is) and without any infection. He was beaming when he left, and was even nice to my worker's comp worker, who turned up to make sure I actually did have the surgery and am not ripping off the system.

Actually, she's okay, and has enabled me to take a cab to and from physical therapy, so I can go back to the people with whom I rehabbed the first time. Luckily I love them, because it will be a long, painful project. Ugh. On the other hand, I get the excitement of leaving the house twice a week, and even the 15 minute ride is out of the house! And it is 15 minutes, both ways! Such wild excitement.

I know that such good worker's comp treatment will end all too soon-probably by the end of the week, for I "ought" to be driving by now-never mind that I don't feel safe doing so. Not only will my free rides end, but my aide, too. Alas, I am still afraid of taking a shower alone, because if I am unsteady getting in or out, my first response is to reach out to brace myself with my right arm. A real no-no.

Part of my problem today is probably because Christmas is fast approaching, a difficult time for me.

Never mind, I've done my therapeutic crying for today, and tomorrow is almost here, and no doubt be better, or at least different.

Blessings, Margo

Friday, December 01, 2006

World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day. All day, I have been thinking of the women at the Women's Prison who are HIV positive, and their friends, those I never knew there, who died in the 80's and early 90's, usually alone, in the single cells of an infirmary full of nurse and doctors who, at best, didn't care and, at worst, were full of fear, disgust, even hatred towards all who had the disease.

It's better now, of course, if dying in prison can ever be "better." There is a great inmate-manned Hospice program, and no one dies alone anymore. And now far fewer die there of AIDS related illnesses, because of better meds and state mandated HIV medical protocols. And most nurses and doctors at least understand the illness, which takes some of the fear factor out. Some are still prejudiced and disgusted, though. Some are wonderful.

But, as one inmate told me, "It's a drag to have HIV in general, and worse in prison" because there is still stigma, lack of understanding, and real ignorance in the prison population, and a few correctional officers who can be cruel. [Most C.O.'s are good people, doing a good job, respectful of all inmates who stay out of trouble. HIV is just another illness to them-like diabetes or arthritis.]

Some of the inmates in my groups of positive women got HIV while in prison in the 80's. Back in the day, so my long term or recidivist positive women in would say, there was less vigilance and therefore more drugs in prison. Most of the time there was one underground needle for all those who used in prison. In the morning it would be in one side of the prison, in the afternoon the other side. Nobody knew about AIDS-or considered it a "gay disease"-so they took turns shooting up, passing the virus back and forth and all around. Their stories would make me cry.

Then somebody would remember some funny story about so-and-so who had AIDS, and suddenly the whole group of women-including me-would be roaring with laughter as one would leap up, take on another persona and act out the whole story.

I laughed more in those groups than I did anywhere else in my life. Then I would go back to my office and cry.

Of course, many woman got HIV from their husbands or partners, who used needles, or were on the down low. Some got the virus from working the streets, the only job they knew, to feed their children, or their habits. And in reality, it doesn't matter how anyone-men or women-acquired the virus. It is living with the virus that is important, getting into medical treatment and taking the meds correctly that is important.

I don't want this to turn into me standing on a soapbox, beating my breasts, and whining about the obvious. I came to care about those funny, manipulative, sacred, courageous, angry, frustrated, even dangerous women in my HIV positive groups.

I was also enraged by them, and those who were not (yet) positive. Some were in deep denial that they were at risk, or putting others at risk. A few were just uneducated about HIV, and many didn't know who to ask about the rumors they heard about HIV. Some care and use condoms when off drugs, but not when using. Some don't care at all.

As an HIV counselor, I tested people-inside the prison and out-and have been the one who had to tell people their tests came back positive. In a split second their lives became "before" and "after," a terrible experience for all. I likes the group and educational aspects of my former job best!

The sad thing is that we need a World AIDS Day at all. This is an epidemic that was preventable by the 90's, but our country's leadership, many of our churches, a lot of conservatives and middle-of-the -roaders refused to allocate funds for research (it was a gay disease, who cares?) or allow meaningful education to sully their, and more especially, their children's, ears.

Gee, come to think about it that part hasn't changed much-studies show that abstain only curriculums do not stop epidemics. Now many don't care because large numbers of African American and Hispanic women are turning positive now.

HIV/AIDS is now a World-Wide pandemic, rampant in Russia, China, India, and growing fast in South America. It is the only preventable pandemic, and especially (but not exclusively) in third world countries there is not enough money for life saving medication. And it is a disease of women and children. it makes me sad and angry and frustrated.

The point of this, I guess, is educate yourself, your children, your grandchildren, your neighbors and their children and grandchildren, even complete strangers if you have a chance. Nobody is completely immune. Educate your grandparents, your elderly widowed parent, for the elderly are a fast growing positive population. Be careful, negotiate sex with a new partner before you are in bed, use condoms, reach out and help (or hold) those who are positive, donate money to reputable programs that help with medication and education.

Today I am also remembering the gay men we lost to this epidemic. A whole generation of men who never got to live beyond their 20's or 30's. One guy I went to school with. A friend's brother. Several men I loved dearly. Those who pulled me into the fight against AIDS, to whom I am still grateful.

I hope that someday, maybe in my lifetime, but certainly in Meg's or Myla's, we will no longer need a World AIDS Day.

Blessings to all, especially those who are HIV positive, Margo