Henry's Pillow 2

It’s autumn.  Time for apple cider and the annual ugly chest cold.  Time to put away shorts and see if the crotch in any of my old jeans will embarrass me in public.  Time to start work on my Solstice cards and pull out my Happy Light.

I love autumn, even if the waning light makes me think St. John of the Cross was probably bipolar and talking about winter when he coined the term dark night of the soul.  I love the smell of corn dust and how it hangs in the air.  I love the slant of the sun as it hits a golden point on its arc, how it burns through a single, curry-colored leaf stuck in the weeds.

I’m profoundly aware of how much I’m enjoying autumn this year.  Even with bronchitis and a pantheon of prescription inhalers on my counter, I watch the squirrels in their pre-winter frenzy and feel joy rise up.  Like a breath.  Like a sigh.  Clear lungs are not required.

I’ve had moments of bipolarness over the past five months.  Moments—not days or weeks or months.  Moments where the illness broke through to remind me to stay sharp.  I can’t go back to sleep.  And I also don’t fight or fret when the illness presents itself.  This is me, too.  All of this is me.

New BookcaseMy energy amazed me, and the way my mind opened to possibility and change.  Over the summer, I catalogued my apartment—the rotting furniture, the squeeze and mess of a tiny space, all the ways I made do when the idea of doing more overwhelmed me.  Getting a new bathtub and replacing the damaged linoleum floor suddenly made anything possible.

On my trips to Minneapolis to see friends, I also visited IKEA.  I gave away or trashed furniture that was too big, too ruined or too inefficient and replaced it with four beautiful pieces put together with my own two hands plus one great recliner from the Club Furniture.  Now our living room fits us.  There’s room for the cats to chase each other, new places to nap, and a more inviting entry (rather than sliding in sideways and banging a hip on some ouchy corner).

Cabinet Before


Cabinet After


Desk Before


Desk After


I’m also working on more efficient storage.  I installed roll-out, metal baskets under my kitchen sink and bathroom vanity.  I cleaned out a skinny cupboard in the kitchen, found tubs that fit the narrow space, and got seldom-used art supplies out of the way.





valje-wall-cabinet-red__0290149_PE424853_S4IKEA carries a wall cabinet—basically, an open box with mounting hardware.  I tossed the hardware and stacked two of those on my coat closet shelf to wrangle the magazines I glean for greeting card captions (My closets have lots of height, so I’m always looking for stackables).  There was plenty of room left over to store other crafty stuff.  No more cascades of musty magazines when I get out the broom.

Autumn is the season for nesting.  We make ourselves snug and warm, surround ourselves with treasures and love, settle in for the long winter.  Nesting makes a place a home.  We should find comfort and relief there.  And joy.

Sitting here at my desk, with Henry curled on his pillow, I listen to James Vincent McMorrow and feel my home breathing with me.

A moment of joy.

Happy Halloween

Samhain (“sow-in”) is the traditional pagan New Year when the veil between the worlds is thinnest and communication is possible with those on the other side.  In the Latin American tradition, The Day of the Dead allows the spirits to revisit their families and taste again their corporeal joys.  Christian tradition adds All Saints Day, which honors those who have passed on, and All Souls Day tomorrow, which is a time to pray for those in purgatory to be released to heaven.

Whatever tradition you enjoy, this is a time for reflection on our own lives in relation to those who have died.  We remember and give thanks for how they touched and blessed us, and we turn our attention to making better choices, and living in a way that honors them.

On this day, may the Spirits touch you gently and bring you peace.

Coyote Magic

Transitions are tricksy.  They make me squirm, like a too-tight bra.  With bipolar disorder, one is always in transition—an episode is either coming or going.  There may be a little time to catch my breath and get in some Bad-Ass Training, but I’ve always got my eye on the horizon.

So, in many ways, this transition between having a dad and not having a dad should be familiar territory—there’s what was before, the upheaval of the change, and what comes after.  What comes after has always involved some form of regrouping—determining the effects of the change and planning how to proceed.  I’m finding it’s still too soon to see the effects of my dad’s death, so it’s hard to make a plan.  I’m still wanting to be with my mom, even if I only sit and play her digital Solitaire game while my sister cleans.  I feel lonely and restless in my apartment, even with my two kitty comforters.  Since I dance with loneliness anyway, I’m assuming this is just part of the grieving process—magnification of a fairly common go-to emotion.  I’m not sleeping well, and wake up as tired as when I went to bed.  That ebbs and flows.  Like this whole process, there are difficult spells, then easier.  It’s all a dance to be approached lightly and gently.

This not-having-a-plan business, though, is bothersome.  I know it will come.  I know I’ll figure out how to gather up all the pretty ponies of my life and  get back in the saddle.  There’s a novel to finish, cards to make, books to read, friends to meet, and my curiosity about volunteering at the Animal Rescue League to follow up on.  I anticipate spending more time with my mom, but don’t know what that will look like yet.

I have to be content to let all that percolate without resolution right now.  This moment, I’m still in the upheaval stage of this transition.  The world seems odd and strangely skewed while still familiar in its October beauty.  I perform my daily tasks, even work on my Halloween cards, but there’s a befuddled undercurrent.  I put my clothes on backwards and go to the kitchen when I mean to go to the bathroom.

In some Native American tribes, this would be seen as the work of Coyote, the Trickster.  I like that.  I can imagine Coyote as the King of Transitions, sitting on a hilltop of scrub, his tongue lolling, his eyes gleeful.  He reminds me to relax into the chaos and let it all unfold at its own pace.  I’ll get a plan eventually.  All in good time.

