potluck

Just an assortment of things, almost all beautiful:

  • Since I won’t be here on Oliver’s third birthday because I’ll be in Bali that day, I spent a few hours with him yesterday. I had some kind of seriously awful gut thing going on so it wasn’t as long as I’d have liked, but it was so wonderful being with him. He and I went to one of the neighborhood parks, the one on the elementary school grounds where he will be going in just a couple of weeks. He played on the equipment, we blew bubbles even though it was too breezy to make chasing them much fun, he ate lunch, and he ran around. I watched him wandering around, running, talking to himself the way he does, and my heart ached so hard. Oliver has something going on — the current educational diagnosis is in the autism neighborhood — but most difficult is his pretty profound speech delay. So I watched that beautiful, darling boy running around, in his own world, and I cried pretty hard because I so want to know him. I so want to share things with him, know what he thinks without guessing, hear his wonderings and his wants and his needs and his funny. At the moment that’s not how it is to be with Oliver, but I know it will be one of these days. I don’t think he feels lonely; he seems keenly aware of how much he is loved. One fun thing to do with Oliver is to look at the phone together. We had the camera on and turned to selfie mode, and he was grinning as he held down the button for dozens of long bursts. He caught the really beautiful shot I included here. See the delight on his face?
  • My dear, dear friend Becci (hi darling Becci!) sent me a Crazy Zauberball. I have always wanted one, and somehow she chose a colorway that I always wanted, too. The other day I opened my mailbox, expecting the usual day’s allotment of junk mail, and instead there was a nicely wrapped box, fit snugly into the mailbox with my name facing outward. I had no idea what it might be, even when I saw Becci’s name and address in the top right corner. I literally ran into the house and unwrapped it (even more nicely presented inside the outer brown wrapper, with a “just because” note) and when I pulled out the ball I jumped up as if I’d been electrocuted. It was the last thing I expected, and I instantly started crying with all the joy — the joy of having a friend who would do such a thing (and just because), the joy of her thoughtfulness and knowing, the pleasure of the long-wanted yarn, and the delight of finding just the right project for it. I decided on a project that others have made with the yarn, a scarf called Baktus, because it looks amazing and it’s a simple knit—I want to make it on my upcoming trip. In the way these things work, forever more I’ll feel all the love and joy when I wear it, remembering Becci, remembering making it in Indonesia. That’s one thing I love about knitting, it holds the space for all of that.
  • I can’t properly talk about how humiliated I feel over having that hangover on Tuesday. I feel such shame about it. I’m 58, I have so many ways to manage upset, and I drank enough to have a hangover? It’s hard to talk about it but I feel like I must — maybe this is some kind of self-flagellation, maybe I shouldn’t, but shame and humiliation is exactly what I feel. I mentioned that feeling to Nancy, and she looked puzzled, which puzzled me. Shouldn’t I feel shame? I talk relatively often about AA, which I only know about because of my husband; I know that they believe self-loathing doesn’t get you anywhere, and certainly not to the same place that self-compassion will take you. I’m trying that, trying to have compassion for myself that evening, acceptance of myself and what I did. I don’t think I’ll ever do that again; I sure learned a lot, including the fact that a hangover can be a really terrible mood, which I didn’t know. I’m sorry I did that — I say that out loud, and to myself. It’s funny; I even find this beautiful, even though it’s such a dreadful feeling. But it’s beautiful to stumble along, fall down and get up, bruise yourself, heal yourself, and be helped along by others. I think that’s really beautiful.
  • We just lost Derek Walcott, a poet whose words have meant a lot to me over the years. I first encountered him in 2001, when I knew a poet who loved him. I’m sorry this is in a jpg instead of text, but I can’t find it copy-able and I don’t want to type it all out. This poem relates so beautifully to the end of my last bullet point:

  • Tonight I will sit with the women in my book club to talk about this month’s book, which I didn’t like at all I’m sad to say (The Heart Goes Last, by Margaret Atwood, review here). But I will love being with the women, who share my political world view and who are SMART, screamingly smart, and compassionate. We meet at Joyce’s house tonight — she picked the book — and she’s making us a vegetable pie and salad, and I’m bringing Topo Chico and dark chocolate, and I look forward to the communion with all my heart. For now, though, I pack for Indonesia. Happy Sunday, everyone.

it’s fragile

The world just feels so mean right now. I wince most of the time, and know that people call me idealistic — those who are willing to be nice about it. Trump and his hideous supporters terrify me, one bit of uniform away from being brown shirts. I’m reading One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway and its Aftermath, about Andres Breivik, the man who slaughtered 76 Norwegians in cold blood, mostly teenagers, out of his hatred for feminism and immigration. This is what hatred does, it spills out onto innocents. Small men make themselves big by slaughtering innocents, and that feels like the direction our world is going as fast as it possibly can.

