Score!

Every year around this time, our library gives away its old magazines.  For me, it’s like winning the lottery… or getting free cheese from the government.  I’m still honing my skills, but I’ve learned a few things.

Mag Giveaway2

Get there Early.  While most folk come to browse and pick up a few Highlights for the kiddies, poplar magazines go quickly.  Today I was first in line—except for the two schizophrenics who hang out at the library every day.  People behind me started muttering about “budging in line,” so I quietly explained that these guys weren’t after the magazines.  The library is a second home to a lot of us.

aldi bagBring Sturdy Bags.  My canvas Aldi bags work great.  I generally load about fifty pounds per bag, so I don’t want any spillage while I’m huffing my way back to the car.

• Snatch the High Priority Magazines First.  I have a few favorites—magazines that offer the best photos and weirdest copy.  National Geographic is my number one pick.  Aside from the gorgeous and often bizarre photographs, the copy is so delightful taken out of context.  Where else would I be able to find “People swallow eight spiders a year in their sleep” or “Poop throwing”?  The Oprah Magazine carries a columnist that is always hysterical.  And Entertainment Weekly gives me both celebrity fun and consistently outrageous copy.  I like to read The Humanist, but tend to find choice quotes there as well.

Mag Giveaway1

• Take a Second, Slow Turn to Try New Titles.  It always surprises me which magazines are complete duds as far as my needs go.  AARP, Psychology Today, Popular Photography, The New Yorker, and Natural Life were all disasters.  Boring text, boring pictures (Popular Photography is all about cameras and lighting. Zzzzzz), or self-important and snooty with no humor—even out of context.  Writer and Writer’s Digest are iffy.  A good interview can make the search worthwhile, but most articles are overwritten and so serious.

This year I’m trying American History, Harper’s, Vanity Fair (mostly for the gorgeous Hollywood portraits), and The Iowa Review (a poetry/literary collection).

Mag Haul 2016

Instead of this slap-dash method, I’m considering a more systematic approach next year.  I think I’ll start visiting the magazine section and get more acquainted with what’s stocked.  There might be a rag out there, rich in hilarity and quirkiness, hidden under an innocuous title.  Maybe Men’s Health is the Holy Grail.

Oh, it so could be…

I Forgot

Startled AwakeI forgot how hard this is.

Bipolar Disorder.

I forgot how it opens a plug and drains out all the color.

I forgot how it pours sludge into every thought.

I forgot how it grinds the gears of decision-making until they smoke and fail.

I forgot how much courage it takes to put on my coat.

I forgot how much the people who love me can’t stand it either:

I forgot how exhausting their good intentions can be.

I forgot how much I have to fight it.

I forgot how hard it is.

Hello, Darkness, My Old Friend

As winter progresses, I watch this long spell of nearly-normal fade in the rear view mirror.  It’s a horrible feeling, watching that image of the real me shrink and shrink as the bipolar hitchhiker takes over the wheel.  I can feel the Vyvanse losing its grip and rolling under the tires.  I worry that I’ve forgotten how to do this—how to manage a life instead of living it.

Hello DarknessAnd, of course, all that is a story.  I’ve promised to guard against telling stories.

So, let’s just say it’s an adjustment.

There is more depression and distorted thinking, more fibromyalgia pain and insomnia, more compulsive eating and anxiety.  But, the truth is we all expected this, even while we hoped Vyvanse could beat back winter (we being my therapist, nurse practitioner/med provider, and me).

Miracle enough that an amphetamine meant to curb my eating disorder also managed to smooth out my moods for six months.  I don’t want to get greedy.  Six months of feeling joy and gratitude for my life, of sitting in the driver’s seat, can’t be minimized.  Ever.

And all is not lost yet.

Vyvanse acted like a screen door, keeping the bipolarness on the front porch.  But as soon as the drug flushed out of my system each day, the rapid cycling and mixed states poked their heads in and wanted coffee.  They’re just pushier now.  And obviously, they’ve been lifting weights this summer.

I couldn’t tell if V was helping at all the past few weeks.  I just knew I was miserable the moment I woke up and couldn’t discern any difference throughout the day.  So, I started taking V as soon as I got out of bed.  Now, by the time I finish at the Y, I can feel a lift.  The depression is still there, but quiet and more polite.  Again, this seems huge.

I’m trying to use these moderate shifts of mood to prepare for the hairier, meaner moods that will crash through the door.  I got groceries this morning and made two quiches (one to freeze).  If this pattern holds, I’ll bake a chicken/wild rice dish tomorrow and stick it in the freezer, too.  I can’t cook when I’m brain sick, so doing this feels smart and kind.  I am nurturing and being nurtured—like being my own grandma.

