Cold

Today is the first I’ve taken a shower and put on real clothes in, like, four days. You’d think that this is because I suffer from depression, but no. It has been in the 20s and 30s this week; when I went to bed last night, it was 25 (that’s in Farenheit, all y’all :P). There is absolutely no part of me that wants to take off clothing for any reason whatsoever. Also, my hair never looks better than after three or four days of bedhead with strong wax in my hair, and it chafes me that my best hair days come when I’m just about to wreck them.

Now, once I am in the shower with screaming hot water pouring down, I’m ok. But those few moments in the cold bathroom are not just dreadful, they’re more than dreadful. I would rather wear my skiing silks, my flannel pajamas, a t-shirt, a long sleeve t-shirt, a double-weight hoodie, and three pairs of socks. During the day, I also put on my snow boots (mainly because they’re warm, but also keep me from sliding down the stairs in wool socks). It’s a look.

Yes, we do have heat at our house, in case you’re wondering. I just get cold easily, and it’s hard for any heater to keep up with DC winter. Besides, the electric company has never charged me for putting on a sweater.

When I had my own place, I never heated it very much- maybe to 50 or 60- because with all the winter clothing I own and an electric blanket, I didn’t need it. I would rather have it cold and be bundled up on my own… except for when I have to change clothes.

I do, however, feel better now that I’m clean and smell really good… but it’s not just that. Laying out all my frustrations yesterday really put things in perspective, because depression and anxiety feel so real, but in reality, it is your brain lying to your face… and as my friend Phil so eloquently said, they know the very best lies to use against you. Going back over and reading what I wrote let me see those lies up close.

I am indeed so much stronger than I usually think. No one that digs a hole as deep as I did and then has a parent die while trying to dig themselves out isn’t. You can either get stronger, or you wither away. I’ve already gone the “withering away” route, and it didn’t do anything for me. I got stronger because there wasn’t a choice… anymore.

The lies my brain used on me at that time in my life were that I was a burden to everyone I knew and it was better to just disappear off the grid. It did not seem like a permanent solution to a temporary problem, because there was nothing about my illness (I’m bipolar, for those just joining us.) that said this is manageable, and you will improve. Everything in my life pointed to getting progressively worse, akin to terminal cancer but closer to alcoholism due to the strange and self-destructive behavior it presents. To me, the worst thing in the world was to have my loved ones watch the roller coaster, knowing it would never end.

It was during one of our legendary blowouts that Argo saved my life, and I mean this quite literally. My response to feeling that ill was to talk about it to my friends, hoping that they’d safety net me until I could function again. It seemed reasonable at the time, but it was leaving out a crucial piece- responsibility & self-reliance. We were talking (well, arguing) about everything that was going wrong and she said, can’t you see the common denominator is you? Why do you expect everyone else to fix you? It got through to me that I wasn’t moving under my own power, and within minutes I was on the phone to my insurance company and checked myself into the psych ward at Methodist Hospital. I wouldn’t have done that had it not been a real emergency. I didn’t have a psychiatrist and couldn’t get a new patient appointment for three more weeks, and I absolutely needed help that day, right then. My depression was telling me I wasn’t going to make it three more weeks.

So, if you ask me what really saved me from myself, it was a friend who was willing to kick my ass when it needed kicking. The treatment did not work overnight- it was not a miracle cure- but it definitely pointed me in a better direction. That being said, the group therapy I experienced made me vomit up even darker emotions than usual and the better direction came from everything getting a lot worse before it got better. The biggest regret of my life is the way I treated those around me during that time, because everything spewed at them was a direct reflection of how I felt about myself. The old axiom is true- hurt people hurt people.

By then, Dana wanted out and I needed a sounding board more than ever, but I’d used up every “get out of jail free” card I had with Argo and I didn’t trust anyone else. But panic attacks that presented as rage burned that bridge butt-quick. I feel more guilt about pushing Argo away than I ever will about Dana and I breaking up because Dana was in the room with me. She participated in 3D. Argo was just on the receiving end of words she didn’t deserve without my ability to see her eyes, her reactions, and know when to back the fuck up. There could only be so much in the way of damage control because of it… because I know the first time I saw her eyes flash in anger or sadness, I would have become a sobbing mess on the floor, all the fight taken out of me because I couldn’t just hear about the damage. I could experience it. I could see up close and personal what I’d wrought.

With Dana, I saw everything.

It’s not worth revisiting, but the picture was bleak. All the color in our world just bled out on the floor, and I ran. We were way past the point of reconciliation, and I knew within myself that if I didn’t run, I’d spend way too much time trying. We were past the point of no return, having alienated each other with mutually assured destruction….. robbing me of all but the deepest regrets. Yes, there were (and are) things I still have to get over, but it was also extraordinarily freeing to be able to walk away knowing that I’d made the absolute best decision I could make with the information I had.

When I arrived in DC, it was April and there was still snow on the ground. The weather matched my mood.

It was cold…. like those few seconds in a cold bathroom, angry in the moment and yet, knowing that warmth will eventually arrive.

