Muse.I.Am I muse, therefore I am. en-us Fri, 24 May 2019 06:29:58 +0000 Sett RSS Generator Mother Jane's Profanity Lives On A few days ago, I got a mosquito bite. Or so I thought. It itched, naturally, and since I have a high degree of reaction to mosquito bites, it swelled and got worse. The swelling and itching increased, along with not just one, but a nasty bunch of bumps, so many that I thought perhaps it was a spider bite or something. (Actually I found myself wondering if somehow I'd been bitten by a centipede. Which seemed unlikely, but there were a lot of bumps.) These things happen, so I dragged out the anti-itch cream and put it to use. To very little effect, but that's what you do for insect bites, right? I was hoping for even a placebo effect. Which I did not get.

Last night after performing, I was in so much discomfort it was hard to sleep. It felt like when you've been bedridden for a while and you're in a lot of pain from not moving around enough. Which was odd, because I had not been bedridden, and had no reason for such a sensation. So I tossed and turned and paced and tossed and turned some more. No position was comfortable; the entire back right side of my rib cage ached something fierce.

Now, I'm no stranger to pain. We go way back, pain and me. It's not a consensual relationship, but it is a strong one. I was in four auto accidents 20 years ago, and have not had one pain-free day since. Which I mention not for sympathy, but just as a point of reference: I am accustomed to fairly high levels of pain. However, this morning I was awakened after a just a few hours of sleep because someone was trying to remove my rib cage using fiery-hot pokers forged in the pits of hell. Which is unusual, even for me.

I am not one to pop on in to see the doctor, in fact, I have a bit of a history of waiting far too long to seek medical assistance. But this pain level was so bad that it was actually frightening - the kind of pain where you think you'll throw up - so I hied myself off to the walk-in clinic, as my doc had no appointments today.

Turns out not a mosquito bite, not a spider bite. It's a rip-snorting case of shingles. Which I had heard tell of, but never experienced. My mother, who could have taught the original Stoics a thing or two about stoicism, once had shingles. (This was a woman who, after taking a bad spill on a bicycle and putting a tooth and a half through her lower lip, put the teeth in her pocket and bicycled the remaining five or so miles home. Did I mention stoic?) So when she had shingles, and described them as "extremely painful," it made an impression.

Oh. My. Stars. Boy howdy. The medical info sheet they send you home with, the ones that tend towards simple, understated language? I had to laugh when I read the description that shingles are evidenced by "a rash and pain. The pain can be very severe." You could call it severe, I suppose. I mean, if you consider being eviscerated by rabid ferrets to be severely painful. Maybe you don't. I'm going with a yes on this one, however.

Shingles are caused by the previously dormant chicken pox virus, which typically goes to live quietly and unassumingly in your spinal column fluid or nerve cells, only to come for a visit years later. Common causes are exhaustion, stress, trauma, or illness that suppresses the immune system. None of those seemed to apply here, but then I mentioned the thumb surgery I had two weeks ago. Bingo! It turns out that general anesthesia can sometimes trigger immune system issues, up to and including bringing on autoimmune diseases. And inviting the chicken pox virus back out to play.

The doc mentioned that she'd moved here from Southern California, where some people have plastic surgery as a hobby, and how she always felt that the cautionary info presented to folks on the risks of general anesthesia were too mild, because autoimmune diseases are no small matter. Now, I needed the surgery, because I have grown fond of and accustomed to opposable thumbs and their many benefits, so it wasn't really an optional thing in my case. But this seems rather a steep price to pay, I must say.

So home I trundled, with a sack full of meds, including medication for the, as the doctor described it, "make you crazy, peel your head off" kind of pain. She was right, the info sheets were right, but most importantly? As so often turned out to be the case, my mother was indeed correct. In her honor, I am now stomping around utilizing her favorite swear words and phrases about this turn of events.

Your wisdom, words, and sailor language live on, Mom. I won't repeat them here, but I think everyone can fill in the blanks with their own.

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Fri, 06 Apr 2018 19:16:04 +0000
The Deputy Who Didn't Many of us like to imagine that were a Dirty Harry necessary, we'd be steely of mien and jaw, eyeing down the sight of a .44 Magnum, dryly spitting out that most famous of lines. Or the lone sheriff in the American West, riding into town to right wrongs, dispense justice]]>

Many of us like to imagine that were a Dirty Harry necessary, we'd be steely of mien and jaw, eyeing down the sight of a .44 Magnum, dryly spitting out that most famous of lines. Or the lone sheriff in the American West, riding into town to right wrongs, dispense justice, and reaffirm the American Way, armed only with courage, a six-shooter, and perhaps a hapless sidekick for comedic value. It's a human archetype we've taken as our cultural mythos. We worship at its feet, we immortalize it in movie, script, and song. It's become a national identity, a call for some to pride, and for others, to shame. It's also not quite that simple.

As I write this, it's two and a half weeks after the Parkland shooting, and things are changing swiftly. While we have the usual host of thoughts and prayers, we are also seeing some societal changes happening that previous shootings have not resulted in. There are many issues, many facets, and it will not come as a surprise that I have strong opinions about most of them.

But today I want to talk about the school resource officer who didn't. A tremendous amount of attention is now focused on a sheriff's office school resource officer who was, according to reports, on site during the shooting, with his handgun, and remained outside, taking no action to go into the school or to try to take down the shooter. (It now appears that there may have in fact been multiple officers who remained outside.)

It is still early, there is much conflicting information, and I am certainly not going to postulate on any of the should/shouldn't, would/wouldn't, what the real truth was, because I was not there and I do not know.

