Blog this?

roseMy mother is dead. This is not an announcement. I did all that on Facebook, which seemed appropriate at the time. I couldn’t possibly keep all the people who needed to know informed without using social media. There’s no instruction manual for how to navigate a potentially fatal illness in the 21st century, but I did my best. My posts went from cheerful to stoic to bleak, and ultimately became eulogy.

This is not about that. This is about me trying to make sense of it.

Mostly I loved my mother. Sometimes I hated my mother. My mother is dead. She is presently in the hospital mortuary. On Saturday I will fly back to Manchester, and on Tuesday I will go and see her in the Chapel of Rest. She will be wearing the clothes my father and I picked out for her–an outfit she liked to wear for fancy occasions–and she will have a teddy bear we chose to be with her (“Wounded William”–my mum loved teddy bears) and she will be dead.

I am older, but I’m okay. I was there for it all, the whole horrible yet at times joyful rollercoaster of her final four weeks on this planet. I was there when she patted me on the thigh and said, “This girl is proof that horrible teenagers can become good people.” I was there just after they put the oxygen tube in, and I was there when they took it out.

I loved my mother. I’m ashamed that at times I hated my mother. I have daughters too. But this is how life works. She wouldn’t want me to pretend that we had a relationship that was all rainbows and kittens. I read her Winnie-the-Pooh, and then, once the toxic confusion was under control, I read her U.A. Fanthorpe’s poetry. I wouldn’t give those memories up for anything, even though I wept a little while I read.

I am 46. She was 73. I’m trying to get used to talking about her in the past tense. It’s funny that, even though technically I made the decision to cease life support (agreed with my father and brother, but I was the the one in the room) I still have trouble thinking about her not being a present tense phenomenon. My mum is…no my mum was an exceptional human being.

I don’t know how to conclude this ramble. I teach Composition and so I should know, but I don’t. Oddly, I’m considering getting a tattoo, which is something I’ve always been 100% against, but I need to do something symbolic, so I’m thinking of getting a rose, for Rosie. I want the pain, and I want the symbol. My mother is dead. It hurts.


Five Things That Prove Aetna Really Doesn’t Care

On Saturday night I was tidying the kitchen and happened to open a non-urgent looking letter from my insurance company, Aetna, that had been lying on my island table for a couple of weeks. The letter contained a notice of termination of the small business insurance health plan that my family has through the company I help my husband to run, Global Bridge LLC. Our coverage ends on March 1st. Aetna expressed their regret and blamed the Affordable Care Act for forcing their hand. While there is some truth in this, it is equally obvious that Aetna really doesn’t care about the people who buy its health insurance. Here’s why:

1. They Could Have Told Us Sooner

The letter was dated December 11th, so that’s when the decision was made. However, the envelope was postmarked January 2nd. By law, insurance companies are supposed to give 60 days notice of termination. We could quibble, and say that even if I had opened the letter when I got it, on say January 4th, that’s only 57 days. Be that as it may, why wouldn’t they tell us as soon as they knew? In order to defer postage costs until 2015, because they don’t care.

2. They Could Have Made It Clearer What They Were Telling Us

The letter came in an envelope marked “Important Renewal Documents Enclosed.” I know the renewal is March 1st, which is why I didn’t open it on receipt. If the letter had come in an envelope marked “Notice of Termination,” do you think I would have opened it sooner? You bet! Why wouldn’t they print up such envelopes for this important bulk mailing? Because it costs money, and they don’t care.

3. They Could Have Explained Why In More Detail

The letter says “because you are a sole proprietor husband and wife group and do not meet the federal definition of a group.” Say what? It was left to me to do the research: small businesses run by husband and wife teams no longer qualify for business group rate insurance plans under the ACA. (This is the part that is Obama’s fault. Husband & wife run businesses are not part of the 1%, but ordinary people trying to make a go of something in a difficult economy. The ACA makes health insurance less affordable for people like us.) Why wouldn’t Aetna explain this more fully? Because it would make the letter longer, and they don’t care.

4. They Could Have Given Us Options in the Letter

The letter says “we welcome you to explore our Individual product options at” and “you have the option to buy coverage through your state’s Health Insurance Exchange.” Wouldn’t it have been great if, instead, it had said “We recommend you replace your Small Group Coverage with our plan XXX, which will cost you $Y per month and have a $Z deductible. Please see attached document for full details.” Why wouldn’t they do this? Because they would have to do some work, and they don’t care.

