Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Oh Tannen-bomb! Oh Tannen-bomb! How lethal are thy branches!

I hail from a fierce tradition of "cut-your-own Christmas trees" that hasn't lessened it's grip on me through the years. And I'm not even a celebrator of "real" Christmas. To me it's all Solstice and cultural Christmas, a central piece of which is THE TREE.

1994. Petersburg, Alaska. For Thanksgiving, my brother came to visit me and my child-groom (I was an Alaskan child-bride myself at the time).  Barely 19 and married nearly a year, it was firmly lodged in my young mind that one MUST get one's Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving.  It was a very early Thanksgiving that year, but that did not compute into the holiday equation in my head.  According to TRADITION, we would cut our own tree.  Poor, wee little Petersburg had no tree farms.  Not to worry!  We'd find a wild one here on this vast Alaskan Island in the midst of glorious clear cuts.  Having no concept of a permit other than one for driving, permit-less, we drove my adorable '72 Ford Bronco down the road a piece.  And deep in the muskeg, I spotted a vision of Christmas tree beauty no human mortal could resist.  Muskeg, if you don't know, is Alaskan for crazy-ass swamp complete with giant sink holes known to swallow entire snowmobiles and moose, never to be seen again.  So, of course, I stepped in two of them and was successfully dragged out by the menfolk.  Soon enough, we nabbed that precious, likely 1000 year old, swamp tree and dragged it home.  Here it demanded water incessantly.  Water! WATER! WATER!! I watered it by the gallons, hourly, but to no avail.  Within two weeks it was as brown as our carpet and had transformed from "Christmas Vision of Glory" to "Tree of Shame," three weeks before Christmas.  By Christmas Eve there was not a single needled left on the tree, only ornaments and lights with a festive skirt of brown needles being ground in to our brown carpet, assimilating as camouflaged ninja assassins. So after sunset on Christmas Eve, around 1 pm, I "snuck" the tree to the curb and bought one of the last pathetic little, over-priced (as compared to free-poached) trees left in the grocery store lot.  We redecorated and I celebrated my first of only a handful of Christmases as Sarajoy Johnson.

"Bronco Sarajoy" to the tune of "Mustang Sally"
These days, the Palmer family cuts a tree from a farm about a mile down the road.  Time was, we'd pick up a permit (I am teachable) and head to the hinterlands for a wild-caught tree.  But the last year we did that, we ended up on a cliff-side logging road, in the snow, with trucks barreling down on us.  We've also had a holly tree for Christmas: ouch.  And a potted Norfolk Island Pine which looked soggy and weak and succumbed to a dosing of cat piss. We're all about farm-raised trees now.

2010. Our first year to Swenson's, our local tree farm, all the trees were too small and all the wrong type.  We wandered around the property marveling: Ponderosas?  What the fuck?  Thick with foreshadowing, I noted the abundance of baby Blue Spruce, a weapon of a tree with razor sharp needles that come in Hanukkah blue.  Picea Pungens is it's scientific name, meaning "pine of sharp points", seriously. That year, we gave up on cutting our own, circled back to the travel trailer and picked up a pre-cut, Idaho import called the Frasier Fir and I will forever be a Frasier Fir (F.F.) fan.  They are the world's most perfect Christmas tree.

While Huck settled up with the man, the kids and I mosied over to the "field"/mud yard to check out the live reindeer.  They too were remarkably small and few so that the One stood out.  We'll call her "Blitzen."  Blitzen had one fabulous antler.  Where the other should have been, Blitzen had blood pouring out of her head and down her face.  It was a very cozy and festive time.  Hot cocoa in our hands, gazing in wonder and delight at Santa's little spark plugs.  Oh wait... no... not wonder and delight.  HORROR AND WAILING from the wee ones clinging to my legs.

We go back every year.

We buy imported F.F.'s because the planted trees are all, still, the wrong variety.  Last year I was too out of it to go, so it was nice to be back this year.  The reindeer were all healthy but of little interest now to my tweens.  And the trees had all grown into respectable Saturnalia Tree size which is good because the Idaho tree exporters were out of F.F.'s.  Greater than my love for F.F.'s is my laziness.  I wasn't going to go lot-hopping in search of anything.  So we traipsed into the short and truncated woods.  And the Blue Spruce was the only tree that looked right.  The rest were Seussian nightmares or overly pruned, still short Douglas Firs.  Certainly the kids were old enough to handle the dagger-like needles of a Blue Spruce, right?  But Coyote wanted bushy and round, not the light, airy looked of the Spruce.  Diplomatically, Blue found a Blue Spruce, bushy AND round.

It was difficult for Huck to get in close to the trunk for cutting without getting his face sliced open by the Spruce needles. But after 30 minutes and a team effort, we felled our tree.  On it's side now, it revealed some of it's bonus features: a birds nest and an interior 2' radius of dead needles.  But you can't uncut a tree, can you?
The chubby tree
Once it was standing tall in the living room, we noticed another of it's features: it takes up 1/2 of the living room and that's with the backside smooshed up against the front window which make shutting the curtains really unappealing and no one is doing it - this means that you can look through the front window directly at anyone on the toilet, if they forgot to shut the door.  Okay, Technically, maybe it hogs only a 1/3 of the living room, but with weaponized branches, you give it its personal space and that space is 1/2 the living room.  Once up, the first thing it did was drop 400,000,000 pre-dead interior needles on the carpet.  The needles/razors get in your socks and only reveal themselves after you've been wearing shoes for an hour or two.  You are walking through the store and suddenly pain shoots through your feet and you collapse, screaming, in the aisles.  Christmas Cheer.

Then we decorated, wearing leather gloves.  Despite the precautions, my hands were bloody by the end.  They are still tingling.  And they PTSD tingled every time I look at it, even from a safe distance.

This is the worst, cruelest, meanest, least possible "peace on earth, good will to 'man'" fucking tree I could ever imagine.  I'm just waiting for it to start lobbing grenades at us.  I may end up burning it in spring with all of my childhood ornaments still on. I keep passive-aggressively forgetting to water it, which I know will just make the needle drop worse.  But it's hard to make myself go near it, army crawling under nature's concertina wire with a jug of water.  Every nerve in my body screams, "Get the hell out of here! Run! RUN!!"
Coyote's ice-crystal cave-in-a-tree

The other festive thing is that because I was so out of it last year, I had no idea where I put the outdoor Christmas lights.  When it was time to take those down (or rather, a few months after it was time to take them down) I was still stuffing lunch boxes with tools and hardware like it made sense.  What might I have done with tangles of Christmas lights?  Lunch boxes? Garbage? Goodwill? Underwear drawers?  Things are misplaced all over in this house still and nobody even notices any more.  Eventually, I found them in a garbage bag in the attic. Triumphant at last after weeks of worry and searching, I brought them to the dining room.  Later, still not being of sound mind even as I write, I brought the bag to the garbage can in the garage and just before tossing them in, I remembered they were my long lost holiday lights. Phew.

But who's going to put them up? Huck's reconstructed knee is misbehaving and I still don't have a head for ladders.  Blue volunteered but she now has a cold and a huge project due at school.  So maybe we'll just celebrate the dark this year, instead of keeping it a bay. We'll let the dark have its day and let the universe have it's balance, axial tilt and all. Happy whatever-the-heck you celebrate!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Un-Secretary


Monday it will be a year since my smashing little head incident and the anniversary presents a great opportunity to assess this crap. I also freshly bonked my noggin on Tuesday and have been enveloped in a less severe but still annoying cloud of dizziness and nausea once more, although I'm trying to pretend it isn't so.

