Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Likewise, I have had a good Christmas in so many ways. Both of the boys had parts in the church tableau. My ex-husband and I have been getting along, and he was here on Christmas day to open gifts with the kids and have breakfast. That made a big difference to the boys, especially the younger one. Later I dropped him off at his place and took the kids to my mom's for a relatively small family gathering of twelve for dinner (the full family gathering, more like 26 people, didn't happen until Sunday). Great visiting with my brothers and sisters, especially my brother and sister-in-law in from Michigan, and my nephew Luke down from New York City.
Gifts also were great. I have a secondhand laptop on which to really take the writing somewhere. Assorted journals and music, a beautiful set of a necklace and earring from my boys, a CD... I was not raised with the idea that the holiday is about big gifts, or gifts that somehow make life worthwhile, and I am easily pleased with fun things that I like.
So, why do I feel so crushingly alone and without direction? I know it's a feeling and that things are not likely to be so bleak in reality but wow, I'm feeling low. I always think that if I understand it, it will be easier to get past it. The jury's still out on the accuracy of that belief. Apart from winding down from the drive to provide a magical Christmas for the children, there was a tremendous amount of energy expended in the past 14 months to separate and divorce and even to establish a working relationship with my exhusband. Here I am divorced, which I really wanted, but now what? I haven't even been writing. Am I any better off than I was a year ago? The answer is yes, of course, but the momentum has petered out and there's little to struggle against. I'm accustomed to struggling, so it feels strange.
It also feels strange to choose what's going to get my commitment and energy. For years there has been pretty constant chaos. Now there's the very necessary drives of work and the children's needs, and when those take all the energy I have, I feel like a loser, not committed enough to my goals. But, that's just reality, that sometimes the kids and survival are going to be all I can manage, and if I can do that and pull Christmas together, hey that's just fine.
So, maybe Mom would be right. It's a letdown, which is really a chance to catch my breath and regroup.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
After sleeping as much as possible on Sunday, I was looking for something worth watching. There wasn’t much to qualify, but I found myself watching a documentary on BBC America: “Perfect Private Parts” (www.bbcamerica.com/content/367/index.jsp, available for purchase from iTunes). Now, if there was one part of my body that I had not worried was somehow inadequate, well, it would be the private part.
According to the program, more and more women, even young women in their teens, are opting for cosmetic surgery for the vagina and surrounding area. I’m still trying to process that. We are so open about the media’s effect on our self-images: the eating disorders, preoccupation with imperfect features and skin, holding ourselves up to a distorted and impossible standard of beauty, botox and plastic surgery for the face (that was another show in the next hour). But, really, the vagina? Good Lord, to what are women comparing themselves? I am no fan of porn but I’ve seen a little and nothing there ever led me to believe that there’s a particular aesthetic to achieve or that some women have something over the rest. There's the choice of whether or how much to shave, but that's about it.
The example that was easiest for me to understand was that some young Muslim women seek hymen reattachment before marriage, literally fearing that they would be killed or at least disowned by their families if it is discovered that they are not virgins. While I find it barbaric, it is the reality of their lives and doing what they can to protect themselves makes sense. The results are less permanent and rather less tragic than female genital mutilation, but the reasons for subjecting oneself to the procedure are generally the same: to maintain connection to the community in which one lives and on which one is to some degree dependent.
Other women were unhappy with the natural state of affairs, such as having longer, “flappy” labia. In some cases, the partner or the medical practitioner for the woman laughed at her. Some were concerned about the perceived effects of childbirth. Personally, I had not noticed any big change of that kind after having my two kids, but now I admit to wondering if there’s something I missed. At present I’m single again and there’s no one to ask, ‘hey, is everything normal down there?’ and I’m not sure I would want to ask. (It was a mantra of my mother’s that if you can’t accept no for an answer, then you shouldn’t ask.)
One woman was considering some sort of surgery to improve things, but attended a women’s center which actually coaches women through taking a look at themselves and accepting who they are and what they look like. It seemed strange to me, but really, in what other context can a woman learn that there’s nothing wrong with how she looks? She decided against the surgery.
I'm reminded of one time, when I was 18 and at my personal thinnest, a guy who worked in the same store at the mall that I did told me I was looking great but "now you just need to lose your ass." That was in my head for years, until a man said to me "he didn't know what he was talking about." Too big for some is perfect for others. The point is that none of us looks like a model, and if there is such a thing as a perfect private part, probably nobody has it or if she does, she has other personal imperfections she can obsess over.
The end result is that I’m a little sadder after seeing the piece, but glad to be informed. It is appalling, the lengths to which we’ll go in torturing ourselves with comparisons to some artificial ideal. Without naming the problem, though, there is no way to combat it, no way to know that we need to teach our children and each other that all the different varieties of normal are good.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
I was not quite paralyzed at the thought of moving, but dreaded it. I had told my then-husband that by the end of the month of November, one of us was moving out. That was a clear statement with a deadline, something I had finally learned to use in communication. I knew I could not force him to leave. As difficult as it would be, if he did not go I would go. Somehow, I would come up with a deposit and rent money, so he could either leave or take on the expenses of our house.
He was stunned, though there were enough indicators that the split was inevitable. We both had a gift for living in denial of anything we couldn't or didn't want to see.
He was hurt, understandably, and angry. He said he would be the one to move. Based on a history in which either of us might say “I’ll do this” but might or might not actually do it, I looked at apartments and started to bring home boxes from work. He started to gather his things, and found a place he could stay. The entire time, he told me later, he expected me to back down and to allow things to slip back into the status quo. It had happened so many times, with other boundaries I had set. Watching him go through the shock, I was tempted more than once to take it back but I just could not, could not go on with our life the way it had been.
By December 1, he had moved out. At that point, I am not sure which one of us was more surprised. I had expected a lot more drama, and was continuously braced for bigger arguments than we had; I was even prepared for physical violence, but it never happened. Learning to be clear about what I want and about how I communicate it was a big part of that.
I had no picture of how divorce goes, and found it very difficult to navigate without a mental map. Especially as a younger sibling in a large family, I have too often relied on “how everyone else has done it.” School, college, getting a job – these were all a matter of course, of what everyone else had done before me. The downside is that I did not learn earlier how to consider options and make choices according to my own strengths and goals.
Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. -- Helen KellerNo one else in my immediate family has been divorced, so the entire process was foreign, and frightening, to me. The dissolution of the marriage was more or less de facto by the time I embarked on the mechanics of separating our residences and eventually filing the paperwork with an attorney. At every step I almost expected to fail, to be unable to effect the changes I wanted. With every argument, I felt stuck in the same dysfunctional pattern in which we had been relating to each other. I wondered if the past three years of counseling had done nothing for me, but my counselor at Women in Transition reminded me that change can be like making a slow ascent up a mountain: you don't realize you've made progress until you reach a point where you can turn and look back and see how high you have climbed.
It's been one year. I am divorced, and have taken back my birth name. The kids are all right, not without some issues, but all right. Their dad hangs out with them at least two or three times a week, and we are getting along. We agreed to get along well enough to do the best job possible in raising the boys, and we are sticking to it. Working out a new relationship has been awkward and uncomfortable, but it seems like we will make it.
Goals for myself right now revolve around achieving some financial stability, writing and more writing. Everything was recently put on hold while my younger son has gone through a period of crisis, but I have long accepted that other goals come after the goal of being the best mom I can be for my kids. Who knows where I might be a year from now?
Monday, November 9, 2009
There's been an escalation to the difficulty that my third grader has in school. This is the Peanut, my son who has Asperger's Syndrome. It seems that the year began a bit bumpy, though I wasn't getting much feedback in the beginning. There was a new TSS ("wraparound") whose schedule availability didn't meet the Peanut's needs, which was for help in the afternoons. Then there was a different, new TSS, whose schedule was better, but Peanut was still struggling to get through his assignments for various reasons: the writing content is more challenging than last year and he has become very particular about his penmanship; the room is noisy and distracting; there was a period of a couple of weeks when I think we all had bad colds and he was just too sleepy. That's about where I left off.
