Monday, October 24, 2016


I was in the 8th grade in Searcy Arkansas when I developed a crush on the bari-sax player. He was an older man in the 9th grade, socially awkward, and likely returned my feelings. We would have been"equally yoked" in the proper Church of Christ terminology, since we were both members of the same church. We sat together a few times on the band bus and I even remember holding hands once. It was an almost serious relationship. Until the day they were spinning records in the band room and he walked in and saw me dancing. That was a sin and the almost relationship ended.

Image result for searcy arkansas high school
From the downtown area
I dreamed about my bari-sax player last night. In my dream I was a guest in his three bedroom apartment and felt just as much on trial as I did every day that I attended that high school. I had gotten up from my single bed and stumbled to the kitchen to find the daughter-of-my-heart preparing breakfast. She was telling me I could wake him and my life, and it would be that world of small town Arkansas. This time I could graduate, go to college, get married to the bari-sax player, and keep my children. All in the right order. And all I had to do is settle.

Put that thought on the back burner.

I've been doing a lot of reading lately about Hillary Clinton, the woman I hope and pray will be the first woman president. She got stuck in Arkansas for 17 years, about the same time I did. She moved from Illinois, 45 minutes out from Chicago. Might as well as been another planet. When I moved from neighboring Indiana, with the Republican Methodist grandparents and extended family, to Searcy Arkansas the culture shock nearly shut down my previous 10-year-old self. I spent years trying to get out.

Add that thought to the previous one...let's stir.

So I crawled out of bed this morning amidst the 25 cats and stumbled to the bathroom still in that dream of what if. And shook it off as if I had had a bucket of cold water dumped over my head. Yeah. I could have created a life in Arkansas. Inside the Church of Christ where dancing is a sin. And I would have lost out on the love of my life who is a trans gendered male and watched Rocky Horror, both versions, with me last night. I might have been graduated college but using that degree when there is a very patriarchal husband in the household would more likely have kept me home raising children and languishing in a small town that nearly broke my younger-self.

My partner and I have lived together for 13 years. I told everyone at work I wouldn't get married until I saw the election results because I didn't want to live through Mr Trump undoing my marriage if he wins. Then in act of defiance and love, I married my partner anyway. Yeah, Hillary escaped Arkansas, survived her husband and the White House politics. And now she's prepared to go back and stand by my right to be married to my partner as well as all the other hard things she will have to do. And it's because of Arkansas and where we come from that she has my vote.

Google is a remarkable thing. I just found that bari-sax player living three blocks from the high school in a 1200 square foot house with one bathroom. My house is equally modest. But I wonder if his life is a rich? I'm going to go have lunch today with my friend from England who spent 20 years in South Africa. I'm going to a job for a few hours to do play therapy with children, thereby following my calling and my passion. And when I come home tonight, it will be to the arms of guitar-playing, artist, poet partner that I married this spring. And 25 cats.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Season of Change

Last September began the season of change. I'm still working as a clinical counselor at the methadone clinic doing substance abuse counseling, but rather than going into management, as previously planned, I moved sideways adding a part time job in the afternoon/evenings at a children's mental health clinic. My original dream in grad school was private practice, and I had found my way into a business as a contractor that would give me that dream back. One I gave up on a year and a half ago when I took the new job at a just opening methadone clinic.

I had been told I would become the director, but the previous director didn't tell me it wasn't his power to reward that position. So he passed me small responsibilities, coached me in the personnel side, and then broke my heart. Hours of overtime and burnout later, a miracle occurred. But the miracle came at a price. Right now I need both checks to pay for the 12 years of neglect to our material needs, such a roof repair, kitchen floor, and car repairs. But hopefully this coming September I will go from being gone from home 16 hours a day to 10. I can live with that.

