Monday, January 30, 2012

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


I suffer from OCS. I don't know if it is in the diagnostics of psychologists, but it should be.

Our friend, John Anderson came to dinner tonight and before we ate John and Bern were talking about all the rules they lived under as children when in someone else's house. There were all sorts of restrictions about 'not opening anyone's refrigerator without permission' and 'never entering a bedroom in someone's house'--stuff that sounded like Sanskrit to me because I suffer from OCS,

Both Bern and John have siblings (Bern is the youngest of 3, John the oldest of 4) so life showed up for them a lot differently than it did for me.

People with OCS will not only open strangers' refrigerators, they will open their medicine cabinets and their closets. Sufferers of OCS have no boundaries. Our mantra is "What Mine is Mine and What's Yours is Mine."

Only Child Syndrome is a remarkable affliction. Only Children are all like every other 'only child' but they have little to nothing in common with people who have brothers and sisters. We are not like You, just believe it.

Imagine, unless you are an Only Child, what life would have been like if you never had to fight anyone over a toy or share a room or wear hand-me-downs or see some younger brother wearing your old clothes or never had to scream "leave me alone!" to a sibling or had to fight about where to sit to watch TV or ride in the car or never had an older sibling pinch you or a younger sibling turn you in for pinching and never, ever, not once, had to share things.

Well, I know you can't imagine all that any more than I can imagine pecking orders or 'sharing' or having someone else taking up your space and hogging stuff.

I often, often have to hear people discuss their siblings. Rarely am I jealous or envious. Mostly, I'm just confused. I have always romanticized about having brothers and sisters...until I hear a normal kid, with brothers or sisters or both, talk about what it was like.

The most common question I get from people with siblings is this: "weren't you 'lonely'?"

Here's the thing, if you've never had other siblings that you might from time to time be separated from, "loneliness" has no meaning whatsoever. I truly have no connection with either 'loneliness' or 'boredom'. I know people get what they called 'bored', but I have no intellectual or emotional category equivalent to 'boredom'. For me, it simply doesn't exist. I am perfectly happy to entertain myself because I've always had to and don't know what the option would look like.

As I told you earlier: Only Children Are Not Like You.

Lots of it, realistically--this OCS stuff, is not good. I had to bury my parents alone. No one is there to tell me if my memories of childhood are accurate or wildly mistaken. I'm nobody's Uncle--and I would be a great Uncle, I believe. I have no nieces or nephews to be the crazy Uncle Jim for.

My mother had 4 siblings who lived and 2 who died in childhood. (Ernest and Leon, the two that died, were part of my childhood as well as the uncle and aunts who I grew up with.) My father had 3 brothers and a sister. So I had aunts and uncles aplenty and first cousins forever.

But I never had a brother or a sister. I simply am not equipped to know what that would be like, not in a million years.

We have two children and I never figured out the whole sibling thing. Not for a moment.

OCS has some wondrous ramifications. And some noxious side-effects.

It is what it is.

But Only Children (unless you're one) are Not like you....

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


For reasons beyond my comprehension, I've neglected the Castor Oil Tree of my ponderings. I have been pondering, one of the things I do most and best. I just haven't been writing about them. I'm going to have a January 24th resolution to write more about the things I'm thinking about. (That and pie crust....)

Today I had lunch with a dear friend and was telling her, as we walked the couple of blocks from the restaurant to our cars in the weird 50 degree January weather, that I was reminded of the first line of a poem I once wrote on a day like today. I have no memory of the rest of the poem, but the first line endures:

'When it comes, on a winter day, such a misplaced spring afternoon,'

Not a bad first line except I think, when I wrote it, in my early 20's I wrote "misplac'ed', which, no matter how you read it is more than a tad self-absorbed.

But I was self-absorbed at 22. We all were. We all are, I suspect, but age wears off the edges in a remarkable and forgiving way.

I try to remember that oh-so-young-man I was. I try to remember but I believe I "re-remember".

