Thursday, April 28, 2011

Grief


That's my wife flipping one of her classmates as she tests for her brown belt in karate.  Or is it red? I can't ever keep it straight.  She already has a black belt in stick fighting and she practices karate and kickboxing three times a week.  This is how I see her, kick ass and invincible.  In my mind she can conquer anything. 

One thing can knock her down though.  Sunshine and Happiness' dad died almost a year and half ago and this is the thing I have seen that can incapacitate her (if only temporarily).  I hate grief because I can't do anything to take away her pain.  I just have to let her move through it.   "Grief cannot be shared.  Everyone carries it alone.  Her own burden, her own way." That's Anne Morrow Lindbergh.  The thing about grief is  it's unpredictable.  It comes when it comes, in awful waves and there is no getting around it.

My father-in-law was a massive man, a huge golfer and what in the south is known as a catbird.  If a person is spoiled beyond imagination, completely babied and manages to be lovable and funny in this rottenness then one is referred to as a catbird and Gary, Gary was a GIANT catbird. (I too, if you must know, am a catbird of the GIANT variety)  If S&H pulled a pie out of the fridge he would say "what you gonna eat?"  If he cooked a steak (one the size of a small cow) he would ask "isn't that the best damn steak you ever did have?"  Of course, yes was the only acceptable answer and then you had to eat the whole thing or he would say "what's wrong aren't you hungry?"  He was gentle and laid back and funny.

I had never heard of progressive supranuclear palsy.  That's what Gary died from and it took him bit by bit.  PSP is cruel in the way that ALS is cruel.  S&H lost him little by little and she was there with him when he died.  She saw him as often as she could but in the end it's never often enough is it?  The last thing her dad said to her was "parade in front of me so I can look at you."

The villa we stayed in on vacation was located on the 18th hole of Crooked Oaks golf course and we could watch golfers practice pitching? chipping? balls out of the bunkers.  There were paintings of golf courses, golf carts zipping around and men in their flat caps, visors and the hats favored by Gary - the traditional straw hat.

 Gary's spirit was everywhere at Seabrook.  I could feel him wherever I went.  We have a family joke that goes like this.  S&H, Gary & S&H's mom (and me) were watching the movie Pure Country which stars George Strait.  We were watching for some time when S&H's mom said "that guy really looks like George Strait."  (She was serious)  Gary looked at her and said, "that is George Strait".  I guess maybe you had to be there but it became commonplace when someone said something really stupid to say "hey that guy really looks like George Strait."  Don't you know while we were on vacation, the country station down there played the theme song from Pure Country (which is never on the radio at home). 

S&H's memories of her dad are bittersweet.  Good, funny, loving but oh so painful.  William Faulkner said that given a choice between grief and nothing he would choose grief.  I know my wife would say the same.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Back Home

We're back and this is pretty much how we are feeling -


The kids brought home fleas from the beach and so I have spent my entire first day back doing untold loads of laundry, vacuuming and de-fleaing the CRV,washing and spraying our bags, shoes and anything else that might serve as a flea transport.  Yuck!

Also, this is what our yard looked like after 10 days of Pittsburgh rain.
That's right.  A jungle.  So I spent the evening mowing, weed whacking and bagging grass.  This is me now.

But I am still really glad to be home.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Beautiful World

So it is our last day here at the Spinnaker Beach House and I've been sporadically touchy and irritable. Overall though I have been able to stay in the moment and enjoy the day. We visited North Beach at high tide this morning, stayed til mid afternoon and got some good sun. I can't remember ever being quite this happy.

I was afraid when we got here last Sunday. The real estate company we rented from is called Seabrook Exclusives, the island is a gated community and everyone here looks thin and rich (at least to me.) In my head I was thinking "this is not good." An old friend used to call me a reverse snob because I unfortunately judge wealthy, beautiful people without even getting to know them or giving them a chance. I judge them to keep them from hurting me - go figure. I was also really self-conscious because my wife is a southern charmer and fits right in down here in South Carolina. I on the other hand am a Yankee through and through. And not just a Yankee but a gay Yankee to boot! People can't tell my wife is gay and usually ask us if we are sisters. She always immediately discloses that I am her wife no matter where we are but this time I asked her not to. I was fighting with internal homophobia and for the first time in a long time was afraid to be honest. It was as if all of my adolescent anxieties were right up in my face....money, status, sexuality. I was sure my shame and self hate were going to ruin the entire vacation. And the worst part is that it made me feel disconnected and separate from her.

