Friday, June 29, 2012



I asked Eric what his favorite song was and he said, "Me and Bobby Magee by Janis Joplin. "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose. Nothing ain't worth nothing, but it's free . . " I love her voice, I can hear it, belting out that song!
Eric is my age and lives in a nursing home and didn't have to explain why he chose that song; I already knew. I love Janis Joplin and I love that song, but his picking it made me sad.

Hear the song here.
I was lucky enough to meet and live with (very briefly) Janis Joplin, Big Brother and the Holding company, etc, in Big Sur.
I am leaving tomorrow and will be gone and probably incommunicado for 3-4 weeks.


Insomnia # 120628
Extra arms and legs appear in my bed,
like heads of the Hydra, every time I turn.
They pile like cordwood
against raw skin. Wherever I put them,
they sear, as if the flame
for which they were cut
burns hot already within them.
I twitch, exhausted, but not sleepy.
My body twists into a mobius strip,
a single surface of angst. Electricity crackles
and snaps down my spine, leaping from vertebrae
to vertebrae. My left foot circles and rears
like a stallion. When it leaps from the bed,
and drags the rest of me, protesting, with it,
out into canyons of darkness, I light the night
with the lantern that throbs
from my skull.
Mary Stebbins Taitt
Keith and Mary at the Ford House, by Harry Teichert

Almost a Secret

In a romance novel that I was accidentally reading, the hero said to the protagonist, "I want to grow old with you."
Growing old together is not a bed of roses--there are hard times, difficult passages. Sometimes . . . well, sometimes it is not all it's cracked up to be in romance novels.
I'm not sure when we become "old." Is it when we retire, when our hair turns white, when we can no longer do the things we like to do because of various frailties?
We're 66, both of us. We love each other with a great tenderness. Sometimes, we hate each other.
I suffer from insomnia. Last night, I lay awake with my naked husband wrapped around me, his leg thrown over, his hand resting on my arm, his belly rhythmically rising to touch me and move away.
I wanted to touch him, to caress him, I didn't want to wake him.
Someone recently told me, with almost a sense of awe, that 80-year-old men find 80-year-old women attractive. I am here to say that 66- year-old women find 66-year-old men sweet, lovely, sexy and wonderful--at least some of the time! We still happily and gratefully enjoy what Ayla calls "pleasures."
Shhh, don't tell the kids. :-D

Monday, June 25, 2012

Woman in a Pool of Blood
by me, Mary Stebbins Taitt
Artrage digital painting

Blood and Tears

I lay in a pool of blood, inert. I thought I was dying, but when they came to get me, I fought like a wildcat. Finally, they threatened to put me in a straightjacket. There were more of them than there were of me. I stopped fighting and they lifted me onto a stretcher and carried me away.
They asked who my parents were and I said, no parents. That was a lie, but my father had disowned me and we weren’t speaking. I said I had no money, which was true. They put me in the charity ward at Bellevue. I had had a miscarriage and was so despondent I wanted to die.
The charity ward was a huge room full of hundreds of beds, jammed close with only a small space between them filled hundreds of poor, sick women. (Apparently, they didn’t believe in the germ theory of disease). It was November, 1965. I was 19 years old.
The woman in the bed next to me died. She lay staring at the ceiling for hours. Finally, a nurse closed her eyes and pulled a sheet over her face. She lay there beside me with her nose pushing up the sheet until I decided I did not want to die, there, nameless, in that lonely, overcrowded ward.
Okay, I'll live, I told myself, and my friends came and donated blood so that I could have a transfusion to make up for the blood I had lost. Peter. Eric. Ken.
I was four month along, but the baby had died earlier and started to be reabsorbed. I had hated her, and wept at the thought. I had loved her, and had named her Gina Maria. Suddenly, she was gone.
Now, years and years later, my parents are gone, too. I never told them about their lost grandchild. They too had been lost to me, at the time. When I found them again, I did not want to break their hearts. Instead, I half-drown in a flood of tears.

