Friday, December 31, 2010

coming soon...

...the things I'm grateful for...

Monday, December 27, 2010

no room

Church people talk about the distractions of the season, frequently, when speaking formally of Advent. "Jesus is the reason for the season!" says the letter-board in front of LoveLines, a phone counseling and prayer room in a tiny strip mall off Central Avenue. Yep, all news of Santa's present whereabouts to the contrary. (And I realize I'm posting this after the fact. Been avoiding the subject up til now, oh well, tra la.) Yes, the shopping and the school vacations and the many inches of snow to be shoveled and the Snow Emergency parking rules and the exchange of gifts at the office, the meals to plan and cards to send and tickets to be bought... all of this seems downright obligatory and leaves little room for dialogue about the birth of Christ. I could instruct my young son on the meaning of Christmas, or debate the Virgin Birth with a Presbyterian friend of mine; I could pray more, consider the meaning of loving sacrifice, consider repentance.

At the same time, the constant warnings against "distraction" grate on my nerves a tad. I'm a church professional, and while it's not all-Jesus All the Time around the office, we certainly don't forget why we're there most days. A pastor friend of mine was overheard saying, half-jokingly, "I'm getting sick of hearing about Jesus. I wish he'd just buzz off for a while." Another pastor remarked, "Christ the Savior is born. Now, let's all get some sleep." The work of getting people focused on Christ is ALL ABOUT distractions, millions of them, sermon writing down to the wire and the phone calls and emails pertaining to nothing so vast as the Christ but all with tremendous bureaucratic pull, "the tyranny of the urgent." We in the church office find ourselves thinking, most of the time, about "the show." Two services on Christmas Eve and another the following Sunday, the Music Director on vacation that Sunday, two bulletins to proof and print, a shipment of poinsettias for the altar, guest musicians, etc etc. 

Christmas comes, and Christmas goes. In church-attendance terms, it's not as big a deal as Easter. According to the seasons of the church, we Christians are supposed to slow it down throughout Advent until we're ready for the final meditation of silent watchfulness on Christmas Eve, the candlelight services, the midnight Mass. "Joy to the World!" we sing, not on Christmas Day (since not many churches hold services that day relatively speaking), but the day after; the "First Sunday After Christmas." January is all "Sundays After Christmas," the recovery from Christmas, the drama of the flight to Egypt and the caloric hangover from the previous month's activities. Jesus grows up awfully fast over the next few weeks, and before you know it, he's twelve years old and hanging out with the profs in the Temple. And then, Bang! It's Lent. There go the swaddling cloths, here comes the Cross. By all means, let get it over with.

I'm taking a pay cut this year, we all are at the church, to help ride out what we hope is a temporary cash flow crunch. At the same time I've willingly taken on two new board appointments for the coming year, assuming other factors. My face is broken out from all the danged chocolate eating, I have the beginnings of a bladder infection and I've gained five pounds since the snow started. I find these truths to be Distracting.

My marriage is endlessly problematic, my anti-depressants only work if I remember to take them at EXACTLY the same time each day, and one of the cats keeps pooping on the basement floor. These too are Distractions.

I'm tired.

When will the baby be born again? Did I miss it?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Killing time at the office, listening to the Philip Glass soundtrack for "The Hours," truly one of the most beautiful and bleak records I've heard. Probably listened to it a lot this time last year as well.

There are out there a list of blues and lavenders reflected against snowy roofs and roads that are probably known to the ghosts of the Impressionists, but few others. I'm looking out the office window, a narrow window but nice, with a tree a few feet away that I'd like to equip with a birdfeeder. I meant to sew a curtain for it, when I first moved in -- it has vertical blinds, which I despise -- but haven't quite gotten to that amid other projects.

My useful day is drawing to a close. More useful than yesterday, to be sure.

There are others with moods bouncing around my midst as well, the static of the spouse, the anxiety and Christmas angst of one friend, the post-breakup blues of another. I am not a good source of comfort today. So it goes.

We spin so not to sink.

a handy chart

momentary lapse of reason

No wonder it's been such a bad, crazy day. Winter solstice started with a total lunar eclipse, which I missed (cloudy here, though I was probably awake.) Checking the calendar I see that yes indeed, it is a full moon; this morning it passed through deep shadow, and lurked patiently around the edges of the shortest day of the year, twice veiled (again the clouds.) I don't actually set much store on the mood-changing effects of the lunar calendar, but it's a nice illustration for the week I'm having thus far. 

