Lyrics & Dirges at Pegasus Bookstore Downtown Berkeley on Wednesday 1/16/19

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Photo by Heather McKeen on Pexels.com

My first reading of 2019 in one of my favorite series, Lyrics & Dirges, hosted and co-founded by Supreme Poetess Sharon Coleman. (Co-founder Mk Chavez is stirring up magic elsewhere this week.)

Lyrics&Dirges
Wednesday, January 16, 2019
7:30 pm
Pegasus Books Downtown
2349 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, California 94704
(510) 649-1320
Pegasus Books Downtown Berkeley

The Writers who will read:

Joyce E. Young
Sara Mumolo
Joseph Lease
Kimi Sugioka
Mia Ruiz

You won’t want to miss us – words, snacks, and books for sale. My poetry book “How it Happens”  will be available for your purchasing pleasure. Or, you can purchase it here

And did I mention there’s a bookstore cat who loves poetry and books? Well then, of course you must come!

 

Authors, Readers and Books

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The People’s Republic of Berkeley, my current home, is such a hodge-podge and mix-mash of people. I went to the Bay Area Book Festival this weekend and mingled in that hodge-podge and mix mash of people. And I heard authors of different genres, backgrounds, ages, geographical locations talk about their work and about writing in the context of a theme for each session. The sessions I attended were:

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz author of “Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment” interviewed by T. J. Stiles – history and statistics on gun culture in America that were not entirely surprising, but still…damn. Here’s one: 1/3 of U. S. households have guns, yet there are 300 million guns owned privately in the country, so most of these households contain multiple guns as the U. S. population is about 300 million. Today a gun owner owns “an average of eight guns” according to Dunbar-Ortiz. This number is up from 112 million in the early 1970’s. Whaaat?

Robert Reich and guests in a panel discussion titled: “Income Inequality: A World Gone Mad, Mean and Immoral.” I won’t report back on that one as many are familiar with Reich’s videos do an excellent job of illustrating the not-normal that exists with the American almighty dollar(s).

Melissa de la Cruz, author of YA fantasy, History and Modern Life (also a former writer of the social lives of celebrity elite in New York for major magazines –glossies) interviewed by Jessica Lee. The woman is a highly imaginative, focused and prolific writer with a great sense of humor. Her output of books is stunning and she is still quite young. I loved it that she began writing one of her series of books because she missed New York. So, she created and wrote books about young society vampires. Isn’t that what you would do? Hmmm….I’m originally from Brooklyn, maybe I ought to think about an angle….(smile) Here is a link to Melissa’s web page: http://melissa-delacruz.com/ Her latest YA novel, a sequel titled “Love and War” continues the story of the love between Eliza and Alexander Hamilton.

Lidia Yuknavitch “On Fearlessness, Truth, and Misfits” was interviewed by Daphne Gottlieb. I loved Lidia’s discussion of connecting with her audience without a need to provide graphic descriptions of violent behavior and instances of sexual connections between characters. She goes for the emotional connection. I understood what she was talking about and I also know how difficult that is to do. I’m looking forward to doing more reading of her work. So far, I’ve only read essays, so I have a lot to choose from with her speculative fiction “The Book of Joan,” memoir “The Chronology of Water,” and novels “The Small Backs of Children” and “Dora: A Headcase.” Her most recent book is “The Misfit’s Manifesto.” I’m most interested in speculative fiction these days, so “The Book of Joan” it will most likely be.

Today’s panel was the most powerful session for me and seemed to touch the rest of the audience in the same way. Authors Margaret Wilkerson Sexton (A Kind of Freedom), Rodrigo Hasbún (Affections) and Madeleine Thien (Do not Say We Have Nothing )  were moderated by reviewer Mal Warwick in a panel titled: “Resist: Unlocking the Political Power of the Novel.” The authors’ answers to Mal’s questions were surprising, nuanced, thoughtful and interesting. By the way, Thien’s Tumblr for her novel is fantastic: http://donotsaywehavenothing.tumblr.com/

Margaret, Rodrigo and Maddie’s answers went deep and made me think about a lot of things personal/political as well as the inherent truth that the personal and the political are radically intertwined and that some of us are more aware of this than others. And at the same time, I think that in America many more have become aware of this truth or this living something. I still don’t know what to call it because it isn’t a thing, I don’t really think the word “fact” captures the reality, but it just is and there really isn’t a separation involved unless one is in extreme denial. And some are.

