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 | Leave a comment

Leap Frog

 

For years I woke up every day with at least one character and story line flowing freely through their brain. A day of not writing left me itchy mentally, angry at what had been lost because I could not make the time to sit in front of a computer and let the words spill across a white computer screen.  It’s been over a year since I’ve plunged into my own stream of creativity.

Worse still, like the frog set gently into a pot of water set to boil, I have become accustomed to not writing. Not just accustomed either. I have learned to flourish.  Without writing, there is so much more time to care for my husband. The house hasn’t been this clean in, well, decades. Each day begins with a half-hour of Tai Chi. I putter happily in my little garden, walk the foggy beaches of Humboldt County, and sit for hours beside Redwood Creek my mind filled with nothing but the dancing shadows of leafy tree limbs on the moving water. I joined a gym, re-embraced veganism, and walk with my husband each afternoon. Good Lord, I’ve lost twenty-five pounds, have more energy than I’ve had in years, and my doctor jokingly asked me teach a class on self-care.

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Froggy is swimming just fine in the bubbling pond.

Recently, however, I blinked my eyes, glanced around and began to remember what life was like before I began floating in the lovely warm water. I marched into the Eureka Senior Center and volunteered to teach a class. My thinking was that if I acted like a writer, maybe, once again, I’d be a writer. I am a firm believer that everyone has a tale to tell and that we all have an obligation to share our hard-earned wisdom with the next generation. Most importantly, Velda Brotherton and Dusty Richards, both authors with damn fine careers, mentored me at the Northwest Arkansas Writers Workshop for years and years. Time to pay it forward.

Besides, one of my life lessons is that, when depression or just a disinterest in life sets in, the way to overcome it is to stop thinking about me, and to figure out a way to help others. Boy, oh, boy did I get more than I bargained for with this class! I’ve taught at libraries, conferences, and workshops. Teaching a class on memoir writing at the Eureka Senior Center was not my first teaching rodeo. I was prepared to encourage mediocre writers to sharpen their skills and to get their stories on paper, hoped there might be one or two people of exceptional talent. What I walked into that day five weeks ago was a classroom of twenty people all of whom have extraordinary writing skills, fascinating lives, and the rare ability to paint the world in their own unique fashion. Listening to these folks read their first assignment – writing their own obituaries – it was clear that my job was going to be to simply guide the enthusiasm of these individuals toward publication.

Oh, I taught point-of-view, sense-of-place, and internalization. We talked about building a character, developing a plot, and creating dialogue. But, the lessons were pushed along by the sheer talent in the room. We have people in the group who understand instinctively how to use deep internalization, how to build tension in an ordinary scene, and every single student possesses a unique view of the world. I believe all good teachers learn as much from their students as they teach. In this case, I frankly admit that I am not just learning, but feeding off the creative energy of this class.

Am I writing again?

Well, Bigfoot Blues, is being released this week, to be followed in six months by the never before published second book in that series, Bigfoot Mamas, with the third in the series due out six months later. The third book, whose working title is the very unoriginal, Bigfoot III, is calling to me. Over a year ago I abandoned the POV character, Samantha, in a very rough spot. She’s screaming at me to write her out of her predicament. I’m waking from dreams of Sam torn between her love for the gentle Bubba and the nearly irresistible pull of her first love, Hawk. Besides, women are disappearing in the forest, the only clue huge footprints in the dirt of the mountains of Humboldt County.

Yeah, time to quit floating and get to writing.

Posted in About Writing, Bigfoot, Bigfoot Blues, Eureka, Humboldt County, Pamela Foster, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Writers’ block, which for years I insisted did not exist, has swallowed me whole. In an effort to escape the belly of this cold beast, I volunteered to teach a ten-week writing course at the local senior center. I do, after all, have seven books published. I may not feel like a writer at this moment, but damnit, I AM a writer.

Maybe acting like one, owning that peculiar malady in the presence of a classroom of people would inspire me to fight my way up out of the depths and back into the light of creativity.

The truth is I love speaking to people, adore teaching, feed on the energy that leaps back-and-forth in a classroom. When I marched into the director’s office, handed her copies of my books for the senior center library and offered to teach a class, it was a blatant attempt to recharge my own creativity by teaching a group of eager students. My idea was to create a group of supportive writers whose power would explode exponentially. I was looking to split the creative atom.

