Archive for October, 2009

thinky thots thursday

It’s been a while, but returning now in all their, uh, effervescent splendor, thinky thots from my offspring:

“I didn’t fart! It was the pumpkin.”

“Scuse me. There’s a ghost in my butt.”

“Everybody poops. Even Spiderman.”

“Is that a bra for your butt?”

“Hey, sweetheart rhymes with eat fart!”

And, slightly off-topic but refreshingly so:

“Hey. Pretend I’m a woodchip…”

Read Full Post »

I couldn’t resist playing along, partly because I desperately want to win a signed copy of The Dread Crew: Pirates of the Backwoods and partly because I just can’t refuse any sort of forum for blathering on about my favorite literary whatnots. So, without further ado:

1. I’m going on an epic journey. I’ll choose D’Artagnan as my companion, the Golden Compass as my tool, and that time-bending contraption from Contact as my vehicle.

2. I’ll escape to the insides of Elizabeth Kostova’s “The Historian” because the character and perspective possess all the comforts and concepts of modernity, but the layers of the past she peels back, and the deep forests and deeper secrets of old-world Eastern Europe are so deliciously dark and compelling.

3. I’d bring Austen’s Mr. Darcy into my current life. Not because I don’t love my husband, but because I lurve Mr. Darcy, and have for a long time, even before Colin Firth played him in the BBC film. Something about his stoic, curmudgeonly exterior hiding the honorable, passionate heart just gets me by the throat.

4. “The Sparrow” by Mary Doria Russell is my go-to book of all time.

5. As a child, I probably envied Lucy from the Narnia books more than anyone.

6. As a child, I probably most feared Sauron and his Ringwraiths.

7. Every time I read Rilke’s “Duino Elegies” I see something in it that I haven’t before.

8. It is imperative that Tana French’s “The Likeness” be made into a movie. If they cast Anne Hathaway as Cassie I will be pissed. I would be appeased, however, if they cast Alan Rickman as Frank Mackey.

9. Haruki Murakami’s “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” is a book that should never be made into a film.

10. After all these years, the clown scene in Poltergeist still gives me the queebes.

11. After all these years, the “my god, it’s full of stars” scene in 2001: A Space Oddessy still gives me a thrill.

12. If I could corner Wallace Stegner, here’s what I say to him in one minute or less about his book “Angle of Repose”: Thank you for showing me how landscape has narrative, how beauty can exist in the broken edges of things, how precarious we all are and how grief and loss possess secret gifts, can open us again. Thank you for being at once an exemplary study of writing and a teacher of the heart.

13. The coolest non-fiction book I’ve ever read is “Moon in a Dewdrop” by Dogen. Every time I flip through it, it makes me want to sit zazen again.

Read Full Post »

as true as taxes

One always hears about the calm before the storm, but our personal little disaster seems to have happened in reverse order. As described in my last post, I had a panic attack (followed by several others) at the thought of impending financial doom, replete with gasping, shriveling up on the kitchen floor in the throes of despair, etc. My father always said I had a flair for theatrics. It’s just when they come unbidden, unwelcome, that I consider it less a flair than an affliction.

Anyway, three days after that post, it happened. My husband was laid off. I had a brief email: “It’s done. Packing up my things now.” A few hours of staring blankly at my computer screen, numbness spreading out from my chest to my extremities, a statue of acquiescence. Then a brief release of tears, a choked phone call to immediate family who had been on standby prayer status.

When my husband arrived home later in the day, after apologies from his boss, a grim yet matter-of-fact meeting with HR, and the walk of shame, box in arms, down the halls of downcast gazes and out into the biting air of new possibility, he was invigorated by relief. Because he’d felt, literally, incarcerated there, trapped by steady paychecks into the tasteless and bland corporate horror of what we snidely termed creative mediocrity.

And for a person who usually skirts the borders of OCD behavior when it comes to finances, he is remarkably relaxed in the face of things. Things which include loans come due, stiff COBRA payments, negligible severance pay, and a job market already saturated with equally qualified seekers and a pitiably short supply of open positions.

Yet. While I know this is just the beginning of what will possibly be a long slog towards solvency, here, in the newness of it, his joy in freedom is palpable and contagious. We sit, back to back, madly typing cover letters and pitches and portfolios, editing and interrupting each other as we race deliriously, furiously towards an imagined future of fulfilling and engaging employment.

More than this outward enthusiasm, though, I’m basking in our inward knitting together. Immediate, in-room consolation and commiseration when a pitch is shot down or a hoped-for position is filled. Neck rubs through the agony of rewriting a resume for the eleventy billionth time. Snacks. Coffee runs. Through it all, the talking, the exchange, the connection. More than we’ve had in years.

And more family time. He comes on school pickups, does dropoffs by himself. Plays with the kids while I cook, or vice versa. Helps with the nightmare of end-of-day meltdowns and grumpy morning get-out-the-door tedium. Accepts poop duty with equal parts resignation and fortitude. Is more patient with them than I am.

Of course, there are the downsides. He criticizes the way I do laundry. (Who DOES that? Are we not grateful for clean clothes and linens?) He looks over my shoulder and asks what I’m typing, or worse, reads it. (Which is why this post has not appeared until now, because I literally couldn’t write it with him hovering. It’s only because he’s been on a call all morning that I got this done at all.) He asks what am I planning for dinner, probably my all-time most detested question ever. (Don’t . Ask.)

But still, this new normal is proving to be entirely different than what I had anticipated. I look out my kitchen window and see the wide windy sky, and what comes is not tears, but trust. That what is blown our way is meant for us, that strength comes with hardship, and resourcefulness is adversity’s reward. I feel receptive to the idea that things may actually work out, before we lose our house or can’t put food on the table. I feel driven by possibility, not by fear. For now, I feel we have passed through the worst of the storm, and calm will surely follow.