Added to the festival, I listened to an On Being podcast with Buddhist monk and writer Angel Kyodo Williams with host Krista Tippett yesterday, which I found riveting. Williams talked about being optimistic (herself) because all it would take would be a mass of people to do the inner work that would change individual and collective consciousness and shift inner and thus our outer reality. Here’s a link to the webpage for the podcast series: https://onbeing.org/

After taking all of these discussions in, I began to think about what makes something meaningful. I think that what is meaningful does not bloom and flower and grow with analysis. It just is. What is meaningful just is. And dissection, analysis and all of that stuff aren’t really necessary and is just a mental exercise designed to distract me and Lord knows whom else. And too much of it kills the spirit.

There is so much that is meaningful just because it is. Meaningful like call and response, like singing “Ain’t Gonna Let Anybody Turn Me Around” as loud as I can in the car as I drive to work, James Brown singing “Get on the Good Foot,” that moment when Aretha threw her fur coat off her shoulders while singing Natural Woman at the Kennedy Center Honors for Carole King, The Stylistics singing “Betcha By Golly Wow,” and Sam Cooke singing “A Change is Gonna Come.” And hip shakin’ and singin’ along to (y)our own rhythms with no interference.

Not sure what brought this on, but I think it was listening to writers talk bout the work of writing, the work of living. The work is inextricably connected and all part of the one to many of us who write.

How can I separate myself from my writing, from the act of writing? I can’t, writing is part of my life, part of me and has been for a very long time. I am glad that so many younger writers are as invested in writing as I and those of my generation have been. I’m glad that they feel the urgency to give their voices wings. The work continues, the voices rise, the circle opens and new voices enter the choir. Good. Deep gratitude for this cycle that continues.

 

Conversation

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I am not sure whether I have been having a conversation with life or with death of late. Perhaps it’s the same conversation and it doesn’t matter as the two are so intricately intertwined. We can’t know one without eventually experiencing the other.

I took a walk through a local cemetery a few days ago. This might sound maudlin, but it wasn’t that type of experience for me at all. This particular cemetery is a beautifully laid out park in which many have been laid to rest. There are paved as well as gravel lined paths and wide roads on which to walk. There is also a pond and several live fountains. I also found a veterans memorial sculpture that had been erected and etched within the past decade.  In this green space one can find local history laid out through the names on headstones, section names and the annual tulip show, winter holiday light show and other displays. There are runners, dog walkers, nannies with strollers and in the completely green lawns; one person was stretched out in the sun. On the steps of one of the mausoleums, one person was using his laptop while sitting in partial sunlight.

My mom’s transition was the most recent; my dad died a little over 15 years ago. I felt as if something had been wrenched from my guts when he died. It was an unexpected reaction as we’d struggled and disagreed with each other about many things for years. And yet, there were periods of no struggle at all. As a friend once pointed out, we were two generations apart. My father was 42 when I was born and I was his first child. He had been born in 1911 in Alabama. That statement and the truth it reveals holds much weight. When I was able to hear my friend and look at the disagreements from an inter-generational perspective, it made sense that our ways of seeing the world and especially the roles of women in the world were so different and filled with tension. That didn’t make me stop disagreeing with him, but it did provide me with eventual understanding and a softening toward myself and toward my father. Neither one of us could see things very differently because the world that had shaped our development had changed in some ways while I now think it had stood still in other ways, ways that had to do with race and gender. I wonder what my father would say now about the world, or at least this country that we both have called home. Damn.

