Sunday, March 29, 2020

Sent March 23: A Sunday Walk

As I walked and ruminated on the considerable effort that someone put into this gift to the street, I felt comforted and calmed. But right now I'm thinking "Wait a minute! This means, 'Don't worry, eventually everything will be the same as before!'" And I am not willing to accept that. I've had it with our completely dysfunctional country. WE DON'T EVEN HAVE ENOUGH GOWNS AND MASKS FOR THE NURSES AND DOCTORS! I mean, where is that at? It's because ..... well, this rampage. We all feel the same. Preaching to the choir, right? But we have drifted SO FAR from a compassionate and/or rational society. (In fact, the only rational way IS compassion.) And we are not even COMPETENT anymore! Our health system not only does not serve everyone, it is so swamped with profit-taking that it didn't even do the most basic preparation for a pandemic which was inevitable.

And I agree with Bernie! NO MORE BILLIONAIRES!!! Why does ANYONE need more than nine hundred and ninety-nine million, nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred ninety-nine dollars and ninety-nine cents???!?

$999,999,999.99 IS ENOUGH FOR ANYONE!

Anything above that goes to the IRS. Okay, okay. Maybe that's too extreme. How about 99.99% of anything above that goes to the government of the people of the United States. Because we need that money right now to help us get through this crisis.

Did you know that it's Reagan who drastically cut taxes for the rich? Yes, before Reagan, if you made over a certain amount, 90% went to the government. Something like that. As I remember, there were STILL a hell of a lot of rich people then.

But I digress.

I was having a beautiful walk without any of the boiling anger and frustration i'm feeling at the moment. Back to the walk, back to the walk....

Got to the park. And there they were. The Sunday drummers and dancers.
So many different drums and percussion instruments, the deep mournful sound of the didgeridoo... If there ever was a sound for this time it is that mysterious lowing.
And I danced and danced on the grass, by myself, with my pups. Always keeping six feet from everyone, I danced. I'm so grateful this ritual still goes on. Okay, maybe they weren't all six feet apart. But basically they were keeping their distance from each other. And certainly no one was sharing joints. This is something I can still do, just like before. Dance to the drums on Sunday afternoons in Sharon Meadow.

Nikki and Loulou zoomed around the meadow. They found a giant pile of dirt to fight on top of. Meanwhile, I was having an intense phone conversation with my cousin Diane about our families and our childhoods. I don't know. I don't really approve of allowing A Day in the Park get swamped by a phone call. But yet it was so good to talk. Not just chat. Really talk and listen, as one does more often now.

Left the park. Walked back through the Haight with its spectacular Victorians.
This is quite a striking paint job.

A poster to conjure with --
The Dark Gypsies

Ya gotta love the hippie homes.
This is a very special block on Waller St. of the most spectacular Victorians. I always bring visitors here. One time, my guests and I were standing gawking at the blue house and a car pulled into the driveway of . The people got out and invited us to come in and look around! Wow. Everything was dark wood, carved. Nothing had been modernized.
Something very pleasing about this one below. I always get a little frisson of pleasure when I pass.
Eloquent, don't you think?

And so over the hill and back home. Below is view of downtown. The Salesforce cigar dominates the skyline. Carolyn and I used to see the billboards for the company and try to figure out what the hell Salesforce DOES. We still don't know. But that's okay with us.
I'm not sure what style this is. It's not Victorian. Kinda faux Dutch farmhouse fantasy? I love it.

Below, you can see in the distance Mt. Diablo, the highest peak in the Bay Area. It's over 60 miles away.
Thank you, my blog friends, for joining me for my walk and rampage.

Sent March 22: Sunday Funnies

I went out into my garden to sit and drink my tea (yes, I am very lucky), and there was a strange humming sound. I looked around for the source and finally realized it was a great big bunch of bees in all my cyanothus plants. I have three trees and one shrub. They are a California native with blue flowers and I'm a blue freak. They are popularly known as "Bee Bush." The cyanothuses (cyanothusi?) are blooming like never before, and I have never seen so many bees.

There are actually two DIFFERENT kinds of bees in this photo. See the tiny one in the upper right?

I have never been bitten by a bee in my garden.

