nonBlog – March 2010

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Dorothy Marten, 1918-2010—Sunday, March 28, 2010

Grandma Dorothy died in Florida; when I heard I cried like a little kid. I acknowledge that this is not an appropriate response when a frail 91-year-old dies at the end of a kick-ass run like Dorothy Marten had. But I have ceased judging my reaction to anything having to do with my father’s life; clearly the Dorothy bone is connected to the Grandpa bone is connected to the Dad bone is connected to the childhood bone is connected to the loss bone, even if I should be raising a glass.
Technically Dorothy was more of a step-grandmother to me; she was Grandpa’s partner for years and years until he died in 2002 at 89. They were one of those two-clams couples. Both had married the correct person the first time; the one from their town, the one who was the same religion, the one they were supposed to marry, temperaments be damned (or unknown). And both had made those marriages work until the deaths of their spouses from illness. But Grandpa and Dorothy chose each other in every sense of the word. They were like Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, but without the cheating; they lived in separate houses and were coy about whether or how often they spent the night. They had each other’s backs. They made each other laugh. I adored being around them.
Grandma Dorothy, Grandpa, and my dad made a new family in the neighborhood where my grandfather had moved from St. Thomas with my grandmother just before she died of cancer in 1984. Every time we visited, Dorothy would have us to her house for dinner or Grandpa would have us to his house for dinner or I would cook for everyone in Dad’s condo or all three. Our last-ever dinner together was at Dad’s place, just a few weeks before Grandpa’s death. I made steak and roasted potatoes and green beans with pine nuts. Dad said it was the last time Grandpa climbed his stairs, probably for the food.
I have an entire roll of pictures just from that evening. In several Greta, then 20 months, is sitting next to Dorothy on the sofa and Dorothy’s eyes are wide with glee as if she’s riding a roller-coaster. That’s how Dorothy always looked, as if being with you was the most thrilling thing she could think of to do at that moment. I could never watch her with my daughters without remembering that she had lost one of her seven children and had raised the remaining six pretty much on her own, since her husband had a thriving medical practice. I would look for the loss in her eyes, but I never once glimpsed it. And of all the stunning things I can say about Dorothy Marten, that one is the stunningest.

Sprung—Sunday, March 14, 2010

It’s a week early, but this morning felt like the first day of spring—sunny, warmish, clear. No matter—when I woke up I didn’t feel sunny or warmish, and certainly not clear. I paced around the kitchen like a caged tiger, as dark as the day was light. I took a step outside and looked down our road, which leads directly to the Pacific, and thought about how stunning my old running route along Ocean Beach would be with such a lack of weather. I thought about the fact that I haven’t gone on a second run since my perhaps ill-advised escapade in Central Park at midnight three weeks ago, waiting for…something. And I went upstairs to get dressed.
I pulled on my old blue tights for the first time since running my final marathon in British Columbia in 2001, wondering if the elastic might crumble from having dried out for nearly a decade. But it held. I had to look in three places for my old Timex Ironman, and was shocked to discover it was still running. How is that even possible? It was an hour behind, since daylight savings had just begun, and I realized I no longer remembered how to advance it.
I drove a few minutes until I hit the Great Highway and turned left into the first parking lot, feeling wrong. Did I used to park here or in some other lot? To my left and right, ripped surfer boys were peeling off their wetsuits as I stood next to my car and spread sunscreen on my face and arms. I smiled, then remembered once asking my sister Sandy why putting on sunscreen made me happy. She said: “Because it smells like fun.”
Locking the car, I looked at my hand and realized I was stuck holding my keys. What did I used to do with them? I remembered the wrist wallet I had left at home, and wondered if it was still in the hallway cabinet. I held the keys in my left hand and my iPhone in my right. It felt heavy; years earlier I had used a much lighter iPod, now dead. Music will make me feel normal, I thought. Music fixes everything. I started running, then hit Play and looked for a song with a good beat, but not too cheerleadery, and found that my iPhone wouldn’t stop shuffling. Had I hit some button I didn’t know existed? My phone would stop on something promising—Stars’ “The Big Fight,” then Local H’s “No Problem”—but after a bar or two it would switch songs. Suddenly it stopped skipping on a dozy ballad. I hit the forward button, and the skipping started all over again. Fine, I thought. If you’ll just stop skipping I’ll listen to whatever you choose.
My phone obliged by playing Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Scar Tissue.” Was it reminding me why running with an irreparably torn hip lining after four pain-free years might not be such a genius idea? The next song the evil iPhone picked was Beck’s “Lost Cause.” Oh c’mon, I nearly said out loud. That’s not nice.

