Category Archives: Growing up

PART V OF V ISBN: 0-7611-2132-3

NINE MONTHS AND COUNTING

The double standard of tears:

If a woman cries in public and has a fat stomach people instantly get it. They warm up to her and insist on sharing how Hallmark cards and commercials get them weepy, too. They are all too understanding of her out of control hormones. Our society thinks it’s cute to poke fun at pregnant women and their seemingly irrational tears.

But mental illness? It’s suddenly not cute or okay if you spontaneously leak for no reason. When that happens, you’re told you’re not normal and you need more medication.

Well, with this pregnancy I am prone to leaking. For no reason at all! I was walking down a long Chicago block, admiring Lincoln Park’s architecture (Is that a gargoyle or a grotesque?) when the tears came. Architecture doesn’t make me sad. And it’s not like it moves me with utter beauty. Later, writing a short story in a coffee shop and hitting the perfect ending the tears came again. WTF?

Crying in public is never gonna get any easier. But I will admit, it’s nice to have an excuse people understand. It’s nice to not be chastised for not trying hard enough or be made to feel like you could suddenly turn the leaky faucet off.

Before I left for Chicago, I stopped off to see my jeweler at the antique mall. My wedding ring stopped fitting me and I needed a replacement band. I consider the jeweler a friend, so I told her I was pregnant immediately following up with how I felt unsure about it. She did not miss a beat.

C: When I found out I was pregnant I hid it for a long time. I wanted to work on my career and I couldn’t accept it. It’s okay to feel the way you do.

Later, after I left the store she sent me a text: It was good to see you. Congratulations on finishing your book.

Yes! Finally! Thank you! Someone who knows I am still me and not just pregnant. Someone who doesn’t look at me with pity or anger. Someone who got it.

It terrified me to tell another good friend about the situation, being that she was undergoing IVF treatments to have her own children and the process had been rough. I felt absolutely criminal to have this fetus and consider giving it away when she wanted one so badly for her own. But she was one of the people who unexpectedly touched my stomach and sent me bursting into tears, so we had to talk about it.

She was real and upfront about parenthood as her first child has Downs. She was the first person to tell me that motherhood was complex, that while she loved her child, she didn’t love the Downs, and did that mean she didn’t love him wholly and fully for who he was because without Downs he would be someone else? Motherhood wasn’t easy.

She’s a therapist. So, she has some holy type of understanding of others, some strange ability to put her feelings and situation aside and give clear facts based on experience. She also reads a lot of childhood development books.

After that horrible fight with my best friend,* I got the chance to spend another long afternoon lunch with one of my New Age aunts. Her hundred pound Rottweiler rescue dog greeted me at the door, and before I made it to the kitchen, she told the story of all seventeen million stray cats that lived in her yard, which the community banded together and had neutered. She named them all and fed them regularly…

When it came time for salad, I readied myself for the pregnancy topic. We had a really good conversation, one that gave me a lot of depth and insight into my childhood. Although, I couldn’t ask everything I wanted to ask, she told me just what I needed to hear.

NAA: Char, you aren’t going to know what to do until the baby comes. I believe everything happens for a reason. And these choices that you make now might not be clear to you until much later. But there’s a reason you chose to have this child if it’s clear to you now or not. However it goes, try not to worry until it’s here. Make your choice then.

It’s hard to remind myself to take this one day at a time. Once, when I was in the heat of a full-blown depression episode I called my mother, crying. I try so hard to not call her when I’m not feeling right. I don’t know how much she can handle.

ME: (sobbing) I feel like this million dollar race horse that everyone bet on who just decided to stand next to the track mid-race and eat the grass!

MOM: Honey! That’s what horses do! They eat grass!

I want to be the type of mom that always knows the right thing to say because in that moment, all the things my mom ever did wrong by raising me didn’t matter. It was just what I needed to hear.

My Tough-Take-No-Shit-From-Anyone-Level-Headed-Airforce-Physican’s-Assistant-Friend and I had a long talk when I was home about the situation, too. I sat on her bed and laid it all out, pretty much all five installments of this blog while she listened patiently.

TTNSFALHAFAF: I have to admit when I got the news I was livid. I thought, how could she let this happen?! How do you bring a child into this world that you don’t want? It has no choice in the matter; it didn’t ask to be in the situation. But after listening to you, I better understand it now.

ME: I’m afraid you know? I’m afraid to want it…I have some plans, like, instead of plastering Disney Princess on the wall I want to hang up pictures of really strong women, like Frida Kahlo, Amelia Earhart, Eleanor Roosevelt, Michelle Obama…women from all over the world…and in the center of that wall I want to put a mirror for her to look in, so she can see herself up there next to all these strong women. But tomorrow? Tomorrow I might be scared again. Afraid that photographs on a wall aren’t going to be enough…

I had to think long and hard about being this open and honest about my struggles on a public forum. These are controversial topics that involve people who are still alive. My brand of humor can sometimes get mistaken for meanness or passive aggressiveness. And people, well, people like to judge.**

Plus, my family likes its secrets. Generations before me feel strongly about not “airing all your dirty laundry.” There’s something uncivilized about it, some fear that it will show ill breeding or low-class. For a long time I agreed with that philosophy, but living in a make-believe world where my family and life are perfect, wasn’t solving any problems. It created more. It made me feel lonely, isolated, and outrageously insecure about myself. Growing up, adults kept secrets from me to protect me. The idea being that there are things children shouldn’t know.