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Yesterday was our fourth class. Twenty ordinary people ranging in age from about sixty to ninety. Men and women I’d pass on the street with a smile and a nod and not give a second thought.

That would be my grievous loss.

Their first assignment was to write their obituary.

Hearing their unique tales, peeking into minds and hearts and souls honed by decades of joys and suffering and, well, of living, is a privilege for which I am thankful, a responsibility I do not take lightly.

This group of ordinary people fills the room to the brim with the creative equivalent of yellow-cake uranium. The reaction is building. If you’re in Eureka, anywhere near California and West DelNorte Streets, you may see the mushroom cloud. It’s filled with hopes and dreams and an abundance of talent. Already the glorious fallout has drifted into my own open mind.

My butt’s in a chair, fingers on the keyboard.

I’ll keep you posted.

Posted in About Writing, aging, Eureka, Humboldt County, Pamela Foster, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

UNSHOD

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Friday night was dinner and a movie night.  Mom worked nights. My sister was usually busy with friends. That left Dad and me to eat at Chins or The Taxi Cab Café and then stroll down the block to Partrick’s Candy for a pound of light chocolates – vanilla, mint, walnut, and maplenut filling only – to share during the show.

Dad always picked the movie and he always chose a western. Secretly, I had a crush on Clint Walker and James Gardner, but John Wayne was perfectly acceptable. I fell in love with the wide-open scenery in those westerns, adored the morality plays all done up with horses and dust and smoking pistols, fell for the slow-talking men every time. But what I did not enjoy – what made me squirm in my seat, look over at Dad to catch his reaction – was the role of women in those old movies.

McLintock is a classic example. I mean, what woman wouldn’t fall for a guy who lifted her skirt and publically spanked her to demonstrate his need to be boss and hers to be dominated. There were strong women in these movies, oh, yes, but women who, ultimately, submitted to the stronger men in their lives. That’s a powerful message for a thirteen year-old girl in 1963.

Forty years after those Friday night movies with Dad, I had the great good fortune to attend the Northwest Arkansas Writer’s Workshop in Fayetteville, Arkansas for several years. The NWAWW is the creation of Dusty Richards and Velda Brotherton. Brotherton writes cross-genre, and makes it all look easy. Dusty writes westerns. Period. 120 westerns at last count. There are no better teachers and mentors for a new writer.

Under their influence, I decided to try my hand at writing a western or two. But, from the beginning, I wanted my westerns to show a truer picture of women in the old west. A picture that investigated the complexity of these women and the hardships they endured.

Think crossing the prairie in a covered wagon is difficult? Try it while pregnant.  Imagine homesteading with your nearest neighbor miles away would test your gumption? Try it while nursing a baby. Think cooking over an open fire would be challenging?  Try it while caring for an energetic toddler.

I was determined to write westerns that told the truth about women’s lives. So when AIW Publishing decided to put together Unshod, an anthology of traditional and contemporary short stories, I was delighted to have a story included. If you enjoy good writing, you’ll like this anthology. The book has been out a little over twenty-four hours and it’s already on Amazon’s Best Seller List. If you’re a fan of the western short story, you are going to find yourself grinning from ear-to-ear. Along the way, you just might discover nine new authors whose work you’ll want to follow closely.

As for me, I’ve downloaded Unshod. My light chocolate creams are safe in their white Partrick’s bag. I intend to curl up and indulge in some fine western story telling. Somewhere Dad is grinning. I know he is.

Posted in About Writing, pamela foster, staci troilo, joan hall, p.c. zick, janna hill, michele jones, francis guenette, lorna faith, jan morrill, Uncategorized, westerns, women writing, unshod, anthology, | 11 Comments

Turtle Dreams

hawkbill

For weeks after receiving Jack’s diagnoses of Parkinson Disease my sleep was haunted by the flash of tiny fish in ever-tightening nets. Or, I dreamed I was a sea turtle flying effortlessly through my domain. In an instant I was entangled in a net, hauled into a small boat where laughing men hacked off my flippers, tossed me unfeeling back into the sea. Even as I fought against the cutting and slicing of my limbs, my means of survival, I understood the men were simply doing what they had to do to feed their families. That, to them, I meant nothing at all except a meal, a way to nourish themselves and to stay alive another day.