Old Lemon Cucumber in the November Garden
A few weeks ago, my vestibular therapist and I looked in to her professional crystal ball and sussed out what my future won't look like.  Part time work: maybe in six months.  Full time work? Possibly never... but maybe something quiet and solitary and with a singular focus, like say, assembling parts at home. She didn't say that exactly, but I'm familiar with the practice.  And since it's on my mind I might as well tell you that when I was 13, just after eighth grade graduation, my classmate's father hired me to work at his warehouse, "under the table".  Here I spent all day assembling products at "home."  It was all the rage in the 80's. But I think the image was more of a home-maker-maker sitting on her stained white carpet, in front of the tv, ignoring her screaming toddler on the pastel-splashed couch behind her, as she peacefully assembled photo frames.  But instead it was me, all 13 years of me, alone, in a very dark corner of a large warehouse using exposed wires to melt plexiglass into frames and then glue a magnet on the back.  I also assembled hangers. I ate my lunch alone.  I burnt myself a lot. Until my dad dropped in to check out the working conditions and saved me.  I was somewhat disappointed because that meant I had to take a nanny job for school clothes money, and I think I would have rather been locked in the corner of a warehouse assembling garage sale fodder. And to think, that might still be an option for me.
Lemon cucumber corpse
The best thing my vestibular therapist said was when we were standing at the secretarial desk and we had to interrupt one of the four secretaries to make my very last appointment with her.  And my therapist looked at me and said, "This job? You can't ever do this job.  Too much multi-tasking.  Too much noise.  Too many interruptions."  Really?!  Really!! Oh god yes.  Oh yes. Yes please. Oh please oh please ohplease. Never? Promise? I've been stuck in those jobs for so very very long.  If you wonder why I chose to be a haus frau for a few years, that's one of the reasons, abject fear of secretarial jobs.  I was so freaky good at them.  My unnatural ability to predict my boss's needs and wants combined with my now-vanishing co-dependance that made me need to meet those needs and wants with glee, like a slave who's only dream has been to be a slave, who's fantasy of a life well lived is to take a message for someone important.  Layer that over mad organizational skills and you have a woman who would never get promoted out of a job she does WAY too well.  It's an important job, to be sure, not that anyone but a secretary knows that.  We make our bosses sound like they didn't sleep through English, we dust the dandruff off their coats before they head off to court to argue a case we did all the work on. (I was a paralegal for five years, which in pay and prestige is just a slightly-glorified secretary.) But I'm not sure what I will do for money.

"When things haven't gone well for you
call in a secretary or staff man
and chew him out.
You will sleep better and they will appreciate the attention."
-Lyndon B. Johnson


Old Cucumber: luminous in its afterlife
For a long time, I told people I planned to go to law school, what when all this moving and kid-having mayhem died down a bit.  But once we settled in here, any desire I was pretending to have, vanished.  Plus the law school here is one of the most expensive and the town in lousy with it's graduates.  But the law school dream was a nice thing to tell people to get them off my back, especially the Boomer home-makers who wanted to live vicariously through me and were disgusted that I'd throw my college education away on not-working, even for a while.  And just saying I was studying for the LSAT let the world know I wasn't just another failed launch. People would immediately assume I was intelligent and respectable (!?!).  It made a great cover story, and I came to believe it too.  But I don't think it's going to happen at all.  I don't think I can even keep lying about it, to myself or anyone.  For one, I've realized that if you can't respect me now, with the decisions I've made to date, I don't want your respect, because it's all tied in with bullshit.

And yet... I too believe our culture's bullshit on what is respect and value and worth, though I fight it. It's only human.  We're cultural creatures and we long to be valued by our social group and it's incredibly hard to ignore the screwy values we've cultivated into ours.

Lemon Cucumber, post frost
I always dreamed I had a jet-setter buried deep inside.  Given the right circumstances and opportunities, I'd have secretaries of my own, multiple phones and I'd run through airports in expensive pin-striped pantsuits with shoulder pads, a man/power haircut, high heels, with a 360 degree spinning carry-on hardback suitcase. I had this vision that I'd be someone in our crazy society, someone Important.  I know now that I'm important in the universal sense of the word, that's from the head injury, not a degree or paycheck or job or pantsuit.  But since I live in this back-ass culture, I'm sure I'm not alone in dreaming occasionally, in the furthest darkest corner of my warehouse-mind, that I'd someday be American-Important.

Halloween!
It's kind of relief to know that I CAN'T be American-Important anymore.  It's not that I could be but never will thanks to some moral failing or laziness, lack of focus, homeschooling, or simply by being distract by something less than world domination.  It's that I can't.  My brain won't let me.  Sometimes "can't" can feel okay.

Back when I was telling people I would be a lawyer, I remember confessing to a friend as we whispered in, again, the darkest corner, of an intimate restaurant.  I leaned in and dished my deepest fear about my faux-career path.  I said, "...but sometimes, I think that if I even had to spend one sunny spring day in pantyhose and a cublicle I would slit my wrists in the bathtub."  Shocked, she ordered me to never say that again, which I felt was kind of controlling and willfully blind: think it, just don't speak about it?  But  I don't think I meant I'd actually kill myself.  I think I meant that I'd have to drastically change my life.  So I'm not sure I really wanted the jet set life anyway.  I just wanted to be American-Important.  Can I settle for universal important?  Do I have a choice?

People tell me: "Oh, you know doctors and their predictions... the cancer patient given weeks but takes years."  Hell, after Huck's knee was shattered, lo these nearly 20 years ago, he was told he'd never walk again.  But a bunch of titatnium and hard work later, and he's a runner.  Or rather, was one until a month ago; now he's not even a walker, more of a swinging person on crutches with an appointment to see a surgeon. (Yes, life likes to pile the shit on.)  I know these "don't take everything a doctor says seriously" folks are just trying to make me feel better, but they aren't.  I'm enjoying the possibility that there's nothing I can do to make me American-Important, which means there's nothing I should be doing and that means there's nothing I'm failing at.  Sounds kinda relaxing, doesn't it?  Except for the financial part.

The two moose who traversed our field
But my vestibular therapist did give me some hope.  She said the career she could really see me doing was writing.  A deadline here, a deadline there, a quiet room and nothing to do but string the lovely words together.  I asked her if she knew how to pull that off.  She didn't, but she was sure I'd figure it out. Gosh, I'm gonna miss that lady.

Secretary and American-Important are off the table.  My future self is at the spa... that it can't afford and doesn't deserve now that it's not American-Important, but she doesn't care.  She's just splashing in the hot herbal sauna and ordering another glass of cool water with a lemon slice.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Dating Scene

"1953 is stuck in my head.  I don't know why," Blue said.
"Huh," Said I.
"Why would 1953 be important?" Blue said with increasing urgency.
"No idea," I said without any urgency at all.
"Can't you find out?"
"Maybe."
"Look it up on the internet!!"  Blue yells.
"You do it."
"I'm doing my homework."
"Right."

