Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What Women Do

Yesterday I texted my sweet sister-in-law to casually ask her if she knew where I could get some meth. I thought it would be funny but she believed me and now I just feel bad for both of us.

On Sunday I had the good fortune to join three of my lady-friends for a retreat in the woods. We did a long yoga session that left me spectacularly sore and then spent the rest of the day sipping on tea and making collages. It suited my soul just fine. Late that night Noah and I took a painfully hot bath and I told him that I want to believe in every new age hippie thing, I truly do, but standing in a circle with a group of women singing about earth our bodies, water our blood just makes me feel hokey. I am willing to take any old stone and roll it around in my mouth, testing it for goodness and sometimes spitting it out. Monday was book club day. I learned it is required to drink four glasses of wine on Passover (yesterday was also the start of Passover) so we did that and sat around for hours talking about the book and then moving on to everything, everything in our lives, and it was good. It seems like a lot of lives and relationships are in sway. Are in transition. I have this blog sitting here and every day, every day I wonder if I should write it but I am in transition. I am feeling private. I don't know why.

The other day Ayla had a meltdown. She served herself the last of the ice cream and when it was her sister's turn to have some, Ayla was forced to surrender some of what was in her bowl. She fell to the ground choking on her sobs and the only thing I know is I never know what to do so I just sat there with her. I sank to the floor beneath her door frame, the transition space. She was wrapped in her white blanket and we breathed. We breathed together for some time until eventually Indy joined us and the three of us camped out right there on the floor, and they showed me some baking tutorials on youtube. Ever since then I have been filled with nothing but compassion and aching love for these little souls, living out their lives tethered to mine. I am getting good at working out these splinters in my heart. I'm not saying it doesn't hurt but then one day your daughter slams into your waist in the dark hours of the morning crying with joy "mom-o, mom-o!", and you realize you are free. Something you once were, you are not anymore. Like Melusine, you have shifted form. So if you ask me to, I will hold your hand and sing but what I'm learning now is that pain can be undone and nothing is more sacred to me than sitting with other women, declaring in our own ways, one by one, that we are letting go of everything that doesn't serve us. Sometimes stones find their way in but we will spit them out. We will sit with our daughters until the crying subsides. In all the dark houses in the town, this cycle is playing out forever. In all the bedrooms the mother is holding the child. In all the bathrooms, the women slip their robes like lies to the floor, and step with feet like moons into clearer water.

Roman de Melusine by Jean d'Arras.15th century.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Runs in the Family

 My Grandma Hartke with my dad's older brother, Eric.

"Our family moves around a lot," I told the girls when they got in the car after school, both of them thirsty and with low blood sugar as they always are at 3 o'clock.

Because I too had read the New York Times article,and because Elizabeth had mentioned something similar on her blog, I told them a story to stave off their bad moods, these tiny monsters I fight every day at three.

I told them about their grandmother, my mom, who moved with only her mother from Pennsylvania to Colorado at just three-years-old. They rolled the windows down. Outside the day was a riot of color, but they were listening. I told them about my dad's mother, raised on farm in Kansas, one of six girls, who moved to Colorado as a young woman.

They began to chirp in the pieces they knew.

Daddy moved from California, they said. And grammy. And grandpa moved from England?

I think Grandpa was born in Massachusetts, I told them. And Dede was born in Chicago but he moved to California. His parents moved here from Czechoslovakia. (That's what it was called when they left it).

Then I told them about my father's great-grandmother, who stowed away on a ship from Sweden as a teenager and found herself married to a deputy of Wild Bill Hickock on the prairie frontier, where she gave birth to thirteen children and buried eleven of them. The many-greats grandfather who came from Sweden to fight in the Civil War but found the war was over when he got here, possibly ensuring my daughter's own births all these years later.

"And then we moved," Ayla said. "From Colorado to North Carolina."

"That's right," I said. I don't know if it means anything. I just know that in this context, we, all of us, began to make more sense.

We aren't outliers. We are people of our own particular blood.

Comforted, we went about our afternoon.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Let The Record Show

When we decided to move here, I had visions of us sitting on a back porch, surrounded by these green rolling hills (dare I say, they're rather Irish), sipping drinks and listening to bluegrass music. The good kind of bluegrass, with more Celtic in it than country. It's not really bluegrass or folk but I don't know what else to call it. But I  imagined it playing in the sultry heat as we lived our slower lives in older mountains.

