Monday, June 27, 2011

Undergoing Transformation

I will not be posting any new thoughts here for a time, while getting my new Typepad blog up and running. Stay tuned for further info!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

what a dream i had

Last night I went to a funeral, at a chapel near a nursing home in north Minneapolis.
The woman who had passed was a long-time member of my church, from back in the St. Paul's days. She was well-known as a consistent volunteer with our Free Monthly Community Dinner.

The neighborhood was old Eastern European, as were the many residents at the nursing home. Their chapel was small but ornate, lots of dark carved wood and old-fashioned pews. The altar was barely more than an alcove, but gilded and somewhat Catholic in detail, very old-century. The home itself seemed very down-at-heel, a sixties construction of brick, wedged in between two unrelated structures on a narrow sidestreet. The name of the home might have been Mallory Place, or something similar. John, our building manager at Grace Center, said he recognized the place as one where an aunt of his lived, or had lived in the past.

I was a little ashamed that I couldn't recall the name of the deceased; she was someone my friend Cathie would have known better than I, since I only occasionally attend the Dinners. I stood before the lectern-like table at the entrance to the chapel, peering over the shoulders of other gatherers, trying to reach one of the funeral bulletins -- the pre-printed floral kind that funeral homes often provide, with the name and dates of birth and passing inside. I tried to reach the nearer guest book, hoping to find a clue in there. I certainly didn't want to ask someone the very name of one I'd come to mourn.

Other members of my church were there, mostly older. Craig was there too, though not presiding. Cathie had come as well, but was engaged with others in conversation as we entered the chapel. There was a service, the details of which escape me now. (Side note: I'm sitting on the train, typing this into my BlackBerry, and a girl across the aisle from me has just gotten her eyelash curler jammed up -- she had to pry it off her eyelid, and was gasping and laughing in embarrassment. Yikes.)

Anyway - the presiding clergy were more like priests than pastors, dressed in ornate Episcopalian robes. One priest seemed to be Paul from St. Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco. The other turned out to be, surprisingly, my old colleague Yuri from the local art scene. Both are gay, though I'm not sure why this matters. Both were apparently old friends, and well-acquainted with the deceased woman. At the end of the service, Paul asked Yuri to join him at the altar, and they made the assembly laugh by cavorting and pulling faces. It was as if they'd been known for such antics, years before when the two worked together regularly. Everyone responded with good humor.

I don't recall now what happened next; I never learned the name of the elderly woman who died. I remember sitting on the passenger side of a car, though, as it traveled down a broad boulevard; and seeing off to my right a building I recognized as the one where Chuck Mahlmann's funeral had been held.

Such a long train ride...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

all my eggs in one basket, part 2

I used to obsess over procreation. I created many drawings and collages inspired by the topic. One of my favorite scultpures out there in the art world is the ironic/iconic beaded "bloody" tampon someone submitted for the annual juried show at the Women's Art Registry of MN. And I read widely on related subjects-- nothing self-help, not the Kama Sutra or those "home massage" how-to's -- but great volumes like the mid-19th century "Strange Sexual Practises" and other odd titles gleaned from the Books In Print catalogue. (I worked at a university medical book store for a while, which helped.) I knew homosexuality back when it was still listed in the DSM-III-R. I knew geishas seldom had relations with their clients. I knew swingers, married bisexuals and life-partnered lesbians. I knew about adolescent fertility rituals in Borneo, and I knew that someday, I'd marry and have a baby (or two), and my firstborn would be a boy. This urge to reproduce and the semi-conscious awareness of it dominated my motives far more than I knew then, though for a time I debated having a child without a long-term relational attachment to the father. None of this has crossed my mind in a long while.

I had heard late in my teens that I might have trouble conceiving due to some hormonal irregularities. And several years after that I was told that my spine was in such bad shape I'd probably spend a third of any pregnancy on bed rest. After years on the pill, my gynecologist assured me it could take months to purge the drugs from my system, and I shouldn't hope for a quick conception. And yet, after just a few weeks I was "sprogged up." Just like that. After many many long nights imagining it would never happen. 9 months (upright) plus one C-section later, I was a parent.

And my son is almost 8, now, an only child; yet somehow I remain attached to my fertility. Somehow, those primitive rituals and laws of attraction really do define us, even in this post-gender-role society. My viability is somehow part of my appeal to the opposite sex. It's well-known that a woman with a small waist, flat tummy and pronounced booty is attractive to most straight men precisely because her figure indicates she is ready to conceive. It's the ideal we're encouraged to strive for, as women, though the hourglass figure is in and out of style at least once per decade.

I read a short article in Newsweek last week, about the rising rate of divorce and remarriage in couples over 50. Longer life expectancies mean there's time for a second mid-life crisis before retirement, though hardly anyone can afford to retire early in this economy. If we work, we continue to receive medical care (that's the theory); we continue to look for meaningful engagement, to redefine ourselves, to seek diversions. We fall in love, or out of love, or make the decision to go it alone with occasional companionship. Notwithstanding the spectre of cancer, and other conditions more likely to develop with age; constantly reminded to take better care of ourselves, it's easy to believe we have choices. More exercise, better health, less fat; and a long middle age lets you forget a little that biological time only moves one way. Viagra, anti-depressants, yoga; triathalons for rank after rank of middle-aged born-again adolescents, it's the new American dream. We no longer have faith in the value of land, the hometown, find little use in putting down roots. We have our bodies, we tend them and fix them up as carefully and lovingly as we would our homes. Some of us.

The spectre of menopause is just another reminder, another opportunity to come to grips with loss. I dye my hair, ride my bike and walk as much as I can, work to keep my weight down. Make sure my husband knows he's not the only man who looks at me appreciatively. Try to define myself, for myself, again.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

All my eggs in one basket

It's been a trying week, physically. My period is two weeks late. My right hip is killing me.

I took a pregnancy test on Monday and it came back positive. I couldn't believe it. We use birth control. It seemed so unlikely that I took another test, and this one came back negative. Good grief. So I emailed the Gyn's office, thinking I would make an appointment for my annual, and if I still hadn't had my period by that time I'd ask for the blood test. But, things have changed since I gave birth to my seven-year-old -- they no longer invite you in for a blood test. The scheduling nurse emailed me back. "If you're pregnant, we need to make an OB appointment for you, but that's not until your 6th week." What? Okay, I tell the her the story of the conflicting tests. Next thing you know, I'm getting a phone call at work from Peg, the nurse practitioner. "So, what's going on? Is this a good time to talk?" I tell her the story, and she says "go get another test, and do it first thing in the morning. That will be the tie-breaker."

Which is what I do. I pee on the stick, again. And, nothing. Negative. So okay, I'm NOT pregnant. But why the positive test? Who knows. And why haven't I had my period? "Well," says the doctor, "you have been showing other signs of early menopause..."

I have long had names for our second child chosen -- girl names. And I have struggled at times with the desire to make another baby, but there are many reasons not to. I confess I was hopeful -- I wanted to be pregnant. I wanted it to be a surprise, an event that did not require a decision to be made. But no. And I have mixed feelings -- about aging, about giving up on the idea of also having a daughter. About what it means to add a child, when there are already days I find myself counting the years until my son turns 18, 21... and goes out on his own, that I might do the same. And our financial status is a little uncertain at this time, and I'm already working my ass off... it would be too much to be pregnant on top of all that. And yet, things would have to give, if I were. Something would change, of its own accord. It would be a little like waiting until you have a new boyfriend or girlfriend before you break up with the old one -- finding an excuse, the leverage for change, a way out that avoids accountability. More reasons not to get "pumped up."

