Weird Poetry-Writing Kid Gets Published

Sue 6719HLet’s talk about poetry. Wait! Don’t click away. And for God’s sake, don’t start reciting “Roses are red, violets are blue . . .” That’s the response I get from my brother. When I gave my father a homemade collection of my poems for Christmas a few years ago, he smiled at the dog picture on the cover and set it aside. I suspect the other copies met the same fate. (I have a few more, if you want one).

I do not come from poetry-reading people. Except one. My Grandma Rachel Fagalde, technically my step-grandmother, set me on the poetry path. She wrote poetry herself and fed me books of poetry, inscribed to “my dear little Susie” from “Gramma” Rachel. I read Robert Frost, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Marianne Moore, Shakespeare, and obscure poets whose chapbooks she found at rummage sales. Someday my chapbooks may meet the same fate. I hope somebody else’s grandmother will buy a copy.

I was thrilled to receive those poetry books. I sat around reading them out loud, and I started writing my own poetry. The other kids thought I was weird.

I wrote my first poem, a ditty about Thanksgiving, at 7, got published in various school publications, and got paid for a poem that appeared in something called Valley Views when I was in high school. Poetry was my thing, but you can’t make a living writing poetry, so I majored in journalism at San Jose State and went into the newspaper biz, keeping my poetry on the side. When I finally made it through grad school at age 51, I earned a degree in creative nonfiction, not poetry. Now I write both.

Although my early efforts resembled the nursery rhymes I grew up with, all sing-songy and rhyming, today’s poems are much more conversational. I avoid twisted sentences and words like “ere,” “thou” and “o’er.” I rarely rhyme. So what makes it a poem instead of a short essay cut into lines? First, poems are compact. You can tell a whole story in a three-line haiku.

First autumn morning
the mirror I stare into
shows my father’s face.

– Murakami Kijo

Second, they use imagery. Read “My Mother’s Colander” by Dorianne Laux. See what I mean? I have a colander just like that, by the way. But it’s not just about the colander, is it?

I was a poetry-writing kid who became a poetry-writing grownup who is now a poetry-writing senior citizen. In recent years, I have published quite a few poems in literary magazines [see www.suelick.com for samples]. I love to read my poems to live audiences.

I am excited to report that my first poetry book will be coming out later this year from Finishing Line Press. Called Gravel Road Ahead, it is a chapbook, meaning a little book about 30 pages long, that follows the journey my late husband and I took through Alzheimer’s disease. I have published quite a few books of prose, but this is different. I am very excited. And nervous.

To my amazement, since I drafted this post, another publisher accepted another chapbook. Currently titled The Widow at the Piano: Confessions of a Distracted Catholic, that one will be coming out next year.

Right now I’m focusing on Gravel Road Ahead because the pre-publication sales begin next Monday. I hope to show you the cover then and provide info on how to pre-order a copy.

In addition to the book, my poem, “Mustering out,” channeling my father’s voice, was published at www.rattle.com last month. They even paid me. Another poem, “They’ll Have to Order the Parts,” appeared in the Atticus Review on May 29.

Grandma Rachel used to send me copies of her own poems with her illegible letters. I collected some of them after she died. I suspect the people cleaning out the house threw some poems away, not realizing the precious gifts they were. She didn’t publish much. Instead she trained me to start my career with my first copies of Writer’s Digest and all those poetry books. Well, it took a few years, but I’ve done it.

Will I make money at this? No. Real poets have day jobs.

It’s sad when only poets read poetry. Believe me, it’s not all like the stuff your teachers might have made you read in high school. Give it a try.

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When your real name is not your REAL name

When people call you by the name on your birth certificate, you know you’re in trouble. By that standard, I have been in mucho trouble lately.

Maybe you’re one of those lucky people for whom your legal name, the one on your birth certificate and driver’s license, and the name your friends and family call you are the same. You’re George or Mary everywhere in every situation. But most of us go by an altered version of our original name. And everyone who knows you knows that’s what you prefer to be called.

James is Jim or Jamie, William is Bill, Billy, Will, or Willie, Catherine is Cathy, Samuel or Samantha become Sam, etc. Or maybe you’ve chosen something completely different like . . . Spike.

My name, Susan, becomes Sue or Susie or Suz. Despite whatever your parents named you, the name you use every day is the person you have made yourself, and you want to be recognized as that person.

