Sunday, May 31, 2009

again, death

I was going to write about the extraordinary doings at church today, but after readings Jon's most recent post I think I'll write about death some more. Because I'm not as genuinely thrilled about the Big Vote today, though I should be, as others are. I can see the hurdles we have still to clear, know that the outcomes there are even less amenable to intuition than was the math behind the Vote. Today is Pentecost -- it's all about the Holy Spirit, telling us what it hears in the world, revealing the words that Jesus held back in the end, just a bit at a time; to absorbed when we are ready. What are we ready for now, now that the Vote has passed and we will soon enter the real estate game in earnest? What home truths and great surprises will blow our hair back? Amidst the uncertainties of all that, Death as an absolute seems easier to center on.

But, tell that to Pastor Evelyn's sister, whose great-grandchild was removed from life support after a terrible car accident (which I knew nothing about before today) that occurred last weekend. A woman survived; her fiance, her baby son, her daughter and her daughter's 2-year-old were killed, as well as the daughter's friend. They were struck by the always-present Memorial Weekend Drunk Driver. Who of course wasn't seriously injured. They were broadsided, and the accident report indicated the damage to the van was so severe that it didn't matter whether anyone had been wearing their seatbelts at the time.

Last weekend, on our way out to the cemetery, we three in our little Geo-car were very nearly hit head-on out in Ramsey MN. We were passing the Anoka County Fairgrounds, where a long, shallow S-curve slows the occasionally thick traffic in that part of the north metro. I was looking over my right shoulder at the Rum River, while Ron drove. I heard him yell, and I turned to see a shiny black car (a PT Cruiser I think) heading straight for us down the center of our lane. He saw us from barely three car-lengths ahead and swerved back into his own lane just in time. He was close enough that I could see his eyebrows, the color of his hair, his complexion, his hands on the wheel as he swerved. Ron braked and skidded to the shoulder, barely keeping us from hurtling into the ditch, and miraculously it seems no one was behind us. It's a thirty-mph series of curves that the other driver had taken much faster, and he had apparently forgotten about the second curve -- instead of bearing right, he just became involved in something else entirely, and drove straight into our lane. Ten minutes later I realized I still had my right hand braced against the roof of the car. Our five-year-old said "Daddy don't screech your tires like that anymore, okay?" We spent the rest of the drive out flinching at oncoming traffic. And I thought about Memorial Day Weekend, about how there are always terrible accidents that involve drunks and cars, and I wondered (I recall) what the newspapers would show that Monday. But I never checked.

Could it be that Evelyn really didn't tell anyone, all week, what had happened? She mentioned it during her sermon very matter-of-factly, as if everyone had known -- and maybe they did, I wasn't at church last weekend -- though no one mentioned it to me, which is strange too. They weren't in the prayers as I was given them for our e-newsletter. I feel badly for not knowing.

I haven't mentioned the near-miss in Ramsey to anyone either -- because it didn't happen -- in the end, there was a rush of adrenaline and the sound of brakes and rubber tires squealing -- but that was all. A yell, a gasp, and then everyone continued on without stopping, without pausing to wonder much about what almost occurred. When we got to the cemetery, I didn't sit and think about how we could have died ourselves. And when my son and I discussed death at the grave of his great-grandmother, he calmly informed me that I would die, and Daddy would die, and so would he some day. I told myself he didn't really understand what he was saying. It's easier, easier than thinking my little boy could so casually accept crushing loss and the confusion of sorrow.

So, pray for the family of the two-year-old whose organs were donated to others in need this past weekend. What's left of the family. Pray for the life and soul of the young man, age 25, who killed so many people last weekend by getting drunk and driving his pick-up too fast down the wrong road. Not long ago, another friend of the church went to visit her own nephew in jail -- a young man of similar age who killed a another driver by crashing, drunk, into the other car at nearly 60 mph. The other man was killed instantly, and the drunk nephew walked away unbruised. Now he faces the life of a convicted felon. Years ago, my best friend lost her sister and niece in a similar accident on a country road. Hit by a logging truck.

It's a mystery. How we come and how we go. Thomas Lynch, author of "The Undertaking" and several books of poetry, spends considerable time on this fact. In his work as an undertaker, following in his father's footsteps, he has seen all the ways it seems in which we leave this earth -- fast and slow, violently or quietly, in rage or in fear or in (just occasionally) our peaceful sleep. There's always "why."