In the midst of all this, the waiting, the wondering -- feeling freaked out by my body's forgetfulness, avoiding sex, struggling with the hormones and the emotional tide accompanying this episode -- my sciatica has been killing me. I'm not getting enough exercise, and need to do my PT. If I sit for more than ten minutes, I arise with a limp, and pain.

And I'm drinking too much wine, because it takes the edge off a lot of things -- another reason to be thankful I'm not with child. I'd have to stop drinking wine.

And might also have to stop taking antidepressants, a prospect that causes me some dread. So hey, hey, it's over right? Menopause? Well, as long as my hair doesn't start falling out, I can be grateful.

What does it mean, not to be able to reproduce anymore? Vasectomies are reversible, whereas aging eggs are just a liability. And my fears awake in the night -- ovarian cysts, ectopic pregnancies and the like. But they don't want to see me again at the doctor's office until June. I am filled with uncertainty, and fear, and sorrow.

But this is it, the one life.

Monday, May 16, 2011

nula para obsequiar - zero to give away

It's a phrase I can't trace to any life experience - I'm not a Spanish speaker. And it just pops into my head once in a while. In principle, it's not a feeling or thought I have often. Rarely, in fact, is it the case. So why does the phrase rattle around in my head the way it does?

Yesterday's sermon titled "Never Enough?" made me feel somehow shamed, just the same. Am I hard to satisfy? Am I obsessed with my own hunger? Instinctively I answer, Yes.

And I know I've been a little self-centered lately, maybe more than usual. More confident lately too, and somehow confidence seems to point more to my self-centered thinking, though whether that's causal or just clear-mindedness I don't know. Sometimes, I just want a break from being "in relationship" with others. That's a part of the self-involvement I imagine, though it's also manifestation of my basically introverted nature. I have a very public lifestyle. Doesn't speak to my hunger though -

and while yesterday's sermon seemed to focus on fear of scarcity, it didn't dwell much on the metaphysical scarcity I sometimes give in to. My hunger is, not just spiritual, but also relational -- oddly, conversely. And so much is packed into that statement. And if I continue to pursue more and more the satisfactions of the relational, will I end up with nula para obsequiar?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Well. As my friend JMB reported, 200 hits on the bin Laden post. Lucky me, I'm topical once in a while. Fortunately people are responding privately and via Facebook, and I appreciate the feedback. The positive, and the negative.
Let's try to remember something though folks: If I don't mention you by name, I certainly haven't committed any slander. The people who know you will understand your point of view; and you don't have to care about the people who don't know you as well.  

I compared notes with another friend today about how we talk to our kids when events of universal importance occur. His children, same general age group as mine, heard about bin Laden right away yesterday morning. "Something happened last night that you ought to know about." I respect that. It may not be wise to always strive to protect my own kid from the world as it is. And knowing the news is important.

I found myself uncomfortable with the dialogue as it was reported to me, though, mainly because I'm not sure the socio-political nuances of this particular event are available to the average seven-year-old. And the for-Dummies version of such events, already a specialty of the mainstream media, creates a kind of credulity in the minds of kids and grown adults alike that perpetuates all the other myths we seem to suffer from as a society.Was bin Laden akin to the evil Emperor of the Star Wars movies? As my friend pointed out, the Darth Vader comparison doesn't really work because Vader turned out to be a little bit good in the end. Did I cheer when the Emperor bought it in "Return of the Jedi?" Maybe. It seems likely. And why not? In the movies, the wars end, and everyone lives happily ever after.

I recently asked another friend about a private relational situation, and the answer I got was "It's very complicated, and talking about it wouldn't be useful." I think that's an interesting question to ask oneself: is this line of conversation useful?

My bin Laden Rant

The kids in my son's first grade class wanted to talk about Osama bin Laden yesterday. Who was he? Why did he die? The teachers determined this wasn't a good classroom topic, and asked all the kids to talk to their parents if they had questions about the news. My son's classroom is very diverse, and several of his playmates are probably Muslim. Likewise several of them are probably being raised by atheists. My son did not come home with any questions last night -- I received an email from his teacher with this information, as did the other parents. My son did not come home with questions, and I didn't bring it up myself. When the news about the "death parties" appeared on prime time last night, I snapped off the TV.  My son looked at me, but said nothing, and went back to his book.

In a sense I'm just avoiding the discussion, it's true. It's not appropriate to tell my sensitive, anxious child about the jet planes that destroyed thousands of lives and two monumental buildings. Every time I see a jet passing over the skyline, I think about that day, 9-11. Every time. And I don't think it's appropriate to tell my child about the war we started overseas as a result, or about the thousands and thousands of combatants and civilians, women and children, suicide bombers, killed in the past decade. He'll internalize our society's perpetuation of violence soon enough, without help from me.

This morning on Facebook I saw an image posted by one of my relatives: a picture of the Statue of Liberty, torch upraised, with bin Laden's severed head dangling from the Statue's fist in place of the torch, and a caption beneath that reads "GAME OVER." Right. It's just a game, and we win. So all the dead will be resurrected now, and the lives ruined will be restored; the two towers will reappear new and sparkling on the Manhattan skyline, and the scoreboard will be erased. Two of the world's great civilizations will turn their swords into plowshares, and all the babies will be wanted and cared for and well-fed and loved. RIGHT????

Get your heads out of your asses, people. Seriously.

I know grown adults who are celebrating because bin Laden "got what was coming to him." But God help us, if we all "got what was coming to us." Was bin Laden a bad man? Sure, all evidence presented points to him being a bad man. And now he's dead. But his life, his one biological entity, his arms and legs, his heart, his head, weighed out, cannot equal the lives of thousands, the dead and injured on both sides. His life, his one soul, is not price enough to pay for the souls of thousands of others -- because souls cannot be bought and sold. Not really. And because life is a gift, we can take life or give life, but we never own it. A man is dead. Let those who survive the ones killed in the Towers, the ones killed on the front, take the death of bin Laden as some comfort for their grief, if they believe they are helped by the death of one more. Surely that's easier than confronting the violent nature of humankind and the crimes committed by society against society that have never been justified. 

If those children don't understand, it's just as well, because to understand they would first have to be taught about religious prejudice, about mortification of the flesh, about evil and love and the battles between too complex and overwhelming to be understood at times. Let them be innocent a little longer.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter, and Easter's coming

There is something more and more elusive about these Holidays as time goes by. I'm sure that's a humorous statement. Truly though -- even as the steps towards Easter become more clear and predictable, the final burst of light can't be contained, the experience is fading almost before it is consciously registered. Warm, golden days like today, appearing almost magically from behind the parting curtains of Good Friday's blustery gloom, add to the effect.

The long wait for sure signs of Spring echoes the feeling around church and worklife this time last year -- the nerves thinned beyond taut to numbness, the banal side by side with the ludicrous. But last year's spring weather was generous, hot even -- we were watching and waiting for a different set of signs. Real estate deals hinged upon financing schemes, hinged upon capacity to formulate and justify ourselves in a shell-shocked lending climate. Triangulation over triangulation, relationships in every corner taking on the tone of power-struggle and gamesmanship. And in the midst of all that, Lent, then Holy Week, then our last Easter on the old home turf before breaking camp and once again hauling our tents to the next meetin' place.

