Surrendering to "The Man"

Actually it’s the woman, but it doesn’t matter. What am I blathering about? I had my followup meeting with the Medicaid lady, the meeting where we were supposed to get things started so the government pays my husband’s nursing home bills and I don’t get to live off his income anymore. I was nervous enough going in. It was a lot like Confession, where you sit outside this little room, going over your sins in your mind, trying to remember the words to the Act of Contrition and then you’re alone with the priest in this spooky little room laying bare every bad act you ever did.

In this case, I laid out our financial life and what I have done with our money since I met with the other lady in an even smaller room last summer. She had barked at me, made me sign papers and sent me away, telling me to call back when I had “spent down” my excess money. So now the money was gone, and I was back with a new lady, the original one having gone on extended medical leave. No one is saying why.

The new lady was tired, and not interested in anything I had to say. She just kept calling for papers. To most of my questions, she answered either “I don’t know” or “I don’t care.” She scolded me for spending more than I needed to. Apparently the first lady misinformed me. Great. I wept a little at that point. Of course I didn’t have every paper she wanted. If someone had just provided a list ahead of time, I would have had them. My marrige license? The original papers my husband signed when he retired 17 years ago? His health insurance cards? And why did no one tell me that the bank account with Fred’s name on it must not have more than $2,000 in it?

We’ll be needing something called an “income cap trust,” which means Fred’s income goes into a special bank account from which his bills are paid (good) and I get what some authority determines is enough for bare-bones survival, basically the house and utilities, not counting cable TV or Internet connections.(bad) “Do I get some money for food?” I asked. “I don’t know,” she said, shuffling my papers. “What about my car payment and my student loan?” “I don’t care about that.” Well, my creditors certainly do.

Don’t tell me to get a job. I have several, none of which pay much. They didn’t need to until now. I’m looking for ways to ramp up my income. The really hard part is that what I make will be subtracted from the money Medicaid gives me, so the total will remain far from enough to live on.

I signed some papers and left with the words “I don’t know” and “I don’t care” echoing in my ears. I cried all the way home, taking the long way along the Bay Road. The Yaquina River rolled glorious, wide and bottle green beneath the foothills. I had to fight the impulse to drive my car right off the edge into the river and become my family’s third suicide.

After seriously considering two other options: paying for Fred myself until I went broke or somebody died; or divorcing him, immediately losing my husband, my heath insurance and the pittance I was going to get. Eventually I calmed down and surrendered to what must be. Things WILL work out. But I sure wish the staff at Senior Services could be compassionate, eager to help, and know more about the system than I do.

On the happy side, after two weeks of being doomed to Fred’s old office with the plug-in DSL connection because my wireless hookup didn’t work, the phone company guy came out five days earlier than scheduled. He was cute, caring, and got me back into my own office without charging a cent. Why can’t everyone be like that?

If your life is making you crazy, too, try a technique I learned at yoga class this week. It’s great for clearing the bad stuff out of your head. Sit comfortably, put your thumbs and forefingers together, use the other fingers to block your ears by closing the little flaps, close your eyes, then inhale deeply and hum as you slowly let out your breath. Do this five times, and things will look a lot better. Thanks to Sue Humes, the best yoga teacher ever.


All mixed up

Yesterday on the way to visit my husband, I took a break by the Willamette River at a little park near Albany. It was a warm day with soft clouds warning of the rain to come. I found a flat rock at the edge of the river and stared out at the green water. It looked so clear and soothing I wanted to dive in, but the sign said “no swimming.” I forced myself to sit still for awhile and simply look.

I had been fighting a headache all morning, my psyche all squinched up with worries about Fred, money, home repairs, upcoming deadlines, my overwhelming dogs, winter on the way. Too much, too much. I needed to relax before I walked into the nursing home.

So I stared at the water. Such a soft, easy current rolling past, lapping at my feet. Quiet. Out of nowhere, a bird rose up, crossed the river and disappeared into the trees. I saw flashes of black and white, heard a song I didn’t recognize. Magpie? Perhaps. A few minutes later, the roar of a motorboat broke the stillness, rousting a giant bird. At first I thought it was a great blue heron, but it wasn’t blue; its feathers were purplish black. It flew north up the river right past me, its neck stuck out straight, its wings slowly flapping and gliding. A duck. It slowly flew into the pines, leaving me on my rock in the midday silence.

At that point, I decided to move to the Valley, where I could visit the river often and be closer to Fred and potential work. I could rent out my big coastal house and find someplace small in Corvallis or Albany. I would have to give up my dogs, but perhaps that was the logical thing to do. Later, when I looked through the local paper and found two reporter job openings, I thought it was all meant to be. I would start fresh in the Valley.

But back here on the coast this morning, I’m not so sure. Last night I got another music gig and this morning, I have another potential editing job. Would I be giving up too soon? Should I keep freelancing or go for the job, stay here or move east? Is God just toying with me?

Last night I heard the sweet autumn rain washing the dust off the leaves, nourishing the browning lawns. I snuggled deep into my covers and dreamed myself into another world.