Farmer's Market zinnias
Blue and Coyote are absolutely appalled that Huck and I grew up before the internet.  My first e-mail, the one I still use, I got in 1998 when I was 22, shortly after I'd learned to use Excite and Alta Vista.  I got this hot computer geek in the college library to give me a "search engine" tutorial.  Before that? Card catalogs, days of research with little return, phone calls and personal phone books, letters and stamps, birthday cards.  The kids were trying to comprehend our description of card catalogs and they couldn't wrap their minds around the clunky waste of time.  Sometimes I can't even believe I grew up without computers or the internet... it seems cruel and isolated and boring and lots of hard work, like sheering your own sheep, cleaning the wool, spinning the wool and knitting it to get wool sock vs. going to the store, or better yet, buying them online. And we tried to explain the social ramifications to them: it was the big-headed blowhards that always seemed to win the day with "facts" no one could check so who could question them? They seemed to think they were right you had to go along or spend three weeks of hard labor in the dark dank library to dig up any information to the contrary.  Now the information belongs to all of us memory-less schmucks with smaller voices and hunches, and all our minds can be freed to think things through rather than retain little facts for the unlikely moment we might need them.

Hollyhock
So I looked up 1953.  In about 1 second.  And Wikipedia was there, of course, with the complete works of 1953.  Turns out, it was a really nutty year.  Cra-azy Cold War ramping up, with an H-bomb here and an H-bomb there, here an H-bomb, there an H-bomb, everywhere an H-bomb.  And U.S. laws being signed by Eisenhower dictating that the U.S. MUST build it's nuclear arsenal.  And I suppose that made sense for the times they were in. There was the North Sea Flood killing 1800 dutch people, hence the gargantuan hydraulic sea walls they've since installed.  Waiting for Godot.  Queen Elizabeth II. James Bond. Kinsey Report on women. Playboy's first issue. First ascent of Mount Everest.  DNA structure. And I don't know if they knew, then, how many landmark firsts had occurred that year.  This paragraph represents a year's worth of demanding card catalog work I did not do.

My brother is a cabin artist west of the Cascades
Then there's the births, the 1953 babies.  Those I'd never heard of, who blazed and peaked and burnt out before my memory, were the athletes... also could be I don't give a shit about sports and that's why I don't know of them. The actors and actresses?  I've got some vague ideas about some of them.  Most musicians: no bells ringing up here.  But the rock stars? yes.  Van Halen, I know the name.  But they're all old now, done, just the contrails of big careers are left.  But the writers and the politicians, they are peaking during my time, their talents and "talents" respectively, took time to ripen and develop.  And as I faced my 38th birthday after this crappy ass year, staring down another hollow year of non-working brain, I thought: hey, there are talents and careers that ripen more slowly than others and it means nothing about the quality of work or quality of person.  And after this year of crapola, I am much more soothed about the state of my career at the moment.  I am much more relaxed anyway and confident that my life is my life, my path my path and where it leads, no one knows, not even me, but I'll get where I'm going at any rate.  But for now I really am rocking the mom role and I am at peace, and this idea of ripening talents was just icing on my state of ease.

Since the Wikipedia was already open,  I decide to peak in on October 14, the most important day in my life. It's a great day for Mughal and Thai kings to be born, and for French revolutions. And just as those facts were starting to inflate my noggin with fantasies of political domination, I started to think of how many countries there are, close to 200, each needing a leader, each experiencing some turn over either to voting or death or coup, and you have a shit-load of leaders the world has seen.  Given this perspective, October 14 is actually very low on dictators and kings.  And the one's it has weren't particularly ambitious, that I can tell, simply because none of their names ring a bell.  Given my typical non-professorial knowledge base of the history of world leaders, especially Mughal and Thai, and my brain injury, I realize that just because I don't know who they are doesn't mean they were nobodies in the geo-political arena, but I'm going to stick with that assumption anyway.
There's a Blue up there

Also, e.e. cummings and I share the birth date, and no one can deny his brilliant nature-loving individualism, and he was a Unitarian.  Aside from the McCarthy fan-dom and a couple of terrifyingly racist poems ... it's like we're soul twins.

I've looked long and hard for someone who has died on my birth date, exactly.  And I've found no one.  I suppose I wondered if I'd be them reincarnated. But since the onset of this search, I've thought that if there is some big soul-recycling mechanism in the sky, it would hopefully let you rest for a while between lives, get some of that gunky build-up of difficult feelings and experiences out of your system, a tune-up, before sending "you" back in to the fray. But I still wonder who died the day I was born, and I always scan the grave stones for October 14, 1975 and it's never been found. (You know by now that I'm fond of graveyard strolls, right?  My father brought me to graveyards instead of playgrounds and it's a hobby that stuck.)

Moon on Hwy 20
My very favorite thing about my birth date is a thing that never happened: THE DAY ITSELF.  YES! In 1582 the Gregorian Calendar was implemented and it didn't go smoothly. Is there anything MORE exciting that could possibly happen to a date? Non-existence is a BIG freaking DEAL among the days on the calendar. It is the single biggest thing that can happen to a day, which is that not one thing happened on that day, because it did not exist. Sadly, upon further research (which took seconds thanks to the internet) it apparently happened to 10 days in October in parts of Europe, the 14th being the last day lost, the invisible caboose.  Not so unique after-all, I guess. But still, that's less than 3% percent of dates have experienced non-existance, which does put October 14th in the 97 percentile of non-existance. Elite, if not utterly unique.

Hwy 20 is state owned, the pull-outs were federal and all closed, except to we rebels
Perhaps my favorite thing that DID happened on my birthday is in 222 AD " Pope Callixtus I is killed by a mob in Rome's Trastevere after a 5-year reign in which he had stabilized the Saturday fast three times per year, with no food, oil, or wine to be consumed on those days." -Wikipedia.  See what happens when you have a written language?  All of your crap is permanent.  Where normally attrition of those who lived through it would have erased the memory of such a mob killing long ago, you've got the written language to preserve it. The people spoke, via mob: don't mess with our wine, and history heard their cry and unwisely ignored it for the 1920's. What were the Svedes doing in 222?  No one knows since written language came to them with the Catholic church in the 900's.  We can guess, based on carvings, that it did involve killings, decapitated heads on sticks, and also a lot of oiling of extremely large handlebar mustaches.  But we'll never know why because they never wrote it down.

222 looks like a dull year, over-all, only five things of note.  Compare that 1953's 128 events as per wikipedia.  But that could be because there were so many more people doing and dying and arriving and discovering and being crowned in 1953 than in 222.  But we also are the uber-record keepers these days, so many records produced in one day it would take a lifetime to read them all.  1953 even has the advantage of 60 years of distillation, to see what turned out to be important and what didn't.  But with everything evermore recorded, every moment, will it ever get distilled in to the five most important things?  And with all of it being noted, what is important? To the world, to the future?

The selfie(s) at the summit
I have experienced that sensation of my life as flotsam on the sea of history, being tossed by political and economic waves so much larger than myself.  But it's just a back drop to personal illnesses, heart break, love, anger, friendship.  To each of us, it's all history.  In 222 millions fell in love, died of simple bacterial infections, were born into mud houses, their umbilical cords cut with sharpened sticks. And what is one mobbed pope in all of that?  Real HISTORY, or just another piece of flotsam that happened near someone holding one of the few pens of the day and knowing how to use it?  I like the records we keep today, the blogs and facebook posts and buzzfeeds mixed in with the CNN's and Al Jazeera's of the world, all of it for everyone to decide for themselves, not just some blowhard with a ridiculously good memory, but all of us get to decide what's history and what's for the dust bin of our own minds.  

