Today is a two-fer. I had a homework assignment from The Daring Way to create something about authenticity and shame. And then Napowrimo.net suggested that we “write a poem that features walls, bricks, stones, arches, or the like. If that sounds a bit hard, remember that one of Robert Frost’s most famous poems was about a wall.”
So, here is my poem on authenticity, shame, and construction. And here, or at the bottom, well, I made a youtube thing…
Be authentic, they said
And so I began to build a dwelling
Brick by brick, carefully placing each by hand
Striving for stability and strength
Until Shame arrived, snickering and swaggering
And knocked my framework down.
Through tears, I saw a few bricks still in place
And so I began to build again
Stronger this time and determined
To cement my bricks with confidence
And courageous vulnerability
Until this time Shame brought an axe.
Through clearing dust, I saw walls still standing
And noticed, gratefully,
That Shame had only made a window
So I finished sills and sashes
And hung the brightest curtains
And dared Shame to look me in the eye.
And Shame snickered and swaggered
But kept a leery distance.
So I got back to work again
With truer bricks and better plans,
Crafting glorious arches, and windows
To welcome in the light.
~ Liesl Dineen 2014
Sometimes it’s a huge pool, or maybe even an ocean. You can’t avoid it, and you can’t go around, it’s just too big. Sorrows, sadness. That’s the water, vast, scary and yet still welcoming. But please be careful.
So here, a list of cautions:
- Drowning in your sorrows is a dangerous way to spend your time.
- Drowning your sorrows with other liquids works for a little while, but it’s just a short term solution with a longer-term headache attached.
- Wallowing isn’t that bad, as long as the water’s shallow enough and you don’t get too comfortable. You’re not meant to stay forever.
- Pretending that you’re walking on water (or actually managing it) is best left to the professionals.
- Pretending there’s no water at all is drowning of another sort, and can lead to padded rooms or chemical interventions of an unwelcome kind.
The pool of sorrows is real, it’s there, and we all have to get in the water sometimes, so it’s best to make the best of it. Best learn to swim.
Your first step is to get to know this stuff. You have to let yourself float in it, make sure you’re buoyant; test it out. If you feel yourself sinking fast, you’re not ready yet. Put your foot in, go slowly. Get used to the sensation without judgment. This isn’t a test. It’s just life.
Get to know the flow of it. Open your mouth and taste it, just a little bit. Let it flow over you and under you. Believe that you can exist with it, neither of you consuming the other. Learn to feel yourself where you are, to feel at peace here.
Now try to move within it. Pick your own direction and go. No, not fighting the water, that’s how you drown, of course. You have to float, glide, partway under, partway above, working with it to keep moving along. Push, relax, and push again. Find your own rhythm. It will come to you when you stop fighting.
Someday, or every day for a little while, you’ll get out of the pool, dry yourself off, and feel better. In the long run, I promise this exercise is good for you. Steady exposure to the water lessens the shock of immersion. Instead of panic, you can tell yourself: Oh, this. I remember this stuff, I better start swimming. I’ll be okay.
And if you fall in too suddenly, if you didn’t see it coming, forgive yourself, forgive the water, and just breathe. Feel the air in your lungs and on your body, mingling with the water. There is always air here. Breathe it in, and remember that you will never be a perfect swimmer. Accept your own strokes, accept your own way of doing things. Give yourself all the time you need. Just keep breathing, and swimming, and head to shore when you’re ready for dry land.
14 Words for One Love on Valentine’s Day
Jodi Barnes is a poet who lives near me and has started something amazing. As a loving and revolutionary response to the white supremacist “14 words” of intolerance, she has been collecting 14-word poems on love of all kinds. Her plan is to enlist a posse and hand out these poems one at a time on Valentine’s Day. Her original goal was 1400 poems, but I think we’ve already blown the lid off of that.
Click on the picture to check it out.
I guess I’ve made it clear here that I’m working toward recovery from a fairly nasty bout of depression, that my writing has stalled off and on, and that I’m trying to feel okay about things out of my control but that affect me and my family greatly. So while this 14 Words for One Love on Valentine’s Day thing caught my eye, and I joined the event, I didn’t intend to write more than one or two baby poems. I just didn’t have it in me.