Friday, June 22, 2012


Self-portrait of the Photographer as a Cantankerous Woman


I am a person who can sometimes be difficult to "help."
For one thing, I absolutely HATE unsolicited advice. A person giving unsolicited advice assumes himself to be better than me, to know more than I do, to understand my situation better than I do. (Even solicited advice can be way off the mark of what is needed.)
I will freely admit to being cantankerous. I get more so every year.
I have a difficult time following advice. It rarely seems to work for me. My situation often feels totally unique and separates me from the rest of humanity.
Worse yet, I hate being indebted to people, especially certain people, especially when I am feeling vulnerable. Often, I would rather suffer than ask for help. I feel as if I am begging--and that harks back to days when I lived on the streets and actually had to beg for food to survive. It makes me feel less than.
I hate long lectures with lots of irrelevant information when I ask a simple question.
On the other hand, I am often deeply grateful to certain people in certain circumstances for their help. It's hard for me to parse the difference between the times when help is joyous to receive and I feel deep gratitude and those times when I feel anger and resentment. This will require more thought.
Advice can be desired and helpful; for example, if someone has a skill I don't possess, sometimes the easiest way to learn something is to have someone show me. For example, I am learning how to do 3D photography, and I LOVE having someone show me little shortcuts and tricks. And since the experts in my 3D club seem EAGER to be helpful, I do not feel as if I am burdening them with my neediness.
I will freely ask a smiling person to take my picture when I am traveling alone. Smiles help me feel less frightened of asking for help.
Not wanting to be a possible burden to others and resenting being made to feel stupid are two of the main reasons asking for help is difficult for me.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Rampant Stupidity

Flood patterns
rescued from the floods

Rampant Stupidity

I am, unfortunately, fairly intolerant of stupidity, and the worst stupidity is MY OWN! :-(
I had a mammogram today and this morning, I went looking for the required procedure order. We'd had company for my son's graduation and I'd done a whirlwind cleaning, but I remembered putting the order "somewhere safe--where I'd remember where it was."
I looked everywhere. All the usual and unusual places I could think of. Then, I looked everywhere AGAIN. No luck.
I called the GYN and asked them to fax a new copy of the order to the hospital. They needed the fax number and I couldn't find it.
Once more, I searched and searched. I became truly frantic! Suddenly, I remembered where the order was--clipped right in front of my face on the hutch to my desk! I'd put it there the day the company was coming and got so used to seeing it that it became invisible to me.
That wasn't the end of it, there were more mini-misfortunes before I made it to the hospital. Trouble with the car, construction delays, rain, difficult parking and so on, but they weren't as annoying as my own stupidity. I did make it, finally. Now, I have something else clipped to the hutch door--the procedure order for the next test--this time, I hope I remember.
My mother had dementia, and died of it, and I hope this isn't the beginning of my own dementia. I hope it's normal benign forgetfulness, but at times, it doesn't feel that benign!

Sunday, June 17, 2012


Keith Sunbeam


Keith hums. He hums tunelessly much of the time. He hums while he works, while he showers, while he walks.
One time, I asked him if he was humming a particular song. I had been listening and couldn't make out a tune. He said no. He seemed puzzled by the question.
When I hum, which I do less often than I used to, I always hum a song, an earworm, usually.
I said, "I love to hear you hum, it sounds like you're happy."
"I am," he answered.
I smile when I hear him humming.
It makes me happy to hear him happy. :-D

Keith Sunbeam art by me.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A House of Fear

Carrying "The House of Fear"
Digitally altered watercolor painting.

"A House of Fear"

I'm no countess, and I've never been to the Greek Islands, but I have lived in "A House of Fear" much of my life.  Like a turtle or a snail, I now carry that house of fear around with me. It's attached at the hip, and I cannot seem to shed it, no matter how I try.

