FLORENCE HOWE

activist, writer, and founder of the Feminist Press




Florence in Words

Ending the Silence

November 29, 2017

Tags: Mr. Taksi, health

Taksi is here beside me, stretched out on the space I’ve made for him on my desk. He wants supper, and it is past six p.m., but he will wait patiently, for I want to write this. Today is a special day. For the first time in two months I have sat in my desk chair and opened the computer. I did it to order food for Mr. Taksi, and some new bowls, but here I am, trying at least to write enough to tell the few people still looking for my blogs that I am not dead, that I might even be a little bit alive and ready to rejoin the human race.

What’s been wrong? Briefly, it all began with an accident on a day I felt great. I even felt as I began the day that I was going to be the person I used to be. My focus was on marketing, on my own, using my walker to get to the market, and then a shopping cart to collect my purchases. The cashier than called for an aide to help me find a cab and get my bags into the trunk along with my walker. I was seated on the right side of the taxi’s back seat when the driver chose to open the taxi’s left door and throw the walker in its folded state at my body. And there it hit my waistline on the left of my body. Yes, I felt a pain but could not imagine the problems that followed.

Within five minutes I was getting out of the cab, someone was stacking the grocery bags on a cart, and I was taking my shopping into my apartment. Yes, I continued to feel some pain, but I thought it would quickly disappear. I had to get some things into the fridge, and I had an appointment at the Rehab gym across the street.

By the time I got to the gym, the pain was intense. I was in tears as I showed the therapist where the pain was coming from. She suggested ice, which was comforting, and then she decided to walk me home, urging me to ice the area and to see a doctor if the pain did not diminish.

Within two days I could hardly walk at all without breath-taking pain. And even though it was then an important Jewish holiday, my dear friend, Don Thomas organized a driver with a car and a wheel chair to take me to a sports medicine building where I had x-rays and was diagnosed. I had a soft tissue injury, which would take considerable time to heal, given that I was 88, not 18 or even 48.

This was the beginning. Why did I cave in? Why did I not use my usual resources? Why did I seemingly disappear? Can I understand what happened? Can I ever recover?

August Update: Drear Days Saved by a Cat

August 30, 2017

Tags: Mr. Taksi, Parkinson's

Yes, I haven’t written in some time. Parkinson’s is no fun, especially when it seems to be “better” some days and then “worse.” And both so hard to describe. But Mr. Taksi doesn’t seem to let anything stop him from growing and from finding new actions that move me to laughter, at least a smile, and sometimes a real belly laugh, like the one I got watching him gain a new perch in “his” bathroom.

I was aware of his interest in the sink, and hoped he wouldn’t try to get into it, since I thought it would end with my having to get him to a doctor to reset a few bones. It’s not only high off the floor. It has nothing to rest on: it’s a bowl with the thinnest of edges. And why, I thought to myself, would he want to get up there in the first place? I was, of course, not thinking with the mind of Mr. Taksi, who seems to walk around my sizable apartment, with his head angled upward, as though wondering what he might try next.

I know he can leap easily up onto the kitchen counter in a single, elegant movement. He can stand on his two legs at the sink and knock something out of my hands—that’s how tall he is stretched out. But why would he want to get up to this bathroom sink, when he doesn’t want to be in water, and when he would then have the trouble of getting out of it again? Well, it’s clear now that I don’t have the mind of a cat, especially this one. So you can see it in photos. His contentment seems to be saying he’s happy to have that problem solved. On to other things, though he does try that leap at least once a day, usually when I am using that bathroom.

As for my bathroom, nothing deters him there, since the sink is built into a cabinet and there are areas seemingly waiting for him. My electric toothbrush is merely music to his ears—he’s not going to be sent off by such piffle, and he simply waits until I’m through to continue his investigations of everything on and around this room. His favorite space is the walk-in shower, and I imagine he thinks he’s being helpful when he pulls off another loose tile from the shower floor, since he makes sure I see his prize, and of course I do thank him for his courtesy.

Blog on the Absence of Blogs

July 27, 2017

Tags: Mr. Taksi, depression

Usually, my reason for silence is depression. I don’t want people to know I’m depressed. I feel guilty for feeling depressed. I’m so privileged, I tell myself, I have no right to feel depressed. But there it is: I’m depressed, and after some silence, when I expect that the small group of readers who look at my blog already suspect that depression has me in grip again, I confess. So boring, as grey as the world outside my window today, half in rain, half in fog.

