Thursday, December 27, 2007

Gone


The brew drained, as if suddenly the plug had been removed. The mingling honey and charcoal sunk, leaving heavy, wet sand in its place. He is gone. Ever the thoughtful one, he waited for my mom to call him on Christmas night, her sister holding the phone to his ear as he lay comatose in his bed. She needed to tell him how proud she was to be his daughter. She needed to tell him one more time how much she loved him and how important he was to her. She said all the words she needed to say and then told him it was okay for him to go. She understood that it was time.

The next morning he was gone. He took his last breath and let go. The world is not as shiny anymore. The blankets not as warm, the walls not as strong. As I look around my house and find photos of him here and there I recall the feeling of his strong arms around me. I won't soon forget the tenderness that seemed so incongruent with his physical size. He was so frightened to hold my newborn daughter - afraid he was capable of hurting her. The sight of him cradling her awkwardly in his lap still makes me smile. The photo that captured that moment is framed on my wall.

He was so much. An inspiration. Strength and support when we most needed it. Quick witted and confident. Practical and whimsical, both. The absolute pillar of this family.

The sand is heavy in my gut. My tears come easily. I know that it is only a matter of time before I am full again. Full of the promise of the legacy he left to me and the others he touched. For now, I will sit with the sand and the tears.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Untitled


I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I am a Libra. I am all about balance. Love it. I don't mind it when the see-saw tilts, just as long as I know it's going to keep moving and switch back to the other side soon.

As I slowly and quietly process the sad news that has come my way over the past week or so, I've noticed that the teeter has tottered a bit. My capacity for enthusiasm is greatly diminished. My wit is not as sharp or as swift as it normally is. The top third of my brain is submerged in that grey mist that hangs above the lake on autumn mornings. I am subdued.

While my world is tilted on its ear a bit, I've noticed that my capacity for tenderness has grown. My sensitivity to acts of love and kindness is on hyperdrive. I am so much more aware of the interactions of those around me. Watching my kids play with their cousin and make homemade gifts for each other warms me from the tip of my toes on up. Listening to Bubba and his brother sit and chat about everything and nothing reminds me how much these two siblings love each other. Sitting with the dog, his soft chin resting on my thigh, I stroke his silky ears and feel the emptiness inside begin to fill.

The honeyed sweetness of comfortable, connected affection mingles with the charcoal grey of sadness, swirling together in a yin/yang pattern, thick and deep. My easy smiles and belly laughter will return. For now, the brew inside is filling. It encourages me to sit with it, heavy and grounded.

Friday, December 21, 2007

I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar


I've been 'roared' at by Holly which is apparently, a good thing. It seems to be essentially the same as being tagged to add my two cents. The subject this time is three things that I think make for good writing. I can't promise to say anything terribly original, but here goes:

  1. I love it when people write what they know. A friend of mine once accused me of reading only depressing books (you know who you are, my dear) and I will admit that many of the memoirs I've read are sad tales. The story doesn't have to span a long period of time so long as the details ring true. I want to know that, fiction or non-fiction, the writer felt what they were writing about when they were writing it. That is what makes me feel it when I'm reading it. That's what I love.

  2. Energy. The story has to have energy. I want to know that it will continue to move along and progress. I love stories that I can't put down. I had a professor in college who used to walk into trees because he read as he walked, careening off sidewalks, tripping over 100-year-old maple roots and not even noticing. That is how engrossed he was in the reading material. Gimme that kind of book anyday!

  3. Please don't make it predictable. Please don't follow a formula. Surprise me. Give me a reason to turn each and every page, holding my breath in suspense. Find a way to twist my expectations upside-down until I can't even come up with a guess for what's next.

I'm roaring at Miss Devylish, Ammogirl, AELEOPE, and My Own Woman.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Connecting

As I move through my day, fully aware that it is five days before Christmas, the notion of connections sits in the back of my mind like wallpaper on my desktop computer. It holds everything important to me, frames it all. Christmas cards have been sent to those whom I am connected by blood and genes, friendship and concern, history and love. I have spent time perusing catalogs and websites in an effort to find a token that will accurately convey my feelings to friends and family.

