Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Well that was interesting

This morning I woke up with this in my head:

Hearken now, o weary pilgrim
with the tired and weary brow -
Heaven's vault's alive with praises!
Will you sing them, even now?

Nothing I've ever heard, to my knowledge, and Google didn't find it either.  I think all the hymn fragments in my head decided to line themselves up into some semblance of structure.  And then I found myself humming "some poor fainting, struggling seaman/you may rescue, you may save."

And then, because this is the way my brain works, I started counting syllables.  Oh look, you could sing my faux-hymn to that tune.

And then I remembered the many bazillion times I have told poetry students of mine that you have to "write to the music that you hear", that you can try to appropriate someone else's voice but it's not going to be your voice, and then the work is not going to be authentic.  And this is the rhythm I most naturally write to.

And then I remembered the one of the poems my grandfather used to recite, the longest one, the one I loved so much I memorized it myself and recorded myself reciting it (my dad and I made a four generation recording) and then recited it for my grandpa at his 90th birthday party, while he whispered every word along with me. (I love that memory.  I never took my eyes off his face, and he didn't take his eyes off mine, and it's like there was no-one else there.  I loved that man.) It starts out something like this:

In the Dashty 2nd Crashers
was a Major Corker who
was renowned for telling stories
that were very seldom true ...

(it goes on in that vein for several pages.  I'll recite it for you someday.  If you ask me nicely.  Actually you don't even have to be nice.)

Go ahead.  Count the syllables.  Grandpa - your voice, with its' gentle Yorkshire lilt, is the music that I write to.  That's part of it.  The other part - all those childhood hymns that I still love to sing.

It occurs to me that this is the music that underpins my writing, and my life - God, and my grandfather, my earliest, most trustworthy sources of unconditional love.

I cannot tell you how much I love that.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Oh let's be honest

Elderly parents are annoying.

Elderly parents who were abusive, even though the abuse is a long time in the past, are annoying in a more complicated way.

So today I went and spent a few hours singing hymns to my mother.  My goodness, I'm a lovely human being.  Visiting my bedridden mother, feeding her lunch, singing hymns to her while she drifts off to sleep.

That's only part of the story.  Let me first address the "abusive" bit.  My mother had a ferociously bad temper, and a raging insecurity problem. We were - well, children.  This was not always a good mix.  HOWEVER.  I do not remember the last time my mother yelled at me.  She is the strongest testimony to the transforming power of God in a person's life that I have ever met.

Still.  There are days when I react strongly against doing things for her, especially nurturing things.  Today I went to the nursing home because I needed to bring her Kleenex, and I happened to arrive at lunch time, so it was only natural that I feed her.  And I was being a jerk. 

"Why haven't you knit me a dolly yet?" she wanted to know.

"Because you don't deserve one", I actually said out loud.  And then I said "I'm sorry, I'm being a jerk.  Why do you want one?"

"So I can hang it on my wall and everyone will know you knit something for me."

Right, I thought, let's keep up appearances.  But I didn't say anything out loud and I kept feeding her and I knew, I knew, I knew, if I didn't turn things around she'd have hurt feelings for days, and both of us would be unhappy.

So, in an effort to stop talking and saying every rude thing that popped into my head, I got out the hymnbook and started to sing hymns,  And the beautiful thing about singing those old hymns, the songs that remind me of the small town churches of my childhood and the questions and answers swirling around in my head as I grew into faith, is that they calm us both.  My mother stops being fractious and itchy, and my anger fades away.  I put my feet up on the bed, and asked her to put her hand on my leg. 

"Why?" she asked.

"Because it feels like we're cuddling." I told her, and I wish I could show the smile that spread across her face when she realized that not only was I asking for nurturing, but she was able to give it to me.

It's still true that elderly people are annoying, and grown up kids can be just as annoying, but the best bit?

God is bigger than all of that.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Well that was lovely. Also, why not?

So I went on my annual pilgrimage again (I'm not linking the other years, but that last one is too funny not to share), this year, for the first time since 2012.  (The event that year was in June, and then in August, my life blew up.)  (feel free to browse 2012 onward for the All The Things.  It boils down to Onset of Mental Illness (mine) and then in 2013, Cancer (Brad's).

I had a lovely lovely lovely time. 

And now I'm going to write a book with the rest of my summer.  It's not like I was going to be doing anything else, now was it?

