“Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all.” ~ Ayn Rand

I miss Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes

 “Were you born this infuriating?”
“It’s taken me years of practice.” ~ Misty Massey from Mad Kestrel

A bit better today. It’s still bone-chillingly cold outside, and pretty chilly inside, but at least I feel able to get out of bed for a bit. You know that you are truly sick when you take a shower and then have to get back into bed to recover from the exertion.

Last night Corey and I watched more of the NCIS backlog on the DVR. One of the best aspects of our cable company is that they supply a DVR with the cable bundle service to which we subscribe. This means that I have the poor man’s version of TiVo, but it works really well. I have all of my favorite shows set up to tape, and I can rank them so that if there happens to be a conflict, the higher-ranked shows will tape.

Anyway, I have this incredible backlog of NCIS (my very favorite show) because Corey asked me to tape it for him, but it’s hard to get him to watch them. So we’ve been making a concerted effort to get caught up. I’ve been picking out the most important story arcs, but there is one problem with that: When a show is a repeat, it does not necessarily have the same name as the original. As a result, we’ve watched some shows out of order, and we are missing a few key shows.

Corey thinks that it’s a subversive plot on my part to drive him crazy: Let’s watch the shows about La Grenouile . . . Oh wait, that one is missing. Only to find the show under a different name later. Personally, the back and forth doesn’t bother me at all as that is the way in which my mind works—all over the place at once—and even though it isn’t a conscience plot, perhaps I am trying to make Corey less rigid in wanting things to be linear . . .

Oh well. At least it sort of sounded good.

“One of ennui’s most terrible components is the overwhelming feeling of ennui that comes over you whenever you try to explain it.” ~ Ingmar Bergman

We’re back to the very strange dreams again. Apparently, I’m waking up not screaming, but arguing, and then when Corey tries to calm me, I get angry with him, and I am so loud that Brett hears me from the other room. I hate that because when I wake up for good, I’m in a foul mood, which makes absolutely no sense. How very strange.

The dreams that I remember are strange as well. In one of them, I found out that Brett had shot someone, but my mother told everyone to lie to me about it. Obviously, I was distressed by this news, and then my dad (always disconcerting when dad appears) told me that he would take care of it and talk to my mom and Brett. The strangest part about this dream was that after the main dream, I then dreamed that I was awake and that I was going to write a book about what had happened. I even came up with the title of the book and the first chapter. Of course when I actually awoke, there was no book, and the title made no sense at all. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I did that automatic writing thing in my sleep and woke up to find a chapter written?

In another one, I someone was shooting me, not near me but at me. I don’t remember a lot about this one except for the fact that I was being shot and that I was screaming at the person who was shooting me. Last night, I had a very, very weird dream in which there was some small-town high school event, and I was going to disrupt it somehow.

I know. Weird. Why can’t I have dreams about lying on a white sandy beach with an umbrella drink in my hands? Just that, nothing else, no confrontations, no conflict, just the ocean, the sand, blue skies. Probably too much to expect of a dream.

“Give me detached existentialist ennui . . . Give me rampant intellectualism as a coping mechanism.” ~ Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters
Flash.”

Okay, so the quotes about ennui? The word popped into my head while I was sitting here trying to figure out the best way to describe the past few days. Ennui: a feeling of listlessness for lack of activity or excitement . . . voila! My past few days. I have been so listless that I cannot even read, which is a very big deal, especially as I am in the middle of a book, but as I said, I am starting to feel a bit better, a little more energy.

I have an embarrassing story to tell about the word ennui: Many years ago I was playing Scrabble with my ex and some friends (for some reason, my ex always won when we played together, which really pissed me off as he was the scientist and I was the lit major). Someone put down the word ennui. Now, I should have recognized the word, but to give me credit, her pronunciation really threw me. She said en-noo-ee, not on-we, so I didn’t know what the hell she was talking about, and I challenged her. Of course, I was wrong, but shouldn’t she have lost points for her dreadful mispronunciation?

I know. Poor sport. But I hate to lose at Scrabble, which is probably why no one will play with me any more. I think that it has something to do with my rampant intellectualism as a coping mechanism . . .

“Life is like topography, Hobbes. There are summits of happiness and success, flat stretches of boring routine and valleys of frustration and failure.” ~ Bill Watterson, Calvin & Hobbes

I do miss Calvin and Hobbes, as witnessed by today’s images. It was a genius comic strip, written for both the child and adult from a child’s point of view but with infusions of adult wisdom from the stuffed tiger Hobbes. I always viewed Calvin’s perpetual energy, zeal for life, and unabashed talent for reducing things to bare bones as being such a refreshing commentary on life. Watterson did with his strip what Shulz had done with Peanuts years before: used a popular medium to entertain on the one level and enlighten on a more subliminal level. I’m hoping that I can get the collection that hit the market a few months ago, perhaps for my birthday.

