STORM

By Erik Dolson

Our first stop was at the end of the long, six mile finger of Eastsound that nearly splits Orcas Island. The village at sound’s end sits on a tiny isthmus of low land that stretches between mountains.

I imagined a storm wave from either direction washing buildings into the sea, making one island into two. Continue reading STORM

Google My Name

Jane Miller

This is crazy. Insomnia drives me to do some weird things at 2:00 in the morning.

Shop. Great sale at the Gap. Don’t have my Gap card with me. Took about a half hour to access (remember log-in, find password, the whole thing) and by that time I was irritated enough not to buy anything from this stupid site anyway.

Google my name. Really google it, as in “jane miller google.” There are a TON of Jane Millers out there. About 24,900,000 hits. In .43 seconds. I made it to page 6 and still hadn’t found the “right” Jane Miller. We’re an eclectic group, we Jane Millers. I would not have expected such with a plain-Jane name like ours.

First hit was for Jane Miller, recent graduate from University of Melbourne. She wrote four articles about libraries and information management. I like libraries and managing information. I wonder if it goes with the name.

Then there’s the Jane Miller who went to UMass-Amhurst. Wow, did she write a lot. Seems to focus on gender, various kinds of equalities, workplace issues. Well, good for her! These are important issues to discuss, no matter which side (and there are many) one happens to fall on.   

Ahh. Now we’re talking. The third Jane Miller wrote a children’s book, The Farm Alphabet Book. She also wrote a book about ADD and overcoming challenges. Sounds like my classrooms over the years. While my attention span resembles a squirrel’s, I am not ADD. I just loved teaching these kids. Some of my favorite students over the years were the inevitably bright, funny, creative ADD kids.

Ok … one Jane wrote about statistics. Skipping this one.

Here’s a Jane who wrote a book called Working Time: Essays on Poetry, Culture, and Travel. No reviews. Wonder if that’s because no one read it. Kind of like my blogs —echoes across a very empty canyon.

Look! A Jane Miller who’s a teacher. Second grade. Bless her heart!

Hey Tracy! There’s a “Tracy Jane Miller.” We’re one person!

And there’s a “Kathy Jane Miller.” My older sister’s name is Kathy, but she hates me so this is as close as we’ve been since our father’s funeral almost a year ago. She doesn’t call me.

Here’s a Jane Miller I might have liked. She wrote a book, Crazy Age: Thoughts on Being Old. The review says this Jane was funny, erudite, and insightful. She was a teacher, Russian translator, and lover of literature. Well, I have the first and third; and I’ve read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Maybe that will count for something.

The review also says this Jane “muses excellently.” While I’m glad the critic feels this way, she also says that Jane writes about the loss of “a pulsating sex life” that comes with age. I’m here to tell ya that’s just not true. 🙂

Decided to check out the “images” … To no avail. What’s up with that?

A lot of Jane Millers were (or are) writers of everything. Children’s books. Books on growing old. On gardening (this is beyond me, except I think I could pen a memoir about the time Laura and I had a garden and a pretend HGTV show called “Gardening on a Limited IQ.” I think we’d offend too many people, though.)

There are a lot of dead Janes. Inevitable, I suppose. I wonder how I will be remembered. That’s important to me. I taught for 17 wonderful years – middle school through college. From teaching students with language and learning disabilities or developmental disabilities, to the small coast high school where I taught just about everything English or social studies, to the high school I graduated from where I taught mainstream and talented and gifted students, to sophomore English to Advanced Placement-US Government, and finally to a college course on grammar and pedagogy.

I worked in educational assessment for a different 17 years, from being content specialist (then project manager), to the Director of Assessment for the state of Missouri, to the executive director for assessment design of a major educational test publishing company. Those three jobs were fantastic!

I loved it all. I hope that showed. How much I loved what I was doing, the students I worked with, and the colleagues I still call my friends. So many achievements — big and small, all unique, all wonderful.

There’s one company, as there was one school district, that drove me from each part of my career. The first was a despotic boss and a flare of fibromyalgia. The second a despotic boss, insane corporate culture, and Parkinson’s.

