Thursday, December 27, 2012

mother and fawn


I read this Buddhist adage that says, "The cause of death is birth."

Yeah, unless someone isn't born yet, then the cause of death is sex.

I have this outpouring of appreciation for the support we received this year around Lucia's birthday. There is no rhyme or reason to grief. It stalks, pounces on its time, not yours. I reached out and said I wasn't doing well. That act itched me. Eczema stretched the length of me. I jittered and rubbed myself against old bare trees. Scratching the vulnerability away, but it stayed. I needed to feel it to remember my strength.

One Thursday in the middle of the month, I was cooking arroz con pollo for a friend, which is very much like paella, except with chicken instead of chorizo and seafood. And the thought occurred to me that I need wine for the rice. Wine goes in paella, and arroz con pollo and my mouth. At least it did before I quit drinking. Back then, I began drinking when I began cooking. I was alone with the children, and I searched the cabinets and found a bottle of unopened pinot noir.

My heart opens like a lotus, calls for vulnerability as her food. There are moments when only faith stands between me and a drink, or me and an angry word, or me and my death. Grace surrounds me as I stared at the bottle. I don't know if I would have drank a glass or the bottle or nothing. But it caught me up, suddenly afraid of slipping. Suddenly aware that wine is not necessary in any dish I cook now. Cooking and drinking. Drinking and cooking. They are all tied together for me.

Later in the day, I went into a church basement, too overcome to speak, I cried, buried my face in my hands, deeply grieved and full of want.

My daughter is dead four years.
My daughter. My sweet sweet girl.
And sometimes there is nothing to do but drink. And I cannot drink.

Women held me. All week I cried into women's shoulders, in their hair, on the phone, in their inboxes. This year the grief lessened. I felt a lightness of being that seemed so far away in the last three years. There is magic in my life now. A seed of connection to the Divine, a moment of breath between declarations of her state of mortality. Then the week of her death and birth came, and it was like it happened yesterday, or perhaps even that very day. But I feel protective of me right now. I mother myself now. Care for me, allow me to rest, give me the space for solitude and vulnerability and bad behaviour, yet let me curl up and weep. I feel worthy of protection and grace and connection to the Divine.


January 10, I will be sober two years. My daughter dead four last week, and my body creaking into year thirty-nine on the fourth of January. It all makes me feel old and brand new, like a fawn, spots like code across my back, and my legs not quite strong enough to hold my own weight and yet hours away from running.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

the end of the world

Tomorrow is the end of the world.

The calendar ends. Well, the Mayan one, and the dawn of a new era. It is the same day that my daughter died. She would be four on the day after the end of the world, if her world didn't end.

I remember what that feels like. The end of the world. The rug is pulled out from under you. Tumbling, nauseated, insomniatic, fearful, like you can suddenly see all the poison, juts, knives, umbilical cord accidents, guns, cars as weapons of mass destruction, televisions untethered to walls. You don't know you are dead. You are the hungry ghost, walking the circumference of the earth, looking to eat something that makes sense. It drops out the bottomlessness of you. Nothing nourishes. Nothing stops the pain of change. You float along and bark at people in your chair (they don't hear you, so you slam a door) and yell at people who bring in white flowers and mourn with you. In the blackness, you wait for instructions or an answer, or a white light, but mostly you wait for the end, but there is no end, no beginning, just a suffering of your own design.

The Izmana, the invisible sky god, swallows the earth. He creates it, he destroys it. The light points shoot out his hair follicles and his eyes, but you are stuck somewhere behind a sinus cavity. It is all darkness there, and you doubt a God could even swallow the earth, even though you saw it happening. I bought some extra cans of beans this week, and an extra loaf of bread. Maybe we can outlive the end.

They say we are on a path of ascension. I sat in circle, meditating. The information downloaded into my subconsciousness as the channel stood over me. I sleep to access the records. I am chilled to the bone, and excited, afire and alit, grounded and flying. Suddenly, Grief clears his throat.

Remember me? 
How could I forget you?
I am part of your ascension. I am part of your growth. 
You are part of the problem.
There are no problems. Perhaps I feel part of your regression and meditation right at this moment. But time is meaningless. What was is what is and what will be is what has happened.
It's been four years, certainly this raw grief is done.
It is and isn't. I am part of your enlightenment. Feel me for all of them, for her. 

Lucia stands in a white gown, hair cascading down her shoulders, and she reminds me of a magnet I have. My guides stand around her. And angel walks with her. She is fine.

My sweet girl. My sweet girl. My sweet girl.

She is fine, and I am suffering.

+++

I wept in a circle of women. Cried into my friend's hair, and she held me like a child. I flushed and wiped my tears.

STOP IGNORING THE GRIEF.
STOP IGNORING THE GRIEF.
STOP IGNORING THE GRIEF.

Even if you don't understand it.
Even if you can't figure out how four years later it can rising again, like the oceans.
Even if you think she was just a baby who hadn't breathed yet and what could we miss.
Even if you think other people have stronger, more justifiable grief.
Even if.

Honor the sacred grief. Bow to it. Sit with it. Have tea with it. Bring to the market. Cry on it, baptize it with those tears.

There will be a bonfire. I am wrapping a little bundle in black fabric. It will contain sage and lavender and dirt and mugwort and all those things that no longer serve me. I will pitch the earth into the fire until it becomes air later pour the water on to the coals. I will tell the story of Lucia's birth, how light was born into darkness, and the longest night served me as well as it could. We birthed her in dimmed lights, and I saw purple. I wept on her torn skin and held her close, and walked to my car five hours later. My vagina pulsing from the pain of releasing her. My womb contracting still. Leaving her in a hospital to be dissected then burned was the hardest thing I have thought I would do in my life. I thought they may have made a mistake, even as I held her lifeless body and pushed her tongue into her mouth so she didn't look so dead. But every minute without her has been just as hard as that way. In the earlier days, it was harder even.


I belong to a circle of women in my everyday life and another one in my on-line life where we talk about the sacred, magic, other dimensions, meditation, the divine, ascension, the hard spiritual work and the easy. We create divine crafts, and offer our gifts to one another. But I miss grieving people. I want to create a circle of grieving women, to honor the elements, to honor the seasons, to honor our spirits bruised and battered and still walking from the sunset. If you are interested in something like that, let me know. Leave a comment, or send me an email. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

glow

Like everyone, the mass murder of innocent children in a primary school in Connecticut has me questioning everything in which I believe. Reading Dr. Jo's piece on her blog, No Words for Such a Tragedy, I felt compelled to write about it, open a forum for the community to talk about revisiting grief on a public and large scale, and to talk about our personal grief. She wrote, "Be attentive to our own losses and how this type of trauma reignites our sense of vulnerability and grief."

And yes, our vulnerability, our grief, our fear. When grief swallows me up whole again, I write my way out of its deep belly. But it's hard to write any way out of this horror. And anyway, we shouldn't. We sit directly in it. We must. We must know what guns do, what sick people do with guns, that these children have families grieving now. They are people. And that our powerlessness can be transformed into effective change, if we want it to. Grieving people are amazingly resilient, strong, compassionate. I wonder what we could do if we tried.

We find a path of compassion anyway we can. May this path of compassion drive us to a furious passion to change the things we can change, and call things by their proper name.

I am over at Glow today. Comfort.

Friday, December 14, 2012

frost

Frost covers each blade of grass. Each blade of me.

There is a frozen impotence around me, a sense of rejection and awkwardness and tension. I miss not caring about connections. I fall back on isolation like the drink. It comforts me. Or rather it once comforted me, but now it aches in me. And I cling to sloppy communication like the ice on the world around me this morning. Unwelcome, it slides over everything. It appears more hyper the more it is ignored. I just crave connection. I become self-aware and retract again in daylight.

I brought a packages of goodies for strangers to the post. And my return address stamps smudged and my paper was too loose and the ink stained the postal worker's hand. She said, "You are my problem today."

I swallowed and thought, "I'm everyone's problem today."

I understand why my children believe a fairy paints each petal and blade of grass with ice. I step into our southern facing three season porch. The world is crystalline and silent. I stand in awe, as my stomach retracts into itself instinctively, and I blow into my hands. I want to say, "This is so beautiful." But no one is around to hear it. And anyway, I need to just be present in the beauty and silence. I keep filling moments with talking.