Spending the last several days with my mother, sister and brother gave me the opportunity to reconnect and watch my daughters forge ever-stronger relationships with people whom I love. As my stoic brother's face cracked into a huge grin, he wrapped his arms around my youngest and wrestled with her. Opening gifts quickly turned into a 'snowball fight' with crumpled wrapping paper, adults and children alike giggling and ducking behind furniture to avoid flying gift wrap.

Moving on to my father's house, my urgency to add layers to the ties that bind becomes even more important. I scanned his face for any sign of illness, anything that might betray the eight bb-sized tumors embedded in his brain. My girls piled into his lap and began tickling his ears, his chin, pulling his slippers and socks off, hooting with laughter. He has regained the weight he lost after battling chemotherapy for three months. His face no longer looks as though it was dusted with flour, and he moves through the house like a young man again. Late night talks revealed his fears, though. He has seen the brain scan and the glowing cells that spell disaster. He knows that radiation doesn't work on brain tumors. He is on his way to the university hospital to look for new treatments, experimental procedures that might buy him some more time.

The girls and I arrived home yesterday afternoon, eager to put the house in order and greet Bubba as he came home from work. The last of the gifts were wrapped and placed under the tree for the cat to play with. The girls put their things away and settled back into their bedrooms. I was relieved to be in my own space, relaxing on the couch and stroking the dog's silky fur. I was so pleased to have had the time to spend re-connecting. The phone rang. My mother was calling to say that my grandfather who has been battling cancer for two years is on the verge of death. His last coherent act was to sign Christmas cards to each and every person he knows, including one each for my girls, addressed to them individually. He then laid down in his bed and slipped into a coma. They don't expect him to live out the weekend.

Connections. Ties. Relationships. I can't imagine the world without my grandfather in it. I am incredibly sad that his end is imminent. But I know that the connection will not be lost. The connection does not rely on physical existence to remain. The work we did to establish and maintain the mutual love and respect we had for each other is not lost. I see my grandfather in his children, my mother and aunts and uncle. I see him in the connections they have with each other and me. The memories I have of him will last a lifetime. I am reminded that the efforts I make to connect with others are important and lasting. Every time I strengthen the ties between myself and another, I will be rewarded by finding myself more intimately connected to the world around me.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

My palms sweat and my right eardrum feels as though it is half-plugged with cotton. I know it's not the double espresso I'm working on, and it's not the anticipation of the long drive I have ahead of me. The forces working on my nervous system stretch back behind me to the tension of the last month, last week, yesterday.

Bubba is leaving his job - his only ever grown-up job, the first one he got right out of college and has had for over 15 years. Starting in February, he is following his dream and it's about time. I'm thrilled for him and completely supportive. Mentally. I know I'll struggle with keeping my nose out of it. I will fight to zip my lips and sit on my hands when I start to see that he's running out of printer toner or business cards. Too easy to have my accomodating 'fix-it' style spill over from wife to business partner. Too easy to forsake the time at my laptop chasing MY dream in an effort to help him with his. Deep breath.

The phone call that came yesterday burned a path from my head through my heart and it's not done yet. Amazing how such small pieces of information begin a chain of devastation almost instantly. The cancer that was cut away from my father's lung in February has taken hold in his brain. The CAT scans and x-rays showed nothing, but his bloodwork continued to alarm the doctors who followed him. After a summer of poisoning his body with chemotherapy there should be nothing left of the cancer. But it appeared there was. Their job was to find it. Mission accomplished. Eight tumors in his brain, glowing on the brain scan. I was calm and clinical on the phone - 'get a second opinion before you start radiation', 'go to the university hospital in case there are some new therapies.' All it took was the touch of another, her arms around me, warm hands pressed against my shoulders, and I erupted into hot tears and shaking, the fear and sadness carving out my organs and leaving only darkness in their wake.