I’d hate for my child to read this essay at too young of an age, but when or if she does, I’ll give her a hug, make us Shirley Temples, with extra grenadine, because we all know the pinker the better, and explain to her that I love her, and these were my fears of having a child, not her in particular—I didn’t even know her yet—but a child before I was ready. If she’s anything like me, she will understand. I won’t end the conversation before she does or before she’s asked all her questions.

I choose to write this essay to open a conversation about mental illness, parenting fears, neglect, and abuse, not for the average person who finds pregnancy amazeballs, but for the outliers who are made to feel like they are inadequate by societal stigmas. By opening the conversation, I realize how vulnerable I make myself to complete strangers. I also open myself up to criticism. To this I say:

Come at me with your hate. My love is stronger than it. I’m a writer, getting my licks in the trenches; it’s my job to see past hate for what it really is: misunderstanding.

What I’m most afraid of, is if my child gets bullied at school for having a ‘crazy’ mom or, god forbid, being ‘crazy’ herself. She should not suffer the judgments made of ignorance by people with either a lot of privilege or no clue about the real world because I didn’t do my best to open those hard conversations for her. But her knowing the truth? No. I’m not afraid of that.

Does that make me a bad parent? Agai—No. No it doesn’t.

My copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting is an old, tattered, worn, possibly out of date thrift store copy. I have to admit, as much as the pregnancy bible helps me, it also scares the shizz out of me. There’s absolutely no effing way I’m gonna read the delivery chapter. In the introduction, Heidi Murkoff says she wrote the book to help ease the worries of mothers and fathers so they could better enjoy the pregnancy and celebrate it. I respect the courage it takes to recognize that the world needs a book like this and the dedication Murkoff and co-authors, Arlene Eisenberg & Sandee Hathaway, had to pull it off.

Every pregnancy is different. No book out there will ever genuinely capture the fear, uncertainty, love, and sometimes loss that accompanies this time. If there were, I’d sure read it, if only not to feel so alone sometimes. While there are some things you can expect when you’re expecting, I’ve learned that you can’t prepare for it all.

During those nine months there will inevitably be arguments with friends and spouses, disapproval of family over your choices or inability to make choices. You got to change the diaper this way! Strangers who want to tell you their whole pregnancy from conception to delivery—look at my stretch marks! And while it’s good to talk about it because talking helps others, it’s also good to set those boundaries—I’d rather not look at them thank you, I just had lunch. And most importantly, not to judge yourself in the process. Whether you are fourteen or forty, keeping the fetus, aborting, or giving up for adoption don’t beat yourself up for your choice. Take my New Aged Aunt’s advice, you made that choice for a reason if it’s clear to you now or not. And know if you feel totally misunderstood or worried over the matter, I get it.

Yesterday I received a text from a good friend about the baby and I had the strength to reply:

F: It’s a girl? That’s great! You’ll be best friends.

ME: I hope not.

F: You’re going to be the slightly older guardian soul to look out for her new earth soul?

ME: I want to be sure her molecules are safe and experiencing as many other molecules as possible. The soul part is up for debate when she turns fourteen.

Do I care that Husband will roll his eyes at my molecule idea and both our mothers will be falling over themselves with worry if the child is not baptized in the Catholic church before it’s a month old because GOD FORBID it dies before the original sin of Adam and Eve can be removed? Everyone knows God sends babies to hell if you can’t get them to the church fast enough…

No. I don’t care about that today. That can be brought up in marriage therapy.

Today, I have a healthy baby girl growing inside of me. And the hassle over miracles or molecules is not one I have time for.

I used to have nightmares about a train. Sometimes I’d be on the track and it would come barreling down at me and I couldn’t move. Other times I’d be riding it and the track would end, dropping me over a cliff. I’d wake up, sweaty and shaking, startled at my brain’s ability to make me afraid of something I love.

Because, yes, I love trains. I cannot get enough of their low whistles. There were train tracks in my South Side neighborhood that I often played on, so unsafe I know, but I had a pretty sweet collection of squashed pennies… and there was this bar, long closed, called I think, Traxx, that I used to imagine buying and re-opening as an original station that sold candy and fountain soda. For like three years, I was sure I would spend my adulthood as the proprietor of this store, and I would somehow convince Chicago to re-open a passenger train that took people into the city for sightseeing. Those childhood dreams now make me laugh, but every time I hear the sound of a train, I feel twelve again, but in the best sense.

