Until We Are Fine

Last week, I was taking too many pills. Not purposefully, but also not by accident.
This week, I’m more solid, starting somewhat anew. Still tired and afraid, but possessing a bit of momentum. Not quite hope, but an expectancy.

I’m trying to move ahead, and have several supportive friends and family members who have helped me unburden. There are moments I feel adrift, propelled by the winds of pointlessness. Then I remember others, and decide to finish buttering the bread, get the dish from the sink to the dishwasher. I decide to answer a ringing telephone. Pretend. 

It will get better, at some point. It already has. But I’m still tired and can’t sleep, still sweaty but freezing. This isn’t going where I meant it to go. 

We have to ask for help. If we don’t ask, no one knows. They just think we’re mean or shy or FINE. But we are not fine, are we?

We are not fine. 

But…

Eat the bread. Drink the tea. Hug the child. Pet the dog. Write the poem. 

Until we are fine, or a facet thereof.

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Maybe It Doesn’t Help

Asking for help doesn’t seem to be as effective as I advertise it to be. “Ask for help! Don’t go through it alone!” It seems that asking for help just makes people think you are crazy. And makes them think a) they are saviors to your cause, making it about them rather than about the hurting person, or b) they get angry because you’ve lost your marbles and the inconvenience of it pisses them off.

Either way, not what I was expecting. And I won’t ask for help again.

Drown My Sorrow

I could die in this closet tonight and no one would know until tomorrow around noon. Look right through me.

I won’t do it. It’s too mundane and makes too much sense right now. And I know that what makes sense now is crazy. So I won’t follow the crazy. But I am staying in my closet for now.

I’m in the hangers. I have too much. Stuff. Shame. Fear. Anger. Grief. Resentment. Fraudulence. I am never who I pretend to be.

But I do not know who I am, so the pretending is easy. Pens and poems and sadness do not a human make.

Right? Or am I wrong?

I Am Mother

What was your mother like? she asked, with pad and expensive pen in hand.

Like any mother, maybe. Locked in the bathroom, in the tub crying. Taking litte blue pills when she thought I wasn’t looking.

Dad would come home and always pick the bathroom lock. Try to soothe her in his rough around the edges ways, sit on the floor at the edge of the tub until he could get her to crawl out, off balance and dripping wet and cold from the hours-old water.

Mostly what he did helped, but her cry eyes would swell for days, and she always tried to line them with wax pencil, thinking it hid her secrets behind what she called a smoky eye. She seemed to think a melancholy look was beautiful.

I thought sometimes she faked the crying in the bathroom thing for attention. But Dad said no, that if she didn’t hide in the bath, she’d have walked out into our Wyoming desert with the coyotes, lain down in the sagebrush, and we’d have never found her again.

I wondered why she didn’t just leave us if she was so unhappy. Go to California or something, someplace with sun and not so much snow and coal. But I knew in my heart she was too faithful and loving and afraid to know what real leaving was.

Dying, she could do, if she’d have loved us just a little less. But she loved us more than the sun, more than the God she wrestled with, more than the stones and bones and Bibles she kept in her special drawer, and mostly she loved us more than herself.

And that was maybe what saved us all.

A Long-Time Favorite

Sunday Morning

Wallace Stevens, 18791955

I

Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair, 
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice. 
She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
Encroachment of that old catastrophe, 
As a calm darkens among water-lights. 
The pungent oranges and bright, green wings
Seem things in some procession of the dead,
Winding across wide water, without sound.
The day is like wide water, without sound,
Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet
Over the seas, to silent Palestine, 
Dominion of the blood and sepulchre.

II

Why should she give her bounty to the dead?
What is divinity if it can come
Only in silent shadows and in dreams?
Shall she not find in comforts of the sun, 
In pungent fruit and bright, green wings, or else
In any balm or beauty of the earth, 
Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?
Divinity must live within herself: 
Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow;
Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
Elations when the forest blooms; gusty
Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights; 
All pleasures and all pains, remembering 
The bough of summer and the winter branch. 
These are the measures destined for her soul. 

