Monday, January 16, 2017

It Dares Not Speak Its Name

I cast about for the clock on the nightstand. 1:38am. My heart wants to jump out of my chest. This would make sense if I were coming out of a nightmare, but lately my dreams have been stubbornly inaccessible. Experience has me tear off the blankets, and then, there it is: first the heat that runs through me from my toes to my head, followed shortly by its opposite, a chill. It's maybe thirty minutes before I can get back to sleep, not so long, really, except for the fact that I am awakened again in similar fashion three times before dawn.

When doctor discuss menopause (but they don't! - there is surprisingly scant information on and off the internet about menopause), they always mention the mood swings. I read about mood swings and nod, irritated, because if nothing else, having one's sleep chronically disrupted does no favors to mood.

Menopause is a lonely experience. For one thing, its symptoms serve each and every time to remind you that you are old enough to be going through menopause, and not just old enough, but also objectively old. The symptoms themselves are unpleasant - here I'll add thinning hair to the lot - and unlike in pregnancy there is no positive outcome to counterbalance the discomfort. There will be no baby for my trouble. There will be only the certainty that I am done with all that.

And although I may have believed for years that I am done with all that, menopause has a finality that belief lacks.

++++++++++++++

I wonder why as a culture we seem so embarrassed by the idea of menopause. Is it really something that needs to be discussed in whispers, and only by women? Why is information so hard to come by? Why is there not more research into its symptomatology and its course?

This I do know: The way we skirt around menopause makes it an even lonelier experience than it already is.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Genesis

In the beginning there was a leaf, red, orange, or yellow. Or perhaps it was red, orange, and yellow. Why not? And the leaf fluttered across one pane of the brilliant September sky. In this roundabout way it descended. Doing its dreamy dance it reached a patch of grass. When it arrived and settled on the grass, the light had already been divided from the darkness, and we may say that the leaf fell into the light. But it could have been otherwise and made no difference.

In the beginning there was a child who contained all the world’s joy. That’s not a paradox, though it may seem like one. This child had climbed onto a leaf pile and was busy inhaling its earthy, burned scent when the leaf in question landed near his foot.

In the beginning there was a mother who was taking a bath and had slid underwater. The water fanned her long hair Medusa-like. She was listening to her heart, its reliable beat. When she came up from under the water she heard her son chortling through the open window. She stepped out of the bath, and soon enough September’s breeze blew her dry.

In the beginning there was a father who was raking all of the leaves, all of them, yes, even our leaf. He was, however, noncommittally raking, having realized that as fast as he worked his son managed to undo the work. So he may have had a rake in hand, and he may have gathered some leaves into a pile or two, but really he was watching his son, whose enthusiasm was contagious, and he was smiling.

In the beginning there were these four: leaf, child, mother, father. They were doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing, but not because it was their destiny. They were meant to be what they were doing only because they were doing what they were doing. Do you see? They were dancing towards the earth, they were playing in leaf piles, they were raking and not-raking, and they were listening to the steady beat of a heart, and because they were doing all those things, it was their destiny to be doing all those things.

And it was so. And it was good.


written in 2012

Thursday, December 29, 2016

What My Heart Knows

My heart seems to know a good many things that my head does not. My heart knows that when a ninety-three-year-old woman announces to a crowd waiting to be seated for breakfast that it is her birthday, you touch her on the shoulder and wish her a happy birthday, and you do it in a strong and enthusiastic voice. After all her hearing is not what it used to be. Your head might observe that your teenagers are cringing, embarrassed, in the corner, but what does your heart care?

Your heart and mine know that each death of a musician or actor in 2016 hurts because another piece of your childhood is crumbling underneath you, leaving you standing on a precipice that feels both unsafe and unsound. Your head acknowledges that you do not know the first thing about these people who have died, and what you do feel about them now (just as you did before) is mere projection, but what does your heart care?

**************

When my grandmothers were very old, both expounded on the same theme: it is not much fun, life, without your peers, peers who never needed an explanation of the particulars that made you you because they lived many of the same particulars. I got it, even then, in my twenties, young still.