Things turned around though that night when we went to bed. The villa we are staying in is really comfortable. Sunshine and Happiness says that our place makes her feel held. It does. It's a comfy place, not very big, just large enough for 2 people and 2 shih-tzus. Perfect except that the upstairs "master bath" is about the size of an old phone booth. I noticed this but didn't pay it any mind when we climbed in bed. We had driven 9 hours with 2 dogs and so we were both beat and fell into a sound sleep. I awoke later in the pitch dark to the sounds of my bubby making the following noises as she bounced off of the walls, "oof, ouch, uh, ow, eek", slight pause, then "hey, this bathroom is really small." For some reason this struck me funny and I had one of those laugh until you cry moments. I just could not stop. (Ok, so I know that it doesn't really translate in print but it was hilarious) And for whatever reason, this took away my fear. I felt connected to her again and I realized that the most important thing in the world to me is being with her, no matter where we are. After that I stopped caring what people thought about me. (mostly) I went out in a sleeveless shirt. I wore a bathing suit. I refused to be ashamed. And no one ended up being mean or contemptuous. In fact everyone was friendly and kind. I pre-judged wrongly- AGAIN.

My love says that love not fear is the answer to my problems. She makes me feel held. She takes me to places and shows me things that I would never have the opportunity to experience on my own. She tells me all the time that we will do whatever it takes to create a life worth living. Day by day she chips away at my walls and teaches me to love. So this baby is for you....



So I hate that I sometimes miss what's right in front of my eyes,
And I know at the end of my road I'll be wantin' more time
Just another sunset
One more kiss from my baby
A smile from a friend
It's a beautiful world - Dierks Bentley

Friday, April 22, 2011

North Beach

Sunrise at North Beach, Seabrook Island
I woke up cranky this morning and didn't know why.  We drove from Pittsburgh Saturday and won't return home until late Monday night and I thought I was out of sorts because I was ready to go home.  Seabrook is the longest vacation I have ever taken and every other time I've been away I've been ready to leave at about day 4.  I start missing the familiar. My bed, the cats, our neighborhood, the gray Pittsburgh weather, my depression.  So I just assumed that this was what was wrong with me.  I even told Mrs. Sunshine and Happiness I was ready to go home as we sat and drank our breakfast coffee.  She gave me the hairy eyeball and told me to suit myself.  And then we went to North Beach.

It was 85 and partly cloudy today with a chance of thunderstorms.  Partly cloudy here looks completely like the best day we have ever had in Pittsburgh.  My love and I brought beach chairs, towels, packed ourselves a cooler.  Mrs. S&H would have brought the boogie board but I talked her out of it by reminding her of the cannonball jellyfish.  In my mind all I could see was my love as a tiny dot on the horizon being swept out to sea as I yelled, "that's far enough"  from the shore.  I packed my books, Three Cups of Tea and The Artists Way (which sucks).  As soon as we got to the beach I walked to the water and took a dip to cool off.  Actually I was standing in knee deep water jumping waves and the tide knocked me over but whatever.  I went back to my chair, slathered myself with 50 sunscreen (Casper the Friendly Ghost, the friendliest ghost you know) and settled in to read my books.  It was at this moment that I realized why I had been so bitchy.  I looked at my baby and said "I don't want to leave"  and she said, "well we don't have to go" meaning we have 3 more days before we pack.  I responded "I mean, ever."  This time I got no hairy eyeball just a smile.   I realized I'd been trying to preempt the sadness I am going to feel on Sunday when we have to leave for home by trying to convince myself today that I can't wait to get there.  Only in my world does this make perfect sense.  Me and my attachment issues!

But today I decided to do something different.  I decided to be present and enjoy the day instead of  trying to prepare myself, in my own strange way, to make leaving less painful. (thereby missing the beauty right in front of me).  So I breathed in and out slowly.  I meditated.  I listened to the sound of the ocean waves, felt the sun on my face and settled in to read once again.  And just then...... it began to rain.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Seabrook Island

It was 80 degrees with absolutely no clouds today and I actually took my fat ass to the pool.  I also wore a sleeveless tank top which I have done all of, oh NEVER.  Remarkably I did not scare any small children. 

Earlier we took both dogs back to the beach and walked them. Or I should say tried to walk them.  The wife and I had to stop every 2 feet or so to give and receive love and affection from each and every child and family member we passed.  We also saw a school of bottle nose dolphins out by a huge sandbar.  It was very exciting.  The rest of the walk was slow but uneventful until we ran into these:

Giant Cannonball Jellyfish -Yikes!
And that folks was the end of that walk! 

