Florence in Words
June 12, 2017
June 10, 2017
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….
April 28, 2017
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 21, 2017
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.
March 10, 2017
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?
March 4, 2017
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?
February 17, 2017
There is no single way to get to the place where he can spread out, and getting there is half the fun. I’d have to run a video for you to see how it happens, but there are other things to talk about in what I am calling Mr. Taksi’s World. There is the question of closets: I have an abundance of them, and they open either with sliding doors or with ordinary doors. Some of them are large enough for a cat to get lost in. And Taksi has been locked in almost every one of those closets, since among his skills is an ability to slip through a door even when I think I am watching for him.
And then there is the question of eating. Mr. Taksi won’t accept that I have offered him a place mat on which I would place his food in a beautiful Japanese bowl. Not on his life. He treats the place mat as his resting place, even when it’s crammed into the corner of the kitchen where he’s fed. He demonstrates twice a day that he must sit on the place mat, no matter my wishes.
Finally, a word about depression for those who know that virus. It’s not gone, but it’s not grabbed me as before. For this cat makes me laugh out loud, and if you’re laughing, it’s hard to be depressed at the same moment. He makes me laugh by turning everything he can into a toy: favorites include the ends of pens, crinkly paper squeezed into a ball, an old sock rolled into a ball; in short, anything that can be batted around the apartment from wooden floors to carpets and back again. He’s knocked some things under the couch and the fridge, where they are inaccessible, but he hasn’t forgotten them. Searching for them, he comes up with his white front paws turned charcoal. And my hollering “no, no, no” dissuades him only temporarily. To be continued….
January 23, 2017
Victoria Pajak (Vicki), the woman who has been coming to my apartment at eight p.m. to give Mr. Taksi his evening eye drops and throat drops, knew nothing of my state of mind, but she chose one moment last night to tell me about her two cats, both of whom had been strays, and one of whom was totally blind. The two, normal and blind had been adopted together and they had grown up as close friends and delightful pets.
So, yes, I stopped feeling sorry for myself, at least for an evening. But it’s hard that I can’t pick up my cat—my arms are no longer strong enough to hold a 13-pound cat. Nor can I get down on the floor with him. And it will take some time for him to learn that he can have petting from me only when on the couch or the bed.
As for my own physical state, I’m trying to get an appointment with a couple of neurologists and hear their takes on neuropathy, if that’s what I’ve got (along with depression). I am trying to think about ways to be cheerful—and there’s politics to depress me daily, so that’s not the route to follow. Suggestions? I have used the usual: yes, I have my brain, and my fingers still work at the keyboard; I live in New York and there are taxis to get me to appointments; I still have a few old friends and I have made a few young new friends. I have a comfortable apartment. And I don’t have cancer or Alzheimer’s. So, Florence, I talk to myself: cheer up!
*Note: I’ve been typing journals usually every day, since returning from Mississippi’s Freedom Schools in August, 1964 and 1965. And long before computers, I typed journals on a typewriter. When I travelled, I wrote in tiny notebooks (and I have more than 100 of them). Later, of course I had a laptop when I traveled. These journals were both private as well as political. I would not have thought of sending them out to the world. But that’s where a blog has to go, and I was urged by Feminist Press to start a blog after my memoir appeared. It was hard not to confuse the blog with the journal, but I worked that out. I’m writing this today because this is the first of what I can call a blog/journal. It’s more personal than usual, or at least that’s how it seems to me. It’s also being filed with the journals, not the blogs.
December 19, 2016
Let me say, first, that I had hoped this letter would celebrate Hillary Clinton’s victory as feminist, humanist, and an experienced internationalist. Some of you who will read this were present in the Chinese auditorium two decades ago, as I was, when Hillary spoke that famous sentence: “Women’s rights are human rights; and human rights are women’s rights.” So our work will have to continue, and I am certain that Hillary will be on the front lines of that work.
My personal news is mixed. I continue to miss my active life of walking and swimming, not to mention travelling. Despite a dozen doctors I have seen, there is no real diagnosis, but only placebos, some of which have back-fired and been therefore abandoned. Right now I am counting on rehab and a clever, hands-on therapist to strengthen my right leg so that I might be able to walk with only a cane again. But I want distant friends to know that I remain in my own apartment, and I have made various adjustments so that I can be independent.
