Mother’s Day Musing

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There are those who believe in reincarnation. If so, I have returned again and again to the coastal land between Freshwater Lagoon and Richardson Grove in what is now northern California. Each lagoon offers fog-wrapped memories of nights under stars. Each river mouth births hazy memories of salmon runs. Every rocky guardian of the shoreline whispers of feasts provided by the sea.

Because my husband, Jack, has recently received a diagnoses of Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, we have spent a good amount of time and energy over the past few weeks assuring that his wishes will be met when we get to the end of this disease. I don’t want to talk about PSP, except to say that each day is the best we get. We enjoy what we have and try not to look too far into the future.

In deciding what Jack wants done after his death, I have put some things in writing as well.

Jack wanted his body placed on a fiery Viking ship as I waded into the water and threw myself into the flames. We compromised.  His ashes will be scattered into the ocean. If at all possible, I’ll take him for one last dive in the Caribbean off Paamul, Mexico.

As for me, I’d be happy to dig a hole in the forest when my time comes, lie down peacefully and let the woods have their way with my body. But, I’ll settle for my sons offering my ashes to a redwood grove of their choice. Someplace they can visit if they’d like, though I suspect I’ll soon enough be right here in Humboldt County again, in one form or another.

Posted in caregiver, Eureka, Humboldt County, marriage, Pamela Foster, Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Healing

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This morning, CBS interviewed a group of people who voted for Trump. I watched and listened because I know full well that understanding these individuals is the key to my healing. That seems a bizarre statement to make after a presidential election. That healing is needed. I get that. I’m sixty-six. This is not the first election I’ve seen go to the ‘other side.’

This one was different for a variety of reasons. Social media is a big factor. Lots of fake or maybe worse, very slanted, news on the internet. Even the once-trusted news channels – CBS, NBC, ABC – whipped up a profit-inspired frenzy on both sides, demanding drama in order to win those free minutes each night in the national spotlight. But, I believe I would have woven a path around those piles of crap, and accepted our new president if I had not had a visceral reaction to Donald Trump himself.

He opened his campaign by maligning an entire group of people, a group which includes my youngest son. By doing so he created an instant us-against-them mentality. He whipped up fear of those among us who worship Mohammad, when clearly, statistically, those who profess to revere Jesus have killed more of us in mass attacks than Muslims.

He cultivated a cult of personality. Only I, Donald J Trump can save you. And then, because the election wasn’t surreal enough, the media released video of our new president bragging, yes, bragging, about assaulting women. I do not want to dredge all this up again, but if you’re going to understand the rest of this essay, you need to understand and, yes accept, that  my reaction and the reaction of tens of thousands of others like me, is not based on a disagreement over Keynesian versus Trickle-down economics, or universal health care versus private insurance, or coal versus clean energy.

My reaction of disgust to the election of Donald J Trump is based on the fear that economics was more important to those who voted for him than human rights. I am still coming to terms with the knowledge that voters were willing to overlook the Muslim-blaming, the thinly veiled links to white supremacy groups, the week it took him to gently disavow the support of the KKK. In the end, it didn’t matter to them. And while people of color in this country, LGBT people, people who do not worship in churches with crosses on their steeples, have known this for years and years and years, it was a shock to my naive white understanding of America.

So, the election is a week behind us. And here’s where I am – and I share this, not because the healing of one old white woman matters much at all, but because I am not alone in this struggle to come to terms with where our nation now stands. I’ve read enough essays by Trump voters and listened to them enough to understand that they do not see their vote as a condoning of hatred, or bigotry, or assault of those with less power. I still cannot understand how they could have made that decision, but clearly, they did.

One of the women on the panel of Trump voters this morning on CBS said she was frightened to publicly admit she voted for him. That she had received threats. That’s not right. It shames me that anyone in this country would threaten another person with violence for any reason, let alone over the execution of a constitutionally-guaranteed right. Voting, protesting lawfully, speaking out about that with which we disagree – all that is our right and our duty.

I am still struggling with trusting those who voted for Trump. I am able now to behave respectfully toward these individuals. I can walk in the mall without studying each face, wondering which of them thinks that, as a woman I have no right to my own body, which of them only affords me safety based on the color of my skin or my non-hijab-covered gray hair. I have come this far in my own personal healing because I have come to realize that many of the people who voted for Trump, voted for Obama in earlier elections. While I believe that Trump’s campaign, and certainly his victory, stirred the bottom of the muck in this country, I must believe the haters are a minority, that many Trump supporters stand against hate, and against violence, and against blaming entire groups of people based on the actions of a few.

