Sunday, November 18, 2007

Lane in Fridaland

Is it possible to overdose on art? To see so many fabulous paintings, lithographs, sculptures, and drawings that your eyes pop out? The answer must be no, it isn’t, because last weekend I immersed myself so deeply into art that I would be a casualty myself in that case. I spent five days in Minneapolis visiting Ann, my dearest friend who I have known for over 39 years. I also visited with my sister Janet and her husband Dave whom I have not seen for eight or nine years. And there’s more!

Let’s see. I arrived on Thursday and found my way to Birchbark Books, the bookstore owned by Native American author and fellow North Dakotan Louise Erdrich. On Saturday, Ann and I met Janet and Dave at the Minneapolis Institute of Art and bought our tickets for the Georgia O’Keeffe abstractions exhibition there. Then, with time on our hands, we went to the Frederick Weisman Art Museum, designed by famed architect Frank Gehry, and viewed a contemporary Native American art show. The Weisman looks a little like aluminum cans randomly glued onto the sides of a building, but it is striking in its shining glory nonetheless.

The Native American art really caught surprised me (in a good way). I have personally been in so many museums featuring old Indian artifacts that I did not ever really wonder what artists were doing today. This exhibit showed me. They are beading stiletto pumps instead of moccasins. They are hanging tiny metal fish on metal drying racks instead of real fish. They are carving traditional symbols into non-traditional material and in non-traditional shapes. They are satirizing society’s foibles by reproducing giant butter boxes and changing the wording to reflect disapproval so that Land o’Lakes butter becomes Land o’Fakes butter and Land o’Bucks butter. The pieces in the show were extremely diverse and entirely engaging. I wish I had had more time to spend there.

We left the Weisman to see the Georgia O’Keeffe show. This Minneapolis Institute of Art exhibition focused on her abstract paintings and sculpture. I had never seen most of the paintings, having been previously exposed to her flower and cattle skull paintings. In this exhibit, O’Keeffe had pulled in so close to her subjects that they lost meaning as objects and became abstractions. Interestingly, this is what Michael has done in his photography in recent years – photographed large objects (like buildings) so intimately that they cannot be recognized as such any longer. Needless to say, I think his photographs are remarkable. The O’Keeffe paintings would have really resonated for him.

Aside: One of the O’Keefe paintings in the exhibit came from the Menil Collection right here in Houston.

The time with Janet and Dave was terrific. They spent most of Saturday with me and Sunday morning, too. We all went to the two museums together, then Ann and I attended Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion radio show at the State Theatre in downtown Minneapolis. I enjoyed the program immensely. The set looks just like the one in the movie, with the little house and its “On Air” sign, the musician’s chairs centered in front of it. The gentleman who does sound effects stood right up front near the main microphones for Garrison and his guests. The funny thing, though, was that the crowd often drowned out the dialogue. While home listeners could hear every word with ease, I had to strain to hear over clapping and cheering and laughter.

Basket sat on a table in the lobby with slips of paper and pencils for people to write dedications Garrison would read on air. I had one planned for Michael, but seeing the people crowded around and the two piled up baskets of notes, I realized that I would likely be disappointed. I wrote my dedication anyway: “Here’s a great big Houston hello to Michael who is once again staying home with our teen-aged daughter while I go gallivanting around.”

After the show finished, Ann and I joined Janet and Dave for dinner. We weren’t exactly sure where we wanted to eat, particularly since we went out in an area Ann is less familiar with. Fortunately, and with the help of a dining guide, we found our way to an Indian restaurant that proved to be just excellent. Janet and I ate curried prawns while Ann and Dave had a chicken dish that had been praised in the review. We shared appetizers and cheese bread Indian style, had our meals, and then shared rice pudding desserts. Every bite tasted wonderful.

Sunday morning, I met Janet and Dave for breakfast and we had almost three hours to talk together before they had to leave for home. I enjoyed having time with them for myself and the chance to catch up.