The frost will leave late this morning when the sun rises over the treeline. The porch will heat up. There is a difference between solitude and isolation, even if I am alone in both. There is sadness in New Jersey and the planets align and affect the magnetism of the earth and the birds shit right on my windshield and I will always still want to fit in somewhere. There is a postcard pinned to my inspiration board:

WE ARE ALL CONNECTED

It is the week before her death and her birth. Four times around the sun and I still have nothing close to wisdom. I have ornaments with her name and rituals I can't bear to do some days. And a promise of her kisses in my sleep, which I won't remember or feel, but remind me that I am not just two someone's mother, I am three. The way we are all connected is grief and loss, I remind myself. And love too.




Monday, December 10, 2012

ouroboros


I used to think of myself as a series of uncategorized items. Undefined, out of color and alphabetical order. Bourbon and cigarettes, and unwashed lucky socks. Second hand combat coots, and mixed tapes with  names like Heartbreak. I suppose I used to think of myself as a junk drawer. I am none of those things anymore. I have none of those things anymore.

I have this shell that feels nothing like me. It hasn't in four years. It is like I walk through the earth in a machine, bumbling and inoperable, left moving me right. My body turns against itself, and the pain that plagues me feels finally like the manifestation of years of anguish. And that is what my body did to me, or rather I did to my body.


In the past few months, I have felt sick. Arthritis, depression, weight gain, exhaustion, lethargy. I can't remember to return calls or emails or thank you letters. Perhaps, after Lucia's death, I just couldn't muster too much sympathy for me. I grieved and felt sorry for myself, yes, but I also acted out, and retreated and pushed. Those two Angies, the one of good and the other of evil, I hadn't reconciled. It makes me sick. One swallows the other, like the Ouroboros devouring its tail. I am one, not two. I draw it, like an enso, in a few strokes a circle, and a snake eating itself. Then I sage it, say a prayer, meditate on the image. It is not an image of destruction and self-sabotage. It is about rebirth and recreation and primordial unity--that which was, is, and will be. 

I no longer want to feed myself the storyline of her death and of my responsibility. I don't want to feed it to my ailments and my dis-ease. I don't want to give it strength anymore. I wonder if I caused my sickness to find a cause of her death, then I shoo it away as overthinking. I don't want to speak its name anymore. Even when I think grief is over, it comes back, like a mobius strip, the beginning is the end, and the two are a moot point anyway. But the grief and the action of blame are too different things. I release the blame, release the hatred, release the guilt that I didn't even know was there anymore.

I open, open, unfold the turns and twists of me. I, maybe folded into a swan, am still just a piece of paper. The words, melodramatic and wordy, run around me like the rings of a tree. Each description a year, telling the story of me. The song I call out into the night, my song, as I journey into a world where time lays easily on top of itself, and the dead live again. I pocket the paper away, fold it into an elaborate fortune teller game.

Eenie, Meenie. Miney. Moe. Catch a Tiger by the toe...And then it reminds me:

"2008, you were the happiest you ever felt, most contented. Your daughter died."
"2009, You wept for a year. You walked through the underworld. You mourned. You alienated. You survived."

This upcoming year, the one ahead, I envision something magical, important. The path before me has changed in 2012, a hair pin turn back to a spiritual center I had before the marriage and babies and jobby jobs. It was covered over the decaying leaves of grief and alcohol and self-loathing. I sweep them away as I find my footing again.

Remembering.

Remembering.

Remembering this way of beauty and strength and surrender and unconditional love of everything including myself. There is moss on the northern facing parts of me, the shadow parts. I must turn toward the sun now, open to the air, water, fire, and earth. I emerge from the machine that has trapped the storyline of Lucia's death. I emerge from the sickness that I imagined killed Lucia and Michael into the strong body that brought me to this place right here. I emerge from self-loathing into a place of unconditional love and acceptance.


I have been meditating on a word to encapsulate my year. 2009, Grieve. 2010, Create. 2011, Recover. 2012, Open. 2013...what word can you be? I create another fortune teller. This one with words that encapsulate what I hope for--love, blessings, miracle, opening and counting until we reach the fortune for next year. I write on the inside all the words that I hope the next year will be: Balance. Self-acceptance. Open. Clarity. Growth. Trust. Heal. Spirit. But I know the word as I write it.

Emerge.


What is your word for 2013? What does it mean for you?



Friday, November 30, 2012

mourning moon



Every so often, I paint a picture of our family.

I draw it in pencil, then I stain it with watercolor. My old paint dries to my plastic palette. I reactivate it with water, and it gently spreads across the paper. I love the process of making this dried old smear of paint come alive, and useful again. I fall more in love with all of them when I sketch them out. It doesn't seem possible, but my heart center expands. I try to capture Thomas Harry's little mouth just like him, his smile which is both sweet and shy. And the way Beezus always tilts her head off toward her brother every time I pull out the camera. I put the lost babies on my dress like appliques. The raven and the ladybug.

My husband barely acknowledges it. He likes photographs, honestly. I'm not offended. But I like art, stacked together, making something like a symphony of images. Maybe he has made that concession for me, but he never questions the ever-changing art wall in my living room. Artwork from all the people I love, pieces I adore, and work that is significant to us as a family. When I explain it to people visiting, my husband seems just as interested in hearing the whys of each piece.


The process of painting our family has become an inadvertent yearly thing, or maybe every other year. I replaced the painting of me and the children from when Thomas was only two weeks old with this new one. There is Sam and the dog. We are all smiling and Sam's arm is around me. I almost put no background in this painting. Us on white, but in the end, I painted all that negative space yellow, because it is positive space too. The space of possibility. In the last painting I did, Spring 2010, everything was grey and mostly colorless. There was no Sam, or Jack the dog, or Lucia or Michael. It was just me and the kids, but mostly me. Sad, but grateful.

There is a circle of women that I have joined, both a virtual circle and another in real life, and my soul feels alive again. I see images for them--goddesses, angels, vistas I cannot control, pictures that have no context. As this sight opens in me, something else closes. Doubt and attachment, I suppose. I resided in a place of rejection, or rather, perhaps, I sought to paint the negative space around everything that I actually have first. Gratitude an afterthought. With this opening, the fear of alone closes.

This month in the healing circle, all the women chanted our own names, staying on the last sound.

Angieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. 

Like an Om. The vibration of our discordant names together resonated through my spine, my cheeks burned with the truth of it all. It felt close to the sound of God, or compassion. Many years ago, I remember my friend Sid and I reading poetry to one another. And she said, "When a poem is really good, my cheeks vibrate and I can feel it in my jaw." And that is what this felt like the vibration of truth.

I have never felt so free to be Angie, a person that I cut off for years with booze and resentments. The uncool believer in things unseen. The joyous clapper in a gospel choir. The psychic who believes in her gifts. The weird little kid who cannot wait to go on vision quest.

I admit that depression has seized me the last few months, crippling despair almost, but not quite. I couldn't keep up with everything, or anything, really. The process of letting go seemingly a paradox of impossible odds, almost Sisyphean in its absurdity. My health issues gripped me too, and then I was all body--injured and unsteady, weak and damaged. But the letting go was simple once I let go.

In the last thirty-almost-nine years, I have needed confirmation and witness to every single thing I have felt. Love. Friendship. Anger. Resentment. Fear. Kindness. Hurt. I sought it from everyone around me. It is only now that I have realized I do that. Tell my sad story, or my happy story, paint a picture of it for judgment, for a nod of understanding, for justification of my solitude.

I think of the end of the Prayer of Saint Francis as the talisman behind the talisman card I draw this morning, (perhaps I should see that one as the joker).


Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort that to be comforted,
To understand than to be understood,
To love than to be loved.

This last moon, the Mourning Moon, comes on me strong. I wrestle in the night with sleeplessness and exhaustion. They grapple, roll over me, kick me in the jaw. Athena asks us to look at the moon in June, what happened then. For now, you should see the completion of that cycle. What have we released?


The new baby was just dead then, and my breeding years died with him. (I am not lamenting, just stating.) I spent these months releasing one lousy resentment, understanding it, letting go. But it was a much bigger process than just that one resentment of that one person. It was about letting go of judgment of myself, of that person, of the situation, of Lucia's death and the repercussions of grief. I forget what the resentment was about some days now. That is magic. Truly and completely magic. But it is more than that.