For me, October 14, 1975 remains the most important day in history, facilitating all the other days of my history and of me reading history, and making way for the second most important day in my history, the day it ends, some day in the future, hopefully far far in to the future and no one knows when.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Year Without Summer


It's apparently a one-step-forward and one-to-three-steps-back kind of a thing.  And I'm really sick of it.  My brain has been telling me I've "done too much," but my ego is screaming "What The F*** are you talking about!"

We had a great, if challenging, annual trip to San Diego to commune with Huck's maternal side of the family.  My symptoms were well managed by occasional Ativans and multiple naps per day, many of them on the beach.  And betwixt my moments of shut-eye, fun was had.  I enjoyed the amusement park and zoo, vicariously via voluminous recaps.
Coyote caught on on his second wave of soup!

And I visited with a friend from high school, which was amusing.  I hadn't seen Yuri in the twenty years, since we graduated, and I was a little nervous as I've changed so much and was sure to not meet any kind of expectation. But I was calmed by the memory that Yuri was one of the most reliably nice people in the entire state of South Carolina, and likely hadn't abandoned that trait entirely, if at all.  And also, in high school, she'd just come from Japan and her English was quiet, unsure, and infrequent. Our friendship had involved mostly a lot of smiling at each other and nodding our heads. In fact, I believe we shared more words during our lunch in San Diego than during our entire high school career. The funny thing is that she's lived in San Diego for 15 years.  I've been visiting for 12.  And her husband's office is only a block from where we stay at Mission Beach.  I'd noticed that many of her facebook photos involved very familiar buildings and the exact same lifeguard station we normally hang out around and a meet-up plan was hatched.  It was a great visit and the cool thing was that her English was perfectly eloquent and included the surprise of a Southern California accent.

20 years later
Then my parents came to visit, close on the heels of our late night, zombie return from California.  We tried for a mellow visit and accomplished that in isolated moments.  My mom had the idea to help me can, but I've decided this is a non-canning year.  It's exhausting when I'm in peak condition, but I can't even imagine the fiasco's that would ensue in my current state.

End of Summer Celebratory Snowmen cupcakes!
Then I let the kids talk me into going to watch Huck's band play at a festival downtown. It's supposed to be the largest free music festival in the U.S. and it has the worst, nastiest, makes-me-wanna-puke name ever.  Okay, grab a bucket and I'll tell you: "Pig Out in the Park." The name just oozes good times and classy grub, right? OR, possibly an unholy alliance of eating disorder and exhibitionism. Regardless of the fact that I got to chill in the VIP tent, it threw me over the top. It had been against my better judgment but when your son cries, "Are we ever going to get to do anything fun again?" you go. Then you have a total, crying, hissing melt down wherein your brain actually oozes out of your ears and nose and down a city drain (I believe). Then you go home and sleep for three days.
seedpod of Love-in-the-Mist in the mist

And then school started, while Huck's bipolar job decided to (unannounced) ramp up to 16 hour days for 14 days straight.  This left me doing it all, dawn to dusk, driving to town 4 times a day.  And napping for every possible minute in between. And that left me feeling super angry and sad about my lame-oh life and self.  Driving is still a challenge for me, with all the zooming and my eyes still not better, despite five months of work.  You might think, "Oh, if only she lived in town!  It would be so much easier."  And I am here to tell you that's a fantasy city (Spokane-size-city) people have.  The truth is that it takes 13 minutes to get from our house to Blue's school across town, or Coyote's homeschool school on this side of town because it's all freeway driving. And it takes 15 minutes to get from Blue's school to Coyote's and 20 minutes to get from one of my therapists to Blue's school.  Cross-town driving sucks way worse that out-to-in-town driving.  Anyway, I eventually was able to make a five page spread sheet to help me cope with every damn day being entirely different than any other day of the week.  There's no way I can remember every necessary pick-up, drop-off and extra thing to bring to school without an extensive, externalized memory thing, such as a clipboard with graphs and pre-made lists for each day.  And I guess that's one of those glass-half-full things, whereas I couldn't even make a spreadsheet only a few months ago.

unweeded grass in the mist amidst strawberries
And, if you caught that, why yes, I am homeschooling Coyote this year rather than playing Russian rulette with the roster of un-fire-able teachers at a standard school which was incapable of coaxing his hidden genius out of his crab-shell after three years. Although his second teacher last year did a much much better job with him than his first, it was during the break between teachers that we'd checked out The Enducation Coop and he loved it.  And he also got in to Blue's school based on IQ testing, rather that i-dotting/t-crossing testing and he will get to go there one day a week this year, and full time next.  This leaves me with two days for homeschooling, exactly as I did it with Blue, and he gets five years of school semi-security. I cried with relief when I found out.

One last sip of nectar before I go, don't mind if I do
But by Friday of last week, I was a total disaster on multiple levels.  Coyote awoke at 6:30, jumping and ready to homeschool. "Do we get to do science today? Do we do we dowe?  Or art?  How about I make stuff out of recyclables?!  OR maybe history?  When do I get to study WWII techonology? Whenwhenwhen? Is today cooking day?  I'm gonna make chocolate chip cookies.  Can you come clean the kitchen so I can make my cookies? Do we have all the ingredients? Are you gonna help me? Are you are you areyou?!" And I stumbled out of bed at 10:30: worst homeschool mom ever.

In the middle of all this mayhem and foolishness, Autumn started creaping in.  Flucking Fall.  Normally, it's my favorite time of year: crisp colors, apple cidering, laying down the garden to rest, my birthday, chili (I don't know why I associate that with fall, but I do love a good chili on a fall day), and there's this refreshing nip to the air which acts as a nice foil for the rich sweetness of nostalgia and meloncholy that always coat my soul during these days.  And I love it.  I love it, normally.  This year, I HATE IT.  My left foot keeps trying to slam on the season brakes.  Back it up, earth-darling.  Right your axis, for once.  This fall-crap is just BS. Take it back and apologize.  NOW.  And here's why I think I'm so full of loathing for this fall: I never got my summer.  Not really.  I just shifted naps from the house to the back porch.  I never got the full-on hard-living summer fun.  I never stumbled home from a sleepless camping trip, my back crimped from the hard ground and the rock beneath my sleeping bag.  I never floated the winding river, hot and sweaty on top, frozen in mountain run-off on the bottom.  I never went skinny dipping!  That's a first in 20 years.  I haven't had summer.  Normally, I love the turning-inward of fall, preparing for long dark days with good books and hot tea, finally, after all the balls-to-the-wall raucous fun of summer. But for me, it's been inward all year.  My gardening-lite year did produce rediculous amounts of food.  But in my real life, there's no fruits, no real labors, and no cashing in on the fruits of my labors.  There's just nothing.
Zinnia,darling, you make me want to write sappy poetry

To cope, I accidentally bought a GIANT bar of chocolate and some marshmallows on summer clearance and when I came home Blue jumped to the most obvious conclusion: we were having a s'mores party.  And so I said okay. It's been a long long time since we had anyone over.  So I invited a family for s'mores by the fire, for just a little while in the evening.  It made me feel human again and happy for the two hours they were here, which is two hours less of feeling like an utterly failed human. Even though the fire department came out and told us it was illegal still to have fires in our grassland plateau and even though that was embarrassing, what with our ignorance on display and all, and having to put out the fire just when the coals were perfect, it was interesting at least.  And it wasn't driving kids around town. And it wasn't napping. And so maybe another step forward is coming my way soon.  Just in time for winter.  Maybe this winter I can actually read a book. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Becoming Un-Un-Dead

