Sunday, November 22, 2009

November 19, 2009

Grandmother’s house. 9:30pm at the dining room table. Feeling the natural pull towards sugar and caffeine that takes hold when you step foot into my grandmother’s kitchen. I dreaded the smell for weeks as soon as I knew I would come. The smell of my grandmother’s house is something that emanates from her as well as her house and anything she sends you in the mail, including paper goods. It’s like sweet grass, burnt coffee and perfumey molasses. It’s amazing. One inhale sends anyone in her realm tumbling through time and space, through all of the ages she has taken care of us—including when I was 24 and 28 and stayed with her. Sure she started to repeat herself a little on the last visit, but there was no confusion in the caregiver/receiver paradigm. She would always hand me a cup of coffee in the morning and we would sit down and watch the Price is Right.

November 20th, 2009 10:45am

My Grandmother isn’t here this morning, which is probably why I slept so late. Nestled into her bed, I have completely lost track of time in the sense of hours and years. Normally my grandmother would be up and moving around at 5 or 6. she would unpin the tissue that kept her hair in tact as she slept. A slight tease with a little metal comb and she’s off keeping herself busy with making breakfast, doing laundry, ironing clothes. I’ve never been here when she is not here and I keep thinking that she will be home soon, shuffling around the house tidying things or sitting at the dining room table watching the little TV in the corner of the room.

This morning I blink my heavy lids open and look around the room. I’m surprisingly clear on where I am for having started the day in a dance studio in Seattle and ended it in Membphis. I know that Helen is in a rehab center about 20 minutes away, sleeping one foot off the ground (she is a “fall risk”). I woke up in the middle of the night smelling the clear strong smell of urine I had smelled when I was sitting on the edge of her hospital bed earlier. With all her broken bones, she cannot get up and go to the toilet. My grandmother, the strongest woman on earth, is wearing diapers. This smell sticks with me in my middle of the night delirium.

This morning, I’ve stated to take everything in with different eyes, as if her being her had held one lens in place my whole life and now as a grown up, seeing her in her childlike state, I can observe my grandmother’s complexities. Her house is sort of like a bunker. I lay in her bed, noticing how strange it is that her windows all begin about 5 feet above the floor and I can’t even remember there being a window at all in her living room. When I walk out into the room I realize that there are very moderate sized windows in most rooms but they are either covered with heavy drape from the late sixties or with venetian blinds pulled tightly shut. When I open them, it dramatically changes the experience of being in her house. I think she was more afraid of living by herself in the middle of Memphis than I realized. I pour a cup of coffee from her standard mr. coffee pot and still, still, I swear it tastes different. My grandmother would always put a pinch of salt on top of her Folger’s grounds and it would somehow make me forget that it was folgers.

Her living room is like an angel’s den. Everything is white and gold and somehow I hadn’t realized before how graceland it is. I’m usually distracted by the layers upon layers of framed photographs that create the fortress around and on all the furniture in the room. Last night I noticed that there is a picture of her and Charlie, her second (ex) husband framed in a silver frame with a heart underneath their smiling faces. I didn’t realize she felt fondly enough about Charlie to keep this photo around. Had I never noticed it before? Did my aunt put it here? It made me think of my mom, how Charlie was not the best stepfather to her and how this picture has been a constant in her life. Did my mom ever feel betrayed by Helen for staying with him? Families hold so much darkness and complexity. it is sort of chilling to me.

There are also some strange patriotic things around the house. I think these started cropping up much later in my grandmother’s life because I remember pretty clearly that she was a liberal, skeptical of all men in charge of anything for most of my life. But now there are some American flag mugs and a pillow with a print of teddy bears wearing flag inspired accessories. These items must be gifts, somehow different from the rest of the gifts around the house.

Now, I will go take a shower and get ready for a trip down Quince to the rehab center.

Grandmother looked good today. She was wearing a 2-piece matching black velour lounge suit with her stark white hair combed back. We found her sitting in her wheelchair next to her bed, her hand thrown over her face with dramatic flair. I rushed in to greet her and hoped to facilitate a change in expression quickly before my Mom came in the room. “Hi Grandmother, it’s me Shannon.” “oh hi hon.” She says easily, dimentia clouds seemingly parted for the time being.

We take my Grandmother for a walk in the courtyard, a sort of desolate opening in the center of the rehab center. Two patches of grass line one walkway with rows of newly planted pansies on either side. “What’s your favorite color?” My mom asks grandmother referring to the multiple colors of pansies. I can’t quite hear what she says in response. She has taken to talking very quietly. When we reach the end of the walkway and turn her around, my mom, as if empathizing with my grandmother’s state of mind says again, “What’s your favorite color?”