“Pick a spot on the wall and focus your eyes on that. Now take a deep breath and hold it as long as you can. Let it out. Another deep breath . . . ” I’m staring at the corner where the white ceiling and tan walls come together. I’m wondering if I really can relax today. Last time, my eyes got heavy and closed within a few breaths, but today, my second time, it takes longer. I’m aware of a siren in the street, of the therapist’s dog scratching at the door. I’m not sure I’m ready when Reatha tells me to picture myself going down a stairway or a mountainside as she counts from 10 to 1. I choose a ladder because I’m always afraid of falling and so relieved when my feet touch the ground.

Reatha asks me to go someplace where I feel safe. “Where is that?” she asks. I tell her I’m on the lawn in my back yard. It is sunny. I smell grass and pine trees. I hear the ocean and a soft breeze tickling the wind chimes. She has me select my favorite fruit. Today I choose an apricot. “Can you taste it?” I can.

“Do you want to invite God to join you?” Last time, I began to cry at this point, but now I just say, “Yes.” She asks me to touch my thumb and forefinger together. Whenever I feel uncomfortable, I can repeat this gesture and go back to my safe place. I’m a little dubious, but I do it.

Now she introduces me to my “wise woman.” I met her before and was surprised to realize later that the woman I was picturing was Tess from “Touched by an Angel.” How crazy is that? The first time, my wise woman told me, “You don’t have to do everything” and it was so comforting. This time, she’s just there, wrapping me in a blue blanket.

Now, Reatha says, we are going to get to work. I’m not going to share much about that. It’s too personal, but it involves saying things to people that I cannot say in real life and telling things to myself that I have not admitted or realized. She introduces me to the little girl I was at age 4 or 5. Gosh, she was cute, and she’s still with me. She makes me smile. With my little girl, as well as my wise woman and God, how could I be lonely?

After many questions, answers and tears, Reatha counts me back into the room. With each number, I become more aware and she tells that at “1”, I will open my eyes and feel relaxed and refreshed. I do.

Unlike the old stage acts where hypnotists wave watches or pendants in front of people’s eyes and make them do ridiculous things that they don’t remember afterward, I am always aware of what’s going on and I remember it all later. I always know I can stop the session at any time. But I don’t because it’s helping. There are magic healing powers in our own subconscious minds.

And that’s the story of my hypnosis. Now if I could just hypnotize my dogs . . . “You will wake up and never jump the fence again . . . “

The Dog Who Walks in Circles

Last week I said I was going to tell you about THE FALL. The fall doesn’t seem so important now that the bruises are fading, but a promise is a promise.

Feeling trapped in the office on a beautiful day (unlike today’s permanent cloud cover), I had taken some work with me to Lost Creek State Park. Sitting on a bench overlooking the ocean, I watched couples and teens and kids in bathing suits and tons of dogs enjoying the beach and thought phooey, I’m going home, put on my shorts, get me a dog and go play in the water. Uh, yeah.

It was Chico’s turn. He’s the black dog, the bigger one who sits on the passenger seat and keeps setting off the seat belt alarm because he’s so heavy. With a little hand-to-paw fighting and one dashed toe on a paving stone, I got his sister Annie outside and Chico in the car. I decided to try South Beach, which is bigger and might be less crowded.

Well, Chico is the sweetest dog in the world, but in unfamiliar places, he walks in curlicues instead of a straight line and the word “heel” loses all meaning. When we reached the surfline, the water was MOVING, and he panicked. As he tried to bolt inland, I tripped over his long legs and went flying, landing hard on the packed sand. Ow! Right away, of course, I thought, broken hip. But no, despite my aging bones, my hip was okay. It took a little longer to decide whether my calf was intact. Red and sore, it throbbed, and I decided not to move for a while. It amazes me that people can see someone my age go flying and not come over to see if I’m all right, but no one did. I just sat there with my butt in the wet sand, holding Chico with my right hand, probing my left leg with my left hand. I decided I was probably just bruised.

Eventually I pulled myself up and walked a little ways, letting the water splash on my bare leg as Chico continued to walk in curlicues, stepping into the water when it stood still, pulling away with every little wavelet. Pretty soon I let him drag me onto the dry sand, where I sat with my arms around him for a while, and then we went home. I had a whopper of a bruise, which is just now fading away, and I have decided not to take Chico to the beach for a while.

Eight hundred writers in one place

I have so much going on lately that I have trouble with simple questions such as “How are you?” or “What’s new?” So, do you want to hear about the writers’ conference, my big fall, or my first experience with hypnosis? That’s the thing about blogs. As a professional writer, I naturally want to build interest in my writing and publicize my latest endeavors. (Did I mention my cover story in the new SeaPort Magazine? Or that I’m working on a book on childless women? Or that my husband has Alzheimer’s and I have lots of article ideas about that?)