Things (meaning my brainy neurons) are getting better and better around here. I feel like I should be walking around in a visible cloud of smiley emoticons and exclamation marks.  Each week the gains thrill me.  I am about half way there with the vestibulo-ocular reflex stuff and am gaining on the stamina.  I still have a bit (as in months to a year) to go yet, and still need a large mid-day nap, but the momentum is gaining.  It's like a glorious snowballing effect.  The more gains I make, the more gains I can make off those gains, and so we are charging forward. I will try to ride a bicycle later today, when someone is home who can take me to the ER (later: success!  And now Blue is fully trained on stopping blood gushers and dealing with broken vertebrae, not that she had to use those skills, but I did prepare her for multiple possibilities)

Zombie Poppy
Several people a week are telling me how much better I look, from my complexion and coloring to the clarity in my once cloudy eyes.  Even people I see only once or twice a month are noticing. Apparently what I thought was mostly invisible to the naked eye (that would be failed and partial synapses in my head) was visible to all, especially in my eyes. These noticing people call my eyes clearer, sharper, sparkly, more focused. Boy, it seems like if you take the reverse of these, I must have looked like some sallow zombie with dead, foggy, dull, unfocused eyes wondering the planet: "Brains!  Brains!  BRAINS!!!" Was I really that scary? that gone? Someone said I look like I'm "there" again. And you know what?  I feel like I'm here.  Not all the way, but I've been mostly beamed back to Enterprise, so much so that my particles are actually taking on a Sarajoy-ish look, apparently. It's only been about nine months.  It's like I've been in gestation: Here I am, world! Spank my booty and clear my nose, I'm being born!
failed selfie from the Zombie days
And now I'm looking around the house and noticing that, yes, the house keeper has been out for about nine months.  The kids have kept the bathrooms up and Huck has vacuumed and swept and taken on the kitchen a few times, but the backlog of baseboards, cupboards, light switches, dresser tops, closets, nooks, crannies, desks, cubbies, et cetera, et cetera that need to be scrubbed and re-organized is overwhelming. I expect that it will take at least 6 months to revamp this place. Oh gosh, my brain is overheating just thinking about it. Maybe I'll work on just preventing the current level of disarray from getting any worse for a few months before I start strategizing my plans for victory in the Great Household Entropy War of 2013(-14?!).

They still thought they could win, silly kids!
And there are recent signs and symptoms that the kids are growing up.  In a first stab at re-organization, we cleaned out the craft hoosier and tossed out all of the playdough and plastic beads; we are now officially too old for such things.  And then I started to notice lots of things my kids are too old for now.  For example, no one even tries to get in to the bathroom while I'm using it for my nefarious purposes; and it's been a good six years since anyone tried to nurse on me while I am doing business in there. No one has wet my bed for a very long time.  I haven't picked up any cheerios or noodles off the floors or walls in years.  No one uses a stool to reach the sink, therefore there are no longer any stools to stub my toes on.  Am I supposed to be nostalgic for those days? I'm not feeling it.  Maybe it's just the zombie in me.


With age has also come new viewing pleasures.  Once we were a screen-free family, when the kids were still of toilet-top nursing age.  It was only a year ago that we ventured in to Wii territory.  And only a few years ago that video games (educational only!!) crossed the digital threshold of our home.  But now, with zombie-mom holding court, it's been the Summer of Screens.  It's disturbing for me to watch them watching; I'm squirming.  But I'm really not bringing anyone to a life-guard-free Millfoil Lake where I'm the only person responsible for these precious lives. So what are we doing? Coyote: Mine Craft, like legos online.  And Blue and I: Buffy the Vampire Slayer!

When Buffy came out, someone described it to me in breathless tones of over-excitement: a blond cheer-leader-type highschooler kills vampires in Southern California.  Sounded way too gimicky for me.  And then a few years ago I was listening to Ira Glass (of "This American Life" on NPR) chat with Peter Sagal from NPR's Wait,Wait, Don't Tell Me.  And Ira was saying that his wife liked Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  And... I remember I was driving and I was near the corner of White and Cedar and I nearly drove off the road because IRA IS NOT GAY! Holy Moley on Stick! My whole world exploded and turned upside down. Anyway, I then began to reconsider Buffy.  And there it is on Netflix.  And so we began the Summer of the Slayer.

just bee!
At first I was very very nervous as it's rated TV-14 and Blue is only 12.  But she is 12, which is not 7.  And then I was nervous because the show addresses all sorts of creepy issues like teachers hitting on students, relationship violence, first sexual experiences and yikes!  At first I would narrate through the show: that's inappropriate, that's not a good idea, oh my she doesn't seem to be thinking clearly.  But then I began to see that that's what the show does, it deals with those issues in an awesome, non-clunky, non-after-school-special way.  I don't have to point out that a teacher's sexual interest in a student is inappropriate because in this show that teacher is going to turn out to be a praying mantis monster, or that ill-advised first sexual encounter is going to have big consequences.  I've learned to trust the show, shut up and let it speak for itself.

I also appreciate that the main characters usually portray great integrity in their interactions, unless they're the one doing the learning in that episode.  Buffy doesn't go to the dance with Xander because she doesn't like him like that.  Willow doesn't go with Xander because she doesn't want to be a Buffy-substitute, even though she does like Xander.

Buffy Blue's last time in my antique debutant dress
But the best part is the kicking and stabbing.  When it gets too mushy, (and it does!) we yell at the screen "More Slaying! Less Smooching!!"  Blue's 12 year old smoochy-squeamishness is a perfect match for my mother-of-a-12-year-old smoochy-squeamishness, so we're in synch with our rants, an anti-cheer squad. I hope that what Blue gets from Buffy is a full entitlement to defend herself in any circumstance.  Yes, girls can kick. Yes, girls can fight back.  The most powerful person on the show is a blond teenage girl.  I want her to see that.  I want her to know she has rights and the power and entitlement to defend them.  If only men, if they turn in to monsters, had facial changes so you could tell when it was time to defend yourself.  Unfortunately, the part about self defense that catches so many women off guard is that two seconds before, that demon supposedly loved you more than any one else. It's not usually the dark parking lot ambush.  It's the vampire you've invited in before. It's hard to go from smoochy to slayer that fast, to recognize the moment play switches to war and respond accordingly.  But Buffy can do it and I hope Blue can too, if ever the need arises.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Solitaire is my Guru

This could be the most embarrassing thing I ever confess (emphasis: that I confess).  It perches atop Shame Mountain, a flashing beacon, an obvious blemish on the landscape.  Red-faced, I dismount the high-horse, to tell you that I, too, waste time. Not with video games, or kitten youtubes, or tanning beds, or shaving my legs. No, I waste time by... by ... playing solitaire, not computer solitaire, (although that played a role once upon a time) no, I need the cards flipping through my hands and shuffling out, arrayed across the table, awaiting their destiny.
"Flickering like that, wrinkly and clear red"

It began when I was a child of 7 or 8.  I was wandering around at a Lummi Potlatch and I found this old lady sitting by herself at the end of a long table and playing a card game. Noticing my curiousity, she taught me to play, and I felt very special about it. On the way home, I excitedly described the clock-like game to my parents to which my father (having no idea that spiritual destiny had just struck) sharply commented that Solitaire was a waste of time, time was a precious gift, sacred, and solitaire whittled it away pointlessly.  Okay.  Fascination and curiosity meet Protestant Work Ethic, Protestant Work Ethic meet Fascination and Curiosity, I don't believe you've met before.