The Snowman Cometh (with Apologies to Eugene O’Neill)

I know it’s hard to tell with a still picture, but it’s really coming down out there… and forecasted to continue. We may actually get some accumulation. I am excited about this, because there is nothing I love more than newfallen snow (when I’m dressed for it). Walking around in the pristine white brings me so much joy. I only hate snow after it’s been on the ground for a few days and ranges from grey to black with tire tracks and dripping oil. Although, if I had to choose, I believe the dogs love it more than me… which reminds me of an old Sam story………….20171209_110711

My roommate, Samantha, has parents where one is Methodist and one is Druze, but does not claim any religion for herself. So, a couple of years ago when the snow was very deep, Sam shouted at her dog, “come on, Daisy. Time to part it like Jesus.” I started laughing so hard that tears came to my eyes and said, “ummm, that was Moses.” She just laughed and said, “whatever.” Of course, this is the same person that when, years ago, I got a “Share a Coke with Mark” bottle and joked that all I needed now were Matthew, Luke, and John, has been calling me Mark ever since. In fact, I think that since then she’s forgotten my actual name. I dig it. Fits in with the theme….. Auna calls me “Hipster Jesus.” Being nicknamed after a Gospel writer doesn’t seem like much of a demotion. After all, he was a writer. 😛

I am caught between two ideas right now. One is that I am still in my jammies- cute ones, so that I at least look marginally dressed- and I have two shows to catch up on. The first is Doc Martin, and the second is The Crown. I was going to start with The Crown, but Doc Martin is just so damn funny, and I could use some funny in my life.

The other idea is that there’s just so much to do and see in the snow, and I have the clothes to be very, very, very warm while I’m out. I could go to downtown Silver Spring and ice skate, or I could go to Zoo Lights, or I could just walk around my neighborhood and see who’s already on the ball with the Christmas decorations. The one drawback to this is that it is actively snowing, and when snow gets on my glasses, I can’t see anything, anyway. You would think that an umbrella would help. Not so much. Snow generally blows sideways. Before I make my decision, I will check and see if Zoo Lights is a recurring thing, or if it is only today. The best time to do all this stuff is after the snow has stopped, there’s a satisfying crunch under your feet, and the weather is cold & clear…. perhaps not clear, because it’s usually overcast even when it’s not snowing, but you get my drift (see what I did there?). I am waiting with baited breath to see what happens this winter, because sometimes we get a few inches a couple of times, and sometimes the heavens open up and dump everything they’ve got. Winter before last, it was over a foot and a half deep. Everyone had a different name for it:

  • Snowpocalypse Now
  • Snowtorious B.I.G.
  • Thanks, Snowbama
  • Enforced Captivity
  • Working Without Pants -or- Working Under the Covers (IT doesn’t DO snow days.)

If we do get The Big One,™ I will work out more than I have all year, because it’s more strenuous to lift your knees that high while walking…. because you can either walk on the unplowed sidewalks, or take your chances on the street. I choose knee/ass deep snow rather than getting hit by a driver who thinks they have this snow driving thing down (they don’t). Everyone thinks they’re a friggin’ expert until they spin out, because thinking you’re an expert generally leads to driving way too fast for the condition at hand…. and I have yet to see anyone chain up on a back road. My general rule is “go around me, moron.” I’ll either see them further down the road fishtailed into a snowdrift or being told by the police that maybe they should control their speed. Of course you can get a speeding ticket while going the speed limit when snow is blowing sideways…. or worse, the snow has melted and it’s still cold AF, so there’s black ice everywhere.

The safest way to get around in all this mess is public transportation, because generally, if you’re going to be in an accident, the city bus is going to “win….” and a good bit of the Metro is inside, which is even safer. Plus, with everyone wanting to run their own heaters in their own cars on their way at every possible opportunity, parking is even harder than normal.

Speaking of driving, though, I had a funny Uber moment yesterday. The Uber driver always checks to make sure he/she has the right destination, and I told him I was going to the mall. He said, “in DC? With all the monuments?” I laughed and said, “no… I’m not going to The Mall, I’m going to a mall.” I was in an Uber pool, and the teens in the back laughed and said, “No! In Silver Spring!” I bought all my clothes, got my bag of coffee (finally) and managed to get out of Whole Foods for less than $50. Beat that with a stick.

I even remembered to get more eggnog….. because I’m in my jammies.

Cute ones.

Flights of Fancy

The life of a writer generally means that we look lazy on the outside, but our minds are running a thousand miles a minute. I have great contempt for people who think writers aren’t doing anything when they’re staring into space. For bloggers, how do you think we dig deep enough to remember stories from our past? For fiction writers, how do you think those exotic worlds we create form themselves? For non-fiction writers, how do you think all that information synthesizes from something only a niche market would read into a consumable for the general public?

We just sit there.

Additionally, there are only certain personality types that think writing is a real job to begin with, because they don’t think about what it takes to write and market something that might be successful… especially the books they’ve already bought and loved. Books that are already on the bestseller list mean that the writer is respected. Writers who haven’t published anything there are dreamers with blind ambition, head in the clouds, with no respect for the real world.

When are you going to get a real job? and it must be nice to have a partner that supports you so that you can just do your little writing hobby are constant issues brought up in my writers’ group on Facebook. It makes me angry on their behalf, because as primarily a blogger, I have to have a real job, because it gets me out of the house enough to have experiences about which to write…. and I don’t mean writing about work (Dooced…. look into it). It’s just that once I leave the house, I am more likely to do outside activities after work than I am when I am homebound, stuck in my own head. It leads to being relegated to writing about the past, rather than the “character” changes that come over time as I do.

Sometimes, though…. just sometimes…. I stop thinking about the past and start imagining the future. Most often, it’s about actually following through on finishing my Bachelor of Arts and going on for my M.Div. Thinking about my own dreams is infinitely more satisfying than the other fantasies that run through my head. My Bachelor’s is a political science major and a psychology minor, because even when I started college, I was thinking about what it would take to pastor a modern church. It is not up to me to encourage my congregation as to how to vote- that crosses all sorts of lines- but regardless of party affiliation, there is plenty of legislation that is right or wrong in a black and white sort of way… like minority treatment in America, immigration, the constant battle between giving the queer community rights and threatening to take them away, ridiculous ideas like killing gays or putting them in concentration camps that thankfully don’t come up that often and yet, are ideas in the current marketplace. There are all sorts of ideas that the legal definition of a reasonable person should not support, and I could care less whether any of them identify as Democrat or Republican. These are not party issues, they are human ones. I have said that my dream is to go to historically black Howard University. This is because I have gone to majority white schools my entire life, and if I am to understand anything at all about the minority experience, I have to observe it.

