I read banned books . . . as often as possible because that’s just how I roll.

“Every man who knows how to read has it in his power to magnify himself, to multiply the ways in which he exists, to make his life full, significant and interesting” ~ Aldous Huxley

I was preparing this post to promote Banned Books Week on the evening of my mother’s accident. Since I had almost finished, I thought that I would go ahead and backdate and post. I mean,why give up a chance to stand upon my soapbox? The dates may be over, but the problem still exists.

I consider the banning of books to be a heinous crime against humanity. In my mind, there is nothing more beautiful than a book, nothing more enriching, nothing more enlightening. As I have mentioned, if I were stranded somewhere, anywhere, one of the things that I would have to have would be a book, any book, and I would probably read that one book until I knew every word, every comma, every quote.

One of my favorite quotes by Harper Lee

My love for reading was fostered greatly by both of my parents, but particularly my father who, when he grew tired of reading to me at any free moment, told me at four years old that if I liked reading so much that I should learn how to do it on my own. So I did.

“To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.” ~ Victor Hugo

I view the censorship of books much in the same way I view censorship of television: so many alternatives are out there; what does it matter that something exists that you find evil, or dangerous, or sordid, or salacious, or seditious, or whatever . . . Don’t read the book. Don’t watch the show.

It’s your choice, and just as you have yours, I have mine. It’s called free will people. Think about it.

Now go read a book, any book. As Cicero said, “A room without books is like a body without a soul.”

Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read

From the American Library Association Site
September 25−October 2, 2010

Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.  Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.

Intellectual freedom—the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular—provides the foundation for Banned Books Week.  BBW stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them.

The books featured during Banned Books Week have been targets of attempted bannings.  Fortunately, while some books were banned or restricted, in a majority of cases the books were not banned, all thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, booksellers, and members of the community to retain the books in the library collections.  Imagine how many more books might be challenged—and possibly banned or restricted—if librarians, teachers, and booksellers across the country did not use Banned Books Week each year to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.

Banned Books Week is sponsored by the American Booksellers Association; American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression; the American Library Association; American Society of Journalists and Authors; Association of American Publishers; and the National Association of College Stores.  It is endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.

For more information on getting involved with Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read, please see Calendar of Events and Ideas and Resources. You can also contact the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom at  1-800-545-2433, 1-800-545-2433, ext. 4220, or bbw@ala.org.

Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009

 

1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9. TTYL; TTFN; L8R, G8R (series), by Myracle, Lauren
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
11. Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers
12. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
13. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
14. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
15. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
16. Forever, by Judy Blume
17. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
18. Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
19. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
20. King and King, by Linda de Haan
21. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
22. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar
23. The Giver, by Lois Lowry
24. In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak
25. Killing Mr. Griffen, by Lois Duncan
26 .Beloved, by Toni Morrison
27. My Brother Sam Is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier
28. Bridge To Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
29. The Face on the Milk Carton, by Caroline B. Cooney
30. We All Fall Down, by Robert Cormier
31. What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
32. Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
33. Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson
34. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler
35. Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison
36. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
37. It’s So Amazing, by Robie Harris
38. Arming America, by Michael Bellasiles
39. Kaffir Boy, by Mark Mathabane
40. Life is Funny, by E.R. Frank
41. Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher
42. The Fighting Ground, by Avi
43. Blubber, by Judy Blume
44. Athletic Shorts, by Chris Crutcher
45. Crazy Lady, by Jane Leslie Conly
46. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
47. The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby, by George Beard
48. Rainbow Boys, by Alex Sanchez
49. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
50. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
51. Daughters of Eve, by Lois Duncan
52. The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson
53. You Hear Me?, by Betsy Franco
54. The Facts Speak for Themselves, by Brock Cole
55. Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Green
56. When Dad Killed Mom, by Julius Lester
57. Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause
58. Fat Kid Rules the World, by K.L. Going
59. Olive’s Ocean, by Kevin Henkes
60. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
61. Draw Me A Star, by Eric Carle
62. The Stupids (series), by Harry Allard
63. The Terrorist, by Caroline B. Cooney
64. Mick Harte Was Here, by Barbara Park
65. The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
66. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor
67. A Time to Kill, by John Grisham
68. Always Running, by Luis Rodriguez
69. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
70. Harris and Me, by Gary Paulsen
71. Junie B. Jones (series), by Barbara Park
72. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
73. What’s Happening to My Body Book, by Lynda Madaras
74. The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
75. Anastasia (series), by Lois Lowry
76. A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving
77. Crazy:  A Novel, by Benjamin Lebert
78. The Joy of Gay Sex, by Dr. Charles Silverstein
79. The Upstairs Room, by Johanna Reiss
80. A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck
81. Black Boy, by Richard Wright
82. Deal With It!, by Esther Drill
83. Detour for Emmy, by Marilyn Reynolds
84. So Far From the Bamboo Grove, by Yoko Watkins
85. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, by Chris Crutcher
86. Cut, by Patricia McCormick
87. Tiger Eyes, by Judy Blume
88. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
89.Friday Night Lights, by H.G. Bissenger
90. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle
91. Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Graighead George
92. The Boy Who Lost His Face, by Louis Sachar
93. Bumps in the Night, by Harry Allard
94. Goosebumps (series), by R.L. Stine
95. Shade’s Children, by Garth Nix
96. Grendel, by John Gardner
97. The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende
98. I Saw Esau, by Iona Opte
99. Are You There, God?  It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
100. America: A Novel, by Frank, E.R.