Good luck.

That original name keeps coming back.

When your parents started calling you by your full legal name, you were about to be spanked or grounded.

When phone salespeople call asking for your formal name, you know they got your number off a list somewhere and don’t know you. And they keep using that name because in some training class they learned that it’s good to repeat the customer’s name.

When the cops come to your door calling your legal name, you are IN TROUBLE.

And when a nurse comes to the doctor’s office waiting room and calls that name you never use–even though you wrote your preferred name on every form–you know this is not going to be fun. Susan? Who? Oh. Me. And they keep calling you that as you lie on the examining table in your skimpy gown staring at the holes in the acoustic tile ceiling and pretending they are not touching you where you’d rather not be touched.

I have been called Susan a lot lately by the people calling from my father’s nursing home. At all hours, I see a 408 area code on the caller ID, then hear, “Is this Susan?” I want to say no, but I sigh and say yes. I want to add “What now?” in an annoyed tone, but I’m too busy holding my breath as they describe the latest disaster.

The most recent disaster is an amazing story, but I can’t tell you about it yet because there may be legal action. Dad is fine now. We’re all fine. I will tell you that everyone in the hospital-nursing home system calls my father Clarence even though he has spent his 97 years going by his middle name, Ed. “Clarence” was his father.

A couple weeks ago, a nursing home kerfuffle arose because the staff got confused between me, “Susan,” and my aunt, “Suzanne.” They telephoned her instead of me, barraging her with questions she couldn’t answer while I was waiting all day for a call that never came. If they had just called us Mrs. Lick and Mrs. Avina, there would have been no confusion. If you’re going to go formal, go all the way, right?

Gosh, I suppose they’ll call me “Susan” at my funeral and put it on my gravestone. I wonder what name God calls me. Maybe it has nothing to do with my earthly name. After all, there are a million Susans in this world and only one me. I guess He’ll tell me when I get to Heaven.

If you ever decide to do a Google search for information about me, use my middle name, Fagalde. Don’t bother with “Susan.” “Sue” will get you millions of hits, with many of them referring to lawsuits, and “Lick” will get you porn. Or you could just go to my website at suelick.com.

Whatever people call you, thanks for reading this. Keep sticking up for the name you want to be called. I’d love to hear your stories of misguided name-calling. I look forward to your comments.

 

 

Just your ordinary holiday at ‘urgent care’

IMG_20190528_091822933[1]How did you spend your Memorial Day? I spent mine hanging out at the walk-in clinic/aka urgent care in Newport. Good thing it didn’t turn out to be terribly urgent because it took a long time to “be seen.” Think about that for a minute. You go to “be seen,” to have someone look at you. Heavy concept.

I was going to write a patriotic ditty this week in honor of the holiday, but everybody’s doing that, so let’s talk about urgent care.

It started with itchy rashes. Then Saturday I woke up with swollen lips, which made singing at church a challenge. By Monday, they felt like I’d just had Novocain at the dentist’s office. I had a hard time with breakfast; drooling was involved. I took my troubles to Google, which suggested allergies, a stroke, or cancer. Shut up, Google.

Adding to the misery, my back went out while I was bending to wipe the ooze off my dog Annie’s incision. The ensuing moaning and cursing sure got her attention. Soon we were both on the floor.

What happened there is no mystery. I have a bad back. I sit too much. I’ve been lifting the 74-pound dog in and out of the car, and I mowed the giant lawn on Sunday. I had put off visiting the chiropractor for too long. Now I needed an appointment stat. But it was a holiday. They were closed. I couldn’t stand up straight. Oh well.

I decided to see if I could get an appointment to check out my lips, rashes, etc. Now I had a headache and felt slightly nauseous. I might be dying. The doctor’s office was closed, too, but I was referred to an advice line.

A woman I swear sounded just like the mom on the “Young Sheldon” TV show, with her great Texas accent, took all my information and said a nurse would call, don’t be put off by the strange area code on your caller ID. Another southerner, the nurse said she was at a call center in Tennessee. She listened to my woes and said I needed to “be seen” right away. I should not drive myself. Get a friend, take a taxi, do not drive. Well, now I was worried. What if I was about to have some life-altering health event?