There is nothing within me that says I will ever fully understand, because I will never have black skin. I will never wear those problems. My aim is just to listen and soak up everything there is to learn.

But that’s not all there is to the dream. A lot of my career has been spent in academic technology, so I have applied to every college within a 50 mile radius in the hopes of working there, because generally a university staff position comes with tuition waivers. If I get a job at Howard, for which I have an application pending right now, that would be my ideal dream. But if American, Georgetown, or University of DC get back to me first, I’ll have to consider them.

But that is only where my mind goes when I’m thinking about myself. I also live in the clouds at times over where my life would have gone had I not reached a boiling point and exploded “crazy spatter” all over people I love dearly.

Argo

The most consistent message I get from my friends about this relationship is to just let it lie. Stop thinking about it, stop wishing it were different, just… stop. I followed through on stopping contact, but there is a part of me that cannot help going back over it in my mind, thinking about dialogues it would have been nice to have. Susan fills this hole in my heart quite nicely, but as I know for sure and have read from others, no one is her. It took me a long time to realize that the teenage blushing butterflies were love for an idea, not a person, and once that connection was made, it was over… meaning that for me, I could look at her as a ride-or-die without seeing stars, and for her, it was a little too little too late. I understand this more than she knows, so there is no residual anger. I behaved poorly; I do not deserve her. But we often go for coffee in my dreams. Those conversations are hilarious and heartwarming. It is and has to be enough.

Dana

God (literally), where do I begin? When I think of everything I’ve lost over the last three years, the only reason Argo comes up first is that our relationship was the shortest. She got under my skin in the only way someone else besides Dana could… her words. Therefore, I have never had a shortage of them regarding her, because the connection was so cerebral. It may not be fair to start a paragraph about Dana talking about Argo, but I do it to illustrate the inversely proportionate nature of the grief. Dana is not just under my skin, so close I can access those emotions at a moment’s notice. She is the river that runs through me, emotions so deep that they stay buried most of the time so I do not drown. Having been married to each other for so long is akin to having phantom limb pain. As time goes on, it gets less and less intense….. sometimes. But then I’ll remember something touching and time erases itself instantly. We just broke up yesterday. Additionally, there were so many years where we weren’t married, just very close friends, and that weighs on me, too. I initially thought that we’d be able to put our relationship back together to the point where it wouldn’t be weird to talk and laugh. I can say for sure that was the case when my mother died, and Dana kept me company as I was waiting for my flight out of BWI. But we hadn’t talked for months before, and I haven’t heard from her since…. and yet, that’s ok. Again, there is no anger. In a lot of ways, I got exactly what I deserved. Behavior always has consequences.

One of the behaviors I sincerely regret, even though there were a lot of reasons for it (context, never excuses) is that I stopped being a true partner. I was there, but I wasn’t present. I was in the midst of discovering just how bad emotional abuse as a teenager had rewired my actions/reactions as an adult, and all the unhealthy patterns played out with the people I love most. I couldn’t give much, because I was reduced to survival mode. I was trying to let her in, and at the same time, not realizing how repetitive it sounded, especially since it probably didn’t feel like there was a whole lot of room for me to listen to her (because I cannot and will not speak for her). The truth is that I did care, deeply, about her thoughts and feelings…. especially the ones I was engendering in her. I didn’t want to be a bad partner. I just was. When it got to the point where it was clear Dana didn’t want to listen to me regarding my constant rumination, I went looking for dopamine wherever I could find it…. yet another series of terrible decisions (see above).

In my dreams, she knows me now. She knows who I’ve become, and not who I was. Recovery takes time and backbreaking effort, and she has not been along for the ride unless I’ve been asleep. I often don’t want to live in a world where I cannot hear her laugh, so I close my eyes and it becomes clear as a bell. My regrets fall by the wayside because we have moved on. They cannot torture me because they cannot touch me. I am only getting the conversations I want when I am playing both sides.

When I am awake, the thing I think about the most is that in February, we’ll have been married ten years, virtually estranged for a little over two, but the paperwork is no less valid. It’s been a long time since Dana told me that she would take care of the dissolution, and I waffle every day between wanting her to come through on a promise and getting tired of waiting and taking care of it myself. The rumination is endless… does she just forget, or is getting divorced too painful and she’s waiting for something to happen for it to be less so? I know that feeling. Anxiety makes me wait for a day when I feel stronger on some things; it was not until I put it together that I had to change my own mood that I realized waiting until I felt stronger was pointless.

Another thing I know for sure is that if and when I have a partner again, they’re just going to have to accept that I have a past (like we all do), and I do not want them to be a jealous ball of spazzbasket if stories about her come up. I don’t want to tell the painful ones. I want it to be okay to laugh about the funny things that could only have happened to us. I want it to be okay that I will love her for the rest of my life without being in love with her, because there is too much shared friend history to just forget.

I refuse to be bitter. I refuse to think that there will never be another love for me. I refuse to think that the mistakes of the past will haunt my future unless I let them. To me, the whole point of life is that you cannot avoid making mistakes, but you can certainly avoid making old ones.

You just keep making new ones until eventually, you die…. which brings us forward….

