Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Courage

Courage is going from failure to failure without losing
enthusiasm. Winston Churchill

I spent years struggling to overcome the sense that my life was a house of cards that was certain to collapse at any moment. The first day my daughter went off to school without me, I was terrified that she would be harmed or kidnapped. As my husband prepared to fly to Europe for a business trip, I felt with some certainty that he would not be coming home. I spent inordinate amounts of energy trying to be the Perfect Mother so that nothing would slip through the cracks. No boogeymen were coming in to my world, thank you very much! If I could just control every aspect of our lives, I could ward off the doom that was lurking just outside the walls.

Even after years without catastrophic events coming to pass, I still view unplanned events as suspect. Even with repeated reinforcements that my world is stable and strong, that what I have constructed is not a house of cards, I continue to look over my shoulder and wait for catastrophe. What is it about those events of my young life that were so powerful that they can override decades of peace and rational thought and cause me to cower in the corner? Why, after surrounding myself carefully with people that I can trust and learning to trust myself, do I still feel the sting of betrayal and terror of revealing the innermost core of myself to others? Emotional memory has incredible staying power. My logical brain can tell me that I did not invite these blows and have learned from them to become a compassionate, loyal friend and mother whose mistakes will not lead to destruction of my family. The third-degree burns on my psyche warn me, instead, not to take anything for granted and remind me that trusting others is dangerous. The pain response, that reflexive pulling away, is strong and so immediate that overcoming it is proving difficult.

After a year of exploring my motivations and fears, it is getting easier. I have pushed through that shrinking away, closing my eyes and sidestepping into the pain to deflect some of the heat. I am beginning to see the traumatic events of my childhood in adult perspective. They do not define me or my childhood years. They were instances that were tremendously harsh on a young girl, but there were others that were joyous and I have the power to put them side by side. At first, the frightening things were immense in comparison, but I soon realized they were ghostly and full of air. They seemed to float, while the joys of childhood and those that have come since rest firmly on the ground and feel solid and tangible. Holding my baby sister at two months old and calling her "my baby," playing in the sprinkler with my older brother - his auburn curls shining in the sun and me delighted with my new bikini, the freedom of driving my own car to school with the sunroof open, laughing with my friends on the beach when we skipped second period. Those memories I can see clearly and in focus. They are not holograms, but full-color video. As I open myself up to feel the emotional memory that comes from within them, the colors of the painful memories bleed together and go out of focus.

         If I can push through the initial stomach-clenching of fear to remind myself that I am not defined
         by my most frightening moments, I can begin to trust in what I am building and carry on.


The best way out is always through. Robert Frost


Monday, August 28, 2006

That's the Sound of my Palm Hitting my Forehead

I don't know why it has taken me so long to figure this out. I hate even more that there is a certain group of people out there who may have been shaking their heads in wonder (silently, thank God) for several months now.

Let me back up. Several months ago I attended a wonderful writing workshop led by Jennifer Lauck, the talented author of such books as Blackbird, Still Waters, and Show Me The Way. I spent three glorious days in Portland, Oregon sitting in a circle of knowledge and truth, soaking in the wisdom and lessons of these other wonderful writers. I came home changed and terrifically excited about writing like never before. One of the best things Ms. Lauck did for me was encourage me (and the rest of us in her workshop) to start a blog. I will admit it had never occurred to me before, but I was willing to give it a try.

The most difficult initial stumbling block was finding a name for my weblog. Hmmm, I had no inspiration at all and, to this day, have no recollection of how or when the name "The Writing Life" actually came to me. I wanted a name that said something profound or at least was somewhat of a hook for readers. I kept drawing blanks. I searched other blogs looking for inspiration but my impatience to begin writing led me to accept my first instinct and move on to the fun part.

Months later, I am enjoying writing my blog and reading the blogs of my fellow workshoppers more every day. As I popped onto Jennifer Lauck's site ( http://www.jenniferlauck.com/) to see what she was thinking last week, I felt as though I had just peed my pants. Oh, crap! The title of the workshop I attended, the one held at Jennifer Lauck's home, the one where I had been inspired to start blogging and where I met so many others who did the same, was "Writing Life". What kind of a loser am I?