This is all new territory.  Mental illness tries to keep me from seeing that.  It tells me all is lost and will forever be lost.  But, that’s just a story.

The truth is—

—I’m on an Adventure.

It’s Alive!

I feel a little like Peter Boyle’s monster at the end there.  “Who the hell is the idiot screaming?”  But, the idiot would also be me (less some of Gene Wilder’s hair), bellowing the news to the world.  I admit to ambivalence in making such a bold announcement after being sick for three months. It makes me want to touch wood, spit over my shoulder, or at least wear a hat when I go outside.

Also, I seem to be suffering from a weird kind of amnesia, like not being able to remember what I was talking about after someone interrupts me.  The thought was insightful, choice, but damn if it isn’t gone.  So I just stand and gawp, waiting for the brilliance to return. What was I doing three months ago?  No clue.

Maybe it’s not even relevant anymore.  That’s what I tell myself instead of panicking. Let’s just start by unlocking these steel straps, I tell my mad scientist, and we’ll see what happens next.

So, this week I went back to my water aerobics class, because I remember I used to like the water, and I blew the dust off my journal, and I started to plan.  Because, you know, I gotta have a plan.

Which reminds me that I got a Squatty Potty sometime during the haze of pneumonia.  But that’s a different post.  And, no, that’s not me demonstrating the healthful benefits.  I don’t wear white (But click on the link to the Squatty Potty commercial.  You won’t be sorry).HappySquatter-SquattyEccoStool

Anyway… what was I saying?

A Plan.  Right.

All I’ve been able to do so far is babble in my journal.  What’s important to me now?   What needs my attention?  What’s happening?  Where am I?

Getting my strength back and building my immune system came up a lot.  So did paying attention to how winter seems to be sapping Vyvanse’s effectiveness. And maybe I should see if I have any money in the bank.  So much more to consider now than whether I can sit at my table and sort beads for a half hour.

And speaking of those beads… I sure had fun making zodiac cards for the friend who sent me the Bead Box—so much so that I made some for myself.

Capricorn Odor

So, maybe Fun should be part of The Plan, too.  I’ll put it in the hopper (no Squatty Potty humor intended).

Books I Read in 2015

Open Head

The most books I’ve read in a year since electroshock!  It gets easier and easier.  Thank you, Suanne Wilmen, MHS Reading Teacher, for helping me get my brain back!

Ω Ω Ω

•Ahlborn, Ania. Within These Walls.  The one good thing about this book is the ending—a twist worthy of a horror novel.  But getting to that ending is torture and not worth the effort.  I can’t count the times I threw this across the room because the characters were so incredibly dumb.  If there’s one thing I cannot stand, especially in a horror novel, is the stereotypical, obtuse dolt.  Gee, did someone break into my house and rearrange my furniture?  Why is a bloody specter grinning from my bathroom mirror?  Pfft!  Pull on a red shirt already and join the Enterprise, because, buddy, you’re toast.  Oops.  Did I spoil that ending?

•Binchy, Maeve.  Tara Road.  I found this on the “Free Books” table at the library, knew Binchy was Irish, and thought “what the heck.”  Once I got into it, I kept thinking of Ellen over at Notes from the U.K. and our discussions on how we, as American writers, anguish over making our U.K. characters sound authentic.  Binchy’s characters will never sound anything other than Irish—no matter what nationality she says they are—which I found delightful.  This soap opera with an Irish brogue was lots of fun.

Written In Red.indd•Bishop, Anne.  Written in Red.  In this alternate universe, The Others are the predominant intelligent species on Earth.  Basically, shape-shifters, they tolerate humanity—barely.  When a young woman seeks refuge with an Other community, the repercussions ripple across the globe.  The story is well written with a cool premise and interesting characters.  I got bit hard and needed more.

•Bishop, Anne.  Murder of Crows.  The sequel to Written in Red.  Meg and her friends, both Other and human, discover that blood prophets—young girls who see the future when their skin is cut—are the source of two terrifying drugs.  This time out, we get to see how the different regions interact, meet new Others, and watch the “friendship” between Meg and Simon Wolfgard grow.  Arroooo!

•Bishop, Anne.  Vision in Silver.  The third book in Bishop’s “The Others” series.  I’m completely hooked. Love the characters, love the world, love the intrigue.  You’d think if you lived by the leave of a race that could wipe you off the face of the earth, you’d play nice.  But we’re talking about humans, who are the worst at learning from history. Bishop makes me believe we could be that dumb.

