At the dentist

 

One of the issues caregivers face is ensuring proper dental hygiene for their loved ones. As memory slips, so does the concept of the kind of routines we take for granted as part of our normal day. The wakeup, hit the bathroom, shower, shave (if needed), floss, brush teeth, et al., becomes an illusive construct. The end of day wind down is the same. A foreign movie without benefit of subtitles.

“What? Brush my teeth, you’re so bossy!”

Caregivers know it hits straight into the dilemma of an individual’s sense of self and autonomy in the midst of an on-going memory meltdown.

At the dentist last week for Jed’s six-month check-up, we ran into the issue of dental hygiene. I’d warned our dentist on the phone when I made the appointment so she was prepared. What struck me though, was her incredible gentleness as she cleaned his teeth even as she used quite a lot more rigor than usual.

Sitting outside, I felt by turns sadness for what he was going through, guilt for not having implemented the secret sauce for twice daily brushing, and a sense of being beholden to her for her kindness.

“You’re doing good, Mr. Stevenson,” she said. “I’m so proud of you. I know this is hard.”

Jed didn’t complain and then in speaking with us afterwards she said, “Mr. Stevenson, I do need you to brush your teeth twice a day. And your wife, Malissa, is going to get you a special new toothbrush. It will be a lot of fun.”

One new Philips Sonic electric toothbrush plus a special new heavy duty prescription floride toothpaste later, we headed back to the dentist this week for a followup appointment to top off a filling that had come loose.

Sitting in the waiting room, I observed again the kindness the dentist showed Jed.

“Did you use your new Philips Sonic toothbrush today, Mr. Stevenson?”

He didn’t quite respond, and then taking a look inside his mouth said, “ah, it looks as if you did. Very good, Mr. Stevenson. That is wonderful. Keep up the good work.”

Yes, she was speaking to him like a six year old, but her manner had a sweetness, that disarmed his sense of violation at being told what to do.

What I felt was beholden to her. In what can seem like an indifferent world, her tenderness touched me deeply. I tear up now thinking of it. Just calling him Mr. Stevenson gave him an agency that was powerful.

Reflecting on it, I realized that it also gave me the sense that I wasn’t alone.

For further information on dental care for dementia patients, the Alzheimer’s Association has a very good primer, the link is here: Dental Care.

Aging Care also has some good suggestions: Oral Care Tips for Dementia Caregivers.

As always, please feel free to contact me if you need help with caregiving.

 

 

 

Where does time go

Getting ready to speak about procurement opportunities for M/WBEs and small business owners at the New York Build 2020 Expo, March 3, 2020, Javits Center,

The one year anniversary of my retirement is coming up at the end of February. Not that I’m *that* old, but it was time to hang up my shingle so to speak from working for the City of New York in a variety of administrative procurement leadership roles. What you say? Procurement? A civil servant?  I know. Perhaps a bit incongruous from my boxing and writing life, but, hey, bills had to be paid, and I have to say, I never felt prouder of any profession than my years with the City.

With the retirement anniversary looming, I’m trying to figure out what exactly this year has wrought, other than figuring out pension filings, social security, medicare, and all of the other pensioner-life experiences that have been by turns frustrating and surprisingly easy.

I admit that I didn’t have a plan, per se. It was just time to move on and of course, Jed’s struggles were certainly foremost in my mind. The pandemic also played a role. As I ponder its meaning, I own to having been caught up in the sociological phenomenon of the The Great Resignation.

Looking at time through the prism of retirement has brought me to the realization that I live mostly outside of industrial constructs of time. No. I don’t need to get up at 6:15 AM in the morning for an 8:00 AM start to the day. Or go to bed by 11:00 PM. Or live by endless meetings on a calendar, or deadline dates for this or that report.

Time is my own. My own waking and napping and sleeping. And much as a spoon embracing another, I meld myself to Jed’s time. To having breakfast, and pills out to swallow, and coffee made. But even in that, there is no have-to. Just that it’s there within a window that is morning, as distinguished from later in the day.

Feeding the cat is kind of the same. Our new guy, Sugar Ray, waits patiently. Just needs my attention once I stroll into the kitchen area to set up his morning can of something tasty. And of course some pets and a bit of play, but no alarm needed.

I think it was late June before I grasped that I didn’t have to do anything. That my rigid plans for execution of this or that set of chores was no longer necessary. Rather, I could sit with a coffee and watch the plants. Watch the way the clouds swirled to the left of the Brooklyn Municipal Building (The Ruth Bader Ginsburg Building I should say) as I cock my head to the right looking out the window.

And then the writing started to come.

I’d started Journaling on Saturday, February 27th. By summer it was pretty much every day in some form or another. I journaled, wrote haikus, posts for the blog.

As the summer moved forward, little bits of real writing started to come through.

That practice has nods to time in that I try to set aside segments of the day to write, but even with self-imposed deadlines, there is an ebb and flow to it that seems outside of the world of work. The impositions that trading time and energy for the cold hard reality of a pay check can bring. Those have-to moments, when perhaps you don’t have your heart in it, but have-to anyway. Face getting reprimanded in one form or another for not adhering to the schedule of nine-to-five work and all of its incumbent responsibilities.

