Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Post-snowstorm walkabout on icy terrain

On Saturday Santa Claus will sail through to Rockport Harbor.
Right now, though, all things are quiet, chilly and just waking up.

It was 28 degrees and icy when I pulled my cleats over my boots this morning at 6:45 in preparation for a morning walkabout. I was curious after the big storm, drawn by a beautiful sunrise happening in the moment, in need of exercise and lacking judgment. I could see that for ice-o-phobes like me, walking was going to be challenging. That's a major draw, to be honest. The challenge calls and the hazards, mute by comparison, materialize in full voice, usually after the point of no return and only after it's too late.

I'm not sure how much snow we had yesterday — maybe 5 inches tossed around by a whole lot of wind. It felt like my house was stuck in a blender through much of the 2-day storm. It's always amazing to me when I step outside afterward and see that everything is essentially intact. Once, and it's hard to forget this, half my roof blew off in a nor'easter. I was in New York City at the time and my tenant was kind enough to collect the shingles from the street.

It feels double-cold when even the trees look cold.

As I walked this morning, I bounced back and forth between the stark, spreading beauty of the morning and the treacherous footing — one second euphoric and the next near tears on slick ice with seemingly no way out. My cleats popped off repeatedly, perhaps a fail due to rubber that stiffened in the cold. Every so often I'd glance behind me to see one of my cleats splayed on an icy mound, defeated by the elements. Pulling on cleats, a job best accomplished sans gloves, on one foot while balanced on ice must be something to see from afar. I was terror-sweating, too busy to notice anything other than my mounting predicaments.

I see that some homeowners feel no need to get outside and shovel the walkways that abut their properties. This failure to shovel is most surprising around the school where the sidewalks are still filled with snow. And in those areas where the town seems to have done some snow removal, the walking is extremely slippery and uneven. Some sand would help.

There are lots of good arguments for shoveling. Rockport is a walking town and people will get out and walk after a storm if the sidewalks are shoveled and sanded. The cars have been ordered off the streets so walking makes good sense. It's certainly a good practice to walk and great for our environment. Making sure our neighbors and visitors are safe is an act of kindness and respect.

Many creatures have walked here.

Lots of Rockport homes are vacant in winter or occupied by short-term renters or, increasingly, airbnb patrons. Whether a homeowner is in Boca Raton, a nearby town or snuggled in front of the fireplace are not good excuses for failing to shovel. I don't know whether we are obliged, by law, to shovel or whether good manners is the prime motivator. Either way, I wish there was more shoveling going on.

Of course, shoveling is hazardous, too. I know someone whose heart stopped beating while shoveling on a nearby sidewalk. I guess you could say he died. His wife brought him back to us and he had a few more very good years till something else intervened. It's best, after a certain age, to hire someone to shovel if affordable. Here in Rockport we have Facebook pages where we can ask for help with shoveling and other tasks.

Post-sunrise at the tip of Bearskin Neck.

Despite the hazards, the morning walk was gorgeous and any terror-sweats and tears did not hinder my appreciation for this beautiful town and privileged way of life. Thank god for gratitude, which so far makes all things right again.