5. They Could Have Been Nice on the Phone

When we called to see if we could extend our coverage by one month in order to give us more time to explore our options, they basically said that they had fulfilled their legal obligations and we were on our own. Becky is going on her Senior Class Trip the first week of March and I have already provided the organizers with the insurance details, which are clearly wrong. I’m now under pressure to wade through the Health Insurance Exchange and find a plan that won’t cost the earth and allows us to keep our current providers by Feb 28. Why wouldn’t they extend us at least this courtesy? Because they really don’t care.

What Was I Doing in Edinburgh, Exactly?

I have never liked flying. I didn’t like it before 9-11, and afterwards I hated it. This was not helped by the fact that my family was IN the UK on vacation when 9-11 happened, and we had to fly back to NJ with a 2 year old and a 4 year old during those first few horrible days immediately after they lifted the flight ban. In fact I credit myself with the ‘transparent carry on’ rule. Their first desperate security measure was to say “No carry ons,” to which I responded helplessly that I was taking a 7 hour flight with a toddler and needed, as a bare minimum, 3 diapers, baby wipes, a bottle of milk, a bottle of juice, appropriate snacks and preferably toys. After hasty consultation they gave me a clear plastic bag to put my necessities in and the ‘transparent carry on’ rule was born, or so I like to think.

Flying has continued to go downhill, IMHO, since then. Seats are more cramped, freebies have diminished, tickets are more expensive, and the peremptoriness of the airlines rampages unchecked. But until this week I hadn’t personally experienced that frustrating and depressing issue known as the cancelled flight.

Airplane 1 – Cancelled!

On Tuesday I arrived at Philadelphia Airport in good time, checked in, ate crab cakes with wine at Chickie ‘n Pete’s, and proceeded to the gate as instructed 30 minutes before take-off. The half-full US Airways flight was canceled “due to a maintenance issue” 5 minutes before boarding was supposed to commence, and it was suggested to us all that we take the (presumably also half-full) flight at the same time the following night–hotel vouchers would be issued.

One of the reasons I booked the flight I was on was to spend a day in the company of my brother, who lives in Australia, and whom I had therefore not seen for (we worked out later) 11 years. Had I taken the flight 24 hours later, I would have been able to spend about 3 hours with him, which was unacceptable. I proceeded to get myself booked on the Philly-Edinburgh US Airways flight instead, followed by a Flybe puddle jumper to Manchester.

Airplane 2 – Plane Change!

As I was rushing to the gate at the other end of the terminal a delay was announced on that flight. Foolishly, I thought “Great!” and stopped rushing. I duly arrived, checked in at the gate, boarded, and we taxied out onto the runway.

Where we sat.

And sat.

And sat, until an hour later  when they announced there was a “maintenance issue”, and we were returning to the gate.

Airplane 3 -Frigid!

Disembarked, we sat some more, until they eventually announced a plane change. I don’t think they dared cancel this full flight, especially since half the passengers had already had a plane cancelled on them. But it took time for the plane to arrive, and it didn’t take off until 1 a.m. Wednesday.

It was an unpleasant flight, despite my delightful seat mates–a couple of spry early sixties classics professors on their way to a conference in Durham. But the airplane air conditioning was fierce, and I shivered under the thin blanket despite my hoodie and jeans. I was also totally stressed that the four hour delay on THIS flight had now reduced my transfer time in Edinburgh down to 90 minutes, and I had to get through Immigration.

Airplane 4 – Turbulence!

I queue-jumped at Immigration, pleading short transfer time. (Go figure–the officials weren’t expecting a FULL flight and had only 1 person processing non EU passports.) I established that my bag was not on the flight and I would need to file a claim at Manchester. At last, at 2.55 p.m. I boarded the tiny plane and started to relax. I even ordered a glass of wine (4 GBP!)

The plane hit the worst bump of turbulence I have ever encountered. The wine shot directly upwards, hit the roof above my head, and proceeded to rain down on myself and my (also delightful) seat mate, a soft-spoken businessman from ‘Old’ Jersey, with a much-needed sense of humor.

You have to laugh, we agreed, or else you weep profoundly.

Anyway, I did reach Little Haywood and spent a wonderful evening with Stephen, his wife and stepdaughter. But here’s my final take:

ANGELS: The classic professors, the Jersey businessman, the staff of the Fringe bar in Edinburgh airport who let me recharge my iPhone for 30 minutes, the US Airways booking clerk who found me the flight to Edinburgh, my taxi driver Tony who let me weep in relief when I finally got into his cab at Manchester, my husband for the text support, my family, Mike Lloyd, and finally the guy who delivered my suitcase last night at 9.05 p.m.