I see that most clearly in the changes to relationship. Where folks who formerly worked for me can now be friends. How the static of “boss” has taken some time to unravel. Almost as if we have been collectively taking a hatchet to the fences around us, as so many booby traps to our communicating in any real or meaningful way. This year has brought me the understanding that I can freely roam in my own thoughts and on my own tangents without owing anyone anything. Yes. I get up in the morning, but the clock is internal. And while my writing projects, and such things as the WAAR Room podcast have certain time constraints, each moment seems ripe with possibilities.

My life has become a series of wonderful options and opportunities, and for that I am truly blessed.

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – January 17, 2022

The profundity of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s loss is at times an exponential stain on our nation’s history and national psyche.

Gone is the greatness of his very public intellect and conscience. Yes a leader for civil rights and equity, but also for social justice on the streets of Chicago and Memphis, and in the rice fields of Viet Nam in his calls to withdraw American troops from that theater of war.

Can we imagine him today? A great prophet of the airways? His verbal prowess on display, a great orator toying with the sophists and cynics who ply the boards of what we now call political discourse as they banter about espousing fascism like the school children they are playing with chemicals they neither understand nor care about until, perhaps, some combination blows up in their faces.

I weep for the ideal of our nation. Yes. After all is said and done a patriot of sorts. Molded by my parents idealism and my father’s turn as a revolutionary. Even with his Marxist-Leninist frame of reference, he believed in the experiment. Said, as Zhou Enlai famously quipped of the French Revolution, that we would find out in a couple of hundred more years whether the democratic ideals of the USA’s founders really meant something, but until then, do what we could to ensure its ultimate success.

Dr. King was in many ways our best hope for that success embodying every ideal even as he despaired at the hopelessness he saw all too acutely. Last year’s entry by Democracy Now gives a flavor of the latter day Dr. King, speaking with passion about the ills of America, and the work needed to heal them.  The lessons still reverberate, would that he were here to be our conscience now.

 

Now what?

Okay. So Covid done and dusted. More or less. Still some dregs left. Like the leavings of coffee. Unpalatable but there to be dealt with.

Coming out of my cave, I walked into the cold temperatures of mid-January. Hurriedly paying monthly bills before due dates (those that aren’t automatically deducted), futzing with the plants that needed attending to, making a Trader Joe’s run, plus the hunt for more cans of grilled Fancy Feast cat food — a challenge as cat food seems to on the list of supply chain problem children.

And me. Still no gym (waiting for the dregs to leave). Trying to catch up on writing projects, which is slow going. Figuring out sleep patterns. Avoiding the heavy duty vacuuming that needs to be done. Chores and more chores interspersed with the things that keep me going.

Waking up to find that its January 13th is also to realize I missed the boat on New Year’s and things like New Year’s resolutions.

That was always such a thing. The short list of must-dos for the following year or at any rate, for the month of January into February, when it all felt so fresh.

List items such as: I will write every morning for 30 minutes, or I will practice yoga from 5:30 AM – 6:00 AM for 40 days, kind of my own personal Lent, if I were actually Catholic, but more to the point, liking the ring to the 40 days part of it. 

The truth is I don’t have the heart for it other than to say I want to wake up without worrying.

And maybe that’s a bit whiny. In fact it is. No mistaking it because I’m living a remarkable life. And what worries do I really have? Sure, Jed’s illness, but we have it covered, more or less. We have a lovely place to live. Food on the table. Medical folks who respond when I call. Pensions and health care and social security and a bit in the bank. Isn’t that enough?

So If I land on anything, it’s to say find joy. Live joy. Be joyful. The alternative is like the dregs … nothing we should have to use to define who and what we are.

Just joy.

 

 

 

 

 

My Covid life …

Pandemic Lockdown, Harry Chapin Park, Brooklyn, NY, March 28, 2020

I first read about the novel corona virus beleaguering Wuhan, China in January 2020. Not to say I was prescient or anything, but I did put in my first N-95 mask order on the 26th of January. Even then they were hard to come by and mostly sold out. So no, I wasn’t the only one that saw the tsunami starting to make its way ashore.

I was just at the forefront of a whole lot of people wanting to keep themselves and their families safe.

By mid-February, in my former role as a NYC agency official, I was in daily COOP meetings, that’s continuity of operations to the uninitiated who did not live or work by acronym.

I’ll add, even before the world first heard of Covid-19, I was the hand-sanitizer “Queen.” My particular division had older staff, many of whom were susceptible to URIs (that’s upper respiratory infections), so we’d instituted an “informal” rule. Everyone had to use hand sanitizer and “Lysol” the crap out of their desks at the end of the day to keep the colds at bay.

Me, I’d taken to wiping down tables, chairs, door handles and the like at the beginning and end of each day, and after each meeting.

The illness though had its own time table no matter our planning, which by March, was just a zero sum game of catch up as the trickle of covid cases started to rise to a crescendo, and we dutifully followed through on the plans to stagger work, et al., especially when our own folks started to get sick before finally shutting down entirely.

I also learned to my chagrin that in one meeting in Mid-March, I had two covid-positive colleagues out of five seated around my cramped meeting table for thirty minutes with the door closed.  But I’d dutifully sprayed and wiped down before an after.

