I wanted to write a post in my Alabama Dame blog – this one right here that I am in — but I ran into a problem. I couldn’t remember how the heck to do it.
Let’s set the context for this near failure. I’ve just returned from a cruise with Bill, the first one we’ve taken since my stroke in May. The cruise was the first “normal” activity I’ve had since my hospitalization and extensive treatment. Friends and family ask me how I am and I am pleased to say I am doing very well. I had wondered, in advance, whether my health would hold out. Would I have another stroke while I was cruising, with all the attending mess that would bring?
Fortunately, no. All went well. On shipboard I had nothing to do but relax. My mind was up to the challenge of round the clock relaxation.
But once I got home, I had a life to resume, one full of activities. Bill became my helper guy; I had so many questions for him about doing ordinary day to day tasks. Then today he went away, off to Alabama and Chicago for the Thanksgiving holiday. And I am on my own.
I spent hours cleaning and rearranging stuff in our small in-law suite in Em’s house, which consists of a bed area, a place for a tv and a couch, some bookshelves, and a bathroom. Keeping this place uncluttered is a big effort but it didn’t cause any mental strain.
Watching the tv is my other main activity. Tonight I watched the movie “Hair” and wanted to write about it. I didn’t anticipate any difficulty.
But WHOAH!! My mind rebelled.
And so here I am, writing, but not writing what I had intended.
There was a hyperlinked system called “gopher” – it was the internet, text-only. No images except for line drawn images. I could get around on gopher and go to a ton of wonderful sites like altavista and Books A Million, where I could access information and evn (gulp!) buy books if I dared to put my credit card information into blank spaces that looked like forms to fill out in the world of pen and paper.
“Don’t give anybody your information, Rae!”, my friends told me, but the network nerds at the University of Delaware where I worked on the PLATO educational network said that Books A Million was safe. “Soon everybody will be buying things online” the guys who knew about this stuff said. I took a chance. I bought a book. It was delivered to my house. Nobody stole my credit card information. I thought the network guys might br right — people might actually start shopping this way. “No way!” my friends said.
I found some kind of early educational networked system and got my kids free accounts on it. I can’t remembrr the name, but it had “home” in it somehwere. Not PLATO Home Network, that was somerhing I helped the University launch for microomputer users– connectivity to the UD PLATO system for home computer users usinfg emulation software to make your IBM work like a PLATO terminal – no touch panel of course.
It was a blast, those early days, end of rhe 70s and all through the 80ss. Excitement.
I toook an obscure THomas Merton poem and createed a poetry-generating program that put in verbs where verbs should be, nouns for nouns, etc. etc. I loved sitting and pressing keys ro generate one poem after another, with rhyme and meter, and meaning.
The early days were the Wild Wild west. ENdless creativity to explore endless digital worlds. Nobody knew you were a girl if you had a name like “Rae” so you could argue endlessly about every topic under the sun. Fun fun fun and no daddy took the T-bird away.
Fast forward to 2022. I am sttring in the Day Room of the Middlerown ENeompass Healrh rehabilitation Hospital aftrr suffering two strokes that involved brain bleeds and all sorstt of awful things tha happen to 70something bodies that have not maximizedA healthy diet and exercise.
nd the fre wi-fi in this place is awful- diseastrous! barely functional. And the brain in tthis 70something body is operating under a whole bunch of deficits. Disastrous! BaRELY FUNCTIONAL. aND YET …. i AM FULL OF Gratitude for my life and I am eagr to begin again. Begin what? WHatever come next. The rest of my life. I need to be communicating and communicating is dificult. MY kyboarding skills are like a child’s who is just learning the language.
So I am frustrated. But game . The lights just went out in thr Day Room . No clue why. I guess I’LL Wander back to my room. I’m watching BET Awards. Feeling solidarity with the black community which has operated with cultural deficits for decades due to a very real and pervasive racist preference for people like me. I am starting to enjoy “wokeness” for its insistence on justice. We live in a time of grave Change and profound misunderstanding between people. We all opine when we should be listening and respecting.
