REPORT A PROBLEM
I like my Dunkin' Donuts writing place, where the LIT plays happy tunes, "Carol of the Bells" and "Silver Bells," and I sip blueberry-flavored coffee and admire the Christmas tree with white bulbs and red and blue ornaments. I sit with my Chromebook and try to snatch ideas from air, or figure out what to do with ones I've nurtured for a while. A mom and kids descends on a nearby table, and a worker on break checks his phone, and it feels comfy. Even when ideas don't hit, just sitting here and checking emails doesn't feel like a waste.
I feel blocked, as though any idea I have is worthless, as though any revision will cause harm. Maybe I'm revising too many things at the same time? It would be fun to start something new--but what? So I sit here at Dunkin', wondering if I look strange in the royal blue sweater I love but that has a rip in it, wearing black tendonitis gloves as I type words on my chromebook, thinking that by now, with people automatically giving me the senior discount, I should have a book published if I'm going to call myself writer. Yup, blocked.
I'm feeling down on myself, reliving all my mistakes--but isn't that a mistake, allowing myself to wallow in my sins? Isn't that a sin against myself, a creature of God who deserves happiness? My father is a classic example of the negative power of guilt. Because he felt so guilty for abandoning me, he couldn't be a father to me; he could barely talk to me. He'd call me on my birthday and there'd be long silences except when he asked about my (ex)husband or my son--never about me. Only when he let go of guilt did we become close.
Years ago, a woman would ask for money by the train station, and I'd notice her because she'd always be reading. She wore a patch over one eye, and her voice was gentle, and she always would say thank you like she really meant it. I started to bring her books when I was finished with them, and sometimes I'd leave them with the guy who sold concessions downstairs who knew her, too.
Years later, in another neighborhood, I met her again, and she was excited to see me and tell me she now was in a job rehab program.
She's still recuperating. How could her son have been seriously depressed for a year and she didn't notice? "Even at the White Sox game on July 4, I was miserable." He was miserable then? At a Sox game? How did she not notice? Why did she encourage him to take such demanding course loads last year? Sure, financially it would have been nice for him to graduate in four years--but was her encouragement unbearable pressure? Now everything's OK again, almost--he's happy, looking forward to spring classes; life feels good for him again. But she's still reeling. She almost lost him.
St. Nicholas Day. I remember hearing about it in sixth grade and mentioning it to my mother, and she put Hershey squares in my shoe. But I remember being angry because it was obviously my mom's candy, with no attempt to seem a magical gift. But that was sweet of my mother; I feel bad, looking back, that I was such a brat. How I wish I could have been strong enough to deal with her mental illness and help her, rather than hide. I yearned for support from relatives, and married T because he visited her with me. Still.
A Writer magazine post proclaims that "finding your voice" isn't all it's cracked up to be--you need to write in a way that someone will pay you for what you have said. Feel like barfing up my Dunkin' Donuts bagel. If I ever skew my writing to follow visions of dollar signs dancing in my head, may I stop writing! Writing is all about self-expression and communication--you do want to make sure that the way you express yourself communicates well, of course--but we're not talking about producing identical fast-food items. Uniqueness is key--and the paradox of that uniqueness being universal.
I first heard a radio broadcast of "Miracle on 34th Street" when I was a St. A's sixth grader. My mother was working that year, so I got to be home alone a lot, and how I enjoyed listening to the radio and reading, especially this thick gold-covered illustrated children's Bible. Anyway, "Miracle on 34th Street" came on, and I was rapt. Another kid living with just her mom? In an apartment? Divorced parents? Didn't know her dad? Working mom? Back then, all TV shows showed intact nuclear families living in actual houses with multiple kids, and moms were housewives.
In some ways, "Miracle on 34th Street" was ahead of its time: It showed a divorced family, with the single mom, Doris, working a high-level job. But the only Black people you see are Cleo, the maid, and a man working at the post office sorting mail. Fred, the male hero, saves the day, proving Santa real and teaching Doris to abandon her "silly common sense"; the man must of course be the teacher. At the end, they embrace and plan to marry. Will Doris still work, or will she become a stereotypical suburban housewife? Will that make her happy?
When I connected with my dad and half-siblings, I discovered that my horrible sense of direction was genetic.
One time, my dad was driving, and my ex-husband and I were in the car--well, he wasn't my ex then. My ex was blind, but he had a great sense of direction and excellent mobility skills and got around the city just fine.
Anyway, my ex asked, "Aren't we going west? We're supposed to be going east."
My dad said, "Oh, yeah," as though this happened to him all the time.
My ex shook his head. "I see where you get it."
What is my favorite Christmas memory? Childhood Christmases felt lonely, then I got in the habit of spending holidays with the S's, but I always was an outsider, someone they were being charitably nice to. Then T and I visited my family--awkward, as they didn't all sit together, and we were blood relatives but strangers. And how I hated holidays with T's relatives, my in-laws; how I hated their rough discipline of their children. I suppose my favorite Christmases are those since my son was born, especially ones where I didn't have to worry about "sharing" him with my ex.
