Monday, 5 December 2016

I don't see many bullets coming through

In "Ride," twenty one pilots sing:

"I'd die for you," that's easy to say
We have a list of people that we would take
A bullet for them, a bullet for you
A bullet for everybody in this room
But I don't seem to see many bullets coming through
See many bullets coming through
Metaphorically, I'm the man
But literally, I don't know what I'd do
"I'd live for you," and that's hard to do
Even harder to say when you know it's not true

I used to say of my ex husband, "he would literally step in front of a train for me, but he won't clean the counters for me".  Like him, every man I have had a serious relationship with has said, "I would die for you," or even, "I wish I could die for you," I guess because it seems the ultimate way to prove the deepness of one's love.

But the fact is that in none of my relationships have I wished that my partner, whom I loved, would encounter the chance to die for me. What I have wished for is that they would contribute to relieving the tasks of life.  That they would help maintain a household, clean counters, consider my opinion about how our lives should be structured, how chores should be divided.  I have never wished for my partners' chivalrous death but I have wished for help with laundry, making vet appointments and paying bills; to be actively listened to, soothed, treated with compassion.  I have wished for a sharing of the burden of living.

A relationship isn't made good by a willingness to take bullets for each other - an opportunity that, as Tyler Joseph sings, comes rarely anyway, and as I say, would be only a single act anyway - but by a daily and persistent dedication to making small gestures of kindness or sacrifice for another person.  My ex husband's willingness to die for me made little difference in my daily existence. It is living for others that is a gift. Displaying over and over again that one is invested in a mutual meeting of needs not only eases suffering, but also fosters an enduring sense of being loved.

This article discusses kindness as the vital factor in happy marriages.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Vineyard

A couple of weeks ago after leaving a rural airport we saw a "U Pick Grapes" sign in the grass at an intersection.  On a whim we followed the signs for about 20 minutes until we came upon a small family vineyard.  An antique British car club meeting was being hosted and the little parking lot was lined with old cars.  The owner was welcoming and friendly fellow who had retired to the farm 15 years ago to board his horses; the mature vineyard was a happy perk.  He led us with buckets into the sun drenched rows of vines, which were absolutely tumbling over with grapes, and then left us to pick our fill.

We pulled handfuls of them into our buckets.  I felt giddy with the beauty of the place, the new experience, the pleasure of picking our own food.  Little spiders wove together bunches of grapes and hid within them. A bird's nest was sheltered in the vines, only the eggs were long gone, neatly replaced by fallen grapes.

The fruit was so abundant that they showered down when we brushed them.  They burst their syrupy juice and tough, tart skins into our mouths, so much more intensely and complexly flavored than the grapes I've always eaten from grocery stores.  We ate them addictively for days.  I learned to make grape jam for the first time.

While I once found joy so easily and now rarely do, this simple, unexpected afternoon among the overflowing bounty of grapes in the North Carolina autumn sun absolutely was joyful.






Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Being Woman

Last week was my second shift at a soup kitchen here.  It's held daily in an Episcopal church, which made me feel a little like I was finding home again since leaving Pennsylvania and Community Cafe.  Still, of course the experience is different here and the population very different too.  While many of the patrons at CC were poor or food insecure, the patrons here are generally homeless or destitute, and overwhelmingly male.

I was assigned to hand out trays at the beginning of the line which means I greeted every one of the 250-300 patrons who came through.  About 50% were polite and quiet, while 25% were explicitly thankful and appreciative (an attitude I neither require nor desire, since food is a human right and providing it is fulfilling a moral duty).  The remaining 25% or so made what could be called openly harassing comments that another male wouldn't be subjected to ("How you doin baby?" "Damn, girl looking good this morning." "Hey sweetie, are you married?" "What're you doing after you get out of here?" and even the pathetic, "Did it hurt... when you fell out of heaven?").

I stood there wondering whether it would be safe for me to leave the church by myself.  It's a nervousness I have felt hundreds of times. I also felt the equally familiar sense of shame and absolute diminishment.  I don't think that most men could ever possibly understand that feeling of being utterly objectified for someone else's amusement or pleasure and totally dismissed as a complete human being.

It could be easy to swat away what I experienced as a result of interacting with an impoverished or uneducated population, but that would completely miss the fundamental issue.  Our nation has recently been confronted by a billionaire who takes pleasure in sexually objectifying young women, and that puts into glaring relief the fact that this isn't a class problem, but a male culture problem.

I don't think I will ever get over my rage and disappointment at having had to live my entire life, as most women do, feeling that to a greater or lesser degree I will never be listened to or taken as seriously as a man would.

