Half and Half

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

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My writing desk sits smack in front of a big window. I pause as I write to peek out on life as it moves on in front of me. On a beautiful sunny day such as this, I sit in the warm sun. The light is so bright, I happily don a baseball cap to keep the sun out of my eyes to continue to enjoy the sun’s warmth.

I haven’t written on this blog for a while. My heart, and my soul, seems to have been on strike since November 8, 2016.

I am and have always been grateful for the millions of immigrants and their families who made the difficult journey to this land in the North American continent. Our lives are more full and blessed in so many ways. Language, ideas, and ideals. Inventions to make life grand, written words to awaken our souls, works of art broaden our horizons. Together, we toil each and every day, educating children, caring for families here and abroad. Doctors, nurses, teachers, service providers, physicists, politicians, road workers, writers, musicians, neighbors and friends. Good people. Upstanding people I call my friends; friends and strangers who never, ever pose a risk to me and my security.

I, and almost everyone I know in this country, come from a family of immigrants.

I am so ashamed of the new federal leadership. I ache for the souls who could very well be punished by an evil, narcissistic, mean-spirited and mentally unstable man who was elected president this past year. His followers and supporters are no less guilty in the travesty they are planning, and the results that could come.

The world is watching.

Thank goodness for the resistance of our local residents across this land and around the world. We will never stand idly by. This is not an easy task ahead of us. We cannot rest.

When I sat down today, the sun shone on one half of my face. It’s just how I feel. One half of me is proud of everything we all have brought to this world. The other side lives in a dark place, fearing where we are going.

Each day I sit in the sun revives me for another. Just one word came to me to close this short tale.

Help.

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Headbanger in Paradise, Part 1

“Headbanger in Paradise” was originally published in its entirety in Untold Stories: From the Deep Part of the Well. 2016 Redwood Writers Anthology, Roger Lubeck, Editor. September 2016.

I’m choosing to publish it here in four parts. Stay tuned for later segments. KT


 

Visitors are rare here. On admittance, our patients generally see that their friends and relatives have a way of moving on.

Three-dozen men, twenty-two to sixty-three years of age, live on my unit, a drop in the bucket of over a thousand patients, hospital-wide. They share bedrooms, bathrooms, and just about everything else. They struggle with schizophrenia, depression, and psychosis. Delusions, hallucinations, fear, and paranoia routinely show up.

Our patients often have little or no self-control. When paired with anxiety and anger issues, they act out on a regular basis, assaulting staff or one another. Often confused, they lack motivation to do much to help themselves.

Behind our backs, patients cut themselves with sharpened plastic utensils, broken CDs, pencils, or worse. It’s a tough place to be a patient. It’s a rough place to work.

Breakfast was over and done with. It was quiet on the unit, and I was glad of it.

I heard keys jangling from the other side of the door. Right on time, here he comes.

He walked into the unit, escorted by one of the psych techs from the admission unit.

Frank’s arms hung like flabby sausages. Thirty-three years old, he shuffled like an old man, a side effect of medication to reduce aggressive behavior.

His man-sweat, accompanied by a robust urine aroma, percolated the air as he approached me. Frank had been next door for thirty days now. He’d refused to shower every one of them.

“Morning, Shea,” the escort said.

“Good morning,” I answered. “How is everyone?”

“Not bad. He was at it again last night. Fine this morning, though.”

I noticed the bruises on Frank’s swollen forehead where he’d smashed his head against the wall.

“How do you feel, Frank?”

Silence.

Head banging was Frank’s unique trademark. One minute, he’d be standing quiet as a doorknob. Next minute, he’d be methodically slamming his forehead against the wall. No wailing, no crying. Just slamming his forehead against the wall.

I started ransacking through the black trash bag, AKA patient’s luggage, which Frank handed to me. I latched onto a pair of hospital-issue sneakers, a denim jacket, a pair of sweat pants, and a San Francisco Giants T-shirt.

“Is this all you’ve got, Frank?”

He didn’t answer.

His escort did.

“That’s it, Shea. Here’s his chart. Have fun now.”

He fist-tapped Frank’s shoulder as he turned back to the admission unit.

I’d met Frank a week earlier on a help call to his unit. One patient had cornered another in a bedroom. They were pounding each other with fists, their obscenities scouring the room. They each weighed close to a couple hundred pounds. It was all we could do to separate them. The hospital police arrived in time to catch a young nurse being thrown to the wall.

Frank watched the action from across the hall. Leaving the room, I didn’t realize he’d quickened his step behind me until I felt him punching the back of my head.

He was sedated then, but my neck was stiff for a week. The real injury was to my psyche; a potent reminder to keep those eyes in the back of my head wide open.