More later. Peace.

“It is not by muscle, speed, or physical dexterity that great things are achieved, but by reflection, force of character, and judgment.” ~ Cicero

Male Cardinal in the Snow by synthman19872003

“Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it.” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Blue Jay in the Snow

I’m cold, tired, and my back hurts. What better time and frame of mind to hammer out some new year’s resolutions. Let’s get started then. I resolve to do the following in 2010 (in no particular order, just as they come to me):

  1. Write more—more frequently, more regularly, more faithfully, and with more purpose.
  2. Read more, well, just because it’s something that I love, and it relaxes me.
  3. Try to get along better with eldest son even though his personality is so much like my ex-husband that sometimes the lines blur.
  4. Get back into a regular exercise program. This is one that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, but let’s face it: I don’t exercise at home. It’s just not a conducive environment. I need to get back to the gym, a place where I will be shamed into working harder.
  5. Do more with my photography, as in, not just take pictures and leave them on the memory card for months. I love Photoshop, so I should use it more.
  6. In conjunction with Number 5, I would love to get a photo printer, but that’s at te bottom of the priority list.
  7. Get that new Logitech mouse that I’ve been eye-balling for two years. The price has to have come down by now.
  8. Work on our credit score; of course, this one is dependent upon Corey starting a new job and no major problems occurring, but both of us want to accomplish something with this.
  9. Paint my bedroom. No. Still hasn’t been done.
  10. Be a better friend and stay in touch on a more regular basis with everyone who has moved away.
  11. Work on finding a literary agent by the end of 2010. That gives me a year.
  12. Pay back Corey’s parents the money they have loaned us. Must do this.
  13. Try to be more patient with my mother. This is a hard one.
  14. Find the perfect squooshy leather purse so that maybe one day I can purchase it.
  15. Plant flowers in the spring. This used to be so important to me. I need to get back to it.
  16. Go to the Virginia foothills and Skyline Drive. It’s been too many years since we’ve done this, and it doesn’t involve spending a lot of money.
  17. Get a pedicure or two or three. Sweet indulgences are a necessary part of life.
  18. Give up chocolate. Okay, so maybe decrease my chocolate intake. I was able to do this once before, so I have no excuses.
  19. Help to support Corey in his goal to register for college classes. The irony is that if we’d known he be out of work this long, he could have registered a long time ago and already be finished with at least a year of school. Bitter irony.
  20. Female Cardinal in the Snow by Dovey
  21. Get a bird feeder to hang in the back yard where the dogs cannot get to it. I miss my backyard birding.
  22. Be more patient overall. I have gotten more patient and less bitchy in recent years, but I still would like to make fewer assumptions and be less prone to getting upset.
  23. Take my vitamins. No-brainer.
  24. Play the piano more. I am so out of the habit, and this, too, relaxes me. 
  25. Try to get on a regular sleep schedule, you know, like normal people.
  26. Declutter. This is a big one as it means that I have to let go of some things, which I don’t like to do, but the decluttering must be done.
  27. Smile more. I’m not a person who smiles a lot, and it’s not because I’m unhappy or angry, I just don’t smile, so maybe I should make a concerted effort to try more, as long as I don’t end up looking like some kind of idiot.
  28. Give back more. Our trials and tribulations have been heavy, but so many others are facing the same and worse. Giving back is the right thing to do.
  29. Go on a retreat. I promised Brett that we would do that this past summer, but then we didn’t have a vehicle or any cash. This year, for certain.
  30. Read more poetry by new writers. I’ve let myself get behind, and there are so many great poets out there just churning out work that needs to be read and shared.
  31. Finally, continue to work on letting go of things from the past. I’m getting much better at this, but I still need to work on it.

“Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair but manifestations of strength and resolution” ~ Kahlil Gibran

Cedar Waxwing on Icy Branch by johngomes

Admittedly, none of my resolutions are earth-shattering. That’s the whole point. I wanted to create a list of things that are absolutely possible to do within the next year. Nothing on my list involves spending a lot of money; more things involve dedicating time. I have nothing but time, and I need to get back to doing productive things with my time.

Notice that I didn’t put the big one on there about losing weight. I’ve decided that if I start taking better care of myself, stop eating so much chocolate, and get back into exercising, then the weight thing should balance itself. More of that attempt to be realistic.

I wish you luck with whatever resolutions you have made, whether or not you share them. May the coming year be filled with good opportunities, moments of insight and grace, and abundant love and happiness.

More later. Peace

I really wanted to feature Coldplay’s “The Scientist,” but had a hell of a time finding just the right video. I settled on this one with scenes from the movie Wicker Park (which I haven’t seen yet) as it seems to fit the song better than any of the other ones:

 

 

                                                                                                                                       

XVII from Pablo Neruda’s Still Another Day

The days aren’t discarded or collected, they are bees
that burned with sweetness or maddened
the sting: the struggle continues,
the journeys go and come between honey and pain.
No, the net of years doesn’t unweave: there is no net.
They don’t fall drop by drop from a river: there is no river.
Sleep doesn’t divide life into halves,
or action, or silence, or honor:
life is like a stone, a single motion,
a lonesome bonfire reflected on the leaves,
an arrow, only one, slow or swift, a metal
that climbs or descends burning in your bones.