I spoke with the supervisor who was entirely sympathetic.  And tomorrow I will go back for my third shift, because even people who aren't well behaved deserve to eat.  I continue to believe in the rights of all human beings.  But I won't be handing out trays again, because I believe in my own rights too.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Kindness

The answer is not now, never has been, and never will be cruelty.  It is kindness.

Monday, 1 August 2016

A Year In The South

I was sitting on my back deck earlier in the North Carolina evening.  The afternoons are hot, but mornings and evenings I sit watching the small brook behind my small condo, watching the towhees who remind me every morning to drink my teaaaa, and watching the cardinal couple who live nearby.  Watching the robins and catbirds who fluff their wings in the brook over and over.  A hummingbird who comes by now and then to sip on the peculiar fluffy pink flowers on the tree behind the fence.  If it is after dark, I squint at the possums who scurry along the treeline.  The dog stands nearby at the top of the stairs and watches it all too.  The cicadas buzz so loudly in the night that I can't hear the water trickling over the rocks below me.  We are wrapped in the perfect warm blanket of the south before daybreak - or after.

I sat and watched and felt it all this evening and I reflected on the fact that I've been in North Carolina for just about a year.  And I thought, "This is it.  I did it.  No matter what else happens in my life from now on, I lived someplace beautiful on my own terms for a year; my body didn't take this one from me."

It feels important to me.

The Flowers the Hummingbird Loves

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Rushing

As a child I was strongly afraid of death and when I looked to my future I imagined that I could feel ok until I was 30, but that after that, the sense of impending death would be unbearable.

I was wrong, though.  Thirty was ok and didn't make any particular impact on me.  When one is 30 there is still a sense of a long decade of relative youthfulness stretching ahead in which one can reach important goals and structure a good life.

But I was right that that sense would descend eventually.  For me it was when I was 34, this last year.  I have felt a terrible sense of time closing from behind and ahead, and opportunities lost, and of the hurry to make final big decisions about the general way I want the next few decades to look.  Divorce left me floundering, without  (though in the end it was an illusion and I guess always is to a degree) a vision of a known future.  It's been a struggle find it for myself again.

I feel sad that I lost so many of my vital young years to illness; time that many people are spending establishing careers or families or traveling or in whatever other way living out dreams they had.  And so I'm left having not done many of those things, in a life without much of a career, without children, with a failed marriage behind me.  It is terribly disappointing some days.

I struggle every single day to hurry to make the decisions I have left - the big ones.  Should I marry again, have a child, and live a domestic life?  Should I step off that path, and leave the partnership phase of my life behind me, move back to be with my parents and live independently, within a quiet mutual companionship instead?  Should I still try to push for a career, for love, for motherhood, or should I stop seeking for myself and make my focus serving other people now?

I don't know, but I feel the weight of it all the time.  I will be dead in several more decades.  Dead and my chance to experience what is important to me in life will be over for all of eternity.  Over.  There is no perfect time in the future when life begins; it is now.  Now.  Time is rushing by.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

We Are All Children

I sat with Mrs. C on Wednesday while her husband left the home to run errands.  Sometimes my job is not really to provide companionship to a patient but more to allow a few hours of respite to a caregiver.  Mrs. C was mostly unresponsive.  Her eyes were open at times but stared blankly, and she mostly slept, even through the assessment of her nurse who turned her side to side.  I spoke to her quietly, and tried gentle touch of her shoulder and hand, but she is in a different world now and I didn't reach her.

I sat by her hospital bed, kept crisply made by her husband, and watched her sleep.  The home, which they moved into only a few weeks ago, is already filled with photos of the family, of her and her husband and their children and grandchildren in better days.  It was easy to remember that she like all of us metamorphosed through all the stages of life.  Once she was a tiny baby being cared for by her mother, before she became a mother who did the same to her own children, who one day too will lie dying.


I thought about her mother nurturing her as an infant, and about how we are always our mothers' babies, no matter our age.  Then it seemed wrong to me, despite the natural flow of life that means it is assuredly not, that in this terribly monumental, foreign life experience her mother was not there to tend to her.  I am sure that if she were alive she would wet her mouth, which was dry and rattled as she lay with her head back and her lips wide open.  I am sure she would smooth her hair and whisper to her.  She would guide her in her arms through this transition as she did through her first.


I wondered if remembering that we are all someone's child would help us to treat our people with more kindness as they age.  Last weekend at a hospice event at a shabby nursing facility I saw old people languishing in wheelchairs unattended to in the battered halls that smelled of an institution.  If there is anything after death, there are a million mothers weeping as they watch.