I’ll try some comfort. Two weeks ago, I passed the half-year point with Mr. Taksi, the cat who was to save me from depression. And yes, he still has the power to make me laugh even when I am supposedly teaching him something or even when I am severely cross with him for absconding with my favorite pen or pencil and hiding them so that he can’t get to them either. It’s clear that they won’t turn up until I buy a new couch. And he continues to follow me from room to room, and sometimes it’s because it’s nearing the time for dinner, though other times, it’s that Mr. Taksi wants to play.

Other symptoms: I don’t even try to write poems. I write boring journals that say only that I am depressed, or that I’ve broken a dish.

My friends continue to ask me about going to the movies, and I continue to say no, I’m not interested. So what have I done for the past two weeks?

This is a bit laughable: I’ve been reading—for the second time—The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende. About a host of characters the most interesting of whom live in an idyllic old age home. No, I don’t believe it depressed me. I won’t blame the book, though it certainly has features that one might label “dark”—the treatment of Japanese during the Second World War, the sexual torture of one Eastern European young girl who is trying to leave that history behind her. And, of course, the inevitable death of the major character. So, yes, it’s a novel chock full of life as well as death and I can’t blame it for my depression.

And I will decorate with photos of Mr. Taksi…perhaps they will make this worth reading. (written on July 14, 2017)

Six Months of Mr. Taksi, the Resident Cat

July 5, 2017

Tags: Mr. Taksi

If I’m so pleased by Taksi, why hadn’t I moved earlier to adopt a cat? Three people very close to me are allergic to cats: my daughter, my daughter-in-law, my best friend, Helene. But they’ve understood, especially since he makes me laugh heartily at least once a day, often many times. And he now follows me around the apartment, settling into a nap if that’s what he needs, but waking up and moving with me, should I move.

And yes, he now wants to know what I am eating, and he’s interested in tasting whatever it is, though his palate is fairly limited. But he’s no nag. When I say no, he goes off.

Which brings me to language. Can cats, like dogs, learn verbal signals? I’m trying to answer that question, and I’ll tell you what I know at this six month point. When it’s eating time, Taksi is very excited and he used to stand up and try to knock the plate out of my hand. He’s over three feet when he stands up on his hind legs and he’s strong. So I’ve taught him the following words: “Sit” and “Stay.” And most of the time they work: I can actually get the food almost to the floor before Taksi moves to it. He’s now revised that little action to his sitting on the stepstool that I have at the end of the kitchen. And he’s dragged the place mat, meant to be beneath his food, to the top of the stepstool, where he sits. And it’s clear that he knows “Sit” and “Stay.”

He also knows “no,” especially when enunciated with volume and a special tone. He’ll drop something he’s carrying if I shout “no.” And he also knows the word “out,” issued usually from my bedroom, if he’s banging the venetian blinds to wake me and to amuse himself. He’s learned not to do that, since my response has been to lock him out of the bedroom, beginning with the word “out.”

I’d like to hear from people with cats who think they’ve been teaching their pets verbal cues. And, as a postscript, I’ve been trying to play fetch with Taksi, and I’ve made minimal progress so far. But he loves to play, and favorite toys are balls of paper or tinfoil, cardboard roll inside toilet rolls, anything that will move if batted. And a few times, so far, he’s carried the ball back to me in his mouth, as a dog would.

Mr. Taksi’s Pomeranian Visitors

June 12, 2017

Tags: Mr. Taksi

Today, June 9, is Vickie Pajek’s birthday, and to celebrate, she is bringing her two dogs, Gismo, who is seven, and Coconut, who is nine, for a second visit with Mr. Taksi. Vickie arrived a week or so ago with toys for all, and they had a merry time of it, as some of the pictures that follow will illustrate. As for us, we laughed and laughed, and I was reminded once again of the power of pets to enrich our lives with laughter. So enjoy the photos and if they make you smile, please understand that Taksi offers me at least one amazing belly laugh a day, even though his behavior may begin by exasperating me with its insistence that I pay attention to him. He knows what he wants and is determined that I heed his needs. And dare I ask whether he wants to be visited? He doesn’t go off and hid; nor does he attack his guests. He’s curious, and perhaps even interested. We’ll see what a second visit brings. More to come.