Sunday afternoon, I met Ann and her father at the Walker Art Museum for the Frida Kahlo show, my original reason for the trip to Minneapolis. I had already gotten a glimpse of it on my first evening in town, joining Ann’s graduate level class on Frida Kahlo for an hour’s worth of discussion before walking across the street to visit the gallery. Sunday I got to look to my heart’s content though, unencumbered by group discussions. The exhibit is breath-taking. One entire room is made up of photographs of Frida, some formal, but many merely snapshots taken without regard to her fame (and perhaps she wasn’t famous then). The collection has always been in private hands – Frida willed it to Dr. Eleosser, one of her physician’s and a friend. His family sold the collection after his death to another private collector who is the current owner, I believe.

The paintings took up four rooms which opened up onto each other in a seamless fashion so that it did not seem as if you were moving from one room to another. The walls were painted white, a rather stark background for her vibrant paintings. A few paintings were quite large canvases, others were tiny miniatures, but most were the retablo-size that Frida liked to work with. I delighted in seeing favorites of mine and I developed a special affection for some paintings that I had not felt only seeing them in book plates.

Frida’s self-portrait from 1926, informally called by her La Botticelli, because of the painting style she used for it, presided over the entrance to the show. It stands out as one of my personal favorites. I also liked – much to my surprise – the painting Diego and Me. One of the largest paintings in the exhibit, it had a vibrancy never matched in any of its reproductions that I have seen. Another surprising favorite of mine – Dorothy Hale’s Suicide. It should have been morbid, but did not strike me that way. The way she depicted Dorothy Hale showed a wonderful sensitivity on her part, despite the fact that the American viewpoint did not understand the Mexican retablo tradition and therefore registered shock at the painting’s literalness.

I have always like The Broken Column more than any other Kahlo painting. It resonates with me because I have felt the kind of pain that she is feeling in that painting. Pain that is unremitting; pain that has pushed its way into your bed like a rapist who refuses to leave afterwards; pain that you can almost come to love because you get to know it so well. I heard a senior museum staff member talking to a group about how Frida’s pain underscored her paintings. In contrast, Rosely, the teacher for Ann’s class, vehemently objected to people over-emphasizing the effect of Frida’s health and pain on her work. As a person very familiar with chronic illness, physical limitations, and the frustrations of invalidism, I see it differently from either of them.

I see Frida as a woman who painted her way around her pain, who refused to surrender herself to it. The kind of pain that can’t be remediated, that you can’t escape, must be circumvented by force of will. In a way, one must embrace it; hold it so close it can’t move, in order to move one's self beyond it. I remember another trip to Minneapolis in the 1990s when Ann and I attended a workshop with Dr. Bernie Siegel, the gifted physician and healer. I had an attack of typical lupus pain that started in the middle of the night. This pain felt as if someone were driving red-hot railroad spikes through my joints with a sledge hammer. Called roaming arthritis, it bounced around my body from joints in my toes to joints in my hands, to my hip joints, to my knee joints, to my ankle and wrist joints, in no particular order, until I ached with nearly unbearable pain.

I did not want to awaken Ann, so I got up and went into the bathroom. I took my pain medication knowing from experience that it would not help. I sat on the edge of the tub and did the only thing I could do at that moment – rock back and forth, back and forth, trying to keep my moans of pain quiet. Not quiet enough, though, because towards morning, Ann heard me and came in to me. I believe the depth of my pain shocked her. We had discussed it, but she had never seen a full blown attack like this. Ann wanted to take me immediately to the Emergency Room. I refused. She may have been more shocked by that than by my condition. She could not understand why I wouldn’t go to the hospital and I could not really explain it to her coherently because I had the pain itself to cope with.

My misery lasted for several hours. After it lessened, I went back to bed to catch a couple of hours sleep before we had to be on our way to the seminar. When I got up, I felt much better and actually pain-free. Walking to the workshop, I tried to explain to Ann my rationale for refusing to go to the hospital. That kind of lupus pain can’t be remediated except with the strongest narcotic drugs, which hospital ERs are hesitant to give out to strangers. The visit to the ER would have taken a lot of time, been paperwork heavy, cost a lot of money, and when I left I would still have been in pain. The only antidote to my pain consisted of waiting it out, being stronger than it was, and living my life as if it wouldn’t keep happening to me.

