Wednesday, June 29, 2011

somewhere else

There is a 4"x6" index card with a list of my lists, so I don't lose one along the way. There is a list for what to pack, what to buy, what we need, what we are supposed to do before we go, what we are supposed to do the day we go. There is a list for each person even though two of them can't read. There is a list of things to take care of that actually says, "Wax eyebrows" underneath "Suspend mail service." It still feels disorganized. Maybe I should color-code something. Then I can colorize it. Can I colorize a black and white list?

"What? Why are you laughing?"
"Because you are writing comfort lists. Look at you." Index cards are strewn across the kitchen table. A stack of printed out lists of things to pack from websites of people who are equally anal. (One site suggested I make a list for myself for when I get home that reads, "Turn on the AC." It's hotter than a two dollar whore on the Fourth of July. I don't think I will forget to do that.) A half empty (nothing is half full right now) can of Diet Coke and I hate Diet Coke. (It burns me throat, but I need the caffeine.) My pen furiously bulleting lists of lists.
"I need to be prepared. How many pairs of shoes are you taking?"
"You are listing and not doing."
I stare at my amused, calm husband. "The sign of intelligence is less doing and more planning. Haven't you ever heard that, Georgia?"
"You know, you spend the majority of your time making a sound plan and only have to DO once. Geesh."
"You are cute when you are nervous."
"Oh, shut up."

We are leaving on vacation. On Saturday. To Alabama. Or an island off the coast of Alabama. For a week. We are meeting all of Sam's siblings and their families and his mother and aunt. Someone sent an email to my husband with directions to the Wa.lMa.rt, you know, so we can go grocery shopping.

Sam inevitably utters the words that make me go bat shit crazy. And those words are, "Relax, honey, it always comes together."

It's not magic. It doesn't just "come together". It isn't the great cosmic zipper of life that "comes together" seamlessly to pack a family of four and prepare for a week away. No. It is me, forcing the weight of the universe into three 22" x 14" x 9" carry-on bags, preparing for every emergency, freak travel nightmare because of brute force and unholy pacts with the Sky Gods.

I love being a stay at home mother, but vacation is not reallllllly a vacation. It should not be called vacation. It is exactly what I do all day except without the stuff that makes my job easy, like toys, high chairs, cribs, noise machines, knowing exactly where everything is and all the little tricks you develop throughout the years, like coloring stations, craft bins. It should be renamed Perhaps Dismaycation. Or Flaycation. Or simply Going Somewhere Else. I remember when I was a kid everyone just said, "I can't play tomorrow. We are going away." Where are you going? Away. What did you do this weekend? We went away. Where? Away.

Away. Away to the land of nothing easy, but much prettier.


I started a poll on Facebook about whether or not I should pack my Omega Juicer. I think it is worth it, the 25 bucks for an extra piece of checked-in luggage if I get to maintain one regular, daily routine. Every morning I juice celery, romaine lettuce, ginger, lemon and apple. Sometimes I juice for lunch too. That might involve beets, apples, perhaps a lemon. I need the vitamins, no? I need the comfort more. It would be my only moment to focus on my joy. My friend who is a constant traveler saw me yesterday and first thing she said, before "Hello", or "What up, Dawg?" was "You can't take your fucking juicer on vacation."


I wear black every day.
I have dusky feet.
You could probably fry an egg on my hair in the summer.
I don't like to be in a swimsuit in polite society.
I read an article that we can't eat the seafood.
My boobs are too big.
There was just a giant oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, right?
Babies and beaches are like a nightmare. Seriously. Sand gets in places where you just can't get it out. Have you ever seen that? It's terrible.
It is hot in Alabama, like the inside of someone's mouth hot, except that it is hotter than 98.6 most days, so like the inside of a feverish man's mouth.
I don't really have any good shorts.

I am not really designed for a vacation to an island in the Gulf of Mexico. Every day I come up with a list of reasons why this might not be a good idea. Except that I really want my kids to know their aunts and uncles and cousins and MomMom. Two-thirds of which they haven't seen, well, ever (in the case of Thor) and in three point two years (in the case of Beezus.) My husband misses his brothers, sister, mama and aunt very much. And so I am a brown girl, willingly flying to Alabama on my only vacation in two years because that is all that matters. Even though I bitch a lot, I also have a soul. And I love my husband. And actually, I really adore my in-laws, especially psyched that my sisters in law agreed to read a book together. (Ann Patchett's new one, hollah!)