•Bishop, Anne.  The Pillars of the World.  Since I loved Bishop’s The Others series, I thought I’d see what else she’d written.  This high-fantasy story involves witches, The Fae, and witch-hunts.  The Fae are a mash-up of pagan and Greco-Roman gods with the requisite arrogance, vanity and very short memories.  Their land is disappearing, and they stand around wringing their hands and pouting.  They are too similar to human beings in this respect to be very interesting.

cashore

•Cashore, Kristin. Fire.  On this side of Cashore’s world (introduced in Graceling—see last year’s list), there be monsters—animals that look like regular critters except for their rainbow colors and appetite for human flesh.  Monsters cast a kind of glamour over non-monsters.  People have learned to guard their minds, but some are better at it than others (who mostly get eaten).  Fire is a human monster, beloved or hated wherever she goes, so she tries to live inconspicuously.  But the country is about to be torn apart by war, and her special talents are needed.  I love Cashore’s storytelling and characters that live burdened lives.  A thousand stars.

•Cashore, Bitterblue.  In this sequel to Graceling, the teen-aged queen of Monsea is overwhelmed by how to help her people, who were ravaged by her psychotic and sadistic father-king.  Again, Cashore weaves a thoroughly believable world of real people with spectacular ability and complexity.  Her characters are smart.  The intrigue air-tight.  Alas, this is the last of Cashore’s books so far.  She’s better be busy scribbling another.

light•Doerr, Anthony. About Grace.  David Winkler’s precognizant dreams start when he is a child living in Anchorage.  He’s an odd man anyway, fascinated by water and the crystalline beauty of snow, but this terrifying ability pushes him to desperate acts.  Doerr’s writing is lush and breath-taking, his characters almost too painful to watch.  I never knew where this story would go, which was a delight, but sometimes cryptic does not equal artistic.  I felt cheated in the end.

•Doerr, Anthony.  All the Light We Cannot See.  I have no words for this book, just that there’s a reason I had to wait a couple of months for it at the library.  Read it.  You won’t be sorry.

The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter•Duncan, Rod. The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter.  In this fascinating, steam-punk, alternate England Luddites and the supreme power of The International Patent Office keep global peace by banning technology.  Elizabeth Barnabas ekes out a living as a private detective disguised as her “twin brother.”  In exile, drawing on her skills as a circus brat and illusionist, she races to find a missing aristocrat and his arcane machine.  Each leg of her journey is more dangerous and convoluted than the last.  A very tasty read.

•Duncan, Rod.  Unseemly Science.  This is the second volume of Duncan’s Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire where technology is strictly regulated.  England is divided (north and south), and a new law is about extradite Elizabeth Barnabas over the border and back to a life of indentured servitude under (literally) a lascivious lord.  As she flees from capture, she finds marginal safety in taking a case as an intelligence finder for an odd and influential charity worker.  Once again, Duncan leads the reader on a wild ride.  This alternate history is delightful and weird.  I’m looking forward to volume three.

•French, Tana. The Likeness.  I love this author.  She writes tight, detective/murder mysteries set in Ireland.  This time out, her detective, Cassie Maddox, goes undercover to find the killer of a woman who could have been her twin.  French gets us into the head of someone slipping into another’s life and liking it, plus the double tension of all the ways she could get her doppelgänger wrong.  Brilliant.

Faithful Place•French, Tana.  Faithful Place.  Leafing through this book, I worried a little that my favorite detective, Cassie Maddox, had been replaced by the hot-shot Undercover detective introduced in The Likeness.  Frank Mackey is a smart-ass, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to tag along with him through a whole book.  Boy-howdy, was I wrong!  Mackey spent twenty-two years building a life away from his dysfunctional family of origin (we get to see why he’s such a  smart-ass), but a discovery on his old street sucks him back in to relive a pivotal and painful event in his past.  French’s characters are so real, they fly off the page.  Another winner.

•Guterson, David.  Snow Falling on Cedars.  The story begins with a murder trial of a Japanese-American in a small island community off the coast of Washington state in the early 1950s.  Other stories join and interlace this one—the internment of all the Japanese on the island in Manzanar after Pearl Harbor, the young love of the town’s white newspaper man’s son and a Japanese strawberry farmer’s daughter, the destruction of war on a soul and a community.  The book bogs down in detail sometimes, but the beauty and humanity are worth it.

while_they_slept-215x327•Harris, Charlaine.  Dead Until Dark.  After gorging on all seven seasons of HBO’s True Blood, I thought the books might offer more tasty tidbits.  Nope.  Plodding, vapid, with plot holes bigger than a stake through the chest, this first book in the series begged for the True Death.  I won’t be digging up any more of them.