It's another poem I wrote that caused me to ponder the fact that I often "re-remember". That poem was about an event in my life that happened at a strange conference I went to decades ago where all the participants came as 'characters' they had created. Nobody was their selves. Nobody else knew who anyone else was. It was in the late 60's or early 70's when such conceits seemed de rigour and, actually, 'cool'. (Notice how 'cool' has been reincarnated in our time? And not for the first time. There was the 'cool' of the early jazz life, the 'cool' of the Beat Generation, the 'cool' of the Hippies and now the 'cool' of Gen Xers. The last seminarian I worked with said 'cool' in ways I had no connection with. "Cool" to her, seemed to indicate a kind of acknowledgement or agreement--it wasn't the "Cool" of something really special and unique that I used it as. It was reduced, it seemed to me, to a synonym for "OK". But that's just me talkin', it's probably different for each generation that says, cool....)

Back to Re-remembering: I went to the conference as Jonah--little surprise there since the name of my blog came from the Book of Jonah. I was, at that point, feeling like that minor prophet--dragged, against my will, into 'ministry', for God's sake....Well, exactly...when I wanted to be an American Literature professor in some small liberal arts college and write the Great American Novel. I suddenly found myself a PRIEST--Holy Cow!!!

I was in the Nineveh called The Episcopal Church, against my will. So I went as 'Jonah' to the conference which was called, I still remember (though my memory is more suspect each day) "Discovering the ME in THEE".

The designers obviously thought that coming to the three days as a 'made-up' personality, a 'created being', would free us from the ego of our true selves and give us insight into the 'made up' personalities of those around us. Me in Thee and all that. I get it. Cool....

Anyway, I had this intense flirtation with a woman who came as 'Serena'. We even kissed (and had both signed a release that we were responsible for our own 'emotional attachments'--I swear we did, so the designers must have imagined that if you "weren't yourself", you might give the Self you weren't permission to do things you, as yourself, wouldn't have done.....Lordy, Lordy, isn't that 'cool'?

Obviously, 'ego-less', that's what happened in those three intense days for 'Serena' and 'Jonah'.

I wrote a rather good poem about it and called it "The Nun I Loved". In the poem, Serena was a Sister of Mercy suddenly jarred from her vows to kiss an Episcopal priest. We had a 'crush' on each other.

The poem ends--I'll try to find it and put it on the blog--with me on a plane going home starting to write Serena a letter when I realize I don't know her real name or what convent she's in....And, for her part, she knows nothing of who I really am....

OK, I'm thinking of that poem and that event and I Re-Remember that it wasn't like that at all. There was a Jonah and there was a Serene and we did have a three day 'crush' and we did kiss....but here's the thing, in my Re-Remembrance I re-remembered that Serena wasn't nun at all and that, in fact, her husband, a Congregational Minister, was another participant in the workshop under the name of "Tyler".

So, here's the problem: which memory is true, like TRUE?

Or are they both?

Or is neither?

It was shocking to realize a poem I enjoy that I wrote was a pack of lies....Or was it?

I invite you to 'ponder' memory....And re-remembering....

Take that to your Castor Oil Tree and mull it over....

Friday, January 13, 2012

Harriet's father's shoes

Today I realized I could no longer wear Harriet's father's shoes.

The heel on the right shoe is damaged so it feels like I'm falling off to the right as I walk. Listing, if you well, to starboard (or port, I'm not a sailor).

When Harriet's father died I got some great sweaters and this remarkable pair of shoes. They were what would once have been called 'chunka boots'--above the ankle and leather and wonderful shoes.

I just wore one of Harriet's father's sweaters the other day. But the shoes can't last any longer.

(Maybe I could take them to the last shoemaker I know of down in Hamden, just before the connector to 91 and get a new heel. Maybe....But who goes to a shoe repair shop anymore? Maybe I should do it just to support shoe repair as an endeavor and a livelihood. Just to show that liberal Democrats support small business in spite of all the nonsense I've heard from the clown show that passes as the Republican Presidential field.)

I don't remember when Harriet's father died. I have these issues with linear time that I've mentioned before. But I've worn his shoes for years and felt, each time I wore them, that I was, literally, 'walking in his moccasins' mile after mile. I even preached at his funeral but couldn't, if you held a gun to my head, tell you what year it was. Years and years ago.

I loved those shoes and loved them even more because they were Harriet's father's shoes.

I loved that a lot.

It's important to walk with the dead. It really is.

Ponder how you 'walk with the dead' from time to time....

ultimate and eternal humiliation....