“It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry.” ~ Albert Einstein

 

Sunset2 at Palm Island Park Mt Dora Fl

Sunset at Palm Island Park, Mt. Dora, Florida by Janson Jones 

“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” ~ Ghandi

Well, here we are. Thursday. Another day. Rain outside my window. Muddy paw prints on my floor. Exactly 12 cents in my wallet. Life is . . . well, it is what it is.

Standard Issue School Safety
Today's Standard Issue for School Safety

A quiet peace has settled over the house. Eldest son is spending more time at home. Not really sure what the reasons are behind that, but I’ll take what I can get. Today at Brett’s school there were seven, yes seven fights. Corey said that when he pulled up to the school to get Brett, the police were escorting people out in handcuffs, most of them females. The school was in lockdown for a couple of hours. Local news stations report that 14 students were arrested.

Lockdown. In a school. And people ask me why I don’t get a teaching job. No thank you, not in an urban public school, no matter what their academic standing is or how good the principal happens to be.

The one year that I taught in public schools, I was hit three times, all three accidents, but hits, even so. You know that old myth about having unusual strength during a time of crisis? Well, it’s true. I once broke up a fight between two boys in my classroom by lifting one of them off the other. The kid I lifted, who was actually a very nice boy with very good manners, was a head taller than I was.

Another time, a girl in my class was reaching around me to hit a boy she had a crush on, and I got punched in the arm. The worst fights were always the ones involving females. Not making a generalization here. This is what I saw firsthand.

Not sure what made me think of all of that. I suppose the situation at school today. Thankfully, Brett was not in the vicinity of any of the fights when they broke out.

“Creativity is the process of bringing something new into being . . . creativity requires passion and commitment.” ~ Rollo May 

Maureen, my friend in Australia made a comment that she really liked the images that I used in the last post. I’m glad that people notice the images and the words.

Waves in Blue and Green
Sargasso Sea Abstraction by L. Liwag

I spend about half of the time writing my blog, and then the other half searching for and working on images. Sometimes I am very lucky, and I have a very specific image in mind, one that I have seen on another blog. But other times, such as with the last blog, it takes forever for me to find the precise image that I want. I usually look for images that I know have no copyright or for which I know that the copyright has expired. Or, in the case of my friend Janson Jones, I try to let him know that I plan to use an image in a post; he has graciously given his permission.

And then there are the times that the images I include are mine or a family collaboration. Someone in the family may have taken the photograph, but then I work in Photoshop (wonderful Adobe program, but eats up memory), and play with color, layers, filters. As with every computer program I know, I am self-taught on Photoshop, but the more that I work with it, the more interesting things I find to do with photographs.

And then after I have my words down, and I have inserted my images, I try to think of the perfect song to go along with my theme for the day. Of course, this is not always possible because sometimes, like today, I just kind of amble from one thing to another.

I’ve come a long way since I began blogging over a year ago. Whether or not my changes are an improvement only others can tell. I like to think that I have reached a point at which I have found a good balance between words, images, and music. These three things are the root of my creative process. I almost always write with music playing in the background, and my time at The Chrysler Museum of Art opened my eyes to so many beautiful paintings, sculptures, glass, photography, and other art forms from every time period.

I had always loved art before I worked there, but my appreciation for the visual expanded significantly during my tenure at the museum, especially because part of my job included writing about exhibits, giving interviews, etc. I had to take crash courses in artists and their works every couple of weeks. I’m not complaining at all. I loved the opportunity to learn more about an area in which my prior involvement had only been brief visits to museums. Coming at a work of art from the inside, having the opportunity to work with the curators was wonderfully informative, and therefore, rewarding.

“It has always seemed strange to me that . . . so little stress is laid on the pleasure of becoming an educated person, the enormous interest it adds to life. To be able to be caught up into the world of thought—that is to be educated.” ~ Edith Hamilton

William Glackens The Shoppers Detail
"The Shoppers," by William Glackens (detail, 1907, oil on canvas) from the permanent collection of The Chrysler Museum of Art

I suppose I don’t really understand people who do not want to learn new things. It’s as if they are content with a certain body of knowledge, and anything else would just be extraneous. I understand a need to be focused, but to close your mind to new things, developments in science, language, politics—How can you not take an interest?

I fear that we are raising an entire generation that does not know how to delve, how to dabble. The art that they see is on a computer screen not in a museum. The research they do is from the Internet not in a library. Their knowledge of classical music comes from hearing it as background music to a commercial or when it is used in a movie soundtrack.

The term classical education is no longer a matter of pro forma, and that grieves me. A true classical education meant learning about as much as possible, even if it was just a bit about everything: languages, art, music, literature, politics, science, math, culture, economics, history.  Of course, not all of these subjects are absorbed at once.

A true classical education begins early, with a basic foundation in language so as to be able to absorb basic facts. From this, students progress to analyzing what they are taught until ultimately, these students have the ability to express themselves using their expanded knowledge base. Of course, this is a simplified explanation of what is known as the trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric) and quadrivium (astronomy, arithmetic, music and geometry) of a classical education.