The problem, well, more like the wonder, was that once I wrote a couple, I wanted to write more and more. When you attack the many crazy angles of love a few words at a time, you get the pleasure of little tastes, different views, and a forced clarity that I adore more and more with each passing poem. It may not be the cure to all that ails me, but it’s been a hell of a healthy distraction, at the very least.
So every day I’m writing little baby poems, some sublime, some ridiculous, all healing. Reading the words of others and talking about them is an incredible bonus, and being a part of something larger and completely open just makes the air taste better for me all around. I’m hoping there will be a collection of these poems, because even though the idea is to send them all out into the world as free little birds (yes, a pun, of course), the creation itself is worth holding onto.
I’m so grateful for this chance to contribute, and to put my own pain and pleasure to good use in the world, even if it’s just a touch. There are people from all walks writing poems, people from across oceans, people living under rocks, people suffering as people do. It is a small and magnificent world, and I can’t wait to hear all about how the poems have flown.
Here’s just a smattering of my baby 14-word poems…
there’s no cure
for a broken heart
but I do recommend
the emergency chocolate
she visits him daily
he ponders her
who are you?
he is bleeding
cut to ribbons
through your narrow
my morning love
begins with a bean
please pass the cream
a struggling frog
an offering of pure wonder
and slobbery tongue
what it means
hope is like air
you lick it from your fingertips
leave me alone
hoping I’ll know
she really means
please don’t go
you knew me once
but fail to recognize
and you haven’t changed
I wrote this bit shortly after the shootings at Sandy Hook:
Life goes on. And on. Sometimes unspeakably terrible things happen, and for a brief moment, we all become just human beings for awhile, trying to make sense of the senseless.
Until the fingers point, and the memes start showing up on Facebook. It seems that a lot of people can make sense of the senseless in 12 words or less. People on wildly opposite sides of arguments over things like gun control are waiting for the other side to get a freaking clue already. Only a moron would disagree with my carefully constructed argument. Take my word for it.
I guess what’s bothering me is that the tragedy is paraded out, sexied up by a ridiculously over-empowered media, and dragged in front of our faces no matter how much we try to protect ourselves.
People seem to get over these things just about the time the news stops covering the story.
There’s really only so much darkness we can take as humans. I was thinking at the time, I think, about how easy it is to forget, or ignore someone who’s suffering from something like depression or chronic illness because it can just drain you to watch and listen, and you’re ready for some good news. Of course, most people in the hell of it all sense this, and it makes them withdraw even more.
I was lucky this time because along with a couple of incredibly supportive dogs, I had my husband, and one or two friends who checked in on me from time to time. I never made a public announcement of what was going on in my life, and I still haven’t. But the obvious thing is I’ve been very depressed. So I just… left life for awhile. Okay a few months. Truthfully, I still feel more comfortable on my couch under a few blankets than I do going out and seeing other humans, but I’m slowly peeking back out.
True story: I’m a “happy” person most of the time. People have expectations when they see me. I’m smiley and witty, with a dry sarcasm that brilliant people appreciate (see what I did there?). And obviously I can’t let my public down by being down myself, so I stay tucked away until I can be charming. Well I’ve been mostly uncharming for quite some time now. But it’s okay. My dogs love me even when I’m crying (in fact, they adore the taste of the salty tears, and making me giggle because that tickles). And at least a couple other people love me too. You really can’t lie to your dog, or to those close enough to really know you.
So my best advice to anyone, anywhere is to always have someone close enough to get you. Adopt a dog or cat, or make a friend or even two. Also, do kind things, tell someone they look wonderful, smell wonderful, have a terrific smile, hold the door… These things open a little window for just a smidgen of joy to creep in. Let it in, but don’t hate on yourself for letting it go too soon. Seek help when you can. And always keep breathing. The rest will come as long as you keep breathing. All in good time.
(By the way, if you’re a friend who sees what’s going on, don’t let us get away with that lie. It’s a bad lie.)
Life starts out pretty simple for most of us. Eat, poop, interact. You spend a lot of time making sense of simple things like facial expressions and how your toys work. You learn to ask for help in ways most adults would never even think to try.
But eventually, for most of us, problems turn into Hydras. As soon as you solve one problem, three newer, more complicated ones pop up. This is how small things become large. So you spend your life wielding a sword, fighting the good fight, slaying and creating monsters. They don’t usually attack you all at once, and sometimes everything goes tame for a while. Life becomes simple again. But smart people have learned to keep their guards up somewhat. These are still wild creatures after all, who could go feral at any moment.
