Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind


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Tensions are high in America

Tensions are high in America on this July 4th. The country is polarized politically, economically, racially, socially, and every -ly in the book, and social media and 24/7 news cycles on cable news just escalate words into sound bites that warp and explode as they move through society.

I live in East Texas, a very conservative Republican place that believes in God, guns, white nationalism, President Trump, and that Coronavirus is a hoax blown out of proportion by liberal Democrats and lying media. Although our governor has issued an executive order to wear masks, my neighbors are vowing not do so.

And so I’m hiding at home. I feel like a fish out of water here in this cherry pie red place, or rather, a tiny blueberry in the middle of the endless sea of red. I feel impotent to speak here, to defend myself and beliefs that differ from that of the majority. No one would listen anyway once they know I’m a Democrat. Wait, they would listen and then attack me and talk about me and my stupidity while they polish their guns, eat BBQ, and plan for Trump’s re-election.

I’m afraid for my country. I’m afraid of my neighbors. I’m afraid of getting the virus and giving it to someone else – not of my own risk, which is actually higher because of my age, weight, and recent sinus surgery. I’m afraid the country will tear itself apart. We survived a Civil War but it didn’t solve anything. What will happen this time?

My ancestors fought for the Confederacy – and for the Union. I’ve lived in Virginia, with Confederate statues everywhere. I never really understood why we had statues to people who LOST the war. Germany doesn’t have monuments to Nazis; why should we have them for those who rebelled and lost? Why name schools and military bases and streets for them? I can be proud of my family and my history and NOT proud of what they fought for. I don’t understand why so many are holding on so hard.

But I sit silent because I’m a weenie. I know what I believe but I’m afraid of being overwhelmed and rejected. So I watch “Hamilton” on my own, keeping silent, keeping watch.

I am afraid of what’s coming.


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Requiem for my parents

Saturday night I sang the Durufle Requiem in concert with about 80 other people plus orchestra. It’s gorgeous music and is based on chant motifs that move lyrically from voice part to voice part. I sang it once before in Boston with the Trinity Choir, which served me well with this new performance.

I realized on Friday, as I sang along for the eleventy millionth time to a recording, that I could let go of that and just sing it. It’s in my bones now and I barely need the score to know those weird notes to pull out of the air after 8 bars of time signature changes. Being able to just sing it freed me to feel it and realize that I was singing this Requiem for my parents.

Mom’s birthday is this week and Daddy’s was two weeks ago. Mom died in 2014 and Dad passed away last May. We had memorial services for both, of course, but their ashes have been sitting on the dressers at my house waiting to move to their final resting place at Cathedral in the Pines. Dad wanted Mom’s ashes nearby and since it was a comfort to him, that’s where they stayed. He would talk to her sometimes, as would I. Last spring he was finally ready to let her go so we bought the plaques for their “condos” as he and Mom termed their niches in the columbarium, but he passed away before we could actually inter the ashes. And it was too hot and logistically complicated to do it when Daddy died.

We are finally seeing them to their final rest next Friday, and my brother and I have cooked up a service from elements of the Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Methodist traditions. I mostly just want them to be at rest and not in my closet (I moved them off the dresser when I got my baby kitties, since nothing is safe with them around). But I feel like I’m back in the limbo time between the death and the service. I want to get this done. I want it to be over, for them to be at rest. It’s the last thing I can do for them, other than just live my life well.

So keep them, keep us, in your prayers.

Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord;
And let light perpetual shine upon them.
May their souls, and the souls of all the departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

And from the Durufle Requiem:

IX. In Paradisum
In Paradisum deducant Angeli,
in tuo adventu suscipiant te Martyres
et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem.

Chorus Angelorum te suscipit
et cum Lazaro quondam paupere
aeternam habeas requiem.


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My Life is So Different Now

Three years ago this week I made the decision to retire from Yale and move to Texas to live with and care for my dad. I don’t regret the decision but my life is so totally different; sometimes I feel disconnected, because there is no one here who has any connection to the professional life I led for so many years. Married people, people with children, usually have at least someone who has shared those experiences with them. I don’t even have my cat anymore.

