Welcome to the middle path

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Sporadic photos and notes from a Psyche-midwife, cheerleader, anthropologist--aka clinical social worker in therapy practice. Photos are usually mine except for those of historical events/famous people. Music relevant to the daily topic is often included in a web video embedded below the blog. Click on highlighted links in the copy to get to source or supplemental material. For contact information, see my website @ janasvoboda.com or click on the button to the right below. Join in the conversation.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The More You Know-- The Less You Know You Know. You Know?

Onions increase bone density in rats, may prevent ulcers!--- The National Onion Association
National Science Foundation Consensus Report:  Science is Hard.  --The Onion

I love science mags and books.  I love facts and trivia and graphs and flowcharts and studies and all that effluvia.  And while I might toss them around like they have Real Substance, truth is I spell "truth" without a capital up front.  The more I learn, the less certain I get about most things.  And that's ok by me.

I try to keep up with research that relates to my field.  But I take it, as I told a client today, "with a salt lick"-- a block, not a grain.  What's science today may be tomfoolery tomorrow.  Coffee's good for you, or maybe it kill you.  Eggs:  artery clotter, or nature's perfect food?   Both of these have been demonized and lionized, several times, in the last twenty years. 

Seizures result when one is possessed by demons, and schizophrenia when one has a love-withholding mother-- oh wait, those are brain disorders.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Wild Bill Takes Off

he knew how to laugh
It's been a week since my last post, Trouble Wants Community.  The day I wrote it, I talked to someone with whom I'd had little contact over the past dozen years.  He'd lost his parents last year, and I told him about my father moving here in the Spring.  He told me to treasure every minute with him, and I said, "If you knew my dad, you'd tell me to take a Valium every hour."  I was teasing, mostly.  Relationships with parents can be complicated, right?  But later that evening I had a great visit with my dad, and then came home and wrote that blog, and it felt good.

Here is part of the note I sent my friend the next evening:

R, you're an unwitting angel, and it was grace that you contacted me when you did.  
       I begrudgingly called my dad last night.  I was tired and wasn't going to, but I remembered what you'd said about your parents, and I did.  And when he ended the call "mentioning" that he had only the night's dose of a medication he needed, and that he was supposed to take it morning and night, I went rather begrudgingly to pharm, bitching that he could've let me know last week, and spent $50 that I knew I wouldn't let him pay back.  But I stopped at Trader Joe's and got him some OJ and licorice scotty dogs because he loves them, and went to his house, and we had a good visit.  He told me a couple of stories from his youth, and then he looked tired, and I asked if he was ready for me to get out of there, and he was.  I told him I loved him and gave him a very tender kiss.
           Today during my 11 oclock session my client's cell rang.  She was sheepish and asked if I minded if she checked; she was waiting for an important call . To give her a little privacy I turned toward my desk just in time to see my phone light up (it's silenced during sessions, of course).  It was the independent senior center where my father lives.  I picked up and they said my dad had collapsed and ambulances were on the way.  
Not long later, with family soothing his brow and holding his hand, he peacefully took his last breath.
I thank you so much for your urging to enjoy those minutes.

Born during the depression in the small town of Pawnee Rock, KS, Bill was the youngest child and only son of Anna and Louis Svoboda.   His father was a jack of all trades, doing whatever work he could to support his family.  Bill arrived during a difficult time.  The Czech immigrant community and most of the midsection of the nation were hit hard by overfarming, drought and poor economy.  When the Dust Bowl swept through Kansas, Bill contracted osteomyletis and “the dust pneumonia” at age 2.  He spent much of his young life in hospitals, enduring more than 40 operations by age 18.  They were horrific-- ether was used, "and I used be so scared when they came at me with that mask; I thought I would suffocate--  Sodium Pentathol was the best thing ever invented." Last Tuesday he told stories about those times, and that “I would have been a genius if I hadn't been in a coma for months" as a kid.  I said, "You mean a SUPERgenius".  
here comes trouble

Bill lost most of the use of a hand during this time, as well as all of his teeth by age 18 following a car wreck and related to the osteo.  But he remained Wild Billy.  He learned to drive at age 7 and would go on whiskey runs with his grandfather during the prohibition.  He was spoiled and beloved by his sisters. 

