Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sagittarian Time

Here comes December and the new Triangle is out.  I had to share computer time last night and was not able to finish reading the 1st page piece on 307 Knox Records, a great piece on the gender cool music scene.  I've been scheduling for the xmas season and received an email from a customer thanking me in Spanish.  I replied in Spanish and got a thrill thinking about them exchanging emails with people in Chinese!  The last time I cleaned, there was a several page packet in their kitchen with poetry translated from Chinese

The coolest thing about immigrants is that they bring their country to us.  The teacher of my customers' Chinese class I'll bet is Chinese.  Without my friends from Mexico and Central America, I would not be speaking Spanish.  I have Jewish customers who have at least Hebrew script in their house even if they do not speak it.  I have a customer from the Middle East who speaks among many other languages, fluent Arabic.  How rich is life with immigrants. 

I do not wish hardship on anyone, but I am very grateful for the friends who came to my country fleeing some problem in their own, whether as victims or privileged oppressors, refusing to participate any longer in their native political system.

Bueno, te lo explico en español.

Happy Hanukah
Mejor musica.  Disfruta.  Matisyahu: Jerusalem  <-- click here for music video.  ¿Nesecitamos palabras en Español, no?

Andale.  Happy Hanuka!!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Like it Too Much!

A Mexican friend describing in English his enthusiasm for Elvis once said, "I like him too much!"  I love stumbling with friends from other cultures over unfamiliar expressions, it makes me feel like water tripping over pebbles on the way to the sea.  I like Uranian transits too much!  This past weekend I got hit upside the head over and over with the serendipitous beauty of Uranus and Jupiter in Pisces conjunct my native venus.  I'm not going to list all the...yes I am:
In Durham on the second day of an astrology workshop I made a beeline for the Waffle House.  There's beauty #1.  But WAIT; in the parking lot is a recently painted purple pick up truck with the Chevrolet logo in pop tops on the rear window.  That got my attention, and as I circled this piece of work before entering I saw too many geegaws to mention affixed on the headlights, the hood, everywhere from front to back, all recycled materials.  I was lucky to be single and take the only vacant seat at the bar, as a couple of groups sat patiently waiting for a booth.  There on the counter in front of the older guy seated next to me was a cell phone adorned with three discreet blue dimestore gems remarkably similar to the gems on the truck in the parking lot.  Yes, I got to meet the artist!

Beauty #2 was an artist at the workshop who had brought along his portfolio of finely detailed computer generated drawings.  What a provocative and varied collection of work, followed by photos of the wood carvings he now executes!  Wow!

Beauty #3 discussing blogs with a classmate I asked for the address of her inactive website; and this morning was treated to this!  Very cool!

So I am a very satisfied venus in pisces to say the least.  

Blog Update 

I know it is time to make pages on this blog; I hope to make that addition in the next two weeks.  The previous post All Event Times are for Raleigh NC is the first draft of the Our Sky horoscope column that Karen was smart enough to decline for The Triangle.  I am very grateful that she is such a discerning but polite and generous editor. 

I do like having this brief listing of astrological events for the month and I have referred to it several times during November; however, this process of following day to day events is new to me, and I am realizing there is a bit of lag between the astral event and my perceived 'reaction.'  I would like, if time permits, to continue this on a monthly basis since it is a good exercise in following natural time more closely.  Maybe I will have a new listing, on a dedicated astrology page by the 1st of December.

One more addition I am considering is a study of historical persons in the gay rights movement,  or astrological profiles of queer heroes.  My first study subject would be Henry Gerber, who was jailed in 1925 for publishing a newsletter in support of gay rights.  Big plans!  

I almost forgot!  Beauty #4 Kelly Gorritz of the duo GlennKelly blew in from Idaho Sunday night and I was treated to a very exclusive (just the two of us) performance of a few original tunes and one cover.  I was right up close and able to admire intimately her perfectly disciplined fingers working their magic on the neck of her traveling guitar.  Watching her older face as she played, and hearing her calmly fierce voice, renewed our friendship from across many states and left good vibes in my dining room.  



Thursday, November 4, 2010

All Event Times are for Raleigh NC

Nov 3 8:35pm Moon in same degree as Saturn in Libra: an elevating lesson on the responsibilities of friendship.
Nov 5 7:00am  Moon + Venus rise together in Scorpio: invisible in their proximity to the bright Sun, yet touching our hearts with insight of how we are transformed by those closest to us.
Nov 6 12:53am New Moon in Scorpio!  It is good strategy to imagine what we really want regardless of whether it conflicts with our respectful behavior toward others.
Nov 7 1:24am Neptune turns direct; our minds shed tight skin and gain a comprehensive understanding of life by observing the passage of real time.
Nov 7 4:48pm Moon passes Mars in Sagittarius as both planets set on the western horizon: it is a philosophical challenge to see ourselves from a stranger’s point of view.
Nov 9 3:10pm Moon passes exiled Pluto in Capricorn: by reading The Triangle we confront our own exile from society with clarity of purpose. Both planets came over the horizon at 10:30am revealing responsibility so awesome we’ll be amazed at our ability to manage it.
Nov 10 7:58am: in the week since Nov 3 the Moon has advanced 90 degrees while Saturn has moved just 1.  As a community we struggle for consensus and discuss how to move forward in light of the recent elections. 11:10am on Nov 10 a less freaky lunar dawning but a bit of a drag.  I am not talking about a party with your favorite high heels and dresses. Take care of business and you’ll be satisfied later.
Nov 13 11:40am Moon now 90 degrees ahead of the Sun will rise at 2:00 pm just before Neptune which it will pass at 9:15pm.  The more taxes we pay to send astronauts to the Space Station the less time we have to step outside and look at the Moon.  Look in the western sky at 9:00pm and observe her in the last two hours before she sets; that moon is your moon, that moon is my moon.  In our minds we can be astronauts without spending a dime.
Nov 15 8:45am I love to communicate with people at times like this when poetry is most appropriate.
Nov 16 All rise at 2:30pm, ok just the ones who cry at movies; go hide in the bathroom and wash your face before you come out.  See you there!
Nov 18 This is the big day!  Jupiter and Venus return to forward motion and we are full of hope and love.  Remember when everyone was all bothered Oct 4-9?  Mars overtook Venus and then she turned tail and ran the other way.  We were reminded that under the clothing of civilized cooperation is a beast whose function is to ensure our personal survival.  Those willing to disappear in a puff of noble gases are free to ignore this inner animal.  But those of us attached to life are wise to thank this selfish part of us and now negotiate compromise in the spirit of humble mortals.  What does your body need to sustain its inner light?  You’ve weighed your options, now make a reasonable proposition.
Nov 20 Fencing is like any other competition; the one with the most points loses respect if they are not a good sport.  Speak your mind, listen with humility, and all will be honored.
Nov 21 What we’ve had since Oct and will continue through Feb is an unbalanced solar system, there’s no other way to say it, we are continuing to face everyone on the other side of the sun in the mature and responsible zone.  Mars has had his way, yes, but we are on one side looking at everyone else, including the beast, in the grown-up signs of the zodiac; so the full Moon in these months brings the balance of subjective consciousness that we are craving.  12pm give thanks for the simplicity of friends with whom you can work and disagree.
Nov  22 Talk a little, talk a lot.  Moon in Gemini.  Sun enters Sagittarius 5:16am.
Nov 23 “…he has the very special gift of always keeping before our minds the whole. …breaking the whole into an infinite number of parts.  His ability to dissent and analyze, to show the relation between the parts, and finally relate the parts to the whole, is an exceptional one.”  Henry Miller on Dane Rudyar
Nov 24 Moon in Cancer.  Using a pen name, Dane Rudyar wrote the first horoscope column “What’s Your Sun Sign” for an astrology magazine in the 1930’s. He is the guiding light of modern astrologers.
Nov 25 If you’re surrounded by trees or buildings, look for the Moon in the east at 9:30 or 10pm. We can cherish this very intimate member of our solar system without anthropomorphizing it, but like the ancients, I like to imagine the Moon and all the planets with human qualities.
Nov 26 If you don’t have internet go to the library; search “free astrology charts.”  (There’s no need to pay for public information.)  It is your right to know where you began in the symphony of life spinning through our solar system.
Nov 28 4:35am Moon enters Virgo: research and practice telling people what you learn.  The only excuse for ignorance is abject poverty; we are responsible for our own education.
Nov 29 Noam Chomsky said his job is not to speak truth to power, but to inform the powerless.  Though it may seem insignificant, you change people’s lives when you spread reliable information.
Nov 30 Need help?   Mary Pat's email:

Monday, November 1, 2010

Coming Out

As I write this post at 9:16 am the old moon crescent is straight up in the 6th degree of Virgo, the sun is up with its little court of venus and mercury, and mars is about to appear on the eastern horizon to join them.  I hate getting up at 5:30 am to take the dog out to the yard for a pee, so that old crescent is a very welcome sight on this crisp morn.