I want to share with you a wonderful passage I recently came across. It’s from Simon Rich’s Ant Farm: and Other Desperate Situations, and I think that it is absolutely priceless in summing up frustration:

“I still remember the day I got my first calculator

Teacher: All right, children, welcome to fourth grade math. Everyone take a calculator out of the bin.
Me: What are these?
Teacher: From now on we’ll be using calculators.
Me: What do these things do?
Teacher: Simple operations, like multiplication and division.
Me: You mean this device just…does them? By itself?
Teacher: Yes. You enter in the problem and press equal.
Me: You…you knew about this machine all along, didn’t you? This whole time, while we were going through this…this charade with the pencils and the line paper and the stupid multiplication tables!…I’m sorry for shouting…It’s just…I’m a little blown away.
Teacher: Okay, everyone, today we’re going to go over some word problems.
Me: What the hell else do you have back there? A magical pen that writes book reports by itself? Some kind of automatic social studies worksheet that…that fills itself out? What the hell is going on?
Teacher: If a farmer farms five acres of land a day–
Me: So that’s it, then. The past three years have been a total farce. All this time I’ve been thinking, “Well, this is pretty hard and frustrating but I guess these are useful skills to have.” Meanwhile, there was a whole bin of these things in your desk. We could have jumped straight to graphing. Unless, of course, there’s some kind of graphing calculator!
Teacher: There is. You get one in ninth grade.
Me: Is this…Am I on TV? Is this a prank show?
Teacher: No.”

More later. Peace.

Moby’s “One of these Mornings,” just because it is so beautiful. Actually, couldn’t decide between two videos, so posting both. Let me know if you have a preference . . .

 

 



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“Ideals are like stars; you will not succeed in touching them with your hands. But like the seafaring man on the desert of waters, you choose them as your guides, and following them you will reach your destiny.” ~ Carl Schurz

Sun Reflected in Frosty River

 

“I have been in Sorrow’s kitchen and licked out all the pots. Then I have stood on the peaky mountain wrapped in rainbows, with a harp and sword in my hands.” ~ Zora Neale Hurston from Dust Tracks on the Road

Well, we survived Thanksgiving and my mother’s lovely running critical commentary throughout dinner. Had a bit of a snafu though: Alexis overslept because her electricity went out during the night, so her alarm did not go off, and as a result, the turkey went into the oven rather late. Since it was a 20-pound turkey, we didn’t eat dinner until 8 p.m., which doesn’t really bother most of us because we tend to eat late, but my mother was beside herself.

I called her at 2:30 to tell her that everything was going to be late and suggested that she eat a small meal, but that didn’t stop the bitching. “What do you mean . . . why? . . . how did her electricity go out in the middle of the night . . . I’ve never heard of such a thing . . . I can’t believe this . . .” Unfortunately, we could not cook the turkey here as we are still without natural gas, and our oven is a beautiful, large gas oven that is sitting unused, but that my friends, is a different saga.

This couple couldn't take the time to put on clothes

So the waiting became too much for eldest son as he had an urgent need to get to his girlfriend’s house; we sent him on his way with our blessings and suggested that he check back in later, although he didn’t.  In spite of the delay, dinner was delicious, not way too much food as it used to be, and we had open-faced hot turkey sandwiches on Friday night for dinner.

The madness that is Black Friday did not leave the country unscathed. No stampedes at Wal Marts this year because the stores allowed shoppers into the building; the catch was that no one was allowed to touch the early bird specials until 5 a.m. Everything was on pallets and covered with plastic. I know about this not because I was there (Wal Mart the day after Thanksgiving? me? shudder), but because Alexis’s friend Jennifer went and was out by 5:40 a.m. in time to go to work. Amazing.

I didn’t read any stories about fights in the aisles or mayhem, and the American consumer seemed to be more willing to part with dwindling cash, somewhat. Preliminary data show that shoppers deposited almost $41.2 billion into retail coffers (oh to have just .001 percent of that), this according to the National Retail Federation.  But the madness that normally plagues the pages of the news seemed to be less this year.

There was a shooting in which a man killed his adult sisters and a 6-year-old cousin on Thanksgiving day; another man locked his children in the trunk of his Trans Am while he ran into a sporting goods store (“They like to play in the trunk”). However, the most horrific thing that happened over the holiday weekend state side was the shooting of four Seattle police officers in a coffee shop early Sunday morning. The officers were sitting at a table with their laptops preparing their day when 37-year-old Maurice Clemmons walked in and opened fire. No other patrons were shot, only the officers. For more details on this story, click here.

“To receive everything, one must open one’s hands and give.” ~ Taisen Deshimaru

A Salvation Army Kettle

Oh, and one more on holiday cheer and good will towards all: In Toledo, Ohio, a man grabbed a Salvation Army kettle full of donations and pushed the bell ringer to the ground. Supposedly the man said, “I can’t stand you and your bell-ringing. I hate Christmas.” Clearly, this year’s winner for the Ebenezer Scrooge award. Personally, I love to see the kettles, but I miss seeing real Salvation Army members ringing the bells. I always try to put something in at least a few kettles each year.

