Saturday, April 26, 2008

work in progress

Well. Since my last posting, my husband received word that he GOT the job! That was Thursday. And I've lost my cell phone (same day) so I don't have numbers for a bunch of the people I'd like to call with the good news.
I haven't set aside this piece despite the past six weeks of abyssmal tension -- six weeks of trying to help, getting angry, feeling selfish, and unfortunately some weepy short-tempered gracelessness that gradually gave way to a sense of resignation, if not genuine peace. Most of my good energy had to be channeled into my husband and son, as much as I'm able to do that, and I learned a couple things - one, that I needed this experience in order to find out how well I maintain balance under pressure over time (not a five-star rating this time, I'm afraid); two, that there is a level of support I can provide for my husband without it tripping his pride mechanism, though it's a subtle operation.

So I'm painting the text piece, to increase its continuity with the background and relieve some of the horizontal tension it presents. I've done a fair amount of machine quilting, and have started hand-quilting and applique at various spots, as well as some tentative beading in one section. I ripped out a bunch of text on the reveal, and re-wrote that. And just today I stumbled across some erotic symbolism that will work GREAT with this piece because it doesn't involve any nudity or obvious cliches. I'm giving thought to a central figure, a "diver" in kind of a bas-relief doll form (I have a woman's torso shape made of bone that I bought at a bead shop in south Minneapolis, as well as a pair of bronze hands; I found a flattish mask pin at the nearby thrift store that I can rework into a face. I don't know if the figure is a good idea yet, but I'll sketch something out and see how it fits.)

Things are better. Pretty soon I'll get a bicycle, apply for grad school, buy some seeds for the garden and start teeball on Monday nights with my son. My husband is relaxing gradually -- he actually slept through the night last night -- and has allowed as how it might be nice if we went to dinner in a week or two. And so it goes.

Monday, April 21, 2008

April 21

I have trouble convincing him
That this winter will let go of us, eventually.
But once it does, I fear that other waiting,
Black as still-born earth,
Will bring him low.
So I break my back with the rake
As soon as the ground is soft,
Even before our first real thunderstorm; to expose
The good intentions of the soil --

And I’m rewarded: not yet with answers
To our future on this earth;
But as I’m making this morning’s coffee, I glance
Out at the yard, and see the spade upstanding
In the turned dirt, half the garden done.
He has taken up the task of living still

Living in spite of what we can’t yet know
And for once, I’m proud of myself for trying.

Cardinal visitation

No, it's nothing to do with the Pope or his red shoes that cost $600 a pair (which he of course gets for free, because if you are a hand-crafter of fine red Italian leather shoes, what better public relations could you ask for?)
But, hey, is that why those pre-Pope guys are called "cardinals" - because they always wear red?
ANYway -- Last night as I was laying on the couch, listening to my husband and child sleeping in adjacent rooms, I was also praying. It was one a.m., and I was feeling despondant over the situation and wishing for all the uncertainty to end (and end well) so I can have my husband back again. Praying, and thinking, and praying some more, because it feels artificial to say my prayers as if I were in church and audible. When out of the pitch-darkness of the front yard, I suddenly heard quite plainly the song of the male Northern Cardinal. Not the two or three long descending notes that often come first, but the repeated staccato notes that come at the end. Clear and lovely. Just the one time.
And I wondered if it could be a message of some kind -- that it is spring, that there is hope, even at unlikely times when all seems dark.
The spouse says the bird was dreaming (a wonderful prospect in itself). I thought perhaps it could have heard a distant sound like that of a competing male, which woke it from its slumber briefly. Who knows? I took it as a good sign, and I'll hang onto that a while. Tomorrow (today) is another day.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

no news is still no news

I could be sewing right now, or reading. I could close my eyes and try to recreate the peaceful, almost blissful calm I felt at the closing of worship after my day-long conference in Eden Prairie. But right now my husband is trying to sleep, having announced that he isn't getting up tomorrow. I think he would like to stay in bed until we get some word of what's happening, a feeling I can understand.