This year, our first Easter at Grace Center, was of course some measure of our reward for all that waiting -- which may be why I felt, not let down, but ambivalent, after worship today. Staff duties have doubled and tripled, we've taken a pay cut, and Holy Week means three bulletins for worship, three sets of liturgical considerations, three significant sets of goals, three sermons... leading into the most important day of the church year, and all of that layered upon more than enough other work to distract us from the chilly overcast skies and the general lack of sleep. Plus school breaks, family logistics, emotional challenges and blah blah blah. What, you mean life doesn't stop for the Resurrection?? Ha ha.

The Resurrection is, as Sara Miles has said, something that can be perceived only fleetingly out of the corner of one's mind before the gates of rationality slam down and blot out the sight. And that's on a good day! CHRIST IS RISEN! We say it again and again during the service, during the Gathering and the Word and the Sending. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia! Because we have to say it over and over to ourselves, to keep the miracle firmly framed. Monks pray continuously in their yearning for Christ. I want to splash the water from the font over my face and hair -- want to bite into a large, fragrant chunk of the Body, the bread -- want to wash it down with a bracing shot of the Blood, the wine, the salvation. Give it to me first thing in the morning, before I'm even fully awake, and perhaps then the Spirit will find me open and eager instead of distracted and fragmented and cross. I wanted Easter to really sink in. But I'm not the ready, fertile soil I'd like to be; I didn't prepare. So we wait. The church has two seasons, Easter, and Easter's coming.

Show me the nail holes in your hands, and your feet, and let me push my fingers into the wound in your side -- then I will believe. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

the waiting

Spring. I've had my hair dyed to include several artful orangy-red streaks through my bangs and at the back of my neck. I'm ready.

The week before last, the week my son had Spring Break, the week of the Supermoon...which I didn't see due to overcast skies, March in Minnesota always so unreliable... that week, I couldn't get my brain to stay on track. I was foggy, spacey, in a state of abstraction much like the hormonal empty-headedness I experienced in my first few months of pregnancy. Work barely got done, between this and my altered schedule due to childcare. Plus we all ticked over into Daylight Savings time, and got terrible sleep for a week as the result. A useless, kerflummoxed sort of week.
This was followed by the week of Chaos and Conflict, Madness and Martinis. With a little PMS thrown in for good measure. I struggled with my spouse all week. I kept a good and respected friend waiting for me at lunch for nearly an hour before I realized I was standing her up (something I NEVER do to people.) At work I tried to prep for two large projects/events while fielding questions and concerns about a third (big demolition effort inside the building last week, prepping for renovations this summer.) I signed off on two new tenants, delivered a rent increase and new lease to a third, ran out of food at the food shelf and had to close the doors randomly between donations. I was blessed and blasted last week. Nearly cried a number of times, and finally broke down at the end.

But I dyed my hair orange in defiance. I tried to counsel and support a good friend who is really suffering right now. I drank too much, and tried to behave in a calm, grateful manner at least some of the time. I worked in a couple bike rides. I cornered an accordion player at the grand opening of a local library and convinced him to play at a food shelf fundraiser that same afternoon. I read to my son a goodly amount. I bought a bunch of new underthings. I drew in my present sketchbook, in great detail, in homage to Japan and its tsunami survivors and those who perished.

Spring will come. I'm ready. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

March 20

I just watched another YouTube post of the tsunami in Japan, this one footage from a dashboard cam (supposedly the driver survived) as the first wave crested over a coastal freeway and briefly submerged the vehicle, before washing it into the strip mall adjacent. Not long after, I checked in at one of my favorite blogs, only to find that the suffering and environmental devastation in Japan has caused the blogger to cease writing -- protesting the self-centered, individualistic triviality of the blogosphere. Most of my favorites have continued in some way discussing Japan, which in various ways has captured attention from the world less noticeable after the quake in New Zealand. And grief, and sorrow. Anger.

The scientists have weighed in, the seismologists and the oceanographers, the ones who predicted the eventuality of such an earthquake as Japan's. And the deep -- really, bone-shaking -- origins of Earth's periodic shudders are unavoidable, ineluctable, time-transcendent. The tiny people flee from the scale of the Creation.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

a short walk

Way past tired at a mere 9pm, Daylight Savings kicking all our asses as usual, everyone dragging.

And yet it rained today, and I was out in it. I walked fifteen minutes in what was admittedly a mere sprinkle, barely a shower; and ate my chipotle turkey wrap from the coffee shop as I walked. Late back from the bank, heading for the office. Failing in my Lenten resolve not to shop until Easter, I stopped at the Saks discount and spent what I shouldn't have on a pair of cropped pants (Seven for All Mankind, striped Eighties denim), and two tops (one lacy black Juicy, one tie-dyed gray - I know it's spring, but my wardrobe is comfortably composed of black separates.) I concealed my purchases in my purse and juggled my sandwich as I crossed the railroad tracks in the rain, hood up. Considering how long it seems to have taken this Spring to arrive, it was a sublime few minutes.

The melting snowbanks reveal their archeological layers, and the first rains of March wash the accumulated carbon grit and sand down the brimful storm sewers. This reminds me of a song that I love, "Waters of March" by David Byrne and Marisa Monte (here).Yet is also reminds me of Japan, of Sendai, and the unstoppable waters of tsunami. "A drip, a drop, the end of the trail."

I can't help myself -- the longer I walk (and it's been years), the longer I look, the more the wrack and ruin of city streets appeals. The dirtier, the better. I would like to start carrying rubber gloves in my purse so I can lift up the tattered, mud-caked layers of the anonymous world, and rinse them off, and make a city quilt of them all. Gloves because while I love to see the streets I don't especially want all that under my fingernails. I think though again of Sendai, of Japan, and the acres of lost belongings and torn-apart things once cherished, and desolate filth -- the wrack, and the ruin. And I think (in spite of myself) look at the photos of the burning house floating down a river of mud and tree roots -- look at the wasteland of rice fields strewn with buckets and corrugated metal and a boot and a book and some twisted cotton shirts -- look at the sad bright child in his only coat clinging to his mother's back as she picks through what's left of her seaside home -- LOOK. Even in suffering, everything God made is beautiful. Christ ease their suffering. And forgive me for looking, when perhaps I really ought to look away.  

I went to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts for Art Adventures training last week, and was treated to a lengthy docent tour of certain works while learning how to talk to children about these -- Picasso, Tanguay, and several others, learning how to elicit thoughts and interpretations only, not to judge, not to historicize -- only to treat children to the pleasure of consuming with their eyes and realizing with their imaginations the creative process, the narrative of thoughts and marks and colors and shapes, the interpretations of the world around us. It was a privilege.

It makes me want to look at the rest of the water-logged world this way.

What do you see? What do you think is happening here? What's going on in this picture? Yes. Yes, that, and what else?

Frame the neighborhood with fingers and thumb in a square, the old L-7. What's going on in this picture?

Thank God for Spring. Protect Japan from the worst depths of possible suffering. We rejoice, and tears fall.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sorry: Reflections on Japan

Juxtaposition: spring cleaning at the homestead, a kid splashing in the tub, snow still crusted over the lawn and rooftop. Videos of tsunami waters ripping through Japanese towns, cars and homes adrift in deep fast-moving currents, the water leaving behind trees festooned with garbage, clothing, odds and ends. Lent, an Ash Wednesday recently passed, Sunday School tomorrow and a lesson-plan to fine-tune. Sirens in the distance. Bread cooling on the kitchen table. Soon we'll play "Sorry" and probably eat some popcorn.