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

On Monday we drove the hour out to St. Francis, to visit the cemetery where my grandparents are buried and to look at my father's memorial tree not far from there. I came with eight palm-sized stones, which I placed on the headstones beneath their names; four each. Next time I'll bring more.

It's just the second trip. I didn't know where the cremains of Giselle and Henry (Gisela und Heinrich) had been placed until late this past winter, when I finally phoned my father's former wife to demand that information from her. In the same conversation, she informed me that she and their children had decided (after the funeral) to interr my father's cremains on the farm -- which she has since sold. She intentionally kept this from me until after the sale. She says it was his wish to "die there and be buried there, on that land;" which may well be true. But in truth, she kept him and their family away from me as much as she could, when he was alive; and now he's gone, she has placed him at remove for all time.

She didn't tell the buyers about the cremains. She and my half-siblings agreed among themselves to leave the ashes where they were, but she simply informed the new owners of the land that a tree had been planted in my father's memory, and she asked if they would allow it to stand. Knowing this, I wrote a carefully worded letter to the new owners asking if they would allow me on the property for a few minutes on Memorial Day; but they never responded, and I'm left wondering why. Did my former stepmother call them and ask them not to? She claimed not to remember their names when I spoke with her. Or was it just too strange a request for them to process?

There's a field next to that property which isn't part of the farm; the memorial tree stands just a few feet from the property line. I could have walked into the field and stood there, legally. And would have, had they not been out in their yard, staring at the car. But I did not know what I might be getting into, and wasn't in the mood for a confrontation, so I took a few pictures from the roadside and then we left.

It was good to visit the cemetery again. I'm glad I was able to get the information, which until now hasn't been forthcoming, about where my father's parents were buried. The graves haven't been tended, apart from general mowing by the caretakers, and were plainly purchased one at a time, on the cheap. Giselle and Henry died five years apart; they are in adjacent rows, one behind the other and slightly to the south. Between them stands a large spruce tree, planted by the owners of a nearby plot, and it's impossible to see both stones at the same time. But I cleaned off the pine needles and dirt; and it's fine, I suppose. They weren't all that close in life, either, not that it matters now. Doubtless my father would not have cared much to be buried by their sides -- it was always a difficult relationship.

His former wife remarried, two years after he died, and the farm was sold last year. She and her new man have built a house in Howard Lake.

The thing is, it was never me she hated, it was my mother. I was a kid, age nine, the year my father took me to live with them in what was supposed to be a temporary custody arrangement. After a very very difficult year, a long story in itself, I begged my mother to take me back home and she did it without question. My mother's husband adopted me, and from that time I was forbidden to set foot on the farm in St. Francis. I saw their three children and my stepbrother (hers from her previous marriage) just once when they were young. After that, only the funerals brought us together. His wife seemed to relent a little just ten years ago, and met me with my father once or twice for lunch. But I was never part of the family; and that included being part of the grieving. It was my mother, and my father's love for my mother, that was the indirect cause of all that went on in the terrible year and afterward. Ironically, my mother is the reason I did not carry through with my plans for an organized memorial at the cemetery this year. She refuses to attend. She won't say why, really. Though it seems to have something to do, again, with love.

It's a love that destroyed as much as it created, or more. I've always believed love is a good thing in and of itself; even when it causes us to turn so far inward that we use it as an excuse for wrongdoing. I wonder if he ever put it behind him, his relationship with my mom. Or if she alone has held onto that part of him, just as I clung to the edges of whatever I could steal as years went by. Sounds terribly tragic, but life is full of that. Love is still good.

Memorial Day

Friday, May 22, 2009


OK. A word just popped into my head. "Fuckmap." Appropos of, I suspect, nothing. Product of simple visual suggestion: I had just hit the 'new post' button, and set my chin in my hand as I wondered what to say. Looking to my left (in this slovenly little room I call my sanctuary) I noticed a pile of maps on top of the rolling cart. A Hudsons book, and an atlas of MN underneath. And there it was: Fuckmap. What's a fuckmap?