Diagnosis Parkinson’s

June 10, 2017

Tags: Parkinson's

The ring finger of my right hand twitches uncontrollably when I hold my hand palm upwards. Not so the ring finger of my left hand. But sometimes they change places. I have no other twitches.

Still, there are other dimensions to a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. Instead of shaking, legs and arms may grow rigid, unable to move easily, if at all. That seems to be my case. And it’s been most apparent getting into and out of automobiles. At the worst, before I began the new medication, someone had to actually lift my legs out of the auto, and if the driver was in a hurry, he had to move my legs in the first place. Now, after almost two months on the Parkinson’s medication, and I’m still on a relatively low dose, I can move my legs myself.

Also there are other, more intimate changes, some having to do with matters of dressing. It’s easier now to get my socks on and my trousers as well as my underwear, and I don’t take so long, nor does the effort now bring me close to the point of tears. And I’m not as worried about falling in the stall shower as I have been. On the other hand, I continue to need naps and lots more sleep than ever before. And I still have nights when I can’t sleep at all, even if my naps were only 20-minute breathers.

So here’s what I have to do. I have to take three pills a day with meals, which means I have to return to the habit I broke several years ago. So breakfast is still the same solid meal of oatmeal and bran muffins and coffee and fruit, varied once a week or so by eggs or lox and bagels. And dinner is still meat or fish and two vegetables, with or without a salad. (Sometimes dinner is a huge salad and soup.) But lunch is the problem and so I’ve taken to yogurt and/or soup—just a bare minimum.

I’m still not able to walk more than a few blocks at a time, and I’ve not gone back to rehab yet. The longing for sleep is something that worries me. And of course the neurologist’s response is “do something,” “keep busy,” remarks that I might have made to a friend with a similar complaint. But I have plenty to do, meetings to attend and books to read. Often, I’d rather take a nap. In addition, I have friends who want to go to the movies with me. Why do I resist such entreaties? I still long for a swimming pool and have done nothing about that either. And yes, I will probably regret having written this out for others to see… it’s embarrassing, and I yawn again and again even as I go on typing….

News from Mr. Taksi and Me

April 28, 2017

Tags: Mr. Taksi

My news is not as dramatic as Taksi’s, so I’ll go first. After two weeks on the Parkinson’s drugs, the doctor has assigned two weeks more. And instead of napping, he suggested “going out” more. But given New York’s failure to produce spring weather, I’ve been napping more and more. But I’m publicly announcing that from tomorrow on I will try to do something out of the apartment at least every other day. And I’ll begin that by going to a birthday party Saturday night and then out to brunch on Sunday with Don, Jorge, and Don’s niece and nephew, Landis and Joey. And soon I’ll be going to the movies again with Louise.

And here is Taksi’s news, accompanied by pictures, as evidence. Frankly, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was taking a nap, of course, and woke up to see, across the room, Taksi seated and staring up at the television. At that moment there were small wild cats on branches fleeing from owls. And Taksi was so excited that he was chattering. But I couldn’t get to my phone quickly enough to catch the cats and owls. Then the butterflies came on and Taksi didn’t move and so I got the pictures. And he stayed as long as the pictures interested him. He was looking and at a slightly odd angle for his neck. People are not interesting—that’s clear enough. Just now, he tried to find the same spot on the floor for watching, but the people on MSNBC just sent him back to the couch and put him to sleep.

March 17: Birthday Blog at Eighty-Eight

March 21, 2017

Tags: birthday

It’s 5:40 p.m., and I’ve been thinking, on and off during the day I have been alone with Mr. Taksi, about whether to write anything to mark the day. My son and daughter-in-law have come up from Washington, and my daughter has flown in from Kansas, and I have beautiful flowers—see left—from my grand-daughter in Los Angeles, Dr. Florence who is expecting a baby this summer. And various friends have been invited to a party my daughters are giving in cousin Lori Fox’s apartment. Various people have called to wish me a happy day and year to come. And I’ve been thinking about whether there will be another birthday…. Gloomy thoughts? Well, yes, but realistic, for I am able to do less and less physically.

Let me try a specific example. A year ago I went to Kansas to see my daughter and the great grandchildren. Perhaps I used a cane. But I could get around. I wasn’t taking an hour to dress because it was so difficult to get my limbs to work in order to get socks on my feet and trousers up my legs. And I didn’t have two walkers. In rehab, darling Tashi who works on me cheerfully, and who insists that what I need is to strengthen my muscles, says she sees progress from week to week. But I have the longer view in mind, and so I am skeptical.

