Life’s a Beach

We arrive in Pensacola
Florida in the usual fashion
Hurried desperation relax
Camp in the woods
Early morning sound of sea
Roar in the distance
Pink swimsuit
Red plastic pail, blue shovel
Smell of new overwhelmed
It means one thing:
Sandcastles
March in flip flops
Too hot black asphalt
Burned feet camp store
Dunes
Taller than my eight-year-old self
Green grass grows waves
Wooden boardwalk wind
Gulf of Mexico
Definition of heaven
White sand beach
Ocean solitude
Clear water sun
Sand dollars

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, November 2017

Mother’s Day

 

I don’t really celebrate Mother’s Day because I am 400 miles away from my mom. Truthfully, I miss most holidays and celebrations. But I send cards. I call with my well wishes.

Mom has terminal blood cancer. It’s tough to write about Mother’s Day when your mother is dying, when it might well be the last. It’s not that she is on her death bed, but she is getting thinner and weaker every day. She is grinding to a halt.

I read an incredible poem once, “Our Lady of Perpetual Loss” by Deborah A. Miranda that suggests the death of the mother is the worst one must endure. But I know better. There is no consolation for parents who lose a child. There is no consolation for a child who loses a parent.

It is hard for me to imagine a more difficult death than my father. I was 12. He was 50. I was old enough to understand what had happened but so young that I did not have the capacity or experience to process it. It stands as the most traumatic experience of my life.

My mother has lived a full life and at age 78, she is of an age. She is at the time in life when one might expect its end. Still, I know the loss of her will crush me. She is my life giver and the person I met first. You only get one mom.

Back in January 2013, my mother had a doctor’s appointment to look at an irritation she had in her mouth. But a week before she could get in, my childhood home burned. She was homeless. She cancelled that appointment and did not get examined for another few months.

The irritation turned out to be squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the tongue.

She had surgery to remove the lesion and was diagnosed. In September of that year, she had more surgery to remove those parts of her tongue that had cancer. They also removed her lymph node to check for migration. The hope of course was that the cancer was in its early stages, that her speech and ability to swallow would not be greatly affected, and that the cancer was localized to her mouth.

The surgery went very well, and she was sent home two days later. We lucked out with the speech and swallowing but not so with it staying localized…  The lymph node indicated that the cancer had spread to other parts of the body. There was no way to know where until it appeared again. As a precaution, she opted for radiation and chemotherapy. Eventually, the treatment ended, and she was declared ‘cancer free’. But unfortunately, there is a known risk for ten years post-radiation of developing myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS)…

She developed MDS five years later.

When mom called in May of last year and told me that all of her blood counts were down, I knew. I had spent years editing a book about leukemia treatment. If your red cells and white cells and platelets are all low, you have blood cancer. I was relieved that it was only MDS, not leukemia. But the result is the same. They are both blood cancers and the only cure is a stem cell transplant (bone marrow transplant). Mom is too old. She would never survive it.

There are seven sub-types of MDS with varying survival outcomes. I struggled to get the answers I needed about her condition long distance. She would forget to ask the doctor for the information and when she did get information, it was not specific enough for me. I needed to know exactly what type of MDS she has and how long she was expected to live.

In December 2018, I met with her medical team and they told me that she has myelodysplastic syndrome with multiple cytogenetic abnormalities. My mother is in the high-risk group which gives her a life expectancy of about a year and a half after diagnosis. She was diagnosed in May 2018.

We are at the one-year mark.

If you do the math, it makes the coming holiday season a bit foreboding. What will Christmas look like? I have caught myself imagining life after my mother goes. I think this is all part of the pre-grief, trying to process the inevitable.

Grief can trap you in time. Grief can steal years of your life away. Grief kills people.

But truthfully, anyone can die at any time. A dear friend has said to me, “You don’t have to wait for the other shoe to drop. It’s going to.” In other words, live without the grip of your fear of pain because pain is coming. Tomorrow is guaranteed to no one which is why we must live in the present, just this one day, and not anticipate trouble so much it sucks all the joy out of it. Fill the cup of life with as many good memories as possible to see you through the darkness.

