Friday, August 31, 2007

Waltz for Riley (in G, for Bassoon and Wooden Spoon)

Last night Dear Daughter and I were both jonesing pretty bad for some baby-love, so we called up Smiley Riley's mom and asked if we could borrow her baby for a couple of hours. I'd scarcely hung up before they were knocking at the back door. Lucky me, I got to sit in the floor for almost two hours cuddling, singing and babbling with our dear little girly.

Due to all kinds of circumstances outside our control, it had been almost a month since we'd spent any real time with her, and in a child this young, that span of time makes such a difference. Not only does she now have pierced ears, but her personality has grown and developed along with her motor skills and appetite.

Riley can now pull herself up along the edge of a table and take a few tentative steps. She is eating all kinds of food and holding her own bottle (and, should the situation warrant, snatching it from the hand of a slow-poke grown-up who isn't coming across with the snackies quite fast enough).

She's also developed a real fascination with the world around her. As we sat and played in the den, Roselle Rabbit was making her rounds. The bunny goosed the baby. The baby lunged for the bunny. It was a hoot watching the two observe each other.

Dear Daughter had band homework that required her to compose a few lines of music using the three notes she's learned thus far. Fortunately, she already reads music fairly well and is familiar enough with time signatures for this assignment to be easy. She composed a nice little ditty in 3/4 time using F, E flat and D. While she played her music Riley and I waltzed around the room laughing. It was a sweet way to end an evening. All things considered, life is awfully good.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

A Sign Your Country May Be Losing the "War" on Terror

The Loved One got a rather interesting piece of mail yesterday. In addition to his fabulous job as an exploration geologist in the wilds of Alaska, he is also a Ph.D. candidate here at the local university. This is actually his second crack at his Ph.D. He was ABD (all but dissertation) at the University of Arizona some 20-odd years ago, but walked away from it for the opportunity to work in the Last Frontier. It turned out to be a pretty good deal for him then. He's been very happy in his work there.

In the late 1990s, he moved to Memphis to get married (to someone else, not me). He resurrected his dissertation and started a new Ph.D. program in Economic Geology. He's once again ABD, and has submitted a first draft of his dissertation. With a little luck and hard work he might complete it before retirement. I've come to the conclusion that it doesn't really matter to him whether or not he completes the degree. If it's okay with him, it's certainly okay with me.

Apparently, with the anticipated completion of his degree and presumably his graduation, he's attracting some interest from potential employers. This would ordinarily be a good thing, except this particular prospect doesn't seem to do much research on its leads. The Loved One is 12 years older than I am, which makes him...of a certain age. Let's just say a draft card would look pretty funny in his wallet next to his AARP card.

What I found particularly intriguing about the Army's pitch to my "graduate" is the enticing copy on the outside of the brochure: "FREE GIFT OFFER INSIDE." Wow. Imagine what kind of fabulous offer the government of the greatest nation in the world would be offering to induce young men and women to consider a military career and risk life and limb in foreign lands! Unable to stand the suspense, I opened the brochure to find that simply for filling out a postage-paid response card (complete with a line for the applicant's Social Security Number and an extra card to give a friend), we could receive, absolutely free of charge a "personalized U.S. Army dog tag."

Amazing. What an offer! I'm really tempted to fill out the card with the name and address of Our Dear Leader, or perhaps his daughters, or perhaps the name and address of any of several of the people at whose doorstep the travesty that has become the war in Iraq could be laid. I'm sure the consequences for such a prank would be dire, but it would be at least as funny as a branch of the armed forces trying to recruit a 50+ year old geologist.

Click here for a list of those who not only got the free personalized dog tag, but also a complimentary body bag to go with it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Postcards from the Edge of Reason

We're in between doctor appointments today. I met Mother at her oncologist's office yesterday, and tomorrow I will meet her and my brother at the neurosurgeon's. The tumor appears to be operable, and we will find out tomorrow if/how and when her surgery will be.

In the meantime, Dear Daughter and I just had a good walk. There are big, boomy clouds in the sky this evening and the temperature dropped about 15 degrees between coming home and going out after dinner. We walked a long block--maybe a half mile, and then spent some time whacking the badminton birdie around. She's got a ways to go on that, but it was fun. Then we played catch with a rubber ball and took turns batting it across the yard. I love doing things like this with her, and it doesn't seem like real exertion because we're laughing and talking and joking while we do it.