In June, I went to a spiritual counselling session. It is not exaggeration to say that she changed my life. I didn't see it then, but now I can see this path she laid out in front of me, suggesting I take it. When I asked her about my circle of friends which seemed depleted and gone, she told me that those souls needed to leave, so that resonant souls could come in. She told me to release them. And I skeptically smiled. I got what she was saying, but the last few years of grief had still been an deeply painful process. I didn't have to release them, I thought, they left.

I needed rituals, prayers, candles, sage, meditations, dreamwork, and conversations with them that ended in hugs and a letting-go. I needed to truly release them, so I myself could be free. I sent them off with prayers of everything I wanted for myself. Those rituals of release and opening have brought friends, resonant vibrations, I suppose, people I love and trust and laugh with, where I can just be corny and psychic and recovering from the spiritual malady that has plagued so many of my people. I can see the cycle from the Flower Moon to the Mourning Moon as this journey of less of becoming who I am and more of releasing who I am not.

My cheeks vibrate with the truthiness of it all. When I paint my family, it is the beginning of the circle of trust and love and non-judgment, and it spirals out into the world. This is the talisman I draw--protection from painting what isn't.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

protection from cynicism

I rub my finger callouses along the table.

These old fingers peck and strum and emote. I always sing, even though I am a terrible singer. Gilda Radnor took singing lessons in the last year of her life, after she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She always wanted to sing and so she went to a teacher. She didn't do it for a role, or to sing for anyone. Just for herself. Some weeks, I sit and fantasize about that. Would singing be my wholly selfish indulgence? How self-conscious I have always been about my voice, but how deeply satisfying it is to sing loudly. And in the end, I think I sound fine when I'm alone and no one is listening. It is an ego koan.

What is the sound of Angie singing alone in the forest? Beautiful.

In the time before mirrors and you tube and the eternal quest for self on the internet, did we judge what we looked like? Were we wrinkled and hated it? Were we too fat? I look at myself without mirrors and feel beautiful, fine, goddess-like some mornings, then I have a conversation with an angry someone about fat people, and realize how susceptible I am to the mirror of other people's words. Frankly, I'm embarrassed about that too.

I took my guitar with me to my mother's and unself-consciously sang songs with my daughter, or alone. It felt delicious. My family was emotionally tender and my daughter and I made the room cry. Even I cried. Grief singing. I couldn't go on. It had been ten years since my mother heard me play and sing. Back when I could only play Doll Parts then Jane Says on an unplugged electric guitar, and I whispered the lyrics, if I sang them at all. I admit now my punk rock roots have morphed into songs by Joni Mitchell, Tracy Chapman, Leonard Cohen, Stones, the Velvet Underground. 

These rough fingers run down my husband's cheek and he smiles. 

I love when you play guitar.

You do?

Yes. It feels like home.

My soul callouses are worn down, softened. It makes hurts more hurt-y, but it is for the best. I'm not going to work on those cynical chords that recreates the hardness I wore proudly. Sam comes out of left field right after the dude and the conversation about fat people, just when I am feeling shitty and isolated, and says something amazing. He kisses me and tells me that I am gorgeous. Then he asks me if I feel lucky that I am not married to that man.

Oh, you are a mean old daddy, but I like you.

My husband is growing a beard for me and took next week off. After months of sixty hour weeks, I will scratch his whiskers and sit on his lap and call him our Old Man. I keep singing these songs about heartbreak and none of them are about what I think they are about. They are about something beautiful and hopeful.

We wanted to take a trip during his time off. Iceland, we begged. Then just to drive west. To California. The sequoias that swallow cars. Or into the cold rain forest, bed down on some mossy nook, make a sad fire, and sing songs about how we are each other's sunshine. I guess it is kind of square to talk about Joni Mitchell and making a fire. I don't care anymore. I gave up feel self-conscious about squareness when I turned thirty-eight. It didn't work out. The trip, I mean. Travel and gypsy campers, but the thought was enough. We have bills after all, and Christmas gifts. We have this home we built with its strange long horns and collection of small dead insects.. 

I pull a talisman card and it says, "Protection from cynicism." I need that more than any prayer. Maybe that is the prayer:

Help me release cynicism and cranky irony and sarcasm.
Help me let go of the bitter ennui that is the bedfellow of the eternally cool. 
Let me release the cynicism about where I fit in. 
Help me remember that I fit in here. With the bearded man and his barefoot kids dancing to Joni Mitchell's love songs, the ones that sound exactly like break-up songs.

I bought a horn pitcher at an antique shop. It was for my husband's birthday, but on the day, I didn't give it to him. It seemed a little strange, and besides what will we do with this thing? I put it on my altar, and today I had the strong urge to give it to him. So I did. He told me it was perfect to have in our collection of weird antique things. 

I didn't start out writing about my husband. I read the Shack this week. I cannot tell you how many times it has been recommended to me, the pluralist babylost gypsy. I'm not sure what I think of it, but forgiveness and love and the ideas of judgment were more than appealing. And yet there was this deeply cynical part of me that felt self-conscious reading that book at all. It is the wanting-to-be-cool part of myself. Can I divorce that from what I felt about the book? As I read, that part reared up and wanted to tell the book to Fuck off, and throw it, and listen to music that no one has heard of yet. And so I am still parsing out what I think, but I keep the talisman across my chest.

This week I began meditation paintings other than jizos or about grief. It felt strange and liberating and fulfilling. In that space of letting go of cynicism, it made me feel like I was finally be authentically me. And a year ago, painting angels would have felt like anything but the me I thought I was. I am working on releasing cynicism, and non-forgiveness, but it is a long hard road. I keep singing California, even when not at the guitar, and it makes me miss a place I never loved, and a woman I never looked like.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

fortune telling

It occurred to me this morning that this day is our fourth child's due date. It seems strange at how much has changed since we miscarried. I have such tenderness there for that missing person. My body woke up bleeding again, another new moon after all. Just noting that the baby was missing, a little blood shed today to honor him. I wouldn't have remembered the day except it is my husband's birthday. Yes, our fourth child was due on his birthday. Lucia was due on my birthday. Both of them died.

A few weekends ago, I had a medium tell me that our miscarried baby was actually a boy, and his name, which was actually the only name we had chosen for the baby, if he was a boy. I am writing about psychics and fortune tellers at Glow today, because I consulted a few (thousand) since Lucia died. Not actually, but more than I admit in mixed company.

photo by an Untrained Eye.
In the past, I have been a farm girl. In the future, I will be silver and bald and eat beer pellets for breakfast.

Go over to Glow now, and talk about your experience with psychics and whatnots.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

mothers

My mother' home bursts with magic. Pheasant feathers and gourds in an antique glass vase. Moss growing in the sacred circles of her brick patio. A skull and a broken pitcher near the garage. The pitcher used to hold spider plants growing long tentacles in water on their way to earth. Somewhere between a glass of water and a pot of soil. There is a cauldron with a dead plant coming out of it under the nectarine tree. She has a makeshift altar above her sink. It has a chalice of water for her spirit guide and Buddhas she finds at flea markets. One looks like ivory and she tells me how she bought it for a few bucks.

The sunrise here is a marvel and the coffee tastes different, like cozy socks and a hug, even though the robusta beans coat my tongue with extra caffeine. My mother and I talk and talk about psychics and spirits and grandmothers, Of emigrating, moving, changing space. We talk about retirement and staying home and my childhood. Then, she mentions to me in passing that mother-daughter relationships are complicated, and I chuckle. Heh heh, yeah, Mama, I heard that once.

My children run through the yard like wild things--they climb trees and track rabbits. My mother tells my daughter she used to kill birds with a slingshot and roast them in the cemetery. She grew up poor and my daughter's mouth gapes open in amazement. My daughter spots a woodpecker in the valley. We sit by the stream, tossing red leaves into the current as the visiting neighbor's weiner dog barks. We climb over the weeping willow the hurricane tossed out of the earth. I used to sit under that tree and play guitar in the summer. My stepfather is non-nonplussed. "I'll put another one in. This bank was too loose. In spring, I'll put in a cutting up a few feet in sturdier ground." I strum my daughter's favorite song there anyway, while she sings.

Oh, my Mama. 
She gives me 
These feathered breaths. 