Yesterday one of my sons tried to convince me that writing thank-you notes is obsolete. (He had already written them, as requested. In this, then, he was not trying to weasel out of an onerous task.) He argued that writing thank-you notes is a chore invented by etiquette experts like Emily Post. He used the internet to support his claim.

(Yes, my children are clever in ways I am not, and yes, they do not share my particulars.)

My head knows that thank-you notes may be outdated, but my heart insists that having my children write them continues to teach them how to express, or even how to feel, gratitude. Gratitude for one thing has a way of turning into gratitude for everything.

**************

My head knows that you cannot will yourself to die, but my heart knows that yesterday Debbie Reynolds did will herself to die just so that she could be with her daughter, Carrie Fisher, once again.

My heart knows it because one of my grandmothers did the very same thing. Lying in a hospital bed while recovering from a ruptured appendix, and only two days from being released, my grandmother said her goodbyes to us all. "This makes no sense," we puzzled. But I had heard her when in recent months she'd talked about life not being fun anymore, and I wondered.

"I am sorry that I won't ever know Kate," she told me in a fierce voice that demanded silence in response. Kate was the name of my future daughter, a name I'd chosen years before. Kate didn't end up being Kate. She ended up a he, and his name would be Jack. But my grandmother's message wasn't dimmed by the inaccuracy of its specifics. It was as pointed, as clear, as could be.

She died of a stroke the next day. My head did not understand how someone pronounced well enough to go home in twenty-four hours could die.

But my heart? It wasn't at all surprised.

**************

Back to the teens I mortified by wishing a stranger a happy birthday, to the teen who believes thank-you notes to be obsolete, but really to all the teens, because mine are no different from anyone else's:

Try thinking with your heart. You will find it rewarding in ways you cannot yet imagine. Practice a little each day, and by the time you are my age, most of the best thinking you do will not be with those quite capable heads of yours.


Friday, December 23, 2016

A Reckoning

When I was approaching forty years old I started to write online. The words, stoppered up for too long I can only surmise, came rushing out heedless of thought or care for others. That's how it had to be for a very long time. Writing enabled me to get through and over some longstanding griefs and grievances.

That was yesterday. Or feels as if, but really it was a decade-long process. Unaccountably I find myself turning fifty years old in some ten months. And at this stage I am quiet. Life is quiet. The words do not come with any urgency. I wonder, "Who am I to have thought I had anything to say, to you or anyone else?" This is no false modesty. It is more a sense that we all have words pressing for release. Mine are no more worthy of consideration than yours. At almost fifty I understand that we are all in this together, that we rise and fall on the backs of others.

Quiet I may be, but not settled, not yet. In the last year I have had to do some caretaking of my body, not my mind. Fifty warrants attention to the physical self so that it's sustainable for the long haul, or maybe so that the long haul doesn't feel long, nor like a haul.

My children are not any longer children. They are delightful companions, these young adults, and they keep surprising me in the best ways. But yes, fifty means answering the question of who one is when no longer quite so actively parenting. There seems so much time! Parents of young children covet the idea of all that time, but forget that an abundance of time is not always desirable. Too much time can mean minutes or hours spent worrying about things that seem downright inconsequential without the time to frame them up all pretty with a bow.

Well, here we are. Here I am. Breathing, living, quiet but content. White-haired, older but much, much wiser. The wisdom amply compensates for the loss of youth.

I wish for you all time and space to breathe, live, and be quiet but content. And I send much love your way as 2017 slips into being, heralded or not.


Friday, November 25, 2016

Thankful

Even the birds seemed mindful of Thanksgiving. Late afternoon held a silence usually reserved for daybreak. The air was cold and clean with whispers of rain. The houses looked cozy, lights illuminating families and friends gathered around tables or clustered around televisions. A few windows revealed Christmas trees, which caused me to marvel at the domestic skill I myself lack. Christmas trees more than a month before the day!

I passed by the lawn to which for so long was staked a "Veterans for Trump" sign, now disappeared.

At home three people awaited me: a husband preparing turkey, a college student who'd undergone the requisite gain in maturity after only three months' time, and a teen growing so furiously that he looked starved (all evidence to the contrary). The three playing Monopoly as the turkey roasted.