We were excited and happy to find, when the 2nd TSS staff of the year wasn't working out, the fabulous "Mr. Mike" of last year, whose loss was a source of grief to my little guy, was coming back for the afternoons. Then we were all - myself, the teachers and administrators and the behavioral specialist - concerned when things didn't get much better, then continued to get worse.
In the second half of October, I was called at work at least 4 different days to come pick up the child from school because there was just no helping him to regroup. In addition, he has been out of school for 5 days (again, just since October 15). We went to the Developmental Pediatrics specialist at the Children's Hospital and tried increasing his very low dose of ADHD meds, thinking it was probably about time to do so. Peanut became more anxious and showed OCD symptoms. We lowered the dose again. He missed three days of school. I took him to the pediatrician and had bloodwork done, to rule out possible causes of the fatigue, like anemia or mono (he was a champ for the blood draw & and I took him to Friendly's for a milkshake). That same afternoon, I took him to a psychiatrist at the human services agency which provides the wraparound services, as there had been a cancellation allowing us to get in quickly.
I sent Peanut back to school one day last week, only to have to pick him up early again as he was in a complete meltdown. When I arrived at school, he was lying under a chair in the principal's office and growling at her when she tried to talk to him. Every time, it is so clear that he himself is suffering, that he does not want to find it so difficult to cope, that he is even afraid of himself.
This summary doesn't touch on the panic I was beginning to feel. Possible clinical depression in my child? School just says "come and get him" without having a single referral or suggestion - it was the behavioral specialist who went to her supervisor and got some leads for me. At the same time, I suddenly had the clarity of hindsight, that in his interactions with his brother, Peanut has been getting increasingly sensitive and angry. And in the summer, he was so sad at the end of his week at camp, and when Mr. Mike took a different assignment away from him. I should have known sooner. That crippling thought that moms use to punish ourselves.
But there's no time for that. Tomorrow, again at the suggestion of the BSE, I am taking my almost-9-year-old son for an assessment, that will get him into a partial hospitalization program at a psychiatric facility. The key things we are watching are his anxiety levels and possible depression. It is painful to see in him the manifestation of something very like depression: it is something I have had for most of my life, so I recognize that sense of helplessness and hopelessness, the lack of energy to cope with the smallest setbacks, like stubbing his toe. Then again, he seems to be himself at his weekly drum lesson, so I make certain we don't miss it, as Peanut needs every positive experience possible right now.
There will be school work to catch up on, but we can't worry about anything until we can get him to be himself again. Over this past weekend, he was so upset, so resistant to calming down that I seriously contemplated taking him to an ER. It is fortunate that his dad was able to help him. I took the older brother out for a much needed break - he, too, is showing the strain of his brother's tantrums - and one-on-one time with his mom. The evening was much better.
Not writing has been the result of riding out this storm, also not being certain I have any right to publicize my child's problems. But, I always think to myself, there must be other parents out there who are seeing something they have never seen and for which they have no idea what to do. If we can share it, won't that help others?
Instead of blogging, I have had a steady report going out via email to concerned family and friends. I've asked everyone I know who has any kind of experience with the issues for their suggestions. Fortunately, I work for a human services agency so I have some good resources. I've advised school of doctor's appointments and doctors' offices of what's going on at school, and advised work of the time I need to take off. I am grateful for the days my sister has been able to spend with the Peanut, plus spending a little time with Bunny, the older child, who feels cheated of the time and attention that his brother is getting, for what appears to be mere bad behavior.
Okay, I guess I know where I have been, even if it has been a blur. In the midst of all of this, I am working with my exhusband to keep him informed and to share the need for child care while still being vigilant over the new boundaries in our relationship. I am too tired to think; somehow I am still getting enough work done at the office to keep my job. I am not sure how, but I am doing it.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Recently, I looked to see what was airing and found that The Painted Veil with Edward Norton and Naomi Watts had just started. I have seen most of it at least three times, but I have always missed the beginning. Naturally, I thought I would see what I had missed. I love the time period, its fashions for women, the contrast with the earlier Victorian lifestyle, the instability of the British empire at that time. I love the cinematography, the misted Chinese landscape, and I love the story.
The film is based on the book by W. Somerset Maugham. Before seeing it, I had heard of Maugham and knew that I loved the occasional quotation that I would find attributed to him (“Writing is the supreme solace.” – on the masthead, here) but had never read any of his stories. After I first saw TPV, I ordered my first collection of Maugham’s short stories from my bookswap. I have been ever since an admirer of his work.
For each subsequent viewing of the movie, I have told myself that I will turn it off when I get to the part that I know will break my heart. The strategy works very well for watching Titanic: once the water gets up to the ankles it’s time to go, before the children are being put to bed, before the old couple lies down with their hands entwined to wait, before the life boats are boarded. Rose and Jack can continue their romance behind the scenes without the ending.
Every time I see The Painted Veil, I get to that moment, when Waddington (Toby Jones) calls to Mrs. Fane (Naomi Watts), “It’s your husband.” Every time, I am seduced by the story into watching more, watching what can happen when love overcomes human failings and transforms us. Then it is too late. Someone invariably walks in on me, nose stopped up completely and eyes red and running with their excess of saline. This frightens the my younger son; the older one shrugs and asks, again, “why do you watch this movie? It always makes you cry.”
I have given up trying to explain that I watch it for the same reason Kitty Fane picks up the roses in the florist's shop, though, as she points out, they’re hardly worth the expense: “They will only be dead in a week.” The beauty is worth the cost, for the roses, for the Fanes and for the story.
Monday, October 19, 2009
One thing was that the man I was divorcing was reading the blog. I had attached a “visit my blog” tagline to my outgoing email, without anticipating that outcome. There’s no law against him reading my blog, but a discussion ensued about fair and unfair representation. The experience left me even more sensitive about what I’m blogging than I had been already. I had never set out to “bash” anyone in such a public forum, but felt like I needed to censor myself. I have had the same fears about the repercussions for being completely honest that I had before the separation and divorce. Obviously, I am determined to get past that.
In addition to considering the ex-husband’s potential reactions, I have gone through another loss, one which I still can’t share. If I can’t evaluate with any objectivity what’s appropriate to share from an experience because I am too close to it, then it is too soon to try. After a few months, it is still too difficult. It’s a situation that touches all the issues I have been working out in recent years, learning when I can trust myself; knowing that I am enough, regardless of what happens with other people; trusting that I am more than my mistakes – even if I have botched something important to me, I am not hopeless; there’s even the wild and crazy hope that at some point, there will be more joy in this life, that the sum of my choices isn’t an endless treadmill.
Flops are part of life's menu and I'm never a girl to miss out on a course. -- Rosalind Russell
While processing all of the above, I have been making the effort to cultivate my joy, in writing, in spending time with good friends and with my family, in feeding my creative spirit with plays and live music and art. Lately, I feel more and more that there is no time in my life to do anything other than to work and to parent. My second child, the one who has Asperger’s Syndrome, is having a particularly hard time getting adjusted this school year. This morning I had to go pick him up from school. That’s the second time in a week. Part of me thinks it’s time to buckle down and just commit for a while to work and to focus on my kids, and not even think about anything else. But I have tried that tunneled vision of living, and know that it’s a fairly direct path to a breakdown.
Through the past year, what I see again and again is that I have learned, finally, what doesn’t work. Denial and self-delusion, beating myself up, consenting to be a hostage to someone else’s expectations… those are all the old ways that don’t work.
It’s good to know what doesn’t work. That’s good information. But it is so difficult to be facing each day, still needing to learn the things that do work. At the same time, some days I am so raw I feel like I am walking around with the top layers of skin flayed. Every day that comes to an end without a fatal puncture to the thin skin I’ve got left seems like a miracle, or a sham. Maybe I am losing it, have lost it, but no one’s caught on.