We sit and chat for a while in the slim rays of sun that sneak through the clouds, falling in a familiar groove of talking about my grandmother’s cooking. About making jelly she says “don’t take nothing.” And about biscuits, “I still make me some.” After a pause she has a look of surprising clarity in her downcast eyes and says, “I haven’t cooked for a long time, have I?” and our hearts simultaneously break. “Sure you have” and “It’s only been a few weeks” and my mom, “remember last time I was here you helped me with breakfast?” and I flash a memory of my mom’s story about how grandmother had tried to stick the bacon in the toaster oven instead of the microwave. This really upset my mom. My poor mom. My dad, in own opiate-induced haze, is stooped something awful. This greatly bothers my grandmother for the duration of the visit and she repeatedly tells him to sit down or he is going to fall over. My heart sings a little victory song every time she says “Bob” and tells him what to do. This is pure Helen. And, she remembers his name quite clearly.

After a while we leave the rehab center with my grandmother lying down in her bed for a nap and go home to eat launch. We’ve been driving her charcoal gray1986 Honda Accord around, liberating it from her carport, where it sat like a piece of furniture gathering thick sticky dust. We go home and make lunch, I watch my mom and aunt have what seems like an unnecessarily awkward conversation about applying for Medicaid before we round ourselves up and go over to the center again to spend time with her.

The next day our schedule was much the same. I can’t seem to keep myself from sleeping in a ridiculously long time and so my mom leaves to visit grandmother on her own. My dad and I eat a long drawn out breakfast where he takes all his medications with admirable methodology. This time when we go for our afternoon group visit, my grandmother is in the hallway in her wheelchair. It’s not clear how she got there or what she is doing there (with her broken bones, she is not pulling herself around at all) but I sort of imagine that at some point the nurses pull everyone out of their rooms so that they can wander aimlessly through the halls and break up their days of sitting and staring aimlessly. Only my grandmother is not wandering, just sitting trapped in the corner with some other non-movers. I push her through the traffic jam and back out into the courtyard, where we repeat much of yesterday’s conversation and take pictures amongst the pansies. My mom laughs easily right now. I think she is trying really hard to keep it light for her mom. My Aunt is serious and stern, sometimes joking but mostly barely concealing the irritation and exhaustion she is enduring. And me, I don’t know, I could stare into my grandmother’s blue eyes for eternity and try to send her this message, “I know you are scared and its going to be okay. Its going to be okay.” My emotions, at least right now, are not my own.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

I laid down on the concrete, handing off a pink flag and shuffling my belongings around so as not to lose them in what could be a scuffle. The warmth of the maneuvering bodies created a blanket that staved off the cold at first. A sea of faces encircled us, chanting, whoo-ing and others bounced around through the scattered bodies on the ground, waving signs.

I asked Steve, "do I need to close my eyes?"

I wasn't quite sure how dead I should appear. Did I need to strike some disfigured pose, as if fallen in battle, mouth agape? Would I let myself be dragged limply off of Market Street? Could my 30 year old body really stand in as the body of a teenager or young adult lost in an absurd war across the globe? What about for an Iraqi child?

This was my first die-in.

Compassionate faces passed over ours, "Are you okay?" people asked, making sure we were hanging in there. "Do you have the National Lawyers Guild number?" "What's your name?" photographers asked. And, "Can you say a few words about why you are here?"

My voice was so shaky, I could barely get my thoughts together. "I would like to be part of a legacy of resistance in this country instead of a part of the legacy of war."

The legacy I referred to being the that of my family.

As the cops got nearer, the crowd thinned. Our protective barrier penetrated by sirens, the stomp of boots and the whip of the wind that is endlessly tearing through the buildings of downtown San Francisco. As if losing consciousness, I watched the familiar faces retreat from my peripheral vision, replaced with more and more gray sky. A yawning bright light that could potentially preclude a quick sequence of life flashbacks if it were a different situation. Or now. I felt the the hypothetical dying experience being confused with my somatic embodiment.

Headlines of street names were flashing on bus foreheads stalled behind the squad cars. A young photographer smiled at me through a forest of uniformed legs. We had now become differently encircled.

My body shook involuntarily on the ground, and steve and I locked arms. I imagined being encircled by friends and comrades and then, after going down, seeing them leave. Feeling your body on the earth, dust blowing around it. Who would come next? Would the save you? leave you? finish you off? What was in their minds, these people dying and fighting for an un-materialized dream of a country?

Five days ago I interviewed my mom asking her what it was like growing up in the south during Civil Rights. "It must have been really intense" I said.