Okay, the conference. Almost every year, I attend the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland. For the last few years, I have been the board member representing the Oregon Coast branch, so I need to show up. I have been going to writers’ conferences since 1973, when I got out of my VW Bug, saw the other attendees and thought “They’re all so old.” Well, now I fit in. WW approximately 800 writers and wannabe writers into the Portland Airport Sheraton from Thursday night through Sunday afternoon, name tags swinging from lanyards around their necks. In addition to lots of workshops and guest speakers, the big attraction at WW is the opportunity to pitch one’s books to agents and editors.

So much emphasis has gone into marketing these days. Everyone is talking pitch, platform, market, audience, etc. I know how important these things are, but oh, for the good old days when we just worked on crafting a good story or poem. I didn’t pitch this time. I took some workshops and skipped others to stay in my room working on my book. The Sheraton is a great place to work. I can spread my papers out on that beautiful mahogany desk with minimal distractions and just think and make notes and write. I don’t have to worry about the dogs,the dishes or even making my bed. I dealt with notes that have been gathering dust since 1999.

The workshops I took were good, too. My favorite was the two-session class from William Powers, who has turned his adventures in foreign lands into books and articles in places like the New York Times and the Washington Post. He also shares his words on National Public Radio. He really got the creative juices flowing and made us promise to get our queries written and sent within the next two weeks. He shared plenty of marketing information, but he also told personal stories and talked about writing from the heart. If you ever have a chance to read his work or take a class from him, do it.

Another favorite part of the conference was Chelsea Cain’s keynote speech at the banquet. (I loved the chocolate cheesecake, too). Cain wrote a column for the Oregonian for years, but now she has gone into writing thrillers and went from being pregnant and two weeks away from having to beg for rent money to a million dollar-plus book deal with her novel Heartsick. She’s funny and inspiring and beautiful. I’m so jealous, but so inspired.

The next WW conference is already being planned for the first weekend in August 2010. But there are lots of other conferences. Look for the one that fits your needs, and if you can afford a little time for information and inspiration, go.

Gosh, now there’s no room left to write about falling or hypnosis. Stay tuned.

That’s Where They Went!

My black dog Chico’s tags were gone, just gone. All four had disappeared. It had only been a week or so since I replaced them, but now, instead of jingling, he walked in silence. After a diligent search of the yard, I gave up and wrote his name and phone number on his actual collar. He had jumped the fence a day earlier, so I figured the tags were lost in the forest, never to be found again.

Surprise. Returning from the Willamette Writer’s Conference yesterday to two excited dogs and mountains of poo, I started cleaning up the yard and discovered something shiny sticking out of the uh, stuff. Oh my gosh, his rabies tag. In another pile, his license. In yet another, his microchip tag. Annie, Chico’s tan sister, ate them! What a stomach that dog has. She not only ate them, but digested and excreted them. Wearing plastic gloves, I washed off the poo and analyzed what was left. The license has lost all its color, and the microchip tag is illegible, but the rabies tag looks nice and clean now. All we’re missing is Chico’s name tag.

The question is: Should I bother putting the tags back on? Annie goes straight for them every time they wrestle, which is all day long. The last time Chico lost his license, a spokesman from animal control told me it wasn’t necessary to wear the tag as long as his license information was on file. Ideas?

Meanwhile, Annie has all her tags because Chico isn’t into eating non-food items. He’s into running and jumping. Oh, and he did break open the zipper on the big green cushion of the only chair I let them sit on. While Annie was soaking up affection in my office, Chico was quietly shredding yellow pieces of foam rubber in the living room. Arrgh.

People keep telling me they’ll mature. If they live another week, they’ll be 18 months old. Meanwhile, it’s like having two kids in the terrible twos. They are so sweet when they’re sleeping.

Finding Independence

I missed my turn the other day on my way from a doctor’s appointment in Corvallis to Fred’s place in Albany, but it turned out well. Shortly after I decided I was about to end up in Portland if I kept going, I turned east and discovered Independence, Oregon. What a great place. It’s farm country, with signs advertising blueberries, peaches, and raspberries, with furrowed fields of squash, corn, hay and perhaps hops. Googling the town’s history, I find this town of 7,905 souls was once the hops capital of the world. It’s beautiful, and they’ve got beer; what a place.

Located 10 miles southwest of Salem on the west bank of the Willamette River, it was first settled by Oregon Trail travelers in June 1845. They named it Independence after the Missouri town where many of them had started their journey. Over the years, it’s had its ups and downs. A flood in 1861 devastated the town, but the people rebuilt on higher ground, and many of the wonderful old buildings there now date back to the 1880s. New highways took traffic away from Independence, but that allowed it to keep its quiet, old-time feeling.

Independence has preserved its . . . well, its independence. It’s got all the amenities of a great small town, libraries, parks, an outdoor amphitheater, stores, banks and all that. It’s close to Salem, only an hour from Portland. Yet it looks like a small country town, much like my native Santa Clara Valley looked before the electronics industry turned it from the Valley of Heart’s Delight to Silicon Valley.

Driving down the old Corvallis Road, I passed vast fields being watered by giant sprinklers on wheels, horses, cows, the Hilltop Cemetery and even a housing subdivision named “Green Acres.” I wonder what houses cost there. I plan to go back with my camera, but this time I won’t be lost.