One thing I know is that over the past few weeks, I have not been blogging, nor have I been doing much other writing. For the most part I have felt nothing but tired. There’s not much to say about that. Underneath the tired has been a lot of stuff I would rather not put out there, the sadness and a daily effort to reclaim hope. But not writing brings me inevitably to feeling completely out of control.
Today, after leaving to pick up my son from school, I have to scurry through a few hours of work before leaving early to take him to an appointment at the Children’s Hospital. It’s a scheduled appointment to reevaluate meds for him, in the effort to help him get back on track at school. It is already an insane sort of day. Despite the time crunch, I had to write. If I didn’t, I would not be able to focus on anything at all. Before I can work, I need to write. That’s one of the things that will work, if I can just remember it, every day.
I would like to learn, or to remember, how to live. -- Annie Dillard
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Last spring, around the time that I was filing for divorce, I made sure I planned some fun things to keep myself busy. I went for an overnight visit to see one of my college roommates and take in a night of good music, planned to see Hamlet in town, signed up for a poetry writing workshop in the spring and bought tickets for a summer music festival. To some extent, I was planning distractions, to keep me in motion during the process of divorce and to keep me from brooding on my losses. It did make a difference to have my sights constantly set on something that was not too far away and that promised to be fun.
Lately, even when I’ve had something on the calendar, I haven’t quite been able to feel that sense of anticipated joy. Sometimes I have been just too busy to think ahead, or social outings still feel like they’re too much effort. There is a significant portion of life, especially a mom’s life, that seems to be dedicated to overcoming inertia. Just getting us all up in the morning was wearing me out. The separation and divorce left me mentally and emotionally exhausted.
Mental health, like dandruff, crops up when you least expect it. - Robin WorthingtonI’m beginning to come around. I enjoyed talking with other parents at the school’s “Welcome Back BBQ” on Friday. While typically overwhelming, spending time with several of my siblings and our various children on Saturday was good, too (as we celebrated my mom’s 72nd birthday). I even took my boys from mom’s house to a Green Living Festival at a farm near where I grew up. The kids went through the Corn Maze, and I got to sit and enjoy a performance by Hoots and Hellmouth. (It is only in the past few years that I have remembered how much I love music, and have realized how much I enjoy seeing and hearing it performed live.)
In less than two weeks, I have plans to go out with one of my girlfriends to see the Avett Brothers perform at the Electric Factory. I have a great babysitter confirmed for the evening. I am usually pretty happy to spend short bits of free time with my notebook under a tree or in a coffee shop, but there is something exciting about definite plans to get out once in a while, to do something different. I find that it is key to purchase tickets in advance, which is a promise to myself that I really will expend the effort to engage a babysitter and really will go out.
The Lantern Theater Company is performing one of Moliere’s plays this winter, and the Screwtape Letters in the spring, and in May, the Opera Company of Philadelphia will offer La Traviata and I have at least one friend who is willing to see opera with me. Funding my cultural excursions is always an issue, but I hope to take in at least two of these shows. The kids and I may be receiving tickets to see Oliver! as a Christmas gift, adding the joy of sharing the arts with my boys.
In the long term, I have my sights set on a Master's in Fine Arts for writing. I am looking at a few different low-residency programs, brainstorming on child care options for the 7-10 day residencies that occur twice in the academic year. Financial Aid will be a huge factor, as will deciding whether to pursue a focus on poetry or fiction or creative non-fiction, or some combination. The nearer occasions of fun, as long as I keep working in between them, will keep carrying me closer to the days when I am actually preparing for the future goals, when (I hope) I will be amazed to get there, already.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
There's not really much else to tell. Congested lungs make my brain work very sluggishly. Just getting in to work and accomplishing a few tasks there pretty much sapped my abilities. Still, during my son's guitar lesson, I started reading Bel Canto (by Ann Patchett). Over the past several weeks, apart from Reviving Ophelia and snatches of poetry, I had been reading (I blush to admit) the first four books of the Marked series by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast. The books were passed on to me, and I can enjoy the hell out of light reading. Then I have to remind myself that my brain will go mushy if I don't read things that are written with an eye to beauty and excellence. Also I might forget the sheer joy of really good writing.
My friends tell me I am doing okay. With this cold, I haven't had any energy to spare to worry about whether I am doing okay or not. It's been all getting the kids cared for and getting them to school, getting to work, and sleeping. I have been sleeping and just lying down so much, I continue to be surprised that I can still sleep more. I am starting to use some of the time to just think and work on mapping out plans.
Wow. I could put my head down and fall asleep on the keyboard. I've already promised to avoid depressing posts; I promise no more of these exceedingly dull posts, either!
A man can tolerate anything except a succession of ordinary days. -- Goethe
Monday, September 21, 2009
A hot shower, getting up and about, taking the meds and splurging on pizza for dinner started to turn things around. Papa Johns also, I think, mistakenly gave me an extra free pizza with my free pizza coupon, which made it even better (I did have the delivery guy check, though, or I would feel like I had stolen it. Guilt on top of depression is very bad. I'm sensitive to guilt).
My older son and I have this stinky cold. He was planning to stay home from school today, but it wasn't happening. Not after all the prep I did to be sure I got the kids to school on time (and I did). Also he just likes to stay home, so I have to push him. I like to stay home, too, but this is real life. I follow my mom's premise, which is that if a kid is really sick, he will be able to convince you of it or he's going to school. I can remember finally getting her to check my temperature once in third grade, with my school uniform on, to find that I had a fever of 103. That was the first time I'd ever had the flu. Yuck.
Anyway, please bear with me. I suppose though that the only one who thought I'd get through the major life changes and disappointments without days like these, was me. Silly Barb. But I'm still pushing through to the other side.
We don't have to live great lives. We just have to understand and survive the ones we've got. --Andre Dubus, Voices from the Moon
Sunday, September 20, 2009
When I find that someone else has expressed things that I feel myself, it is both comforting and encouraging. Wow, I think, I am not completely crazy after all, or if I am, I am no more crazy than a lot of other people. I can live with that.
By your stumbling the world is perfected. -- Sri AurobindoMy friend Suzy has told me, with regard to divorce and rebuilding life, "after this everything else will seem easy." There are times when I repeat that to myself like a mantra. I have faith that it is true, I just haven't reached the "after" part yet. I am still in it. If I write about divorce five or ten years from now, I won't remember it as it really happened. The recounting would sound like a smooth progression of discovering this and realizing that and voila, life got better. Reality is much messier.
The rebuilding is really renovating; it's like having your only bathroom torn up in stages. It is not so fun or convenient to have the room's interiors exposed and only partly functional while you still have to make use of it. Without a thorough overhaul, the faucet will still drip and the inner walls will continue to rot and mold. Likewise, if I'm realizing that somewhere along the line I picked up the idea that sex is something that happens to you, or that it is okay to be put down then those false premises have to come to the surface. Then they can be taken apart and replaced with parts that work. In the meantime, things are going to be a bit messy for me. The only alternative is to keep having the same experience, the same relationship that I have had in the past, and I would really prefer not to do that.
What is uncomfortable to me right now is how much I unintentionally expose about myself when I am writing stories. I am even more transparent when writing fiction than when I am blogging. At least I have some control when I write here. I have sufficient courage to spell out the things I am ready to share, but at the moment, not quite enough to risk more exposure than that.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
With the various factors I am juggling, I still feel like I have, or should have, "BAD MOM" tattooed across my forehead. I felt that at the very least, some of the school staff probably think so. Does it count that I really am trying? That yes, life has been much too chaotic and unpredictable for my kids but I'm working on it? It just doesn't change overnight. Honestly, the fact that I've been working and getting the kids to school without interruption for the past few years is the best I can do. It will keep getting better. That is the plan.