I swear on a stack of dark chocolate (trust me, that's dear to my heart and soul) that, although I am certain I made the subconscious connection at the time, under no circumstances did I set out to steal this title. I cannot believe that the others who have been reading my blog for months now have not made the connection and called me out. I am glad, for I would certainly have been mortified, but I am so embarrassed right now I can hardly sit on my own ass. I feel as uncomfortable as if my pants were full of fire ants. I want to throw up (well, almost, actually I hate throwing up more than anything) and sincerely apologize to all of you who may have been wondering how I could be such a dolt.

Jennifer, if you're reading this, I am truly sorry that I don't have an olive branch to offer you. I am so stuck in this whirlpool of regret and shock that I am not even sure where to begin to make amends. I can say that I haven't felt this stupid in a long time, and hope that you can accept my sincere apologies.

Friday, August 25, 2006

1+1>2

I remember when Bubba graduated college a year before me and moved to another state to work. I had one year of undergraduate studies left and then I was off to medical school. One morning, as I drove east toward my job and watched the sun rise over the wheat fields, turning the sky into sedimentary layers of pink and orange and yellow I missed him so much that I began to sob. Thankfully, at this time of the morning, I was the only one on the road, although the fields were beginning to show signs of life with combines and win-rowers making their way through the crops. I drove slowly as my tears obscured the view and made the colors run together in my windshield. I wanted to lean over and interrupt his chatter in the passenger seat with a poke to the shoulder. I wanted him to see this beautiful day beginning with me and share my wonder. The sunrise suddenly didn't mean as much without someone to watch it with. I was in love.

Today, we have lived together for nearly 15 years, minus the nine-month separation after he graduated before me. We have been married for twelve and a half years and are raising two amazing daughters together. We had been married for six years prior to having our first child and I was certain I knew all there was to know about him. I was so wrong! I never knew he was so artistic until I watched him draw crazy characters with her. I had no clue how talented he was at defusing temper tantrums or creating silly games. I didn't expect him to be such a wonderful father and still maintain his status as a manly man who grew up on a cattle ranch in redneck country.

He is the breadwinner, the rock upon which all of us dramatic females crawl for refuge, and the one we can turn to when we have run out of ideas. He is the guy with the ridiculously big ideas who looks to me to fill in the details and make our shared dreams reality. He is my best friend, my comic relief, and one of the few who "gets" me. We share a love of cooking, wine, close friends, and bawdy humor. He was shocked by my ability to swear a blue streak, intruiged by my tattoo and brave enough to bring me (a vegetarian who worked as a nurse in an abortion clinic) home to his Rush-Limbaugh-fan, cattle ranching parents with no apologies.

As I contemplate the possible outcomes of his upcoming surgery (something I know I should avoid entirely), I strike a concrete barrier at the thought of life without him.

We have outlasted two beloved cats, college finals, some very lean years, job changes, wedding planning, family deaths, deep-dark secrets, childbirth and home-buying, to name a few things. We have survived trips to the ER, a child's serious illness, and disparate beliefs. Together. I trust him implicitly to love our children as much as I do. He is my go-to-guy and I am his right-hand-woman. We have the ability to make each other laugh until we cry and we are not afraid to cry together. Losing him would be more than a simple subtraction of one. It would remove something vital from the equation. It will take years of complicated calculations to fully realize the implications of a loss like this. In this instance, adding one and one is not simply a matter of putting two like objects together. It is more akin to a recipe where the ingredients knead together and become something entirely different and more than their individual sums. For him to leave our lives would be more like removing a piece of pie, leaving the filling to bleed out onto the pie pan.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Can it Really Soothe the Savage Beast?

I bought a new CD today. Now, being solidly in my mid-30s with two small children, this opportunity has not presented itself in a while, unless I was in the Children's Music (moo-gicks, as Lola used to call it) section at the local Barnes & Noble. Since then, I purchase my music online one song at a time and, not surprisingly, I am completely out of touch with what the young, hip people are listening to. I have to say, though, that I'm not particularly concerned since I am happily and safely cradled in my own rut at the current time.