At least Beck was moaning about loss at a good pace. I settled in and took a survey of my body. My mouth was tight; I softened it, softened my eyes. My arms and shoulders were moving side-to-side; I heard my physical therapist saying that all motion needs to be forward motion, and stilled myself. My left hip was quiet, neutral.
I looked up and realized I couldn’t see the ocean, even though I was jogging right beside it. I couldn’t even find the concrete path. I was running on drifts, up and over and left and right. The dunes were so high they blocked my view. Then I remembered what was happening to Ocean Beach at the time I stopped running. The sand under the parking lot on the other side of the beach—the one where I used to park—had given way, and the parking lot had collapsed. It was no longer there, and in the nine years since, the beach had changed shape entirely. It had been so long since I was a runner that the coastline had actually shifted. The route I used to run was buried in sand.
My watch said 15:00. I had promised myself I’d stop at 20; I had forgotten to factor in the time it would take me to run back to the car. I turned around. Tolerable songs were playing from beginning to end and my legs and lungs were on autopilot, moving easily. I remembered a day years earlier when I hadn’t wanted to get out of bed and do a long run to prepare for the Avenue of the Giants marathon in Eureka, California—it was on a day as shiny as this, and I saw people standing on cars parked right on the highway and staring at the ocean. I climbed on top of a wall to find that a school of dolphins was leaping in the air just offshore, and we all watched them for a good ten minutes. This is my reward for coming out today, I had thought, and recalling the dolphins made me think of my late father. Running was always a spiritual practice for me, which is why I was so bereft when it was taken away. Maybe it’s come back to fill the space left by my father’s ghost, who seems no longer to be hovering?
After half an hour, I was driving home—not a bit sore, not a bit out of breath, sunny, warmish, clear.


So Far Away—Thursday, March 11, 2010

Today is my father’s birthday; he would have turned 72. I am beginning to wonder whether the month between the anniversary of his death and the anniversary of his birth will always be dicey—less dicey each year, perhaps, but dicey. All month I have been turning recent events over and over in my mind and trying to determine whether his stamp is on any of them; I feel strongly it isn’t. My father’s style of intervention is very distinctive, and he would not have thought of moving my chess pieces around the way they have in the last few weeks.
I’m back to where I was before he died—straining for faith that I am being led down a path that will make some kind of sense to me one day. For two years there I didn’t strain a bit; I knew with absolute conviction that my father’s ghost was close and that he was actively watching over me. There were days his presence was so tangible I was sure I could smell him. It was the closest thing to a spiritual peace as I have ever felt—maybe as close as I’ll ever feel. He turned into a parent when he asked my sisters and me for forgiveness when I was in my early twenties, and he was very attentive from that day on; his death didn’t change a thing. But I think that, as of a few weeks ago, he’s turned my care and feeding over to a power higher than himself.
It’s too bad; I liked being sent dolphins and baby helmet conchs and babysitters from my childhood and a host of other Dad-style surprises. I am still writing down requests for divine assistance on Post-It notes and smushing them into the innards of the blue pottery monster on my desk just as I have since Olivia made it for me in first grade; current ones include Please heal Karen—I can’t live without her and Help. But I have stopped writing Please Dad at the beginning of each, as I started to after he died. I think my appeals are intended for The Force now, or maybe The Force and my dad as a team, but either way the governing energy now stands at a great distance from me, well on the other side, and I can no longer feel it brush my cheek.


Thy Will Be…Not So Much—Thursday, March 4, 2010

Austin did not cooperate with my little pre-business-trip fantasies. I didn’t get to run along the bat trail on a perfect afternoon, exulting in my non-ex-runnerness, because I ended up spending all three work days at Dell’s Round Rock campus far away. I didn’t get to eat bar-b-que and drink too many Shiner Bocks with the gang downtown, because we were on deadline the night we were planning to venture over there and ate at the mall near our hotel instead. I didn’t soak in a hot tub until I got pruney, because the youth-hostel-like Aloft (pronounced A-loft; turns out it’s a W property) didn’t have one. And for once, I noticed that these things I wanted to do were not working out, and I let them.
I am always trying to overrule the Universe. Inconsequential things, life-changing things—it doesn’t matter. I know the Universe has its own ideas, and I am always paying strict attention in case the Universe might elect to share them with me, but I am usually convinced I know better. The usual me might have gone downtown alone rather than miss the chance to check out the scene, or put on my running duds and jogged around the office park during lunch hour, just to run when I planned. But I feel like my book magically shaking loose and my body magically running without pain this month are requests from the Universe for a little forebearance: Could you manage a little faith? Let me take the steering wheel for a while?
I’ve always worried that I have only one opportunity per category—no second chances, no extra credit. It’s been proven to me over and over again that life isn’t like that, that no progression is linear, that doors don’t close without windows flying open. I’m not sure I’m ready to have faith that my book will sell now that I’ve hit on the theme, for example, or that the second half of my life will be satisfying. I’m more than a little frantic about both, in fact. But I guess I’m ready to throw the Universe a bone or two—itty ones, like in your fingers. I make room for the possibility that I’ll come back to Austin some other time and run the bat path, or listen to live music, or luxuriate in a hotel spa. Little steps for frantic little feet.


New, or Practically New

  • Fame and Fortune: Currently working on, and shocked to find I’m making headway with, the latter. Partly because of a bit of movement on the former. Perhaps endurance is the key to everything after all.