That is why I adopted a child while I was so ill with lupus. That is why I went to Breadloaf and other writers’ conferences despite my physical limitations. That is why I continued to write through it all, if only in journals. And that is why Frida is my hero: she did it first and showed me how. All this is to say, The Broken Column is for me Frida’s most perfect painting. In it, she tells the viewer that she refuses to be broken by pain that she will gird herself against it by whatever means she can. Frida does not deny her pain, but she denies its power over her. She stands bloodied and victorious; her tears are tears of joy, I think, for staying in the game, not tears of pain. She never stopped creating even when the most she could do was paint her feet reflected in a mirror hung over her bed. Frida Kahlo should be the patron saint of hopeless causes, of artistic blocks, and of barriers. She certainly is my patron saint.

There is more to tell about my trip to Minneapolis, how much fun Ann and I had, the kind of fun only available to friends of long duration who can say one word and set of gales of laughter or rueful head shakes. After 39 years, we have those moments in abundance. And the pleasure of seeing her father and sister, whom I have known almost as long. The enjoyment of being able to get myself around with ease in a city I don’t reside in because I have been here so often over the years, and of eating Ann’s excellent cooking.

I am too tired to do that now. Perhaps I will tell you more in another post, perhaps not. So many wonderful events transpire in life that I will be on to the next any minute and I’ll want to tell you about that instead.


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Early Morning Blues

Sleeping in - what a wonderful experience. I had planned to sleep in today until 8:30 AM, but it did not happen. Around 7:00 AM, I experienced severe pain in my left chest under and around the breast area. For the inexperienced, this would be as alarming as it is painful. "OMG, am I having a heart attack?" But I know better. What I am experiencing is a symptom of my lupus, which has been actively flaring for a month or so.

Lupus is an autoimmune disease in which the body mistakenly attacks its own tissues. The involved areas are various connective tissues throughout the body, such as joints and muscles. Another form of connective tissue is the type that form sacs around the heart and the lungs and that separate the diaphragm from the intestines, etc. There is also connective tissue between the ribs.

It is probably the sac around the lungs which is causing my pain this morning because breathing makes the pain more intense. Breathing. Something that people do how many times a minute every day until they die? Something no one can do without. It is a terrible thing to have pain that is intensified by breathing.

In my case, position of the body also contributes. When the pain woke me up this morning, I found myself in a fetal position cradling my left breast in my right hand even though the breast itself was not a source of the pain. I couldn't move, mostly out of fear. I have had this pain rip through my chest so severely that it made me cry and that happened to me just the other day while I sat in my recliner. That day I could not get up until the pain subsided and this morning would likely have been the same if Michael hadn't still been at home.

He came in to say good-bye before leaving for work and I had the opportunity to stop him from leaving. With Michael's help and 15 minutes of very slow, cautious movement, I managed to get out of bed and put my robe on. I do not dare sit in my recliner because I may not be able to get up from it. Perhaps I could try the sofa, which would be softer than this chair at my desk, but not so much so that I would be stuck in it.

This pain is like pleurisy. Perhaps I should say this pain IS pleurisy caused by lupus. I experienced it early in my disease which makes it a primary symptom for me. I recall a day in June of 1989 when I was in a meeting with a colleague. The telephone rang with a call for me. As I walked to the phone, I had a pain in my chest - in the very same place my pain is today - that literally doubled me over and almost brought me to my knees. Thankfully, it subsided as quickly and as mysteriously as it occurred.

Last week's pain subsided quickly, too, but today it won't let go. I have been dealing with it now for an hour and 20 minutes. The pain is like a fist gripping my rib cage. Every time I breath in, the fist squeezes. If I move too fast or the wrong way, the fist squeezes. I put two Salon Pas patches on my chest, but they don't seem to be working.

