Thursday, July 22, 2010

Itchy and Scratchy

I wish I had something profound to say. Something insightful and deep that inspired you today, or maybe just me. But I am exhausted. Soul exhausted. Body weary.

I wish I could always hold on to that sweet feeling of contentment that comes with optimism and insight, but the truth is the good parts of growth and wisdom come in small, slippery spurts. Last week's awareness was incredible, but it is now gone. I mean, I have integrated the lesson, but have gone back to sleepless discontent. There is a constant cycle of mourning here. Mourning my insights, my steps forward. My Buddhist therapist once said to me, "So you are mourning the loss of your daughter and your enlightenment?" Something like that.

I had violent dreams last night. With blood and torn limbs. With vomit and disease. I don't understand it, really, because I avoid movies, even, with that sort of visual. I hate the genre horror. I cover my eyes. Protect my sleep. And still they come, like a surrealist painting, rife with symbolism I don't understand about a world in which I do not live. Last night, my dream included a dead priest hanging off of the 70s brown refrigerator I grew up with. He was stabbed and damaged. He was found by my daughter, who stood staring at him. I could feel the trauma changing her brain and I covered her eyes and stared at him myself. Taking in his injuries and the anger around his death. Not my anger, but someone's anger. Then I woke, unable to banish the mental image and conversely, unable to sleep again.

My children surrounded me in bed, or close enough to feel like bed, the husband working the overnight shift. I was determined not to watch television all night, so I stayed in bed with my blackberry, checking every few minutes that my children were still breathing. (Hell, I was awake, might as well make myself useful.) I finished my saved crossword puzzles, then on my blackberry, I read the internet. All of it. Then, I finished my book, which was quite good except for the violent bits and the existence of elves, which somehow always makes me feel like I am not taking this life seriously enough. I should somehow muster reading parenting books, or Hegel, for the love of God. I should be a fucking adult at some point. But maybe it is reading philosophy so young, I can only really connect with magical stories.

The internet is sparse right now. Well, our corner of it. Everyone seems to mention they are reading, but not commenting, and I certainly am doing the same. I just feel out of words. I am hot. I am tired. I am hungry. (Still eliminating, people.) Everything I write makes me feel and sound like a douche bag. I chat with friends and feel like a douche. I write a comment and feel like a douche. I think you get to the point in your grief where you have felt and read lots of the intricacies of grief. You have been in lots of scenarios talking about your dead baby. You just have been doing this for what feels like forever. I have been doing this grief thing for 19 months (actually today, who knew?!), after all. And I have been in Bloglandia for 17 months, and I have commented a lot, and I have three blogs, so I get comments. I just don't want to comment on someone's blog and have them think I have any idea what it is like for them. I hate being dismissed as feeling like everyone else. And I hate being dismissed as someone with fringe feelings. Thus, I feel impotent. Sometimes I still feel like the best thing to do is say, "I am here, listening. You are not alone. You are not crazy. I love you." I don't always have the energy to write even that. There is sometimes nothing to say, and so I say nothing. And then, also, feel like a douche.

Perhaps this is simply my season of being a douche bag.

Grief settles on you like scratchy skin. I have experience with eczema these days, so bear with me. Having raw rough patches of skin that itch constantly. You itch and scratch. Itch and scratch. And people stare at those patches and wonder why you don't just go to the damn doctor and get some ointment, not really realizing that this itchy, sore spot is being treated. It looked worse. Seriously. And then at some point, you annoy yourself by constantly saying, "I'm itchy. I need to scratch." It is just there, and you might flail all night, or rub your body against your sheets and somehow, it is still there. Just angrier. Redder. More inflamed. Some days, you notice yourself scratching, and other days, you just unself-consciously scratch. And some times you get to some zen place where you promise yourself to, or maybe even, stop scratching. And then one night you wake up with your spot bleeding and you realize that you scratched it in your sleep anyway.

Or something like that. Even that sounded douche-y to me.

All I can say is that I am still here. Wilted and itchy. Hungry and grumpy. Still listening. Still reading. Trying to comment. Feeling impotent.

If anyone knows what violent dreams mean, you can share that with me. Though I am slightly afraid it means I am deranged.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The troublemaker

I love Mommicked. I love her for so many reasons, not least of which is that the writer personally is awesome. She also is so insightful, funny, witty and always brings something new to the table in her posts. When she writes, she writes with intent. But she had a post in June was something akin to the perfect post, if there is such a thing. She wrote this amazing sentence, "Rounding the corner and heading for the three-year mark, I occasionally have the sensation that I'm exactly where and who I want to be." Such a breathtaking sentiment, it stopped me in my morning tracks. Coffee down on the desk. Hands on my cheeks to reread.