But here's one thing I DO know: courage ain't always what we think it is, and none of us, not a single one of us, know how we would react until we are in an extreme situation. We can know how we hope we would act. We can know how we fear we would act. But we cannot know how we will act until it happens. I know this through experience.

(The story I am about to tell is in no way of a magnitude anything like a school shooting, so please do not think I am suggesting it is. It serves merely to illustrate a point, as it has for me since it happened.)

Years ago my mom and I went on a trip to the Big Island. Our very first day, we went on a tour to see the Green Sands Beach, among other attractions. Long story somewhat shorter, while trying to take a picture a bit too enthusiastically, I fell, slicing a chunk of my thumb off, and putting paid to my even getting to the darn beach. (I saw it though; it looked very cool. From a distance. Here is a photo from someone who did not fall.)

I ended the day with a giant gauze dressing on my thumb and instructions to keep it elevated over my heart as much as possible. So our scene is now set: I am 40ish, with a giant muffin thumb held over my head, and my mom is 60ish, with a cane and a hobble from a destroyed knee earned skiing back in the day. Here is a picture of what we did NOT look like:

So when we came out of visiting the City of Refuge, we were a rather unprepossessing pair. As we started walking towards our car, we heard cries of distress. Looking up, we could see that at the far end of the parking lot an elderly couple getting into their car was being assaulted by a younger man.

Here's the thing about that moment: I remember it as though it were frozen in amber. Neither of us said a word to one another, there was no decision-making process, there was no debate, we just sprang into action. And by sprang, I mean I shuffle-lurched along as fast as I could toward the couple while not taking my feet off the pavement, because putting my foot down with any force made my throbbing sausage thumb, waving in the air like a flag, throb harder, with my mom limping along behind me as fast as she could, armed with a cane in one hand and righteous indignation in the other. Sort of like superheroes, if you imagine your superheroes hobbling, middle-aged, and avec various injuries.

(Photographer Martin Beck)

When we got closer, I could see the assailant, who had the elderly man up against the car, and was wrestling for his wallet. The wife was calling for help, and just as I got about 10 feet away, her cries changed to, "Watch out; he has a KNIFE!" Time froze and all I could see was that knife flashing in the sun around the helpless, but struggling, elderly man. I waded in anyway, yelling back towards the facility for someone to help, to call the police, to assist us in some way, my mom right behind me, also yelling at the top of her lungs. (My mother, back in the day, honed her skills yelling at hockey referees. She had enviable lung power and a masterful command of the epithets of the English language.)

Again, no time to stop, reflect, decide. We just kept going. The situation was now 4:1 rather than 2:1. Though young and strong, the assailant reassessed and fled. Mom and I comforted the couple, who were both shaking and nearly falling down at this point. We got them sitting down in the car, and breathing deeply. Time resumed its normal pace.

When I looked back toward the facility, there were a line of about 20 people who had come outside as this was happening. Many able-bodied, younger folk of both genders were standing there, watching. Not a single one of them had taken a single step towards us. Not. One. I will never forget my shock and horror as I realized that every single person there except my mother and I was willing to watch an elderly couple get robbed and very possibly hurt, while doing not one damned thing about it.

Now, I'm sure they were very nice people. I'm equally sure that most of them thought that in a time of need, they would be a Dirty Harry. They were not. They stood there, pole-axed, frozen, cowardly, whatever you want to call it, and did, as my mother so eloquently put it, "Fuck-all nothing."

(You could also call it smart. I don't, but you could. There are many ways of looking at it.)

I don't think of what Mom and I did as being brave. Or if it was, I don't think it was brave by choice. Honestly? What we did might be more accurately described as foolhardy. We were outmatched, out-youthed, out-weaponed, and had no business being anyone's rescuing army. That said, we were also the only ones who were willing.

What I learned in those few moments is that any relevant training aside, when push comes to shove, you simply are who you are. Some run forward, some hang back. You don't know which you are until it happens to you. I'm a small enough person to be relieved that I ran forward, but a smart enough person to also know that in another situation, that could have left me dead.

So I don't know about the guy(s) who didn't go in. I don't know if it was fear, conflicting information, smarts, terror, confusion, or what. But I do know that it's very easy to armchair judge, and I am not going to do that. He and the other responders who didn't go forward into danger to protect those they were charged with protecting have to live with that for the rest of their lives, and that is not going to be a very great way to live. My heart goes out to them as well.

However, there was only one true, complete coward there that day, and that was the jackass killer with the gun.

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Mon, 26 Feb 2018 21:09:18 +0000
When Does No Really Mean Yes? Maybe it's David Razowsky's fault. Maybe it's The Upfront Theatre's fault. Or Susan Messing. Or Rachel Mason. Maybe all of them. Whichever, whomever, I remain exceedingly firmly grounded in the philosophy of improv theory that says there is a difference between saying no]]>

Maybe it's David Razowsky's fault. Maybe it's The Upfront Theatre's fault. Or Susan Messing. Or Rachel Mason. Maybe all of them. Whichever, whomever, I remain exceedingly firmly grounded in the philosophy of improv theory that says there is a difference between saying no to your character and saying no to the reality of the scene.

Yes. Improv is all about yes, and. Completely. But yes, and, does not always mean saying yes to every single thing that comes out of your scene partner's mouth. Nope, nope, nope, nopers. Yes, and, means saying yes to the reality of the scene. Yes to the plot. Yes to the situation. Yes to locations and objects that have been established. Yes to character definitions. And sometimes it means your character saying no to the other character. From those kinds of nos, we can get tension. We can get instant plot arcs and dramatic archetypes. We can get heightening of plot or character relationships.

To wit:

If Hal says "Sure, Dave, I'll get right on that," where the heck does the story go? The entire premise bottoms out, and we have no movie. Or a far inferior one.