In January my weight peaked at a new high of 303 pounds, and I made a commitment to myself and my future for self-care. With Lipedema and Lymphedema as well chronic fatigue syndrome, I needed to amend my ways. I started using Almesid as a diet aid, and since Jan 12 I have lost 23 pounds. I'm afraid that the new life style and eating requires a lot of shakes for my own well being, but with my terrible schedule, they actually simplify the eating and planning. Weekends are nice when I can cook. We've had some amazing food such as pizza and potato soup.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

I have been working in methadone treatment since Sep 10, 2008. I started out working the front desk, taking money. Six months of hell later, I was promoted to a counselor. I was given a caseload the same day I began seeing clients as a student therapist. I worked for a greedy man who profited 3 million a year (yes, the foolish man let his accountant fax his tax return to the work address while I was standing there). Pay raises were irregular, but sneaked to me now and then when others didn't get them. The organization was obviously profit seeking and unprofessional, and when a new clinic opened last year, I made the jump. Note that my check bounced three times before I sent out my resume. Not that because he didn't have the money to cover payroll, but because he didn't leave anything in his business account. So the bouncing was due to carelessness, best I could tell. And over spending in his personal life. Islands in the Bahama's are not cheap, at least not to me.

The promised 3.5% annual raises, 4 weeks PTO, and six months after starting, the intern director said I would be groomed to become the director. My monthly stats are consistently 90% and above, I have taken on additional responsibilities, and work a lot of overtime to get the extras done as well as my own responsibilities. The director runs another 800 population clinic in another state. He's supposed to be in our clinic two days a week, but its more like 3-4 times a month. Recently I learned my promotion is not in next year's budget, there's no real plan to promote me any time soon, and the business owner says the director "overstepped himself" in offering me the promotion. My theory is the promise was just a way to get him out of our clinic several days a month, and that when things are running this well from a business perspective, there's no intensive to change. 

Worse, despite passing our national certification with no recommendations (meaning with flying colors), high marks on everyone's report cards, and all of our hard work (a new clinic is 20 times harder than one that's been open for 10 years, I now know), we were not given pay raises (all the other clinics they own got their raises, despite one's less than adequate performace); we weren't profitable enough? Since I track population and who's paying, I'd say it's greed. They wanted a profit and payoff this year despite some business decisions they made that cost the clinic). While I have many speculations (and facts) for why, I won't put them here. Unlike my previous clinic, I won't be given one quietly on the sly, either. While it is a much more professionally run clinic on many levels, the lack of raises and the promised promotion have broken my heart.

Put that on the back burner. Side note:

BTW the above is what happened to my blogging over the last couple of years. With the chronic fatigue syndrome, I was so thin I worked, slept, ate, and worked some more. My hobbies, my writing and my art largely went to the wayside. Due to financial constraints, we gave up cable tv and I haven't even noticed.

Let's get out another pot.

About six months the PD (program director) needed to hire another counselor. In methadone, the ideal caseload is 50 patients. Given that it's a new clinic, with the majority needing intensive time and attention, it should be much lower. We were up to 70-75. Since he was "training me" I helped go through resumes, we talked about hiring practices, and I participated in the interview. I was introduced to our future employee as the future program director. That obviously hasn't happened, and isn't happening any time soon and the people around me know it. Matter of fact, a new position was created for the business owner's pet, and she has been appointed the clinic "point person". The director assured me at the time it did not affect my promotion. Uh huh. I got a bridge for sale. 

Put that on the back burner.

So our new employee was contacted by one of her contacts in the field about a few positions coming open in several local practices. $40 an hour, 32 hours a week (in private practice you don't really get paid for the paperwork so 8 additional hours would be set aside for that). The particular opening that caught my interest is an a pediatrician's office (she is there one day a week).

Let's stir the pot. 

I took business practices in grad school. In fact, Cam came across my business plan a month ago or so. I had given up on the idea of private practice because I don't have the necessary local contacts. I'm not known in the community, don't hang out with doctors and other practitioners. Methadone's kind of a red headed step-child in the substance abuse and agency world. And the business owner was ready to hire me sight unseen because of my recommendations and previous training in child therapy. We graduated from the same school, had the same teachers and training. She knew what I knew. She even rewrote the contract to accommodate my needs.

Let's put it all together. 

I'm sitting on my deck, something I've only managed 4-5 times this year, blogging. I have a week's vacation. When I go back to work, I'll be working 5am - 1 pm at the clinic. Then half an hour away, I'll start seeing children in the afternoons 2-7. When they have 25 hours a week for me, I make the move full time. I start next Tuesday. Given that they already have scheduled 5 hours for me, I think it'll build. In fact, she needed 3 people for this office. Until the my caseload and one other's is full, she's not bringing on the 3rd, though she's been hired. Based on last year, she has no doubt she'll fill our schedules quickly.

