Sunday, May 30, 2010

backyard still life

It's not that my back yard is particularly beautiful, and if you are the sort who have money to spend on landscaping you won't be impressed. We have been in the house three years, very gradually reclaiming various sections of the yards from years of benign indifference. Some day we will tear down the garage, replace all the retaining walls, eliminate those three pine trees someone got suckered into all those years ago, tear out the steps up to the pad and the pad itself and have them re-poured, rebuild the garage, and put in some more perrenials.

Just as soon as the value of our home exceeds what we owe on it. We have taken a bath on the property value, and we're now underwater by 20 grand. For that kind of money, a healthy chunk of the above could be completed. But, we have time. So we have gradually bandaged some of the more annoying conditions, and by mid-summer our gardens are gorgeous. I still believe in owning. When we get that nasty leak in the roof over the kitchen fixed, though, I may change my mind....

backyard still life

Forgive me for getting all william carlos williams in the backyard...

Saturday, May 29, 2010

I got the will to drive myself sleepless

OK, not having much luck with achieving continuous slumber. Last night I was down from about 9pm until 11:30, up watching Letterman and surfing until 1am, laying abed tossing and turning and listening to the snoring until 2:30am; hit the couch at 2:30, wait until 3am to fall asleep, and the kid was up a 6am. So that's roughly five to six hours of sleep, divided by nearly four hours of wakeful, thinking about work and trying NOT to think about sex. NOT GOOD! Pills, some light drinking, dull TV and still -- up all night. And a great deal of work to do at the office. But I got the will...

"Cause everybody likes softserve..."

It's a beautiful morning here in Minneapolis. The sky is clear and blue, the air is dry and the high today is 85 degrees. The lawn is clipped and the gardens are coming along. My kid is in the tub being watched carefully by his cat (who probably can't believe someone would actually immerse themselves in water, on purpose), and the cartoons are switched off. Lovely. What I need to do at the office can actually be accomplished at any time of day, and I might avoid some chaos if I wait a little before going in. (Multiple events in the building, not requiring the presence of yours truly; but if I make myself visible that won't matter). Napping is a bad idea -- I don't want to start my day all over again, thank you. I have swept the floors, started the laundry, fed the child, made coffee and fed myself already, stripped the beds (once the husband finally made an appearance) and can pause for a while knowing I've contributed to household management.

"...the perfect hourglass of my loneliness..."

Up all night, thinking about who I could be talking to. I should now acknowledge that this post is a minor tribute to Soul Coughing, and to Mike Doughty, whom I have seen in many venues and several cities. I'm crazy about him, his talents and his troubles, in the embarrassed way of the Midwesterner: I don't like fandom -- don't like the longing of fandom, though longing is what the unenlightened life is all about. Makes me feel like a goober, but my fandom is reserved mostly for Doughty, and occasionally for local bigshot Dan Wilson (who teamed up with Doughty on "Haughty Melodic" and about sent me into orbit).

God i'm tired.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

to sleep, perchance

Tonight I am intentionally keeping myself awake, hoping to avoid last night's repeat of fruitless tossing and turning. Early to bed, early to rise... 4:30am this morning, me and the birds again, and not back to sleep until almost 6am. And of course, my kid is up with the son before seven...

This time I was late to work, more than an hour late. Fortunately it doesn't happen often. I compensated by working longer than usual, and remedied by taking an hour mid-afternoon to keep my massage appointment anyway. Which was good. I felt five hundred times better afterward; before I was sure I had come down with a cold.

Tonight I will have the second glass of wine too, hoping for the usual effect. My therapist gave me some herbals she uses to help with sleep and stress, and perhaps tomorrow I'll give that a shot. This week, and several weeks to come, with be chaotic and stressful at work. My productivity will be physically, geographically divided between the food shelf, the interim office and various wireless networks while we suspend admin from the ceiling for a week between closings. We can't move into our new building before July 1, but must sell the current church a month earlier, since that's when the buyer wants to close. What I could really use: the loan of Wonder Woman's invisible jet to get me from place to place through June. Or perhaps a time machine?

Here's to not being kept awake by concerns like "I have to call the gas company" and "who is writing this week's devotion?" Drink, woman!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

awake for no reason

at 4am - ach!

Actually, I had another nightmare about neglecting my child. I dream I'm failing as a mother; my son dreams that I've left him alone. His illness has rattled our faith in connection.

Fortunately it rained tonight; no air condo, the windows (some) are open letting in the sweet night that smells so much more like summer than May. And I'm awake, effing around on the computer, scanning Facebook and catching up on the blogs. In half an hour, the birds will start up. In two hours, there will be plenty of light at the windows to read by. In two and a half hours, my son will be stirring.