Aside: Salon Pas patches are a wonderful boon to anyone who suffers from joint or muscle pain. The patches contain aspirin (I'm pretty sure it is aspirin but, in my present condition, I am not going to go look) and release the medicine directly onto and into the affected area. Nights when my joint pain keeps me from sleeping, I get up and put a Salon Pas patch on the spot that hurts. Shortly, I am starting to feel less pain and then I can sleep. I first heard about this product on Paul Harvey's radio show. You can find it at the drugstore along side the other muscle and joint pain products. It isn't expensive and it works wonders on joint pain and muscle pain - apparently not on pleurisy, though.

I am waiting until 9:00 AM when I can call my rheumatologist. The staff is there already, but they won't take calls before 9 and the answering service makes me feel so unworthy if I want to reach the doctor outside of office hours. "Is this an emergency?" Well, most of the time it isn't an life or death emergency, but it is still awfully urgent for me. Oh, well. I can wait today, but I really hope he can help me because I have travel plans in two days.

I am flying to Minneapolis for a fabulous fun-filled weekend visiting my friend Ann, seeing my sister, viewing two fantastic art exhibits - Frida Kahlo and Georgia O'Keeffe - and attending a live show of Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion. I do not want to be compromised by this pain. For one thing, how would I get my belongings around the airport and through screening hunched over like I am right now? Or drive my car to the airport for that matter? So, hopefully, I will get a hold of the doc and get some relief from the pleurisy in the next day or so.

This hasn't been my most uplifting post, but I find it difficult to concentrate on anything but the pain, so that's what I can write about. Later I will bring the blog up to date on my recent artistic efforts.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

My World: A Portfolio

Along with my husband, I belong to the Houston Photographic Society. Originally, I began attending because I wanted to see the judging on competition nights when Michael entered work. I became an actual member because I wanted to accompany Michael on an excursion with the club. But the oddest thing happened. The more I went to meetings and activities, the more interested I became in the topic of photography.

The competitions especially intrigued me. People entered photographs in five categories: Color A (for advanced), Black and White A, Color B (for beginner), Black and White B, and Special Category. The special categories referred to thematic assignments that changed each month. A judge from outside the club looked at each photograph and commented on it, highlighting its strong points and its weaknesses. After reviewing each group of photographs, the judge would award ribbons to the best of them.

Aside: All new club members start out in the beginner group and only move up to advanced if they win five or more first, second, or third place ribbons.

The judging commentaries fascinated me. I began to understand the qualities of good photography and found myself better able to appreciate photographs in general. I also began to think that I might be able to take good photographs myself. At the same time, WIVLA (Women in the Visual and Literary Arts) announced its annual print show at the Museum of Printing History. Print show entries could be photographs, lithographs, hand-printed or any other technique that involved the print process in some way.

I decided to enter the WIVLA print show and produced a tableau photograph titled "Frida Paints Herself" that used several of the items I have on my Frida ofrenda or altar. Later, I entered the photograph into a monthly competition at HPS. The judges come from all photographic genres and the judge that night turned out to be an elderly retired architectural photographer. He admitted that he did not understand my photo at all and then said off-handedly that perhaps it was so creative and unique that it might be the wave of the future.

I did not win anything, but also did not mind. I felt proud of myself for entering the photograph and I got a lot of positive feedback from other club members. (Not to mention the positive comments from the WIVLA print show.)

My next foray into an HPS competition occurred when we had "fruit and vegetables" as the special category. I had this great idea for a picture and I tried to get Michael interested in it. He responded by challenging me. "If your idea is so great, why don't you do it yourself. I have my own ideas."

So I did. I produced a photograph titled "Lemon Lime, Too" and entered it into the monthly competition. This time I did win - first place! How exciting. It just thrilled me. That photograph later became my entry into the next year's print show at the Museum of Printing History. This show featured altered prints, so I altered my photograph. I had it made into a jigsaw puzzle and used that in the print. Basically, I "poured" the puzzle pieces into a coloring book version of my original photograph as if I were pouring into a wine glass. To get the right effect, I studied pictures of liquids pouring into vessels. The print turned out very well and again I received positive comments from the print show.