I made my way here on Wednesday morning to pick my mother up from the hospital after surgery. My step-father received a call when she was rolled into surgery that his mother was not going to last much longer than a week. She could no longer eat, or drink, and the morphine was all they could do. She died an hour after my mother and I arrived home from the hospital. She is the last of the grandmothers in my family. The last of that generation. Sixteen years ago, my paternal grandmother died at 67. My mother's mother died at 95 two months after Lucy, now my step grandmother at 86.

While I mourn for my stepfather, cry with him, his mother suffered from the death that most of us fear. Forgetting our husband and children, experiencing the indignities and humiliations of rotten people and a body betraying its soul. She was surrounded by love, though, and she was never want for anything. I wonder if there is a good death and what that would look like.

The children and I tramp through the woods, and my daughter points out that in the summer this place is filled with poison ivy. She tells me a story about my own childhood. It is the story about poison Sumac. I couldn't see well because my face was so swollen. My aunt had to take me for the day, while my mother worked. My Titi, as I called her, had no idea what to do with me, so se taught me to dance the cha-cha with a record and a mat with feet prints. My mother waits for the children and I at the top of the hill, right by the sweet cherry tree. My children call to her, "Abuelita, Abuelita, we walked through the poison ivy." I want to be an abuelita some day.

My daughter's death was as good as it gets. It hits me. She died in her mother. She never feared. And we loved her like she was going to live forever. There was never pity or grief in the love. But still, how good can it be if you never really got to live?

Being in my mother's home soothes something broken in me. My mother rubs in salve and aloe when she makes white rice in the same pot she's been making rice in for forty years. She puts on another pot of lentils, despite my protestations. She just had surgery. She doesn't have to make my favorite meal, but she insists. We talked about making rice. She taught me when I went to college, but it still took me many years to make it like her. She breaks off sofrito from the freezer and adds a can of tomato sauce. She tells me about being the second youngest of twelve and learning to cook Panamanian food in America. I watch the birds out the window beyond her shoulder, and think that this land is the land of my mother, even if it is far away from the land of her birth. But it is both for me. I feel attached to this land. I dug my feet into the dirt this morning, the dew almost frozen hurt my feet, but I refused to move.

This is the land of my people.

As I stood there, I realize that the hardest part of writing is learning you are mediocre. And in that mediocrity, you still sometimes nail a good phrase or two. You sometimes write something amazing. But mostly, it is just mediocre. But the world is constructed of mostly mediocre. It is part of the suffering. You feel the extraordinary bubbling underneath its surface, but it hasn't (or perhaps never will) quite burst through you. It is like rice-making year three. The phase in which you change from mother to grandmother.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

protection from leaving a trail

We raked the leaves from the hurricane. Rather than having the tree drop them all, the hurricane winds pulverized the leaves in the backyard. Bits of yellow and green, like herbs seasoning our land.  Granulated tree.

Everything I start to write seems useless, trite, redundant. I stand arms by my side, looking west, like an Easter Island head. There is something there beckoning me. What comes out of me lacks color. I sketch everything in vine charcoal. Nothing color, just grays. It is all easily smudged. And yet what is inside of me is bubbling and vibrant. I just cannot translate it. It is indigo and violet and smells of cedar and sage and pinecones. Between inside and outside, I feel restless, depressed, because writing has always come easily. I don't have writer's block, per se. But the past few weeks, I have felt stuck in my language. It is not enough. I need twenty-four words for the idea of identity and restlessness. Nothing is quite right. When I meditate and sit still with my discomfort, I see corn fields spread around me. Signs of fertility and prosperity, but to me, it is a sign of home. While I love many things about our town and neighborhood, I miss wide open skies and spaces to run. Though place has never meant a terribly great deal to me, the suburbs are driving me gray and fat. I can't muster the energy to leave the house anymore. I cannot get excited about the farmer's market and the dying lake.

Wherever you go, there you are, as the saying goes. Or not matter how light you pack, you always take your shit with you. That's another saying. But I don't want to run away. That is not my goal. I am tired of New Jersey and no left turns. I crave wide open swaths of land in which to roam. I have nothing to offer here, and here has less to offer me than before. I want to watch the children run, learn the land, tend a large garden. I want them to learn to track and build lean-tos. To have moonlit rituals without people asking me what the fire was for and why we were dancing. I pace my cage. There is a fish aquarium quality to the suburbs that unnerves me. Our dining room windows look out on our neighbor's unfinished house. From the windows to their driveway is fifteen feet. I must pull the blinds if I don't want people to wave to me inside my own house. I hear the idle gossip from Facebook and texts and who gets invited where, and I just want to opt out now. 

My feet crave earth beneath them. My fingernails call to plants to break them down. I chew them now, because outside work used to keep them short and sweet. I want to talk about canning food and chopping firewood. I want to talk about existence rather than boredom. I want to help raise barns, if I have to interact with my neighbors, not hear fat jokes, and chitchat about who has what and how much. Around here, the trees are all being removed. It makes sense. Our land is too wet to support such large trees, which uproot in hurricanes and winter storms. I mourn each one, even as I know the necessity of removing them. It is this place that demands it. And I think I want a place that can handle large trees. I crave a surrounding that venerates solitude without whispers or fear of depression. I don't want to fit in. I just want to be. These suburbs beg for peering out curtains and drawing conclusions. I engage in it too, and it is a part of myself that I hate.

I read this book recently called the Snow Child. It opens with a stillbirth. Set in 1920s, it is about this infertile couple who decide to homestead in Alaska, because they can no longer handle the world after the death of their only son. They want to be alone. Completely, utterly alone. Until they make a snow child who comes to life.

It took me months and months to read this book. I would start it. When the stillbirth was mentioned, I would place it aside. I no longer want to read solely about this heartbreak I know intimately. No longer. And yet, the book was not about stillbirth at all. Just one part of their story. And the rest of it, I got it. I wanted that self-sufficiency of an Alaskan homesteader in 1920. I understood the way stillbirth makes you crave mere existence, rather than the idleness of wealth and comforts. As I read, I coveted the harshness of winter, the land that runs for months around that. The part that is most decisive and positive of what is needed and important. I am mostly indifferent, and wishy-washy here in this life, because nothing seems that important or life altering. Do I want to eat at Cheesecake Factory or Applebees? Do I want to shop at Lowe's or Home Depot? 

I move through this life after Lucia's death. Stillbirth is just one part of my story, but it is the bend in the road. The thing that reprioritized everything. That part of me, the one before Lucia, falls on my soul yard pulverized. I keep thinking of that Pema Chodron quote, "Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us." And maybe I am ready to move past the annihilation and into that which is indestructible. That part of me that seeks aloneness is getting louder and louder. May I not leave a trail.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

frida muerto face

Technically, today is Dia de los Inocentes, or Dia de los Angelitos. The day of the innocents. The day we remember that children and babies that died. So, remembering them all. Honoring them all. It is also All Saint's Day. Tomorrow is All Soul's Day and Dia de los Muertos. I paint my face every year. And in my part of the United States, Halloween was cancelled, or rather postponed until the 5th of November. Tomorrow there is a Halloween parade at school. Anyway, we had been housebound for the last few days because the hurricane ripped through our state, causing devastation and mass destruction. It is really horrible. My thoughts and prayers are with the people down the shore. I'm not complaining about it, but just explaining that we had been in the house, bored, wanting to celebrate Halloween, Samhain, and Day of the Dead.

Yesterday, my sister and her kids came over and I painted everyone's face like a calavera. Then we took pictures. We thought it would be totally creepy to take a family portrait this way. Like one of those fake olde tyme pictures you take on the boardwalk, except my daughter is wearing a Hello Kitty shirt. We posed in front of our Day of the Dead altar. I wish you could see my sister's tattoo. It is very cool Frida calavera.


Okay, yeah, the picture is a little creepy. But also makes me feel blessed to be in this family. If I die young, I hope they keep doing this in my honor and in Lucia's honor.

For the past five years, I have dressed like Frida Kahlo for Halloween, and the last few it has been Frida Muerto. I do this to honor her, commune with her, help channel her energy and power. She is a constant inspiration. We have a children's book called Frida, which is about Frida Kahlo and her life. My kids love that book, and in it, they say that Frida loved her eyebrows because they look like a bird flying. So, I painted my eyebrows like that book, carrying a thorny rose, because my daughter's life and death feel like that to me.