Despite his physical hardships, Bill was a strong man, and loved labor, biking, tennis and being outdoors.  At 24 he met and married a nursing student from Memphis TN he’d  met through his sister.  He was smitten  by the “glamorous big city girl”, though he found out later she was also from a rural family.  They settled in Topeka, KS  and raised their four daughters.  Bill really, really wanted a son, but once he realized that was not to be, he made sure his daughters were strong and independent, and he advocated for equal opportunities. 
bill and ruth's sitting rooom
Bill and Ruth both went on to obtain Master’s degrees, the first in their families.  Bill worked in the 70s to arrange and then enforce access for persons with physical handicaps to public spaces.  He also worked for the blind, helping them adjust and find employment.  Together with my mother, he restored a beautiful Victorian house he and Ruth had purchased in complete disrepair for a few thousand dollars in the mid 1960s.  He added a kitchen with hand made cabinets, new foundation, remodeled the dug out basement into a family room, and built a workshop and garage. Bill brewed beer in the basement and crafted in his workshop.  He hauled huge limestone posts from the old family farm in rural Kansas to make stairs up to the home from the street, and Ruth turned the gardens into showplaces.  They loved finding antiques at garage sales and auctions, and furnished the house with their finds.  It became a gathering place for assortments of collected kids, with frequent Friday night potlucks and big Thanksgiving gatherings.  They always had an open door policy, and several youth lived with the family for short or extended times, becoming honorary daughters.

Here's a piece one of them wrote about him (thank you, Juliana, for this gift):

There so much about Bill that I remember. He was really there, I mean there there, In a way most Dads couldn't be. He was a gritty Tom Waits kinda character who made us laugh all the time, mostly with corny jokes, but funny just the same. While most the adults were smoking, he did it like it was part of his outfit, you hardly noticed the cig, because it was there just like the T-shirt was. There was no affectation or elegance about it. He was one of those people who could lean over, cigarette in mouth and, say, tie your shoe and when he was done he hadn't gagged on the smoke or gotten it in his eyes like everyone else would have. He was facile, as he was with everything else. He fixed everything, he fixed up their house, he fixed the car, he fixed the camper that Jana and I "camped" in in the back yard. He sang silly songs like " A Boy Named Sue" He made up a poem about me. "My name is not Lisa, my name is Julie, my hair is unruly..." He drove us everywhere and never complained. He seemed to enjoy getting that extra time with his girls. He made me feel like one of his girls. When we moved on to college, he showed up to help with moving and broken apartment parts, and sometimes he hung around and talked. He had a dog named Gouda. 
And he was also there for me when I was grieving and so young. He knew just what to do. He was soft in the right places too. There is little hollow place in my heart for him today. Rest in peace Bill.

Here are a few random thoughts about my dad:

memorial shrine at the wake
He liked to smell nice.   He loved his drink and tobacco, and M&Ms and peanut butter crackers.  He was a competitive card, domino, tennis, pool and ping-pong player.  He read voraciously--- everything from  detective novels to political biographies to the entire “Great Books” series.  It wasn’t unusual for him to read more than a book in a day in his younger years.  He loved the poets, from Shelley (he named his youngest after him) to Yeats to ee Cummings. He loved classical music, history, nature, fishing, and Simon and Garfunkel, and public radio.  He stopped hunting because he was too tender-hearted.  He was a squirrel whisperer-- they ate out of his hands.  

He made the worlds’ best cocoa fudge and popcorn;  and his beef jerky had a national reputation.