I came home feeling pretty low. After dinner, while I sat outside with a couple of different neighbors and a friend of theirs, the guys started joking about porn. Ok, whatever. But one of them began to joke about some website having, or about the idea of one having features like "Blonde, Busty and Bruised," or "Latina and Low Self-Esteem." My internal response to that is WTF? I said nothing, but came in after a moment.
On the one hand, I would hate to have every stupid thing I've said while drinking held against me. I would have no friends left, especially after college. On the other hand, ignoring comments like that, for the sake of not making waves and of being liked by people I considered friends, is just one of the ways that I have compromised myself for years. And for any woman who has ever been in a relationship that was abusive in some way, comments like that put the speaker into the camp with Them. Worse, I felt in that moment all the shame of every past abuse, like recovery is one more delusion.
a few soft words have sent many a woman to her back with her
thighs flung open & eager / a few more / will find us standin up &
speakin in our own tongue to whomever we goddamn please.
--Ntozake Shange, "wow yr just like a man"
Honestly, I don't know if the intent had been to make a joke about the people to whom internet porn is targeted, or what. I was just stunned. Also I was surprised by how low it brought me. I cried, and tried to reason out why I felt so lost. I am barely functional at work, failing to do enough for the kids and I came home wanting to regroup with friends, and that too was a failure. I tried thinking of the expression that when you come to the point where all you've got is God, you have everything you need. I'm not feeling it. I'm not saying it isn't true but so far I am not feeling it.
The worst part is that this man has, I am certain, no idea how insulted I was that he made the comment in front of me, or how much it hurt. I don't think I could successfully explain it to him either. If there can be such a gap between a woman's perception and a man's, can we (women) ever be in relationship with them (men)? I am not even thinking about romantic relationships, but simple coexistence. For the moment, it seems hopeless to me. As I process the experience, though, I hope that changes. I know I am hypersensitive right now to just about everything, but I am also resolved not to tell myself that abuse and disrespect don't matter, not anymore. I am not sure how to be true to that without becoming strident or hysterical, but I will work it out.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Experience is that marvelous thing that enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again. -- F.P. JonesWhen my first child was six or seven months old, I can remember one afternoon of trying to get him to sleep for his nap. That little snugglebunny was never a good sleeper, though in all other ways an excellent baby. I would try everything, shifting him from my shoulder to my cradled arms to laying him on his belly over my forearms and still he continued to wiggle and fuss. On this occasion, I was closer than I had ever been to shaking him. I was trying to relax, knowing that my tension wasn’t going to help him to relax. My eyes were stinging with tears I was too frustrated to cry. I kept swinging him gently from side to side while I tried to calm myself down.
After a few more minutes, I realized the Bunny (still his family nickname, ten years later) had fallen asleep. Oh! I thought. What had seemed to work, and proved afterward to work more often than anything else, was that I had continued the same thing but longer. The changing from this position to that, from the swing to my arms, had been preventing him from fussing through his distraction to the point where he could sleep.
That memory surfaced recently, as I have been considering changing jobs. I don’t love the job I have now, though in this economy I am grateful that I have a fairly secure job. I work with terrific people, and the company exists to provide services to people with disabilities, so I can be proud of that. The work itself is far from what I’d like to be doing, and a better salary would be a great thing.
In this case, I am remembering the experiences of having the same frustrations in the past, and changing from one desk job to another. None of them got me much closer to doing what I really want to do, which is primarily to write. Public speaking and even some form of counseling or life coaching might be great along with it, but the real thing is to write. Changing jobs might bring in a little more money but would most of all distract me from writing for some time. I have enough experience to recognize a pattern before I make the same mistake again. It hasn’t been a mistake in the past, really, just part of the experience that helps me to know now what is not going to work.
Right now I need to fuss through the uncomfortable period of writing and working my paid job. There’s not a lot of time, and I feel somewhat guilty for the (paid) time I spend at work that I am actually writing. But if I keep doing what I’m doing, and keep looking for ways to do it better – through classes, writers group, continuing to blog though I find it embarrassing and, of course, lots of reading – instead of changing everything else around me, eventually I am going to get where I want to be. Which would be writing.
I did not buy the book. I was spending carefully on books of poetry and fiction that I enjoyed. Now I recognize that I felt a desperate determination that I would not need to read it. It’s okay, I got it, I was telling myself. I’m not quite Ophelia, not quite dead, not quite beaten yet. I can figure out the paradoxical requirements that our society has for young women, and I can do it own my own. The work also smacked of feminism, that label that makes most of us cringe, whether we admit to it or not.
People call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a prostitute or a door mat. – Rebecca WestLast week, I requested Reviving Ophelia through my bookswap (http://www.paperbackswap.com/). In the discoveries and the rebuilding in my life now, I hoped that the book would take me a little further in identifying and correcting inaccurate judgements about my life.
The book arrived yesterday, and I’ve begun to read. It is, of course, my story, as much as it is the story of so many women today. Confronted with impossible demands to meet in being acceptable in our culture (don't obsess about looks, but look good; be smart but not too smart; be sexy but not a slut...), we grew confused and angry or confused and depressed, or all the above. Choices were invariably made that compounded the confusion.
The key for me at the moment is the space to forgive myself. I was intelligent enough and intuitive enough to recognize that it was impossible to be all the things I felt were required, but I did not know how to sort out the options and to choose for myself. I am still just doing that now, at thirty-nine. So many of us are, though, and tragically, so many more are still just deadened to feeling anything, in trying to be everything.
Regrouping after divorce involves slowly sifting backward, reclaiming my true self from years of trying to be someone else. That goes back much further than the time when I got married because I was already confused then. Reviving Ophelia provides a context in which I can process the confusion, then continue to move forward but this time as the subject of my own life, as Pipher writes, not the object of someone else's.
The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think. -- Edwin Schlossberg
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
That hurt isn’t over, but it is resolving. When the guilt issues surface I can cope, even at times like the other night, when my eight year old son woke up crying, having just dreamt that I told him that I don’t love him anymore, and just “gave him away to some other people.” I reminded myself that before the split, the kids were asking other tough questions about the dynamics in our household, so nothing would have been easy for them. I accept responsibility for the consequences of my choice, but that’s not the same as sliding downward into guilt and shame.
No matter how difficult and painful it may be, nothing sounds as good to the soul as the truth.—Martha Beck, Leaving the Saints
Some of the good advice that Divorce Care offers would have been good for me a year ago, but I wasn’t certain about divorcing then. Once I committed to the decision, I was bolting out of the gate with my usual excess of enthusiasm for a difficult decision made. It would have been good to know more then, about the inherent danger of exploring another emotional interest too soon – there’s too much going on to process; everything hurts more, and it takes longer to recover.
Overall, though, I’m doing pretty damned well, all things considered. Some days I don’t want to get out of bed, but I get up. I am frightened that I’ll fail as a single parent, as an aspiring writer, as a human being. But the fear doesn’t stop me. There are rare but amazing moments when I feel my rhythm, have a sense of momentum that pushes me through the worst slumps. For the first time in years, I am able to visualize things improving, even steadily improving. Hallelujah, I have goals! And I have hope that I'll achieve them.
Friday, September 11, 2009
I don’t write more about music because I am so aware of my own ignorance. I would like to write more about getting out to hear music and about the way it affects people. It’s new to me, the getting out for live music, and I love it, I mean really love it. In the earliest years with my kids, I forgot almost everything that I loved except them. It’s a fairly common mommy syndrome. Following that, there was the insanity of my ex-husband’s illness and the difficulties that had always been involved in my marriage.
Then, a few years ago, some new friends asked, “Well, what kind of music do you like?” And I couldn’t remember. It was awful, suddenly confronting how far I had gotten from myself. So, I found my old CD’s and tapes. I went out to see the friends’ bands play. I was singing with the choir at my church. I listen to music differently, now. I challenge the kids to name the instruments we hear when we’re listening to the radio, and I listen more carefully myself.