Saturday, November 23, 2019


Still life with pot: Everything you need for a good night's sleep

I bet you thought this essay was going to be a Public Service Announcement. Right now that announcement might well have to do with the romaine from Salinas Valley we all have to toss because some of it is infected with E. coli. Don’t take any chances! It’s almost Thanksgiving. Should you be one of those eternal optimists who thinks your guests want some crisp greens with their starch-fest, take preventive measures. Let’s not have any E. coli lurking in your salad bowl. 
In fact, this essay really is a Public Service Announcement. In this case, though, PSA is code for Pot as a Sleep Aid. I have sixties sensibilities and, therefore, harbor some wariness when it comes to drugs.
Because of marijuana-infused tea, I am sleeping better. Call it High Tea, if you are partial to puns. Until just now, I’ve refrained.
Sleep is a gift that, as we age, we are less likely to receive with any regularity. So many of my friends lie sleepless and feeling a touch hallucinatory in those dreadful pre-dawn hours when even the traffic in Manhattan quiets to an discomforting lull. It’s in this lull that we know we are truly alone. This is the time when the divides between confidence and confusion, between real and imaginary, between temporary and forever blur into a temporal dementia we elders seem doomed to confront.
I didn’t think sleeplessness would be one of my challenges. I exercise for about an hour a day. The coffee I make at home is half-decaf, half-regular and I don’t really drink much alcohol. I should be a good sleeper and I once was. In the last year that’s changed. I started waking at 1:30 or 2. My eyes opened and there I was, already wide awake. Full of energy and ideas. Currents of intent, like white waters in spring, coursed through me. It took everything to hold still. I felt levitated by my energies.
Then I met the pot doctor.
A couple of months ago I went with my husband to visit with the doctor who writes his annual medical marijuana prescription. I was invited into the room and listened in while the doctor told Jim to begin an additional regimen to help with his neuropathy. Take a pea-sized pinch of White Rhino marijuana and a pinch of CBD (they all look and smell the same to me) and steep it with an herbal tea before bed. Drink the (fragrant) tea and eat the weed afterward. It seemed simple enough. And more benign than the edibles or tinctures or vaping my friends do. 
We left the office and I said, “Get me some.”
That night I drank the pot/cbd-infused Sleepytime tea. I didn’t feel different, really, other than perhaps a tad heavier all over. The key thing that happens is that once I go to bed I fall asleep almost immediately and wake up only to pee, then fall right back to sleep. Also, if I start sipping while still reading, I have trouble focusing and eventually close the book and conk out. 
Now I wake up at 4:30, which is just one hour earlier than I would prefer. But I’m happy with my 4:30 arousal and hope it continues. It gives me time to scan three to four newspapers on my phone and play the NYT puzzles that are now my “treat” after surveying all the news. I avoid email because that stuff is work.
If I have the necessary self control, when I wake at 4:30 I can hold still and sometimes go back to sleep. It’s a battle not to start reading news. I’m driven to see if the president, by some freak occurrence, is no longer president. So far I’ve been disappointed but the screws are tightening as we speak.
I don’t usually read the man’s tweets, but I’ve looked at some analyses of his tweeting patterns and see that he does tweet early in the morning. Unfortunately, he wakes up grumpy, as Ambassador Gordon Sondland testified in last week’s impeachment hearings. Perhaps we’d all be better off if someone gave him some Sleepytime with a pinch of White Rhino right before bed.
By all means, consider this a PSA.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Hostage negotiations

This morning I awoke to learn that the Justice Department is conducting 
a criminal investigation into the origins of the (Justice Department's) Russia investigation 
and whether Democrats (Obama?) spied on Trump. 
Is the president fantasizing that he will finally get to jail Barack and Hillary?

Every morning I wake up, reach for my phone and check the news to see if our president choked on a French fry. Or maybe, overnight, he did that one vile thing even his most steadfast cronies would have to condemn. Or maybe somebody finally got the courage to send the New York Times his tax returns. Or perhaps a recording surfaced that proves, in no uncertain terms, that he’s Putin’s handmaiden, and, maybe, Erdogan’s and al-Assad’s and MbS’s, too. 

Yes. There is that one bad thing that will spell ruin for the man. There has to be. And because it dangles out there, well within that shimmering realm-of-possibility that inspires all my hopeful efforts, I cannot help myself. My phone, my news apps and I are joined at the hip in anticipation. 

While I’m profoundly grateful that this presidency has boosted newspaper sales — because I am a journalist and know my democracy needs good reporting, I am miserably aware how addicted I am to tracking this tweet-crazed whiner. Hope of his imminent demise holds me hostage.

I read a few mornings ago, while propped on pillows, that his aides say his phone calls to the despots are obsequious. In other words, he’s feeling one-down, using hyperbolic tones to leverage favor and mask weakness. There’s puffery involved in such transactional behavior. He puts on as if he’s connected with like-kind, or to the person he so wishes he were. While he twists and wheedles, Putin sits, smug and silent.  

The president fawns and those with the real power try not to look.

There’s some solo sex play in the mix, as well. Our man at the top appears to be mentally masturbating when holding forth at rallies or fawning over authoritarians like Putin and Kim Jong-un and crowd size. The pleasure is derived from delusion, of course. But it’s pleasure all the same. Just watch his jaws clamp, his posture stiffen and his lips purse. 