Right now, she's gone back outside with her guitar to try and figure it out a little. Last night we had a rather extended piano and bassoon session, so I think we're up to date on both of those. She's playing some simple Bach minuets on the piano pretty well, and getting more comfortable with the fingering on the bassoon every day.

The stresses of the "other" stuff in our life right now are bringing us so close, and it couldn't come at a better time. She's 11, almost 12, and in her first year of middle school. I feel new currents in our relationship, and they're somewhat foreign and will take some getting used to. I love watching her grow and try her wings, but I'm still longing for her to be my little girl.

And, I'm not sure if she noticed, but I noticed that the two teenage boys across the street noticed when she walked by. Hmmm... time to buy the taser.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Approximate Size of my Favorite Tumor

Sherman Alexie is my very favorite Native American writer. Actually, he's the only Native American writer with whom I have enough familiarity to even discuss. But still, he's good. Oh, he's so good. In the summer of 1994, I was overwhelmed with life changes and when I wasn't working at the studio, I spent a lot of time in the old main library in midtown on Peabody Avenue.

Growing up, our family lived within walking distance of a branch library. When I saw "walking distance," you must understand I mean 1968 walking distance, when families still left the house after dinner, together and on foot. We walked lots of places, but the almost-mile down the block, around the corner-left on Tutwiler and straight down the hill to the Randolph was one of our favorite destinations. We'd haul a Radio Flyer red metal wagon behind us, sometime with a few of us kids in it, sometimes not. We made the trip at least once a week and always brought the wagon home, stuffed to the rails with books.

I truly cannot remember a time in my life when I could not read. With two older sisters who were both early and natural readers, I take it for granted that I just started reading one day the same way I one started breathing or eating or walking. I remember getting my own library card, back when they were still hand-written on thin yellow cardboard by the lady librarian with the glasses held around her neck with a silver bead chain. Because I was only four at the time, she was reluctant to let me have the card. A stipulation was that the applicant had to be able to sign the card, and at the time I still wrote upside-down and backwards. One of our neighbors was a student library worker though, and, as he was also our babysitter, he had firsthand knowledge that I could indeed read well enough to have my own card.

I've always loved libraries, and in June of 1994, the main library was a place of great comfort for me. I would linger for hours, wandering through the aisles browsing. I had the leisure time to look and investigate books with interesting covers or titles. It was during this time I discovered Sherman Alexie and his collections of poetry and short stories.

Alexie is a Coeur d'Alene/Spokane Native, and writes the most painfully and powerfully beautiful prose. He writes mostly of the gritty realism of life on the rez, of the cultural divide that still exists between us and them, of social and educational inequities, of alcoholism, despair and poverty. Alexie takes these difficult themes and using his wry, spare humor crafts something wonderful and graceful out of them. In other, less loving hands, his stories would end up suitable for films by Quentin Tarantino or Ridley Scott. I would give a lot to write half as well as this man. Sherman Alexie writes better grocery lists than anything I'll ever dream up.

After reading Alexie's 1993 collection, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, I wrote him a card telling him how much I enjoyed the book. He was kind enough to write me a quick card back. In 2004, when he spoke at Rhodes College, I packed up Dear Daughter and dragged her along to the lecture. It wasn't exactly the very best atmosphere for a third grader, but if she's going to learn some of the more difficult truths about life, I'd much prefer she learn them in my company, and from the mouth of someone who actually cares about this world.

Anyway, we met the author after the lecture, and he said he remembered my letter. It was a nice thing for him to say. He signed our book. We talked awhile about things we like.

I borrowed the title for this post from the name of one of Alexie's very best short stories. It's the tale of a man, dying of cancer, whose wife leaves him because he refuses to take his illness seriously. In the end she returns because, as she puts it, "someone needs to help you die the right way. And we both know that dying ain't something you ever done before."

