Friday, March 27, 2015

Don't Like Technology? Take Prednisone.

Last November I slipped on a patch of ice and broke my wrist. I also tore a few things in my shoulder, which I just found out about thanks to an MRI. I am finishing up a course of Prednisone before likely having to endure surgery.

One of the fine side effects of Prednisone is what I call the Pink Rage. Your cheeks get a rosy hue, your blood pressure increases, and you become the Incredible Hulk. Especially when dealing with technology.

In my Pink Rage today, I had an idea that I would buy some rabbit ears for my TV, as I have put Dish on vacation so as to see just how much I don't miss satellite TV. I only watch about three shows a week, all on network television. So why am I paying this much money for religious channels, infomercials, and reality tv? I figured a pair of rabbit ears would do me just fine to get the local stations.

So I hop down to the local Radio Shack (I hate Radio Shack, it is nothing but cheap junk) and the manager tells me I can get local HD stations with this pair of ears. So I take the thing home and hook it up. Nothing.  I drive back and he says, "You do have an HD TV, correct?"

"NO!" I scream in a Pink Rage. "Just a giant behemuth of a thing that takes ten people to lift."

"Oh, I am sorry," he says. "You need a converter box to make your TV HD."

"Why?" I asked.

"Because they don't have those waves in the air anymore," he said politely.

"Just give me my money back, I'll live with what I have," I say to him and storm out of the store.

Honking at every driver that pisses me off (and getting numerous middle fingers waved at me), I go home and hook the Dish back up. Oh good, a free preview of the Western Channel. Now I can watch Maverick.

Just before I went back to Radio Shack to return the stupid rabbit ears, I tried to call my bank to find out how to put a stop to an automatic payment that is to come out next week. Apparently I had to tell the YMCA to cancel my membership two days ago, and now they will charge me for the next month anyway. That is criminal in my book. After being on hold forever, I try to end the call, but of course have 10 buttons to push on the damn iPhone before I can finally hang up. "That's it," I say out loud. "I am getting rid of this piece of crap and returning to my flip phone. Better yet, I am getting a landline again so I can use my rotary phones. Big handles, big dials, beautiful sound quality, brass ringers. EVERYONE wants to call someone on my rotary phones. God how I hate cell phones.

So I leave Radio Shack for the second time with some sense of optimism that my day might just get brighter, when I am cut off by about five cars merging onto my road. HOOOONNNNNKKKKK "YOU ASSHOLE!!!" I scream, my Pink Raged cheeks now a bright fusia!!! Some cigarette smoking bimbo in a Subaru flips me the bird in her rear view mirrow. I scream at her. What is happening to me?

Next I head to the vet to pick up my dog who had his teeth cleaned today. I told him I was having Pink Rage and it is best we just go home and isolate ourselves from humanity before I kill someone or they kill me. He just looked at me with groggy eyes. Aw.

Ok, so my next mission was to call ATT, the biggest funder of the Tea Party, to get my landline hooked up.  My cell phone carrier is Credo, the biggest funder of liberal causes, so I just cancelled out both sides of the karma equation. Cool.  Lucky for me, they are giving me a special deal, yes my rotary phones will work fine, and I have unlimited calling both local and long distance. No texting however. Duh. So Tuesday it is. I will once again have the beautiful sound of a real life honest to goodness telephone in my home!

Now the plan is to smash this computer with a hammer, as it overheats and is burning my hands as I type. The return button sticks and I have been pounding on it relentlessly. The Pink Rage is driving me to destroy all technology in my home, and I love it. Soon, it will be me, my guitar, my beagle, a beautiful old rotary phone and a short wave radio, comfy cozy. I can't wait.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

My Bees Came Home to Die

Last fall I visited one of my bee hives and found hundreds of dead bees at the hive's entrance. A few days later there were several hundred more. They had been poisoned yet spent their last bit of their energy flying home where they died a slow and painful death before they could enter the hive. Home. A place so very important to the bees. I can't imagine what their sisters felt when they saw that pile of death blocking their exit from the hive. Sheer horror.