•Harrison, Kathryn. While They Slept: An Inquiry into the Murder of a Family.  This book is mesmerizing.  It tells the true story of eighteen-year-old Billy Gilley, who murdered his parents and little sister in 1984, but not his sixteen-year-old sister Jody.  Harrison, herself an incest survivor, traces the patterns of family violence and abuse in the Gilley family through interviews with both Billy and Jody as well as an enormous amount of research.  Harrison is fearless in opening to the resonance between her own story and the Gilleys’.  For all three of them, violent trauma divided their lives into Before and After.  How does a person reassemble oneself after that?

hounded•Herne, Kevin.  Hounded (Book One in The Iron Druid Chronicles).  I have good friends who read good fantasy and share that tasty knowledge with me.  Thank the gods.  Now I have a whole series to enjoy about a 2100-year old Druid living in southeastern Arizona who runs a New-Age bookstore, mind-links with his Irish wolfhound, and gets legal advice from his werewolf and vampire attorneys.  Here, all the religions, all the myths, all the legends are real.  Most of them either shop his store or try to kill him.  So very tasty.

•Herne, Kevin.  Hexed.  More misadventures of Atticus O’Sullivan, the hunky Druid with the magical sword.  This time out, he deals with Bacchants (minions of the party god, Bacchus), witches—both good and evil, and a variety of demons and fallen angels.  Because he’s now a god-slayer, he’s attracting unwelcome attention from all the pantheons.  Favorite line: Demons smell like ass.

Invention•Herne, Kevin.  Hammered.  Atticus the Druid promised his attorneys (an Icelandic vampire and the alpha of a werewolf pack) that he would get them to Asgard so they could kill Thor (who is an absolute “fuckpuddle” and takes bullying to divine heights).  Along the way, the Fellowship acquires a Slavic Thunder God, a Finnish shaman, and one of China’s Eight Immortals who all want the Asgardian blowhard dead.  Mayhem ensues.  Favorite line: In many ways, I’m disappointed that “Star Trek” never became a religion.

•Kidd, Sue Monk. The Invention of Wings.  I always get a little nervous when someone from one ethnic group creates a protagonist from another ethnic group, then places the story during a dynamic point in history.  But, Sue Monk Kidd is not an author I worry about.  She tells this story of pre-Civil War Charleston from two girls’ point of view—one is a slave, the other her master’s awkward daughter.  The story is full of pain and horror, and beauty and grace.  It’s a treasure and a wonder.

220px-Mrmercedes•King, Stephen.  Mr. Mercedes.  Reading anything by Steve is like coming home for me, but this one offered nothing new.  I was engaged throughout—loved the protagonist, a retired homicide detective who wasn’t handling retirement well, and the set-up of him being contacted by “the one that got away.”  But the bad guy felt phoned in.  If you want good Steve, go read 11/22/63 instead.

•King, Stephen.  Revival.  Ditto.  Okay, buddy, you’re overdue to hit one out of the park.

•King, Stephen.  Finders Keepers.  I think I’ve caught up with my favorite author now.  I love that he brings back the team from Mr. Mercedes—the retired cop, his young neighbor kid, and the young woman with severe anxiety issues they helped rescue.  This time the trio tries to help a teen who finds a buried trunk from a home robbery thirty years in the past.  Steve knows how to build character along with the suspense.  And the bad guy in Mr. Mercedes who felt phoned in is getting ready to make me eat those words.

wally•Lamb, Wally. The Hour I First Believed.  Lots of books are labeled “tapestries,” but that’s exactly what this non-fictional fiction presents.  The fictional main characters are staff at Columbine high school at the time of the student killing spree; the protagonist’s grandmother campaigns for reform in women’s correctional facilities; PTSD, incest, abandonment, mental illness, drug addiction, mythology—the colors and texture of this tapestry weave in a disturbing, enthralling matrix.  Wally Lamb is a wonder.

•Lamb, Wally.  Wishin’ and Hopin’—A Christmas Story.  Not Lamb’s usual psychological taste treat.  More a nostalgic bon-bon.  And Wally thinks he’s funnier that he really is, but the writing is still fine.  He should stick to trauma and dysfunction, though.  That’s hilarious!