Mom came home from the hospital today. She'll go for a PET scan Monday, and another evaluation by her oncologist and the neurosurgeon later next week. After these appointments, she'll decide about further treatment. The approximate size of my favorite tumor is nearly four centimeters. That's the size of my thumb, or the cone of my computer speakers, or the screen on my cell phone, your average pluot. It's located in her frontal lobe, where it can't possibly be doing her any good. We don't know what's going to happen in the next few weeks. This ain't something we've ever done before.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

From the Mouths of Stuffed Animals

When my mom was first diagnosed with lung cancer in 2005, the hardest moment for me was explaining to Dear Daughter that her beloved grandmother was sick. She's only known one set of grandparents in her life, and spent a great deal of time with them while I was finishing my degree. Plus, for all of our dysfunctionality, we are a curiously close bunch, so she's grown up knowing and loving them well.

Naturally, she was struck pretty hard by the news of her grandmother's serious illness. One day while we were driving along, she made the astute observation that " person gets sick, but the whole family gets cancer." Considering she was only nine at the time, I was blown away by how precisely she summed up our situation at the time.

Monday night I had to explain to her about mom's brain tumors. Needless to say, she was not happy to hear any of it. Huddled under her favorite purple throw with the Bratz dolls printed all over it, she ordered me to leave my own room and don't come back for a while. Ordinarily, I don't take quite as much guff from someone to whom I gave a nine-month ride, but this was an extenuating circumstances. I did leave the room, but came back quickly bringing someone I knew she could talk things through with.

I tossed him under the blanket and ran, knowing I was in for it. A few minutes later, I heard doors slamming and figured she was working things out. Later on, she came out, Bunny in tow and announced she'd been sitting in a closet with a flashlight and Bunny talking it out.

"Human lives are really complicated," she told me he said. As an involved observer of the human condition for nearly 12 years now, this dear, dilapidated philosopher summed up succinctly our position today in the vast web of the universe. Mom still has swelling in her brain, at least one tumor, is taking steroids and Ativan and is having nicotine withdrawal fits. She's not exactly fun to be with right now, right at a time when we all need each other the most. I'm taking my cues from Bunny, and remaining silent as much as possible. I can only hope that when I do speak, I can be as sagacious as he is.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Want a Cookie?

This is what my fortune cookie said today:

The answer is in the yoghurt pot you threw in the trash.

Ha, just my luck, and quite the coincidence, considering I made a fresh batch of yogurt last night. The pot is still in the fridge though, since I reuse it each time I ferment more. I love making yogurt at home. There's something so natural and good about slow-cooking milk until it turns into an entirely different and delicious treat. The process is very simple and the end result is much fresher and tastes worlds away from even the good organic brands. Dear Daughter is learning to eat it with less sweetener or sugar, and dumps it on cereal or fresh fruit for dessert or breakfast. We come up with all kinds of wacky smoothie combinations and even made frozen strawberry yogurt one night with it. I also made a cucumber raita from a recipe I found on Chow.

Anyway, I can't give you a virtual yogurt, but I can offer you your very own fortune cookie.

Wom, wom

I'm going to direct you here (Fine Old Famly: Sonata for Violin and Bassoon in F), in order to read a most funny and delightful account of Dear Daughter and Best Friend and their latest collaboration. These two have a knack for cooking up all kinds of creative adventures. Thanks to Sally at FOF for making me laugh today, when I needed it most. Be sure and check out the comments.

And I must apologize for blatantly ripping off the title to this post. I've only just recovered from laughing so hard I thought I was going to do myself an injury. There was lots more "womming" at my house tonight!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Got Bassoon?

So, today I picked up Dear Daughter after school and we headed for our local music emporium to pick up her band rental instrument. You may have already guessed that Dear Daughter marches to her own different drummer. Actually, her intent when she picked band as her sixth grade elective was to be the different drummer. Or maybe the tuba player. Either would have been fine with me, so long as she was happy and willing to put the work into it to make some progress.

I guess I should not have been surprised when she came home and announced she had selected the bassoon instead. I'm truly delighted that she is willing to tackle such a complex and challenging instrument. She's had some piano and reads music, so that's at least part of the hurdle. She's fascinated by her instrument and has spent some time tonight practicing assembling and disassembling it (five pieces counting the bocal -- or the pipe that goes from the reed to the body of the bassoon).

Some of the world's loveliest music features bassoon, including works by Vivaldi, Telemann, Ravel, Stravinsky, Elgar and others. Who can forget the theme for Peter's Grandfather in Tchaikovsky's Peter and the Wolf?