My life has been full of joy and challenges. A lot of challenges lately, but also more joy. Erik. Jared and Matt. KC and Sabitri. My brother Scott. I’d include my two sisters but they don’t like me. My sailing friends. Racing family. My GPhiB sisters. So much love.

I had a steroid shot in my left eye on Friday, the pain and Xanax made for an interesting afternoon, but with Erik, Matt and Jared, I made it through once again. None of that is in my Google search, but Google doesn’t matter. Real life, real people, and real love.

That’s what we carry with us. That’s what lasts.

 

Time

by Jane Miller

Does anybody really know what time it is? …. If so I can’t imagine why we’ve all got time enough to cry. — Chicago

I don’t want to spend the last of my days waiting. That would be insane, and I’m not crazy. — Erik 

It’s early. — Jane

Darkness brings its own awareness of time. There are tasks to complete, rituals to perform … But none of that exists in the dark. No limits. No pressures. No expectations. Nothing except potential.

When I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, I boldly declared that I would not be defined by the disease or the effects of time. With that, I gave myself permission to live a life I never dreamed of before. I wrote it all down in the unlikely event that it could help someone else with their journey through time.

I’m still writing it down.

I fell in love. “Jumped” is a better word, really.

I faced fear. That needs present tense – I am facing fear. Every day.

I learned about myself, my people, and my beliefs. Present tense again – I am learning and changing and growing in ways large and small.

I’ve learned we are all in this together. The energy, the breath of the universe, courses through us all, from the soil to the heavens. Only visible to the few who look for it with eyes closed, who listen for it without chasing, wei wu wei.

I don’t believe “everything happens for a reason.” Nothing happens for a reason. There may be a cause, or a correlation, but “reasons” are weak attempts to explain the unexplainable. God loves the predator and prey alike and equally.

I have idiopathic, young-onset Parkinson’s Disease. Why?

I fell and crushed my face, exploded my eye. Why?

I have developed an incredibly serious condition that could easily and quickly leave me blind. Why?

“Why” has no meaning beyond cause and effect. The What matters. The How counts.

How do I react? How do I treat myself and others? How do I live my life?

I choose to be positive, to smile, to love, laugh, and chat. I choose to use time how I want. To spend it with people I love, people who make my heart happy. I choose to take deep breaths. Hug. Listen.

These choices are easy to make, but difficult to do, Sometimes I run out of energy before I run out of choices. And every day I have to choose all over again. But every day I do. I have to.

Because while I am not defined by my limitations, I am impacted by them. I just refuse to use my time arguing for them.

I have a life to live and limited time to live it.

Puppy Love

by Erik Dolson

A month ago, Irish let slip that she’d been looking at puppies. Australian Shepherds. I cocked an eyebrow. That’s all. Loving a puppy is soul food, and after the last three weeks, Irish is close to starving. But the thought made me take a long, deep breath. Again.

Irish is afraid, and I don’t blame her. There are hundreds of what she calls “starlings,” aka “floaters,” in the field of vision in her remaining eye. There is also a cloudiness. Something is not right. Irish pushed up by a full month an appointment with her doctor in Portland because she was worried.

Good thing.

After an exam, her ophthalmologist said, “This is a much different situation than when you were here eight weeks ago.” Dr. Davis sent us directly up the hill, back to Casey Eye Institute. The news was not good. Her body is rejecting her good eye as a foreign invader. Sympathetic Ophthalmia. 

“Half of all patients will have 20/40 or worse vision and one third of all patients will end up legally blind from Sympathetic Ophthalmia…” according to the literature.

Irish loves dogs. Me too. Dogs seek us out, as if they know there’s nothing we’d rather do than give a kind word and scratch around their ears. But I’ve avoided having a dog since my sweet Australian Shepherd ended up on the other side of the divorce ledger. Irish moved away from her dogs to move in with me.

There was less than one-tenth of one percent that Irish would suffer sympathetic ophthalmia. But she’s not had the best luck in life.