I'll be straight with you. I just watched a Justin Bieber (is that how you spell it?) music video in its entirety. And here's the worst wasn't bad at all.

I could claim I was almost tricked into it by watching a video of a guy and his groomsmen at his wedding reception doing a dance to the song and below that was the opportunity to see Justin's video. That's what happened, but I won't admit to being tricked. I watched it willingly, without any force being applied. And here's the worst wasn't all that bad.

As a committed NPR junkie--I need at least a three hour Public Radio 'fix' every day...usually more--I knew who Justin Bieber was (how can you not know who Justin Beiber is...tried another spelling?) but had never heard a song of his. Never. Not once.

And was proud of that fact.

I planned to shuffle off this mortal coil without hearing the young man sing. I'm an NPR snob. I don't experience things like Justin however his last name is spelled. (Nothing I've tried passes the spell check test...maybe I should try "Justin Beaver", don't go there....)

But of my own free will and without any outside or social pressure or a good friend telling me I should (by the way, I have no 'good friends' who would suggest listening to Justin what-ever-his-last name is, not in a million years) I, myself, watched the video from start to finish and thought it wasn't all that bad. He's no Michael Jackson, but there was a dramatic narrative to the song and he has a pleasant voice....

Oh, stop! I'm trying to rationalize doing something I would have put in the same category as voting for Mitt Romney....I did it. I admit it.

I kinda liked it....

Ultimate and eternal humiliation....

Thursday, January 12, 2012


Her birth certificate name is Jeremy Johanna Bradley. And when she was a baby and would get fussy (as babies do, our son would sing to her, "Jeremy-mimi-mimi". After a while, we did too. So, since she was the most fussy baby ever for the first six months of her life, all that singing named her Mimi. And she is to this day.) At six months, her brain flipped or something, and she became the best child ever. My plan was to call her JJ but that never materialized.

So, I just got home from the Cluster book group at St. James and was mindlessly playing Hearts on the computer when the phone rang. I wanted to finish the hand and got to the phone as it stopped ringing. No message. I dialed *69 and when I heard the number I knew it was Mimi. I hit '1' to call back and got a message from Cox Communications that something or other was keeping my call from going through. OK, I thought, but being flexible, I called her on my cell phone and got her voice mail. I left a message and went back to my Heart's game.

All the time, in the deepest, murkiest recesses of my mind, anxious thoughts were rising into the mist that is my brain. Why couldn't I get her back when she'd just called? She lives in Brooklyn and works in Manhattan, why would a father worry about his daughter, I ask you?

So, when I went out to smoke a cigarette on the back porch, I called her again. By then I had horrible thoughts racing around my gray matter about what she might be experiencing. I am not a 'worry wort', but when it's Mimi...I worry....

She is my baby girl, my Princess, my shining wonder, my heart.

She answered. "I just got home, Daddy, and I'm eating dinner," she said. I knew she was because she was chewing a mouthful as she spoke. "Can I call you tomorrow?"

"Of course," I said, breathing a sigh of great relief. "Love you."

Then, after that, I walked around the house looking at the pictures of Mimi: as a little girl, running down the hill in my father's yard, intent and wondrous; as a teen on our front porch; almost identical photos of the four of us at her graduation from Bennington College and Josh's law school graduation; with our twin granddaughters, both of them looking at her and talking and her listening; as a baby on the beach in North Carolina; her high-school yearbook photos; Bern and Mimi both inside the huge rain coat I still wear, laughing that they both are inside it; a series of photos of her with Tim, her 'long time companion'--I've decided to stop calling him her 'boyfriend' since they've lived together for years in what I see as a comfortable bliss (I love, adore Tim).

I wouldn't want her to know and hope she doesn't read this blog about how much I love her and how when I can't contact her, I worry. She is a remarkable young woman who doesn't need my worry and fretting. And I don't either.

From time to time you'll find me wandering through our home, staring at the pictures of Josh and Mimi, almost feeling the moment 'in the moment', remembering and pondering and almost welling up with tears for the love of them.

I never imagined it would be like this--back when I was a young father. I was 28 when Josh was born and 31 when Mimi was born. It all seems, not a long time ago, but another lifetime, another existence. Lordy, young children focus you in a way that makes it impossible to imagine they won't always be young.