My usual emergency person was singing at a Memorial Day event, so I called my neighbor, who drove me into Newport and dropped me off when I insisted she didn’t have to wait.

As soon as she was gone, I learned that everyone at the clinic was about to leave for lunch, so I could expect a 90-minute wait. Swell. You’re free to go somewhere else, the woman at the desk said. Sure. But I might be dying, and I had no car, and where would I go? The porn place or the puke-yellow Lucky Elephant Thai restaurant were the only nearby options. I wasn’t in the mood for either.

Then I discovered I had forgotten my phone. OMG. Panic. I had a notebook to write in, a book I had almost finished reading, and old People magazines for amusement, but how would I call for my ride home? And what if somebody needed me? Well, for once, I could only take care of myself.

I took notes on the clinic. It’s located in a portable building across the street from the new Samaritan Pacific Communities Hospital still partially under construction. If you ever took classes in a portable, you can imagine the ambience: white linoleum, acoustic tile ceiling, a few unframed pictures slapped on the white walls, signs listing office hours, signs saying they DO NOT give narcotics for chronic problems, and signs in English and Spanish saying “cover your mouth” if you have a cough. But a radio played soft music, and the black faux-leather chairs were unusually comfortable for a doctor’s office.

My neighbor dashed in with my phone. Bless her heart.

First thing I saw was a text saying a singing friend, Ellen Cowden, had died. Shoot. Darn, Nuts. Seems like everybody’s sick or dying lately. At least she went quickly.

For the first hour, I waited with just one family. Then more people started arriving. It was worse than a busy restaurant, with no cocktails for solace. They all got told the wait would be at least an hour. Several left. A little girl with big pink shoes stomped around and cried. We’d all do that if we weren’t grownups.

I went out for a walk. It was cloudy, misty, breezy, typical coastal weather. The old front part of the hospital was gone, new framework going up behind the chain link fence. It’s going to be huge when it’s done. The new section that’s already open is bright and attractive.

I couldn’t help remembering my times at the Kaiser Santa Clara ER with my dad. So crowded, day and night. No place to park, everyone in a hurry. We waited for hours, hungry, thirsty, and uncomfortable.

I waited a long time in Newport, too, but at least they were sorry, and I could smell the ocean through the open windows. Finally I was called into a little examining room where I met Dr. Andrea Lind, who is both beautiful and caring. My vitals were all perfect (thank God), and I had even lost a couple pounds. She didn’t know what caused my problems, probably stress. I was definitely not in any danger. She ordered a blood test to check my wonky Graves Disease-addled thyroid (it came out normal) and prescribed some cream to slather on my rashes and my lips. As for my back, I’ll limp over to the chiropractor later today.

My neighbor picked me up from the front of the new hospital, where I took a couple pictures and breathed in some fresh air, confident that I was not dying and would weather this challenge, too.

Annie, who had a possibly cancerous tumor removed from her leg on Friday, was thrilled to see me. Heavy face-licking ensued. We took a short walk, just because we could, and returned to our usual places on the love seat. Later I would eat a ham and cheese omelet for dinner, call my father–who sounded a little better and counseled me that I needed to learn to “let things go”–and watch “The Bachelorette,” where Hannah finally got rid of that fool Cam. A blessed regular Monday night.

So that’s how we spent our Memorial Day. For my father, a WWII vet, it was just another day at the nursing home, from which he hopes to escape one of these days. An airplane mechanic in the Army Air Corps in the Pacific, he loves to talk about his war days. God bless him and all the veterans.

And don’t get sick or hurt on a holiday. Annie says hey, get this cone thing off my head.

 

Why Do I Care Who Won ‘American Idol’?

I don’t like TV reality shows. I’d much prefer a well-scripted drama, but there aren’t many of those on network TV anymore. So I watch reality shows, and I get hooked, hooked to the point that I will put the finale on my calendar and turn off my phones to avoid interruptions. My favorite used to be “Survivor” until the show became more about alliances and voting strategies than survival. Hey, is that castaway wearing makeup?

I have watched far too much of “Dancing with the Stars,” even though I can’t stand the judges. When a celebrity who was a lousy dancer won last time, I lost heart. When Derrick and Mark and Max quit, well, what was the point?

What? You don’t know who these people are? Where have you been?