It began in childhood, when my father had unexplainable black moods.  My mother taught us to be very quiet during his moods, to essentially disappear, to almost cease to be. I learned silence, I learned to never talk back, I learned not to speak my mind, I learned to hide in shadows.

My father was not always dark; he had a light side, too, a kind side.  He took us hiking, canoeing and camping, read stories to us, sang songs, played card and board games with is. But I never knew when the happy husk of my loving father would split and the monster father would emerge.  The monster was dark and carried a storm around with him, palpable black clouds hovered over his head and the air was thick with tension.

My father rarely hurt us physically.  And back then, not everyone considered using a belt on a "bad" child abuse.  I became a bad child, in my own mind, anyway, because of those uncommon but terrifying and painful punishments.  My mother used a paddle.  Her moods were not as scary, and her punishments seemed to "fit the crime."

When I left home, I chose a man, Pietro, like my father in many ways, only this man beat me and physically abused me, more and more often, and with more and more severe results.  I retreated deeper inside myself, when fighting back and running away didn't help.  He always found me, and the punishment was even worse.

I am free of Pietro now, and with a new man, Keith, who treats me kindly and lovingly, most of the time.  The trip here was long, arduous and incredibly difficult.  And the snail shell of my House of Fear often comes between us.  My husband says, "I am not Pietro!!"  He becomes confused or angry when I am fearful, tearful or angry.  He doesn't seem to understand that knowing he is not Pietro intellectually does not free me from the burden of my horrible House of Fear.

The house of fear has grown into my flesh, into my bones, into my brain, into my heart with deep, vicious tentacles that are difficult to extract.  It is my emotional reactions to things Keith says or does, most often with complete innocence, that cause flare-ups between us.  

I want to be free of the House of Fear.  Sometimes I worry that the roots of pain, the structure of the House of Fear, is so deeply embedded that any attempt to truly extract them would simply kill me.

THis story was originally written for Cowbird as a response to another story.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Love's Fleurs Quick Sketch

Love's Fluers

Love's Fleurs, Mary Stebbins Taitt, for Keith, artrage on iPad, quick
sketch. Keith gave me these for our anniversary. (

Monday, June 11, 2012

Lunch Time and Boring Sandwiches

Turkey on sprouted grain bread
with apricot-fig dressing

Lunch Time and Boring Sandwiches

This whole boring thing has got me going.

My husband makes up 20 sandwiches at a time.  he prepares them with good artisan multi-grained bread, corn beef and butter.  He freezes them, and takes out one every morning.  By lunchtime, the sandwich has thawed. 

I could do that, if I had to, but I would prefer not to.  When I worked, I brought leftovers (“planned-overs”) from my previous night’s dinner, which I always made myself from scratch, to lunch every day except Friday, which was eat-out-with-a-friend day, if I had a friend available.  I brought the food in a wide-mouth thermos. 

One day, my friend, Hennie Mavis, asked me why I never brought sandwiches.  “I HATE sandwiches,” I said, “they are so BORING!!!”  It wasn’t entirely true, but ordinary sandwiches do tend to get a little tiresome—and I do tend to get excited and vehement about things.

Shortly thereafter, wouldn’t you know, I started bring sandwiches again—only rarely the same from one day to the next.  I often made sandwiches from leftovers.

I now eat sandwiches several times a week.

Here is my sandwich de jour.  It looks ordinary enough, but it has several “secret ingredients” that make it “not boring.”