He was no saint.  He had trouble expressing vulnerability and related emotions.  He could do happy and goofy, but it was never easy for his to talk about the tender stuff, or his own vulnerability, so sometimes what came out was angry or curmudgeon.  Those were his protectors.  He’d been through a lot, and that was what worked for him.  But we knew him despite himself, and we knew his poet’s heart, and the sweet boy in him, and all the rest as much as he could let leak through.  He told terrible jokes, made terrible puns, and had no trouble at all proudly mispronouncing words and watching us cringe at them.  

He loved his family, and told us often.  He was proud of his girls, all of them.

I know this is a long one. I miss him bad.  A week ago, he was telling me stories.

"When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight."  --Kahlil Gibran

Don't forget to treasure those moments.  

Thursday, November 17, 2011

My dad died yesterday.
How else do you start such a post, but to tell that inevitable truth?
Maybe first with the story of his death, and then some about his life.
A year ago,  I went to visit my dad for my birthday, in the beautiful Victorian house he and my mother had lovingly restored prior to her death a decade prior. During the ensuing years, he'd struggled physically.  He'd broken his leg slipping on the ice 6 years ago and it'd never properly healed-- in fact, the surgery to repair it had activated osteomyletis he'd had since a child, and nearly killed him. His mobilty after that was severely limited, but he made do.  My dad had always been a powerful man, full of energy and able to build or fix anything.  He loved that house, where he'd matched old wood to repair rotting finials and trim, and installed stain glass windows he and my mother had rescued from tear downs and auctions.   It was now starting to fall apart around him, and I talked to him about finding some place a little smaller, with a lot less yard and upkeep.  He admitted it was depressing not to be able to keep up with it, but refused to talk about a move.  

A month later the decision was taken out of his hands.  Going out to the barn to feed his cat, he stumbled on his bad leg and it shattered.  A series of medical mishaps ensued-- overdoses on pain meds that stopped his heart and resulted in resuscitation, an allergic reaction that caused horrific itching and then another to the med for the itching that threw him into fevers, seizures and arrhythmia.   Fully conscious and his rascally self at admission, he was completely out of it by the time my sister and I arrived; none of us expected him to live.  Time to shorten this story-- a month in the hospital, a month in intensive rehab (none of which he remembers), and another month in nursing.  He never went home.  The sisters decided he should move here.  He's too rascally to live with any of us, so we arranged for an independent senior living place that would serve his meals and do housekeeping, but otherwise leave him alone.  He was unusually compliant, but later remarked it was a relief not to have had to decide,  and a relief to be here, where there was more family in town, no acre to mow, less bills to manage.

We had 9 months of dominoes

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Trouble wants Community

Life sure is a mixed bag, with her joys and sorrows just bumping into and never-minding the others' presence.

This way to heaven in a concrete tub.
There was sure sweetness this week. I received a wonderful massage by Janice Endres at Breitenbush, after a healing soak in the mineral waters (the natural hot springs there are full of lithium, which may explain why everyone there seems so happy and mellow!)   The little cabin sat beside a rushing river, and wind blew the fall leaves outside the window.   "I hope you don't mind that I don't play music.  Nature does a good job providing it," she said, and yes, that was just fine with me.  The massage  was a gift from my old college roommate and only my third professional one in my life.  God willing I won't wait so long for the next.

the luminous wilhemina
I heard some great music Saturday night in the little town of Summit, OR.  Willeke Frankzerda gave a wonderful concert in a packed community hall, premiering three original songs (was there four?  we were late!) with memorable melodies.  At 13, her lyrics and musicality transcend her age-- wise and soulful.  She's raising money to get to her next fiddle camp, and her town showed up in spades.  The audience ranged from nurslings to 90s, and she earned that standing ovation.  Being in that community always warms me, and reminds me how strong we are when we come together.

I also heard from two old friends this week.  One has been laid off the second time in three months as his employers' business closed.  The other is facing losing his home.  I wish I could say these were startling stories, but I've heard many like them in my practice this year.  The wolf seems to be at the door for more and more of us these days.  Hewlett-Packard, once the town's largest employer, has perhaps a fifth of the number of workers of 15 years ago.  Most of those left worry every day about that pink slip.