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Yale Law Library Reading Room

I worked on college campuses for almost 40 years and there is an energy there that keeps things hopping. I started working in general university libraries right after getting my M.L.S. and moved to law school libraries three years later, never looking back. My career was in Technical Services, which started out as cataloging and evolved into management of all of the specialties under the Tech Services banner: acquisitions, serials, binding, cataloging, electronic resources, integrated library systems. I worked long hours at challenging work – You want a book from Singapore that was published today? And you want it when?  Okay, let me see what I can do. I lived in Virginia, in Maine, in Boston, and Connecticut, sometimes moving without knowing anyone else in the state. Moving was hard but I did it – and by myself.

My organizations allowed me time to be active in my profession, going to national and specialty conference such as the Innovative Users Group for users of the system I worked with for almost 30 years. Of course, that meant working late and on weekends to get my regular work accomplished, but it was a good trade off for keeping my brain stretched and making wonderful contacts across the country and around the world.  I spent five years on the IUG Steering Committee, including being education chair for a national conference, followed immediately by three years on the Executive Board of the American Association of Law Libraries. And three years later, I was education chair for the AALL conference, too. Exhilarating, challenging, hard, creative, fun.

I loved working out the bibliographic puzzles that went with my job. Figuring out what happened to serial publications that stopped coming or morphed into other titles without warning. Finding books requested by colleagues and faculty that came with incomplete or wrong titles. Resolving systems problems. Dreaming up new ways to explain old things to staff.

Ah, staff. I hated supervising. That was the only really hard thing about my job to me. I want to work in a collegial relationship with people who act like adults and pull their weight. Supervising people, and especially those in a tough union shop, made that difficult at times. And it was exhausting. I do not miss that one bit, though I do miss some of the people. Okay, not many of them, but some.

12108756_10208073611423764_1885628941810349569_n (1)I thoughtfully planned my departure from Yale, working to transition tasks and responsibilites to new people and writing endless documentation to explain how to do it. One week after I retired from Yale, I got in the car with the cat and my sister-in-law and drove to Texas. There was no time to process or grieve because new things were coming. I almost never hear from the people I worked with and it’s as though who I was and what I did there doesn’t matter to anyone except me. I’m forgotten and left behind. Which is appropriate; I don’t want them mourning me, either, but people I thought were friends apparently were just passing in the hallways instead. And that’s hard.

So I have a new life now. Instead of being an experienced, senior person, I’m a youngster in a retirement community. I work part-time as a church secretary, making bulletins, writing documentation, maintaining the website. I sing in the choir, play Mah Jongg, and have friends. I’m also primary caregiver for my 90 year old father, who is increasingly fragile and forgetful. Never having had children, I have one now in many ways, and it’s difficult. It’s hard to know how to take time away when I have to be at the church at 8:00 a.m. six days a week, plus care for my dad. I don’t regret being here but I haven’t adjusted.

I miss my friends and am grateful to Facebook, with all its problems, for helping me stay in touch with people who knew me in my other life. I miss my cat, who died last May. I need a hug.


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Surgery While Obese

Surgery involves medical, logistical, and emotional issues. The medical ones are obvious: what’s actually wrong with your body, what the surgeon and medical team do to repair/remove/replace that, and what the recovery will involve. There are alsoStressed logistical issues that most hospitals and surgeons address with you at least in general terms for what to expect when you get home: rearranging furniture to clear pathways, filling prescriptions in advance, fueling the car, stocking the fridge and pantry with prepared foods that are easy to heat/serve/eat, figuring out hygiene issues, finding help for household tasks like laundry.

And then there are emotional issues. All surgery is scary, even when they tell you it’s a simple procedure. You’re in a strange place with people you don’t know poking and prodding you, sticking needles in your arm, and cutting into your body while you’re asleep. Things can go wrong; consent forms tell you of the risks. Some surgery carries with it bad news about cancer or organ damage, and the emotional toll that takes is high, both for you and those who wait with and for you.

Obese Man and DoctorWe “people of size” AKA fatties (or I prefer the term “fluffy”) have other emotional concerns that generally remain locked deep inside:  Will I and my body be respected while I am under your care?  Will you think less of me and talk about me and take pictures of my fat rolls while I’m asleep? Will the hospital gown fit me or will my butt be left hanging?  Will the blood pressure cuff fit on my arm?  Will the boot for my post-op leg actually fit?  If you have to make a trip to get things to fit me, will it be obvious that you consider that an unwanted chore? Do you even know that I’m worried about these things?