I love sitting in a fast food restaurant listening to the radio play Johnny Mathis singing "Oh Come All Ye Faithful," first in English then Latin, while red lights sparkle on plate glass windows, and I remind myself to treasure these bits of holiday celebration that warm up the winter cold, for soon enough it'll be January--still cold, evenings still dark, but gray and without the cheery Alleluia Jingle Bell music and bright lights. I read that many Christmas trappings actually come from pagan observances of the winter solstice, maybe making up, with bonfires, for the gloom of shorter days.
New York police officers turn their back on Mayor de Blasio, all because the mayor, dad of a biracial son, spoke of fear of his son's being typecast, in danger from cops. Police accused DeBlasio of not supporting cops.
Now two cops are executed by a man, angered by the slaying of unarmed Black men, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, by white cops.
But this man's horrific violent response doesn't negate the mayor's concern for his son, doesn't mean that young Black men don't have more to fear from police than young white men do. Hard cold statistics show otherwise.
All I want in life is...
My son to be happy.
Close ties with family and friends.
Felines to be healthy.
Being able to read books.
Being able to write.
Getting my stuff published.
More understanding between people.
More appreciation of differences.
Less stigma for stuff you can't help.
Being able to take walks and go to Dunkin' Donuts and write.
Being able to get to the Y and swim laps.
Less poverty; an end to homelessness.
More respect for people, no matter their income level or status.
More artistic expression, no matter the quality.
Writing prompts about family:
The most unusual family member.
The best (or worse) gift received from family.
Feelings about family vs. friends.
Feelings about holidays with or without family.
Meeting family members.
What you wish family members understood about you.
What you wish you understood or knew about family members.
Questions about ancestors.
Who is the black sheep in your family and why?
Why family does or doesn't have a visceral pull on you?
How you're supposed to feel about family members--vs. how you do feel about them.
How you are like or unlike family members.
2014: The World
No longer huge Obama fan after learning he knew we probably wouldn't be able to keep our doctors.
Polar vortex winter.
Taliban beheading innocent journalists and aid workers.
White policeman kills unarmed African American young man in Ferguson, and this lights a spark--Black Lives Matter.
Huge racial divide: Many whites don't get why Ferguson killing is such a big issue and parrot tired lines about Blacks killing Blacks, saying just don't resist arrest.
Robin Williams commits suicide.
Pakistani children slaughtered.
Karen Lewis diagnosed with brain cancer, no longer able to run for mayor.
Republicans dominate November election.
Wish I weren't so overly sensitive! I took an extra day to submit critiques because I still wasn't feeling perfectly recovered from the flu, and M and R email, asking if I knew when I'd send theirs, so they could tie things up. Um--I rushed and submitted it, but I felt sad--I'm always on time and had hoped for a little understanding. Also, if they knew what I'd been dealing with, on top of the flu, surely they'd be sympathetic--right? Maybe. Maybe not. I always hope for understanding and nurturing from people, but sometimes people are stuck in business mode.
I sit here in the brightly lit Dunkin' Donuts enjoying sweet coffee and Johnny Mathis carols, yet worlds away Pakistani parents are burying children killed for no reason but revenge--because nothing would hurt the parents as much as the deaths of their kids. One father referred to his son as his dream--and now his dream was dead. How can life contain such amazing beauty--Handel's Hallelujah Chorus and Beethoven's Ninth and Shakespeare--and such horrific, senseless pain? And what can I do? What can anyone do? I think of Malala's courage, a beacon shining out to us lesser mortals. And I pray.
2014: My Life
Recovered from total left knee replacement surgery.
Diagnosis of trigeminal neuralgia--explains constant toothache.
My essay about race published--and I read at 57th Street books to a crowd of young U of C students!
Promoted at work, with raise!
Back to walking miles.
Almost back to swimming laps.
Took weekly five-pack private swimming lessons with G, then took regular lessons.
Dunkin' Donuts becomes my writing place; enjoy free wifi and blueberry-flavored coffee.
Attended my son's honors thesis presentation.
Learned my son had been seriously depressed for over a year, and I'd been totally clueless--I almost lost him.
Tonight I go to the soiree and I'm supposed to bring prompts--the topic is family, the password: "Family can be crazy." I remember when I first heard someone use the term dysfunctional to describe their family and I was excited--finally, a way to talk about my own circle of related people. Then the young woman described her family--a little distance from her sisters, parents who fought now and then--and I raised my eyebrows. If that's dysfunctional, what would they call mine, with my mother's mental illness and relatives avoiding us because of it, wanting me aborted before I was born?
Today would be my father's birthday; it's also the winter solstice. Funny to think of the grandmother I met only once being pregnant with my father; I can't help but wonder in what ways I'm like her. For years, I sat cross-legged, one leg tucked under me, the way my dad used to sat--but I sat that way before even meeting him. My mother's brother and I have the same laugh, although I never was around him enough when he was laughing to mimic it. My son has my mother's and her father's eyes. We're connected, like it or not.