I watch “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette,” even “Bachelor in Paradise.” The whole point of this franchise, besides making oodles of money, is getting young good-looking people to couple up. They’re immature, their words are scripted, and they make out constantly. If they survive to the finale, the couples get to shack up in the “fantasy suite,” where we assume they have sex. Maybe they just talk or play board games until the producers bring in breakfast and tell them to snuggle in bed for the cameras.

People get engaged at the end of the Bachelor/Bachelorette season, but the relationship hardly ever lasts because it’s a ridiculous way to meet a life partner. It’s sleazy, and most of the competitors are idiots, but I keep watching. Tonight I’ll be on my couch watching “Hannah B.” go on her first dates with the guys who survived last week’s initial rose ceremony. The previews promise “drama” in the house—a bunch of guys squabbling. Why do I watch this garbage?

Which brings us to “American Idol.” At least on talent shows, the contestants have to do something besides look pretty. And that grabs my interest. I sing, too. I’m way too old to compete, I don’t like most of today’s pop music, and the whole thing is just not my style, but I watch these singing kids, ages 16 to 27, and I listen to the celebrity judges gush over performances that are mostly so-so. Sometimes I scream at the TV: What? You liked that? It was terrible. They don’t hear me. All I can do is download the memory-sucking “American Idol” app on my phone and vote. Up to 10 votes per contestant. The person I vote for usually loses.

Last night was the “American Idol” finale. At three hours, it was about an hour too long, the final hour filled with “stars” I never heard of. Madison sang her brains out on Lady Gaga’s “Shallow” and then got eliminated, leaving Alejandro, the Latino musical genius, and Laine, the cute guitar-playing white guy. As usual, the guitar-playing white guy won. He sang his new single surrounded by the other contestants as confetti fell all over everyone. Will we ever hear of him again? Maybe. Some of the losers will probably be bigger stars. It would have been nice to have a songwriting Latino win. Oh well.

I didn’t take the phones off the hook this time. Too much family drama going on. But I ate dinner in front of the TV, and when I had to take a break to call my dad in the nursing home, I set up the TV to record so I wouldn’t miss a minute. When Dad said he had company and asked if I could call back later, I thought sweet, back to my show.

I know. I’m terrible. My father is more important than a TV show, but sometimes I need a break from worrying about him. If only he would watch, too, so we could talk about that instead of tubes, tests, and physical therapy.

It’s not just me. Millions of people vote for the contestants on “American Idol” and other reality shows. The results of these shows are all over the news. I have to be careful not to look at my phone after 5:00 because the shows have already aired on the East Coast, and Google is already sharing the results before we on the West Coast have a chance to watch.

Such big news. “Laine Hardy Wins American Idol” comes in above Trump threatening Iran with military action, Alabama outlawing abortion, and the fishing boat tragedy making headlines on the Oregon coast. It seems wrong. But maybe we need this kind of silliness to distract us from the grimmer events of life. Or maybe it’s just that I grew up sitting in front of the TV every night, and I don’t know what else to do to relax at the end of the day.

My dog Annie doesn’t buy it. Throughout the “American Idol” finale, she kept trying to get my attention by grabbing things that should not be in her mouth. First it was a paperclip. Then it was a big leaf off one of my plants. Then it was my embroidery, needle and all. She would come up in my face, eyes sparkling, lips smiling as big as they could with a full mouth, and invite me to give chase. Which I did, trading a treat for the forbidden item. She’s no fool. “American Idol?” Annie does not care.

So that’s my confession. I watch reality shows. How about you? Are you hooked, too? Which ones? “The Voice?” “Big Brother?” “Real Housewives?” How much of it do you think is real? If you watched “America Idol” this season, who were you rooting for? Can you even name last year’s winner?

 

 

Don’t Interrupt; I’m Talking to Myself

I talk to myself. All the time. Sometimes I direct my words to Annie the dog, but if I’m being honest, I have to admit she’s not paying attention. She tunes in for certain key words—eat, cookie, walk, snuggle, beach. The rest is just bla bla bla, a continuous hum like the refrigerator. If she needs to pay attention, she’ll hear one of those special words or detect the jingle of her leash. Besides, she’s busy listening for cats, squirrels, bears and other invaders.

So, I talk to myself. People always say it’s okay as long as you don’t answer yourself. Well, I do answer myself. Right? Right.