So here we go, off into a new adventure. She's excited. I'm excited. In the meantime, did somebody step on a duck?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Living Between the Hurricanes

In August 2005, my Loved One was in Alaska, working as he does as an exploration geologist for a gold mining company. He loves his work. I love him. I love that he has work to do that he loves. Life is too short to work only for money...

Anyway, he thought I should see Alaska, and he was right. I needed to see the last Great Frontier, up close and personal. Actually, everyone should see Alaska. In my heart I know that the wild places in Alaska (and thankfully, there are still thousands of wild places in Alaska) must be what the rest of our country was like before it became so populated. It's like looking into a little bit of God's mind--if he created one place so heart-breakingly rich and beautiful as Alaska, imagine what the rest of the world once looked like.

But, I was going to see Alaska. Was I excited? Ha. I was about to come out of my skin. This trip involved so many details--getting time off from work, find a decent pair of walking boots, booking planes, arranging for Dear Daughter to spend some time with friends, careful packing of layerable clothing for the mercurial weather. The day I left Memphis was 98 degrees at noon. When I arrived in Anchorage, it was 40 degrees at midnight.

I left behind a lot of worry, but I figured it was mostly under control. My oldest sister, who lives in New Orleans, had just arrived in town. Hurricane Katrina was threatened the Gulf of Mexico, and while no one knew exactly which way the storm was going to turn, my sister had ridden out a multitude of storms in her nearly 20 years in Louisiana. We weren't all that worried about the storm.

My other sister, who lives in Middle Tennessee was also in town. Fortunately, no meteorological disasters were looming over her hometown. Scattered as our family is, we're not terribly often all in the same place at the same time, but, as the clouds gathered in the gulf, we gathered to face a storm of another kind.

It wasn't the best of times for me to be leaving town. My mother had just been diagnosed with lung cancer. Both of my parents had been in, well, declining condition, and although both had been long-time smokers, this was a blow. Mother has always been a vigorous and almost larger-than-life person. Besides a hernia when I was about 10, she was only ever hospitalized when her six children were born. She had the occasional bad cold, but was never ever really sick. Until now.

So, I left anyway for Alaska. The Loved One and I thought it might be best for me to go ahead and take a vacation while I could, since we didn't know what would happen with my mother. Three days into the trip, we came out of the wilds of the Bush at Carlo Creek. In a small coffee shop 20 miles south of Denali National Park we saw a newspaper photo of New Orleans smashed by Hurricane Katrina. Two days later in Valdez, we finally saw CNN the day after the levees breached. I knew my sister was safe at my house in Memphis, but the city we loved and consider almost a second home was irrevocably damaged and altered. Frantic calls home gave us little new information...we had no idea how bad the real damage to my sister's home or life was, and wouldn't for a few weeks yet. In the meantime, mother began her radiation and chemotherapy--a course of treatment that would last until March of 2006.

Life continued. I came home. My sister was able to return home eventually and resume her life. The Loved One came home for the season. My mother did really well with her treatment, although it was never easy. The storm hit us, broke over us, and though we tumbled and were tossed, we came through it. We celebrated Mom's end of chemo while Dad was in the hospital in March 2006. He recovered from his fall and some health problems, but died three months later of a massive heart attack. Mom recovered from her treatment, and got better and started traveling after Dad's death.

It was a year in June since Dad died. In a week, it will be two years since Hurricane Katrina hit. Mother has been off-treatment for more than a year. As I write, Hurricane Dean is assaulting Jamaica and setting his sights on the Yucatan Peninsula and the Gulf of Mexico. This afternoon, my mother was diagnosed with multiple, inoperable brain tumors.

I don't know how to tell her this. I don't know how to tell my daughter this. It would be a good day to be in Alaska.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Da, da, da

These are the times that try our souls...

Honestly, I have so much to blog about: the dachshunds, the large Canadian women in silver lame, how much I miss St. Jude, bowling to Def Leppard and Kiss, hanging up on a long-distance phone call, making purply-blue cornbread, spending thirty minutes today bleeding into a plastic bag (I meant to do it, and in a good way), the rain, shopping for a bassoon, having a full-blown crying jag meltdown in Auto Zone, cooking a good meal, knitting, etc.

Mother is spiraling even further downward, if that's possible. The doctor's answering service nurse last night suggested I take her to the emergency room and try to get her admitted. I would try that, but it's so damn hot here, I would hate to take her out and deal with being in an ER for hours with a difficult geriatric patient and then have nothing come of it. I did get her to eat one complete meal and part of another today.