One doesn’t have to be Freud to attribute my train nightmares to my life stress and make it into this huge symbol, but one wouldn’t have all the facts. Currently, a ghost train runs through our neighborhood, ghost because I have absolutely no idea where this thing’s tracks are, but I can often hear its low, lonesome whistle at one or two in the morning when I’m still awake. I think my brain occasionally interprets that whistle as something else when I sleep. And that’s all, because as soon as I wake up, I’m like, oh, it was just a train. I love trains.

Last week, however, I had a different type of nightmare. In this one, I went into premature labor and the baby came out smashed, black and blue, and dead.

I woke up, shaking, for a moment sure it was real, certain that I had lost this baby. Husband asked me what was wrong, and I told him. He pulled me close and told me it was all right. He reassured me that it was a scary dream, but now I was safe. The baby was safe. He pulled me close and brushed my hair behind my ear.

HUSBAND: (whispering) I love you.

When I try to imagine my baby girl’s cry, high and long at two in the morning, like a train speeding right at me, I realize my deepest fear: losing her.  The beautiful thing about nightmares is that you wake up from them with a deeper appreciation for life.

Now you can throw all the confetti you want. Baby girl is due June 3rd, 2015

 

 

 

*We are still best friends. I love her to death. Who else could you have that type of conversation with and then watch a JLo movie like, it’s cool, dawg?),

** Isn’t that why the sales of celebrity gossip magazines are so high?

***Oh, and if you want to touch my stomach the next time you see me—be warned. I have a new rule. If you touch my stomach, I’m touching your boob. That’s right. I’m gonna get a good handful in, too.

8 Comments

Filed under Bipolar Disorder, Books, Children, Growing up, Life, Love, Marriage, Mental Disorders, Non Fiction, Parenting, pregnancy, Writing

ISBN-10: 0-486-41586-4

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

 

“…the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing, was the sea; and that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip.”

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Writing in flannel.

Writing in flannel.

 

I went home this past week for an early Christmas. I don’t know how I managed it, but I was able to see just about everyone I love. I even squeezed in a trip to Hubbard, my high school, and bought sweat pants and a sweatshirt. If someone told me fifteen years ago I’d voluntarily wear the uniform, I would have laughed in his or her face. Fifteen years can really change a person.

I haven’t posted in a while. Don’t fret. I’ve been writing and reading, just not blogs. Today I was called to the desk to write for my dad.

Last Monday was the first time I saw him since I was sixteen.

Fifteen years ago, we parted on less than good terms. It doesn’t matter why we parted that way, only that we had. Six years ago, I heard that he was beaten and left for dead in Marquette Park. The phone call caught me off guard. I was in a place where my life had finally started to make sense. I had just started my MFA, was newly engaged, and happy. I answered the phone thinking my brother, J, was calling to congratulate me.

J told me that my father had been homeless and lived in the park. He was drunk and antagonized a group of youth, gang members, with racial slurs. My father was not expected to make it. I should come home and see him. The phone call left me angry. I told J my father was dead to me, and had been for years. J called me a bitch and we hung up.

I wished those kids had talked to my father and explained why some words were so hurtful or how many people had died over them in the past. I wished they asked him not to use such words, and he instantly rid his vocabulary of them. I know how hard it is to do the right thing in a highly charged emotional moment. I don’t always do the right thing. I’m still learning, too.

A few weeks ago, I told Husband I wanted to see my father again. Husband wondered why after fifteen years I wanted to resume a relationship. Understandably, he was protective of me. The last time I went home I had a small relapse when I was caught off guard by another piece of my past.

ME: I just don’t want that to be the end of the story. When I have children, I want them to know their grandpa. I don’t want to tell them this terrible story of how we parted. I want it to be different.

I was prepared for the worst. My father had suffered severe brain trauma. He was a known alcoholic and drug user. There was something with a long technical term that chronic alcoholics can suffer from in which they have no short-term memory. It’s like a blackout, explained my therapist, T; he may have no recollection of meeting you. There’s a possibility he may not know you.

I called my sister-cousin, D, and asked her if she knew anyone from the old neighborhood who could find my father. She called M. M called a family friend, “born-again” L. He contacted some of the beat police in the area where he thought my father lived. After three days, L learned that my father lived in a shady house, essentially a crack house. L said the house was rough; he once lived in it at his lowest point before he turned himself around. It was in a less than great part of town. L said he could bring my father to a safer meeting place.

Monday came, and L couldn’t make it. I still wanted to see my dad, so I asked D if she would take the train with me. After an hour and a half of travel on the CTA, it turned out my father wasn’t staying in the worst part of town. He lived in my old neighborhood. We knocked on a door to a house that didn’t look shady from the outside other than a foreclosure sticker on the front door. No one answered. We called the landlord for the building. She hadn’t heard of the person we were asking for. We called L one more time. The landlord called back and said my dad was at a bus stop across from Walgreens.

Everyone told me to be prepared, to know what it was I wanted to say to my dad, to know what I wanted to get from this meeting. When I saw him, I said the only thing I could think to say.

ME: Hey old man.

I hugged him. Glad he was still alive.

We both cried until we laughed.