This third week at the iO intensive, our instructor was all about always saying yes to everything single thing that came out of our scene partner's mouths and never saying no. After a couple days of this, I simply could not take it, and raised my hand and asked her to speak to the distinction between saying no to the reality, and no to the character. Her answer, in a nutshell, was that while it is possible, and can sometimes work, it is best left in the hands of the true masters of the sport. Which is sort of like saying only Buddha can meditate.

I took an intensive workshop from David Razowsky a few weeks back. David is an improv master and heretic, and he is the first to acknowledge his heresy. His stance and methodologies in many ways are 180 degrees from much of what I've been taught. (Which is both mind-blowing and freeing. If you ever get the chance to attend one of his workshops, do so.) He's a passionate, over-the-top kind of guy, so he yells (and swears) a lot. But when he shouts "Say YES to the actor by saying NO to the character," he is speaking a truth. Whenever our character says no to another (skillfully, 'tis true), our scene partner knows immediately: here's a potential game. Here's a potential heightening device. Here's an obstacle for me to play strongly against, and when I do that (also skillfully), BOOM, we've got character and plot definition in abundance.

All of which is NOT to encourage nos that block or argue. Denying the reality of the scene will tank it faster than anything. I performed in a show at the iO last night which was an excellent reminder of this. The first group did virtually nothing but block and argue with each other. It was truly painful to watch. (Not to mention boring.) Our group, half supposed pros and half students, was frankly not a lot better. My first scene partner, one of the identified pros, managed to block me three times in about 90 seconds. Playing against that is some heavy lifting, my friends. Anyone who has done ANY improv knows exactly what I am talking about.

I was playing her mother, and when I named her, she corrected me. "That's not my name, my name is..." Alrighty then. Then I defined something she had not yet defined. "That's not xyz, it's abc." Alrighty again. And then she closed the scene with a full block of the entire reality of it, in hopes of a cheap laugh. It sucked the very life from the scene and made it nigh on impossible to go anywhere with it, no matter how hard I tried.

However, If my scene partner creates a reality where we are dining, they are cooking, and they refuse to give my character green beans, we can easily get to a number of interesting possibilities. Perhaps this is a world where green beans, or vegetables in general, are contraband. Or there is only one place on the planet where green beans exist, and we go on an epic quest for green beans. Or either character can choose to change their stance on green beans, giving us a potential pivotal moment in the scene, or series of scenes if it's a montage or Harold.

Which is also not to say that we can't get somewhere wonderful if I am given the green beans. We absolutely can. That vein is rich as well. Both can get us to fabulous scene work. The only thing we shouldn't do is just start arguing in the manner of "Give me some green beans." "I already did." "No, you didn't." ad infinitum. It's true that in the beginning of our improv journey, this can be a tricky concept to grasp, and we end up in a lot of scenes that have total reality blocks, or endless arguments that go nowhere. It's also true that more often yes-ing truly bizarre things that we would always say no to in real life is the more interesting choice, as improv is not real life, and exploring the unexpected is the heart of great improv.

I understand that our instructor was focusing on this as a way to exercise that specific muscle, of exploring what happens when you do big yes, ands to absolutely everything. Frequently it strengthens the scene immensely, and I saw that in some of our work. But sometimes it leaches all dramatic tension from the scene. I saw a good bit of that in our work too.

Because as so many of my teachers have said, whenever another character says no to your character, while yesing the hell out of everything else, now you know exactly what to do more of to heighten the scene, to define the characters, and to raise the stakes. Or you've found the game in the scene, and are off and running with that. So there's a place for nos, used properly. I did not object to the exercising of the muscle; I only objected to her sweeping declarations that one should never say no to anything, in character. (Or that that tool is only for the exalted; only Sufi masters can dance. Nonsense.)

And as always, what's true in improv is true in life as well. We can make magnificent choices in our own relationships, character, plot and story arc with both our yeses and our nos.

So let's all yes, and the hell out of scenes and life whether saying yes to the unexpected, the adventurous, the necessary, the challenges, or no to the things that suck our very soul!

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Sat, 29 Jul 2017 00:15:16 +0000
Humility & Hubris I am taking an acting class in the Margolis Method. It is delightful to be back in the saddle again, truly. However, it is also a re-entry into all the humility & hubris the performing arts and study of said can bring. I have taken exactly two 3-hour sessions so far,]]>

I am taking an acting class in the Margolis Method. It is delightful to be back in the saddle again, truly. However, it is also a re-entry into all the humility & hubris the performing arts and study of said can bring.

I have taken exactly two 3-hour sessions so far, and I am finding my own reactions and thoughts most amusing. (Well, amusing with a bit of chagrin thrown in for spice.) Ah, humans. We are a silly bunch, aren't we? Or is it just me?

I sometimes have the tiniest bit of a problem with self-criticism. (By which I mean to say that the Grand Canyon is an attractive, if shallow, ditch.)

So naturally I always pick someone in the room who is doing something particularly well (usually the teacher, who has been studying it for years) and open the doors to a giant festival of self-criticism and irritation with myself for not being as skilled as they are.

(If you're rolling your eyes, I'm sure I don't know why. It is completely reasonable to expect myself to perform at a master level after 4-1/2 hours of study. Sheesh.)

Some things never change: I remember very clearly my first huge artistic disappointment. It was in elementary school, when we modeled something in clay, which was then glazed and fired. I was going to make a dish for my mother, a swan dish, where the base would seamlessly rise up into a graceful neck, arching into the delicate head. I could see it. Very, very clearly. (Actually, I still can. It was a lovely swan dish, just lovely.)