My news feeds come with video. Curled on my side, feeling utterly fetal, I watch every gesture with the same intensity that Alec Baldwin must, as he hones his own Saturday Night Live version of a bitterly deluded man tottering on a precipice. There we all are — media, Baldwin, me, and half the electorate — hypervigilant in our expectancy. You go, my beloved pre-dawn companions/fixes — New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian, Boston Globe, New Yorker et al. I read this morning that he’s banned some of you from our government offices. Hang in there!

“Hey Siri, play WNYC.”

Lots of people say America elected a malignant narcissist. I say he’s holding us hostage, the way narcissists do. If you’ve known one, you also know there’s practically no way to peel this scourge off our collective body short of voting him out of office, something talk show host Bill Maher says may not be enough. A French fry or piece of overcooked steak slathered in ketchup or that singularly irreversible act I’m waiting for could do it. Otherwise, as Maher worries, we may have to pry him out of there. 

Bill Maher thinks Trump won't leave office willingly.
Michael Moore says the president is the grenade
 a dissatisfied electorate tossed at our dysfunctional democracy.

When “Celebrity Apprentice” aired, all we had to do was turn off the TV or click past the insufferable bloviator. There are people in this country, me included, who would rather watch toilets flush than tune into “Celebrity Apprentice.” But now that he’s president, Trump is the train wreck many of us cannot tear ourselves away from — even at 4 a.m. 

Michael Moore called him the grenade our incensed electorate tossed at a failed democracy. If it’s incendiary devices we’re talking about here, I’d rather he be a time bomb that is, at last, ticking down a la Mr. Creosote in Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life.” Mr. Creosote indulged himself at dinner until he downed that now infamous thin mint and boom. He blew up. I have faith that there exists that last little thing that will blast the self-pitying narcissist out of the Oval Office.
Mr. Creosote is pictured here before the explosive,
self-indulgent feeding frenzy.
Clearly I am not the first one to liken the president to Mr. Creosote. 

Narcissism’s stranglehold, not just on our country, but on the world has serious consequences. Psychiatrists. Heads of state. People. Me. Past presidents. Dump your honor code. Seize courage. Speak out. Did we not think it was horrifying to watch the president of Finland bow his head while Donald Trump ranted incoherently? Hey, we all bow. He’s our president and we are polite, honorable people. Regular people are defenseless sitting ducks for gas-lighting narcissists. 

It’s the nature of the disorder that our self-indulgent, uninhibited world leader is nonetheless fueled by shame, hatred, rage and a need to retaliate for every single perceived slight. Members of my family with the disease sued their gardeners, employers, a major hospital in Los Angeles, ex-husbands, neighbors, Amtrak and on two occasions their fathers. As gifted and blessed as these people were, nothing was ever enough. Narcissists expect everything and give nothing other than an intoxicating if short-lived charm. Dr. Karyl McBride, author of the book about narcissism titled, “Will I Ever Be Free of You,” strongly cautioned that the best thing to do is never get involved. If you do — well, all I can say is, ‘Sorry.’ Expect to be plagued for the rest of your life because narcissists hold grudges the way barnacles hold onto ships hulls. You have to pry them off with a sharp instrument and a lot of force.

As in, “You’re fired!”

YOU'RE FIRED! Well, two can play at this game, mister.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Sexuality is ours for a lifetime

Joan Price's new book, "Sex After Grief,"
is a reminder that our sexuality doesn't 
desert us in grief any more than breathing does.

