Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Numerology of the Dog Days

Summer numbers at the half-way point:
Fish Lake afternoons: 2
The Flying Unaccompanied Minors
Days at the Pool: 3
Number of days at swim lessons: 10
Moose in the garden: 1 (but really, one is BIG enough!)
Cups of Peas, shelled, blanched, frozen: 12
Jars of cherries, cherry salsa, cherry jam: innumerable
Jars of strawberry jam: 16
Floats down Little Spokane River: 1 (illegally in innertubes, the officer informed us!)
fun scientific experiments: 2
Bike rides on Fish Lake Trail: 2
Batches of frozen paletas: 3
Novels read, mom: 3 + a memoir and some Buddhist stuff (The Financial Lives of the Poets was awesome!  As was Riding the Bus with My Sister)
Novels read, Blue: 10+ (lost count)
Novels read, Coyote: 4-5 halves of various comic books
Day Lily Taco
Fist fights for children: 31?  So this one day, they were fighting in the backseat over rules regarding a game they made up and who was right and what was the correct pronunciation of a made-up word, etc.  I'd been asking them to stop for a while, cranked the stereo in hopes of shutting "conversation" down, I whispered and murmured trying to evoke a silent curiosity, I tried to yell over them, nothing was working and I was going insane.  To demonstrate this loosing of the marbles, I said to them in what I thought was a sufficiently sarcastic tone, "You know what, Kids?  You're right.  fighting is awesome.  Fighting is absolutely the best possible way to solve all our problems.  In fact, lets just solve them once and for all RIGHT NOW!  Why don't you guys just beat eachother up and who ever comes out alive wins!"  I think I was thinkin': they will never take me seriously, they are restrained in seatbelts so they can't possible get that close to eachother, and they -much like Palestine and Israel- will see the obvious folly in turning all disagreements into armed conflict and will realize that life is much funner when we can talk out our problems and move forward, or in this case, just DROP IT.  Unfortunately, like the real Palestine and Isreal, they chose to annihilate each other.  I had to pull over.  Get out of the car.  Open a door to the back seat.  And get in their faces.  And then I used the F-word!  As in "WHAT THE F ARE YOU THINKING!?!?!?"  They were stunned into complete silence.  And then I had to ask myself, "What the F were YOU thinking?  'Have it out'?  'Beat eachother up'?  They could discern sarcasm?"  And we might have driven home in silence, but for my lecturing what kind of family would we all prefer to live in.  Probably not one where mom first tells you to beat each other to death and then up and changes her mind all-of-a-sudden-like. 
Parenting Fail #? (they're hard to count and some of them require decades of analysis).

But my mother says they're getting along great in Oregon.  She said some man just gave them $20 for being the best behaved kids he'd seen in a very long time.  So -- they just save their siblingcidal inclinations for lucky lucky me. But when you think about it, who could you spend 24/7 with for six weeks and NOT fight?  I can't think of anyone either.

Unusually content mom: 1
typical fights and blown tops aside, the summer has been mostly awesome.  They are of the ages where I can read a little while they swim, instead of hoovering in the suspiciously warm, milfoil-y lake shallows watching vigilantly for the silent signs of drowning children.  And I've learned to transition from the morning chore-nazi to the afternoon chill-mom, who plays and drinks and enjoys life.  That's not always an easy trick to turn (Huck tells me this phrase in inappropriate. I imagine a magician flipping a coin, but apparently it brings to mind other activities for some people).

Chickens dead: 1
A new chicken disappeared. Vanished.  No pile of feathers.  No trail of turds. gone.  And that's chickens for you.  Two days later, I finally moved the poop tray that had fallen from the base of the coop and beneath it was Luna, the missing Leg Horn.  She'd been under there for two 100 degree days.  She seemed dazed, but immediately got up, like nap time was just now over, and teetered around the pen.  But the other chickens, already having forgotten their flock sister, and sensing weakness, pecked at her. I kicked them away, but they kept coming back. 
So I set her up in the barn, hand syringed her some vitamins, and there she was for two days.  But chickens are very social and I wondered if her continued weakness was due to the chicken-esc "depression" of isolation.  And so, she must have, in the end, decided that she'd rather be with other chickens or die trying.  She jumped in with the big girls and they pecked her to death. I didn't see it, just the aftermath. It was gross and I kind of felt sorry for her.  But I consoled myself with these facts 1) she was a chicken 2) if roles were reversed, she'd have pecked any one of the others to death herself.  She survived! Only to die. So strange is life, but that's the story of us all.