Into the clay I dove, my hands itching to create what I saw. I will never forget the frustration when my young hands could simply not make the shapes I could see so clearly. Where was the grace? Where was the liquidity of line? WHERE WAS THE SWAN? My mother still has that dish, and if I'd thought of it, I'd have taken a photo to include, but I didn't, so you will have to imagine this:

A sickly shade of pink, with a bottom that looks a bit like an oval lumpy ashtray, because, you know, shape of swimming swan. There is a neck - anyone would agree that a neck exists - but rather than the slender arching we might anticipate, it looks more like a linebacker's neck. If that linebacker's neck was a square column instead of round. At the end perches - no, we can't call it perching, really - pokes a pointed lump, which clearly represents the graceful arch becoming the striking silhouette we all can agree is a lovely thing in an actual swan.

I have never liked that dish, as it always reminds me of what I meant it to be and how I fell short of my artistic vision. (Of course, my mother loved it. As mothers are supposed to do; I'm very lucky to have one that did.) I'm better than I used to be about not letting the thoughts in, but my 'better than' is a pretty low bar: these are tenacious tendencies, and acting and improv classes offer rich, varied, and frequent opportunities for self-criticism for those in the market.

And then I remember something a very wise improv teacher once told our class: Just because your self-criticisms, all those voices telling you what you did wrong, come to the party, doesn't mean you have to let them stay. You can thank them, and shoo them right out the door. "So lovely of you to care enough to show up, now I'd like you to leave. Chop-chop!" (Or in Margolis Method: "'I want you to go,' as I compress the spring.")

This was a mind-blowing concept to me - or at least phrased so succinctly and visually. So now I try to show Picky Polly the door when she invites herself in, but it's still a struggle. Begone, Polly - you are not welcome here!

Then, later in class, hubris got to show up to the party as well, which I think we can all agree is always fun. In our last exercise, we were to add improvised dialogue to our movements. Well. Inside, I felt a huge, huge relief. At last! Something I know how to do! Calloo, callay! This will be so much easier, thought I. And hey, I will be far more likely to do it well. Yay! "Not so fast," whispered the Cautious Cathy in my brain, but still I hoped, yes I did.

I think we can all see where this is going. I may be able to improvise dialogue, but just like most everywhere in life, speaking in a new language, moving in a new way, and absorbing a new philosophy is all rather a lot, so adding one thing you know a bit better, does not, in fact, always help. Nopers.

Sometimes it just then turns everything to gibberish, and you do none of the things well. Particularly post-Incident, where, as I have previously shared, my brain simply doesn't work as well, or as fast, and both thinking and moving are far, far more difficult.

So it's great to be back, celebrating humility, limitations, and hubristic tendencies. If I were a betting woman, I'd bet there are some lessons here I still haven't quite conquered. You s'pose? I'm-a-go work on that right now. Really, I am. (While still expecting be an expert by the end of my next three hours of class time, of course.)

We're all silly indeed. But surely not so silly as to think I'd end this post before including a photo of the actual artwork, even though I said I wouldn't? I think we all know the odds on that one. Here it is in all its glorious swan-ness:

And yes, Mom still loves it:

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Wed, 15 Jun 2016 06:25:56 +0000
Facing Fear This weekend I had the opportunity to do that, in spades. As many of you know, I've struggled over the last couple of years with SSHL (Sudden Sensoineural Hearing Loss) and the attendant side dishes, of which life has graciously allowed me generous helpings: vertigo, tin]]>

This weekend I had the opportunity to do that, in spades. As many of you know, I've struggled over the last couple of years with SSHL (Sudden Sensoineural Hearing Loss) and the attendant side dishes, of which life has graciously allowed me generous helpings: vertigo, tinnitus, hyperacusis, and, of course, being nearly deaf on one side.

One of the first things to go by the wayside were a couple of my larger life loves: performing on stage in both scripted work and improv. Both, especially improv, require being able to hear everyone else on stage, tolerating the noise of a comedy club or performance venue, and, ideally, being able to balance and walk straight. All of which left my wheelhouse for some time.

Plus, my brain doesn't work as well as it did before the incident. Not only hearing and balance are impacted by all this nonsense, everything is far, far more difficult. Thinking, tracking, and multi-tasking are all much harder now. I'm permanently dizzy, can't walk and turn my head at the same time (well, I CAN, I just might fall down), am slower in both thought and movement, am basically deaf on one side, and have a constant shrieking and banshee noise in one ear overwhelming much of what I can hear, even with the aids.

As you might imagine, none of this lends itself to performing, especially something as brain-intensive as improv.

I recently got fitted for the CROS hearing aid, which is a huge boon to the hearing issues, though doing nothing for tinnitus or vertigo. I have been trying out a variety of assistive devices and decided to go ahead and spend the small fortune to get my very own. A very large part of the decision was that they seemed to allow me to be in one of my favorite rooms in the world: the Upfront Theatre.

I prepared for the idea of being back on stage as best I could. I went a couple of times, sat as close to the stage as I could, and tried to assess whether I could hear everything on stage, and tolerate the crowd noise. All signs seemed positive, and I made the decision to take the plunge and perform again. The entire Upfront community was hugely supportive, and I signed up for my first two performances.

There was only one problem: one of the shows would be with a student group, which typically do simpler games, allowing me a relatively soft entry, and the other was a format that would have me performing with Main Stagers, the "A team" at the Upfront.

I have been in the Satellite (the farm league, if you will), but not for a long time. I've not performed at all for a year and three-quarters. I've not even been able to attend performances and continue learning by watching, or take classes. I have just recently started teaching kid and teen improv again, which I hoped had at least kept some of my improv brain alive, but that is most decidedly not the same as doing it.