As my father struggled to recover after his surgery, depressed at his inability to heal more quickly I tried to encourage him and give him realistic information at the same time. Knowing that he would spend his summer having weekly chemotherapy treatments I said, "By Christmas you'll be back to your normal self. I know that seems like a horribly long time, but when Christmas comes, you will feel terrific." Ironic, here we are ten days before Christmas and he is back to work more often than not. He is walking on the treadmill and has an appetite again. "I feel fine - great, even!" he assured me on the phone. Both of us wishing that that truth had the power to erase the eight glowing spots on the radiology film.

My palms sweat. My heartbeat is picking up. In one hour I will buckle my girls in to their car seats for the five hour drive to his house. A planned trip to play Santa and visit my fully-recovered father. I am afraid to look into his eyes and see the fear there. I am afraid he'll look into my eyes and see the same. I am afraid he is dying.

"Don't be his doctor. Be his daughter," Bubba said softly in the dark last night as I lay on my pillow, tears streaming down into my ears.

Being his doctor would be so much easier.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Economy of Spirit


I am incredibly obtuse when it comes to economics. Not only do I not know much about the way interest rates and inflationary cautions and other such things work, I really can't be bothered to learn. So long as I am making more money than I need to cover all of my bills, I'm good. Typically, when NPR is doing a segment on the Federal Reserve cutting interest rates I switch to the CD player and rock out. Today, the host of the show "Day to Day" was interviewing a financial 'expert' and I paid attention.

The guest was explaining that he fully expected the economy to continue to suffer. He believes that after the first of the year retail spending will drop off considerably and Americans will tighten their money belts. He talked about the way that we as a people have been borrowing money and spending more than we make and fully embracing our consumer lifestyle for too long. He thinks that we have reached the outer limits of our comfort zone and will now begin curbing our appetites for material things, instead turning our attention to our woefully starved savings accounts. He didn't sound shocked or horrified or even the slightest bit frightened about any of this. I think that's why I continued to listen. You may remember this post when I talked about measuring our lives by other means. I was intrigued at his non-reaction.

The host asked, "What do you think will happen to the economy if people begin acting like you're predicting?"

"The economy will turn downward. But I don't think it's the worst thing that could ever happen. It will reduce our trade deficit. Americans are notorious internationally for our low levels of saving, and it can only be good in the long run for us to begin bolstering our savings again. I think it will hurt. I think it will be good for us. But it will be traumatic."

Okay. Been there. I am guilty of finding ways to use my current energy reserves to chase the things that I think I need. Things I've let myself become convinced are important. Running after fleeting things, all the while flicking that annoying little flea off my shoulder. You know the one. He sits there chirping in your ear, reminding you that this might not be the best course of action right now.

'Please stop rushing around spending money buying people expensive gifts. Please stop adding name after name to the list of people who absolutely must get your Christmas letter this year. Please put aside the menu planning you're doing in an effort to try and please each and every member of the family in one fell swoop. You haven't invested in yourself in a long time. How long has it been since you worked on your book? How long has it been since you slept peacefully? How long has it been since you meditated? How many times have you said to yourself 'If I can just make it until December 26th, I'll start taking care of myself again?' '

Yeah. It might be hard to give up all of the rushing around. It will be really hard to imagine what others think of me if I don't make an effort to put their favorite Christmas dishes on the table this year. I can't even imagine tearing up my to-do list. Do I really want to crash and burn between December 26th and the 31st? Is it worth it to continue to live by the 'shoulds' in the short term? Nah. Once I put it in those terms, I think I can accept that turning inward a little and investing in myself and my own energy stores might affect the others around me, causing those who are used to me taking care of business a little stress of their own. In the long run, I'll be better off and that is what's best for all of us.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

There is No Joy Like a Girl Turned Eight


My oldest daughter turned eight last week. For the ten days preceding her birthday she was a study in grins. Nearly everyone she came in contact with soon discovered how many shopping days remained until her special day. The energy emanating from her small, 40-ish pound frame seemed impossibly overwhelming. Or so I thought. Until it multiplied.