And by the way, the rumor that bell-ringers receive part of the kettle coffers is absolutely false. Bell-ringing is done by civic organizations, scout troops, schools, etc, but the Salvation Army does employ people from shelters to be bell-ringers. These needy individuals receive minimum wage to stand out in the cold, snow, and rain collecting donations that are used to fund the Salvation Army’ s many charitable programs, including shelters, meal programs, after-school programs, to name but a few.

“You’re the love of my life
And the breath in my prayers
Take my hand, lead me there” ~ Dave Matthews Band

So with the one holiday over and the big one looming, Corey and I are in a kind of stasis. The bills continue to pile up, and the money continues to be non-existent. We have a huge payment due to the power company in just a few days, and absolutely no way to pay it. It’s hard to think about putting up Christmas lights when there might not be electricity to power them.

So that’s what I mean about stasis. We cannot really do anything as far as decorating until the living room undergoes a major clearing, but that is dependent upon painting the bedroom, and I had forgotten that one of the reasons that we didn’t move  the very heavy bureau into the bedroom before this is that the bedroom needs to be carpeted. Once that huge dresser is in place, it’s going to be very hard to move it. So do we wait to paint until we can carpet so that we move everything once? Do we move everything twice? And who is this we I speak of, Kemosabe . . .

I must admit that my recent renewed addiction to home renovation shows is not helping with my complete dissatisfaction with the state of our house. There are so many things that we could do to make the house better, less cluttered, easier to get around in if we just had a little cash. Having said that, using cash for renovations has to take a backseat to using it for bills, so once again, the infamous Catch 22 comes into play.

Oh well, moving along . . .

“We clasp the hands of those that go before us, and the hands of those who come after us.” ~ Wendell Berry

Brett's Hands

I have been thinking of hands lately. Don’t ask my why, but  I have. Hands that are moving through the air. Sunlight glowing through hands. Babies’ hands. My children’s hands, which are very much like my own. I have very long fingers, which was great when it came to playing the piano, and all three of my children have long thin fingers.

I remember my father’s hands. He had a degenerative condition in his right hand that caused the muscle to atrophy, so much so that he had to use his left hand to turn the ignition in his 1966 Ford Falcon.  I remember more than once looking at my father’s hands, so bent and worn with age and work, and being just amazed at how much those hands had accomplished over the years.

I really don’t remember anything that my father couldn’t do when he tried. He built things around the house, sewed things, fixed things, worked on his car (all of the time), and maintained the engines on those huge cargo ships that traveled all over the world. I know that my father was very good at his job because he had ship captains who routinely requested him.

In the end, when he was in the hospital, it was his hands that I watched. So small and shrunken, they knitted the sheets to and fro. This man who was never really still his entire life was working even in the midst of his morphine dreams. Watching that automatic movement day after day almost broke me.

But my thoughts about hands are not all painful. In my mind’s eye I see a pre-school craft project that Alexis made: a piece of muslin with small green handprints in a circle, forming a wreath. I still have that. Brett’s hands, specifically his thumb, which he sucked when he was a baby. I never really fretted that he sucked his thumb because I knew that he would stop when he was ready. Nine-year-old Eamonn’s long fingers scooped around a basketball, his slightly crooked smile as he stood for his team picture.

These memories are good memories. I can take the memory of my father’s hands when it is balanced against these memories from my children’s earlier days.

My hands when I had long manicured nails

I look down at my own hands as they skate aross the keys: long, thin fingers, the one vein on each hand that has always been prominent, cuticles a bit ragged from worrying them unconsciously. These hands have touched piano keys and computer keys; they have brushed my daughter’s long hair and finger-combed my son’s waves. These hands have held four babies, cupped their small heads and massaged their backs. These hands have polished a thousand pieces of furniture and cleaned thousands of dishes. They have planted countless flowers and strung colored lights year after year.

These hands are my strength and my weakness: For everything that these hands have allowed me to do, they have also felt the pain of being idle at times when doing something, anything, would have helped.

These hands stroked the soft dark hair on my daughter’s head as she lay dying in my arms, but these hands could not stop death. These hands held my father’s small, curled hands as he lay sleeping in a hospital bed, but these hands could not keep the pain at bay nor force death to wait.

These hands have held newborn babies, and puppies seconds from their mother’s womb. They have stroked the flanks of a chestnut mare and loosened the bolts in an engine. They have turned the pages of thousands of books and held countless cups of tea and coffee. Each morning, these hands move across a face that belies its age, while fingers probe for wrinkles that have yet to appear. These hands stroke Corey’s cheek when he is asleep, and rub the belly of my fat, spoiled dog as he lays snoring by my side.

Everything that is or has been me is within these hands, and when I hold them up to my eyes when the summer sun beats down relentlessly, my fingers seem to glow with life, and I am reminded of that scene in the old movie Ladyhawke when Isabeau raises her hands to the morning sun just before she transforms into the hawk.

I have my father’s hands. My desire is that when I am in the dusk of my life, my hands will have created more than they have destroyed, that they will have caressed more than they have repelled, that they will have calmed more than they have worried, and that they will have written a million words, filled with the myriad sides of myself, my life, and those who have used their own hands to help me, guide me, hold me, and teach me along the way.