Life enjoying irony and a good joke, these two opportunities fell in the 'wrong' order, with the A team performance happening first. So, for my very first time back on stage, having no practice for nearly two years, would be with the best of our local talent, doing a more difficult format. I had rather a bit of trepidation about this. I have long wanted to perform with this group, but I always imagined it happening with me at my best, not at my possible worst.

So I determined a potential solution: suggesting a particular long-form format that would have me just doing monologues in this first time experiment. Since I already would be debuting the hearing aids with no idea how well they would work, nor how wobbly I would be from vertigo, the idea of simplifying the performance piece of the equation seemed reasonable and useful.

But that also seemed like copping out. No guts, no glory, and all that nonsense, don't you know. So with guidance from my Facebook community (Go for it!), my loved ones (Go for it!) and the other players the night of the show (Go for it!), I jumped in to try long-form in my first time back.

I. Was. Terrified.

But you know what? I didn't die. I didn't freeze. I didn't run screaming from the joint. Was I the best performer on stage? No. Was I the best performer I've ever been? No. Did I jump in, go for it, and do it anyway? Yes. Did I live to tell the tale? Yes. And the sheer fun of it was well worth the terror. Had I been the monologuist only, I'm sure I would have had fun, but not nearly as much. Nor would I have had the total rush and reward of knowing that I'd gone for it indeed, faced my fears firmly, thumbed my nose at them, and done the best I could.

I am typically far better at criticizing myself than giving myself credit, but I refuse to do that this time. I did so much better than I feared I might. I started scenes. I got far more physical than I thought I might be able to. I threw myself in with vigor, and I was amply rewarded by knowing that while life may present me with obstacles, that doesn't mean I have to pay attention to them, or be thwarted by them.

So I say listen to Eleanor: go out there and go for it! Will you always succeed? No. Will you have a Hollywood ending where you magically have the best performance of your life and be crowned with glory and multi-million dollar offers? Maybe not. But you might just get the best Oscar of all - knowing you did your best, regardless of how frightened you were. And that, my friends, is priceless.

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Mon, 16 May 2016 06:06:22 +0000
Time, She Marches Today I made my mother cry. Were there Olympic medals for stoicism, my mom would be in the running, so this was no mean feat. We both cried. (Well, leaked a bit from the eyes. Generally speaking, that's as close to crying as my mom and I am wont to get. And then, rarely.]]>

Today I made my mother cry. Were there Olympic medals for stoicism, my mom would be in the running, so this was no mean feat. We both cried. (Well, leaked a bit from the eyes. Generally speaking, that's as close to crying as my mom and I am wont to get. And then, rarely. Oh, so rarely.)

Fortune turns on a dime. Just last night, as part of my renewed gratefulness practice, I had been thankful that today I would get to move her from the skilled nursing facility, back to her home in assisted living, to rejoin her regular life and her beloved kitty, Missy. We'd had her second care conference late last week, and all had agreed today was the day; the assisted living facility had said she could come back.

They also made it clear that this was the last time; the next time she had to go to the hospital, she would be over their highest level of care. As it is, she's been right at the top, and we weren't sure she'd be able to go back last time, but she worked like a trooper, and got herself at the level necessary. And again this time. All was well for one more round, and we were hugely relieved.

So I was working away this morning before I left, and about 10 am, the phone rang. It was the facility, asking them if I'd gotten their phone message from yesterday. (My phone, amusingly, loves to occasionally hold onto messages for about 24 hours, then puke them up. It's a delightful habit, and seems to increase relative to the importance of the call. So that was terrific.) Naturally, it popped up just as we were talking.

They had decided on Tuesday to stop accepting patients at Mom's level. She could not come home. (Mind you: This is two and a half HOURS before I am to pick her up and take her home.) All of this gets very complicated and limiting with Medicaid. While Mom could technically return for 90 days, if she left the first-class skilled nursing facility, she would likely not be able to get back into it. In a flurry of panicked phone calls to all and sundry, I discovered this was, indeed the case.

So off I flew, to get a treat of a nice lunch sandwich, and take it to soften the blow of breaking my mother's heart.

She had a number of appropriate reactions. "This does not sit well with me," about their recanting. No, Mom, doesn't sit well with me either. My favorite part was when that administrator (and owner) told me that I was "in an impossible position." Why yes, I am. And you put me there, so thanks for pointing it out. Mom is too.

With horrifically limited options, Mom decided the best of the bad was to stay where she is. It's the best facility available to us, but it is still a nursing home. The relentless slide of diminishment continues. The room is tiny. She can't have her cat. That was the moment that took me down, when my stoic mother leaked a tear or three and said quietly, "So, Missy is not my kitty anymore."

But she's also still Mom. When I asked her if she wanted to go today to say goodbye to Missy, and to pick out her things, she thought for a minute and said firmly, "No. Today I would be too tempted to stand in the lobby and shout, 'Fuck you!'" Me too, Mom. Me too.

Watching the diminishments of age is hard. Seeing them in others, in loved ones, so bitterly difficult. It has been a slightly different version of the nightmare each time I've had to see it. Close family friends. My father. And now Mom. It's also not skipping through daisy fields to see in oneself. Losing so much of my hearing, and the attendant fun of vertigo and hyper-acusis, has certainly slowed me down and made me take a hard look at the inevitability of aging. (Not enough to act healthily, mind you, but enough to look. Oh, look! See that over there? SQUIRREL!)

This is not a new road I am on. Millions have trod it before me, and millions will after. It's just that, like so many roads, it looks a lot different when you're actually on it. It is heartbreaking, utterly heartbreaking.

