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I have braces.

At least, that’s what I was trying to say to the nice man at the bank.  Unfortunately over the cell phone it was coming out “I jusss gaa brwathhes”.    To my list from yesterday (How to survive adult-onset braces) I added a #2 to my list of Rules To Live By For The Next Six Months:

  1. Avoid looking at or being seen by people
  2. Avoid talking to people

Yesterday’s initial foray to the gym went well.  I discovered what it is like to wear no makeup and speak to no one.  It’s like being the invisible woman…  kind of nice and a lot less work than being open and friendly, which I have to coach myself to do anyway.  So I’ll just spend the next six months silently alternating between house and gym (great plan!)

I thought I might be done posting forever.  Do you remember the commercial “weebils wobble but they don’t fall down?”  This seems to be true for grievers too, but the return to center can be really, really S-L-O-W.  I won’t bother writing about the why or the how or even the what of it.  A grief flare-up with intermittent showers of self pity.   I belong to an online recovery group, Key To Harmony, that had a terrific series of posts this week on grief versus self pity, all of them useful thoughts and illuminating too.  Here are a few (many thanks to Susannah!):

  • Grief is required to work through loss…to live with loss…to grow from loss.  With grief I will grow; with self-pity I will shrivel.
  • Like grief, self-pity will knock me to my knees.  However, grief will cause me to seek help and find the strength to stand up again.
  • Self-pity has me shaking my fist.  Grief forces me to open my hand and receive the pain and therefore release it. 
  • Self-pity brings the tears and makes me quit.  Grief brings the tears and helps me keep trying.
  • Self-pity will harden my heart.  Grief, if used correctly, will soften my heart. 
  • Self-pity is the hindrance that keeps me trapped in the loss. 
  • Self-pity says “Why is this happening TO me!?”  Self-pity makes me a victim and keeps me a victim. 
  • Self-pity will keep me down and say it’s your fault (or God’s) that I’m here in the first place.
  • Self-pity wallows in itself and feels self-righteous about its suffering.  Self-pity refuses to be consoled.

It’s good to know what I am dealing with, and very constructive to keep them straight, I think.

In the continuing effort to build a new life, I’ve done a few things since the last post.  They feel hodge-podgey and somewhat fake (this must be like learning to walk again, each foot awkwardly and tentatively thrusting itself out there, not sure the leg will receive and bear the body’s full weight but pressing forward nonetheless). Here’s what’s gotten done

  • Hosted a Breakfast Bonanza for the Lovely Young People – Writer, Teacher and Pastor.  Chris, the Lovely Young Pastor, was Michael’s best friend and this week passed through town between Commerce and Colorado for a summer camp staff position.
  • Booked trips to Denver and  San Francisco, (these have been on my Happiness Project List for some time!)
  • Accepted a work invitation to travel to Poland and Belgium this summer.
  • Bought tickets to Wicked and the Dallas Symphony.
  • Started researching options for adoption/foster parenting
  • Started painting again (a little bit, going slow, trying to feel my way back into it).

And how I can add to the list “started posting again.” 

It’s good to be back.

Humble Pie

I made a big mistake and paid a terrible price for it. For two days, I’ve driven up and down Highway 75 bawling my eyes out. I’ve stood frozen and staring in my kitchen, dredging the harbor of shame and coming up filthy, broken, and exhausted with that ashes-for-brains feeling that means emotional overload.

What did I do? I compromised my standing with the parents of the Lovely Young People by taking an idea that came up over dinner—graduation celebration! Trip to Europe! —to the LYP that should have gone to the parents first. The parents were furious. I was stupid.

A good friend has pointed me toward a few truths that are going down hard.

1. Whether I admit it or not my attachment to the LYP screams Michael
2. I’ve created an insular little world that looks a lot like stuck.
3. Next is not going to happen if I keep doing same

The debacle caught me off guard and ripped the scab off my grief. When Dad came to my house to break the news (no trip) in person, he also spoke Michael’s name, shared some sweet memories, and expressed his love for my son, all of which cracked that very buried, do-not-disturb, hard, hard carapace marked FEELINGS. Before it was done, both of us were crying, with the difference being Paul went home and presumably stopped the waterworks, while mine kept on going.
Loving people is just plain hard and being wrong — it’s awful.