Yes. I do believe all living beings can feel. To believe otherwise is ludicrous.

I called the nearby golf course, sure they had sprayed some noxious chemical. But no. They told me they love the bees and know how in danger they are. I was assured they only spot treated here and there.

I needed to find someone, something to blame for this senseless death. I plan on drawing a circle around my home on a map, this will be as big as the flight distance for my girls. I will then try to figure out who is spraying chemicals that would kill my bees and go talk to them. I will do whatever I can to protect mine and all the other bees in my town.

It is amazing to me how we can disregard the littlest creatures. No one would argue that spraying humans with nerve gas would be a horrible thing. And to sit and watch the effects of that gas on someone's nervous system would cause the most hardened heart to weep. Why then do we think it OK to spray the littlest creatures with the same chemical? Have you ever watched an insect or a mouse or any other being after they have been chemically attacked by a human? They suffer greatly. Yet we still go to the local box store, by the Raid, and spray away.

I just don't understand it. What have we as humans become when we inflict such suffering on the rest of our family on this Earth?

Monday, March 9, 2015

You Came Too Soon

It happened on Sunday. I was carrying a laundry basket down the basement stairs when my right knee gave out. Luckily I was able to regain control of it before falling down the stairs to my third Life Alert moment in the past six months. There was no reason for this to happen, at least none that makes sense to me. Later, I was walking around my backyard and it happened again.

I remember the first time I saw a basketball court. I was in elementary school. Late one afternoon of the neighborhood kids told me about this cool place behind the nearby high school where there was a basket way up high with a net hanging on it. I hopped on my bike and followed him to the spot. As I saw the basket from a distance, I noticed a surreal glow surrounding the court. I slowly got off my bike and walked onto the court. I stood in front of the basket in the center of a painted rectangle that had half a moon at the top. My friend had brought a basketball with him and tossed it to me. I bounced the ball several times and took a shot - I couldn't get the ball anywhere near the height of the basket. But that didn't matter. Next to playing my guitar and hunting morel mushrooms, this was the most magical moment of my young life. I should add here that it took me weeks of trying every day, but I finally got the ball as high as the rim!

When we moved to Michigan, I was lucky to have a backboard above the garage door and a floodlight to boot! I would play basketball by myself every night until Mom and Dad made me come in. I couldn't get enough. All I wanted to do was to play in the Olympics. Mind you, this was 1972. There was no women's basketball team until 1976. But I didn't know that, nor did I care.

I played varsity basketball starting in the 9th grade, but those knees that ached since I was knee high to a grasshopper kept giving me trouble. When I was sixteen I had knee surgery on my right knee. That was the end of my Olympic dreams. I once could jump to within an inch or two of the rim, after that I could barely hit the bottom of the net. I still received an athletic scholarship to college, but I was never going to play in the Olympics.

My knees still served me well. I backpacked all over Michigan, the Rockies and the Smokies. I hiked from Lake Huron to Lake Michigan. I worked for years as a biologist, traipsing up talus slopes, wading in swamps, climbing mountains, scrambling in caves, chasing butterflies across a military base and a prairie fen. I don't blame them for saying enough is enough.

But it seems so fast, this advance of age. When I fell not once but twice in November (thank God I can still count without a calculator), I sustained injuries that just seem to take forever to heal. Pain is my constant companion, so much so that I am nearly debilitated most evenings. And it isn't uncommon for a passerby to hear me sniffling as the frustration mounts.

Living alone with chronic pain leaves me feeling vulnerable and helpless sometimes. I have wood to chop, sap to boil, a dog to play with, snow to shovel, a house to clean. And I pay dearly.

I am only fifty six years old (OK I turn fifty seven in May). I may be around another thirty years. I wonder what will become of me if this pain doesn't subside? My arthritis seems to find a new location every few months, so that the only thing that doesn't hurt is one foot, knock on wood. If I start replacing all the joints that need replacing, I'll be in recovery for the next two years.