Well. Let the record show that today we are doing exactly that. It's over 70 degrees here. The bees are buzzing and I can smell lilac or honeysuckle. The drink is sangrita spiked with good tequila and tabasco. The band is Chatham County Line. Did you know that we heard Chatham County Line live the first night we came to Brevard? When we were starry-eyed and young? When all the roads seemed possible, the air was warm, the hopes were high? Well we did. There were fairy lights and pennywhistle. We stood beneath a southern sky as it turned from blue to periwinkle to black, he held my hand and we moved in time to the music, to the turning of the planets, to the rhymns of our hearts.

Accidental selfie taken during Chatham County Line show, Brevard, NC May 2012

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Southern Living

A few weekends ago I was holed up in a hotel room in Durham with my daughters, who were jumping a wild ruckus between the two hotel beds, one recovering from a stomach bug and one doomed to get it that very night in the small hours. But they didn't have it yet and while they jumped, I read "Southern Living", to which I now subscribe. The first time it arrived in the mail, I wondered what the hell had happened to me. Everything went still for a moment and I swayed numbly in a "is this real life?" tilting of the universe. But the magazine is actually a great window into Southern culture, which I am sometimes baffled by, and events around the south, like low-country oyster roasts and music fests that I'll probably never attend, but sound lovely. Also it gave advice onto how to get into a hammock "like a lady" (ankles crossed, julep down) and how to make insults sound like compliments. I am pretty sure this advice was tongue-in-cheek. I am 89% sure. Ok, 72%. Look, I'm pretty sure.

In this issue was an article by a woman who's husband had moved with her from Manhattan to Tennessee and experienced the Three Stages of South exactly as I have. Stage One being a state of giddy wonder--everything is so charming! So quaint! Watermelon Rind Jelly, what is that, I don't know, but I love that it exists! This was me back in July, in a whirl of lake swimming and mountain music jams on back porches and old time street dances on Main Street. But eight months in, her husband was basically examining his own palms in wonder, asking how the hell he got here and telling his wife, "I'm starting to feel like I don't understand anything that is going on, ever". He was also homesick for what I believe the writer referred to as the "straightforward" interactions of places other. This is Stage Two. I'm not sure what Stage Three is because neither I nor the writer's husband have hit it yet, but I'm hoping it involves Los Angeles, or the set of my favorite tv show, or maybe the green people emerge from the forest and dance me into perpetual health and bliss, I don't know. To be continued.

Anyway, it helped me to know that this poor New Yorker and I have hit the same stages, at about the same times. There have been times when I've looked around at this life in awe and wondered how the hell I got here. I'm pretty sure this is a universal feeling. I was talking to my oldest friend A in Sacramento the other day. A took a new job, absolutely knowing it was the right thing to do and now nothing has turned out as she'd hoped and she is frustrated and drained and confused. Sometimes I think back to May, when Noah and I decided to move here. I felt absolutely certain it was the right thing to do. And now, of course, I wonder. I always imagined that as I grew older, I'd grow better and better at trusting my instincts, but in fact the opposite seems to be true. I'm starting to wonder if an instinct is something to be trusted at all, because none of mine seem to come out right. Maybe an instinct is just an impetus, urges meant to keep propelling us forward in life. If that is so, I'll look forward to the next one for that reason alone. I always was a thing that craved change.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Ledges, Tides, Sea-Change

On Friday I felt good for the first time in a long, cold winter. A rainy winter. A winter I spent missing my family and the wide prairie skies with an equally ice-pierced ache.

But on Friday I felt good even though I had no time to write, the barometer my mood generally revolves around. In the morning Noah and I went to an interminable school assembly to watch Indy get an award for "improvement in reading". I am against these nonsense flattery awards, (one girl was given a "princess award" for "liking princesses") but that's another blog. After the assembly I spent the afternoon cleaning, singing to Mamma Mia! (now you know too much about me by far) and listening to This American Life with the windows thrown wide. The sun was out and it was warm, that best kind of spring day, one of the first warm days after a long winter where you feel almost grateful for cold and snow--almost--because it makes these early spring reprieves so damn beautiful, so breath-taking and teary-making. Without the winter would the spring make me feel like my being, my chest and heart, are finding rich soil and blooming wide and fluttering, my center a trembling velvety butterfly wing? Would I feel that I personally am blooming? I don't know but here's some foreshadowing: I'm ready to find out. I am distinctly interested in what life without winter would feel like in my soul.