At P, the PTs and OTs and receptionists are so unfailingly friendly, and my OT, who hasn't seen me in a few months, greets me with a hug. When the PTs and OTs chat amongst each other, they include us patients in the chatting about books or TV or weather or whatever, making the massages and balance exercises less boring and painful. I've gone here for almost two years now, recuperating from two knee surgeries as well as getting exercises for my chronic tendonitis and now my bone spur. One receptionist once laughed and referred to her workplace as "home."
Again I follow my annual ritual of rereading "A Christmas Carol." I first read it in sixth grade, after Ms. P had us perform the play. The characters intrigued me, especially the Cratchit family and how loving they were despite not having a lot. I was always drawn to descriptions of families with lots of siblings; how I yearned to be part of a family like that! And my mother had no desire to make the best of being poor--she was angry at the world about it, and once had us eat hot dogs on Thanksgiving to punish Public Aid.
I like the theme of redemption in "A Christmas Carol," and I think it's even more powerful because Scrooge is old--he may be nearing the end of his life, but it's not too late for him to change and have a wonderful life and help others to have wonderful lives. He's a second father to Tiny Tim, and because of his help, Tiny Tim will not die. Sure, some things are forever gone--Belle married someone else and has a family--but still, a joyous future beckons. This makes it a very Christian story; the essence of Christianity is forgiveness and redemption.
I love the joyous feeling of Christmas. Of course it's the birth of Christ, but people who are not Christian are able to participate in the joy, too; much of the trappings, like the Christmas tree, were stolen from pagan celebrations, anyway. It's a time of giving, of celebrating Life and chasing the cold gray of winter away with cheerful music and bright lights and the aroma of evergreens. I think Jesus would approve and be glad. I don't think He is as rigidly judgmental as fundamentalist people believe; didn't He get in trouble for dining with scorned tax collectors?
My son texts me, as I sit here at Starbucks with my writing buddy, that it's Harry Potter weekend! Joy! Of course it's funny, because we own all the DVDs, so I could watch them any time--I don't need to wait for ABC Family to host Harry Potter weekend and show all 8 movies over the span of a weekend. Still, somehow it's special to know that anytime you turn on the TV, Harry, Ron, and Hermione and their magical friends will be there to greet you, and to know that people all around are watching it in virtual community!
Guinea pigs get lonely, so in Switzerland it's illegal to own just one. Yet some cats seem to just tolerate each other, although A seemed lonely and welcomed a cat that invaded our apartment.
For human beings, prolonged solitary confinement is torture. Loneliness, or avoiding loneliness, motivates so many of our actions, propeling us into healthy activities like volunteering and writing groups as well as unwise marriages.
I tend to feel a pull between the need for solitude and contemplation and writing, and being with people. The months when I was stranded in my apartment before knee surgery were horrible.
I hate how spoiled I am! I order the new tomato mozzarella bagel, but someone ordered it right ahead of me, so I have to select something else.
"The cheese bagel is good," one worker tells me, but I wrinkle my nose--had it--it's just OK. "But thanks," I add and hope he hears me.
How yuppie I am. There's people starving, who aren't able to sit with a Chromebook at a fast food restaurant and enjoy flavored coffee.
But getting spoiled is part of human nature, and progress, like the invention of washing machines and computers, depends upon this trait.
Seven years ago, my brother drove us to a cat shelter to select a kitten. The kitten really was for seventeen-year-old A, who was like a sister to my son. A was dealing with cancer, then her grandma died, then her cat died. I felt so bad, had to do something--what if we got a cat but it was really A's? She could name it, have it whenever she wanted. My brother had thought we'd want this gentle tortoiseshell, but it seemed too lethargic; we picked the feistier Daisy, who's still residing with us, though A asks about her regularly.
I am a Hufflepuff. That's what the Pottermore site says after I answered questions about my biggest fears and how I want people to think of me. Who wants to be Hufflepuff? Gryfrindors are brave, Ravenclaws smart, and even Slytherins have a glamorous evil appeal. Hufflepuffs are slow--nice, but slow.
But--despite my high class rank, I'd probably fit in well with the Hufflepuffs. Even in first grade, the teacher could never figure out which reading group to put me in. The high group was snobbish, the middle group boring, but the low group was nice and friendly. Yup, I'm Hufflepuff.
New Year's Eve. Feeling stressed because of below-freezing temps and a PT appointment and plans to attend a party with people I don't know. Then the call from M--A in ER, lifeless. Ms. M and I head to the hospital. A is now in her twenties but she played with my son when they were 7 and 8 years of age. Thank God--she's alert, though in pain. Earlier stress seems silly. Later, I go to the party with a new writing friend and dance the polka to a band with electric guitars. Grateful for knee surgeries--couldn't have danced last year!
The Tip Jar