(Wish me luck.  Or pray for me, if you're that sort, because it's not an easy book to write.  It's just Time to Write It. Any day, if you think of me, pray for courage and self-discipline.  Because even if I'm not writing that day, a courageous self-disciplined life isn't such a bad thing to aim for, now is it?)

Over and out.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Sunday Afternoon

Almost two weeks ago, I got added as Host to a Facebook event: 

Susan Plett's Tea Party.

I didn't know I was having a tea party, but as I read the invitation I realized that my daughter was having a tea party, for me, for my birthday.  Here's how the invite read:

Join me in celebrating my mom's 40th birthday! ...again.

I usually don't throw her a birthday party but I figure, considering she has more friends than I do, why not?!

"WHEN is this wonderful tea party taking place, so I may clear my calendar?" You may ask..
"June 12!" I will tell you!
Sunday, June 12, 2016
1:00pm - 4:00pm
@ our house

Please eat lunch before you come.
As it is a tea party, there will be tea and tea- treats ☕️

"What do I need to bring, besides my beautiful self?"
Wow. Just full of good questions today.
BYOT- that's right. Bring your own teacup. Or mug. Whichever.
Wear clothes that would allow you to participate in activities.
Bring your game face- you're gonna need it.
⭐️Don't worry, if you break a sweat it won't be from physical activity, it will be from intense concentration. If you cry, it will be from laughter⭐️
As far as presents go, your presence is a present! But if you really feel the need to bring one, that's okay. I'd recommend birthday cards, or handmade presents. Please nothing over $20.
Them's the rules.

Be There Or Be Square!
Get it? Because you won't be...


What a lovely lovely day.  I actually wasn't going to blog about it because a) I like to err on the side of caution where my daughter's privacy is concerned, as she is an introvert and I am ....not ... and b) I didn't invite everyone I've ever met, or even everyone I wanted to, and I didn't want anyone's feelings to be hurt.

But as it has been several decades since anyone has thrown me a birthday party, I just couldn't not say anything.  There was a cake pop cake (A's advice re making cake pops:  "Go to Starbucks, and buy them!"), an ice cream sundae bar, a photo booth, a rousing game of Minute-To-Win-It, and friends from every different scattered part of my life, all under the same roof, being their kind and generous and funny and intelligent selves.  There were glitter helium balloons.  How do you make glitter balloons?  You put glitter in the balloons before you blow them up, ie you spend a lot of time doing it.  There was ice water with teeny tiny round ice cubes with raspberries in them.  I am so blown away and blessed and delighted by the time and effort my gracious graceful incredible grown up girl put into this afternoon for me.

Some unexpected gifts, that I don't think she could have foreseen:

1.  Two weeks of anticipation, of looking forward to a relaxed afternoon with friends. (with a little "roll this Oreo down your face" thrown in for added spice)

2.  A reason to use my mother's lovely fancy teacups.  I don't think A even knew they existed.  They've been in a box in my closet for years because I didn't know what to do with them or how to display them. My favourite when I was a little girl was one on three tiny legs ...

3.  A morning in the kitchen together before I went to work for a few hours before the party, working together to get some things ready.  (She did 98.5% of the work.  I made devilled eggs because a) she likes them and b) I wanted to use my mom's devilled egg plate to serve them on.)

So I want to say this once again:

Thank you, all you dear and wonderful people I am privileged to be friends with.  You are warm and kind and I loved watching you all interact with each other, whether you knew each other or not.  You're the best kind of people and I'm privileged to have you in my life.  Thank you all for coming to share my day, even though I've been largely MIA in most of your lives due to school and work.

And thank you from the bottom of my heart, A, for a truly wonderful, well-planned and executed day.  When you and B were little, one of my favourite things on earth was to lie in bed the night after one of your birthday parties, remembering the look on your face and knowing that whatever else may be true, I'd made a good birthday happen.  I hope you felt like that Sunday night, because Sunday you gave me one of my best birthdays ever.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Inside my head

(Please don't read this if you're not interested in reading about mental illness in general, or mine in particular.  No-one will judge you if you don't read it.  No-one will even know.)

The past few weeks have been particularly rough. It's hard not to get discouraged, hard to remember that progress is cylical, not linear.