Will I wind up in a wheelchair? Perhaps not by next year, since I can still clean up the kitchen, dress myself, straighten the bed, feed the cat, water the plants. I depend on others to vacuum, keep the kitty litter in order, and for other things. Until this past week, I had been doing my own marketing. I’m not sure where that stands right now. And I’ve been keeping my dental appointments on my own, with the help of car service or taxis. But I won’t be surprised if the pace of decreasing debilitation hastens, though when I suggest this to Tashi, she said she doesn’t believe I have neuropathy, since I am still sensitive to feelings if she touches areas of my feet or legs.

Perhaps this is an inappropriate way to celebrate a birthday at 88. Perhaps I should be grateful for the years I have had travelling the world, working on significant book projects with talented and impressive Africans, Indians, Chinese, and Japanese. I am grateful. But I am also human enough not to want the losses I have begun to suffer.

A Surprise from Mr. Taksi

March 10, 2017

Tags: Mr. Taksi

This will be mostly a few photos to illuminate what happened a few days ago when Martina Grant, a masseuse therapist turned up with her dog, Charlie. I thought that Mr. Taksi, my still relatively new cat, would hide in the deepest closet he could find. But I was totally wrong in my assessment, for he wanted to see Charlie, perhaps even to play with him, though Charlie was not (yet?) interested and stayed close to Martina, even deigning to curl up on her lap.

And I must add: this was not the business of a few minutes, but we two humans talked for nearly an hour, during which the two protagonists came closer and closer to each other. Martina was certain that Taksi had been reared with dogs. And as I have said several times, the only information I have is that he was found “on the street.” Enjoy the photos. What should we do next?
Mr. Taksi and Charlie

Mr. Taksi’s World, Number 2

March 4, 2017

Tags: Mr. Taksi

This cat has been living with me since the 2nd of January, and for the first time yesterday, on the 3rd of March, he stepped out into the hall for half a minute. No, he doesn’t seem to me to be longing for the street from which he was rescued by Bide-a-Wee. And he’s still giving me laughs, especially when he dashes into an open closet and refuses to emerge until I’ve closed the door and departed. And of course I do return fairly soon.

But what I’ve been doing lately is trying to teach Taksi a few of what dog people call “commands.” Can cats learn to “sit” and “stay”? Do they understand “no,” or is it only the tone with which one shouts “no” that penetrates a cat’s brain? Here’s my first report, and I will also send along more photos, which is what appeals most, I am told. My daughter tells me also that my great-grand daughters (ages six and eight) are not satisfied with the photos. They want a video!! Imagine that. I’m not sure I can produce a video. At least not without some instruction….

So here is my report on language and Taksi. He certainly knows “No,” especially when I shout it at him multiple times as he is tearing the couch or one of my rugs to pieces. And does he make sense of the fact that when he uses either of his two scratching posts I am silent. I am certain it’s hard for him to understand that one rug in one room is all his to tear up, but two others in two other rooms are not to be scratched at. So I have made little progress in the area of scratching.

But around food I feel something is happening. He gets very excited and since he is tall and can stand and knock the dish out of my hand as I am trying to give it to him, I’ve taken to saying “sit” many times until he actually does sit down, yes, on his place mat, and then I’ve gone on to the word “stay.” And I see a shift in his eye and he seems, I want to believe, to understand what I am asking him to do. And he holds his position for at least three or four seconds, so far.

I know there are many cat lovers out there. Have you taught your cats some behavior based on language?

Select Works

"Everyone concerned about global feminism, women’s contributions, and humanity’s future will be enhanced and enchanted by A Life in Motion.”—Blanche Wiesen Cook, author of Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume I and Volume II
Lecture delivered by Florence Howe on January 8, 2011, at the Modern Language Association Annual Convention
“It is impossible to imagine women’s studies without Florence Howe. Myths of Coeducation shows her vision and courage, insight and dauntlessness.”–Catharine R. Stimpson, Rutgers University
A revised and expanded edition of the classic groundbreaking anthology of 20th-century American women's poetry, representing more than 100 poets from Amy Lowell to Anne Sexton to Rita Dove.

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