By then, the daily 4:00 PM COOP meetings were by phone and had evolved to a Pandemic Task Force. Not to mention the unexplained absences that were whispered about, with one of our number hospitalized for a few days.

Okay, so we all know the rest. The P-word, pandemic, my beloved New York City a raging inferno of sickness and death. All of us at home, locked-down, trying to work and keep our souls together as the sirens punctuated our days and nights as so many desperate cries of despair.

On my chat groups, the friends groups and family ones, we consoled each as we raged, fearfully counting our numbers to keep us safe, and so filled with dread at the thought that one of us would become ill, while recounting in hushed tones those who had died … and on and on through political upheaval, Black Live Matter rallies and marches; the continued, unrelenting sickness, and all the rest.

A day shy of 23 months from placing my first mask order, I tested positive for Covid-19 on an Abbott BinexNOW home test.

That was 23 months of anxiety, fear, desperately scrambling for vaccinations for me and Jed, more scrambling for booster shots, online purchases of masks and more masks, of gloves and more gloves, of hand sanitizer, even making my own at one point with alcohol prep and aloe vera, Clorox bleach spray, Lysol and equivalent wipes, and all the other measures to keep the plague of illness, societal disorder, and wrenching fear at bay.

I was so shocked by the positive result on the stark card, I took it again. A sustained moment of cognitive dissonance. Me, positive? I’m the sanitizer “Queen.” I’m the masked-lady in blue and green and the colors of this or that masks, the cloth ones neatly washed and filtered and replaced with a regularity that was practically obsessive-compulsive in its features. There were weeks and weeks and weeks where I’d be the only person in a mask. On the streets in the summer of 2021 when we NYC denizens felt a bit of hope. Me in the gym, keeping to my quiet corners, learning how to work out and breathe through a mask in the heat, sometimes replacing mid-stream because I’d sweat through it.

Yes. That me. Now sneezing. Taking to my daughter’s room to isolate. The months of thoughtful prep suddenly crashing through with phone calls and frantic cleaning of surfaces, and setting up of supplies in what would be my isolation tank for ten days.

My angel, Izzi, came the next day to take over caregiving duties for her father and to keep me in soup and oatmeal. By that first day (so counted because the day of testing positive is day zero), I was already feeling sick. Sneezing gave way to a sore throat, and by day two a cough, night time fevers, nausea, and a crushing headache. That didn’t abate for several days and at one point I even needed an inhaler in addition to some migraine tablets for the headache, and steady doses of Mucinex to keep the coughing at bay.

My internist had said since I’d had three jabs it was highly unlikely that I’d need hospitalization or even anti-virals as long as my fever didn’t spike past 102F degrees or my pulse oximeter readings did not go below 92.

In that I was lucky. I’d become ill with the Omicron-variant raging across the world as a wild fire of sudden illness.

My fever never went above 100F, and my infection stayed in my upper respiratory system which meant my breathes ranged from a healthy 95-99 most of the time.

But I was sick. And now at day 12 still have sniffles and the sense that science and a steady dose of exercise saw me through the worst.

Our stringent protocols also kept Jed and Izzi safe as they continue to test negative.

Talking via FaceTime from the room next door.

Jed’s confusion as to where I was and who we all were patiently explained several times a day.

Bullets to our hearts averted.

Still …

The moments I’m not prepared for

Mount Everest, Photo credit: The Tribune, India

Caregiving for a person who is losing themselves is the Mount Everest of experiences. One puts one foot in front of the other for some sort of forward momentum, but without really looking too far ahead. To do so is to risk one’s own break down and that plaintive, wistful, despairing question, “how can I do this?”.

As I ponder it all, I’m realizing the moments I’m not prepared for seems to be a growing list. This morning, Jed asked, “Who are you?” and I really didn’t know where to go from there.

I smiled.

Sweetly.

In the moment.

Said, “I am Malissa,” paused and added “we are married.”

Jed said, “I don’t remember things.”

He then smiled and said, “well Sheila, how are you!”

Now that was typical Jed. A moment of clarity in his fog of a mind, covering his sense of embarrassment at not being on top of things and making a joke of it all. We carried on with the Sheila joke for a bit before focusing on breakfast: a toasted slice of leftover cranberry walnut bread, our Christmas morning family tradition for years. He said, “hmmm, this tastes good, where did you get it?”

I explained, the Christmas morning stuff and he looked at me with wide eyes and a big smile and said, “you made this? It’s delicious.”

And so it went. Through breakfast. Through discussions about haircuts. Showering. the scabs on his arms and upper body from his newly acquired OCD habit of scratching and picking.

And no, none of it is ever something I thought of. I mean, really, who does? At our age, one thinks of the bad luck of cancers or heart aliments, diabetes or COPD from all the smoking we did as kids, but something that slowly erodes one’s ability to think or even recognize or put words to the people they know and love? No. Believe me. You don’t think of it. Not even if it is all around you, never for your own spouse or loved one.