I live alone. Maybe that’s part of it. In public, I usually keep my mouth shut. But sometimes, I forget, which causes people to stare at me.

What do I talk about? Everything. Why did my French toast turn out so badly Saturday night? Should have used better bread. What am I going to wear to church this morning? I don’t know. Black pants? Probably.

It’s a constant running commentary. Am I really addressing it to myself though? I wonder about this, just like when I write in my journal and wonder who I’m writing it for? Am I writing to myself? To God? To an invisible confidante?

I do talk to God sometimes. I pray, I chat. But it’s different. I stop and call His name and say what I’ve got to say, then return to regular programming.

I also talk a lot to people who aren’t actually here. Uh-oh, you’re thinking, she’s completely lost it. No, no. I think I’m okay, but I tell people things I wish I could tell them in person if they were here, if they would listen, or if I had the courage.

I’m a writer. I write down my thoughts all the time. I usually speak them as I write, which is a good reason not to write at Starbucks or the library. I’m just constantly verbalizing. Is this nuts? Or is this a good way to work things out in my head?

I found some discussion of the matter online.

  • In this NBC news report, the experts insist talking to oneself is not only normal but good for us—if we do it correctly. Who knew there was a right and a wrong way to talk to oneself?
  • “Talking to Yourself: A Sign of Sanity” by Linda Sapadin, Ph.D., says much the same. Talk to yourself, but watch what you say.
  • And this Lifehack piece insists that those of us who blab to ourselves are smarter and better off for doing it. Ha.
  • But this article on WikiHow gives instructions on how to stop talking to yourself. Now, that’s crazy.

Let’s get back to Annie for a minute. Do you think she talks to herself? Sometimes in the backyard, she barks and barks. I assume she’s either warning off marauding squirrels or trying to connect with the other dogs in the neighborhood, but what if she’s just talking to herself? Or barking because she likes the sound of her own voice? Annie, who are you talking to?

Right now, I’m talking to you, dear reader. Do you talk to yourself? Is it really yourself you’re addressing or someone else? Who? Or should it be whom? Either way, do you think this is a problem? Please comment.

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Dad update: Thank you all for your continuing concern about my father. He has made it through a whole week at the skilled nursing facility without a trip to the hospital. Fingers crossed. I’m back in Oregon and he’s still in the Bay Area, so our only contact is by phone—which kills me—but he sounds better than he has in ages. He still can’t get out of bed on his own, but he’s feeling better, which is something. He could use more visitors. Email or send me a private message on Facebook for details on where he is.

If You’re Going to Curse, Be Creative

Let’s talk about dirty words. I like them, you like them. We all know what they are. I’m going to try not to use them here. Much. I’m not talking about the “clean” dirty words like mud or dust or excrement, which the dictionary defines as “something that soils someone or something.” I’m talking about the real dirty words that start with A, B, F, P and S and the variations on religious words that shouldn’t be said the way some people say them. I’ve said them. I’ve said them all, but I’m trying to quit.

I’ve been a smut-mouth for years. Yes, I’ve mentioned it in Confession and gone out and cussed in the parking lot. But I’ve started paying attention to how it sounds. It’s ugly. Besides, I work at a church. So I’m trying to change my ways.

It’s difficult because the language is everywhere. In movies and on Internet TV shows like “The Ranch” or “Orange is the New Black,” it’s F this and A that and all the other words. The shows are good, but the words get in your head and come out your mouth. You start punctuating every sentence with the F word. Saying BS loud and proud or A-hole. OMG, did we say that out loud? The words slip out, and people stare, even when you say somewhat innocuous words like damn or hell or shit.

Some people think they get away with it by using cheater words, like darn, heck, jeez, sheesh, and dad gummit. Come on, we know what you really mean.

When I was growing up, my mother did not curse, but my dad’s dinner-table language was colorful. As he described his days on construction sites, he used the words. He also talked about dagos, wops, okies, etc. It was a different era.

My best friend’s mom didn’t curse either, but we’d hear her say, “Oh, suuuuuugar!” I grew up in an era when men cursed and nice ladies (except for my Aunt Gen) did not. At least not in public. As a young newspaper reporter, I covered meetings where the men would tell each other to watch their language because there was a lady present. But now everybody seems to use smutty language.