The dog and I just had a very long talk. The first 30 seconds were about her, and from there we got down to business: strolling down the country road, enjoying the blue-gray skies and green-yellow pastures, and talking about our favorite subject. At least, I’ll assume I am her favorite subject–she didn’t say any different. We did have to pause politely as we passed the neighbors (who were out on the porch crushing beer cans or shooting targets on the lawn), but were able to pick up the thread easily once we were out of range.

Here is what Mia helped me explore. Let’s say, hypothetically, that you’re a right brained person. You like to write. Or paint. Or decorate. Or whatever. You are fraught with likes and dislikes and are positively compelled to meld them all together in interesting ways that are — there’s no way around this word – expressive. Let’s say you’re that kind of person. And the adding and subtracting and combining and making of the [insert whatever floats your boat here] is a satisfaction unto itself. I mean, the process is intensely satisfying. Super! So, shouldn’t that be enough? You create the paintings or novels or wood carvings or whatever and line them up in the closet and … create more and … eventually expand to another closet? A warehouse? No. That is not what happens. The products want to be seen. You want the products to be seen. A tension has been introduced; a fly is in the ointment. You’re no longer creating for yourself but for an admiring audience, or a consuming audience and there’s now a measure of your work (quantity of praise or consumption) to contend with.

It’s a good thing we are talking hypothetically here!

So, let’s go on in this interesting conversation, to say you’re a left brained person. You like sequence, order and structure. The mechanical device that really turns you on? It’s a label maker. Nothing thrills you more than process optimization. You’re Type A, in fact. Competitive and controlling.

Assuming that said left brain and right brain are co-habiting the cranium of a single individual, then… wouldn’t you expect that the left brain would partner with the right? That the creative would bring the mystical to the tyrant, and the engineer would deliver marketing genius to the expressive?

I wish such good collaboration were so. I suspect that for some people, it is so. But how?

Mia did a poor job carrying her end of the conversation, and really had nothing to offer. But I think there’s something further to be developed. Something about not lettings the ends squash the means. Something useful for a happiness project to optimize.

Wait–was that the sound of a left brain talking?

Stewardship

There is a posting hiatus going on due to the Happiness Project theme of the month:  financial stewardship.  We are surely talking the delayed form of happiness here, because rounding up and consolidating 401K’s, updating beneficiaries, rewriting one’s will, leaving written instructions for next of kin, and planning one’s own funeral are not fun-at-the-beach activities.  There is the sticky business of what to do with the 529 plan for the child who won’t be using those funds after all.  But all of these things are a) on my list b) the next right thing to do and c) nagging tasks one and all.  So I’m doing them. 

Mystery of the day:  why is it when I’m working from home I get up earlier, feel busier, stay up later, and make a terrible mess in every room I touch?

Hey

I wasn’t going to post today, but there was that smell.  You know how houses, buildings, localities have a certain discernable, characteristic, and distinguishing scent?  Sometimes it’s a nice smell, sometimes not.  Library or bookstore, hospital, Italian restaurant, your mother-in-law’s house…  Yep.  That’s where I went, and that’s what I smelled (roses and pinecones?) and even though it was crazy I allowed myself the expectation that my baseball-capped son would appear around the corner and that I would enter the living room to meet the gaze of my white-haired father-in-law looking up from his bible or his dictionary from his navy blue wingback.  I knew it wouldn’t be so, but I let myself go with it.  Since I was alone in the house while I made a pot of coffee (the others were outside planting), I thought why not go whole hog and talk too, so I told them all the things you might expect… missing them and loving them and not fully appreciating the nature of them—not then, not now.  And then I said to my son “and I’d like to hear from you today” because it was true and not because I believe it is possible, necessary, or likely.   Hey, it was just me the crazy woman, the coffee pot and the ceramic lemons, so what the heck.

Mid-way through the afternoon I got the urge to petal up and retreat on home so I could walk up my sidewalk and get that hug-your-house feeling.    Little Max had had an “off” day, snuffling and burrowing in his little doggie cage during the whole planting affair.  As he’d accumulated quite the greenish crust on either side of his little black nose, I washed all three dogs (the other two being exhausted, filthy swamp mates). I learned that wet, Max is pink as a shrimp and the size of a potato.  A trembling pink potato with wispy white hair who yipes and looks aghast at you, the syringe squirting comb-wielding lunatic who has nothing better to do than wave around a noisy and hot blow dryer while pulling dog hair.

When we were done we went outside to do our business and that was when I saw it.  The calf across the field cavorting and leaping like a pup amongst all the other staid and steady cattle, round between them he ran, circling and leaning into the others.  Breath of play, heart of spring… in his final dash spun to halt directly in front of me.  He twitched his ears and winked.   I kid you not.