As I write this, we’ve conquered the confusion of waking up and not being able to understand the most basic of things. Slowly though, I am watching as cognition returns. Yes. Morning meds and vitamins. A shower (no fight about it either), shaving using his electric razor, putting on spanking new duds from his Christmas haul. A pet to our kitty Mimi who is on her last legs from chronic liver failure. Sweet words to me about how much he loves me. Appreciates me. More talk about getting a haircut. And then an actual walk, our first in almost two weeks since he accompanied me to the Post Office to pick up stamps.

All went well, but the haircut didn’t happen. We lost the window, too soon when he turned from our apartment house entry way and too late when we passed it on the way home.

Walks are in fact, really tiring both physically and mentally, even our very short ones. He becomes overstimulated by the sights and sounds. People on the street. Noise. Shops. And today from wandering around the first floor of Barnes and Noble, the colors of the fruit stand, the plants and trees lining the brownstones on Clinton Street. And needing to stop as well. The sweat beading on his forehead, needing to catch his breath, this from the man who has circumnavigated Manhattan at night in a kayak by himself and written about it for a Weekend Warrior column in the NY Times.

Once upstairs, he remembered about the haircut. “Maybe tomorrow,” he said. He had to go to bed, to drift for a while in the darkened room with drawn curtains and to eventually asleep.

Meanwhile my day. Yay to getting my delivery of Covid home tests after a pre-Christmas frantic search of medical supply companies on the internet. Yes to laundry, churning its way through rinse cycles and the dryer. Yes to a quick text touchpoint with my daughter. Yes to realizing just how overwhelmed I feel — and to the bits of tears in my eyes as I blink my way through a minute or two of silent meditation to keep myself together for the next steps of the day.

If yesterday morning was self-care at Gleason’s Gym, today, through chores (garbage out, laundry, vacuuming), I’m giving myself the sense of order externally. Sure, not spanking clean, but at least with some of the holiday disorder at bay.

And then I locate myself again. Clear my mind, breathe, inhale, exhale, and start it again. This is the way.

****

For more information about dementia and caregiving resources here are some helpful links in NYC as well as two of the main national organizations. And of course, always feel free to contact me.

CaringKind is a caregiver organization in NYC with remarkable resources, courses, caregiver groups, and other information. Link here: Caring Kind.

NYU Family Support Center has programs for caregivers to include a fully array of “zoom” meetings that range from looking at art with museum curators to music and caregiver “KaffeeKlastch” meetings. Link here:  NYU Family Support Center.

Alzheimer’s Association, website for information and resources for this disease. Link here: Alzheimer’s Association.

The Association for Frontotemperal Degeneration, website for information and resources for this disease. Link here: AFTD

Getting it wrong to get it right

December Roses, Juneteenth Walk, Cadman Plaza Park, Brooklyn

December roses, Juneteenth Walk, Cadman Plaza Park, Brooklyn

I’ve been having that sort of week.

Really from last week till now. Forgetting to put stamps on letters. Referring to the wrong person in an email. Fretting as Izzi waits for another round of Covid tests because more of her co-workers have tested positive.

And sleep has been an on again, off again thing too. Drifting into a nap in front of the TV for 40 minutes during the boring parts of a boxing undercard and then not falling asleep till 4:30 in the morning.

Last night was so ridiculous.

I just gave up at about 3:00 AM, showered, and began making the dough for the cream cheese rugelach with apricot jam and walnuts I’m baking as part of my holiday array of goodies. Dough made and put into the refrigerator to rest, I didn’t fall sleep again till around 5:30 AM. I’m just chocking last night up to the winter solstice, with the notion that my body just wanted to get a jump start on the the longer days to come.

But I also know something else is going on. That the working from up in my chest rather than the sense of being rooted onto the earth is the sure knowledge that things are off kilter in my sense of being.

Scratching it further I’m having to ask myself what underlies it all.

Holidays?

The Omicron-variant doubling the cases of Covid in NYC everyday?

Line for Covid testing, Astoria, December 22, 2021 (Photo Credit: Izzi Stevenson)

Jed’s forgetting who Izzi was last week?

Cheng Man-ching

Not putting in the time to take care of the things I’ve committed to? I mean really, I have to ask myself, why is it I haven’t actually performed the Cheng Man-ching 37-move Tai Chi form since my last zoom class ended a few weeks ago?

It may remain a mystery of sorts and not having a particular insight into things can be something we just shrug our shoulders about and let go from time to time.

But I tried the exercise on Monday without even realizing it. Somewhere into my tenth round at Gleason’s Gym I let the flow of things unfold as I threw jabs and straight rights at the double-end bag. Somewhere around the 14th round I realized I did not feel constricted by striving for perfection. I was in the moment. Up on my toes. Flicking punches as I moved from side to side.

Just doing that reminded me that not every action has to be a home run. After all, a baseball player with a 350 batting average is considered at the top of the game. If a 1,000 is perfect … well, you get what I mean.

So that’s been my message to myself. I don’t always have to swing for the fences. And if I get it wrong, well, make up for it. Have the sense to sink down a little lower next time. Feel the power of the moment not as that huge mountain to climb, but as part of the flow.

Sometimes just getting a few hours of something, however fleeting, can be enough. And yeah, smell the roses.