I believe all of this in my mind. In my heart, I still distrust, still suspect that my safety around Trump’s people requires diligence on my part. But then, it’s only been a week since the election. The commentator this morning on CBS advised that we all, on both sides of the aisle, just calm down.

Always an effective strategy – telling anyone, man or woman, to just calm down.

A more useful suggestion, for me anyway, is to channel my passion into constructive action. I donated to Planned Parenthood. Yes, I made sure to do so in honor of Mike Pence so he’ll receive yet another certificate. Yes, that is petty and vindictive, a clear fuck you to the man who is now vice president. That’s why I did it.

I volunteered to be an escort at PP.

As a small-time student of history, for months I have seen similarities between the rise of Trump and the rise of Hitler. Both movements were hate-fueled cults of personality. That’s how it looks to me. I understand that’s not how it looks to those of you who voted for Trump. But, I keep wandering if Germans by the tens of thousands showed up on the streets of their towns and cities after Kristalnacht. Did ordinary people step up and stand against the hate? Or had they left it too late? Did fear of retaliation keep them home? Or were they quietly, secretly undisturbed by hate against a group of people who, after all, were different from them?

And I don’t have to go that far from home to see historical examples of times when hate ruled. Right here in my beloved California, my ancestors or men very much like them, killed thousands of Native Americans when they arrived seeking their own fortunes. In the 1940’s The Native Sons of the Golden West, of which my dad was, briefly, a member, were instrumental in interning the Japanese among us. Internment – that’s a polite word for locking people up and stealing their land and possessions.

Hate has won in the past. Hate has won because good people got lazy, or were more concerned with their own success than with protecting the civil rights of people who were, in one way or another, different than they were.

So, no, don’t tell me to just calm down. Those of us protesting are doing our best to send a clear message that we will not allow hate to win. In the end, it doesn’t matter who any of us voted for. Politicians come and go. What matters is that we stand together against hate.

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Line in the Sand

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The election is over and I’m taking the election of The Orange Man personally.

Every single person who walked into a voting booth and voted for the man who bragged of being a sexual predator, and I’m not just talking the pussy-grabbing incident, the old orange fart bragged on the radio to his good buddy and fellow degenerate Howard Stern about walking into the dressing room to peek at naked girls as young as fifteen – every single person who overlooked and justified his actions condoned sexual abuse and harassment. Those who elected him shouted out loud and clear that protecting the vulnerable among us is completely unimportant to them as long as they could exact vengeance on an uppity woman and send a message to all those minorities out there to remember their place at the back of the bus.

Several weeks ago I deleted an earlier post about my own sexual abuse as a child because I did not want my mother, who is now eighty-six, to be blamed for a situation over which she had little control. Over the years, when I have shared that story, many people have told me they would never allow something like that to happen to any child. They’ve sworn to me with tears in their eyes that, regardless of the consequences, they would step up and “shoot the s.o.b.” or “bury the bastard in the swamp.”

Big talk.

The people who voted for Trump shouted their position to the rooftops. “I don’t care what a powerful white man does to any women or child. Have at her boys. Grab some pussy.”

The voters watched an old man, not a child, but a grown man, bully and make fun of people with handicaps, and prisoners of war. Night after night the media squealed in faux-horror as he encouraged his supporters to hit and harass those who disagreed with them. “Go ahead. Punch him. I’ll pay your legal fees.” He called blacks thugs and if that wasn’t clear enough, he flat out said he’d reinstate stop-and-frisk, a policy which has been proven to target young men of color. With a shrug and a grin and a wink, he accepted the endorsement of the American Nazi Party and the KKK. The man opened his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants rapists, and by doing so galvanized those afraid to compete in the job market with a person who does not speak the language of the land. He selected a man for his vice president who diverted tax dollars in his home state of Indiana for conversion therapy for gay and lesbian people so they can become normal, like him.

There is simply no way anyone can say they did not know that Donald Trump is a racist, a bully, and a sexual predator. If you voted for him, you knew damned well what you were doing.