When I was doing the research for “Free Fall: A Late-in-Life Love Affair,” a memoir I published in 2010 with Seal Press, I came across studies showing that more than half of people into their 80s regularly enjoy oral sex. 
And thus began an eye-opening learning curve, the findings of which I pass on at every opportunity.
I was 57 at the time. Men were living large with Viagra in ways I hadn’t realized. When author Joan Price and I spoke at a senior residential center in Manhattan in 2010, we saw condoms in the restrooms. The staff was doing what they could to impede a worrisome outbreak of STDs and HIV at the center. 
Our talks that day went well except for the woman who was fed up with what she perceived as men’s outsized and enthusiastic appetites. She walked out of our joint presentation, disgusted. “I’m done with sex,” she muttered as she left the large community room. People ate their lunches of macaroni and cheese while we talked about the joys and challenges of sexuality and aging, clad in T-shirts imprinted with the names of our books. 
Our sexuality doesn’t have to diminish with age but things get in the way, among them illness, routine physical challenges like arthritis, long days and hard work, and the loss of a beloved partner.
Modern medicine has certainly handed an assist to many of us.
The proliferation of hip and knee replacements allows people with healthy libidos extended sexual activity. My husband had a knee replaced a couple of years ago. Beforehand, we attended a required class at the hospital, held in a large room divided down the middle. Half those in attendance were there to learn about their upcoming hip replacements and half learned about their knee replacements. I stood in the back because there weren’t enough seats. Outfitted with new knees and hips, people’s lives are suddenly and happily expanded. They can hike, dance, bike and make love again. 
But hold on. Stiff knees and the host of age-related complications that creep into bed with people don’t stop them from having good sex. There are work arounds. And people are ingenious.   
People over 50 have sex. Another thing I learned when talking about “Free Fall” was how many young people didn’t know much about aging and sexuality. Once, at a reading in Newburyport, a woman in her 40s stood up and thanked me. “I thought it was all over at 50,” she said. And she was serious. I got letters from young women who simply wrote: “Thank you!” One twentysomething wrote more than once, just to check in to see if I was still enjoying sex. Things are still very great at 71. I am lucky to have Jim, who is turning 80 this December, and, yes, we fall within the range of normal.
Writing “Free Fall” was easy but pressing “send” was not. I had to brace myself then and forever after for the repercussions of writing in a personal way about sex and my difficult life in 2007. I did it because I wanted people to know that sexuality can go dormant but it doesn’t go away. It can catch you by surprise. Blindside you. Knock the wind out of you. Alter your very existence. When we allow ourselves to become so busy, so cerebral and so cut off from our physicality, we are at risk. And the quality of our every waking moment is lesser for it. Being in touch with our physical self, and our physical universe, makes everything richer and deeper and more meaningful. When writing “Free Fall,” I often equated having sex with hiking and running and meditating and music — physically and spiritually enriching experiences.
What about when the unspeakable happens? When someone loses a beloved sexual partner, they are likely to shut down sexually as a normal part of grieving. Joan Price’s newest book, “Sex After Grief,” does a beautiful job examining grief and sexuality. My review of Joan’s book for GateHouse Media is at the bottom of this blog post and the link is here.  
Grief is all encompassing but the body and the brain and the emotions are not necessarily on a parallel course. We can crave physical pleasure even when we are desperately missing the lovemaking we had with our partner. These disparate feelings can be harrowing, as Joan describes. 
Joan’s book performs many services, not the least of which is to make us aware of our continued sexuality, even in grief. Age, bad knees, a new baby or a deceased partner signal a pause, not an end, to our sexuality. It’s better to know that in advance. Sexual want is potent. And sexual want is a force unfettered. Thanks to Joan, sexual want doesn’t have to blindside us or make us feel crazy when in grief.  

•     •     •

In grief we discover just how complex we are

By Rae Padilla Francoeur

Sex After Grief: Navigating Your Sexuality After Losing Your Beloved
By Joan Price. Mango, Coral Gables, 2019. $16.95. 172 page.

The mind and body aren’t always in agreement. Someone grieving the death of a beloved partner can be gobsmacked by sexual arousal. Such unexpected, often unwanted feelings in the peak of grief trigger shock and shame, further traumatizing the grief-stricken. 

Humans are complicated creatures, as author and expert on senior sexuality Joan Price so  aptly demonstrates in her newest book, “Sex After Grief.” “It’s time to talk out loud about sex and grieving,” she writes. “There are many books about grief after loss of a beloved, but they almost never talk about sex.” 

Price consults experts in the field of grief as well as those grieving the loss of partners for materials for this book. She also draws from her research as well as her Grief Journal and her Memory Journal that she kept after losing her husband, the love of her life found later in life. She delivers a small, special gift to those attempting to reconcile warring emotional and physical responses during bereavement. What may seem like chaos is natural and normal, she reassures those in the throes of great emotional tumult.