However, in the spirit of that gratefulness practice i was just working on, here are the things I can be grateful for, even after an utter shit-storm of a day:

  • Mom got into this place after her last hospital visit, and was in the best possible place to be if this happened. We'd tried before, but there wasn't an open bed. It's difficult to get into, as it's consistently rated at the top in Whatcom County.
  • The administrator at the skilled care facility was wonderful. She came down, explained everything to Mom, and told her, "We would love to have you stay, if you choose to. You are already part of the family here."
  • My husband is a rock. An utter rock. He will be moving Mom, yet again. On little notice, while he's swamped with work.
  • My friends are wonderful. So much support and love today.
  • Missy has a terrific home to go to. Did I mention my friends are fabulous? One of my besties had a backup plan for Missy, and it's still viable. She will either be the home companion of another elderly lady, a/o a nursing home cat in Burlington. Since Missy has never met a human she didn't love, either way it ends up will be a blessing.

Naturally, I want to go to bed for a week, and that is not how this will work. But I am profoundly grateful for all the help and love Mom and I received, and have had offered. That will help us get through these next few difficult days. And somehow...

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Thu, 10 Mar 2016 06:37:16 +0000
Ramona & the SnoozeBorg Definitions: Octopus: one of the face masks of the CPAP machine; easier for side sleeping but devilishly slippery and uncomfortable on my sniffer. Hannibal: the other face mask. Much more comfortable for breathing; much less comfortable for side sleeping and turning at ]]>


Octopus: one of the face masks of the CPAP machine; easier for side sleeping but devilishly slippery and uncomfortable on my sniffer.

Hannibal: the other face mask. Much more comfortable for breathing; much less comfortable for side sleeping and turning at night.

Snoozinator: CPAP machine

SnoozeBorg: Electronic dashboard providing sleep statistics resulting from on-line reporting of diagnostics from Snoozinator.

Night 1: Off to sleep with Hannibal firmly attached and Snoozinator set up: fully hydrated and ready to go. H.O. assures me that he loves me even if I have to sleep with a gas mask on. Attempt to sleep with head frozen in position to keep all the mask and tube apparatus oriented correctly. Comfy.

Day 1: Wake up tired, but more refreshed than usual. Assure Hannibal I will be back. Attempt to find enough bars for the magic squirrels in the Snoozinator to reach out to the SnoozeBorg, which will collect data and give me reports on how my sleep stats are going. Welcome to the future! Not sure if this is cool or creepy, but it might not matter, as our piss-poor cell service extends to all things looking for the Sky Magic.

Night 2: Slightly more adept with Hannibal. 6-7 hours of wondrous sleep, involving some measure of restfulness. This could get to be a habit, Hannibal and me. But the difficulty in side-sleeping means I will try the other, which arrives on:

Day 2: Still feel like I've been drug backwards through a knothole for a few years straight, but that's likely because apparently I have. Hope springs eternal, however, as I did not feel the desperate need to sell loved ones or limbs for a few hours of sleep. You can imagine how relieved everyone in that equation is.

Night 3: Stepped out on Hannibal with the Octopus. This is the mask that my doctor told me I would find more comfortable, even though I'd tried them all at my sleep study and had found this one much less comfortable. He assured me I was wrong; I remain correct. Don't like the way the Octopus feels while breathing, which is to say always, but will try in the name of science and side-sleeping.

The Octopus features the lovely-named "nose pillows." Pillows, yes, if you mean the ever-popular pillow style where someone has two fingers wedged in your nostrils. (Gently wedged, of course, because pillows.) Does this look pillow-ish to you? I submit that it does not.

It does make for easier side-sleeping, but it was a bit of an octopus-wrestling night over here.

Day 3: Still no need to sell any loved ones for sleep! Not weeping by eleven a.m. from exhaustion. This is a wonderful, fantabulous thing. Successfully connected with the SnoozeBorg, and my Personalized Sleep Dashboard beckons, where my scores on such exotic topics as "Mask Seal," await my perusal. Still cannot decide if this is cool or creepy.

Night 4: Turns out my model of Octopus is cleverly designed to be exactly symmetrical top to bottom so it is indistinguishable in the dark. Also turns out I am the only person who has ever needed to get up during the night, because putting it back on correctly is a 50/50 proposition. (Who could have seen this coming? Designers? Bueller? Did I mention how I adore great design and am irked by poor and thoughtless?)

This feature might not seem like a big deal. However, when you put it on upside down in the middle of said night, turns out after you get it all strapped on, no air comes through and you get to experience the sensation of being suffocated. Fun and restful!

To offset this problem, the clever designers have printed a small L & R underneath the pillows. Here's a picture of what they look like:

Very helpful in the middle of the night, as you can see. I have a few more suggestions for the design department, that is for sure. (And so unusual!)

Day 5: ENERGY! This is magnificent. I consider take up flying through space and time for a hobby.

(More precisely, I am still exhausted. But there's a different flavor to it, like a lake in an extensive drought is an entirely different kind of lake when there is water coming in, even if it is but a few inches at a time.) Reintroduce daily walk to existence. Great temptation to start by leaping a small building or two, but remember that moderation is key.

Alert! SnoozeBorg emails me and mentions I seem to have trouble with my Mask Leakage. Perhaps I would like to try another mask, it asks? This is both comforting and disturbing. Promise the Borg I will consider its input.

Night 6: Apparently if you forget to check the water level in the Snoozinator Machine, your nostrils and sinuses become like said parched lake. Was warned of this, but had forgotten to check the built-in humidifier. Oops. Guess they meant it. More octopus wrestling as someone else's fingers are now stuck up my parched nostrils. The struggle is real.