More later. Peace.

This video of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova’s “Falling Slowly” somehow seemed appropriate.

 

 

“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is far worse than the suffering itself—and no heart has ever suffered when it’s gone in search of its dreams.” ~ Paul Coelho

Morning Mist on Lake Mapourika, New Zealand by Richard Palmer (2008)

 

“Only a man who has felt ultimate despair is capable of feeling ultimate bliss. It is necessary to have wished for death in order to know how good it is to live . . . the sum of all human wisdom will be contained in these two words: Wait and Hope.” ~ Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo

Well, we made it through the November nor’easter all right: no tree damage, no water damage, no loss of power. We were luckier than many people, for a change, and for that, I am truly thankful. I am also truly thankful that I no longer feel as if I am existing in a wind tunnel. One day is intriguing. Two days is numbing. Three days is irritating. Moving into the fourth day is like the waking dead: I can no longer tell if I am hearing the wind or if it is a constant buzzing in my ears. Oh well.

Port of La Rochelle, France in Morning Fog

Many, many strange dreams in the past few nights: my father appeared in at least two, and that is always disconcerting. I don’t know that I’ll ever feel that I did not disappoint my father terribly before he died, but that is not the subject for tonight. Much too hard of a subject, and always leaves me depleted for a long time, and since I am beginning the post in an already depleted state, I will not even attempt to tackle something as weighty as that.

The other night I had this dream about being on a sinking boat. The dream was a complete metaphor for my life: the boat was cluttered and dirty and badly in need of a complete cleaning. And there was one other problem: there was no bottom in the boat. At some point, the boat fell (?) off the support beams on which it had been resting and flew through the air, landing atop the bottom of an old military vessel. The top of the boat and the bottom of the military vessel came together, and both pieces rushed forward into the ocean.

I thought to myself that some remedy had to be found other than the makeshift coupling of the two halves, otherwise, the ocean would be able to dislodge the two pieces, and we would surely sink. In the meantime, someone was complaining about washing the windows of the boat, which were not portholes, but panes of glass like a house, and no one could clean because there was too much clutter—boxes and storage bins and whatever else. I awoke from the dream crying because it was a fast-sinking ship, and I knew that, and just as certainly I knew that the boat in my dream was my life.

Last night I dreamed that I worked at Dillard’s again, and asked to have the home store back because that was always my favorite department. But instead of a home store, there were lawn mowers. Very strange. The weirdest part was that I had all of these great marketing ideas for different departments, and I decided that I should be the store’s roving marketing manager, going from department to department coming up with selling ideas. Also very strange as my marketing background is my least favorite part of my skill set.

So I’m still not sleeping well, even more so since the drop-off for trees and limbs that were felled by the storm is right behind the house in the parking lot of the community park that our house abuts. After Hurricane Isabel in 2003, the City set up a similar drop-off in the parking lot, but is was on the other side of the park, so the sound of the wood chipper and large trucks backing up with their beeping alarms was more removed; now, it is jarringly loud, and it seems to be right outside the bedroom window. It’s not, but that’s how it seems to my head. Lovely.

“The weight of the world is love, under the burden of solitude, under the burden of dissatisfaction.” ~ Allen Ginsburg

Foggy View from Oberfallenberg Towards Swiss Mountains, by Friedrich Bohringer

Anyway . . . I have had the following quote on my mind for days, but for the life of me, I cannot find out who said it originally (if anyone knows, please pass along the information): Do what you love, and the rest will follow.

Now, I know that there is a book entitled Do what you love and the money will follow, but that is not the sentiment that I am pondering.

Do what you love . . .

What do I love, exactly? I thought that I loved to write, more than anything else in the world. But lately, I have come to question that belief, especially since I am having such a hard time piecing together a coherent blog post. What kind of writer is that? I sit down at these keys everyday, but I do not write everyday. More often than not, I open a computer game and play mindlessly for hours, attempting to lull myself into fatigue. I feel more often than not that I am existing in an endless fog.

Let me pause here. I know that I am depressed, considerably so. That I am not taking my usual dose of antidepressant is not helping matters. Granted. However, I am depending upon samples from my doctor, and I am trying to stretch those as far as they go. No one needs to tell me that this is not how you take a medication that needs to be maintained at a constant level in order to fight the chemical imbalances that lead to clinical depression. I know all of this.

I also know that my particular antidepressant costs over $200 without prescription coverage, which I still don’t have because of the ongoing battle with my health insurance. Not even worth going into that old scenario.

And even though I know that not having my medication is affecting me, and November is affecting me, and being just above poverty level is affecting me, and the upcoming anniversary of my dad’s death is affecting me, and the upcoming holidays are affecting me . . . wait, I lost the subject of that sentence. In other words—everything in the world is affecting me.

“A fierce unrest seethes at the core, of all existing things: it was the eager wish to soar, that gave the gods their wings.” ~ Don Marquis

Last night I was standing at the sink doing dishes (because the dishwasher no longer works because this is the best possible time for yet another appliance to break), anyway, I was doing dishes and crying. Weeping, actually, and no, it wasn’t because I was washing dishes. Why so sad, joker asks?