Tuesday, 31 May 2016

On Disengaging

As I get close to my 35th birthday, that traditionally pivotal biological milestone, I spend a great deal of time thinking about whether I would finally like to seize the chance to become a mother.

Today I got blood drawn for a genetic study I'm participating in.  As I sat in the lab waiting room in a busy city hospital here I watched post-operative patients pushed by on beds in the hallways. I listened to a husband and wife discussing the complex set of tests she was undergoing.  Saw surgeons hurrying by. A complicated, fast paced, sterile, helpless world.  I don't want that desperate scrambling.  I have suffered too much already.  While I once would have done utterly anything to cling to life, I no longer want to rage against the dying of the light.  I want to go gentle into the night.

May a mother do that?

...

I badly wanted to photograph one of the first patients I sat with.  She apologized to me for the gauntness of her face but she was terribly beautiful. Her black cat asleep on a sunwashed white window seat behind her, she turned her face to the light which fully illuminated her face.  Her cheeks yes, were sunken, and her skin covered in dark age spots, striking in the sharpness of their character. She was a vision of experience, fullness, and calm.  Of suffering and surprise and all of the living that she has done that we younger people have not yet.

She told me several times that she didn't understand why God hadn't taken her yet, because she was ready to go.  Still, she indulged my questions about her past and took interest in me, smiled shyly at my teasing.  When I was quiet she slowly turned her face back to the sun and rested in her secret, closing contemplation.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

The First Visit

I went on my first hospice visit today. I shadowed a mentor volunteer who has been with hospice for many years, to see one of his long time patients. I will have my first solo visit on Saturday, with my own. "There but for the grace of God go [he]," I thought, as I followed the volunteer, himself about 80 but active and alert, through the halls of the facility, lined with people younger but more decrepit, and spoke with our patient, barely into retirement and so ill.

There but for the grace of God go I, I will think one of these days, when my patient is closer to my current age.

There is a lot of luck and chance involved in the business of living.


Monday, 4 April 2016

Taking Time

I told my therapist a few months ago that I feel confused by the emergence of depression in myself these last few years. I used to be a person who felt joy easily, and found it in simple places. I told her that I don't understand why I've become more depressed as my life circumstances have become, in many ways, better. I am vastly less ill now than I once was, but feel so sad so often.

She suggested that when I was sick, I had time to find joy. Little was expected of me then but to survive each day. I had time in abundance and when I was able I sat in my back yard and watched my garden grow, or my cats catch moths and chase crickets; laid on the picnic table on my porch on a summer night and stared into the cosmos. Now, as a more well person, I feel the weight of expectations (many self imposed) and responsibilities that I didn't then have. I, she suggested, allow myself less time to find happiness now.  

I wonder if this is something that other chronically ill people can relate to during periods of relative remission?

Since then I have made time almost each day at sunset to take photos.



It hasn't solved my sadness, my sunset photography outings have been moments I can almost always count on to feel joyful and even almost ecstatic. The natural beauty here captivates and astonishes me every time I go out. It rambles and tangles and spills and bursts here in such a diversity of color and variety. Pennsylvania has the people who have my heart, but in terms of place, my heart goes to Raleigh and its gentle fall and short winter. It's early, abundant spring. (And yes, even the high blanket of heat of the summer.) How easy it is to find loveliness here.



I went back twice for an hour each time to photograph this overflow of wisteria and yellow roses cascading over a brick wall near my house. I was entranced and enthralled by the beauty, the light, the rich smell of the flowers, the intertwining of the yellow and purple. I love the absolute abundance of flowers washing over the trees.



I have been in a partial hospitalization program for about 2 weeks in order to treat my depression. Being forced to get up and out each morning by itself has been helpful, and so is spending the day with a group of people with whom an intense and caring camaraderie quickly developed. We are all so different in nearly every way one might categorize us, and yet we are all fighting the same fight, together. I care so much about my fellow group members. I worry about them and hurt for them.



With the help of the healing, kind, warm environment there, I have come through the crisis low I was in several weeks ago. I will never be a person who lives a life that looks the way I might have expected or hoped it to, but I think I can accept that. Life will always be a little too intense for me, and at times a little too sad, with perhaps a little too much uninvited compromise. But I feel that I am armed now with some skills and hope that will carry me through for awhile. Tomorrow I will asked to be discharged so that I can resume fashioning a life for myself here. I don't know now exactly how it will look as I still have many tangled thoughts to try to understand, but what matters is that it will be, in fact, life.