I know the degree of virgo the moon currently occupies because I am switching between two sites as I write this post: my blog host site and Astrodienst.  I think 'Astrodienst' is German for astro service; but the site comes up in English and then you can choose from several languages.  I use this service every day, throughout the day.  The positions of all planets, chiron and the moon's north node are listed and updated every minute on the home page, and in just a few clicks you can get to the data entry page for calculating a chart for any time or year, way in the past or future.  I have gotten one faulty chart for a person born right before war time ended after WWII; Astrodienst gave the time as 'standard' instead of the correct war time, which threw the chart off by an hour.  I have not heard back since they said they would 'look into it;' other than that, they are providing an invaluable service to the astrological community by making this chart calculation tool so widely available for FREE.  Thankyou so much Astrodienst!

There are other sites that give free chart calculations, and like Astrodienst include a computer generated interpretation.  Some have wiki listings for astrological vocabulary and forums to discuss astrology.  AND many have stuff about Mayan, Chinese and Vedic astrology.  The universe just goes on and on, and astrologers do all they can to roll with it.

It is now 8:48 am, and it looks like mars has been above the horizon for about 8 minutes.  I had better get to my job that pays and earn a living while the sun shines; but before I go (I almost forgot!) my realization for the day is that it has been good to come out of the closet where I hid my passion for astrology.   The world really is a kinder place when we let our light come out from the shadows.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Triangle LGBTQ

The Triangle Hosts Our Sky Astrology
After visiting the Triangle LGBTQ  page for the first time and seeing the link from my add, I think it is time for a new post.

I've been busy the last two months recording chart readings for old friends and new.  As of this weekend I have completed three recorded readings and one live.  Though the first live reading was a bit of a disaster, I was still high as kite by the time it was all over; further convincing me that I am finally ready to work publicly as an astrologer, I just need a lot of practice.  Thanks to Karen I am getting the best practice any astrologer could have; the opportunity to write a monthly horoscope column.

I had placed an ad in The Triangle for a very reasonable fee, but then my car died and I panicked about money.  Karen offered to trade a horoscope column for the ad and just like that I was in way over my head!

I had written one installment of a horoscope column for GreenPages years ago, so it should not have been as frightening this time.  But it was as scary as a first jump off the high dive.  The first version I sent Karen was a list of times for about 25 days of November and a brief description for each astrological 'event.'  The problem was, she had asked for a horoscope column, which is one paragraph for each sun sign, in the tradition started by Dane Rudyar in 1933.  So, I sent a paragraph for each sun sign, but most of them had nothing to do with what would happen in November; they were basically a rant about astrology and a critique of my generation; until I got to Sagittarius and suggested that this November was a good month to 'take down a pompous person...'

Luckily Karen recognized the column for what it was and suggested a further rewrite, apologizing for asking me to do more 'work.'  She was too polite to call it what it was, an out of control rant.  I did finally set to work and write the column that will appear this week.  So, not only am I learning how to teach astrology; I am also reconnecting with the gay community through The Triangle, and enjoying the opportunity to work with a very cool publisher.

Coming Out as an Astrologer
This blog started out as a place to talk about how much I have literally grown up in the houses of my cleaning customers.  But, as was evident from the very first post, there was an astrologer in me bursting at the seems to come out.  As I get further into this new career I am enjoying looking back on all the people and groups that have shown me important stuff about life; Al Dash, the priest at NC State when I was a student, had his office in The Nub, a cluster of offices for chaplains of various campus religious groups.  I still remember going to his office to discuss a paragraph I'd read in Time or Newsweek Magazine; it was about a lesbian couple in a legal battle to keep their child.  Al was in a meeting, so I perused the printed material in the common area.  There was a brochure for St. John's Metropolitan Community Church, a new gay christian group, which at that time was meeting in the church on the corner of Wade Ave and Dixie Trail.

Within a month I had attended my first gay christian liturgy.  It was the first of many 'coming outs,' which over the years would continually open doors to the wide and amazing world of humans helping other humans.  There was The Raleigh Women's Coffee House, where I learned about the politics of feminism; Triangle Area Lesbian Feminists in Durham who hosted fantastic women only dances; Dignity of Raleigh for gay Catholics and then, when I had left my partner and decided to explore the 'straight' world, Thursday Night Open Poetry Reading, which wasn't very straight after all.

Of all the nonconformist side trails I have taken, astrology has been the most challenging and the most rewarding.  I set it aside for several years and discarded cherished books to make room for other interests.  The fact is, I have never internalized more shame about any of the many taboos I have broken, than the shame I carried many years for being so dedicated to astrology.  I didn't even realize how much that shame was holding me back until I had completely rejected what I knew to be true: there is no beauty greater than the poetry of what we know about the universe.

I could not enter a church without feeling a really maddening anger and lack of respect for the congregants.  It irritated me immensely that these people could hold their heads up and sing that a man was tortured, killed and rose from the dead, but the philosophy of time as systematized in the Hellenistic period was considered superstition.  I had finally come to an understanding of the politics of astrology and realized I had allowed myself to be a victim.

Dane Rudyar used a pen name for his column "What's Your Sun Sign," and you'll not see it referred to on any of the sites dedicated to his many and varied works.  I think he was not completely comfortable with this fragmented but immediately popular form of astrology.  Like all astrologers, he wanted people to have some taste of the power of the system.  His hope was that people's curiosity would draw them in and they would recognize the value of such a philosophy to bring order to the chaos of the mind.  I don't think he envisioned astrology as a priesthood as much as a system that should be made accessible to all people.

Astrology is part of our heritage and there is nothing superstitious about curious minds studying the language that informed the works of our most revered writers, from Plato to Kepler to Chaucer.  We strengthen our society when we propagate philosophical systems that incorporate real knowledge of the real universe we all live in.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

which group has the power to declare war

I do not know where that above title came from, it appeared in the bar when I clicked on  it.  I didn't think I had been posting political entries, but apparently Blogspot is psychic because I was signing in to complain about NPR's coverage of the successful Hamas attack on 'settlers' in Palestinian territory.

Was it Robin Lustig who said the Palestinians threatened to derail the upcoming peace talks with Isreal by murdering Isreali settlers?

If someone were building homes on my land I would call them invaders or at the very generous least, trespassers; and when their government has attacked...ohhh

Why are radical religious fundamentalists victims if they are on the side America funds?  If they are fundamentalists whose goal is to take land from people who the UN declares are the rightful residents, and whose objective is to establish an oppressive religious state, that sounds like the terrorists we're sending our youth over seas to subdue.  But BBC calls them victims and speaks in a highly righteous tone with the Palestinian representative they are interviewing, "How can Hamas justify the killing of innocent women and children?!" 

Who is really derailing peace talks; the 'peaceful settlers' (cowboys and indians all over again) or the people defending their UN declared (reservations) territory?

The native Americans were driven off their land to make room for people who had succeeded in overcoming persecution, and so turns the wheel of Karma.  Germans, Jews, Palestinians, Mexicans, Lumbee and Ojibwe on and on it goes, it never stops, every one knows.

Mercedes or Hippogriff?

Of course 'I' did not get the car running; the customer who hooked me up with the give away tried jumping it and then just hooked it up to a charger and got it going.  I got help every which way I turned, which is a good thing because every time I turned around I needed it.  There was the flat tire in the parking lot of DMV when I came out from getting the plates, which a very nice man changed for me.  He said he offered help when he saw me turning the bolts in the wrong direction.  I knew he was confused until later when I couldn't get the fuel filter loose and asked for more help from my kind customer.  He looked at what...ohhh let's just say I do believe in miracles and the kindness of friends and strangers because I benefitted from all three on Thursday.