At that Steel City Coffee House show, the opener was a young woman named Nicole Zell, who is all of fourteen years old. She is amazing. Nicole sang some of her own songs, as well as covering songs by well-known artists including Tracy Chapman. Her fingers looked thin and frail but play guitar with agility. The passion in her performance was surprising, though maybe it shouldn't have been. In our teens we lack experience, not passion.
I was only one of several women who were struck by this young woman who knows her gifts and is encouraged in them. Only one of several women who envied that, not with a bitter envy but one that wants to see young women like Nicole flourish and even encourage more young women, only wishing we had dared so much, so young. At one point Nicole's dad accompanied her on bass guitar, and I wondered if she realized how fortunate she is to have that in her life.
See, I don’t really know how to write about music. There would be more about the music itself, if I had written right after the show but I was kind of struck dumb. At the end of the night, I’d met Nicole’s eyes a couple times and wanted to tell her “Hey, you are amazing,” but I just couldn’t do it.
Later, I was sipping my excellent latte and was annoyed by one talkative show-goer who was a distraction. It was mortifying to realize that a few months back at a different venue, I had been that guy, only worse. I am a much better listener drinking latte than wine, I’ve realized. Plus I am getting out a little more often, so it doesn’t feel so much like an escape, like I will never get out again. It is easier to relax, to just listen, taking it all in.
So I am thinking of Dad, and how easy it was as a kid to take for granted all the attention he put into the details. Yes, he took it to the extreme, and he could be cranky and irritable. But he maintained the house and yard and fed, clothed and educated eight children. Yes, eight. The first four went to private colleges, too. Once I moved out on my own (and paid my own bills, just for me) I began to appreciate him a little more. Fortunately, he was still living and I could tell him that. Then I had a child and really began to understand the responsibility. As my boys get older, I am sure I will continue to have new insights into both my parents' hard work and love.
No, I will not be writing about 9/11. I don't have the words to do justice to the subject.
Other things are swirling around in my tired brain, though, so I imagine this will be a multi-post day.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
I’m not sure what it is, but in the past year I have had other stretches of doing the same thing. I wake up, thinking I will just roll over and go back to sleep as usual. Nope. I try the happy daydreaming that used to soothe me to sleep, but no, that makes me start thinking and I am lost. The thinking becomes processing, or just obsessing.
One of my friends suggested that someone else is thinking of me and some connection pulls me to consciousness, but how likely is that? It’s definitely not that I have had enough sleep. It concerns me because as a pattern it can be another symptom of clinical depression, and I don’t need to think about having to reevaluate meds right now. Really it is just making it harder to get up and get the kids to school on time. In fact, worrying about being able to do that is probably the source of the problem, in a vicious circle. I worry about being a slacker mom, and we are definitely not yet back on the school day schedule.
I Have Lived and I Have Loved
Author Unknown (Recorded on Love and Desire, an Anthology of
Poems, Dove Books on Tape)
I have lived and I have loved;
I have waked and I have slept;
I have sung and I have danced;
I have smiled and I have wept;
I have won and I have wasted treasure;
I have had my fill of pleasure;
And all these things were weariness,
And some of them were dreariness.
And all these things - but two things
Were emptiness and pain:
And Love - it was the best of them;
And Sleep - worth all the rest of them.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
It is strange to hear, not for the first time, that I seem happier. Sure, I am aware that I am under less stress in many ways, but most of the time I seem to be just treading water and feeling a whole lot of pain. Have I lost touch with what happiness is, and expect too much? Or are there degrees of happiness, like freedom, and I'm getting there, just not all at once?
But even when I am at a loss to define
the essence of freedom
I know full well the meaning
-- Adam Zagajewski (translated by Anthony Graham)
How far is it?
How far is it now?
The gigantic gorilla interiors
Of the wheels move, they appal me -
What do wheels eat, these wheels
Fixed to their arcs like gods,
The silver leash of the will -
Inexorable. And their pride!
All the gods know is destinations.
-- from "Getting There," by Sylvia Plath
At the time, I really didn't even understand it, I felt it. The rhythm and the words got under the surface of me and made things move. I am glad I developed the habit of writing things down that have that effect; I begin to get it now, fixed to the arcs of wheels, knowing there are destinations I would not have chosen for myself, but for which I am bound.
Incidentally, I think if I can ever use the word "inexorable" in a poem successfully, I will have arrived at one destination, at least.
And, above all other prohibitions, what has been forbidden to women is anger, together with the open admission of the desire for power and control over one's life (which inevitably means accepting some degree of power and control over other lives). -- Carolyn G. Heilbrun, Writing a Woman's Life
Friday, September 4, 2009
Frosting, or icing (the Phillyism is icening), should be like my mom used to make it. She would use a stick of butter and some milk, confectioner’s sugar and vanilla extract. I don’t know if there were any other ingredients, unless you wanted chocolate icing: then cocoa powder was added, and probably more sugar until it tasted right. There was an enormous mixing bowl that attached to a base built right into the counter top. Was that the norm for houses built around 1965?
This department only gets cake from a specific Pennsylvania Dutch bakery in the Lansdale PA area. I am not going to say where, or everyone will want to go and get the chocolate cake and then there will be none left for us. Or it will cost more. They might even start selling it on the Internet. It would become an overnight boom and before long the quality would go down, making it ordinary, disappointing cake.
Okay, wait, I’m projecting. OUR chocolate cake is really, really chocolatey. An eight-inch (diameter) cake feels like it weighs five pounds (that would make the Internet thing slightly less practical). And it has real buttercream frosting, similar to the Mom-made kind I remember. My mom’s background is Pennsylvania Dutch as well as Irish, so that makes sense.
Today would be such a good day for cake. A Happy Friday cake. A the-bastards-haven’t-beaten-us-yet cake. Just-for-the-hell-of-it cake. End of summer? Labor Day weekend? School starts in a few days? Or just an unbirthday cake, for all those non-birthdays in the year.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
The email I had from divorcecare.org today was about the losses of divorce, big and small, the ones expected and the ones that surprise us. My kids' confidence in the unbreakable nature of family love is a big loss. For them, primarily, we make every effort to have both parents in their lives as much as possible, to put aside our own resentments and bitterness. It will be a long time before they can understand why this divorce has happened, why they have experienced such a big loss.
I haven't uncovered an answer to supply at the end of the post, which is always the neater way to write. I chose divorce and brought this loss into the lives of my two boys. In Writing a Woman's Life, Carolyn Heilbrun observes that so often women struggle with accepting responsibility for their lives, a responsibility which includes having impact on the lives of others. One friend of mine is struggling with the question of whether to end her marriage, too, and her only difficulty at this point is that question of the impact on the children. It's a real question, I am not downplaying it.
I could not stay in my marriage any more; I am not going to justify that here. Here, where I am now, the question is how do I best help my children to grow and be healthy with their parents apart. I know that now they are not as confident in family or in me, specifically, as they were before. That is a loss.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
I know the variety is called euonymous, or burning bush. Two years ago I was so captivated by the color and its dramatic effect at the end of the day, that I went to a friend with landscaping experience just to ask him if he knew the name of the bush. He probably thought I was merely flirting, which I may have been, but I remembered the name. Some day I will have a euonymous bush so it will light up my yard like a flame in the autumn, though I will try to forget the failure of the flirting. For now I will watch the color of the bushes change, imagining the swinging from one side of a wheel to the other. I am waiting for autumn, and waiting to forget.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
I remember finding it a little shocking that one of the songs on a Bible Song tape I used to play with the kids included the chorus, "Everybody talking about heaven ain't going there." It plays through my head though, when I am around certain self-proclaimed Christians who attempt to enlighten everyone around them. That makes about as much sense to me as going to another country and quoting the Constitution to its citizens. The general response would be a blank look that clearly asks "And...?"