My Mother (Carolyn)

I have five old voice mails saved from her that are so painful to listen to that I want to erase them, but I can’t, because then I’d never hear her voice again. The most recent was three or four days before she died, because I wanted her advice on whether I should drive to Houston to spend time with both her and my dad, because she had broken her foot and he was going through multiple facial reconstruction surgeries after a tumor the size of a quarter was found in his nose. I sent my mom a text message in the morning that said get back to me ASAP, because I wanted to know if I should get going soon. Well, she didn’t have her phone on her and didn’t return the call until about 2:00 PM, and in classic tiger mom fashion, the voice mail was full of anxiety saying that I had scared her, not my intent but her perception was that I was in danger…. and then, of course, I didn’t hear my phone go off so I couldn’t relieve that anxiety immediately.

The rest of them are pleas to call her, because my mental health was not good and I wasn’t in a place to talk to anyone. It was not personal in any way, shape, or form. It is the most guilt-inducing feeling I’ve ever had in my life…. how many more conversations we would have had if I’d just picked up the damn phone? Because here’s the thing. I couldn’t always take off the mask and just be small-l leslie with her. Picking up her phone calls, for me, required a certain amount of being “on.” It’s sad and terrible and no less true. At the time, it felt like altruism. I didn’t want her to feel my pain, because she had shown me over and over that she couldn’t take it. She would bleed out for me, and I was unable to take it in because I didn’t want someone who was only on my side. I wanted someone to tell me that I was right in knowing I was wrong. Her empathetic nature was to feel sorry for me, when I didn’t feel sorry for me at all. It was hard to listen to, hard to accept as valid when I’d made so many errors in judgment. Therefore, just about every conversation was between my mom and Leslie Lanagan.™ I suited up so I could act happier than I really was- the conversations were light and fun. But in my worst moments, I couldn’t even muster that.

I just have to remember that before she died, we had a two and a half hour conversation in which there was nothing left unsaid, no unfinished business. Those voicemails are just an echo of the past, and not representative of what really happened before she died. The conundrum is wanting to hear her voice in any way I can, and knowing that if I listen to it, all I will take away from it is what crappy moments I made in our timeline.

In my dreams, none of that ever happened. We’re at Starbucks, we’re in her classroom, we’re at the teacher’s center laminating ALL THE THINGS. I’m helping her with bulletin boards and fixing her computer and trying to teach her how to use Netflix on a smart TV. We’re waiting in line for the new iPhone. We’re literally next in the queue, and my alarm goes off…. and any flight of fancy in which I’ve been enmeshed touches down at DCA.

Free Beer!

Really?

No, not really. But I got you to click on the link, amiright?

In reality, today is just another day in the life of a writer. The sky is grey, the light is fading, and I need to go to the pharmacy and I just can’t bring myself to leave the house. Two reasons- the first is that everything takes longer when you’re sad. You move under the weight of the world. The second is that the weather does not lend itself to wanting to go anywhere.

I have an appointment for platelet donation tomorrow, so I figure I’ll just get to the Metro station early and walk across to the pharmacy and, of course, Starbucks. I took a Tylenol PM™ last night, which is code for “I slept longer than I wanted to today.” Therefore, I don’t actually need another Lexapro until about noon. I will arrive at the pharmacy no later than 9:30, because if I don’t take it before it’s due, bad things will happen.

It is a common experience with this medication that I watch for meticulously. Withdrawal makes my entire brain vibrate to a minor second, kind of like a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. I also get chills & shake uncontrollably while sweating and crying. It is very attractive. I can fight it off with Klonopin, ibuprofen, and an amazing amount of coffee… but it is a stopgap measure and only helps so much. The bitch of it is that withdrawal is almost instantaneous. The clock starts ticking with every minute I don’t take it as soon as I need it.

The last time this happened, I was at work and had to fight through it until lunch, because thankfully, there was a CVS within two minutes of my office and I got my prescription transferred. I can honestly say that those four hours were among the worst of my life, because I had important projects in the air and all I wanted to do was crawl under my desk into the fetal position. I started carrying an entire day’s worth of medication on my key chain after that, but #dumbassattack, I left my keys in my car and they are lost to history. I should have bought a new pill carrier by now, but if you know me at all, I can procrastinate on just about anything if no one else is expecting it to be on deadline.

Additionally, you cannot take any NSAIDS (aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen sodium…. Non-steroidal anti-inflammation drugs) for two to three days depending on state law before you go for apheresis. [Editor’s Note: I prefer ibuprofen to naproxen sodium because you can take a fresh dose more often.] I also can’t drink too much coffee, either, because I don’t want to be dehydrated. It makes the process much slower.

So, basically, if I don’t get to the pharmacy tomorrow morning, I will be up shit creek without a paddle. #motivation

The crying comes because I’m in pain, and because withdrawal makes me incredibly weepy. Most of the time, if I can’t remember whether I’ve taken my psych meds that day, I’ll watch a sad/touching commercial and if I cannot hold it together, there’s my answer. For instance, the commercial in the link is basically everything I didn’t tell my mom enough.

Jesus’ message of walking in the light while you have it destroys me now. He’s basically telling the Disciples that they’re going to be on their own very soon, and they need to listen closely to his teachings because he’s not always going to be around to answer questions.

And, just like me, the Disciples took that message for granted and basically the Book of Acts is that end of the rope and it’s fraying and we’re barely holding it together prayer…. shit, God. They’re grieving and trying to remember every conversation, every parable, every direction.

They muddle through, walking with the weight of the world, for they were not the smartest guys in the room…. just the most dedicated.