Sinking, helpless, back down through the very ocean that had been my home, I would, each night, transform, become an avenging goddess, rise like a rocket up out of the sea and into the boat where I wreaked havoc on the men who had killed me in my incarnation as a helpless, flapping turtle. Even then, though, in my dreams, I stopped, looked at the faces of the men, knew they meant me no harm, that they, like me, were only trying to survive.
Today is the first day Jack and I will receive respite care. Sixteen hours a week another caregiver is scheduled to come into our home and, essentially, do what I do each day.
Jack and I have worked hard to develop a schedule that will have this stranger driving him to acupuncture and massage and to the pool for physical therapy. Leaving me to accompany him to doctor’s appointments, the gym, and other appointments for which I need to be present. This wonderful person, Mr. Elf as I am calling him, will also clean the house twice a week, and most important, focus all his attention on Jack so I can have sixteen glorious hours a week to just be me.
I know that sounds bad. I understand the myth is that loved ones, wives in particular, care for our spouses, giving up piece after piece of ourselves, and we do it all with love and compassion as we rise up into sainthood.
Yeah, well, that’s bullshit.
If you follow my blog or have read My Life as a Wounded Warrior, you know Jack and I have had twenty-five years of living all over the world, we traveled in Asia with nothing but a change of clothes on our backs, taught scuba diving in Mexico, shared a tree house in Thailand.
When we left the doctor’s office, after receiving the diagnoses of Parkinson, I turned to Jack, squeezed his trembling hand, and said, “Well, so now we begin a new adventure.”
He glared at me. “Worst adventure. Ever.”
Because he decided not to take the medication for Parkinson, we started a regiment of, basically, doing everything anyone on the internet said might be good at slowing the progress of this degenerative disease. Mostly this involves slow, steady, exercise. The only suggestion we haven’t yet implemented is no-impact boxing. I’m working now to get that going here in Eureka.
So, about a month into this new adventure, here’s where we are:
We enjoy doing Tai Chi each morning after, and only after, I’ve had my two cups of coffee. We like exercising together three days a week at the gym where he rides the bike (excellent for Parkinson) and we work our way through a few weight machines. I walk in the park twice a week while Jack does physical therapy in a warm pool. I asked and the VA granted Jack massage and acupuncture, both of which are purported to be good for Parkinson. He begins those therapies this week.
Our joke is that Jack has his own little Parkinson retreat center. Our world revolves around providing him the best care we can manage.
Are you catching on to the symbolism behind my sea turtle dream?
Love is transformative. I have no argument with that truth. But the caregiver has to be able to get to the surface on a fairly regular basis. That little sip of air, the feel of sun on a back, and the breeze across the surface of the water – that’s the difference between life and death.

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Chewing on Life

 

I went to sleep before Wheel of Fortune.
At three a.m., precisely three a.m., a flash of light illuminated the room, silhouetted my open laptop on the desk next to the bed. By the time the thunder followed I was awake, staring into the now dark room, wondering, electrical storm or preliminary sign of stroke?
The slap of thunder was, thus, a relief.
There was only the one flash of light, the one rumble of thunder. I decided this was God’s way of telling me to get up and write.
Most of you know that, in August, after five years in the area, Jack and I moved from beautiful Northwest Arkansas back to my home town. Eureka perches on the Pacific Ocean, in the coastal redwood forest, about a hundred winding miles south of the Oregon border. My people have been here for eight generations. Not as long as the beautiful Yurok, and Hoopa, and Wiyot my ancestors attempted to exterminate, but still, people of my blood have lived here long enough that this is where I breathe easiest, this is where I know the name of every weed and tree and plant, where I have a half-dozen memories of each street, and creek, and beach, and lagoon, and forest path.
Humboldt County is home.

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Still, in many ways, my tribe is in Arkansas. Arkansas is where I came into my own as a writer. Arkansas is where, with a few notable exceptions, I made the best friends of my life. Arkansas is where I was a respected member of a talented and generous group of writers who encouraged and lifted each other up each week at the Northwest Arkansas Writers Workshop, and out of which a half-dozen or so deep friendships developed. I knew when I walked away it was going to be a loss. A real loss.