Summer vacation hours without the kids (up until Saturday): 6 (3 for a Board meeting + 3 to have tacos with elderly women (?!)
Days without the kids (until Saturday): 7

In the meantime, I've finally painted the living room a color I like (dark chocolate milk with turquoise archway).  Huck and I have eaten and not eaten anything we please. I ate a box of cookies for lunch one day, and a tub of icecream on another.  But also, the kids weren't around to whine about beet saute daylily tacos.  We've been out to eat at 8pm.  We've been for a bike ride down the Fish Lake trail after Huck came home from work.  This ride took 3 hours with the kids and 1 with just us!    We've lounged on the back porch and watched the mated pair of local ravens leisurely re-mate.  It's been such a year that the trees have all put on second growth and the animals are all mating a second time.

But boy, am I lonely for those kids!
Rest easy, I'm no Luna Leg Horn.  I'm just going to ride out the rest of the week, rather that die of socialization.
Day Lily Ice cream cone

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Forgetting Sarajoy

Haul 1 of 3 so far: snap peas and strawberries
I can barely remember the names of two of my great grandmothers and I don't know if I've ever known the names of the other two.  One is Hattie Haveman.  That's got a memorable ring and she's a memorable character: a wine-oh! with 12 kids, the oldest being my grandmother who also went on to have twelve children.  Their kids were perhaps meant to make up for living a fulfilling life, for using their other talents productively, which in North Dakota, in the early 1900's might not have been an option. Had they been able to put their likely fierce minds to other work, they would have clearly been over achievers in whatever other arena they would have found themselves in.

The other one I can remember is .. let's see... Salina?  Sabra? Let me look it up...Sean, um... that's odd. And she also had 12 children, the youngest of which is my other grandmother.  I once "modeled" her black brocade wedding dress with 64 hooks-n-eyes, when I was 13 and 14 and maybe 15.  I had seen enough of Robert Plant's "Simply Irresistible" on MTV to know that models should scowl.  So, although my modeling was just at church wedding-dress shows, I went all Robert-Plant scowly, and everyone asked me what was wrong.  Afterwards, all of her peers (though she'd long since died of a goiter) said I looked identical to her.  No one mentioned if that was with or without the goiter, or because of the scowl.  She was a farmer's wife who's husband drove her, EVERY AFTERNOON! to her sisters house for several hours to chat.  I may have a dishwasher and a washing machine, but you tell me if the trade-offs have been worth it!  I'm so jealous I could cuss!

another memorable 2012 achievement
Such reproductive forces!  Such a huge contribution to the human race, and yet, a scant four generations later, their names hang on by a thin thread of my memory.  Even most kings and queens, great ones, from all over the world, even their names are eventually forgotten, except for the academics specializing in that region or Dynasty. People who controlled vast amounts of other people and resources and empires, many of them have also succumbed to the cancer of forgetfulness.  And if they haven't yet, some day, they might.  We all arrived here without a name, without legends of grandeur, and eventually we will all leave this world, us, our names and our legends.

I know I am not unique in fearing this oblivion.  I too want to make some kind of mark on this earth, to scrawl in beautiful, indelible graffiti across this existence: "Sarajoy was here." 

For a while I thought I was missing something, that if I could just find the right key, I too could slide into these round little career holes and really make something of myself. But then I realized I don't fit into those holes and if I could fit, I certainly would have by now.  So, perhaps I am a square peg or some other shaped peg. If you've been reading here for any amount of time, you know the crescendo of  career angst I have reached these last few years.

But what, but what would I do?  How would I achieve or contribute?

Coyote's Birthday Wednesday night birthday party
And then this project came along.  Synchronicity lined up. And suddenly I'd been selected to audition for a prestigious grant that would have paid me to travel around putting on my one-woman show "Sisterhood of Kings: true tales of women in power and suits," where I tell/embody six women from history who dressed up as men in order to achieve things.  I wrote and memorized like a mad woman. My garden over-grew, my cows went un-milked, my children ran out of clean underwear while I worked. I performed for small audiences of friends and strangers.  I began to receive requests, several shows outside this grant began lining up.  For these stories, the time is now. And the work I have done over the past seven years prepared me to pop out this program in the three weeks between acceptance and audition.  And it is a rather amazing program if I do say so myself. And I feel that this would be my contribution (NOT 12 kids). And in the six weeks between the audition and this Monday, I forgot that this had been a long shot from the beginning.  That the people they usually take have long, illustrious careers in academia and their programs are the culmination of 30 years of work.