She lost a marriage she’d sacrificed to save, and then most of the money they didn’t really have. She lost a job she loved after a corporate take-over, and later, Parkinson’s took her ability to work because she gets scattered, and can read only minutes at a time.

Then she fell on the boat and crushed the right side of her face and lost her right eye.

Then her beloved father died. Then she lost a battle with Social Security for disability payments in a bizarre, soulless system. Now her left eye is threatened by Sympathetic Ophthalmia, a one-in-a-thousand condition where her body is rejecting her good eye because she spilled a few proteins when she fell and the other eye burst as the socket was crushed.

Australian Shepherds are wicked smart, intensely loyal, and become part of a family. They know. Dogs like that deserve the love and loyalty they are so ready to give. Traveling for months at a time, and now living half-time on a boat, doesn’t leave room for a dog.

Irish asks if I can love “an unemployed miscreant with only one eye – who has to take immunosuppressive drugs for the rest of her life?”

She needs my help to stand against this avalanche of … of … what? Bad Luck? That so diminishes what she’s been through. She doesn’t believe it’s right to ask “Why me?” so I will. What in hell did this woman do to deserve half of what she’s been through, just in the two years I’ve known her?

“I don’t really like giving dogs people’s names,” she said while showing me pictures of Sam, a black and white tricolor Australian from a breeder near our home on land. At first I turned away, wary of assault by cute.

“I know we can’t have a dog, it doesn’t fit right now.” So I looked as she scrolled through photographs of the breeders stock of pups. I thought Sam looked like a great dog, too.

“Can you love me?” she asks, sometimes wordlessly when she comes to sit in the chair across from where I’m reading, or aloud as I pass her on my way into the kitchen.

l could say yes, easily. I’m a wordsmith, and I could float her a “yes,” light as a birthday balloon colored bright pink or robin’s egg blue and just as festively happy-making. She would take it and marvel that it is just for her.

But I can’t. Because it’s true. I can love her. I do love her. She wakes up chatty and cheerful nearly every damn day. Who has the strength to do that? She works around the house and accepts life on the boat that nearly killed her, she keeps me warm at night. We laugh often, cry seldom, harp at each other almost never. Of course I love her, and that should be the easiest thing in the world to say.

But I’m afraid, afraid of many things, and this is a Russian doll question. Inside “Can you love me?” is the obvious “Do you love me?” And inside that is yet another question, “Are we forever?” and inside of that, “Will we be married?”

Even if the answer is “yes” to one and “I don’t know,” to another, that’s a no to her, and to answer one “no” is to answer them all no, so I pause, to think about all of it and to breathe. She takes the pause as rejection.

She may be blind in the next six months. That will change priorities, and sooner than Parkinson’s, which we both now face with denial. So I rescheduled the trip to New Orleans I’d promised her, shifted it from January to this November, because time is not our friend when there is so much to see.

Then money got tight. Trip postponed. She is so understanding, but I feel guilt and sadness.

Maybe a puppy is not such a bad idea. Maybe if I loved her enough, the boat would be gone and a puppy would be sleeping right now in the crook of her elbow as she naps on the couch.

She is tired. Fatigue is another enemy. We went dancing last weekend, and she pretended to have a good time long after she was exhausted and ready to go home.

“Can you love me?” So simple. Of course I can, of course I do. I could pretend certainty of the future, float a pink balloon to her and say yes, to all the hidden questions, yes. YES! But love is liquid, it is energy, it is a scent of the divine, and the more tightly we grasp at vaporous love, the faster it squeezes from our fingers.

I should tell her that I will be here for her, care for her forever, whatever the sacrifice, that I signed on for Parkinson’s and unemployment and blindness and I want to disengage from all future plans I’d made for this time, before we met. YES! I’ll do this for her and happily, with a glad heart! Because she wants nothing not given with a glad heart.

That is, finally, the only “yes” that would count. Maybe a puppy would not be a bad idea. So I pause to ask myself if I am willing to do that, or if I’m just being overly dramatic. Maybe we stay here, where she’d rather be anyway, adopt a puppy and see what happens. But that wasn’t the dream so I pause, to breathe and to ask myself if I could live so without resentment.