If we had a three-season porch, that's where I'd be, right now. I like the night. Wish I could hear and smell it without putting on my shoes or unlocking a door. I like the slow dance of family members asleep in their beds, turning and curling, stretching and rolling. I like the few random noises in the dark, numbered if not knowable. I like thinking about all my friends out there in their houses, street by block, neighborhood by neighborhood. Breathing quietly. Or awake, disturbed by some sound of a snuffling child or an alley cat cry in the distance. Laying in the tangled sheets with a spouse, a dog, or alone. Spouses sleep-dancing: partnered or distinct, avoiding each other's bodies or chasing each other gradually to the edge of the bed; blanket thieves, pillow hogs, snorers, kickers. Or tenderly reaching out to each in the night, for reassurance. Are you there? I imagine the sounds of their sighs, the noises they make as they dream. Muttering, whimpering, whispering.

In some old dreams I've had the power to fly, to glide silently in the night through the treetops, safe from danger and unseen. I remember living alone, and waking up in the night like this with the urge to ride my bicycle, which I sometimes did, through the dim echoing streets. I felt relatively safe, flying along, listening. I remember when I was sixteen, working the closing shift at a fast food place, riding my bike home after midnight in our then-quiet suburb (years and years ago, not so safe nowadays though my parents still live there.) Walking late at night, later on in college, with a man at my side -- secure in our attraction, unwilling to say goodnight, or good morning. I miss that very much.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

mother nature calling

There is a basket of pretty lobelia hanging from the eaves over the front step. Today through the open doorway I could hear something singing up a storm, and as I watched, the lobelia basket swayed and trembled. A house finch was hopping around in the plant basket, over its head in periwinkle-colored blossoms. Bustling and singing -- my husband scowled and said "I'll bet that bird thinks it's building a nest in my lobelia."

If so, evolution is a ripoff for this little bird -- that plant basket isn't stable enough to leave out during a storm, plus it's apt to be nudged by the screen door, so it seems untenable to me. I don't want some sad finch disaster with smashed eggs on my doorstep. Plus, I have cats.

But, it's out of our hands. And you know, I love birds' nests. We could move the lobelia, but I like it there. And I like finches too, with their worried little voices. "Is that you?" they call. "Are you okay?"

vocation continued

I have a friend who is really struggling to find and hold an acceptably engaging job. In "this economy" she is not by any means alone, of course, though her pattern of disenchantment/discouragement goes back a little further than the housing bust. She's intelligent, educated, and can really achieve when properly motivated. But in her mid-thirties she has hit a sort of "senior slide," wherein her most passionate interests don't seem to match up with any particular job market and she is unwilling to live the dual life of holding one job that pays the bills while spending the rest of the time pursuing what one loves. "Follow your bliss" is great advice but it doesn't pay the bills; it's a worthy pursuit, but you need a practical plan for keeping a roof over your head. Particularly if you are single, as she is. She is also averse to change, so there have been several instances where she has not proactively sought a job shift even when she knows she is underperforming due to lack of inspiration, and consequently she has been fired or "asked to resign" a few times. There is a larger backdrop, not surprisingly -- some depression (being treated) and a real lack of self-confidence that gets worse as the rut deepens. But the big hurdle in finding real job satisfaction -- a sense of vocation -- is the reality that her most passionate interests -- animal rescue, feeding the hungry, and reading mystery novels -- don't easily translate into solid careers. At least, not without some creative persistence.

"Creative persistence" requires a sense of self, a belief in one's ideals, certainly. Also, a cushion of security -- namely, a "day job" that keeps you fed while you're pursuing your dream of satisifying full-time engagement. You have to be willing to work hard with your eyes on a distant goal. And, less tangibly, it requires a certain amount of "good fortune" -- which is I think a combination of opportunism, and a feel for the Spirit, and the presence of friends and helpers ("angels") along the way. For me, as an artist, it's easy to look at nation and society as context for why "doing good" doesn't translate into a job for many people. But the history of literature shows us that anything worth doing tends to require some faith, and some push, and some time.

Personally, I've been blessed, maybe guided, in this regard most of my adult life. And perhaps it should be noted that I am not the long-term-planning sort. I had a vision for my life when I was eighteen, sure -- and it was vague, and I adjusted it many times along the way to account for the fact that a) I am not extroverted enough to deal comfortably with the social necessities in pursuit of fame, b) I am not very comfortable with competition (which is to say, I don't like behaving in a cutthroat manner and I hate to lose), and c) some of the things I wanted didn't turn out to be all that great when I got there.

