A quote that makes me think....


I just finished this book by Jeanette Winterson--



This book is a lot of things, but here is a passage I keep re-reading:


    The Romanian philosopher Mircea Eliade talked about home - ontological as well as geographical home - and in a lovely phrase, he calls home 'the heart of the real'.
     Home, he tells us, is the intersection of two lines - the vertical and horizontal. The vertical plane has heaven, or the upper world, at one end. The horizontal plane is the traffic of this world, moving to and fro - our own traffic and that of teeming others.
      Home was a place of order.  A place where the order of things come together - the living and dead- the spirits of ancestors and the present inhabitants, and the gathering up and stilling of all the to-and-fro.
      For the refugee, for the homeless, the lack of this crucial coordinate in the placing of the self has severe consequences. At best, it must be managed, made up for in some way. At worst, a displaced person, literally, does not know which was is up, because there is no true north. No compass point. Home is much more than shelter; home is our center of gravity.
     A nomadic people learn to take their homes with them - and the familiar objects are spread out or re-erected from place to place. When we move house, we take with us the invisible concept of home- but it is a very powerful concept. Mental health and emotional continuity do not require us to stay in the same place, but they do require a sturdy structure on the inside - and that structure is built in part by what has happened on the outside. The inside and outside of our lives are each the shell where we learn to live.


I have never been a "nester".  I have made some efforts at rehabilitating myself by studying those who move in, paint, hang up pictures, and plant gardens within days of being in a new place. I have looked at decorating magazines and admired those homes that feel "homey",  but my attempts are feeble and feel as foreign to me as Africa did on my one and only visit. I have unopened boxes of pictures I am sure I don't like anymore still languishing in the basement after 10 years, yet I have probably read 300 books within this time. Why do I choose one over the other?


Whenever I travel, whether I am camping or staying in a hotel, or even visiting my parent's home, I take at least 3 books and a journal. If I don't have these things, I feel unsettled...restless. Our current bedroom had no pictures on the walls for at least 7 years until my mother took matters into her own hands. But I regularly cull the nightstands for books completed, books I am currently reading, and books yet to read. Books are my home and writing is my touchstone.  I have no idea why this is, but I think if I re-read this book  I just might figure it out.

Remembering

My mother has laid flowers at the head stones of her parents and she has tended to my father's parents grave sites as well because that is the kind of woman she is. And I know she is remembering her parents and hoping her own kids take a few minutes to think of them as well.  Even though this is a day that is set aside for service men and women, all of the people we have loved and cared for who are gone will fill our minds and hearts anyway.


Augusten Burroughs, a passionate writer who is well-known for a book called "Running with Scissors", says that we don't ever get over a loss. New holes in our spirit are formed, and as time passes the size and shape of these holes shift and we simply learn to walk around with them, live with this new way of being.  I tend to agree with this because it seems wrong, disrespectful even, to think the loss of our loved ones has no profound impact on who we become.


And so we are all remembering today....those who have served, those we have lost, and those who continue to put themselves in harms way for us.  It's a sacrifice I have never been able to wrap my brain around, and so I live with it trying my best to be thankful and to show gratitude. Today, I am mulling over career service people who have survived so much loss. When they start to struggle recalling every member of a team they have lost, when they can't count the times they have laid a soldier to rest, when the number of tours of duty they have done becomes a little foggy to them, I wonder how do they keep at it?  It is all that they know is what I have been told.


I hope they feel our gratitude. I hope we all use our silence to remember, our voices to say thank you, and our votes to express our opinions.  It doesn't seem like much yet in the end, it is everything.

Thank you.

To anyone who has read my writing and commented, thank you.  Sometimes my fingers hover over the keyboard for so long that I wish to stab my eyes out with one of the 263 stubby pencils that we have floating around our house.  For every entry I have posted, there are countless drafts not ready to share, ideas not fully formed, little seedling thoughts just sprouting but not ready to make their way quite yet.


I got my first piece of snail FAN  (I have a fan!) mail three days ago. A woman I have never met read a piece in the local paper and sought out my address, made a card, and sent a note that said, "I felt like I was reading my own words." She did not sound crazy or medicated.  Wow to me!  I know I feel overwhelmed and compelled to talk to the author when something I read resonates so profoundly. I have been unsuccessful in getting in touch with Ann Lamott to thank her for writing Operating Instructions, and I have stalked Diana Joseph on Facebook after meeting her at an author dinner for her book I'm Sorry You Feel That Way and she has yet to unfriend me. This is something because even in a cyber relationship, she is recognizing that what she has done matters to me.