There are the bittersweets to fill in.  My angel trumpet bloomed for the first time this week.  I planted it as a two leaf cutting on Mother's day.   Now it's a small tree.  House guests said the opening flowers filled the room with a scent like baking meringue, or the vintage "Three Sugars" perfume.  I couldn't, of course, smell the faintest whiff.  But still, it is beautiful, don't you think, all huge and putting itself out there.

When times are good, we need each other.  When times are hard, we need each other even more.  Suffering is universal if one lives long enough.  Do you know the story of Siddhartha, whose parents were told he would grow up to be either a king or a priest?  Wanting the king, his father asked how he could ensure that outcome.  "Protect him from witnessing suffering", he was told.  His father built a walled town, throwing out anyone who became elderly or infirm or sad.  But one day, Siddhartha heard an unfamiliar sound from beyond the walls and asked his servant what it could possibly be.  "Crying", he was told, and he was puzzled.  His servant tried to explain but Siddartha could not comprehend what he was being told, and asked to be taken out to see for himself.  Beyond his protected home, he saw for the first time the suffering that is part of being human.  He watched people grieving the dying, he saw children who were hungry and had no solace for it.  His heart was broken open with compassion-- a word that literally means "with suffering".  He made it his vow to remain in compassion as long as he lived, and to teach others.  His enlightenment transformed his heart.

When we suffer, we can be like animals--  like my dog, who at the end of her very long life, kept trying to isolate herself far from the us and her home, under a tree.  Near death, animals isolate out of instinct, probably to protect themselves from predators in their vulnerable state.  People in great suffering will also isolate.  Sometimes it is to conserve their waning strength.  Sometimes it is in shame about their state.

Withdrawal can be good for us.  It can give us time to reflect and to plan.  But it needs balance, because we need each other.  We need to remember that we are loved and important and have something to offer, even if that something is receiving from others who care about us.  It's true that not everyone we want to be there for us will be.  Sometimes they are scared or out of resources themselves.  Sometimes they just don't know what we need.

As noted in a previous blog, it's rare for people to have the sorts of community that was common in the past.   We have to take personal responsibility for that.  We fill up our lives with busy-ness and forget to keep our ties.  We cocoon to preserve what little energy too much stress and too many work hours take from us.  To learn more about rebuilding community, click here.

But reading won't fix things.  Reach out to someone today.  Offer a hand, lend an ear, fix a broken stoop, deliver a meal.  Even if you are the one who is suffering, being of use is very healing.

Trouble and joy both need community.  "Joys shared are joys doubled; troubles shared are halved."  Make it happen.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Give Yourself to Love

Kate Wolf was a luminous singer-songwriter.  Her intimate and emotional lyrics and clear voice captured and opened hearts.   Her song "Give Yourself To Love" was a powerful revelation and personal anthem for many in the 70s.  She was initially surprised at her impact on listeners, but later wrote:
       "Sometimes we just can't find the words, but we all have those same feelings. You feel these things, and you don't think it's okay to say them, or you can't quite get the words, and then it comes, and it's just this breaking loose: you have a way to say it."  
         Kate died young, at 44.   Before she left, she said:
        "I live for a sense of a feeling of purposefulness in this world, you know, that I could stop my life at any point and feel that my life has been worthwhile; that the people I've loved and my children have all reached a point where their lives are now going to come to fruit. And as far as something I live by, it's to try to be as alive as possible and feel free to make my mistakes and try to be as honest as I can with myself."
         Today marks another birthday for me.  I know I have many less in front of me than behind, though how many is anybody's guess.  I've been a little hunkered down, not communicating well or accepting invitations from friends and family.   
        The last two weeks I've been astounded by the showering of love and kindness of friends.  It's softened my heart, and reminded me that while we are here, for however long, we can to give ourselves to love.
        Here's a beautiful video my friend Marilyn shared.  Unfortunately I can't figure out how to embed this one, so you'll have to click the link.  I hope you will, and that you'll take a few minutes today to let someone know the difference their love has made in your world.  

