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.