Now I could be wrong about the wink but not the twitch, and not the spin and not the stance straight across the road from me, and I don’t believe in anything but some people do, so I smiled and waved.    I’ll take my “hear from you” where I can get it and maybe we’re all a little bit crazy and some days – maybe Mother’s Day – we are a little more crazy than not.

Mirabilis

Catch and release.    What is it that seeps through the cracks when we’re touched … when some phrase or idea feathers its way through the hard shell of “everything is fine.”  This morning I was reading the book Same Kind of Different as Me (gift from Hal, endorsed by the Lovely Young Writer).  I got to the place where Denver is contemplating an offer of friendship but which kind—real or catch and release?  On my second cup of coffee, I rubbed sleep and tears and 17 different kinds of pollen from my eyes.  Catch and release I understand.  But real friendship?   It wells tender-hearted and yearning from what source?

An hour later, driving past the cemetery, I was thinking of the loveliness of the day.  How much easier this spring is for me than last.  The way that first fair weather brought gusts of dismay, accusation, indictment; jolts of sunshine mixed with horror.  Honeysuckle astonishment.  The way the cashier’s arms reached out to hug me over the sacks of white silk flowers at the checkout counter.    The first floral arrangement.  The headstone.  Wiping my face, I realized that little stretch of highway is much, much easier to travel and that two fractures through the embankment in a single morning is a rarity now.

There is something new afoot, though.  I’ve noticed the feeling of “closed” lately.  (It’s an improvement from last year when I was most assuredly closed and also unaware of it).   Maybe there’s a turnabout in the offing… like the four o’clock flower :  cinched up tight for much of the day, opening in the afternoon.    A friend told me in so many words:  “you changed for a while, then after Michael’s death, you went right back again.”  She is right, and I’ve been feeling it.   At the grocery store, among friends.  The weather is fine inside – I’m content — but I’ve no willingness to reach out and say hello.

When Chrissie my sister was in town, I threw a little garden party.  Since then, I’ve talked to a few guests, separately, about their experiences at my house.   Are we hard wired not to like each other?  This one didn’t like that one.  This other one was too loud.  Someone was insensitive.  Two people separately commented that still a third was self-involved.  And yet each guest (notwithstanding the Rising Man, who was too [?] to attend) was lifted onto my patio by the finest thread of love and compassion.  It’s mystifying.

Tonight I put on some super-comfy clothes, dug my toes in the soil, and planted some knock-your-socks-off orange, pink, and red Zinnias and also some Gerber daisies.  For two hours, I incorrectly assembled a cupboard (deck bin?) that promises to be a first step on the road to patio perfection.  I was astounded to discover that one could incorrectly couple every possible plastic component in such a way that the little tab and circle enclosures become bonded together and must be broken apart with a hammer.   Behind me the puppies circled the patio with wild abandon.  When I’d pried all the pieces apart and was ready to start anew, I discovered the pups had literally shredded my instructions. 

Whereupon, I gathered the many plastic components into a pile, snapped off my iPod, and called it a day.   Tonight I’ll continue reading She Got Up Off the Couch and tomorrow I’ll Get Up off My Chair for flowerbed preparation and planting day at my (former?)

mother-in-law’s house.

It seems April was a month to loop backward. This morning at sunrise I drove my sister to the airport and waved goodbye to her. By 7:30 a.m. I was home again, standing in my kitchen in the untethered silence of the morning and blinking into the nothingness: “where now?”

Last week, I participated in some long conversations with my long-lost first husband who surfaced from the ether. We revisited our time together some twenty-five years ago and compared at length the persons we respectively turned out to be. I don’t know that either of us is very satisfied with our grown up selves—more like mystified. How did we get here from there?

For four days my sister and I worked to unravel the hopeless knot of our mother, a never-ending source of mystery and conversation. I introduced Chrissie to my friends, marveling at the sane miracle of her, seeing simultaneously the gestures of our mother – her slender build and grace, but also her father’s broad smile and easy way. “This is my sister Chrissie.” I said. She is my witness, and I am hers.

Moments ago, I deleted a contact in my blackberry, symbolically setting someone (for whom I had many secret and not so secret hopes and expectations) free.

And now I am sitting on my patio, cool breeze on my check and the edge of possibility in the air. “What’s next?” I ask myself. And for just a moment, I wait.