I question myself and see her brightness, her smile, her laughter recede, leaving behind the cruel irony that these things I love and cherish in her most are taken away by her need to ask the question and my inability to answer.

As if she needed one more cruel irony in life. What did she do to deserve any of this? Good smart cute Catholic girl who worked hard and tried to do right. The diseases that cause migraines and cramps in her toes and arms and legs, and take her balance, and muffle words that she works to find, now, that used to spill out of her like bright and brassy multisyllabic music. The fall and fractured face, and now her eyesight? Are you fucking kidding me?

After all this, she won’t ask the question asked often in the Bible, “why me?” God replied, “You won’t understand.” We don’t understand. There are no mortal answers, no moral answers either.

So, she leans on me, and I wobble. I ask for a moment, and she feels rejected. I am distracted, she feels alone. I am exhausted, she feels I’m disinterested. I ask for air, she thinks I want her to leave. I ask her to dial back the reactions, that sometimes I am just distracted, exhausted, unbalanced, and in need of a breath. This makes her heart hurt, and she’s afraid.

When she asks me about the future, I ask if she wants me to rid us of boat and racing and adventure so we can be here, where it’s safe, where I can be here for her, maybe with a puppy, she says no, of course not.

She means it, but she’s wrong. She has the curse of the romantic. A cynic gives up hope’s warmth to avoid freezing disappointment, while the romantic lives in hope that sometimes requires cognitive dissonance.

She wants me to want to give up these frivolities. If I love her, I will want to give them up, because she would do the same for me without a second thought. These are not who I am, as I always thought, they are just what I do, which will inevitably become what I did at some point, why not now? But love, love is forever.

She doesn’t want anything not given with a glad heart, and if I fear the transaction then I am not the man she thought I was, because he wouldn’t hesitate.

The kennel is not that far away, and she’d like to see if it’s clean and safe and full of safe love, not to adopt a puppy now, of course, but so she can know whether or not this is where she should look three years from now, whenever.

I finally ask her to stop taking me down this slippery slope, because it hurts every time I have to tell her now is not the time for a puppy, that I feel guilty that I am keeping her from puppy happiness, that I’d like to feel that small bundle of furry frolic and raise a puppy too, but now is not a good time, so please, stop, please stop. She says she will.

She is made vulnerable by the twisted ironies of her life, and now by me. I’m vulnerable because she is. I’ve always craved adventure, but maybe adventure is just a way of forgetting, of running away.

All this inside the question, “Can you love me?” Maybe I just need to say “of course I love you” in a way that gives her exactly what she needs in this moment. In this moment, it’s true. Perhaps it will always be true, but still might not be enough to keep me from mourning past dreams.

She sits at her desk writing, as I sit in this chair, writing. She writes of sadness and loss. The 50 milligrams of prednisone added to her tiny body each day, and the anti-rejection chemotherapy she injects into her belly skin once a week, no doubt heighten her anxieties.

I have no excuses.

Silence in The Treehouse

Looking east

by Jane Miller

30 September 2017 (Two weeks ago)

I fell asleep last night as silence enveloped the treehouse.

And now I sit in silence. The sun is barely peeking above the eastern hills. The house is quiet, the world still asleep. Time waits, though, like a friend pausing to sit with me as I take stock.

It was a day of changes, yesterday was.

The last appointment for my right eye came at the end of very long day at the end of a very long 10 months. A quick check by the doctor who replaced Dr. Perry. “Looks so good,” she repeated as she took pictures and sent me on my way. Seemed anticlimactic after all I’ve been through. Where are the trumpets? The tiara? The congratulations?

I am alive. A little broken, a little afraid, a lot changed, but alive.