I took Oceanography in college, and I understand plate tectonics. I know that the "Ring of Fire" is not just a song by Johnny Cash, and realize that these things happen; earthquakes, tsunamis, loss of life. The epicenter of the earthquake in Japan was so close to the coast that the Japanese had a scant 15 minutes to collect their thoughts and their belongings, their children and cars and pets, before the waters came. Improved warning systems are fine if you have some distance between your town and the seismic event. Time and space --

and Luck. I just won at "Sorry," a barn-burner of a game in which all three of us wound up vying for low-numbered cards as we attempted to get our last pawn Home. After reshuffling the cards three times, I finally drew the low number. My seven year old son is learning how to calculate odds as he plays -- which pawn has the best chance of making it to safety first? Which player has the best odds of winning, and needs to be sent back to Start ASAP?

As I consider the probability of the Japanese death toll numbering in the tens of thousands, it occurs to me to wonder whose job it is to recalculate the economic health of a region, after a sizable percentage of its population is swept out sea? It depends, doesn't it, on how many of the victims were women and children; on the industrial base for local employment; on whether a coastal town relied more upon fishing or farming. If a significant number of the dead lived in poverty, is the nation improved? Does the math of clean-up costs versus medical expenses make human survival more or less helpful?

What about the long-term prospects of the inundated region? Are the fields more fertile, or are they damaged by industrial pollutants and sewage? What about the explosion and near-meltdown at that nuclear power plant -- what are the prospects in that company town now? What was the environmental impact of the fires at the oil refinery? Will whole towns abandon their former neighborhoods and prefectures and flee to the cities, where they can live amongst the relatively sturdy urban highrises and find subsistence work where infrastructures are still relatively intact -- are they the new Tokyo underclass?

What of the children? Like those Haitian orphans, mud-covered, naked, lost from their families. Who is wandering the desolation, looking for a single face, wondering if it's the end of the world? Someone, somewhere in Northeast Japan. Odds are.

Lent is a time to be grateful.
Do we thank God that we are from the Midwest; that we struggle merely with long winters? Do we thank God that we live on the high ground? God be merciful to me, a sinner. To whom can we send our blankets? 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

wide-awake ticks from Missouri

I have a close friend who is in the dog rescue biz. She runs a regular railroad between Sioux City and Minneapolis for dogs (mainly labs and bully breeds), placing them with other rescues and with foster families to await adoption, getting them fixed, updating vaccinations and the like. Today, her birthday, she had care of a dog named Samson. A dog possessed of many "wide-awake ticks from Missouri." I can only imagine the courage it must require to invite unknown numbers of ticks into your home, however unwillingly, in order to save a dog's life. Ticks that would undoubtedly like to get to know you better. Blah! Cathie, my hat's off to you.

I have another friend who knows all too much about such matters. She and her family deal with chronic Lyme Disease, a maddeningly pernicious condition that doctors are still squabbling over. Tick season is commencing, people. And again I say, Blah! 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

the difference between the two?

There's a line in a Paul Simon song - 'and sometimes even music cannot substitute for tears.' It gets me thinking lately, about the places where art and life intersect, and the purposes of creating visual work, compared to the purposes of writing. And particularly, blogging.

I haven't been able to put my feelings into words terribly well lately, in fact feel impatient with the notion. What's the point? Who gives a damn? Instead, I'm collaging and drawing quite a lot in the Japanese sketchbook (Moleskine) -- on the bus, during meetings, on the train, at the family reunion. Words come through there too, in places, but they are happily buried amongst images and textures. I lay them down, tear them up, lay them down again, until the page looks like a rotting billboard. That's more like it. That's the world I see, the one I live in. Not a place where feelings can be articulated in a meaningful way.

I will see friends and coworkers this week, they will say "How are you today?" and "How was your weekend?" As I lay in bed (terribly tired, sore neck, etc) this evening while the boys watched a movie, I thought about how I struggle to answer those most basic everyday inquiries. I know darned well most folks aren't looking for anything deeply personal in response, it's just polite exchange with people who care in a general sort of way. But I'll see a few friends with whom I feel a real bond and I wonder if I'll take advantage of the opportunity to disclose something really authentic, or if I'll just waste another moment of relationship?

Most of my friends, if they read this, would say Who cares? It's not that important to be truthful every moment of the day. Even if you don't tell the truth about your feelings, the Fate of the Free World doesn't depend on this. If you are not in crisis and are merely struggling for a handle on things, well, so are we all.

And they'd be right.

What's the difference between expressing myself with images and doing it with words? Besides the obvious.

Images reveal my feelings to me gradually. I don't like to sketch from life much, preferring to pull abstract pieces together to form juxtapositions rather than sentences. A sentence almost always requires a point, a fact, if not a revelation. But an image suggests, in this case. An image contains within it infinite space. Space in which to see something beautiful, that I can associate with my Self without feeling vain; or space in which to see something ugly, and own it or confront it. The blog requires a degree of certitude, without which the writing feels pointless and lame. Not so an image.

The other thing, speaking from the heart probably shouldn't be a new story every week. I know someone whose heart is constantly on the move -- who said something like, "I claw my way out of the blazing wreckage of one relationship, and into the blazing wreckage of the next one." These days we talk about hard times and antidepressants a lot.

An image, unlike a blog, promises nothing in advance. You can take it or leave it.

But here goes: I balance emptiness with gratitude each day. I yearn foolishly for what I can't have. I try to say things that are helpful, or at least not hurtful, and I hope I'm doing my job as well as I can. I don't know if there's anything unique or significant about any of it. I don't know why we go on sleeping and waking, sometimes, except that this is living and this is the only life we get.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

blogs, and Grace Center

I read somewhere recently that blog sites are on the wane. People are moving more and more towards Facebook and other social networking platforms. This makes sense, because I suspect for many bloggers the impulse is to share and connect -- and if that's your plan, Facebook is more fun, less work.

I stopped looking at my Google stats months and months ago, though I still have a counter. I no longer get my kicks looking at maps of all the places my page visits originate. I'm no longer terribly interested which search engine or link brought you here. If you're reading this for the first time, welcome. I suspect you'll get more satisfaction out of following my favorite links than from reading any disclosures of my own.

If you've been here before, it's most likely because you know me. IRL, as we used to say.

All that having been said...

I'm thinking about this place I work. I have to think about it, to consciously process the interlocking events and dynamics of the place; to understand it better, to feel where it needs to go and how I can help it get there.

We run a busy food shelf.
We lease space to a charter school for children with disabilities and learning challenges.

We had a play here last week, offered by a friend of a tenant, called "What da'hood Made Me," written by Jennifer Howard. Ms Howard works with youth to bring them to God through theater, and to keep them on the right track while they work towards college. Ms Howard is black, and all the young people in her cast are black as far as I know. She left a script and a few notes about the production behind, when they packed up Saturday night. I've read some of it -- she writes well, and obviously has a talent that she uses in a blessed way. Center staff just stayed out of their way, and they stayed out of ours, by and large. I feel now like I should reach out to them. Even though Ms Howard doesn't need anything from me. We didn't promote the play really, in-house, and many of her guests may well have come over from North. But I'd like to find a way to support them, and have them back around. I hope to meet with Ms Howard this week yet.

We have another theater group using our space, Sounds of Hope. Their performance will be at the MacPhail Center for the Arts in March. Most of the actors are adults with disabilities.

We have AA. A homeschool group. A music school uses our building in the evenings. We have four worship groups of three different denominations. And after this I start to lose track ... there are always a few more, coming and going throughout the year.

It's easy to feel blessed, but more difficult to show the Sundays-only crowd how blessed we truly are.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

days improve

And when the temperature warms by thirty degrees or more, it's like a gift sent by Heaven.