It’s not just that life goes on… Life must go on. We must choose it.

And so, we do. Last month, mom traveled to Louisiana to meet her first great grandchild at 4 months of age. And in June, she will attend her 61st high school class reunion. We also have a fabulous road trip planned around her 79th birthday that will include beaches and margaritas. We can sit and enjoy our time together.

I pray we are given more than we dare hope…

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, May 2019

Supper Club

I am the proprietor of a supper club.

No, I have not invested in the restaurant industry. It’s just a private club of friends that get together once a month for dinner at each other’s house. Every month, one person volunteers to host at their house and those of us that can show up do. We are only on the hook for the months we volunteer for and no one is obligated to attend. At least that’s the plan…

People get busy in adult life, especially when marriage and family come but retirement has not. When I first became single ten years ago, I didn’t have much of a social life outside of that relationship. I was in my mid-30’s and went out with who was also available- singles much younger or older than me. I guess people my age were either coupled with kids or reclusive.

I had a blast. I was going out a couple times a week. I had a scheduled night with my closest friend which we designated as ‘Beer Tuesday’ because we would get beers on Tuesdays… creative, I know! Say it like it is people… Eventually as the years rolled on, twice a week became once a month, then once every three months… Time just slipped away.

I made a decision to set up monthly one-on-one dinners with those closest to me to ensure that we remained active in each other’s lives. Last Friday, 2nd Monday- it didn’t matter to me. I just wanted to see them. But by happy circumstance, their partners showed up and now they were coupled. And the dinners stopped. Such is life for the friend who remains single.

For me, dining is king. I can really think of no better times than the ones I spent sharing a meal and engaging conversation with people I love. When all that dried up, I was sad. I’d take myself out to eat alone to mixed reactions from the general public. Mostly, I write so I don’t notice people but for whatever reason, a woman eating alone is upsetting. I have gotten pity. I’ve made people visibly uncomfortable. Geez folks- I didn’t want to cook after a long, hard week!

Also, fuck off!

Now, I am in my mid-40’s and I still want to have monthly dinner with my friends. For years I entertained the idea of a dinner party that would have an established format that allowed enough flexibility for those of us who love to dine and cook and drink wine, to get together and share our lives. And so, the supper club was born.

My signature dish is Malaysian Spiced Chicken (I am not allowed to cook anything else). My first long-term relationship was with an Asian Studies major turned professional chef. I was exposed to the vast and wonderful world of Asian cuisine. My favorites are the curries- and screw curry powder, I make my own. I keep my spices in unlabeled glass jars in my pantry. I know them by sight and smell. Twenty years after our break-up, he might be proud of me if he knew.

My second long-term relationship was with an accomplished home cook who introduced me to the vast and wonderful world of soul food and Latin American cuisine. Neither one of them allowed me to cook. I was the baker and was spoiled rotten. As a single person, I had to learn how to cook for myself or suffer.

When I proposed the supper club idea, my friends were all about it. They are in the same boat, wanting to be in each other’s lives but with life passing too quickly. And while I complain about my isolation, these days I find that I have dinner plans for every week and have to schedule a month in advance. There are other singles like me- lonely, wanting friendship and connection, inviting me to get together. I am very lucky that I know so many people that can stand me enough to share a meal together!

For as independent and driven as I am, I have an amazing full life- full of friends and experiences and joy. I do not know how I ended up here but here I am- laughing, loving, and living.

Bon Appétit!





-Copyright C.M. Mounts, April 2019

Irish American

This blog post is a week late, but you will have to forgive me. I was too busy celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with my family.

The Feast of Saint Patrick is held annually on March 17, which coincides with the traditional death date of this patron saint of Ireland. St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in more countries than any other national festival, all thanks to us Irish diaspora, those of us who are the descendants of Irish refugees. I am officially 2/3 Irish, with Welsh and western Europe making up the rest. The right to register as an Irish citizen terminates at the third generation and since my Catholic ancestors were forced to emigrate to the United States during the Irish famines of the late 1800’s, I cannot claim Irish citizenry and am considered an American. Fair enough.