Boxing Saturdays

Double end bag, Gleason's GymI admit to a certain inconsistency when it comes to my boxing training at Gleason’s Gym. Most weeks I am there two days a week, trying for Monday and Thursday mornings, but this week, as with several other weeks this Fall, days slipped away from me. And so … I found myself at the gym on a Saturday morning for the first time in months.

For many years, Saturdays were my mainstay of boxing. I’d drop my daughter off at her Aikido dojo for her three hour class and then make the quick dash to Gleason’s to train before turning back around to make the pickup.

Sparring at Gleason's GymThose were sacrosanct hours. Gleason’s was on Front Street then, the space encrusted with decades of sweat, grime, and hard work, and yet still cavernous.

Getting there by 9:30, my trainer, Lennox Blackmoore and I had our standing date to spar. We’d grab the little ring which remained pretty much unused at that time of the morning, and became so much “our” space, folks who thought to use it would immediately vacate when they saw us gear up.

It was a lot of fun.

Fun in learning the intricacies of the game. How to feint. How to double jab over the guard followed by an overhand right. How to throw a quick jab to the body when Lennox tried to trick me by switching to a south paw stance. Oh, and how to take a punch, which was way too often because I never could get the hang of slipping well or knowing when to put on my ear muffs.

Saturdays also had a lot of camaraderie. Sure there were pro fighters, but there were a lot of folks like me. In love with the sport and with the sense of boxing as a family. And so we would nod and acknowledge each other with waves, and “hi ya’ doing champ,” fist bumps, and mostly a lot of acknowledgements of the work being done. Of progress being made. Of dedication. Of the process of perfecting the lexicon of the sport as both science and art.

Next month will mark twenty-five years since I first started boxing at Gleason’s Gym. I trained with Johnny Grinage then–about as old school a trainer as one could get. We bonded over our mutual love of bebop, and I didn’t even mind when he’d tell me the same Miles Davis or Wynton Kelly story for the umpteenth time. When it came to boxing training, however, it wore out pretty quickly, so after about 8 years of on and off training, I switched to Lennox.

Lennox Blackmoore, Trainer, Gleason's GymI feel kind of proud of the fact that Lennox and I are still at it.  We haven’t sparred since before Covid, but have talked about restarting. After the switch to Water Street, Lennox even got up at the unthinkable hour of 5:00 in the morning (or frankly, never went to sleep), to train me at 6:30, before I went to work. Now that I’m retired, we tend to meet up some time between 9:30 and 10:00 and have not yet gotten back to our pre-covid three day a week schedule.

Neither of us is young, or as spry, but the fun never stops, and there’s always Don Saxby, another mainstay cheer leader of my old Saturday mornings to keep me sharp on my skills when I need a different view of the game,.

Caregiving and the holidays …

Greek Kourembiedes CookiesFor many Americans, the period from Thanksgiving through the New Year is fraught with tensions and anxieties, coupled with moments of exuberance and joy. if you are a caregiver, it can add yet another level of complexity in the ever evolving landscape of illness whether physical or lodged in the recesses of the brain.

I will say things have been fairly smooth so far and actually seemingly less fraught than prior years because the fact is so much of our lives is now lived in the moment. After all, when one’s loved one can’t really remember that tomorrow’s Thanksgiving, or even what Thanksgiving is, the celebration gets quite easy. So my daughter and I set it up such that we’d spend lunch with my sister and other members of our family, and afterwards came home to celebrate “Thanksgiving” with Jed.  Thanksgiving 2021It was fairly simple, consisting of his favorite roasted veggies, a lovely dressing, fresh orange cranberry relish plus a yummy French Apple Cake and voila, we were done. No fuss, no muss. And no hurt feelings because Izzi and I had spent part of the day with my sister.

Our six-week run usually consists of Thanksgiving, the anniversary of when Jed and I met, his birthday, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s.As it happened December 6th marked 25 years since Jed and I first got together.

I admit to sadness at the fact that he didn’t really understand it, but did enjoy the pizza I brought in and otherwise marked it in my own way.

And no. No stroll through Tribeca to Puffy’s on Hudson and Harrison where we met, or any particular reminiscence, though he did recall that I’d gone there with two of my oldest friends. Still, it remains wistful. Speaking of another place and time where our senses had felt so heightened and together.

His birthday comes up next … which will also be low key no doubt. Yes to family cake and a visit from Izzi, plus a few presents, but it doesn’t really register, except as a big surprise each time I bring it up.

As for the rest … well, Hanukkah has come and gone, along with a wonderful visit from Jed’s oldest friend. And after Jed’s birthday, we’ll have Christmas, and maybe even a small tree because he seems to associate it, and then lovely chocolate truffles and a split of champaign for New Year’s Eve.

The lesson of it all to myself is to remain in the moment.Boxing at Gleason's Gym

To stay calm.

To give myself the self care I need to feel contained whether that means ensuring I get to Gleason’s Gym to box or to take an hour to sit in the cafe across the street tarrying over a cappuccino as I write in my journal.

And yes, I’m making the events as special as I can, without overtaxing myself or attaching to the idea that it will remain as “that time at Christmas when …” because, the fact is he won’t particularly remember.

The best I can ask for is see to his sense of happiness from moment to moment. And really, what better gift is there than that.

And please, if you are caring for a loved one … know that you are not alone and can always, always reach out.