Unfortunately, Latin is no longer taught as a matter of course. And the dialectic of logic and reasoning is included in schools that are focused on college-bound students, but what about the rest? Do I dare touch on the uneasy fact of how many of our high school students graduate without knowing how to read or balance a checkbook?

We are so removed from the Greek and Roman ideas of education (barring their idiotic barring of females from receiving formal education) that I fear we will have a generation whose only acquaintance with Latin may be the two phrases carpe diem and semper fi. Of course, I am over-simplifying things as I have a tendency to do when I am frustrated.

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” ~ Cicero

Actually, I don’t really know how I ended up on this particular topic; I only know that upon arrival, I began to become vexed—a sure sign of my omnipresent impatience with ignorance (not stupidity) and how we as a society are responsible for said pervasive ignorance.

Alexander and the terrible horrible no good very bad day
One of my children's favorite books

Time to stop and have a Pepsi and some chocolate, something to sweeten my disposition. I will leave you with this: If you have young children, read to them, all of the time, from board books when they are very young to fairy tales as they get older. A little story: My daughter Alexis was with her friend Jennifer. The two of them were sorting through children’s books bought at an estate auction. Alexis kept picking up books and saying how wonderful this one was and how much she enjoyed that one.

Jennifer replied that she hadn’t read most of them. Alexis was incredulous until Jennifer reminded her that her mother was not an English professor like Alexis’s mother. Jennifer, like so many young people, grew up in a house without books; whereas Alexis already had a pretty extensive library by the time she entered high school. Not bragging, just telling a story.

Teach your children to read early and you will allow them to become life-long readers. And remember, never ever make fun of a child’s ability to read. Nothing could be more cruel or do more harm to a child’s self-esteem. Just ask anyone who has struggled with dyslexia or a learning disability.

I’ll stop now. Relenting my time on the soapbox. More later. Peace.

Just a note: I actually wrote this post on Thursday afternoon, but after writing about picking images for my posts, I froze. I could not, for the life of me, decide on any images that would be suitable for this post, with the exception of William Glackens’ painting “The Shoppers.” Probably should not have written anything about my creative process . . .

 

“I’ve never tried to block out the memories of the past, even though some are painful. I don’t understand people who hide from their past. Everything you live through helps to make you the person you are now.” ~ Sophia Loren

JS Sargent Repose_Nonchaloire

John Singer Sargent’s “Repose” (Nonchaloir), oil on canvas, 1911: This is how I felt yesterday 

“Sadness is always the legacy of the past; regrets are pains of the memory.” ~ Author Unknown

“Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose. ” ~ The Wonder Years

Well, yesterday was an eventful day, so to speak. We found out that one of the avenues of employment that Corey was pursuing is unavailable. Big disappointment there. I really thought that that part of the plan was going to work. Perhaps that’s why I shouldn’t be optimistic: It always ends up smacking me in the head.

Speaking of being smacked in the head, have to say that so far, the massive doses of magnesium are not helping with the usual morning headache. Each morning when I awaken, I have a headache, not a migraine, just a tightness. I don’t know if I am grinding my teeth, but I don’t think so. Corey would have told me by now if I am grinding. So each morning I get up and take 800 mg of ibuprofen and two Sudafed. This usually helps somewhat as I think that part of the reason is my fall allergies kicking in and causing sinus pressure. Oh well.

Another interesting not good thing that happened yesterday is that I had a minor breakdown. Let me explain.

hampelmann
Hand-painted Bear Hampelmann from Germany

I was looking for something for Alexis that I had been keeping for her. I had thought that it was in the small lockbox in which we keep our passports, birth certificates, etc., but it wasn’t there. Then I thought that I might have put it with her stuff from when she was a baby. I pulled down everything in the top left of my closet as that is where I store the things from the kids’ earlier days.

For example, I have a huge Raggedy Ann that Alexis’s Aunt Ann made Alexis for Christmas one year. The handwork on this doll is amazing. I kind of feel sorry for all of the grandkids, nieces and nephews who came along after Alexis. Everyone was tired of making handmade presents by then. I mean, for the first five years of her life, Alexis was it in the family, so she received handmade Christmas ornaments, dolls, cross-stitched pictures, you name it.

Anyway, Raggedy Ann and a much smaller Raggedy Andy are stored in that part of the closet, waiting for the day if/when Alexis has her own children. I also have a bag of puppets from Germany. They are called hampelmann, which are hand-painted puppets of sorts. Alexis had about seven in all, and they used to hang over her changing table. I would use them to entertain her, and then later, her siblings.

(Aside: Today when I got home from picking Brett up from school, the Pluto hampelmann had been eviscerated, torn limb from limb. I’m pretty sure that Tillie did it as she was the only dog that was hiding from me.)

“Some memories are realities, and are better than anything that can ever happen to one again.” ~ Willa Cather

Sock Doll
Example of a handmade sock doll

Back to the closet. I have kept just a few pieces of clothes from each child, favorite shirts, etc., and I have a bag for each one. There is also a plastic cubed storage container in which I have put several things that belonged to Caitlin. Well, in pulling everything down from the closet, this container also came down.

I made the mistake of opening the container and opening the box that was on top inside of the container. This box holds several things from that hospital, including a sock doll that slept with Caitlin the entire time she was in the hospital.