Friday, 19 February 2016

I'm Tangled


I don't exactly know why, but now much more than when I was younger I am tortured by confusion.  Sometimes it's almost constant, gripping, daily, painful confusion.  Not a lack of lucidity or confusion about my surroundings or what's happening, but rather, confusion about purpose, meaning, my interpretation of my past, present and what I should strive for in my future.  I don't understand anymore how to make sense of what I should or do want.

Once I seemed to feel fairly certain that my own perspective was accurate, as many young people do I guess.  I suppose it was when I was married that I retained the habit of questioning my interpretations.  I had little else to focus on during those years and spent so much time thinking, writing, talking, reading about my relationship, trying to make sense of it, and trying over and over to determine if something I was doing was responsible for the pain within it. My spouse, also, disagreed with my perspective on so many fundamental issues. Thus everything I thought and felt became something I questioned the validity of, and I still feel that way.  I have an ongoing inability to understand if I can trust my analysis of life.  Is my perspective valid?  Accurate?  Reasonable?  Rational?  I am constantly wavering; attached one minute or day to my interpretation and then in another, backtracking, uncertain, distrustful of and apologetic for it.

I don't know why I feel so much more angst than I once did.  I did not used to describe myself as a depressed person.  For many years I impressed upon my therapist that anxiety was my problem, not depression.  Even when I started this blog 4 years ago I described myself as someone who found and felt easy joy in simple places despite the difficult of joy.  It's so hard for me to feel that blossoming of joy now.  Why?  Have I simply "been through too much"?  Become jaded, tired by my life experiences?  Did I spend so many years so desperately ill that I didn't have time to dwell on these other facets of life?  Is it biochemical?  If so, a natural biochemical shift or the result of one of my medications?

It of course doesn't help that I never feel entirely well physically, which is a permanent, ongoing drain.  And that I lost most of my 20s to illness which leads me in the peculiar place of being a 34 year old with a life that straddles the border of one my age and one much younger.

It is a tangle and a mess that I don't know how to sort out and am not sure I have the energy for anyway.  I feel caught in a spider's web, turning around and pulling this limb and then that from sticky strands of thought.  I spend a lot of time lying down wishing I had the will to be productive and wishing I understood what productive even looked like.  And then I feel badly about myself for being this; not who I would've wanted to be.  An ongoing strain to my parents, and certainly not what they would've wanted for me.  Sad that despite the lie we are told as children, working hard doesn't mean we all get to have a good or easy life and that I may never have real rest.

But I'm so tired.  I do just want a long stretch of ease and rest.  Love and peace and simplicity and understanding.


Thursday, 18 February 2016

Two Good

On Tuesday I will have an interview at a hospice here in order to become a volunteer.  (Because they are a Medicare funded institution, standards for volunteers are required to be as high as for employees; thus, interviewing and extensive training.)  I hope to become a vigil and/or respite volunteer; that is, someone who sits with a person who is actively dying to give their family time to take a break, or, in case there isn't family, to ensure that nobody dies alone.  The dignified dying movement seems profoundly important to me and I look forward to being a part of it.

In the summer I'll have a small exhibit of my jewelry and photography at an arts center here, and at that same center I will teach jewelry workshops in the fall.  I'm really excited because I love both metalsmithing and teaching.

I am slowly finding some of the opportunities I moved here hoping for.  It feels productive and meaningful.  It's validating the notion that living in a city - especially one with an active art scene - is better for me 

In other ways I'm still struggling with sadness and general life confusion quite a bit.



Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Jane

The day before Thanksgiving, 2015, I received an email telling me that my baptismal sponsor, Jane, had unexpectedly died.  No!  Not Jane, hilarious, sarcastic Jane who had taken me under her wing the very hour I stepped into St. Andrew's, taught me how to be an Episcopalian, and pulled me towards the church community I became, for a time, deeply enfolded within.

Yes, dear, kind Jane and her crass, witty mouth.  Jane who made her own rules, stepped over them, around them.  Jane who never missed a Thursday Eucharist, and made sure I didn't either.  Who embraced her faith with all her heart, who cried when talking to me about the perfect love one can find only from God.  Tolerant, loving Jane who nodded her head to all the ways we live and hold faiths.  Endlessly giving Jane who still brought her ex husband a plate after Community Cafe each week.  Jane who went out of her way to make sure that anyone - anyone - who walked into the church hungry, or cold, did not walk out that way.