But they grow up. And they go away. And it is impossible and, I think, wrong, to want to remain the part of their lives that I was for what seems like forever and was really a heart-beat.

So, I, from time to time, wander around our house, staring at pictures that capture moments long gone that are, when I see them, present and real and right now.

Mimi is my Princess, Josh is my Bonnie Bobby Shaftoe. I stare into the past as I look at those photographs. And the Past become alive. I do that more than I'm comfortable telling you.

I never believed the elders who told me how it would be.

And they spoke Truth.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


OK, for a few days I've been pondering how 'normal' my life is--how calm, non-reactive, smooth sailing, like that.

I grew up with parents that loved me profoundly...oh, there were issues: I was the only child of two people who (unlike today) didn't think they'd have a baby. Mom was 39 and Dad was 41. Today people do that, but in 1947, it didn't happen. So I had issues of 'smothering' and being raised in a bubble and stuff like that. But they never hit me (unless you count the time my father threw a piece of kindling at me...I used that for months whenever I wanted something....)

I was spoiled rotten, if the truth be known, not only by my parents but by aunts and uncles and a mess of cousins (youngest of 15 on my mother's side, much youngest of 5 on my father's side) and most of the people around me in our little town of Anawalt (pop. 350) because I was Virgil and Cleo's son.

I also look back at my life and think that nothing much bad ever happened to me. I feel very, very normal.

But then there is this: I changed urologists a year or so ago and when I went to my first appointment with the new doctor, I had this long form to fill out. One question was about "surgeries" and since he was my urologist now I put down my prostatectomy (spell check gives me no reasonable replacement for that so that's what you get--they jerked out my prostate gland and I had 6 weeks of radiation in 2004 or so).

Since it was warm and I had short sleeves on, the doctor pointed to the two foot long scars on my left forearm and said, "what was that about?"

"Oh, I forgot," I told him, "I broke both bones in three pieces each in a car accident."

"That might be considered 'surgery'", he said. "Anything else you forgot about surgeries?"

"Ah..." I said, "well I did have surgery on my elbow and a hernia repaired and, well, there was that emergency appendectomy at the Millennium (I missed a great party!) and, gosh, both eyes have had cataracts removed...."

He looked at me like Kurt Vonnegut might have looked at me--my urologist is a dead ringer for Kurt Vonnegut--and said, "all that, because of my medical training, I might consider surgery."

Today I heard a show on NPR about the virtue of forgetting. How being able to forget useless stuff gives you more space in your brain for useful stuff and how being able to forget bad, traumatic stuff is good for mental health.

So, my being 'normal' is a function of my ability to forget bad things.

Imagine that.

Maybe my cousins sexually abused me and my uncles beat me and my grandmother locked me in a closet, but I simply forgot and think about my childhood as idyllic and 'normal'.

And maybe not.

Maybe I've just blessed as hell (or heaven) and my life has been pretty much more normal than I expected or deserved and I'm simply blessed ('lucky' in non-religious language). Maybe so.

But, because I think of myself as so 'normal', I tend to think of everyone I encounter as 'normal' too. I used to, when I was Rector of St. John's, run into a lot of abnormal, strange and crazy people from the street. But, when I talked to them, they seemed 'normal' to me.

It's not a bad affliction--assuming everyone is 'normal'...and makes for some fascinating conversation.

Ponder how 'normal' you are. See how that turns out....

(A weird side-effect of being 'normal' is to assume you are also 'the norm'. So my extremely progressive, left-wing religious and political opinions, for me, seem 'normal'. I'm genuinely astonished when anyone disagrees with me. I almost never get defensive or mad...I'm just amused to find out anyone could disagree with 'the Norm' that I am....)

Monday, January 2, 2012

putting my friends away

I took all the ornaments off the two Christmas trees today. We'll leave the trees up, the white pine with lights, the spruce bare, for a while longer.

Putting away the ornaments and the decorations is a time of reminiscence for me.

We still have half a dozen or so of the ornaments that hung on my childhood trees. They are remarkably 'dated' but I love them all.