Anyway, I happened to find myself in a lovely bookstore/coffee shop/spiritual awakening-type place today, wandering around looking at the crystals and perusing the workshops available on how to realign one's chakra and the proper way to read tarot cards, not that I'm about to sign up for one - I'll leave that to others, thank you. As my kids were doing their best to touch the fountains without getting caught I became aware of the lovely voice filtering through the room. Before the next five minutes were up, I was completely enchanted and, although I have no idea what language the woman was singing in, I sought out the CD and purchased it.

I spent the afternoon cleaning out Eve's closet, sorting through the toys and broken seashells, Ziploc baggies of trail mix leftover from Girl Scout Camp, clothes flung far and wide and the assortment of things "borrowed" from her sister. Normally, this activity throws me headlong into a cesspool of irritation, such maternal phrases as "how could I have raised a child who treats her things like this?" bubbling to the surface and prompting the design of an ear-scorching speech to be delivered as soon as I've martyred myself by completing the task. This time, however, soothed by the silky sounds of my new compact disc, I simply hummed along and reorganized everything.

I was so thrilled with my new purchase that I brought the CD down and played it for my girls as they sat coloring at the kitchen table. I asked them to listen to this new music, knowing that they, having inherited my appreciation of a wide variety of styles, would be as enthralled as I upon hearing it. Within five minutes, they were picking at each other, arguing over which crayons belonged to whom and what color was best for the princess' skin. I waited to see if the mood would blow over and be soothed by the background sounds of the music playing. I know I was feeling relaxed and content. As time went on, they began to get more and more irritated and my oldest left the table abruptly and walked to the computer to look at the song list. Just as I was about to sit down with her and discuss the beauty of the song we were listening to, Lola barked, "Mom, this music is making me really tired!" I was surprised and turned to her just in time for Eve to pipe up, "Thank goodness! I thought I was the only one. Now I can finally turn it off!" CLICK went the mouse and silence was restored. So much for that.

p.s. the CD is called "Grace" and the artist is Snatam Kaur. I still love it even if nobody else in my gene pool can appreciate it.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Something Light for a Change

A friend of mine was asking for another meme on her blog today and I found this one one the web and thought it was interesting (and short). So, here goes:

1. If you could fly for a day, where would you go?
I guess that would depend on whether I could fly faster than a commercial airliner or not. Assuming I'm flying at the same speed of a jet, I'd head to Sooke Harbour, Vancouver Island, Canada. It is the most breathtaking place right along the Pacific Ocean with kelp beds full of sea otters and tidepools I could spend the whole day exploring.

If I could fly exponentially faster than an airplane, I would head to Eze in the South of France and spend the day exploring the cobblestoned alleyways, tasting wine and cheese and watching the lavendar fields from my supper table.

2. If you could turn invisible for a day, what would you do with the power?
Boringly enough, I suppose I would sit in my favorite chair in my bedroom with a stack of fantastic books and a pot of tea, knowing that my kids wouldn't be able to find me and pester me for help. They'd have to go to their father.

3. If you could teleport for a day, what adventures would you have?
I would go to Korea and drop in on my friend, Treena, then off to the Oregon Coast to visit Megan and her kids for a bit. I'd stop for a martini with my grandfather in Southern California since I haven't seen him in a while, and then I'd zip off to Providence, RI to meet the newest member of the Meisel clan who was born in July.

4. If you could change your appearance like a chameleon for a day, how would you use the ability?
I would love to look like G.W. Bush and head into downtown Seattle to chat with a bunch of liberals, agreeing with nearly everything they said and blowing all their minds (assuming I could reliably escape bodily harm).

5. If you could have any super power for the rest of your life, what would it be and why? Would you ever use your power for selfish reasons? Would you ever hurt anyone (either physically or emotionally) with it?
I think I would choose teleportation. I don't want to be able to read minds or have super-hearing, and flying would get old. Teleporting would enable me to visit places I've always wanted to go and still sleep in my own bed every night. I could stay in touch with my friends and loved ones in person and wouldn't need to pay for gas or worry about being late if my girls have events five minutes apart.

What do you think?

Friday, August 18, 2006

A Question of Prayer

So many people have responded to our recent news with kind thoughts and caring. Many others have assured us that we will be in their prayers that last night I lay in the darkness contemplating exactly what that means.