Let me back up. I’m not a craftsperson. Never have been. But while I was teaching at ODU during that semester in which Caitlin was in the hospital, several of my students brought in things for her. My most cherished gift is a sock doll that one of my student’s mothers made especially for Caitlin. These sock dolls have been around for centuries. They have been called hush-a-bye dolls because mothers used to give them to their babies to keep them quiet in church.

Anyway, I took the doll in my hands, and that was pretty much as far as I got for the next hour. Corey walked in, took a look at the things spread on the bed, and immediately knew what had happened.

“Love lost is still love. It takes a different form, that’s all. You can’t see their smile or bring them food our tousle their hair . . .But when those senses weaken, another heightens. Memory. Memory becomes your partner. You nurture it. You hold it. You dance with it. Life has to end. Love doesn’t.” ~ Mitch Albon

I came across an article about two weeks ago on a syndrome that some psychiatrists and mental health care researchers are trying to have approved for insertion into the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association). The disorder is called prolonged grief disorder, or something like that. PGD is a disorder in which the individual simply cannot get over the loss of a loved one within the “normal” time periods.

PGD is different from depressive disorder, and currently grief is not included in the DSM. In one article, researchers contend “that PGD meets DSM criteria for inclusion as a distinct mental disorder on the grounds that it is a clinically significant form of psychological distress associated with substantial disability.”

Apparently, PGD occurs when grief following lingers and become a serious health problem.

I wish someone would have asked me. I could have told them that years ago. I know that my grief is not normal. I have known that forever. It manifests itself unexpectedly, sometimes mildly, sometimes to the point at which I am completely paralyzed. Granted, I do not have these hour-long crying jags everyday or even every month. But I can count on having at least one Caitlin/Dad related episode in a year.

I really don’t need a psychoanalyst to tell me that my bereavement periods are longer than most people. I do not need confirmation that the pain should not be as acute as it still it. And I will freely admit that even I am astounded by just how severely I am affected when it happens.

I also know that a lot of the reason that my grief has hung around for so long is directly attributable to my feelings of guilt over both of their deaths. I had to make the decision on whether or not it was time for Caitlin, and I don’t know that I will ever be able to view that as not being questionable: Was it time? Should I have waited? With my dad, the guilt arises over the fact that I wasn’t with him when he died, even though I had promised him that I would be there.

“Memory is the treasury and guardian of all things.” ~ Cicero

Logically, you don’t have to tell me that I should have let go a long time ago, or point out my inability to let go. I know all of this. But holding that small, soft doll I could swear that it still smelled of her essence. I know that that is not possible, but grief and despair do funny things to a psyche.

I did look a little more in the storage case: I found the blue smocked dress that I have talked about, which was a real surprise as I have believed for many years that that particular dress is with Kathleen, along with the other dresses that I sent her. I also found the dress that Caitlin was wearing when she had her one and only portrait taken.

Black Patent Leather Mary Janes
Black Patent Leather Mary Janes

Eventually, I was able to put everything away, and Corey put the box back in the top left of the closet. The rest of the things that I pulled down are still in a pile in front of the closet. My accidental encounter with the past left me depleted, bereft, numb.

Too much at once. I’ll get to the rest soon. I think that I am saving it until I can actually enjoy the contents of these bags and boxes. After all, they are filled with items that recall good memories—like Alexis’s tiny Virginia Tech t-shirt. That made me smile.

So I’ll go through the rest, probably tomorrow, refold, repack, and replace on the shelf. I’ll take the time to bring to mind some of the good memories that are associated with these things: Brett’s baby blankets, the various humpelmann, Eamonn’s little cap from the National Zoo, Alexis’s Mary Janes. I find myself smiling inwardly even now as I type about these things. And that’s a good thing.

At times, I can balance with unbearable with the wonderful, the heart-wrenching with the endearing, which only proves that I am human after all. And even if it’s a lie, I will try to believe that it will be all right.

 

More later. Peace.

 

“The turning point in the process of growing up is when you discover the core of strength within you that survives all hurt.” ~ Max Lerner

Near Trail of Blue Ice Portage Valley AK by JJ

Near Trail of Blue Ice, Portage, Alaska by Janson Jones

 

“Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are.” ~ Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” ~ Cicero 

42-16057799I’ve been reading like a mad woman for the past few days: The Alchemist(Paul Coelho), The Hours (Michael Cunningham), an older one by Jonathan Kellerman, The Butcher’s Theater, and a very early one from James Lee Burke, Black Cherry Blues. (I plan to write some reviews soon, here’s hoping.)

Why so much reading? The alternative is to sit down at this computer and produce something. Each night, I approach my desk as if it were an anathema to me: my body feels alien in the curves of my chair; my screen looms in front of me—tasking me like the white whale. I fear that to sit in my chair for any amount of time might somehow completely drain my body of the little energy I have left. So I walk back to the bed, pick up a book off the stack, or turn on the television.

I have regressed to my amoebic state: I am being whipped about in my single-cell form, a body in motion not of its own volition. I have to tell you that this is a very odd position in which to find myself: being propelled along by forces beyond my control and not having the least idea as to how to escape this eddying current without smashing myself against the rocks.

“The gem cannot be polished without friction nor man perfected without trials” ~ Chinese Proverb

I suppose an update is in order. The current state of affairs is that the job that Corey had hoped would still be open with Vane Brothers is, of Merchant Mariner Documentcourse, no longer available because it took so long to get his Coast Guard certifications. He is making telephone calls, sending out e-mails, doing everything he can, but our hopes that with the arrival of the certified documents from the Coast Guard would come a job seem to be all for naught.