There are people in the Church who realize this isn't Christlike behavior. I once heard Paul Sheppard teach on the idea that people are out there in the world trying to correct people according to biblical lights who are not believers in them. It doesn't make sense and is frankly offensive. Gandhi once said that after reading the Bible, he would have considered becoming Christian "if I didn't know so many Christians." I don't want to be one of those.
One of the problems I observe in promoting a dogmatic Christian religion to the world is that the promoters aren't even free to love because they are too busy trying to determine whether the people who need it, deserve it. It becomes much simpler when we remember all of us need it, while none of us really deserve it. I don't mean that I think we are all worthless, but only that we all have in us the pettiness, spite and even violence that are part of human nature. We all deserve love from each other, or don't deserve it, pretty equally.
Tidy Christianity with all answers given is easier than one which reaches out to the wild wonder of God's love, a love we don't even have to earn. --Madeleine L'EngleI have no skill with Christian Apologetics. I can't argue anyone into faith in God, let alone God as I understand Him. I am no better able to understand or explain how electricity is generated and shared through power lines. The inability doesn't stop me from using electricity, though. I don't pretend to be a model follower of my God, but I have a relationship with God as I understand Him that underlies everything in my life. I respect every other person's search to know God, a higher power, the Source of light and of life - under whatever name - according to your own experience, trusting that truth will be revealed according to its own purpose and not mine.
Do you need proof of God? Does one light a torch to see the sun? --Chinese proverb
Monday, August 31, 2009
Saturday I cleaned out another big chunk of mess from my room. Yes, still working on the one ROOM. How did I let so much mess accumulate, I have been wondering, in my house and in my life? The answer is by exercising an overdeveloped talent for avoidance and denial. I just don't see how much junk comes in and starts piling up. So, I tackle the clean up in pieces because it is overwhelming. After I do some of it, there's a long break before I do more. In that time, I am exhausted, and feel that I can't face taking on the next piece.
I realized too that fear holds me back from working through the whole job. When my room, for example, is emptied of the clothes I will never wear again, the things that belonged to a marriage that is over, the superfluous knickknacks, will I have excavated simplicity and beauty? Or will it just be empty? I am terrified, and I mean that quite literally, almost shaking, that when I get rid of the mess of my life there will be nothing left.
Our greatest pretenses are built up not to hide the evil and the ugly in us, but our emptiness. The hardest thing to hide is something that is not there. -- Eric Heffer
Without the struggle I am used to having, what is my purpose? The fear is that I will find that at bottom I am without purpose, and that I am essentially incompetent at life. No wonder I have been sliding back into escapism lately. That's a big fear. But any fear, like a demon, starts losing its power once it is named. Even Jesus asked first, of a particularly troublesome demon "What is your name?" before He drove it out (Luke 8:30). I don't have much success with overcoming fear or any other proverbial demon, without specifically identifying it first.
Meanwhile the work is to remember who I am and what my work is, underneath the accumulated confusion and mess. Despite the fear, my faith is that I will find something good about this life.
Change occurs when one becomes what she is, not when she tries to become what she is not. --Ruth P. Freedman
Thursday, August 27, 2009
A dream is an unopened letter to yourself. -- the Talmud
I am feeling a little off today, that kind of off that usually means I've got a touch of some virus, but I'm not really sick. But I had a really hard time getting up this morning. I kept falling back to sleep until finally I started having wacky dreams about trying to wake up. One dream was that our friend Howie had somehow let himself in and was sleeping on the bedroom floor 'cuz he'd had too much to drink to get home, as if this would be perfectly acceptable.
What finally got me out of bed, though, was that I dreamt about waking up hearing what sounded like the Avett Brothers themselves singing in my house, variations on a line from one of their songs, "I'll never be the same again." It was only a dream, though. How disappointing. I've never met the Avett Brothers, but their music creates this sense of knowing them, and I am sure it would be very cool, at any rate, to have them visit. I would have cooked breakfast and everything. The kids would have flipped with joy, as they, too, are fans.
Instead I am at work, getting ready to review the health insurance rosters. Sigh. And I'm wondering what frightening subconsious reality presents itself in dreams about itinerant musicians and drunk friends.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
One day recently, I picked up the boys from day camp. I think that afternoon they were watching "The Parent Trap" or a similar movie, and my younger son almost greeted me with the question, "Mom, you're not going to have to marry some other guy some day, are you?" So funny, the way he put it, as though there is a rule I will have to follow.
I explained that I certainly don't have to be married again (I am still in the phase of shuddering when I think of taking that kind of risk again), but it is possible that some day in the future I might consider it. Relying on the reading I've done, about reassuring kids that nothing else will change drastically in the near future, I explained that for now I'm enjoying being just the 3 of us, and spending time with my girlfriends. I pointed out how much I've been getting together with my friend Jenn, who is also in the divorce process.
At this point we were in the van. My older son asked from the far back seat, "You're not gay, are you, mom?" I almost laughed out loud. I'm glad he's open minded enough to wonder, it's just that it was so far from the reassurance of stability that I was trying to convey. This son, in particular, rather likes an audience (I don't know where he gets it from...) and I think he was disappointed. THAT would have been something interesting to tell his friends. But, no, Bunny, that's not what I meant.
The kids are always full of surprises, and the more I try to anticipate their needs, the more they seem to be on a different track entirely. They probably think the same of me - when they think they have me figured out, I go and do something unexpected. I think our relationship together is plenty to engage me, for now.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
On the other hand, some posts are still rambling but are pretty darned close to the way I actually think. That can frighten me. I am not so much worried about exposing myself, but about alienating myself from my friends by exposing too much of them in the process.
The writer, when he is also an artist, is someone who admits what others don't dare reveal. -- Elia Kazan
I suppose there are worse venues for developing discernment. You are all guinea pigs, really. Feel free to comment if you have any wisdom to offer on the subject. But, really, thanks for being here.
On Sunday I met an old friend that I haven't seen for years and it was perfectly comfortable. We both love books and art, and observing people. That is plenty for passing an afternoon together companionably. Also we ate lunch (eating is always good) and shopped a bit in New Hope, PA. In Farley's Bookshop, I found "Quotable Notables" notecards and quotes on stickers, from great writers.
I just pulled that package out and here is a sample from the Jane Austen stickers: "Friendship is the finest balm for the pangs of despised love." Well, actually, that has a lot to do with reconnecting with old friends and making more time to get out with the girls. But that would be one of those things I'd rather "not touch because they are too near."
In the nearly ten years since we'd seen each other, V. and I have both lost our dads. Our moms cope with it differently; hers seems to be the more greatly impacted. Also V. only has one brother and he lives in England, so she feels more of the responsibility for her mom. Even when she has issues with her health, when my mom needs help it gets spread out over several siblings. V. bought a new house. I had a second child, moved at least twice, and am now divorced.
Our identities shift with some of these changes. I remember when I had my first baby, being wheeled through the back corridors of Christiana Hospital in Delaware, trying to grasp the fact that literally overnight I had become the mother of a child. It was too big to absorb quickly; only the familiar curve of the tiny bottom that had been under my hand for several weeks convinced me that I had anything to do with the appearance of this new person.
Now I am a divorced mom. Every now and then, I pause and wait for that to hit me like a brick wall. Divorce would be pretty high up on the list of things I always thought I wouldn't survive. But, nope, as Bob Dylan is singing these days, "it's all good." Working through a couple years of counseling seems to have paid off. I know how I got here, why I made my choices and I am doing just fine.
As a woman, my country is the whole world. -- Virginia Woolf
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Having gone a week and a half without a real fridge, I've already outspent the budget on takeout & convenience items, and I don't get paid till tomorrow. What the hell else is going to go wrong? I've wondered. I tried to have gratitude for other things. I'm really glad I'm not that guy that was out on a roof for the second morning in a row, using a blowtorch on a hot August morning (I got to go to my nice air conditioned office instead). While I am over budget, I do keep "emergency" money in the checking account, so none of us will starve.
