Saturday, June 29, 2013
“…to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.” – Marriage vow from the 1979 Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, page 427 Phil, one of my husband’s best friends from high school, recently remarried, to a lovely woman named Barbara. They have bought a house and combined their households, and are starting married life in their mid-60s with all the hope and enthusiasm of any newlyweds. We have wished them all the best and are happy for them. You have to tip your hat to people who marry at this time of life. The cynical side of me says it’s the triumph of hope over experience. Marriage, after all, is what a lot of us want, but it ain’t easy, even in the best of circumstances and all the love and good will in the world, because life happens. A lot of fuss is made about new love and beginnings – how many love songs are there? Who does not know that feeling of joy when the heart is fairly bursting with feelings of love? How many of us have been dizzy with the knowledge of love returned? There are probably even more songs about love gone wrong. There is not much deeper disappointment than when you’ve made yourself completely vulnerable and been betrayed, and who among us has not been there, and sung those songs? It is part of life to love and not be loved back. It sucks eggs, but we all have to live through the discovery that we are not everyone’s cup of tea. There, two metaphors in one sentence. Think I’ll make some tea and boil an egg. But I digress. Then there is what I am starting to call the other end of love, when you have lived together for longer than you lived apart, raised your family, done your jobs, been through the years and blows, and are looking at your life’s end game. Not so many songs about that. Jacques Brel wrote “La Chanson des vieux amants” (“The Song of Old Lovers”) and it’s a good song, but it’s not the song I’m talking about. Brel speaks of stormy times, of leaving each other, of taking other lovers, but always coming back to each other. One line says, “…we had to have a good deal of talent to be this old without being grown-ups.” (©Jacques Brel, but I don’t know what year) This is not the end of life – this is middle age celebrating youthful behavior that persists. That’s all very Gallic (or Belgian) of Brel, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about those of us who did not have the talent to keep ourselves from growing up, those of us who showed up for life every day and hung on, those of us who understand that, “…until we are parted by death” is about as solemn a solemn vow as you can make in this life. Where are our love songs? I’ve been thinking lately that I should write such a love song. I haven’t written a song for years, but this idea is turning slowly ‘round in my brain, and I’m thinking it would be good to have such a song to sing now, a song about a lifetime of fidelity and friendship, of laughter and music, of shared hard times and joyful times, of the sadness of knowing that life does end, and you never know when or how or to whom the ending will come first. That’s the trouble with loving someone forever – for human beings, forever has an expiration date. Then I shake myself and say to hell with all this morbidity. As long as we’re alive, we’re alive, and we shall live life to the fullest, fight the good fight, and continue to laugh and cry and eat chocolate and feed the birds, and perhaps sing one of those old love songs, maybe this one, © 1962 Bob Dylan: “If today was not a crooked highway; if tonight was not a crooked trail; if tomorrow wasn’t such a long time; then lonesome would mean nothing to you at all.” Yep. Tomorrow is a long time. That’s why it’s amazing that tomorrow arrives so fast. Congratulations and best wishes to Barbara & Phil. I’ll only add that Bob Dylan said early in his career that every song he wrote was a love song. If you’re a songwriter you understand that. But that’s another essay.
Went on a road trip the other week. Ever since my cousin Nancy moved back to California from Washington we’ve talked about meeting in the middle, and finally Nancy suggested we meet someplace on Interstate 5, which would be a straight shot for both of us. She knew just the place: the Seven Feathers Casino and Lodge in Canyonville, Oregon. I may have mentioned before that my cousin Nancy loves to gamble. She occasionally wins, and has the self-control to stop playing when she’s losing. This makes her a happy gambler. When she was moving from Washington to California she stopped at Seven Feathers and hit a largish jackpot, so she is prejudiced in favor of the place. She made the reservations. The day finally came, and we both set out, she heading north and me heading south. The radio the first day was full of news of Edward Snowden and discussion of his heroism or treason. I put in a book on CD and happily drove on. The first night I stopped in Vancouver to visit my friend Sonya; Nancy stopped at the Rolling Hills casino in Corning, California, and won another largish jackpot. She called me to say I could order whatever I wanted for dinner the next night. This is the difference between my travels and Nancy’s travels: she often comes out ahead on the trip. The next day, after listening to a profoundly depressing lecture by Noam Chomsky on Oregon Public Broadcasting (Portland has the greatest selection of radio stations! Chomsky says we’re undoing the Magna Carta!), I once more headed south. I stopped to visit my friend Pennie and her husband Tom in their new home in a small town in the Oregon mountains. They showed me a lot of the sun stones they had found the last couple of years in their searching up in the eastern Oregon desert, then handed me a petrified dinosaur egg. Yes, friends, I held a petrified dinosaur egg in the palm of my hand. On one side was the smooth petrified shell. On the other side, the shell was gone, and you could see tiny feathers and the hints of the limbs of the creature that coiled up inside the shell all those thousands – millions? – of years ago. It never hatched, but it lives on in stone and it is a marvel to hold in your hand.