It is a hard thing to not feel in control. I exercise at least every other day, I eat healthy, I have done many things to reduce my stress levels. But it isn't enough. I can't control what an Elderly friend of mine calls "the surly advance of decrepitude". It just happened so fast.

My shoulder doctor loves to remind me how old I am. "You know, I'll schedule an MRI for your shoulder but I can guarantee that anyone over 40 has some kind of rotator cuff tear." I want to sock him in the eye. My shoulder was fine before I fell. How dare he blame it on my age? I am not 80, or 70, or even 60!

I have lost my Jedi powers. I once used the Force to cope. I could will away the pain, ignore it, run right over it with life. Not anymore.

I am visiting my rheumatologist again in a few weeks, I haven't seen her in years. I am hoping she will have a magic cure to help my quality of life, but until then I will close my eyes and remember all the wonderful memories that were made possible by this beautiful body that has served me so well. I will be grateful for my strong legs that have carried to me to places few have seen, that have stomped a beat while on stage, that have danced in my basement where no one can see me. I will be grateful for strong hands that have played beautiful music, picked mushrooms, woven birch bark, and made delicious pies. I will love them and care for them and settle into what will be. And hope the warmth of spring will heal them.

Friday, March 6, 2015

For the Love of Folk

Kitty Donohoe

I used to play rock and roll a long time ago. Then, one evening when I was in my late 20's, I went to a concert in the basement of an MSU dorm. There, on the dark black stage, hot lights shined down on a beautiful auburn haired woman. The music that was pouring out of her went directly into my heart. I was in love. Not just with her, but with the music. Her name was Kitty Donohoe and her music shifted my musical career forever. I turned into a folkie that night.

I idolized Kitty. I went to all her concerts and soaked up her beautiful lyrics and incredible melodies. When a fellow musician suggested I invite her to play at my coffeehouse series, I kind of stuttered and said, "Do you really think she would play music with ME?"


I swallowed hard.

Kitty did in fact agree, and she came to my tiny brownstone apartment one afternoon to rehearse. I could hardly talk. My idol, sitting there in MY apartment. Like a giddy 13 year old, I asked her to play my favorite song, which she graciously did. Can you say h-e-a-v-e-n?

Eventually I moved away, but once in awhile I would come back to Michigan for a gig and she and I would have breakfast together and talk. Every few months we exchanged letters. The paper kind. We were becoming friends. Don't get me wrong, I still idolized Kitty the artist. But I started to learn about Kitty the woman through our friendship. I respected her even more.

After that tragic day on 9/11, Kitty wrote a beautiful song called There Are No Words, which she performed at the dedication of the Pentagon Memorial in Washington D.C. It was broadcast live on C-SPAN across the globe. She was joined by David Mosher and Pooh Stevenson. These three musicians from Michigan touched the lives of many people that day. Singing folk music. As one of my fans astutely observed, "They cleaned up real nice!" After that broadcast I thought Kitty's career would soar.

I have gone from a starry-eyed 28 year old to a mature 57 year old. I still believe Kitty is one of the best singer/songwriters of our time. But in this era of American Idol and The Voice, folk music isn't the kind of genre where artists rise to national or global fame. Folk music is for the people by the people. It is organic and free range. It tells our stories, connects us. There is nothing about folk music that is directed toward fame and fortune (although we can still dream). We hold true to our hearts and Spirits, and our deep roots in community. And thus, we stay pretty broke.

I look at folk artists like Kitty Donohoe and my other fave Claudia Schmidt - women who are so incredibly talented it is almost sinful, and it makes me think about what defines success. From a financial view point, we as a society don't reward folk singers. We are often expected to play for free, for a meal, or very little cash in most cases. High paying gigs are hard to come by these days. No limousines, no five star hotels. So if we judge ourselves based on financial wealth, well, some might say we have failed.

But there is a much greater success for the folk singer than money. It happens when your music changes a person's life, or touches their heart. It is achieved when you make someone laugh or cry, or feel exuberant joy so big it can hardly be contained. It happens when you inspire someone so deeply you alter the course of their life. How can one put a price on that? So in that regard, Kitty has achieved success that many can only dream of. But the beauty is the dreams she inspire really can come true.