Then I was almost hit on the way to work because a guy was texting while he was driving. Jerk. Yes, you with the North Carolina plate XXE 5295. I was pissed off enough to take note.
Still, I have these great friends who listen to me grumble (definitely more grumbling than whining today). I try to keep it light, even entertaining, but it was still grumbling.
As always, I am bearable one moment, unbearable the next. -- GoetheWork itself was worth grumbling about. I'm in one of those slumps where I can sit and look at the stuff that's late and almost cannot force myself to work through it. Then I had a little prodding from our Controller. That helped. I kept thinking that I have made some progress in working toward what I really want to be when I grow up, but real change still seems so far away.
Taking the small steps eventually leads somewhere, though. Back in February, just for fun, I bought a pendant that has the antique illustration of Alice putting on her crown (you can see it at http://www.goreydetails.com/. Also got a fabulous t-shirt with the Gorey drawing of a girl, which reads "So many books, so little time). I'll just keep going till I get to be a Queen.
Now our Mr. Softee guy insisted on giving me a mango melon ice, when I bought some for the kids. That was the nicest thing to happen to me all day.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Some of it goes back to pulling out the notebook (after too long a lapse, I admit) and getting to the real stuff, the stuff that hurts. I'm not looking forward to getting back into it, to shaping the experience into something with form and purpose. I can hardly bear to go through it - who could possibly want to read it? It's the real stuff, though, that makes a story, or a poem. And the stuff I hate to look at, is a lot like the stuff nobody wants to deal with themselves. It always a discovery and a comfort to find that we are all going through the same kinds of stuff. If we could remember that, I bet we'd spend a lot less time and energy trying to hide it.
Every true poem or painting, every measure of true music is paid for with life, with suffering and blood. -- Herman Hesse
With the writing, I've also noticed that I'm progressing from just hurting to feeling angry. It's not any more comfortable, but it does seem to be moving toward resolution.
First, I was grateful that my kids are a couple of years past the piercing wails of "But I wanted to see the MOO-OOO-VIE!" I had been more interested in getting us all a little exercise and fresh air, honestly, and just spending some time with them. It is so easy to get wrapped up in everything I'm processing, and forget how much they need attention from me and other adults through this divorce experience.
Dark storm clouds were marching toward us as we walked, and the wind was kicking up. The boys were worried about the storm breaking on us, but I love a good storm. We did get home before the rain hit but I wouldn't have minded getting wet. It was so hot on the way up to the park, the air not moving at all. Now it's windy and noticeably cooler. A good dousing would have felt great, with no where to go but home to change into dry clothes (preferably pj's) and a movie from our recordings (we've picked Shrek 3, and the kids are bearing with me blogging at the same time).
And all the crap that was weighing on my mind is lifting a little, too. Thank goodness, Sears finally delivered the new refrigerator.
Monday, August 17, 2009
There was a time a couple of years back, when I was so frustrated with trying to do the right thing, to be a good wife, to figure out what else I needed to do better to make things work. It was impossible, and I had reached the point of being angry. Angry with myself, and angry with God, because I felt compelled to keep trying to make the marriage commitment work but God was not helping. At least that's what I felt at the time.
My friend Barb pointed me then to the words of Joel "I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten." (Joel 2:25). There's so much poetry in the Old Testament; I suspect sometimes that it was first my love of the the language that drew me into Scripture. Notice it's not only labor and sustenance that have been consumed, but the years, the incalculable quantity of life that was taken.
Yesterday there were actually moments when I stopped to be conscious of being in the present, without daydreaming or worrying, and it didn't hurt. It was amazing. Today, the pain is back in full force but it's okay. There will be more of those moments, I am sure of it. Somehow I have joy at the same time that I am aware of hurting. Last night I took the advice of my counselor, Hero, and "wrote from the pain," something that we usually avoid by instinct. When we do it, though, write or paint or make music, whatever the channel is for us, from a place that we want to avoid, that is completely the right choice. It is the source of my hope for redemption of the years that were lost, not just starting over with nothing, but turning the loss itself to a purpose.
Pain is filtered in a poem until it becomes in the end, finally, pleasure.
-- Mark Strand
Sunday, August 16, 2009
For several weeks, I have been so occupied in clawing my way through each day (yes, at times it really has felt that way, like scaling a bald rock face) that I have neglected writing, which is counterproductive. It bottles up in me until it hurts more than anything else, and I ask myself, why do I DO this? I should know better by now.
Then I sit down, as I did Friday at lunch, with my notebook and a pen, and start to scratch the surface. What results is something like being responsible for a toddler, and realizing suddenly that the child should have been fed a couple of hours ago, so now he's hungry, tired, and miserable, and it is necessary to work on each of those things separately but at once.
Poems are coming at me from every direction, and story ideas, and impressions that I need to get down, because they will have a purpose in something, some time. Meanwhile, I still need to clean enough that there's a clear path for the fridge to be delivered today, and I am taking the kids to swim with my mom this afternoon - things I'd rather forget, and go hole up somewhere with my notebook. Damn! Real life & writing, at odds again. Who said that "Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia" -? I'll have to look it up and report back. [note: I checked. It was E.L. Doctorow]
Give me a pen, that I may become somebody in the future.
-- Sudanese song, quoted in "The Sudan," Vanity Fair
magazine, July 1993
When you are in the middle of a story it isn't story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind [...]. It's only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it, to yourself or to someone else.The trick I need to master, is in going from confusion to confusion (there has been very little but that for several years), to be able to tell one story while in the middle of another one.
Incidentally, when reading Margaret Atwood I find every paragraph, sometimes each individual sentence to be a discovery. I have realized that I'm holding my breath, waiting to see what the next page will bring not in terms of the story but in terms of how she reveals it. It was how she wrote, for example, Oryx and Crake, that I loved, though I found the story creepy and disturbing. It gave me nightmares about climate change, before it became a topic in the media.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
However, I took the kids to the Y for a swim team reunion barbecue, and got some exercise. After that I was tempted to nap some more, but that's just getting ridiculous. Took a walk to Acme to get a few things to make dinner (the new fridge comes tomorrow, hallelujah - this dorm size fridge is just not cutting it for us), and have fed the kids like a good mom.
I'd signed up for a daily devotional email from divorcecare.org. When I started getting them, I thought they were speaking to a stage of divorcing that I'm long past, but in the past week I've found them to be pretty much on target. So on target sometimes, that I think the writer should piss off, for having touched on some sore spots. Dr. Jim Talley has addressed the way that a divorce, in every case, involves stripping away the familiar. Whatever else you're feeling, there's that pain of not having familiar structure and routine. I had that. There's so many ways we can try to elude that pain - alcohol, starting new relationships before we're ready, whatever. I've found that I might not even know how much I'm trying to escape, until somebody pulls the plug on one of those numbing experiences. Sleep is probably the most innocuous escape for me.
Friday, August 14, 2009
"Well!" thought Alice to herself. "After such a fall as this, I shall
think nothing of tumbling downstairs!" -- Lewis Carroll
I just noticed that I quoted Alice in the last post, also. Not infrequently, I feel like Alice, among strange people in a world with rules that make sense less often than they don't. I had put that quote in my little collection book when I took a tumble down stairs, which put me in the hospital for a week and half, with a permanently dysfunctional and disfigured ankle (it used to be amusing when the hardware set off metal detectors in airports).
Today was a tumbling sort of day. It started very low. I felt all the vulnerability of the changes in my life, and its losses, longing for comfort from almost any quarter that would make itself available. I've struggled too long, though, not to keep pressing forward. I forced myself to focus on work, while I was at work, and took myself out to lunch with my notebook, which I've treated like an unappreciated lover lately.
