Monday, January 30, 2012

The Horrible Disease

A thousand miles from here, a childhood friend is burying her son.  He died of that often fatal illness, schizophrenia. Another childhood friend, when telling of it described it as "this horrible disease that told him he had no disease."

My heart breaks for my old friend, who had watched her child try to cope with his mental illness for years.  In various communications about memorial services, times, places and such, it became clear that there are others among those of us who spent time together as children, who have watched helplessly, as our own children fight the unseen specter of the many faces of mental illness.

When I was a child, growing up in the 1950s and 60s, we didn't talk about such things. And frankly, not much was known about some of the various disorders we now have names for: ADD, ADHD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism, Aspergers, even depression.

I graduated school with about 50 women, some of whom I had known since preschool.  We all grew up in the same city, and most of us have attended at least one reunion.  When we were in our 20s and 30s, we went on crash diets, bought new outfits, plastered smiles on our faces and went to our reunions firm in the knowledge that no one knew of our deepest secrets, the impending divorces,  financial troubles,  problem children.  But we came together because we love each other.   By the time we attended our last reunion we had been through enough together that most of us no longer worried about "looking good".

For example, when Katrina hit, friends from all over the country rallied to help our New Orleans classmate get her hands on some money until she could go back to her job.  That one event opened me up to the fact that in many ways, our childhood friends remain our closest friends, even across vast distances of time and space.

In 2010, when I returned to the city of my birth for a reunion, I met with a childhood friend who has Aspergers Syndrome, a form of autism.  She told me how when we were small, her parents didn't know what to do with her.  How she herself didn't understand what was "wrong" with her, and turned to alcohol at a young age in an attempt to cope. She told me how, as a recovering alcoholic, she now understands a little more about herself.  We spent an enjoyable hour together, I was able to make amends for the thoughtless cruelty I, among others, treated her with when we were children, and she was able to say, she hadn't really noticed but forgave me anyway.  She also told me how hard she works to make eye contact with everyone she meets, and I was able to tell her I thought she did just fine.   I left our meeting feeling refreshed and renewed.

With the death of one friend's child, others of us rally around her.  Those of us who have children with mental illness now openly discuss and support each other.  Mental illness is an incurable disease.  It is sometimes invisible.  It is insidious, treacherous, and crafty.  It tells some of its sufferers that they have no disease. It requires constant vigilance, but most cases it is treatable.  It is also exhausting.   Its sufferers must cope with it day by day, breath by breath.  My own loved one suffered for most of his life before finally, after several suicide attempts, he now has a tenuous hold on understanding himself, sees his doctor regularly, takes his meds, and seems to have let go of misplaced shame.

Day by day.

Breath by breath.

Those of us who have loved ones who suffer from mental illness need to hold fast to one another, we need to understand that it's not our fault, and we need to give each other hugs.  Lots of big, bone-crushing hugs.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Suspicious Densities and my friend Jane



I first met Jane in 1993, when she and her husband moved to Omaha. We couldn't have more different backgrounds, but we are very similar, too. She is from New York City, and comfortable with all the sophistication that implies. I am a midwestern girl, a former California hippie, and more comfortable with beer than wine.

Jane comes from a large Sicilian American emotionally expansive and expressive family of people, probably Democrats. I come from a large family too, German Anglo Saxons who while loving, are, well, quieter about it, and Republicans.

We are both decidedly right-brained, mildly dyslexic, stubborn Tauruses...both married to Gemini men. We are both writers, cooks (although she really can cook), and artists. We like to talk (and talk, and talk; her husband calls it "flappin' "). We are both tenacious, focused, and rabidly feminist... We met at a chapter meeting of the local N.O.W. chapter.

Shortly before I met Jane, her best friend, Jeanette, died, after a difficult struggle with cancer. The person Jane is has been shaped by the death of her friend. I got to know Jeanette through listening to Jane's stories. I learned to love her too. She was a May baby, like Jane and me, passionate and tenacious. While Jane mourned the loss of her friend, I mourned never having known this remarkable woman.

Jane and her husband moved away from Omaha and now live in the Washington D.C. area. While we don't talk (and talk, and talk) like we used to, we have never lost touch, and I still consider her a "best" friend.

A few years ago, she sent me a copy of a short story she wrote about her own cancer scare, called Suspicious Densities. She has since turned it into a screenplay for a short film.

This film needs to be made, and Jane needs our help to do it.  I'll let her tell you about it herself.

I am almost 60 years old, and the longer I live, the more I am touched by cancer. A step daughter who we almost lost to Leukemia, is 20 years cancer free and now has two beautiful children of her own. A friend who is going to take off a few weeks from work, after a mammogram detected the tiniest of a stage one cancer. A sister who had a lumpectomy and a few treatments and is now fine, fine, fine.

But when I was very small, before mammograms, my mother found a lump. It could have been a death sentence, or a cyst. Only major surgery determined it was a cyst. But she didn't know until she woke up from surgery.

My messages today: face life with joy, get a mammogram, a prostate exam, whatever, and help my very talented friend Jane tell her story. You won't regret it!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

January 9, 1912

*It was a Tuesday.
*The U.S. Marines invaded Honduras.
*Rudolph Steiner Was in Munich, and gave a Lecture, "Esoteric Studies, Cosmic Ego and Human Ego".
*Colonel Theodore Roosevelt announced that he would run for president if asked.
*Sometime during that month, sixteen wooden lifeboats, along with four collapsible canvas-sided boats, were fitted on board the Titanic.
*At 4pm, at home, 2429 East 23rd St., in Oakland, Ca, my father was born. My grandmother was 27 years old, my grandfather was just two months shy of 30. On the birth certificate my Grandmother's maiden name was misspelled.