In the spirit of still life everyday, I created a little how-to video on how to create a very easy Frida Kahlo Day of the Dead look from the shoulders up. From the shoulders down, you should wear some kind of peasant dress and large necklace.





Post your calavera faces here. I would love to see your work.

Monday, October 29, 2012

i am stretched on your grave


I am stretched on your grave,
     And will lie there forever.
If your hands were in mine,
    I'd be sure we'd not sever.
My apple tree, my brightness,
    Tis time we were together,
For I smell of the earth
   And I am stained by the weather.

When my family thinks
    That I'm safe in my bed,
From night untill morning,
    I am stretched at your head,
Calling out to the air
    With tears hot and wild,
My grief for the girl
    That I loved as a child.

The priests and the friars
    Approach me in dread
Because I still love you,
    My love, and you're dead.
I still would be your shelter
    Through rain and through storm.
And with you in your cold grave,
    I cannot sleep warm.


Táim sínte ar do thuama, trans. Frank O'Connor

It is a poem I have never sung to my daughter. I took out the stanza about first love and maidenheads. I loved her in a different way. But I still loved her since before I knew I would ever be a mother.But when I hear it, I cannot help but think of Lucia. I imagine myself, fingernails filled with soil and earth, grasping into the brown grass, prostrate over her little body, weeping a brackish mixture of love and blubbering. Grief is nothing like I imagined. I was less cool than I thought I would be, less composed. I was a mess, bloated and drunk in the early weeks, and later, angry and salty.


She had no grave. We buried her in the wind. Fling her ashes to the sea in wild gestures of release, but palm her tiny urn. It is a slight of hand. Now you see her. Now you don't. We cannot let go.

I prop myself on my elbows, aiming at the gravestone. I drove to Boston for the weekend to meet up with Jess and Julia and Niobe. We ask Niobe to take us somewhere morbid and she picks a cemetery.  There is a stone with a carving of a skull with wings. The angel of death. A calavera. It is the first I see, and quite unself-consciously, that I lie on the grave of a young women, snapping a photo with my Android.

I read her name.

Jane a Negro Servant of Andrew Bord, something or other...She was 22 years old and 3 months. I put my forehead on the space above her skull.

You were someone's daughter, Jane. 
And so today, you are my daughter. 
I am stretched on your grave.
I will lie there forever.

+++

There is a hurricane in town. We pack a bag and make candles. My daughter takes a bottle of rose oil, and spills it across the table. The studio smells like the Virgin Mary. The hurricane grabs a window and forces the mechanism open. I lock it shut again. My roses carry on an elaborate dance outside my kitchen window. And I realize suddenly that I cannot save the roses.

Atlantic City looks gone. I don't miss it. I'm worrying about my own ass right now. I see all these pictures of alcohol and parties pop up on Facebook and miss drinking in a storm. I don't miss drinking, as a sport or a lifestyle. I just miss a nice bourbon now and again. It is like that, isn't it? A cigarette never tastes good after years without smoking, though I have imagined it a thousand times. And similarly, a drink would not end well. It would take me somewhere much worse than the hurricane, but I still wish I were able to have just one (even though I never was able to have just one.) And that is the irony of missing drinking. I miss a kind of drink I never did. I grieve a person I never was.

The power went out for an hour or so, then back on again. Sam lit a fire, and we watched a movie about Alfred Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren. I drank coffee. It is a full moon tonight, and a hurricane is in town and I stretch on her grave, and create an altar for Dia de los Muertos. The lights flicker again, so I leave you with pictures of my altar.





If you have day of the dead pictures, link them in the comments. I'd love to look.

Monday, October 22, 2012

spoken word blog round-up TWO

Last year, I was just blown away by the pieces submitted in the Spoken Word Blog Round-up, and was very excited to do it again this year. So, without further ado...

Welcome to the Second Annual Spoken Word Blog Round-up! YEEHAW!

Please read one of your blog posts, poems, or written word pieces aloud for a camera, post it, and link up here on the Mister Linky. Leave a comment. It is really extraordinary to hear people's inflections, manner of speaking, and connection to the pieces they publish on the internet. I hope you join me. I have read two pieces this year. One from still life with circles called curios. The other is from Glow in the Woods. It is called questions and answers.

curios.
video

questions and answers.

video





Friday, October 19, 2012

becoming




A few years ago, Petra sent me a postcard from New Zealand of two fiddleheads formed into a heart. I always keep the postcard on my desk, tucked into the painting I did of an enso. It is a strange, otherworldly image, like two Shinto embryo bowing to each other.

I honor the sacred in you. In the honoring, we become love.

That feeling of unfolding, or unrolling oneself, branches curled inward, aching from the only position we think we must keep, I know that feeling. Those future leaves like hands praying to soon unfurl, to soak in the shadows of forest. To protect me from garden pests.

I curl up in a fetal leaf position. There is a distinctly different part of me, the part you cannot see, that is mired  in the bog underneath, the dark and cold, moist and uncomfortable. I believe I am depressed, but I don't know. I felt this way when I was pregnant with Thomas. Not the same way, but similarly. My head and body contort into the painful clawing of allergy and celiac attacks. I eat wheat to be definitively tested for celiac and rheumatoid arthritis, but it affects every part of me now. I feel soul sick and body sick. Not with a touch of extra mucus, but a dying kind of sick. My whole body aches. I don't want to walk. I want to sleep all day. It sounds dramatic, but it feels dramatic. So, I trudge on, making breakfast, watching movies, ignoring the pain, grumbling. Always grumbling.

I listened to Comedian Tig Notaro on This American Life the other day do a set three days after she found out she had cancer. I am telling you this because I bought the whole thing for $5 on Louis C.K.'s website and listened to it, and it is profound.*

Deeply, overwhelmingly profound.

It isn't simply that she had been diagnosed with stage two breast cancer, it came on the heels of a devastating intestinal bacterial disease that almost killed her, then her mother died, and her girlfriend broke up with her, then she was diagnosed with cancer. When she speaks of this bad news, you can feel it. And yet there is the feeling that you are listening to her unfurl herself, slowly rolling those branches out, even as she is rooted in swampy darkness. She is changing as she is performing her set. I can't quite explain it. You have to hear it, laugh with her, tear up with her. And there is this point, she keeps talking about a joke she had written before her diagnosis that seems stupid now. And I kept flashing back to this point when I sat in a prenatal yoga class and I said, "All you need to give your baby is love. Everything is going to be okay."

Remember that? Remember when you felt like the first thirty some odd years you thought babies lived? You were stupid, but you meant well, Angie.

I barely recognize that woman. I am in this huge unfurling process right now--figuring out who I am, what I want, who I need to be. I like who I am becoming. I can feel her, see her, embrace her. Sit with her. But the becoming is a bitch.

*Ironically, I have been writing this short post all week, and TracyOC wrote about this piece too on her blog.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

tree


Mama, was I wish you once made?

Yes, my baby.

Was I wish on a star or on a dandelion?

You were every wish I ever made on anything I could wish upon.

Was I born a fairy or a girl?

A fairy, my angel, with little invisible wings. Your fairy power is to make everything bright and lovely. You do that by being exactly who you are.

It is?

Yes, my baby.

Mama?

Yes, my love.

Can we pray to the angels?

Yes, my love. What would you like to pray?

I want to pray that I am kind to my friends and my friends are kind to me.

That is a lovely prayer.

Well, can we pray it?

You just did pray it.




She hands me a drawing and runs off with her yoga mat. She giggles with her friends, and finds her shoes. I glance at the paper, and it is a tree. Not just a tree, but a tree with stars and the word "love" written across every branch. It has hearts and a squirrel climbing the tree. It says, "I love you." and then her name. The drawing looks like a heart exploding with love.

"It is a tree growing love." The yoga teacher explains to me.

"That is beautiful." I'm prone to emoting these days. I hide it behind fidgeting, but I get choked up.

"I told them to draw a seed, " the teacher points to a heart drawn at the bottom of the trunk. "Then they were supposed to draw the tree from it. She wanted her tree to grow love."

"Wow."

"Exactly, WOW. She is such a cool little person. She did that all by herself. I did not prompt her to draw love."