And from then on, it was my secret. I would sometimes play on the living room floor, hiding my games, doing "nothing" while I smeared the cards around when anyone came near.

Plath's little hell flames, Poppies in July
When I was 18 and 19, I lived in a small town on an island in Southeast Alaska, a ten hour ferry ride from Juneau. I worked graveyard at an old hotel which would eventually burn to the ground during my shift (due to a faulty boiler and a faulty boiler repair man), taking the whole block with it... and I would save a bunch of people (aw, shucks) and have fire nightmares for years. Prior to that, I had many adventures in the middle of the night at Scandia House, involving drunk guests passed out in the communal bathrooms, or confusedly pissing on the front desk thinking it was the communal bathroom, etc. etc. Between my duties of financial auditing and picking up guests from the ferry terminal, I would NOT sleep the night away like my predecessor (what? And miss all the drunk pissing fun?!). Instead, I would improve myself.  I got a list of classics, which I read taking notes.  I watched Mystery Theater 2000 and Comedy Central on cable (self-improvement galore!). And I played solitaire, the only thing I knew to do on the computer in 1994-5.  And that's how I learned to play that way, the computer way, straight across.

Solitaire has become my dirty secret.  Something like the-picking-of-the-nose, only to be done after looking around and assessing the likelihood of getting caught. Stolen moments, furtive glances, dark corners: this is me on Solitaire.  The pressure to look productive has kept my solitaire habit to a minimum, a few obsessed weeks a year.

Blue captured the F-word on my lips; damn bunny ate my tomato plant
So imagine my glee when my Speech Therapist thought it might be a decent compliment to the Bananagrams, Boggle, Sudoku (a similar obsession, but a smart one I'll readily admit to), and Word Search regime designed to get my brain scanning properly, finding words, and putting things together.  Oh yes, she said, SHE SAID, Solitaire would be a good idea, one game at a time, with breaks in between. It was like a pain killer addict getting a big, bottomless prescription for ... pain killers.  And I followed her advice, however hard it was to limit my activity to one game at a time, and not push beyond the blurring, the waves the rolling over my head when it's been too much.  I had to apply some self control, but I got to bring my addiction in to the light. I am entitled to play and it's no waste of time. It's not merely "permission" it's an edict, it's required. And I play it now at the dining room table, where the children can see me.  It's my good work.  It's part of my temp job called healing.

What is it about Solitaire?  Why the secret love affair?  Why the addiction?  The questions were finally asked.  And you know what I found? I actually like the answers, now that I can look them in the eye in the clear light of day.

Solitaire is an opportunity to watch my mind work, to get to know myself and understand how I approach the world. For instance: I've got a set number of times I like to shuffle so that I know it's enough to confuse the cards but it's not an endless process. I do this because if I win a few times in a row, I'll assume I'm cheating, although I am not a cheater in any part of my life. If I lose, I'll feel like such a good girl for shuffling so well!  Isn't that curious! That's what I mean by watching my mind at work.  So I shuffle my set number of times so that if I win I can remind myself that I didn't cheat.

Over the years, through trial and error, I've developed "best practices." I develop new theories and take risks and watch them pan out in about five minutes. I'll develop some theory that these types of cards are the most important to reveal in order to win, and then the next time I loose it will be because of a seemingly insignificant card, like a 6. And I'm always startled to watch myself not follow the proven successes, through impatience, or thinking my hunch is better, even though I know that in this game (with cards, no people), instincts count for very little.

I like that how a game starts cannot predict how it will end. It could look impossible and then slowly success emerges.  It could go fast at first and then suddenly peter out.  Our it could go fast, start to finish: WIN!  Or slow and slower and slower, loose. It reminds me of a saying Huck remembers from his Hare Krishna days: "Start sweet, end sour; start sour, end sweet; start sweet, end sweet; start sour, end sour." It's so life-like that way.


It requires some creative thinking in that not all wins are just straight forward and often, when it looks like I've lost, there's sometimes something creative I could do, shift things around for an opening.

There's a frantic, compulsive pace of play that brings careless mistakes and I've learned to recognize it and slow it down into a meditative pace that's much more likely to win. The desire to win this game motivates me to be more thoughtful, to move with more intention, and I've learned how to switch the mind to do that, in life as well as solitaire.
Windy and wonderful stop at Maryhill Museum

I like the curiosity/resolution cycle, much like that of a novel.  It's like getting turned on so you can orgasm.  Or getting hungry to you can eat something yummy. When I lay out the cards, I'm immediately curious as to what is beneath them and how the game unfolds.  I love to have my curiosity peak and resolved, and I believe it's a biological urge that's sent us humans around the world and pushed us forward. And here it is, present even in the humble solitaire game.

Solitaire is no mere passing of time. It turns out that for me Solitaire is a meditative practice, revealing myself to myself, and a low-risk action to understand how to work with myself better, to become more the person I want to be. 

And finally, it's more lifelike than many games because it's a game you play alone, like birth and death and all the feelings and decisions you'll make in between. It's you.  Your life.  Your decisions.  We're all playing this game by ourselves. Competition has it's uses, but it's just a tool. The reality is that we're all on our own trip, at our own pace, in our own heads. It's our game and no one else's.
 
Quintessential Sunflower photo op!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Dear Bad Drag Queen: Thank You for Your Service

Spokane's Pride Parade is the best parade we've got.  The St. Patty's Day Parade is cold and just one long long advertisement for cement businesses. The Lilac Parade/Torchlight/Armed Services (it's got an identity issue) isn't about lilacs or light, it's about military military military and it starts after bed time. This leaves the Pride Parade which has little to no audience up until the last block or two and so it's kind of more political march than parade.  I love it because unlike some larger metropolitan area Pride Parades, it's a family friendly and fully covered parade (except for the guy wearing only chaps and a sling last year... my kids still bring it up in a slightly trauma-processing way).  I obviously wasn't going to march/parade in it this year. But I felt that I could maybe observe from the unpopulated early parts of the route. So we set up our lonely lawn chairs and watched.

And they loved us. They showered us with candy and appreciation as nearly the ONLY observers they'd yet observed. They pointed and waved at us and called out "YOU ARE CUTE!!"  Drag Queens and human rainbows posed for my photos. Tralalalala! The closest I've come to fun for some time.  And I posted some photos to Facebook captioning some queens mugging for my camera, "Everyone should be able to wear whatever they want whenever they want." I felt good about everyone.

The next day, the kids and I went to our neighborhood grocery store. I was struggling to function that day and I figured I could pick up what we needed if I brought along my new cane.

Some time ago, I had been prescribed a cane.  I couldn't quite get my mind around it.  A CANE?!  I'm not falling over.  I'm not blind. I'm not crippled.  I'm just off kilter and easily woozy and getting better. But it's because I've recovered some that I need it.  It's now time for me to bring my eyes up off the floor and start seeing the world around me again. Instead of using poor mental substitutes for a crutch to find and keep my balance, I should be using an actual crutch to keep myself up and moving.  It's a cane, not crutches, not a walker, not a wheel chair; just a cane.