His superiors have missed the hiring deadline for making a decision, so our insurance is in jeopardy. They have given him strangely positive signals, but still no word. We're starting to believe that this decision is sitting on the new school president's desk, perhaps along with some other hiring decisions, waiting -- for what we can't be sure. They might be thinking about the Governor's budget cuts to the state colleges and universities system -- maybe they have to absorb those cuts, which were announced after the full-time position was posted, and they aren't sure who they will hire. If anyone. Maybe something else is going on. Maybe the president is late returning from a vacation -- no one is talking. Maybe there's a good affirmative action candidate -- my husband, in spite of excessive qualifications, is still a white male.

Since the worrying about this started in a low-level way as soon as the job was posted, we have been on this treadmill since the beginning of the year. Of course, the tension didn't really descend until about 6 weeks ago. His interview was in the first week of April, a process they probably didn't finish before the 10th. For some reason he thought we'd have a decision by the end of this week. No one seemed to know whether it would happen before the 15th, and it was acknowledge that this might create a problem with insurance coverage. Friday came and went.

We are trying to spend the weekend pretending that nothing is amiss in our lives, but it's obviously difficult, and the strain is apparent. If only this could have been straightforward. It's difficult to understand what larger, positive or hopeful lesson can be gleaned from this. At various times I've had a good feeling about the outcome, but I can't know, and don't always. Like waiting for a boyfriend to call, this sort of thing doesn't bode well for the relationship. Left hanging. Maybe he still gets the job. But they leave themselves and their system no redemptive quality. He has worked long and hard for them for years. If this doesn't come to fruition now, it's a major disappointment, a major screwing. It's practically impossible to imagine how our lives could still be improved, in any near future, if this doesn't work out. He has staked everything on this job -- intangibles like faith in the system and sense of self, a feeling of some security. At this point I'm afraid that even if he gets it, his nerves will be shot indefinitely, because he's not a guy who bounces back. And if he feels he's lost almost everything, it then becomes possible that some major change has to take place --- jobs, locations, who knows. And then I may well be forced to give up everything I've worked for over the past two-and-a-half years as well, because my dreams don't pay the mortgage. That's not a selfless statement, but it's true.

So I pray. It's an action. I realize this isn't like waiting for biopsy results, not like waiting for a soldier to come home, not like waiting for the police to find someone who is missing, not like waiting for a loved one to get out of critical surgery. But it's enough.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

no news news

We still haven't heard about my husband's job. The school's official hiring deadline came and went today, so if they do keep him, there will be HR problems to disentangle. It's a dreadful wait. Thanks to those of you who have been nice about checking in and supporting us. Hopefully we will have an answer about our future by the end of the week.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

April 10th: More Snow

Isaiah 55:10-13
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

in need of anesthetics

Sit up straight, because it's easier to type -- while sitting in the hard barstool-height chair, with the laptop balanced atop the plastic bin that houses all my underwear, which is in turn sitting on a folding TV tray. What an image. This isn't any more comfortable than those weeks spent using my ironing board as a desk. Wireless!!! Where are you?

Not feeling so terribly graceful, or grace-filled, this past day or two. Now that I'm on my second prescription for antibiotics, and my third referral for the tooth -- next I see an specialistic in head and neck imaging for a "cone segmentation CT scan" that will cost me an un-reimbursable $100. Why? Because no one wants to answer a simple question: Does it make sense to spend $900 on root canal work for a tooth that is being slowly shoved downward by the impacted wisdom tooth above it? When said wisdom tooth is likely to be the reason the molar got infected and is now dead? Doesn't it make more sense just to pull the damned molar, since no one wants to go in after the wisdom tooth, and let the wisdom tooth descend on its own? OK, that's three questions. But you get the idea. It all costs money, so I'm trying to make a wise budgetary decision here. I've already spent hundreds capping this damned molar, fat lot of good it did me too.

Oh, oh oh. And no word yet about my husband's job.

Today was a classically maddening day at work: People showing up unannounced in groups of three and four to demand information from me that they think should be at my fingertips. And to ask, some nicely, some less so, for me to take on their worries over picayune administrative details -- the sorts of things it would do them more good to relax and learn to live with. I can't get the meetings I want with certain people; and when I go to a meeting, the phone rings 6 times, interruptions from people who really need to tell me how frustrated they are that I'm not somewhere else making their lives easier. And oh yeah, some kids came in during open-door hours this evening and looted the damned kitchen, since no one was really paying attention. So our resident weirdo custodian chases them off with a golf club and then calls the cops. People calling me at 9pm to tell me all this. Tomorrow I have to close the books on March, and I'm behind on bookkeeping. BLAH!