Still pondering the definition of "normal," as regards lifestyle and mindset. I'm suprised in fact at how much mental space this line of inquiry commands.

I read an article in Newsweek recently about the prevalence of anxiety as a diagnosed condition amongst Americans. It was a trend article, dealing with the evolving treatments rather than causes and addressing the challenges of treating effectively the wiley and adaptive brain.

It seems that any strong emotion, felt consistently, is neurologically self-promoting. Reminds me of the old parental line, "If you don't quit (scowling, frowning, sticking out your tongue) your face will freeze that way!" Even when treating anxiety with medicines and therapy, the majority of patients when asked will say they prefer to feel fear, anxiety, worry -- because it keeps them sharp, on the edge, able to anticipate problems and events. The artificial reduction of anxiety can be a cause of anxiety -- the brain's workaround, in its effort to maintain a repeated pattern of behavior.

My husband has been trying to quit smoking for several months. I could almost say, has succeeded in quitting, because he went cold turkey. But he knows and feels how much his body craves it, not just the nicotene but the routine. Every once in a while, he'll stand up and say "I have to go out back and not smoke." He puts on his shoes and coat, steps outside and stands in the yard for a few moments, breathing the fresh air and calming himself. He knows how much he can ask of his brain.

As I read the Newsweek article I reflected on depression -- and I almost wrote "my depression," as though the condition were unique. My brain is equally adept at the workaround. I find myself probing old memories and negative thoughts like a sore tooth, curious whether it will hurt. I sense the "artificial bottom" in my emotional well, provided by antidepressants, and wonder if the present dosage can maintain a depth I can live with, this time. Everyone has their depths, it's natural, we're entitled to the blues. But function is the standard. Can I still function at this depth, I ask myself, like an ocean diver.

Defining "normal" includes finding the consistent bottom, I think, from which I can only proceed upward. A bottom I can live with, where I can still look up and see the light, within reach.

The brain, devious, must forget itself to find itself again. The mind, at the end of the chemical leash, can't always overcome the matter.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


The longer I look at the computer, the more nauseated I feel. What fun! I find myself leaning to the left, if I read as I type, to avoid a sensation of tipping slowly to my right. That's fucked up. I wish this illness would depart...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

getting to Normal

I'm supposed to be at a task force meeting this morning, but I decided at the last moment to skip it; I'm trying to get over the flu, not to mention a slow adjustment to med changes and one of the longest periods I've ever been afflicted with. I'm in a bathrobe and slippers, watching myself from a distance as I slowly emerge from an exhausted fog that has lasted for days, testing the new boundaries of emotion (as antidepressants kick in) and thinking about the past five years of my life.

I was just reading a Cary Tennis advice column in Salon, no link because the content wasn't really critical to what I'm thinking. Someone dealing with lots of challenges in every aspect of her life, including depression, was given permission in Tennis' response to simply grieve her own losses; applaud her joys and strengths, and apologize to no one for feeling blue and occasionally incapable. "You are loved and cared for by others." he said. "You will be accepted if and when you are occasionally honest about how you feel." I'm paraphrasing some.

It's not that no one has ever said that to me before. It's just good to hear the message from time to time.

He also advised her to "slow down" as much as she could. And that leads me to a related topic that came up in conversation with a friend yesterday: finding "Normal."

I've immersed myself in my job these past five years, and the job has been a real roller coaster of change, transitional challenges that are logistical as well as financial and spiritual. My office has moved three times in five years, the congregation I serve has moved three times on a slightly different time line, the food shelf I run moved once; we merged three congregations, sold two buildings and bought a 52,000 square foot former elementary school after forming a non-profit corporation. There've been hirings, firings, raises, paycuts, conflicts. There have been successes against what seemed like highly stacked odds, joy in discovering new personal relationships and new avenues of rewarding service. Through all this I've struggled with my marriage, worked to be a good parent, and tried to maintain my side-career as a visual artist. And I've started antidepressants, an option I considered many times before last year and always refused to try.

The stress of the job played a part. The losses felt in the course of the job may have played a lesser part, in bringing my need for help more visibly to the fore. But what I know now is that my depression kept me from fully feeling the joy of our successes, and the joy of peaceful times at home. As I drank more and continued to crave more and more drama in my life, more sweetness, more love, more passion, more conflict, I don't know now whether it's because my life was short-changing me or if it's because I simply felt so empty inside.

The exhaustion that has come with this flu makes me anxious in part because I worry it could somehow be a side-effect of my new dosage increase; my last increase was an easy transition for me, and the positive effects endured a good nine months before I started scraping bottom again. Someone else I know had this flu recently, and I tell myself this feeling will go away: the need to lay down every 20 minutes. It has improved some though, and it's really only been in effect since Friday -- five days of flu is not unusual. It's simply rare that I get sick at all.

Is "Normal" on the horizon?

Last night my friend postulated that this might be the first normal summer we've had at work. I found that idea sort of surprising, laughable even. And was amazed to feel myself resisting the notion. Wait, Normal is boring! Normal means day after day of similar routines, static patterns, ceaseless predictability.

What is normal? Why am I so against it?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

not in bed

I've been ill for a few days, something flu-like, not too severe but certainly enough to make me want to lay down frequently. Unfortunately, I hate laying around during the day. Not so my husband, who is spending the afternoon channel-surfing from the couch while waiting impatiently for the Superbowl to start.

Sooooo much crap on TV... so many dumb sports-show gags and dumber commercials, the Tailgate Party at the Cow Palace, country music and pre-taped player dialogue; and now Bill O'Reilly interviewing President Obama! A friend of mine is married to a moderate Egyptian, wonder what his wife thinks of Obama's statements about the week's political destabilization in Egypt...

My kid is wandering around the house with some video game figures he's constructed out of Knex pieces; since we've forbidden him to play any more video games today, he's making up his own. Which is fine. Every room in the house is a new planet... Since the unfriendly dictator on Planet Sewing-Room has warned the Knex alien to get away from the Sacred Machine, his conveyance has shuffled off to explore the much more hospitable Planet Kid's Room, where my young spaceship pilot is apparently now setting out on the Incredible Journey.  "Look out for that antibody! Here comes a red blood cell!"

Obama is smiling his "Fuck You" smile at Bill O'Reilly... You can tell he wants to do his Mark Zuckerberg impression. "Is that a question? Is that a question, Bill?"  Of course the President is a bit more media-savvy than the then-23 year old CEO. Who nevertheless turned around in late 2010 and used 60 Minutes as a commercial for Facebook's latest upgrade, a scoop Leslie Stahl was angling for already in 2007.

OK, now I'm tired. Who knew sitting up could be so exhausting?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

still adjusting

Every day requires a little adjustment. The temperature is especially bitter today. My period is a week early. It's my turn to pick up the boy from school. I have a meeting tonight. I need to start the financials for January. I need to get a grip on my usefulness in my new Board position. Adjust, adjust. I've recently doubled down on my meds and that's another kind of adjustment. Every day brings new light, new issues, new feelings.

Like many mornings, I arrive at the office and address the first few imperatives; then I pause, while my still-sleepy brain tries to catch up. What's important today? The tyranny of the urgent has us in its grip so often that a day without a pressing deadline is like a day without purpose. The brain moves first too fast, then too slow. I chaffe at the boundaries of the office proper. I want to be outside, be where the action is. I want to understand what's important about what I do here, even though I really should adjust to accept the fact that some days it's just a JOB. Today might be one of those days.

Today will undoubtedly be a long one, and I should take myself out to lunch.

