Saturday, October 31, 2009
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
But mostly, the researcher noted that the first ten minute experiments were mostly social lies. Though there was one man who told his companion that his band just got a recording contract, when, in fact, his band didn't just get a recording contract. In fact, he didn't really have a band. Actually, he didn't even know how to play the guitar. The researcher pointed out that yes, the man was talking to an attractive woman.
What was interesting about this study is that most of the people were incredibly surprised to see themselves lying. Though it came out of their mouth, it wasn't intended. Immediately, the researcher noted the person usually justified it, "It isn't a big deal. Everyone does it." And the researcher said something to the effect of maybe this kind of exaggeration sort of "greases the wheel of social discourse." He said that the people who lied the most were also the most social, most well-liked, friendliest people. The conclusion, of course, was that people want to hear good things about themselves. But of course, most people say lying is a betrayal, and well they should. Broken down along gender lines, women tended to lie to make connections, like agreeing with someone when in a conversation, or complimenting someone. Men tended to lie to make themselves look better, por ejemplo, that they played were football players in high school, or workout more often than they do.
In one call on the program, the caller referred to herself as brutally honest. Man, I just hate that phrase. It makes it sound like honesty needs to be brutal, and I just don't believe that. Kindness and compassion should exist in truth-telling, no? The researcher was pretty adamant that lies aren't necessary. That a discourse without lies is possible. Of course, all this lying talk got me thinking about blogging.
Blogging is someone's truth. Not perhaps the reality, but a kind of truth. And yet, there is a modicum of expectation that what we relate on here is "true;" that is, we expect that the person writing is the person they say they are, that the main points of incidents related are true. I am generally a fairly horrid liar. In fact, I usually admit I am lying before the lie is even out of my mouth. I blame my Irish-Panamanian Catholic family. I confess before I have even sinned.
I think of this blogging space much in the same way as I think about therapy. I could go in there and lie. Tell all kinds of wonderful stories about my own capability. But what would be the point of that? I am paying this man to help me process this crap. It behooves me to tell the truth. And same with this blogging space. What would be the point of lying? In fact, I often think I am more honest on here than in my real life. Not that I lie in my real life, but I just sort of own the basest emotions and the ugliest thoughts here. In real life, I do not exactly wear my emotions on my sleeve. I tend to smile a lot, or crack wise when I am uncomfortable. It is the way of my people.
Facing complete strangers in real life in an experiment is a very different experience to talking to someone who knows you in real life, or for that matter, writing on a blog. I have decided to use my real name on this blog, though sometimes I regret that decision. It means I also think about certain readers who also exist in my real life. People in my real life confront me about things I have written in this space, and that is unnerving. But I didn't want to live under a veil. I had so much shame I wanted to banish--shame about my child's death, about my lost motherhood and about my failure to keep her alive. Using my real name and real circumstances meant that I would stand up and own these emotions. "Hello, my name is Angie and my baby died inside of me." And so, writing this blog means that I have people who know me in real life, who know intimate details of my life, who can call me on any discrepancies. It keeps me thinking about all my details, which is a good thing.
Many years ago, I had a stupid blog. It was about sports, fashion, pop culture and goofy stuff I found on the internets. It was before kids, before house, before responsibility and way way before daughter death. I maintained this blog for four years. FOUR. Every once in a great while, I would mention my insomnia, or talk about being depressed, but it would usually segue into something like a video of Ian Curtis. I think one of my favorite posts was a rant about people camping out in front of an Ikea store for the grand opening. Deep shit. A few days ago, I went back to read that blog. That space was not about processing anything. It wasn't exactly a journal. It just was this weird corner of my life where I put things. It was a lot like my real life persona, I think. I can talk about Nixon and gnomes for hours, but never really talk about how I feel.
During this entire time, my father's and my grandfather's health and well-being occupied most of my time. I spent every weekend driving two and a half hours one way to do my father's laundry, take him to lunch, pay his bills, then turn around and drive home two and a half hours home. During the ride home, I would stop at my grandfather's place and fix stuff, or shop for him. Often the time with my grandfather was spent with him telling me I am not doing enough for him. I often left at 7am on Saturday, and was home by 6pm or 7pm. That was after working a 50 hour week. I had one day to do my own laundry, shop, and clean. I did this for years and years. One year, I actually counted the number of weekends I skipped going to my father--four.
I cried a lot when I drove. You would have no idea reading that blog at how stressful my life was at the time. At how miserable I was. When I met Sam, my life changed. I reprioritized things. He asked me to give him a weekend or two a month. It meant I began setting limits in my life with my family. All of my other relationships fell apart because I could only go out on Thursday night. Sure, I had to deal with the guilt and anger, but I became healthier. Was that blog reflective of that? No. As I read through this old writing, besides being struck with how much I scoffed at say capitalization and grammar, I also began asking if I was honest. I can say that I never outright lied on the blog, but it isn't exactly an honest reflection of who I was. It was avoidance therapy, perhaps.
After Lucy died, I could not ignore or hide my emotions. I didn't want to pretend anymore that I was strong or capable. I fell apart and became unhinged. My vulnerability was front and center, and I couldn't ignore my weaknesses anymore. This blog became a place where I could process all of the sensory overload from the grief. The interesting thing, I began taking that insight into the real world. I used the conclusions I came to on my blog to be able to talk about my emotions and my vulnerability. In many ways, I have felt much more capable, even as I admitted to being less capable. Is it possible that blogging has made me more honest in my real life? You know, I think it did.
After my last therapy session, my therapist asked me to write notes about the session. And I really really struggled with it. Mainly, because throughout the session, I found myself thinking, "Why the fuck am I here?" Or "I am never coming back here." Or "This is bullshit." My inner thoughts are riddled with cuss words. I actually thought the therapist said a number of things that made my anxiety worse than when I walked into the hour. He said, "Anxiety is not healthy for your pregnancy." Then later he said, "Looking at your shame might not be the healthiest thing for your pregnancy." Then why are you bringing it up, dude?
I struggled with honesty in a way I haven't struggled in a while. It was so striking it made me recognize that being true to my emotions and experience is not something I have struggled with much in the past year. My parents instilled this very strong sense of authority. I respect my therapist a great deal. He has given me a lot of wisdom and guidance. At different points in my life, it worked. But now, not so much. Being told my anxiety is hurting my new baby after such a profound loss feels kind of cruel. I am in therapy to help manage my anxiety, not find new things about which to be anxious.