III

Jove in the clouds had his inhuman birth. 
No mother suckled him, no sweet land gave
Large-mannered motions to his mythy mind
He moved among us, as a muttering king,
Magnificent, would move among his hinds, 
Until our blood, commingling, virginal, 
With heaven, brought such requital to desire
The very hinds discerned it, in a star. 
Shall our blood fail? Or shall it come to be 
The blood of paradise? And shall the earth
Seem all of paradise that we shall know?
The sky will be much friendlier then than now, 
A part of labor and a part of pain, 
And next in glory to enduring love, 
Not this dividing and indifferent blue.

IV

She says, “I am content when wakened birds,
Before they fly, test the reality
Of misty fields, by their sweet questionings;
But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields
Return no more, where, then, is paradise?”
There is not any haunt of prophecy, 
Nor any old chimera of the grave, 
Neither the golden underground, nor isle
Melodious, where spirits gat them home, 
Nor visionary south, nor cloudy palm
Remote on heaven’s hill, that has endured
As April’s green endures; or will endure
Like her remembrance of awakened birds, 
Or her desire for June and evening, tipped
By the consummation of the swallow’s wings.

V

She says, “But in contentment I still feel
The need of some imperishable bliss.”
Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her, 
Alone, shall come fulfilment to our dreams
And our desires. Although she strews the leaves
Of sure obliteration on our paths, 
The path sick sorrow took, the many paths
Where triumph rang its brassy phrase, or love
Whispered a little out of tenderness, 
She makes the willow shiver in the sun
For maidens who were wont to sit and gaze
Upon the grass, relinquished to their feet.
She causes boys to pile new plums and pears
On disregarded plate. The maidens taste
And stray impassioned in the littering leaves.

VI

Is there no change of death in paradise?
Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
Hang always heavy in that perfect sky, 
Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth, 
With rivers like our own that seek for seas
They never find, the same receding shores
That never touch with inarticulate pang?
Why set the pear upon those river-banks
Or spice the shores with odors of the plum?
Alas, that they should wear our colors there, 
The silken weavings of our afternoons, 
And pick the strings of our insipid lutes!
Death is the mother of beauty, mystical, 
Within whose burning bosom we devise
Our earthly mothers waiting, sleeplessly.

VII

Supple and turbulent, a ring of men
Shall chant in orgy on a summer morn
Their boisterous devotion to the sun,
Not as a god, but as a god might be, 
Naked among them, like a savage source.
Their chant shall be a chant of paradise, 
Out of their blood, returning to the sky;
And in their chant shall enter, voice by voice, 
The windy lake wherein their lord delights, 
The trees, like serafin, and echoing hills, 
That choir among themselves long afterward.
They shall know well the heavenly fellowship
Of men that perish and of summer morn.
And whence they came and whither they shall go
The dew upon their feet shall manifest.

VIII

She hears, upon that water without sound, 
A voice that cries, “The tomb in Palestine
Is not the porch of spirits lingering. 
It is the grave of Jesus, where he lay.”
We live in an old chaos of the sun, 
Or old dependency of day and night, 
Or island solitude, unsponsored, free, 
Of that wide water, inescapable. 
Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail 
Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness;
And, in the isolation of the sky, 
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Ambiguous undulations as they sink, 
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.

From Harmonium (Knopf, 1923). This poem is in the public domain.

Leaving God

I haven’t known what I am for some time, now.

It’s not that I don’t believe in the God of the Christian faith. It’s not that I don’t have faith that he exists. I’m actually quite certain that he does exist, in some form or another. It’s that I have no faith in what he is. Truth be told, I think he is an uncaring, aloof asshole. Unreliable. Cold.

The final marker for the death of my former faith was laid down on December 14, 2012. Oh yes, I’d had troubles with Christianity before then. It was a slow dying, one that I fought hard, and by the end, I was clutching at my Bible with every bit of please help me that I could muster. But it wasn’t enough. All my clinging, my pleading wasn’t enough to salvage what was left of the strong convictions and sureties I’d carried with me for almost 40 years. Does that make me weak? To some, yes. But I know otherwise.