These days, I do my share of cussing, but I’m trying to be creative. I have a master’s degree in creative writing. Surely I can come up with something more original. One of my father’s favorites was “Son of a bitch!” It’s not that bad. A bitch is a mama dog. Nothing bad about a mama dog. It was more the tone, like violence was about to occur (not on people, thank God). “Son of a bitch” is a satisfying mouthful of words. But now I say things like “son of a burger,” “son of a bagel,” “son of a big foot (ew),” “son of a basketball”—sometimes I crack myself up and forget to be mad.

I found this great website that offers 101 substitutes for popular profanities. I’m gonna print these out and try some of them. I don’t think I can say “gee whiz” with a straight face, but “Oh, Foccacia?” That might work.

I grew up where blue language happened all the time. Around my father, I still feel free to say bullshit, hell, damn, asshole, etc. Not the F word or variations thereof; that seems to cross the line. But I’m used to at least the milder cusses.

I didn’t even realize what I was doing until I married a man with children, and he said, “Whoa, not in front of my kids.” What????

What is a dirty word anyway? What makes them dirty? We seem to like bathroom words related to urine, feces, or body parts in the lower regions. We use words about sex, not soft words like making love but hard words like F— or P—y. What makes these bad? Is it really the word or the intention behind it? What do you think?

I think we need to distinguish between vulgarities—the potty and sex words–and the religious words. The Second Commandment tells us not to take God’s name in vain, but our society is so full of it. People say, “God!” all the time. “Oh my God!” “Oh. My. God.” “OMG.” They’re not actually talking to the creator; it’s just words.

Seems like if we’re going to call the All-powerful’s name, we’d better be looking for Him to answer. In times when something major happens, I have said, “Oh my God,” but at that moment, I am looking to connect with Him. I need his help.

When people say, “Jesus Christ!” as an exclamation, it bothers me, especially when they’re not even Christians. Then there’s “Damn it” and its variations. What gives us the right to send people to hell? Only God can do that.

Maybe you don’t believe in God. Fine. Then why are you using His name?

At the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference in March, I attended a panel titled “How to Curse on the Page and Get Away with It.” Like most writers, I am wary of getting too blue in my writing for fear of offending people. Sometimes I put the word in, then get nervous and take it out. And yet I want to be authentic. Real people do curse.

The panelists focused on the book On Cussing: Bad Words and Creative Cursing by the late Katherine Dunn (who also wrote Geek Love). While On Cussing includes a history of cursing, it also looks at how writers create characters. What those characters (and people in real life) say tells us a lot about them, about their backgrounds, their attitudes, and their personalities. Language can be used to heighten the tension in a story, saving the profanity until it just has to come out. If the character who never says a dirty word suddenly blurts, “Shit!” you know he’s really upset.

Just like when my very religious mom would shout, “Damn it to hell!” We knew to get out of the way because she was really pissed. Is pissed a dirty word? Oh suuuugar. I’m trying.

Check out this “Cursing Without Cursing” youtube video.

And here is a story about times when cursing is good for you. 

Where do you stand on language? Do you enjoy a good vulgarity or get offended when people use language that used to get our mouths washed out with soap? I welcome your comments.

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Thank you all for your kind words and prayers for me and my father. (See last week’s post). As of this moment, Dad is back at the skilled nursing facility in Los Gatos, California, doing quite well. He’s 97, so nothing is guaranteed, but we do have a moment to breathe and enjoy each other.

Dad’s woes lead me back to San Jose

Dad 43018BRemember those annoying commercials that show an older person on the floor saying, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up?” As kids, we used to make fun of them, but it’s not so funny in real life.

My father, whose 97th birthday is May 1, had been complaining of pain in his back and legs and of feeling more and more tired. On March 29, he had gone to the emergency department at Kaiser Hospital in Santa Clara, California seeking relief. They gave him extra-strength Tylenol and sent him home. He continued hurting. My brother suggested I come down from Oregon to help.

I thought I would only be gone a few days, but when I arrived at noon on April 3, I found my father in bed, unable to get up. He had run out of steam the afternoon before and had lain there ever since hoping someone would come. He was hungry, thirsty and soaked with urine. It hurt too much to sit up or roll over. I knew in that moment that all my plans for the month were meaningless. I needed to be in San Jose with Dad.