I am no neophyte when it comes to the concept. I was raised in the Catholic Church and spent hours memorizing the Lord’s Prayer and the rosary. To this day, I have difficulty walking into a Catholic Church and resisting the urge to dip my fingers into the Holy Water to make the sign of the cross. Like many teenagers, I later rebelled against the restrictions and “backward” ideas of this institution and left to find my own path to spirituality. My college years were entirely devoid of any religious experience whatsoever and today I can be most accurately described as an atheist.

Having said all of that, I must confess that as recently as six years ago I resorted to prayer in the most desperate of times “just in case”. I don’t know if it was force of habit or a measure of my true wit’s end, but I figured it couldn’t hurt. I have since examined my true beliefs further and have discovered that my sense of spirituality flows more horizontally than vertically. I cherish the connections between people and animals and the earth and fully recognize the intangible strengths arising from those more than I believe in a Creator.

This led me to question the concept of prayer.

'People who pray for miracles usually don't get miracles...But people who pray for courage, for strength to bear the unbearable, for the grace to remember what they have left instead of what they have lost, very often find their prayers answered. Their prayers helped them tap hidden reserves of faith and courage that were not available to them before.' -- Harold S. Kushner

The above quote made me wonder how much of prayer is simply a meditation that helps us ground ourselves and focus on our strengths rather than a plea to a deity to grant us some special favor. I’ve often questioned the power of prayer, unsure how a single deity (even if s/he is omnipotent) could possibly hear the prayers of millions and then decide which ones to answer in favor of others.

I pray on the principle that wine knocks the cork out of a bottle. There is an inward fermentation, and there must be a vent. ~Henry Ward Beecher

I rather like the idea that praying is more of a solitary reflection on the predicament one is currently in and a way to get back to reality. Relying on an outside force to change our course or alter a certain path has always been difficult for me to accept. I left the Catholic Church largely because of the individuals in my life who abused the notion of confession as giving one a clean slate to transgress over and over again. I reject the idea that one’s beliefs, as opposed to one’s actions, will save a soul.

Two hands working can do more than a thousand clasped in prayer. ~Author Unknown

I am choosing to embrace the notion that the prayers directed toward my family will allow us to recognize our strengths and the connections we have forged throughout our lives. The people who are concerned about us are aiming their positive energies in our direction so that we may discover the love we have cultivated and the strength we possess in order to continue fulfilling our most authentic purpose. Thank you for your prayers, no matter what form they take. We gratefully accept them and you can be sure that ours are with you as well, both in times of need and times of abundance.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Be Careful What You Wish For

Main Entry: tu·mor
Variant(s): or chiefly British tu·mour /t(y)ΓΌ-mr/Function: noun: an abnormal benign or malignant new growth of tissue that possesses no physiological function and arises from uncontrolled usually rapid cellular proliferation -- see CANCER 1, CARCINOMA, SARCOMA - tu·mor·like /-lk/ adjective

"Fuck!" If I were an actress featured on the show Inside the Actor's Studio and James Lipton asked me what my favorite curse word is I would not hesitate, "Fuck!" I don't think it can be written without an exclamation point, at least not when it's being used an an expletive. I like its brevity and the hard K sound at the end. I like the feeling of the word that starts with F because I have to tuck my bottom lip in to make it and that's the same thing I do when I am trying to tame my emotions; chew on my bottom lip. So I can tuck my lip in while I'm deciding whether the situation truly warrants an emphatic "Fuck!" or not. This one definitely does.

After an inordinately long four hour scope of Bubba's upper digestive tract, a doctor whom I have never met (but who was strikingly young and handsome) walked out and introduced himself. He looks very much like my internist and I've had a (very benign) crush on him for years, so I instantly felt at ease with him. I was expecting an older, white haired gentleman with no semblance of a bedside manner, so I was pleasantly surprised. I had been freezing in a generically uncomfortable waiting room chair for over two hours reading articles about celebrities' babies and subsequent weight loss (or lack thereof) and fully expecting this scan, our fourth, to turn out to be another colossal waste of time and insurance money.