Maybe a party would be premature, though, since the ramifications of that devastating fall continue. The diagnosis of sympathetic ophthalmia was verified yesterday, first by Dr. Lin’s fellow, Dr. Choi, then by Dr. Lin herself. Not an infection. Not some obscure inflammation, but an even more obscure inflammation with an incidence rate of .01 percent. My body is attacking my left eye like it’s a foreign object. The denial and compartmentalization that have kept me going through job losses, Parkinson’s diagnosis, five surgeries, death and loss in the last four years have deserted me. For despite Erik’s feelings about my romantic imagine-a-different-world tendencies, I am also a realist. The good news here is that the bad news is not as bad as it could be, but there is a lot of bad news.

The damage to what was my perfectly good left eye is not as bad as it could be because I pushed and we caught it early. I shouldn’t have had to push so hard; they should have listened when I asked if what was happening to my left eye was related in any way to my right. “Oh no,” they denied, “there’s no relationship.” So here we are.

The optic nerve is damaged, but it’s only “mild.”

The uvea and vitreous (middle of my eye) have been damaged by the inflammation, but it might not be permanent.

The retina is intact and is likely to stay that way.

The chance I could still go blind is slight.

See what I mean? Realist.

The list of medications, some of which could last a lifetime is long and complicated. The dosing schedules will require a spreadsheet, alarms, and reminders. The side-effects, which could be serious,  will need careful monitoring.

To the daily medications I take for Parkinson’s and fibromyalgia, we are adding high doses of prednisone for the next four months. Weekly injections (that I have to give myself) of the immunosuppressive drug, methotrexate, for at least three years. Daily eye drops (these I can handle). Daily Aciphex to prevent the prednisone from causing a recurrence of ulcerative esophagitis. Calcium and vitamin D. Prescription-strength folic acid. I started on the spreadsheet and had to stop. Overwhelmed a bit.  

At the end of last November, I asked Erik if he could still love an unemployed miscreant. Early December, I asked him if he could love an unemployed miscreant with only one eye. Last night, as we were winding down from the trip back and forth to OHSU, I asked him if he could love an unemployed miscreant with only one eye – who has to take immunosuppressive drugs for the rest of her life.

He joked about the list growing longer, that we’re pushing the envelope here. Then he was silent.

He will not say the words when I most need to hear them, and for once, the romantic in me has no resources left to create a world that should be far different from the way it will be.

Exhausted and Exhilarated

 

So far, on our “Modified Alaska” plan, we have

Spent 31 days on the boat … Traveled 753 nautical miles … Through two countries … And 17 anchorages and ports.

And I have reached exhaustion.

The days start early and end late, with an average of eight hours of boat travel. Then there’s the regular boat/life chores, like laundry, meals, dishes, cleaning the boat, taking care of systems, riggings, and lines. There’s keeping my balance in six-foot seas, holding on to lines as we furl or unfurl the jib, standing on the transom to keep watch for deadheads or maneuver us in and out of anchorages. But I am also stronger for it.

And I have sailed. That’s right. S. A. I. L. E. D.

We started with putting up the jib, without the mainsail, and only when the seas were choppy but the wind still good. Every time we put up the sails, I am nervous, tense, frightened, and unsure. I settle down, but those emotions are ready to surface at the drop of a hat, should the situation warrant (at least what situations I feel warrant, not what Erik feels warrant). But as Erik noted as we motored the last few miles to Bishop Bay, I am a changed sailor from the first day we rounded Trial Island to Sidney, when I could barely take us out of Victoria Harbor, had a panic attack, almost bailed – from the boat and the relationship. I am still afraid, there is no way around that. But I am also stronger for facing it.

And I have been cold.

My face is tan, as are my hands. My arms are sort of, but the rest has been wrapped up in leggings and cargo pants, sweatshirts and long-sleeve Gap t-shirts. It’s been cool to cold, but sun all the way until the morning we woke up to rain and fog in Bishop Bay. We’re supposed to have the rain for a few days, so we’ll see how that affects travel. Boats become more difficult to move around when the decks are wet, when you’re tense, or when your muscles don’t move easily. Erik and I are ever vigilant.

And I have fished.

I love to fish, which Erik also understands now to mean “Jane loves to fish and chat. And sing the ‘Little Black Rain Cloud’ from Winnie the Pooh, as she tries to convince the fish that she is nothing but a passing shadow who bears them no ill will.”