Another artwork I created for a WIVLA show, a photographic illustration titled Cake and Roses, won a first place ribbon at an HPS competition this year. It especially pleased me because I baked the cake, grew the roses, and placed everything on my Grandmother Gustafson's cake plate.

In all, I have won five ribbons since I started showing my work: two first place, one second place, and two honorable mentions. If I ever figure out how to work with Photoshop Web Gallery, I will post them here.

You may be wondering what all this has to do with my title. "My World" is the title of the portfolio I entered into the Portfolio Challenge at HPS this month. It included 15 photographs I took which all explored the theme of my world. I'd like to show you those, too, but I do not know how to yet.


Friday, September 28, 2007


My ruminations over the last several weeks never quite got to my blog, so today I'm going to cover several different items.


On August 15, 2007, Victoria and I flew out of Intercontinental Airport in Houston en route to Helena, Montana. We have taken this trip many times in the past. It takes all day - Houston to Minneapolis, Minneapolis to Helena, lose an hour - but that's the trip to Helena. This particular day, our routine travel turned out to be not so routine.

Victoria doesn't drive and therefore doesn't have photo ID. We use her passport as her travel document. When I grabbed her passport, I grabbed my own and at the airport, I presented both of them to the TSA gatekeeper. I wish I had just used my driving license.

The TSA guy looked at my passport and looked at it. I could tell from the calculating look on his face that something bad was about to happen. He waved me to one side and said that he would have to get a supervisor. I waited as the rest of the line went through the checkpoint with no problem, including Victoria.

After a while, the supervisor appeared and took my passport. It creeped me out to have someone repeatedly look from my passport to me and back to my passport as if the picture wasn't actually me. Finally, he told me to go follow him and we proceeded to the "special treatment" section of the security checkpoint. There, I was patted down by an airport police officer. Not wanded, mind you, but actually frisked. My luggage and carry-ons, including my purse, were taken apart and searched item by item.

Meanwhile, the supervisor with my passport picked up the telephone, continuing to talk on it until well after my belongings and my person had been searched. Finally, another supervisor appeared. In the guise of casual conversation, he interrogated me. Where was I going? Why was I going there? Who did I know there? Why had I been in Houston? How long had I lived in Houston? Who was Alexandra (the emergency contact name in my passport)?

The questioning made my very angry. I wanted to tell him that, as an American citizen I did not have to answer his questions, but I felt afraid of the consequences. Afraid that I would be detained, that Victoria would be left alone in the airport - freaked out - while I got taken into to custody. I realized that this is where the Patriot Act kicks in - they could have hauled me away as a terrorist suspect and I would have had no recourse, not even the right to a phone call or a lawyer. My fear of the situation heightened my anger about what the TSA personnel were doing.

By this time, I had gotten my drivers license out and showed it to several of the TSA people. And I asked several times what the problem was. It turns out that my passport has some printing glitches that caused a red flag to go up. The photograph had not been aligned properly within its box and the printing of my personal information had not lined up properly with the pre-printed items on the page. Apparently, they suspected me of carrying a forged passport.

The ironic thing is that I didn't even need the stupid passport to travel. Why would I bother with a fake passport for travel in America? And, of course, the information on the passport matched the information on my drivers license perfectly. For that matter, the photograph matched the photograph on my license as well as looking just like I looked at the airport that day.

How hard is it to figure out that I am who I say I am? A fifty-seven year old American woman, plain vanilla variety, traveling for pleasure. But yet another supervisor appeared to check me out.

It took 30 minutes and the indignities of frisking my person, searching my property, and interrogating me, plus three different TSA supervisors, to get me released from security and on my way to board my plane. I felt frustrated, angry, and helpless.