I once dreamed about working with children and their families. That dream is about to come true. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

I'm doing just fine...

Remember the old saying, "I'm on the right side of the dirt; I'm doing just fine"? I've modified it to say "My intestine is on the right side of my belly; I'm doing just fine". Thank you, Jazzman.

I went to see him Wednesday after the Lent service at church. I had the smudge of ash on my forehead as a stark reminder of my own mortality. In the car, driving to the hospital afterward, I caught a glace of myself in the mirror. No doubt, there was a dark cross shaped smudge on my forehead. We're told to leave it for the day, but I struggled with that idea.

"What's the difference between me wearing a dark, obvious smudge on my forehead and walking into a public building than the man who stood on the street corner praying?" I asked Cameron as I drove. Seems to me that, like the man praying loudly on the street corner, I would be rewarded like that man by drawing attention to myself: "See how pious I am. I went to Lent service at church." That attention being a reward rather than a reminder of my own mortality.

Moreover, I was going to visit a possibly dying man. It's one thing to remind myself of my own mortality. It felt wildly inappropriate to remind Jazzman of his. He already knew.

Nowhere in the bible does it state we should paint ourselves with ash. We use it as a custom to remind ourselves of Jesus' sacrifice for us. We use to become mindful of our own eventual return to ash. Within a community of believers, the ash is shared and we are all sinners and saints together. However, I felt that venturing into a hospital wearing ash on my forehead would be like the man who prayers publicly on a street corner to draw attention to himself. So I wiped it off.

I was quite relieved to have done so, after gaining my first glimpse of Jazzman's intestine on the wrong side of his belly. Bear in mind, his cheer and kindness. The nurses are all fond of him and brag that he's the most gracious patient on the floor. He's a true gentleman.

There's nothing in my life that's all that bad today. I have my intestine on the right side of my belly.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

From Ashes to Ashes

Today is Ash Wednesday. The first ten years of my life, I grew up in Bloomington, Indiana, home of Indiana University. We attended church at Fairview United Methodist Church. Being so close to the school, we benefited from many amazing musicians. I remember sitting with my grandparents, looking up at the pipes for the organ in awe and listening to the chorus.

Then my dad decided to take us to North Central Church of Christ. The loss of music, incense, candles, alienated me. I liked those symbols. The austere building, the loss of an actual altar and the loss of children's church confused me. People around me talked about those symbols as if they were bad. No wonder I love the ritual of Wicca. Or that I delight in my current Episcopalian home.

So today Cameron stayed home with contractors and I used my comp time to get off work early for services. Oddly enough, both religious experiences seemed to come together today. Of course, the priests still wore robes. But there was no chorus. A silence, a kind of peace, filled the church today. I found the service powerful.

As the priest smeared the ash on my forehead, he said, "From dust you were made and to dust you will return." Dust. Mortality. Death. My own death. It brings a solemn hush. Three clients were in my office at different times this morning speaking of death. A mother dying of cancer. A brother dead 21 years ago of Down's Syndrome. A cousin dead of a motorcycle accident a week shy of his 19th birthday. But always we spoke of someone else's death. Grief. Bereavement. Those things no one but a counselor will talk about. A place of sacredness only equaled by birth.

Of course, Christian faith centers on resurrection and judgement day. I tend to keep my rather heretical thoughts to myself, because I do believe in reincarnation. This very interesting site explores such thoughts: Christian Reincarnation: The Long Forgotten Doctrine. Nevertheless, death has walked with Cameron and me these last few weeks, as seen my previous blog. So the service touched me deeply as I reflected on Walt and our family dealing with suicide.

I called Cameron on the way to the service to talk about why we have Lent. Cameron pointed out a great many people see it as a time to recognize what Christ went through for us and to offer our own kind of solidarity by fasting or giving something up. Indeed, a co-worker had posted on her Facebook this morning, "What should I give up?" Cameron offered an interesting column entitled: Don't Get Caught In The Lent Trap. Father Mike talked about the things that distance us from God, and about how giving things up isn't always the answer. Some people choose to add something to their spiritual life. Now, this makes sense to me.