My husband is a clinical psychologist and has told me that it’s impossible to break into the system of a paranoid person, because whatever you might say is proof — ah, see? You would say that. I know people in Austin who are paranoid, and I know what ‘news’ they take in and how they are constantly preparing for the onslaught wrought by “others,” just as Brievik did. I feel scared and bewildered in their presence. I’m increasingly feeling like I just can’t live in Texas any more. The state politics are so mean, many of the people bewilder me, and their ‘evidence’ bewilders me too.

It’s such a scary world, and this is at stake for me:

marnie-ilan
My lovely Marnie and her Ilan — waiting with us, the day Lucy was being born, for the happy news
little-family
My sweet Katie, with her young children, happy and cuddling
o-kisses-lucy
Oliver kissing his little sister, just a couple of weeks old she is
lucy
And little Lucy, the newest member of our family

I guess this is the way the world moves: forward into slaughter and worldwide destruction, and then a recovering into humanity again. And it’s just the slaughter cycle now, I suppose. How can my country possibly be this close to electing such a monster as president? How is this possible? I am terrified, and that’s not hyperbole. After last night’s debate, how anyone can have watched that and think that the orange monster is their guy….I don’t understand them at all.

Lewis and Obama at the opening of the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. SO MUCH in that hug. So much knowing.
Lewis and Obama at the opening of the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. SO MUCH in that hug. So much knowing.

And then I think about John Lewis, who marched across that bridge in Selma, and who has fought quietly, without noise and arm-waving, for decades now as his brothers and sisters were murdered, and belittled, and pushed aside by white America. He is relentless and he believes and he keeps putting one foot in front of the other. As police officers in our country keep killing unarmed black men, one after another after another after another, he just keeps putting stepping forward, day after day, believing. Can I be like him in the face of this horror that’s growing in my country, and in the face of a monster like Trump, and fellow Americans who plan to vote for him? I just want to run away, but pieces of my heart are scattered everywhere — in Katie’s loving home, in Marnie’s loving home, with friends far and wide — and how can I leave them behind? Where could I go, anyway, that would be far enough away?

help me make it through the night

Kris Kristofferson wrote some of the best old songs — songs others made famous, but those of us who know, know. Today I’m thinking about this one, made famous (at least to me) by husky-voiced Tammy Wynette:

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I have an extremely hard time asking for help when I am at my most desperate, when I am most in need. It feels too close to making someone else responsible for saving my life, and that’s not fair to do to anyone. I’m trying to learn how to think more subtly about this, how not to cast it in black and white, how to understand that just because I am in trouble and need some help, it’s not about suicide. Because it hasn’t been about suicide, and even last night when I was in deep, deep, deep need, I was not suicidal. I just needed some help to make it through.

As I cried in despair, I thought about the long list of people I know, people who love me, and knew that there was a sublist I could call on, without fail, and they would answer. They would be there. Dear friends, some who have already helped me with this before, like Anne. Some who have offered themselves to me in such heartfelt ways, I had no worries about reaching out.

But first I tried to write, my lifelong impulse. And this is what came out:

I find myself really wishing she’d just drowned us all, like a bag of kittens, and then they’d killed each other. The whole bunch, gone before the world could be hurt any more, before the little kittens could be hurt any more. Before the little kittens could grow up and hurt each other, themselves, others.

And so, obviously, I needed help to make it through. I walked down to the Hudson, through beautiful but dark Riverside Park, and texted a very dear friend, who texted me back immediately. Lots of back and forth, lots of her writing my name over and over — Lori. Lori. Lori. Lori. — and it’s weird how that helped. In The Woman Warrior, I learned that when a Chinese person is lost inside themselves, apparently you waggle their ears repeatedly and say their name over and over, to call them back. How Nancy knew to do that, I don’t know, but something about her saying my name like that, in addition to all the rest, all the understanding and care and compassion and empathy and telling me our plans, she got me through.

I think the tide has turned. I feel so much better this morning. I feel and recognize myself again, myself right now. I even felt like reading a funny poem. I feel eager to get home to Austin, back to my cozy little home, and what happens with my brother will happen but I’m not afraid anymore.

Pete and Oliver
Pete and Oliver

I’m Lori. Grandmother to Oliver and Ilan, and a little girl to come in September. Mother to Katie and Marnie and Will. Friend of many generous and loving people. Lover of poetry and literature and beautiful words. Understander of the pain and suffering of life, and the beauty and glory of it, too.