I decided to write my therapy notes like a blog post. What I found when I was honest about this session is that therapy with this man is not helping me right now. It costs a great deal of money out of pocket. I need to manage childcare, his unpredictable schedule, and my own commuting issues. I would pay any price to feel calmer and get tools to manage my anxiety, but I am walking out feeling misunderstood and worse, I am feeling more alienated and shamed than when I walked into his office.And so the exercise of honesty gave me insight into what would most soothe me right now--not being in therapy.
I don't always know why I started my blog. I struggle between thinking it is goofy, narcissistic and self-indulgent and thinking it saved my life. But when I look at these ways in which it has helped me communicate and own my emotions, I get it.
* Here is the mp3 of the Radio Times episode, if you are interested.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
You have reached the end of the internet. You may return to your normal life.
It made me laugh at the time, but I came to think of it as this actual place--the end of the internet. It clearly cannot be infinite, but it is so large it is nearly impossible to quantify. It is similar, I think, to this place we are told about: the end of grief. No matter how many links you follow, there are still more pages to come.
We had a lazy weekend as I battled a random virus. I would be wiped out for a few hours, get a burst of energy, clean a room, then nap again. Headaches. Body aches. Coughing. But no fevers. No oinking. I have no idea what it is, but it has left me today with a simple cough, a little headache and incredibly grateful. We spent the day carving pumpkins, watching football, roasting a chicken, taking it easy, toasting pumpkin seeds and enjoying the fall. My daughter decided to paint her pumpkin orange, rather than say carve it or even draw a face on it. Yeah. I clearly do not understand her artistic vision either, though she did a very nice job of it.
I did, however, make a carrot-nosed, warty pumpkin from La Martha, as well as work on other creepy pumpkin heads.
I am looking forward to a week of creepy, soul-quenching art -- my Dia de los Muertos art will be up, as well as the twenty day of the dead pieces from around the globe. And of course, I am hoping to make my own ofrenda for Dia de los Muertos--one that honors my Lucy-girl. And Halloween night, we have our annual fire pit and neighbor cookout. I am dressing witchy, and Bea is being my black cat. Or rather, Beatrice is being a black cat, and I am being her witch. All in all, I am feeling more up than I have in weeks just looking forward to some days of being someone else, honoring the dead and art...Happy halloween, witches.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Almost a decade ago, I lived a few doors down from a guy who ended up becoming someone who challenged and intrigued me intellectually and spiritually. He was an art student and film maker who practiced ahimsa in his life. It was inspiring to watch this man live in a completely sustainable way in the middle of the city. Except when I watched him stand very still one day as three mice ran around his kitchen. He stood very still, because he didn't want to disturb the feasting mice. I hate anything that scurries, so I slowly walked backwards out of the room and watched from a distance. I absolutely think most rodents are assholes. Still, he stood still until one ran in a bag, then with the movement of a ninja, the man-child scooped up the bag and took him out to his front step, thanked him, and set him free.
Hey, I don't kill spiders or other creepy crawlies, but rodents spread hanta virus. They poop in things. I have tried to rationally explain why we can not share space, but the mice just ignore me. "Squeak, squeak, bitch." For the attitude alone, I pondered ways in which to keep mice out of my house, and connected most with this suggestion from a friend: "Okay, first, find out where they are coming in. Then post a dead mouse on a little stake next to a sign that reads, 'All hope abandon, ye who enter here.'" Barring stooping to the level of sociopathic Wallachian voivode, I generally would stomp around cursing at them. It was all very passive-aggressive. I feel very fortunate now to live a home where I have never encountered a rodent.
After a few months of living there, another guy moved in with him. He was sort of this warm, normal looking dude who made unusually long eye contact. Hands down, I can say this vagabond was one of the smartest guys I ever met. He has a sort of far-out mystical quality. He came to Philadelphia after wandering through South America for a year. I couldn't ever tell if he was insane or holy. I also could never tell how long the filmmaker and the mystic knew each other. It seemed like they met, and then that night the hobo mystic lived on the floor in a sleeping bag. They had a very comfortable way of being around each other.
I very much enjoyed talking to both them about anything. I was attending college again after taking five years off. I studied Religion this time around. They often showed up at my apartment right before dinner time, and asked for dinner. I was a vegetarian at the time, and could easily make extra for them. I know it must sound like they were unwelcome in their beggary, but quite the contrary, I enjoyed not eating alone. I thought of them as sort of mendicant ascetics. They were appreciative. Kind. They did the dishes. Of course, one night they plunged my rice steamer into the sink, but it came from a good place. From what I could see, the mystic never worked and the film maker paid rent, bought them each a cup of coffee at a local cafe where they would sit and played chess most of the day, and stocked whatever food was in the house, which apparently mostly fed the mice. His
At any rate, they invited me over one night to watch this scratchy strange videotape. It was J. Krishnamurti and David Bohm having a conversation*. Krishnamurti is such a cool cat, if you don't know who he is. He basically was selected at a very young age to be the leader for the Theosophical Society. Raised to be the new World Leader, he took over the Order of the Star and the Theosophical Society at age 30. In his first speech, he disbanded the entire religion and said this:
I maintain that truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or coerce people along a particular path.He continued writing and speaking, though he rejected being followed like a guru. He really is incredible and wise, and I often turn to him when I am looking to reconnect with kindness and compassion in my life. David Bohm is a quantum physicist. So the philosopher and the physicist dialogue. What is fascinating about this conversation is that Bohm , who I think read his first Krishnamurti book in the late fifties, completely saw his theories of quantum physics illustrated in Krishnamurti's philosophical work. I think the conversation I watched was from the early 80s or late 70s.