I don’t want to signal virtue. I want to be virtuous. i want to respect every individual I encounter. I want to know virtue, to br virtue. I want to see virtue. Positivity is a virtue IMO.
The recipients of thre BET AWARDS ARE inspiring me witrh their acceptance speeches. They are speaking at length about the substance of personal achievement. Achivement is beautiful, in children and in adults.
Okay, trying to post a poem a day:
First Love (for Bill)
She hears his name
And the rim of the world recedes
The hallways curve with light
Her hair falls all to curls
And she has to pee.
MY LAST POST INCLUDED THE GOAL OF WRITIMG A POEM A DAY. THEN THE BOOM LOWERED, POW KAPOW TICK TICK … BOOM,,,,,I HAD A STROKE! THEN, STILL IN HOSPITAL, I HAD A SECOND!! THE BRAIN WHICH I HAVE TAKEN FOR GRANTED FOLDED ON ME. MY LEFT ARM AND LEG STOPPED WORKING.
SO THE POEM A DAY GOAL IMPLODED, ALONG WITH ALL SEMBLANCE OF NORMAL LIFE, BUT YESTERDAY MY POETIC POWERS, SUCH AS THEY ARE, RETURNED, HERE IS YESTERDAY’S POEM, I AM PLEASED, MY HUSBAND BILL SAYS I AM A TALENTED POETESS, I AGREE. ONCE I WAS TOO SHY TO SHOW HIM MY WORK IN ANY WRITING CATEGORY, BUT I AM A WRITER, I GOT MY FIRST EVER SHORT STORY SUBMISSION ACCEPTED BY A LITERARY JOURNAL ANDREW GREELEY WAS INVOLVED WITH– THE CRITIC. THEY PAID ME $400. I DIDNT REALIZE AT THE TIME THAT MOST WRITERS PILE UP REJECTIONS OR GET PAID PEANUTS; i DIDN’T PURSUE MY WRITING CAREER. SO MY SISTER MARGUERITE AND I WILL NEVERREALIZE OUR FANTASY OF HAVING THAT APARTMENT IN NYC, WITH A WHITE CAT, MARY AND RHODA-TWO SINGLE GALS LIVING THE URBAN LIFE.
Last week I attended my Uncle Dominic’s funeral. It was an all-day affair: Mass of Christian Burial, gravesite rite, party with good Italian food and open bar at Portabello’s Restaurant in Kennett Square.
I did the second reading at his Mass. This took place in St. Patrick’s in Kennett, the very church where Uncle Dominic had stood up for me as godfather at my baptism 72 years earlier. He left instructions as to hymns to be used, and he also left instructions that “If I have ever hurt anyone, I ask for their forgiveness.” He was a class act. I drank a martini with three olives in his honor — martinis were his drink, and many of his mourners celebrated his life with this drink, in any number of variations. My.. nephew Ernie tended bar for the funeral party. I caught up with cousins and family members from the Italian side of my family — my father’s side, as Dominic was his youngest brother — and afterwards Marguerite, Sue and I stopped by at Cousin Maria’s to see her beautiful downsized new place, right next door to the house on Cypress where she lived with Uncle Luigi and Aunt Antoinette when they all came from Italy in 1956, when I was six years old.
Around the same time as Uncle Dominic’s death, Bill’s sister Gerry and my friend and fellow Pious Lady Diane Naylor both were hospitalized and then released not back to their homes but to a rehabilitation facility. Both close friends hope to eventually return home, but health concerns make it far from a slam dunk for either. Elizabeth Martelli, another close friend, had back surgery and was sent home where she is recuperating beautifully. Marguerite, Elizabeth and I spent three days at her beach house in Wildwood Crest. The surprising and unpleasant experiences of aging and getting closer to natural death were a frequent topic of conversation. We all suspect that this stage of life astonishes each generation in turn as they enter it. None of us thinks much about aging when we are young, and by the time it happens we tend to view it with great surprise, as if somebody was playing a trick on us.