Telling the truth

I’ve spent a lifetime as the world’s best mask.

My old analyst Ralph figures I took one look at my very young, eager parents and said, “Whoa, keep you own counsel, sweetie,” and so it went.

There was the time I was 15 or so playing the trust game on a sidewalk near school when I fell back and suffice to say, my pals didn’t catch me, which meant a hard crack on the back of my head and lots of stars, but at least no blood.

And so things continued to go. Trust just a five letter work that spelled n-e-v-e-r.

Well, fast forward a life time, say 50+ years, and I am still wrestling with the concept. With what it means to put things out there. To unravel. To have tears glisten. To yell out, “help.” To not falter.

Sparring with Lennox Blackmoore, Gleason's GymNow, I don’t like getting punched in the face either, but at least I can see it coming, with the exception, perhaps, of a left hook coming at me from the right side. The point being, there is a truth about being in a ring. Yes, skills should be in evidence. A deep familiarity with the vernacular of jabs, and straight rights or lefts, of uppercuts and hooks, and all of the defensive strategies. Of balancing offense and defense. Of knowing enough to hook off a double jab. Of deftly moving laterally and back again. Of making one’s opponent miss and pay. Then at least one is prepared for those moments of truth. For how a doubled up jab goes over the guard. And how that pop to the forehead stuns, and before one knows it, there is a crushing hook to the jaw.

Then truth works.

Makes sense.

Just like my squeaky right jaw from a hook I didn’t defend five years ago or more. I knew it could come, but didn’t defend. Got so stymied by the double jab over the top, I lost touch. Let my right hand come down around my waist with nary a thought to the left hook coming my way. The perfectly timed one that snapped me to the side, and even as I leaped laterally, could still feel my head turning from it.

Truths of the soul kind though. The one’s that leave squeaks to the heart. How much harder are those to face? To come through? To ever let go? To even speak about in any coherent sort of way? I mean it’s all those years later. One would figure it’s time.

Getting sick … the return

Sick bedI have been laid out flat with laryngitis, fever, a rib flailing cough, and all the misery of a GERD flare. Not to mention sore muscles from nights on the couch because my wracking cough shatters the calm of my husband’s sleep and sense of well being.

Okay. Enough with the complaining, right? I do, after all, mostly have my voice back, and, thanks to a plethora of drugs to include an inhaler, cough medicine (three tries till I could find the one that worked–Mucinex, the honey flavored one), antihistamines, massive doses of PPIs to stop the stomach acid, Tylenol for the first few days to stop the razor blades in my throat feeling, cough drops, which I stopped, because they exacerbated the GERD/Laryngopharyngeal Reflux Disease, and my lovely daughter’s TLC who came to stay for a couple of days, ostensibly to ensure that husband was okay, but worriedly keeping an eye on me, having already sent a humidifier via Amazon prime. Meanwhile, she’d slipped and fell and cracked the radial head of her elbow the night of her 22nd birthday, the same day I came down with the dreaded “L”.

My what a bunch my family is.

So now that I am taking a reasonably deep breath without a hacking exhale, I’m trying to put some perspective to all of this, admittedly a bit drugged up from the steroid in the inhaler and whatever cocktail of ingredients is in the cough medicine.

Still. In the throes of sudden vulnerability. Of coughing so hard I couldn’t breathe. Of fearing Covid for the first couple of days, even though I’d just had the third booster and knew the symptoms were for a different sort of virus. Of realizing that life is so fleeting and that I am so unprepared for its end. I mean, yes. I have wills and powers of attorney and that sort of stuff, but everything else is so messy and in the middle. It’s like my desk. I know where things are, but looking at it from an outsiders point of view. Where to start? How to fathom it all? How could I leave my daughter and my husband with this? And in particular, my husband? My beautiful Jed with short term memory so fleeting that he asks the same question 4-5 times before he figures out from a cue on my face that he’d asked it already.

A caregiver’s dilemma is always one of balancing the self with the non-self.

Self says, “hey, it’s my life, I do whatever I want. So what if there are unpaid bills? Or if I didn’t send in the signatures for the new account? Or even the latest round of retirement forms?”

Non-self doesn’t even say. Non-self is there soundlessly. A support bed of soft puffy clouds. A hand guiding without ever telling. A hand that gives full agency to the other. Allows them to find their way to the shower on their own to scrub the days of not showering off their body.  And doesn’t worry. Doesn’t feel wrecked inside at week two of not getting out of his pajamas.

Purple bootsOkay so I am in the throes of a lot of mixed stuff here. Me with laryngitis and me as a caregiver and me as a recently retired person trying to find her way and me as a 67 year old facing the fact that I don’t bounce back as quickly as I used to and me as a lot of other things I haven’t even figured out yet.

Meanwhile, I bought a pair of purple boots and are they ever cute.

Courage …

Adult male lion in the Serengeti.
Photo Credit: Michael Nichols, Nat Geo Image Collection

My mind has been fairly unfocused when it comes to writing this week. Nothing specific. No traumas to speak of. In fact, mostly in the zone. Work outs going well, things at home in a stable place, nice talks with my daughter. Still, there is something unsettling and a word that keeps circling around in my thinking … courage.