Read Full Post »

breathe upon the changing dust

The last few weeks I’ve been doing a pretty decent job of pretending my world isn’t about to become unglued. I’ve been patient and loving with the kids, focused on getting work done, trying really hard not to snap at my husband, to stay upbeat and positive and encouraging to those around me (and let’s face it, this seems to be a bad month for just about everyone).

I haven’t been thinking about the fact that we’re fairly certain my husband will be laid off soon, or that neither he nor I are getting any traction in our job searches. I haven’t been thinking about all the things falling apart in and on our house we can’t afford to fix, or the insurance payments we’re late on or the tuition bills we’re committed to or the fact that I can’t buy the kids a simple ice cream even when I really want to and they really deserve one. I matter-of-factly found out what we could expect in terms of unemployment benefits, and calmly noted that it wouldn’t even cover our mortgage payments let alone other expenses.

But yesterday it all came crashing down. The worry, the wondering, the work . . . it all caught up with me and I had an Oh Fuck attack of epic proportions. I stood looking out the kitchen window, watching the clouds billow with pent-up rain, and suddenly these words appeared unbidden in my mind: “At least there is beauty.” And I thought of everything we stood to lose: our house, our community, our self-sufficiency. And then I was sobbing, and gasping, and my heart began to race and I shook and shivered and looked at the phone, wondering if I should dial 911.

So this is what v-fib feels like, I thought stupidly, as my heart fluttered away like a 20-foot prank balloon, out of the reach of various agencies of reason and rescue. I sat down hard on the kitchen floor, my feet juddering out from under me and my hands clenching and curling back on my wrists in some kind of sickening flipper-baby gesture. A high-pitched whistling filled my ears and I wondered, dully, if it was the carbon monoxide alarm.

And then I realized it was me. I was hyperventilating, or wheezing, or performing some other kind of problematic air-sucking attempt, and that whistling sound was me not getting enough oxygen. Everything turned sort of white and foggy around the edges. I rolled over onto my side, pressing my cheek against the cool floor, feeling both ridiculous and overwhelmingly, terrifyingly alone.

I forced myself to try and regulate my breathing. It’s all in my mind, I told myself, hoping I’d be comforted by the realization it wasn’t, in fact, my body having a Spontaneous Death Event. I crawled to the computer, and twittered that I was having a panic attack.

I don’t know why I didn’t call my husband, or my mom, or my best friend. But I do know, that in less than 140 characters, one woman I’ve never actually met was able to tell me that she understood, and she cared, and she wanted to help:


I don’t know if it was ultimately her suggestion (a good one) that helped, or just that simple act of connection, but within minutes I was able to breathe again without whistling, and drink some water, and back away from the bizarre psycho-somatic ledge I had gotten myself stuck on.

The day continued, balloon boy news unfolding as a convenient distraction, demands of children focusing my attention on the basic rituals: food, bath, books, bed. I cleaned up. I talked calmly with my husband about work, money, options. I read, played solitaire, went to bed. I watched, from my pillow, the stars moving on their unseen paths. I slept.

And then, today, I see a baby blown off the platform directly in front of an oncoming train (hat tip to Sundry for tweeting the coronary-inducing link this morning), see the mother wildly flailing to catch it, nearly hit by the train herself, and I feel it, that heart-slam, that silence as the world stops, the bottom falling out. I wonder if this is my new normal, walking that edge between fineness and catastrophic fear, at any moment blown by the winds of chance into paralyzing panic.

But, like that baby, everything I love is still here. I need to remember this. Even if we lose the job, the house, whatever: everything I love is with me, now. Security is imagined. At any moment it could float away or be flattened by a train or bombed into oblivion. And for many people, it has. For many people, that crushing, unspeakable loss is lived with every day. I ache for them, because it is a horror they can’t fight their way out of, a loneliness that will never end.

I breathe, and watch the clouds, and think, At least there is beauty. I cry because we can’t all see it. And I cry because I can.

Read Full Post »

the last dream of my soul

Most of the time you’re a good sleeper, curled around your stuffed dog, your hair damp with dreams and your cheek pressed against pillow, a Boticellian vision of rosy, rounded innocence. Some nights you call out for me, and when I arrive you’re sitting up, tangled in blankets and whimpering confusedly, lost in the unfamiliar darkness and unsure of how to find your way back to somnolence.

A sip of water, a kiss, a whispered word of comfort, or perhaps even the simple smell of me, of Mama, is enough to let you relax your hold on wakefulness and slip again into the quiet sea of sleep. I stay a minute, listening to your breathing settle, luxuriating in the sweet and quiet, a stolen snapshot of you I can carry close against the clatter and clamor of daylight and its attendant chaos.

But last night was different. Last night I heard you sobbing, a wordless, wrenching lament that proved immune to my attempts at comforting you. I sat and rocked you as you cried and cried with a bottomless sorrow, eyes flooded with tears, not seeing me or even knowing I held you. What did you dream that wounded you so? What were you mourning, what love was so lost to you that you were broken on its absence? What grief could possibly possess the heart of a boy only three years old?

I may discount your daily woes as the frivolous flotsam of childhood, and regard your tantrums and joys as transient as the weather; after all, the emotional tides of children are best withstood by letting them course past and then laughing with relief in their wake. Phases of development wax and wane like the moon, and our only job is to open our arms wide enough to allow our tiny shape-shifters room to grow while still encircling them with love.

And yet. Your sheer desolation last night, your solitary anguish, even though you’ve forgotten it all today . . . I can’t not remember it, and wonder: who are you? What complicated internal terrain are you crossing, and where will it lead? Will you know my love will follow you, wherever you go? Will it matter?

Read Full Post »