At any rate, they talk about everything, but one thing I remember from the conversation was this idea of psychology. We are programmed. That negative programming from our childhood is literally mapped to affect every cell of our body. They talked about how difficult the work of changing the programming is, but how important. Changing that programming, basically, can change the world and the future of mankind. The larger conversation was about violence and suffering in the world. A question was asked if psychologists are concerned with mankind on the whole, or merely the individual. If we deal with negative programming and remap the consciousness of someone suffering, why is it remapped with selfish arrogant thoughts? Like, for example, if we are told as a child that we are stupid, we are remapped by psychology to repeat, "I am smart." And basically, he said, that is the same thing as telling someone they are stupid. They are both lies. Wouldn't the more revolutionary, world-changing, important thing to do is to map, "Intelligence isn't important. I am not I. I am part of a larger world consciousness, or larger intelligence." In the end, the two were discussing changing the world one consciousness at a time. It was the Cold War, and nuclear holocaust was still very much on the table.
I do hope I am remembering that correctly. It was a long time ago and many glasses of wine were consumed that night. The three of us, the filmmaker, the mystic and I, stayed up until dawn talking about this conversation. One question I left that night repeating--could I remap my own negative programming with revolutionary thoughts of compassion?
I have started seeing my Buddhist therapist again. And this time around he is really trying to get me to face the shame and guilt of Lucy's death. And yet, facing the shame feels so...uh...ridiculous. Let's break this down: I feel shame and guilt that Lucy died in me. In lieu of any other explanation, I blame myself for her death. Rationally, I can write down and explicate all the reasons why this is not true, yet I still feel it. This emotion is not rational, but it isn't just going away because I don't believe it to be true.
In so many ways, I feel like I have made huge strides before now learning to live with this shame. Simply by dint that I am not letting it control my eating or decision to reproduce, I feel we are at a good place together. And yet, the therapist is making me sit with the shame, feel it, comfort myself. Holy crap, it is like standing on hot coals. And I'm not really sure how identifying the shame, bringing it to the surface, sitting with it is supposed to help me. I am very comfortable burying it in the deep recesses of my brain, because that is the way I know how to function. If I can't change the shame, I can't rationalize it, I can't abandon it, I feel like we have to learn to live together. For me, making it live in the shitty part of me where it rears its ugly head only when I am down feels like a fair compromise. Burying it seems better than treating it as a house guest that keeps insulting me, eating my favorite food and then leaving the wrapper on the counter. And yet I recognize that the word bury never connotes a healthy response to an emotion.
As I have been thinking of all of this, I was reminded of these Krishnamurti conversations. Meditation changes the world. Maybe that is how I hold myself. But meditation in the midst of chaos feels impossible. But I keep thinking that maybe this is the time to remap my insides with something larger than just my survival.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
I am feeling the toll being pregnant three times in three years has taken on my body. I have one living child and no bladder control. No sudden laughing or sneezing. I tap into my Vulcan nature, and mostly answer each question with a well-placed chin scratch, "It is curious how you human find humor in the most illogical of situations, like when I am not wearing panty liners." I walk like an old woman, groaning up the stairs like my grandmother used to, "Mother. Of. Pearl." In my last ultrasound, they found the baby, at twelve weeks, somewhere near my ribs.
"Is that baby even in the uterus anymore?I mean, I thought that was where my spleen was."
She smiled. "Your uterus looks very long. "
"Uh, thank you?"
"That happens when you get pregnant again so quickly. There is your left ovary."
She moved the wand to the other side of my belly right above my hip. "There is your other ovary."
"Are you sure you have that on the right station? You are actually over bone."
I feel like I buried a mine in the post from the other day. I am sorry if I shocked, surprised or scared off any limbs when you got to it. I know news of pregnancy can be incredibly difficult during this journey, and so I am sorry if I didn't exercise enough compassion when delivering that news. I hadn't intended that post to be THE post where I come out of the closet. I just have been thinking so much about my cynicism, my fears, and my shame, especially as my anxitement moves into straight up terror. I realized I had gotten to a point in my blog where I could no longer speak of anything without speaking of this one thing.
And so there it is. I will take questions from the Press Corps now. Helen?
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
AND NOW, for the real clowns and puppy dog moment, the beautiful and kind Tina, maker of gorgeous jewelry honoring our little ones, from Living without Sophia and Ellie, is doing her own Random Act of Kindness today involving the people who did a Random Act of Kindness the other day. Isn't that cool?
Go check out her blog to hear more about it. Being good has its up sides, you know, besides the warm fuzzies and beautiful ray of sunshine that follows you around for a few days.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Bear with me, I have a feeling this is going to be a long one.
WAY WAY BACK...many moons ago, (if this was a movie, everything would get all wiggly, and I would suddenly have on grunge clothes and combat boots) I dated this beautiful kind gentle boy who appeared on college Je.opardy . (I have no idea why I remember that small detail and am sharing it.) If I remember correctly, he was from a wealthy family and developed a drug addiction in college. He had come home and gotten clean. We met at that time in his life and dated. We had so much fun at the time. It was laid back. I had a large group of friends, and so did he. I was, cough, cough, nineteen, so it worked--his recovery and my underaged-ness. We did non-drinking things.
To sort of paint the entire picture, I lived on the couch of some friends. I was at university; in this iteration, I was a radio-television-film student. My parents divorced before I graduated from high school, which sort of exacerbated my feelings of alienation and bitterness. I applied to one university in the middle of the ghetto, which was basically the exact opposite of the experience I had growing up.
I cultivated this tough, street-smart persona when I came to university, because that is not who I was in high school. As I mentioned before, I am soft and sensitive. I have idyllic childhood stories of running through cornfields, picking wild berries, and walking out of our house after a tornado ripped through our little group of houses to women bearing cookies and lemonade. This sarcastic, angst-ridden persona covered up my insecurities about growing up in rural Pennsylvania. When I read Vonnegut and Camus, Burroughs and Kerouac, and whatever deviant other fiction I gravitated to in high school, I basically fell off the proverbial turnip truck. I wanted to move to a city. To see the gritty underbelly of society. I wanted to live a different life than the sheltered one my parents envisioned for me. We didn't even take the car keys out of our car at night. No one I knew growing up had been robbed or victimized. Well, once a neighbor from a mile away had their lawn mower stolen out of their garage while they were on vacation, but they found it in their neighbor's field. I steeled myself against disaster by expecting the worse of people. I talked to anyone, no matter how much my gut was telling me to run in the other direction. I walked with a kind of foolish bravado that welcomes bad things. I wore black and combat boots. I admit now I looked like everyone else who grew up in a small town and came to the city for university, though I didn't know it.