I have been told that it is in my DNA to go to Catholic Mass, then hit the Irish pub and I suppose it is. Many authors have chosen to compose in pubs. Drinkers with writing problems. But unlike bars, pubs are ‘public houses’- social spaces to meet your neighbors over a pint and conversation. They are a different animal than your run of the mill bar. If there are rooms to rent overnight, they are called an inn. Strange concept for most Americans and yet so common in the old country. There are poetry readings, live music, and céilidh dancing. I can always pick out the non-Irish by not only the way they look but also by the confusion on their face. They sit uncomfortable while the rest of us clap and sing and dance shamelessly, even while sober.

I know no other culture than Irish American Catholic.

There is a weird phenomenon among Irish Americans, a sort of posturing with one another about who is ‘more Irish’. It is really stupid. I understand it though. I believe that the 500 years of occupation by the English and their systemic attempt to eradicate Irish culture, language, and religion developed this tight grip, this desperation among the Irish people to hold on to their identity. Maintain the old and stay ever true to it. That came over with them and that is perpetuated by their offspring.

When people get up in my face about how much ‘more Irish’ they are than I am, it starts to piss me off. I will then ask them what county their family comes from. They generally do not know what I am talking about and if they do, they don’t know the answer. Mom’s family is from County Mayo & Leitrim. Dad’s family is from County Carlow & Waterford. I’ve had native Irish comment how my parents’ families come from the north and the south, but they met in the Midwestern United States. All of the Troubles mattered less and less.

Corned beef and cabbage is not an Irish dinner. It is an Irish American dinner commemorating our immigration and poverty. It was the most affordable food for a special celebration, regular beef being expensive and out of the reach of most Irish households. Both corned beef and cabbage were ingredients of the lower working class.

And don’t pinch me if I fail in the wearin’ of the green. You, joe-average American, don’t know why we do it. You puke your green beer in Wrigleyville and perpetuate negative stereotypes of the Irish people as a bunch of violent drunks. That color is the color of the landscape and the color associated with St. Patrick, who legend says converted all us pagan Celts to Christianity using the shamrock to explain the holy trinity. But the wearing of the green in about Irish nationalism. At one point the British outlawed that color. So you see, the wearing of the green is an act of rebellion.

Learn your history.

There is song I sing every year to celebrate the day: Thousands Are Sailing by the Pogues. Not a traditional ballad by any standard but the story of my family and the family of millions of other Americans. The lyrics sum it up pretty well:

“Thousands are sailing
Across the western ocean
Where the hand of opportunity
Draws tickets in a lottery
Where e’er we go, we celebrate
The land that makes us refugees
From fear of priests with empty plates
From guilt and weeping effigies
And we dance to the music and we dance…”

-Written by Phil Chevron, featured on The Pogues’ album If I Should Fall from Grace with God.

le grá go deo

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, March 2019


Reference materials for this blog post:

St Patrick Day: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Patrick%27s_Day
Irish Diaspora: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_diaspora
Thousands Are Sailing by the Pogues: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thousands_Are_Sailing

Stuff

I bought a dresser.

When I walked into my apartment on May 11, 2013 after a fire incinerated everything that I owned, I had little more than a garbage bag of clothes, a grocery bag of canned goods, an alarm clock, and a cot. The only piece of furniture I still had was a kitchen island with bar chairs that had remained in my car in its original box. I could not carry it up the three flights of stairs to my loft with a herniated back, so it survived and serves as my kitchen table now.