What happens to one when one has crossed a threshold with the knowledge that there is no turning back even if the desire arises? I am not the same person I was one year ago or two, or more. And at the same time my values have not changed greatly.

When I look in the mirror, I see someone I want to spend time with. And as a writer who has been in it for the long haul, that is a good thing. I know who I am and I like her lots. I don’t want to turn back.

Today is Easter, April Fool’s Day and the first day of National Poetry Month. What a convergence. Should I write a trick poem? Or invoke the Easter Bunny? Or write about the the Phoenix who burned to death and later rose from her ashes? I’m thinking of trying the poem a day for 30 days challenge this month, just for myself, since poetry unearths deep roots for me. I feel the need to reconnect with deep roots these days. And the quiet within the poetry well welcomes me to those roots.

These are some of the tidbits I’ve been gathering on paper and in my head of late. I’m not planning on tying everything together in an essay form. I’m just going to plant seeds and share some of them. This gives me the freedom to write essays or poems or genre-bending thingies as they arise. Good luck to me (smile).

And thank you very much to author Leslieann Hobayan for the inspiration to break free. Her “Deep Thoughts” have helped me to not hold back with my snippets for this week and to get back into the mix. I’m glad to be back.

 

The Break up

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You have a favorite television show, a show you’ve been watching religiously for almost two seasons. But lately something has changed and it doesn’t seem to be a change for the better. So you begin to question the events and the characters against reality, and it becomes difficult for you to suspend disbelief.
All of the frenzied action and jump cuts don’t mean that the writers have improved the narrative. It does mean that there is a frantic grasping for your attention in progress. All of this activity can be compared to frantic break-up prevention tactics that arise even though it’s been clear to both parties for months that the relationship really isn’t in good shape and may not last much longer. More plot twists don’t necessarily make the narrative stronger in this situation, either.

When you tune in this evening, you begin to feel dizzy. You can’t keep up. What is happening with these people? Why is Wanda all of a sudden at the airport waiting for a plane to Sioux Falls? Who goes to Sioux Falls, anyway? What happened to James? Why isn’t he with her? He was in a car accident on the way to the airport? His ex, Jeanine, is one of the EMT’s whose ambulance, with suspicious synchronicity arrives at the scene of the accident? What?

You begin to dislike Wanda for going to Sioux Falls and of course James for not being with her. You don’t find their erratic behavior compelling. And those other characters aren’t looking like they’re doing such a great job of being foils to Wanda and James, either.

You wonder why Jeanine is wearing a nearly sheer low cut blouse instead of her EMT uniform and why her hemline seems so high. After all, she has just jumped out of an ambulance and sprung into action. Why is she wearing a skirt, anyway? She’s an EMT and who cares if the skirt is dark blue and the blouse compliments her skin tone. Something is very wrong with this picture.

What did you see in James in the first place and why did you think he was so fine? What did Wanda see in him? And when you think about it, they really don’t look that good together. You begin to question what you saw in them as a couple.

You wonder what you saw in this show in the first place and think you may have been wasting too many of your evenings watching it. After all, you could have been reading a book, watching that film you’d been meaning to see, the one that your friends keep telling you is so good; or writing your own damn screenplay.

Hell, you can write better than these drama-addicted writers who expect you to be addicted to drama too. After all, you really do hate to waste your time and these writers and their writing have begun to waste your time. So you turn off the television, open your notebook, grab your pen, and write.

Bullet Journal Anxiety

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My feeling anxious today arose out of my experiment with the bullet journal I started creating a few weeks ago. I have had the journal itself for about a month and have been more seriously considering starting one for the past 6 months. What drew me to the concept and practice was that it is analog and all of my “to do’s” “maybe do’s” “done’s” “future possibilities” and other stuff could be written and later found in one place and indexed for easy finding. Wow, I thought, this would really get rid of all of the To Do lists I create and leave in strategic places around the house, like the kitchen table, on my desk between layers of stacked paper, next to my track pad, on the bedside table, on the mini white board on the fridge, in folders, in random pages of books, in my jacket pockets, in tote bags, in my computer case. Consolidation sounded like the possibility of reaching nirvana in this lifetime.