Price, 75, lost her husband Robert Rice in 2008 and spent several years not just grieving but learning about loss and grief. She had four grief counselors throughout her journey as she moved from someone rocked by devastating loss to a generous and compassionate sage. 

A knowledge of grief along with her expertise in the field of senior sexuality — she has written four other books on senior sexuality and is a sought-after speaker internationally — prompted Price to more deeply investigate the topic of sexuality and grief. Loss of an intimate partner can happen at any age. Grief isn’t the exclusive realm of the elders, sadly, and “Sex After Grief” will resonate with many seeking guidance and support after loss such as divorce, rejection or other circumstances. 

The many voices in this book are smart, well-spoken and insightful. Grief seems to open an exquisite, poignant dimension where the bereaved exist in a state of extremes. Emotions, thoughts and experiences are charged and precious. Those transitioning from this stage are changed, says Price. And while they are vulnerable, apprehensive and unsure, they are also wiser and courageous. 

Price’s “grief journey” lasted 10 years but during that time, she allowed herself many helpful experiences including forays into the realm of friends with benefits, erotic massage and online dating. She made sure, at every juncture, that she paid attention and honored her inclinations. Her decision to keep two journals, one she filled with good memories of her husband and one about her grief, gave her some of the material she needed to structure and write this book.

White-knuckle grief, “skin hunger,” guilt, disloyalty, loneliness and isolation, and even loving memories clog the path forward. Price writes of “halting steps” toward a place where grief exists but doesn’t always sear. Every loss is unique, every person is unique and, therefore, every journey is unique. Price’s chapters about myths, grief counselors, dating and “pilot light lovers” (those who ignite dormant passions) are all especially meaningful in that they explore experiences, sexual orientation and concerns. 

Price speaks candidly about sexuality and the ways sexuality changes with age. The primary audience for this book, people over 50 (perhaps), will not be surprised by what they read. Older people know sexuality doesn’t necessarily diminish with the advent of age and age-related impairments. Older people happily accommodate. Senior sexuality still seems like something of a secret that Price is trying to bring out in the open. Wouldn’t it be nice for Millennials to know, for example, that their sexuality isn’t subject to obsolescence? People of all ages keep at it, often until a final severe illness brings a close to that part of normal and natural functioning. One of the key attributes of this book is an absence of hedging and judgment. Price has a way with candor. Sexuality is. And it’s there, even in dying and death. 

Price, too, has found delight and pleasure in her sexuality once again. They exist in concert with a grief that has moderated with time and hard work. 

Rae Padilla Francoeur is an author and journalist. She can be reached at

Friday, September 7, 2018

Home, finally

Motif #1 is said to be one of America's most photographed scenes. It's located in Rockport's harbor, and sometimes it gets wrapped up in a big green bow for the holidays.

A few of us awaken to home; others have to seek it. I’m one of the latter. At 70 I’m finally here. Home.

For a few years in the early ‘90s I lived in the downstairs apartment of a big house owned by Lura Hall Phillips. An activist on behalf of Rockport, Massachusetts, she never held still. She was 94 years old and easily moved up and down the steep staircases in the house and in and out of Rockport’s business.

Lura introduced me to many like her, creative characters and doers who worked hard for our town. Roger Martin and Ted Tarr were among those who responded to her calls for action. At her memorial service a few years later in Millbrook Meadow, a magical place across from Front Beach that she worked to preserve and restore, Roger called her the ‘town prod.’ Ted said his day started at dawn when Lura’s to-do calls began. “I knew better than to ignore Lura Hall Phillips,” he said, laughing. He took the calls and did what she asked.

It was Rockport that inspired such devotion to duty. I responded, as well. For 10 years I wrote and published weekly essays, many about Rockport. They were really love letters and everybody who read them knew it. I received a drawerful of happy mail, mostly from people who understood. They loved reading about their special town. 