Anyway, back to this beautiful gentle boy. I was dating him for a while. I don't even remember how long. Long enough to call him my boyfriend and talk to him every day. One afternoon, I was visiting a friend who lived on the fourth floor of an apartment building. I was out on the balcony with a group of people talking, and I see him. The beautiful boy. Walking. With his arm around an unusually tall, thin beautiful babe. They were not holding each other in a friends-type way.
"Oh, shit. There is J."
"Who's J?" Someone I met that afternoon asked.
My friend M. didn't miss a beat. "J. is Angie's soon-to-be ex-boyfriend."
And I yelled, "Hey, J, up here."
The story has been exaggerated through the years by my shocked group of friends. For a long time, I was referred to as the 101st Airborne Division. According to their version, the boyfriend jumped four feet into the air. He backed away from the girl, arms raised in a sort of mock cops and robbers stance, though nothing he was doing was done in irony. He stood in terror while I stood waving like an insane person way up in the sky with a group of guys terrified about how this was going to turn out. I didn't flinch. I just carried on a conversation as though he weren't caught red-handed with another woman, "What are you two up to? Some dinner?" Yes, yes...dinner. "I haven't seen you in a while, beautiful woman who was introduced to me as J. lesbian best friend." No, no, it has been a while. "Okay, see you later!" Turned around, walked into the bathroom, and cried tears no one saw. I came back out to my friends saying, "That was AWESOME!"
"Did you see the pure terror on his face?"
"Holy shit, Ang, that was insane." That person standing there listening to words of congratulations was internally horrified and destroyed. In front of my friends, he did this thing. I laughed with them. I made fun of him with them. I pretended it was meaningless. "Men," I mused. "Harumph. "
We had to break up, I guess. And that conversation, the break-up conversation, changed me. I thought that it was fairly clear what happened, and he admitted he had been sleeping with this woman. I was scorned. I expected a conversation filled with apologies and pleadings as I walked out of the room, head held high. I even planned what I would say, "I don't know if it is you, or all men are assholes, but I'm not going to stick around long enough to find out." I practiced that over and over. I think I heard it in some movie, and planned to use that one day. I still have never used it. But he is the one who did most of the talking. He said the words that changed me. "Angie, you are just a little more than jaded."
He explained that this is the reason we were breaking up. He called me jaded and cynical. He said he knew it wasn't going to work out because I expected the worse in people. I mean, I was there to break up with him. Of course, it wasn't going to work out, but I expected to control this situation. I thought I had ammunition and came out completely disarmed. I became jaded about being called jaded. Was I? Was I jaded? I joked about it to my friends, but that hurt me more than the "cheating" ever did. I lived with this adjective for a long time. Jaded. I mean, I wasn't even twenty, and someone thought I was jaded. And I was. Nothing happened to me out in the world, except that my parents divorced and I had to figure out how to survive university without much financial support, because my father quit his job to drink full-time, and my mother decided to go to college at the same time we did. Everyone had a teenage angst story like mine, why did I become jaded because of it? Sure, things were a mess in my family life, but I grew up in comfort surrounded by safety and cornfields. I never knew hunger. I never knew want. Suddenly, people believed this persona I had cultivated and I no longer liked it.
As my life went on, I got into another heavy, important relationship. Intense. Dramatic. A lot happened to us. Infidelity. Burglary. Losses. After four years, we separated. After I was alone again, I thought about that word often. Jaded. Did my relationships become self-fulfilling prophesies? Did I condemn my life to a life worth being jaded about? It was exactly my cynicism that gave me things to feel cynical about.
After we split, I gave up dating for a while. I changed. I didn't want to just practice non-violence in my eating habits, but in myself. I stopped beating myself up and started seeing myself as part of a larger part of the universe. I stopped expecting the worse of people, and began expecting the best. I tried to cultivate compassion, rather than derision. I just decided that this was it. I was remapping my programming.This is the hand I am dealt, and I best make something beautiful from it. I am not living this negative life anymore, and that conversation, the one where I was called a little more than jaded, played a role in changing my programming.
I remember when Niobe posted about whether blogs were telling the truth or not. I basically had been blogging about my loss for two months, and still in the early months of my grief. It had never occurred to me that someone would lie about losing a child. That post shook me up, which is actually completely unlike the jaded nineteen year old in me. That silly girl always thought people were lying. In fact, it didn't even matter if they were lying or not. As long as they told a good story, I was happy. I would have long conversations with delusional people. It amused me. Nothing surprised me. I expected lies. I expected fabrications. I expected nefarious scheming. But I felt ridiculous after posting my naive indignation, like those in this community for a long time were rolling their eyes at me. "Small town, simple-minded girl. People lie, hick." And I felt like explaining all of this about the punk rock nineteen year old I once was. I was ashamed at myself for believing every blog I read at face value. This past week, trying to change my bad mood by doing something weird and kind for a stranger, I had this same sense of self-consciousness.
I am a woman who has been through a lot in my life. I am choosing not to be jaded anymore, but it isn't because there isn't reason to be. I just don't want to be a jaded, bitter, negative, cynical or sarcastic person anymore. It alienates people. In many ways, I live my life now trying to prove that beautiful boy wrong.
Here is a sort of blog powwow of posts that got me thinking about this topic. Loribeth of The Road Less Traveled posted a very interesting post, The dark side of positive thinking, the other day, which started this chain reaction of thinking in me. She was talking about Barbara Ehrenreich's new book Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Underminded America. I am prefacing this by saying I have not read this book, but watched the interview with her on Jon Stewart's Daily Show. Ehrenreich had breast cancer and talks about her disease openly, honestly, and rawly. I am planning on library-ing it after my current read. M from Maybe Babies beautifully discussed one of her articles recently about this very topic. And also Sweet and Salty Kate talks about birth. All of those got me thinking about all of this.
Shedding my cynicism made me feel so unprepared for the death of my child. This whole positive thinking movement--if you abstain from wine and lunch meat, do prenatal yoga, see a midwife, have your babies in semi-darkness with Tuvan throat singers playing gently in the background. If you make a birth plan, if you just think positively, visualize birth, draw pictures of it, focus on a labryinth where all roads lead to out, you will have a healthy, happy, well-adjusted baby who will come home on holidays and call every week. After Lucy died, I resented this shit. I mean, I resented my relatively newfound pollyanna-ish take on life that I adopted before having children. I resented positive thinking. That nineteen year old, the one that was a little more than jaded, would not have been completely unprepared for loss. What did positive thinking get me? A dead baby, and a large goose-egg where I bumped my soul on the floor after the rug had been pulled out from under me.