Winter is bright and hard today, with an edge.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

the great divorce

We took an unexpected trip to the book store this morning (unexpected by me anyway, the boys had it planned while I was in the shower). Indulged a little by my husband, I bought three great fiber-arts magazines and two books by C.S. Lewis: "Miracles" and "The Great Divorce." I read "The Great Divorce" this afternoon, over a couple hours of intermittent attention, while fending off my husband's increasingly-desperate bids for attention. (He tried to distract me by putting "Baby Mama" in the dvd player.)

The urge to peruse the Christian section at Borders is one I often resist, because I have a long track record of reading the first two chapters of any book on spirituality or religion. Before sticking a place-marker in it and leaving it to gather dust in the growing pile. Writing style can be a huge turn-off for me, and to be wise one would sit down and skim at least one chapter before buying; which I seldom have time to do. What, get a library card you say? Yes, that would be very mature and resource-conscious of me, wouldn't it.

Anyway, today I gave the section a fleeting glance from at least eight feet away, and immediately caught site of the Lewis books. Knowing Lewis is supposed to be among the more accessible Christian writers (and certainly one of the best known), and hearing some distant bell related to a recent conversation with who-knows-whom about Lewis' great style, I got sucked in. The flyleaf for "The Great Divorce" promised to take me on a trip through moral and theological landscapes that occupy my thoughts regularly. I accepted the offer. "Miracles" just looked like something I'd enjoy, and I suppose I've been wanting some antidote to the shades of skepticism I routinely encounter; several of my good friends are Christians who really struggle with the supernatural elements of Christianity. (Virgin birth, Resurrection, Jesus as God.) And I'm married to an avowed agnostic.

"Divorce" reminds me just a little of Richard Matheson's 1978 novel "What Dreams May Come," and a quick Google search confirms that Matheson and Lewis both read Swedenborg (though it's as likely that Matheson read Lewis and just doesn't cite him.) There's a basic premise at work: Hell is a state of mind, a direct reflection of one's life-reality and the burdens of the soul that one clings to. Lewis' Heaven is, by contrast, the only true Reality, and never mere "state of mind," a direct manifestation of God in all things. Unlike Matheson, who apparently felt more comfortable with Eastern religion, reincarnation and many dream-like afterlife levels, Lewis in "Divorce" strives from the Introduction to make it clear that there IS such a thing as eternal damnation, that the one true Heaven is not won without sacrifice -- "If we insist on keeping Hell (or even Earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell." There is a disclaimer of course, "The last thing I wish is to arouse factual curiosity about the details of the after-world."

Well. Be that as it may, I find I must have absorbed at some point some of those mushy, poorly-considered and liberal concepts of Heaven and Hell as I've gone along: notions like perhaps there's no Hell at all, certainly no place like the vivid horror described of old, and not a place God assigns to gays and babies who die before they are baptized. I've even been willing to believe that we make our own Hells in life, and that afterward we all retire to Heaven, forgiven regardless of our crimes. That notion never really rang true however, though my doubt there comes as much from a vague cultural fear of heresy as from any contact with the Old Testament. So Lewis' Heaven and Hell make some sense to me, acknowledging his disclaimer the while. Hell is a choice we make, and consists chiefly of our worst moral and personal baggage. Heaven is letting go of those burdens, as well as our successes, letting go of our hubris and fear, and any affection for the material; once freed, we receive Joy and begin our final journey to God.

And so I think about those burdens I might be reluctant, surprisingly, to put aside: bitterness and envy, as well as a love for the material reality of this Earth, the beauty of creation as I see it. Lust, and worse: yearning for what I do not have, desiring what I do not possess; coveting what can never be truly mine, and desiring to possess another. My feelings of thwarted romantic entitlement, and whatever else prods me to toss and turn at night and to feel anger towards my God. As if, as if. It sounds like God will forgive me, if I want to be forgiven, AND if I will agree to give up the sins themselves -- which must be much harder than it sounds at first. We define ourselves as much by our failings and sorrows as by our beliefs and joys. Leave everything behind, and follow me, says Christ.

Who would I be, without my insistence on being "in love?" At almost any cost?

And what about the pleasures of Earth, the trees and the water and the birds, the rocks and the boots and the handbags, the children and the adults and the smell of the rain? Lewis' Heaven seems to contain all of these things in a state of resounding perfection, could it be so? Lewis also seems to say that sensuality might be a lesser crime...  do I see myself in the ghost who belittled her husband to death with constant bitter perfectionism? Do I see myself in the ghost who writhes and poses as if to tempt the angels, and shuffles back to Hell in disgust when no one is moved by her lust? Do I see my situation in the woman whose former lover returns to her in Heaven as a ghost, only to try one last time to coerce her into some greater adoration with guilt and self-pity? Am I the man who makes the mistake of thinking that we can, somehow, attain blamelessness on Earth?

All uncomfortable questions. I want to think I wouldn't resist, when the time came; would lay down my inconsequential affectations and embrace Joy. But I know Pride is a stumbling block.

And so I go on thinking. I've heard the Voice before, and I don't want to mess with my Maker, though every day I do it anyway.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

a moment of office-time

There are times when it is genuinely nice to sit in my office with the door shut. Often I'm just hiding from the sense of being overwhelmed by details, in my job as the administrator for a church, non-profit community center and food shelf (simultaneously). Our building, a large former elementary school, hosts a small charter school now for children with disabilities and special considerations. They are one of nearly a dozen tenants. My half of the reception area is generally a pass-through from one side of the building to the other, and along the route to the workroom where the copiers and supplies are located. I sit right across from the Nurse's office. Sometimes the loudest, most anxious children seem all to be picking up the same chaotic vibe from the universe, and the reception area becomes unbearably high-key as paraprofessionals seek assistance in calming their kids. At 3:15 when school is dismissed, the door buzzer beeps nonstop as bus drivers and care cabs arrive to transport the children, who are escorted to and fro by the staff. Parents are buzzing in and out with kids, meds, needs and questions. It's a very positive place, to be sure, and I love having company in my work the vast majority of the time; I'm pals with the school's receptionist/program coordinator, who sits back-to-back with me facing the school's side of the reception area. I like the kids who routinely visit the office for meds and moral support. I like the staff.

Sometimes though it's all a lot too much. And I walk into my tiny office, snap off the fluorescent overheads, switch on my desk lamp and open the laptop. It's far easier to blog here than at home; where my only uninterrupted hours tend to be in the middle of the night. Here, when I close my door it mostly stays closed until I'm ready to make an appearance. I can take a private call if I want. It's a new thing, a benefit of the new building. This may have been a vice-principal's office at some point. There is a huge framed cork board covering most of the long wall over my desk, and another smaller one near the door. Behind me there are three tall file cabinets and a bookshelf. My desk takes up about one-third of the room. I have a narrow window, which fortunately opens; the ventilation out in the reception area isn't terrific, and the air gets stale. Thank goodness we moved the teachers' microwave; no more burnt popcorn! Suffusing our hair and clothing.

I brought a small brown bear into the Nurse's office a couple of weeks ago, and sat him on the counter, when no one was around. He's the first stuffed animal I ever bought for my son, before he was born. He's cute, and fuzzy like a rug. He has long arms and legs, and an unassuming expression. But H never took to stuffed animals really (except for one, "lamby-Lamb" who only toured with H for two or so years before becoming a shelf item.) The bear never got a second look. I felt badly for him for years, before finally daring to re-home him. A bear needs friends after all. I thought the kids who routinely wind up on the cot in there would take some comfort from his presence. And sure enough, after a week or so one of the more forward children bubbled over with curiosity, and just had to know who's bear he was. D, the program director, guessed shrewdly that I'd had something to do with the bear's sudden appearance. I explained to the young man that the bear needed friends, and I'd thought he might find some at the school. "What's his name?" I was asked; the bear doesn't have one yet I replied. And so the young man christened him "Barry," and with a nice bandage taped to the side of his head, Barry now presides over the Nurse's office from the top of the med cabinet, always available for hugs and visits.