Like my clothing, I received a lot of second-hand furniture and household items for the living room and kitchen. For my bedroom, I bought crappy put-it-together-yourself furniture from a big box store. This winter, the bottoms of the bottom three drawers of my dresser all fell out at the same time. There was wardrobe everywhere. After years of trying to reassemble it, I gave up. I bought a real dresser. Thank God we celebrate President’s Day with up to 70% off all furniture…

But the truth is, it’s not the crappy dresser’s fault. I was trying to stuff too much stuff into it and it exploded. And as I look around my home today, it is bursting with items that seemed to just appear one day and never left. I walked in here with nothing and now six years later there is too much. But isn’t this how it goes for all of us? We live in our hovels with an ever-expanding pile of stuff that creeps up so slowly that we don’t notice it- until there isn’t room to live in our living rooms. Unless we move, we are not really forced to take stock of our stock.

This has all got me thinking about what happens to the heap after we are gone.

My mom has terminal blood cancer and is now too tired to consider sorting out her stuff. 2013 stands as the worst year of my life because, among other things, in January, my childhood home burned and then in April, my apartment burned- four months and 400 miles away. All of my stuff ended up in a dumpster in front of the building. All of my mom’s stuff went into storage. This means that when she is gone, we inherit the pile of products. We have to shift the shit.

Consider the difficulty of letting material things go. I was able to take the tack that no one died and the rest can be replaced. It helped that miraculously, all of my photos and the hand-written copies of my writing survived. I was also given only 24 hours to get out of the burned-out shell of what was my life. I didn’t have time to reminisce. If my friends had not come to help me, I have no idea what I would have done.

My mom could not bring herself to do it. Always, it would be someday that she would get her stuff back or go through it. She had to downsize into a smaller house so my advice to her was, take a picture of the thing and then get rid of the thing. You don’t need the thing. What you are after are the memories and the feelings the thing provides. Unfortunately, she didn’t do this and any suggestion that we help her sort through it was met with stubborn resistance.

Now we are at the end.

First, we will make good memories. Next, we will walk through health decline and hospice. Then the funeral. Then the estate. It would be easy for me to get angry, but I think about the 45 years my mom lived in her home, the cancer she was diagnosed with shortly after it burned, and the MDS she was at risk of developing from the radiation treatments that now will take her life. She just didn’t have it in her.

And time flies.

If this experience does anything, please let it teach me to keep my home in better order, to dispose of things in a timely manner. I want to enjoy my space. I would like to have people and laughter fill my home rather than piles of paper, knickknacks, yesterday’s fashion… Maybe buying new, quality furniture is just the kick in the pants I need. It’s the return of feeling invested in my own life, my own happiness.

That feeling has been gone way too long…

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, March 2019

Apple Tree

Every apple
Every last Macintosh
Has a hole in it
No holes before
Dad died
Now the tree sags
Weight of unwanted fruit
Scent hangs heavy
Apples drop
Rot on the ground
Memory preserves
Harvested bushels
Apple pies, apple butter
Dad had a gift
To tend life into green
Growing things
Twenty years later
It is old and dying
Animals live off its bounty
Insects, birds, and rodents
His care gives life still

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, March 2005

Wardrobe

My mother has terminal blood cancer (MDS). Year 2020 is not guaranteed to her. If I were being honest, year 2020 is not guaranteed to any of us. I live 400 miles away and she is not online, so the telephone is all I have. Calls have become more frequent as I try to support her during the twilight of her life.

A recent conversation came up around the subject of clothing. She said she needs to buy some clothes but didn’t want to waste the money because she’s at the end. I told her to go out and buy designer clothes. It’s not as if you can take your money with you and just because you feel like shit does not mean you have to look like shit.

In all seriousness, if not now when?

Then the conversation led to her burial clothes. She designated an outfit that she only wore once, hanging in her closet, that was “good enough”. She mentioned that when she had this same conversation with her own mother, it upset her. Designating her final clothing does not upset me but the lack of careful consideration does. But I’m the same.

Put my body in whatever dress and throw me in the ground.

I want dignity for her life. Dignity for her end of life. I offered to drive down and take her shopping, but she didn’t sound interested. Mom was never one for consideration of fashion or ‘Girls’ Day Out’. She did try to look nice but more often the choice was dictated by what was on sale, on clearance, good enough… What difference does it make if it’s clean and looks decent?