After many months of wondering how I could have prepared myself for a death with no reason, I came to the conclusion that being trusting is a good quality. Being more than jaded has mostly worked out well for me. It isn't that I have turned into the child I once was, that naive person I saw myself as on Niobe's blog, or the angst-ridden cynical nihilistic teenager I once was, but I am somewhere in the middle these days. Connecting with people, wanting to believe people write about loss from a place of connection rather than attention, trusting in my body and expecting the best, I would rather surround myself with that than expectation of apocalypse, even though now, no matter how much I talk myself into positive, I sometimes slip into the definitively bitter category. The worst happens. It happened to me. I don't want it to define me, though it now tints everything I touch. I'm not sure being prepared for loss with cynicism and distrust would have softened the blow. It just might have made me unbearable to be around before I lost Lucy.
I am pregnant again. Fourteen weeks, actually. I can't say I'm not jaded this time around. I always classify every statement with if, not when, this baby comes. This pregnancy is different than the two that came before it. I can only say in the most cliche-y yet true way, I am preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.
Friday, October 16, 2009
And so Good Friday is upon us...it began in the most un-holy of ways, which is waking up at 4:30am for no apparent reason with my two year old and not being able to fall back asleep. It could only go up from there really.
But truthfully, I was sort of stumped today. I contemplated many random acts of kindness for the day, but couldn't figure out what sort of connected with me. First thing I did was figure out I wasn't really sick. I mean, no cough today, only a mild headache, so yes, I could visit my friend with newborn twins. I began scouring recipes trying to figure out what the best dish would be to take over there. I decided on a warm French stew with crusty bread and Zinfandel. I don't often make stew. It is not in my repertoire. But after Lucy died, I got only two meals--my friend Laura made my favorite spinach pie she does so well, and another acquaintance brought a picnic basket with lamb stew, crusty bread, and red wine. It was January and colder than a witch's tetita. It was a beautiful night for my husband and I; we felt warmed and loved and remembered. I wanted to give her that feeling too, of being loved and warmed.
So, off I went to the market. I decided this was my random act of kindness. In the parking lot of my market is a Starbuck's. I
"Wow, that is the coolest thing I have ever heard. Sure I can."
"Can you wait until I leave, because I don't want anyone to think they have to thank me?"
"Sure." She concocted my drink, and putzed around back there for a few minutes, then came back to the counter. "Um, Starbucks would like to pay for this project for you today."
"It really is such a great thing. People don't care about others anymore. Starbucks wants to support you."
This is the thing about doing random acts of kindness. People do kind things for you right back. In fact, after my last post, I received this email:
Thank you for your great words regarding the kindness of strangers as well as sharing your world with so many. It’s good to be reminded and to remember.
Au Bon Pain would like to share some kindness with you and your family. Please send me your address and we will mail some treats.
You know, I mentioned the bakery in my last post, and truth be told, yes, my loving devotion to a company is easily won through free baked goods.I heart you, Au Bon Pain.
Back to today, I ended up buying an extra five dollar gift certificate from Starbies, and writing this note:
hi, i know this must seem strange, but i have decided to do some random acts of kindness for strangers today. so on this rainy friday, treat yourself to a coffee, tea, baked good or whatever. enjoy it and remember be kind to someone today.
I would like to say I picked a random vehicle, but truth is, I picked a hybrid, because karmically, it balances my SUV. I put it on the door handle, and went to do my shopping. How can doing something so pollyanish feel so revolutionary? I had this conspiratorial feeling walking through the market. Was it her car? His? The fish monger? Who? I had a temptation to ask them to send me an email, but in the end, I decided against it. I want it to be anonymous and thankless. The card was still on the car, now soaked when I went to my vehicle. I do wonder what happened, but I just have to assume someone somewhere enjoyed a mochaccino or some other gooey froufrou drink that they never splurge on.
I even donated the $1 to a food bank when the cashier asked. Hey, I was trying to be good.
Dear Angie, Here is the our International Babyloss Convention Random Act of Kindness for you. With love, Sall and Jess.
So now it is your turn. What happened today during your random act of kindness? Did you get anything back? How did you feel? Did you see a reaction? Tell me.
*I wish I could take credit for this phrase and Good Friday, but this was coined by Danny Wallace, the author of Join Me. The book that gave me this idea. I still think he wouldn't mind me stealing it in the name of RAoKs.
EDITED TO ADD: I totally forgot that I took a picture of my daughter this morning in a gorgeous shirt made my my lovely, extremely talented co-clicker Jen. She is amazing and kind, and just sent it to us, you know, just because...talk about random acts of kindness. She has opened an ETSY shop called Little Star Shop. Go spread the love, folks. Maybe surprise someone you love with a handmade shirt. And get a load of my little baby in her beautiful shirt. OH, Jen also sewed a little butterfly button on the cuff for Lucy. Talk about making a lady cry.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
It was not long after starting school that I realized the dorms and the surrounding area were some of the most dangerous in Philadelphia. It was not unusual to watch car break-ins occur from the dorm window. I settled for a while on the couch of some friends in a great center city neighborhood. To say we were broke is a massive understatement. If one of us worked, everyone got to eat. I worked at a counter which fed me, and barely covered the bi-weekly meal for the three of us and my couch rent. Frequently, we went with one meal a day. But you know, we were young and goofy, and having fun. In those days, I was a radio-television-film student, so I got to make experimental black and white videos in the alley next to my apartment. It was all exactly what I imagined living the urban life of an artist to be. I was in heaven.
I had three very good friends with whom I basically spent all my time. Two men and a woman. We used to hit this little twenty-four hour diner up the street, and drink coffee until ungodly hours and play the jukebox. The place was filled with unsavory types, post-clubbers, friends of ours, hustlers...it was exactly what a diner is supposed to be. One night, we went in there with just enough money to each get coffee and to play two songs on the juke. I think we choose two Bowie songs. And we laughed a great deal. Drank as much coffee as we could. This was our every night of poverty and school. The waiter came to our table and said, "All right, ladies (meaning all of us), you have a tab of thirty dollars, spend it wisely and remember your waiter."