All the same, I knew my place. Roger Martin called me one night to explain that I was not a true Rockporter. I don’t think he held my Southern California roots against me, but he made sure I knew the nuances of home. To this day, I do not refer to Rockport as my hometown; instead, it’s the place where I live. I told Roger that it didn’t take a local to know a good home. I had journeyed from place to place, lover to lover, job to job, for 45 years. Yes. Rockport was home. The motherlode. After so many years of strife and rootless angst, I found home, safety and serenity in large part thanks to Lura Hall Phillips. She decided I would have the downstairs apartment over 85 other applicants because she said she liked my writing. Did she suspect that I, too, would catch the bug and carry on her tradition of serving Rockport with my writing and small but important civil actions?

I just finished reading and reviewing a novel I really enjoyed by Stephen McCauley, who also has a residence in Rockport. The book is smart, funny, full of warmth and love, and presents a view of humanity rooted in Rockport. Also, “My Ex-Life” is a page-turner. 

The the book is set in Rockport McCauley calls it Beauport. I’ve written fiction set in Rockport and I call it Lodgeport. I like Beauport better, but now it’s taken. I should note that part-time Gloucester resident James Masciarelli has a new novel out this summer, as well, and it’s called “Beyond Beauport.” But the fictional Beauport he references is Gloucester. The bigger point here is that writing about Rockport and Cape Ann will go on for as long as there are writers and a Cape Ann that’s still above sea level.

My Ex-Life,” which I reviewed for Gatehouse Media newspapers last week, portrays a Rockport many know well — a pretty place, unpretentious, in need of a master plan for its commerce and its future residential development. Like me, its characters lived hard and busy lives but, happily, found their way home in time to enjoy their good fortunes.

I ended up buying Lura’s house from her estate just a few weeks before she died. She’d fallen and broken a hip, and was in Addison-Gilbert Hospital when I told her the good news about the approval of the mortgage. She held my hand and told me she was really happy for me. “I love that house,” she said. “Now you can watch over it for a while.” She died just a week later.

This morning as I write this, I sit on the deck and look out over the ocean. Big clouds are building in the north. It’s 86 degrees and humid. Storms are predicted. During the Perfect Storm in 1991, the winds blew so hard I could not stand up outside without holding onto to something. It was my first night in the apartment. Terrified, I ran upstairs to Lura’s apartment and asked her what we should do. 

“Why, nothing. This has been home for many people for many decades. It will withstand the storms.”

 "It will withstand the storms."
                       — Lura Hall Phillips

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Pas de deux with swan at lake

When I come to Southern California, where I grew up, I know to bring sunglasses. It’s so sunny I must squint to see. I’m pretty sure there’s such a thing as a squint headache.

There are dark places here, too, in this land of extremes. I go there quickly enough, starting back in early childhood. Like Oz or Hogwarts, Southern California has its curious and dangerous places that call to kids and imprint for life.

In one instance while hunting butterflies in Oak Park, in Santa Barbara, I ducked into a bathroom to pee and a man pushed his way through the door my girlfriend was leaning against. At the sight of him, she fled, screaming. I was stuck.

In those days, the grownups called what he did “exposing himself.” That’s how the police wrote it up though it’s never just that. The nondescript words bleach out the ugliness, scrub away the potential for peril and let the police off the hook. Like the ubiquitous Peeping Toms in our neighborhood, those perverts were tolerated. The man with the zipper problem followed me and showed himself to me for several more years. In 2014 I went back to that bathroom to see what power it still held over me. Wisely, they’ve removed the door that turns a bathroom into a holding cell where anything can happen, undetected.

Oak Park is full of bushes, trees and brush. There are boulder dens and those dank and mildewy public toilets and secret places down in the creek. Men, over time, wore trails not much wider than game trails into the brush. They entered and they emerged. It was not a safe place for solitary young girls. I should have known to stay away but I was enamored of nature, the creek, the butterflies and, later, the tennis courts. I spent scores of day-dreamy hours in Oak Park and some of those hours were interrupted by acts of perversion, and in one instance, violence.

I am still drawn to areas where woods and water converge, even though some of these places will never be safe for me.