9418326•McNeal, Tom. To Be Sung Underwater.  Judith, a middle-aged film editor in California, finds her perfect life unraveling as memories of her first love in Nebraska push her to hire a private detective. Fully-formed characters, a deep sense of place, and well crafted.  If you’ve ever had to leave a love behind, this story will touch a deep chord.

•Pilcher, Rosamunde. The Shell Seekers.  A sprawling novel written in the ’80s about an elderly English woman and her grown children.  The story jumps from present day, to life during WW2, to other events in the family’s history.  I loved the Englishness of it, but found most of the characters tiresome.  The adult children are petty, even the daughter that Penelope (the protagonist) loves is caught up in the career madness of the ’80s.  But, Penelope is lovely, and her father, a famous artist, is fun, and all the English garden/cottage/sea-shore ambience is delicious.  I almost gave it back to the library, but didn’t.  That’s a pretty high recommendation coming from me.

200px-Olive-kitteridge_l•Strout, Elizabeth.  Olive Kitteridge.  Thirteen vignettes that weave together and around the title character in a small New England coastal town.  The characters are complicated, their lives messy and real.  I saw the HBO mini-series first with Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins (both Oscar winners and stunning in this show).  I thought there might be more deliciousness in the book, and I was right.  Strout won a Pulitzer for it.

•Tyler, Anne. The Amateur Marriage.  I’ve always enjoyed Tyler’s weird characters, but this couple made my ass ache.  Michael and Pauline are the epitome of Socrates’  Unexamined Life—married during the rush of post-WW2, they never learn compassion or tolerance of each other, never question their own egotistical take on the world, never grow up.  They suffer, their kids suffer—it’s way too much like real life.  I have plenty of that already.

The Books I Couldn’t Finish

•Karr, Mary.  The Art of Memoir.  After reading excerpts on a friend’s blog, I got all excited.  I’m writing a memoir, and Karr teaches memoir writing—I was bound to find useful treasure.  Not so much.  And what is there, Karr buries in weird asides, like a whole gushing chapter about Nabokov who broke every “rule” in memoir writing, or endless details about her own process.  Ugh.

•Hoffman, Alice. The Dovekeepers.  This is one of those books heralded as “a major contribution to twenty-first-century literature.” The flap says it took Hoffman five years to research and write. According to ancient history, in 70 C.E., 900 Jews held out for months against Roman armies on a mountain in the Judea desert.  Two women and five children survived. Sixty pages in, I didn’t care. So, shoot me.

Invasion of the Zombie Day-Traders

Dead AliveThe down-side of taking high-powered antibiotics and steroids is that they wipe out your microbial Security Team and hold up the process of sending in replacements.  This leaves a person vulnerable to opportunistic infections, those Wall Street-type pathogens that sniff out weakness and engineer a hostile take-over.

I got a wicked sore throat last week.  When I bought a little flashlight to get a good look, I can only describe the scene as Wes Craven-esque.  When I stopped screaming, I pulled out my dusty nurse-lore.  What I worried about being a strep infection was, in fact, thrush.  Two words, then I won’t traumatize you any further: Cheesy.  Pustule.  Now back away slowly from Google, grab up your shotgun, and run.

But all is not Night of the Living Dead-Serious.  My physical hobgoblins haven’t triggered any mental ones—other than a few wisps of depression that passed like cabbage-induced air biscuits (Oh, how I love fart humor.  Go here if you do, too).  And my friend, Linda, sent me some major distraction.

She used to own a shop in Minneapolis that sold crystals, semi-precious stones, jewelry and pan-spiritual gifts and tools.  She also let me try to sell my cards there.  The shop closed several years ago, and Linda stowed boxes and bags of inventory while she took care of other life-business.  Last week she sent me a twelve-pound box of beads, cabochons, broken bits, and a big grab-bag of unsorted stuff—mostly seed beads and tiny shells.  Linda’s clear-out was my Merry Christmas!

Chair VictorSo, after I gargle and swish my new medicine (sort of a cross between Milk of Magnesia and Lysol), I fight Henry for the good chair, then sit at the table and sort.  Henry likes to sit with me when I’m at my studio, but doesn’t care for the straight-backed chair that goes with the old dining table.  Even when I tart it up with his Girlfriend (a purple throw that he romances regularly), he still shuns it for my comfy, rolling desk chair.  He casts the Evil Cat Stink-Eye until I switch chairs with him.  If I’m not fast enough, he climbs in behind me and wedges me out.  Giving up the chair is a matter of self-preservation, not indulgence.  Other cat-keepers will understand.