I knew at the Pride Parade, if I was going to be able to walk in to the Pride Festival to find my daughter who marched with our church in the parade, I was going to need all the help I could get, so I finally picked up a cane at the drug store and headed in to the rainbow mayhem.  It was a revelation.  Suddenly my head had space. I could see things. I could hear things without going nuts. I felt horribly self conscious, but my mind also felt liberated to do some thing other than try to keep myself vertical... which was walk in and walk right back out.  But still, that's progress!

Back at the grocery store, I was struggling again to find peace with the cane. I felt awkward and conspicuous. And then, in walked our local person of drag. I can't tell if he is sincerely but inexpertly trying to be a she or if he is trying to look like a he sort of being a she; it's not a real thorough transformation. Plus, women who are 6 ft tall usually eschew 8 inch heels, so it's an unrealistic get-up. It is none of my business, I'm simply unsure what pronoun s/he would want me to use here.

On this day, it looked like maybe s/he hadn't changed for a few days.  Her butt pads were lumpy and her boobs were wandering in ways that reminded me of my 6th grade Halloween costume where I was a bubble gum machine with assorted balloon shapes contained in a clear plastic bag around my torso.  Her blond wig was tattered. And his usual cobalt blue mini dress was, as usual, making him/her really noticeable. S/he always stands out, partly because I've never seen a woman go grocery shopping in anything close to that outfit. For me personally, however fascinating and interesting a well done drag queen can be, I find badly executed drag unsettling, as I did on this particular day.

Accidental mother-daughter opposite-matching, with props
Coyote's mouth was completely open in shock (as were pretty much everyone else's).  And his eyes were big as dinner plates.  And I felt it would do no good for me to pretend we weren't all seeing the hot mess we were seeing. I had to say something. But what?! These are the issues we face in provincial little Spokane. What to do? What do say? It didn't seem honest to ignore the spectacle, which normally isn't much of a spectacle, but today she was really amazing.  I had massive internal dissonance.  On the one hand, you know, isn't it okay to hope that some care might be put in to ones appearance?  On the other hand, what was it that I'd posted on Facebook? "Everyone should be able to wear whatever they want whenever they want."  All we legally ask is that privates are covered, and they were.  Um... so who was I really?

I got down at Coyote's level, in front of his eyes, and said, "Remember, Everyone gets to wear whatever they want whenever they want.  And it's impolite to stare." 

I stood up. And I leaned on my cane, suddenly able to handle the store, the noise, the people, the music, the numbers and letters everywhere, for as much time as I needed to pick up the few items on our list, all thanks to my cane. 

And I realized that if S/he can wear slovenly drag, I get to use a cane.  And it's nobody's business if I do.  I can use a cane whenever I need to, or not.  I can use my cane whenever I want to, NEED or not.  I can use my cane for as long as I want, whenever I want, or not. I can use my cane for the rest of my life, if I feel like it, just for kicks.  I don't need to be "bad off enough" to justify it to anyone, even myself.  I love my cane.  It makes space in my brain for other things. And gives me a sense of security as I expand my horizons and test myself against new situations.  And that's the society you and I both want to live in, one where people get to make choices for themselves for what's right for them, and it's none of our damn business.  My brain.  My cane.  My right.

People's reactions to my cane have been almost universally great, probably the bad drag queen can't say that. Not much gawking. Customer service is prompt. People make way for me in a crowd. I feel less need to explain the confused words that sometimes come out of my mouth.  Only once, rounding a corner at the store, was it awkward. This woman and I almost collided and instead of exchanging mumbled "excuse me's" she screamed, "AAAHHH! Oh MY GOD. I'M SO SORRY.  Oh please forgive me. OH MY GOD.  I can't believe myself!!! AUGHH!!!"   I half expected her to thank me for my service.  In such a military town, it's a common enough phrase to anyone in fatigues or with a crutch. But, as a friend recently suggested, perhaps that's what I'll say next time I see our neighborhood drag queen: "Thank you for your service,  and thank you for the sacrifices you have made for my sense of freedom."

Monday, June 10, 2013

Three Little Birds Singin': Every Little Thing Is Gonna Be Alright


It was three minutes.  Three whole glorious minutes.  I was pumping gas.  John Cougar Melencamp was booming over the speakers... and music, damn music has driven me mad.  Music in the grocery store, music at the gas station, just so much noise, so much waste of air space, scratchy, muffled "music" pumped in to every effing second, for what? for why? To clutter my feeble brain? I've had earplugs in for months. Imagine this: every synapse of your brain is like a hiker who crosses an abyss on a bridge.  Many of my bridges got wiped out, so for nearly 7 months, my hiker has had to hike around the entire canyon to complete a thought.  It is exhausting work.  And every sensory addition is like adding 10#s to her backpack.  She may not make it at all.  But over the past several months, with lots of help, we've been building new bridges.  Postmortem dissections show that these new bridges can't go in the same places as the old bridges, but go in next to the old location.  Plus, in some parts, we may not be making new bridges at all, but employing Evel Kneivel type tactics to make it across.  In some places all the walls of the canyon have collapsed and we just need to find a whole new route across.  It's been difficult, grueling work.  And then, this one glorious afternoon, it all came together for three whole goddam, mudder cluckin' minutes.  Holy Holy Holy.
Blue took some lovely photos of her brother's haircut-torture

There was this rush: I will get better. I will be different, but I will be whole again.

And then this deeper rush.  I am alive!  I was never in danger of dying.  But I was in danger, since the beginning of time, of not existing.  Such a long, sacredly random twisting of events has brought me here.  Going back innumerable generations, just the right people getting it on at just the right time.  And the long long evolution of humans, the geological evolution of earth, and planets and suns.  The whole thing, miraculously lucky again and again and again.

It wasn't just the fact of being.  It was the fact of being me, that was the rush.  Throughout this journey, I have gone very deeply, very intensely into the realm of self-worth.  Every day, I faced the fact that I was crappy at every single thing I am and do.  Mother, wife, friend, conversationalist, lunch maker, grocery shopper, driver, all, every single thing, I could either not do it at all or if I tried I did it real shitty-like.  And that is when my Faith kicked in.

The first UU principle: the inherent worth and dignity of every person.  And among them, me.  I understood, and felt, what I intellectually trust: there is nothing I can do or say that could possibly increase my value as a person, or decrease it.  No matter how crappy I am at every single thing I do.  No matter how little I do.  No matter if I'm CEO of some company, or remain a stay-at-home mom for the rest of my life.  No matter what.  No matter if I steal your truck or kill your kid or save your life or give you exactly what you need, exactly when you need it, every single time.  It Matters what I do and what I don't do, yes. But it never will increase my worth as a person.  That is being.  That is our birthright.  Just for being born, I have value. You have value and all the things and recognition we work for could all disappear tomorrow and we would still have value. The universe consciously or unconsciously put in a lot of work to get you and me here. And I respect that work and believe it was worth it.

In over 8 years of cutting his hair, this one turned out the worst, BY FAR
And after this long, scary journey, after fully understanding my worth, what happened in those three moments of healing is that I understood how incredibly awesome it is to be me (you too FYI!).  I felt like I'd been born again and in that moment understood the crazy incredible thing that I have: life and being me.  And here I am again, after all this time.  Here I am!  Being alive!  It's incomprehensibly cool to BE.  I want everyone to feel this, to know this joy of existance.