No office is safe for long however from our building manager, a loquacious fellow with a compulsive need to connect, frequently and for no particular reason (though he constantly strives to invent new questions about real or imagined dilemmas.) He's very good at keeping the facility in decent shape, has a long history as a church custodian for Catholics and Protestants alike, and is well-connected in the underground janitor's market of swap-n-trade goods. With little effort he can procure a hundred folding chairs, a floor buffer or a deck of lightweight dining tables at reduced or zero cost. He has licenses for boiler and electrical, and can improvise solutions to a wide array of obscure mechanical misfortunes. The catch is, he never shuts up. But he's harmless and funny, a good sport and an enthusiastic source of advice. It's only occasionally one wants to run away when one sees him coming.

I know the sound of him opening the heavy door from the hall to the reception area, the way he pushes the handle down and puts his shoulder into the wood panel, swinging the door wide before he even enters the room. I think it's a habit associated with pushing the large trash barrels on wheels: make an opening big enough to shove the barrel or a cart in ahead of you. It's a different sound from the one my boss makes when he walks into the room. The pastor has a lighter touch, but moves faster; he plays basketball two or three times a week. He slaps the handle down and lets it spring back on its own as he thrusts the door open just wide enough to admit his narrow frame, before ducking immediately into his office on the right. And I know the sound of a student entering the room from my side of the office, the tentative turn of the handle and the soft sliding shush-sound of a small person using their whole body to slowly open a heavy door.

There are a million small things to know about this place.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

the dark watches of the night

Awake at 3am, always a problem... up since 1:30 after spotting rest between 9pm and Midnight. Listening to my son's cold worsening...more head congestion, and now, a fever. I can hear him getting a fever, I know the character of his breathing and how it changes. I watch as the thermometer goes from under 100 to 102 in just an hour... listen to him snore. This has progressed from Thursday's sudden cough, two days, three... school holiday tomorrow, which is good and also not good, given the normal household routine on Mondays. Tomorrow being Monday...having slipped into Sunday a few hours ago... "the dark watches of the night" as Tolkein said. "Who knows what you have whispered to the walls of your prison, in the dark watches of the night?" Or something like that. Laptop knows... who else reads? I'm always curious, not about the folks who leave comments but the ones who don't. Yet I've stopped caring about my Google stats.

Tripping over toys, picking my way through the carefully arranged detritus of pretend play, refilling the humidifier, feeling his forehead as though that would resolve anything... as he gets older I suppose this becomes more routine, funny how I would choose even the slightest cold or headache as my own if I thought it would spare him discomfort. The mothers pray, give it to me! I'll take it Lord. Ease his suffering. Of course, it's just a cold. 

Blogging is not Facebook. I've stuck with FB where other friends have not, realizing there's some comfort in the handful of responses I always see linked to my status updates. Advice, reassurance, support, humor. And the connection to friends who have trouble working coffee into busy professional, school, childcare schedules. Better than the phone, if less meaningful. Of course, there again I find myself wondering who has read and not commented -- I know people who are mindful of their professional associations and never post status lines, seldom posting on walls, doubtless communicating through "likes" and private messages. Makes sense if you have hundreds and hundreds of friends... too. Do blogging and Facebook negatively augment my introversion? I imagine so. And yet... here we are my friends. "You" and I.

How ya doin?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

spaghetti plates

Yes, it snows and snows.

I'm drinking a .... hold on, phone's ringing again.

OK, another church call, this one from a pastor looking for the communion supplies that perished, along with one of the refrigerators, earlier this week. I didn't see labels on the stuff I had to throw out, I'm sorry. I remembered to tell the fellowship coordinators, but not the people who set up Communion.

Anyway, I'm drinking a nice glass of Dolcetto. Since arriving home from church at 12:30 I have cleaned floors, done laundry, and thoroughly cleaned the bathroom. I helped my son with his piano lesson, and have largely tolerated the fact that my husband's ass has been nailed to the couch all weekend as he watches playoff football (with the rest of himself.)

My week was really, really trying. Thank God tomorrow is a holiday, which means I'll only have to work for a couple hours in the morning, at the food shelf. Plate-juggling -- that's my job. My vocation.

In a figurative sense, anyway. And I make about as much money now as this guy, running a 52,000 square foot facility. I deserve this glass of wine. Burglary, no-show volunteers, unloading two full pallets of food shelf goods by myself, last-minute projects of an urgently-needed nature, a pay cut across the board in 2011 and a handful of brand-new proximity alarms in the stairwells that debuted this weekend and confounded numbers of people who all figured it would be okay if they ignored the "do not enter" barriers. Spin! Spin! Spin!

I can handle it.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

last night I dreamed...

... that a church group "hijacked" my food shelf and took over the operation, releasing a statement claiming I wasn't "doing the job very effectively."

... that Al Greene (who looked like someone completely different and sounded like Barry White) was producing a new radio show ...

... that I entered a rock-tumbling contest in the "Best Agate" category but showed up late to register and missed the judging. At least I received a nice bouquet of flowers from a co-worker...

... that I was lost in a huge Las Vegas hotel with Art Deco elevators and thousands of rooms, and a lobby that looked like an international airport lounge... I couldn't remember my room number, and kept walking into rooms that didn't belong to me.

WTF, I ask you. Every night, it's at least a triple feature. That, and night sweats. Ugh.

With the exception of the Al Greene appearance, none of these dreams are exceptional; all are versions of work, worry, and typical dream-settings for me. Thing is, every night is similar. It's entertaining, unless the dreams become frightening (a few nights ago I dreamed my child fell off a cliff.)

I'm far past the days of recording my dreams in detail, in a dream journal or some such. I know myself well enough to understand that most of this comes from the ever-fecund recombination mill of mundane subconsciousness. In other words, these are just processing dreams. I talked with two acquaintances yesterday about buying rock tumblers and how much electricity they use. I think about the food shelf constantly and feel guilty that I can't give it my full attention each day. I feel lost and anxious all the time.

I have no idea, however, why Al Greene should run around singing Barry White songs in my head. While looking suspiciously like Aaron Neville.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

morning coffee

Being up alone like this, almost an hour before anyone else will get out of bed (and up for a while now), makes me think of my mother.

I'm walking around in a bathrobe and slippers, I've just made coffee. It's still dark outside. The furnace has just kicked in with its morning temperature setting and I'm feeling that strange, sleepy hangover feeling you get when you're up before you're really ready. Take an inventory of my aches and pains, pour a cup, try to wake up. I sound like a Maxwell House commercial. (Maybe you remember those. Here's a vintage 70's clip featuring "Cora," aka Margaret Hamilton aka "The Wicked Witch of the West.") If I had a radio with WCCO's morning show crackling away in the kitchen, I will have perfectly recreated a thousand school-day mornings in my mother's company.