Jane who tried to drag us one by one to the Women's Club to help organize the piles of dusty old trinkets sold in the thrift store there; and who would buy all items of Christian relevance to distribute to her friends.  Like this wooden cross given to me by her on the day I was baptized with her by my side.


Jane who was 30 years my senior but as much a sisterfriend as a godmother.  Fixture of the church Jane.  Ever present Jane.  Jane whose endlessly annoying requests for Cookie Jam lives no longer ping on my Facebook.

I will never get to say goodbye to Jane.  I will never get to say thank you, although she knew how I loved her.  What will haunt me for all of my life is that I will never get to say I'm sorry.  I never stepped foot into my beloved St. Andrew's again after meeting a man I went on to date, a staunch atheist.  I easily slipped back into the secular world I have always been a part of.  Jane called.  She called many times.  She left messages and texted and tried to pull me back into the arms of St. Andrews.  Ashamed to have given up the church, yet ashamed to have found meaning there, torn between, I did not call her back.

I fiercely hope that you are resting in the place that you fervently believed you would find after this life.  How I loved you, dear Jane.



Monday, 8 February 2016

Deadened

As a child and a teenager poetry and prose tumbled into my head. I wrote un-selfconsciously. They flowed from me almost as if I were merely the catcher of the stories of the people and their lives that I wrote about. Poems appeared with a rush of adrenaline at sudden moments, urgent in my mind until I materialized them onto a piece of paper where they could rest in permanency.

At age 17 I began taking an SSRI, a serotonin re-uptake inhibitor. I took it to help control the anxiety triggered by a serious but then undiagnosed genetic disorder. Within weeks of beginning the medication I had a sense that a part of me had gone to sleep. It felt like, in a subtle way, I was no longer fully present, or that I was watching my life from a slight distance.

But the medication helped to control my anxiety. Perhaps the sacrifice of that little third eye that had closed was necessary; perhaps that little part of who I am was inextricably necessary for the formation of terrible fears. I was able to leave home, attend college, and learn to speak to other people without terror. There is unavoidable gratitude for that.

It seems that that spark, though, that part of me now dormant, now watching sleepily from far away, was also in some way one of the nourishing sources of my creativity. For, in many ways that, too, went to sleep. Writing for me now is clunky. It feels less natural, more pained and forced. I must think and sometimes agonize over each word and sentence rather than feeling them flow from me. I cannot remember the last time I wrote a poem but it has been years.

On several occasions I have taken breaks from my medication for a few months. Most of these times were triggered by a sense that I had grown strong enough on my own that the drug was unnecessary. Once or twice I quit because, after reading articles questioning the efficacy of SSRIs at all, I angrily felt as if I and my mind had been callously bought some pharmaceutical company (for what it's worth, studies that find that SSRIs may not be helpful for mild to moderate symptoms have shown time and again that they are for severe anxiety and depression).

When I did, as the effects of the medication rinsed away, poems and stories and visions began to appear again in my mind. A poem would suddenly arise nearly fully formed as I showered, or gazed at the sky, or drove, and it would be accompanied by a mild euphoria. My mind was colorful again, alive, inhabited by beautiful characters and creativity. The colors in the universe within me became vibrant again, and twinkled with the joy of imagination.

Each time also ended in the return of unbelievably anxiety. I have never found words to describe the unimaginable level of fear that can inhabit me. It swelled to fill my life, and the peaks of catastrophic adrenaline would triggered the symptoms of my chronic illness. I have hypokalemic periodic paralysis, a neuromuscular disorder with several triggers, one of which is adrenaline and stress. I would eventually be caught in a sickening, debilitating circle of unrelenting fear, terrible weakness, nausea and arrhythmias that pulsed through me day and night for hours, days, or even weeks at a time. It was necessary that I came to consider treatment of my anxiety to be a necessary aspect of the treatment of my disease.

Thus after several of these disastrously failed experiments I became a weary convert. My SSRI helps to maintain a life that is livable, and peace must be made with its likely permanent place in my story, my body and in my mind.

Most days I do not think about the pill I take, but sometimes I am reminded with grief of the sacrifice I will have to make for all my life. I have had to put a vital, beautiful part of myself to sleep, and it is a part I deeply cherish. I will always feel as if I am not quite fully here. And I grieve not only over the products of that spark of light - the poems and stories and essays that I would write - but also for the joyful experience of having a rich inner life.

I am certain that I am not alone. There must be many of us here, now, who are contending with these trade-offs - some merely inconvenient and others tragic. Squelching, perhaps, the painful artist's temperament and its fruits in exchange for the ability to bear living at all.