Sorting BeadsIt’s a fine way convalesce: a hot mug of apple cider and green tea at one elbow next to my blazing Happy Light, one cat snoring at the other elbow while another swirls around my ankles, my Pandora station filling the air with The Civil Wars and Dave Matthews, a gallon of goodies to sort.

Oh, and then there’s the shotgun in the corner—just in case.

ψ

A Fine Distraction

Makes Me Tired

Distraction gets a bad rap.  Motivational-type folk would have us paint it neon yellow and stick it in a cage.  It’s anathema to focus and achievement.  It leads us astray, eats our time, keeps us from becoming superheroes.   Distraction is the slithery serpent holding us back from paradise.

Well… no.

Mind PalaceOne of the many lessons my bipolar disorder taught me was that distraction is vital.  When one’s focus locks onto the pain and confusion of a tumbling mind, a trapdoor to another room can keep pain from turning into suffering.  I’ve spent years moving slowly from self-destructive and unhealthy distractions to ones that, at least, cause no harm.  My list of What To Do When I Get Wonky hangs on my Mind Palace door in case I need reminders (I like to think my Mind Palace is like Sherlock Holmes’—a tidy place where everything that needs remembering can be accessed immediately.  But, it’s really more of a Mind Dumpster).

cookie JamI’m finding it’s just as important to use distraction in the midst of physical illness.  I need something to keep me from cataloging every pulmonary gurgle and wheeze, to take my mind off how everything except Ramen noodles tastes like school glue.  So, I made my Winter Solstice cards and played lots of Cookie Jam on my iPhone.  I’ve tried to watch movies, but generally nod off half way through.  Same with reading.  I keep apologizing to Henry for dropping my book on his head.  He is not amused.

Now, between naps, I’m working on the “swaps” I’ll take with me to ArtFest in March.  I’ve never done anything like this, but I’ve heard about it.  When artists get together, they trade little pieces of their work, or bring goodie bags with samples of their favorite supplies and materials, or chocolate.  It’s a cool way to get to know people and appreciate the kind of work they do.

Since Teesha Moore is known for her art journals, I thought I’d journal for a few days with white gel pen on card stock as an hommage, then use that as the beginning of my Artist Trading Cards (ATCs).  I like working in miniature, so these tiny cards (3 ½ X 2 ½ inches) are fun for me (fun being a relative term when muffled by antibiotics and inhalers).  The finished ATC isn’t exactly what I had in mind, but my stuff generally runs wild, and I’ve learned to get out of the way.  I like it.  This piece will represent me well.

CIMG3418

So, anyway, where was I?  Oh, yeah.  Distraction.  Don’t let the Anthony Robbins’ of the world make you feel bad about it.  Focus can’t untwist distorted thinking or clear fluid out of lungs.  Setting goals can’t change a diagnosis.  But distraction can make all that a little easier to bear.  Paint that in yellow neon and put it in your Mind Palace, Tony.

Changing the Story

Flinch

When my nurse practitioner told me on Monday that she was treating me for pneumonia, I felt an inordinate amount of satisfaction.  Smug, even.  And at the same time, I was angry and resentful that my friends and family weren’t rallying around me.  When I stopped to look at all that head-ichor, it felt contradictory and very, very old.

We’ve been exploring ancestry in our UU study groups—how ancestors may differ from relatives, how we receive transmissions and transfer them on to the next generation, how we are given gifts and responsibilities.  With that in the back of my mind, I began to see my reactions to illness and support as a transmission.  They are as much traditions in my family as oyster stew on Christmas Eve.

wicked witchThe only time we could count on our mom giving us positive attention was when we were sick.  She touched us with care.  She looked at us.  It was acceptable to wake her up in the middle of the night to say, “Mom, I don’t feel good.”  It was not acceptable to be scared of the Wicked Witch on The Wizard of Oz.  I learned that at the age of three, sitting on Mom’s lap.  “If you’re going to be that way,” I remember her saying, “I’m turning off the TV.”  I got it: Emotions=Bad.  Illness=Good.

It was also a long-standing tradition to value illness that could be named, especially by a doctor, or was freakishly out of the ordinary.  So, my brother scored lots of points for the fast growth spurt he experienced as a teen when he woke up one morning unable to move.  The story of my dad carrying him in a fetal position to the car is legend in my family.  Same with the story of my brother accidentally dropping a pitchfork on my sister’s face and how the tine curved around her eye instead of puncturing it.  These are the fairy tales I heard as a child.

merthiolateGetting a cold wasn’t legendary, but having warts that disappeared before the doctor could inspect them smacked of magic and mystery—and worthiness.  I knew when I fell off my bike I’d better have gravel for Mom to pull out with tweezers or I wasn’t worthy of her time.  I learned how to wash a wound, dab on merthiolate and blow the sting away, wrangle a Band-aid without it sticking to itself.  I learned not to bother Mom with minor injuries.