He is so beside himself with feelings of self-doubt that it just wounds me to my core. Having gone through a period of unemployment myself, I know all too well how it affects the psyche, chips away at your sense of self-worth, tears at the very fabric of your soul.

Corey is a wonderful, caring person. He does not deserve this continued assault on his self-esteem. And I am powerless to do anything about it. In fact, it seems that the more that I try, the harder it is for him. I don’t mean in the sense of negating his feelings, but rather, by trying to be there for him, it seems to heighten the issues.

It’s as if my presence serves as a constant reminder of all of the things that are going wrong. It’s no one’s fault. That’s just how it is. His failure at finding a job in his field in this economy is moot. What stands out is the failure itself, regardless of the fact that it is not his. I fear that my words of encouragement sound hollow to him. At times, I let them die on my tongue like sand baked in the sun.

“In the part of this universe that we know there is great injustice, and often the good suffer, and often the wicked prosper, and one hardly knows which of those is the more annoying.” ~ Bertrand Russell 

abandoned steel factoryI am reminded of the many closings of mill towns across America, the ways in which once thriving communities were left as mere shells of their former days of productivity. With one decision somewhere in a boardroom in another city far, far away, entire towns were dealt death blows, the only reminder of their once prosperous slice of the American pie remaining in abandoned rusting factories, blights on the landscape.

As could be predicted, in many of those communities with nothing left, alcoholism and drug addiction statistics rose. Of those citizens who decided to stay, the rate of unemployment skyrocketed as did the incidences of spousal abuse.

We are a careless society. We throw away entire communities and never look back. And then when the need for assistance increases, we have obtuse politicians making comments about hunger being a great motivator. It sickens and frightens me simultaneously: Everything can disappear in a moment.

“The central struggle of parenthood is to let our hopes for our children outweigh our fears.” ~ Ellen Goodman

And so we are now left with accepting help from Corey’s parents to fix the disaster of the dead Trooper. The engine cannot be rebuilt. It would cost more to do so than the Trooper is currently worth. So Izzie is off to an Ohio junkyard. I try not to think about it.

Ohio JunkyardSo Corey’s mom and dad are stepping in with a vehicle. It is a life-saver and an anchor. While their intentions are incredibly generous—to help us out of this fix, Corey is finding it very hard to reconcile himself to the idea of accepting support in this way at this point in his life. It makes him feel as if he is a child again, dependent upon his parents to fix things.

After previous years of doing well with our combined incomes, being brought back to square one is akin to starting all over again.

I understand Corey’s frustrations. I felt exactly the same way when my father stepped in and bought the big ugly Buick after my Oldsmobile was totaled. Here I was, a grown woman with children, a job, obligations. But I was in a bind, and my father knew it. He did what came second nature to him. He stepped in and bought a car for me.

I never asked. I never would have been able to ask. It wasn’t a matter of pride, more a matter of feeling overwhelming failure at being at a point in my life in which I should have had the resources to take care of my problems myself without my father stepping in to save me once again.

“There are two lasting bequests we can give our children.  One is roots.  The other is wings.” ~ Hodding Carter, Jr. 

I have often thought about the parent-child cycle: Exactly when does it stop? Does it ever stop? Do we ever stop being our parents’ children? Do we ever stop looking to them, needing them?

Doubtful. We grow up looking to our parents for love, support, help. If we are lucky—and indeed, not everyone is—We get those things from our parents, and so much more. We get our lessons about caring for those who have less than we do. We see our parents doing the right things day after day, and we want to emulate that. We watch carefully, silently, during those times in which we are caught off guard at the echoes of sadness in their voices, and we feel completely unprepared the first time we see our parents cry.

weeping angel with filterWe vow that we will never be the cause of their pain, and then thoughtlessly, we become the very source of their anguish. We promise to do better, and our promises are filled with that toss-of-the-hat carelessness that we do not recognize until years later.

And then later, if and when we become parents ourselves, we realize exactly how fraught with sorrow and pain the prospect of raising a child can be. We vow to do better than our parents, to listen more, to be more available, to be more patient. But things never really work out that way.

At times, we become careless with our love for our children, and they know it, and they store this little nugget away and vow never to be that way with their own children when they have them.

But if we are very lucky, we also remember to cherish those sweet, sweet moments that come around only once in a while: taking an afternoon nap in the hammock in the spring sun with Alexis, barely moving so as not to disturb her slumber; singing “Unchained Melody” to Eamonn in the middle of the night when he could not sleep because of his stomachaches, sitting in the Bentwood rocker, the two of us completely immersed in each other; sitting in the backyard with Brett, in companionable silence, reading books and enjoying the quiet days of spring.

“We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.” ~ Kenji Miyazawa

Portage Valley Blue Ice by Janson Jones
Portage Valley Blue Ice by Janson Jones

Corey and I are finding our way back as best we can. It’s a tricky path, filled with branches just waiting to trip us when we least expect it. He worries that when I look at him I see a man who has failed, that I am filled with anger and impatience. I worry that when he looks at me he sees a woman who is past her prime, who no longer has anything to contribute.