I could say the same. Most days, my life is just one White Stripes’ song on repeat…. I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself. I didn’t walk with the light while I had it, and I greatly underestimated/took for granted the messages that were being imparted. Now I am just fumbling in the dark, big dreams- so big I can live in them, with no concrete staircase upward. I have always been a big picture person, able to synthesize ideas quickly and summarize. I am not so good in the weeds…. I have no idea how to get there from here, and the thought is overwhelming to an enormous degree. Other people have gone to college and grad school. It can’t be that hard. I mean, it is. I just mean the steps to get in before any course work has started.

I have run around in circles for almost 20 years. It started with promising my then-partner that I’d get her through her senior year of college, if, when we moved, she’d get me through mine. Two things happened after that. The first is that we could not afford to live on one income while I was a student. DC was just out of our price range for that. The second is that within a year and change of the move, she left me, and took her part of the bargain with her.

My parents paid for some of school, but once I was on my own, I was on my own. Therefore, it’s been a neverending tail-chase as I get a job to get money to pay for school and then either can’t save up enough to quit or can’t manage a full-time job and school. It seems lame to say that out loud, because people do it all the time. Being single, it might be more achievable because I have no family commitments and few social engagements/distractions. Being there for everyone else has cost me taking care of myself. But the last time I was in school and working, I was living in southwest Houston, working in Sugar Land, and going to school at the main campus at UH. School at UH only lasts until 9:00. There were two class times that “fit my schedule-” 5:30 to 7:00 and 7:30-9:00. My job ended at 5:00. With the commute, I rarely, if ever, made it to my 5:30 class- and not for lack of trying. I passed by the skin of my teeth by watching all the lectures online, but since I got a D, I don’t think those hours will transfer to another school. I could stay at UH via distance education, but there’s something about showing up to class. It may be a better option to stay at UH, anyway, because I might have to add extra classes to get the hours needed in residence to graduate. But all these thoughts are for naught right now, because I need a way to pay for tuition, first.

I really thought that my mother would leave Lindsay and me some money in her will, but she didn’t. This is not a slam against her in any way, because that’s how wills are  normally done- everything goes to the spouse. I thought the one good thing  that might come out of my mother dying was allowing myself to finish my education, but that is not to be. So it’s back to the drawing board, easy because I never counted on that money in the first place, because I never expected my mother to die so young. In short, I’ve got what I’ve always had- a conundrum.

The thing that’s different this time around is that I am a fiend about saving money. Even when I make a lot, I live on nothing. I saved up $4,000 in less than a year during 2016. I’ll do it again, so that worry is taken off my shoulders. It would be damned convenient to still have that money, but I was so destroyed by my mother’s death that I couldn’t think about going to work right away. My mind was never in the present, lost in the past. I would spend entire days doing tasks, seeing them done and having no memory of how they got that way.

My biggest mistake was underestimating how long it would take me to find a new job, because it takes longer to find those companies that will take 20 years of work experience over a newly minted degree. Plus, with no work experience and just a degree, employees are cheaper, and labor dollars matter.

I am also starting to believe that because my resume is full, employers have some idea of how old I am, and that isn’t attractive to them, either. I could be totally wrong about this, but 40 is just the age where not being 25 matters. What doesn’t is that I take care of myself, and in terms of energy, I still feel 25. When I dye my hair, I barely pass for 18/21, because I get carded ALL THE TIME, even when buying cigarettes. I don’t smoke, but my roommates used to, and when I was the one that would run into the convenience store to buy everything for everyone, I’d get so flattered. One clerk thought I had a fake ID. What doesn’t feel young about me are cultural references and my sometimes internal monologue of “they’re so young I’m not even sure how they manage to tie their shoes in the morning.” I also don’t want to do anything fun with young people after work, or at least, not often, because I can’t party like that anymore. Right now my average is two alcoholic drinks a month, which means my tolerance is through the floor. I can’t “hang” and make it to work in the morning.

It’s nice to have the built-in excuse of, “I’m sorry, I have to get to class,” or “I’m sorry, I have to go and write.” It seems that going for a run is also an acceptable excuse, but you wouldn’t catch me running unless there’s an ice cream truck involved…….

or free beer.

The Yahrtzeit

Don’t call me. I know you’ll all want to when you hear what I have to say. I am leaving tomorrow to go to Houston for the first time since my mother’s death. But stop yourselves from reaching out to give Lindsay and me room to grieve on our own. If we end up getting together with friends at any point, I’ll make sure you’re included. But we haven’t gotten that far. We’ve only planned what we’re going to do on the actual anniversary of my mother’s death on the second, besides attending my cousin Hunter’s wedding the day before.

Because I thought I’d be in DC during the wedding, I did not RSVP, so I hope they can haul ass to the kitchen, rearrange the food, and squish in a place setting to welcome a “Haiti-an. It actually is important to me to go to this wedding. It’s my mother’s brother’s second child, so I will get to see everyone on that side of the family at a time when we really need each other. Of course it is Hunter’s day, but seeing each other is an excellent added bonus. Plus, the wedding is in Tyler, Texas… the perfect amount of road trip. I haven’t done a real road trip in ages, so even that in and of itself is perfection.

When we get back, we’ve planned to go to the cemetery and just sit with Mom. We enjoy it because the cemetery we chose is so tranquil and peaceful it is an escape from the rest of the city. It’s also been a year since I’ve seen “Fred,” the infant-sized tree planted last year that will one day surround my mother’s grave in its majesty. I’m only sort of glad I waited this long, because I don’t think I would notice as much of a difference in “him” if I’d seen him every week.