From time to time I get exhausted. Just very, very tired of fighting off a few Hydra heads at a time while hundreds more snap at me. I’m tired of knowing that any one of them could break me in half if I’m not careful. Getting tired happens. But getting so tired you just stop trying to even imagine you could win, that’s depression. You just let go, and let the mouths bite at you, and you don’t fight back. You don’t wait for a champion or try to negotiate. You need a rest.
I think genuinely happy people, and I’ve had the immense pleasure of knowing a few, would be surprised that I see a Hydra where they say they see beauty. I’ve had glimpses of that viewpoint, and I long for it, when I remember that it exists at all. Then I dutifully remind myself how lucky I am to be here, and I spread that message around. I tell people let yourself just feel the wonder of the breeze on your skin, just feel the sun, or the rain welcoming you to your home planet. Happiness isn’t feeling larger than everyone else, it’s delighting in the wonder of being an infinitesimally small part of something so large and amazing that our words fail us entirely. I’ve held that happiness in my hand before, but it’s a wild creature too, and it escapes me.
So yes, I get exhausted. And then I either rest or become so physically sick I have to stop doing most everything and concentrate on just staying alive. I have to convince myself, even though of course I’ve always known it’s true, that life is worth the effort. This can take awhile because I’m thick. I just don’t know how to let go of the fight without giving up, how to see that my Hydra is just another creature like myself, a tiny little thing living in an incomprehensibly vast wonderland. Problems that want to swallow you whole are only able to do that if they can trick you into thinking they are huge. I’d like to learn how to put down the sword and walk on into the world with my problems, side by side. For now though, I just need a rest.
Between the 8-4 corporate day job, the kids’ schedules (and their personalities!), helping plan an epic Halloween party for middle-schoolers, keeping calendars for 3-4 different groups of people, writing for me, reading, beer-making, personal hygiene, getting to PT for the bad back, learning to play ukelele, scanning photos from the dark ages of film, and trying to have a social life involving face-to-face human interaction, I’m wondering why it seems I spend most of my non-work time sitting on the couch playing Words with Friends and catching up on Twitter while forgetting to finish my beer.
So the nagging question I constantly push on myself, because I need more nagging, is: what could I do with that time if I devoted it to the betterment of humanity? I tell myself I could do really cool stuff, making videos, writing songs, writing meaningful, publishable works… But I suspect the answer is really probably not a hell of a lot. This is because I’m on empty, because my brain of jelly might really explode if I push things much further, and then not only would there be no betterment, there would be a hell of a mess for someone else to clean up, and I’m not sure my life insurance covers cleaning exploded gelatinous brain matter off the walls. Post-mortem guilt I do not need…
I drew it to go with a little scribble on insomnia, but really, it looks a lot like me on most days.
So I took tomorrow off from work to go to the beach for the weekend with a group of friends to celebrate my friend Scott’s 40th birthday, only now I don’t want to go because I’m all stressed out about who’s going, and will they care about how fat I look in my bathing suit, and omg a hot tub? No, I don’t do that sort of thing, and what if they want to go out and dance, and I just want to sit and breathe, and maybe even read a bit, because I could really use some quiet salt-air reading… Plus the place isn’t even really on the beach, just near the beach, so will it be worth all that angst to take a shuttle when I really just want to listen to the waves and pretend I’m alone? This is why my face looks like that in the picture. This sort of crap is going on in my head all the time.
I still haven’t decided if I’m going yet, but Scott said on Facebook he plans to just pick me up tonight and drag me away. I did not respond. John is being his usual awesome self and saying either way, just don’t stress about it. But he can’t come because he has a gig, and if I stayed I could go out to his gig and that would be fun too, except then I’d feel like I had to do all these other things I should do for the whole weekend. I’m just full of shoulds and reasons. Funny how I’m stressing about how to de-stress. I wonder what I’ll end up doing? At least my own life gets to be like a mystery story, sometimes, which is kind of sweet.
let your eyes adjust…
Somewhere in my very early twenties, I stopped writing creatively. I stopped for over 15 years. I’d written some pretty decent things, won some recognition, but I just felt like everything I wrote was so dark. I vowed to stop until I could write the nice happy things that normal people do. It took me many years to realize that a) I’m not normal, b) that’s okay, and c) dark has millions of shades in it. Once your eyes adjust, there’s a lot to see.