That. I pointed at the screen. That right there is what I want to feel.

I am not, however, exactly where and who I want to be. I can see that person somewhere faintly drawn on the edges of me, like a thin, clean outline of a well-balanced person, but I am messily colored outside of the lines. Messy. Scribbled. My person is filled in with crayons much too big and thick for the such delicate lines. I want and strive to be kinder, more compassionate, and fail. I try to be accountable to my own failures, and end up confusing the situation. Fail minus one. (I am into the negatives now.) I strive to be honest and realize that I sometimes lie to myself. I want to forgive. I want to not be so damned sensitive. I want to be patient with those who are more fortunate than me. I want to be patient with my own humanness. I want to be patient with other people's humanness. I want to stand true and tall. But I slouch, like only a woman who acquired large breasts early in life can slouch.

After my last post, I felt so much shame as the comments rolled in. Not at first. At first, I delighted in the vocalization of what I had pent up with a guest in the house. "Yes, it is about her! Wow, you are right, that is rude! I am a good artist! People like me!" It surprised me that people were reacting like that, mainly because it wasn't my intent in the writing. But still, I felt comforted that others found the comment abrupt and unkind. I felt loved and accepted, because her story made me feel crappy.

As the initial dust settled, I just felt kind of horrible. I don't want to beat up on my house guest, even though she said something awkward and rude. I actually love my house guest. And I actually like her, though as someone said, her tact gland sometimes seems to malfunction. Still, it wasn't the point of the post. The point was how I reacted to someone not liking my art.

I have been trying to articulate this, so bear with me as all of this explodes onto the internet. I had this need to talk about how I internalize those judgments. I want to dissect my confidence, then reassemble it, which is why I wrote the dang post in the first place, but I hadn't quite gotten past the sting of her statements. But here is what I have come to realize:

Keeping self-doubt at bay is work. My self-confidence and brazen indifference to judgment doesn't just happen. I work hard at letting it go. With Lucy's death came a kind of temporary liberation from that self-critical voice. I needed to make art. I needed tactile work. It was a compulsion and a spiritual quest. But truth be told, my art makes me self-conscious some days. Maybe even a moment or two everyday.Some darker days, the whole damned day. I cringe at myself for putting my art out there on the internets. I cringe when it sells. I cringe when it doesn't sell. I cringe because I have no ability to step outside of myself and judge it. (It serves a different purpose than beauty.) I cringe because my heart is out there and the art it is bound up with is eh, let's face it, sometimes mediocre.

I have a purposeful dialogue with that evil internal critical voice. I sit with it. Try to understand it. Remember where it comes from and how much of a goddamned liar it can be. I acknowledge it then dismiss it. Believe me, that voice is a thousand times more rude, abusive and unkind than any houseguest. I always answer the same way to its mean-spiritedness:

So what if I am not perfect?
So what if I don't paint what you want me to paint?
So what if I am not the most original?
So what if it is sloppy?
So what if it is not what you would do?

So what if you don't like it?
So what?

And so I looked at this houseguest and the conversation. This is where the growth comes, the real learning happens, when someone challenges your confidence and your way of being. Sometimes it is that shitty programming that I grew up wrestling with, or sometimes it is an insensitive story told over first coffee. It is easy to keep doing art, writing, meditating when everyone tells you that you are amazing, but what about doing it despite the critical voices? I can let one comment knock me off my game. Truth is, that is just one opinion, and not even the opinion of the person relating the story. After all, she bought the painting. She framed the painting. She loves the painting. But it could have been the one judgment that made me give it up. One judgment that could make me fold into myself and drop off. Hell, those kind of judgments did that to me for years. The truth is that I don't paint to be the best painter in the world. I don't paint for someone's acceptance. I don't paint for acclaim or love or glory or money or anything but a moment of peace.

A moment of peace for me. 
A moment of peace for someone grieving.
A single, quiet, lovely moment of calm.

Later in the weekend, I received an email from a woman whose twins had died. She birthed them a day earlier and she used one of my jizo paintings for her mizuko kuyo. I wept for her boys, and knew deep within me that this is why I do what I do. I could point to her beautiful email and say to that bastard in my head, "So what if you don't get me or get my art, because I get it. My intent is clear."