Nope, not very graceful. And I ate mac n cheese for lunch yesterday, and McDonald's today, which means I'm feeling undernourished in some deeper sense and I'm compensating by pretending I still get regular exercise -- and eating accordingly.

In the words of Beth Orton, "Won't you please... knock me off my feet... for a while." My son's fortune-cookie-fortune tonight read "some situation in your life will be improved today by your positive attitude." I should have known that one was for me. The thing is, I felt good this morning. I dressed up in a magenta-n-black suit that made me feel sexy, put on some makeup, and listened to Amy Winehouse at my desk while I slogged through some dull paperwork. It was OK. Now, I'm eating chocolate covered raisins, wishing I could get sloshed, wishing someone would magically appear to love the heck out of me and then conveniently disappear before I can feel badly about it.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

grace. or something like it.

I wish my wireless card would pick up the Minneapolis network, so I could relax on the couch and type instead of being chained to the wall while sitting in a hard chair. Keeps word counts low, I guess.

For the past two days or three, I've had episodes of what could simply be called "perspective" - a sense of scale, of my life in some context. I think this can be linked in part to the fact that some (though by no means all) of the pressure is off at work, for a couple weeks, having no major events to execute before mid-May. And after a quick conversation Friday, Becky and I decided to postpone the Rites of Passing event until September -- mainly because both of us have been occupied with paying work, and while the workshop end of the conference seems to have its own momentum, the arts end hasn't resolved. Buying a few months makes sense in light of all that's happening after mid-May, since we were initially hoping to pull this off in June, and now both of us are working on the Spirit in the House Theater Festival. Amongst other gigs. Spirit opens the last week in May, right after my Northeast Art-a-Whirl showcase.

Some of this might also be informed by the anniversary of King's death and the reactions to this shared with me by a few friends. The rest might have to do with stress in the lives of family members, with love, with the evolving nature of spiritual pursuits. That's plenty, it's more than enough to fuel introspection.

And it all points for the moment at the question of grace.

- (Christian theology) a state of sanctification by God; the state of one who under such divine influence; "the conception of grace developed ...
- elegance and beauty of movement or expression
- seemliness: a sense of propriety and consideration for others
- a disposition to kindness and compassion; "the victor's grace in treating the vanquished"
- (Greek mythology) one of three sisters who were the givers of beauty and charm; a favorite subject for sculptors
- a short prayer of thanks before a meal
- decorate: make more attractive by adding ornament, colour, etc.; "Decorate the room for the party"; "beautify yourself for the special day"
- (Christian theology) the free and unmerited favor or beneficence of God; "God's grace is manifested in the salvation of sinners"; "there but for the grace of God go I"
- deck: be beautiful to look at; "Flowers adorned the tables everywhere"

Salvation. Compassion. Beauty.

At this time in my life there is no disentanglement of worship from work or from art. All three themes, all three definitions, run as threads both warp and weft through the mission and the details, and the objectives. Unevenly successful, it's true, and the emerging design still seems fairly abstract. But I'm grateful for it, this grace, in all its manifestations.

In the face of what is dark or stressful, doubt-filled, skeptical, complex, dull, disheartening -- grace is the relief. Grace is the balm, grace is the water.

Someone pointed out to me recently that I'm most in-my-element when it's art as the subject, something I noticed myself recently at a studio visit -- not that's it's a surprise, only that it's been a while since I found myself wholly there versus working for the church. It was my career for a lot of years, that art game. Artists, works, installations, issues of creation and perception. That's my native occupation. The church is a very fresh venue, still only a couple years old for me as both a work pursuit and a spiritual activity -- amazing how immersed I am, compared to the life-long church people that mostly surround me -- they are so much more comfortable with it than I. I'm not uncomfortable. But it isn't easy yet. I can't talk about it to just anyone. I don't understand all the layers, the politics, the lifestyle. I have to go with my instincts much of the time, which have so far mainly served me well. I'm not yet confident there.