Lindsay has said that she’s not crazy about the name “Fred.” I can’t wait to see what name she’s come up for “him.” For me, “Fred” was an easy choice because every plant I’ve ever had has been named “Fred….” and this Fred has people to take care of “him” that actually know what they’re doing. I don’t have to worry that I’m accidentally going to poison “him.” Plus, this time of year the weather should be pretty good… no pictures of the headstones with a “light dusting of snow.” We’ll eat and drink it what is hopefully sunshine and not threatening grey weather. But rest assured that I would carry six golf umbrellas before I missed going to see my mother’s grave.

It is such a bittersweet experience, because logically I know that I am just talking to her shell. Emotionally, she feels very real and present…. not in a viscerally physical way, just that her spirit is near.

It was that spirit which brought me to my knees. I didn’t want to spend that day alone, either, because I didn’t want to spend it with anyone but Lindsay and she’d already come and gone for this week.

She and my father both worked on this idea to let us have our time to laugh and cry, and the fact that they thought it was important enough to spend their hard-earned money and/or frequent flier miles to make sure it happened is exactly the kind of thing my mother would have wanted.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what it is she actually would have wanted, and yet I know this one hits the nail on the head. Now if Forbes, my stepdad, needs to get his internet fixed or his cable is down, that would just be the icing on the cake. My mother assumed my entire adult life that because I work in Information Technology, if it plugged into the wall, I could fix it. She once actually flew me to Houston just to fix her computer because it was exactly the same price as taking it to Best Buy,™ and she knew that I would be nicer to her than they would because I wouldn’t try to upsell her on anything. 🙂

As it turned out, I couldn’t fix the computer after all, because it was a hardware problem and not software… but I still earned my keep. I told her that for the same price as getting her old computer fixed (emphasis on old), she could buy a cheap throwdown that would do everything she wanted it to do and I could transfer all of her files for her, or just install her old hard drive as a secondary drive in the new one. I ended up just transferring her files because I didn’t know whether the hard drive was about to blow, and thanks to her excellent grasp of “the Mommy Save,” it was ridiculously easy. The term “Mommy Save” is an old IT Help Desk joke that refers to people who have no idea how directory structures work, so everything they’ve ever worked on is an icon on the desktop. Mind you, not folders created on the desktop. Individual files that cover every possible millimeter of desktop real estate so it doesn’t even matter what the wallpaper is… you can’t see it, anyway.

And, of course, my mother also had no idea how installing peripherals worked, so of course things that were simple to me, like installing the printer/scanner/copier driver, seemed like magic to her. She really thought it was magic when I discovered that her PSC had wireless and set up every computer in the house to print to it, and enabled file sharing so that she didn’t have to e-mail Forbes everything she wanted him to see.

I also locked down her router so that no one in her neighborhood could steal bandwidth from her using the router’s default username and password, the one that had been on it for, like, two years. I think I gave it the SSID “Baker’s Dozen,” because Baker was her married name…. but I TOLD her it was “Carolyn’s Tattoo Parlor and BBQ Pit.” Because she’d known me my whole life, she knew I was just kidding… and I knew exactly what she was thinking…. my Godyou are way too much like your father. I don’t think I am….. he’s WAY more funny than me. Just more practice at it, I guess…. or at least, that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it. Perhaps one day his little grasshopper will reach satori, but I am not holding my breath.

Although this story may come close.

I love temporary tattoos, because there are lots of tattoos I like, but won’t commit to them forever. I was out shopping and found some really cool ones- tribal representations of animals, armbands, etc. My mother, however, did not like tattoos AT ALL. So, I wake up before she does and put this GIANT tiger temp tattoo on my neck. Not even an Oxford button-down will cover it. She comes into the kitchen a little while later and I can see the wheels in her head turning, trying not to explode as she thinks through all the jobs I’ve just lost. She tries so hard….. when did you get your tiger tattoo? If it’s on your neck, it must’ve really hurt. Do you think your job will care? How did you manage to hide it? I didn’t even see it last night…….. Your mom is going blind in her old age……. I let her twist in the wind for a few more minutes before I took some cotton balls and a small bottle of baby oil out of my pocket and rubbed it off. It was nice to see some blood come back into her face, and she laughed- not necessarily because she thought it was funny, but because she knew she’d been had and it was exactly the type joke her firstborn would play on her…. but not before trying to convince me that she’d known it was fake all along, that she was just trying to keep it going, etc. I didn’t buy it for a second, but it was hilarious to watch her backpedal nonetheless.

My mom was one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, but because her brain worked on a very high, creative plane most of the time, jokes often went over her head. She had bigger things to think about than whether her daughter was pranking her or not, which made her an easy target, especially since she was so willing to laugh at herself.

One of the times she absolutely lost it laughing at herself was when my dad took my mom, sister, and me to our friend Hardy Roper’s vacation house in Galveston. It had a dock on the bay side of the island, and Lindsay and I were doing a half-hearted job of fishing, using cheese as bait (or as my sister said, “WE’RE GONNA CATCH FISH WITH CHEESE!!!!!). I was wearing my favorite loafers, which happened to be pretty expensive, and my mom just knew I was going to drop them in the water while my feet were dangling over the side. She rushed over to me and said, hand me your shoes. If you lose them, we won’t be able to replace them. So, I hand them to her, and for whatever reason, at exactly that moment she was thrown of balance and promptly dropped both of my precious loafers into the bay. We laughed until we cried…. which is exactly what I want to do at the cemetery.

Of course I miss my mother, and it is incredibly sad, but it is a good thing that part of grief is the uncontrollable laughter of reminiscence.