DEMONS: US Airways, you suck! You know you do! You most likely cancelled that flight for cost reasons, with no consideration for the bad remake of Planes, Trains & Automobiles that you were about to put me through. I hate you!


Sisters & Courtesans – the One with the Dog


Today the last two of the Sisters & Courtesans sonnets that were accepted for publication before the manuscript found its home with White Violet Press appear in Mezzo Cammin.

“My Life as Ghengis Khan’s Morganatic Wife” is a fine sonnet, but this blog entry is about “My Life as an Anglo-Saxon Novitiate,” which has a special place in my affections, especially given the death of my beloved Golden Retriever, Tasha, last week.

Some readers may know that the first draft of Sisters & Courtesans was prepared during a frenzied two week residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, but fewer will be aware that my time there was almost curtailed because Tasha fell sick. My poor husband and daughters were at their wits’ end trying to deal with their own schedules and the needs and messes of our venerable ‘Queen of Parry Drive.’ Anguished phone calls went back and forth between New Jersey and Virginia, and I offered several times to return.

My husband, who knows how precious my writing time is, stoically said he would continue to deal with it. He took Tasha to the vet and after a battery of tests they diagnosed an ordinary stomach virus, gave her some meds, and she came home back to normal. This was one of several ‘nine’ lives she used up during her almost seventeen year lifespan!

Anyway, dog poems are hard. But while my family was going through this, and I was apart from them, I wanted to write a poem that commemorated Tasha’s specialness. After some thought (and a little research on the practicality of a nun owning a dog) I wrote “My Life as an Anglo-Saxon Novitiate.” Hilda, the dog in the poem “has bright eyes/ that take in everything. I swear she’s deeper/ than most people I meet,” and that’s exactly how Tasha was.

Read the Sisters & Courtesans Self-Interview.

Where Did Q1 Go?

I just got finished updating my reading/event schedule for 2014 (which you can find here) and it leads me to shake my head in despair at the rapid passage of time. It seems like only yesterday I was in CA celebrating Quincy’s wedding, and here I am in late March with a very busy National Poetry Month rapidly approaching.

Of course, much has been going on in these first 3 months of 2014. I attended AWP in Seattle, and then flew off to FL hot on the heels of that trip to watch Becky and the Rancocas Valley Dance Team kick their way to the National Small Team Varsity Kick Championship. I also had my manuscript, Sisters & Courtesans, accepted for publication by White Violet Press.

MBCoverAs usual I have been teaching at Richard Stockton (Argument & Persuasion in the Arts & Humanities, Hammonton campus), WWAC and Care1 Moorestown. There SHOULD be a new issue of the Raintown Review coming out very shortly, along with Marybeth Rua-Larsen’s excellent chapbook, Nothing In-Between, from Barefoot Muse Press.

The only reason I think I have time to draw breath right now is that we are between Dance seasons (for all of the next 6 weeks) and Becky’s Junior Prom was over Friday.

Anyway, I hope I’ll be catching up with some of the people who read my blog at one of the many poetry events I’m attending in April! See you around!

And Merry Christmas Everyone!

We leave for the UK in a little over an hour. Everything’s wrapped and packed, and I am sitting here with the traditional glass of wine, waiting for the car that will take us to the airport.

Speaking of tradition, we started a new one this year–the pre-Xmas family Christmas, which we celebrated yesterday. We exchanged all our tree gifts, some of which, like Chelsea Chinchilla’s new mansion, were too big to transport. Others, like Becky’s new incredibly light MacBook air, and my Coach handbag, will be coming with us en voyage.

(I’ve never had a handbag people were as likely to steal for the bag as for the contents before! I’ll let you know how I make out!)

Then I cooked a full Christmas dinner for 8, because we had invited our friends and neighbors over for some early Christmas cheer. Of course, I’m not used to cooking for 8 so I set fire to the oven and nearly burned the house down. I should probably stick to words–I’m good with any number of them!

I didn’t send Christmas cards or do a Round Robin letter this year–I think Facebook and other forms of social media are gradually making them obsolete. We definitely received way fewer ourselves too. Anyway, I figured this blog entry could be a sort of general Christmas card to anyone who’s interested enough to read it!

So, the itinerary is Manchester–Barnsley–Whitchurch-on-Thames–Little Haywood–Barnsley–Manchester–Phila.–LA (for Quincy’s wedding)–Home. If you’re in any of those places I will be hoping to catch up with you in person. If you’re elsewhere then have a wonderful Holiday/Merry Christmas and I hope 2014 brings you everything you could possibly wish for!