Grace is a big part of instinct, however. Instinct is guidance from outside, as much as from within -- instinct is the Holy Spirit as that "spirit of truth." Perhaps the Spirit is the means, and Grace the end. I don't know. And maybe Love is both.
Or perhaps not "up all night" so much lately, as "up pretty early" -- since my habit is to fall asleep around nine when I put the kid to bed, then wake up at 11 and spend a few hours living some alone-time -- and last night I just made a pajama transfer instead. As in, put on my pajamas and go back to sleep in my own bed.

Except I had Snoring Man as a bed partner last night, and wound up on the couch -- whereon it is quite easy to wake up early. This has happened a few times over the past week. Now that spring has resolutely given itself up to us, the cardinals are awake before the blackness has quite receded.

And now my son is up as well.

Friday, April 4, 2008

40 years, 80,000 jobs, 81%

As anyone waking today must know by now, today is the 40th anniversary of the murder of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Not for the first time I've heard excerpts from Rev. King's last speech, wherein he transcended the troubling issues inherent to the sanitation workers' strike and, some say, gave us all a glimpse of God's vision for the world even as he received presentiment of his own death the following day. And I've heard again the words of Presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy in Indianapolis, upon whom lay the duty of informing a hopeful crowd that the great leader had been taken from them. He spoke from his heart, spoke with poetry that any who have cared and suffered would understand, and left both grief and peace in his wake. Of course Kennedy would soon follow him, taken by a man with a gun. As a random newscaster here in town pointed out yesterday, 40 years is a very Biblical number. What happens next, regardless of that span of years, must be watched carefully by lovers of peace. It's a year of election in the United States.

80,000 jobs were dissolved in this country last month. 81% of Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction. (See today's Times.) This is the country we have allowed. How could a generation of Americans not have felt deep hopelessness, apathy and self-pity --- how could those who so badly needed someone powerful to speak for them not feel lost --- when so many good men were taken from them in a few short years between '63 and '68? People who preach peace and radical change are always in danger, but not so much lately -- because the oppressive establishment of corporate interests and political expediency, the old "military industrial complex" in its guise of bootstrap ideology and consumer morality -- has shoveled a hundred feet of filthy soil atop the heads of those bowed by grief and crushed by economic theory.

40 years is long enough. It's time for the pendulum to swing the other way, with a force that removes those bloated by greed and power from their seats for good.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


I sat on the couch with my son this morning, after his father left for school, and at 8:30am I saw the first fat flakes drift silently to the ground. I wasn't wearing my glasses, so only the near ones were visible through the picture window, spaced widely apart. By 9am, the snow was coming down thick and wet, burying the grass only recently exposed by our few sunny days late last week. H. climbed up into the wide black leather chair by the window, and gazed out into the gathering whiteness. I wondered if the winter seemed short or eternal to him -- whether as a young child he is so alive and alert that the moments stretch on dense with layers of experience and potential meaning -- or if he lives so much in the moment that the endless monochrome can be appreciated in each of its daily changing nuances.

I think he's sick of it, actually. He wants to go to the fair, to the zoo; he wants to go trick-or-treating. He wants music class to start up again so he can see Miss Nancy. He wants to spend more time on the swingset. We are waiting -- "in a minute" I say. Or "that happens in the summer, after the snow melts and it gets really hot outside." "We trick-or-treat after your birthday, in the fall." "We can't jump in the leaf piles until your birthday, Skeet." We are waiting for his father's job interview tomorrow, and after that we will wait until a decision is made. We are waiting to find out what will happen to us; and to find out if I need to book an oral surgeon for this face thing. (The swelling is finally going down, after 36 hours of antibiotics.) We are, all of us, sick of waiting. The snow is a reminder that we must go on waiting though, a little longer -- enough to satisfy the requirements of those long, dense moments, like scenes in a movie wherein many things happen at once, from different perspectives -- H. sits in his window seat and watches the snow fall, and later we'll make two trips outside to rebuild the faded snowman and to shovel many inches of slushy, heavy slop. Hopefully they'll plow tonight, so that Ron can drive safely to school and the interview and daycare.

It's beautiful, with the heavily ladden trees and the roofs insulated against the streetlamps. But I'm ready for mud, for mess and birdsong and continuation. For the new leaf.