Last year there were three teachers in her classroom. She fell in love with all three of them, one more than the others. The one teacher about whom I was most worried turns out to have been the one who stole her heart. She was the one who lit my daughter's face up like a roman candle on the Fourth of July. The one who never let her doubt herself. The one who showed up for choir concerts on school nights and asked about her father when she knew he was in the hospital. That teacher.

She left at the end of the school year and, although she promised she'd be back occasionally, my daughter was devastated. I somehow managed to obtain a mailing address for her and the two of them began this crazy correspondence on restaurant napkins and silly scraps of paper. Three weeks ago we got some fantastic news. This lovely woman was scheduled to substitute in my daughter's classroom on her birthday.

"That is the BEST BIRTHDAY PRESENT EVER!!!" the grin split my daughter's face wider than I've ever seen it. She couldn't contain her energy, bouncing up and down and turning in circles as she squealed with delight.

There were other gifts - four inches of unseasonal snow on the night of her birthday sleepover, flashlight tag at 10pm with her best girlfriends in the backyard, dinner at her favorite restaurant and a dessert with a candle in it while the rest of the patrons sang to her, enough books to keep her busy until January at least. None of them compares even slightly to the six hours she spent in the classroom with her favorite teacher. The one who never acts as though anything might be too difficult for my daughter. The one whose face breaks into a smile a mile wide as soon as she catches sight of my daughter down the hall. The one who picks her up into an enormous bear hug and a giggle each and every time they see each other. The one who makes her feel like she's a princess. We'll be riding this high for a long time and I can't tell you how much it warms my heart to know that this was her best birthday gift - the presence of this special person in her life. Some things just can't be gotten with a credit card. Thanks, Mrs. H!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Pineapple Express


It has been confirmed. I am a true Northwest girl - born and bred. The trees packed in tight along the hills, lakes and mountains breaking up the landscape no matter which direction you turn, rain.

The metal latch of the leash clips on to the dog's collar and his feet dance with anticipation. There is a break in the rain and blue sky is visible directly above us. Off to the west, the color is charcoal grey. The perfect backdrop for the multicolored arch that stretches above downtown. The streets and sidewalks are shiny and dotted with puddles that swoosh as the cars rush through them, one after the next. Closing my eyes I let my ears fill with the sound of the rainstorm that came with the morning and my nostrils fill with the sweet, clear scent of asphalt washed clean.

The dog's feet find every reservoir of rainwater as determinedly as mine avoid them. There is a bounce in our rhythm and a grin spreads across my face. I love the rain. The sound of it pounding down on the roof in the dark of night. The fruity smell that comes just before an electrical storm. The feel of it. It is warm today - in the 50s, but cold prickles begin to poke my face. The drops start small but within half a block they are 1/2 carat wonders, creating rivers of tear-like drips down my cheeks. By the time we reach the end of the block my ponytail is stuck to the back of my neck and the dog stops to shake himself off every three steps or so. Our pace does not change. I am still smiling. People with umbrellas walk by, hurrying to find some refuge indoors. The two of us continue to bounce along, feeling the spreading wetness. My bangs harbor individual drops of water, heavy like ripe fruit. My eyelashes sparkle with them. The dog continues to shake himself dry, the fur on his back ruffled and rumpled like a teen idol.

We walk for another half mile before we reach the car, soaked through. The car smells of wet dog, but I am warm and contented from our walk. The dog walks in circles on the back seat and settles into a heavy slumber on the ride home. The windshield wipers beat a steady back-and-forth and I blink rain from my lashes onto my cheeks. What a beautiful beginning to the day.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