Anyone out there who thinks that the Patriot Act is protecting us is crazy. All it has done is erode our civil liberties and make potential victims of governmental oppression out of all of us.

I sent off for a replacement passport and received it in yesterday's mail. I'm thinking that I am going to keep it safely tucked away at home unless I have to travel to a foreign country, though. It is too dangerous to travel with it in the USA!!!


I completed my first quilt on Tuesday. Named the "I Love You" quilt because it says I Love You all over it, I dedicated it to my thirty year marriage to Michael.

I started it a long time ago (February 2006 at the Vermont Stdio Center). Due to my inexperience, I had little success getting the quilt stitched and when I returned home, I basically set it aside. I got it out again briefly in May 2006 when we visited my parents for a long weekend. Finally, this summer, I took the quilt with me to Montana for my vacation. In ten days, with coaching from Mother, I completed 2/3rds of the quilt. After I returned to Cypress, I kept working on it and finished it on September 24.

The quilt has a Valentine's Day theme because I started it in February and also because
that's fabric I had on hand. It is very bright and cheery. Some of the quilt blocks say, "I love you," so I decided to name the quilt "I Love You" and dedicate it to my thirty years of marriage to Michael. It now hangs on the quilt rack at the foot of our bed, ready to provide comfort for an afternoon nap.

Once I understood how to do the quilting rocker stitch, I enjoyed quilting very much and I intend to make another one soon.


Last winter, I entered a contest sponsored by Dreyer's Slow Churned Ice Cream to win a block party for up to 100 people. Dreyer's selected winners based on a 300 word or less essay "Why my neighborhood deserves a Dreyer's Slow Churned Ice Cream block party." I had entered the same contest the previous year, but did not win. This year, I did!!

Dreyer's choose my essay (and 1499 others) to receive a "Party in a Box" kit and 12 cartons of their delicious slow churned ice cream. If you haven't ever tried it, I urge you to run out now and buy a carton for yourself. Hard to believe it is reduced fat and calories because the ice cream tastes fatteningly delicious and seems to come in more flavors than Baskin-Robbins.

The party in a box turned out to be really slick: 100 paper bowls, 100 plastic spoons, more than 100 napkins, a sign for our yard, 26 door hangers to invite the neighbors with (and how did they know there were 26 houses on my street?), a table cloth, A DISPOSABLE CAMERA TO TAKE PICTURES WITH, 12 ice cream scoops, and coupons for more ice cream for the party plus coupons for our guests and two coupons for free Dreyer's frozen dog treats. Three of our neighborhood dogs got to enjoy those yummies.

We held the party on September 15 in the evening. I had to pick three possible dates when I submitted my entry and I pushed my choices as late into September as I could to avoid hot, hot summer weather. The plan worked pretty well - we had a mild evening with a light breeze. The terrace looked spectacular and everyone complimented us on how well it turned out, but not until we got our share of good natured ribbing about the long, involved process of building it. If only the mosquitoes had died before the party! Michael sprayed the area in the afternoon, but I guess it didn't do the job because I still got bitten all night.

Dreyer's gave us two coupons for free ice cream in case the party needed more. When I picked ed it up, my grocery store had a buy one get one free sale in progress, so I actually got four additional cartons. We finished off six completely at the party and started on several more, but Michael and I still have a lot of Dreyer's Slow Churned Ice Cream around here! So if you're in the neighborhood, stop by and have a bowl with me!

I have more to write about, but I am going to save it for later. I am in the middle of a big project (yes, I know, I am ALWAYS in the middle of something) and I have to get to work again.


Thursday, August 30, 2007

My Quandary: Do I Contact the Lost Son?

I stayed awake for a long time last night after I got in bed. Michael fell asleep within minutes, while I ruminated and worried for what seemed like hours. Of course, he doesn't know that anything is bothering me, so I can't really blame him for dozing off so peacefully, can I? Since I am faced with a situation that is making me crazy, I decided to write about it. Perhaps I shouldn't, but I can't keep ignoring the situation forever.