I must have channeled Walt Monday when we went to visit Jazzman. It's not usual for me to drive to a hospital on the other side of two towns over to visit a stranger. That is, however, the person I want to be. And I kept thinking about the things Walt did that mattered. Moreover, a bible verse keeps playing over and over in my head:

'For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ (Matthew 25:35-36).

There were no flowers in Jazzman's room. There were no cards and no visitors when we were there. And in that moment of compassion we met a good man. With an intestine on the wrong side of his belly, Jazzman was able to laugh and cry with me as we talked of differences and similarities. Of dreams and wrongs. A man who, like me, was caught by the descending arc of the IT world and after the last job, ran through savings accounts, the 401k, and ran the unemployment out and lost, or has nearly lost, everything. Funny, intelligent, well-read, and able to keep me on my toes regarding politics and philosophy, and culturally completely different from this lily-white-assed northern transplant. I found a brother. Family of choice because we all need tribe.

Safely tucked into my warm bed with a job to go to tomorrow, I ask, "What is the point of the day?" The point is, I think, I am on to something. The next step of my own spiritual development and growth is this service to others. I carry with me a renewed awareness of my own mortality. I turned 50 in September. Even if I live to my great-grandma's age of 92, I'mg more than half done. As I watched the predominately gray-headed crowd move toward the altar for communion, I was reminded of the lack of kindness to the body that aging brings. The drooping shoulder, the walkers, the canes and the damage of the years wearing on each face. Mortality. So what do I want to do with this time I have, however much the Spinner of Destiny allows?

Hmmm...I've already answered that question, haven't I?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Random Acts of Kindness

About a month ago Cameron and I attended church and experienced an opportunity to visit briefly with our friend Walt. He told us a story of going to the post office and getting out of his car to see a man nearby, sitting in his car with the door open. The man appeared heavily burdened, so Walt being Walt walked up to see if he could help. The man told Walt his wife had died a few days before, and for a moment let Walt help him out of the car, and just leaned on him with tears streaming down his cheeks. I can imagine big, tall, graying 70-year-old Walt holding the old, grieving man in his bear hug. Walt told us how it touched his heart and what it meant to be a part of the man's life for those tender moments.

Put that on the back burner.

Last Saturday I attended Walt's funeral. He'd had a heart attack during the recent winter storm. His wife couldn't even make it the hospital the first day as he lay in intensive care.

Put that on the back burner.

Walt was the kind of man that when a young couple, obviously impoverished, showed up on Christmas eve to sit on the back row of the church, took up a donation for them. Right there, during the service, there's Walt walking around getting money...and people gave. They left with a wad of 20s in their pockets. Walt told the congregation they were angels visiting and it was our responsibility to care for them on Christmas. That was Walt.

Stirring it together.

Adding a side story.

21 years ago my Vietnam Vet husband David died alone of suicide. We had separated a year earlier because of my fear that he would commit homicide and suicide. It was a hard decision, but I later learned that his cancer had gone to his brain, bringing about dangerous mood shifts and behavior. In the months leading up to his death he began calling. I knew what he was saying couldn't be true, but I loved him and made plans to go see him. I never made it see him alive. David committed suicide on New Year's Eve. I borrowed money from everyone I knew to get to the funeral. I was so focused on getting there I didn't have time to begin the grieving process. He was Catholic, so the memorial service was in some random chapel. He'd been cremated by necessity. I was in shock, sobbing, and kept staring at the box holding his ashes trying to figure out how they got his long legs in that tiny box. It took days to realize it was simply ashes.

So there I stood in our church, 21 years later, staring at tiny box holding ashes. I couldn't look, couldn't imagine how those long legs fit. Later, a soldier played Taps and a flag was folded for the grieving widow. And I gave thanks to Walt one last time, for relieving me of a heavy burden of when the last time I stood in cemetery, listening to Taps and watching my husband's ashes being interred.

And the next story to stir in the mix.

Family violence touches the people we know in the shadows and in secret. Even when you know there's a problem, you never know how bad it was until the story ends. It ended last weekend in a memorial service in the backyard of a family we love dearly. Out of respect, I won't say too much about the details. But I was grateful, as I stepped into the role of a priestess, for David's spirit. He'd taught me to love my children. He'd taught me sobriety. He'd taught me a work ethic. And in his final gift, he taught me how to cope with a suicide. How to face the blood on a mattress and do what is needful. And how to be okay doing what was needful.