As a kid growing up on East 12th Street in the early 1960s, courage seemed to be equated by its assumed opposite: cowardice.

As young as seven, kids called me out for this or that thing. I was, however, the child of young, idealistic, radical pacifists suddenly thrown into the maelstrom of a working class block — in the low rent mini-Little Italy area of what became known as the East Village.

On the First Avenue end, there was an Italian Men’s social club, wink, wink, where men sat outside rain or shine playing dominos under the stripped awning, or so it seemed to me.  That end of the block and its six-story tenements was mostly Italian, with kids that looked like shrunken versions of their parents: girls with teased hair, pencil skirts, sweater-sets, and boys with gold saints’ medallions showing through their open-collared shirts. These boys never seemed to wear dungarees or sneakers — the uniform even then of play time on the block. This was the north side of 12th Street between First and Second, with a giant nine-story social services building dominating the middle, where kids taken from their parents were processed. The looming building that seemed to instill fear in every one was the demarkation point between the Italian kids on one end and the mostly Puerto Rican kids, plus my brother and me, living in the tenement buildings trailing towards Second Avenue.

Michael K. Williams, Photo Credit: Arturo Holmes/Getty Images

In attempting to tease it all some more, I realized that in the background, I have been tied up in the sense of grief and loss I felt at the death of actor Michael K. Williams. And more to the point, the release of the New York City Medical Examiner’s report a few weeks ago noting that he’d died of acute drug intoxication from a mixture of entanyl, p-fluorofentanyl, heroin and cocaine.

At first glance one could ask why I would be so affected. After all, our lives never intersected and yet, in his words, and actions, and struggles, they did. Always. From the first time I watched him perform as Omar Little on screen on The Wire.

Now what would the character of stone cold killer like Omar have to do with me?  I mean it’s no secret. I am a 67 year old Jewish woman from New York City. I reek of privilege, right?  I can go anywhere. But … and it’s a big one, I’ve spent a good part of my life passing. Not acknowledging that I’m a street kid too. A shorty. And a lonely one who fended for herself. Who had her own code. But who later in life used language and appearance to cover a multiple of early traumas.

As I think of it, that pesky 12th Street “c” word comes through too, but not the one about courage. No. The one about cowardice. And that’s where Mike from East Flatbush comes into the picture. Because he never passed. He always wore his scar with pride. With a truth to power, the power of those who hurt him over the years in his rear mirror, until the moments came when the dark meanies came back and they went up his nose or into his veins. But still with his chin out the next day. Figuring out how to live his best life. Showing us clearly and explicitly that this was who he was including his frailties.

Seeing Omar was seeing what I wanted to be as a kid. A fire fighter for justice. In my games with my pal Mara when we were nine, it was all about fighting nazis. We’d crawl through the culvert that connected my building with the one next door and in our minds, crossed behind the German lines to infiltrate and free prisoners from concentration camps. Many years later it occurred to me that coming through the culvert was also about finding my own authentic self. About owning all the parts–the good ones and the bad ones and pushing those truths forward no matter the consequences.

As I think of it now, it occurs to me that it’s one thing to be a spy in the shadows and quite another to push through with guns blazing. And that’s the intersection. That was Michael K. Williams to me. A purveyor of truth and authenticity in a world hell bent on crushing him. I’m sorry I never met him or had the chance to tell him that his story and the way he lived his life as Mike from East Flatbush touched me deeply, but he’d have understood.

May his memory be a blessing.

Spotify playlist: Trouble Man, For Mike from East Flatbush

Introducing WAAR Room

I am so very pleased to introduce WAAR Room the new video podcast series on the WAAR Sports YouTube channel.

Along with my co-hosts Chris Baldwin (aka Fight Goddess) and Eddie Goldman (No Holds Barred), the WAAR Room (see the link to the page!) covers the dirty business of boxing and corruption in sports governance at every level of play, all over the world!

That’s opened up this entire exciting world for us!

We’ve exposed the fight fixing at the Rio 2016 Olympics, had tight talk and analysis of  the Fury/Wilder bout, and in our latest edition, we were joined by the brilliant Irish crime reporter and author, Nicola Tallant. As the star of our Clash of the Clans Edition, Tallant took us through the relationship between the Irish mafia gang leader Daniel Kinahan’s dope empire and forays into the world of boxing. We focused on the potential for corruption in the sweet science and how the tentacles of Kinahan’s boxing empire have begun to invade the USA and the world of women’s boxing. Her new book, Clash of the Clans: The rise of the Irish narcos and boxing’s dirty secret (available in the USA on Kindle) is causing a sensation around the world and we were so honored that she chose to give us her time to expose the ongoing criminality of the Kinahan empire.

With new editions weekly, we will look to cover all aspects of the sport with a special emphasis on women’s participation, sports justice, and rooting out corruption and abuse in boxing and beyond.

Please join us and be sure and hit the like and subscribe button!

Reflecting the positive

Gleason’s Gym, September 23, 2021


I admit it. Not every day is stellar.

I’d walked to the gym at my usual clip, feeling as if I’d work through my 16 rounds or so with reasonable ease, already planning out the things I wanted to work on: Moving with the jab, followed by a sidestep for a quick right to the body, left hook, straight right combination, before moving on to the next jab. As I shadow boxed, that worked for about a minute of the first round before I started to slow down.