Today depression came back full force, though it too has been lurking around the edges for a little while, waiting for a chance to pounce I suppose. Wonder if I took my pill this morning. And I did the kinds of dumb, crazy things that I do when this mood disorder gets the best of me. As the eclipse was hitting its stride in the wee hours I was writing a whiny, drunken email to my best friend, lamenting the meaninglessness of my existence and my utter worthlessness at this point in my life. After waking up worried and offering an embarrassed apology first thing this morning, I spent the day making bad spur-of-the-moment decisions; indulged in some sexting, didn't get any work done, spent money I don't have on even more Christmas gifts, and hit the bar at 4pm. Got pissed at my bar-mate for something stupid, felt rejected and judged, ashamed and lonely, took the bus home. Texted my best friend for support, almost blew it with a suggestive comment that was poorly timed, and finally admitted to myself that this is DEPRESSION and I should be watching my behavior more closely. I was relieved to arrive home, eat dinner with my family, pull on a bathrobe and curl up with a glass of wine and "The Lord of the Rings." Drinking water and apple juice now, trying to sober up before I go to sleep (for the second night running.) Probably left both computers on in the office. A thermos of coffee half-drunk on my desk. Mail unsorted, calls unreturned. I'm lucky to have put in something close to a 12-hour day at work yesterday; storing up a tiny amount of good workplace karma that I surely squandered this afternoon.

It's all very Koyaanisqatsi of me.  

I get up and go wash my face. Resist the temptation to pour another glass of wine. My son has kicked off his covers and is curled in a fetal position that means he's cold now; I untwist his sheets and blankets and tuck him in again. Listen to my husband snoring. Listen to the ringing in my ears that means I'm still dehydrated. Try to remember what I've eaten today.

Once this depression starts to lift it will be replaced by intense anxiety. This is a cycle I'm familiar with: what have I  forgotten? and am I being a good parent? Am I forgiven? 

You are beautiful, you are valued and loved says my friend. By God, and by mere mortals too. 

This is the thought I must take to sleep with me tonight. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

attic room in high school, part 1

In Jude's season on the East, the Old World coast, there's still rain, and she posts it on her blog -- a rain video, really just rain falling on some blankets she's hung over the rail of her deck; but the sound of it! When I was in high school, I somehow got hold of a bunch of records -- LPs -- of "nature sounds." Rolling waves, gently lapping lagoon, thunderstorm, steady rain. I'd lay these on the record player sometimes at night and listen to them in the dark, in my attic bedroom -- intensely comforting.

I remember the shape of the insert-thingy that I put on the center post of the record player for 45s. I remember replacing needles. I remember the player I used somewhat later in the game that had the bad belt, the timing would slip in the middle of a record and I'd have to give the turntable a "push" to get it going again at the right tempo. I remember hearing "FM" by Steely Dan for the first time. The smell of my attic bedroom in the summertime -- my Mom grew dozens of rose bushes and I'd dry the petals for homemade potpourri, in a cardboard shirtbox on my windowsill...the room always smelled of fragrant, stale rose petals. I remember "American Top 40" with Casey Kasem... on a transistor radio. Walkman.

All this from the sound of rain.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

the morning after

Soooo.... Everything is canceled due to snow this morning, even church, which feels unnatural and wrong (though I've been trying to take a Sunday off and I should be thankful, and I kind of am). The snow is piled high everywhere in drifts the size of which only match my vaguest childhood memories. THESE storms are the reason school used to close much more often. And I remember other things... tunneling snow forts in the front yard (our snow's too dry for that though I suspect), major snowball fights, staying outdoors until the wet and cold were all but paralyzing; the smell of damp hats and mittens, the particularly yucky smell of wool felt boot-liners pulled out to dry on a radiator... bread bags on our feet inside our boots.

My sister is in Texas now, and sees mostly rain -- they get the worst thunderstorms, the past few summers. My brother is in the south metro, but he may as well be on the moon, as much as I hear from him. Punk.

The Vikings and the Giants are playing in Detroit tomorrow -- a huge hole was ripped in the Metrodome roof this morning as the dome collapsed under the weight of last night's snow. Who's gonna show up for that game, I wonder? Fox 9 had great footage from inside the Dome of the roof falling in -- not ON anyone, thank goodness -- but all they have on their site at the moment is 5 minutes of watching the roof-walkers shoveling snow off the Teflon panels while tethered to a long wire. Those poor bastards are freezing up there too.

Soon I will have to gear up myself, and dig the car out of three-foot drifts. Sigh. Minnesota.

Yesterday was quite lovely though, from indoors. My husband paced the house in a state of near-panic much of the day muttering "We are fucked. Look at that stuff. Holy shit." But visually it was stunning. A big snowstorm like that, when the heat works and there's food in the cupboard, isn't such a bad thing. It's like having a terrible cold -- you have to lay down, there's nothing else you can do, the situation is officially out of your hands. Uncomfortable, but freeing, in a way. I'm lucky I didn't have to be anywhere.