And these thoughts, these feelings, were beaming through my brain with absolute clarity, like a new pair of glasses, a new prescription, where the forest suddenly has trees and the trees all have leaves.  And that is when I understand some thing else:  I have really been through something.  The thoughts, if completed at all, have been like swimming through molasses.  The losses of self and self-concept and companionship and goals and dreams and the losses of those around me, Huck's loss of his partner, the kids' loss of a competent mother.  I saw that this thing, this head injury, is no trifling matter.  I felt a deep respect for those who have stayed in my life, for those caught up in this tidal wave, for myself and for the work I have done and for looking this all in the face and curiously turning my injury over and over, inspecting the spiritual and physical and psychological aspects from many fuzzy angles.

Blue's Window Comic "Book"
And then I slid back into the mud.  And I kept sliding until I was in a fetal position for nearly a week. It turns out, I had a small rupture on an internal thingy and there was pain and pain medication and scans and all that.  And I was grateful that I did not have chronic pain with my head injury.  But then they told me I might have chronic pain forever.  And then I felt my number was up here.  It was an absurdity of dog-piling ailments and snowballing symptoms, but that's chaos for you ... sometimes you flip 20 tails in a row. That sacred random that made me, can also take me out.  But then the pain abated and I am fine for now, although a recurrence is likely.  And there was backsliding on months of recovery work, as it all got buried under pain and medications.  And I have to work hard on word recall again. But I know that those three minutes are out there. They are there and I will likely me mine again.  But for now, it is enough to remember them, to remember me, to remember being myself with clarity and strength. And to look forward; it's coming.  I'm coming back.  I'm going to be me, a different me, but me nonetheless, and it's going to be epic.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Folklife-n-Death Festival

I made the very difficult decision to back out of my Folklife performance.  For those of you who don't know, Folklife is THE MAJOR folk festival in the region, taking place in Seattle this weekend.

They'd told me the competition had been fierce, but in the end, they were excited to offer me a spot.  And I was excited too. And then, nothing got better as fast as I wanted it to. And a few weeks ago, I finally had to make the call.

Coyote's fortune
The trip was all my worst nightmares in one:  Memory, driving/flying, crowds.  I couldn't even read the stories I was supposed to have memorized.  I don't want to stand up in front of a crowded room of strangers.  I don't want to try to remember 5 stories (I had just attempted to read a novel and had to quit half way through because I still had no idea who any of the characters were nor the plot line.  Every page I turned erased from my mind every thing that had been on the previous page.  It's nice to live in the moment, but that is ridiculous.)  I can't ride in a car for more than 30 minutes without getting sick, 15 minutes if I'm driving.  And I can't do crowds, at all.  So, here it is, a competitive slot and I can't do it.  Even more horrible, I didn't even want to.

Pursue your dreams! Chase after them! DO THE WORK! Whatever it takes! Reach for the stars! Believe in the impossible!

Me? I quit.

Coyote's drop kick
Maybe this is temporary.  I'll be back, right?  How could I not?  I love storytelling.  I'm passionate about it.  I even have a venue/sponsor now for my one-woman-show... that I can't do.  But it will wait.  It will all wait.  And as it all waits, I feel nervous.  But also this odd, unreasonable certainty, that when I am ready again, the opportunities will be there.  The world is full of them, right?  But maybe not.  Maybe there are some opportunities that are once in a lifetime.  But what scares me more is this: maybe I won't want to do any of that ever again.

Tiki god's garden
Head injuries, they say, can change people, personalities, talents, passions.  It's all subject to trade in.  And I feel like I'm dying.  I feel like I've watched myself die.  Of course, gloriously, my children still have their mother (somewhat) and I still get to watch them grow.  But I've lost much of myself, of my passions, my dreams.  One of my four therapists is working with me on, among other things, grief counseling.  I thought I might be being melodramatic, but apparently this is a common therapy prescribed to those of us with brain injuries.  Everything changes, quickly.  And we weren't necessarily ready or eager to say goodbye to our old lives, our old selves.  I am in bits that we are putting back together so slowly, and like the bike I took apart as a teen, eager to understand it's workings, when I put it back together, some pieces no longer seemed to have a place and other parts needed duct tape.  And that's where that metaphor ends, because that bike was never ride-able again.

So the experts say I will never be the same again.  Thanks to the natural flow of life, that was going to happen anyway.  But these changes were fast.  I've complained about my boring life, rotting in the backwaters, but in another way, I am truly in the flow, the rapids.  Life is change and I am here, tumbling through the thick of it.  My head IS chaos and tumult.  My veins carry the change and flow.  And I am more alive and awake to it then ever.

This experience has provided a rich environment for exploring all of the fun philosophical games about what makes up consciousness, soul, body, how intertwined? How separate?  Bodies as cases for souls?  But when the physical brain is damaged, it changes the person "within."  Bodies are souls?  No souls, but only bodies?  I lack both stamina and clarity to do much more than wonder, but it's a curious space in which I fidget with these ancient ideas.

It seems that I could have worked hard, I could have done Folklife, against the advise of my therapists.  But what would it have cost me?  Months of healing work, hard work, disciplined work, $2000 in therapy spent only on attending that event.  And then at least a month to recover.  It's obvious in my life now: people and activities are either contributing to my healing or sucking energy away from it.  My energy is so incredibly limited that I have to make careful and clear choices.  It seems that's the way it is all the time, perhaps.  Each one of us are always making decisions and each time we include things/folks/food/activies in our lives that detract from our healing, we crowd out those things that will make and keep us healthy.

I think of the woman who made "Super Better" (see minute 7 of this TED video) doing her (other)
 TED talk just 5-6 months after her brain injury.  She did it, shouldn't I be able to as well? But each TBI is different and each person progresses at their own rate.  It is true for the TBI and it is true for life as well.  Life unfolds for me at it's own pace.  I may be impatient and frustrated but this is my own particular life and path.  And comparison is futile, both in TBI's and in lives.  It seems to me now that "life, the universe and everything" is very personal and intimate and demands nothing but that I stand in the center as the petals unfurl in their own perfect timing, a blossom just for me and my purpose is to enjoy it's unfolding.  How perfect is it all!

Chasing the Ball
How un-American!  How unambitious!  I am a traitor!

It's difficult to make these decisions knowing you can't think clearly.  So I abandoned thought, and felt, purely felt.  And I felt sick every time I thought of going.  And I felt peace every time I thought of not going.  And there's a time to overcome fear, but this was not it.  And so I let it go.  I let it go.  I guess, if it comes back to me, it was mine... and all that.

I'd be lying if I said there was no fear.  Stories, storytelling, all the narrative arts have been the organizing principle of my life.  They'd provided goals short and long.  They've defined me.  And I don't know if it's leaving me forever or not.

Starry flowers made from star parts
I have broken down in to bits.  I am disintegrated and I am afraid.  But also, curious.  What comes next?  I went supernova and my essential parts are now floating around the star nursery.  What comes next?  It has no name, but we know it.  I am betting, heavily, on the fact that recycling is the Law of the Universe, not just the Saturday morning activities of some OCD goody-two-shoes environmentalists (I include myself there too).  We know that whatever I become next, it will be filled with light.  We know it will not be able to resist pouring that light into the universe.  We know it will be a light that will birth a billion blades of Emerson's grass.  And that's all we know, the rest is in darkness, yet.

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