He couldn’t help it, really. The voices crawling in his head screamed danger. It sent him straight into attack mode. A variety of meds helped only sometimes.

“Come on, Frank. Your bedroom is up the hall,” I said. He flinched when I placed my hand behind his elbow.

“Okay,” I said, pulling back. “It’s okay.”

I carried his meager belongings to his room.

“Do I know you?” he asked.

“Yes, I’m an RN. My name is Shea. We met next door. I work this unit most of the time.”

He slowly nodded yes. “I hit you, didn’t I?”

“Yep,” I said, smiling. “It’s okay, Frank, I’m fine.”

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Write On!

We writers, all of us, and our readers, sometimes take our words for granted. If I know one thing, I know how much our words matter. Each and every word, whether it’s surrounded by thousands of others in a book, or part of 140 characters in a tweet. Our words have the power to show our love and air our disdain. Our words can touch the hearts of strangers everywhere. They can bring loved ones closer. The words we choose to put on paper can drive a wedge, dig a hole, or take us to the moon.

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I hope this week you’ll choose to write something to make a difference. It’s your choice, and mine. We can write in a journal, we can write a letter, yes, a real letter to someone. We could send a birthday card with our own words of life inscribed with our signature. We could post a new blog, follow our friends, like them, and make our own comments on Facebook.

We have the power. We have the heart. Honor that writer inside you. Don’t let your muse hide out any longer.

As the master once said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”  Look at what he did. Listen to Bob Dylan, our newest Nobel Laureate. Go ahead, write a song.

Pen to paper, fingertips to screen, or clickety clack on your keyboard.

Do it today, do it this week. Write again next week. And the one after.

If you’re really serious — and courageous — you’ll share those words inside your heart.

I bet you’ll be glad you did.

Where I live in Napa, California, we are celebrating Napa Writers Week. In the rest of the state, it’s California Writers week. The state’s yearly commemoration came about many years ago through the efforts of a few eager California Writers Club folks and their contacts in the CA state legislature.

This week is Napa’s first Napa Writers Week, thanks to the commitment of our County Board of Supervisors. On behalf of our Napa Valley Writers and all the writers in the community, I took the idea to my district supervisor. He was all for it. And there we go. Napa Writers Week. You could do the same where you live. It’s a fabulous way to honor the writers in your community, including yourself. This coming Saturday, our indie bookstore is hosting a local celebration of local authors at Napa Bookmine.

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Happy Birthday, Grandpa Fred

My mother was 66 years old when she died. Her mother, the only grandmother I really knew, died when she was 70. I’m 68 now, and thankfully, a whole lot healthier than either one of them were. Not that I wanted them to be unhealthy. You know what I mean.

I grew up with Grandma Gertie and Grandpa Willie at my side. I knew at some point in time that Grandpa Willie was my step-grandfather. The step part never mattered to me. I loved him so much and he showered all of us with love and good humor. It was years after Mom died in ’86 that I even began to wonder who my real grandfather really was. Willie was gone by then, too.

Eventually I learned that Fred Shea was the man who cared for my grandmother when she was just 18 and won a train trip to San Francisco from Missouri as the grand prize in her hometown beauty pageant. Grandma’s father had arranged for his brother Fred, who was living in SF and working for the railroad, to look after young Gertie. Love bloomed, and in the way of the world, uncle and niece fell in love. My mom was born in the spring of 1920.

Sometime, somehow, in the next 15 or so years, Fred was out of the picture.

I tracked down his death certificate. He died in a hospital in San Francisco, from cirrhosis of the liver when he was 63 years old. It was December 23, 1945, 6 days before my parents celebrated their marriage in Grandma Gertie and Grandpa Willie’s home across the bay.

I’ll never know if Mom knew where her dad was. It makes me so sad. Maybe no one he loved knew where he was.

While looking through old pictures just a few years ago, I stumbled upon a picture of my very young and beautiful grandmother sitting next to a strikingly handsome man on a blanket on San Francisco’s foggy Ocean Beach. I knew in that instant I was looking at my grandfather. I also knew why my parents named my brother Fred.

Fred and Gertie

I jumped in my car, sped to the office supply store to get the best magnifying glass they had on hand and rushed back home. When I glared through my powerful new lens, I was gazing on the mirror image of my brothers and my sons.

Finally, I got to meet my own Grandpa Fred.

Tomorrow is his birthday. October 1, 1883. Happy Birthday, Grandpa Fred.

 

Happy Father’s Day

I’m fortunate to know several incredible men who aren’t fathers. They’re men who had fathers; they’re men who nurture and care for those around them – families, students, and friends alike. To them I say, Happy Un-Father’s Day!