Nearly thirty years after that first concert in the basement of an MSU dorm, Kitty came to hear ME play. She said I sounded great. I don't think she can ever know what that meant to me.

Monday, March 2, 2015

I Just Want a Pair of Levis

It has been several years since I went into a department store. I despise them. I abhor them. One of those trips makes me feels like I am underwater, long strands of polyester seaweed wrapped tightly around my legs, pulling me down. I have always shopped in thrift stores, finding well made clothes dirt cheap. But there are five things I buy new: underwear, nice blue jeans, sheets, towels, and socks.

In past years when I needed a pair of jeans, I would go to Sears. All the jeans were in one location by brand, and then broken down by style. I wear Levi 515 boot cuts. Nothing else. I would go to that pile, find my size, and get the heck out of there. Unless I needed socks and underwear, but that is a story for another time.

One day I made myself go to Sears to get a pair of jeans. When I got to the section that previously had that nice, orderly display of denim, I found racks of shirts. Where did the jeans go? After much searching I found them. Well, some of them. The marketers in their infinite wisdom decided to scatter the jeans all over the women's section to force us shoppers to look at other merchandise as we run from rack to rack, table to table, searching for a pair of dungarees. After 30 minutes of futility, I stormed out of the store, vowing never to return.

This week I have a gig, so I thought what the heck, why not get a new pair of jeans. I asked a young coworker where I might find my trusty Levi 515 boot cuts and she suggested Kohls. So I took an hour of precious leave time and hit the road. When I walked into the mega department store, I was immediately overpowered by brightly colored garments that looked more like a coral reef than springtime. I touched several of these articles of clothing, trying to find something made of natural fibers. Nothing. Finally, off in the distance I saw blue. I pep stepped over to the jeans section. There were racks and tables piled high with denim - blue, washed out, black, stretchy, not stretchy. They were organized by brand and style. Of course the signs were impossible to read IF I could find them, so I was left to pick up a pair from every table to see what brand I was looking at.  Finally, I found them. Levi 515 boot cut.

I had to bend over and contort to find a size label. My trifocals slipped in and out of focus, partly because they were slipping down my nose from the upside down position I found myself in, and partly because that is just what trifocals do. Why do they put the big sizes on the bottom shelf? I mean REALLY! I can't see any darn thing so I reach down and start to pull out jeans to see what size they are. Not one pair matched the size label, and half weren't even the correct style! What happened to the good old days when store clerks went around and made sure everything was folded properly and in the right place? Huh? What happened to those good old days??????!!!!!!!

It was the third reach that sent me through the roof. I have torn something in my shoulder from slipping on the ice back in November (yes it was a Life Alert moment). Reaching down and under and over and into to find a pair of jeans sent me to the moon with pain. That's it, I screamed in my head. I will NEVER come back to this store again. I stormed out and went grocery shopping, where by the way, the bagger jammed the groceries into the paper bags so hard he crushed a plastic container of baby kale. Never going back there, either!

I try to shop locally, but without the small mom and pop stores to visit, I give up. I begin to daydream. I will go online, find a pair of Levi's and order them from a stranger. I will do it without having to make my way through aisles of cheap clothing made of god knows what in a sweat shop god knows where. I will make a nice cup of decaf, put on some jazz, and click "buy now". Just like that. Done.

When I finally arrived home, I almost wiped out from ice built up by my back door, due to a faulty gutter corner. After some tricky maneuvering whilest carrying three sacks of groceries, I entered my humble abode, almost falling on my butt due to a grease covered kitchen floor left behind by a well intentioned guest who made frybread. I balanced carefully and put the sacks on the counter, got out the Dawn and started mopping. Once. Twice. Finally, I stuck to the floor.

Ahh. It is finally over. I kicked off my shoes and settled into my recliner. There, staring at me from below, were two big toes, poking out of a worn pair of black socks.

Oh God.