activist, writer, and founder of the Feminist Press

Florence in Words

Blog on the Absence of Blogs

July 27, 2017

Tags: Taksi, depression

Usually, my reason for silence is depression. I donít want people to know Iím depressed. I feel guilty for feeling depressed. Iím so privileged, I tell myself, I have no right to feel depressed. But there it is: Iím 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.

Iíll 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 canít get to them either. Itís clear that they wonít turn up until I buy a new couch. And he continues to follow me from room to room, and sometimes itís because itís nearing the time for dinner, though other times, itís that Mr. Taksi wants to play.

Other symptoms: I donít even try to write poems. I write boring journals that say only that I am depressed, or that Iíve broken a dish.

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

This is a bit laughable: Iíve been readingófor the second timeóThe Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende. About a host of characters the most interesting of whom live in an idyllic old age home. No, I donít believe it depressed me. I wonít blame the book, though it certainly has features that one might label ďdarkĒóthe 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, itís a novel chock full of life as well as death and I canít blame it for my depression.

And I will decorate with photos of Mr. TaksiÖperhaps 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 Iím so pleased by Taksi, why hadnít 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 theyíve 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 thatís 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 heís interested in tasting whatever it is, though his palate is fairly limited. But heís no nag. When I say no, he goes off.

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

He also knows ďno,Ē especially when enunciated with volume and a special tone. Heíll drop something heís carrying if I shout ďno.Ē And he also knows the word ďout,Ē issued usually from my bedroom, if heís banging the venetian blinds to wake me and to amuse himself. Heís learned not to do that, since my response has been to lock him out of the bedroom, beginning with the word ďout.Ē

Iíd like to hear from people with cats who think theyíve been teaching their pets verbal cues. And, as a postscript, Iíve been trying to play fetch with Taksi, and Iíve 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, heís carried the ball back to me in his mouth, as a dog would.

Mr. Taksiís Pomeranian Visitors

June 12, 2017

Tags: Mr. Taksi

Today, June 9, is Vickie Pajekís 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 doesnít go off and hid; nor does he attack his guests. Heís curious, and perhaps even interested. Weíll see what a second visit brings. More to come.

Diagnosis Parkinsonís

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 Parkinsonís disease. Instead of shaking, legs and arms may grow rigid, unable to move easily, if at all. That seems to be my case. And itís 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 Parkinsonís medication, and Iím 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. Itís easier now to get my socks on and my trousers as well as my underwear, and I donít take so long, nor does the effort now bring me close to the point of tears. And Iím 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 canít sleep at all, even if my naps were only 20-minute breathers.

So hereís 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 Iíve taken to yogurt and/or soupójust a bare minimum.

Iím still not able to walk more than a few blocks at a time, and Iíve not gone back to rehab yet. The longing for sleep is something that worries me. And of course the neurologistís response is ďdo something,Ē ďkeep busy,Ē 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, Iíd 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 seeÖ itís embarrassing, and I yawn again and again even as I go on typingÖ.

News from Mr. Taksi and Me

April 28, 2017

Tags: Words or phrases to categorize this post for the tags section

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

And here is Taksiís news, accompanied by pictures, as evidence. Frankly, I couldnít 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 couldnít get to my phone quickly enough to catch the cats and owls. Then the butterflies came on and Taksi didnít 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 interestingóthatís 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

Itís 5:40 p.m., and Iíve 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 flowersósee leftófrom 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 Foxís apartment. Various people have called to wish me a happy day and year to come. And Iíve been thinking about whether there will be another birthdayÖ. 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 wasnít 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 didnít 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. Iím not sure where that stands right now. And Iíve been keeping my dental appointments on my own, with the help of car service or taxis. But I wonít be surprised if the pace of decreasing debilitation hastens, though when I suggest this to Tashi, she said she doesnít 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 ďon the street.Ē Enjoy the photos. What should we do next?
Mr. Taksi and Charlie

Mr. Taksiís 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 doesnít seem to me to be longing for the street from which he was rescued by Bide-a-Wee. And heís still giving me laughs, especially when he dashes into an open closet and refuses to emerge until Iíve closed the door and departed. And of course I do return fairly soon.

But what Iíve been doing lately is trying to teach Taksi a few of what dog people call ďcommands.Ē Can cats learn to ďsitĒ and ďstayĒ? Do they understand ďno,Ē or is it only the tone with which one shouts ďnoĒ that penetrates a catís brain? Hereís 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. Iím not sure I can produce a video. At least not without some instructionÖ.

So here is my report on language and Taksi. He certainly knows ďNo,Ē 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 itís 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, Iíve taken to saying ďsitĒ many times until he actually does sit down, yes, on his place mat, and then Iíve gone on to the word ďstay.Ē 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?

Mr. Taksi's World

February 17, 2017

Tags: depression, Mr. Taksi

If youíve ever had a cat, you know what I mean when I say that cats live in a world of their own. My apartment is on the 24th floor, and there is precious little going on outside my windows. But not to Mr. Taksi. His favorite spot is the especially wide windowsill in the living room. And he makes getting to that spot a challenge to be conquered every day in a new manner. Iíll try to illuminate with a picture or two, but only those who know cats will be able to envision how delicately Mr. Taksi has to step among succulents so as to avoid knocking them from their stems.

There is no single way to get to the place where he can spread out, and getting there is half the fun. Iíd 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. Taksiís 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 wonít 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 itís crammed into the corner of the kitchen where heís 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. Itís not gone, but itís not grabbed me as before. For this cat makes me laugh out loud, and if youíre laughing, itís 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. Heís knocked some things under the couch and the fridge, where they are inaccessible, but he hasnít forgotten them. Searching for them, he comes up with his white front paws turned charcoal. And my hollering ďno, no, noĒ dissuades him only temporarily. To be continuedÖ.

Journal/Blog/Journal (*See below)

January 23, 2017

Tags: depression, health

Itís 9 p.m., Friday, January 20, 2017. Yes, I havenít written a blog about my new cat, his beauty and his ďtalkingĒ to me as though he had some Siamese streak in him, my calling him Mr. Taksi, in part because of my taxi-driving father I loved. Iíve had the cat since January 3, although two days after he arrived, his eyes told me he was ill. At the same time, whatever is wrong with me, especially my ability to walk, has been growing worse so that I cried in rehab, not only because of the pain, but because it all felt so useless: walking three steps forward and metaphorically falling four steps backward. So what to do?

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 itís hard that I canít pick up my catómy 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, Iím trying to get an appointment with a couple of neurologists and hear their takes on neuropathy, if thatís what Iíve got (along with depression). I am trying to think about ways to be cheerfulóand thereís politics to depress me daily, so thatís 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 donít have cancer or Alzheimerís. So, Florence, I talk to myself: cheer up!

*Note: Iíve been typing journals usually every day, since returning from Mississippiís 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 thatís 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. Iím writing this today because this is the first of what I can call a blog/journal. Itís more personal than usual, or at least thatís how it seems to me. Itís also being filed with the journals, not the blogs.

Select Works

"Everyone concerned about global feminism, womenís contributions, and humanityís future will be enhanced and enchanted by A Life in Motion.ĒóBlanche 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
ďIt is impossible to imagine womenís studies without Florence Howe. Myths of Coeducation shows her vision and courage, insight and dauntlessness.ĒĖCatharine 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.

Quick Links