And I have fallen more in love.

The number of times I’ve said “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Erik” is beyond count. Erik has told me the same as he’s looked down into my eyes. “I would not be here without you. You must know that.” And I do.

I have less than one week before I fly down to OHSU for my third operation. My girls (Laura, GPhiB, and Sisters) will be there to help me, but I’ll miss Erik. I’ll also essentially miss the “Alaska” part of “Sail Alaska,” but I have already had the most wonderful experience I could have wished for, with someone I deeply love.

Second star to the right and straight on till morning.

 

 

Modified Alaska

by Jane Miller

Modified Alaska: It’s sort of like a baked Alaska, but without the ice cream and flames.

Plans for Alaska have officially been changed and I have scheduled what I hope will be the last surgery for my eye on July 10.

The surgery will be done by my wonderful, confidence-inspiring, Jeff Bridges-like surgeon before he relocates to San Diego, and Dr. Ng, who wrote the book on this kind of ocular and facial surgery (seriously!). He is the “Chief of the Division of Oculofacial Plastics, Orbital and Reconstructive Surgery” at OHSU, and assisted in my first surgery there.

Erik has told me that … Being more than a little gorked at the time, I don’t remember him. 

Dr. Perry told us the operation would take only about an hour … outpatient. We’ll see, but the thought of it not lasting 5.5 hours, not followed by a three-day hospital stay, and not causing vomiting for a week — Whew!

We left Victoria June 2 for Friday Harbor for a few days. From there to Port Townsend, which Erik loves (though he spent a lot of the time on boat repair!), and from there to Anacortes, where the boat was set up after Erik purchased her.

We spent a couple of days with friends in Roche Harbor, then reentered Canada, two weeks after leaving Victoria. After a long slog over a couple of days, we made it to Campbell River, where we met new friends, Steve and Pat, cousins of one of Erik’s racing buddies. We texted them when we had cell service off Texada Island, and they invited us to Pat’s birthday party that night!

This cruising community is a lot like Erik’s (and now our) racing community.

We’ll finish restocking for Alaska tomorrow and Tuesday, and work on more of the repairs that are endemic in owning a boat.

We’ll be in Ketchikan in time for me to catch an Alaska flight down to Portland. I’ll see my boys, have the surgery, then head to Sisters to recuperate. In two to three weeks, I’ll have my follow-up exams, and schedule an appointment with my ocularist for the “final” revisions and fitting of my prosthetic eye. (This can’t take place until at least two months post-surgery.)

I am also researching therapists. (Of course, what else would I do?)

Then I’ll fly to wherever Erik is. We don’t know where that will be, but we will find each other! I’ll be missing most of the Alaska part of our sail to Alaska, but dealing with that is for another time.

Now is the time for healing and gratitude. It’s not a new revelation, more like a new appreciation, but the people in my life are pretty wonderful. Erik. My sons. My friends old and new, spread across three countries.

Laura, my person, has arranged her work so she can come up from California (with her nurse’s uniform!) to help. This will be the third operation she’s seen me through. How is that even possible??? One broken nose, one frozen shoulder, and now one face. “Thank you” is not big enough for all she has done.

My new friends in Sisters, with whom I have shared yoga, wine, and laughter (and with whom I am already making a when-we’re-old-ladies pact), have volunteered to help me.

My sorority sisters, once lost and now found, are wonderful. We pick up conversations begun more than thirty years ago. In our heart’s eyes, we still look like we did when we were in college, as if only a spring break  had passed since seeing each other.

The adventurers I’ve met in the racing and sailing communities. Families, really. The Big Bore Bad Boys who race vintage cars with huge engines and have hearts of gold. The friends I have made at the track. Cruisers and new friends from around the world who have buoyed my spirits and shared so much of themselves.

I may have had to face more physical hurdles than I would wish on anyone. There may be more to come. I may not have two pennies to rub together, as Dad used to say. But I have people I love and who love me back. And that makes all the rest bearable.