So I have death on my mind. It is always on my mind these days, although I also am living a vital life with a multiplicity of engrossing activities, creative and interpersonal.
A couple of years ago I started putting together a funeral reception music mix. I misplaced it in my tangle of digital detritus. So I think I’ll start another, and store it here in my blog.
My original thought was to have a boombox available at the gravesite, and begin the mix tape after the Catholic rite is over. As folks were moving past my coffin and back to their cars, I wanted to have Queen’s song “Fat-Bottomed Girls” blasting out. It seems a fitting valediction to my life.
Let’s start the mix. In no order following the lead-off by Queen, these are the songs I’d like to be played at my funeral party. I think I’d like to leave money for a nice party with an open bar like Uncle Dominic did, also.
Queen. Fat-Bottomed Girls
Carly Simon. Two Little Sisters
Puccini. Musetta’s Waltz, La Bohème
Bob Dylan. Tweeter and the Monkeyman
Johnny Mathis. Wonderful, Wonderful
Bonnie Tyler. Holding Out for a Hero
Zoe Mulford. My Aunt Maxine
Okay, that’s a start. There are plenty more. I’ll take it up later.
Seventy years ago + a coupla days, my mom and dad brought a new baby sister home and plunked her down in my bedroom. We didn’t separate until I went off to college 16 years later. Today she hits a milestone birthday. Happy birthday, my sister and co-conspirator! You know my new mantra – Life Begins at 70 – and I mean it! With so many days in the rear view mirror, every new day is a thunderbolt.
Marguerite turns seventy - a milestone met today
Sue's in Selma thrifting her new house
Pic's become the grandfather of Nicholas the Fourth
And I am in retirement with my spouse.
We four siblings never thought of aging
Not for us the toothing of the long
Still those faces - matching smiles - continuing
Nick and Nickey's kids still going strong.
I am trying to integrate my newly embraced artistic streak with my Pauline Apostolate. I’ve gone through this exercise in the past with my writing. I often fall in love with my creations, and put them out in the world to share with an audience. It thrills me when feedback comes in from random places telling me that I have succeeded in some form. During a spurt of poetic creativity in the late 80s-early 90s, I engaged actively on the Usenet rec.arts.poetry forum and achieved a certain level of appreciation/acclaim. I cannot underestimate the excitement I feel when I seem to communicate to another person that frisson that is the communion of art.
Art and God. They go together. Beauty and truth and goodness—heart and mind and will—Life and Truth and Way, the existential trinity of Jesus Christ’s Personhood.
All artists, regardless of medium of expression, want an audience and appreciation. All Christian artists work within a context of imitating the Creator. This is not the same as explicitly addressing a religious theme – not that there’s anything wrong with that (ask Michaelangelo)!
So I guess the trick with artistic creation parallels the trick with living the apostolate each day “until Christ is formed in us” (Galatians). The simple virtues (simply described, but the work of a lifetime to make habitual) seem to me to be the remedy and balancing force of the self-centeredness of the creating artist. And Blessed James Alberione seems to touch on this when he writes about mortification:
[Mortification] occupies all year round and all aspects of our person, as it is closely connected with the path of cristification. . . . It is universal. Any good, if you want to do it, requires either to deny something inferior or to make some effort. Universal because it extends to all being: mind, heart, will, fantasy, eyes, touch, language, memory, every passion. . . . The purpose of mortification is positive, that is, to cooperate in the right direction. The word sounds almost mortuum facere, that is, establish the will as the queen who can direct the eye, the memory, the language and the fantasy; now directly and now indirectly; as if they were corpses that do not oppose.
Donec Formetur Christus in Vobis, Blessed James Alberione
I have of late and wherefore I know not become enchanted by color and image. I find this odd and revelatory (to me) because I have always been a language person above all. Last night I had fun ordering Park Lane jewelry from a friend who is also a dynamite saleswoman. I realized afterwards that the three pieces I bought mirror the colors of one of my favorite works of art by my mentor in the Pauline family, Sister Margaret Charles Kerry. Trying to get life to imitate art? Heh.