Thank you for reading my blog, you magnificent virtuous person, you!
They looked terrible together!!! Then I realized that no one would ever KNOW I was wearing a red vest with clashing turquoise-orange-cream-and navy blue socks unless I TOLD them! Because I never see anyone I know anymore!

"Aha," I thought, "I am free from the constraints of fashion -- along with a hell of a lot of other things! I can wear these socks with this vest."

But I just COULD NOT do it. No, even if no one knew, I had to choose between the socks and the vest. So I chose the vest for today.

I think that was a sign of mental health, don't you?

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Sent March 20: Not knowing is Most Intimate

But two nights ago, I woke up with muscle spasms in the middle of the night. Not a big spasm. Just a slight involuntary clenching of all my muscles about every two minutes. I carefully concentrated, so I could catch one as it began and relax my body. Then, the spasms disappeared.

I lay there awake, thinking. And for the first time since the crisis started, I wanted someone in bed with me. (Yes, Nikki would be delighted to comply, but he's a big dirty dog and then the bed gets gritty and I don't sleep well on grit.) I wanted someone to hold, someone to hold me. I was lonely.

Loneliness has been my biggest emotional problem for a long time.
But this loneliness was different. There was no tragedy, no self-pity, no "Why me?" There was no inner bewailing, "Oh no, how could this be happening to ME, I never expected to be alone now! IT"S NOT FAIR!" This loneliness was gentler, softer. This loneliness had no baggage. It was just... loneliness. I cried a little. But I felt no distress or drama. And when I thought about the people I love who DO have someone to hold and be held by... I was GLAD for them. I didn't feel envious or distant. I felt connected to them by my gladness -- which is called sympathetic joy in Buddhism.

I think everything -- the muscle spasms, the emotional change -- was a response to a dharma talk given by Norman Fischer that night, live over the internet. Another teacher was scheduled for the time slot. But because of the crisis, that teacher asked Norman, one of the most respected Zen Buddhist teachers in the country, to share his thoughts.

Norman did not offer comfort. He said the things we all fear -- that the way we have been living might be coming to an end, that the coronavirus has come at a time when we are ALREADY in an intense crisis politically, economically and environmentally. He reminded us practitioners that, while we say "Nothing is permanent," and think we really accept it -- yet suddenly so many aspects of our lives so basic that we never questioned them -- are all in question. So we weren't really anywhere near as enlightened as we might have thought.

He talked about an important Buddhist concept: Not Knowing. That is something we all are facing now. We truly do not know whether we will live or die in the near future, whether our civilization will survive, or even whether it's safe to turn a doorknob or open a letter we received. He quoted a famous Zen saying: "Not knowing is most intimate." He said it several times, and it has continued to resonate with me.

It is true that I am never in the same room with anyone other than the pups. And yet, my relations with people have become more intimate. My neighbors, who were away, phoned me to ask that I check on some packages being delivered and put them in their house. (Much hand-washing followed.) After living next door to each other for decades, for the first time my neighbors and I had an intimate conversation on the phone. It felt so good. I'm phoning my friends just to check up on them -- especially the ones who are single like me. Suddenly, their well-being is important to me, and I'm reaching out. Others are reaching out to me. I'm meeting online with Carolyn and others to pursue our writing and projects. In these meetings, I feel a warmth that I've never felt before.

And that is because we all know now that we don't know. The assumptions of what the future holds have been stripped away. Our ability to physically touch or be present in the same space has been stripped away. But that has only thrown into relief how very important and special our connections are with each other. I feel the warmth of others' love for me in a way that I didn't feel it before. And I feel my own love for others in a deeper, more flowing way -- not as anything grand or special, but just there -- as I felt my loneliness in the middle of the night. I was being intimate with myself at that moment, lying there, just being lonely, just feeling whatever it was without exaggerating or minimizing anything.

I agree: Not knowing is most intimate.

And I'm an intimacy junkie. So I'm enjoying that aspect of these times.

Here is a link to a video Norman Fischer's talk. There are a lot of irritating squeaks from the sound system in the first half, but they do disappear. I found what he says profoundly moving:

Sent March 19: A Fence, A Story

You know what? I don't have TIME for the story! In ten minutes, Carolyn and I have to join Paula in a conference call to toast Paula's father's 100th birthday (he's not on the planet anymore). Then I have to meet with Carolyn on the phone about our latest play project, SUFFRAGE, about the early women's rights movement. Then I have to walk the pups. Then I have an online class at the San Francisco Zen Center. That's all, folks!