Long-term planners are the folks I admire. People with a vision. But I married one of these, and my unemployed friend is also one of these, and I see the drawbacks -- changing course is more difficult when you want a solid five-year path and you've worked hard to stay on track. Losing your way seems to take longer to recover from. I know "vision people" who don't have these challenges, because they are not long-term planners in the most concrete sense. Rather, they have a flexible sense of pursuit, and multiple goals. They don't get as discouraged when things don't work out because they have back-up interests, works in progress, to occupy them. Depending on their native career fields, my really successful friends may or may not have money in any quantity. But their overall job satisfaction tends to be high.

I feel quite lost, at times, in part because of my lack of long-term goals (really specific goals anyway); in part because I am and always will be an artist and therefore a dual-career person; and in part because being "led" means not always knowing where you're headed.

I also lack confidence from time to time, like most people, and it's because I don't have a job I can easily explain. It's a BIG job. And a mostly non-sexy job. It's incredibly worthwhile, and I love it, but it's not remotely glamorous.

Meanwhile, I worry and feel very frustrated on behalf of my friend. She did go back to school recently, to seminary, a change I really encouraged. But being an adult learner is a dual-career position, which is challenging at the best of times. If you're like my friend, there are limited financial aid options (can't seem to get a loan, would have to work hard to find enough assistance to pay for seminary.) You really do need to work. It's hard. I want her to stay in school, but she will need more gumption if she's going to stick with it. Her seminary track would very possibly open some doors to satisfying employment, plus just finishing school would boost her confidence. So I encourage, cajole, nag, assist. But I can't find her the perfect job, right now.

If she gets through school, she will have some advantages. She may well find a vocation, with pay. Meanwhile, I don't have to worry as much about keeping a roof over my head, and can focus on niggling little questions like What am I doing here and Is there really a future in this work?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

random thought on vocation

High on some successful event or project, I am a Producer.
Competently wailing away at a stack of important papers, I am an Administrator.
Sometimes I feed people.
Sometimes I preach.
Sometimes I create something wonderful, and call myself Artist.
More often than not, I am
Mother, though - "first and foremost" as my friend says.
And more often than not, as I do my job, I feel most like a Janitor. Trying to clean up after people, and clear the way for them to do their thing. This mother/janitor thing leaks into my relationships ALOT. I often ask myself whether it's a good thing, but the answer varies.

Should I feel Important? Successful? Should it be enough simply to serve? Is it enough when I'm not creating something new?

"My soul magnifies...." Hmm.

Something I did while fooling with the new webcam two nights ago. (The same night I had a couple glasses of wine and emailed a friend with a few choice shots of me balancing the glass on my forehead. "Use sparingly," that webcam. I am such a doofus.)

Friday, May 21, 2010

end of the day

In the aftermath of the illness, my son and I seem to be suffering the same nightmare: I woke with a cry at around 6am, and moments later he did the same. His fearful dream the past few nights is of losing his parents; mine has been the fear of losing my boy, of somehow negligently causing him harm. So I crawl into his tiny bed and curl up next to him, in spite of what this does to my back, and we comfort each other for an hour or two of sleep. There's nothing to it, I know, but the fact that it hits us where we live: fear, and suffering.

Here in the office, where I'm spinning out the last fifteen minutes of my work day, my office mate and I are in similar states of persistent near-exhaustion. He suffers from headaches though, whereas I thankfully do not. I just feel low, low to the ground, and emptied out.

But there's an Oromo woman singing spirituals in Ethiopian in the hall, crooning into the echo chamber of the atrium entryway, occasionally interrupting herself to chat on the phone or with a girlfriend. Together they wait for the rest of the choir to arrive for weekly practice. She's drumming on the side table; she sings in a lovely light soprano. Certain members of the church like to complain about the Oromo congregation, who have been renting space here for a long while. These bitter remarks seem to originate with members of one of the pre-consolidation groups, before the three churches merged; with the folks who first set up the rental arrangement. There's a sense that it's a necessity of the church's poverty; that if we could afford to do without paying tenants, we would, because of the inconveniences and occasional "culture clash." I don't hear this stuff as much, after three years together, and in a way it surprises me still -- after all, the two congregations barely interact, and the minor conflicts that arise are always about property -- nuisance concerns. Nothing egregious. It's racial, I know. It's the fear of the "other," even here. I say "even here" as though the church should be immune -- because I do believe it should be. But, churches are made up of people. We are imperfect.