I don't know what to say. I am verklempt. I am proud, amazed at how much she has to teach me every day. I have no right to be proud; she does not belong to me, but I'm proud nonetheless. I wonder some days, when hits and kicks are exchanged and toys are begged for and extra candy stolen, if my compassion-nagging works, if my focus on our highest self, on banishing materialism, on other people, on love is sinking in. I wonder if I am doing anything positive here by staying home. I know the children are safe, but am I showing them every possibility a woman has? Or just one traditional role?

My daughter is a heart. A pumping, beating, lovely heart of a girl I am privileged to parent. And this little crayon picture humbles me. My best self wants to grow love. If my yoga teacher asked me to finish the sentence, "My tree grows..."  My seed might look like God, and my tree compassion. Those things are intangible, un-drawable. Unable to be articulated nor drawn, and if pushed further, perhaps I would have drawn a tree sprouting love too. My best self likes to think so.

There are days I feel so alone on the Island of Kid. I woke up this morning, for instance, and watched the Backyardigans before I realized that the kids had left the room. I was thinking about race and little creatures dancing together and what this show teaches kids. I sing songs, and tease them. Sometimes I lose my temper and say things like, "I am incredibly disappointed in this behavior." And then tsk, and wish that shame were not my go-to. I leave the laundry build up too long. I just really want to go to work some days. It's not that they are not lovely. Or that they are naughty children. They are lovely, and very well-behaved children. It is just that I don't always like who I am--my lack of patience, my selfishness, my extreme introversion. Some days, I just want a nap. I don't like what being home alone all day brings out of me--not every day, or every week, even. But when I get stuck in my head, or I feel busy and bored, and I grumble and growl at the kidlets, I wonder if my being home helps anyone. Some days, I just don't want to think in pink and light blue and clean-up songs or read the same book a thousand times or talk about unicorns and fire trucks. I don't want to decide breakfast, lunch, dinner, and three snacks for myself, let alone three other people and a dog. Those days are much fewer than I imagined before babies, but they come. The guilt comes with it. Because I know this is a choice for us that few families get to make, and Lucia's death makes their living so precious and not taken for granted.

But when she brings me a picture of a tree blossoming love, I know she is bringing me this self-portrait we painted together. The picture of what my parenting is about--the principles we want to bestow upon our children. Choose love, I whisper for five years, little niggling pushes toward compassion. She translated those whispers into prayers. She asked for help with the love and friendship. That is a gift I wanted to give my children--knowing her limitations, asking for help, turning control over. It is a skill I am only now learning. I still find it immensely difficult to ask for help, even as I preach it to my children. But the truth is (and I am sharing it sheepishly with you) this picture answered my desperate prayer:

Show me my path, please. Help me understand how to parent these babies in a way that is best for their souls. Help me be the best mother I can be. Help me understand what I am doing right, not just wrong.

Thank you, Daughter.



Tuesday, October 9, 2012

habits

The muscles tug at my abdomen.

No, wait, it is my ovary, releasing a withered elderly egg, waiting for a derby hat and an old corsage of a sperm to present itself.

Keep waiting, sister.

The eggs are useless. I think. They have been useless since I decided to stop using them. No, wait, it is the new moon coming. Everything shed. We shed tears. We shed lining. We shed emotions. We shed anger.

I feel fat and bloated and look pregnant. I want to punch people. Stop smiling at me in that stupid, hopeful way. I am not carrying twins. I am just menstruating. 

It is a small death, the blood reminds me. The death of possibility this month. And every month hereafter. We are comfortable not having any more children. It is too risky, and besides, we have no more drawer space. I don't mean to be glib, but sometimes we have to be practical about space and money.

The moon woke me for three days in a row. I had a dream the first night that I was hiding in small dark places, and someone with a flashlight kept finding me, but it was just the moon, shining in mine eyes. Last night, I dreamed I found a crystal ball, then a large metal gazing ball, like in certain yards.

I stuff crystals in my pillow case to dream. But nothing comes. Nothing but dreams of the moon finding me in small places and of being a magpie. I like shiny things. Pecking and gazing. Pecking and gazing. I've been going through this magical sabbatical process. I am turned inside out, open and raw, and also open and raw. The first is a state of mind, but the other the welcoming of ideas, the absorption of technique and magic. I am melding with oils and potions and astrological phases. It is all welcoming, yes. And safe, but still the outer world has been raw and hard. I am sensitive and unsure of myself. I lay it all out there, though, even as I withdraw. I whisper and worship. That is my way of being right now. I try things I have never tried.

Last week, we mixed anointing oils. I tried to follow the spirit to guide me into a scent I needed--sandalwood, and ylang ylang, and other things that eventually made it smell like sweet death. I poured it down the drain, caught the little kyanite, pietersite, and smoky quartz I saved for just such an occasion. I felt stupid to not smell in a discriminating, intricate way. It felt like a philistine and a boar.

I become a student. That is an identity and way of being, but still, I am not sure what I am. And that is a painful, strange place to be. Alice--too large for a room one minute, and much too small to accomplish anything the next. I work on trusting myself to discern, to know, to feel, but it is a groundless country. A nation without footing.

The truth is I ask too many stupid questions, and also I am a know-it-all. And so I am both at the same time. Where I grew up, they used to say about people like that, "Now there is the heva hava who thinks he is the farmer." When I talk to my sponsor about someone who upset me, she always tells me that if I "spot it, I got it." In the last six months, I only spotted self-righteousness and know-it-all ism. The self-righteous know-it-all ticks off my self-righteousness, competitive right-ism, and know-it-all-ism. I began trying to change it. To mantra the phrase, "Would you like to be right or happy?" Keeping my mouth shut makes me cry. I feel powerless again. I feel emasculated. I feel impotent.

All these sex terms for feeling frustrated, but that is where I am. Fucking frustrated. It is good place to finally realize something like that before you are insufferable for ninety years, but it is also painful to change that behavior. To always be a student, and not say everything you know when saying what you know is all you know.

I spent my late teens and early twenties saying yes to any experience that came my way. I thought it would make me a better writer later on. I had many conversations with an array of colorful people--junkies, conspiracy theorists, communists, eco-terrorists, criminals, prostitutes, crack addicts, vagabonds, homeless kids, runaways, murderers, heiresses, poets, cops, jazz musicians, laundresses...and now, I feel funny saying, "Yeah, me too. I once cliff dove. I rode in a helicopter to a glacier. I shot an AK-47. I was a rock climber. I smoked Chesterfield Kings." No one really cares. It's not about me. They just want to tell their story, and really, I just want to listen.

Know-it-all storytelling is a habit that I'm finding difficult to break. And being a student that trusts myself.

What habit are you trying to break? 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

crutches


This last moon was particularly hard on the earth people. Us, grounded, soil-smelling creatures suddenly uprooted, moving like the tides until our feet dangled inches above the floorboards, swaying into a moody petulance. The moon challenges us to face crisis without our crutches.

TRY YOUR HAND AT LIVING! The moon bellows. TRY YOUR HAND AT BEING YOU!

I am constructed of crutches. Weakness for all things vice. But now, I just drink coffee, cuss to myself, take a handful of candy every few days, shop for antique fortune-telling teacups and old carnival signs. I write on a blog. The crutches of recovery, I suppose. I ask my sister to ground me, to check my chakras, align them with gemstones. But I keep floating up, looking at knots in the tops of trees, waving to a plague of grackles that swoop low like the finger of an ancient god. The last few months, I simply could not keep things straight. There are abandoned kid drawings all over my floor, laundry piling up. I cannot return phone calls. Emails starred and unanswered. My heart races. And the way I used to regard myself, competent and responsible, feels like a house of tarot cards. All my fortunes fall to the floor, and I have to stare at the empty remains of my foundation.

I take a talisman deck from inside an old vase. I pull the card that reads, "protection from your mind turning against your body." And I stare at the sketch of a belt pulled taut against a skeleton.


My mind turns against my body daily. My friend says that given ten minutes alone after an awkward conversation with a co-worker, he can go from fine to quitting his job, moving out of state, and drinking again. Alcoholism makes death by slow, distilled suicide an option some days. I admit that I am prone to that type of thinking, but instead of acting it out, I write about it, construct a story from it, write an unhappier ending, or, even more surreal, a happier one.