If there’s anything I hope for during this trip, it’s that nearly every sentence begins with do you remember the time when Mom……………… It is the best opening line for me since once upon a time………….. because once upon a time, I could not laugh like this. 2017-09-30 00_53_56-Mourner's Kaddish _ ReformJudaism.orgI was too engrossed in survivor’s grief, not allowing myself joy because it did not seem appropriate to have fun. I felt that the only thing I deserved was to look down in sadness, tear my clothes, and even though I’m not Jewish, say the Kaddish (also known as The Mourner’s Kaddish) in her honor. If you’ve never heard it, the graphic to the right is the prayer in Hebrew. What follows is the English:

Exalted and hallowed be God’s great name
in the world which God created, according to plan.

May God’s majesty be revealed in the days of our lifetime
and the life of all Israel — speedily, imminently, to which we say Amen.

Blessed be God’s great name to all eternity.

Blessed, praised, honored, exalted, extolled, glorified, adored, and lauded
be the name of the Holy Blessed One, beyond all earthly words and songs of blessing,
praise, and comfort. To which we say Amen.

May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and all Israel,
to which we say Amen.

May the One who creates harmony on high, bring peace to us and to all Israel.
To which we say Amen.

I ask all of your blessings as two Christians try to make their own theme & variation on a yahrtzeit that weaves my mother’s personality throughout. The concept of the yahrtzeit is extremely meaningful to me, because it is not the first anniversary of a loved one’s death, but all of them. I tend to steal borrow from all faith traditions as I try and navigate the largest unknown I’ve ever faced. Making things better probably won’t come out of one book, but many. I mean, not everybody can be Doug Forcett.

I would appreciate each and every one of you holding space for Lindsay and me as we survey dark wilderness…. because maybe next year, having some contour lines will help.

In the meantime, I am praying not only on the words, but the spaces in between. Often, the wisdom is in the pause.

#prayingonthespaces

Where Were We Again?

When I take a few days off from writing, I learn why I shouldn’t do that. I have no idea where to even begin. My last entry isn’t anywhere close what’s happening now, and herding my thoughts is less easy than herding cats.

The last entry was written while I was still in Portland, and for the first time, I slept all the way home… well, except for the last hour, from Charlotte to Arlington, VA. I was so exhausted that I missed the safety speech, taking pictures of the Columbia from the runway (that would have been hit or miss…. it was dark), and last but not least, the entire takeoff sequence. When we landed at CLT, it was a total “where tf am I?” moment, because there were no national monuments and I’d forgotten I was connecting in the haze of waking up. I had more time to kill in N. Carolina than I did last time, so I walked around looking for a UNC Chapel Hill t-shirt (Mia Hamm’s alma mater). I didn’t find one (in fact, no Tarheels gear at all, just Hornets), so I settled for a very large cup of coffee. I imagine that if I’d walked all over the airport, I probably would have found what I was looking for, but I didn’t want to leave my own terminal. I thought I was too groggy to be able to make it back in time. I took my coffee and settled in the waiting area, and when my flight started boarding, to GOD I swear I almost started crying.

Because here’s the thing… I love visiting other places, but there is nothing on earth more beautiful than landing at National, and thinking about that beauty always makes me tear up, no matter how long I live here. People will argue with me on the objectivity of those statements, but I’m pretty sure I’m right. I mean, I’ll go out to BWI or Dulles when I need to (luckily, I haven’t had to deal w/ Dulles since 2002- one of my friends called it the seventh level of hell, and I can’t disagree with her), but neither airport gives me the feeling of home like National does. It’s especially breathtaking at night, but I’d taken a redeye, so I did get a good picture on the tarmac of a small plane with the Jefferson and Washington monuments in the back. If you’re just a nerd with a camera, this is the best place on earth to live. #nolie #smile

Now, remember I am tired AF- redeye, etc. I get to the Metro around 0945 and don’t realize there are three tracks. One goes out to Virginia, the other crosses the river into DC, and the third is for broken down trains. It’s in the middle. My bench is facing a CLEARLY (in retrospect) broken down car out of service, and I sat there for 25 minutes before I realized that the train I needed was behind me. A venti coffee of the day at Starbucks can only do so much.

However, the first train that came by after I answered the clue phone was Yellow to Ft. Totten. Bullseye. Yellow connects to red at Ft. Totten and Silver Spring is only two stops down the red line from there. That meant I had about 40 uninterrupted minutes without changing trains. There’s probably a more direct route, like changing lines at Gallery Place/Chinatown, but I didn’t want direct. I wanted “don’t make me get up.” I was also a total baby and got an Uber while my train was rolling up to Silver Spring, because I didn’t want to lug my shit on the bus and walk with it. Pretty sure it was the best $4 I spent the whole trip.

I get home and absolutely collapse with exhaustion, despite the coffee. I slept for a couple of hours, then made myself some more coffee (Donut Shop) to ensure I could get back on Eastern time quickly. This is really the first trip I’ve taken where I learned that jet lag is a thing. Coming back was easy. Moving three hours earlier was just FUBAR. I slept when I didn’t mean to because otherwise, I would have fallen down. Thankfully, I didn’t have to explain myself, because it was written all over my face.

Besides Bryn, I also got to see two other friends I’d really wanted to meet up with, and one was a total lark. Of course Volfe and I hung out… how could we not? But it just so happened that one of my friends on Guam was in town that weekend, too (we met when she was a student at University of Portland). We met at Greater Trump’s for trivia, where we lost by ONE POINT. It’s ok. If she hadn’t been there, I would have lost by at least ten more.

I walked in and she was sitting at Table Eight. The reason I know she was sitting at Table Eight is that the first time Dana and I ever went to trivia, we didn’t put a team name on our paper because we didn’t know we had to… so that’s the team name they gave us. She was sitting in my chair, so I took Dana’s. Did it feel weird to be sitting on “the wrong side?” Yes. Did it feel weird that we lost? Also yes.