Now I know I am a fearful neurotic person but I do also know this.  The palmetto bugs are not the only creatures that are monster sized down here.  I wasn't being a big fraidy cat when I tucked tail and ran from the beach with the dogs yesterday, just as it was not cowardly to be scared shitless of the ocean  when we went to see it at high tide.  Those jellyfish are actually a menace and when we visited the beach today we noticed there are signs
 posted everywhere prohibiting swimming.  We learned that a bunch of kids ignoring all the warning signs boogie boarded out to a sandbar at low tide.  My superwife that same day had thought it might be cool to swim out to this self same sandbar.  I however threw a nitty-nit.  The kids became stranded due to the terrific current and folks on the beach had to call the Coast Guard to come rescue  them.  Of course prior to this my wife thought I had  been overreacting. Ahem!

Tomorrow we go hunting for alligators and bobcats.  I have no anxiety about that.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Vacation Day 1

After a 2 day drive from Pittsburgh, we arrived at Seabrook Island yesterday evening.  The picture above is of the beach right across the street from our villa, and yeah it really does look like that.  As gorgeous as it is I got wigged out because I have vacationed in South Carolina before (Hilton Head) and the monster palmetto bugs (read - GIANT roaches) scare the hell out of me.  The place we are staying is beautiful but I could smell the bug spray as soon as we got to the steps.  The resort must spray the palm trees and grounds pretty regularly which is a good thing but it freaked me right the hell out.  Needless to say I am on hyper-alert for any slight movement in my periphery.  Today the dog walked in the kitchen, yipped and jumped back.  My "always live life on the sunny side" wife said that it was only her reflection in the bottom of the stove.  I on the other hand am sure she saw the head of a gargantuan palmetto bug mumbling yum, yum and wisely whined and ran away.

Other than the lovely smell of pesticide, our introduction to the Spinnaker Beach Houses Villa was  pleasant.  The first thing we saw as we came up the steps and onto the deck was a little green gecko just hanging out on the door frame.  This was a good sign.  On our honeymoon in Key Largo there were tons of geckos and I even got to pick one up and save it from becoming the lunch of a seabird (at least for that moment).  Things were improving. They improved even more when we saw the inside of the place.  The living/dining area is bordered by 3 floor to ceiling windows that face the 18th hole of the Crooked Oaks golf course.  We arrived just before dusk and the view was incredible.  Corn stalk yellow, adobe red and slate blue make up the color scheme and the decor according to the wife is artistic, country, French if that even exists. I call it an eclectic mish mosh.

After we settled in, we decided to take the dogs to check out the beach access across the street.  Our  dogs have never been to the ocean so we were excited to see how they would react.  Turns out they were not the ones with the reaction.   As we walked over the dunes to the steps down to the beach, I freaked the f*** out.  Right there at the bottom of the steps was the ocean.  No beach, actually no bottom steps, just raging water.  And I do mean raging.  There was a wild storm the day before we got there and the current and waves were the most powerful I have ever seen.  Of course here's where my brain went.  Grab the dogs.  (They were on extend-a-leashes and I was afraid they were going to go too far and fall in)  Grab the wife, turn around, run.  One more step, one slip and we're dead.  Not wow, that's beautiful or how amazing, or look at the dolphins out there,  but WE ARE ABOUT TO DIE.  I hate my brain. 

Anyway, I was then petrified of the sea and had no intentions of going back there ever again.  Today, though I was coaxed back and viola' the beach had magically returned. Of course it had been high tide.  I am the biggest wuss. So I thought I had conquered my fears and bravely took both dogs down to the beach.  We walked about 10 feet when I saw a Land of the Lost size jellyfish and I promptly twirled myself around, picked up both dogs and went back home.  Later I decided to venture one more time.  I walked along the rocks right below the dunes and I was becoming more and more comfortable.  It had been awhile since the ginormous jelly fish sighting.  Then it happened.  I saw a movement in a tide pool by the rocks under the dunes.  I thought it was a fish or a crab or something and I am nothing if not curious so I left my wife to check it out.  And what do you think it was????  That's right- monster palmetto bugs!   I just know I am going to have nightmares tonight. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

First Effort

Adolescence

Burgundy Scrabble board, tossed in the air
ivory lettered tiles scattered across the floor
half finished jumbo crossword done in pen
and the remaining answers don't fit in
an impossible sudoku of diagnoses from the DSM IV.

What is the word?
There are no words.
There will never be a word
for what is wrong with me
and why it is that I won't let you in.

No language, no access
to my disarranged
down is up, up is down
Wonderland.
And why you might
want entrance to my life
when all I want to do is leave
for this, for sure
there is no word,
no answer.

I imitate, assume,
exaggerate happenstance.
I push away suspicious and avoid.
No one gets in.
Yet stubbornly
I take my broken pieces
and shove them back
into a ragged hole
that doesn't fit
but You.

