“When God is a child”

I’m not totally sure what I want to say today, just that I want to say something, or that it’s important to say something.  It’s like this:

“I woke up this morning with that itchy feeling I get when I’ve gone too long without writing. I have a writer friend who once told me that she didn’t feel right if she wasn’t writing regularly, that she woke up each morning needing to write, and until very recently, I didn’t really believe her, because it never felt that straightforward to me. … I never felt that kind of imperative to be a writer – or, really, to be anything in particular. Writing sneaked up on me. But now that I’ve been at it for a while, I sometimes get a sense, just the faintest nudge of a sense, of what my friend might have meant. I’m best when I’m writing, even if I sit down at my desk without a thing to say, with only that itch to go on.” –Molly Wizenberg, orangette.blogspot.com

That’s where I am today, and most days.  For me, a lot of the time, I feel like I’m picking through rubble, trying to get at the most important things, blue stones.  To echo B.Wainana–“for me writing is all about creating larger circles of chaos, and rebuilding new, lucid structures from the possibilities the debris brings.”

Yeah, that.

So, this memory has rolled around in my head for a while:

When I was young, maybe 9, at my grandmother’s house in Lafayette, I saw an episode of Doug that totally freaked me out and kept me from sleeping on my stomach for at least a year.  In the episode, as far as I can remember, a villain/doctor sneaks into Doug’s room at night and STICKS A NEEDLE IN HIS HEAD OKAY.  Geez, why were kids’ shows so scary?  Anyway, it was bad news; this was also at the beginning of a period of fairly intense anxiety for me that lasted for about a year.  Thanks, Doug.

After seeing this episode, I walked into my grandmother’s living room, expansive and acadian.  You had to step down to get to the living room, which made it feel important to me.  My grandmother was there, practicing on the grand piano, wearing her reading glasses and probably something fairly ostentatious.  (We used to play dress-up in her regular clothes, because they were so fanciful and cool.)  Anyway, my dad’s mother was both elegant and absent-minded–but she seemed grounded to me at times, at least in the way she was able to comfort a child, or at least me.

So I remember totally freaking out about this episode and telling my grandmother and my grandmother finding this song to play for me, called something like “When God is a Child.”  Isn’t that perfect?  It was totally soothing, sitting next to her, as she played this song that she chose intentionally to calm my meltdown.

And I think about that moment and song from time to time, which is probably what she intended.

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Sugary candy and Frank Zappa

Sometimes I find myself doing things I didn’t necessarily realize I liked–small, silly things, like eating sugary candy or having Frank Zappa quotes rolling around in my head.  And I know it could sound very presumptuous, or I don’t know what it sounds like, but I have the feeling or idea that I’m sometimes doing the things now that my dad didn’t get to do.  And those things are both small, like eating gummy bears, listening to “The Planets,” putting on chapstick, and large, like walking across England, making faces at babies in the grocery store, being a grandparent, and telling certain people I love them.  It’s haunting but the kind of haunting that carries you along.

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Saundra once suggested I give up chocolate, and I immediately put my foot down

I read an article the other day about two roommates who “went a year without buying anything,” which is a) a little unclear since they obviously still bought some things, but was b) overall interesting and compelling.

So I thought, okay, let me try this for, um, a week, but first I need to buy the following:

1) A lunchbox
2) New swim goggles since I lost my “good pair” at the Y
3) New headphones since I lost mine on metro
4) A pair of shoes I just bought in size 9.5 since the 9’s were too small
5) Chanticleer’s Our American Journey album
6) On Itunes: First Aid Kit’s new album; more Chanticleer

Not to mention a beautiful watch, sleeveless shirts for summer/now, a cardigan since the two I brought with me to DC are turqoise/green / not very matchy-matchy. And new glasses.  Omg.

I get a lot of pleasure out of online shopping, even if I don’t end up buying things, probably just to figure out what “my style” is or whatever.  But I can also waste a lot of time that way, and it’s funny how, when I’ve been abroad, with only some of my belongings and clothes, it’s an activity that doesn’t really even occur to me.  But when I’ve come back to the U.S., I’ve wanted to instantly start buying things again–it’s like an “essential” part of re-entry.