“One of those mornings,” I thought, as I took the pace down a notch.

And yes, Gleason’s Gym was still fairly summer-hot and very, very humid, but today, the stickiness in the air seemed to be getting to me more than usual.

By the fourth round I found I needed to slow it down even more. Still feeling that I could make it work I boxed four progressively slower rounds on the heavy bag and one last attempt at a fifth, making my total nine for the day.  And yep, that was it. I knew I had to call it quits. This was not my morning.

In trying to analyze it, I realized I was still a bit unnerved by news I’d received the night before. Someone I am close to suffered a TIA* – a mini-stroke that left her unable to speak in the middle of a zoom call. She was pretty much back to her self within 30 minutes, but on the advise of her doctor, went to the Emergency Room and was admitted overnight for monitoring and further tests. I had just seen her the week before our first true outing since before the pandemic, so it all came as a surprise. At 76, she is robust, but the reality is at a certain point, things just happen.

As I walked back home, still slow, slow enough that my walk wasn’t even registering as “exercise” on my iWatch, I reflected on it all. I realized that knowing when to pull out was just as important as pushing forward. That there is a moment when the positive of exercise or any of our actions gives way to something that may be less than brilliant. That knowing one’s limits is another aspect of self-care.

So … yes, reflecting the positive sometimes means listening to your body when it says, you are done working out for the day. Time to go home.

There’s always tomorrow.

 

*TIA: A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a temporary period of symptoms similar to those of a stroke. A TIA usually lasts only a few minutes and doesn’t cause permanent damage. Often called a ministroke, a transient ischemic attack may be a warning of a future stroke and an opportunity to prevent it. (Mayo Clinic)

forgiveness ….

Tonight is Kol Nidre, so named as it is the old Aramaic prayer Jews around the world will sing annulling all oaths and vows made before G-d at the start of the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur.

If that felt like a lot, believe me, it is a lot. And hearing it sung feels as heart wrenching as it implies as it signifies the beginning of 25+ hours of prayer, self-reflection and fasting–along with entreaties to G-d and oneself to be written into the “good” book of life for the coming year.

This morning, like an ersatz acolyte in training, I figured I would use my time boxing at Gleason’s Gym to clear out my mind for the mental and emotional gymnastics that Yom Kippur would bring.

Meanwhile it was hot, hot, hot and humid, and as I went through my first four rounds of shadow boxing, I became bathed not only in my exertions, but a less than charitable feeling as I angled for the portion of the ring underneath the overhead fan against all comers.

“Oy,” I realized, “Yet another thing to seek forgiveness for.”

Still, by the time I was on the focus pads with my trainer Lennox Blackmoore, I was indeed more in the moment, less concerned with the fan, and working on the exact angle of my head as I dipped under to bob and weave among the other technical corrections I was seeking to make as we trained. I even felt like I could go for a fifth round of pads, and although I gulped sips of water between rounds, and I was just short of panting, whatever it was I was aiming for in the “clear one’s mind department” was starting to kick in.

But that doesn’t mean I was really any closer to getting the whole forgiveness thing.

Sure, I can forgive another their “trespasses” and mostly do. I work hard at that and do bear it in mind not to attach to the behavior of others even when it violates me to a degree. But I do bump up against things. The “big” violations that become harder to deal with. Frankly, the closer they are to my core being, the harder those, “I forgive you,” words become. And then I also have to wonder where the line is between not attaching to the behavior of others and the psychological state of disassociation I have entered into from time to time over the course of my lifetime from the deep pains and in some cases emotional trauma those acts have caused.

All of that is difficult and can set-up a spiral of clarity to defensive posturing as a tornado of the soul. But that is not my understanding of what the day is about per se. Rather the purpose is here and now–and has less to do with forgiving others than calling out oneself for the crap we’ve pulled all year, such as how not forgiving another may have set up behavior we need to ask forgiveness for. Subtle. Yes. But that’s the point. It’s all about one’s own behavior.

I hogged the fan in the ring… I was snippy to my husband… I didn’t take my friend’s mother’s call… I removed someone’s laundry from the dryer… I said I was going to make dinner, but binge-watched The Bad Batch instead.

We are talking countless acts that I will have to pound my chest about.

But it will be the deeper reflections that I have to really sort out:  Can I forgive myself for being me? For being less that perfect? For thinking a thing, but not always doing it? For my humanity? And frankly, to my mind, for those acts where I cheated myself?

I am grateful for the chance to renew myself. For taking a day to cleanse as I go forth into whatever the next space will be. Will I be perfect at atoning? No. I can’t even say for certain that I will fast for the full 25+ hours or stay online for all of the prayers. But I do forgive myself that. It’s my intentions that truly matter. My intentions for a good and full year doing all that I can to live my best life.

I will close with this:

To those I have wronged, I ask for forgiveness.

To those I may have helped, I wish I had done more.

To those I neglected to help, I ask for understanding.

To those who helped me, I sincerely thank you …

Gmar chatima tova – May you be inscribed in the book of life for good.

Cantor Josef Rosenblatt singing Kol Nidre from a 1930 recording.