Monday, November 7, 2011

Just watched documentary
MISS REPRESENTED", about negative bias towards women in the media.  It only took turning on my browser to get an up to date example:  "The lawyer behind the accuser: Gloria Allred is a girl's best friend".  This a subheadline under the Cain story.  The opening line:  "Her clients include mistresses, starlets and allegedly wronged women from all walks of life."

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Moments of awe

Apparently potty-mouthed comic nerds aren't everybody's cup of tea.  Most folks who commented to me on the last blog loved Chris Hardwick's take on addiction, obsession and getting it together, but he's a bit rough.  I did appreciate how he turned my sour disposition around that night.

There are lots of ways to change a mood.  This video was posted by several friends and I pass it on.  The joy and awe on these paddler's faces at the unexpected beauty that shows up-- well, you can't help but smile seeing it.  Although they couldn't have missed the spectacle that unleashed around them, we get provided with such glimpses of the divine in much smaller ways, if we keep our eyes open and get outdoors.  A shooting star, an aurora, a late afternoon fall glow on the leaves, tiny mushroom perched on a tiny patch of moss-- these are little bits of heaven we get for being available and paying attention.

Friday, November 4, 2011

This week's good read: Talk Nerdy To Me.

I'm an info junkie.  I've mentioned that, right?  I subscribe to way too many periodicals, and if publishers fret about the future of the printed page, I can assure them I am not in the demographic to cause them worry.

Here's a juicy tidbit from last night's reading.

WIRED magazine (technology and culture) incites my early-adopter lust even though I can no longer turn on my TV without assistance.  But there's more to it than tech porn.  This month's issue, "How Science Can Help You... "(many blanks filled in), had great articles on "how to smartify your life."  Find out how to increase happiness (perform acts of kindness, exercise, get a pet), correctly and mushlessly dunk a cookie in milk, ace a test, keep earbuds from tangling, find your soulmate or rekindle your relationship-- with SCIENCE! 

But my favorite piece this month didn't even make the cover-- comedian Chris Hardwick's brilliant "Self Help for Nerds".  Excepted from his new book, The Nerdist Way: How to Reach the Next Level (in Real Life), he covers the sins and gifts of a Certain Kind of (yep, obsessive) Mind.  From procrastination to addiction to classification and problem solving, the anxious minds and messy internal dialogues of the Sensitive Obsessive can be used for good or evil.  "Be warned!" says Hardwick.  "Sometimes obsessions cannot be piloted, and in those instances you must learn to donkey-kick your brain out of the way.  When nerds run out of things in the external world to deconstruct and analyze, guess where they go?  Inward.  We become the object of our own deconstruction protocols; an auto-cannibalism of sorts."

    Yep, it's that troublesome-- and blessed-- trifecta of big brains, big feeling, and big radar.  When it's properly focused, books are written, new species are found, Nobels are won...or at least bills get paid and nobody gets hurt.  But even non-nerds have to wrestle with brain's short-sighted desires.  Hardwick has some great advice:  talk back.  He uses the F word too much to be a traditional Buddhist, but he's onto something with his response to brain's suggestions to such brilliant ideas as " 'Get drunk in the morning!'  'Eat 50 Chocodiles!' 'Instead of working, you could masturbate!' "  Hardwick reminds us:   "You can simply say to yourself, 'I hear what you are saying, brain, but I chose to ignore you.' ...Be smarter than your brain."

You don't have to be a Junior High School Chess Champion or comic genius to make use out of Hardwick's hilarious and wise writings. See for yourself:   read the full article online at WIRED here, or buy his book at your local independant bookseller.

May your Nerdy Force be with you--