People with emergencies, people without homes... not so lucky yesterday. But I haven't heard any terrible stories yet today. Hopefully we all made it through.

Today, the husband is huddled at the kitchen table with a backache and a hangover, correcting papers. I'm taking a break from sewing and laundry, and the boy is enjoying a bonus day of parental company with no running errands or family visits. It's a good thing, it is.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Hey guess what.
watching "Elf,"
hoping for church tomorrow,
lusting after another woman's man,
full of wine,
two-time Uno winner,
totally killing the snow,

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

more about that: the Sail

A sail -- it's a flag, a ship far at sea, noted with excitement or trepidation by those on shore. It is Possibility, a Beginning, it could be plague, war, or news; gifts, visitors, Change. The blank self -- the Self that only waits for what moves it, waiting for breath or breeze, impelled along the course set by a rudder that in turn is set by the stars and the weather... the Soul is a sail.

I'm drinking a glass of wine -- "7 Deadly Zins," Lodi 2008 -- which smells light and fragrant but tastes like wood smoke. Like camp fires, in fact. Even the label looks artfully "burnt." What does that have to do with the Sail? Not much, really...

Imagine the ship at sea, on a long voyage, the abstract trade route, an emigration, a slave ship, maybe a shipment of wine on its way to the Emperor's daughter where she languishes imprisoned on a Greek desert island. (Sent there by her father, to pay for the sin of disobedience, and the unforgivable, lust.) Sailors thirst, fresh water is scarce, but there are casks and casks of wine stacked carefully in the hold. Lips stained red, mending sail on a weather-becalmed ship in the middle of nowhere...

t.s. eliot.  "Ash Wednesday."
... Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window towards the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth This is the time of tension between dying and birth The place of solitude where three dreams cross Between blue rocks But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away Let the other yew be shaken and reply.

Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

Advent - the fruit of thy womb, and the Fruit of the Looms

The Tree is up -- as scheduled, erected the weekend after Thanksgiving. By order of his majesty my husband; and it will come down promptly on New Year's Day, if not a day or two sooner.  I decorated it myself, after the husband assembled it (plastic tree); while he watched football and my son lay on the couch recovering from a virus.

I have purchased chocolate Advent calendars for my Sunday School kids, and one for my son, who is seven. They, like he, once they figured out the trick of pulling open the tiny paper doors to reveal the abstemious token chocolate drops within, elected to simply open the box from the bottom and/or open as many little doors as they could find, to gobble up more of the yummy German confections. And at 9:30am this past Sunday I also gave them mini candy canes -- because I'd found an Advent lesson that derived multi-layered Christian symbolism from a simple hard candy.

We haven't talked much at all about the baby Jesus, around the house. Not even tonight, with my husband away -- in fact, the kid and I spent a solid chunk of the evening on the couch reading together the adventures of Captain Underpants. After supper, we watched "Madagascar," and ate cookies made from the store-brand instant chocolate chip cookie dough. I had a glass of wine. Then the kid took a bath, and I started this post. I assume he's getting some of the essentials at Sunday School, I just don't know how to make it a topic at home, in part because my husband is quite resistant to that. Partly because I don't have a particularly well thought out plan B. I feel a little remiss-- well, a lot remiss -- as a Christian parent.

I tried to sign my kid up for first Communion earlier this year, but we couldn't get enough other parents of children his age to make it a group. And apparently the pastor's own wife was resistant, so maybe I'm not falling down as badly as I think I am, at least in context.

In realistic terms, the story of the birth of Jesus is fraught with controversy. Biblical scholars dispute the Star. Modern theologians dispute the Virgin Birth. A variety of people apparently dispute the Flight to Egypt. And so on. And the arguments are in most cases pretty well considered. So we've verified what is, of course, entirely unverifiable. We know exactly what we don't know. History is an accumulation of words, words that seemed worth keeping and canonizing over the millennia, those sifted down through culture, those preserved by the elite. 

If I choose, as a parent, as a teacher, to retell a story that withstood at least the tests of time if not of academia, am I not a participant in culture; just like someone who tells their child of Santa Claus? And if I choose to believe that my soul (a tough concept for a first-grader right there) is redeemed (another tough concept) in part by the birth of a baby in the Middle East, am I merely sentimental?

God has spoken to me with the cross; and on the cross a man died; and somewhere, that man must have been born. He came into the earth in blood and dust and he went out the same way -- everything else is perhaps a dramatic reconstruction, but that much I know for sure. Someday, perhaps, that's what I'll tell my son. Instead of the Christmas Story.