Did I count my blessings and lay low?  NOOOO!  I took the car to a skatepark 60 miles away!  We bonded, me and that car, and I'm sticking with the object pronoun because I feel that we have been thrown together in another example of Toltsoy's explanations of fate and free will.  I thought I chose to take advantage of a rare opportunity, but now it just feels like another happy miracle.  I don't know about my son, he fell asleep on the way home, but he did get a kick on the way to the skate park out of my new driving style.  "Woah!  50 miles an hour!  Dang Mom,"  he said, "you're flyin."  This is a 1985 Mercedes 300dt- the dt is for diesel turbo: serious but reluctant power with a sobering thirst for fuel.  When I step on the accelerator I feel as though I'm on the back of a Hiippogriff; with an arched brow, it asks before takeoff if I am sure this is what I want to do.

I have filled the 23.8 gallon tank and am watching the gas gauge like a pensioner watching the stock market numbers across the bottom of the tv screen.  It bumps back up toward the end of a run like it knows a rest is coming and can breathe easier.  I can't wait to turn the key in the morning and see where the needle points; will it be down a quarter of a tank for 120 miles?  I'm already looking forward to the next trip so I can burn up the whole tank and see how many miles it will take me.

There is this problem with a knocking sound that became evident when we got off the highway and drove the last 3 miles back home.  All the mechanics are closed till Tuesday so I'll have to wait till at least then to get help with that.  It was a wonderful day trip.  My son had a good skate session.  I just hope he'll be willing to ride his bike downtown for the next few days while we meditate on this latest development.

Venus and Stonehenge
I'm going absolutely nuts with the astrology,  drawing pages and pages of mini charts to show the cycles of Mars and Venus.  I was actually pretty pissed this evening, when I realized that yes, the Venus/Earth/Sun cycle is too close to the gestation period of the human fetus to discount.  But I had to finish cooking dinner, enjoying it with my son and then feed all the animals; so by the time that was done I was just happy to get back to drawing all my little charts.

I keep remembering the movie about Stonehenge that we saw on three different occasions when I was in the 6th grade.  I usually recall checking out an astronomy book in high school and being fascinated with the discovery that time was originally measured by the movements of the planets.  Now, as I count off the weeks between her conjunctions with the Sun, I remember the chalk filled holes at Stonehenge and the remarks about how scientists thought they were for following the cycle of Venus.  That would have been very useful in planning  for the birth dates of babies.  Venus-about 40 weeks from one conjunction with the sun to the next; much like the two weeks when we observe the waxing of the Moon from a thin crescent to the full circle.  Who would have thought we could let something that poetic slip out of our cultural cannon?   I am pissed, and a  little sad, but determined like a good Taurus to quietly spread the word.

Friday, August 27, 2010


Without adversity we cannot know what we really believe in.  Only in the face of loss or deprivation can we see what matters most deeply to us. Just the prospect of losing something can illuminate a treasure languishing in the shadows; so life's favors include not just what we receive, but also what is taken away, and it is a valuable opportunity when we are forced by circumstances to make a difficult choice.  This week I was faced with the possibility of losing time...

What a week!  It began Tuesday with tragic news about my little old car, prompting a serious inner struggle about taking on more work for car payments, quickly followed by news of someone wanting to GIVE A CAR AWAY!  It is an old car, older than the Honda I will be giving up.  But it runs, and my son likes it!  (It doesn't squeak and it is not rusty) As of today this new old car will not start, but I have faith.  I will jump the sleeping battery from my retiring car this weekend and then we'll be on our way.  This process has revealed something in me which I had always felt I lacked-conviction.

I love my customers, but it pained me to contemplate taking on new ones in order to pay for another car.  I did not want to give up my plans of becoming an astrologer; more work cleaning houses would have meant less time doing charts, forfeiting the experience necessary to fulfill my dream.  As this crisis passes I can see that for once I know what matters to me.  Up until now I had only known that my son was important, and it bothered me that I could not hold an opinion about any other worldly matter deeply enough to struggle for it.  Decriminalizing recreational drugs merits a bumper sticker,* decriminalizing immigration calls for guarded friendships with undocumented workers, the movement to criminalize, or at least delegitimize war is one to which I only sporadically and very hesitantly add my voice.  By choosing the gift of an older, but functioning (and very intriguing- it runs on bio diesel) car, I can see with certainty what is most important to me:  the  resurrection of the culturally relevant and more intellectually rigorous predecessor to Christianity (Yes, I'm talking about astrology) is my chosen endeavor.

With each stumbling step forward my conviction grows that astrology has value.  As I meet with people, and we talk about their lives in the context of time as marked off by the motions of the heavenly lights, I am lifted up and really do find myself picturing Mercury as it passes to the far side of the Sun.  I have assigned myself the task, and so given myself the strongest permission, to look for the Moon when ever she is visible and follow her soft light, which I find enormously comforting.  I am becoming day by day an integrated citizen of our solar system, and it is, by this attention which I pay to it, becoming an ever more familiar and wondrous home to me. 

I am convinced, this is my path.  I am not a true believer, but astrology does mean the universe to me.

*Hemp:  Fuel, Fiber, Freedom         I had this bumper sticker on a Plymouth Arrow.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


The theme of destiny is something many people think about; it is one of the questions of the centuries.  Some only talk about this subject in earthy terms, like goals or hopes or despair.  In this way some speak of fate.

They talk of possibilities and things they will never see in their lives, like walking on the surface of the moon.  That which, yes we can do and that which no, no way, is immovable.

When I was a teenager, I asked my mother and aunt if it is not predestination if God knows what we will do.  If He knows all that's going to happen, is that not predestination?  They became angry and explained to me forcefully; they wanted to ensure that I understood that yes, God knows everything, but that is not predestination.  I did not understand, but did not want to discuss the subject further with them and said "Ok, I understand."

But I thought of many things.  The biggest question that I carried in my chest was where does this big idea of God come from and the stories of the Bible?  Who wrote this foolishness, pardon, these miracles?  The most important information, the hinge on which the door swings, this information is withheld.  It is not something they repeat in the churches every Sunday; the history of this great idea that everyone declares out loud, together, that they believe.  They believe in one God, all they do not speak of the origin-it always was and ALWAYS will be.  Understand cousin, HE's GOD.  And that explains everything.

Well, in this business of astrology that question of destiny often arises.  And it gives me an opportunity to go back to a work of Tolstoy: War and Peace.  Right now I'm not reviewing the whole book, just the ending, Part II in which the author talks about the history of humanity and the concepts among humans about will and necessity; liberty and reason.  He talks about how we feel that we do something of our will when we are in the act, but later we are convinced it is something that happened because of fate.

It is a very illuminating discussion about the theme "what force moves people?"

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

An Introduction to Astrology

Astrology, sometimes called Western Astrology, is the system of time developed by western civilization.  As one of the seven liberal arts of the Hellenistic Period, astrology was part of the formal curriculum including subjects such as rhetoric, mathematics and geography.  In this second level course, students learned the geometry involved in mapping the heavens along with the qualities of the zodiac, which can be thought of as a zoological wheel of the agricultural year.  Though some aspects of study have risen or fallen from favor over the centuries, such as medical astrology, astrology’s basis in using the movements of the planets, or wandering stars, against the stationary backdrop of constellations to mark off time, has remained unchanged.  

Calendars come and go with the rise and fall of empires, but the cycles of the planets in the heavens remain a constant on which we can look up and depend.  The sun will rise every morning, spring will always follow winter, and the new moon will wax for two weeks just as the full moon will wane.  The irony is that many of us bound up in schedules of alarm clocks and daily planners wonder how astrologers can attach so much meaning to something as seemingly insignificant as the moment of a person’s birth.  

Through all the discoveries of modern science and advances of the industrial age, astrology has remained a thriving tradition, though it may only be included as a sidebar in science books to distinguish it from its modern offspring, astronomy.   Now, in the modern age, it is as though the former were the ignorant old parent embarrassing the educated youth.  One mourns the fall of poetry and the other deplores the muddling of science with myth.

As we study your chart you will discover old ways of measuring time that are as fascinating as a guided tour through an antique shop.  Maybe you will be reminded that the nature of time is more ephemeral than mechanical, that though we are ruled by time we are also born of it.  We can be slaves to time or we can make music with it. 

There are many books and web sites with the basic vocabulary of astrology that are worth exploring.  It is a system of poetic symbols, so after you study what others say, you ultimately decide what the different planets and signs mean to you.