What I didn’t bargain for was my perfectionism showing up and almost derailing my efforts. All of those beautiful, artistic, colorful photos of bullet journals on Pinterest and Instagram and on the bullet journal web page, plus my writer friend’s beautiful journals invited me to the process. But once I opened my journal-to-be and began to sit with blank pages, those same photos and examples shamed me. It would be more honest of me to say that I shamed myself with those examples. I worried about my handwriting and what it looks like on the page. My writing is big and the dots on the page suggested space for smaller letters. I am not a visual artist and the thought of pages filled with words and no graphic images had me worried. I worried about messing up the index by making mistakes and not being able to erase them as they were written in ink and not pencil. And I began to feel like all I was doing was making a lot of “To Do” lists in a book that could look a lot prettier and creative. The lists were making me feel as if I was unable to get anything done and that more and more things were being added each day to make longer and longer lists.

These thoughts swirled around with the images of what looked like perfect bullet journals and I felt insecure and unskilled in creating a journal that was actually designed to be flexible. There is a basic framework that includes a few sections, and symbols that one can use to track entries, but beyond that and even within that, what the journal looks like is up to the owner-creator. The reference guide even suggests leaving extra pages for the basic sections one creates, because one can’t know how much room one needs for a given day, month, gratitude page, list of ideas, or submission log.

And then I gave myself permission to not hide my mistakes. I wrote the wrong page number in the index, and instead of looking for White Out I crossed it out. I decided to change the title of the page I created to track my writing submissions, from “Submission Goals,” to “Submission Log.” That meant that I had to cross out the word “Goals” and write the word “Log” beneath it because there was no more room on the page. The fact that I changed my mind is written in ink and there it will stay in the form of a crossed out word at the top of the page.

I thought that creating a bullet journal would help me to gather the parts of my life that I juggle and move them from post-its and scratch paper to a book in which I could write them with the colored pens and pencils that I enjoy using. That is a work in progress and I have noticed that there are very few scraps of paper sitting around on my desk and kitchen table these days. I only use those scraps when there is something that really needs my attention immediately and I write the words in a really bright color. Those scraps get recycled pretty quickly, within a day or so, once the task has been handled. What the “bujo” is really helping me to do is to be more flexible with myself and not worry so much that I am making mistakes and that they are showing. I’m beginning to see opportunities for different types of pages (or “collections,” as they’re called in bullet journalese) that will take some of what is going on my daily logs and place them elsewhere, like “submissions” or “ideas” or “tech stuff” or things I haven’t come up with yet. That might help with the lists that are making me feel weighed down and like I’ll never get through the demands of my life. We’ll see.

I’m beginning to feel less anxiety and ease a little more into crossing things out and solving the challenge of allowing myself enough space to make the journal mine. And I’m giving myself permission to treat this as an exploration, an experiment to see whether this bullet journal system or framework can turn out to be something that will truly work for me. If it turns out that it isn’t for me, I can let go of it. I can cross it out and try something else that will truly work for me.

For more information about the Bullet Journal http://bulletjournal.com/

 

 

 

 

 

Gatekeepers

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There have been a series of armed robberies in my district and in the city overall. In one effort to address the problem, our mayor, city council member, a BART representative and a police officer recently collaborated with residents and local business owners to hold a town hall meeting. Three of them are men of color and one is a woman of color, which is a first for the 23 plus years during which I’ve lived here.

 

Although I thought the effort was a good thing, I hesitated to attend due to the gate-keeping and profiling that are often expressed at neighborhood meetings. I just didn’t want to have to deal with that behavior on a sunny Saturday afternoon. I did not want to have to work that hard.

 

Despite the fact that I have lived in my current neighborhood for over 23 years, I encounter what I call gate-keeping and profiling far too often by some of my neighbors who think they are being vigilant, I guess, or something like that. The truth is, I don’t know what they think they are doing when they do or say these things that, to me, are ludicrous. I’ve come to the conclusion that they do not think at all. And after my most recent experience with the phenomena, I believe that the behavior is so ingrained in some psyches that it has become a knee jerk reaction.