Turkey on Spouted grain bread with apricot-fig dressing:

slices of Boar’s Head all-natural turkey (or your turkey of choice)
2 slices of 7- sprouted grain bread (freezer section of good markets and health food stores)(or use your favorite bread)
spinach (or good quality lettuce)
slices of fresh tomato
apricot fig-dressing

Apricot-fig dressing:

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fig-infused balsamic vinegar (available at good stores)
1 T water
1 T apricot juice (or water)
1 T To the Max or other brand apricot jelly or jam (to the max has more fruit)
salt, pepper
garlic power
Agitate well.  Makes enough for several sandwiches.  Can be doubled.  Not low calorie.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Old News and Short Attention Spans

Emerging from the Flood

Old News and Short Attention Spans

Sometimes, we hear about something terrible that happens to someone, and then they drop out of sight. We never know "the rest of the story."
I had a friend who fell out of a dorm room from a very high floor--he was drunk and should have been killed, but he lived.
No one ever heard anything more about him, but he resurfaced in my life years later--he'd been living with terrible effects of brain damage for many years. His story had long ago ceased to interest the press.
At our house (and in our whole neighborhood), we had a flood, and we are still digging out, months and months later. No one cares or wants to hear about it. They have their own problems.
When we got ready to go camping, we found out that the pump for the air mattress was ruined. We had to buy a new one. (This may seem minor, but it is one of hundred of little things that keep occurring after the big cleanup and the big expenses.)
Today, digging through a box, I found things that were still full of water inside an otherwise dry box.
I am still sorting through ruined slides and photographs trying to save the ones that can be rescued and eliminate the ones that can't. It's a slow job.
I fiddled with this one, made what was ruined into "art." Or, at least I'm calling it "art." (Maybe I should have signed it!)

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Storytelling as Conversation

Storytelling as Conversation

We're sitting with friends, and someone tells a story. That story resonates, and someone else tells a story. A story about their life. A true story, at least in part. And that story resonates and the next story is told, and the evening passes away in story telling.
Cowbird is like that.
Kathy Weinberg's story about acting out parts of Much Ado about Nothing reminds me of several "stories." Several events or ongoing series of events.
To keep it short, I will mention only this: As children, growing up before televisions, computers, cell phones etc, we regularly planned staged and put on plays, with no adult assistance.
My "best friend" Dorothy was the director, and usually played the male lead, because getting boys to cooperate was difficult. Migget, who was the prettiest, always played the princess, the sleeping beauty, the Cinderella. I always had to play the villain. The wicked stepmother, the wicked witch.
We planned, discussed, practiced, made costumes, and sold tickets for 5 cents each. (I am giving away my age, here.) The stage was Dorothy's garage, the curtain, the garage door.
I always thought Dorothy would grow up to be a great director. Instead, she runs a general store and post office in a tiny town in the Adirondacks. I often still feel like the wicked witch or the ugly step sister.

(Art by me--I've misplaced my stylus (Cintique pen) and drawing with the mouse is even harder.) (Now is when I wrote the story, but the old part took place maybe in in 1955, 1956 etc)

Black, White and Tonga

Black, White and Tonga

My therapist says I have a tendency to think in black and white. I am deeply embarrassed to admit he is right. Although I can see many colors and shades of grey in some areas of my life, abusive relationships have left me feeling black and white in the love arena.
When my husband is sweet, kind and loving, I feel white. I feel happy and loving, comforted and safe. And when he says or does something mean and inconsiderate, I feel black, full of anger, rage, hatred. I start considering divorce.
I have been doing early-stage Tonga practice. I breathe in and touch my deepest darkest feelings. Then I breathe out into the arms of the Buddha, the joyous Universe.
Last night, my husband said something hurtful, and I felt hateful. I hate feeling hateful. I didn’t want to breathe into that feeling, because I was afraid it would expand like a black balloon and explode its inky darkness over me, filling me with despair, and preventing me from sleeping.
Instead, when I breathed into it, I found pain, deep pain, and tears exploded over me. I wept. I tried to weep quietly, because my husband lay in bed beside me and I didn’t want to disturb him, but he heard me and wrapped his arms around me, which made me cry more. His arms were not only his, but also the loving arms of the Buddha, the joyous Universe.
The tears and his arms washed away the pain and left me feeling loved and peaceful. White. Hardly what I had expected from all that blackness.

originally published in Cowbird.
The link inserter isn't working!  :-(

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Mary in Ellen for Ammon: Latvia Sidewalk Cafe #1

Pen and ink with watercolor and watercolor pencils. This is my last one in Ellen's and I have a pocket item, so I will be mailing ASAP, but maybe not tomorrow, as I have an appointment for an MRI of the brain that is supposed to take some time.  This is half a collaboration, the first half--click on the image to view larger and see details.