We went to a small restaurant. I had tacos. He had a burrito. I don’t remember what D had. I did my best to catch him up on my life. He did the same. He said when he got the call from L he stayed sober for our meeting. He didn’t do hard drugs anymore. He didn’t drink hard liquor, only beer, at night to help him fall asleep. He was waiting on his social security so he could put a down payment on a house or maybe an apartment. He spent the days helping others when he could, shoveling snow and whatnot. The folks in the elderly home had given him a chair to sit on at the bus stop. He fed the sparrows. He tried to keep busy. He could only listen to music and watch TV so much before he got bored.

He told me he wasn’t jumped in the park. He said he went to help a man push his car out of the snow behind Walgreens, and when he went to help him, he was smashed in the head with a bottle and beaten. His assailants got thirty dollars.

I wish they had just asked for his thirty dollars. Sometimes when I see people pan handling on the street I give them money. I can’t help it. They’re asking. If they spend the money on bus fare or drugs, that’s a problem as society we have to fix together. They’re still asking, not mugging, not robbing.

My father showed me a thin line that extended ear to ear on the back of his neck. It was his scar from brain surgery.

The things I wanted to say were slow coming. I was nervous and anxious to get back to a normal relationship with him. We went to a thrift store in search of an ugly Christmas sweater. We wandered through the isles.

ME: Should I get this withered Nome that looks remarkably similar to Wizzo and contains the soul of a wealthy Egyptian Pharos waiting for a body? It probably was accidently lost to the family sworn to protect it…

Dad: Sure. Everyone needs a souvenir.

I put Wizzo back on the shelf. I had already gotten a T-shirt with thirteen hidden horses as a souvenir earlier in the trip. I asked him if he wanted any clothes. He said he had a whole box full. People gave them to him. He still collected flannels.

I didn’t want our meeting to end. I dragged him to a dollar store and demanded he purchase some beef jerky and books, another small Christmas present to go along with what I had originally brought him: a copy of his father’s manuscript and a story I wrote for him.

He threw in a chocolate bar that donated money to literacy. What the hell. It was Christmas after all. I pulled him into the post office where we got some Ray Charles stamps, so he could write me.

ME: That’ll give you something to do when you’re bored.

I stumbled through his world until I got back on the bus with a hurried Merry Christmas thrown over my shoulder. There were so many other words I wanted to say, but did not know how. It wasn’t until the plane ride home that I started to untangle what had happened. What I truly wanted to say.

Dad,

Your story does not begin with the reason you were jumped. It starts when a stranger found you on the ground, near dead.

I ask myself, who that stranger was. Did she happen to own a small restaurant, make tacos and burritos and keep a ton of plants? Did I throw a thank you over my shoulder as we walked out because whatever I felt inside I did not know how to say? It could have been anyone who called for you. Could have been a bus driver. Could have been an employee at Walgreens. Could have been someone old. Could have been someone young.

Who was the emergency dispatcher that took that call?

Who drove the ambulance that took you to the hospital?

Who were the first cops on the scene?

Who was the brain surgeon that performed your operations?

Did they know they’d probably never get paid monetarily for their work?

Did they know if the person on their operating table had insurance?

I bet they didn’t even question it.

Who was the first person you saw when you opened your eyes?

Who really sat by your bed for four months?

Who helped you learn to walk and talk again?

Who told you to keep going when I’m sure you may not have wanted to?

Who gave you the clothes that kept you warm?

Who ran the food pantries that now fed you?

Do these people know I wanted to thank you for all you did for me when I was growing up? You let me paint my room green and built floor to ceiling bookshelves in there for your paperbacks. I remember your paperbacks, covers with Conan the Barbarian and scantily clad women cowering behind sword wielding men with way too much dragon in the background. I look back and think in your own way you were trying to surround me with the things you loved. You should see my bookshelves now. I bought forty-seven books only yesterday from the thrift store. Seven cents each. Three rooms in my house are painted green.

Did you know I still remember the Christmas Eve you walked a mile in the snow to the only place open, Walgreens, to get me an alarm clock?

Who worked that Christmas Eve shift when they could have been home with their own families?

Do all these people know that they kept you alive so I could thank you?

Do all these people know we are connected?

Do all these people know how grateful I am?

Do they know that I don’t only think about it when I’m on buses or airplanes?

Dad, did you know I saw you in a stranger’s eyes a few months ago? I told myself that stranger wasn’t you—I only wanted to see you.

Because of all those people I was able to.

Dad, do you know life is not about the past or the future but the moment in which we live?

I think you do.

I may throw “Thank you” and “Merry Christmas” over my shoulder, but I’m not too busy to know what they really mean. Dad, I know how hard it was for you to see me. If we had fought during our meeting, it could have led to a relapse on your part, too.

Do the people that brought us back together know that I have a good story to tell your grandchildren someday?

I hope they do.

I love you. Thank you.

It reads "thanks"

We as a society are doing our best to address the problem of homelessness in America. I was once told if one person in the world loves you don’t give up, you have a reason not to be homeless. Below is a list of resources supported by thousands of people that love and care for those in rough situations. There is no choice so bad that one can’t recover from it.