In my own game of life, many of the fathers closest to me were nothing like Ozzie Nelson or Ward Cleaver, or even Mike Brady.

Abandoned as a youngster by his own father, a young man grew up to suffer prison camps in a foreign war.  He returned home to San Francisco, broken and worn.  He married his sweetheart, he became a father.  Three children and years later, he took off to live with another woman and her children from a different father, leaving his young family to make their way on their own.  We did fine.

Another father – he hit his sons and he hit his wife.  I knew he had an anger problem.  His mother told me years before, warning me.  Eventually, I left him behind.  He went on to marry his high school sweetheart and live happily ever after.

One father of three walked out when his youngest child was just an infant. Years later, he traveled half way across the country to find us, apologetic, on his knees.  And then, just as we felt comfort settling in, he killed himself with a rope around his neck.

Even as father scars smoulder and rumble today in the tiny edges of my heart, I savor the love and happiness of the very best fathers and grandfathers and brothers and sons in my extended family that stretches from Massachusetts and New York to Florida, from Arizona to Colorado and California.  All I know now are warm embraces and happy endings.

These guys, they create miracles.  They nourish, they love.

They kiss and they hug. They teach, support, laugh and have fun.

They stay.

To all the great fathers in my life, famiIy and friends alike, I say, with balloons and banners flying,

“Happy Father’s Day.”

Postcards in Paradise – Letters from Home

The postcard in my hand is so old I’d expect it to be worn and frail and downright unimportant.  It’s not, though.  It’s one more amazing golden star resting among years of memories.  Life and love that I’ve discovered again in a bin in the basement.

Cattle punching on a jack rabbit in Arizona

Cattle punching on a jack rabbit in Arizona

The cowboy doing his day’s work on the back of a jack rabbit still cracks me up.  Cristy’s words touch my heart, make me laugh and warm my toes.  Long flowing letters from Lynda fill my heart with joy.  I chew on my bottom lip and take a deep breath reading love words from a lover long gone.

For days now, I’ve been walking from the warmth of my home, across the driveway in the rain and into the dank basement.  Each trip, I grab one more plastic bin full of flashbacks to carry into my study.

Hand painted by Fleta Stephens

Hand painted by Fleta Stephens

I’m in no hurry as I bend over and pick up a memory, one at a time.  Photographs, loosely tossed  among letters and proclamations and typewritten resumes and newsletters.  Handwritten postcards and Christmas cards and birthday cards, sympathy cards.

Bent or broken picture frames, some empty, others as if they just fell off the shelf.  Drawings by young children and more than a pair of white leather baby shoes.

Three Baby Shoes

Three Baby Shoes

Sure, I have picture albums.  They sit on my bookcase.  They’ve been sitting around on my bookcases for years.  We look at them on occasion, friends and family.  And, yes, I have thousands of jpgs and pdfs and pngs in folders all over my computer.  I print them out often enough.

Memory Bins

Memory Bins

But the bins, that’s where the real treasure lives.  What draws me into the bins is not the written word or the color on the postcards, the letters, or the drawings.  It’s the love stretched across the years from one hand to another.

I’m afraid that all of our easily computerized ‘stuff’ could be depriving us of a future full of overflowing boxes and bins in the basement.  We need to hold those sentiments in our fingers, in our hands, as surely as we need to hold a book bound by stitching in our lap.

hat day yankees05122014So, today, before I completed this story to you, I wrote a letter to someone dear to me.  I’m going to lick that stamp and stick it in the top right corner of an envelope and send it off.  And then I’m going to print off this page, sign it and put it in a new book for someone to pick up years from now when they’re going through bins in the basement.   Maybe it will be me.

Are you missing that feeling of having a letter in your fingers, or a postcard from paradise?  Send me your address.  I’ll send you one.  From my hand to yours.  Who knows?  We could start a trend.

As for the bins in the basement, I have a plan.

 

Are You Voting?

Vote?

Vote?

Plutocracy: Government by the wealthy; a country or society governed in this way.

Democracy: System of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.

The plutocrats continue to dangle the carrot in front of us as we minions queue up to the polls. After billions earned off us have been spent to make sure ‘their’ guy wins. Wow. Yes, I do believe it’s us and them. And we’re losing. Look around.

For years, I was knee deep in politics, campaigning, believing it all. Seriously into it. For years, I didn’t vote. NOT because I was apathetic, not because I was a loser. Because I believe the game is over. This season is done. Not many marks to make on the ballot.

I’m not proud to vote. I’m not happy to vote. It’s a flashjob. I’m proud and happy to live to write about it. Thanks to our democracy, not to the plutocracy.

Carlin Vote