“The Almagest” by Claudius Ptolemaeus, an edited collection on the subjects of math, geometry and astronomy is one of the earliest ‘textbooks’ of astrology to which we can refer.  It was written around 150 when Ptolemy worked in the libraries at Alexandria, Egypt and originally called “A Mathematical Compilation.”  It came to be known as “The Almagest” from the Arabic translation.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Wall against Workers

This is the English version of Muro contra Trabajadores, the post in Spanish for May 28, 2010.   After you read the post below, click here  to see a Mexican pride video with English subtitles --> Grupo Terminadores: Hijo de Mexico. 

La Koala showed me her room and how clean and nicely arranged she keeps it.  I heard her leaving in the morning rain and expected that she was on her way off to wash.  Her friend took her in his truck to the laundry mat and she washed everything she could take from the room and put in the machines, including the bedspread and curtains.  Her girlfriend's shirts hang together on hangers with kitchen towels, everything covered with the protection of a big transparent plastic bag.  It looks to me like she has people in good places, because when I asked if she paid to have everything, including kitchen towels, ironed; she said no, she did it with the iron at the laundry mat.

Most times I do not understand her and have to ask questions.  I get one or two words whose English meaning I can guess.  I repeat the guess in other words to confirm my suspicion, while she pauses to think of another way to say what she was telling me.  To chat with someone who does not speak a language well, or know it well, is a pain.  So someone has to really want to talk with a person from another culture just because of the problem of language, and that's only the first of many obstacles where they go stumbling.

The second problem is the money the immigrant lacks.  She does not lack hope or energy, although she has to send and send, a portion of her earnings; every time she turns around some family member is asking, "Aunt, are you going to send me something for my birthday?"

"Daughter, please send me a little something.  Your niece needs it to buy books at school."  They never cease to call with requests.  And what can the immigrant say if she is sweeping money from the floor?

The third problem, and most unfortunate because it is born of fear, ignorance and lies, is the law that separates the strangers from the natives.

There are laws that we know are against reason and justice.  They are against reason because they do not serve to develop a state of sanity in any population.  They are against justice because they put under the thumb of those who have, those who lack; they guarantee that the people who enjoy the most opportunities cannot offer a hand, without running a legal risk, to people that struggle without rest to gain a little.

So, the law that persecutes workers crossing frontiers in search of a fair wage is delinquent; and upright people are bound to confront this power so puffed up and corrupt which presumes to separate, with a wall, thousands of people.  This entity pretends to decide if and when the Indians can join us.  These guards intend to control the source of help and friendship within a population.

We should never forget that we are the same population, that we have the right to be friends with our neighbors.

It is worth the effort to learn a new language, stumble like a fool who understands nothing and looks rather stupid.  It is worth a lot to pursue friendship with someone from another country that comes hat in hand, looking for a better life.  And so, I live with Koala, and today Juan is coming by for a visit.  He and Koala play some cards and I listen to them, two Mexicans cutting up in Spanish.  Later, I will ask Juan what does 'I burnt the devils' feet' mean?  This is how I learn, bit by bit.  This is how I feel a little more like a member of the big world.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Atheist, Anarchist, Astrology

  • It is possible to believe in the impossible without giving a flip about some entity called God, or Yahweh or Allah.  
  • Among those who gain the most from so called government, it is a well kept secret that people, when not imprisoned or obstructed through other repressive measures, are amazingly talented at organizing themselves to achieve common goals.  
  • Real time has very little to do with clocks and calendars, and can only be truly experienced by ecstatic meditation on the movements of the stars in the sky. 

  • Atheism is more about believing in people than it is about not believing in God.  
  • Anarchists strive for a world where people are free to govern themselves and discover unimpeded their vast potential to work collectively.  
  • Astrologers tell the story of how we are each a star born of other stars, and are always changing shape like the moon, shining like the sun, and the whole of our lives moving, even when we are sleeping in the darkness, we are always moving. 

Can we not cherish life, love and unexplained miracles without fighting over who is responsible for them?  Could it be that we share responsibility?  Could the miracles just bring us to our feet with joy, and extend our hands out to the universe in gratitude, inspire us to radiate life, love and miracles?  Could it be enough to just live love because love is life?   Could the measurement of time be an exercise in understanding rather than a system of bookkeeping?  Could time be more about the blossoming of flowers and leaves going from vivid greens to brilliant reds; must it measure only the changing of traffic lights and intervals between appointed obligations?  

  • I believe the concept of god is a distraction and a cop out from rising to the challenge to conceptualize an infinite and infinitely complicated existence. 
  • I support people who are critical of governments and work together in spite of them for the benefit of folks who are suffering. 
  • I believe time is what it’s all about, and it is high time that time be returned to the elevated status it had when we first measured it by looking up and studying the heavens.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Open Letter to Astronomy Magazine

I wrote this around 1986 or 87, when I was renting a room in The Paper Plant.  I tacked it to the door when I got pissed at a letter to the editor dissing astrology.

Letter to Astronomy Magazine  (never sent)
Concerning the astronomer’s dilemma of countering astrologers’ emotional beliefs with rational arguments

Through astrology we submit emotional, irrational urges to universal rational analysis.  We assume that every individual is a unique, microscopic member of a cosmic whole, of which he or she is a perfect representative.  Just like the fragment of a hologram which contains the whole of its parent image, each of us contains the original seed of physical existence.  Each of us comes from the sun.  We are all the result of countless explosions and contractions of residual matter.  Go back to your Judeo Christian literature to The Song of Solomon; that bastardized translation of a famous poetic treatment of a numero/cosmic/metaphysical system- The Residue of Residues is the Witness of our Peace- the mystics’ translation.  Then check out a few books on ancient history.  Anything before 100 BC will be enlightening.  Find out how a sacred scientific mnemonic language was usurped by one warrior race after another.  Knowledge does not simply appear out of nowhere with each new generation.  Knowledge is a conscious building on past experience.  If we disinherit our past, we forfeit our key to the truth; and what ever knowledge we claim to have is only a shadowy corpse of what our ancestors knew.

FULL MOON IN SCORPIO     Astrology with Guts
                                                    For those who Dare

Friday, June 4, 2010

Good Neighbors

Today I go to the Anthony's, a six hour, once every four weeks, big old house.  Their children are in their 20's and scattered around the world, the youngest in Taiwan.  We often skip for one reason or another, either I am sick or over scheduled, or most recently they had a major renovation under way that rendered all cleaning efforts futile until completion.  When the work was finished 3 days before Christmas, the interior of the house was blanketed with black soot from an old coal bin in the cellar that had been shoveled out.  When I arrived on the scene the following day it was clear that Lisa and Doug had run around the house with mop and rags removing the worst of the powdery black film, before hurrying off to meet one of their children in DC.  I am still amazed at the energy of this couple just a few years older than me; they are involved in several community arts efforts, volunteer in several neighborhood projects and faithfully attend city meetings about the planned intercity fast rail service in order to keep informed about the latest developments.  Over the years, they have bought several decaying houses in the neighborhood, and with their three children working in tandem, restored and resold them.  It is inspiring to work in the homes of people who sustain such neighborly interest in their home town.

Now that the children have all left home, and Lisa has finished her two terms serving on the local school board, she is chafing at her new job.  She says it is hard to be tied to an office without license to come and go at will.  I am remembering a day back when her children were still in school, when she was still able to exercise that freedom; a woman renting a room in the house across the street asked Lisa for a ride to the post office.  Of course Lisa was happy to help out, grabbed her keys and jumped in the car.  Soon she returned with a troubled sigh and told the story of this young, poorly educated single mother.  She was going to pay COD charges of $50 to a predatory company selling packets of materials for starting an in home business.  The envelope contained nothing of use to this woman who had probably given over the last of her income in the hopes of finding a way to support herself and her child.

Through the years I have cleaned for Lisa, and watched her work on various campaigns in the community, her lack of cynicism has shown as a beacon for those who would condemn innocent victims for falling into the  traps of grasping charlatans.  She is always a tireless advocate for educating each and every member of the community without prejudice.  It is a real pleasure to work for people whose lives are so dedicated to strengthening the fabric of society.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Muro contra Trabajadores

La Koala me mostró su cuarto, y que bien arreglado y limpio lo mantiene. La escuché saliendo en la lluvia de la mañana y esperaba que se iba a lavar. Su amigo la llevó en su troca a la lavandería y ella lavó cada cosa que pudo quitar del cuarto y meter en las machinas, incluyendo la cobija y las cortinas. Las camisas de su novia cuelgan juntos en ganchas con toallas de la cocina, todo tapado con protección de grande bolsa de transparente plástica. Me parece como ella tiene gente en buenos lugares, por que cuando pregunté si ella pagó para tener todo, incluyendo toallas de cocina, plancheado; dijo que no, ella lo hizo con la plancha en lavandería.     