Oh, I got a nice phone call today from one of my aunts telling me how concerned all of the family is about mother and asking what I'm doing about her condition.

People, I'm dancing as fast as I can.

But it rained today, oh frabjuous day, it RAINED.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Heavy Words Lightly Thrown

Is it just me, or does anyone else find it abnormally weird that the day that Madonna Ciccone should come into the world is the same day (although not the same year) that the King of Rock'n'Roll should leave it?

Today is the 30th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley, and it's just as hot a sticky today as it was in 1977. Actually, I think it's even hotter. Last night, a 67-year old fan visiting from out of town died in a tent pitched over behind the RV park across from Graceland. I suppose if one has to go, across the street from the shrine during the week of August 16 would be the penultimate for your average, die-hard fan.

From the "neither up nor down" department: today is also the birthday, in 1763 of Frederick Augustus, second son of King George III of England. As such, he was ennobled the Duke of York, and was entrusted with the command of the domestic military forces of Great Britain. He was immortalized in a nursery rhyme for his failed campaigns in the Netherlands. We used to love singing this as children.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Make no assumptions...

What is it about August 15? Today is the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, a feast of obligation on both the Catholic and Anglican liturgical calendars. This day commemorates the death of Mary and her immediate assumption (“being taken up”) into Heaven, without the corruption of the body that usually accompanies death. I’m glad she was rewarded for fulfilling the tasks God gave her. Since there was no service at our Anglican church, and no way to get to the little Catholic church in midtown that we like, I went to the base chapel today and heard Mass there. It was really quite nice, in a mid-day sort of way.

Take a peek at the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.

Today is also the birthday of Napoleon Bonaparte, born the son of an impoverished Corsican lawyer. His patriotism and drive to be as successful a French citizen as possible changed the course of the world’s history. Just another reminder of the great dangers of political ambition.

Curiously, on this date in 1057, the tyrant Macbeth was defeated by Malcolm Canmore, son of King Duncan I, whom Macbeth murdered 17 years earlier. Since we watched the 1979 version of the play last night, this is fresh in my memory. We had a great time watching it, and I was thrilled the three children in the room with me were interested enough to stop the disc several times to discuss the story and what they were seeing. And Ian McKellen truly rocks.

It’s also the birthday of Sir Walter Scott, Edna Ferber, T.E. Lawrence and Robert Bolt. Amazing how these all tie into one another… Besides writing the screenplay for Dr. Zhivago and A Man for All Seasons, Bolt also worked on a biography of Lawrence. Ferber's Saratoga Trunk is a terrific summer reading selection, especially if you have a hammock and a never-empty glass of something cool and refreshing.

It’s also V-J day. In 1945, Japan agreed to surrender unconditionally, thus putting an end to the Second World War. Go ahead and give someone a kiss. It's never too late to celebrate!

Coming Soon: Radio Redblur

Look what I swiped from e's blog. As soon as I put together a worthy playlist, I'll get this up and broadcasting. In the meantime, those of you who have been reinventing your blogs lately, show me what you can do!

Tool Time

I have a post for today drafted out, complete with some very interesting links; however, the useful tools that come with Blogger aren't working and I just don't have the patience today to create links manually. I'm sorry to be so lazy, but this will just have to wait.

In other news, Mother's appetite has miraculously returned, so I won't be posting anything tonight until after we (and by "we" I mean "all three of us") eat (and by "eat," I mean "Mother will put food in her mouth, chew and swallow it, and presumably derive nourishment from it").

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Hail, Thane of Glamis!

Today in 1040, the real-life Macbeth caused or did conspire to cause the death of the real-life Duncan, King of Scotland, and at the urging of his real-life wife usurp the crown for himself. Naturally, he got his just desserts and the whole mess ended rather badly, whether or not Birnam Wood did indeed come to Dunsinane Hill.

Anyway, continuing our home Summer Shakespearean Film Festival, we're offering Macbeth tonight, featuring Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Judi Dench as the scheming couple. Dear Daughter is very excited about the impending bloodbath, since Merchant of Venice ended bloodless, but tragically all the same.