Thus, my mind was not clouded with worry as Dr. S took my hand in both of his and sat in the chair across from me. His puppy dog brown eyes looked into mine and he uttered the words, "We found a tumor. Blah, blah, blah." Okay, so he didn't actually say, "blah, blah, blah", but I was busy shaking my head back and forth to clear my ears so he could rewind and push play again. I don't think the earth's rotation came to a screeching halt, but it did slow down noticeably. My years of medical training served me well, enabling me to calmly question him and glean as much information as he had. Unfortunately, the information he had was not comforting.  

The tumor is large and in a very difficult place. By the time they located it, my husband had been under for so long that they didn't dare do any sort of biopsy, so instead they measured it and brought him to the recovery room. They had apparently had to give him enough drugs to put an elephant to sleep in order to keep him from retching the camera back up, so it was not likely that he would awaken any time soon.

I sat near him in the recovery room trying not to let my years of medical training push me over the edge into the Grand Canyon of speculation. He opened his eyes every few minutes and would say, "Oh, hi! Did they find anything interesting down there?" in a drunken stupor sort of way. The beauty and the curse of Versed is that he never remembers anything he hears for the first few hours afterward, so I would reply, "Let's talk about it later. Get some rest." It's a bit like the movie Groundhog Day where Bill Murray lives the same day over and over. His blue eyes would roll open and he would ask, yet again, whether they had found anything. Finally, I told him in my calmest, most supportive, loving-wife-and-partner voice that they saw a large tumor on the scope. His reply: "Is it one of those 40 pound ones that they can take out so I can stop doing Weight Watchers?" 

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

It's Not Like I'm Asking for a Heart!

We're off to see the wizard...okay, the gastroenterologist. I hope he's a wizard, though, because for now he's our last shot to discover some new reason for my husband's mysterious stomach ailment. We've been to four different doctors on two continents, he's given blood, had CT scans, ultrasounds, three endoscopies and several biopsies to date. So far, no diagnosis. Today, they have come up with the brilliant idea to combine the endoscopy and the ultrasound so instead of simply swallowing a camera, my dear prince gets to ingest an ultrasound wand as well. I don't think he's looking forward to it, but at least he'll be so far down the Dreamy River he won't remember the unpleasantness.

My girls, as much as they would like to be immune to the constant probing and wondering, are bickering like an old married couple this morning. My sole consolation is that I will drop them off to play at a friend's house so I don't have to sit with them in the waiting room all afternoon. The last three times I've managed to find things to entertain them, bringing packs full of coloring books and crayons, walking to the bookstore or Starbucks for a hot chocolate and watching the tropical fish in the waiting room. After being invited back into the "procedure room" to get Daddy, they were intrigued by all of the equipment but saddened to see their loopy father try to stand up, sticky residue from the tape they used to secure his breathing tube coating his upper lip like a milk mustache. Never again, I vowed. This time I'm going it alone.

So I'll bring my laptop and try to focus on writing while he is "sleeping" and having foreign objects shoved down his food tube. I can only hope that this time they will discover something new that will tell us what to do. Please, Wiz, show yourself and endow us with some words of wisdom. I'm not putting on those ruby red shoes until I have some answers, but this yellow brick road is beginning to look a bit like yellow snow...

Sunday, August 13, 2006

It Takes a Village

Have I mentioned that I live in the most fantastic neighborhood in the world? Well, I do. We live in a cul-de-sac with six houses and there are no other neighborhoods very close by. Each of our neighbors has at least one acre of land on which their house sits. We are lucky enough to have two and a half acres and part of our land borders a creek. Two other neighbors also border the creek, a protected salmon-spawning creek. What this means is that we are strictly prohibited from messing with the natural order of things (pruning, planting non-native species, killing wild animals we see, fishing, etc.), and are almost mandated to teach our children about this wondrous place.

Between the six houses there are five stay-at-home moms, eight dogs, and seventeen children whose ages range from nine months to 15 years old. Two of us have large vegetable gardens and share our bounty with the others and three years ago my Mother's Day present was the installation of my dream herb garden. Every summer as it starts to grow uncontrollably the girls and I head out to cut herbal bouquets for each household and after we've tied them with pretty ribbon, the girls deliver them to everyone's doorstep.