 

If I hid out in my home and just drove to and from work, I wouldn’t be visible in the neighborhood streets and I might not think that this gate-keeping was strange. I would just consider it more of the same unpleasantness that I have encountered as a black person living in America. However, I do a lot of walking through my neighborhood on a regular basis and have been doing this for years. One would think that this would make me quite visible. A tall black woman with what is now a salt and pepper Afro, long legs and an energetic stride is someone to notice. I’m energetic and I move pretty fast. As the following lines from my poem How it Happens state,

 

What do they see when they look at me?

A dark, amorphous predator?

My pocketed hand grasping a gun?

 

My breasts want to walk

from block to block,

Iris to Eucalyptus,

welcome to rest my thoughts,

in a garden, on a corner.

 

At the end of the neighborhood town hall meeting I met a neighbor I’ll call “Sharon” (not her real name). As I was signing the sign in sheet that was being passed around, I sat down in an empty seat at a table. Sharon happened to be sitting at that table. She asked me whether I lived in the neighborhood. This is a good example of basic gatekeeper behavior. Ask a question of a perfect stranger that focuses on the concept of belonging. Sharon evidently felt that it was her job to question me because I might have wandered into a 2-hour neighborhood meeting on a sunny Saturday afternoon and boldly sat down at a table and written my contact information on a sign-in sheet when I wasn’t supposed to be there. Ask, even if that was what the city council person and mayor had announced and encouraged attendees to do if they wanted to be placed on a mailing list in order to receive information in the future. After all, I probably hadn’t heard them say those things, so she felt she needed to pull my sleeve and set me on the right path. That’s what gatekeepers do, make sure everyone, especially people of color, are on the right path.

 

I turned the interaction around quickly. I answered Sharon in the affirmative, made sure to mention and emphasize the longevity of my tenure in the neighborhood, and I then introduced myself by first name, and asked for her name. Next, I handed the “Do you live in the neighborhood?” question back to Sharon and stepped into the role of gatekeeper. Change in power differential through a double ward off to Sharon, whose excuse, once she awakened somewhat from her trance of privilege and entitlement, was that some of the people at the meeting were business owners and not residents. I didn’t quite get the significance of that distinction, as I guessed that business owners probably were as interested in not becoming victims of armed robberies to the same degree that residents were not interested in becoming victims.

 

I later realized the Sharon was making excuses as she became aware of how her question might have made her sound and/or look. That was interesting to me. Once I had led Sharon to conversational, neighborly civility by modeling it, she remembered that she knew how to appropriately address a stranger at a neighborhood town hall meeting. After all, until our conversation, I was a stranger who was signing a sign in sheet because she was concerned about the neighborhood she lived in and wanted to receive more information. Sharon then began to chat about her dog that she walked in the neighborhood quite often. She described her dog and called her a diva. I laughed and said that I would easily notice a little white dog that acted like a diva. The conversation had become civil because I had worked to ward off the bad mojo encoded in Sharon’s gate keeping.

 

I also had to redirect another attendee whose privilege and entitlement led him to stand next to me, and in a normal voice tone, despite glances from several other attendees, declare that the martial arts demonstration was “bullshit.” And I finally had to tell the martial arts critic that I could not hear, because he decided to start a conversation with another man and ignore our glances and some glares. Once I spoke up he apologized and eventually moved away to another spot in the room.

 

Despite these interactions with the privileged and entitled, the meeting ended up being not as bad as I’d expected it would be. At the end of the meeting, after my conversation with Sharon, I ran into a couple from my yoga class, and had a few minutes to chat with another neighbor who is one of the kindest people I know. What was hopeful about the meeting to me is that our mayor, who is Latinx was there, our city council member had organized the town hall and he is a man of African descent, the martial arts group was moderated by a male martial artist who was multilingual, one of the martial artists who demonstrated safety tactics was a woman, and the police representative was a man of African descent. So, despite Sharon’s gate keeping and the critic’s bad behavior, there were people at the meeting who looked like me and several of them were in leadership roles.