I was reminded of a beautiful little teaching of Pema Chodron. She calls those people the troublemakers:
The job of a spiritual friend is to insult you...In order to become a completely loving person, a flexible person, you have to see where you are culpable. You have to see where you shenpa arises, so you can work with it. In the Vajrayana tradition, there is actual a whole practice and teaching you can do called Heightened Neurosis...where your neurosis gets heightened to you, and the idea is if you don't see it, if you don't first see where you are hookable  and where you get provoked with complete honesty and directness without guilt, but just a straight look at where you get stuck, then you are always going to have that blind spot to drag you down. So, if you really want liberation and freedom, you need people around who are going to be provoking you to show you where it is you still have work to do.
Word. (The whole teaching is below.)

One thing I have learned after the death of my child is that no matter how much we protect ourselves, someone is still going to say something stupid. In the early days, I was just so raw that stupid was like vinegar. It hurt and ached in every pore of my body. I avoided situations where I thought someone was going to put their foot in their mouth. I avoided public places. I loathed small talk. But it never prevented me from being hurt. A flippant email, or errant comment in my own kitchen, could evoke those pinpricks again for days. Knock me on my ass. Now, I think I expect uncomfortableness. I expect awkward. I have grown new stupid-resistant skin.

The more I thought about my guest's story, the more I felt grateful. Grateful for reminding me that I need to work to not let my own negative programming sabotage what I love to do. Grateful for reminding me that I paint and draw and do art as a spiritual practice as well as for the pure enjoyment. Grateful for reminding me that I don't give a shit about what anyone thinks.

Friday, July 9, 2010


I am drinking iced coffee with rice milk, because that is what I do now.

Caffeine is my only vice, if you can call two cups a coffee per day a vice. I don't. It is survival for someone who hasn't slept for more than three hours straight in three months. The rice milk mocks me. Sure, it swirls around the ice like decadence, but the taste is reminiscent of dirt. Funnily, I drink my coffee black and unsweetened anyway, but every so often, when I am sleepless and down, I add some half and half. It tastes like Indulgence. I should drink it black, but I keep insisting on adding the rice milk in some desperate attempt to feel satisfied. I think this is technically called wallowing in my misery. This coffee now tastes like Angst.

There is a wicked heatwave in the Northeast. It is the lead story on all the news outlets. Women with perfect hair across America are stating the bleedingly obvious. "It is HOT! Stay in AIR CONDITIONING, if you have it."

It feels like the warning on my egg carton.


I fear the world we live in where people need to be told that eggs contains eggs. Or that there is a heat wave when they are sitting in one hundred degree weather.

I have been on this diet for three years, I imagine, but no, in reality, it has been a week. One measly week. I have the cellular memory of eating like this from last summer, so I am already pissed off. I have lost a few pounds, a few IQ points and my good nature. I am in a perpetual state of hunger, hate and snarkiness. Or as my ex-boyfriend used to say--the Angie Terror Alert is on red: Absolute Stroppiness. 

We have a houseguest. My Good Angie persona is trying to talk Cranky Angie down. Cranky Angie is stronger and more determined. I admit that I am sleep-deprived and crazed enough to find this all very interesting. How will it end? Let us wait and see.

My visitor told me this morning that someone was at her house and saw an illustration I did of Beezus with a radish. Her visitor, she related to me over my first cup of coffee, is an artist herself. Quite a good one who has even sold a painting. This artist who sold a painting asked if my illustration was painted by a three-year old. If so, she said, it was quite good for a three-year old. The story ended there. My houseguest just stared at me after relating the story, then took another sip of coffee.

I suppose it would be incredibly flattering to hear this if I were say, two years old, but as a thirty-six year old woman, I wanted to turn away from the breakfast table, put my hand up to my face as I cried, "I am a monster." Then torch my art studio. I have largely ignored the inner demon of self-criticism since Lucy's death. I felt free to explore art and creativity willy nilly. But this morning, I just felt fucking stupid.

The emperor has no clothes. The illustrator has no talent.

I shuffled off eventually. Not too soon after her story to show anyone that it hurt me, but not long enough to hear anymore. My open art journal with a Lucy grief painting greeted me in my studio. I slammed it shut, not sure what to make of my pathetic life. Sometimes I feel pandered because of Lucy's death, like others are simply encouraging me because I am grief-stricken and desperate and art pacifies me.

Wow. That is beautiful. What is it, honey?
It is me. Very cranky and hungry.

Monday, July 5, 2010


Exhale. Step your left foot forward. Raise your arms overhead. Turn your feet 90 degrees to the right. Open your arms up. Expose your heart. Inhale.

I am opening up about yoga and other things at Glow today.

Today is my first post as a regular contributor at Glow in the Woods.  I feel incredibly honored to be joining the amazing writing over there. It is a special place to me. My dear friend Molly sent me there. It was the first writing I read about grief beyond a discussion board, and I was blown away by the smart, interesting writing and the real discussions about grief that weren't written with an angel pen. I systematically bookmarked each regular contributor's blog. I followed comments to other blogs, sidebars took me to others. It is probably how I found your blog, or the blog that got me to your blog.