Mostly the first thought in my head in the mornings is "I wish I were dead."  I lie there for several minutes, sometimes even an hour, summoning up the energy to stand up.  That's just the first hurdle.  Then there's the bathroom, with its mirror, and the internal thoughts turn to my physical faults.  A shower is the only way to get out of the bathroom quickly, but showers are often triggering for me, so no matter how many times I resolve to shower just this once, I end up in the tub - and then I need to summon up the energy to stand up again.

Mostly I'm late for things, unless someone else in my house needs to be somewhere on time - the mother in me takes over then, and doesn't put up with this mental illness impacting my kids any more than it already has (and will), at least where there are things within my control.

There's been so much rage.  So very much rage.   "Anger is a secondary emotion", J tells me, and I think the primary emotion is either fear or insecurity or both.  I have coping skills. I have to find the energy to use them, and to fight the internal voice that protests "But I WANT TO BE FURIOUS."  I don't want to lose my job, however, or alienate my family, so I repress the rage.  And that comes out in other ways.  Anger is energy that has to go somewhere - this weekend the results of that will require me to wear long sleeves for a few weeks.

Yesterday afternoon I texted a few friends, asked for prayer.  Declined the resultant offered conversations because I don't know what the trigger is, or the triggers are, this time, I just know it's a rough patch.  And I'm really tired of rough patches, really so very tired of the mental energy it takes to remain on an even keel.

This morning, Brad was home because of the long weekend.  After he had already gotten up, I lay in the bed, begging God to send help,  And then I texted Brad from the bedroom "Nobody will care if I die."  The thing that is so hard to explain, and even incredibly hard to understand for myself, is that I *know* it's not true, and yet at the same time, I completely believe it. 

Brad came upstairs, and asked what he could do that would signify to me, and any insiders that might be struggling, that he cared.  And when I didn't know, he stayed with me, brainstorming, until we had a plan, and then he took me on a drive through the country with my homework (I need to write an essay that talks about politics.  I try to avoid politics.  This works well until I have to write essays.)  We found a good-sized flock of yellow-headed blackbirds, some nesting bluebirds, maybe a pair of buffleheaded ducks, if that's what they were -

I don't wish I were dead right this second.  The sun is coming out.

Because?  I asked for help.  I don't think that it's possible to separate Brad's reaction from the prayer - I've texted him things like that before, and he's texted back, instead of coming to find me.  Today I needed him to come and find me - how did he know?  What made the difference?

And I'm reminded, by my friend's reactions yesterday, and Brad's reaction today - while I am everlastingly tired of being needy, of not being mentally whole, of not being healed - the people who care about me are not tired of me.  They are not tired of standing in the gap, and not one of them would stand at my coffin saying "I'm really glad she didn't ask for help,"

And I think that's the point of this post.  I'm not the only person who doesn't want to ask for help: and I want to say this to all of you:   There is at least one person in your life who will walk through this fire with you.  It's just that, sometimes, they don't know the flames are there until you tell them.

Ask for help, ask for help, ask for help.   Just ask.

And if you don't know who to ask, ask me.  I'm getting really good at fire-walking.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

In which I discuss perfectionism

So there's this thing that happened to me between high school and now.  In high school I got good marks without much effort.  It's not that I didn't study, I just didn't study much, and was a pretty solid 80's student.  Imagine where I would have been with some effort.

So then I went back to school in my 50's, and I was a little surprised to find that any mark below A irritated me beyond belief.  I'm studying - I work hard.  I could work harder, but I work harder at school than I ever have.  I seem to have an "all or nothing" attitude - if I don't get A's, then it feels like I'm failing.  Last semester I got an A- in a psych course which ruined my perfect 4.0 GPA and while I would like to say I laughed at myself over it, I wasn't laughing on the inside.  I was filled with a crushing certainty that I was, once again, Not Good Enough.

This semester has been frustrating for me, because I cannot seem to get an A on anything in one of my English classes.  Although as soon as I type that, I remember that my partner and I got an A on our presentation but somehow I'm not counting that.  First essay, A-.  Mid-term, A-.  So I've been pretty sure I'm getting an A- in that class and my GPA will go down ever further and that has bothered me so much it's not even reasonable.