The lines are drawn.

#Nevermypresident

Posted in nevermypresident, politics, The Orange Man, Uncategorized | 8 Comments

What I wanted Hillary to do

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Here’s what I wanted Hillary to do last night.

I wanted her to turn to the man stalking her from behind, the man so used to using his physical self to over-power women, that he saw nothing wrong with his behavior, I wanted her to turn around, look him in the eye and say simply,

“I am uncomfortable with you standing this close to me. Back off while I am speaking.”

Having worked for years in brokerage and banking, I have been that woman on that stage – competent, intelligent, hardworking – using so much energy to push back against the predation all around that I was exhausted each and every day. I often wonder how much more women could accomplish, even more than they already achieve, if they did not have to deal with constant sexual predation.

Inspired by a post on Girl Boner, by August McLaughlin, over the next few days I will do my best to tell my own story. For now, because like so many women, I must step away from the computer, bury my anger and frustration, and spend the day caring for others, in my case a husband who faces his own challenges, I ask only that you spend a few minutes thinking about the effects of rape culture on women. Maybe, together, we can figure out a way to make the world safer.

Posted in abuse, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Power of The Great Bear

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The Great Bear appears in many of my stories and novels. For Indigenous peoples of North America, Bear has always held strong spiritual medicine.

Left alone, Bear goes about her life foraging quietly, caring for her young, perhaps enjoying the sun and rain and fog in much the same way as I do. But, anyone who has ever wandered a rugged path, or wove their way along the edge of a forest or blackberry patch and come upon one of these great beasts knows the instinctual terror that cramps the belly, catches the breath, and rams the heart up into a closed throat.

Bear is a thing of quiet, almost humorous lumbering beauty. If however, a traveler is foolish enough to threaten her or her young, she will rear up on her hind legs and tear that feckless individual limb for limb, leave them dead or broken and bloody. The beast will turn then, once satisfied that the threat is gone, and disappear back into the depths of the forest, content once again to nibble at berries, dig roots, and enjoy the tender grass of spring.

So, it’s no wonder I identify with Bear.

But, Bear holds a deeper meaning as well. She is tooth and claw, yes, but also Bear is quiet beauty and acceptance. In my latest short story, which is included in the fine anthology, Macabre Sanctuary, a woman comes to the woods seeking relief from a difficult reality and comes face-to-face with the holy will of nature.

Here’s an excerpt:

The cold creek is knee-high when a force like a sledgehammer slams my right shoulder, knocks me face-down in the water. I roll in a ball, rounded back to the bear. My knees scrape gravel. The water buoys me, nudges me toward a deeper center. A bear face appears under water, fills my vision. A black snout bumps my right eye, a rough tongue samples my cheek. The snout disappears.

A quick gulp of air. Heavy, clawed weight on my back. The bear straddles my body bounces up and down exactly like James played as a child with a red beach ball. On land, I’d be dead already, crushed under the animal’s bulk. The water is my salvation. Of course, I may well drown in its saving mercies.

Want more? And, ten other terrific, spooky, scary, dips into the dark side? Click here: Macabre Sanctuary.

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Posted in Macabre Sanctuary, Pamela Foster, Bear as Symbol, writing, nature, death, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Willful Ignorance

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The harsh smell of Camel unfiltereds rose in waves from Grandma’s white wool, very scratchy, coat. I sat on her lap, facing the windshield of Grandpa’s new, already-dust-caked 1950 GMC truck. Her arm tight around my waist, cigarette scissored in the V of her fingers, a tiny pungent smoke signal wafted past my nose. I liked to twist around and watch her exhale the warm smoke through her nose like some elegant dragon. Grandpa dangled his hand out the open window, left a smoke trail to mix with that of the big diesel’s. If he spoke a single word between my house in suburban Eureka and their cabin in the mountains near Weitchpec, I have no memory of the event. This suffocating smell – red dirt blowing freely from the truck’s sides through the open windows to mix with cigarette smoke, both old and newly drawn into lungs and exhaled out flaring nostrils – this was my transport from one world to another.