Sadly Borg made no note of this epic struggle. Thanks, Borg. However, this is perhaps fortuitous, because Borg also sends me a Silver Sleep Medal! You can imagine my pride.

Day 6: Zest for life continues to reappear; another morning walk! it's a dad-gum miracle. The H.O. early on expressed his concerns that that the world might not be ready for a Fully Rested Ramona. He might be right...hasta la Vista, be-bes. I'm off to go for the gold!

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Wed, 10 Feb 2016 07:02:18 +0000
Sleep Gods VS Ramona I think we can all agree this is a great look, no? You are looking at your gladiator in the Sleep Wars, properly outfitted for leveling up. That's right, folks! A shiny new CPAP machine is headed my way. Oh, what a time it's been. My struggles with the Sleep Gods have be]]>

I think we can all agree this is a great look, no? You are looking at your gladiator in the Sleep Wars, properly outfitted for leveling up. That's right, folks! A shiny new CPAP machine is headed my way. Oh, what a time it's been.

My struggles with the Sleep Gods have been well-documented. I've been a chronic insomniac all my life. Even as a young child, I can remember taking 1-4 hours to fall asleep at night. Chronic sleep deprivation has been a way of life so long, it's hard to imagine a truly well-rested world. Every now and then I get a patch of good sleep, and oh, the joy!

But for the last year or two, I've been waking up more and more exhausted. I also seem to be turning into my mother, as far as snoring goes, and this is not a good thing. If there were Snoring Olympics, it would not be a matter of whether my mother would medal, it would just be a matter of which. Her snores penetrate walls, distance, and perhaps even the fabric of time itself. So when the H.O. notified me I was starting to snore, we both quailed in fear.

I'm not at her level yet, but it's trending in the wrong direction, so finally the H.O. suggested I see a doctor about this. (If by suggested we mean nagged, directed, and harangued, that is. Hee!) Once the doc heard my sad tales of a toxic mix of insomnia, exhaustion, and snoring, a sleep study was ordered. So in I went. I'd seen photos of friends all dolled up with the electrodes, so I had an idea of what to expect. I was afeared, but then I stepped into my Snoozy Suite, and thought, hey! Not so bad.

There were a million remotes, and the fancy TV/DVD and etc., about which I care not at all. But then I found ANOTHER remote, to a fancy adjustable bed. Sadly, I had already lost nearly a half hour of the heavenly comfort that was my due. Apparently not everyone is as excited about this as I was, because that was not extolled, nor even mentioned, in the list of features she'd regaled me with before heading out to see another patient. Am I the only person on the planet lusting for a Kraftmatic Adjustable Bed? (Isn't that what those commercials used to be for?)

Now to the test. Here's the back of the suite door, which is a tiny bit less welcoming, as I knew from those aforementioned photos that all these electrodes would be ending up on me:

All loaded up:

Fun! Restful, too. And all snuggled in:

While I can't call it a restful night, I lived through it. Only remembered waking up/being woken for whatevers, 3 or 4 times. She'd told me that they fit for the CPAP mask (lovely pic at top of page) in case all the stars align, or whatever, and they can put that on during the night and see how one tolerate it, and what effect it has. This never happened, so I assumed that I did not suffer from serious sleep apnea.

It's always refreshing to be reminded of how wrong one can be. So here's how it shakes out: there's something called the The Apnea–Hypopnea Index that measures how how much the AH division of Sleep Gods is whupping on you. Let's see what the Wiki has to say about it:

It is represented by the number of apnea andhypopnea events per hour of sleep. The apneas (pauses in breathing) must last for at least 10 seconds and be associated with a decrease in blood oxygenation. Combining AHI and oxygen desaturation gives an overall sleep apnea severity score that evaluates both the number of sleep disruptions and the degree of oxygen desaturation (low oxygen level in the blood).

In non-REM sleep, my index is 11, which is mild. Cool! I'm a rock star. But wait. What's that, you say? What about that oh-so-important REM sleep, without which there is no restorative magnificence in sleep and you will go mad a/o die? Oh, well, if we're looking at THAT score, for Ramona's REM sleep, where 30 is considered where severe starts, we have a winning 43! BONUS for the Sleep Gods, for sure.

Now, I'm not a doctor, nor mathematician, but simple math would make it appear that bottom line here is that for however few or many precious hours of REM sleep I get a night, after Insomnia Gods have had their fun, said REM sleep is interrupted by various levels of brain waking up slightly, a/o lack of oxygen, UMPTY-GAZILLION times, to get technical. So I think it's pretty clear why I'm so happy about a CPAP. This is maybe fixable? Fabulous. Because I've had about enough of zombie life:

I realize, my tune may change when I wear one of those bad boys. (Or girl. I don't know. Not sure which gender it will be. Perhaps I'll wait and see what its personality is like first. HA!) But honestly? Even the idea of possible restorative sleep has me quivering with anticipation. I shall report back soon (hopefully from the land of the well-rested).

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Mon, 01 Feb 2016 20:54:02 +0000
Highs and Lows in La Paz They have the best limonata con gas y hielo (fizzy, with ice) in town. I could live on their ceviche and limonata. Seriously. The limonata changes ]]> This restaurant rapidly became one of our favorites: The sign cracked us up, as it's so clearly a riff on the Carl's chain:

They have the best limonata con gas y hielo (fizzy, with ice) in town. I could live on their ceviche and limonata. Seriously. The limonata changes color. Here it is on a pink day:

There was a blue day too, but I'm not sure I can find that photo right now. It's on another card, in another room, and you know, vacation.

We have fallen in love with their tacos and what they call a salad bar. Here are unadorned tacos: grilled scallop and smoked marlin:

Here's the salad bar, filled with delightful and mysterious things with which you can adorn your plate and tacos. (The trick is guessing which ones are mild, which are hot, and which will make you weep.)