 

 

This is a giant heart I tracked in the hill next to my house.

This is a giant heart I tracked in the hill next to my house.

 

Homeless Shelters Directory

http://www.homelessshelterdirectory.org/

Street Wise

http://streetwise.org/

SAMSHA

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

US Department of Health and Human Services

http://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/

Alcoholics Anonymous

http://www.aa.org/lang/en/subpage.cfm?page=28

Narcotics Anonymous

http://www.na.org/

NAMI

National Alliance on Mental Illness

www.nami.org

United States Department of Labor

http://www.dol.gov/dol/audience/aud-homeless.htm

If you or someone you know would like to donate items, money, or time, thousands of shelters across America are in need.

I found this list on Sojourner’s* website  as an example of items that may be needed in local shelters near you.

Monetary donations:

 

$35.00

Helps offset costs of children’s activity groups

$55.00

Helps to feed shelter residents for one day

$250.00

Supports time required to obtain an Order for Protection

 

Goods:

-Diapers and Pull-Ups

-Clothing: Contact for specific needs

-African-American Hair Products. Recommended brands include: Ultra Sheen, Pink Lotion, Motions, Cream of Nature, Do Grow, Super Grow, Olive Oil. We’ve found that Walgreens carries the following at very good prices: Organica Hair Food, Shea Butter, Africa’s Best and Coconut Hair Oil.

-Baby wipes (Sensitive Skin)

-Cleaning Supplies (especially bleach, dish soap, floor cleaner and multi-purpose cleaning liquid)

-Paper Products: Paper towels, plates, bowls, etc.

-Twin Sized Plastic Mattress Covers

-Tampons

-Women’s Socks and underwear

-Bulk sized non-perishable healthy snacks (fruit snacks, granola bars, juice boxes, etc)

-Office Supply Gift Cards

-Target Gift Cards

*Sojourner is a local woman and children’s shelter in MN. For specific donations to Sojourner, please call the Program Support Coordinator at 952-351-4062.

**Whenever I go on trips I stock up on all the free lotions, shampoos, etc. By the end of the year I bring them in to the shelter. I heard you can drop off these items at REI and they will pass the donations on for you.

5 Comments

Filed under Books, Growing up, Holidays, Homelessness, Life, Literature, Love, Memoir, Mental Disorders, Non Fiction, Politics, Random, Snow, Writing

ISBN: 1-57322-333-6

No Death, No Fear by Thich Nhat Hanh

No Death, No Fear by Thich Nhat Hanh

Writing this post is hard when I keep staring out the window. It’s dreary and drizzly, a day for sweaters and leggings and apples and tea and books. I should note that I’ve only just learned how to wear leggings and every day is a good day for tea and books.

I devote autumn to thinking about time. I’m the type of girl who has been known to ask what day it is several times a day. In my defense, people ask for the time more than once a day, and that’s considered normal.

Minutes, hours, days, years, these mean little to me. I tell time by the color of the leaves on trees or lack thereof. My days are measured in keystrokes or yoga poses, sometimes by phone conversations, other times by births and deaths and weddings and graduations.  How many trips the hummingbird makes to the feeder. The distance Shadow and I go for walks. The purr and mewl of my cats.

Journal notes remind me of the end of summer: Why does it cost six bucks to get into a beach on the lake? Who ever thought up the great idea for metal lifeguard chairs? Warm Powerade tastes like warm Jell-O water before it sets. Warm Jell-O water takes me back twenty-five summers to my grandmother’s kitchen, when I measured time by the many uses for a cardboard box—a car, a castle, a place to hide, a hat to ram into the wall with, a Barbie house, a dangerous way to slide down the stairs. Crochet swimsuit equals bad tan lines, transports me back to the beach where a little kid eats a scoop of sand. All I want to do is eat some sand. The texture, not the taste, is an experience I want.  The lifeguard’s whistle is half day. Two ice creams later, the lifeguards return to their posts and a mass of children charge back into the lake. Mass of children charging lake equals the way I’d like to spend the rest of my summers.

Notes from the beginning of autumn: Twelve miles on my bike, over hills, past farmhouses and cornfields equals the breaking apart of a novel, equals imagining all the people in Syria as ribbons floating from the sky as I wish them one-by-one into a better place—a peaceful future. The duration of a car ride equals passing four flags at half-mast. A nation of flags at half-mast equals the end of twelve lives. An intention for those lives equals slipping out of downward dog multiple times, a glance at a clock: 7:15, 7:39.

I measure the time before I was born by others’ lives: Plato, Cervantes, Edgar Allen Poe, Abraham Lincoln, Einstein, Hitler. This reminds me of two ideas of time that have always conflicted in my mind: nothing is permanent and energy cannot be created or destroyed.

