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

Months in review: Jan-Mar 2019

One of the most challenging aspects of writing books is the stamina it requires. There is a trick to writing. If I am happy, that feeling will come through and imbue my work. If I cry, you will cry. If I laugh… well, you might laugh. Comedy is hard. But my deep, turbulent, and powerful emotions are often quite clear to my audience. So is my boredom and stress.

So how then does one sustain the excitement through years of writing and revision?

It’s a lonely life, living with all this ink and paper. Last year, I finally got out and socialized with other writers at various events around town. I met a lot of people and had a lot of fun but quickly realized that the hours I spent out were hours spent away from my writing desk. Everything takes time. We have to make hard choices. And while I enjoyed supporting other writers and listening to their work,  I could no longer justify blowing a whole night to read one lousy poem.

“Solitude sometimes is best society.” -John Milton

Writing is an extremely isolating life simply because it takes hours and hours of concentrated alone time to produce anything of quality. I know this is the reason I was out. I got too lonely. Being among other writers can be a shot in the arm. You can steal their excitement and inspiration.

The best readings I have attended over the years were authors who spoke at the UMN as part of the English department reading series. I got to see Denis Johnson, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Natasha Trethewey read live- in the flesh!!! Absolutely inspiring and breathtaking…

I’ve talked to my mom about writing novels. This is roughly how that conversation went:

Mom- “Have you ever considered writing a romance novel?”
Me- “No mom. If I did, people would think I had been hit over the head.”
Mom- “Really?”
Me- “Yes mom. Really.”

*SIGH*

Sometimes, you just have to make the road by walking. There are no rules about how you get a novel written and really the only way to learn is to do it. I once read that there are two kinds of novelists- architects and gardeners. Architects already know exactly what the structure of their novel will be and fill in the prose. Gardeners have a handful of seeds (ideas), throw them, and wait to see what grows. I am a gardener. I have spent the last three months figuring out the architecture buried within the blob that is my current draft.

A former teacher once told me, “a book can do you in” and it’s true. If you intend to do it right, to cut up your soul and smear it on the page… I never have to look too far to know what makes me burn. I know what my calling is.

But writing a book is a slow, slow grind. You give up one day, only to return to it the next. I often ask myself, “Who is going to want to read this crap, anyway?” But whether it has an audience of 15 or 15 million, I am in it for the work, for the creation, for the birth of whatever *IT* is. Once it’s done, it will find that audience and it will no longer be mine. It will have a life wholly its own and there will be as many versions of it as readers.

How fucking amazing is that?

This past quarter, I posted 11 blog posts- 9 essays and 2 poems. I submitted some poems for possible publication. I got rejected from another submission (it wasn’t my best work). All the usual writerly stuff. And I have an enhancement to my blog in the works… to be launched in May.

Stay tuned!

  

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, April 2019

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

Valentinus

February is the heart of winter and the Feast of Saint Valentine is less than a week away. I have heard Valentine’s Day referred to as a ‘Hallmark Holiday’, but it has been observed for over 1,500 years. Valentinus, or St. Valentine to us English speakers, was martyred (beheaded) on February 14, 269 for marrying Christians in Rome.

This might explain why he is the patron saint of such seemingly unrelated subjects as affianced couples, against fainting, beekeepers, happy marriages, love, plague, and epilepsy. Think about it. Does falling in love not make one heave and become light headed? Are we not plagued by obsessive thoughts of our beloved? And how much does unrequited love sting us to the marrow?

The photo with this blog post is allegedly the flower-crowned skull of Saint Valentine because nothing says love like a daisy chained dead guy. And nothing says love like hearts printed on boxer shorts, fake roses under glass, heart shaped pizzas, pink cookware, or a stuffed skunk bearing chocolate either.

FYI- If you are my secret admirer, please send the book ‘Love Poems’ by Pablo Neruda.

I was once stood up for Valentine’s Day. It turned out the guy was living in a motel and was strung out on Oxycodone, so he was actually doing me a favor. So much for online dating. Valentine’s Day is often a reminder for us single dateless losers that we are single dateless losers. Actually, it is a great day to avoid going out to dinner if you don’t like watching crowds of people kiss.