I know that many writers will say they can't not write and in the end, it's the doing of the work that matters. This is true for me, but I also crave responses.  I like knowing how people respond even if they don't agree.  I like knowing that in my sorting and ruminating on paper, I have worked through things enough to bring clarity...not only to myself but someone else.  So when someone takes the time to comment in person, on-line, on my blog, on Facebook, or in snail mail I feel like I am safe for one more day....no stabbing required.


So thank you.

A love story for May 24, 2012.

Eleven years ago on a sunny May day, I was helping my drama students with their last run-through before their final performance for drama class. The room was buzzing with energy and excitement and the stage was being set.  But Miss Lucy, who hates to miss anything, had other plans.  My water broke during class so I called Big Man who was conveniently on an OB rotation at the time.  I barely got the words "My water broke" out before I heard the click that let me know he had hung up on me. He never was much for phone talk.


Though he was having his own troubles trying to deliver a baby with plunging D-cells, I only knew my husband had hung up on me and I was left to my own devices.  What was a girl to do?  I left my drama students in the hands of a capable sub and drove myself home while contracting. I found my amour (whom I decided to keep for the time being) waiting for me. He had changed out of his scrubs and was happy the baby he delivered was doing well. He was chatty and proceeded to call as many people as he could. Apparently, during your wife's labor is a good time to talk.  He was in no hurry. "Take a bath, relax!. Let me pack and I will tell people what's up." Yeah, the wrenching pain makes me feel like bathing....you take your time, buddy! is what I was thinking, but I was in too much pain to fight.


Miss Lucy made her persistence known with increasing contractions. Big Man, more of an expert in birthing despite being male, claimed we had plenty of time. He eventually, at my insistence, drove unrushed to the hospital and parked nowhere near the emergency entrance.  "Walking will be good for you!" he chirped.  Yes... walking with something akin to a human watermelon strapped between my legs will just be great! was a thought that may have crossed my mind. But, it is hard to be pissed, walk, and contract all at once so I opted for walking when not contracting and made it to the elevator. What, you say? He didn't make you take the steps? Oh, he wanted to....I saw him looking for them, but I was focused on the elevator and fortunately his good sense arrived in time.  'Pick your battles' is not only a good mantra for parenting but for marriage as well.


In delivery, I spent 20 minutes laboring on a table and she arrived with her eyes wide open.  She didn't squawk much, but she was checking things out, already taking in the world eager to get at it. This has remained true to her personality. My Lucy was two weeks early. Since then, she has ALWAYS been an early riser, will lie about arrival times for any function in order to get there at the earliest possible moment, and insists on clocks in any room she may be sleeping in.


Out of my heart came this tiny little dream of a baby girl. I lost six babies before she came to me. I became so frustrated, so angry and hopeless that at times, it seemed impossible to carry on with a shattered heart and broken spirit.  But Miss Persistence showed up anxious to prove dreams comes true.


And that they did.






Speechless

Sorrow founds it's way along the banks of the Mississippi.  A friendly, light-hearted, talented young man, the son of a well-known, well-liked, vibrant couple took his own life and every parent I know has been rendered speechless.

Suicide is forever. Those who remain must live with unanswered questions, unspoken words, and dreams unfulfilled.  The world as we know it has shifted into one we no longer recognize.

I don't pretend to know anything about this situation. But what I do know is that every single parent in this town is looking with fresh eyes at their own kids. We are re-examining our daily exchanges, peeking with renewed interest at their friends, and pulling every child who will let us a little closer. We are smelling necks and reveling in dirty socks and praying, even those of us who don't pray. Because what we know now, which is something we didn't know before, is that we are not smart enough, observant enough, vigilant enough, and this, above all, makes us scared.  

Our hands have been forced into witnessing painful beauty-- people who were once strangers reaching out to each other, young people expressing their pain through music, and parents at their wit's end re-committing themselves to their children's world.

But it is a beauty I don't wish to see or know.

"I'm so glad it's not me," is what many are thinking. 

But it could be.  Isn't that what we are all wondering now?

A mother on moms

Big Man is worried about what to get me for Mother's Day. I don't like plants because with them comes yet one more thing to keep alive.  Books are as essential to my life as food so there is a steady supply of those. And yet I kind of get a bit nauseous when I read or hear from other mom's that all they want from Mother's Day is to be with their family.


I want to think they are lying.


I need a lot. Mostly, I want to be left alone to write and take a walk. I would then find a few girlfriends and a bottle of wine or some margaritas. My kids can show up later with homemade gifts and dessert and that, my friends, would be my idea of a lovely day.