 

The Tables Turned

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A few weeks ago, I sat riveted to a film about Alzheimer’s disease, caregivers, patients, and the human and financial cost of it all. Even though it was a Saturday evening and I had plans to go out, I could not move from my seat as the documentary film “Every Minute Counts” shared the stories of patients, families and the fate of elders with Alzheimer’s. I have something in common with the people in the film, as for nearly a decade; I cared for, advocated for and managed the care of my mother, who was an Alzheimer’s patient. My mom passed away last year.

For a portion of the film, Emergency Room staff at Massachusetts General Hospital were profiled and from them I learned a about a term and a practice called “granny dumping.” I was amazed that a term exists for the practice of literally dumping one’s elder relatives at the door of a hospital Emergency Room and leaving them there. A social worker shared that this happens often when family members, decide they need a vacation, become overwhelmed or don’t know what else to do with an Alzheimer’s patient. These people literally drive up to the door of the ER, leave the elder there, and then drive off. “Granny dumping” happens most often around the holidays. My guess is that the social worker meant the winter holidays.

The medical staff takes the person in and they end up being admitted to the hospital. The staff has the job of trying to find the family or making preparations for the care of the elder via placement if they cannot find the family. This kind of admission is called a “social admit” and is one that Medicare does not pay for; and it affects the hospital’s bottom line negatively. Social admits for people who have Alzheimer’s are also difficult because the patients cannot remember their medical history and also have short-term memory loss, so they can’t tell the staff what is wrong or what happened before they got to the hospital. They don’t know what brought them to the ER, they don’t know if they have other health conditions, they don’t know what meds they regularly take. The elders in the documentary film had Alzheimer’s disease and additional health complications. This is true of most Alzheimer’s patients and it adds to the complexity of treating them and caring for them.

Over the nine years that I cared for her, my mother made several visits to the ER. I was there with her, even if it meant staying at the hospital overnight and following her to her room when she had to be admitted. I was not a “granny dumper.” I was a single woman who moved my mother into my two-bedroom apartment and tried my best to figure out how to navigate the rocky and murky waters of her care, her changing health, and her quality of life when she was 81 years old. At the time, I was 53, single, and working multiple jobs in the field of education. And despite the overwhelming prospect of my mother’s changing personality due to a disease that does not stand still, I leapt into action and took on the most challenging job I have ever held in my life. It was a labor of love and one through which I had to constantly be reminded to take care of myself. At the same time I had to look out for the well being of my mother who was becoming more and more vulnerable and dependent on me every day. I had to mother my own mother. Alzheimer’s had turned the tables on us. The common saying in the community of those who work with Alzheimer’s patients and family members is “the disease does not stand still.”

A month prior to her arrival in my home, my brother had gone to collect mom after she almost burned her house down by leaving a pot on the stove, then going into the living room and falling asleep in her recliner. I returned home from work on my late shift evening, after driving home from San Jose, and retrieved a voicemail from one of mom’s neighbors, who asked me to call her. As Susan (not her real name) relayed the events of the evening, I felt sadness and worry. Apparently two of mom’s neighbors had to call the fire department because mom had locked the storm door to her home and the neighbors could not knock on the door or ring the bell. There was a lot of smoke in the house, but it turned out that mom was okay and nothing had burned but a pot on the stove. She was lucky that her neighbors were home and that they noticed.

After this happened, my brother moved mom several states north to the temporary housing provided by his new job, and the telephone check-ins between us began. He was upset that when he came home from work, he found that mom had left crumbs and food on the kitchen counter. He also didn’t know what to do about what seemed to be signs of incontinence. So, his girlfriend and I tag teamed to provide him with suggestions and solutions. I was doing all of this by phone from the other side of the country. His girlfriend was a few states away on the same coast as he and mom were. This lasted for a month or two.