We all looked around, "What are you talking about?" And he sighed a great heaving sigh of annoyance. "There was a man sitting there watching y'all. He said he remembered what it was like to have good friends, be in college, and be broke. He bought you dinner because he could see you were hungry. The only two things he said is to wait until he left to tell you and to tell you when you are old and forgetting what joy is to buy some undergraduate an anonymous dinner and then you will remember."
I know some people say that they never win anything, or nothing like that happens to them. And I think of myself as someone that things don't happen to, but the truth is, they do. One day I was working at a cafe, and I get a phone call.
"Angie? Angie K?"
"This is going to sound insane, but I listen to 93.5, and they just called your name and said where you work. If you call within ten minutes, you will get four hundred dollars."
"Yeah, I know it sounds crazy, but I listen all the time waiting for my name, and it is never read, and well, your name was read. Here is the number. Call now."
Here is the thing. It was a country station that I never listen to. I was a manager at a cafe and we listened to cds of meaningful singer/songwriters. The cooks put my name in the sweepstakes for "Win While you Work," so they could win the money. They entered everyone working at the cafe thinking they would listen all the time. Of course, they also didn't particularly care for country music and turned the station before anyone won. I received a check for $400 and no one to thank.
Before I had children and got fat, I used to ride my bike everywhere. Before work, I would ride thirty or forty miles, and then hit the shower at work. I had a little messenger-type bike I bought for $60. I loved this bike. It was a steel-framed vintage Miyata with funky handlebars and awesome components. When I first became obsessed with riding, I crashed my bike and knocked out my front tooth, got fifteen stitches in my lip...it didn't deter me from riding the same route every day. I began riding charity rides, and organizing groups of people at work to ride with me. I rode for MS, which is my father's disease. I made some great cycling friends at work from all walks of the business--executives of the firm to drafters to accountants. It was just a great feeling of camaraderie. One afternoon, one of my riding buddies called my desk and told me he forgot his lock. Could he lock his bike to mine? No problem.
A shocking torrential downpour overtook the city that evening, and I worked very very late. I took a cab home, returning the next day to a shell of my bicycle. I mean, the bastards took everything. My pedals, my handlebars, my breaks...the dude I let borrow my lock and cable didn't lock the bike properly. Thieves saw an opening and probably figured I wasn't coming back that night. I can't even tell you how bummed I was. I mean, stealing someone's wheels is like a whole level of bad karma. I just spent the day moping, kicking proverbial cans...it was awful.
I got a call at about 5pm. It was one of the dudes I rode with. "Hey, Ang, I'm looking at your bike. Holy shit. Come down here. I'll drive you both home." So, I come down. I mean, seriously distraught and upset. He says, "How much did you love this bike, Ang?"
"Did it fit you? It looks small."
"No, it fit me like a glove. They took my pedals. MY PEDALS."
"Are you fixing this bike up?"
"I don't know. It's not worth much, fixing it up will cost more than it is worth."
"What kind of bike do you want?"
"I don't know. I'll probably get a proper road bike now. I'm due one anyhow."
"What about that one?" And he points to a brand new Trek road bike.
"What?" And another co-worker popped out. They chipped in together and bought me a new bike. They said through tears that I had given so much by riding my bike that they wanted to help me out. We actually went to the bike shop together, where I doubled their gift for a sweet, gorgeous ride. I just loaned that bike to a good friend, since I don't ride it much anymore. But watching it get loaded in her car choked me up...those guys changed my perception of the world just a little. It is a good place where community takes care of each other.
A few years ago, when I was working my corporate job. I read a book called Join Me, which I am fairly certain is out of print. It is about a man who inadvertently starts a cult. It is very funny, and very cool. He merely puts an ad in the paper that says, "Join me! Send me a passport photograph, your name and address to join me." And slowly, he starts getting people's photos, and he realizes now what? H e sort of jokingly started a cult, but what kind of cult? He wasn't religious or power hungry. So, he decides it will be a cult of kindness. On Fridays, they will do something good for a random stranger. They would get together on the weekend and talk about Friday, almost deliriously. It was addicting. Everyone was getting so much more out of giving then they thought possible. I gave it to another woman I worked with, and then another, and we began doing random goodness for strangers and those around us on Friday. One Friday I bought coffees for everyone in my office, the next Friday I bought fifteen daisies, and just put them on random seats of the Au Bon Pain with a note that said, "Be Kind."
One Friday, I walked into the restaurant below my office. I was giddy. I pointed at a table of two women in their twenties. They looked like interns or something. "I would like to pay their bill." The woman behind the counter didn't even bat an eye. As she rang me up, she said, "What do you want me to tell them?" And I thought about it. "Just tell them to do something nice for someone today." And I went on with my day, but all day I had this secret. I paid back the dude from the diner. Finally. Finally I did it.
Funnily, I also did the phone thing with someone. I used to listen to this 30s, 40s and 50s Golden Age of music station. It was on AM radio. I was working at the time as a gopher and artist assistant. We only had AM radio, and it was great music. They also did one of those things about calling in for a prize. They read a name--Anne Mary McCleary. (I am making up the name, though it was something very similar to that.) There were two in the phone book. I called the first one. "Sister Anne Mary."
"Yes?" Oh, shit, it is a nun. I love and fear nuns like any good Catholic.
"Do you listen to 940 AM?"
" I am listening to 940 AM right now, and they just said your name for the call in contest. If you call now, you win something."
"Oh, well, aren't you a dear. I'll call." Click.
She won. I heard it a few minutes later. She won a vacation to Hawaii, which gave me such an amazing fantasy for the rest of the afternoon. Totally worthwhile to imagine old Sister Anne-Mary in Hawaii. In a habit. On the beach. With a margarita.
So, why am I telling all these stories? I was thinking about how one little thing in someone's life--a minute to call someone, to throw a twenty at some kids who are having a good night, to share your wealth and love of a sport with someone--can change the world. During this last year, I have focused on all many lousy hands I have been dealt, I almost forgot about all this magic. Even as I was thinking of all the pettiness of the last post, I also remembered the people who didn't give up, make gossip, take a no as a personal affront. I sent an email to one and said simply "Thank you for being my friend when it was hard." And she wrote back denying that she did anything, because she didn't do anything extraordinary except be decent, which some days feels extraordinary.