As she, Best Friend and Brother of Best Friend are all actors in the local children's theatre, they're fascinated by the myths and legends surrounding the Scottish play. I only wish I had the episode of Blackadder to show them, where the time-traveling Rowan Atkinson practically causes spavins in a pair of uppity stage actors by repeatedly saying "Macbeth" outloud, resulting in their need to remove the threat of disaster by performing an animated hand-jive routine.

But first, dinner.

Notes from the Surface of the Sun

It's 105 today. Again. Actually, yesterday it reached 106. We've had almost two weeks of 99 and above temperatures. It's August (naturally) and I shouldn't be surprised, but this is getting old. And no, I still haven't fixed the air conditioning in the Subaru.

We're looking forward to next week's cold snap, when temperatures will dip into the high 90s for five consecutive days. Rumor has it we may even get some rain. Ah, rain. I've almost forgotten what it looks like. You'll know my house--it will be the one with the dead lawn and the crazy lady dancing outside in the downpour.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Don't blink, or you'll miss it

So, today Dear Daughter started middle school. It was inevitable.

You have a child. You bring her home, teach her to eat, to sleep in her own bed, to walk, to babble about bunnies and bananas and oatmeal and why the sky is blue and why up is up and down is down. Together you read books, look at pictures, spend rainy Sunday afternoons in art galleries, make hats with leaves and sticks, chunk rocks into lakes on steamy summer mornings. You fuss, you worry, you laugh, you despair over the piece of her own hair she cut in preschool, the spilled juice turning to sticky on the kitchen floor, the missed bedtimes, the lost earring (mine), the estimate from the orthodontist.

Each day is built upon the foundation of the day before, and you have to be careful what planks you choose. Some will flex, some will creak, some will wobble and protest with each step that lands, fair or foul. Others will hold, solid and steady, lending their strength to those less certain. In the end, the sum is usually greater than the total of its parts.

And so we come to this, the first day of sixth grade. Another milestone, and a scary one.

Dear Daughter is bright and smart. She is comfortable with following rules, but is creative enough to walk, dance, fly and march to her own specific drummer. School rarely presents any traumas or obstacles, excepting the occasional project left until the last minute, or the mean girl who zeros in on whatever she perceives to be a flaw in those around her. We've weathered six years -- counting kindergarten -- of first school days before, but this one, oh this one, this one friends, is different.

Why? It's different because in past years I've sent my little girl to school, but this year, I'm dropping off a 'tweenager, someone teetering on the brink of teendom; definitely not my little girl anymore, but not quite an independent young lady. This first day she locked herself in the bathroom, spent especial time on her hair, scrubbing her face, putting in the new contact lenses she begged of me this summer to replace the ever-thickening eyeglasses. The omnipresent orthodontia she could do nothing about, but hey, a little lipgloss draws the attention away from bands and brackets. She's almost as tall as I am, wears shoes that would swamp my pathetic little feet, and accessorizes with a vengeance--the shell necklace from Hawaii, the cerulean earrings in the shape of a star, the flipped-ponytail hairdo copied from her best friend (who also seems to have convinced her suddenly of the value of regular hair-brushing). Her messenger bag, though a bargain on a sale day, is hip and funky. Her lunchbox is a single color, and bears no team or cartoon logo. She packs her own lunch now, thank you, and insists on being dropped off far enough away from school that her friends --old and new-- cannot see her square, dorky mom reaching for one last hug and maybe, just maybe a quick kiss.

She jumps out of the Subaru and walks away without looking back. I wave anyway, and watch for a moment, hesitating only slightly in the seemingly-endless line of Honda Odysseys and Toyota Previas, wielded fiercely by those micro-managing moms who don't have to be at a job in exactly 23 minutes, who have the luxury of lingering, longing after their daughters and sons.

I watch, and then make my turn. I think of her periodically during the day and wonder what she's doing and how she's getting along. I know she's fine. By now, my thoughts and worries are for myself. We raise them to leave us, and then why are we surprised when they do? She's not quite left me yet, but will someday. Today was a first step. They'll get easier for her, but never for me.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Fun in Dysfunctional

Believe it or not, I really hate being right. It's no fun being confronted with an ugly truth you try to pretend doesn't exist.

It doesn't take long--just a few short minutes out of the space of an hour. A few words, a brief exchange of unpleasant looks, the same old story that's been told over and over again...