I was not a morning person, a fact my mother recognized early on. She didn't make me talk much, nor did she prattle on randomly the way some women do around their children. I seem to recall learning to drink coffee in the morning at a younger-than-average age, no doubt thanks to my mother and her Midwestern reliance on strong brews. I notice in my son those morning habits which might be common to most young children: up more or less on time, taking that familiar position on the couch and curling up in a ball to wait until someone turns on the TV, and offers breakfast. It's not yet firmly established whether or not he's a morning person. His father certainly is, up whistling and making a racket at unreasonable hours, ready to poke and prod and hassle you out of bed to his own delight. Insufferable! But I guess someone has to be ready in the morning.

Mom's internal clock was a farm clock for many years. I don't know how long she lived on the farm -- it couldn't have been very long, given Grandma's tendency to change husbands -- but I know she remembered it fondly. I imagine she has always like animals better than people, she's similar to my husband that way, or he's similar to her. I remember her talking about cows, in particular. How quiet and shy they were, but intelligent she always thought, and friendly. I can imagine her up before dawn, milking cows.

As the oldest girl in a family of 12, however, she was more likely to be up before dawn getting breakfast ready. I wonder how long she's been drinking coffee? She's lived most of her years in a pattern that was set down for her, which is perhaps why she now seems so determined to live differently, though she obviously doesn't quite know how.

Yesterday I went to urgent care for a nuisance infection; and while there was asked to respond to a list of medical questions by indicating which of my family members, if any, had been diagnosed with these conditions. "My mother" was my response for at least a fourth of the items on that long list. No cancer, thank God, but a whole host of other ailments, physical and psychological, all shades of chronic. She's a mess. I've long suspected that Mom's history of pain and complications is a direct result of profound unhappiness. She was good at getting up early, raising kids, paying bills, fixing the plumbing, painting a house, growing a rose garden, whipping up delicious meals. She just never felt like she had what she wanted, and I'm afraid the malady is hereditary.

She is still a coffee drinker, still tough and funny and slightly bitter. She's making that transition into old age, sliding across that line that all women cross eventually if they live long enough: you look at their faces, and wonder what they could possibly have looked like when they were young, it's so hard to tell. But I know -- she looked like me, almost identically. I have a lovely portrait taken of her when she was 38, that Grandma paid for I think -- still lovely and dark, wearing a chain beaded with two large pearls. Those two pearls were found in an oyster, pulled from a tank in the Grandstand at the State Fair. Every year we went to the Pearldiver's booth, to add to Mom's collection.  I have a ring.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Quote of the Day

"What's the point of buyin' skinny jeans if you're just gonna sag them?"
Kyron, age 9

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Bring me the head of John the Baptist

I say this mainly because it's a phrase that's been rattling around in my head for WEEKS now and I'm hoping somehow to purge the nuisance. A Cindy Sherman image comes to mind, but I think it's "Judith with the Head of Holofernes." I used to have a postcard. I used to have a whole book of Cindy Sherman photography, what n hell happened to that?? Probably some ex-boyfriend. Along with my book of Talking Heads lyrics illustrated by famous artists of the 80s, and a volume of work by Roger Dean. I used to have an extensive collection of pop art/album cover art/musicians-as-artists books, and over time they've scattered a bit... I've sold duplicates and volumes I didn't care much about, lost some in the aforementioned manner; and a few might be in Mom's attic. A gem that I haven't seen in ages, lyrics by Bernie Taupin for Elton John, illustrated not by well-known artists but by other musicians -- it included a collage by John Lennon. Poorly printed, but priceless in its way.

Back to John the Baptist. Who loses his head to a woman, though not a woman he'd have anything to do with. The stepdaughter of Herod, wasn't it? Salome. Beheaded for talking smack about her mama and her Uncle StepDaddy. My daughter, you may have up to half my kingdom, so pleased I am with you. Anything you want.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled #228 - 1990 

Caravaggio, Salome with the Head of John the Baptist, c. 1607

I suppose John's appearance in the lectionary adjacent to the birth of Jesus is the reason for his gloomy spectre. Bring me the head, on a silver platter. John was beheaded in prison, where he languished for being a loudmouth and having too many followers, as well as for criticizing Herod's choice of mates. John the Martyr.
I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist. And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath's sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her. And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, and brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother. And when his disciples heard of it, they came and took up his corpse, and laid it in a tomb. (Mark 6:21-29, KJV)

But in some accounts John was the cousin to Jesus, only child of Zachariah and Elizabeth, whose birth was foretold by the angel Gabriel and took place six months before Jesus' own birth. Mary visited Elizabeth immediately after Gabriel paid herself the famous visit, and when Elizabeth heard the news, the child in Elizabeth's womb "leaped for joy." But nowhere in the New Testament do we hear of Jesus mourning John's death, though he was certainly informed by all accounts. He went into the desert with his disciples. What happened there is none of our business. 

I read somewhere too that John's birthday is more celebrated than his martyrdom, since he is assumed to have possessed "prenatal grace." Now THERE'S a subject for consideration, prenatal grace. But it's not the reason John's head is rolling around in my mind. I suppose if there is a reason ... it might have something to do with those living waters up there. We'll see.  


At the end of Day 1, the beginning of Day 2...

As I posted elsewhere, 2010 was the year of Not giving up/Not knowing when to quit. I can be thankful for the following in 2010, a random sampling:
- for good friends, who were always interesting, mostly available, and always loving;
- for the blessings we received at the Little Kitchen Food Shelf, which made it possible to serve so many more folks this year over last, and proved to me again that God provides and feeding hungry people is Good;
- for Grace Center -- that we got the loan, navigated it and two complex real estate transactions (buying/selling), got everything packed and moved not once but TWICE without major incident, formed the nonprofit successfully, that we have a great building partner in Fraser Academy, that despite certain setbacks the dream is real;
- for my son, the light of my life, my reason for being;
- for Zoloft and its effectiveness;
- for the things I always take for granted: spouse, house, food, drink, entertainment. Those things that make life easier.

It was an incredibly difficult year at many points along the way, and for many reasons. But challenging is in some cases the better word to use -- I had to stretch well beyond my previous experience in order to cope and to measure up to what needed doing. I can be proud of myself (and several others) for simply seeing things through... sticking with it. Believing in what I was doing.

I made some mistakes, eyes wide open, and that's a fact. But I blame no one, except myself. My mistakes are almost always choices rather than accidents.

2010 was hard, no doubt, but the end results were almost always good -- so I am thankful.

"I learn by going where I have to go."

Saturday, January 1, 2011


I dreamed again last night a dream I seem to have every night, some variation thereof, this week. I dream I am watching the children and caring for the hungry while the others I know are off doing big, grand, publicity-worthy things. I dream that they don't always tell me what they are about to do, though they need me to support them. I dream that their children love me, and the people I care for love me. And the friends I'm supporting love me too -- but I want to be a part of what they do, what they have, and I get the feeling that I am not. And yet...what they do is good and glorious. It's not a depressing realization, or even the reality, this dream. I think I'm just nagging myself about my career, about the places where it intersects the rest of my life -- dissatisfied with myself. Making assumptions about my place in life that might not be true.

I used to always take my dreams as the unvarnished truth. Things I want; things I fear. Or communication from outside myself. Literal indications.

But no -- that's not wise. Maybe I can get to the bottom of this feeling, and not just berate myself for feeling dissatisfied. What is it that I want to DO that will satisfy the demons of insecurity? Or, is that the wrong approach as well? How best to dismiss them? For surely they will return, time after time, life is like that. For all but the blatantly oblivious among us.

Let's go.
"The birds, they sang at the break of day.
Start again I heard them say.
Don't dwell on what has passed away or what is yet to be.

...Ring the bells that still can ring.
...Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in."