                          - georgie


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Procrastination

Augh! We leave for vacation on Saturday, woo-hoo and I have to do lists for my to do lists.


All of which is just me avoiding doing all of the many and sundry things that need to be done before we leave.  My lovely wife is working out the wazoo to clear her schedule so we can leave.  So its my job to clean the litter boxes (ick) change the closets from winter to summer stuff so we have something to wear (double ick) clean the house (too many icks to type), shop for our food (extensive) do laundry, mow the lawn (far down the list), open an IRA before taxes are due, pack, clean the car, ad infinitum.  Oh, and I seriously need to get my hair cut.

Waaaa! I'm stomping my feet (big baby)

I just want to be able to magically go on vacation without the work.  This growing up stuff is HARD!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

National Poetry Month

In honor of National Poetry Month, my favorite poem.

St. Francis And The Sow 
 The bud
stands for all things,
even those things that don't flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as St. Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of
the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking
and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

Galway Kinnell

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Great Depression

I am grateful today. 

In Sunday's Post-Gazette there is an op-ed piece titled Lessons from the Depression. In the article Ralph Couey makes the point that although everyone is talking about the current "tough economic times" and the need to cut back, no one is jumping to the forefront to sacrifice their own self interest.  Everyone it seems thinks that the burden should be borne by someone else.  Living above our means, has brought us to the brink of insolvency and sacrifices must be made.

My grandparents grew up during the Great Depression.  My grandmother was only 3 and my grandfather 11 in 1929 when the crash hit.  Sacrifice then was not a choice but essential for survival  My grandfather ran away and began hopping boxcars and living in hobo camps.  He learned to smoke, drink and fight and became a wanderer.  He traveled across the country and sought adventure.  When he returned home he had become an angry and violent man.  He had learned a trade though through his travels and he became a hard working, hard driving/drinking, railroad engineer. I still remember the gold watch B&O gave him when he retired with a chugging train on its face.  My Pap died in 1993 still a hard and bitter man.

At the same time, my grandmother and her siblings were given up and put in an orphanage to save them from starving.  Many children were given up by their  parents and became wards of the state, better known as court kids.  My great grandmother was able to keep two of her children but Gram wasn't one of them.  For her entire life she has not gotten over the betrayal of this abandonment.  My Gram is still alive.  She saves tinfoil, rubber bands, sandwich baggies.  She wastes nothing.  When she shops she buys just enough never more.  When she cooks there is only enough for a small meal.  She used to keep her money in a soup can in the kitchen cupboard.  She has not been able to shake the fear that things could go bad at any minute and that there will not be enough.  She has no peace and serenity because she lives in fear of the future, constantly trying to prepare herself for whatever bad thing might happen. 

I can live like this too, in fear, trying to control everything.  Today though I am able to see that I have always had enough.  Enough love, enough food, enough money, enough health.  And I hope that when and if the time comes for me to sacrifice I will be willing and not afraid.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Next Blog

Yesterday's entry was quite the downer.  I hate being in that space but fortunately my mood has improved.  I have been cruising the "next blog" button today and  I am awed at the creativity we are capable of as human beings.  Creativity feeds my soul and is where I find joy.  Poetry, art, music, the record of a life, I can find it all using the next blog button.

Today I came upon the site http://thecre8ive.blogspot.com/  and discovered Soko, a MySpace artist.  Her song "I Will Never Love You More" is used as the soundtrack to a short film called Seven Henrietta Street.  It is "sticky" and I have been humming it all morning long.  This creation is charming and sentimental and made me smile. 

Even the titles of individual blogs fascinate me.  Some I like are:
 Like Rolling Off a Blog
 Miles to Go Before I Sleep
Don't Drink and Don't Die
That's Church
Beautiful Grace
And my personal favorite right now for some unknown reason
PenHallow Street.

Just the title of these blogs tells me something about the blog's author or at least what the author wants me to think I know..
 
Everyone it seems longs for a witness to their lives. Everyone wants to be seen and known, at least in some small part.  I believe we are all born with a desire to create something, whether it is ephemeral and esoteric or univeral and enduring.  All I know is that when I bear witness to a stranger's creativity,(or a friend's) it makes me feel a part of the human race.  I am able to identify with the joys and sufferings of others in a way that I can't really describe.  This connection feeds my  spirit and makes me happy to be human.

<School of Creativity>

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Depression

<skidoo.com>

When I was young, Hee Haw was on every Saturday Night.  There was a skit in the show that no matter the years has always stuck with me.  Grandpa Jones and his buddies sat on boxes with their moonshine jugs in front of them.  A sad looking basset hound completed the picture and would sometimes howl along as they sang this song:

Gloom, despair and agony on me
Deep dark depression
Excessive misery
If it weren't for bad luck
I'd have no luck at all.
Gloom, despair and agony on me.  