The first time that Dana and I went, these two guys showed up at our table and said, “we just wanted to meet the team that showed up late when we thought we had it in the bag and kicked our asses.” We were basically an instant foursome after that, and after having won eight games in a row, David decided to get cocky and name our team “Thanks for the Free Drink.” I would like to tell you that David’s hubris cost us dearly, but no. We won that one, too. Every week, there was an alcohol question, so if we won and they had it, I ordered the drink in the game. I got to try a lot of things I wouldn’t have tried otherwise. Some were amazing. Some were not.

When it was my turn to pick the team name, I always liked to start with an ellipsis so that it was a sentence. For instance, my favorite was “and tonight’s winner is …under investigation by the FBI.” We had some good ones over the years. We were having a conversation over what could possibly be in fat free Caesar dressing one night, thus our team name was “Chemical Anchovies.” One of our team member’s names was Nathan, so one night we were “Better Nate Than Lever” when he had a work thing and came in halfway through.

On Monday, our team name was “PBRmada.” Soooooo Portland.

Still pissed about losing by one point, although thank God Hope was not there to see it. The worst part is that we tied for first and THEN lost in the tie-breaker.

Now that I’ve taken you down THAT piece of memory lane, I got home to my family going through a hurricane of enormous proportions, and it’s still going. Kelly, Will, Wi-Phi, and their dogs are holed up at my dad’s because he has a generator AND, as a paramedic, has delivered three babies…. just in case they can’t get to a hospital. Better him than me…. I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ no babies. But lucky kid that the first person she (squee!) sees may be Papa, what Wi-Phi calls him.

While my dad and stepmom grabbed Kelly & Co., I went to see the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs play the Sugar Land Skeeters. I was right behind the on-deck for the Skeeters, so I got to talk to every player, told them I hoped their houses and families were okay, etc. One player said he was only worried about his truck, because his house is in Louisiana and his truck is at Skeeters Stadium. And I thought Silver Spring to Alexandria was a long commute……..

So, it’s been a very eventful time, and I am proud of the way I handled all of it. The being in Portland, the worrying about the hurricane, the going by myself to a baseball game, everything. People always ask me why I don’t invite others to come with me to these things. Easy. I am way too focused on my camera, and I don’t want to ask anyone else if they’re ready to leave and have them say no…. because when I’ve had enough, I have had enough. I don’t care how tight their pants are, Barbara.

 

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Sermon for Proper 14, Year A: Choppy Waters

Matthew 14:22-7

It’s hard to imagine looking at the news this week and not feel the choppiness of the water surrounding our boats. We pray for all those affected by the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, particularly the family of the woman who died and those injured. We pray for all those at University of Virginia and the neighboring schools who are watching in horror.

We pray for Guam, who has been directly threatened by Kim Jong Un. We pray for a president who has no experience in this type situation, and may encourage violence rather than squash it.

Prayer is about hope, faith, and love. We may not be able to directly calm the waters around us, but we can abate the hurricanes inside us, emotions rising that we may not have felt before because for the young, they are walking in new territory… while older Americans remember the white supremacy violence and nuclear threats of the 1960’s, and have to relive that trauma.

Today’s Gospel reading is about Jesus needing rest and relaxation after preaching to the crowds and having them flock toward him, overwhelming the calm inside him and needing to retreat to recover. While he is gone, a storm brews on the Sea of Galilee (now known as Lake Kinneret), and Jesus cuts his time away short to run to the shore and help them.

It is essential to remember that Jesus is not doing anything out of the ordinary, and is in fact, a part of his personality. Jesus is doing what he always does, which is to help people in need. When the Disciples see him walk out onto the water, they are terrified. Some people translate this literally, that he could walk on water. However, from the Greek, it is unclear whether this is what happened. In verse 25, it is epi ten thalassan, which can equally mean over the sea and towards the sea. In verse 26, it is epi tës thalassës, which can mean on the sea or at the seashore. Therefore, it is hard to tell whether the Disciples thought they’d seen a ghost because he was walking on water toward them, or whether he just sneaked up behind them and they jumped out of their skin. Remember, he was away and unexpected.

The surprise regardless of what you believe happened is that Jesus shows up in their hour of fear and need of reassurance. Whether the storm blew over on its own, or whether Jesus personally calmed the waves is of no consequence. As  Rev. Fred Rogers, a Presbyterian minister in addition to his PBS presence, put it, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.

When we look around at the choppy waters surrounding our own boats, let us not focus on the water. Let us focus on the people who are willing to drop whatever they’re doing to rush in and help us in our own hours of need.

There is no better metaphor for our current situation than Operation Dynamo, the Dunkirk rescue mission during WWII in which private sailors volunteered to drop everything they were doing, including fishermen who would lose wages, to go and rescue soldiers in France and bring them back to British shores, because the destroyers could not reach shallow water. Without even thinking about it, they refused to focus on the choppy water, but on the people in need. People who never signed up for military service endured gunfire and bombs, but ignored the threat in favor of “keeping calm and carrying on.”

It has become a trite saying, but when you really ask yourself, “what would Jesus do?,” this is it. This is the spirit of Christ working through enormous chaos, calming the water for the soldiers who saw the rescue boats coming. Just like the Disciples surprised by Jesus, they had no idea that the small crafts were coming. Some were scattered among different ships, and others were swimming for their lives.

Even if the weather was still bad, the storms that raged within the soldiers as they knew they were facing almost certain death from German fire or hypothermia were calmed. The spirit of Christ walked on the water, to the water, in the water.

When the storm rages within you, know that someone is coming. It might be the spirit of Christ that lives in you, or it might be the spirit of Christ that lives within someone else, ready to drop anything to come and help you in your own hour of need.

Amen.
#prayingonthespaces