I spent years carrying around razor blades and sharp things in my pockets so I could slice little bits of my skin off--nothing much, the thick ends of my fingertips, the soft edges on the sides of my wrists, those mushy fat parts along the insides of my elbows. Just enough to hurt. Just enough to hurt enough.

It took me a very long time to wean myself from that habit and throw away all of my double- edged blades. I think the last one got tossed out about five years ago. Looking back, it wasn't something I'll ever need to do again. But at the time, it was all I had.

It took a long time, a lot of therapy, a little medication but I finally got the control I craved. Cognitive therapy is very good. One of the things you learn is to find truths that you can hold onto. Usually this means positive truths that you can leverage in times of crisis to counterbalance whatever dark and fearful thoughts might be closing in at the moment. I used to keep quite a list of these in key places--the bathroom mirror, the pocket of my jeans, the glove box of my car, a desk drawer at work. My safety net was never more than a foot away at any time.

The list varied from time to time, with one notable exception. The number one truth at the top of each and every version of my list was always the cannot earn worth through what you do. This was my mantra. This was my lifeline. This was what got me through any huge number of sleepless nights and aimless days. It's true--think about it. You can rescue drowning puppies and feed the hungry and put all of your money in the collection plate every day of your life, but it won't make a fucking bit of difference in the way the world, or anyone in the world looks at you.

You cannot earn worth through what you do. Some days you don't even want to try. I'm looking at the walls tonight and wondering why I ever bothered. I don't know if I ever will again.

Maybe the orphan thing's not such a bad gig after all. Can't be much worse. God, I hope I die before I get old.

Variations on Today's Theme

Happy birthday, Philip Larkin

This Be The Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.

More Us Against Them

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Thermopylae, where the Spartans and Greeks under the command of King Leonidas had the smack-down laid upon them by the Persians in 480 B.C. If, like me, you sat through the nearly three-dimensional splat and gore of 300 last fall, honor the day by lying in a quiet, darkened room with a glass of chamomile tea and ponder the never-ending quandary of man's inhumanity to man.

It's also the anniversary of the dropping of the atom bomb on Nagasaki, Japan in 1945.

Me, I'm avoiding mushrooms for the rest of the week.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

There it was, gone!

You know that little pop-up at the bottom of the page that says "Now Blogger saves your drafts automatically!"? Don't believe a lying word it tells you! Guess how I know?

Earlier this evening, I started a detailed posting about our trip to Honolulu back in June, and I navigated away from the page to capture a link. When I came back to my posting, I had lost the entire thing. Now all I feel like writing are swear words, and that wouldn't be very nice, now would it?

Instead, I'm going to crawl into bed with my new book from Kim Co-Worker (the Book Fairy) and read awhile before I try to call the Loved One before I fall asleep. All of my photos are edited and ready to go to cover day one in O'ahu, so I will try and get the next entry in the travelogue posted tomorrow.

Of course, I'm expected dire things tomorrow evening, as I'm going with Number Two Sister and my mother to visit my mother's counselor. Mom has not been doing well for about two months and we're hoping to start unraveling why with this appointment and another to her oncologist on Monday. I'm not sure exactly what I'm expecting to learn, but I feel like I'm waiting for a giant wave to smack me on the gravel and drag me off the shore.

Tune in tomorrow...

Whose Uterus is it, anyway?

There seems to be a great deal of discussion in the blogosphere about the Duggar Family of Arkansas, and the recent arrival of baby number 17. That’s right—17. The family has 19 members, all blood-related, all direct descendants of parents who are married to each other, and who have only been married to each other.

I’ve seen articles questioning the wisdom of large families in an already overpopulated world. I’ve seen articles both advocating and decrying the use of contraceptives. I’ve seen discussions over the Duggars’ choice to “rob” their older children of their childhood by “forcing” them to help with the daily care of so many younger siblings.

Enough already, people.

If absolutely forced to choose, yes, I do usually categorize myself more as a liberal than as a conservative. Social issues often bring out the liberal in me because I think we are called to look out for one another and to create a social network that will help those who, for whatever reason, are unable to care for themselves. This is why I think public education, socialized medicine, and food programs can be useful, supposing they are not abused or corrupted. Does this mean I think that the current systems in place are perfect and functioning well—of course not. The human nature thing interferes and what starts out as a good idea is almost always corrupted by someone’s private agenda or lust for power.