So I’ve tried to embrace the dark, and it’s comfortable for me. But still, I would like everything I write to somehow involve hope and redemption. Redemption is hard to believe in, sometimes. Hope is easy though. Almost always easy. It’s the lightest shade of dark, and it’s also sometimes funny as hell. At least I think so. But then, I laughed at Pulp Fiction, so you decide for yourself.
Anyway, I’m trying to reconcile the fact that you can’t tell your truth, especially family truth, without hurting someone’s feelings. Or can you? Or is that how fiction started in the first place? Aha, the myths you say? Yes… Yesssss! This makes sense! I can show the insanity without incriminating the insane! Muahahahahahaha. Yeah, I know. Crazy rubs off on me though – you get used to it.
So NaNoWriMo is coming up fast. National Novel Writing Month. The deal is you write a rough, I mean it – rough, draft of a novel all in one month. November to be exact about it. Last year I had to quit because I’d been typing on my couch and my hands literally went numb in week 2, and I had a job writing stuff, and they paid me, so they won. I think I was already fairly far behind anyway. I learned that I needed a better plan. I’m not a story-all-planned out kind of writer, more of the archeologist approach, but some planning would have really helped me not get all bungled up in stupid stuff, which I very clearly did.
Ah but this year… This year I have an office to work in, now I need a plan. And a new book. Last year’s will take awhile to figure out, and I don’t want to try to force it just yet. So something new, and dark, that works with telling the truth. Something with hope and redemption, that doesn’t hurt feelings… Lots to think about. I don’t know if I’ll finish, but getting started is, well, you know. A good start.
I would walk for miles, for one of Sarah’s smiles.
There are words forming in my head in a language that this keyboard doesn’t recognize. Maybe anyone who’s ever watched their beloved children hurting can speak it too. My daughter isn’t happy, although she has memories of being so. She has a drive for more, and nothing ever seems enough. And yet, the trip we just took to Disneyworld gave us both a glimpse inside “enough,” into what it could feel like. She’s a tough girl! She beat her fear of flying just to get there. She beat her fear of coasters, and rode so many times I lost count, although she didn’t, and she would tell you if you asked. She spent a lot of the trip not smiling, but content enough. Then the night-time parade came through Main Street USA, with snow that she knew was made of soap but maybe that just added to her excitement, and with hot cocoa, and free apple slices and cookies. This was just after the fireworks that literally filled our sky from all directions and lit us both up like little girls. The fireworks had come just after meeting an admittedly slightly intimidating mouse in his own backyard. The goosebumps were still fresh from that, a surprise to both of us, but welcome.
Then the parade. She’s never liked parades, according to her. I have different memories, filled with small-town parades and her chasing after candy in the streets, catching all she could. But still we sat, with our good friends, and waited, watching the crowds forming and feeling that electricity of anticipation that makes the hair on your arms rise up, just a little. Disney magic does not often disappoint. The parade was magical, and we pointed and laughed and delighted in recognizing characters we each grew up knowing so well. I saw her excitedly spot each princess, then shrug it off, because she outgrew that stuff, long ago, she says. Then in one amazing moment, the Fairy Godmother went by, THE Fairy Godmother. And she looked right at Sarah, and she winked. And blew a special kiss right to her. That kiss was loaded with real magic, and it brought my girl’s smile back to us, if only for one wonderful night. “I feel special” she said, wonder in her voice. You are special, Sarah, so very special, Godmother or not. We watched the rest, the dancers, the toy soldiers, the whole Goofy lot of them. Then Santa came and blew her a kiss too, before heading back to the beach to rest up for December. We had to hurry then, to catch all the rides we could before midnight. She and her good friend and I closed Space Mountain that night, walking away wishing for just one more ride.
There really is nothing like Disneyworld, especially at midnight. You can really feel the special everywhere.
We’re home now, and Sarah seems to have lost her smile again, although I catch glimpses. I can’t afford to take her back to her Fairy Godmother, maybe not again in her first childhood. But we sure could use that smiling round happy lady around here, both of us. Keeping the magic alive is a challenge here in the Real World. I hope we can figure it out, and Sarah smiles again.