(But that is another blog, a story in wish stage, not yet written)

I feel so good today, I told Noah in breezy kitchen, looking at the blue sky. Indeed, I felt like the movie scene where the sick patient leaves the hospital, always in the sun, shaky at first but throwing away the cane after a few wobbly steps. I got out of bed, I got things done, my mind spun out stories to write and cracked jokes. Ayla's friend came over and went home and I made cobb salad pizza in the kitchen, flirting and teasing my husband. The weather was set to be good through the weekend and I went to bed feeling light, spirit and body light and beautiful when I stood and enjoyed it in front of the mirror.

And then Saturday.

Saturday came and I knew right away, shuffling about in the kitchen, measuring coffee into the machine, that it was back. Winter's grip on me wasn't over. Beneath it I slump. Depression settles into me physically as well as spiritually and I dragged about the house, heavy-hearted, heavy of foot and chest and brain. Every task seems insurmountable. Even little things like getting dressed, never mind bigger things like cleaning the kitchen, playing with children, pursuing a dream, living with purpose. My brain misfires about everything, asking why bother over and over again. I can't blog, can't edit my book. I can trick myself into writing, which is a salvation but short-lived. Noah took the girls to the park and I slouched in front of the computer, reasoning anything, even mindless web-surfing, was better than climbing back into bed. My shoulders curved around me, my body expressing my sense of total defeat. Eventually I gave in. I crawled back into bed. Why bother why bother why bother. Noah came home and the girls clambered over me like puppies, but I was unresponsive and Noah coaxed them from the room, took them outside to a gorgeous summer-like evening.

While he put steaks on the grill and threw the frisbee to the girls and dog, I got in the shower and couldn't coax myself out of  it. I sat on the floor with the water rushing over me. I made feeble attempts at talking myself out of this one like I've done with depressive episodes in the past. But something in me was protesting too strongly. I was tired of trying to choose happiness. I was tired of trying to fix myself, by myself. For years I have been managing the depression, being without health insurance and unable to afford help, and I've done a decent job. I have sought out spiritual teachings and educated myself about the disease. I have practiced yoga and meditation and what I am told therapists call "thought stopping", teaching myself to cut off the lies depression fires constantly in a brain, to replace them with other thoughts. I have taken my fish oil and walks in the sun, I eat my nuts and salmon and green smoothies. I have done this for more than ten years and sitting on the floor of the shower, I thought about how it feels like plugging holes in a breaking damn. It feels like fighting an unstoppable, ten-year tide. And I realized that depression is not something I have to manage on my own. I have tried, I try so hard, I do a really good job but I deserve to have more than one good day out of every six or ten or twenty. In that momennt of clarity, the clouds of depression cleared in my brain and I thought: On Monday I will make an appointment at the sliding-scale clinic and I will tell them that I need help. That I want medication because I can't do this on my own anymore. And I don't have to.

The decision alone brought some relief. I managed to get out of the shower. I went to the kitchen and told Noah my plan. He agreed, gently, that it was a good idea. I couldn't wait to get to the doctor's office, to get real help, but just making the decision caused a shift in my brain. For all these years I have treated depression like it is a part of me that I am responsible for managing, something that I need to change. I do believe I am responsible for my moods and actions, to some extent my thoughts and emotions but I'd been treating depression like it was my fault and something I was responsible for fixing. It's not. It's an unwanted visitor. It's a monster on the shoulder and it's not my job to talk the monster down off ledges, to self-help it into a prettier, presentable state. No. I want the damn thing hacked the fuck off.

And if I can't do that, I want to medicate it into a stupor so that I can go about my life, unbothered as possible.

So it's Sunday night. I had a decent day. First thing tomorrow I am calling the doctor. I am a little afraid of being denied help and brushed off, I don't know why, I just am. My contingency plan: if that happens, I will get another opinion. I am making this promise to myself, here, at the turning of the seasons. I'm going to get help. I'm going to feel better. I'm not going to go it alone, anymore.

The tide must change.

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