And so it began. I called 911. Paramedics and firefighters gathered in my parents’ bedroom of 70 years and carried my father to Kaiser Hospital. I followed. Part of me was still on the road driving south from Oregon, but now I faced Silicon Valley traffic, a jammed Kaiser parking lot and an emergency department that would become all too familiar.

As of this morning, my father has had five trips to the emergency department, seven ambulance rides, 12 days in the hospital, and five days in a skilled nursing facility, preceded by nine days of me taking care of him at home. We lived in that bedroom with its flowered wallpaper, Mom’s dresser still decorated as it was when she died in 2002, and the silver crucifix hanging over my father’s head. I fed him, cleaned him, and sat into the wee hours talking with him about the old days. But his condition wasn’t getting any better. On Friday, April 12, the pain got so intense he begged me to do something. I called the paramedics again.

The goal all along has been to get Dad out of bed and back to walking with his walker. The doctors—so many doctors—have not figured out the cause of his leg pain. Both legs and one hip have been broken, but he was getting along all right, until he wasn’t. After 13 hours in the ER that Friday, he was transported by ambulance to a skilled nursing facility (SNF) in Los Gatos.

After two days at the SNF, stomach problems led them to send him back to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with an inflamed gallbladder. Because of his age and condition, the doctors refused to do surgery. They gave him antibiotics and installed a tube to drain the bile out of his gallbladder. Soon they were also watching problems with his kidneys and liver and monitoring a cough for fear it would turn into pneumonia. Doctors and social workers kept taking me aside to ask what I wanted to do if it looked like he was dying. They didn’t trust his advanced directive, which says he wants them to do everything possible to keep him alive.

Last Tuesday, Dad was discharged from the hospital back to the SNF. I left for home on Thursday. That night, someone from the SNF woke me up to say they were quarantining dad and testing him for a gastrointestinal infection. By then I was closer to South Beach than to San Jose. I needed to catch up on my bills and see Annie for at least a little while, so I drove on. Saturday morning, they called to say he had tested positive for a very contagious infection called c.diff, and they were sending him back to Kaiser. That’s where he is now. As of yesterday, he seemed to be getting better.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had never called 911. Might he have just passed away in peace? He had no gallbladder symptoms. Some of his pain might have been related to the gallbladder, but not all. Might it have eased on its own? It’s hard to tell. He still can’t get out of bed. Every time he starts physical therapy, something happens to interrupt his progress.

I missed four weeks of this blog. I missed a lot of things, including Easter, the biggest event of the year for church musicians. I missed winter turning to spring here on the Oregon Coast. The trees that were bare when I left are all fluffed out with green leaves now, and the azaleas I thought were dead have begun to bloom. I missed a month of events I’d been looking forward to. I missed my haircut appointment. I traded walks in the woods for walks down the long halls of Kaiser Hospital.

I broke my toe, running into Dad’s walker in the dark, and got a cracked windshield on the Honda, which now has over 122,000 miles on it. A rock hit it on I-5.

It wasn’t all bad. It was warm and sunny in Santa Clara. I spent time with my family. Although I received 11 rejections for my poetry and essays while I was gone, I got one poem accepted and was offered a contract to publish my chapbook. I was in my father’s hospital room when the latter email came through. I’m not sure he understood what I was excited about, but it’s a very good thing.

As the weeks ticked away and every time I thought I could come home, something else went wrong, I knew I was where I was supposed to be, that this time with my father was precious. Life in Oregon would go on without me and I could catch up later.

I will probably have to go back to California soon. The phone will ring again. My father is old, and one problem leads to another. But he’s tough. Don’t count him out yet.

I am grateful for my brother Mike and Aunt Suzanne helping to share the burden. I am grateful for Fran, who came out of retirement to handle the music at Sacred Heart while I was gone, and my singers who carried on. I am grateful for my friend Pat, who gathered my mail and watered my plants, and my neighbor Pat, who gave Annie food and love, mowed my lawns, and generally kept watch over my home. I am grateful for the many, many people who have been praying and offering love on social media. It truly helps.

Before all this happened, I was feeling stuck in my writing, my life, and my faith. Not anymore. God is good, and I am blessed, no matter what craziness happens next. Boy, do I have a lot to write about now.