Blogs saved my life. Or at the very least, my sanity. Glow in the Woods was a huge part of that. So, every so many weeks, I will be over there shooting the shit, as my Nan would say. Come and join the discussion.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Thor and his eczema

I have been in some semi-delusional state recently. Thor is still up every hour or so at night. And before, during and after feeding, he is flailing. Arms circle around, smacking mamas and himself.  There's more windmilling than a seventh grade fight around here. It appears that he of little limb control is trying to scratch himself. I guess I figured that out after he woke up one morning looking as though he were attacked by badgers in the middle of the night. (Must. Trim. Nails.)

Apparently, his up and downedness at night seems to have to do with the fact that the once little patches of eczema have turned into a full blown eczema flareup. Bright red splotches all over his face, arms and legs. It is thick and crusty. So beyond the middle of the night puke puddle, he is also itchy as all hell. It's beginning to affect me. I stared at Beezus today and said, "Come on, Sam, pick up your flip-flops please."  I watched the dog rolling in the grass the other day and began laughing. Hysterically. Of course, forgetting that that particular action inevitably means there is something dead he is grinding into his fur. I posted the wrong blog entry on the wrong blog the other day. It was madness.

The husband has been greasing Thor up for weeks. Covering his skin with this oily vaseline-like crap that ends up rubbed off on all my clothes and making me feel oooogey. It is like New Jersey is on every inch of my skin. Yuck. There is lint and feathers stuck to my arms. It is unnerving and not helping, apparently. The baby, to be fair, has had a runny nose since he was born, and eczema too. He didn't much complain about it, much like he barely complains of anything, but it has gotten worse. And this nighttime thing is starting to get old. Not to mention that happy Little Buddha has been replaced by Baby Crankcakes for the past couple of days.

"How's my little man? Hi, Thor. Hi. Hi."
"Smiles for Mama, Thor. Smiles for Mama."
"How about some kicks, little man?"

One lone squawk. Something needs to be done for the kid.

It could be a few things, I suppose. Obviously, he has inherited my shitty hyper-allergic immune system. I had asthma as a kid. I am allergic to air for about nine months out of the year, and the stuffiness of winter the other three. There is not much to do about that, because pediatricians will tell you that babies do not have allergies until they are two, or some horse crap. Of that which we will not speak speak is Jack the dog. But first, before getting rid of the dog, I have decided that I need to start looking at my diet.


Last year, at about this time, I went on a raw food fast because I was convinced I was dealing with some hidden food allergy. I was always tired, bloated, not losing weight, bags under my eyes and  which at the time as a vegetarian, meant that I could basically eat lettuce. I lost some weight and felt better. Later I found out I had Hashimoto's disease. It sucks ass, having a thyroid disease, but it is manageable. And it also means that I can still chow the pizza. Apparently the raw food diet just made me deliriously goofy from lack of nutrients, so that is why I felt so dang good.

I am looking down the barrel of a similar full elimination diet to the raw food bullshit. This means in all the breastfeeding/torture manuals I have read exactly this:
  • no dairy  (Sniffle, Cheese, you were my only friend.)
  • no soy (Tofu, you can kiss my lard ass. You will not be missed.)
  • no wheat (Bread, remember that year time that I ate a whole loaf of you with pesto and fontinella and red wine for dinner. Good times.)
  • no eggs (Hard Boiled Egg, I am so sad, Incredible Edible You.)
  • no strawberries (Strawberry, you complete me.)
  • no tomatoes (It is fucking summer, Universe.)
  • no seafood (Sushi, sayonara, my love.)
  • no nuts (Peanut, poker will not be the same without you, bro.) 
  • no wine/beer (Fucking hell, this is just cruel, now.)
It has been two days now and I have been in a state of perpetual hunger mixed with hate. As much as I am loathe to admit,  Thor is mostly back to his Buddha-like demeanor and his facial eczema is already cleared up.It happened very quickly. Another few weeks and his arms and legs should clear up too.

Yes, another few weeks of this. Salad already was on my shit list. I have been eating nothing but salad for dinner for months, or possibly years, now. I hate being forced to eat something, even if I would have eaten it anyway. So salad can suck it all over again. Like a depressed cow, I chew my greens over and over and over again, staring into space, pretending it is wine. On the up side, I am daydreaming of early August when I can reintroduce strawberries, or cheese and see if he goes all Grumplestiltskin again.

Someone please tell me bourbon is hypo-allergenic.