Of course, we are both wrong. When I look at Corey, I see the man who has brought great joy to my life, who has gone through hell and back and still stands by my side. I hope that when he looks at me he recognizes the force of the love that I carry in my heart for him, that it is inviolable, immense, and without judgment.

We are finding our way back slowly, but this much I know: Whatever is left out there for us to conquer, to overcome, we will do it just as we have done everything else: together.

I am not some starry-eyed hopeless romantic that believes that love conquers all. I am a hopeful romantic who understands that love is but one part, and that if the loving is to be successful, it must be based on mutual respect, trust, and an unrelenting belief in the person who is your partner in this life. We are just beginning this arduous task of working our way back slowly, but this much I know: Whatever is left out there for us to conquer, to overcome, we will do it just as we have done everything else: together.

More later. Peace.

 

 

The Art of the Thank You Note

Thank You cards from PaperCrave

Sample Thank You Cards from Papercraft.com

 

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” ~ Cicero

I haven’t had time to post anything new in several days, but by this time tomorrow, 11th grade will be over for Brett. Can I get a big hallelujah from the chorus?

Next big item: Graduation for Eamonn at 3:00 on Monday. His announcements finally arrived a couple of days ago, and I got all of them addressed and mailed yesterday. The deal is that he cannot have (as in take possession of) any graduation presents until the Thank You note has been written. I hope that he realizes that I’m serious. He needs to learn that thank you notes are a must.

I still remember that Alexis never sent out all of her thank you notes for her graduation gifts, which I was very unhappy about, but that was a very bad time in her life, so I suppose that I should just be grateful that we made it out of that dark period. But I’m a firm believer that sending out a short note is the least that you can do when someone takes the time to think of you, to remember you, regardless of the circumstances as to why they are thinking of you.

I was appalled when I read in one of those advice columnists about how someone had received a generic e-mail as a thank you for a wedding present. The writer wanted to know if this was the “new way of doings things.” Not in my world. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but weddings are a significant event, and the people who buy wedding presents usually (except for regifters, of course, but it’s still a gift) put a lot of thought into getting something special for the new couple. To send out an e-mail thank you is better than nothing, but not by much. To send out a generic e-mail to an entire list of people is just plain lazy, and boorish to boot.

Yes, our lives are full and busy, and there never seems to be enough time to do all of things that need to be done. But taking pen in hand and writing two to three sentences in a card does not take more than a few minutes at the most. And a handwritten thank you note or card still means more. At least, I think that it does.

Perhaps I am really revealing my generational influences here, but it pains me that we are raising children who rarely put pen to paper. From the moment that children begin to write, they are on computers. Now that part I agree with. Keeping our youth up-to-date on technology is good for them and good for our country.

But learning how to form letters, how to write words—nothing can replace that.

Besides, how did those newlyweds respond to people who don’t use e-mail? There are still people out there who don’t, anachronisms though they might be. There is a generation that for the most part knows little to nothing about computers. I’m thinking of my mother’s generation. My mother doesn’t even know how to turn on a computer, let alone open an e-mail.

Did the tech-savvy couple just ignore the people without e-mail addresses, or did they deign to send along a one-size-fits-all form letter?

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” ~ John F. Kennedy

I love that we are connected to people everywhere through today’s technology, but I hate that we have an entire generation of young adults who don’t know how to write letters. It concerns me.

Just think of all of the wonderful revelations we have had throughout the years when someone stumbles upon a box of letters written by someone of note: Hemingway, Kennedy, Whitman, Woolf . . . Personal letters reveal so much about the letter writer, and they are a wonderful piece of history. I, for one, am always impressed when I see the penmanship of past generations, the swooping cursive capitals, the care with which the writers crafted their missives.

 I suppose that it is my romantic self that cannot abide electronic communication, but of course, I am just as guilty as everyone else of using e-mail all of the time because of its convenience. But nothing beats receiving something in the mail with a cancelled stamp. And few things beat a thank you note, handwritten and full of gratitude.

The ability to say thank you to those who have given of themselves for our purposes: that is a talent that every child should be taught as soon as he or she is able to write.

Much more later. Promise. Peace.

“It’s the ones you can call up at 4:00 a.m. that really matter.” ~ Marlene Dietrich

 rice-paper-butterflies-by-janson-jones

Rice Paper Butterflies by Janson Jones of Floridana Alaskiana

“Stand By Me” ~ Ben E. King

“I’ll Stand By You” ~ The Pretenders

chinese-friendship-symbol
Chinese Friendship Symbol

A lot of the posts that I have written recently have dealt with matters in the past, which has led to my pondering the people who have played significant roles in my life, my friends. So I thought that I would write a post or two on some friends that I have mentioned only by name but have never really elaborated upon in any posts.

My first real best friend entered my life when I was 14. Her name was Sarah, and she lived a few streets over from my parent’s house. Sarah and I both went to the same junior high school. As much as I’ve tried, I cannot remember exactly how we met. I believe that it was through another friend of mine at the time, Erica, who lived directly behind me.

I was actually very close to Erica’s entire family; her mother and mine were and are very close friends, and we still keep in touch with them to this day. But at the time, Erica and I used to walk to school together. The junior high was almost an exact mile from our house, and we would spend our time laughing and having a great time on our walks to and from school. After Sarah entered our lives, she began to walk with us as well, unless her father drove her to school.