He was baptized on June 12th of that year at All Soul’s Episcopal Church (Chapel?) in Berkeley, California, with his mother's maiden name as his middle name, though this was dropped after his sister was born ten years later. Why exactly we don't know for sure, but a note by his father in the Family Bible says he dropped the middle name when he was 12 years old and "...has thereafter been known as John Lansdale Jr." He attended Virginia Military Institute, where he was a boxer (lightweight). After graduation he attended Law School, at which time he applied for a Rhodes scholarship, and was a finalist, but missed the last cut. He scored a 90 on the Ohio Bar exam in 1937, the highest score of the 404 who sat for the test. During World War II, when he was barely thirty, he was responsible for keeping the secret that ended the war. No pressure there...

It's the centennial of my father's birth. All that stuff I just told you about happened before I was born. Here's what I personally remember. The smell of his cheek when he would lean waay down to kiss me when he came home from work.

 I remember his cheek as being a little cold, from those snowy Cleveland winters, and a little scratchy, as it was the end of a work day. I remember sitting on his lap, while he read poetry to me... Specifically, Wynekn, Blynken, and Nod one night Sailed off in a wooden shoe...*

He liked to watch "Perry Mason" and "Harrigan & Harrigan" on Television, shows about lawyers, of course.

He loved to garden. He had a suburban "farm" and we ate fresh corn, tomatoes, squash, even potatoes from it all summer long. As a small child, I would go for "walks" with him through the garden in the early summer evenings after dinner and we would chat amiably about whatever it is a grown man and a small child chat about.

When he was in his late 40s, he built a small "wine cellar" in the basement. Okay, it was a closet under the stairs, but he was proud of it. He staged elaborate wine tastings at the dinner table. I remember hearing the phrase " a very good year".

He admired Winston Churchill for pursuing his love of painting, and himself began painting in oils in the mid 1960s. He took a mail order course, and he would ask teenaged me to critique is work. He was prolific enough that after his death, there were enough paintings for each of us five children to own several. I love that I have my father's painting of the Grand Traverse Bay that he did one summer when he and I drove up to visit Interlochen, Michigan, where I attended Music Camp.

He took thousands of slides. He photographed his life, his children, his travels with my mother. Sadly, few are of him, as he was the photographer.

I remember him asking "What did you learn at school today?", or saying, "today is the Vernal Equinox, be sure to tell your teacher"; "you live in the greatest country in the world. You can be anything you want to be, you can do anything you want to do."

I also remember him saying, "a college education is important, your husband might die."

The man had a stone ear, but he loved music. He loved "The Mitch Miller Show" where we followed the bouncing ball. He loved Barber Shop quartets and bagpipe music.

He loved technology; he was the first on his block to have a color T.V. and a Stereo. He wrote love poems to my mother, and songs, composed to the tune of "The Old Mill Stream", or "The Banks of the Wabash" for a social organization of lawyers in Cleveland of which he was a member, that put on an annual topical play each year.  Towards the end of his life, he would travel from his home in Maryland, to Cleveland, just for these events.

He loved to drive fast. He loved cars. He had a Triumph TR-3, and then another one after a thief temporarily broke his heart by stealing the first. Riding in that car, top down, in the rain, he would say, "Don't worry, once we're moving along, you won't get wet". Sometimes he was right, but I also remember hunching down under a half zipped tonneau in a rainstorm. When driving, he wore a joyful red beret.

In his fifties, he started to run. I have written about this previously, but he is still my inspiration for healthy exercise to this day.

He was a man who loved his life. He loved his wife, his five daughters. He loved his work, the practice of law.

He approached every aspect of his life with serious Joy. Today he would have been a hundred years old, had he lived, and I still miss him every day.

*you can find the full text here:
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
Location:Omaha, NE

Monday, January 2, 2012

Parades and Football

It's the second day of the year.  Most Bloggers are waxing poetic about New Years' resolution lists, ad nauseam.  Most of my own list-making comes in May, around the time of my personal New Year, the anniversary of my birth, so I don't waste too much time in January stressing about such things.  Personal disclosure, last May, my resolution list began and ended with one. 
Laugh more.

I spent most of yesterday thinking about two things, what I wanted to write about in this blog, and why were all the parades and college football games moved to Monday?  

Forgive me a little rant.  On New Year’s Day, each year, January First, I expect to roll out of bed, make some coffee, and turn on the TV to watch the Tournament of Roses Parade, and then a whole bunch of football games.  So yesterday morning, I woke up, made my coffee, opened my paper, and clicked on the remote, only to see...  Newt Gingrich, not covered with a gazillion tiny cornflowers and poppy seeds or whatever.  

Hmm, wrong channel maybe?  Click!  What's this? An Infomercial?   Click!  More Standard Sunday Morning Stuff. Hmph. I wanted to see marching bands and Palomino Ponies fahcrissakes, not Meet the Press. 

It is at times like this that some personal affirmations are in order.

     I love Change.
     Change is Good.
     I embrace Change.
  (Okay, okay. That may qualify as a list.)

Today, I am happy to say, finally feels Iike New Year's Day.  I got up, drank coffee, went for a walk in a brisk Nebraska January wind, came home to a warm breakfast while watching, yes!  Palomino Ponies.  Marching Bands.  Huge floats covered with thousands, no, millions of flower petals!

At lunch, I started watching College football.  As I write these words, I am still watching College football.  I expect to spend the rest of the day... Watching College Football. It is a joyful activity for me, even when my team loses.   

I'll segue now back around to where I started on this.   New Year's Resolution Lists, or my lack of them.  Here is a little pearl of wisdom I'll drop in your lap, dear reader, dear friend.  A little bit of common wisdom that is so wise it is often mistake for cliché.  Every day is New Year's Day.  Every day is a day for a list.  So here's my list for this New Year, and for every new year:

     Laugh more.