My other English class was going great.  There were only two essays and a final.  A on the first essay, glowing comments from my favourite prof - all was lovely.  And then the final exam happened, and the second half of the exam had a creative element - and I am Very Bad at creativity on demand.  There were three options to choose from - I spent the better part of 40 minutes in a two hour exam on false starts, finally picked the least horrible option with 20 minutes to spare, and wrote like the wind.  Brutal brutal brutal - I was sick to my stomach, and then I handed in my exam, and got my second paper back - and I'd gotten a B.

I can't even begin to explain how bad I felt.  I sat in my van and cried for an hour.  I considered quitting university.  And underneath all that I knew I was over-reacting in a spectacular fashion but I could not solve it.  I cried myself to sleep.

Luckily, if you believe in luck, I had an appointment with the psychologist the very next day.  I asked her for help.  I told I hated being this way ("That's encouraging", she said) and she asked a few questions trying to help my subconscious brain work out what false connections I might be making.

I'm learning, through this therapy journey, to listen hard to the inside talk.  When the answer finally came, I burst out crying again and refused to say it out loud for several minutes, but when I finally had enough nerve, I said this out loud:

"It won't matter that I am so ugly if I am smart, and a B is not smart."

And then I cried harder than I've cried in many many months, coughing choking gasping for air crying.

But once I'd said it out loud, a beautiful, beautiful thing happened.  I heard all the lies in that statement.  The first lie:  I am not surpassingly ugly, and I never have been.  I'm average, just like a really high percentage of the rest of us.  The second lie:  There are only two things to be that matter, pretty or smart.

I didn't make these lies up myself.  It's a culture-wide, internalized lie.  A high percentage of the time, we compliment our children on their good performances in school, or on their looks.  What about compassion or kindness or the ability to empathize, or a good sense of humour, or being a good sport or a good friend or trustworthy or hardworking or easy going or dedicated or a bazillion other things I could mention?

I don't think I've solved this yet, even though the B no longer embarrasses me,  I wanted to write it down so I'll remember that there are many attributes to value.  If I stop and think about what I value most, what I pursue most, when the marks-obsessed perfectionist isn't winning, it's kindness.

So I give up on a 4.0, or a 3.95, officially, publicly.  Officially, publicly, kindness is moving to the top of my list.  I will strive to be kind.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

First post of 2016?

The thing is, I go to school.  Also I was sick in early January, and then I couldn't walk for January and most of February and then I was writing papers and doing School Things, and then I got my job back (yay! I like my job!) and then Brad had surgery because Cancer and suddenly here it is April.  Hi April. 

So, 2016 so far hasn't been that great.  It's been the opposite of great.  It's been one thing after another and even though I was down to seeing the psychologist every two weeks and sometimes thinking "Wait, why am I here? I feel fine.", I am back to seeing her every week and the hour flies right by and I go home and lie in bed shaking.  And then get up and do some dishes or write a paper or study for an exam or fold laundry and go back to whimpering.  I've spent a lot of this year feeling like somebody smacked me across the side of a head with a two by four.  And just as that feeling fades - wham!

Which all sounds worse than it is, actually.  I'm still getting mostly A's.  I'm mostly sleeping.  I have friends at school, in spite of the rather noticeable age gap.  (I may have accidentally let my hair go grey again, what with the stunned bat approach and the time with the flying by, but they don't seem to care.) There are currently very few dishes in my sink.  I have an exam tomorrow that I feel good about and I got a much better mark on Friday's exam than I thought I would.

But there's the cancer thing.  The cancerous bit they snipped off Brad a few weeks ago, and then the phone call from the oncologist in which he basically said that if Brad sprouts anything else in the next year, there's no point doing anything about it. There's this huge blank where the Future used to be.

Except - the non-blank future?  That's based on the lie that we can see what's coming around the corner, or that there are no corners, that time is linear, and we can squint into the future and brace ourselves for what's coming. 

Here's what I know.  I know that Brad is still here.  I know that in the middle of the night tonight, I will roll over and bump into his warm, breathing body, and even if my stomach twists in fear for what I can't see, I will be able to lean over and breathe him in one more time.   We went for a really long drive today, hours and hours and hours in the mountains, holding hands for most of it, like we were 18 again, and couldn't stop touching each other, and talked and talked and talked about what the worst case scenario might look like, and how we'd navigate that, and diminished the fear by looking it full in the face.

This is how love works.  One of us is going to go first, and it's going to hurt so hard, but my goodness, we have been blessed.  We are blessed.  Cancer doesn't get to change that.