The next chapter.

I listen to Phoenix Rising Radio and read Going Global: East Meets West regularly. A gentleman by the name of Jazzman calls in regularly and I've always found him delightful. He stopped calling in last fall, and Phoenix put out the word for him to call. Phoenix reported back he eventually had made contact, but didn't reveal why Jazzman was out of touch when I was listening. Last night, I was listening when Phoenix announced that Jazzman was in the hospital. He wasn't doing so well last week, but was showing improvement. Jazzman had requested his hospital location and phone be made public. Looking on the website, I was surprised to see it was within 30 miles of where we live. So this morning we drove downtown to the hospital. There we met a good man.

Jazzman is about 10 years older and, in his words, a person of color. He was rather surprised and extremely happy to meet two lily white people from Phoenix Rising Radio. In that first moment, he later said, he couldn't figure out who would know him as "The Jazzman". Tears streamed down his cheeks unashamed as we hugged. He clung to both of us in turn. And we talked. About religion. About sexuality. About culture. About family. Even about Cameron's being transgender. And we were touched, deeply touched. If you are curious about Jazzman, this is a blog entry from several years ago: Who's Afraid of Cancer.

I asked him what brought him to the hospital. He said last Wed he was dying. Judging by what I heard and saw, yes he was. He's somewhat improved, but facing a difficult path. He has to heal enough to have surgery again as he has a blockage in the intestine and it doesn't look good. Nevertheless, the three of us visited and it became a powerful, frank, sacred space. I was blessed to be there.

On the way home, we stopped at the local Taco Bell for a quick supper. A crew member not yet on duty started chatting about the rain and her granddaughter who has asthma. We visited a bit, and a few minutes later when she heard me say I didn't get my chips, fetched them unasked. What a lovely random act of kindness.

A short while later, a middle aged man at the next table struck up a conversation, telling us about serving in Desert Storm and his struggle with PTSD. He hugged us, two total strangers, before leaving. I thanked him for serving our country.

So many stories. Stirred together, it becomes a montage of surprising encounters, unexpected blessings, and random acts of kindnesses both given and received. I'm still catching my breath, but I can't shake that feeling the Divine has noticed and blessed us.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Grief and Cats

Ten years ago I moved from Atlanta to South Carolina. I had lost virtually everything. My home, my children, my coven. The evil ex-boyfriend had spread lies that took years to live down. Some still affect my life in profound ways.

The only thing I didn't loose was my cats. 16 of them. I actually moved twice before getting my current home, living in a friend's basement and later in Cameron's studio. The cats were accommodated with the expected challenges.

In the early years of living in my mobile home, we occasionally had unfortunate great cat escapes. The backdoor didn't always latch, despite our best efforts. A few found other homes. Others just disappeared and never returned. One that was ill was eventually discovered to have died under the house. It was heart breaking to loose each one.

Eventually we did find a way to repair the back door. The cats grew older. Others joined our cat colony. Of the original, Dickens was my familiar and died about a year and a half ago. Several of Cameron's original colony have also died in the last year or two.

In no particular order, and with duplicates because I love the pictures, I share these with you.

Legba and Xian
Tannis when Thor came to live with us.
Dickens and Chole
Dickens and Lotus
Little John and Legba
Rascal and Tannis

Thor and Legba
Wee Bit
Lotus deceased 1/22/2014
Dickens and me 2010
Yesterday the last of my sixteen cats from Atlanta died of Cancer. Lotus was found in a parking lot in Atlanta by a dog person. She called me, saying "what do I do with it." She came home in shoe box. Lotus came to rule the house with well enforced personal boundaries. She didn't like kittens, believing they weren't really cats.

We still have 18 cats in the house. Two are older, most are middle aged, and about seven are under the age of three. Nevertheless, we mourn each loss and remember their stories with joy.

Lady Bastet, we are your humble servants. You bless us with your children for the short time they walk this work and you call them home to you. One day my own body will return to the earth and I will cross the Rainbow Bridge where I will be blessed beyond measure.

Dickens, my familiar