I think I have found my husband's lost son and I am in a quandary about what, if anything, to do about it.

When I met my husband in St. Louis 33 years ago, he told me about his son, Geoffrey, who he had not seen since the previous year. With a daughter not quite two, I could understand how painfully he felt the separation from his four-year-old son. As I got to know Michael, the whole story came out.

His wife divorced him out of the blue when Geoffrey was a year old and a few months later disappeared with him, leaving Michael with no information at all about their whereabouts. Her parents refused to tell him anything. Eventually, he found out she had moved to Moscow, Idaho, but she would not tell him where she lived or how to contact her.

When he had almost given up on seeing Geoffrey again, the ex (Betty) contacted him and asked if he would keep Geoffrey for the summer while she traveled with a friend. Of course, Michael jumped at the opportunity and Betty duly delivered the three-year-old to him in St. Louis. The photographs Michael took of Geoffrey and of himself with Geoffrey tell the story of a happy and joyful summer. When Betty returned, she promised that from then on she would let Michael stay in touch with Geoffrey even though they lived so far away.

Sadly, she lied. Michael couldn't even get a phone call through to his son, sometimes hearing Geoffrey say, "No I'm not," when his mother told Michael that he couldn't come to the phone because he was sleeping. Eventually, the phone number stopped working and future numbers were unlisted. Michael had never had her address. He found himself up against a brick wall again.

We met about that time. I remember his efforts to get contact information for Betty and Geoffrey. Again, the ex in-laws claimed to have no idea where Betty lived or how to reach her. By this time, I worked for the phone company and I used my resources to check their phone calls. Betty's number jumped off the page. They were calling her regularly. That evening, I dialed the number and asked for Betty. When she came to the phone, I handed it to Michael. He said something as innocuous as "This is Michael. I'd like to speak to my son." Betty hung up on him, took the phone off the hook for the rest of the evening, and had the number disconnected the next day.

How many years does it take to give up? We talked to a lawyer about enforcing his visitation rights, but those were the bad old days before uniform child custody laws. Every state had to be addressed individually and Michael's Missouri rights had no standing in Idaho. The lawyer explained that we could hire an Idaho lawyer and spend about $50,000 (this is late-70s, early-80's money we are talking about) to gain visitation rights, and, by moving across state lines to Washington, she would force us to start all over. Multiply $50,000 by 50 states and you can see that the odds were stacked against us. His last ditch effort involved child support, which he paid through the court system. He asked them to locate Geoffrey for him, but the officials claimed that they couldn't because they paid the money to an Idaho agency, not directly to Betty.

"How do I know my son is even alive?" Michael asked. Shoulders were shrugged. Michael decided to stop paying child support until someone proved Geoffrey's existence by providing contact information. It never happened. Instead he got blackmailed by Betty and the Idaho Legal Aid Society, who came after him for failure to pay. They said they would take legal action against him unless he relinquished his parental rights to Geoffrey.

I have never seen my husband so crushed. We went back to the lawyer, who told us again that all the legal cards were stacked against Michael. Since Betty seemed determined to keep Michael from ever seeing Geoffrey - for reasons we have never known and can't even guess - the lawyer recommended giving up and signing the relinquishment.

Michael did it. Partly, he wanted to protect our family, which now consisted of Alex - who Michael had adopted - and our young son Nick, from financial damage; partly he just couldn't keep fighting the inevitable. Michael never knew why Betty declared war on his relationship with his son - except for that summer she traveled with a girlfriend and needed a
convenient , long-term babysitter - but she had beaten him, and he knew that.

Of course, that isn't the end of the story. Several years later, we met a fellow who had just moved to St. Louis from Moscow, Idaho and guess what? He knew Betty and Geoffrey! My god, Michael felt elated. Finally, he had a chance to find Geoffrey at an age where he could talk to him without as much interference from Betty. When he asked for contact information, though, the guy refused, saying he would have to ask Betty first. Guess what Betty said to that?