Is it okay to admit that I will be pretending its Iceland?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

wild thing

Restlessness overtakes me. I watch Intervention. Twice. Then Hoarders. Then pace a bit. Sometimes I feel like a wild thing, a creature of the moon.

I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself.

Why aren't I sleepy? Is it because of the moon or the earth? What am I worried about? Nothing. I am a wild thing. Wild and unattached. An animal. I told my daughter the difference between monkeys and apes. "Monkeys have tails, love. Apes do not. Humans are apes. We are apes." She laughed at me. "We aren't monkeys, Mama. We aren't animals." But we are, my love. We are hairless apes. We are wild things. We are a shrewdness of apes. An army. A tribe. We cling together so no one will steal our food and our women.

I am a wild thing, but am I sorry for myself?  I peer out the window. It is midnight. Everyone is sleeping. I am not sleeping. I am not feeling sorry for myself because of it. I am the night watchman. I wait for movement. There is nothing. The baby is no longer in our bed. He is in his crib, and I should stretch out, hold my husband again. I shut my eyes and think of nothing. My eyes open again. Still awake. I trudge down the stairs, still not sorry for myself. I watch stories of people with survival issues, because my issues are thrivival in nature.

I am like the tide, in and out, here and there. Last week's the full moon was the Strawberry Moon. It sounded so benign, but it kicked off a strange bout of exhaustive awake-ness.  One day, the old Algonquin names of the moons will be second nature to me. I look them up every month when I can't sleep, and crosscheck them with the Traditional English names. They are poetry and earth and salt and haiku. They make sense. The moons are like a creature, a wild goddess, demanding worship.The Strawberry Moon, however, seems to want nothing but joy. And I cannot muster joy.

I am sleepless because the solstice approaches. I am lost and have lost. But I have and continue to get.

My stomach cramps and makes me wonder if I am matched up again with the cycles of the moon. Except that since Thor came into the world, my cycles are unpredictable, sparse, unvisiting, mostly. Sometimes I believe that Thor was the last of my cycles because he was the last of my cycles. I flirt with the idea of another child in my sleeplessness. I had three babies once. I want to hold three babies. But I will always do this, I realize, I will always want one more. I think there is one missing, because there is one missing.

So simple a concept to still not get.

Last week, after I returned from the retreat, I got on my computer, did some work, walked away. Do we always remember the absolutely ordinariness of the moment before the moment it all changed? The next morning, she wouldn't start up. I tried not to panic, but I was panicking. I took it into the Geek Squad immediately. The geek was rude to me. I half-expected him to eat my hard drive. Isn't that what geeks do? I wondered if I trusted him with my work. I fought the impulse and left my hulking desktop on the counter with a little sticker with my name on it. One little sticker is what identifies all that work as me. I handed it over and it wasn't until I got into the car that I realized that I was crying. My novel. My memoirs. All my unpublished works in progress. Pictures of all three of my children's births. All the photographs of my artwork. My being.

A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.

I cannot drop from a bough frozen. I am not a wild thing. I am a domesticated, organized thing. I am tame and emotionally delicate thing. I am a lapdog with anxiety issues and a penchant for dog ice cream. And in the most un-Buddhist way, I can say I am attached to everything. I am attached to the picture of a possum I downloaded a year ago. I am attached to the movies I made of my paintings. I am attached to my folders of still life 365 work. I am attached to my ideas. I am attached to my writing. I am attached to the pictures of the things and people I love. I am attached.

I found my flash drive with backups of my writing work. After days of prayers to St. Anthony, and a candle to the Strawberry Moon Goddess, it was there in an envelope in the drawer I was sure I put it in. Of course, it wasn't backed up recently. The last back up was December. When I can't write, I edit. When I can't edit, I tweak. When I can't tweak, I write sentences and save them for later longer pieces. When I have nothing to write, I write letters to people. When I can't write letters to people, I write letters to institutions. "Dear Marriage..." I don't even remember which pieces in what folders I worked on in the last six months. In the last six months of sobriety. (Did you catch that? I lost all my sober work.)