Alex Noble wrote a grand, hilarious tongue-in-cheek story about overwhelm, which brought to mind my overwhelmedness.
HS to me: "Do you ever get up in the morning and realize there is no way you can even make a DENT in you to-do list?"
Me: "Ever f-ing day!"
HS thinks this is funny.
I don't. :-( (Boo hoo!)
Something is wrong with the way I live. I always have too much to do.
(So why then am I writing a cowbird piece? It's an escape from the great weight of all that STUFF!)
Me, to Shrink #1: "I have too much to do."
Shrink #1 to me: "We can't talk about that, everyone is busy. We need to talk about important things."
Me to Shrink #1: "Bye. It hasn't been nice knowing you."
Me, to Shrink #2: "I have too much to do."
Shrink #2: "Why are you keeping yourself so busy?"
Me: "I'm afraid. Boredom has a large mouth and a lot of long sharp teeth."

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Boredom revisted

Boredom revisted

All this talk of boredom, like a pebble in a pond, has started quite a number of ripples. In response to my earlier note on boredom, my friend AT, who prefers to remain anonymous, wrote:
"That was a thought provoking piece.
Boredom can mean many things I think, from anxiety that holds up your ability to take action, to depressive boredom where you are depressed and nothing that you think of doing has any flavor or color. There is hopelessness boredom where taking any action on your own behalf has resulted in so many negative encounters that you are stuck in a circle of non-productive behaviors. There is also "too many choices" boredom where you are overwhelmed by so many options you cannot focus, take action, and get positive feedback, e.g: wealthy kids. Then there is repetitive task boredom where the task you are required to do has very little leeway for creativity, autonomy, or change.
"Lots of these depend on your evolutionary personality, your life experiences up to that point, and the general environment you live in at the time. Very complex.
"I have had much anxiety boredom as a child although it also drove me to do tons of school work , but not to become more courageous and creative, that came much later and only by forcing myself into great discomfort did I break that barrier."
Anxiety boredom may be my personal biggest foe.
My daughter wrote that being forced to sit a meeting or class where the subject is of no interest and being unable to make other choices (e.g, read, write, meditate etc) is one of her biggest boredom-producing stimuli. That's big for me, too.
I just have to sit with my discomfort, which I sometimes dislike doing. it is uncomfortable and sometimes difficult.
Sitting with one's boredom and discomfort can be a way of deepening awareness and coming to a sounder self-acceptance.
I like to read a good children's book to relieve my anxiety. I am currently reading *Igraine the Brave* when I feel a hint of anxiety coming on.
And, I like to be in nature, to see flowers butterflies. And people's smiles.

(originally published on Cowbird.--the earlier story on boredom I haven't had time to post.)

Sunday, June 03, 2012

The Man Next Door

the man next door
by Mary Stebbins Taitt

The Man Next Door

When I go outside to take a walk, the man next door is mowing his lawn.
His back is turned to me, and I quickly cross the street. At the end of the row, he turns and sees me. I wave. He nods.
I was hoping while his back was turned to get past so that my back was toward him before he faced me, but I wasn't quick enough.
I am uncomfortable. I feel anger, shame, annoyance.
That man called the compost police because our son failed to bury the compost deep enough and the squirrels uprooted it. This was behind the garage, out of sight to any but the most prying eyes. The compost police said, "no more coffee grounds and orange peels, only grass clippings and yard waste."
The man next door has a dog that barks. His children yell and scream. We do not call the dog police. We do not complain about the noise.
But I feel less than eager to be his friend. He seems less than eager to be mine, and I am ok with that.

originally posted to Cowbird.

I wonder if I should work on my dislike of this man.