So, here is the deal, if you have read this far, I am asking you now to Join Me. Friday, October 16th, a day after we remember our babies, do something nice for someone. A random stranger. An older person who lives near you. Anyone. It doesn't matter what or how or why. Just do it. I'll post a blog then with my story, and in the comments, you can share yours. Let's change someone's day this week. Come on. It'll be fun.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
This really is so stupid. I mean, it really isn’t that insulting or anything. So, I am just going to write about it hypothetically. Let’s just say there was a get together that I avoided because humans confound me. I am a Martian who was raised by gnomes and bunnies, which has made me confused and soft. Anyhow, my avoidance started talk about my whereabouts, and someone speculating might have mentioned something like “Angie doesn't return my calls because she is jealous of my children.”
I wasn’t there, so I am just making this up as I go along. Really.
It is true on the Red Planet where my people come from, we speculate about others we haven't heard from in a while. Some people even deflect any negative connotations that lack of communication might have on themselves by questioning the sanity of the estranged one. But, in general, we give some effing latitude to a grieving mother. I can’t even tell you why, but it really hurt to hear that, even as I imagine it wasn't said maliciously. In my clearest moments, I imagine the situation reversed--I could have been one of those hurt egos theorizing over a glass of wine about where I have been. It isn't even particularly a cruel statement. It just is not true. I mean, yes, it is true that I often do not call people back who are not on the A-Team, or Martian brethren. I just can't make the chitchat of loss with people who don’t have that je ne sais quoi. But I am pretty much an equal opportunity jackass. I just simply avoid most people. As charming and handsome as your children might be, it has nothing to do with it.
What angers me about this stupid, silly little comment is the way it has sort of embedded itself into my sense of self, as though it is somehow reflective of who I am and what was known about me over the last fifteen years. Of all the things to think about, why this? People have actually said stupid mean shit to my face this past year. This incident and others like it are so small in relation to the rest of the year. It happens, as it did this weekend, that sometimes, when in the passenger seat driving home from a lovely dinner with my beautiful family, it creeps into my head and absolutely ruins my moment. And I get angry and sad, and miss all the things I have lost in this last year, including my good name.
Why do I care?
Maybe the truth is much more shallow than I want to admit. I have just lost my filter, and it's fucking liberating. Daughter death wiped out my effectiveness of faking it, lying, obfuscating and hiding my emotions. These kinds of incidents, while better left untouched (I wasn't there after all), are simply out of my control. What people tell themselves about me is not me. But truth be told, I want to defend myself. I want to defend my reputation. I wanted to write a venting email telling everyone at that party how NOT jealous I am of their lives. I wanted to explain with effective use of bullet points, time lines, graphs and pie charts why exactly I haven't reached out to certain people. I craved just writing in huge scare quotes and capital letters "THE DEATH OF MY BABY ISN'T ABOUT YOU." Somehow I manage to reign in my angry Martian self in these circumstances, because I realize that I don't just fantasize about doing this to the one woman who said this, I fantasize about doing it to everyone with whom I have ever been in contact. Just a huge mass email of venting about everything. Not telling anyone off isn't nearly as satisfying as laying into a random gossiper would be.
Misplaced anger, good evening, nice to see you again.
This is the spiritual practice that I crave right now--learning to let go of petty grievances and silly obsessive thoughts. If I can meditate on letting go of the guilt of my daughter’s death, then certainly I can let go on my need to control my reputation. I know this incident is so small that it would be behoove me to forget it. I know this incident is petty that it would behoove me to remind myself that it is someone else's issue not mine. I just don't know how to do it. Part of the reason I write this blog is to talk about my grief, my shame, my guilt, my pain…I expose it to the air, because shame feeds on the damp, dark corners of your consciousness and grows into a kind of cancer. It is like crap in your lawn stinking up the place. You need to expose that shit to the air, dry it up, let it float away, or maybe, just maybe, if you can't let it go, that dried manure can feed your lawn, make it more beautiful, nourish spiritual growth. Well, that is what I am hoping since the letting it blow away into the air thing isn't exactly working out.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
I made myself a delicious, sweet cup of indulgent cocoa.
I sat in silence with Jack the dog, and listened to the birds. Silence in suburban New Jersey is a slice of heaven...I cleared my mind and thought of our losses and our joys. I thought of the way the sky blushes in the morning, and how rare it is for me to just savor a moment alone. I am always doing, always going, always busy mind.
And so thank you, Josie, for giving me dawn today. You are so loved around the world and so missed. We hold your mother close today in joy and remember your beautiful, important life.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Someone asked me about where the poem came from and I usually do not talk about my process for writing, but I thought it might be interesting. And well, this is my blog and it is here for just this sort of thing. This poem I wrote in January, about a month after my daughter died. I had just sort of returned to the hell that is social networking, mainly for the distraction of scr.abble. Because I had decided to keep my profile active, I also had to deal with the aftermath of posting a shitload of status updates about my pregnancy...so, I announced my loss in a note. I got appropriate condolences, but mostly people ignored it and kept playing far.mtown or whatever else they do on that site besides scrab.ble. So, besides my mass email to all friends and family I could think of, I announced Lucy's death to the other people this way. In January, I received an email from one of those old flames in my life that pops up suddenly because you have a fb account. Though our flame has not been lit for a long time, we have had a nice little rapport in which we harmlessly flirt here and there in the midst of talking about our kids, our spouses and our lives. And by flirt, I mean, mostly it is a compliment thrown in between newsy type stuff. At any rate, he sent nothing after the death of my daughter, despite receiving my loss notification in both email and on this site. Then one day, a month after my second daughter died, he just sent me an email like nothing happened.
I was livid.
Maybe it was because we had dated briefly and I felt comfortable telling him off, or maybe I was just in a place where I didn't give a crap. I didn't stop the anger. The email began, "So, do you know who I am now? I am a woman whose daughter died. I listen to the same song over and over. I paint depressing pictures. I wallow. I don't want to flirt. I don't want to hear how beautiful I am. I don't want to make small talk. I just want you to acknowledge my daughter's death. I am not that girl who wore your letter sweater once upon a time. I am an old woman whose daughter died."