Another pinata bites the dust!
But I forgot about that.  Instead, I went back in my mind and revisited just a few of those many moments in conversations where I was called upon to reveal that I was working either at an insignificant job (my most prestigious title: "paralegal") or at the even more insignificant, un-paying job of Stay At Home Mom. In reality, eyes glazed over and conversation petered out.  But I went back in my over-active imagination and reworked the conversations and at the point when I would say that I had this prestigious appointment to travel and speak, their eyes would brighten instead of glaze and they would admire me and love me and we would talk respectfully with each other late into the night.  And I would feel so worthwhile and important, so good, so loved by all the world.

And so when I found out this week that I didn't get it, I was crushed. Let the glazing of the eyes continue. That, and I will not have the support of a large organization to promote me, to pay me, to set up my gigs.  If I do this, it will be me, continuing to root around in the dark, step-by-tripable-step.

So I am writing about this crushing blow, this humiliation, because it has been full of triumphs.

Mentos and Diet Coke for every boy and girl!
For instance, there was no failure-bleed into every other area of my life. I did not suddenly suck at everything I've ever done, ever.  And this represents also 7 years of work.  I did feel a little betrayed by synchronicity, but as my sister pointed out, a large government bureaucracy cannot really be expected to be in synch with the universe, in fact, they kind of pride themselves on NOT being in synch.  And also, instead of playing my cards absurdly close to my chest, I HAD to tell lots of people so that they could come to my pre-performances and give me feedback.  I stuck my neck WAY-the-hell out there in a way I never have before.  And what came of it?  Leads on future possibilities, lots of support, compassion in my failure, and the constant encouraging comment "you were robbed." And also, from several people familiar with the organization and saying in consternation: "I cannot figure out how they make their decisions. They must have some other criteria I'm not aware of."

And so, through my tears, I turned to journal it all out, to write down my feelings and my internal thoughts so that I can actually look at them on paper and think them through.  And I picked up my pen, turned to a new page and wrote not what I was thinking, which were not catastrophically negative thoughts, but they were leaning in that direction, quite naturally.  No, what came off my pen was like from some other universe.  I wrote: "Perhaps just being here is enough."  And then I went on to write what I thought I was going to write, about longing to contribute to the human endeavor but not finding my way in, listing all of the "no's" I've gotten from the world.  How one part of the universe seems to just want to just wham me into a round hole while some other part of the universe wants me to be myself.  But then these little sentences kept popping up, "I'm just here 'to be.'"  I know! It's shocking and lazy and un-puritan.  But really, I can only try so hard.  I've never tried harder than I did for that grant, and it shows in how far I got up the application ladder. But here I stop, unable to see how I can give these stories to the world, to the people who could be touched by them.

Coyote-designed cake, a swirly 8
What if I was suddenly a quadriplegic with severe brain damage?  Would I still have value?  Could I still "contribute"?  What if success came my way, and then left, would that mean I lost value as a person?  Am I like some kind of stock? "Sarajoy dipped 57 points today in global worries regarding competence." "Sarajoy gained 5% in personal value as she was finally hired by some schmuck in HR to do something she actually wants to do."

Huck's cousin, a successful attorney for the mentally ill, whom I adored, committed suicide and we'll be at her funeral this weekend. And, amid all the emotions and sadness about this, it has inadvertently underscored the truth that a career, a clear path, obvious and helpful contributions, are not everything.  Neither is a spouse and cherubic children (the pieces of life I've received).  All of these badges of apparent worth and worthiness can add intrigue and joy, but cannot themselves create worth nor represent it.  Perhaps having a career/ a clear path will not Make me happy, will not give me value or worth, or make me love myself, my life and my "being here" more.

I came across this quote in a book I was reading a few weeks ago, it's a quote of a quote of a quote and I think the original is Tal Ben-Shahark's, "To lead a happy life, we must also experience a sense of metaphysical worthiness.  We must appreciate our core self, who we really are, independent of our tangible accomplishments.... we must feel that we are worthy by virtue of our existence."

And then there is this one from Alice Walker, "Resistance is the secret of joy."

And put those two together and it's just a happy counter-cultural festival up here in my head!  Take that, Achievement-America!  My purpose is "to be," so F***-OFF on all the "justify your existence, preferably before 40" BS.  I don't have to justify crap.  I'm here, and that's all the reason I need to be here.