Senet March 18: A Story, A Question, A Tip

Dorothy Bryant self-published this book of essays in 1983. These are excerpts from "In Search of Doctor Nellie" :

It started while I was working on a story about my childhood. Suddenly an image flashed upon me: an old woman standing over my hospital bed where, full of self-pity as I woke to the pain of my tonsillectomy, I whispered an answer to her question.
"Speak up, girl! Who am I?"
Shocked out of my self-pity, I did speak up. "Doctor Nellie Null."
She laughed, grunted, patted my arm and disappeared.
Who was Dr. Nellie Null? I began to question my mother about her. I sent a letter to the newspapers asking, in effect, who remembers Doctor Nellie? The answers came from all over Northern California and beyond....
Terry's summary of Nellie's early life:
Nellie Hollenbeak was born on a farm in Northern California in 1874. She got married at 18. Both she and her husband became doctors. They set up a practice in Bayview-Hunters Point in San Francisco. The neighborhood was then called Butchertown, because that's where the slaughterhouses were located. The Nulls had two children, then divorced, leaving "Doctor Nellie" alone in her Butchertown practice, raising two kids.

Back to Bryant's essay:

The end of the war, in 1918, was the time of the flu epidemic, when Doctor Nellie became the heroic, almost mythic figure her older patients remember. "People were dropping in the streets, turning blue and falling down. We all had to wear masks and a bag of camphor around our necks. Everything smelled of camphor."

Concurrent with the flu epidemic was the diphtheria epidemic, which killed half the children in some areas. Sometimes, with flu and diphtheria, whole families were wiped out. "Dr. Nellie never stopped; she was everywhere," Eloise Hugentobler says. "Sometimes she would come into my mother's boarding house worn out, and she'd sit down at the big dining room table and say, 'Mrs. Fontaine, I'll just sit and rest a minute and have a glass of your wine.' She was like one of the family."
There was no cure, only "Dr. Nellie coming by each day," as Manuel Piver says, "to see if my parents were still alive, take their temperature, try to make them comfortable. I was about eight. The lady next door was Mrs. Giovanetti. You know, Italians always had a pot of soup on the stove. She'd call me and give me a big pot of soup, and I'd feed them that. And whiskey. Everyone said whiskey was the only help. Or a little hot wine with sugar in it." Mildred Adams was one of the lucky children who survived diphtheria. "I remember they gave me whiskey in milk, and Dr. Nellie would come and go, and my father sat by my bed day and night, watching me, reading to me."
From then on Dr. Nellie's office was always packed. She kept daily office hours but made no appointments. People came and waited their turn. They filled the waiting room; the overflow sat on the stairs.....
In 1925 Frank House worked after school in the drug store on the street level of the building. "She must have been about fifty then. The store was owned by Mr. Lomalino, who was pretty old and slow. You know, in those days, druggists made up the prescription right there, a pinch of this, so many drops of that. She'd come down there in a hurry for a prescription and she'd say, 'Oh, get out of the way, Lomie' -- nobody else dared call him anything but Mr. Lomalino---and she'd make up the prescription herself and run back upstairs with it."....
Elsie Orlando Collins remembers, "After I nursed my mother through pneumonia--making flaxseed tea and things like that, there was no penicillin in those days -- Dr. Nellie said to me, 'You'd make a marvelous nurse; did you ever think about it?' I said yes, because in my heart that was what I wanted to be. But my dad didn't believe in educating women. So she said,
'When you get through high school, I want you to take the course at San Mateo Junior College, and if you dad won't finance you, I will.' I never took her up on it. Oh, I don't blame anyone. I could have somehow. And I'll always remember that she believed in me and would have helped me. She helped plenty of others."
Everyone I talked to mentioned money -- Doctor Nellie's lack of interest in it. Her fees were lower than average and often went unpaid. She was inconsistent about sending bills. Many never paid..... Some patients tried to show their gratitude by paying her in goods: a jug of homemade wine, food, linens....
One of the gifts of food which was kept and consumed heartily was Esther Binder's annual pound cake. In 1933 Esther's daughter Betty had been run over by a car. "Specialists operated on her four times. She was in a cast for thirteen months. Doctor Nellie came to see her every other day for months. She saw how hard it was, with the Depression, my husband bringing home little, and I was taking care of foster children, $17.50 a month from the county. I never saw a bill from her or from the orthopedic surgeons..... So from then on, every year I made her a pound cake for her birthday, the eleventh of March. And she would say, 'You could give a million dollars and I wouldn't be any more pleased than I am when you give me this cake,' except one time I made it with margarine and she made a face and told me sternly, 'Next time use butter.'"......
We don't need to idealize or sentimentalize Doctor Nellie Null or her times. No doubt her strong will sent ripples of conflict through her personal relationships. One person wrote me with doubts about her judgment in one fatal emergency. And none of us wants to return to the days before children were immunized against diphtheria.
What we need and what we want to find in our lives is what she stood for: the ethic that placed all human beings above material gain; the good-humored gusto for life; the robust and unsentimental love that expressed itself in effective work; the inner freedom that makes possible a total commitment like hers.
In that sense we are, all of us, in search of Doctor Nellie.