I’m so glad to be here. Sometimes it really sucks, and sometimes it’s really glorious, and sometimes it just takes time to travel from one to the next. xoxoxoxo

the goodness

diamondsIn Sierra Leone, when the British first came in and started the diamond mines, the people in the area didn’t know much about diamonds, and they certainly didn’t yet know their worth. After a rainfall, the ground would glitter as small diamonds were brought to the surface; the people thought it was bits of stars fallen to the ground. But the NDMC quickly instructed people to draw circles around those sparkles on the ground and not to touch them, and then they would retrieve them. Rob them. Soon the people were punished if they took one….off their own ground.

But that’s a powerful image, the ground glittering with small diamonds. I edited a memoir of a man who grew up in a tiny impoverished village in Sierra Leone, and he described that with such beauty and pathos, the image stays with me and likely will for a long time.

It came to mind earlier this year when from all over the world, people who know me reached out to help me when I was in the midst of an intense and prolonged period of insomnia — I didn’t sleep at all for four days, remember? No one could do anything about it, including me, but people sent small bits of help, glittering bits of help, light-catching bits of help.

  • Since I’d recently written about needing my spirits lifted because of the political discourse, a beautiful friend in Connecticut (who has been really quite generous and amazing and caring as long as I’ve known her) started love bombing me on Facebook, with one funny thing after another, chosen because she knows me and what I like, and sent one after another beautiful thing, another and another good thing in the world, spirit-restoring in so many ways. Love bombing is incredible.
  • I received middle of the night texts from a couple of friends, so caring and personal. It surprised me that people would reach out to me like that. Surprising that he would be so gentle and caring. Surprising that she would tell me just the right thing. Not surprising about them, but surprising to me that I was valuable enough to them to reach out in those ways.
  • In the midst of that period of terrible insomnia it was free donut day at Krispy Kreme. I mentioned it on Facebook and said if anyone’s going out, and would be in my neighborhood… It was a joke, just funny I thought, since I have a reputation around donuts. And then a friend texted me — hey, we’re bringing you some really good coffee cake. I know it’s not donuts, but it’s good, you’ll enjoy it. Seriously? I couldn’t believe it, and felt so cared for.

Diamonds all around me. And some of the things shared by the first friend I mentioned also restored me from my political despair; yes, people are still good, people still care about others including those who can’t do anything for them.

this was Marnie, when we lived in New Britain -- easy to understand why Marjorie fell for her!
this was Marnie, when we lived in New Britain — easy to understand why Marjorie fell for her!

But I’ve always found this to be true, haven’t you? Goodness all around, people willing to reach their hands out when you reach out yours. People ready to help you however they can. I remember when we moved to New Britain, CT, when Will was 3 months old, Marnie was 2, and Katie was 5, and we had nothing. And less than no money, it was a terrible time. My kids didn’t have winter clothes, and we couldn’t afford to buy them. But I met one woman, Marjorie, who was the crossing guard at Katie’s elementary school. She fell hard in love with little Marnie, and she became a friend. As the weather started to get colder, Marjorie started bringing clothes. Her friends, her church, she’d mentioned us and people gave. My kids had all the winter clothes they needed, and we felt surrounded by care — and not just that, care from people we never met, people who’d never met US.

Little diamonds glittering all around, as far as the eye can see. And you people never let me forget it, you diamonds, you, with your texts and messages and notes and little touches and constant care.

xoxoxox

grandmother (again)-in-waiting

I’ll never know what it’s like to wait for a daughter-in-law to have a baby, but I just can’t imagine it’s the same experience as waiting for your daughter, no matter how close you might be. How can it? (What do I know. Maybe it can be.)

But I do know what it’s like — three times, now — waiting for your daughter to have her baby. Marnie’s due date is coming right up, two weeks from now, and I’ll get to their home one week before the due date assuming she doesn’t go into labor before then. She is all I can think about, all day long. When I wake up through the night, my thoughts are only with her. It’s going to be hard to be in NYC this coming week.

I remember all these feelings when Katie was pregnant, and I feel them again:

It’s such a close, close, close feeling of connection, a deep tenderness, an understanding of what is about to happen to her and she doesn’t know, because you can’t really know the first time. Her entire everything is about to change and she will never be the same again.

It’s a feeling of anxiety, as I think about the extreme pain of my own three labors and I don’t want her to suffer.

It’s a feeling of worry, as I think about all the ways it might go. As long as he’s born healthy, how he got here doesn’t matter at all, but I do hope surgery isn’t required — though if it is, I’ll be there with her for a few weeks so I can help. She lives in a two-story house and I’m in good shape for stair running.