After lunch, I returned a call from my attorney, to find that the divorce is now final. I am glad, I know I am glad. It marks a milestone in several years of struggle, introspection, counseling and work. How sad, though, the years that have gone by, and the ways that I lost touch with myself. I'm shaking it off, mentally. There's been more growth because of those years. And, I remind myself, if nothing else, the experience gives me more to write about.
There's so much to write, to catch up. I noticed that I misquoted Margaret Atwood in a recent post, and will correct that soon in a post of its own ("A story isn't a story at all..."). I have the book, Alias Grace, somewhere in the house. I've pulled so much out in order to sort through it, getting rid of some things and organizing the rest: there's a symmetry between my physical world and my internal reality.
Thanks to you who read what I write. I've noticed some of you following me on Twitter. I will soon figure out how to post my Twitter info here, though I'm not yet very good at tweets (I'm brookbarb on Twitter, if that helps). For now, it's time to get the kids to bed. I'm looking ahead to a weekend that should be much less hectic than the past few have been.
Friday, August 7, 2009
Still, I was beginning to look forward to getting home, to write a bit and put on my own music, which right now is Shemekia Copeland's Never Going Back CD. "There's nothing like staying at home for real comfort," as Jane Austen wrote, however facetiously, in Emma. Best of all is a balance: getting out for a while, but being glad to get home and finding that once again home is a place of peace, because for a long time it just wasn't.
I don't find that "I live in the crowd of jollity, not so much to enjoy company as to shun myself" (Samuel Johnson), in fact I enjoy my own company at least as much as most other people's. It was a good crew tonight, though, and good laughs.
I will be glad to pick up my boys from camp tomorrow, to hear about all their fun week and to bring them home for their own peace. The balance is that I've also enjoyed having the house to myself, getting some work done and some rest, too. It's a different world when I get up in the morning and am responsible for no one but myself, but even that reminds me that it is good to have children who steady me with a sense of purpose. There are times when no other purpose is as clear as the need to be there for the kids. My life has creative purpose; I'm just not always sure what it is or how to get to the next point. The kids keep me from stalling out while I'm figuring out what to do next beyond surviving.
It sounded an excellent plan, no doubt, and very neatly and simply arranged; the only difficulty was, that she had not the smallest idea how to set about it.
-- Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
Thanks, friends, all of you. Sometimes it is good just to be puzzled together.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Your love is like a roller coaster, baby, baby...I almost attributed that line to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. That's not who did the song originally but I am so tired, I just can't think of the name of the original artist. Maybe if I keep typing it will come to me.
The song, anyway, was on the radio the other morning; yes, you guessed it, Michaela Majoun played it on WXPN as part of a 9 am select-a-set. It reminded me of Cindy Kephart,a woman I'd worked with in Wilmington, DE. Cindy had a very polished look and could work a scarf like nobody's business. She told me two things that I still remember, no three things: First, this was actually the lastest bit: Epidurals are our friends. Very good so far (I discovered that was true later). Second, she had told me that there will be days when all we can do is show up at work and that's just got to be accepted. Third, she said that you find out by the time you're thirty that life is like a roller coaster. When all else fails throw your arms in the air and yell "wheee!"
It was interesting to hear that from her, as she always seemed to have things pretty much under control. Of course, that may have had a lot to do with my perspective at the time - younger (early to mid-twenties) trying to figure out and keep up with the corporate world, identifying and exorcising some of my personal demons and still wondering what I was going to do with my life.
Things are certainly rolling up and down. Good news today was that my mom's visit to the oncologist did not lead to a schedule of chemotherapy. Mom has had two bouts with uterine cancer and now has nodules on a lung. Not so good. The onc said, though, that they are small (we knew that) and that they are not fast-growing, so he'd like to wait 6 weeks for some additional test results. So, not out of the water but not in crisis mode yet, either.
Whew. Relief. But a letdown, all that tension of bracing for the news. I'm thankful. We've all expressed our appreciation, too, that being so many siblings means we are an instant network of support. My brother the pharmaceutical rep specializes in oncology meds, so he went with mom to the appointment, understanding more of the disease and the treatments than the rest of us. Thanks, Mike.
I realized today that waiting for your official divorce decree to arrive in the mail is a lot like looking in the paper every day for an obituary for someone that you already know has died. Fait accompli, but you're just hanging on for it. Still, there's the stuff that's done and the stuff I still have to do - literally stuff - to pack up and to throw out (I'm working on all that while the kids are away at camp), and my friend Sue tells me I need to take time to heal, to just EXHALE. Hmm.
And then? Well, that's on the other side of this climb up the hill, the part where I can throw my hands in the air and yell, "whee..."
The fear of freedom is strong within us.
-- Germaine Greer
Monday, August 3, 2009
Worse than that, though: the Watchguard service at the office is blocking all blogs and forums. Too awful, but true. We'll see how long that lasts, as I know some people are being prevented from doing actual work, and the logic in the code is far from reliable. It won't allow access to an msn article on "Finding Your Soulmate" for references to "Lingerie & Swimwear" but seems to have no problem at all with full articles on Yahoo! about... well, the Girl's Guide to certain sex practices. I was, of course, only testing the restrictions...
Meanwhile, the kids are off to a week of sleepaway camp! It is hard not to show my excitement when I'm packing them up, as they take it very personally. But I can take all the time in the world to get this computer running and access the web by dialup, reset the security features for cookies so I can blog... because I don't have parenting duties! How exciting.
How to catch up? or to start over? I had quickly written a bit a few weeks ago on poetry for fun, which drove me to find my copy of Ntozake Shange's Nappy Edges.
poetry is unavoidable connection/
some people get married/others join the Church
i carry notebooks so i can tell us what happened
If, as Adrienne Rich wrote, "the moment of change is the only poem," it is hard to find the poetry in the changes of this life. I have been reading Brenda Sheaffer's book Is it Love? Or is it Addiction? Through it I am seeing an intellectual map for everything I have been learning viscerally over several years - getting the Smart Notes version. But the change has been more along the lines of tectonic plates shifting than moments of change. That observation may evolve with some distance in perspective.
I am only beginning to feel that I've climbed free of the wreckage. With time and with distance I will be able to come back, come to "explore the wreck." I will come "to see the damage that was done/and the treasures that prevail." (Adrienne Rich, "Diving into the Wreck")
When you're in the middle of it, a story is not a story at all but a blind wreckage [...] It only becomes a story when you tell it to someone, to yourself or to another person. -- Margaret Atwood, in Alias Grace
Monday, July 20, 2009
Even with the two boys with me (my first vacation as a single parent - but I had plenty of support from family) there was time for daydreaming, for reading a couple months' worth of magazines, for writing several times a day and for taking naps. In the midst of the other 27 people on this family vacation there was still time just to be alone, and to process all the change, the loss and the new beginnings that have comprised my life this year.
It was lovely to sit on the beach, to watch the kids of all ages playing. There were dolphins, startlingly close to shore one day. A pair of pelicans flew by. Most days the weather was absolutely perfect, and I have a tan! This is remarkable because I never tan; for me it is a good one. It won't last - I told my neighbor "don't blink or you'll miss it" because it will fade quickly. He said, "ahh, one of those Irish tans - they usually come off in the shower." Too true, sadly.
The brain is sluggish, having accustomed itself to warm sand, the rhythm of the surf and lazy beach conversations. Apart from Millay, I was thinking of the opening pages of Fortune's Rocks, describing Olympia's arrival on the shore after a long Boston winter. I couldn't quite recall the words, but the purely sensual experience that Anita Shreve captures in her prose:
Her feet, as she makes slow progress, create slight and scandalous indentations in the sand. Her dress, which is a peach silk, turns, when she steps into the water, a translucent sepia. The air is hot, but the water on her skin is frigid; the contrast makes her shiver.It is time to get back to work, but it was a joy to have the break. It becomes apparent how much you've relaxed when you come back to real life and balk at having to consider all the things that usually occupy the mind, instead of ignoring it all to go sit in the sun.