I will celebrate this year with some left-over chocolate from Christmas and a beautiful Grand Reserve 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon from a vineyard in Argentina. Every year on February 15, I spy single ladies buying heart shaped boxes of chocolates on clearance. Why the hell not. Get yourself a dozen roses too. The truth of it is, if you wait for someone else to get it for you, you might wait a lifetime. Better yet, find a group of single gals and celebrate Galentine’s Day together.

“O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?”
-(from Romeo and Juliet, spoken by Juliet) By William Shakespeare

Love for me is not defined by high romance and it is not inextricably linked to happiness. There is a song ‘Hallelujah’ written by Leonard Cohen. The lyrics of this song state that ‘love is not a victory march; It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah’. I think this is often interpreted as the bitterness of broken relationships. But for me, it speaks to the true nature of deep, devoted love in those hours when it is so hard to love.

When the beloved is struggling, when the bank account is empty, when there are significant health problems- this is when the real work of love comes to bear. And often all we can do is surrender to our heartache and powerlessness and offer our tearful prayers to God for a hopeful resolution. There is a reason that wedding vows refer to poverty and illness and remaining faithful to the beloved in spite of it…

It’s easy to celebrate love when you are young, starry eyed, and horny.

My ideal Valentine’s Day is my ideal any day. Here, I wrote poem about it:

Valentinus
By C.M.Mounts

Plucked truffles
Tissue lined box
Push gently
Through
Wine stained
Ruby lips
Low fireplace
I kiss you
Lean in
Speak poems
Gently
Your ears
Know
How much
I love you…

Have a blessed Valentine’s Day. Don’t get beheaded.

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, February 2019

Photo Credit: Relic of St. Valentine in the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome by Dnalor 01 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32487809

The Great Wide Open

More than one person has said to me- take time. Be with your mom before the cancer makes her really sick. Plan a family vacation somewhere and make some quality memories together, one last time. We’ve been talking about what that might look like in practical terms of time, money, stamina, and risk of viral infection.

I love to travel. I am willing to travel just about anywhere in the world, for almost any length of time, for almost any reason. I am an adventurer at heart, an international explorer. One of the greatest gifts my father gave to me was his love for travel. It made me understand that there were other places, with a lot of other people who did not look or act like me.

Nothing held more interest for my dad then just getting out and seeing the USA. His career gave us the ability to take two big vacations a year. These trips were what I would describe as ‘The Bill Mounts Family Vacation’. They were characterized by an extreme urgency to see everything you could possibly see in the short time allotted. Two weeks was just not enough time to sit and relax. We had to go, go, go and went, went, went we did.

By the ripe old age of twelve, I had traveled to no less than forty states. I had been to innumerable national parks- Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, Petrified Forest, Red Wood Forest, Rocky Mountains, etc. I had been in the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic, and Pacific. I had been to countless museums, forts, State Capitols, wayside historical markers, tourist traps, national monuments, scenic overlooks, zoos, amusements parks, etc.  Once dad died in 1985, our annual family vacations stopped for the most part.

Mom did take me to Hawaii…

So, where do I take mom for that one last ride? From my perspective, the most obvious choice is Florida. Dad was in love with Pensacola. He was stationed there during his time in the Navy and my parents planned to retire there. It feels like we visited every year while he was still alive. We camped on Santa Rosa Island, played on the beach, visited Fort Pickens, Trader Jon’s, the National Naval Aviation Museum, and wherever else dad wanted to feel nostalgic.

That was all before the island was built up with hotels. You could still collect sand dollars, starfish, and seashells. We even picked up a couple conch shells once. No one was combing the beach at the break of dawn collecting them all to sell. I have very clear memories of the smell of orange blossoms and the feel of the white sand beaches. I count them among the happiest memories of my life.

But that was Pensacola of the 1970’s & 80’s. It begs the question: could a trip to Florida today ever live up to those memories? And does mom want to go where dad would have chosen? Or does she have one last great adventure in her, one last uncharted destination, one unfulfilled wish?

It remains to be seen. And it may come to more than one trip this year with the various members of my family. We may not all be able to get the same time off. Quality time with more intimate groups of people might be a better way to go. And if we end up hanging around the mid-west… well, at least we won’t get lost.

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, January 2019