Let’s see, other than the litany mentioned above, Corey burned his arm two nights ago, bad burn with scalding water, but he has no health insurance.  As I applied antibiotic ointment and dressing, all I could think of was that burns get infected so easily. Corey shrugged it off, but I’ve been watching it carefully. It seems to be healing well, but still . . .

Fog in Winter, Valley of Upa, Czech Republic

And then, the dryer isn’t working right. The dishwasher is now broken. The house as a whole is in horrible shape, cluttered, dirty, depressingly in disrepair. I used to be so anal about cleaning, every weekend, top to bottom. Now, I cannot run the vacuum for the clutter. Did I mention that I cannot write? My phone has been turned off, and basically, I hate life. To be more specific, my life. I hate my life.

Don’t misunderstand. I do not hate the people in my life. I love the people in my life. They are probably the one thing that sustains me at the moment. But my life, per se? The circumstances of my life? I hate, h-a-t-e it. I want to go back to work. I want to have a career again. I don’t want to feel like a burden for which Corey must bear the full weight. I don’t want my spouse to feel that he is a caretaker. That gets old, fast.

I want to sleep through the night, wake up in the morning, get dressed, and go to work.

That I should be happy that I awaken each morning with a roof over my head and some food in my fridge . . . yes, I know that. We’re talking emotions here. Logically, I know that I have so much for which to be grateful. Logically, I know that millions upon millions of people have it so much worse. Logically, I know that in the big scheme of things, my problems are a tiny little puddle in comparison to the monsoons that invade so may people’s lives.

Yes, I know that. Does it makes me seem ungrateful to say that knowing that, I still feel as if I am slowly losing my mind? Losing patience with everything? Losing the ability to cope? Probably, yes, I probably seem ungrateful.

But damn, it just feels as if I am existing, counting days, not living. That’s it. It took me all of these words to get to the heart of it: existing, not living. I want to enjoy life again. I want to be the woman I used to be, the woman who took pleasure in small things, who thrived on stress and pressure, who laughed more, bantered frequently, and bemoaned fate less.

“I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in life. And I am horribly limited.” ~ Sylvia Plath

Do what I love and the rest will follow . . . such a seemingly innocuous platitude. Perhaps even good advice. But how do I do what I love when I can no longer identify what I love? And what is it that will follow? What is the rest?

Fog, Baden-Weurttemberg, Germany

How did I get to this place in my life, this place at which life is a calendar filled with numbers but not with days? How does anyone get here? What scares me the most is the fear that perhaps I have lost hope.

Lost my way?  Is my path occluded? Have I forgotten to pay attention to the journey in my single-minded pursuit to survive? Yes, maybe that’s it. Maybe I have allowed myself to get so caught up in counting the days until our situation changes that I have completely forgotten that life is to be lived, not endured.

What do I love? I love to write, to read, to engage my mind, to watch the sun set, to walk along the shore, to find a shell, to smell the rain, to discourse, to converse, to contemplate, to cherish, to embrace. I love the smell of a baby’s skin and the scent on the air after I have a bath. I love a cup of tea and a good movie. I love freshly cut herbs and spring blossoms. I love the sound of water and the blue of the deep ocean. I love the wind in my face and the touch of the first snow on my lashes.  I love the company of good friends and the peace of the mountains in the fall. I love to listen to good music on a Sunday afternoon, and I love the freedom to sing at the top of my lungs in the shower.

I love to be loved, to feel love, to exude love, to share love.

“Life is too short, or too long, for me to allow myself the luxury of living it so badly.” ~ Paul Coehlo

Do what I love? That is so much harder than it seems. Life is so much harder than it should be. Please don’t think me small-minded, and yet, why do I take the time in my stream-of-consciousness to apologize, to care what other people think? Isn’t that always the way?

I have some pondering to do, some searching. Perhaps, though, my search has already brought me to this place of realization: I must get back to myself somehow, before the bottom of the boat falls out and I find myself at sea, a castaway along with the scattered debris that is my life.

I am reminded of a poem by Raymond Carver, one of my favorites:

Late Fragment

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth

Yes. To feel beloved and to love. Perhaps that is truly all that is necessary.

More later. Peace.

Damien Rice’s “Delicate”

 

“Memory is a way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.” ~ Kevin Arnold

The Magpie Monet 1869 oil on canvas Musee d Orsay

“The Magpie,” by Monet (1869, oil on canvas), Musee d’Orsay

 

” . . . say it loud
panebreaking heartmadness” ~ From “Nightmare Begins Responsibility,” by Michael S. Harper

Do you know what it’s like to hold someone you love in your arms as she is dying? All of the white noise of the hospital room dissipates in those last few minutes. The only sounds that you hear are your own heartbeat in your ears and the sound of someone near you crying. Time becomes suspended, and a part of you hopes that it will remain that way forever, just so that you never have to move into that next moment, the moment when all possibilities cease to exist.