Like me, Sarah is an only child, which probably is what drew us together in the first place. Sarah and I became fast friends, and spent most of our time together after school. Both of her parents worked, so her house was preferable to mine. We could get into more trouble that way.

We shared everything: makeup, clothes (even though she was larger in the chest and shorter by several inches), food, jewelry, records (you know, those things before CDs). I remember going to her house in the morning to pick her up for school and walking in to the sounds of Black Oak Arkansas playing very loudly on her stereo. That was a wake-up call!

Unlike my mother, Sarah’s mom gave her some privacy when she was on the phone, and we used to spend hours on the phone together. It’s amazing how much you have to talk about when you are that age: boys (of course), girls (who we liked and who we didn’t like), television, boys, our hair, boys . . .

“It is not so much our friends’ help that helps us as the confident knowledge that they will help us.” ~  Epicurus

friendship1I got my first serious boyfriend when I was in the 9th grade, and of course, Sarah was my biggest adviser. When I had a fight with my boyfriend, she would be there to cheer me up. When I wanted to talk about things, Sarah always knew the answers. In fact, it was Sarah who told me how to use tampons (too much information?) because my mother didn’t believe in them.

Obviously, there were a lot of things about Sarah that I envied, but that never stopped us from being close. She was there for my first big love, and I was there for hers. If you wanted to date either one of us, you had to accept me or accept Sarah. It was that simple.

When I got my first car, a VW Bug, Sarah and I drove everywhere. I loved that car, and I loved spending time with my friend. There really wasn’t anything that we couldn’t talk about or do together. This was my first time with this kind of friendship, and it taught me a lot about being a friend: that you were there for your friend no matter what, that you never put a boy before your friend, that you trusted your friend with your deepest secrets and reciprocated in that trust. Not having siblings, especially sisters, I had to learn a lot of this.

Sarah really was the first friend that I had that I could call at 4 in the morning if I needed her, and she would be there. Of course, I never did call her parents’ house at 4 in the morning, but I probably could have. Her parents loved me. If there was one bone of contention between Sarah and me, it was that her father was always saying “Why can’t you be more like Lita?” If only he knew . . .

” . . . the sweetest support is found in the most intimate friendship.”  ~ Cicero

girls-holding-hands-bwOne of the great ironies of our friendship was that Sarah dated several of my guy friends, including my first husband. Oh she was really smitten with him. Sarah was actually Paul’s date to the senior prom. At the time, I had just started dating my very Catholic boyfriend, who was one of the best guys I ever had a relationship with (but that’s another story). Eventually, Paul broke Sarah’s heart, and I was her crying shoulder.

I could no more explain why he broke up with her than the man in the moon, but she thought that I might have some words of wisdom since he and I were such good friends. Paul and I were good friends, and he had broken up with another of my friends to date Sarah. It was always amusing years later to recall how my husband had dated my friends, and I had dated his.

But I digress . . .

Sarah fell in love with the man that would become her husband at a very young age—18. At first, I really didn’t like the whole situation. I thought that Sarah had not chosen wisely. But when I realized that she really did love him and he her, I changed my mind.

I was the only bridesmaid at her wedding. It was a small church wedding, and I remember it well. My former high school boyfriend (the love of my life, I thought then) showed up, and we briefly and mistakenly rekindled our doomed relationship. Other than that, it was a great wedding, except for the fact that her father really did not want her to get married.

“A friend is a person with whom I may be sincere. Before him I may think aloud.” ~  Ralph Waldo Emerson

mother-and-child-detail-from-the-three-ages-of-woman-c-1905-gustave-klimt1
Gustave Klimt's "Mother and Child from The Three Ages of Women," detail, 1905

When Paul and I got married, Sarah was very pregnant with her first and only child, Leyna. Paul and I moved to Blacksburg right after the wedding so that I could start graduate school and he could finish his bachelor’s degree, so I was not in town when Sarah gave birth to her daughter. We tried to stay in touch by phone as much as possible while I was away, but as with all things, our lives started to move in different directions.

Sarah and I never lost touch completely, though, mostly because of efforts on her part I’ll have to admit. She would drop by my Mom’s, and later drop by our house. It never really mattered if she hadn’t called. I was just glad to see her.

“True friendship consists not in the multitude of friends, but in their worth and value.” ~  Ben Jonson

When Catlin died, Sarah was right there, offering her love and support. By then, she and Joe had been married almost 11 years. The marriage that I never thought would last was still going strong, and Sarah was still there for me, regardless of time passed between us.

We run into each other from time to time at the store, and she e-mails me. She also is a loyal reader of my blog. Out of all of the people who have been in and out of my life over the years, Sarah is one constant that I know that I can still count on. I may not need to call her at 4 in the morning, but I know that I still could if I had to. I also know that if she dropped by my house one day, she wouldn’t judge me by the disarray that my house is in. Now that’s true friendship.

You don’t get too many people like that in your life, so when you do, you should cherish them. I hope that Sarah realizes just how much she still means to me, no matter how much time and distance have come between us. She was my first true best friend, and that’s not a slot that can be replaced by anyone, no matter how long you live. Other people will come along, move in and out of your life, supplant the best friend moniker, but no one can replace your first true friend.

End of Part 1

There will be more later. Peace.