These have happened to me more than once, and to everyone else I know who is obese. They hang over me when I go the hospital. They worry me and raise my blood pressure. They make it harder for me to listen to you even when you’re talking about important things. Sometimes they are more important to me than the reason I’m there for the surgery in the first place.

Yesterday I had gastroc recession surgery at a hospital outpatient surgical center. It was a simple procedure to lengthen my calf muscle, but I was still worried about all of the above other things. The admitting clerk was friendly and efficient – and she was my size. So after we finished signing me in, I asked her if this was safe place for someone of size. And she got it. Immediately. She told me that yes, she trusted all of the people there to respect every patient regardless of size, and that other attitudes and behaviors were not tolerated. It was reassuring.

earWhen I got into the little prep room and even before they took my blood pressure, a woman dressed in different colored scrubs appeared and said she needed privacy to talk with me.  The admitting clerk had gone to her senior administrator to tell her of my worries and she wanted to reassure me in person that I would be treated with the best care and respect that they afford every patient. She looked me straight in the eyes and told me she would not accept anything less. I believed her.

The gown already waiting for me was generously sized and fit me. The blood pressure cuff already in the room fit comfortably around my arm. The IV went in without a hitch the first time. When I woke up in recovery, my boot was sized to fit my foot and not my leg, with first velcro and then tape to hold it securely in place. The wheelchair that took me to the car was roomy.

Everyone treated me with respect and care. My worries were real, but I believe I would have been treated that way even had I not shared my fears.  But I’m also not sorry I spoke up because it calmed me to know that I was really heard. The clerk heard me and took action; the administrator heard her and took action. They took me seriously and immediately addressed the concerns, which raises their quality as an institution in my eyes. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to others and would go back again without those emotional worries.

Surgery involves more than just medical expertise. We expect that from our surgeons and the staff who work there. The human element that respects all patients regardless of shape, size, age, or physical disability, matters just as much, for more than just the body needs care. At least I do.


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Coming Back to Writing

TessieI haven’t written here in a full year. I’ve missed it and at the same time, I’ve been busy. But things are going on in my heart and head and it helps to articulate, even to myself.

My beloved cat Tessie crossed the Rainbow Bridge three weeks ago. She hadn’t been really herself for six months and was having increasing problems until the end, when I held her in my arms as she passed. She was my constant loving companion for 10 years, and it was just the two of us for most of them. I have a hole in my heart – and at the same time, I’m relieved not to have to worry about whether she’s eating or pooping or why she’s crying. Then I feel guilty to be relieved, because I miss her so.

She is my only experience of being a caregiver, and let’s face it, a cat is not a person. I have no practice taking care of a person, young or old, so it’s been a pretty steep learning curve to take care of my dad. At age 89, his general health is good but his memory is getting spotty. He loops and retells stories that I’ve heard a million times, and every day we talk about what heaven is like and how wonderful Mom was and whether she will be there waiting for him.

I’ve not found a good balance to living with him. I care too much and do too much, and have lost myself in the process. I work part-time as a church secretary in the mornings and in the afternoons and evenings, mostly do nothing or do things with Dad. I know lots of people but haven’t taken advantage of things like line dancing classes or Pokeno nights because I don’t know how to do them and feel stupid, and because I felt like I needed to be there for Dad.

But really, the best way to take care of him is to take care of myself first. So after a brief meltdown the other night and the time that followed for thinking and prayer, I’ve decided a bunch of things:

  • Manage my food in healthy ways
  • Go to the gym for a fitness assessment and start going 2-3 times/week (I’ve been a member for 18 months but haven’t entered since I signed up)
  • Go out at least one day a week for a meal or activity with friends
  • Start planning a vacation and at least one monthly outing
  • Start working with a spiritual director

Things slow down here in the summer; with the high heat and humidity, lots of people go away for long stretches. So most of the social things will go by the wayside until fall. But that will give me time to feel better physically and get into a better more balanced routine. I do play Mah Jongg once a week and love the interaction with my friends there, even if I’m not winning much these days.

But it’s time for an attitude adjustment. No one can do it for me, I have to just do it for myself. I’m making decisions to be healthier physically, spiritually, and emotionally. I start today.