I go through phases. At times, I am completely stable and balanced in knowing what I don’t know. I feel good and solid in my earth-bound spirituality, knowing that, yes, there is something behind it all, inside of it all, around us all. For me, nature-based spirituality is more sensible, more attainable, and even more comforting than my old our-father-who-art-in-heaven beliefs. Some may ask what’s so comforting about nature? Well, it’s the surety of it that I find so peace-inducing. We generally know what to expect from nature.

We know that storms come. We know that the sun will rise in the East. We know that ice forms on the lake in the winter. We know when to watch for fawns and robins’ eggs and ducklings. So many things in nature are essentially promised. There is great comfort in unbroken promises. Nature is powerful, and can bring about great destruction, too. Scary, sad, awful things that we aren’t expecting at that time. But, even still, we know that earthquakes and hurricanes still exist, and that they are more likely in certain areas and during certain times.

I once watched a documentary about penguin babies. To be honest, I have watched many documentaries about penguins and their babies, but this particular documentary has stood out in my mind for many years. These penguin babies were hidden by their parents in little seaside hills in Australia. This type of penguin is the smallest penguin in the world, and as you can imagine, the babies are unbearably adorable. The parents swim out to sea to find food in order to feed their babies, and are often gone so long, that the tiny babies have died by the time they return.

A scientist in the documentary who has studied and watched these “fairy penguins”, as they are called, for years, said that it made her sad when the babies perished. She said that many people would call nature cruel for allowing, or perhaps causing, the babies to die. She went on to say that nature was not, in fact, cruel. Nature is neutral. It just essentially is what it is. I thought that was so simple and profound. So sensible. Yes, nature just is. 

And perhaps it’s this philosophy that has contributed to my departure from Christianity. If nature, being so powerful, is not cruel, yet not loving, it is simply neutral. If God, being so powerful, allows bad things to happen to the innocent among us, then he must not be loving. As such, he is either cruel, which Christianity states is untrue, or he is neutral. Like nature. Emotionless.

But aren’t we told in Sunday School that God is all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful? Those are not descriptions that denote neutrality, or that denote a lack of emotion. We are told that God is vengeful. Jealous. So, obviously, God has emotion. Jesus wept. I can’t tell you how many books and essays I’ve read on the topic of why bad things happen to good people. And by good people, I am not referring to myself. Primarily, I’m referring to children, and the horrendous things that adults seem to repeatedly do to them. Pages and pages and pages of reading on where is God when bad things happen. And after all that reading, the conclusion that I haven’t been able to chase away is that God is there, but he just isn’t powerful enough, or doesn’t care enough, to fix what’s happening. To stop it. So he just goes on letting it happen.

I’m told that God doesn’t do bad things to people, people do bad things to people. So, by virtue of that argument, if I sit and watch while someone is beating up one of my children, if I just let it happen because the bully has free agency, or some such nonsense, then what kind of parent am I? A shitty one.

And so, I have deduced that God is a shitty parent, and I’ve essentially disowned him as dysfunctional and lacking. I will try to talk to him every once in a while. Just to see if things have changed. But so far, no luck. Oh, he’s there. He’s just got more important things to do than saving abused children, feeding the starved, healing the terminally ill. And he is certainly too busy to help me get the job I’ve applied for or to help ease my depression.

After Sandy Hook, a cousin posted on Facebook (the worst place on earth to interact with the insufferable) that if prayer had been allowed in school, God would have been there for the Sandy Hook children and teachers. I came undone, tried to reason with her over private messages, and she wouldn’t budge (and, to be fair, neither would I). In the end, I told her that if that is the kind of god she believed in, then her god was a dick, and I’d have no more of him.