Neither Grandpa nor Grandma was native American. Yet they lived on the very edge of the reservation, Grandma’s best friend and closest neighbor was Vera Ryerson, a Yurok basket maker who became quite famous over the years, and Grandpa was logging partners with Vera’s husband, Bud, a man Grandma described as white and Vera insisted was Indian.  Between the age of about one and when Grandma and Grandpa moved to the coast when I was ten, I spent most of my summers at their small plank-floored cabin.

I dug in the dirt with Grandma at the community garden in the mornings. Each afternoon she would mix us each a ‘refreshment’ in heavy highball glasses of cut glass. Whisky for her, lemonade for me. I’d grab the mason jar with the wiggling treasures I’d spent the morning gathering and we’d settle ourselves in what little breeze the front porch afforded. Grandma would tap, tap, tap with her glass onto the side of a terra cotta pot, amber liquid swirling in the sunlight, and I’d hold my breath.

The toads would come erupt from the pots arranged along the porch, lumpy, blunt noses pushing at loose dirt. The plop of their fat bellies hitting the wooden floor of the porch at each hop is still one of my favorite sounds in the world.  I’d arrange the worms and bugs at intervals and see how close I could get before a toad retreated. Our favorite amphibian, the biggest by far – much bigger than my hands could hold without a great deal of squishy overlap – would allow me to pick him up. Grandma taught me to flip the toad gently to his back and stroke his belly to hypnotize him.

I rode wild piglets in the yard with visiting neighbor children, though I was strictly forbidden to do so as the mama hogs did not take kindly to this entertainment. The prickly rash from pig bristles rubbing the inside of my brown thighs always gave me away at bath time. I bought my way into the little group of kids at the garden with Dubble Bubble and we all pretended to understand the comics. I watched in awe on picnics as my playmates flung themselves into the creeks and rivers, another joy I was denied.

“Don’t behave like a damn wild Indian.” Grandma would whisper and squeeze my hand until I nodded my consent to her rules.

So, it’s not as though I wasn’t aware that I was different from the other children. There was that cigarette fueled trip from one world to another each time Grandma and Grandpa picked me up in middle-class America and transported me to a world not that much different than what it had been a hundred, two hundred, two thousand years before. I always knew that, once school started, before the acorn harvest, I’d be traveling back in time to my own white world, and I knew the gathering of willow roots for basket weaving would have passed the next year before I could return to that world on the mountain.

Still, I was shocked in junior high when I overheard a teacher say of an old friend from the reservation, a gorgeous boy on whom I’d had a crush since the first day we held hands and raced through the poison oak to escape an angry mama pig, “He’d be good on the debate team. Too bad he’s a damn Indian.”

In high school I was shocked to overhear a fellow student say of a tribal elders grandson, “That Indian should go back to the reservation, he’s got no business here.”

Still, in an act I can only look back on as willful ignorance, I believed that the native Americans indigenous to Humboldt County – MY Humboldt County, where I am so proud of being the sixth generation to breath this salty air and walk among the giant trees, and stroll the banks of our lagoons – I assumed these peoples were, for the most part and with the horrific exception of the Indian Island massacre, treated fairly and accepted by the ruling white citizens.

Recently, while researching another book, I purchased Two Peoples, Two Places from the historic Society.

According to this well-documented book, from 1850 to 1865, there were fifty-seven massacres in Humboldt County. One of those was perpetrated by Native Americans on white settlers. Four to eight Euro-Americans were killed. The other fifty-six massacres were white attacks on Indian settlements.  Fifteen hundred to two thousand Native Americans of many different tribes were killed.

That’s willful ignorance. I have no other way to describe it.

So, why am I blogging about this subject today, sixty-five years after I woke up from my first smoky ride through the mountains and threw up on Grandma’s good white coat? Because, as a writer I investigate and do my best to put myself into the point-of-view of my characters and today I have a FREE download of a short story, Fingernail Moon, a short story about an Osage Indian boy, Montega, whose way of life has been destroyed and who is stolen and sold to Jesuits. A young man caught between cultures. This is my first attempt at portraying a point-of-view character outside my own race.

It’s presumptuous of me to do such a thing. I realize this. And yet when this character came to me his voice was load and clear and demanding. So, I wrote. I did my best to get his struggles and his triumphs correct. I’d appreciate it if you’d download Fingernail Moon, give it a read, let me know what you think. If you disagree with my portrayal, please, especially if you disagree, comment here, tell me. Writers grow and learn and mature just like everyone else.