But it irritates the stew out of me when individuals play the “gander-sauce” game, where no one can criticize the hot-button items on their personal agenda, but they feel free to criticize others.

The Duggers seem to be a well-organized, self-sufficient, loving and happy family. Whose business, besides their own, is it how many children they have? Are they collecting welfare? Nope. Food stamps? Uh-uh. Selling their children for medical experiments or farming them out to relatives? No way. They all live together in the same house, which they built debt-free. The parents are licensed real-estate agents and earn a living sufficient to raise a family. The children appear to be clean, well-fed and healthy.

So why does anyone at all think they should offer an opinion as to how many children this family has? This is their dream. Does it have to be everyone’s? It is just as inappropriate to question why they have so many as it would be to question why another couple has none at all. Family size (or lack thereof) is a very private and personal matter between a husband and wife. Find something else to natter about. This ain’t nobody’s business but their own.

Years before Dear Daughter came into my life, lots of people asked me why my then-husband and I didn't have children. Especially when my close sister had her wonderful first daughter (just turned 17 last Monday!), the questions came thick and fast about when would we get busy and reproduce. It was so humiliating and painful to listen to all of the busy-bodies who honestly thought it was acceptable conversation to pry into our reproductive life. Finally, I grew a spine and developed two responses guaranteed to stop questioners dead in mid-sentence. Dear Abby provided the line "I'll forgive you for asking such a personal question if you'll forgive me for not answering." This was a good one that I used mostly on the little old ladies at church and the friends of my mother and mother-in-law. No matter how badly they pissed me off, I really didn't want to completely blow them out of the water with the truth.

Persistent questioners and those who just absolutely had no excuse for asking eventually got the bald and undiluted truth: at the same time my sister was expecting Wonderful First Daughter, I did indeed become pregnant. For about three weeks we were pretty happy about it, and my parents were practically doing cartwheels at the prospect of having two grandchildren within three months of each other.

Always one to do things my own way, things didn't turn out quite as expected for me. On Super Bowl Sunday, while I curled up and read the same book every other expectant mother in America reads, I realized I didn't feel so well. A few days later in my doctor's office, I found out why, as I listened to my doctor shouting orders to get me admitted to a hospital and prepared for immediate surgery.

I woke up in my room the next day, sad, scarred and babyless. Because I was an obstetrical patient, the hospital policy required me to be on the maternity ward, two doors down from the nursery. The nurse's aide who came in to bring me breakfast inquired repeatedly whether I'd had a boy or a girl. An anesthesiologist came in and mistakenly asked how I'd tolerated my epidural. My own doctor thought it necessary to parade a dozen or so students into my room to see the "anomaly" of an abdominal pregnancy. As they stood shuffling from foot to foot trying not to look me in the eye, my doctor lectured about the rarity of my "condition" and gave them the specific details of my surgery, some of which I hadn't even heard at that point. Humiliated, disgusted and infuriated, I threw back the sheets covering my raw, four-inch long incision and shouted "want a look at where Dr. Lightsaber cut me open?"

You could have heard a pin drop. I let go of the sheet and suggested, none too politely, that they all exit immediately. I had no more visitors, save family and a few close friends after that. Heart-broken and grieving, I didn't share the entire story about our loss with just everyone. That is, until the busy-bodies started in on us about having children. My struggle with infertility began that year and lasted until our marriage finally broke apart. Yes, Dear Daughter was an unexpected blessing, but the key point is that she was, and continues everyday to be a blessing to me in thousands of ways.

My point in telling this story is, family is family. It's not a topic for public speculation or criticism. The Duggars are just as entitled to their 17 children (or 18 or however many) as I am my one and only. Hush up and let them love their babies. I'll love mine. You love yours.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Think Peaceful Thoughts

Today is the anniversary of the dropping of an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. At right is a photo of a watch that belonged to Kengo Futagama, aged 59. Futagama was bicycling across a bridge 1,600 meters from the hypocenter of the blast, on his way to work. He was able to make it home, although horribly burned. He died of his injuries 16 days later.
This post is not about who was right or wrong, and what the use of atomic force may or may not have led to. This post is about remembering that we are all works of the same creator, and we all are responsible towards each other.
Pray for peace, people, everywhere.