It’s a feeling tinged with fear, as I remember that there’s no guarantee it will go perfectly and that we’ll all leave the hospital with him. The odds are enormous that we will, but they aren’t perfect odds. I think about our Gracie, and my devastated Katie and Trey. (And then I think about our adorable, happy, smiling Oliver and I smile like the sun.)

It’s a feeling of mind-blanking excitement as I wait with them to see his little face! What will he look like? Will he look like Tom? Tom’s family’s genes are pretty strong and the majority of the grandkids look like their family. Our little Oliver looks like his dad, and Marnie’s baby might look like his dad. One of these days I hope a grandkid gets the roll of the genetic lottery dice and looks a little similar to Pete in some small way. 🙂 But I can’t wait to see this one’s sweet face, to look into it and know that he’s in there already, he is who he is, who he will be, and we’ll watch him bloom and blossom.

It’s a feeling of heart-fluttering anticipation about walking into the room when I can and seeing my dear daughter holding her baby. I wonder what her face will look like? I have a pretty clear image of what Tom’s face will look like — some version of his face when they got married. All he wants is a home and family with Marnie; he has her, and they have a beautiful home, and now their first child. I imagine he’ll be in bliss. Marnie will have gone through that labor, so her expression will have more complexity, I imagine, but I don’t know! I just can’t wait to see her face.

It’s a feeling of big anx-worry-BLE!!! as I think about the hours I’ll wait in the waiting room with no idea what’s happening to my girl. As long as I’m nearby, just a question of feet or yards, it’ll be a tiny bit bearable. A tiny bit. I don’t know how mothers who can’t be nearby bear it.

Here I was, pregnant with her. This is the only picture I have of that period. I was 26.
Here I was, pregnant with her. This is the only picture I have of that period. I was 26.

And of course I remember my experience of her birth. Relatively speaking, it was quick and simple, especially compared to Katie’s birth, which was long and required six hours of pitocin — with zero drugs, not even the ones that “take the edge off.” But with Marnie, I think my labor started around 5am, and we waited until 8:30 to call my friend who was going to come stay with Katie. We were in the labor suite by 9:30 and she was born at 12:30. I didn’t have to be induced, I had no drugs, and the way I remember it is that the doctor broke my waters and Marnie washed out of me. She was clean as a whistle and her eyes were immediately open. There was a small-ish window a little bit higher on the wall, and the sun was shining on us. March 3, a sunny, beautiful Sunday in Austin. At one point during transition, probably, the pain became so bad that I had an out-of-body experience; I was up in the corner of the room, looking down on myself, and I thought, oh, look at her, she’s suffering so much. But that’s quick, 7.5 hours total, only 3 hours in the birthing suite, and then a simple birth. No stitches, no trouble, and home six hours later.

And so I think of my little girl, Marnie Elizabeth. If you hover over each image you’ll see the caption. In her life, we’ve called her Velvet, Peach, Scrappy, Emmie, Beppie, Bop, and Marn. Soon a little boy will call her mama.

Pete waits.

showers

wisteria
wisteria blooming in Japan — imagine the shower of those purple blossoms

Y’all. You blow me away, again and again and again. This is not pretense designed to get you to say nice things about me, I MEAN THAT from the bottom of my heart. Please don’t say anything about me in a comment. This is about you. You are so extraordinarily kind and good to me, and I don’t know why.

  • You write me cards and letters and notes by hand, because you think I will like it. (I do!)
  • You have paid attention even to the smallest things and then sent (or given) me a gift based on that attention. Sometimes for no reason at all.
  • When I am in trouble of any kind – giant spuds or the smallest potatoes – you reach out to me with generous hearts and words, and you somehow remember to keep checking on me. Or maybe you get me a membership in the Cloud Appreciation Society. Things like that.
  • You send me little notes, images, stories, things you see online, or maybe in a newspaper you tuck into my door, because you saw them and thought of me.
  • Sometimes out of the blue you send me a note telling me something you appreciate or value about me. (!)
  • The moment I click ‘publish,’ I imagine I’ll think of several more things like this.

It isn’t that I think I’m a bad friend or anything like that, and it isn’t that I don’t realize the ways I can be a good friend, but seriously, I just don’t do these things, and y’all do. I wish I did these things, even when I’m not in the moment of being the recipient. It’s a thing I wish I did better. And then y’all do these things and I wish it even more.