I wait to hear if they can save my work. The geek asked me which files I want to recover.
"All of them," I say.

"But do you remember which ones?"
"Please, just save them all. If you can't save them all, then save the ones you can."
He is frustrated, eats my pen, spits ink at me. He's not that kind of geek. I am lying because the idea of losing my work makes me a wild thing. Wild things lie when they feel threatened.

I breathe deep and write down the names of each folder I want saved. My Documents. "Is that too vague? I need everything in the folder 'My Documents'?"
"No, that is a root folder. That is totally cool. Don't worry."

It is summer solstice. Two years and six months since she died. I lose things. I lost her. Sometimes I cry about something I can't hold, because it reminds me of all the other wild things I cannot hold. It reminds me of when I fell frozen from a bough having never felt sorry for myself.

Monday, June 13, 2011


I turned off the street from the city. It is one long street that starts at the zoo, and goes on and on, through the ghetto, the burbs, passed a few universities. And then it keeps going to the farms and the Amish and another country really.  If you keep driving long enough, I guess every street takes you somewhere else. The convent is a left, a right, a right, a left, turn at the Virgin Mary, take the curves, back in the trees. So close to the city, but it feels far. As the crow flies, it is nineteen miles from my house. As the traffic sits, it took me two hours. God lives back here. You can tell by the number of seminaries, convents, retreat houses. Maybe he lives in that ranch house with the stable out back, and the stone wall. He definitely has a stone wall. No, he has to live in one of Frank Lloyd Wright's usonian houses. Wouldn't that be cool? There is one around here, right? That thought gets me into the convent.

I pull in. There are women sitting out front smoking. I wonder if any of them are nuns. Do nuns smoke? I just want to be cloistered. I just want to be a smoking, cloistered nun. I miss smoking some days. The ritual of a cigarette. I sit near smokers when they are around, just to remember. I have been running for four days to prepare for 36 hours on a women's spiritual retreat. I shop. Fill up my husband's car with gas. I do all the laundry. Prepare the extra room. I mop, sweep, dust. I answer emails. I make lists. I make lists of my lists. Somehow, in my haste, I forget to fill up my own car with gas, as I sit in traffic, I wonder if a quarter of a tank can last nineteen miles or two hours, whichever comes first. It occurs to me in traffic that I forgot my toothpaste, my Zyrtek and Tylenol and my thyroid medication. When I get there, I realize that even my registration got lost in the mail. After all my planning, the most basic parts of this weekend are gone--health, lodging, food...I never checked that my check cleared. 

Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God's world by accident. 

 What if God speaks through other people? What if God is sending me signs? Maybe God wants me to be itchy and bloated and in pain.God seems to be telling me to go home. I ignore him. Rather I plead with him.

Help me, God. I am ready. I want salvation. I came here despite all the adversity you sent me. Did you want me to stop or keep going?  I want to let you in. I am here to feel your breath on my neck, to open the door to you. I am here to be in meditation and prayer and give you my will. God, please show me how to give you my will. Show me how to let go and let God. I have been in control so long that the reins have rubbed my hands raw. They have grown into my skin. I open my palms and they still sit in the grooves, darkened with dried blood. I have been controlled for so long and fucked up so much, I don't even know if I am letting go or holding on tighter.

Maybe God is telling me that none of that really matters if I am right where I am supposed to be. Maybe God is teaching me about control and how little of it I have. Maybe God is throwing me off my game because He thinks it is fucking hilarious when I stammer and geek-out. I have the exact amount of money in my wallet that I owe for a new registration. Well, plus an extra four bucks for a bottle of water and a little nun-made gift for Beezus. I run into a friend at the registration desk where I am flustered and upset and she tells me that she has extra thyroid medication for tomorrow. It is my exact prescription. It is uncanny.

Perhaps nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God's world on purpose.

I wanted to be a nun once. When I was girl, I came home from catechism class and told my father. He shook his head in disappointment. He grew up in Catholic school with Catholic guilt and Catholic shame. Not me. I grew up admiring the people of the cloth. Their reasonableness, their education, their sensible shoes. Priests and nuns were the only people before university I'd ever encountered who wanted to discuss God intelligently. There was a mystery, levity and serenity in the habit of God. I didn't think I would fit into convent. I liked bawdy jokes and nun wind-up toys. When I discovered sex, I realized I didn't want to fit into convent. If being a nun was my calling, sex wouldn't feel so damned good.