But it does make a difference, doesn’t it?

I am a taller than average woman at just over 5”9’. If I wear heels, I am stacked to about 6-feet. Brick house. I’ve been asked to wear flats and slouch by a short date- his ego, not mine. I’ve watched other big women try to shrink, try to look smaller than the body they were born into.

I’ve done it too at various points of my life depending on what was going on inside of me. Mostly I wanted to disappear, to be left alone to deal with my pain and grief. But shriveling up your outside self, and inside yourself, in the hopes that you will not be noticed never protected anyone. You end up a target either way.

I am what I am.

I remain the same person whether in my Frye motorcycle boots or my cycling shorts. I can be statuesque in a floor-length dress or have legs for days in a miniskirt. I wear business casual for work, Boho-chic for hanging out, frumpy mom sweaters when I am too through… I may not wear anything to bed. But in all cases, I am the same being.

I think a lot about the role of clothing in a society. I was in theater as a young person and have always been fascinated with costuming. And costuming is what we do everyday of our lives. It’s about ego, status, and advertising: This is who I am. This is how much money I have. This is the sub-culture I belong to.

There are dress codes for a reason- to reduce friction, reduce distraction. Create as welcoming (antiseptic) of an environment as possible. Stay clean and subdued so that others may feel safe. In business, we are not there to make friends. We are there to get the job done and get along as well as we can with customers and co-workers. The product of the industry determines the dress code.

I don’t want my lawyer, therapist, or surgeon to dress like a beach bum while on the job. Sorry.

On the flip side is individual expression and counter-culture. If you don’t dress like a member of the club, you’re clearly not in the club. You must dress a certain way to show that you are an artist, a computer nerd, a sports fan, a devotee of religion, etc. There is a standard you must meet and that changes depending on who you are interacting with. The guy with the painted face at the football game is going to have an opinion about you if he thinks you dress like a fair-weather fan… And God help you if you don’t look ‘cool’ around a bunch of ‘artists’. If your reflected glory does not put enough coins in their ego bank, you best exit the scene no matter how talented you are.

FYI: your store-bought counter culture doesn’t make you a more interesting person.

For years, I’ve wanted to conduct an experiment: once a week, dress in any sort of subculture that I can think of, go to Mall of America on a Saturday, and see what happens. How do people respond and why? Because it’s not me- it’s them. I am the same person. I have seen some girls online who have conducted these kinds of experiments regarding their weight or clothing and it’s fantastic. Expose that cultural pressure, that bias we all must deal with in one way or another.

I currently wear a winter hat that looks like an artic fox fell asleep on my head. I found it at Glacier National Park in Montana in 2017. I fell in love with it but hesitated to buy it. I was convinced I was too old, it was too garish, that it was meant for some hot ski chick in tight pants. My niece encouraged me, so I bought it but was unsure when I wore it outside for the first time.

I really underestimated how Minnesotans appreciate a great winter hat. I have mostly received compliments. And it really makes a statement- a big fuzzy white hat against a fitted black coat. It’s not the kind of hat most people could pull off wearing.

But the truth is, it’s not the hat. It’s me.

So what statement do our final clothes make? What is the importance of how you are dressed in your coffin? Funerals are for the living but it’s also about dignity. How can I maintain my mother’s dignity through these final months and honor her final wishes in the end?

My father was buried in an expensive three-piece suit. He wore that every day of his career as a mechanical engineer. He also had a pocket protector and steel toe dress shoes. I think mom left those out of the casket. I think I remember a red tie and his 25-year work anniversary pin. It was 1985 and the memories of a 12-year-old are fuzzy.

Mom put a lot of thought and care into how my dad was buried. I want to do the same for her. How can I best express who she was in life through her clothing in death? I don’t want the clothes to be whatever she wore once that are hanging in her closet simply to avoid spending money. I want her to go out wearing red heels and all that jewelry she loved buying off the QVC channel.

I want her to greet St. Peter in style. Her style.

016

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, February 2019