Hell, until a few months ago I believed my ancestors arrived in Humboldt County in the 1860s to find peaceful Natives, and that the two cultures, more or less, ignored each other. One Indian-instigated massacre compared to fifty-six white attacks on Indians. Eight of my race killed as compared to two thousand Native Americans.

Willful ignorance.

But, knowledge and understanding can rewrite stories. Words on paper are powerful tools, stories told around campfires change lives. Please, give Fingernail Moon a read. It won’t cost you a penny. Share with me what you think.

Posted in Uncategorized, Yurok, reservation, Humboldt County history, Weitchpec, cultural clash | Leave a comment

Bad Day

Vietnam boogie stretcher lem to chopper

Statistically, combat veterans use VA facilities over twice as much as qualified non-combat veterans. Combat veterans with post-traumatic stress have anxiety about their health, all the physical challenges associated with their wounds, and they very often have agent orange related symptoms. In Jack’s case, besides the physical after effects of stepping on the landmine, and the debilitating post-traumatic stress, he has a constant body rash and Parkinsons – a disease for which even the VA automatically awards an agent orange connection.

We live in a part of the country where an actual VA hospital is over three hundred miles away. Jack is now physically unable to make that trip.  Again, even the VA recognizes his restrictions and calls him homebound – meaning he cannot leave the house without a care provider and he cannot live alone. It also means he qualifies for the new and oh so wonderful Veterans Choice program so he can see physicians outside the VA system. However, he cannot see these outside doctors without a request from the local clinic.

The local clinic has chronic staffing problems. The people who do work at the clinic are good folks who do their best to meet the needs of local veterans, but the demand simply outruns the supply. That means that every single time Jack needs medical attention I must cajole, sweet talk, and eventually piss off a VA employee in order to get his needs met.

I do not like hearing anger and frustration in the voices of people the minute they hear who I am. I do not like being caught in the middle between people doing their best in a bad situation and my husband who needs care. But, here’s the thing, it is not my job to be well-liked by the VA. It is my job to make sure my husband’s medical needs are met now that his health precludes him from continuing that responsibility himself.

I think of it as God’s way of helping me overcome my aversion to conflict.

But it’s stressful.

In an inefficient, overtaxed system where it is assumed that the veteran is entitled to poor to moderate health care, it is easy to lose the conviction that our government sent him into war, they promised to care for him and they can damn well do an excellent job of what they promised. No, I’m not going to contact the Wounded Warrior Project to get health benefits that the VA is legally mandated to provide. When three doctors now have said they believe he has developed atrial fibrillation and when we know the heart can be affected by Parkinsons, no I’m not going to wait months and months for the VA to put in the order for him to see a cardiologist or a neurologist. When he has a cyst the size of a grapefruit on his kidney and the urologist wants a scan to check blood flow, no, I’m not okay with waiting six months for the test to be ordered. And, no, in fact, I do not care whose fault it is that these delays happen. I am not consoled by the insisted-upon excuse that the problem is systemic.

FIX THE FUCKING SYSTEM.

That takes money. It’s real damn simple. Yes, there are inefficiencies and they need to be addressed, but the bottom line is that we continue to pay lip service to how much we honor our veterans. I mean, we have to say this really. Or else where are the next generation of wounded warriors going to come from? Who’s going to march off to war knowing that when they come home with grievous wounds, the VA is going to apologize and insist they’re doing all they can do, afterall, the problem is systemic?

And, just so you know, this, THIS FUCKING RIGHT HERE, is why the caregivers of wounded warriors die before the veterans for whom they care. It’s not the stress of caring for a loved one. It’s the stress of dealing with a society that pays lip service to honoring veterans while refusing to allocate the funds to actually make their medical system better.

Yeah, yeah, I’m having a bad day. Tomorrow will be better.

Still. Help me out here. Write to your congress person, call your senator. Tell them if we send people into war, we need to be honest about the cost of caring for the wounded who return to us and we need to fund the VA. Cause, here’s the thing, the veterans themselves may give up and go away. These guys know how to get by. But a whole lot of them married tough women who I gauran-damn-tee, you do NOT want to piss off.

Posted in Uncategorized, war, VA, wounded warriors, Vietnam, medical care for veterans | 1 Comment