When my first husband and I split, I thought again that I should join an order. We didn't marry through the church. Maybe I was still eligible?  My passion is social justice. That is what I told myself. Maybe I belong with women who believe in social justice, not social life. The monastic life appeals to me, after all. Celibacy. Abstinence. Sobriety. Self-flagellation. Self-discipline. All that sounded good. Like the opposite of everything I ended up doing, and what I ended up doing made me miserable. The end justifies the means especially if the end is caring for the meek, the poor, the weak, the hungry, the diseased. If I become a nun, maybe I will do some good in the world. Even if I don't know what I believe, I can still be a good person. Fake it til you make it, honey. I prayed for a sign. Direct me to my calling, God. But nothing came. Just bourbon and brown girls with guitars. I heeded their call  instead.

It is all or nothing with me. I am either a drunk or a monk. That is the kind of person I am. If I can't get behind it, I get in front of it. Black or white. But then I remember I am brown and white and honey and grey and sometimes slightly greenish.

The retreat house looked like a nunnery. Can I call it a nunnery? Not a Hamlet-type nunnery, but a nunnery-type nunnery. One that makes nuns. The rooms were sparse but perfect. A single bed, a rocking chair, a desk, an oscillating fan.  It was a spiritual retreat led by a Dominican nun from Yonkers. It was my first night away from Thor. Meditation. Prayer. Coffee. Discussion. Lettuce and water. Meditation. Prayer. Coffee. Discussion. Lettuce and water.

I could get used to this life.

It was fine. I slept fine. I felt fine. I needed the alone space. No one touched me. No one grabbed at my boob, or my hair. Not one person pulled off my glasses and cackled. There were other women after all, looking to strengthen their relationship with God too. When I had a moment, I painted. I attended all the sessions and smiled at the other women and made chitchat. By Saturday afternoon, my breast was engorged, and I was in physical discomfort. I thought I prepared to wean him. He only eats before bed. And I am done with breastfeeding--emotionally and physically done. I thought the sore, tight breast part would skip me. But I found myself clutching at my breast and crying.

I miss her. I miss Lucy.

Engorgement reminds me that she died. Engorgement reminds me that no one suckled once.


What do you do?

Oh, here we go.

I am a writer and artist. I mean, I stay home with my kids. No, wait, I guess I'm a writer.

What do you write? Are you like a real writer?

Is anyone a real writer anymore? She is smiling. She seems warm. Maybe she is genuinely interested in how real of a writer I am. Does she mean real as do I make money, or am I authentic? Do I write with my heart? I write with my heart, but I make no money. I am a drunk. I write about my broken heart. I make no money.  I don't want to talk to people, and also need to talk to people, especially adult women people. But I don't know how to talk adult women people anymore.

I think I am a real writer. I write and people read it, but I don't usually get paid. So, no, I'm not a real writer.

There is laughter. Laughter is good. I made someone laugh.

You are young. You can do it all. How many children do you have?

I'm not young at all. I feel old. My bones are old. My hips are creaky. I have grey hairs, lots of them, even grey pubic hair, if you want to know. My soul is used up.

I am not as young as you think. I have three children.

Oh my goodness, how old are they?

Four and one.

(blink.) I don't know how to answer these questions. Can I disappear now? I just want to touch grace. I just want to be whole.

My second daughter died. I mean, she was stillborn at 38 weeks of pregnancy.

Oh, I am sorry. I can't imagine.

Thanks. I never know how to answer that question. It is so complicated.

Is it? Is it complicated? Why is it complicated? Why do I need to qualify every answer? Just answer her. You can't take motherhood from someone. She was my child. She lived in me. She grew. She died. She lived life. Why does this still feel hard to say? Why, when I finally get comfortable saying this, does it become uncomfortable again? When will she speak again?

How old are your children again?

Four and one. A girl and a boy.

They are so young.

Yes, they are.

You really need this retreat.

Yes, I do.

Are you away for the first time?


What kinds of things do you write?

Oh, fuck, I have no idea. She doesn't want to hear about how now I write about the grief. I sound like a horn with one note. Griiiiiiiiiieffffffffffffffff in g flat.