I didn't feel depressed until I stopped writing. Maybe it was there in the spaciness, the ungrounding. But it comes to me in a flash as I stare at the card. Even the art couldn't make up for the not-writing, and this is the crisis the moon throws at me. A crumb of doubt about my writing and how it affects my ego. I took a blog break. I thought with my blog break, I should take a break on writing wholesale. No journal notes, no short stories. Just me being a stay-at-home mother. Being present.

Yet, in a matter of days, without writing, I felt defeated and crazy. Within two weeks, I had sent a resume to an anonymous email for a job as a secretary, even though I knew I would have to pay more in childcare than it would pay me. And besides, I have never even been a secretary. It didn't matter. I just wanted an escape from the dialogue in my brain, the constant story without a book.

When I stop writing, I go crazy. I turn inward and feel out of sorts. I plan to become a dairy farmer in Iowa. Other days, when I think no one is looking, I fantasize about walking away with just the clothes on my back, a mystery unsolved. That could be a novel, I think. Actually, I think that already is a novel.

My crutch may be writing, but it is a crutch without liver damage and lung disease. Writing is a scalpel and my brain is the fetal pig dissected, pinned open, a heart lying next to a notebook. Writing puts it into perspective. Instead of hug it out, I write it out. With two weeks of not writing, I saw my life set out in front of me a long series of things never written. Characters taking on lives of their own. The stories in my head are constantly dancing, arguing, fighting, fucking, snapping photographs, remembering, until they turn inward and wage a deep, unrelenting war in there, oozing out of my dreams, and twisted bedtime yarns for the children.

Writing can be a kind of mythical Ancient Greek torture. Write, write, write, no one reads, then I write more. In fact, the less people read, the more I want to write, just to change their mind. Write. Write. Not write. Go crazy. Write again. With more zeal, more mystical shit, more bells, more whistles. But write, dammit. Until there is nothing left to say.

+++

When she withholds love, 
I want to smother her with kisses, 
cover her with flowers and tea 
and read her my writing again and again.

She didn't really love me, I think.
But that was never really the point.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

integrity


You are nothing without your integrity, I say to my daughter after the neighbor girl tells me that she lied about something meaningless.

She looks at me, confused. I say nothing but that.

She is five.

It feels brutal after it is out there. I don't want to be brutal to my daughter, nor do I want to be strict or shaming. And I think about the way that my writing has been brutal, strict, and shaming and in that way, perhaps, lacks integrity. I don't think brutal and honesty need to go together, but there is a reason they often do. I strive for honesty without the brutality, but I fail often. Honesty can sound brutal when it isn't your truth. And that is the thing. I believe in honesty, but I don't believe in truth.

It is true in my grief I expected people to be flawless while I tattooed my flaws on my body, or carved them into palo santo, written in sanskrit, burnt them with incense and Buddhist chants then wrote a post about it. I strive not to be brutal anymore, not to be exacting, but alone, I find myself falling into the habit of deep judgment, silently writing scathing biographies of people who hurt me years ago. I no longer write out that judgment in a public forum, true, but I catch myself nonetheless. Big changes happen slowly, I remind myself. Sometimes, it is as though my release of those habits was nothing more than an exercise in who I wish to be, rather than who I am. Other times, it feels permanent and enlightened. And maybe that is the secret of the universe, we must suffer through changing--one step forward, two steps back. We may like who we are becoming, but we cannot force that woman into existence before her time. Now, I turn the anger into a prayer for those people to have everything I want for myself.

+++

It is the full moon. It is the time of releasing old patterns, opening doors to healing, banishing unwanted influences. And so I need to make amends to you, so I can stay sober and write comfortably and look you in the eye.

I have let many people down through my writing.

I think it is part of the reason I want to walk away from here, because it is so exhausting. I cannot make it right, and I cannot make it without writing. I get caught up in a story, I admit. I am prone to exaggerating, and following an analogy to the point of absurdity. I always assumed all my readers liked that about my writing. I have always thought that if I don't write about my truth, my world, my experience, I have nothing to write about. When I wrote of certain friendships where I was hurt and sad and felt absolutely brutalized, I generalized and exaggerated. I do that. I know I do. My feelings of isolation were exaggerated and not entirely true. I mean, it was true about those friendships, but not all my friendships. And that is just it. I wrote about my truth, not THE truth.

For example, when I wrote pieces like Ghost Town, it was not literally true that everyone left, but rather that I felt that way. I felt abandoned. I felt alone. I felt patronized by people. Those people are no longer in my life and hadn't been for a long time. I have friends. Old friends. Some friends I would talk to about that very experience, my sister for example. I talk to my sister at least once a day, more like two or three. So was I isolated? Truly isolated? Of course not. Talking to her is like talking to myself, I say to her. She nods and says she knows. And sometimes old, good friends are like that too. I apologize to S. for that, if she reads here even, and D. And others, all my babylost friends too. There were people there, and the people there felt abandoned when I wrote that I was abandoned. It was a cycle I started, not them. That has always been my fear.

What I fear, I become. I repeat to myself endlessly. I forgive myself, but I know other people's forgiveness is not so easily come by.

I cannot take back the hurt I caused people. I ultimately hurt me, probably more deeply than anyone. Those people could walk away from my brutality, but I can't walk away from me. I have tried through the years to mention it in posts, take responsibility for where I failed my friendships, not where they failed me. Certainly, that was the intention of Ghost Town, but I fear people just heard the latter.

I apologize if you felt beat up in my writing. If you were there, I remembered. If we argued, I know our conflicts were not black or white. That is how I saw the world after Lucia died, but I can see how misguided and unfair that is to everyone. I trusted and assumed that blog writing was given a free pass to explore my dark emotions. That wasn't fair either.

The truth is I felt isolated for a long time before Lucia died. I have mentioned it before, but it bears repeating. Before going into recovery, I thought it was her death that pushed people away. I acted like a victim, because that is what I felt like--a victim of life. It is part of my disease. I no longer live my life that way. I can see now that I victimized people, rather than the other way around.

I wrote publicly about my friendships, and I need to apologize publicly. I didn't feel I could write here again if I didn't write that. I guess it is a pitiful amends to the world of people I hurt. Private apologies clearly are only heard by one people, when all the people judged with me. I appreciate the unconditional support my fellow babylost mothers and fathers have given me here throughout the years, despite how poorly I behaved, but I know it hurt people outside this community to read those comments at times.

I make the vow to first weigh my writing's effect on others, to squelch the tendency towards exaggeration, to talk to people in my life, directly, if their behavior has hurt my feelings, to write in a way that is both honest and with integrity. Public art needs to have a certain ego behind it. We believe in ourselves enough to put it out there regardless of reaction. I am spiritually working on balancing the ego and writing as best I can. Writing publicly has taken its toll on me emotionally, but that suffering is pushing me towards being a better woman, friend, artist, writer, wife, and mother. I have to believe it is.

I am writing here now about more than just grief. I have made that vow for a long time, and never quite followed through with it. My spiritual path has been impossible to ignore, my artwork can no longer live on another blog entirely. Everything is getting integrated into this space. I have been working on this growth and grief publicly for almost four years now. It has been painful and torturous to go through the brutality of writing about things that should have perhaps been kept private. I made those mistakes, and I can only move forward, changing the way I write and protect people in the future.

My daughter is five and she is learning about others through me. What would she learn through my writing in the last four years? What would she learn about how to treat friends and those suffering? That only I can suffer and be human, and make mistakes? That everyone else needs to be perfect, so I can misbehave? I have failed her in that way, and you too. And for that, I am sorry.

I have wrapped my arms around me, and whispered in my ear. It is a delicate kind sentence...If you don't have your integrity, Angie, you don't have anything.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

lifesavers

I have no grief to give you anymore.

No, wait, maybe I do. Maybe it hides behind the confusion. It crouches behind the spaciness and flakiness and the general feeling of being overwhelmed with life. Or maybe that is grief itself, dressed up for work.

Lucy died.

I write about it here. There. Everywhere.

After the last baby died, I grieved for a little, then it was over. I cried only once. I didn't name her. And I wondered if this community had space for not-naming, or even not-grieving as much as it has space for grief in whatever form it arrives. I didn't want to exaggerate the experience. It was physically grueling, but I didn't feel sadness over the life she didn't get to lead. Life was over before it began. On the grand scheme of suffering, it was barely a blip. We get behind anger. We get behind indignation. We get behind sadness. But what about no-grief? What if I felt like I grieved the grief I needed to grieve in two weeks?