My Studio at VCCA

My Studio

It’s my eighth night here and I decided to sleep in my studio at VCCA. Not for any burning artistic reason, you understand. I’m not someone who writes poetry into the wee small hours; in fact mornings are my most productive time. But my studio is a lovely space, while my bedroom is just a room with a bed in it, and no Wifi. Plus, the Fellows residence runs cold, whereas in my studio I’m in charge of the A/C.

Hey! I actually don’t need a reason! The wonderful thing about VCCA is that this is my time, and my space(s) and I can do with them what I will.

And I’ve been productive. Oh yes! I’m writing a sonnet sequence of persona poems titled “Sisters and Courtesans,” which (not surprisingly) allows me to take on the personae of representative (unnamed) female figures in history. The point of the title is that most of the poems we have that survive by women pre-Anne Bradstreet were either written by nuns or women of easy virtue. Everyone else was busy having kids and raising chickens.

I’ve written 24 of these sonnets in a week. (People, that’s 3 sonnets a day. OMG I love this place so much!) Titles range from “My Life as a Vestal Virgin” to “My Life as a Crack Whore.” My favorite is probably “My Life as an Aztec Sacrifice,” which I will be performing tomorrow night with musical accompaniment by E. Shawn Qaissaunee when we do our joint Fellows Presentation, although “My Life as a Canadian Dominatrix,” which I wrote today, probably runs a close second.

I’ve also taken great strides forward in the production of my Alzheimer’s anthology, Forgetting Home, read the material for my upcoming Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline essay on Jahan Khatun, and swum in the lake. A lot. I like the lake.

I guess the point is that I’m happy, and grateful. Thanks to VCCA (of course) but also to my long-suffering husband and kids for sparing me for two weeks. It’s magical and there’s nothing like it. I feel restored. I feel like a poet.

Homeward Bound…But First…

On Friday I’m flying back to England to spend 10 days visiting friends and family by myself. This is a landmark occasion, mainly because I don’t think I’ve visited my parents without a boyfriend/husband/children since I was in my (very) early 20s and still at university. But this year, the kids are involved in their High School pre-seasons (Dance for Becky, Field Hockey for Lorna) and were anyway reluctant to exchange the NJ weather for that of the UK (although seriously guys, it hasn’t been that great here this year!) Keba, also busy with Global Bridge, agreed to be point parent and so off I go.

Of course, nothing is that simple. Before I can plonk myself down at a bar in Philadelphia airport prior to my overnight flight in good conscience, I need to:

  • Complete all essential admin. This includes paying all bills that will fall due while I’m away, billing all clients likewise, and submitting Becky and Lorna’s RVRHS athletics physicals.
  • Make sure the menagerie can be left. This includes taking Sofia for her third kitten check (tomorrow), cleaning out the aquarium and visiting Pet Sink…sorry I mean Smart…to stock up on tinned food.
  • Finalize tasks whose deadlines occur while I am away. This includes submitting my application (Oh, the triumph of hope over experience!) for a NJ Poetry Fellowship, finishing my edit of a (very interesting) non-fiction book on concussion in the NFL, and writing a “How To” on the Haikoum for a text book.
  • Prepare for tasks that occur hot on the heels of my return. This includes ordering Becky’s birthday presents (July 28), my monthly stint at Care 1 (The assisted living residence for older adults with memory loss that is the inspiration behind “The Stolen From“), and my reading for the Powows in Newburyport on July 24th. I just worked out I need to order some more copies of TSF for that. It’s actually been quite successful (and I say that guardedly, as poetry books go, of course!)

Er…that might be it. Isn’t that enough? But seriously, I’m almost ready to look forward to my trip at this point, I think?


Milestones R Us

Once again you find me blogging from the front line of suburban motherhood, aka the orthodontist’s, where Lorna is currently in the process of having her braces removed.

Lorna, who graduates Hainesport Middle School 8th grade this year, was keen to have the metalware taken out before the Graduation dance this Friday.

For me, this is a different kind of milestone. Never having experienced orthodontic care in the UK (we don’t tend to do it except for extreme cases, and yeah, I have a crooked though not very obvious bottom tooth) I am now coming to the end of about 6 years of shepherding my American daughters through the minefield of expanders, braces, rubber bands and finally, retainers.

Bye Dr. Ellis! I’ll miss our political…ahem…chats. Thanks for my daughters’ beautiful teeth!