And I felt lucky, despite no Christmas tree (yet), despite the fact of this Trump presidency.

People do go on. Life does go on. Fighting for what we believe, for what we know is right and wrong, that too goes on - tomorrow.

Someone else, walking by my own house, must have seen a scene of cozy domesticity, and felt as I did, not envy, but a kind of wonder and love of it all, beginning and ending with the birds that knew to hush in recognition of a day made extraordinary by being altogether ordinary.



Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Topsy-Turvy

I wake up disoriented. It takes me a few seconds to place myself, to remember what day it is. It takes me another minute or so to feel a familiar knot, an awful, choking mix of anxiety, frustration, and helplessness. Yes, yes, Donald Trump did win the election. I roll over, grab my tablet from the nightstand, and start checking the news. Anything could have happened overnight. I am prepared for anything. And yet I am also quite obviously prepared for nothing, because each fresh bit of news - today it's that President-Elect Trump called some of our most well-known reporters into a meeting to excoriate and browbeat them, as only a good fascist does - shocks and galls. I cannot be surprised anymore, I think. And then, once again, I am surprised.

++++++++++++++

Blogging, post-Trump, feels indulgent. I could be spending my time in a way that's more useful to others. I could be writing a letter to a senator, signing a petition, calling my representative's office. I have done these things. They feel small and insignificant. I don't know whether they will do any good.

I don't know what to tell my children. I don't know how afraid they should be. I don't know whether they will have to fight in a war we (we? they? he?) should never have started. There are so many unknowns.

As a child I read a book, an homage to Escher as I remember it now, about a world gone topsy-turvy. It's only in the last few weeks that the book, long forgotten, has come to mind. Its images and text seem to have leapt off its pages into the world I inhabit. It's as confusing as it is frightening.

What do we do now? I keep searching for answers. If I look to history, I see what we should not do. We should not stand by, we should not let what is morally repugnant become what is normal; if it's normal, it's too easy to overlook.

It is harder to figure out what to do, and to know what action of mine might make a real difference.

I cannot even sit still long enough to write coherently. I apologize. 

This will have to suffice, until things make a little more sense.

Time for more phone calls and letters.

The people walk upon their heads,
The sea is made of sand,
The children go to school by night,
In topsy-turvy land.

 (excerpt from Topsy-Turvy Land by H.E. Wilkinson)

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Voting: One Family's Legacy

My mother always took my brother and me along when she voted, even when I was so small that I couldn't see or reach the rows and columns of levers, and the massive switch underneath. So the experience was ingrained in me: the privacy curtain, the stale smell of the air in old buildings (schools, churches) not kept up, the elderly men and women who helped my mother fulfill her civic duty. In these public spaces, unlike most, children were encouraged, even celebrated, and few adults missed the chance to remind us kids that someday we too would be granted a golden ticket, like Charlie Bucket's, to vote.

Afterward we'd sit down to a special dinner. My grandmother believed in Election Day dinners. In my memory these were almost as elaborate as Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners, although they involved cold foods, not hot: picnic food in November. My birthday fell a few days before Election Day (still does), and so for me the air was doubly charged.

Once dinner was finished my mother, grandmother, uncle, and aunt would scurry to the family room and watch the returns, sometimes well into the next morning. They, political junkies all, were never more animated than on election night. I would lie on the floor and half-listen to swells of conversation. I didn't understand most of it but by its pitch and tone I could suss out who was winning or losing, and whether we (unified in this if nothing else) were happy about it. No one ever remembered to put me to bed. I'm not sure they knew I was in the room.

++++++++++++++++++++ 

Three of four of those people have died, and yet they are with me on Election Day. This I know: They would be appalled by this election season. They would be inhaling it as reliably as they inhaled the smoke from their cigarettes. If they knew how to do so they would be checking fivethirtyeight.com as obsessively as I am.

I miss my grandmother, mother, and uncle most on the first or second Tuesday in November. On Tuesday I may not use switches and levers to cast my vote for HRC, but when I ink circles I will sense my departed family gathered around me much the way my brother and I swirled around my mother as she voted. I will smell their cigarettes and feel their passion for the electoral process. And I will be buoyed by their legacy as I vote for the candidate they would have chosen.