But worthiness carried over into other areas of our life.  Recently, I talked to my brother about this.  It was no secret that he won the Most Worthy Award in our mom’s estimation.  He wrote to our parents every week from the time he left for college until Mom died last year.  He came home for Christmas every year, a nine hour drive from Bemidji, often through bad weather.  He kept the same job with the state of Minnesota his entire work-life and still works part-time, though he is officially retired.  He’s a little eccentric, which somehow made him more dear rather than worrisome.

I asked him why he did it.  Why did he write faithfully every week for all those years?

“Mom told me to,” he said.

testMy brother passed a test I failed long ago—obedience and demonstration of affection.  It was our responsibility to prove to our mom that we loved her, to do what we were told.  After my dad died, I think my sister understood unconsciously that a new test was in the wind.  She called our mom every day.  She helped her buy a new car and new furniture.  Of course she wanted to support Mom in her grief and confusion, but there was a frantic quality to it, a blurring of boundaries that sapped my sister’s emotional energy.  Eventually, my sister backed away enough to rebuild her boundaries.  And, of course, Mom felt abandoned.  And angry.

As I consider my family’s emotional legacy, I see all of it playing out in me.  I made light of my chest cold as just another annual event and went about being stoic and “taking care of it myself,” because it was nothing special.  At the same time, I silently tested my friends and family to see if they “cared enough” to call or offer help.  When they didn’t, I got angry and marked them as unworthy.

My care-giver, Leanne, visited yesterday, and she slapped me awake like a Zen master.  “How can they offer help if they don’t know you’re sick?”

Holy crap.  I’d turned into my mom, expecting people to read my mind and anticipate my needs.  I had carried forward a story that may have started generations ago.  What happened in my mom’s young life to make her so insecure about being seen and loved?  What happened to her mother to demand a boundary-less relationship with her youngest daughter?  I felt compassion and sorrow, imagining my mother and my grandmother trying to scratch affection out of a barren landscape.  Or, more accurately, what they perceived as barren through the lens of this family fairy tale.

Oz

So, I did a scary and fairy tale-contradictory thing yesterday.  I announced on FaceBook that I had pneumonia and would appreciate kind words and help.  The outpouring of love and people rushing to come to my aid knocked me senseless.

I’m well aware that being able to say pneumonia still carries a lot more brownie points in my mind than the less worthy chest cold.  Editing this old story will take time and patience.  But my hope is that the legacy stops here.  Part of my work as a point on the continuum of time and ancestry will be to pass on a different story of who we might be.  In that fairy tale, everyone is worthy.

Nesting

Henry's Pillow 2

It’s autumn.  Time for apple cider and the annual ugly chest cold.  Time to put away shorts and see if the crotch in any of my old jeans will embarrass me in public.  Time to start work on my Solstice cards and pull out my Happy Light.

I love autumn, even if the waning light makes me think St. John of the Cross was probably bipolar and talking about winter when he coined the term dark night of the soul.  I love the smell of corn dust and how it hangs in the air.  I love the slant of the sun as it hits a golden point on its arc, how it burns through a single, curry-colored leaf stuck in the weeds.

I’m profoundly aware of how much I’m enjoying autumn this year.  Even with bronchitis and a pantheon of prescription inhalers on my counter, I watch the squirrels in their pre-winter frenzy and feel joy rise up.  Like a breath.  Like a sigh.  Clear lungs are not required.

I’ve had moments of bipolarness over the past five months.  Moments—not days or weeks or months.  Moments where the illness broke through to remind me to stay sharp.  I can’t go back to sleep.  And I also don’t fight or fret when the illness presents itself.  This is me, too.  All of this is me.

New BookcaseMy energy amazed me, and the way my mind opened to possibility and change.  Over the summer, I catalogued my apartment—the rotting furniture, the squeeze and mess of a tiny space, all the ways I made do when the idea of doing more overwhelmed me.  Getting a new bathtub and replacing the damaged linoleum floor suddenly made anything possible.

On my trips to Minneapolis to see friends, I also visited IKEA.  I gave away or trashed furniture that was too big, too ruined or too inefficient and replaced it with four beautiful pieces put together with my own two hands.  Now our living room fits us.  There’s room for the cats to chase each other, new places to nap, and a more inviting entry (rather than sliding in sideways and banging a hip on some ouchy corner).