I still remember the weight of my daughter’s body in my arms, still remember the smell of her dark hair, or what was left of it. I can recall vividly the bright overhead lights of the small room, and the way that I stared at the machine that monitored her heartbeat, willing it to remain steady so that all that was left of Caitlin would not end.

I remember how it felt as if my own heart stopped in that moment when hers stopped, and how I wished that it were true so that I would never have to exist in a world in which Caitlin was no longer a part. And then how we all left the room while the nurses disconnected her from all of the machines and removed the tubes that had sustained her. How when we went back into the room, she was lying there in the middle of that big hospital bed, so small, so seemingly perfect, and how I knew that at last she was no longer in pain.

I removed the hospital gown and dressed her in soft white pajamas, and I tried to train my eyes away from the incisions on her chest and arms and legs. I felt the scar on the back of her head where the surgeons had cut into her only two months’ previous, and then I kissed her, caressed her still-warm cheeks, and left.

We walked out into the bright November afternoon, and I thought to myself that it was impossibly cruel that the world outside could still be moving on as if Caitlin had never been a life force among those moving about, completely mindless of her life and her death. After that, I don’t remember much. I don’t remember the car ride home. I don’t remember walking into the house that had been mostly empty for months. I don’t remember getting into bed that night or waking the next morning.

My next memories are of minutiae: picking out a headstone and deciding what to inscribe, taking a dress and bonnet to the funeral home, renting a carpet cleaner and cleaning the carpet and living room furniture, even though they did not need it. I remember my mother-in-law bringing Pizza Tuesday night so that we would eat, and I remember that it tasted of cardboard. I remember Ann going with me to find a dress for the funeral, and how I obsessed over finding finger-tip towels for the bathroom.

I remember the day of the funeral, passing out Valium like it was sweet tarts, standing in the tiny bathroom of the chapel with Kathleen and watching the people pulling into the parking lot, walking up to the podium and looking out at all of the faces of people who had been so much a part of our lives—nurses from the hospital, our friends from the medical school, people with whom I taught at the university, and I remember not being able to distinguish faces.

I remember the ride to the cemetery in Kathleen’s car, and looking behind us at the long line of cars that followed. I remember the late morning sun and the cool breeze. I don’t remember what was said, nor do I remember actually being there during the service, only the moments after the service concluded, when friends began to come up to me and hug me, how surprised I was. I remember looking up and seeing Johnny and collapsing into his arms, sobbing openly in my dear friend’s embrace.

Afterwards, I remember sitting in the Bentwood rocker in which I had held my daughter, drinking wine, and listening to people talk to me. I don’t remember what was said or everyone who was there. I remember that Sarah wore red. And then as people left, I remember pressing food into their hands because the idea of a house full of food made me physically ill.

Awakening Bessie Pease Butmann 1918

             “Awakening,” by Bessie Pease Gutmann (1918):            This is how Caitlin looked with her dark hair and chubby cheeks.

 

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

These are the things that I remember about those four days in November, remember still even though so much time has passed. And while I know that I have forgotten as much as I remember, it’s the memories that continue to cut so sharply, reopening wounds that have never healed completely.

I know that it is a cliché to say that a part of me died in that room that day, but that does not negate the statement’s truth. A part of my heart closed off completely the moment that Caitlin’s heart stopped beating. The part that had belonged to her grew cold and has never regained its living warmth. I can live with that. I have lived with that. I will continue to live with that.

Death is not a gentle journey for anyone, for those who die or for those who are left. Death is insidious in its ability to weave its way into the sinews of existence and memory. What those of us who remain must do is learn to take that loss and incorporate it into our daily lives. If not, it would be impossible to go on, to move through time with any kind of peace or hope.

The memories of the day that my daughter died and the hours that followed are stored away, and I dare not retrieve them too often lest they break me. But sometimes, it is necessary to open the box in which they reside, even if the doing feels like bloodletting. These memories are not the totality of my daughter, yet they are as much a part of me as the cells that give me life. I have incorporated these memories into my lifeblood, and there they will remain, along with the memories of my father and all of the other memories that make me who I am.

I have come to realize that the ability to recall such intense emotion helps to make me stronger, even if it feels like a little death each time that I do so. It may not seem to make much sense, but embracing every part of the tapestry of my life—the beauty and the pain—affords me my humanity, and given the opportunity, I would not choose to have traveled any other path.

One of my favorite songs from that time: “Cristofori’s Dream,” by David Lanz

More later. Peace.

                                                                                    

Remembrance of Monday Afternoon Past
     for Josh

How can I explain to you
what it is to hold someone you love
until she dies?
I cannot prepare you for that moment of separation—
     it is something so unspeakably personal
     that to watch it, to intrude upon it
     almost cannot be forgiven.
If I try to tell you about the silences
that enclose and isolate,
     you will not understand
     until you, too,
     have felt them.
I cannot describe for you
     the desperation
     with which you will try to pass
     life
    from your arms to hers,
    but you will come to know this as well
    as I once did.
When the moment comes,
     you will not be ready,
     but you will recognize it for what it is—
     that last instant
     in which possibilities still exist.