Not to say I'm not still smarting from the rejection and I've stopped longing to contribute. But I'm happy about the thoughts in my head.  This could have been the confirmation of my worst fears: no purpose, no meaning, no impression, nothing to contribute.  But now that I've looked these fears in the face, I can see (and I'm sure I saw in some theoretical way before but now I see in my heart) that the fears are empty.  None of us has more purpose or meaning than anyone else, no matter how soon we are forgotten, no matter how we change the world, rule the world even.
We're here to "to be" for as long as we get and that's all the "reason for existing" we need.

And then to be forgotten.

Bonus feature: Friday the 13th is Coyote's 8th Birthday!  Happy Birthday little "be"ing!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Independance Day Memorial

4th Annual Williams Lane July 4 Parade
Growing up on the border of the Lummi Reservation made the Fourth of July a very spectacular holiday, ironically.  We had access to heavy artillery, no limits on when and how to use it, and we lived on the wet west side of the state where fire danger usually resides in the negative digits, if that's even possible.  M80's in garbage cans? Check.  Bottle rocket wars with the neighbors? Check.  Slugs riding bottle rockets? Check.  Slugs on strings of black cats? Hell yeah! We dragged it out for weeks and weeks of hand-singeing thrills. Ah! the glory days!

When Coyote was three a flaming chunk of sparkler fell into his shirt and burnt a hole in his chest, enough to leave a quarter size scar.  I felt so sick, both with the smell of burning skin and my off-spring in pain.  It's enough to make even the sturdiest mother nearly faint.  And I was furious.  I felt so betrayed.  My limitless, completely irresponsible, wild weeks of July 4th resulted in NO scars in the entire neighborhood.  And here, my son tried a single sparkler and he's scarred for life!

All that freewheeling revelry changed when I was either 11 or 12; I shamefully forget the year.  My mother's side, the Roosma's, had our yearly picnic at Bloedel Donevan Park (I'm sure you can forgive me for misspelling that one!  Who in tarnashun could spell that!)  The park was our swimming park on Lake Whatcom in Bellingham.  When we didn't want Birch Bay, or the Nooksak River or her sand flats.  When we wanted diving boards and life guards, we went to Bloedel.  My mother usually met friends there.  Ah, but those were the days when Stay at Home Moms still existed in such masses that you could find someone to go with in the middle of the week day.  I don't have such luxuries as I only really know just one other stay at home mom.  Bloedel has since been closed to swimming.  Apparently the city dumps it's sewage into the lake right there, which wasn't a problem, I guess, until the city got big enough so we all did start noticing logs and tp floating around and then the jig was up.

Transforming Blue's bike into Coyote's
As people arrived, I saw my Grandpa Roosma walking to the picnic tables carrying a huge box full of hot dishes and jello salad.  And I thought to myself, "He's getting up in years (he was only 60-something) I should go help him. But maybe he would be offended.  He's not that old.  But maybe he is.  And that looks like a very heavy box.  What if I offer to help and I can't carry it?  That will be embarrassing and if I drop the box, really bad!"  And by the time I figured it out, to go at least offer to help him, he was at the table.

Every-other Sunday, we'd hang with the Roosmas.  After lunch and volleyball, the Roosma's would scatter into separate activities.  For a long time, I had only 6 cousins on that side, all boys (two girls came later and then three more boys much later).  So they played "smear-the-clear."  Yeah, "clear," because no one knew what the heck "queer" meant, either that or it was considered a bad and dirty word.  I was and am and always will be confused on that whole issue.  I tried to play sometimes, but couldn't, really. And I'd be relegated to the role of root "BEER" distributor.  I always thought of myself as a sort of brunet, six-year-old Root Beer St. Pauly's girl and I'd pull my shirt off my shoulders.  And that got old. So then I'd go sit in on the Uno game of the women as they discussed sales at the Crescent and gossip.  My uncles parked in front of a ball-sort of game on the tv.  And so I found my place with my father and my grandfather, discussing theology.  I LOVED this.  This is where I belonged. I don't remember adding anything to the conversations, but I remember listening hard and feeling a sense of comfort and that perhaps I was related to this clan after-all.  My grandpa also had a large Jersey dairy farm and I loved that too.  I would beg to spend the night so that I could help with the milking. I felt that Ed (my sons middle name is after him) "saw" me, in a way no one else seemed to. I have 50 cousins in total and in that kind of herd it's very hard to feel special or even connected to family. He wasn't lovingly demonstrative or anything.  He just seemed to see me as an individual, it was in the way he spoke to me and interacted with me... a way that was perhaps missing from my interactions with the others.
Torch-weed (mullein) torches