Mary Martin, the Socialist Workers Party candidate for mayor of Seattle, was interviewed by the Seattle Times the other week. She spoke of how she would fight for the working class as mayor. She said, “No other candidates except those from the Socialist Workers Party advocate the goal of working people taking political power out of the hands of the capitalist class.”* Ah, you go, girl. I love it when you talk dirty. I don’t kid myself – I think that any political party which is organized enough to call itself a political party has become an institution and you know what institutions do, don’t you? Come on, you in the back of the room. I get tired of seeing the same hands all the time. Institutions support and nurture institutions. This is a problem with most organized human groups. They start out with the best of intentions – social and economic reform, production, employment, salvation, housing, food, and shelter, for example – but turn into organizations that have to meet their overhead. People who love to have power are drawn to leadership positions, and pretty soon the institution is more about making sure the president can have a nice hand-woven carpet in the Oval Office, or the Bishop has a nice new Jaguar S-type sedan to drive (full disclosure: the car that ran into my car a few weeks ago was a Jaguar S-type sedan). When I worked for King County a few decades ago, one year during the week between Christmas and New Year’s the employees of an entire large county department were given the week off so that their offices could have new carpeting. Did the offices need new carpeting? Not so much. The point was, they had some money left over in their annual budget, and if they didn’t spend all that money, they would not get as much money in the next year’s budget. So they got new carpet. Oh, look, the financial people could then say – they spent their entire budget this year. We must give them at least that much money, and probably a little more, for next year. This is how institutions work. In other craziness, I had a prescription I’ve been taking for years renewed this month, for the first time getting it with my Medicare prescription coverage. A couple of weeks later I got a letter from my insurance company informing me that they had let me get my prescription “temporarily,” but this drug is not in their formulary. Now that I have insurance, I have to go back to the drug that costs $100 more per month because the cheaper tablet is not covered, and that’s how that institution works. This is the sort of cultural/economic insanity that makes me tic and twitch and mutter to myself. Our human brains are always trying to find patterns and make sense out of what we perceive. The only sense I can make out of the upside-down, inside-out, bass-ackwards way our country and economy are presently run is to frame it all within the paradigm of supporting the institutions which have the money and power. Will the working class rise and cast off their chains? Perhaps. Then they will evolve, over time, into the forgers of new chains. It’s a human thing. Meanwhile, Mary Martin will not be taken seriously as a mayoral candidate, because she is a Socialist and because she is a woman. She will get a small percentage of the vote, but no more. It’s too bad. Socialists have some pretty sensible ideas, as do women. It is profoundly sad and infuriating to me that we live in a time and place when the sensible and down-to-earth are not taken seriously, but are either patronized or vilified. I do not care for politics and I do love people, mostly. You can’t have one without the other, so I’m still working on how to live with both. I’ll get back to you on that. *©2013 The Seattle Times
It is May, and I have medical insurance. I won’t call it health insurance, because it isn’t something you use when you’re healthy. The insurance I now have is Medicare. I turn 65 this month, and I am officially signed up. It was not until I was in the process of signing up that I found out that Medicare begins on the first day of the month you turn 65, not on the day you turn 65. I remarked to my husband that this was an uncharacteristically rational policy for our government to have. How much simpler to roll over the paperwork once a month, instead of every day. It’s downright sensible. I wonder how it happened. But I’m not spending a lot of time wondering about that. Mostly I’m thinking about how weird it is to have insurance again. It’s been three years since I lost my coverage, back when my husband went on Medicare himself and we were out of money to pay for insurance for me. In this uninsured hiatus, I have had three significant surgeries and a few less significant procedures. I’ve become pretty good at applying for charity from hospitals. Last year we declared bankruptcy. Listen, you do what you gotta do. Now when I go for a medical appointment and they ask for my insurance, I can whip out my two Medicare cards instead of hanging my head and mumbling, “I don’t have any insurance.” Except for the thousands of dollars we couldn’t afford to pay and those humiliating moments when I had to fess up to my uninsured state, there was a lot I liked about not having medical insurance. I paid for office calls at the time of the appointment, which meant no bills in the mail later, so less paper and paperwork. Simple. I had no drug coverage, either, so I paid for all my prescriptions out of pocket. Both times that I drove to California last year and needed to get my prescriptions a little early there was no insurance company telling me it was too soon to buy my drugs and refusing to allow the prescriptions to be filled. That happened to me at least once when I had coverage. I didn’t go to the doctor if I could help it during this three years. This is the two-edged sword of not being insured – you’re less likely to be over-tested or over-medicated, but there is always the chance that you’ll not get treatment you really need. I had two surgeries to remove pre-cancerous cells during this three years, and of course my gall bladder imploded at the end of March and was removed in early April. I was really hoping that gall bladder could wait for five more lousy weeks, but no, so there are a few medical people waiting with their hands out now. Sigh. Fortunately, I am now a freelance editor. What does a freelance editor do? In my definition: proofread for punctuation and grammar while respecting and maintaining the writer’s voice. Format writing so that a piece is consistent within itself. Listen to and encourage the writer while being honest and having a heart. Make suggestions that seem like good ideas and having no attachment to whether the writer uses the suggestions. Editing is a bit like polishing a song – you want the text to sing, and make sense, and touch the heart of the reader, and not have punctuation and grammar errors breaking up the flow. So that’s what I’m doing, or trying to do, and I enjoy it and I get paid. Like they say, the perfect job is when you get paid for something you’d do anyway, and I don’t have to leave the house, so that’s even more perfect. It’s May, I have Medicare and a little gainful employment. Everything’s looking pretty peachy, except, you know, for that mortality thing, which looms larger as you age. One thing at a time – editing and Medicare now, death when it comes. That’s my plan. For now I’m looking forward to when the nasturtiums bloom. I love nasturtiums.