Essays, I guess. I wrote a novel, but I haven't looked at it in a while. I write poetry sometimes too. What do you do?

I'm a nurse.

I love nurses.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Randomness and another project?

My totally unscientific observation about Facebook:

It isn't until you lose your child that you realize that a large percentage, perhaps even the majority, of Facebook status updates and posts are about pregnancy (complaining or otherwise), babies (complaining or otherwise) and kids (complaining or otherwise). It isn't until you quit drinking that you realize that the majority of the now minority of posts is about wine, beer, booze or getting loaded, preparing to get loaded, or in the process of getting loaded. It isn't until you stop eating gluten, wheat, sugar or anything interesting in your diet that you realize that the rest of the posts are about food.

I guess in the morning, replace the booze with coffee, except for in only the most extreme cases. Funnily, the posts about things I can't do right now don't bother nearly as much as my unscientific survey leads one to believe. I think it is more of a case of being the fool who points out that the emperor has no clothes. I actually like naked people, so carry on, people.

I am still blown away by the response on the Right Where I Am project. I guess everyone realized that the right in right where I am marks both a place in time and space, and right as in whatever you feel right now is okay and true and right. I fell in love with this community a long time ago, because being forgiving to you in your grief helped me be forgiving to me in my grief. You loved me until I could love myself again. That is the beauty of this community. My seemingly ugly, dark, nasty little thought that I tucked up into the vault of never-to-be-uttered-in-polite-society-because-it-would-horrify-people is echoed on a blog of a woman I love, or a man I read here and there, or some random post I run across and I realize that it is not so horrifying, or dark, or impolite. It is just grief. And perhaps by default, I am not so horrifying, dark, impolite. Ironically, I felt like a terrible person when Lucy first died, like a diseased, warped, pessimistic, anxiety-ridden troll. As time has passed, I have confronted a lot of my demons on this space. I owned a lot of my darkness. I resided in my abyss. I had no choice. I came out the other side. And on the other side, I am much more forgiving to myself. I am less harsh and cruel to me. I lost everything to gain some modicum of self-respect.

I could talk longer about that, but truth is most of you probably get this, I think.

Last week, I trained to be a MISS Foundation HOPE Mentor. It feels good to be at a place in my grief where I can abide and listen in a way that I couldn't in the beginning. My dear friend Kara, aka Mother Henna, has long been associated with the MISS Foundation, and the MISS Foundation founder Dr. Joanne Cacciatore have been incredibly powerful, compassionate forces in my grief. If you haven't checked out the resources there, please go. There are forums, local support groups. It is a space that creates love and support.

AND I am putting out feelers for a fall babylost event in the Philadelphia area. Probably the first week of October, maybe September. Next week, I am checking out a space to rent for a kind of babylost arts festival--poetry readings, essay readings, a display of the still life 365 travel journal, art, a collective arts project, connecting with other babylost mamas and papas, food, grog, and other ideas I haven't yet thought up. So, what do you think? Would you come to the Philadelphia area for an event like that? (Actually, it would probably be in Collingswood, NJ, where I live, since there is a great space, which is on the train line, and lots of parking.) So, here are my questions to you: what types of things would you like to experience at that type of get together? Would you come? Would you like to read your poetry or an essay (even a blog post)? What else...this is just an idea in the I'd appreciate any feedback you can offer. I did put together a weekend long babylost retreat a few years ago that was awesome. I was thinking this is more of a day/evening event that would be like experiencing the on-line community of babylost in person.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Guest post: Right Where I Am: 2 Years, 6 Months, 28 Days & 1 Year, 4 Months, 5 Days

It is my great honor to welcome my first guest post on still life with circles. Very early in my grief, Danielle and I began exchanging emails. She was and still is a frequent commenter on my blog and several others in the community. Her insights, wit, compassion and kindness instantly drew me, and many of my friends, to her. Her first son Kai died a month and a half before Lucia, and we quickly began writing long emails to each other about where we were in our grief. There is a respect and love between us that makes it easy to be friends even in the hardest of times. And there have been hard times. Danielle lost her second son a year and two months later.  Sometimes, in our friendship, when those moments get too hard and things are too sucky, we just read a book together, and that helps me more than anything I could imagine. I feel privileged to call her my friend.