In its least elegant iteration I suppose it's the GIS version of a sex life. Or a diagrammatic narrative of one's really bad day. As in, "okay, here's the fuckmap: first my alarm clock failed to launch and I was late to the staff meeting. Then I slopped coffee on my last clean shirt, and realized I wouldn't have time to do laundry or anything before dinner with my mom and dad tonight. So I decided to run to Target for a clean shirt, since there's a store right around the corner from work; but while I was there, someone broke into my car and stole all my cd's..."

Or perhaps it's not a compound word at all. Fuck Map. Maybe it's a punk band. Maybe it's one of those fly-by-night web design companies, the ones that hire college students to design frontpages for porn sites. (I knew someone who did this for a living. She said the money was good, but after a while all the remotely agreeable porn starts to look the same. Interestingly, her next job was stalking people with her camera in the service of a busy private detective; shooting women accused of having affairs and such like.) ANYWAY. That's as good as it gets tonight, folks.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I get so tired when I have to explain -- I get so tired, working so hard/for our survival -- for so long/you and me been lovin' each other for so long -- on and on/on and on and on -- so now I come to you/with open arms -- i wanna hold you/and be so held back -- our life, together/is so precious, together/we have grown/we have grown -- never gonna give you up/never gonna let you down -- don't worry baby/everything will turn out alright/don't worry baby -- telling tales of drunkenness and cruelty -- spill the wine/drink that girl -- it's too late/she's gone too far/she's lost the sun -- undercover angel, midnight fantasy -- ah, look at all the lonely people -- well it's a marvelous night for a moondance -- please release me, let me go -- Chuck-E's in love -- under the bridge sometimes -- da do run run run, da do run run -- ain't that a shame -- please, go all the way -- don't stop believin' -- I can't stop lovin' you -- it's a heartache -- I can't get enough of your love -- with a kiss he can strip me defenseless, with a touch I completely lose control -- I cover the waterfront, I'm watching the sea -- she was a fast machine, she ran her motor clean -- on blue bayou -- take another little piece of my heart now, baby...

Monday, May 18, 2009


Looks like there are two "Laptop Confessionals" out there folks. Had to happen. This other Confessional (a Blogspot blog to boot) has a hyphen = laptop-confessional. And guess what? It's LOTS more confessional than my blog. In fact, if you came here looking for sexual content and were disappointed (as you most likely were), just mosey on over to that OTHER Confessional. There's plenty of rich and interesting schtuff to chew on, just ever so slightly down the road. Evil twin? Alter ego? Copyright infringement? (just kidding). Check out the hyphenated Confessional, folks, it's a free country you know.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

It occurred to me to try a new tactic - get out the camera and shoot the studio in its currently idle state. Half-finished and not-quite-started projects laying around plus tons of new materials accumulated during my post-tax-return spending spree. Lots of notions floating around in my head, but nothing yet sprouting -- like my ipomopsis seeds. Frost warnings too, maybe art imitates the weather these days. You can see that my surfaces are accumulating a rich loam, composting layers of new fabric plus books and magazines that inspire with their images and lofty deconstructions. Plus the usual filing and ironing and whatnot. Even the smell in the studio reminds me of dirt -- for some reason, basement smells are filtering up and accumulating in here, despite many airings-out, so a musty dampness permeates the room. What will grow? I just need a little more sun, a little more rain in what has proven a long, slow spring.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

sums what up?

- a whole movie-theatre-sized box of SweetTarts consumed.
- along with half a bottle of Noval ruby port.
- a clear if overly-cold spring day.
- the perfect storm at church.
- my kid, sick for a week due to vaccinations.
- my husband with a gash on his wrist from slamming and breaking things.
- the Mother's Day card that was returned due to insufficient postage.
- the shame of finding oneself in the wrong.
As usual, Miss Jude Hill sums it up.

when in doubt, watch the news

After 13 years under house arrest, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi continues to inspire the democratic hopes of the Burmese, despite the ludicrous ends to which the Myanmar government will go to stifle her.