Nothing is permanent. People come and go from my life. I have learned to be thankful for the part of their life they spend in mine and learned to let them go without asking for more. Everything dies, ceases to exist, ends. That is, these people and objects move from a state I am familiar with into a state I am not. I first read No Death, No Fear Comforting Wisdom for Life by Thich Nhat Hanh, fifty-eight blog posts, four stories, one screenplay, one-third novel, and half a thesis ago. I found the book, or the book found me, when I most needed it. I return to its knowledge because I forgot that these people never truly leave. Even friendships lost return to me when I see crocks, Sailor Jerry, golf on TV, macaroons, lab-created sapphires, or ketchup and mustard on a sidewalk. Friendships return in the form of a ToDo list that entails tearing up an apartment then eating a sandwich that makes my breath stink.

There is no coming, no going.

All that exists always exists. Energy cannot be created nor destroyed. Manifestations arise when the conditions are right. Manifestations arise when they are needed. Radio waves float around my head. I am only conscious of Justin Timberlake’s voice when a radio is present to transform those waves into a familiar sound. What else exists, undetectable to my senses, waiting for the perfect conditions to arise?

Autumn winds twist and turn the leaves beyond my window. In them I see Syria, Einstein, children running toward a lake, flags at half-mast, the wish I make when I pass fountains, keystrokes, green gone gold. Trials of Van Occupanther by Midlake plays four times for these seven hundred and ninety five words. Autumn winds are the sound of your voice reading this post.

No coming, no going.

The true meaning of time, life.

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Filed under Bike Rides, Books, Cats, Growing up, Life, Literature, Love, Memoir, Non Fiction, Random

ISBN 0-394-51602-8

Collected Stories Frank O'Connor

Collected Stories Frank O’Connor

 

I only read nineteen pages of Collected Stories Frank O’Connor because I happened upon “The Bridal Night” and shortly thereafter began to pout. The pouting turned to sulking, the sulking to depression. Welcome to the world of bipolar.

I read this: Around the headland came a boat and the heavy dipping of its oars was like a heron’s flight. I got excited. I hunkered down into my mind, ready to be pulled away from reality. I had once described rowing as, “a soft stroke of sound,” but the bird thing was so much better. I pounded my fist against my desk. How do good writers do this?

Then came the story. It was about a crazy man. It was complex and done with such an even hand that I started to laugh. Something unhinged in my mind. I imagined the story as if it were written from each character’s point of view, and ah-ha! I had solved a technical problem I was having in another project I was working on.

The only problem was that this imagining triggered the darkness.

Thanks for messing me up Michael O’Donovan*.

My depressive thinking started out small: I’ll never be that good of a writer. And morphed into: What is the point of life?

I tried explaining this to Husband.

ME: Let’s put science aside for just a moment. Let’s think of mania, and a break with reality on the very simplest level. I have amazeballs ideas when I am crazy. The only problem was that I believed they were real. If I had such amazeballs ideas when I was sane and didn’t believe they were true then I’d just be considered creative. Perhaps even interesting. The only thing that ties man to God is belief. I’m having some serious issues with belief right now, so can you see how this would lead to a “crisis of faith”?

Husband stared at me.

ME: Say something.

Husband: God gave me two ears and one mouth. I think we should go to bed now.

Something like three days later, I was still sulking, probably more like brooding. This is when my Sassy-Man-Hating-Chain-Smoking-Polish-Best-Friend showed up.

SMHCSPBF: Get out of bed you sad betch.

ME: There is no point. Just so you know, that’s the depression talking.

SMHCSPBF: We’re going to a concert.

I agreed to get up because I didn’t want SMHCSPBF ashing on my sheets. When we got to First Ave, and the first act came on stage we stared at each other. In a crowd of hundreds of people, no one moved. Minus one man who was solo fist pumping it near the front. He must not have been a Minnesota native.

ME: Awe man, this is like a Catholic mass. Is this the band?

SMHCSPBF: It’s Enya rock.

Whatever. I went with it. At least it wasn’t a musical. Maybe it was the secondhand weed**, but I started to zone out like I do at yoga. There was no sound, just the sound of my heartbeat. I started thinking of all of the other heartbeats in the same room. I started to understand why so many people enjoy those long and dreary masses.

SMHCSPBF snapped her fingers in front of my face.

SMHCSPBF: Let’s go.

ME: It’s just that I think of the birds in the wetlands near my house, or deer, or my cats or any other creature and I look at them and I don’t know if they believe they have a singular soul. Do they always and forever want to be a deer or a bird? Would I always want to stay human and know the world only from this place? I don’t see myself as any better than them or even very different. Can someone just tell me the point to life? What if after this, we no longer exist? It doesn’t seem fair that a deity would create this just to test you. That’s a very manmade concept.  Can someone just tell me why we do this?

SMHCSPBF: I need to double my SSRI because of you.

ME: Am I starting to sound like a poet?

SMHCMPBF shrugged: What would I know. I’m a step away from buying a pair of Birkenstocks and moving to Costa Rica.

When driving SMHCSPBF back to the airport, we passed a cemetery.

ME: All the gravestones look exactly the same. There’s no gender. No race. No religion. Just the mark of someone who once lived. It’s so easy to see in death. Why can’t it be like that in life? I didn’t want to say anything because I think it’s the depression talking.