This blow affected not only Michael but our whole family. Our other children knew about Geoffrey: he was their missing brother. We hoped someday he would be able to be part of our family. We had always had photographs of him around. Our son, especially, yearned to have a big brother. (I shouldn't use past tense. Nick and Alex still harbor strong hopes of finding their brother, and even Victoria, who is only 16, knows who he is and that her dad gets sad if anyone talks about him.)

Michael quietly hoped that when Geoffrey turned 18 or 21, when he grew up, he would look for his father and seek out Michael's side of the story. That never happened either. Who knows what Betty told him about his dad? Nothing very flattering, I'm sure, although I have been married for 32 years to this same man and he has been the best father and husband anyone could want.

Both Michael and I, although we rarely discuss it, regularly Google search for Geoffrey. We have never been successful. I redoubled my efforts last Spring, though, because I had a trip planned to the Northwest. I located Betty pretty easily, in the Seattle area, although that did not do me much good since I had no interest at all in contacting her (except in my fantasies, which are better left unreported). I did get some leads on Geoffrey and went so far as to pay quite a bit of money for the privilege of searching a people-locator site. That pointed me strongly towards Portland.

One day, on a hunch, I searched for him in Oregon using initials. For some unknown reason, I looked in images. Suddenly, I found myself staring into the face of my husband about 30 years younger than he is now. The young man looked so much like Michael used to that it took my breath away and made me start crying.

So what is the problem and why am I writing this? I am afraid to do anything about my discovery. I do not want to hurt Michael again by raising his hopes. What if I'm wrong and it isn't Geoffrey? Worse yet, what if I'm right, but Geoffrey wants nothing to do with his father?

In my fantasies, like last night, I call the young man at work (because I have that information) and I verify his identity, then tell him I am married to his father, who is a fine man who has always loved him and dreamed of knowing him. Geoffrey is stunned at first, then excited. He wants to know Michael, too. You see the happy ending rolling in here, don't you? But this is real life, not a fairy tale, and happy endings are not guaranteed.

It is terrible to be so afraid to act. It is not like me. If it were my life, I would have driven to Portland when I visited Washington state in April. But it isn't my life, it is the life of a man I love so much I can't bear to hurt him by exposing him to the ultimate rejection.

Any helpful thoughts from the blog ether about my quandary would be welcome. Am I doing the right thing staying silent? Should I tell my husband? Should I contact Geoffrey? (Or at least find out if it really IS Geoffrey?) And how in hell do I get my brain to stop dragging this up night after night so I can get some sleep?

Ain't life grand?


Sunday, August 12, 2007

Rebirth of a BLog

I last blogged in November of 2006. Nine months ago. This blog essay is my rebirth into blogging. Why did I take time off? The obvious answer is to gestate, but I must admit that I did not stop writing with that intention. Much like the woman who doesn't intend to get pregnant, but does, nature has taken it's course. I needed some time for other things, for myself. I used the time productively. I morphed from intellectualizing to hands-on and spent a great deal of time on projects around my house.

I replaced the towering bookcases in the living room with shorter, less obtrusive ones. I found a door to fit the disturbingly irregular doorway into my studio. (That project is still not finished, but that's another blog.) Michael and I designed and built a 230 square foot terrace in the front yard and landscaped the grounds freshly, a project that required so much physical labor we overwhelmed ourselves. The continual rain of this spring and early summer in Houston did not help us either!

I started refinishing the kitchen table, but got sidetracked. I will be back at that in September. There are many other, smaller accomplishments from the past nine months that I won't bore you with. The point is that I needed to immerse myself in some non-intellectual, non-sentient labor and reground myself. I did, and here I am, ready to write again.

On Wednesday I am going to leave town for ten days, so don't expect much from me until after August 25th, when I return. My parents home in Montana is not necessarily blog friendly - too many hassles getting computer access and privacy to write. If I luck into computer time at the local library, I will check in. Otherwise, see you in a few ...

If you are new to my blog, you could read some of the archives. I have some excellent writing there!