It's a Family Thing


Fighting through all that Mother Nature threw at us (four inches of snow followed by a 20 degree rise in temperature and seven inches of rain; floods and street closures everywhere you turned), a coliseum of old farts managed to show up to pack the house for the Van Halen concert last night in Seattle. They did not disappoint.
David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen showed up onstage with significantly shorter tresses than when I saw them last, (GASP!) 20 years ago, but both sported six-pack abs and smiles a mile wide. Indeed, Eddie didn't even bother donning a shirt for the show, instead wearing his trademark white cargo pants (not parachute pants anymore, folks, this ISN'T the 80s anymore) and red sneakers. His age showed in the grey in his goatee and his gnarled hands, but his mastery of the electric guitar has not suffered with age. Say what you will about the bands of the 1980s, Eddie Van Halen is still the best electric guitarist around. He has the ability to make that thing talk and scream and sing and blow us out of our seats.
David Lee Roth, ever the showman, changed outfits again and again, throwing scarves and hats out into the audience directly in front of the stage. Bubba and I remarked on how those first dozen rows have changed in the last two decades. Originally, they were full of scantily clad teenage girls, hair teased to the spotlights, spike-heeled black boots lifting them almost to the level of the stage, screaming and swooning and offering all sorts of frightening things to the band members. Last night there were a few women reliving those days (most of them unwisely, I might add), but the vast majority of patrons in those rows were 30- and 40-something guys with receding hairlines wearing jeans and t-shirts and jumping up and down with their arms outstretched. I imagine they were the Microsoft geeks who could afford $500.00 per seat.
Alex Van Halen, safely ensconced in his fortress of drums, doesn't appear to have changed at all. He still sports his curly, shaggy long locks and headband and plays the drums like a madman. His drum solo, essentially unchanged from the one we heard 20 years ago, was so fun to watch as he grimaced and pounded away and smiled like a kid on his birthday.
The best part of the evening, though, was the presence of Eddie's son, Wolfgang (Wolfie) playing the bass guitar. At 16 years old, he is a welcome addition to the group. There were a few really cool moments ('campy', Bubba says) where he and his father stood side-by-side playing dueling guitars and grinning at each other like idiots. I found myself grinning along with them. When Eddie reached out and ruffled his son's shaggy hair in this very touching father-like way I ate it up. This kid is a good guitar player and it is clear that he is relishing every minute of his inclusion in this incredible band started by his father and his uncle. The times where he wandered onto the catwalk or stepped up to the front of the stage tentatively were probably frightening for him, but it helped the show seem more spontaneous and not choreographed.
Bubba and I had a terrific time and, although I felt old as I streamed along with the crowd of aging rockers, I appreciated the fact that we can still enjoy the music and the band without feeling like we're missing something. I like that the band members are acting their ages and not trying to seem as though we are all still teenagers. Well, except for Wolfie, that is.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

One More Thing You May Be Surprised to Find Out


I was a teenager in the 80s. I had an older brother whom I worshipped and jumped at the chance to spend time with. He was smart, completely irreverent, possessed a wicked sense of humor, and had the biggest CD collection of anyone I knew. Occasionally he invited me to join him in his inner sanctum to hang out and listen to music. Given this, it is hardly shocking that I grew to love such bands as Led Zeppelin, Metallica, the Scorpions, ZZ Top, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Van Halen. Although it was the era of the 'big hair' bands, he indulged lightly in such fly-by-night acts as Poison, Tesla, Whitesnake, Motley Crue and Ratt. Needless to say, I listened to what he listened to with rapt attention. Indeed, I memorized every word of every song on Ratt's first album. Not exactly something to be proud of, but a fun party trick in college karaoke scenes when it was too dark for me to display my other quirky ability of tying a cherry stem in a knot with my tongue.


I told you all that to tell you this: Monday night I have a date with Bubba. Van Halen is coming to town and we are so there! Because I am a bit of an idealist, before the tickets were purchased I had to make sure that the lead singer would be David Lee Roth. I have nothing against Sammy Hagar, but to me, he is second-rate Halen. I'm not paying a premium to see him. I'm getting out my comb and hairspray, putting on my acid wash jeans and my black eyeliner and hitting the road, baby! Whaddya think about hitting Dick's for burgers before the show? ;-)
(T-shirt may be purchased at www.cafepress.com)
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