 Las mayores veces no la entiendo y estoy obligada a hacer preguntas. Agarro una o dos palabras que adivino que quieren decir en inglés. Repito lo que adivino en otras palabras para comprobar mi sospecha, mientras ella pausa para pensar otra manera que decir lo que me contaba. Platicar con alguien que no habla bien el idioma, ni lo sabe bien, es muy trabajoso. Entonces uno tiene que desear hablar con otro de cultura extranjera solo por la problema de idioma, y esa es solo la primera de muchos obstáculos donde andan vacilando.

Problema segundo es dinero que le falta el inmigrante. No falta esperanza ni energía, aunque tiene que mandar y mandar, un parte de sus ganancias, cada rato a algún pariente quien esta pidiendo. “Tía, me vas a mandar algo por mi cumpleaños?” “Hija, por favor, manda me un poco. Tu sobrina lo necesita para comprar libros en la escuela.” Nunca dejan de llamar dando la lata. Y que puede decir el inmigrante si esta barriendo dollares del piso?

La problema tercer, y mas lastima porque es nacido del miedo, la ignorancia y las mentiras, es la ley que los separa la gente extranjeros de los nativos.

Hay leyes que sabemos que son contra la razón y la justicia. Son contra la razón porque no sirven a desarrollar un estado sano por ninguna población. Son contra la justicia porque ponen bajo dedo de los que tienen, los que faltan; garantizan que la gente que disfrutan más oportunidades no pueden echar la mano, sin correr riesgo legal, a gente que luchan sin descansar para ganar un poco.

Luego, la ley que los persigue trabajadores cruzando fronteras en busca de un sueldo justo, es un delito; y gente recto tienen que enfrentar este poder tan gallo y corrupto que presume a separar, con un muro, millones de gente. Esa entidad pretende a decidir quien y cuando, los indios nos pueden juntar. Esas guardas intentan a controlar la fuente de apoyo y amistad dentro de una población.

Nunca debemos olvidar que somos mismo población, que tenemos derechos de ser amigos con nuestros vecinos.

Vale la pena aprender nueva idioma, trompear como una tonta que no entiende nada y parecer poca stupida. Vale mucho seguir una amistad con persona de otro país que viene con cachucho en la mano, buscando una vida mejor. Por eso, vivo con la Koala, y este día Juan pasa por una visita. El y Koala juegan pocas cartas y les escucho, dos Mexicanos cotoreando en español. Después, le preguntaré a Juan, que quiere decir “Le quemé las patas del diablo?” Asi aprendo, poco a poco. Asi me siento poco mas como soy miembro del  grande mundo.

Haz click aqui para ver este ensayo en ingles --> The Wall Against Workers

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Uranian Transit

In the thick of Uranus transiting Venus the thrill is beginning to wear off, and the reality of cleaning up after all the excitement is bearing down.  Though I'm constantly reminding my son of the debt we're carrying, every time I fill the tank to take him to the skate park, or enter a store to buy him a pair of shorts, now that I have the customers I need I do feel confident we can pay it off.  Most of the time.

This illness has affected my work schedule for the last four years, and even though my health is improved there remain bills to pay that I could not take care of when I was spending so much time in bed.  Sometimes it feels like no matter how hard I work and how much I sacrifice, I just can't cover expenses.  I feel like my Mexican friends slaving away for little more than minimum wage.  But I'm not.

I am able to support my son and take him to the skate park.  We have the luxury of living in our own home not crowded with two or more families to help pay the rent.  Though I pray to the car gods when my little old Honda hesitates to start, "Please don't let it be time for another trip to the mechanic," I thank providence for the tension it generates in my son.  He has too faint an inkling of the richness of his life, especially when his ugly mom drops him off at school, in front of all the adolescent world to see, in our squeaking, rusted Honda that was built back in the days when Americans still remembered the oil embargo.

He wants a camera, and I would love for him to have one.  He thinks I do not understand his deprivation.  He was thrilled with his haircut yesterday, a fifteen dollar deal that was delayed for over a month.  I was thinking how much easier his life would be if I could afford to have a trim every eight weeks, if I could buy clothing to look like the 'other moms.'  If I didn't know any better I swear it would choke me up.  The truth is, I have moments of weakness when I fall for the same propaganda that's choking him, and feel like a failure.

Then I pick up a book by Noam Chomsky and all that sadness for myself and my son is turned to grief for the shadow people of the world who really ARE suffering in the crucible.  The camera made in China can wait forever as far as I'm concerned.  We still have a copy of The Unvanquished from the library; I will resume reading Faulkner to him at bedtime.  He loves it when the forbidden N word pops up.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Grave's Disease

The Carsons leave for the summer this Monday.  They are eager to begin the long journey across the country; on the way they will visit many family and friends.  The big excitement this year is that they are going a little by sea, but mostly by car, to Alaska.  I am looking forward to post cards from the trip.

Their departure lightens my load and gives me a chance to catch up.  That’s 3 hours a week that can go to something else or another customer.  Work hours are money.  There are no vacation-hours, or days or weeks.  My son wants to go to the beach, and I am calculating, "how many days can I afford to be spending money instead of working for it?"  And then there is sickness.  Whether we give in or not, sickness controls us.   If  the affected person can’t think creatively and come up with innovative solutions, they could be squeezed doubly in the fist of disease; unless of course it is a disease that gives energy and optimism, and has the victim walking the streets at night singing and reciting poetry.  Is that a disease to want to get rid of?

Not until the muscles begin to shrivel and the heart won’t stop racing, or it is hard to get out of bed in the morning and every day spent cleaning means the following day must be scheduled for bed rest.  I guess that’s what they mean when they talk about lost productivity; but lost work hours are gained reading time.  Literacy is free, but  for the person whose sole source of income is a job, time is not. So sickness is an opportunity to read and transcend money worries.  If you can’t afford to take time off for vacations, sickness, especially if there is no pain, is an unlikely angel.  It creates slack where slack is needed. 

My life has been a straddling of the poverty line, elected, I thought, on a platform of political values. The less I made, the less I paid to Caesar. 

I really liked the quote in the Clandestino video about your country being an accident of birth, like your color.  It is something we have no control over, our own birth.  We like to think we choose our career, or path in life.  I always clung to the idea that I chose to be with a man or woman, that I chose to be a housecleaner and that I chose to have a child with out marrying the father.  Now, I question whether many of these actions were really chosen consciously, as a result of knowing intent.  I wonder how many of my behaviors were just the scratching of a synaptic itch.  

Thyroid is supposed to mean shield shaped like a door.  It makes me think of a butterfly or moth.  Thyroid.  Sheeit.  I never in my life thought about thyroids.  Why would I?  Like why would a white person think about color?  We think about our toes when they get cold, or when the nails grow, but the thyroid? 
Some prolific molecule, getting into the thyroid, is being mistaken for a messenger from the pituitary gland.  My brain is being reprogrammed by a molecule made not just in the USA, but in my own body.  Homegrown subversive elements are literally running the show.

As a result of thousands of people devoting themselves over the centuries and across cultures to scientific research, it was my extremely good fortune that my retired pathologist customer, Paul Carson, was able to recognize and identify what was happening.  He had taken an interest in the thyroid during his years of practice and I was lucky enough to be in his house once a week complaining of the heat. Thanks to Paul, I had a very good idea of what would happen before I even got past the poverty guards to the doctor.  I would be taking this 'pill.'

It proved very difficult to get, that radioactive pill, but it did the trick and put me back on the 21st century highway of productivity. 

Friday, April 23, 2010

Somos Mas Americanos/We Are More American

Ya me gritaron mil veces que me regrese a mi tierra,
They've already told me a thousand times, get back to my country

Porque aqui no quepo yo
Because here is not where I belong

Quiero recordarle al gringo: Yo no cruce la frontera, la frontera me
I want to remind the gringo: I didn't cross the border, the border

crossed me.