I still stand behind every word I wrote.

godNone-the-less, the void that is left, after the leaving, after the disowning, is still achy sometimes. Most of the time, I can cushion it with feathers and flowers, with a ray of sun or two, a cuddle with my puppy, but not always. Don’t tell me it’s a god-sized hole that’s needing filled. Don’t quote Bible verses. And, sweet mother of all that’s holy, don’t tell me you’ll pray for me. Pray for yourself. Pray for children who are suffering. Pray for something that matters. And I hope that your prayers will work better than mine ever did. I strongly doubt they will, but I sincerely hope they do.

 

 

King Prawn, Revisited

Two months ago, I applied for, and was hired, to work as an assistant children’s librarian at my local library. Dream Job. Or so I thought. Today was my last day in the job, as I’ve decided to go back to…being a bank teller.

I floor myself.

I am still a bookworm. Not a banker. Except that I am great at banking, enjoy talking to people all the live-long day, love being in a climate-controlled building made with walls of glass, and love having coworkers who uplift one another, who treat customers with dignity and kindness, who are incredibly motivated, and who see me as (and I know this because they’ve told me) a ray of sunshine.

I am a ray of sunshine. And I’m so very grateful to be told so!

Three or so posts ago, I wrote a poem called King Prawn. It was inspired by a bout of depression, and usually when I’m inside the cloud, all the world seems metaphorical and misty and strange. King Prawn was born of a dream, a meditation, and my love of the sun. Working at the library, I was in the basement, no windows, and usually no coworkers to spend time with. And being that my town is tiny, there were generally no patrons, either.

I’ve learned in the last several months that I am a daughter of the sun, a person in need of people, and that my self-worth is not defined by my j.o.b. What does define my self worth is my interaction with people. I’ve learned that I am not an introvert, a label which I used to brandish proudly. I am, in actuality, an extrovert with depression. And the less busy I am, the less I am around people, the more depressed I become. What an epiphany!

Sometimes late at night, when my mind starts to wander and stew, I feel a literal tightening in my chest, and my thoughts become frantic, jumbled and obsessive. I’ve always been this way, especially when I’m alone. I have taken up the practice of yoga, and somehow, it seems to squeeze the knots out of my heart, mind and body, and allows me to see clearly when the monkey-mind tries to take charge.

Yoga has become my church, and happiness my religion. 

I eat only whole foods now, treat my mind with gentleness, am traveling through the days with Lakshmi, and when things start to churn, I turn to my yoga practice. It is the most effective anti-depressant I have ever used.

I start back at the bank on Monday. I am thrilled. It’s true that I am still a bookworm, rather than a banker. But, I am a people-person, and if the job that allows me to interact with dozens of people a day happens to be at a bank, then that is where I belong.

When closing the children’s library today, I had a moment of tearfulness, thinking how sad I was for myself  that this thing I thought was a dream come true actually wasn’t. The job was fine. I was not miserable. I love working with children, love being around books, love libraries. But loneliness does not serve me well. Humanity is medicine to me. I believe that my past habits of avoiding people, of avoiding social interaction, of being afraid to visit with others, contributed heavily to my falls into depression. I was afraid. Afraid to disappoint others, afraid to be seen as a fool, a fraud, a phony. Afraid to be called crazy, afraid to be seen as the weird one in the room. Afraid that I carried around all of the labels given to me by certain people. Afraid that what they had said was the truth. And acting as if it were the truth.

It was not the truth. It was lie upon lie upon lie. I am a good person. A loving person. A creative and motivated person. And, remember, a ray of sunshine. I’m feasting upon that.

We can believe good things about ourselves, without the burden of guilt. King Prawn has truly knitted me back together, shown me my connection to the sun, as well as the moon. We are each light and darkness, beauty and barrenness. All of the elements of ourselves fit together in a unique way, in an Indira’s Net that connects all of our bits and pieces together, and what weaves us one to another, as well. We are not simply aimless things floating through space and time. We are connected.

We are all rays of sunshine, lighting up the universe.

Namaste, Bright One.