The young woman hums away down the stairs, and I'm left feeling thankful that they are moving with us into our new building -- keeping us interesting, keeping us on our toes.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


I have just this one glass of wine with which to celebrate an evening wherein my son's only sign of illness was a slight limp. He ate dinner twice, used the toilet with minimal complications, and smiled constantly this evening with a blush in his cheek. My darling boy, thank God. So tomorrow I will keep my appointment for a massage, and hope I don't start crying as I tell Sally about the past two weeks.

up with the birds

Open windows can be a problem at 4:30am. First there was the low-frequency throb from somewhere down around the train yard; and then, then the chorus of jubilant birds! And the pain in the hip, and the sneeze; and the motors of the day chug into life. Hunger. Need to pee. Husband and son stirring and turning in their sleep. The pull of the computer, and so on. But it's sooo early. The bunnies are eating their breakfast, cats watching them from the back step. Worms are rolling over and burrowing down before the robins catch them, out late. That damned throbbing noise still bouncing around the hillsides where we live, echoing among the garages, making the neighbor's dogs woof in annoyance. Black silhouettes of trees against the periwinkle skies of advancing dawn. Eat half a banana. Use the toilet. Go back to bed....

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The new Confessional has a webcam. I can see this thing is of limited redemptive value, and invites all types of self-absorption. Rats. It's fun to monkey with, just the same. Oh vanity!

a long illness

A long time since the last post. Coming to you now from a new laptop; moving through a very challenging time, into another kind of challenge...

My son has been quite ill for the past two weeks. It seems so much longer. He will recover, slowly. It's a more serious illness than any we have experienced before, an immune system malfunction triggered by a run-of-the-mill viral infection. He has experienced all kinds of pain, rash, swelling of the joints, some of his organs have been affected, etc. I have told the story already to many caring individuals, so I won't spend much time here on the details of the illness itself. Tomorrow I'll accompany him to school, his first day back in weeks, and we'll stay half the day, and hope it's a good experience. This chaperoning is for him -- for his sense of security, and because some of his symptoms come and go and require attention. He's improving, but he still tires easily -- he's not really ready to go back, but it's been so long that I want him to at least glimpse the old routine. Hopefully, soon, he'll be completely well. Hopefully, his nervousness about going back will calm. His illness came on suddenly, while at school, and I know this was frightening for him.

And for his parents.

We have seen him lose weight, from repeated bouts of vomiting and diarrhea, and this is distressing particularly in a child so young and already growing faster that his body fat seemed able to keep up with. He's bony now. His arms and legs are sadly thin. It's alarming. More so because he had a haircut today and his father trimmed it quite close -- now his look of illness is pronounced, in my eyes at least, and it's heartwrenching. I have lost night after night of sleep -- for days, neither he nor I slept more than two or three hours at a stretch, at most. Pain would wake him, nausea or cramps would wake him. After a time we lost track of the days. I was only at work as much as was necessary, switching off with his father during the day depending on who had the more pressing need to be in the office. My son needed me.

His father suffered from the helplessness that grips a man when he sees that his sick child prefers the mother's constant care. He struggled not to take it personally. He did load after load of laundry, not his usual chore, keeping himself busy. He slept night after uncomfortable night in our son's small bed so that the boy and I could share the big bed, where I could assist quickly as needed with back-rubs and cold cloths. The night shift has always been my task -- Ron needs more sleep than I, and doesn't wake well in the middle of the night.

It's still an intense process, though my son's condition has improved a lot and he has slept through the night (for the most part) three nights in a row now. At a certain point I was reminded of what I went through when we first brought our baby home -- he was feeding every three hours, he went through a two-month crying phase at the usual age wherein he wailed through the nights and slept most of the day. I remember the nightmare of chronic sleep deprivation, experienced for the first time, and the high anxiety of tending a newborn and the first child. Such was the week we had last week.

I think about parents of children with serious chronic illnesses, like cancer and those many others of which we hear much less. I wonder how they find the strength to laugh, to make love to their partners, how they must get to a point when a crying child does not automatically cause them to jump and run anymore... when there is nothing they can do. That's part of what has been so hard for me -- there is no treatment for my son's condition, and plenty of possible negative side effects. Only pain management and hydration are in the parents' control. There's no med, no antibiotic, that cures what the body does to itself when the immune system starts attacking the organism it's supposed to protect.

But his clinic has been very supportive. So have our friends, and people from church. That has allayed some of my fear. My son's fear is another matter. He is struggling to make sense of this long illness, to understand his body's processes. At age 6 there's only so much we can say, or expect him to comprehend. But he wants very much to get a rational grip on what has happened to him. He hears the doctor saying that recurrence is a possibility, and I know he's worried.

Weeks. I should go check on him now. I am past exhaustion -- I may have actually come to grips with the fact that I CAN handle this. That it CAN be done, and by me, and with no one to pat me on the back and say "good job!" Though my husband thanked me, at one point, for staying constantly at the boy's side.

There are things to continue to think about here...