I read an article that said people touch their faces an average of 24 times an hour. I'm sure I'm way above average. My friend Elizabeth suggested substituting a handkerchief when you want to touch your face. That worked for a little while. Any other ideas?


I think it was last August, I discovered The Nettle Man at the farmer's market in Ashland, Oregon.
He's an old bearded hippie who makes tinctures from wild herbs. Nettles are supposed to be good for the lungs. I have asthma, so I bought a bottle. He told me it's more effective if it's warm, with a little water and wine added. I take a dose every morning. Before I started taking it, whenever I got a cold, it would at least slightly go down into my lungs. In July 2019 I ended up with bronchitis. Since I started using the nettle tincture, I have not had any problem with my lungs. None.

I am certain it's because of the tincture. Go to to order some. The part about warm and with wine, he told me in person. I can't find it on his website.

Dee Returns to Denver (Sent March 17)

So the reason Dee was on the train, which I didn't mention a year ago, was that the doctor had told her she had end-stage kidney failure, and if she didn't get on dialysis, she would die soon. I know, I know. That doesn't motivate most people to get on a train. But Dee decided she didn't want to do dialysis, which for her would have meant being hooked up to a machine every night all night. I wouldn't say she was ready to die. But she was open to dying, rather than facing life on a machine. But she was NOT open to dying where she lived, the state that she calls COLDerado. Dee hates cold. HATES it. And she has lived her whole 53 years in a state which is often just that. She wanted to be warm when she faced death. And she wanted an adventure.

She decided to take all her money and a few clothes and get on a bus to Phoenix, Arizona. Everyone knows Phoenix is warm, when it isn't hot. She imagined she would get there and very promptly wind up in a hospice and face her death. So she went to Union Station in Denver to catch the bus. But the buses don't leave from Union Station. The bus station was six blocks away. Dee couldn't face the prospect of the walk. But she saw that a TRAIN was leaving the next morning for SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA! Everyone knows California is warm, right? At least the people who don't live in California think ALL of California is uniformly warm. She spent the night in Union Station.

The next morning I arrived to catch the train because, if you will remember, March 2019 was the time when the SECOND Boeing 737, with some new fancy do-hickey on it, mysteriously plunged into the ocean. The authorities had not yet grounded all the planes with the do-hickey, and the one I was scheduled to fly back to SF had that fatal do-hickey. So it was a good moment to take a train. There were about six of us waiting for the California Zephyr, and we had a chance to chat and get to know each other because the train was a tad late. Dee and I were the only ones going all the way to San Francisco.

So we bonded on the train. Dee is a very warm and open person. I invited her to stay at my house until she found a hospice. I took her to the San Francisco Zen Center, and it seemed that Dee had found a home. She loved Zen. The people there loved her. She started volunteering in the kitchen. She loved plunking herself down facing a wall and sitting zazen. I told her I was very envious of her ability to find a state of bliss, when, after many years of half-assed practice, my mind still skitters everywhere. She replied, "Bliss doesn't begin to describe it." Damn!

The Zen Center invited her to move in, and join the many already living there. Dee was thrilled. Sadly, she wasn't healthy enough to live at Zen Center long. She would be alright for a few days, and then she'd get sick, and then recover and get sick again. So, after the second time she got really sick, she moved back into my guest room.