"When was that exactly? Like the mid-sixties?" My mom asked. "I was pretty focused on school and working." I was disappointed when I heard this but then thought, who am I to judge? Nothing has been more consuming than my work for the last 7 years of my life. I'd like to see it to as part of a solution, and have actually really actively tried to do work that invites people in, rather than pisses them off or alienates them. But i realize how much that depends on perspective, maybe more now than ever before.

The tension was building up in the engines of cars and feet resting on brakes and bodies pressing firmly against car seats, arms clenched, jaws clenched. I could feel the inconvenience of americans precious time collecting into a shared conscious of rage towards the interruption.

I just kept telling myself, sometimes you need to GET IN THE WAY.

Friday, December 14, 2007

In my dance improv life, there is a game called "Next."

What happens is that you start to improvise and then someone says (barks/yells/commands) "Next" and you move on to the next idea until you come to the one that is interesting and worth developing.

Things finally got cold enough in SF that it is officially winter. I've taken to wearing headphones in my office as earmuffs.


so the holy days are here again along with the conundrum of stuff purchasing.


myspace strikes again. I got un-top-friended by someone I un-top-friended. fucker.


I adopted a little Tortoise Tortellini Turtle Tiger monster. Her name is little T.

Shit is crazy right now. Tearing down low income housing in New Orleans as if poor folks there weren't fucked over enough and talks of going to war with Iran. I wonder what Little T thinks about it all.







scratch the litter box


fuck george bush. reowww.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

I didn't go to washington last night. That was last week when I drove through the cascades loving the rain blackened road with the yellow stripes popping off and tearing away into the green hills. No, it's not actually true what they say. It is the opposite of gray. The closest real cloud color would be a very deep periwinkle sort of like the ceiling of the room in SF that I moved into. It was like a storm cloud. And it was not gray.

I could have watched those pacific northwest clouds wrap their arms around the sharp edges of the mountain in Mount Eerie's video for days. These wet pieces of sky obscuring what the person behind the lens was trying to see and making it (not) gray and emotional, them moving in, them moving on, them making it almost too beautiful to look at. I tried to breathe deep into my belly to see if I felt connected. To myself or more importantly the person in front of me. No, I mean, of course to myself but instead I thought this thought: How could you know me, if you don't know this scene? The dampness and the electric display of moisture, loving and hating it, feeling it in the way you feel everything. How can I know you if I don't know florida, or western mass, or denver, or a flat housed neighborhood and peet's coffee in walnut creek?

Today I put on some cherry red high heels bought deliberately one day I knew I needed to enhance my sense of power through footwear. I thought these are very emotional high heels. What I meant to think was, I'm a little homesick.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

San Francisco, I think I need to break up with you. This is really hard to say becuase there are so many things that I love about you but I don't know if we're a good fit.

Somewhere in between

The tight pantsed, headband wearing, custom bike and beverage consuming, insecurity oozing cuties,

The anti-everything and I-have-four-advanced-degrees-to-back-it-up "community" organizers,

The dub bumping bay area burners

Somewhere that plaid button up shirt is the same one someone has had for 15 years and not a recent re-purchase. Somewhere, the coffee in a yellow can is just as good as the one in a white paper cup with a black lid. Somewhere is where me and my people are but I haven't found us yet.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

This is the annual heartbreak entry. And it goes a little something like this.

I took the BART, two planes, the Metro and a tram in hopes that heartbreak would dissolve like the weekend somewhere over the atlantic ocean. I worked backwards from the place that it all ended and began. I started on 22nd st and walked through the landmines thinking about feist

"the saddest part of a broken heart, isn't the ending so much as the start."

I know.

It's so fucking cheesy.

And where our good times haven't already been painted over (the hash marks of our height that were finally covered up either in perfect timing or as if symboliic of their/our insignificance), it's finally time to lay them to rest. I've had all the conversations I need to have in my head. I've flipped through and deleted most of the things that will only serve to reactivate something that needs to be put behind us. I have carefully collected my favorite pieces and stowed them away and then I tried to make the space between us so that some things could stay sweet, as everything else sours.

After I arrived in Amsterdam I made it back to the beginning of it all--the corner of divis and page in San Francisco. My lids are heavy with travel weary and the continual leaking of loss. I'm thinking about taking a sip of his expensive scotch and found myself sitting there on a bar stool thinking, this is fun and he is sweet but this isn't going anywhere. Somehow we both temporarily convinced the other that it was and maybe the "start" wasn't so hard as it was clear.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Male figures.

I have found myself traveling back and fourth to Washington but this isn't an entry for the travel blog. I'm taking care of my Dad. I will leave it at that.

Amidst the stress of this, there is a weird transition from being taken care of to care taking and the losing of the strong male figure that propped up a big part of my security net. It's making me think about the men in my life a lot--who they are to me, who I've wanted them to be, tried to force them to be, tried to let them be and who they will be from now on.