But anyway, we were there for the Fourth.  As always, a traumatizing game of volleyball was played.  I loved playing, but I hated playing with adults. We always played volleyball with the Roosmas. My parents would goad me in to playing, though I'd resist for hours.  And then there I'd be, a child among what looked like GIANTS.  And they'd come charging towards me, fists extended, yelling "MINE!"  And I'd very reasonably get out of the way and let them have it.  Then they'd begin criticizing me for not putting in more effort, for not sacrificing my body for this incredibly stupid game.  And I'd say, "But he said, "mine" so I thought it was his!"  And someone would say, "He only said that because he knew you weren't going to get it, you never do, and when you do get it, it goes way out of bounds!"  So, then next time I'd stand my ground and get clocked and everyone would say, "He said 'Mine!' so you should get out of the way!!"   And then two weeks later, "Come on, Play! It'll be fun! I don't understand why you don't want to play!"  To this day, I love a game of volleyball until someone competitive shows up.  Keeping score and a single cry of the word "mine" and I walk off.  I feel no need to explain.  They might yell after me to come back, let them yell.  I shrug.  I don't turn around.  I keep walking.  I don't need to fulfill anyone's fantasy of what a good game of volleyball should look like and how people should just love it and how I should sacrifice my holy body for your desire to get points in an effing GAME.

So, we'd just played THAT "game."  Dinner was eaten, "salads" of marshmallows and jello, ham rolls, fried chicken, etc.  Then my family left.  Everyone would be coming back to our house later to enjoy the lawlessness of reservation life for the rest of the day.  My mom stayed at the house to put away the picnic stuff and dad took us down to the shacks along the Nooksack to pick out our weapons.

fire-safety practice somehow ended up here.
We turned into the driveway, a trunk full of gun powdery toys, and there was my mother, probably about my age now, standing on the porch, standing like she'd been hollowed out and drowned.  She was soaking wet from the tears pouring out of her face.  Grandpa Ed had died at the picnic table.  An uncle told a joke and my usually serious grandfather had actually laughed at it, perhaps for the first time in his life, and he'd fallen over dead -- at the picnic table.  He was not sick, he had never even had a cold.  He actually died laughing.  A great way to go, if it's you.  A terrible shock, indelibly and traumatically underscoring life's uncertainty for everyone around you, including some young grand kids.

(NOTA BENE: this is my best and truest remembrance of this event.  This is not meant to portray anyone else's memory of the event nor is it meant to be an archival historical report.  I have not dug up medical records nor have I interviewed witnesses.  I have only plunged my own memory.)

I felt several things that night: 1) disappointment that our Fourth of July was ruined forever, 2) confusion, cuz' wasn't he an old guy?  Old guys die.  It's normal.  (now I see that 60-something is NOT a normal time to die of old age) and 3) guilt.  This guilt stayed with me for DECADES.  Had I just helped him with his box that day, perhaps he would still be with us!  Later, I would come to really relate to Hamlet; he too hesitated at the wrong moment and ruined his life.  I no longer feel guilt about this, phew.

Coyote found this suit coat at Value Village
It wasn't until the funeral that the last emotion hit me so very hard: I was LOST.  I had just lost the only person who had ever "seen" me and I felt certain that no one would ever "see" me again.  I cried hysterically and everyone around me was embarrassed and wanted me to stop.  But I was stubborn.  I knew what I had lost and it was the feeling of being special to him, an anchoring sensation, and I wasn't going to stuff it just because some old lady or my cousins didn't understand. 

I have often wondered how my life might have been different if he had been able to stay.

At least he wasn't around to "disappoint".  To leave his faith.  To get divorced at 21.  To have my first child "out of wedlock" and later, to marry my second husband, the child's father (and then be with him for well on 11 years now! How scandalous!). He was part of a belief system that attaches lots of meaning and morality to particular steps done in particular order and sanctioned by the government. But who knows how he would have changed, or not. Who knows?  But in the state that "he" is in now, (as part of me, as a memory, as part of the fabric of the universe, as recycled into the ecosystem, or perhaps although unlikely, he's sitting on an actual cloud, near pearly gates, looking down on me.) Whatever state he is in now I believe that "he" can still "see" me, perhaps even better than before. And I am not lost.


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