That's when she started working on the coloring book. I think this is first picture she did:
Dee seemed so peaceful and focused, sitting at the table in the living room, surrounded by her paints and pencils -- soon to be joined by sequins and beads and seeds and yarn. I remembered that I had bought a coloring book on a vacation and joined her.

Carolyn, my best friend, collaborator, and upstairs neighbor was always part of the mix. She's a practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism, and once a month hosted a meeting to explore different aspects of dying. It was called Deep Chat. Dee joined that group and made a real contribution. It was so great that she could continue being involved in Buddhism. And talking about death -- how perfect!

Sometimes Dee would be relatively fine and walking around. Then she would get sick and head for the Emergency Room at SF General. The first time, both of us went with her. Then it was just Carolyn accompanying her. Sometimes she went by herself. Neither Carolyn nor I were willing to focus our lives on Dee, and Dee never expected us to.

Meanwhile, Dee spent a lot of time talking on the phone to her friends and family back in Colorado. These seemed to be mostly joyous conversations, with lots of laughter. It was clear to me that many people back home loved her and missed her. And she cooked and kept working on her coloring book.
Eventually, we three realized that Dee was not dying as the doctor had predicted. As she put it, "Every time I get sick, I come back ninety percent." So she was very slowly inching down.

We had great moments together. There was Dee's fabulous Macaroni and Cheese for Thanksgiving. There was our joint birthday lunch (Dee turned 53 and I turned 73 on Nov. 27) at the Garden Court of the Palace Hotel. I think the highlight of her year was a performance of HAMILTON she saw with Carolyn and her husband Matthew.
There were great meetings of Deep Chat, one of which Dee facilitated, creating a structure that the group hadn't had before and loved; and sometimes there was just coloring.
Mostly, Dee and I got along well. But at a certain point, we did not, both of us angry at the other and not knowing how to work it out. Not even WANTING to work it out. So Dee moved upstairs to live the majority of her time in San Francisco with Carolyn and Matthew, which went very well. For the last month or so, Dee came back downstairs to me. Things between us were awkward a first, but slowly that same warm feeling came back.

Then, in February, Dee said she wanted to go back to Colorado as soon as possible. We all realized that, at some point, Dee would NOT be able to to travel at all. She wasn't coloring, she wasn't cooking much, and she could barely eat. Even riding in a car was difficult. After a year away, Dee was anxious to be with family and friends again -- even though they all lived in Colderado. She wanted to return by train because she was afraid if she flew, the sudden change in elevation of Denver would be too hard for her, since her congestive heart failure had gotten worse since she had left. Carolyn offered to accompany her, but then I realized I wanted to go back with Dee. Here's the four of us on our last night together.
The train was the perfect completion of Dee's and my adventure together. We had tiny compartments across from each other, sat and watched the country fall away..
Dee and I read and slept and chatted across the narrow corridor between us, the landscape flowing along out the window. Cathy, the wonderful sleeping car porter, brought Dee all her meals. She didn't have the strength to walk to the dining car. She could hardly eat anyhow. That problem had been developing for a long time. But she was cheerful and so glad to be going home. To me, this felt like precious time, even if I just read in my compartment while Dee slept in hers, both our doors open. Now I realize I should have taken some photos of Dee on the train. But the truth is, when I'm feeling especially close with someone, I forget all about taking photos.

Thirty-six hours after we left San Francisco, we arrived at Union Station in Denver. Dee's friend, also a Terry, was there to take her to the hotel she booked for her first night home. Dee and I hugged a long goodby. My niece Rose and her boyfriend Lawrence met me for dinner at a restaurant in Union Station. I spent the night at the hotel there, and flew back to SF the next morning.

I've talked and texted with Dee since she left. She's now staying with her mother, helping to take care of her step-father, who is ill. I was happy to hear that. Dee and her mother had been estranged for years. Her mother had reached out to her in San Francisco, through text and phone, and they were now reconciled. It's amazing to me that, now she's back with her people, she's taking care of others, as much as she can.

What a journey Dee and Carolyn and I had together. Here are some more pages from Dee's beautiful coloring book. I'm so glad she left it with me.