Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Memory Lane

Tonight I was looking through a box of "old things" with my sons. Mr. Ten delights in going through the piles and boxes and bags of things I keep like a good archivist does (read: like one with a moderate hoarding issue does). Whatever. I like to keep things.

Keeping things makes me feel grounded in my own history. I've never been able to get rid of items just because a year passed without using them, or because I didn't actively appreciate them. Sometimes things live in boxes under beds or tucked away in corners of the attic or basement for quite a long time before they resurface, and when they do it's like clouds parting! Tonight in the midst of cold and snow, the clouds parted and we found a box of my old writing - as far back AS THE NINETIES!!!!

"Mama, how old were you then?? Is that from a typewriter??"

The nineties, you guys.

We read a few things I wrote my senior year in high school, for a local newspaper and the very first thing I looked at was an article about a cyclist visiting our fair Village. When they asked me to read it aloud, I got four sentences in and had to stop because all four sentences began with the word "His"....

My dear sons,
Please don't ever have four sentences in an opening paragraph of writing begin with the exact same pronoun.

It got a few laughs, I admit it. Not as many laughs as the paper I wrote in college for a class called, "The Sociology of Baseball" however. This one stole the show.

In the first, Mr. Thirteen thinks it wildly hilarious that I took a class in college called, "The Sociology of Baseball." He will learn the beauty of the elective course in due time. I let him have his laughter. In the second, what got us all really going were the remarks of the instructor. I remember this class as being one where I figured I could get an easy A, raise my GPA and maybe grab a date or two. Win, win, win.

All of that happened and I have a paper where the poor old coot teaching the class waxed poetic over my abysmal writing. If memory serves, the class was filled with guys on various sports teams who ALSO needed an easy A and my best guess is that a paper written by someone about to graduate with a degree in English Literature was an especial treat. Well, in fact, it was an "excellent paper - smooth, elegant style with a transcendent air." I was awarded twenty out of ten possible points. My sons were impressed.

Tonight's little jaunt into the ancient ages of the nineties have left these boys with the distinct impression that I was supposed to make something of myself. And Mr. Ten asked me, "So....Mama, HAVE you made something of yourself?"

Oh dude. Probably not. But it's your bedtime now and the Duke game is starting, and I have to finish the application for the mortgage refinance and probably fold some of your clean laundry....I don't know what I've made of myself and maybe it's not for me to know.

Perhaps someone else's memory lane will tease out my worth someday. For now, let's be happy to brush our teeth and snuggle into our cozy beds. We can make more of ourselves tomorrow and the tomorrows to come.

 Photo Credit: lovestruck. via Compfight cc

Saturday, December 6, 2014

That's Really Something

I have children. It's December. I'm not religious but I take part in the gift giving that comes with the month. Here are a few gifts that I think are really.....something. I won't place any judgement on them. I leave that to you!

A cleaning trolley. Because every parent wants to clean up the toys made to look like the child was cleaning. Please don't buy it here

Temporary tattoos are for chumps. Real love lasts forever...or is at least designed so it can be changed later.

Nothing says "I support your disgusting habit" quite like a coughing, screaming lungs ashtray. Full disclosure - I kind of want this

From the introduction: "A large penis is really surplus to requirements." It's a feel-good book for everyone, really. 

Yes, it's a shoulder bag made from a whole toad skin. It appears to open from the ass-end. That's where I like to keep MY chapsticks....I guess? 

That's five. You know how I like odd. Happy December. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Is that all there is?

A long time ago my mom told me that she found herself asking this question all the time, in a state of perpetual discontent. It's a line from a Peggy Lee song, released in 1969. Seriously, if anyone was asking, "Is that all there is?" in 1969 then we stand nary a chance in 2014....age of restriction, political correctness and consuming tolerance.

This is absolutely 100% correct.