On this West Coast trip to visit my sister, I am staying at the Best Western at Sepulveda and Burbank in Sherman Oaks because it is near her house and, also, within walking distance of a sweet nature preserve packed with birds. Every morning I run and my husband walks along the main path that circumvents a marshy lake, but there are lots of spurs jutting off into the underbrush. Just like in Oak Park.

I run around the lake twice each morning and it is glorious. There are so many birds singing that it is downright noisy. At 7 a.m., the brush already simmers under that bright sun and expels a familiar pungency. It feels like Oak Park. And because of this, I can’t relax.

I am still a stalking victim. I say victim because I don’t fight back. This time, it’s cyberstalking and quiet endurance is the only sane tactic. Cyber stalkers have outsized personality disorders and are offended by your silence but they are enraged by the most innocent of utterances. I once (and only once) wrote, “OK,” and a world of vitriol flooded my inbox for days. Cyber-stalkers turn your Twitter account into a porn site. They make up fraudulent Facebook personas and post lies to your community of friends. They robo-call you scores of times a minute, day and night. With every email or phone block comes a counter-punch — a new cell number or FB persona. The laws are just now catching up to them. Cyber-stalkers see every digital move you make.

A personal safety expert recently told me: “You cannot rely on anyone to save you. You are on your own and must save yourself.” This coach, a woman my height — 5’11” — is skilled and experienced. She has been maced more times than she will say. She showed me how to hold mace and a flashlight and car keys all at the same time, and all with weapon potential.

This morning I had the best run yet of the four I’ve done since landing at LAX on Saturday afternoon. On my second day out I found a functioning box cutter in the middle of the trail and I stuck it in my pocket. Instant relief. While running I talked myself through how I would use it. Women, when attacked, are less likely than a man to use a weapon to save themselves. So I made myself promise I would use the box cutter if it ever came to that. You can’t fight to injure; you must vanquish. Eyes. Jugular. Face. Wrists.

I heard her voice: “Save yourself.”

The homeless have encampments here. They use the trail spurs. They emerge and they disappear. Vaporize, like ghosts. Their presence, even if they are hidden, is obvious. They don’t have access to showers or toilets or anything else. People leave them food in takeout containers, complete with utensils and napkins — set up on overturned boxes so the offerings resemble table settings.

I run past a bench where I see a small vial of perfume inside a zip-locked baggie and a few discarded tissues. Here’s the story I make up: A romantic liaison occurred on this bench, helped out by a splash or two of scent.

Ahead of me on the trail I see a man wearing a blue hoodie and shorts. He’s walking. He rounds a bend and I lose sight of him. When I round the same bend just seconds later, he is gone — vanished — down one of these spurs. Which one? I look around to see where he might have gone. Nothing. Whoosh. Minding his own business, just like me.

I worry all the same: Will he re-emerge behind me? Where is he?

And so it goes. The head dramas I make room for if I want to have a life. 

I spot a man with a long lens for photographing a hawk he’s been watching for days. A lens that, when it hangs from his side, looks like my childhood stalker’s erection. I run by, initiating a greeting with an upbeat “Good morning!” and he smiles and replies in kind. It feels right to sow smiles as I go.

Ten minutes later, in the dense vegetation where the trail turns, I encounter two men on bicycles. I don’t like them. They are too friendly and want to talk and I accelerate my gate and push my elbows away from my torso like one of those aggressive male swans on the edge of the lake — wings similarly arched away from its body — protecting his mate and his nest. Angrily puffed up, I shout a deep “Hello” that really says, “I want nothing to do with you” and I feel blessed to have my phone in my right hand with the little button on the home screen that says, “emergency.”

I left the box cutter back at the motel so I take a lesson from a swan.                                                     

I catch up with my husband. He has bad knees and I can circle twice to his half-circumambulation.

“Did you see those two guys on bikes?” They had no choice but to ride this way.


Ah. What to make of this? Spurs that even I, the most hyper vigilant of all, didn't notice.

My run is great. Fast and fun over the dirt trails I like best. And Jim is pleased to have made these walks every day, as well, and to have heard and seen so many birds. We are bird deprived this time of year in New England.

We agree. This is the best day yet at the Sepulveda wildlife sanctuary. Together we sit on a bench under the oak trees and watch a snowy egret fish. There are so many gifts. More light than dark today.