And same tacos, post-adornment. Yum!

During ourlast visit here, after a long day of sightseeing and etc., there was a band starting up next door. (There's nary a quiet spot in this country.) They were not bad, and it quickly became clear that they were regulars, as the waiters knew every word. I sang along with our waiter for probably the only words of a Guns & Roses song I know. At least I think it was G&R, now I can't even remember. But it was very fun. (Let it never be said that I don't represent when it comes to acting ridiculous in foreign countries. I do my part, I tell you!)

And here is one of the ongoing frustrations of this area. Here is an example of a typical street sign:

So where is the street sign, you might ask? Rightfully so. So imagine you are noodling along at 20 or 25 mph, because you are safety-conscious, aware, and terrified of ending up in a Mexican jail, You can't tell whether the next street is the one you want (name), or whether it's one-way or two-way (direction). You would hope to see such information on a sign, would you not? Yes. You would.

So if you look very hard in the picture, you will see a bright green rectangle in about the middle of the photo. Yep. That's all you got, be-bes. Now I will show you a super-close up of one.

Super-close up, not so bad. But let's think about this for a moment, with the farther distance view in mind. Note the overall area of the sign. Note how long the street name is. Now let's do some math. (Who says you don't use math later in life?!) I think the street name is around 1/4 of the total area of that small sign. And the arrow? About 2" high, tops. Guess how easy it is to read that name at 25mph? And the arrow? Virtually invisible from far away.

I think I only ended up going the wrong way down a one-way twice, so that's pretty good, right?

Ken here: I did it once too, but I'm not going to tell her about it.

But there are compensations. Here is one:

Hasta la vista, be-bes. See you stateside very soon! (Go, Hawks!)

(And speaking of representing, we watched the 'Hawks game in a fun and silly bar on the malecon (like a boardwalk, sort of) that caters to expats and sports fans. Here I am with a vaguely Seahawks-like glass:)

Ken here. We had a couple of expat guys next table to us who we had jovial banter with. After watching Ramona jump out of her chair and yell at the TV repeatedly (and also run out of the room during particularly despicable plays) one of them said "Is she always like this?" to which I answered "Yes!" Thank God, she is!

I'd deny it, but it's true. I know this because another guy came up to me and said, "I don't even have to watch the game to know how it's going; I can just watch you." Again, I'm representin'. Hee!

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Sun, 10 Jan 2016 22:45:32 +0000
Egrets, I've Stalked a Few Today we went back to Balendra Beach, in hopes of kayaking to the places where supposedly one can snorkel. All this is hearsay, but we hoped. We wanted to get there nice and early, to beat the crowds for the kayaks, as well as to have a bit of time to kayak before low tide. We'd read that you can only get into much of the bay at high tide, which was at 10, so we needed to be out of that end of things by 11:30 or noon at the latest.

So Ken got me up at the crack of dawn, or as some people call it, 9 a.m., made me some scrambled eggs, and off we went. We got there nice and early. So nice and early, that this was the beach:

And the place to rent the boats:

Yeah. Turns out the guy with the key to unlock the facilities, such as they are, wasn't even going to be there until 11. Which, this being Mexico, could be anytime all day. So we gritted our teeth, and drug ourselves into the shelter of the rocks, as it was mighty windy.

Then, once he got there, we scurried over, got a kayak, and off we went. Being a rookie, I gave myself a doozy of a blister within 5 minutes, ripping it off within another two. Nice. And of course the Liquid Bandage was back at the house, right where it would do the most good. Luckily, there's always salt water. Ouch!

I still had a few shots left on the crappy underwater camera that needed to be used, so I took that along instead of the real camera. (See: rookie, above.) It was clear that snorkeling was going to be a no-go. Far too windy, and far too low a tide.

The shots taken from that camera will have to be developed the old-fashioned way: chiseled on stone tablets, for they are disposable cameras. This also means I am free to lie with impunity about all of the things we saw and did. Why, I petted my very own tropical heron, and I named him Kevin. Kevin will be coming home with us, flying alongside our plane. He will miss the tropics, but assures me he will be very happy at Marais de Limace in the frozen swamp below our house.

After returning from our foray into the mangroves, we rested again in the shelter out of the wind. We were only able to bring the kayak partway back in, because this was the mother of all low tides:

That's bare sand you see there, by golly, all the way out. The boats you can just see were the tide line when we got there.

So then I decided to take the good camera, and stalk the birds. They let you get remarkably close when you're slowly floating in a boat; surely they would let me walk among them and take close-ups? Not so much. Here's the best I could do; meet Kevin:

And an egret I stalked for far too long. I named her Emily, because there were some small egrets and I decided they were a family. Here's Emily by herself:

And with the fam. Or, rather, one of the kids and one of the neighbors down the way:

This looks like a pile of poo, but is not. It's those underwater (usually) critters that make these shapes. I call them sandworms; I suppose they have some sort of real name. You don't usually see these littered across the open sands; they are only underwater.

Here's a bunch of 'em:

Okay, fine. I was there too: (Clearly in the morning, just before we went out, because there is water in the bay.)

Here's Ken, on this ever-so-balmy day at the beach, dressed for the scorching temperatures:

And here's Kevin, getting a head start to meet us back north:

(Hey, point-and-shoot, ankle-deep in surprisingly cold water, swinging hand-held camera up to try to catch Kevin in flight. He declined to circle back for another shot.) Be sure to let us know when he arrives, okay? You'll recognize him; he'll be the only heron wearing a muffler.

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Sun, 10 Jan 2016 02:56:45 +0000