True, I’m in a place right now where I could benefit from saving money and where saving money is also difficult.  So the idea of being more intentional and disciplined and slightly public about it is appealing, not to mention digging more into that tension that is my wanting material goods so much more when I’m in America than when I’m elsewhere.  And feeling like I actually need them.

The idea of asking myself to do things is also appealing since I seem to be better in some ways when I am intentional, but there are just so many things to be potentially intentional about.  Saundra once suggested I give up chocolate (for…4o days?), and I put my foot down immediately to that.  But giving up…spending/social media/internet on weekends???  It could be possible.  And the idea that it would be difficult is cute, almost, but I know it really would.  And then I have to ask myself why.

Saundra--beware: she'll suggest you give up chocolate

Saundra–beware: she’ll suggest you give up chocolate



So, things that I can realistically give up are: eating out (ok, maybe, or at least limiting to 1-2x/month?); buying new clothes (the main problem being that most of my summer/spring clothes are in MS but like…we’ll figure it out); buying books ’cause, “the library”; ummmm, buying random beauty products since I have a lot of samples to get through; and…ideas?  Let’s see what happens for two weeks of this, and then I’ll re-evaluate.

This might seem very childish, but I’m really a weak budgeter.  One problem being that I like having a gadget for each particular thing–a certain tupperware container for salad dressing, the perfect thermos for my coffee, a brush with which to clean the thermos, instead of making do with what is already there.  So I’d appreciate any suggestions!  And any allies in my quest to spend less.

There’s also an appeal to me in generally decluttering/organizing.  My computer needs it since it’s kind of chugging along at this point; my brain needs it.  You know this when you start spelling “foot” “fut,” and the like.  I can’t tell if social media just exacerbates this–i.e., by providing a receptacle, or a…requilary, for the “too much” stewing in my brain, it activates the “too much,” thereby creating more activity and more mess.  And that relates to the idea that buying less would be decluttering since you’re not totally in tune with what you could potentially buy.

I think the ultimate goal is to think a little bit…better.  To write longer passages and push past the walls a bit more, especially writing short stories, so that I have to put my thoughts into metaphor, which expresses their multiple dimensions and gives them life.  In fact, this post feels a little messy and cluttered and lazy, but maybe it’s just from the digging into the mess/ambiguity a bit more.  Let’s say that’s the reason.

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Spring & passages

I’ve been wanting to write on this memory for a few days or weeks now, and it’s basically this:

The last Christmas I spent with my dad, in 2012, I was utterly congested, the way I was a few weeks ago, in this current year, and the way you get from spring.  Then, in that year, I got it not from spring but from something having to do with my ears–but in any case, I hardly slept on the 2012 Christmas Eve, after the St. Alban’s Christmas service and the trumpet-playing and alto-singing and political humor-avoiding, and was feeling pretty miserable on Christmas day.  The kind of miserable-feeling where you don’t want to be around anyone or put on a show or do anything but navel-gaze at the collected mucus.  I can’t really explain it anymore, and I couldn’t explain it that well then either.  I just knew that I didn’t want to be around anyone but I also didn’t want to eat the Christmas meal by myself, so I asked my dad to eat with me.  And so we sat there in the kitchen and ate in silence, and I felt bad, and he sat there with me and let himself feel bad because I felt bad.  And then, later, we sat on the couch, and I read my John Dufresne, and he read his Alan Furst (probably), for the rest of the afternoon.  It was perfect.

In her first book, Molly Wizenberg writes a lot about the loss of her dad, including this:

“The thing is, now that he’s gone, I don’t really remember the bad things.  When someone dies, we tend to tell the same stories over and over: the happy ones, or the funny ones, or at the very least, the poignant ones.  We turn those stories this way and that, studying them like diamonds or ancient scrolls, taking note of every detail.  We don’t tell the sad stories, or the ugly, warted ones.  After a while, they fade like old newsprint, and we start to forget.”