He responded with an appropriate condolence. But what I realized is that I really wrote my letter to the world. This poem is one I did not continually tweak for months. I wrote it and let it stew. A few weeks later, I pared it down significantly, and sent it out. There wasn't a great deal of editorial work, like some of my poetry that I have literally edited for a decade. The process of editing my emotions in poetry is incredibly cathartic--it is like dissecting my feelings and cutting them apart into meaningful phrases. It is like painting a beautiful picture with an ugly color, if that makes sense. So, when I am working on a poem, I am less emotional, but more precise about my feelings. More deliberate. In this poem, it was almost as though I had to write these statements and emotions, then get them off my desk.
That is what this poem is about, in case anyone is interested. The other poetry in this issue is beautiful, so please go spread the love around Literary Mama.
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Looking at our picture in the park, I would never have imagined that our marriage would be challenged with the loss of our child. I imagined we would lose our grandparents, and then our parents, since that is the way of the world...the old are supposed to die before the young. I imagined we would grieve for those losses, and we have. It feels helpless to watch your partner grieve the loss of their parent, even as you grieve the loss of your in-law. It is a relationship of which you are not a part, whose in and outs you are just beginning to know. It is simply you partner deeply missing one of the two most influential people in their lives. You can only listen, hold them and sit in their sadness.
There was a time in this last nine months where I wondered how couples survived this loss. I feared for my marriage. It wasn't hysterical or nasty between us; we just went in our separate corners to lick our own wounds in our own ways. How do you maintain your relationship through the solitary process of grieving? I couldn't figure out how to get out of my own head and back into our marriage. Somehow, nine months later, we have grown more loving, more forgiving, and more attached. We have eased back into each other arms. And it wasn't a vacation, or a therapist, or long revealing talks in the middle of the night...it was just time--patiently waiting for the other person, not freaking out at our distance and the ebbs and flows of our connection. When I was very new in my grief, I loathed when someone told me time would be the great healer...you are so early, people would say. It just takes time. I mean, I knew it was true, but it meant I had to move forward in great suffering to an undisclosed location in time and space.
My grief felt dismissed by cliche, and yet time does change grief, there is no doubt. But it wasn't just time. It was patience. We just didn't assume that our distance meant something more than what it was (grief), which I can only assume helped. I know, for me, I try very hard not to think of my deep love for my husband as fated, storybook, magical, untouchable or special. That might sound weird, but I need to be reminded that we are susceptible to the same shit as everyone else. We want approval and love. Acceptance and understanding. In the midst of raw grief, you just have no energy to devote to someone else's ego. In some ways, grief is a grabby bitch--she just forces you to be self-absorbed and needy. We talked about how this suffocating grief and our distance was not symptomatic of a larger problem with us--it just meant we were missing our daughter, and figuring out how to live in this world without her. I think we are stronger now by not taking it all personally. We just gradually came back to center, not because of one event or one conversation, but a thousand little gestures of normalcy.
A few weeks ago, we went to a wedding. When the vows were read, Sam and I held hands and cried. After the ceremony, when we were sipping drinks, he said, "They just don't know in what ways their marriage can be challenged." And I nodded. What I wanted to say to the bride and groom is simply this: You never know, on one of the best days of your life, your wedding day, what "for better or for worse" is going to mean in your marriage, but you can only hope you are with the person who brings out the best in you at the worst moment.
Friday, October 2, 2009
"Ang, I'm just calling to tell you that W.'s father died."
"Who died, Pop?"
"Yes, your JV basketball coach."
"Oh, right, W. Did you know that he came to a few games?"
"Why the hell do you think I'm telling you? Did you play one too many games without a helmet?"
"Yes. Yes, I did. How old was he?"
"87. Good guy."
"Yeah. Good long life. Are you going to the funeral, Pop?"
"Hell no. I'm too old for that shit. It is too depressing."
I miss my grandfather.
And there was this weird moment, sitting in the cafe, where it occurred to me that Barack Obama was the president of the United States, as though I missed that the last nine months. Sure, if you sat me in an Emergency Room, flashed a small light into my eyes, took my pulse asked me what year we were in, who was president...I am fairly certain I could answer those questions properly. But still, I'd put on hold the news, politics, life around me that didn't immediately have to do with my life and the death of my child. I sunk into my pit of despair. All this life happened around me, and I didn't read one article about it. I watched the inauguration with the constant refrain in my brain, "Lucy died. Lucy died. Lucy died." I admit, though, I do listen to National Public Radio all day, but absorb nothing. I am famous in our house for turning on the radio to hear the traffic and weather, and I have to listen to it four times before I remember the high today will be 65 and we should avoid the Ben Franklin.
But the newspaper is different. I used to love reading the newspaper. In fact, when I held a real job in the corporate world, part of my job was to read newspapers and magazines looking for information on my industry, my competitors, my company, the fed...I read not only our local paper here in Philly, but also the NY Times, WSJ, Washington Post, the trade journals, and then countless blogs about politics, sports, and pop culture. (Desk jobs are good AND bad.) My daughter's death made me singularly focused on my grief.
Did you know that there are a lot of scary things in the newspaper? Like all this swine flu nonsense. At one point in my life, I could read books on viruses. In fact, I loved books on viruses. A single article reads to me like a manual for the perfect storm of family tragedy. Pregnant women and kids beware. Daddies, are you healthy and robust? That is exactly what the flu looooooooves. CNN headlines seem to be fairly dominated by stories of child abuse, kidnapping, murder of innocents...it is not surprising that subconsciously I have avoided this exposure to suffering, and surrounded myself with suffering I understand and grief like my own.
But what does it say that I can actually read the paper now? That I can be mildly interested in politics again, at least interested enough to read a piece or two? That I am beginning to reach out again--one hand stretches out of my narcissistic little hole and feels for some grass. "Grunt, that feels pointy and dry. Back in hole."
It feels like progress on one hand, and on the other, it feels like de-evolution. I have protected myself from the hype, the bad vibes, the sniping anger of politics, the danger around every corner. I am moving forward enough to notice an outside world, but not forward enough to not see it as a constant threat to the little stability my life seems to have nine months since my world fell apart. But fear not, today, I read the headlines, and the beginnings of at least a handful of articles, but I spent the most amount of time looking at J.il San.der's estate in the Fashion section.
I am still shallow. Whew.