Coach

I’m taking advantage of a chance to work with a new acquaintance who’s training to be a coach. I’ve never had a coach before! The idea of having someone—ANYONE—to look out for me is really appealing right now!!

But also: I’m suspicious of why I’m doing this.

Some things I know:

  • The way I was working pre-Pandemic brought me a degree of financial stability, novelty, recognition, and stimulation that was deeply pleasing to me
  • The way I was working pre-Pandemic spread me thin, encouraged me to keep playing the hits, caught me in a web of social media addiction that didn’t make me happy, took me away from developing deeper and more intimate relationships with the people closest to me
  • I have a big fat A+ Student complex and a Perfectionist streak a mile wide
  • I have at least five personal projects that all feel like they’re languishing at 89% completion and if I could just get them finished everything would change
  • I have a knack for translating complex internal experiences into stories that speak to people
  • I feel pressure to translate every complex internal experience I have into stories that speak to people
  • Making work that connects me with other people nourishes my soul
  • I used to believe that by pulling off impossible deadlines I was somehow training to cheat death
  • My life as a caregiver (and co-parent-habitator) is so different from any other life I’ve lived before
  • I live in a society that systematically devalues the kind of labor I’m spending the majority of my time doing right now
  • I live in a society that systematically valorizes the kind of career I was building before I transitioned to this season
  • Doing more will not ultimately protect me from the grief of slowly and inevitably losing my dad

I’m sniffing around the idea that I might be using a coach as a taskmaster who will “get me back on track” and help me recapture the cadence of my pre-caregiving life. Do I really want that? Or is it just my best guess at what will give me the good brain drugs, and I’m so hungry for something that feels better than the inevitable decline I live with every day that I’m scrabbling for it with everything I’ve got?

Zip Books

Stumbled onto this page on my local library system’s website while looking for a way to request a graphic memoir about care homes and learned about something magical: ZIP BOOKS.

It does my heart good when I yell about library stuff on Twitter and lots of people share the tweet. The Internet being hot for libraries gives me faith in society. Although it’s also rough that the library’s website is so labyrinthine that I had to stumble onto this program by accident. I wish every library had a website as functional and fancy as a startup meditation app.

(I really liked The Library Book by Susan Orlean.)

Haven’t been blogging because my brain is really excited about thinking in images right now and also I can’t seem to muster the follow-through, so this is one of those “done is better than perfect” posts.

Two EXTREMELY Different Phone Lines

Since launching The Right Number in 2020, I’ve become more and more aware of the ways people are using phone lines in creative projects. There’s services like Dialup, where you can connect to strangers for live conversation, and SARK’s Inspiration Line (a formative one for me), but there are two new ones that I caught this week and needed to put next to each other:

A photo of a hand holding a slip of paper torn from a sign with many such slips on the bottom. It's blurry in the background, but says There are things missing in us all. This isn't one of ’em, but maybe it has the shape of ’em. Call 503-928-7008.

My friend Anis, who happens to be the current Poet Laureate of Oregon, is running a phone line this month where you can dial every day to hear a different poet read you one of their poems. It’s lovely.

For poetry: 503-928-7008

A black and white image of a hand making the "call me" sign with pinkie and thumb extended, beside a mouth with its tongue out. The text above reads bureau of telephone fornication

My friend Shing, who happens to be A MENACE (and brilliant creator of the absurd), just launched an existential horror phone sex hotline. You will definitely not be speaking to any live humans if you call, but you will probably shudder and then laugh and then shudder again. Make sure you Press 8 for aftercare!

For horrible bureaucratic phone sex: 760-993-5828

Poetry for Everyone

I contend, though, that there is poetry for everyone. Everyone. Folks who don’t get it just haven’t read the right poems. The stuff we are educated in poetry with during our school days doesn’t help. Too often, “classic” is just a euphemism for worn out. What do I have in common with some crusty old English aristocrat who died 100 years ago? Give me an ill-tempered, one-eyed old birdwatcher who swigs red wine and eats fried chicken from Albertson’s instead.