The quiet street lends itself well to bike and scooter riding since there is never any traffic that isn't one of us. The dogs play together in everyone's yard and we're all responsible for picking up the poop. We put Band-Aids on each other's children and we all have pantries stocked with Goldfish crackers and fruit snacks in case someone is hungry. We know which kids are allergic to dairy and wheat and the box of 150 Otter Pops I bought in early June is nearly gone, thanks to the kid-accessible freezer in our garage and the scissors permanently placed on top.

We all have each other's cell phone numbers programmed into our own and have all received and placed frantic phone calls to a neighbor when we are stuck in traffic to ensure that someone will meet our child at the bus stop. There is always someone around to take your dog out for a potty break when you're gone longer than you expected, and hand-me-downs are our sole source of new school clothes.

This afternoon we are having a more formal (I use that word lightly) get-together involving all of the families to celebrate the summer break. The theme is "food fight" and the invitation instructed us to bring something to wear and something to share. Hmmm, methinks the children were allowed to design this particular party, but we'll all be there, pelting each other with gloppy oatmeal and whipping cream and laughing while my neat-and-tidy daughter takes photographs of us (no chance she'll throw food today) to embarrass us all years from now. Later, we'll cover our kids in bug spray, give them flashlights and send them off to play hide and seek while the adults open some wine and sit by the fire pit to recall the other crazy things we've done in this village we've created. Ooh, don't forget the lawnmower races or the jam-making assembly line from last summer....

Monday, August 07, 2006

Someday You'll Understand...

Why am I so frightened to let my children feel fear and pain, disappointment and unfulfilled desire? I know that, in many circumstances, it is my job to let them experience these things so that they can grow spiritually and emotionally and learn to trust themselves, but in the heat of the moment my first instinct is to rush to them and soothe the hurt and get them exactly what they want.

Today Eve had a friend over to play. My daughters are such good friends and wonderful playmates, but Eve is becoming more independent and desires privacy and some opportunities to do things without her tag-along little sister. I understand that and want to protect that for her. I had to struggle mightily to remember that when Lola came to me sobbing, incredibly sad that the older girls didn't want to include her in their game. She was truly confused that they didn't want to play with her and took it to mean that they didn't like her. "I want to tell them that if they let me play I'll be the nicest person in the world to them," she spluttered, and my heart ripped a little.

Last week when her Eve was fighting to overcome her terror at having a dental procedure done, Lola (brave warrior that she is), climbed into the chair and invited the assistant to explore her mouth first. She was more than happy to have her teeth probed in order to assuage her older sister's fears. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way, but later that day, Eve reached out and took Lola's hand and thanked her softly for trying to help. I nearly burst into tears. They have such a fantastic bond, these two lovely girls.

I tried to help this devastated little girl understand that sometimes it's important to focus on one person at a time. She was not being mean or inappropriate in any way. I spent a few desperate minutes trying to come up with fun things for the two of us to do, but she refused them all, just as desperate to convince the older girls to invite her into their game. I wanted so badly to fix her pain, but I had to respect Eve's boundaries, too. I had to let Lola hurt and hopefully learn that I will protect her interests when she, too, sets boundaries. I don't think she's buying it yet, but if I can keep my "eye on the prize", maybe someday she'll thank me.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Faking It, Part Deux

Well, it turns out that faking it was the right thing to do. Apparently, just plunging my head into the bucket of icy water as if I knew exactly what I was doing was just what the doctor ordered. I am having so much fun just writing and taking things as they come. I took a few hours on Monday afternoon and sat down with my laptop to fool around. I didn't have any particular goal in mind, just surfing the 'net for things of interest and viola I ended up with three new interviewees and four websites that I never knew existed.

I interviewed one of the women last night and came away grinning and shaking. She was exactly the anomaly I was looking for: intelligent, thoughtful, armed with some historical perspective of her own actions and fully accepting of the choices she made in the past. We spoke on the phone for an hour and I was able to make a connection with her that I know will add depth to the story I am trying to tell.

So, for now, I'll keep dabbling here and there and pushing ahead when I get excited. I actually like the clear view from inside the ice-water!
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