My brother’s annual trip to a motorcycle race in Monterey, California turned into an opportunity for him to bring mom out west to stay with me for what we both agreed was awhile, while we tried to figure out what to do. I thought it was a good idea. It turned out to be an opportunity for me to research resources and find out what the possibilities might be for mom’s future, for my family’s future.

My brother agreed to research resources on the East Coast near his home.

In preparation for mom’s arrival, I called any local listing that mentioned the word Alzheimer’s and was fortunate enough to be connected with one of the social workers at a local adult day health center who was more than generous with information that provided me with a running start. Alzheimer’s Services of the East Bay or ASEB literally saved our lives. They referred me to Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA), based in San Francisco. This organization serves the entire Bay Area on the ground and also online, with fact sheets and information for families nationwide who are trying to figure out what to do about caring for a loved one who has become ill with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other diseases.

The family care team from FCA visited us at my home. They noted that the space was small for both of us. At the time, I didn’t understand what they meant, since two people in a two-bedroom apartment didn’t sound like it was a cramped living situation to me. So what the second bedroom was my home office and I’d given mom my bedroom and chosen to sleep on an air mattress on the living room floor? That was the way I thought about things only a few weeks into cohabitation with someone with dementia. This sleeping and living arrangement went on for 6 months. I hadn’t bargained for what would happen when mom began to sundown, or when she constantly repeated questions, became depressed on days that the senior day program was closed and asked questions about when she would be going back home, back to her home. It was heart breaking because even though I knew she was a lot safer living with me, I knew that the disease and her being uprooted had interrupted her life in a deep and fundamental way. There was no going back to the life she’d had as a retiree and widow. There was no going back to the independence she had enjoyed for most of her life. As a matter of fact, she was headed on a trajectory toward having less physical independence in ways that neither of us could predict the timing of. We didn’t know what the progression of Alzheimer’s would look like for her. We just knew that the disease did not stand still. It never does.

At the suggestion of the family care person from FCA, I signed mom up for an in depth evaluation at the U. C. Davis Alzheimer’s Research Center. The information we’d received from the nurse practitioner and staff in her hometown was good, but not as comprehensive as the information we could receive through a comprehensive evaluation. I placed her on the waiting list at UCSF Memory and Aging Center, as they not only evaluated patients, they also followed them as patients and assigned them to a neurologist and medical team. U. C Davis only evaluated patients. I was in for a bit of a surprise when we arrived at the U. C. Davis center. I thought I was signing mom up to be evaluated, but I didn’t realize that I was being evaluated too, not as a patient, but as a family member who was part of her ecosystem of care. They wanted to know what I had been observing and how long ago I, and my brother, had first noticed changes in mom’s behavior. This was difficult stuff to not only remember because of the emotional impact it carried, but also because of the detail it required to explain what had been going on over the past few years.

The evaluation was comprehensive and included a team of specialists that included psychologists, neurologists and others. Some parts of the evaluation included both of us together around a conference table with the team of researchers and medical professionals and other parts of the evaluation included me being questioned (evaluated, really) individually while mom was in another room being evaluated. One of the more humorous parts of this half-day of evaluation was when mom told the team that she had never had heart disease or surgery. Mom was so convincing that during my individual “talk” (evaluation) with the social psychologist, I was asked whether I was sure that mom had had heart surgery. “Does she have a scar?” “Yes” I replied. “Oh, she’s good” she replied and we both laughed.

A Death

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As I was waking up, I was thinking that he was dead. He had died before Christmas, and he had died alone in Queens, in a home. I wondered why there had been no funeral, why I had no memory of one. I thought of his friends and wondered why I couldn’t remember any of their familiar faces and see them dressed up in their dark suits for him.

 

I wondered where our family things that he had placed in storage, were. I wondered whether his landlord had had to clear out his apartment. I knew I hadn’t done it; I’d never seen his apartment.