But I was one of those people, for years and years, who didn’t get it. Then I read a particular poem that knocked my lights out. Words and lines formed together that felt like they were pulled from my own brain. I never looked back. I never had any idea — or intention — that anyone would ever call me a poet until it started happening. It felt pretty good. It felt a little subversive. I love that about it.

Now poetry is part of my every day. I read some every morning. I don’t so much as write poetry as live it. “The purpose of poetry is not to learn more about poetry, but more about life,” Robert Bly said, and I believe him. I tell my poetry kids that poetry is life, how they live their lives, how they share their lives. The study of it is the study of what it means to be alive. What ends up on the page is the least important part of the process.

I really love Chris LaTray.

Things I’m Noticing After Last Week

(Prefacing this post by saying I’m safe, just processing what’s happening and trying to keep tabs on what it all looks like on the inside. I’m too scattered to make art about it, so a list will do for now.)

  • I’m on a zero-to-sixty short fuse, which is uncharacteristic for me. Screamed at my phone when my bank wouldn’t let me log in for more than ten seconds before telling me my session had expired, scared myself.
  • I’m exhausted, all the time, tired even after nine hours of sleep.
  • Feeling pressure to return to “normal” and pick back up where I left off. Whiplash.
  • My heart arrhythmia’s kicking up. Usually I only notice it happening once every couple months, maybe less, but I had a real big one the other day that got my attention.
  • Hyper-aware of how little water my dad is actually drinking on a day to day basis, starting to roll new behaviors into my routine to make sure he hydrates. Resentful about how much work this is while also feeling guilty that such an obvious issue has escaped my notice until now.
  • Higher than average number of body chills. I’ve started to wonder if they’re a sort of micro-stress cycle completion attempt. I don’t know. I started trying to pay more attention to my body chills last year, because I get them a lot and they often feel like information—typically positive, or at least linked to allowing my body to really feel rather than clouding emotion with action.
  • Weird appetite stuff.
  • Higher-than-average need to control my work and surroundings, hungry for certainty and logic.
  • A lot of sobbing, often (like the anger) appearing and disappearing very fast. The feeling of a summer storm.
  • Spending a lot of energy reassuring people that my dad is okay, while deeply conscious of the fact that I am not.
  • Time doesn’t quite make sense, can’t grasp that the ambulance ride was five days ago. Doesn’t help that it was 90º the day that it happened and now it’s cold and overcast. Feels like another life.
  • A floating awareness from things I’ve read and friends I’ve helped support and experiences I’ve been through before that this is trauma making its way through my body in a completely natural way, but still feeling a sense of horror and powerlessness.

Just writing this all down helps me recognize the signs and patterns of a mental health downswing, and to understand that this will pass with time and a lot of care for my heart and my body, but also it sucks in the present. That’s reasonable.

Events of the Week

Cross-posting from Patreon because I want to keep this stuff on my site, too. CW: this post talks about an ER visit, elder care, and grief.

Two days ago I was trying to explain to a partner how intense being a caregier is despite there not being very much “action”. My dad is stable. He doesn’t have a clear timeline. I just know that he is old, and often confused, and needs my help.

Yesterday that looked like agreeing to take him to The Farmer & The Cook, the local venue where the collage pieces we made together have been hanging for the last six weeks. That’s where I took this photo. He misses being out and about every day, greeting his public, watching people going about their business. It’s one of the things I struggle with most: I want him to be safe, and I also want him to be happy

A photograph of Lucy's dad, Peter, wearing a blue tshirt and a sun hat and smiling at the camera. He's sitting on a patio in the shade.

It was set to be a scorcher, so I made extra sure he’d had breakfast and his smoothie before we left the house, tried to get there early in the day, parked him in the shade.

But maybe I jinxed it, talking about there being no action, because ten minutes after I took this photograph he had an episode—slumped over, drooling, unresponsive. His dentures slid out of his mouth one after the other in a slow-motion horror show I’ll never forget. I kept hoping he’d snap out of it but he didn’t. Someone got me ice. I found myself wondering if his insurance would cover an ambulance. I didn’t know what to do. I called my mum to come join me and asked her to bring the walker, because we’d gotten him into the car with the walker on other occasions when he got wombly, but in this instance it was totally laughable because the man was clearly unconscious.