Cabinet Before

Before

Cabinet After

After

Desk Before

Before

Desk After

After

I’m also working on more efficient storage.  I installed roll-out, metal baskets under my kitchen sink and bathroom vanity.  I cleaned out a skinny cupboard in the kitchen, found tubs that fit the narrow space, and got seldom-used art supplies out of the way.

Before

Before

After

After

valje-wall-cabinet-red__0290149_PE424853_S4IKEA carries a wall cabinet—basically, an open box with mounting hardware.  I tossed the hardware and stacked two of those on my coat closet shelf to wrangle the magazines I glean for greeting card captions (My closets have lots of height, so I’m always looking for stackables).  There was plenty of room left over to store other crafty stuff.  No more cascades of musty magazines when I get out the broom.

Autumn is the season for nesting.  We make ourselves snug and warm, surround ourselves with treasures and love, settle in for the long winter.  Nesting makes a place a home.  We should find comfort and relief there.  And joy.

Sitting here at my desk, with Henry curled on his pillow, I listen to James Vincent McMorrow and feel my home breathing with me.

A moment of joy.

Planting Flags

Duck DodgersI lived in or near Minneapolis and St. Paul for 24 years.  It was home.  It’s also where my life imploded under bipolar crisis.  So while some of my closest friends are there, and the energy and sensibilities of The Twin Cities resonate in me like music, the sorrow and loss of a life destroyed seep up out of the cracks.  I’m saturated in Minnesota, and my groundwater rises.

This past year, I decided to fight the sludge.  The idea started in IPR when we took a close look at my natural support system (friends, family, associations, etc.).  It was a relief when Aly, my case worker, declared my natural supports woefully inadequate.  Instead of fighting against feeling “needy” or berating myself for not being more sociable, I could finally acknowledge that I didn’t have the kind of support that would benefit me.  I no longer belonged to a Tribe.

Aly and I brainstormed.  From those sessions, I chose a dual approach—get involved in the Unitarian church in Des Moines and spend more time in the Twin Cities with my friends.

It has been a weird year, being a visitor in what feels like my hometown.  My zeal in the beginning caused me to over-extend myself, then watch shame and guilt rise about being symptomatic when I was among the people who understood and accepted me unconditionally.  How could I forget that these were the people who watched me self-destruct and didn’t run?  My anxiety or social phobia melted off them like October snow.

Dying of NostalgiaSorrow snuck up on me at odd times—journaling in a Starbucks, intermission at the Guthrie theater, watching a jogger with his golden lab lope along the crosswalk in Minnehaha Park.  Sorrow dragged memories up from the depths—regrets, bridges burned, the parts of my life that sloughed off and lay half-decomposed along the roadsides.

When I discussed this discomfort with my therapist, she said I’d have to dredge all that up and deal with it before the sorrow could lift.  “You have to know why you’re grieving before you can move past it.”  But I already knew why I was grieving.  I’d done that work.  Ad nauseum.  I wanted the “moving past it” part.

I decided to just Watch.  That always seems to be the answer to everything, so why not this?  I saw that sorrow came when I attended events alone, so I started asking my friends to go with me.  Lily and I went to the opera a few weeks ago (free tickets provided by Jim and Duane).  The show itself was dreadful (a German comedy, which has to be the definition of oxymoron), but Lily and I had a wonderful time swearing at the traffic jam caused by hockey fans.

I saw that sorrow rose when I felt separate from my friends’ real lives–a visitor instead of a fixture.  So I planned trips around going to Duane’s presentation to high school students and their parents about AIDS and safe sex, and Jinjer’s workshop on Beginning Astrology, and in December, Carol’s choir concert.

SPilgrimage Cafeorrow seemed to hide in my old haunts, places I loved in my Old Life, so I look for new places to plant my flag now.  A few weeks ago, Jinjer and Carol introduced me to Pilgrimage Café, a neighborhood restaurant with a quirky, delicious menu.  This past weekend I went back there by myself, and felt the café embrace me like a lover.  I sat at a repurposed church pew, my journal on the slab of wooden table, sipping pumpkin ale and breathing in the smell of welcome.

Slowly, I am reclaiming my old hometown for the Nation of Now.  I chose the unfamiliar and travel streets I don’t know.  I cherish my Tribe and go deeper with them while I forge new friendships and expand out like ice crystals knitting across the lakes.  There’s no room for sorrow in all that Light.

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