L. Liwag

“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.

 

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing is a field. I’ll meet you there.” ~ Rumi,

Detail of Hand Phra Atchana Calling the Earth to Witness

Pra Atchana: Calling the Earth to Witness (detail) 

“What the material world values does not shine in the same truth of the soul” ~ Rumi, “Not Intrigued With Evening” 

“You have been interested in our shadow” ~  Rumi, “Not Intrigued With Evening”

BuddhaSomewhere, the gods are laughing hysterically. Somewhere, Sisyphus has paused in his uphill struggle to push his boulder to the top, and he is grinning sheepishly. Somewhere, at some point in time, all of this became an ongoing comedy of errors.

I’m just curious: Who forgot to send us the memo?

Last night, just because it could and because it would be the worst possible timing, Corey’s truck died in the parking lot of the nearby shopping center. Oh, we knew that the truck was living on borrowed time, but we were hoping against hope that it would give us at least another month, time to get the van down from Ohio, time to get Corey on a boat, time to park it and let it rest until the repairs could be made.

Mais non. ‘Twas not to be.

Which leads me back to my original statement and the question that keeps going around and around inside my brain: exactly who did we piss off this badly, whose crappola list, who did we offend in this lifetime or a previous or next in order to keep getting served cold Haggis when a nice, healthy mango salad would do?

 “Look instead directly at the sun” ~ Rumi, “Not Intrigued With Evening”

Chiang Mai Orchids
Chiang Mai Orchids, Thailand

I hear from those of you out in the ether, and I know that we aren’t alone. I know now just how many of you are in the same dire straits that we are navigating. Believe me, it does help with perspective.

But exactly when is this merry-go-round going to stop? Trust me when I said that I am beyond nauseous from the circling and circling, never arriving, never achieving any kind of forward momentum, the kind that grown ups are supposed to be able to achieve.

Actually, a better metaphor might be that horrible cups and saucers ride. You know, the one in which the cups and saucers spin themselves, and then the whole ride spins? My father actually had to ask the man who was working the switches to stop the ride one time when we were at a local amusement park. I had turned this lovely shade of ecru and was shaking violently all over. Carnie said he’d never seen a reaction that bad.

My cousin thought that it was hilarious. She would. If I had been able to manage anything but dry heaves, I would have hurled on her, kind of how I feel like hurling at the world, leaving just this stain on the sidewalk of life to show that I had been there for a moment, but frankly, had had enough.

“We are born and live inside black water in a well. How could we know what an open field of sunlight is?” ~ Rumi, “Moving Water”

Buddha in the ruins of Wat Mahathat
Buddha in the Ruins of Wat Mahathat

Internal playlist: Life right now reminds me of that Sting song: “I’m so happy. I can’t stop crying.” Laughing through my tears: “everybody’s got to leave the darkness sometime.”

Or maybe Rocky Horror’s “Time Warp” would be more appropriate:

“It’s astounding, time is fleeting
Madness takes its toll
But listen closely, not for very much longer
I’ve got to keep control . . .”

Visions of torn fish nets and too much lipstick: “And nothing can ever be the same . . .”
Time warp would be a perfectly logical explanation for what’s happening. At least it makes more sense than the real explanation: There is no explanation.

“Don’t insist on going where you want to go.  Ask the way to the spring.” ~ Rumi, “Moving Water”

Wooden San Jao Thi
Wooden Spirit House

Moving along . . .

Did you know that in Thai culture, claiming to be haunted by a ghost is perfectly acceptable?

No, I’m not digressing. I beg the court’s indulgence whilst I attempt to make connections . . .

In Thailand, if I were to tell my landlord that my apartment has the spirit of a dead person, I would not be recommended for psychiatric counseling. On the contrary, spirits abound in Thai culture.

Spirit houses, or San Phra Phum (Abode of the Land Guardian Angel) are incorporated into most Thai homes so that the spirits can be left offerings for their well-being. It is believed that most homes have their own household spirits.

Fortune tellers, contrary to being frowned upon as in Western culture, are highly respected and consulted for most major decisions.

I find that to be a very logical way of looking at things. For example, let’s just say that Corey and I accidentally insulted the spirit of someone’s departed great aunt Mei by stepping on her threshhold (big no, no). Great aunt Mei would hang about for a bit to remind us of the error of our ways until we could perform the necessary rituals for her to rest in peace.

Quit looking at me that way. I’m serious.

“Your living pieces will form a harmony.” ~ Rumi, “Moving Water”

Thais, almost 95 perMoon and Buddha image at dusk Wat Mahathatcent of whom are Buddhists, also believe in animism, or spirit worship. Animist spirits stem from the belief that it is not just humans and animals that have souls but also plants, rocks, geographic features, rivers and even natural phenomena such as thunder. These spirits can have an effect on the well-being of those around them. I am not feeling the least bit cynical about such statements.

My own acceptance can be attributed to my personal beliefs in pantheism, that god is in all things.