He was gone.

She arrived, took one look at the situation, and called 911. I just kept holding his shoulders, patting him down with ice, trying to bring him round. It is awful to feel so useless in the face of a crisis. I knew he needed to drink water but he couldn’t drink. How was I supposed to get him to drink?

He looked so small when they put him in the ambulance. 

A pen drawing of an elderly man in an ambulance surrounded by machinery and shadowy figures.

Driving the half hour to the hospital on the tail of the paramedics, there was no way to know what we were in for. Would he be paralyzed? Would he be dead? Would he remember? Would he be fine?

There’s a sick sense of relief bound up in an episode like this because we understand acute crisis. I can talk about “hospital” and “collapse” and “emergency” and people will understand—even if they’re just drawing from pop culture, they’ll understand. 

But every day as a caregiver carries that load of uncertainty. It’s not as loud, so we can function, but it builds and builds. It ripples. It reminds me that it’s not just my dad whose life could change or end at any moment—it’s me. It’s everyone. 

Even when nothing is happening, so much is happening. 

I spent 9 hours on the sidewalk outside the hospital, waiting. It was 90º out and miserable. No waiting room privileges because of COVID. Mum had to be the one person allowed in the ED with him because she knows his doctors and medical history better than I do. 

One impossibly kind nurse got me back to see him for three minutes, which wasn’t enough, but also was. I heard his voice. I saw his eyes open and smiling. I got to stroke his hair.

They kept telling us he was going to move to the hospital proper, where he’d be allowed two visitors, but when they finally did move him, four hours after that initial, tantalizing announcement, visiting hours were over. I had to stay outside.

I’m paying a lot of attention to labyrinths this year. I’d already been outside the hospital for two hours when I went to move the car and realized I’d been sitting twenty feet away from this:

A photograph of a labyrinth etched in a concrete patio at night.

I’ve stopped being surprised by this sort of stuff. I just start laughing and saying “Okay, OKAY I get it” to no one in particular.

I walked it when the sun finally went down and the temperature dropped enough to move in. 

In ten minutes I’m going to drive back to Ventura to pick him up and bring him home, apparently no worse for wear. No stroke, no heart attack, just…age. Heat. Dehydration. Blood pressure. Who knows. And this makes me feel relieved and grateful and exhausted and also so angry. Because even if he’s fine, we’re left carrying the weight of how it could’ve gone. These pendulum swings of possibility.

I’m left remembering his teeth in his hat on the floor of the car, riding down the highway with us on our way to the unknown.

?th Plunge

I lost track of how many plunges I took last year, I just know it’s been a minute since I marked the two little wavy lines on my calendar that indicate “Had the opportunity to get in a body of water and took it.”

Wait, no, I do remember the last time: New Year’s Eve!

Lucy, a young white woman with an sodden undercut, grins at the camera in front of a muddy river swimming pool.

Oh man, it was frigid and perfect and early enough in the morning that I just got to the river and stripped down and flung myself in and then screamed and jumped up and down and dried off and walked home as the sun was rising.

Bliss.

Anyway, all this to say that I dropped James at the airport yesterday and then immediately took myself to the beach next door (Santa Barbara, you outrageous creature) and Got in The Sea. We’ve got a horrible heat wave on this week, but the wind was also blowing somethin’ fierce so I didn’t stay in long. Still: every time I take those first strides across the sand, feel the water on my thighs, mutter to myself until I can’t deny it any longer and plunge under—it’s like I’m coming home to a part of myself I didn’t know was missing. And the more I come back to it, the more it works. Every return heeds the voice in my head that says “You want this. You’re made of this exuberance. It will enlarge you.” while ignoring the one that says “You don’t have a change of clothes. It’s too cold. Ew, there’s seaweed.”

The “ew, there’s seaweed” voice can take a hike.