She continues: “…it’s hard for me to show you exactly who my father was, because I don’t know anymore.  And, to be perfectly honest, I don’t want to.  I’m not interested in wrapping him up in a bow with a tidy bow.  He would hate that.”

I don’t totally know what to make of that, the way I don’t totally know what to make about a lot of things that people write about grieving and remembering and loss.  Planning to read C.S. Lewis’ memoir on his wife, and I’m sure I’ll have plenty of feelings about that.  But for now, I feel okay that I can look back on that memory and say that it was, if not perfect, at least good, and whole, every action linked by “ands”; no “yets,” or “buts.”

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Anatomy of a sadness

I am sad today. It’s a distinct feeling.  I’m not writing this to incite any pity party-type feelings, because that’s gross. I’m writing for a) the clarity and b) to feel a little less alone.

One strange thing about sadness, I think, is that the the whole of the feeling can seem greater than the sum of its parts. I can try to break it down; yet when I feel I’m at the very peak of the sadness, it’s like an all-encompassing globe (i.e., bell jar) that won’t quite break and leaves me with a speechless- or breathlessness of: what? I’m just so sad today.

I think the overwhelming nature of that can make it difficult to talk to one person, unless there’s just one person (i.e., significant other) in your life that you tell most of the dumb and also interesting things to, or someone else you’re constantly in communication with at a particular time.  But even then, talking about sad feelings can be a huge chore and maybe by writing them here, and not just for myself, I have to work harder to make them communicable and simple, thereby demystifying a little along the way.

So I want to try to break it down, to give it a little less power, or maybe to give it more meaning.

And maybe it begins like this: last night I had a strange dream that I was working in IT. I encountered someone from the way way back of my past, and I felt terrified to confront them.  We were working in the same room, but I was careful to stay out of the person’s way, until it felt appropriate to move into their little corner.  Then, I finally ventured to communicate, to say something like, oh, hey, we are working in the same room, etc., towards the end of the dream and it was barely productive, as I’d imagined.  (There was some other weird storyline involving “betrayal” and “Kenya,” but I don’t remember that one as well.)

When I woke up, I was tired; I ate breakfast and read my e-mail, one in particular from a close friend about his wife’s cancer. I don’t want to delve into that because it doesn’t feel like my pain to mourn and certainly not my story to share. But there are so many reasons why it stuck with me and hurt.

Then I had to deal with some bank-related things that made me feel mildly irresponsible and foolish.

Then I couldn’t find my metro card which deprived me of the success of being always on time to work although, okay, I was there before everyone else and no one cared, but when one of your part-time jobs is largely administrative, it feels important.

So the two above aren’t really sad things at all, but I feel like they dug into my ability to cope, if only a little tiny bit. In any case, I was feeling flustered early on.

The feeling progressed a bit throughout the day, peaking in the afternoon when I was doing some data entry, updating sheriffs’ beneficiaries. Typing the names of some people who were replacing other people who had died or were now ex-spouses, making speculations about who had written the letter, reading one letter that had been added to the beneficiary form, from a woman, clarifying that her husband had passed away. And it sounds ridiculous, I feel, but that seemed to be the thing that started to make me feel really sad. Maybe just the internalizing of it, the monotony of it, feeling really indoors and alone, and hating the existence of administrative tasks which merge with loss, like having to write the date that someone has died on a form.

I also have my speculations of, like, “drugs” because “new birth control” and “nerve pain medication,” both of which are reasonable conclusions since I missed two doses of the latter recently. That chemical aspect is important, I know, and when I thought about it, I started to feel sadder and a little weirder, of course. It’s something I need and want to understand better.