 

I lay there for a few minutes, turned on my side toward the windows and looked at the growing light through the blinds. I blinked several times. I thought about the winter holidays and I didn’t remember anything about his presence during them.

 

And after a few minutes, I realized that he was not dead. He was still alive and whatever dream I’d had was so powerful that my reality had shifted to a time after his death that had not even happened.

 

I’ve been reflecting on this dream off and on today and I’ve come to the conclusion that the dream was not about my brother, but about a system that persists in making him disappear, and from making me disappear as well. This system perpetuates dismissal, disrespect, silencing, demonization, and marginalization. It makes repeated attempts to make people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ people, women and the disabled small and insignificant. It has at its roots the desire to make people disappear through repeated attempts to limit their lives and to silence them.

 

I have lived in this system for six decades, and I have come to learn and understand that its survival has depended on my beliefs that I am not worthy and I will never have an opportunity to rest until I am dead. Its survival depends upon the belief that I will always have to push against the downward pressure of this system that was not designed with my living freely and breathing fully in mind. Three fifths of a white man did not include the descendants of enslaved men and women.

 

It is difficult to live within a system that exists because it regularly satisfies its urges to oppress. Those who are oppressed have to work consistently hard to free their minds, bodies and souls. As Bob Marley wrote “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery/None but our self can free our minds/ Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom?/Cause all I ever had/ Redemption songs ” (Redemption Song). Singing is breathing; it is inspiration, and expiration. One of the Freedom Singers said that even if people working during the civil rights movement couldn’t talk together, they could breathe together through singing together. We need to keep singing together and we need to keep writing together.

 

An intuitive and gifted massage therapist, with whom I have worked for several years, recently told me that I haven’t been getting enough oxygen. She encouraged me to pay attention to my breathing and make sure that I exhale completely.

 

I have witnessed my mother’s death, the result of a long illness, over the past year. I cared for my mom for nearly a decade and her decline and death have been enough to take my breath away. Being a caregiver and care manager altered my breathing, I’m sure.

 

I’m also sure that the high profile deaths and videos of so many Black people, such as Rolando Castile, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin and the many other children, women and men killed in connection with law enforcement haven’t helped me to breathe fully, either. Systematic killing and incarceration of Black bodies is an American practice that is not new. What is new is the technology that allows us to view what is disturbing, needs to be brought to light, and historic.

I have witnessed the 2016 U. S. presidential election and its aftermath, which continues to and beyond this moment. The events of the past 48 hours have been breathtaking, to say the least. Oppression is relentless, sometimes subtle, at other times blatant and always pervasive. Many individuals persist with their work toward freedom despite this. Many writers persist in their work toward freedom despite this. Every idea birthed and every word written is an act of resistance, an act of freedom, an act of bravery, and an act of uncovering something valuable for emancipation from an oppressive system.

 

Lately, I have been listening to the soundtrack from the play “Hamilton.” I hear layers of meaning in the lyrics that go a lot deeper for me than I originally thought. “Why do you write like you’re running out of time, why do you fight like you’re running out of time, like you’re running out of time, like you’re running out of time,” sing sisters Eliza Hamilton and Angelica Schuyler and other characters throughout the play.

 

Apparently the founding father who had been born a bastard, who became a penniless orphan, an immigrant, and who was a driven man who feverishly and fervently worked toward the revolution that eventually birthed what is now called America. He was a white man who created the roots of the financial system we now live with and he married into wealth in order to secure his status as he had a low status as a poor immigrant bastard. He had a keen mind and writing skills that were sharp. And he was driven I am most interested in his tendency to write like he was running out of time. I feel as if I am running out of time, like we are all running out of time.

 

My brother is not dead and I am not dead, but the systems that have been constructed to diminish, marginalize and extinguish our humanity have been unearthed and are in full view and the entire world is watching. Every breath I take and every word I write pushes back against this hurtful, hateful, corrupt and bankrupt system and leads to its dissolution. I must get on with it.

 

But I can’t do this alone. I need my allies to work with me. We must all get on with the work of singing the chains off and singing freedom into being.