I write a journal every day which goes into a folder. And once a week or at least three times a month I write a blog which is posted on my website that I continue to maintain, with the help of Jen Petras, my dear Ohio friend. Writing keeps me sane, I think, and it is, as for many people, one way to work out their depression. I’ve also been writing poems, some of which I may decide to post on the blog as well.
What else do I do (aside from seeing doctors)? I go to the opera and to theatre, usually with Helene Goldfarb, occasionally also with friends Shirley Mow, Elyse Hilton, Don Thomas, Jorge Cao. Elyse also visits to talk literature and to help me walk when the weather permits. AnnJ looks after my needs in certain magical ways, and she visits frequently, given that she lives in Washington, D.C.
The most striking family news is that granddaughter Dr. Florence Wright, named after me, moved to Los Angeles almost a year ago and was married last week to Jason Neville, a Louisiana-bred city planner who works for the mayor. Other family members continue to thrive in Kansas, Mississippi, D.C., and even Brooklyn, though except for AnnJ, I see them rarely.
What do I do aside from entertainment? I sit on four Boards, though I am not as active as I used to be. I still long for real work, though I am also a realist about its disappearance from my life. Occasionally, I have proofread or copyedited for the Feminist Press. I am very proud of the fact that six books published by the Press have had favorable reviews in the New York Times this year.
Finally, perhaps you are wondering how I manage being alone at 87. What do I do that gives me pleasure? Sometimes great pleasure? It’s reading and writing, of course. A good movie sometimes—I saw Rainman last night here in my study. A good play—Heidigger, which I’ve seen twice, was excellent, as was Master Harold and the Boys. As for books, the list would be too long for this letter. I continue to be a fan of Kazuo Ishiguro, have read all his books.
And yes, there is the writing. Why don’t I get on with it? Why do I write only journals and blogs? It’s like asking the question about the election: why were so many people taken in by a fast-talking, know-nothing egomaniac (and these are kind words for the man)? There are many answers to these questions, mostly not heroic but mundane. The best I can do today is to say what my favorite diva sings, “I’m still here.”
Finally, I want to dedicate this blog to the little dog who kept me company when Don and Jorge travelled. Yoya died at ten of heart disease. The happiest, sweetest bundle of fur just keeled over upstairs, after a walk. She has been replaced—yes, it’s possible with pooches—by Fefa, hardly six months old. I know you will like the photos of Yoya.
December 12, 2016
I was going to the Colony Club, a most uncommon destination for me, accompanied by Therese (Te) Revesz, who, to my surprise, was one of my students at Goucher College in the 1960s. I taught at that expensive girls’ college (now co-ed) from 1960 to 1971. I have often said that those years were my best teaching years. During that decade I learned, especially from my experience in a Mississippi Freedom School, how to teach so that students learned not only who they were and what privileges they had, but how to write about the non-equal world they inhabited. This was, of course, the decade in which women and girls began to see themselves differently. Though I’ve written in my memoir about how much teaching meant to me, I have not exhausted that subject.
At the Colony Club, I was to meet several dozen Goucher alumna who had graduated in 1968, and who had been my students at some point during the years between 1964 and 1968. They approached me singly or in pairs, remembering Freshman English and the courses I taught in British and American Poetry. One student recalled that a whole course on William Butler Yeats had sent her to Ireland to visit all the areas he wrote about. Both heartening and embarrassing, they remembered more than I could, and claimed that my courses “changed their lives.”
I hardly know what to say when students make such claims, but I try to understand that they are also being kind to an old lady, since I remember so little in detail of the kinds of courses they were describing to me. Indeed, as I sit here and type, I am remembering with greater clarity the undergraduate courses I took at Hunter College with Professor Pearl Wilson (in Greek tragedy), for example, or in Modern British Literature with Katherine Gatch and Marion Witt. Did they change my life?
And now I come to the second half of what I’ve promised: the flowers waiting for me. The first batch were African Violets, deep purple flowers and deep green leaves distributed in three yellow clay pots, needing only some water, and with a sweet note from the two guys in my life, Don Thomas and Jorge Cao, and their new puppy, Fefa; the second was a large pot filled with soil out of which peeped a bulb, also needing only water. The bulb came from Elyse Hilton, a relatively new friend who came to share her poetry (and prose) and to be my walking companion. Our good times together continue.
Yes, I continue to wince as I hear about the military men, millionaire bankers, and anti-labor, anti-women, anti-minority others who will fill Trump’s cabinet. But I am also perking up, ready to fight back.