You shower me with friendship, love, kindness, warmth, generosity, and care. And I feel it like a shower, a tremendous blessing. You make me feel better about the world, which often leaves me in such despair. But there are people like you in it, too, people of such quiet generosity, people who care for others in real ways, not just attitudes that one should care. I know you do these things in the world, not just for me, and knowing that you are there, knowing there are people like you moving through the world, I feel less despair.

Please please don’t say anything about me in the comments. If you feel like you want to comment, you might say something about kindnesses others have shown you, because I think we all need reminders that this exists in the world, too. My last words here are directed to you: thank you for the showering. xoxox

that friend

Of the myriad ways I’m the luckiest person in the world, one is that my friends believe in me. They (you) encourage me. I had one who didn’t, who preferred and delighted in my troubles and failures, and she’s not my friend any more. (Was she ever? If you have one like that, let her go. Just do it. Life is too short and difficult already.)

My darling Dixie
My darling Dixie

I could name each one of you and say the specific ways I feel your belief in me, list examples of things you’ve said — either in person, or in emails, or in instant messages that come out of the blue and for no apparent reason. This would be a l-o-n-g post if I did that, and I have an idea perking in the back of my mind to acknowledge your importance to me, but it has to wait until after the holidays. Perhaps the most extreme of you is my darling Dixie, who just believes in me 1000%, thinks I hung the moon and whatever I do is nearly perfect (sometimes perfect), and I swear that if I killed someone and were caught standing over them with the bloody knife in my hand, Dixie would defend me and stay by my side to the end. So she is in her own category in the whole world, because this is how she is with everyone she loves — and she means it, very individually.

writingSo many of you have quietly and insistently encouraged my writing, and I love you for it. It’s funny; my friends are encouraging and supportive and my kids have never ever been that way with me — so I appreciate you even more! You are my team. You’ve stuck with me on the ups and downs: I’m writing! I’m giving up! No, instead I’m going to do this kind of writing! Maybe not. Maybe so. I am! I can’t. Who would care. I have one thing most writers don’t have: an understanding of the realities of the publishing world. Not having that would be helpful! My clients all finish their books in the belief that their books are going to be bestsellers. Surely that helps them keep going and get it done. My friend Traci knows very well the realities of the publishing world and writes one beautiful book after another, which she publishes through her own press and practically works a second full-time job promoting her books. (And her husband’s work. And she has a school-age daughter. And she writes book after book. She is clearly in her own category.)

But I have this one friend, Nancy, who is in a different category in terms of encouragement. I don’t have any idea, maybe this is what it’s like if you have a mother who thinks you are OK, and who encourages you and believes in you with great vigor. Nancy is my friend, not a mother figure, but there’s something about the way she believes in me and encourages me that makes me think about what it would be like to have had that from the start. Just as Dixie replaced the cruel voice in my head (my mother’s) with hers (you are so darling, you precious thing), I think Nancy has replaced the mean discouragement in my heart (my mother’s) with hers (you don’t have time for that, you need to be writing. Are you writing? I believe that it’s very possible that your writing will be of significant value. I just had an idea, have you ever read your work before an audience?). She’ll just write me out of the blue and in her direct, Kansas way say these things to me — apropos of nothing, which tells me she had been thinking about it herself. When we have our regular coffee breaks, she’s likely to bring it up. My book club friends made me a VERY special gift as I was coming out of my suicidal place, a jar filled with notes from each of them telling me what I add to their lives, how they see me, etc. Nancy’s contribution was a nametag, the kind you get at a conference, and it had my name and WRITER. See what I mean? It’s insistent and said as if it were simply the truth.

So this post is much less about writing and encouragement, and much more about what it is to receive that, on whatever topic or maybe no topic at all, maybe just about who you are. I know this is a theme of mine, but it’s because I mean it, and know it so solidly: If you live long enough, everything is possible. The thing you simply could not understand (how to spend time alone, how not to care what others think of you) becomes simple and true in your heart, and in fact an important thing! The struggle you’ve found impossible to overcome, like getting rid of the cruel voice in your head, dissolves and disappears. The fear you always had goes away. The bad thing you clutched to your heart, your ‘grim belief’ as my friend Marg calls it, falls away. It’s so good that life is long, if you’re lucky and open to it.

It would be such a different world if everyone had one person who believed in them like this. If you have a friend you believe in in some regard, express it a little more often. Encourage her in the various ways you can think of. You have NO idea how transformative it might be. And if you change one person, you might change the world.

Thank you for the ways you encourage me and support me in all the ways you do. I’m keenly aware of each instance, each moment, each effort, and it all keeps me going. I hope with all my heart that if we know each other, I do some of that for you. xo