The sadness is going away a little now. But I guess I just want to try to dissolve the mystery of it, at times. What it is about a small, yucky feeling or two which combine(s) with a larger, lifting, overwhelming one, and then maybe some tiny action you find yourself in? This anatomy of sadness or “depression,” if we want to call it that, since it felt like that for a moment or more today, seems to be like many tiny particles bound very fragilely together, but particles so tiny and imperceptible that they are hard to shake or dissolve. When those feelings begin to tornado for me, they carry me to other “bad” places, where I feel relentlessly angry about things, angry even that it’s springtime and no longer cold, since cold makes you feel your warmth and solitude more strongly, like you’re a brighter light moving through the city.

I know I am also just afraid today of not having time to process any of this, which is partly why I decided to write it down instead of napping or lifting weights.  I have to be at a reception-thing at 7 and then swim lessons at 8, and I’d rather just not be “among the people” right now.  So it’s made a little heavier by that.

Does this resonate with anyone? I feel a strategy for me may be to write but also to actively calm myself, i.e., through breathing. Lying down and putting my hand on my chest, like I often sleep, and breathing into that stillness. Imagining something good or imagining nothing, which is a frequent thing for me to do when I can no longer be in my head.

Does anyone else have other strategies for overwhelming, sad, funky days?

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On a loss:

“I just feel we’re between calls.  He’s away from his desk and can’t email me right now. He’s not home from work yet, he’s on the beach–he can’t get reception.  I don’t feel he’s died.  I still imagine him being there when Dan and I get married, when we have children.”

–From “On Mourning the Future,” in The Examined Life (Stephen Grosz)

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Notes to self

1. You are doing a really good job.
This is something I started saying to myself, frequently out loud, in the month or so before I left to do my fieldwork in Uganda.  Certainly it’s very judgmental.  Sometimes “you’re doing a really good job” is accompanied by “f*** this bullshit” or “Dear God: what the f***?” like when I flew from Zanzibar back to the U.S. for my dad’s funeral.  But I don’t think it really means anything normatively.  The meaning is more like “you’re still swimming.”

But at that time, the pre-Uganda time, there were many tasks to complete, my coursework, worrying about friendships, in physical therapy, and I was more stressed than maybe ever, incredibly harried.  It was a neck-throbbing period, but I was “doing a really good job,” whatever that means, since it always has a context.  No one tells you that you’re doing a good job when you’re doing it, only afterwards, and only in some cases (duh).  Because no one but self ever knows when it is the hardest thing you’ve ever done and that you’re not sure, at all.  So you have to tell yourself that, if you thrive on praise, competition, and “doing things well,” like I do, at times.  Several times a day, every day, when you’re at the hardest part.

2. You are very strong.
I started telling myself this to get myself to the other side of the pool when I was swimming in Kenya.  Maybe because I was quite tired most of the time, immune system probably under attack, and I had to tell myself that I was strong in order to stay strong.  And I think it worked!  It’s a thing my dad said once, too, though it hurts to think about, since he was incredulous, and I knew he realized it where other people hadn’t, or had only seen sensitivities, vulnerabilities, saying, “You are so strong.  How did you get to be this strong?”  Group swim instructor also said it the other night, and I responded, “yes, I am,” like Beyoncé probably would in response to “you are very beautiful.”    

3. “Brownies.”
I also tell myself “brownies” (and sometimes “ice cream”) to get myself to the other side of the pool.

4. You are going to be okay.
Sometimes I sing this one to myself.  My dad used to say “everything will be OK,” just like that, so I’ve had to take over the management of that one.  Since everything is broken, but everything will be OK, and reconciling those two things is “the struggle,” for me.

5. No more suffering.
I don’t know if I believe this one yet, but I like it.  It’s the thing I have been saying to keep myself from the self-harming thought spirals or ruminations.  I extracted it from a Modern Love column  about a woman and her husband.  And maybe my version is: “this thing that hurts doesn’t need to hurt you this much.”

6. Calm the f*** down.
I frequently think this one while trying to get to sleep.  And a lot of other times throughout the day.  Self-explanatory.

7. “Jesus”/”grace”
I don’t really know where this one is going yet, but it’s good to think about sometimes.

8. There are 24 hours in a day.
This helps when I start over-scheduling.


What are the things you tell yourself?

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