Of course we have incredible freedoms these days, should we desire to avail ourselves of them, and we don't have to conform to every single social or cultural constraint every single day. This past weekend saw Thanksgiving in the United States. It's a holiday that can be fraught with historical reflection if we want to be honest about what the Puritans did when they came here, or it can be a day of gluttonous appetite, or it can be a day of consumerism run amok. I guess, for some, it can be an ordinary day - if you're a toll taker, gas station operator, retail employee, healthcare or law enforcement worker..... For me, it was the day of family togetherness and I had a few days off work afterwards. So I've had some time to think.

A few times I've found myself thinking, "Is this all there is?" Sometimes it makes me laugh because it's a tongue-in-cheek homage to my dearly departed mom. Other times it makes me wish Big Pharma would pull right up to my front door and deliver a fistful of time-released all-day happiness in capsule form. More often than not it smacks me into looking to my man Buddha...because if that fat, golden boy addresses anything, it's being happy right where you are. 

An incredibly gentle and wise leader in the world has suffered a massive brain hemorrhage. His name is Thich Nhat Hanh and he is a really remarkable teacher if you want to know how to be present in every moment. In today's update on his health, after suffering what is presumably an aneurysm, his attendants report:
Thay continues to rest peacefully with the ticking clock on his pillow, and we sense that he is relying on his deep awareness of breathing, rooted in Store Consciousness, to guide his healing process. Even the doctors have been surprised at the consistent level of oxygen in his blood. Thay is truly is the best breather in the world, inspiring us to deepen our full awareness of the breath. Thay continues to remind us that each day we are alive is a miracle, and that simply to breathe is a gift.

How can I ask, "Is this all there is?" What a stupid question. Of course this is all there is! THIS is living! THIS is's messy and sad and wonderful and perfect and heartbreaking and defeating and uplifting. It's all of it all the time. And all I need for entrance to this incredible show is breath! I should be so bold as to ask if there is more.

Not just around holidays, but everyday, it's kind of important that we stop, remember to breathe, remember that our breath is our life and that this life really IS all there is. I forget ALL THE TIME. I forget probably 20,000 times a day. But I also remember 20,000 times a day. I remembered today when I caught up with an article in The New Yorker from November 26, 2014. In it, Leslie Jamison interviews Charles D’Ambrosio, and what he said that brought me back to my breath and back to my gratitude for daily living in all of it's messiness (and my inane desire to tell you all about it) was this:

What might seem “confessional” from the outside is just an arrangement of facts, the facts of my life, no different, to me, than admitting that I’m right handed. When I’m putting words on paper, the self is more like a perspective, an angle of vision, a complicating factor, a questioning presence. If things are going really well, I forget myself completely, which is a relief, and in a way the forgetting, that loss of self, is a fairly good gauge of how involved I am in the work. I use the “I,” of course, and that slender pronoun offers an intimate register of feelings, thoughts, tones, but I’m so focussed on getting things right that even that “I” becomes impersonal.
The personal isn’t by definition false, nor is confession, but in writing both have to meet this other demand, the demands of language. As a Catholic, I go to regular confession, and to date I’ve spent about nine million dollars on therapy, so I know what goes on in those spaces—and what goes on when I’m writing is very different. That dual allegiance, to the truth of the thing and to the truth of writing, inevitably takes you away from the merely heartfelt, it seems to me. In a way, writing maps a path out of the self. Instead of sobbing, you write sentences.
Thanks Charles.....because now I'm breathing again. And this is all there is.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Waking up to the Dark

In my part of the world we fell back last night. It was the end of daylight savings and we lost an hour in an arbitrary resetting of our clocks. It will now be darker for longer in the morning and get darker earlier...and I'm so incredibly contented by that.

For someone like me: prone to depressive episodes and random, sometimes crippling, anxiety, you'd think the return of dark would be horrifying. But it's not. I love the dark days and the quiet of the cold. I find the activity of summer and spring to be overwhelming, and it feels like I never quite measure up to all the fun I'm supposed to be having, all the things I'm supposed to be accomplishing and all the interaction that drains me till I could crumble and blow away.