The song stuck with me because it made me laugh and I could relate to the self pity inherent in it.  I have always identified with Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh whose mantra is "oh dear, it looks like rain."  Somehow my identity has become inextricably linked with my depression.  I have not been able to rise above it. Fear and despair are my defaults when it comes to dealing with the challenges that are part and parcel of this world. The truth is that depression has been a part of me for so long that I can't remember ever being without it.  Winston Churchill used the metaphor of a  black dog to describe his depression, an ever present companion, vaguely menacing, lurking in the darkness, growling and threatening to overwhelm him at any time.  The poet Jane Kenyon describes it below.

HAVING IT OUT WITH MELANCHOLY
1. FROM THE NURSERY
When I was born, you waited
behind a pile of linen in the nursery,
and when we were alone, you lay down
on top of me, pressing
the bile of desolation into every pore.
And from that day on
everything under the sun and moon
made me sad — even the yellow
wooden beads that slid and spun
along a spindle on my crib.
You taught me to exist without gratitude.
You ruined my manners toward God:
“We’re here simply to wait for death;
the pleasures of earth are overrated.”
I only appeared to belong to my mother,
to live among blocks and cotton undershirts
with snaps; among red tin lunch boxes
and report cards in ugly brown slipcases.
I was already yours — the anti-urge,
the mutilator of souls.

The worst part of depression is that it robs me of my life.  It robs me of a relationship with myself  because as Kenyon states, it is a mutilator of souls.  It destroys my spirit.  I have lost so much of my life to it.  Later in the poem Kenyon says:

Coarse, mean, you’ll put your feet
on the coffee table, lean back,
and turn me into someone who can’t
take the trouble to speak; someone
who can’t sleep, or who does nothing
but sleep; can’t read, or call
for an appointment for help.

There is nothing I can do
against your coming.
When I awake, I am still with thee.


Sometimes it makes me suicidal.  Again Kenyon:

The dog searches until he finds me
upstairs, lies down with a clatter
of elbows, puts his head on my foot.
Sometimes the sound of his breathing
saves my life -- in and out, in
and out; a pause, a long sigh. . . .


The only defense against my own black dog is to do my best to try and tame it.  Each day I fight not to surrender to it's pull.   I fight to connect with folks.  I fight to not climb in bed and hide and waste this one life I have been given.  I fight to stay in the day with my feet on the floor knowing that I have everything I need in this moment.  I fight to know that regardless of how I feel that life is a gift, a joy and that my life is worth living despite it all.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Mea Culpa

 I was talking to a friend yesterday about how in a fit of pique my partner cut her own hair.  The unfortunate outcome was that what looked like a cute shag in the evening resembled a mullet when she woke up in the morning.  She then had to spend a good portion of the next morning attempting to correct her coiffure.  I was laughing as I told this story and added that my partner's hair has a life of its own and depending on the weather can either be straight, curly, fuzzy or smooth.  Sometimes when she wakes up  it can look as though she stuck her finger in a light socket and this is how she was nicknamed the Wild Woman of Borneo.

I grew up Irish Catholic in a small Pittsburgh town.  Being called the Wild Woman of Borneo was a way of saying one had crossed a line and needed to get things together.  If a uniform skirt was too short, makeup was too seductive or hair was too wild my mom would paint my sister or me with this brush.  It was a gentle way of saying, comb your hair, wash your face and lower the hem on your skirt.  I recently came across a poem by Kate Bernadette Benedict that vividly brought back memories of watching the older girls at school, wild women of borneo all, and being fascinated.  http://www.katebenedict.com/earlylessons/WildWomenofBorneo.html 

When I used this expression my friend looked horrified but said nothing.  I realized then that perhaps, just maybe, this expression might be offensive to folks.  So I googled it.  According to my sources "The Wild Woman of Borneo" originated in the Victorian era but did not come to prominence in the US until the early thirties.  Also in 1932 the movie "Wild Women of Borneo" was released and in an early Disney comic Uncle Scrooge captures the Wild Woman from Borneo after she escapes from her cage at the carnival.   The Victorian upper class had a habit of calling their black show people 'wild' and often attributing their origin to 'Borneo'. They displayed them wearing only a loin cloth, or similar tropical coverings, wielding a spear, with a bone through the nose. The crowds were attracted with the call. 'Roll up, roll up, see the wild man of Borneo'.  So yeah. Offensive.  Sorry.