Grief is something I poured out of me onto the trees, the flowers, the internet, for three point five years. It flowed into every piece of art and writing I did. Grief isn't a controlled essence. It is not a tameable beast. I couldn't control when it was a torrent, and now as a single tear, I cannot will it into a keen. It drips into this post, of course, but it is a different grief. It is the grief of an inevitable ending.

I have replaced my addiction to bourbon for Wint-O-Mint life savers. I eat them like candy. I chomp them, and imagine the blue spark.

CHOMP. Blue Spark.
CHOMP. There is another.
NARFLE...not quite a spark, perhaps a faint ember, or a fizzle of aqua.

I want sparks in me. I want to feel a passion. I have one. It seeps into all the posts I write now. I don't know how to manage it quite yet. I don't even know what to call it. I would basically live in my studio if I didn't have to manage everyone else's life. There was a time I wept here constantly. That was a grief we all know. I cried about the death of my daughter and drank bourbon. I put the bottle on the floor by my feet, and thought about dying. Not suicide, but it was just that grieving and drinking while being me was torture. This room was a dark place.

But now, I would spend all my time here if I could. All this writing about grief and acceptance and living with her death transmuted that sadness and heaviness into something beautiful and healing. My hands are strong and muscled, and in the nooks and crannies of this room, there are letters from babylost friends, thank you cards, artwork about death. There are skeletons, and political poetry, old love letters, and a dictionary. There are milagros, and sins, if you look hard enough. There are baby spider plants in water, growing roots, ready to be put in soil. All my sacred objects are here, except Lucia.

I burn incense constantly. And when I write, I draw it in through my nose. It becomes part of me, part of my writing.  I write because writing is a compulsion. I don't understand why I feel the words in my fingers, and need to get them out. But I do. Words flow out of me like a faucet turned on, until I have to eat or sleep or tend to a child. I write now into a word document and sometimes post something that no one reads. It smells of sandalwood and sage. There is wax dripped on everything in my studio from the candles I burn to light the incense, and the children leave a trail of the sandbox on the floors. Sand and wax. Wax and sand. It all mixes up together with the smell of fresh, clean mint of Lifesavers. This is what I am now. Sand and wax and mint and incense all borne of grief, but not grief.

If this space becomes gypsy, or fortune teller, or recovery, or art, it isn't grief. And if it stays grief, it isn't me. It isn't my truth anymore. I struggle with it constantly, because this space never meant to be forever about grief. I have a post a month in me about grief, but not five, or even two. I want a space for that post, intermixed with all the others. I start to write about other things here, but it morphs somehow back to grief. I used to think it was because every suffering was a form of grief. Now, I think it is because I want so desperately to stay a part of this amazing community. This blog is like this old bourbon room I'm sitting in, it hasn't quite been changed into an art studio.

After six years in this studio, I rescreened my screen door. I open the glass door to hear the chimes, let the wind blow through the space. It changes the dynamic in here. The art hangs like prayer flags. The wind carries out the old bourbon smell, and the incense, and peppermint. And sandalwood. It carries out bits of artwork, and grief. The wind carries joy in too, and music created by the mourning doves, but no mosquitoes, or flies. I need to start writing about the things being blown into my life right now. I don't quite know how to do that yet. I think it involves new paint, and a different flavor of lifesaver. I hope you stay and read. But if not, I understand. Until then.

Friday, September 14, 2012

new moon.

The new moon quiets me, wrings me out, challenges me to be a better person in thought and deed. I want to bathe in salts with smelly herbs and burn incense on small charcoal rounds. And yet the children are underfoot, and a FB video of father-daughter wedding dances has me weeping in the afternoon, head in my hands, missing my father, even thought I see him every week. I miss the father he could have been. I miss dancing with him, even though he never danced, even when he could. I wonder if he regrets that.

I have a disease. I share it with my father, and crying in the afternoon after wedding videos makes me remember how important it is for me to care for it, treat it like a volatile thing. I underestimate it sometimes. That never does me any good. I respect it. Fear it, sometimes. Think I will be struck drunk, as my friend says, like bourbon will come into my home and pour itself down my throat. I make dream tea and herbal remedies instead. It wards off the sudden surprise drunk.


I found a photograph at my mother's house. It is of an old Indian woman. I used to think she was my grandmother, since my mother told me that my grandmother smoked a pipe and cussed like a sailor. But I learned later that my mother's friend is a photojournalist and took the photograph for some tourist brochures in the late 70s. The Indian is Panamian and covered in malas. Her nose is pierced in the middle and she is smoking a pipe. There is a parrot on her fence. I dream of her. And others. They come on horses, and take me deep into the desert. I don't know what the metaphor is anymore. I sit with it and seek answers from oracles and psychics and astrologers and they always tell me that my heart knows what the answer is.

But it doesn't. The heart aches for what once was, some days, and we all know that is a crock of not-right. I was a drunk. I couldn't get out from under grief. Today, I am a free woman. I hang the picture above my computer, next to the sign that says, "EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OK."

The baby keeps turning on his fire engine's siren. Whee--ooo, whee--ooo. I read tarot for my cousin and feel  like I should warn her, even though the cards are all positive and lovely and point to love. "I hear an alarm. The guides tell me there is going to be a fire." Love is a kind of fire, and I drift off in thought as I order herbs to make teas, oils to anoint, salts to draw out impurities. I listen to guided meditations and see nothing, but a huge indigo orb. The truth is the herbs and tarot and meditation is such a small part of my day, it is hardly worth noting. I do crafts, and clean-up, and make snacks, and scold the children for fighting. The hours sit on top of one another.This full school schedule makes writing almost an impossibility, yet here I am writing, mid-afternoon, as the children turn on sirens, and use meditation cushions as weapons.

I just needed to take some time to think, and write, and order herbs and print out my novel. I vow to work on it after nine months. To just read it again, perhaps. I wore out an ink cartridge halfway through, so I changed the font to purple and continued until there was no more colored ink. I secretly wish I would have chosen dragon's blood. Can you get that for a laser printer? I would run my hand through the top, and print it in some medieval font that is only used for fake certificates. It would be written on my body, written in magic, written in myth and religion. I fear that is all it would ever be. It is a novel about UFOs, and ancient Greeks, and being a halfie and war. It is mostly about war.

Jess and I went to a palmist last weekend. He gropes hands. Studies hair. Sensually grasps arms for information, reading something no one else can see. His fingers go over tattoos, taking it in with no fanfare. His personal mannerisms and lack of spiritual connection made me feel sorry for him. I asked him if he wanted my hair down. I unfurl it from the stick that holds it up. Mass of curls come around my face, making me look feral and exotic. I would have draped it over his neck, in his hair, anywhere for more information. But he takes it in his hair, turns it around. "Oh, see, now I am cheating," he jokes. "It is clearly written right here in this curl. Wait, no. Yes. Of course."

What do you see? Tell me more. Tell me what I can't see. Tell me what is next. I feel so lost. Tell me what to do.

He told me I had a weak uterine wall, and when I asked about a career, he said I would be a soccer mom. I cringe, and nod and wonder if he's right. It's probably the first psychic reading I have ever had that is just a series of mundane things, probably much more accurate than anything I have had before. To many people, that is all I am. Jess gets indignant after.

DID HE EVEN LOOK AT YOU? NOTHING ABOUT YOU SCREAMS SOCCER MOM.

Oh but it does. I AM A SOCCER MOM! I drive an SUV! I buy clothes at TARGET! I watch my daughter play actual SOCCER! With SHIN GUARDS! I am a soccer mom! Albeit one that wears crystals, and gypsy clothes. I smudge my children before practice, and spray them with a reiki-charged spray to cleanse the aura. I commune with the angels, and hang onto dark crystals so I can tell your fortune. The local crystal shop asked me to interview for their tarot reading position. I stare into my fake crystal ball.

I see myself, draped in deep red fabric, nose pierced, smoking a pipe. There is a woman sitting across from me. She is wearing a high ponytail and a sweater-cardigan set. I kick the mini-soccer ball under my crystal ball. I sage her. She coughs a bit, and adjusts her Coach purse. I ask her if she wants to know everything, even if it says she is just a soccer mom. Then I ask her if she minds if I put my hair down.