I love my kids....I do I do....but my world doesn't revolve around them and this is why I always seem to have trouble. Because my world does revolve around them, and there are days when this pisses me off.  I am needy. I want to be able to do what I want, go where I want, socialize when I want, have sex when I want, sleep in or stay up late when I want, and kids really put a wrench in all of that.


It's not popular to say these things and I can hear people already.  "So why did you have kids?  Quit your whining and suck it up."


I had kids because I couldn't imaging NOT having kids, and because Big Man and I came from happy families and wanted to have a piece of that.  In short, we wanted to have little people to share our life with- the life that we dreamed about. But like many 20-somethings, we didn't think a whole lot about what the actual involvement of having kids meant.  For so long, it was merely a romantic idea.  Later, it became a quest. Finally, at long last, it became a reality. And when I gave birth, I did not hand over my life. Except that I did and there is the rub.


I am lucky beyond belief. I am lucky that despite the pain and anguish we went through to have kids, somehow my body and psyche rallied enough to produce not one but two healthy children.


I am lucky because I have a partner who is funny and kind and compassionate and smart and playful and isn't freaked out about being alone with his own kids.


I am lucky because I have parents and in-laws who love their grandchildren enough to want to be around them.


I am lucky because I can feed and clothe my kids and give them want they need and some things that they don't.


I am lucky because I know imposing limits on my children, while making them mad in the short term, will help them in the long run.


I am lucky because I know I am lucky.  I take time to acknowledge this every day, but this doesn't prevent me from being human.


I experienced some brief baby nirvana when Thing 1 was born followed by some baby blues. When Thing 2 came around, it was full-on postpartum depression so his young self got the shaft.  Thankfully we made up for it in copious snuggling and love-fests after the drugs kicked in. However, I must say I never felt completely given over to my kids. I always seem to want a little opening, a little something just for me in the day-to-day grind that revolves around their schedules and needs. It might just be me. Or maybe there is one other woman out there willing to fess up.


I will freely admit that I just have not inhabited the mother-world in a way that other women seem to.  I am not gob-smacked on a daily basis by the glories of being a mom.  I don't raise my hand with joy at chaperoning a field trip or working at a fund raiser. Some people glow with such passion and excitement and inhabit these roles as comfortably as they would their favorite sweatshirt. These women are the CEO's of mom world and I am simply working the line. I tolerate what needs to be done and secretly long for other adults to show up at the park so I can get out of monster-roaring and tickle-relays in a legitimate way. I prefer the quiet of my car rather the noise of a soccer field or fledgling orchestra concerts.  None of this is to say that I don't love my kids because nothing could be farther from the truth. But being a mom and all that it entails isn't always a hat I wear comfortably. 


What I'd really like from this Mother's Day is for everyone to get real about being a mom. If you love it from sun up to sun down, I am happy for you.  However, if you crack, need a break, forgo making that homemade birthday cake and use bribery to get out of what seems like torture to you, I would love to hear it. I would love to know I am not the only one who hides in the shower to avoid violin screeching and Pokemon battles.  I would love to hear I am in the company of other women with deep rich lives who can momentarily dream about things that have absolutely nothing to do with their kids...even if the dreaming has to occur in the bathroom.


Because in our dreaming we become more of who we are meant to be and this is exactly what we hope for our children--to be all they are meant to be. Why wouldn't we want the same for ourselves?




Ruminating

Most times when I write, I have an idea I am attempting to work through. But lately, there is so much swirling around in my brain that I don't even know where to start.  Here are just a few things that have been on my mind:

Forgiveness
Bullying
Power struggles with kids
Over eating
Fear
Summer camps
Care taking
Frothy romance novels and their appeal
Female friendships
Being or not being "fine"
Rhubarb
Failure
Anxiety
The marriage amendment in MN
Writing groups and workshops
Organized religion
Happiness
My grandmothers


It's a random list, and no one thing dominates. In the last week alone, I have ruminated on all of these things. Laundry and dish washing and car pooling provide ample time for rumination. But I want answers and I use writing to help me plod me toward some sort of truth.  Lately,  I only seem to have more questions making my time at the key board unsatisfying.

Today I will listen to the final group presentations in the first college public speaking class I have taught. Over half of these students still call me professor even though I have repeatedly stated that  I haven't earned the title, I didn't do the work for it, etc. But Julian will get out of his chair, walk up to me before he leaves and say, "Thanks, Professor Gray" as he has done every day that we have met this semester. This time he will tell me to have a good summer because he is that sort of kid (18, yes, but still very much a kid), and I will tell him I am not a professor, smile, and say, "Thanks, Julian. You, too." And just has he has always done, he will smile back and say, "Well, you are the smartest one in the room so that is good enough for me, Professor." 

And just like that, I have one more thing to add to my ever-growing list.