We have the ornament I bought in Georgetown with raggedy Ann and raggedy Andy on it (though it is more tape now than ornament) and sent in the Bern where she was getting her hair cut to let her know the rabbit had died (I don't know if a rabbit died or not, but the pregnancy test was positive with Josh). This was around Christmas in 1974 and after I dropped her off at the hair stylist, I found a pay phone and called for the results of the test. (No cell phones in 1974, Virginia.) Then I went to a bar and had shots and beers. Bern didn't get the message and came tearing out to the waiting room, one half her hair nearly to her waist, the other half almost gone with the stylist on her heels, to find out what it meant. I thought it was obvious, but she didn't. I started to tell her the good news but I was one shot and one beer too far over the line. Finally she understood. She drove home to Alexandria and I had a nap.

There are carved olive wood ornaments I brought back from Israel in the 90's.

There are lots of homemade ornaments and crocheted snow flakes. Lots of Lions and Santa's and religious stuff. Plus some very kitchy things.

One tree each year is devoted to things that fly--birds and angels and the inexplicable flying elephant we got somewhere and the wondrous Hindu looking goddess with wings and fairies and other things. Most of the birds are very fragile so I wrap each one in paper before putting it in the box.

We even keep old ornaments that can't be hung anymore that are meaningful. Most of all, the little lame balloon man like in the e.e.cummings poem.

They really are friends I seen a week or so a year. I handle them with care and love them mightily.

I also have human friends I don't see much. I hope I handle them with the same care and love.

Why M.D.'s are not like you and me....

F. Scott Fitzgerald grew up in the smallest house on the best block in St. Paul, Minnesota. One of his most quoted lines is, "The rich are not like you and me...."

I'd say the same about Medical Doctors.

In the seven years since my prostate cancer surgery and radiation, my PSA (which theoretically should be zero since it takes a prostate to make PSA) slowly crept up. My surgeon had me have body scans and bone scans and all sorts of blood work. When the results were in he told me, with a long face and disappointment in his voice, "I don't know how to proceed since the cancer hasn't settled anywhere...."

I stared at him in utter astonishment. "Well, that could be a good think, don't you think?"

He thought a moment. "Well, for you...."

Having something diagnosable to treat was what he wanted. What I wanted was for the cancer cells to not have settled anywhere!

Just recently, I've been to a dermatologist about a nasty eruption of dermatitis I've had sever times on my forearms and the back of my hands. Really nasty--weeping blisters and...well, you don't need to know all that.

My blood tests, a biopsy and finally a 24 hour urine test. I kid you not.

I went to the lab and they gave me a container that for all the world was like one of those red, plastic things people us to get gas for their lawnmowers in. Except it was orange. And it wasn't for gasoline.

For 24 hours every time I 'made water' I had to do it in this container. (isn't it amazing how many different ways we have to refer to releasing urine: pee, piss, tinkle, water my lizard, relieve myself, empty my bladder come to mind all at once, along with 'making water' which is what I think I grew up saying--all processes of elimination have lots of names...i.e. puke, vomit, ralph, throw up, hurl, etc.)

One of the humbling things was to learn what volume of water I made in a day. I almost filled that container, which was in milliliters and liters so I have no idea what it was in pints since I didn't pay much attention to any of the metric stuff--or, more likely, was never asked to.

I once freaked a good friend out by asking 'do you realize how dark it is inside us?'

He thought I was weird beyond all imagining to think about that. But it's just that the colorful plates that show us what's inside of us are in brilliant colors thought the truth is, there's no light in there. Perpetual darkness dwells within. And all this miraculous stuff goes on each day inside our bodies and our heads without benefit of illumination.

I don't know about you, but I sometimes imagine these little creatures inside me doing the bodily functions things. In the dark! And the guys on urine control are very efficient. (Maybe they have little miner's helmets with lights on them....But then, how do they breathe?...but I digress.

The test was negative--they didn't find the nasty stuff in my day of pee that would have in some way explained these awful skin eruptions.

The nurse called to tell me it was negative. "Doctor wants you to come in as soon as you have another episode so she can take another biopsy. Call us right away."

"But I don't want another episode," I told her. "I really don't."

"But we need a diagnosis," she told me, reasoning with me.

"If it never happens again," I said, "then it doesn't matter if it is 'diagnosed'..."

I heard her thinking over the phone. "Well," she said, "there is that...."

There Is That, indeed....

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About Me

some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.