What amazes me about this woman is her willingness to endure isolation, threats, even to be cut off from her spouse and children in order to uphold a vision for her country's future. It reminds me of another story I read recently about a Chinese woman and her two children, who fled the country in conditions of great peril in order to keep the Chinese government from using her and the children as hostages in the government's efforts to suppress the views of her dissident husband. She could not even tell her husband that they were going -- her last note to him read that she was taking the children to school. Since they fled, her husband has been arrested and the government claims no knowledge of his whereabouts. Sometimes I'm struck by the relative restraint of these miserable regimes - given the apparent prevalence of retributive bloodshed elsewhere, in other pro-Democracy struggles, I wonder what keeps these administrations from killing their opponents and critics outright. Does it come down to one man, or one woman -- or a small group of those in power -- does it come down to their personal values, some distaste for such dirty work in spite of harsh treatment of crowds in protests at other times? Do human rights groups really wield some power to dissuade? Do sanctions and censure really give brutally oppressive governments some pause? It's so hard to believe -- I'm not sure why.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

boo hoo hoo

Some people have cancer, have friends and family members with cancer. Some people are facing terrible choices. Some people are really alone, with no one to demonstrate their monthly insecurities to, no one to make their coffee or wash their dirty dishes. Some people have it way worse, and I should shut the hell up.

Some people are the people I love the most in the world, and I can't seem to make that clear enough to them to compensate for the dumb shit that I occasionally do. I wish I had something in me that would cure my kid's ailments, resolve my husband's insecurities, and communicate my love completely and effectively to everyone whom I adore. I wish there was a pill I could take that would give me these superpowers -- to solve people's problems, and make them feel adored (and let's face it, make them adore me to.) And yes, cure cancer, while I'm at it. At least one person at a time.

If you can't be a person of faith, try to act like one. ???


I have argued with my mother, canceled my father's anniversary "yahrzeit" memorial, complained too loudly about too many things at work, timed my complaints badly, argued with my husband, stayed up night after night with my sick child, cried in my beer over foolish dreams, celebrated with a friend in honor of her tireless volunteer work, tried to make jokes so that people I love will smile, gotten behind on thank-yous and return emails to friends, felt sorry for myself, refused to accept my failures, sent too many text messages, finished reading a novel, flirted incompetently, canceled meetings, decided to worship elsewhere for a little while, left groups, filed a long-overdue piece of paper, wished I had some power, upset my son, eaten a whopper junior with cheese (uh-oh), felt sorry for myself some more, felt deeply ashamed of my PMS outbursts, apologized over and over, felt miserably unattractive and unloved, berated myself soundly for being a selfish dope, prayed, prayed some more, neglected some important things, and grown heartily sick of my empty old self...all in the space of the past seven days.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

I started to write about the terrible fight I had with my mother today -- and thought, why more bad news and tension? Who wants to read that? I'm upset, I feel guilty, and it makes no great difference whether I spend twenty minutes saying so or not. It also causes me to question my vision for my father's upcoming memorial -- the fact that my mother has refused to attend. Until I determine what difference this makes, I may as well keep mum. As it were.

Friday, May 1, 2009

blown karma

Yes, as I said before, I rapidly spent all my good household karma this week and I'm once again in the doghouse. Too much time socializing, drunk twice on a weeknight, home a little late every night (and a lot late tonight, though that was church.) Got caught hugging a male friend goodbye and had to explain myself for reasons entirely unexpected and guilty-making, though a little unreasonable -- and yet, in the context of a badly-behaved week, I probably had it coming. Have I accomplished anything at all this week? Well, I bought my newly-narrowed body some new spring clothes with what was left of my tax refund after bill-paying, not to mention purchasing a WHOLE BUNCH of new fabric. Sooner or later my husband will bust my chops for this. Over-doing it this week, altogether. And yet...

the evening at church puts it in context, to some extent, at least for me. One of the people on the new facility planning team had a surprisingly emotional confession to make about doubt and sorrow, and I found myself feeling very very empathetic (even though I don't much like this person ordinarily.) It's all I can do sometimes to fend off the utterly consuming matters before us as a group and an organization, as humans in a tiny pointy building floating around in space. It's all I can do not to cry and throw things a good bit of the time, when I think about it, so I could really admire the courage of this one guy to just up and core dump. I hope we don't lose him from the church entirely.

But it's no excuse -- I mean it's the CHURCH for crying out loud! No excuse for over-consumption. No excuse for bad planning and poor decision-making. No excuse for feeling so deprived and twisted up all the time. Straighten up and fly right, sister. It'll be fun someday, I promise.