America nacio libre, el hombre la dividio. Ellos pintaron la raya, para
America was born free, it was man that divided it.  They painted the line, so

que yo la brincara y me llaman imbasor es un error bien marcado 

I would jump it and they could call me invader, it's a mistake well marked

nos quitaron ocho estados quien es aqui el imbasor. Soy extranjero en
they took eight states, who here is the invader?  I am a stranger in

mi tierra, y no vengo a darles guerra, soy hombre trabajador.
my land, and I don't come to make war, I am a working man.

Y si no miente la historia, aqui se asento en la gloria la poderosa nacion
And if history doesn't lie, here was established in its glory, a powerful nation

entre guerreros valientes, indios de dos continentes, mezclados
between brave fighters, indians of two continents, mixed

con espanol. Y si a los siglos nos vamos: somos mas americanos,
with Spanish.  And if we go through the centuries:  we are more American,

somos mas americanos que el hijo del anglo-saxon.
we are more American than the son of the Anglo-Saxon.

Nos compraron sin dinero las aguas del rio bravo. Y nos quitaron a 
Without money, they bought our Rio Bravo.  And they took

Texas, Nuevo Mexico, Arizona y Colorado. Tambien volo California y
Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado.  California and

Nevada con Utah no se llenaron, el estado de Wyoming, tambien
Nevada were gone too and Utah did not satisfy them, the state of Wyoming,

nos lo arrebataronYo soy la sangre del indio Soy latino soy mestizo
they also got away with.  I am the blood of indian.  I am latino I am mestizo

Somos de todos colores Y de todos los oficios Y si contamos los siglos
We are of all colors.  And of all offices.  And if we count the centuries

Aunque le duela al vecino Somos mas americanos Que todititos los
Although it hurts the neighbor We are more American Than all those


Cluck Old Hen

I added all the money my most generous customer gave me in the last year and divided that by the number of hours I worked to justify charging Doctor Leo 25 whopping dollars an hour.  It was good to have a place to publicly declare my intended fee (Thanks Blogspot) thereby making it awkward to back down from placing such a high value on my services.  Now that I have spent several hours in the house and dealt once again with this customer that I had dropped all those years ago, and now that I’m actually receiving more money for the work, I feel much better about setting such a high rate.
I still find Leo very disappointing as a customer, and the house is floating in dust like the magical blanket on the front lawn after a few hours of newly fallen snow.  There are; correction, were, cobwebs woven and long since abandoned under the seats of every dining room chair, and all the exposed wood around the oriental carpets was dotted with generations of dead bugs and their lifetime of dried up drips of body fluids.  This kind of stuff doesn’t happen over night, it takes a long time to accumulate.  Every time I start to feel angry or righteous about the level of funk to which the house has sunk, I think of how fortunate I am to have so much work and at such a rewarding rate of return.  Leo’s personality and Carolyn’s illness are however another intractably depressing story.  The Doctor is highly skilled at maneuvering conversations to suit his purposes and shows no motivation to allow real friendship to develop, or in the case of Carolyn and me, to resume where we left off.
Carolyn has faded markedly since I last saw her maybe 3 years ago.  Her memory is drastically curtailed and this impairment robs her and others of her once sharp personality.  Though Carolyn was always the most gracious woman I have ever known, there was a purposeful angularity to her that outlined her strong identity.  Now she is left with her generous grace, but little of the direction that once made her such an inspiring example for me as a younger woman.  It is still a pleasure to be around her, but the following day I find myself overcome by nebulous sadness, that settles in beside a really maddening irritation with her husband. 
The pattern was immediately reestablished as soon as Leo called the Carson’s to ask for my phone number; cluck about what the rooster said.  Anne was offended at the beginning of the call when he felt he had to remind her who he was.  “I know who you are, Leo.”   He really showed his lack of awareness though, when he asked if her mother was still alive; the Carsons, like his wife are in their eighties.  Anne gave him my new number and dismissed him summarily, which is the way he deals with me.
Carolyn is one of my inspirations, but Anne is my hero.  When I showed signs of waffling on the rate she said, “If he doesn’t like it you just walk away,” in a tone that left no room for negotiation.  You have to understand, I’ve been cleaning for the Carson’s for over 25 years, and Anne really is like a mother to me.  She is consistently generous with over the top praise and support for all of my endeavors, since I became a mother she constantly finds reasons to give me money, and she is impatiently dismissive of anyone who would diminish me; she is a 21st century Guadalupana telling younger women that not only are they appreciated but they better damn well appreciate themselves and not let some fool take advantage of them. 
“That MAN!”  It was the same day I had cleaned for the Mansoor’s. 
Dr. Mansoor wanted to change from Fridays because they are often out of town for long weekends and he didn’t want to miss a cleaning.  He wanted to know if Wednesday would be reasonable.  I suggested Monday.  OK, he would take Monday.  This exchange took place in the middle of the day’s work; I had come downstairs for a scrubbing pad and was passing the computer on the way to the kitchen.  After his new day was settled I retrieved the pad and hauled my butt upstairs to scrub the film off the chrome fixtures in the bathroom. 
In the early years of my career, I thought I had chosen housecleaning because it was a job that did not require me to direct my mind to achieve someone else’s objectives.  I was selling my time and labor and reserving my mind for myself.  After considering which task is best completed first, and how to disassemble and reassemble storm windows or appliances to get at the crumbs and scum, my mind can wander and I have the pleasure of working with the company of my unfettered thoughts. 
I am happily removing the film from the chrome, letting my thoughts wander.  Like my son who goes out on the street and brings home friends, they return with new ideas.  So, what if I did two houses on Wednesday, would that be logistically possible?  Possibilities are offering themselves for my consideration and I am turning them over in my mind as I spray Clorox on the tile wall to see if I can get some of the light mildew stains to fade.  They are not very dark, or noticeable, I’ll just spray a little and see what happens.  It’s always good to go for any improvement.  Sometimes it is best to just concentrate in one very limited area and see how much you can improve till it looks like there’s nothing more that you can reasonably do, then move on to a new area.
Physical existence is limited.  Our minds can conceive of physical objects way beyond the reach of our fingers to touch, or our bodies to bump into.  The fingers can only do so much, we depend on them to communicate the vast reaches of the mind, but they themselves are trapped on our hands, attached to beastly bodies.  The fingers speak a primitive but sophisticated language, integrating touch and sound, sight and ideas.  The fingers enable touch to be informing, and, with a minimum of physical force, extremely provocative.  The fingers are magic.  Only people that have done any amount of cleaning know it is a task which requires capable hands and fingers.  Of course the body must be able to make its way with limber movements about the house, but the fingers must put all things back in order. 
There are some people in the world who never clean; have never gotten on their hands and knees to wipe a floor.  They just wear shoes or accept that the soles of their feet will get black and sticky when they walk barefoot.  Or they are distracted when someone else removes the detritus of life with wet rag and rinse water and assume this return to the original, unsoiled state happens by magic. House cleaners are not distracted from dirt, they are drawn to it with rag in hand and bucket of water.  They don’t put the rest of the world right; they just take care of what’s in their corner.  They are preparing an area where inhabitants can relax and rest and be with themselves in pleasant peace.  The fingers make real the imaginings of the mind.  “This soap dish would be a pleasure to use if it didn’t have all this old soap caked up on it.  Let’s get rid of that.”  What the fingers take so much time to do appears to the uninitiated like mundane slight of hand.   
As the trumpet shines and tosses bright notes into the air we admire the work of its maker and the one whose trained fingers make captivating music with it.  The musician’s breath and tongue are working together with the whole being to delight us with an ephemeral moment.  We applaud to show our appreciation for their dedication.  Housecleaners receive the same admiration from the people they clean for.  “Oh, I can see the front walkway.  What a difference!”   Housecleaners are loved by their customers.  It is the real reason we do it. 
 Apparently The Doctor is so inured to the dust around him, or so consumed by his own intellectual endeavors, that he cannot see it filtering the light coming through the lamp shade, or collecting under a book on the night table.  He has been paying someone to clean and so the house must be clean.  I venture this is not the mentality he brings to music.  When I point out tasks that remain to be done, he waves the remarks aside like flies at a picnic, apparently unaware that smeared windows distort the moving image of the magnolia tree’s branches waving in the breeze. 
My day of work at his house is ending; I am putting chemicals, brushes and the bucket away, making ready to go to the Carson’s.  These days I don’t often have two customers in one day, so I’m kind of high on the recovery, the ability to work happily for 8 hours.  Dr. Mansoor wants to write me a check, he imagines I could use some money, and I am cool with receiving money since there is always something to be paid for.  As he hands me the check he says, “let’s say you gradually work us to Wednesday.”  It was a statement.
The thing on my mind for weeks has been, why do I find him so irritating?  As I repeated the exchange standing over the kitchen sink at the Carson’s, Anne tossed off, “I give it 6 weeks.”  I think this will be much longer than 6 weeks, for many reasons.  I can make money at any house and certainly get more involvement from another customer.  I can’t, however, imagine a more organized or fascinating household.   Leo and Carolyn are both interesting individuals.  Their home is better than a museum; Leo has the book his great grandfather took medical notes in.  It might be older than that; I think it is written on vellum.  They have a lot of stuff from his country of youth.  I cannot resist people with roots in different cultures; I cannot decline the privilege of being in their house. 
As much as I love the house and all the stuff, I don’t like the way the piles of books have multiplied; they are under side tables and stacked beside couches.  They need to be culled and it is hard to imagine that happening.  Carolyn, though she seems to have forgotten how clean she once kept closets and baseboards, does notice the improvement in the windows and asks for tasks that she notices.  I have hope that as she sees furniture moved and the bugs exposed underneath, she will start getting her old ideas.  She has asked me to do certain windows and wondered if I will get to the upstairs bedrooms and bath.  So that gives me a reason to show her the dirt in the shadows.  I called her from the kitchen a couple of weeks ago and showed her all the bugs and their solid waste, under the cushions of the sofa and on the floor behind it.  “This is why it’s taking me so long to do things.  I don’t want you to think I’m being slack.  Once I get everything right I can move faster.”
“I didn’t notice.  I wouldn’t have thought to look under those cushions,” she said in a tone of vaguely curious surprise.  I’m counting on that remnant of curiosity, a thin thread to the Carolyn who could remember.
The most difficult moments are when she doesn’t even seem to remember who she is or the things she has done.  It really becomes complete amnesia and I don’t know how she does it, but she remains as trusting as Job. Once in a while she thrills me with a mildly cross word, her mind flashing out seeking answers or striking at the husband when he irritates her.  Mostly, right now, I just want to get the house clean.  It is hard to think about anything else.  It is not until the next day that I begin to think of how much I miss her and wish she did not require so much time in the bed.     