The return of fall and then of winter signals a time when everyone around me softens and relaxes. Society at large slows down, calms down, takes more time and has fewer demands. And I feel myself waking up in the waning daylight. What's better than a crisp, cold night after the snow has fallen?

Today I found a place where a man creates every word that doesn't exist to describe me, and a few other people I know. It's here: The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. And the reason I love the dark and quiet and the cold is summed up by his most amazing word: SONDER.

In the stillness of winter, I am the backdrop for fewer people and there are fewer extras in my own
movie. The credits roll slowly by, each name getting more time to spend on screen, and each character becoming a player instead of a shadow. 

Sure, when the clock rolls back we know the chill is coming...but so is the fire. 

Photo Credit: Brett Plank via Compfight cc

Friday, October 17, 2014

Frickin' Attitude of Gratitude

I spend an inordinate amount of time asking my ten year old son to "live with an attitude of gratitude" mostly because he is A VERY GOOD AMERICAN. He lives every single moment of his seriously short existence looking at what's next, what else can he have, what more can he have, and what better thing is out there.

Thanks to Google TV we spend loads of time browsing on our big screen and Mr. Ten feels that his life is generally without purpose, joy, or fulfillment. And so I spend inordinate amounts of time asking him to "live with an attitude of gratitude" and look around him for the riches he can't quantify. But I do the same for myself.

At present I am grateful for so many things in a world gone mad over foreign viruses, over madmen in countries we don't understand, and over every manner of lifestyle, belief or way of living that doesn't fit into a neat Ikea box. These are a few of my favorite things:

*A job, a home and a reliable vehicle. These are first and foremost. No matter how I feel on any given day about the job, or how hovelish my home feels, or how much duct tape the interior of my car contains...all three things rise to the occasion and provide a life for my family.

*Money that I sometimes have leftover from paying for our basic expenses that I can elect to spend on books, martinis, candles, fizzing bath bombs, roomy sweaters to hide my expanding middle because I also spend leftover money on chai tea lattes and bottles of red wine. And bread. I buy bread with the leftovers. And I love these things.

*My children's artwork from school, no matter how wonky or weirdly painted or flat out bizarre...because this leads me to what I'm REALLY thankful for and that's no "thing."

When I tell Mr. Ten to live with an attitude of gratitude, I don't mean to be thankful for our stuff. I mean for him to learn, on a very basic level, to be thankful for so much of what his life ISN'T.

He isn't living in an area of the world which cannot handle a virus sweeping through its people, nor is he living in a country which unleashes chemical weapons on its sleeping citizens. We don't suffer under the strain of government induced poverty while oligarchs rule from above (no matter what the 24-hour cable news networks just isn't true!) and we don't fear for our safety and freedom when we express our thoughts and feelings.

Mr. Ten lives in the very lap of luxury before he even starts to look at his STUFF. And he has a shit ton of stuff. Thousands of dollars and ten year's worth of Legos, Star Wars memorabilia and toys, Dr. Who apparel, sonic screwdrivers, and oh my God....Netflix! For the love of red capes and four tined spoons, what the hell else does a kid need?!?

Oh right - fresh air (we got it) a safe neighbor for outside play (got that, too) parents who adore him and spend their lives looking to his happiness, health and education (yeah, that's me and Dad). He has it all. And so to not live with an attitude of gratitude is a slap in the face of everyone who works hard around him, and who worked hard before him. His great-grandparents worked very hard to provide a life made better for his grandparents, who in turn worked hard for his father and me.

And Mr. Ten might as well be all of us: every single one. Because all of us need a reminder to live with this attitude of thankfulness - and not just on the third Thursday in November. Even on the second Tuesday in May. And the first Saturday in September. And really the whole month of February, because if you live in the Midwest of the United States, that's when you need gratitude most. It's a spectacularly miserable month.

So I'm thankful right now for my laptop, where I've spent a bit of time doing something that fills my bucket right back up to the top, for Mr. Ten who reminds me to remind him about all we have and forces me to count blessings with him, and for you...because if you're all the way down here on the page, then you've given this whole exercise a deeper meaning.


But, honestly, also this....