Despite many of our urgings, Danielle does not have a blog. I definitely understand her reasons for needing that privacy. On more than one occasion, I have extended my blog to her to write about where she is and to process things. But she never bit. This week, however, she emailed me with her contribution to the Right Where I Am project. Her insights into grief and her journey in particular are touching, hard and important. So, I thank her from the bottom of my heart for sharing right where she is with us all.

I am on an airplane with my husband. In my carry-on are two books, a candy bar, the work I will not do, alcohol wipes, a syringe, and medication wrapped in an ice pack. In a minute, I will have to wake up the sleeping guy with the headphones so I can go to the bathroom and inject myself in the leg. I can’t quite believe I am doing this again, doing this still. Though I am pretty adept at the whole shot thing, I don’t quite trust my aim if there’s turbulence.

It’s been over three years since our first appointment with the reproductive endocrinologist, followed two weeks later by the minor surgery that I thought of then as the hardest thing I would ever have to do for us to become a family. In total I was under anesthesia six times in two years, landing in the emergency room or reeling dizzily for weeks afterwards each time. Counting acupuncture, blood draws, and the four rounds of DIY injections at home, I have been stuck with hundreds of needles. We have spent close to a college tuition for the child we do not have on fertility treatments, herbal supplements, therapy for me, therapy for Alan, therapy for us. We have conceived, lost, and mourned two sons. We are still not a family.

Right after we lost Kai, the fact that the world kept going while my own life had gone off the cliff was more than I could get my head around. I developed an intense, personal hatred of people carrying coffee cups from Starbucks, because they were FUCKING DRINKING COFFEE while I was standing next to them, shredded, on the subway platform. I stopped answering the phone, because questions like “How are you?” and “What’s new?” were impossible for me to answer except through the lens of grief. I developed a one-shouldered shrug, which I used to respond to any question about what I wanted to eat, do, talk about. I screamed and cried myself hoarse in the shower. And on the day we were told that we would never know what happened to Kai- that there was no answer except “likely sublinical infection” (read: black magic)- I wanted to die.

I could tell you the story of how it slowly got better, because it did. I could tell you that while I was in the very hardest and ugliest phase of my grief, I also went to work every day, formed new friendships, went on vacation. I could tell you how possibility came back, a little at a time, and carried us through a whole new set of fertility issues and straight through to IVF. But then I would also have to tell you the story of Chip. He brought light and hope back into our home from the day we knew he was coming until the day we knew he wasn’t. Chip was diagnosed with trisomy 13- a 100% fatal genetic disorder. We said goodbye at 13 weeks, and I went immediately from numbness and shock to white-hot anger. I am married to an extraordinarily kind and patient man. If I weren’t, that anger would have burned our marriage to the ground.

Some days the grief about our children and the grief about our infertility are one and the same. Some days I miss them separately and specifically, for different reasons- our two sons, and the embryo we fell in love with too soon who never turned into our daughter. Some days that missing feels like rage, or fear, or disgust with myself. Sometimes it feels like compassion for Alan, who didn’t get to be the wonderful father he was made to be, or for my mother, who keeps Kai’s ultrasound photo in a frame at her bedside. But mostly I just wish they were here, and I am sad to realize as I write this that I have no real idea what my life would be like if they were.

There are other things now, things that are not grief and anger. There is gratitude- for health insurance, for extraordinary women from different parts of my life who have offered to serve as egg donors or gestational surrogates, for friends who actually seem to like me this way. There is wonder- at big things like waterfalls and small things like figuring out the trick in the Sunday Times crossword. There is wistfulness- for once-cherished friendships that didn’t make it, for the part of me that used to care passionately about supporting Latino playwrights and visiting my grandmother, for a time when I truly felt like a part of this community in a way that I no longer do. There is release- in near-hysterical laughter, in dancing, in the love of my husband. But there are no children. There is no family.

I am OK most of the time. I care about people other than myself again. There are things I want to do, and when I don’t do them it’s because I don’t have enough time or enough money, and not because they don’t matter. If you had asked me at any point along the way, I would have said that I could never feel this OK again. I was wrong. That said, OK is not happy, and I don’t think I will ever be truly happy without a living child. I hope I’m wrong about that, too. I hope I don’t have to find out.