Friday, March 19, 2010

Money Matters

Today I return to cleaning for Leo, or Dr. Mansoor, and his wife Carolyn, who is seriously ill. Back when I first started out as a housecleaner, Carolyn was one of my first customers; she was recently divorced from her first husband and had just sent her youngest of four children off to college. Those first 10 or so years that I worked for her, Kay McCarthy, as she was called then, was single. She held a few different jobs over the years; working in the state legislature, then for an arts organization, and the last job was a three year contract to organize a statewide bicentennial celebration. The jobs for the arts group and the bicentennial required a lot of traveling around the state, but we still saw each other as she was occasionally home when I was there cleaning.

I also cleaned for Kay’s next door neighbor, Anne Carson. These two women were my earliest customers, and I have cleaned for both of them throughout the years. There was a three or four year period however, when Kay remarried and moved to the town of her new husband, Leo Mansoor, who prefers the formality of being referred to as Dr. Mansoor. When she and The Doctor relocated to Oak City, Kay called me and asked if I had any openings available. Luckily I did and soon I was cleaning for Carolyn (she began calling herself Carolyn because Doctor Mansoor, maybe you can guess, preferred the formality) and The Doctor. In the beginning I was careful not to call him by name because I did guess he preferred not just the formality but the elevating title. Then one day arranging a cleaning date with his daughter in law he overheard me refer to him as Leo when I said, “next week will work because Carolyn and Leo will be out of town and I’ll be free.” He often passed on to me copies of articles he had written over the years for various newspapers or magazines. That day I found a note attached to an article requesting that I refer to him as Doctor Mansoor. Ugh.

When I started back to cleaning for Leo and Carolyn in their new home, my rates were 20 dollars an hour, and stayed at that level for several years. When I told Carolyn about the impending increase, her only remark was that she had been wondering when my rates would go up and gave a nod of assent. About two weeks later, I found a letter in my mail box that exploded like an IED in my living room. The Doctor wanted to know what had prompted the unilateral decision to raise my rates and proclaimed that my fees were approaching those of a doctor.

I gave them two weeks notice and left.

Now Carolyn can not drive, she is unwell, and Leo wants ‘someone familiar in the house’ for his wife. Though my prices have gone down, his fee will include gratuity and be 25 dollars an hour.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Under the Kitchen Sink

Until recently, all of my customers have been people with nearly perfect houses that were orderly, well maintained and tastefully decorated. However, over the last few years since I was sick from the late stages of Graves Disease, I dropped several customers, leaving openings which as I began to recover from the radioactive iodine treatment, have been taken up by friends. This has been a mixed blessing.

Under the best circumstances, such as when a customer who recently lost a housecleaner hires me to take up where they left off, there is an enormous amount of work involved in getting a house to the point where I want it. This can take 5 to 8 visits, each entailing 7 or 8 hours of intensive cleaning. It is exhausting but satisfying work. When I have cleaned under appliances and behind beds, under rugs and movable pieces of furniture; after I have cleaned the most visible windows, and shined light bulbs and knick-knacks, I feel that I can relax and coast. I’ve gotten the house under control, I know where the dirt likes to hide, now a routine has evolved and I can cover the whole house in one visit.

At least that’s how it was for the last 25 years. It was rare that I took on a new customer, and when I did, it was almost always someone who had had some kind of cleaning service in the past. People who spend money to get their house cleaned on a regular basis tend to run a very organized household, which means a place for everything and everything in its place.

Some customers may have a little more clutter than the average perfect house, and they always fret about how difficult this stuff makes my job. I cringe at the thought of them seeing my living room with dirty socks tossed across the floor, my kitchen counters covered with dirty dishes and my bedroom, please, let’s just close the door. So I can honestly tell them they do not need to worry about clutter, stuff slows me down, yes, but pictures and pretty glass vases and decorative items are actually a pleasure to clean. I don’t even mind moving disheveled stacks of papers on desks; it is a game to see if I can clean under every thing and put it back just like it was.

In other words, over the years one of the pleasures of my job has been the order and refinement that enveloped me in my customers’ homes in contrast to the bohemian chaos in which I live. However, this comfort of working in spaces at once nurturing and disciplined came at a price. Often in my own home I turned over in my mind the question, “Why can’t I keep my house as neat and well organized as my customers?” It worried me that I was missing out on a level of happiness that I could be enjoying if I could only emulate their habits of neatness.

Now that I am cleaning for friends it is a felicitous change to be working in more familiar surroundings. They would rather hire me than a cleaning service because they are too embarrassed to let strangers see all the animal hair and personal effects laying around that they rarely bother to think about; visits from parents excluded. So I get to work for the same people I party with and they get a housecleaner who doesn’t care if they’re slack.

Of all of them, Chris is the definitely the slackest. The first day I cleaned for her she tuned into the British Cable show ‘How Clean is Your House?’ and we laughed at the way the two house cleaners registered shock at the really disgusting apartment of a seemingly hopeless bachelor. By the end of the show (they must have spent over 200 work hours cleaning that place) the two women had not only whipped the place into spanking clean ship-shape, but had also trained the guy to clean his own home. They berated him liberally for the most offensive areas among hundreds of square inches thick with cooked on, burnt on or just plain petrified crud. This model rocket enthusiast was appropriately sheepish and complied with docile humility as they put him to work. His young nephew had nominated him for the show because his mother would no longer allow visits with the cool uncle that helped him make and launch model rockets. The nephew was even drafted to help with the cleanup. I could see why Chris said this show gave her courage to finally face the problem of her messy home. Not only were these places exponentially worse, but she had seen the people trapped in these apparently hopeless situations, with the help of a pair of bossy, energetic women, conquer their own chaos.