What’s that Big Hole?

Oh, yeah.  It’s where my dad used to be.

I woke up sobbing this morning.  Really the first big blow-out of emotion since Dad’s passing.  I kept thinking about Roger.

One of my dad’s best friends, Vern Landon, also died recently.  Vern and Dad went to high school together, farmed near each other.  Mom and Dad, Vern and Helen travelled all over the world on group trips when they retired.  Needless to say, Dad and Vern were close.

Yesterday at the gravesite, I heard someone crying behind me.  I turned around and a man my age reminded me who he was.  “Roger Landon,” he said.  I grabbed him up immediately, and we held each other while we cried.  I hadn’t seen Roger in 30 years, at least, but all the times he and his dad helped with baling hay, or working with the livestock, or picking corn rushed back.

In the spring of 1973, Mom, Dad, Vern and Helen took a trip to Las Vegas.  My grandma and I were alone on the farm when a huge snowstorm hit, cutting power and blocking all the roads.  Our cattle were starting to calve, and Granny was in a panic.  That’s when Roger showed up on his snowmobile and helped us get the cows and the calves safe.  He was my hero, and I had a crush on him from that day forward.

Standing at my dad’s grave with the October wind whipping around the sheltering tent, I knew Roger wept for his own dad as I wept for mine.  We shared so much history, and now we shared our grief.  He disappeared into the crowd after that—the rest of the family didn’t have a chance to talk to him.  I’m grateful that my girlhood hero made himself known to me and shared his heart.  It’s a gift I’ll cherish from a day filled with magic.


More shifting.  Dad has slipped under any more brief intervals of consciousness.  No more agitation, no more groans of pain.  He sleeps and breathes, his heart continuing its strong beat.

My mom and sister and I have set up a nest in Dad’s room at the nursing home.  We spent the night there last night, and are camped out there today (except that I needed to come home to get some real sleep for a while or put myself in danger of an episode or bronchitis relapse).  The staff gave us another recliner and pads to put on the floor, plenty of pillows and blankets.  We’ve taken over the empty bed and rearranged the furniture to our liking.  My sister’s husband came this morning with her overnight bag and supplies.  The meals are cheap and nutritious, the staff more than willing to bring us juice or a sandwich at 2:00 in the morning.  We have magazines and puzzles, and when I go back in a little bit, I’ll take a deck of cards.

It’s a family slumber party, missing only my brother in Bemidji and nephew in Oklahoma.  But we talk to them and send pictures with my sis’s cell phone.  We talk, and tell stories, and watch Dad breathe.  We swab his dry mouth and talk to him without expecting an answer now.  We cat-nap, then take breaks to walk outside in the beautiful autumn sunshine while the staff tends to Dad’s personal care.

It’s the final vigil, in jammies and slippers.

The Dream of Equinox

This is one of those magical times of the year when we hover on a cusp.  For a moment we balance between light and dark, neither summer or winter but both.  We are not Either/Or, but And/Also.  In my part of the country, we can feel the change in temperature, see the new slant of the sun.  Change is coming, but it’s not here quite yet.

For me, the Equinox carries a dreamy quality.  Time slows to that one pin-point moment of balance.  A clock inside me resets.  A shutter snaps.  And then, I’m on the other side, sliding into winter, the paradigm changed.

Equinox feels even more poignant this year as my family stands on a cusp.  Settling Dad in the nursing home yesterday seemed unreal, dreamlike.  I found myself slipping in and out of time.  Listening to my mom’s nervous chatter, I felt my attention narrow to the slide of my hand across her back, the softness of her sweatshirt, the vulnerability of her small shoulders.  Then, I would look up and catch my sister’s eyes.  Is this the balance point?  When we blink, will we slide into winter?

Aides, nurses, social workers, dietitians, our family all crowded into one side of the double room, talking over the roommate’s blaring TV, talking over each other, darting in and out of the room in a jittery dance.  All the while, Dad sat in the new lift chair, his hands folded over his belly, his gaze focused on an empty spot in the room, the dream wrapped around him.  I wondered how long he could rest in that balance point, how long he could stretch the moment before crossing the threshold into what’s to come.

A shutter snapped.  And now we are all on the other side.

Point of View

Ah, Autumn!  Cooler nights, crisper air, and the first bout of lung crud of the season.

I’ve decided I must have allergies the way this stuff sticks to me—the barking cough, the abundance of eye-grit, the little fever that comes and goes, the way everything between eyebrows and belly feels too raw, too open and too thick.

I moaned about it last night while I watched Drop Dead Diva (DVRed for my convenience).  Here we go again, another winter full of snot and feeling like roadkill.  But, this morning I got up and rearranged my bedroom, cleaned and dusted and put it to rights.  I set up a new little area using a dining room chair, a purple batiked table cloth, my CPAP machine, and a gorgeous print of the Spocks (Leonard Nimoy and Zachary Quinto) my friend Deb gave me.  It’s in the Wealth corner of my apartment, Feng Shui-wise, so I’m bringing in an abundance of healthy breathing.  Either that or pointer ears.

Oh, I barked the whole time and sweat like a little piggy, but there’s something about cleaning and rearranging that offers possibility and potential.  Turning my bed around will give me a whole new perspective and my cats a different view out the window.  Being sick, or depressed, or manic is much in the eye of the beholder.  If we can change our perspective, we change our experience.  And if we can change our experience, we’re free.

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