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People in Eureka love me, but to them I’m still the scruffy, gangly child who chewed on the front of her shirt until she was five.
In Arkansas I’d often run into people while out and about, people who would approach and say things like, “Oh, I heard you speak at the Missouri Writers Guild. You encouraged me so much,” or “OMG, I finished Noisy Creek last night and I love that book!”
Here in Humboldt County folks who approach are far more likely to say things like, “Aren’t you the one who rolled down the hill at Fort Humboldt when you were a kid and broke her tailbone on a redwood stump?” or “At Alice Birney Elementary, didn’t you write that love story about Kevin Young, the boy up street from you, and then lose the binder in the cafeteria where Kevin’s brother Jimmy found it?”
Why yes, that was me. And that last incident might go a long way in explaining why I have never written another Romance.
So, I’m home. Fat, rather than gangly, but no longer prone to rolling down hills.
After a six month period of adjustment, I am ready to slip back into writing mode. Like a shedding snake, perhaps I’ve grown to fit a new skin. Sometimes I think we humans need a period when our eyes cloud over and our metabolism slows and we transform ourselves, once again, into our next incarnation.
My new self is a study in the need for balance. Jack’s health has deteriorated, though his humor and mischief-making talents are stronger than ever. This does not always make things easier, though I suspect it makes life possible. He has recently been diagnosed with Parkinson Disease. A new challenge for both him and for me. Parkinson and Post-traumatic Stress are not the best of companions. Just my opinion. He has chosen not to take the dopamine medication for Parkinson. Instead we are beginning a journey of Tai Chi, and bicycling, and no-impact boxing, and even a little weight lifting.
To everything there is a season.
In my last life, I wrote six to eight hours a day. Now I’m lucky to release the voices in my head a couple times a week. But, they do cause a racket, so I do my best to let them dance across a page or two whenever possible. I have a couple of books due out this year, am hoping to finish the third novel in my Bigfoot series. Living again in Eureka for the first time in twenty-five years, my goal is to integrate all the people I have been over the years – the confident writer and speaker and mentor, the joyous scuba instructor, the nurturing mother, the tough wife of a Marine, the loving and frustrated caregiver, and the lonely child.
Come along with me if you’d like. I’ll try not to chew on my clothes.

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Posted in About Writing, aging, caregiver, Humboldt County, marijuana, Parkinson Disease, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 12 Comments

Advanced Directive Humor

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Those of you who read my books know that humor is my drug of choice. Okay, let me amend that. Humor and caffeine are my drugs of choice.
Many of you also know that my husband, Jack, has a wide variety of health challenges which, over the last couple of years, have come to require more and more care. I love the old Marine, feel blessed each day to have him in my life. Nonetheless, I need a little space to be me – not Jack’s caregiver, not even Jack’s wife, just – me. So, three days a week, Jack will be attending a senior activities center. I don’t know what the rest of the attendees will be doing – art projects, music, day trips is my understanding. Jack will be telling stories and amusing the young women who work there.
One of the requirements of attendance at the Activities Center is a current Advanced Directive. In other words, Jack was asked to put down in writing exactly what he would want done if, God forbid, he were unable to make the decision for himself as to when to pull the proverbial life support plug.

Since it is my job to make Jack’s life as stress free as possible, and since I already screw this up daily by coming apart at the seams over one thing or another, (yesterday it was galvanized screws. I kid you not), I filled out a directive too, just in case I go before him. If I die before him, he, after all, will be busy making flight reservations for Thailand. He claims it will be the job of the Thai undertaker to figure out how to get the smile off the face of his corpse.
A year ago I’d have told you there was no way I would outlive Jack. Yes, he has a myriad of physical challenges and I have no health issues except a little, controlled, high blood pressure. However, being a caregiver takes a toll. Look up the statistics. I dare you. Caregivers rarely outlive those for whom they care on a 24 hour a day basis. However, lately I am doing a little better at managing my own stress, working on those long, soothing exhales and calming inhales and, as I mentioned, Jack will be attending Senior Daycare in order to give me a much needed break each week – a time to be me.
So, back to the Advanced Directives.
Jack chose me to be his first choice responsible party. Now, I love the man dearly, but I chose someone else to decide when it was time to pull, or not to pull, the plug. Here’s why.
In the space marked special directions, Jack’s form states, and I’m going to put this in bold italics because I want you to really think about this instruction which I will be required by law to fulfill.
“Two, naked, beautiful twenty-two year old women are to be put in bed with me. If I don’t respond within twenty minutes, say goodbye and pull the fucking plug.”

 

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