We are engaged in the same scary quest; my self the cleaner and Chris the customer. In the past I never lasted more than a year cleaning in homes that required nearly the level of intervention needed in hers. After a certain period of time I succumbed to desperate feelings of anger and frustration at my inability to bring the house under control, and chose to leave instead of digging in and demanding more of the customer. While there have been the weekend marathon cleanings for friends moving out of scum smeared, dust encrusted apartments with mold creeping up the walls; they were limited one time deals that required two days of locomotive energy and then were forgotten. Bringing order to a house that is still lived in by the people who allowed it to fall into abysmal confusion requires a change in the behavior of the inhabitants

While chaos breeds chaos, order does not naturally emerge without a struggle. A decision must be made that unconscious, entrenched habits will be replaced with a conscious regime of self discipline in which possessions are given a place in the home to which they are returned when not in use. Mail cannot be delivered or returned to sender without a street and house number marked on the envelope; keys, bills, important papers need a place to rest as we need a house with an address to return to at the end of the day. There they can always be found when needed. When I enter a home gripped in the jaws of chaos, I become vulnerable to the same abuse visited on the possessions strewn about thoughtlessly. When the customer can’t find an important paper that should have been filed in a prearranged system, I am now included in the list of people asked, “has anyone seen such and such a paper;” only by the time I’m called upon for possible information about the missing possession, I’ve cleaned two other houses and am resting peacefully in my own. My mind can not immediately picture the many piles of unrelated items it encountered the two days ago that I was in that customer’s home. So I have to either push the customer to set up a system or remain subject to these random requests at unlikely hours, “I was just calling to ask if you saw a brown envelope with a little red bird logo, it has important pictures in it.”

In the past I lacked the self confidence to challenge the customer. I shied from the confrontation necessary to effect change in their behavior and chose instead to leave like a sailor abandoning a leaking ship. Now however, things are different. Thanks to the help of our local medical clinic I have reached a state of emotional stability which I never thought possible; and thanks to Chris’s generosity and friendship I find myself more than willing to face the inevitable tension that arises when people are giving up old habits and striving to reach seemingly unattainable goals.

This one I hope is for the long haul. I have wanted to clean Chris’s house for years, ever since she and her husband invited our family over for dinner. The tiny kitchen, with just 2 small counters loaded with cooking utensils and appliances was calling to me, but in those days my son was very young and I was too busy with him to help much with cleanup, which is my favorite way of thanking friends for their hospitality. She sometimes talked about the possibility of hiring me and though I gushed about how much I would love to clean her house, I never believed it would actually happen. It was hard to imagine one of my friends being able to afford a house cleaner. I did hope that one day I could get some time in her kitchen to work a little magic.

That opportunity came when she invited us to their family condo at the beach. She brought her two children and picked up my son and I in the van on the way out of town. It was the first time Dana had a chance to swim in the ocean. We took turns cooking and drank wine and looked at the moon over the surf and talked about our husbands after the kids were asleep. We talked on the beach while the kids played in the water, and I had the luxury of going for a long walk while she watched my son swim in the surf with her two children. It was an extended weekend of relaxation; then came the time for cleanup. Chris says she first knew she wanted me to come clean for her when I pulled out the refrigerator and cleaned behind it.

That was several years ago. Meanwhile, there were more trips to the beach, and lots of phone conversations; we even managed a visit or two at each others’ homes and one miraculous rendezvous at our local bar. It wasn’t until I had hit the bottom of a long slide of degenerating health, conveniently coinciding with the economic downturn, that Chris surprised me with the fateful call. It came on the day I had completed the application process for employment as an assistant teacher in our public school system. I was volunteering in my son’s middle school media center (cleaning of course) when she got me on my cell phone. “We’ve got so many bills paid, and so many people are unemployed. I’m working full time, I just feel like I need the help and it’s time to spend money and stimulate the economy.” That’s not exactly what she said, but close enough. She was certainly offering to stimulate my economic stagnation.

“Well, that I guess answers that,” I announced to the media center teachers. “I guess I will continue to clean houses after all.” I had discovered, volunteering in my son’s school, that once inside them institutions aren’t as painful as I had imagined. His school was not so much a bunch of head banging rules as it was a community of supportive, fascinating people dedicated to educating our youth. I found it a pleasure to work with them, and thought maybe it was time to switch careers. That day, as I cleaned tables and chairs, I was debating whether I could survive in a job that required me to wear shoes and show up on time. But Chris’s call changed all that.

Now here we are almost a year later. This week as I look back on the work I did the day I began this essay, I’ve had a nagging feeling that I let her down. I left many things undone to run off and pick up my son from his after school activity. I think of the bathrooms left untouched and the upstairs not vacuumed. It worries me to think I may have disappointed her by choosing to clean out a closet and drawer instead of visible dirt that I could have gone after. There is often tension generated by my uncontrollable urge to go through piles of stuff searching for items that can be discarded; as the stack of papers or basket of items is spread out all over a room, a place has to be found for everything that doesn’t get thrown away. It is not only a knit picking process that is very time consuming, but disturbingly invasive as personal chaos is deconstructed and laid out like a body on a surgical operating table. Unfortunately this procedure cannot be performed under anesthesia.

Earlier in the day of cleaning Chris had come home from an errand to find I had emptied the contents of a small utility drawer all over the stove and cutting board. I had separated items into several categorized piles; stuff I was sure could go, stuff I suspected could go, and pens, twist ties, screws and hooks, and some small hand tools that could be returned in an orderly arrangement to the drawer, which I was in the middle of washing and drying. “I couldn’t stop myself,” I offered sheepishly as she entered the kitchen. On two occasions she has been forced to ask me not to go through papers, motivated I’m sure by a legitimate fear that something needed in the indeterminate future would be thrown away. She has figured out that in order to get papers graded on the days I clean she has to go the neighborhood coffee house; otherwise I will keep stopping by the computer with bags of stuff for her to make decisions about.

“Don’t apologize to me,” she said with the emphasis on ‘me,’ and sat down at the table to have a short lunch.

“It started when I was looking for twine to tie up that comforter. Oh yeah, I got into a laundry basket in your bedroom too.” I had gone through a whole basket of clothing, separating everything into piles according to whether they were casual or formal work clothes, etc, so that now her bed was covered with what had been in the basket. “It all looked clean to me. I folded the towels and put them away.”

“Yeah, I saw,” she said, and with either heroic self control or genuine lack of concern reached up into a nearby cabinet for a cup. “I think that’s laundry I didn’t get around to putting away.”

Cool, she wasn’t mad, so I was free to dig in. The drawer was a real conquest as I had opened it in search of twine, only to discover a little bottle of coloring liquid that mice had eaten through. There were droppings covering everything. So I felt like I had not only ferreted out one of the places where the mice like to hang out, but Chris was letting me get away with my own little hoe down. Of course there were decisions to be made and unidentifiable items to submit for her review, and since she started chatting amiably I began holding things up for her decree. “Oh, that can go; it’s a piece to an old radio we had before this one.” She was referring to the radio installed under the cabinet beside the stove vent.

We proceeded with gossip and decisions about stuff; soon the drawer was neatly filled and returned to its place, and we were going through a small pile of linens, baby clothes and a bright flower patterned bathing suit from the hall closet. “Oh my God! I forgot all about that! It’s my grandmother’s bathing suit,” she said laughing.

“Dang. I thought it was yours. It’s pretty!”

“Oh I wish you could have seen the night we had a party and Katie put that on over her clothes! It was a riot.”

She was a good friend before, but as we push together through this storm of stuff that has taken over her house, we are drawing even closer. So, ultimately I remember in my inventory of tasks completed and neglected, the loose insulation on the kitchen floor near the dishwasher, and the smell coming from the doors hanging open to the cabinet under the kitchen sink. Chris had gone to the coffee house to grade papers and I was in the race to finish the ‘regular stuff’ in the final hour, on my hands and knees with a bucket of ammonia water cleaning the kitchen floor. More signs of mice! The insulation was lying right next to the rodent traps like a dropped bit of cotton candy, and there was a very suspicious smell…I pulled every thing out from under the sink. That’s where the last hour went! There was a teeny tiny drip coming from the waste water trap, and after lining the cleaned bottom with a paper grocery bag, and placing a plastic container to catch the drip, there was no time to do the bathrooms!

I left all the cleaning chemicals in another utility closet so Chris’s husband would have room under the sink to set new traps. Now I look back on the day and think maybe it wasn’t such a bad one after all. Maybe when I go back there will be a success story about catching a mouse. Then Chris and I will have a nostalgic conversation about our animal loving friend Cheryl, who used only humane traps, and paid for her rescued rat to have cancer surgery. She moved away years ago and only returns for occasional visits. We’ll talk about how much we miss Cheryl and have a good laugh about the rats.