I found the following passage on Teaching the Ghost: The Thai Supernatural very illuminating:

The greatest fear of an average Thai is of a break down of the social order and the resulting chaos. This explains why the system of hierarchy is so entrenched there and why an average Thai is so ready to unquestioningly follow a superior . . . in 700 years Thailand has never had a civil war. The Thai fear of chaos is personified in their spirits. Thais pay respects even to spirits that are dangerous, not because they have any love for them but because they leave people alone if they are respected. These can be the spirits of women who died in childbirth, malevolent nature spirits, ghosts or, most dangerous of all, the ghosts of people who have just been let out of hell but who have not been reborn in the human world yet. They have something of a chip on their shoulders. One thing that all these spirits have in common, besides their malevolent nature, is that they are part of no social hierarchy. Their world is everything that Thais fear—a world of chaos with no social order. If not respected they can unleash their violent natures and their social chaos on humans.

My point? Somewhere, somehow, we have—to mix my cultural metaphors—opened Pandora’s box and unleashed a very chaotic spirit that wants appeasement. Certainement. It is the only thing that makes any sense at this point.

Somewhere, lurking about us, is a spirit who is lambasting us with chaos. Unfortunately, not having been made aware of this, we have failed to proffer the proper respect, our inconsideration in trampling on a door sill rather than stepping over it.

“There is a moving palace that floats in the air with balconies and clear water flowing through, infinity, everywhere.” ~ Rumi, “Moving Water”

Karma. Joss. Fate. Nirvana. Infinity. Big concepts. Big questions.

spirit_house_RatanaHere are a few interesting things to consider if you are planning to build or place your own spirit house to appease the spirits that dwell on your land:

  • Erect your spirit house in front of a tree.
  • Do not place a spirit house to the left side of a door.
  • A spirit house pointing towards the North or North-East is considered especially lucky.
  • Your spirit house should not face towards a road or toilet.
  • A spirit house should not be located within the shadow of the main property.

Remember, the spirit house is intended to honor and placate the spirits by providing an appealing shelter for the spirits, which admittedly, can be finicky and interferring, not necessarily good or evil. Traditional offerings to the spirits include edible and non-edible items such as rice, candles, flowers and incense.

My mother has two marble Buddhas in her house. My mother is the least Buddhist person I know. However, these small figurines have been in her home for as long as I can remember. Perhaps it is time for a spirit house and some prayer bells in our own environs.

More Rumi:

Thai prayer bells
Thai Prayer Bells

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.

You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.

People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.

The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

Translation by Coleman Barks

More later. Peace.

Grace in Small Things #37

coreyme-at-cake2

In Each Other’s Arms On Our Wedding Day
 

It’s All Relative

I’ll try to be more attuned to the purpose of this exercise today. So I will write about the things that truly matter to me the most: family. Since I can only write about five things, this will not be all-encompassing, but it will include some of the most important.

1. Corey’s arms. Not only do I love the shape of his arms, not big and bulky and overdeveloped like monkey men, but I love what they do for me: they hold me up when I am falling, literally and figuratively. They enfold me and keep me safe from harm. They are the place I return to again and again when I need affirmation that in spite of all of the bad things that are happening, we will make it through as long as we work together. They are my save haven and my bulwark against the darkness.

2. My son Brett’s art. He is an amazing artist. He drew an incredible picture  in pencil and charcoal last year that I haven’t had framed yet. But when I do, I plan to hang it in the living room. It is so reflective of him, and I could tell how proud he was of it when he brought it home and presented it to me.

3. My son Eamonn is a right pain in the butt, but each morning he wakes up singing. It’s the most amazing thing. He always wakes up singing, and if he doesn’t, then I know that he doesn’t feel well. He has a built in barometer and thermometer.  I am not a morning person myself, especially since most nights I don’t go to bed until 4 or 5 in the morning, but I envy this in him.

the-eyes2

4. Alexis has the most beautiful eyes. One is grey/blue and the other one is more hazel, and she has long lashes. We were never quite sure where the blue/grey eye came from, but when my dad died, his brother Ben flew in from California. Uncle Ben had bluish grey eyes. Apparently it was a recessive trait on my grandmother’s side as she was Spanish. Before then, I had never seen a Filipino with blue eyes, but my uncles told me that it is actually not so uncommon because of the Spanish blood that runs through many bloodlines in the Philippines.

why-yes-thank-you-well-have-another-2
Why Yes Thank You, We Will Have Another

5. My sister-in-law from my first marriage, Ann, has always been a friend. In fact, her daughter Rebecca was born right after my son Eamonn, and they went to school together up until High School. We used to push their strollers and walk Alexis to grade school so that we could get some exercise and lose our baby weight, and  it was just nice spending time together. Over the years, she has been there for me through every major problem in my life, never asked questions, just asked how she could help. We have lived less than half a mile apart for almost 20 years. It’s true that you don’t get to choose your relatives, but I have been incredibly fortunate in the ones chosen for me.

That’s all for now. More later. Peace.