Friday, May 22, 2009

Erica is Doing Better, but I'm Brain Dead

Many of my friends have been praying with me for Erica L., the 18-month old daughter of friends. Erica had started with a cold and ended up in the hospital last week, with pneumonia. Both lungs collapsed and she has been on a respirator. Thank you to the prayer warriors who have been carrying this little girl (and parents Carl & Karen, and big sister Victoria, as well as all the medical staff) in their hearts since last week. She is improving, and is able to breathe on her own. There are few things as heart wrenching as a sick baby, and it is so hard to imagine going through that with one of your own. The family is 10 hours away from mine - I wish so much to be there, helping, and hugging each one.

While they have endured a real crisis, I have been on the road doing Open Enrollment meetings, offered for our 1300 benefits eligible staff. By the 4th or 5th day of explaining coverages and premiums (especially the outrageous premium hikes), the brain was beginning to slow down and suddenly it seemed to stop. People would ask questions for which I am sure I know the answers, but I just can't seem to recall them. The meetings are a fun change to the usual tasks, and I get to meet so many neat people, but I am glad Open Enrollment is over! Now we begin all the paperwork. Summer is a busy time in this HR department, especially when I need to keep up so that I can take a little vacation time with the kids.

Apparently, I am even more brain dead than I had thought; I can barely form coherent thoughts. This does not bode well for tomorrow's Poetry Workshop, for which I still have to produce some decent writing. Who knows, though? Sometimes exhaustion allows me to connect with the poems, without censoring, without editing them prematurely. Last week I presented three poems of Mary Oliver's. "Wild Geese" ("You do not have to be good./ You do not have to cross the desert on your knees for a hundred years...") and "The Journey" are two of my favorite poems. "The Journey" ends with these lines:

and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do --
determined to save
the only life you could save.

(c) Mary Oliver

The poem terrified me when I read it last year. In it I recognized the journey I had already begun, mapping out a life different from any I had seen modelled or that I would have chosen for myself. Rescuing oneself never appears heroic in the way that rescuing someone else does; it is never something we aspire to do. It must be the part where you have to admit, if only to yourself, that you've let things get to a point where the rescue is needed. Then there's the hard truth that no one can do it for you. But it happens, little by little, as this poem says, and "the stars begin to burn through the sheets of clouds." Finally, I can begin to look forward to whatever may come next!

Other thoughts, along the same lines:

then the voice in my head said
---Frank Bidart, Stardust

Strange where our passions lead us,
flaggingly pursue us, forcing upon us
unwanted dreams, unwelcome destinies.
-- Truman Capote, Music for Chameleons

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Thinking in Video Metaphors

I find that I am developing a disturbing tendency to think, to identify feelings and situations, in terms of scenes from movies. Like the Tamarians in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Darmok" (whose sole form of language consisted in references to shared historical contexts), I connect a whole thought process and emotional context to a specific scene. It has its perks. If the person or people you are addressing are familiar with the scene, and infer from it all the information and emotion that you do, you communicate a LOT without having to say much. On the other hand, it could mean that my own ability to articulate experience has atrophied.

A favorite is the scene from classic Christmas special, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Who does not know exactly how he felt when Clarice told Rudolph she thinks he's cute, and he took off into the air, shouting nasally (his nose still had the black cover on it), "I'm cute! I'm cute! She thinks I'm cute!" It's flying even higher than Liza Doolittle after the ball, when she sang "I Could Have Danced All Night" (which I have been known to sing, to my friends' chagrin).

The Rudolph-flying scene is how I have described feeling when one of my poems was accepted for publication, when another was chosen to be used in a class discussion, and definitely, yes, definitely, when it suddenly seemed one dream might not be so hopeless after all.

In the past year, no, past couple of years, I have been working to get to the root of the big issues in my life, the choices I have made or failed to make, allowing problems to grow and feeling like a victim. It is a long slow process to become more aware and accountable, to actively choose your circumstances. The correlative scene is from the first Superman movie, after Lois is killed, when Superman begins to fly around the earth, and things slowly stop then reverse. Remember that? The sense of everything grinding to a halt, then slowly moving again but in a different direction. Life for some time has been the slowing down of chaos, a stasis and then a slow restart. My hope is that I am hovering now on the verge of moving in the right direction with a little more momentum, with a sense of time being restored.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Wishing for Something to Happen

In the midst of preparing for this year's open enrollment meetings, which is a very big deal for an HR department that serves 1300 benefits-eligible employees, divorce, the usual school activities for my kids, church, extended family and friends, I find myself wishing something would happen. That sounds crazy, as if there isn't enough happening. Maybe that's just it. There is so much stuff, but nothing big, nothing fun. Yes, life goes that way. I know that. But it goes along that way for so long sometimes, and one just needs an event, a something. Goethe wrote that "a man can tolerate anything except a succession of ordinary days." That is what I'm talking about. Think Calvin, in Calvin & Hobbes, when he realizes how quickly summer vacation is passing: "I'm not having enough fun right now."

I am so weighted down with ordinary that I can accomplish nothing.

Agatha Christie opened her book Partners in Crime (the Tommy & Tuppence Beresford mysteries are my favorite Christie books):

Mrs. Thomas Beresford shifted her position on the divan and looked gloomily out of the window of the flat. The prospect was not an extended one, consisting solely of a small block of flats on the other side of the road. Mrs. Beresford sighed and then yawned.

"I wish," she said, "something would happen."

Mrs. Beresford's wish is granted, over a short stretch of time. Sometimes, mine is, but usually it is more of the same. The same isn't so bad, of course. Mrs. B (Tuppence to her friends) goes on to explain to her unsympathetic husband, "I'm used to my blessings, that's all." That is a good perspective to take. In my life, a good bit of turmoil has been resolving. I have been honored with the request of a good friend, to help her write her memoir, a memoir very much worth writing and reading. I am looking forward this weekend to a poetry writing workshop, and a gathering with family for Mother's Day. All good things, if not exciting.

I'm not even sure what would constitute the "exciting" sort of event I'm craving. There is a lurking suspicion that I need to keep working through the ordinary, and maybe then "something will happen," or maybe the craving will subside. I have learned that exciting developments won't come (getting something published, or even finished, to be considered for publication, for example) if I don't keep working. There's the possibility, of course, of getting fired if I'm not working, which would be exciting, but not quite what I want.

So, it's back to the invoices (the work I'm employed to do), the filing, making dinner and doing the dishes, laundry and getting the kids to bed, and the snatches of time to write and to read good books. I am thankful for those things, for the awesome kids, a life of growth, good friends and family, and for the work that goes to sustaining them. As long as I keep putting one foot in front of the other, it's okay if I'm still wishing for something to happen. It will probably be more fun if it comes as a surprise, anyway.

Find the gratitude in your life, and you'll find
joy standing right next to it.
--Melody Beattie, from her book Gratitude (purchase online at