SMHCSPBF: I was looking at them too. Men created war. Not women.

I tried explaining all this to my therapist.

T: Do you need to know the meaning of life?

ME: No. But I need to talk about it.

T: I think maybe you think about these other things so you don’t have to deal with other problems in your life.

Later I made pancakes for dinner and sobbed as I cracked the eggs into the bowl. Darkness had fallen over the Atlantic, blank gray to its farthest reaches. I laughed because the subtext was absurd. I laughed, not because I’m bipolar and a second ago I was crying, I laughed because I’m human. I tried to hold it together through dinner.

Husband: You just got to fight depression. If you know you have sad thoughts then don’t give in to them.

He pushed the last of his dinner aside, apparently no longer hungry.

ME: Oh yeah? Eat that last pancake, Midwest. You can’t leave the dinner table until you clean your plate.

H: Fine, you’re right.

He stuffed the last pancake into his mouth.

Last week I had a lot of trouble getting out of bed. My mind took me to very dark places. I understood the appeal for some of drugs and alcohol. Escape. I understood why some are attracted to thoughts of suicide. Escape. For the first time since the creation of the blog, I missed a week.

I’m trying to do this the right way, but going to the gym, doing yoga, quitting caffeine and alcohol just weren’t enough. No one could tell me what I learned for myself last week.

I needed to be on a mood stabilizer full time.

When I realized this, it felt like resignation.

But then I thought of Husband shoving that pancake into his mouth out of pure Midwestern grit and pride, and I realized I was fighting.

If this life is all I have, all I’ll ever be, I don’t want to spend it sad. Cynical yes, but not sad. Not so depressed that I question the meaning of all this, or I start avoiding interactions with others because I am scared to let them see me cry.

I used to believe that I was alone in all of this. Now I know I am not. Maybe it’s a good thing I have some serious issues with belief.

There would no words come to me, and we sat there, the three of us, over our tea, and I declare for the time being I felt ‘twas worth it all, all the troubles of his birth and rearing and all the lonesome years ahead.    

And I’ve got 682 pages to go.

 

*Frank O’Connor was his pen name.

**Thanks Minneapolis. I’m trying to live a sober life.

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Filed under Art, Bipolar Disorder, Books, Fiction, Growing up, humor, Life, Literature, Love, Marriage, Non Fiction, Random, Writing

ISBN: 13-978-0312-34202-9

 

Augusten Burroughs, A Wolf At The Table

Augusten Burroughs, A Wolf At The Table

First and foremost, Happy Valentine’s Day!

I took a break from Don Quixote this week to read A Wolf At The Table, A Memoir Of My Father by Augusten Burroughs because I started the first draft of my own memoir over the weekend. I’ve been thinking a lot about creative nonfiction and the difference between honesty and confession, the difference between art and therapy and art as therapy. I came across an article in Salon, “Salon’s Guide To Writing A Memoir,”

by the Salon staff that seemed to address all of the questions and hesitations I had about the genre.

Creative nonfiction is the most challenging genre for me to work because there is no narrator to hide behind like there is with fiction. Characters and narrators help me to keep the work at arm’s length, to maintain an air of professionalism that sometimes blurs when I step into the nonfiction realm.

I’ve seen nonfiction in it’s messy, rambling, confessional, diary first draft state—and here I’m talking about my own work—and what I wanted was to turn that into art, something that others could relate to and possibly learn from. It’s not enough just to be shocking for the sake of being shocking—I know that from my fiction. There has to be more, a story, and if not a story (because I’m not 100% sold on the idea that every book has to have a plot), a memory left behind that challenges the reader and shows us how the narrator has grown, changed, developed.

With memoir, this means taking a good look in the mirror, and asking myself repeatedly, “Why do I have this belief? Where does it stem from?” I have to step back and not judge myself as I come to certain conclusions, and I have to be honest with myself. Most importantly, I have to leave space for humanity; the fact that I make mistakes as do others. Judgment and opinion sort of have to sit on the back burner while I sort out the facts, which are mostly memories.

I watched Running With Scissors a long time ago, and the scene that broke me was the one near the end where Augusten eats a sandwich made by his ‘step-mother.’ It just put the whole story in perspective, for me. Everything built up to that scene.

Later, Husband and I listened to Possible Side Effects by AB on audiobook during a road trip. It helped to hear AB’s voice, his pauses, and the work spoken as it ought to be read. It was funny and mortifying, but most importantly, it was human.

Obviously, reading A Wolf At The Table, was a completely different experience from the other mediums in which I have experienced AB’s work. This time I was mining for the difference between confession and honesty. Places where I felt uncomfortable. I was looking for that sandwich scene, looking to see how this all built up. What I found was this passage:

Maybe, I thought, I don’t need a father to be happy. Maybe, what you get from a father you can get from somebody else, later. Or maybe you can just work around what’s missing, build the house of your life over the hole that is there and always will be.

The whole book leads a reader in one direction, and then naturally, seamlessly brings them to a whole different place. The book is as much about AB as it is his father. And never, not once, did I feel tricked or feel like what’s the point? AB’s work is not popular just because it is good; it’s popular because it has purpose.

On that note, I will leave you with some pictures from a recent snowshoeing excursion I went on with Shadow. Not all writing happens behind the desk. And while working in memoir feels super uncomfortable, feels at time downright icky because being the center of attention seems narcissistic—it’s nice to remember life is not only about me or my place in it.

 

Sometimes we're the center of the story . . .

Sometimes we’re the center of the story . . .

 

And sometimes

And sometimes

 

we're not.

we’re not.

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Filed under Art, Growing up, humor, Life, Literature, Non Fiction, Random, Writing

ISBN: 978-1-59448-465-0

Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy

Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy

I remember reading Maile Meloy’s book Half In Love and thinking, why hadn’t I read MM in my MFA program? Everything about her was clear—her voice, her sentence structure, her depiction of the modern American West; she was the epitome of a short story, to me at least. Her stories were real, and they made me sit on my bed and try to understand what half in love really meant.

In November, The New Yorker ran “Demeter” a story by MM that rekindled my love. I went to my shelf in search of Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It, only to discover that I bought the paperback not once, but in my book hording ways twice. I called my best friend to ask if she would like to read it with me*, but I couldn’t wait. It was like a Christmas gift come early. I had to read it. **

So here I am. A week before Christmas thinking about the collection and fixating on the title Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It. Things I want(ed): the book to last longer, to grow up and be an astronaut, world peace, sanity, a child. Things Santa would never be able to fit in his sleigh.

Sometimes we get what we want.

Sometimes we don’t.

This is a book filled with characters who sometimes know what they want and sometimes don’t, who sometimes get it and sometimes don’t. One is left to examine what happens when a character actually breaks the rule of having it both ways, receiving everything they wanted.  One is left to wonder what else they gain, what else they lose. I know that sounds vague, but imagine a world in which you get everything you want. Now imagine a world in which you get nothing you want. That’s what it is like to read Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It; a torture of up and down after which one wanders back to this world dazed and moved.

I hope you have a Merry Christmas, a Joyful Winter Solstice, a Happy Hanukkah, a Super Kwanzaa, and a Fun Boxing Day. In short, Happy Holidays. Try not to get caught up in thinking about the things you want this year, and focus instead on what you have. Leave the wanting to MM, for she does it so well.

 

*Our attempts at book clubs always fail. We tried to read Don Quixote together, but after ordering it from Amazon and realizing it was nearly 1000 pages, well, let’s just say she’s the only one who started it.

**Sorry M! See first footnote.

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ISBN 978-0-06-202468-8

Wildwood by Colin Meloy

I was reading the New Yorker when I saw an ad for Wildwood written by Colin Meloy and illustrated by Carson Ellis. I am a big fan of Maile Meloy, Colin’s sister, but I’m also a fan of The Decemberists, so I reasoned that I would love this book.

As fate would have it, Colin and Carson were visiting my local library to give a talk on the creative process of the sequel to Wildwood, Under Wildwood. Husband bought me both books for my birthday and we were able to see both author and illustrator before I read either of the books. I’ll admit, hearing them talk about how the story came to life made me appreciate the book so much more.

And here are the reasons I loved Wildwood:

First of all, I had to look stuff up.  I love a book that challenges me.  I thought that since this was a book for children ages 9 and up that I would just speed though the book. The vocabulary was so rich I had to look up words in nearly every chapter. Of course I could figure them out with context clues, but it was so much more fun to look up things like machinations (a crafty & involved plot to achieve your sinister ends) which also turned out to be a really neat 80s band with a song called “My hearts on fire.” I also looked up Kurosawa movies because there was a Kung-Fu reference in one of the earlier chapters.

Secondly, Prue, one of the main characters makes a reference to praying to Nancy Drew, patron saint of sleuthing and this instantly reminded me of the way I always pray to different writers to help me through hard times. IE: Scott F. Fitzgerald patron saint of hopeless cause writers. The book has many funny and unexpected moments that I even I as a thirty year old could identify with.

But most of all I loved this book because it took me to the impassible wilderness and kept me there for five hundred pages. I read this book at a time when reading was nearly impossible for me due to complications with bipolar disorder. Finishing each chapter was a triumph for me, and coming to the end brought me to tears, half because the book was so good, but half because I felt myself coming out of the impassible wilderness of my mind.

And when the words were too hard for me to focus on, I found that I could stare at the gorgeous illustrations that captured major moments in the book perfectly and helped me understand what I was reading.

The book did what every good book should do—it made me a better person, and made me feel like life was worth living. That sounds melodramatic, but fiction is supposed to take us to a new place, not just for the span of the book, but for the span of our lives.

And then it doesn’t matter if all my prayers to Scott F. Fitzgerald, Richard Yates, or Flannery O’Connor are heard or answered. Writers like Colin Meloy give all that they can in their stories and who would I be to ask for anything more?

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Filed under Art, Books, Children, Children's Books, Fiction, Growing up, illustrations, Life, Literature, Random, Writing