Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Writing Under Pressure

A pal of mine added me to her blogroll today and that makes me think I should put something new up here in case any of her readers show up. If you came here via Tishie's LJ: HI!!

I paid a florist in my hometown to put Memorial Day flowers on the graves of my dad, grandparents and my cousin Linda, a baby who died when she was only a few days old. I did it last year, too. Taking care of Memorial Day was one of the biggest and last reasons Mom had for staying put in her old place. Every year she put together potted plants and took them out to the cemetery, kept them watered, and took them home after a week or so. She didn't want to leave those grave markers uncovered by moving away. Paying somebody to put flowers out makes me feel like a good daughter. It lets my mom relax about the holiday and it forces me to reflect on those missing relatives. Of course, none of us lives in that town any more so for all I know the florist pockets the money and leaves the graves empty. I doubt it. It's a small town.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


I've been tagged by frog. The rules:
- You must post with six weird facts or habits about yourself. These cannot be used against you later on :)
- At the bottom name the six people you will tag next.
- Leave them a comment to let them know they've been tagged.

1. I grind my teeth at night and have done so since I was small. Because of this, all my incisors are squared-off. I have broken and/or worn out multiple night guards from the grinding. I also broke a tooth once in my sleep.

2. I've met Sean Penn.

3. I recently met someone named Brook Trout.

4. I have a weird sympathetic nerve thing that causes the inside of my left cheek to tingle when the inside of my left elbow is touched. Yes, I know that one's especially weird.

5. I was "saved" twice at vacation Bible school as a kid. Once for a small New Testament, once for lemon drops. My eternal soul was apparently very cheap.

6. I once shared a house with four men, none of whom were relatives.

I'm not tagging anyone now but I reserve the right to do so at a later time, any time, without warning. Mwah, ha, ha.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Irony

I recently read Choosing Civility. Why? Because my mentor and stalk-object (though she doesn't know it) recommended it. Now I recommend it to you. In fact, I recommend you buy 100 copies and distribute them to strangers who seem to need its simple, straightforward advice for getting along in society. That guy who honks at you when the light changes? Needs a book. That woman who talks on her cell at the restaurant? Book. Book, book, book. Everybody needs it.

So I'm reading along in this book, which I borrowed from the library, when what do I notice? Handwriting! A person who borrowed it before me had WRITTEN IN THE BOOK. Underlining, comments, exclamations. Writing in a library book! I hope this book-mangler was helped by the contents. Who could need them more?

Monday, May 15, 2006

Post-Mother's Day Debrief

Mom got her card and flowers. She thanked me for the flowers, not the card. Since she can't really read any more, and her memory's not what it used to be either, I joked with my sister J that she should just pull out last year's card every year and read it to Mom. She'd never know. I crack myself up.

I was wished "Happy Mother's Day" by three different people (who don't know me) yesterday. These days I just say "Thank you" and move along. It does bother me that strangers assume I'm a mother based on my sex and age. Motherhood's the default choice in our culture. I need to get over that. Because it doesn't look like it's changing any time soon.

On the other hand, Mr. Gosling was also told "Happy Mother's Day" once yesterday. So maybe change is a-coming after all.

Frog always has something outstanding to say about Mother's Day and this year's no exception.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

All Beings Our Mothers

In Buddhism, a practice recommended for increasing compassion and raising bodhichitta (literally, "awakened mind") is recalling that all sentient beings were our mother, our friend, our child at some point in limitless time. Whether one believes in reincarnation or not, this practice can move one to act compassionately.

I was reminded of this practice when I had the great good fortune of hearing a talk by His Eminence Terton Namkha Drimed Rabjam Rinpoche last night. He was clear and firm: "Every being without exception has been your mother, your father, your child."

I've struggled with this practice at various times -- not surprising, given the nature of my relationship with my mother. Thinking of this or that person as my mother in some past existence hasn't always aroused compassion.

It's been suggested that those of us who struggle with the practice might do well to focus on the caregiving we did receive. Even the worst mothers (or other caregivers) fed us, got up in the night when we cried and diapered us, literally wiping our butts. Maybe, like my mother, they made us birthday cakes every year. They struggled in childbirth so that we might enjoy this moment right now. Focusing on even the smallest kindness shown by a caregiver has the potential to increase our compassion if we imagine every being showed us such kindness at some time.

One of my earliest memories is of Mom rocking me to sleep, singing. Everyone else was in bed, so clearly it was late at night. Still, she sang. I remember well the comfort of the embrace, her patting me on my little back as she rocked and sang. She might have missed a lot of opportunities to be a "good" mother later on, but that night she was kind and nurturing. Thank you, all my mothers, for this kindness. May it be returned to you 1,000 times over.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Terminal Grumpiness

Last weekend when I called Mom she said she thought it might have been the assisted living staff calling. They call her once a day to check on her: "How are you doing today?" I didn't realize they did that, though Mom's been living there for two years. I said I thought it was nice.

"I don't think it's very nice sometimes!"

"What do you mean?"

"Sometimes they call too early and I have to get out of bed to answer the phone!"

This is the way my mother communicates. Always. About everything. It's like she's in a race to get the the worst, most awful thing about the topic as quickly as possible. This time, it only took her two sentences to get to What I Don't Like. That's pretty good.

A couple of weeks ago we were talking about my grandmother, Mom's mother-in-law. This woman wasn't perfect, but she did an awful lot for us. I adored her. She used to have my sisters and me stay overnight at her house, which gave our very depressed mother some precious relief. If we were sick and needed to stay home from school, it was her house we stayed at. She and my grandfather helped my folks out when times were hard, though they didn't have a lot themselves. Still, the only thing Mom seems to remember about Gram is a harsh exchange they had when my father was ill for a year, over 50 years ago.

It's a way of communicating and relating to the world that I'm trying to unlearn, well into the middle of my life. Always focusing on the negative, complaining, criticizing, tearing down. On one hand, it's a way of bonding with people: "Isn't it awful? Oh, YOU think it's awful TOO?" Misery really does love company. On the other hand, it communicates the hopelessness of our inner world. It encourages others to see the clouds with us. It penalizes the happy. It places a burden on those around us. That's what growing up around this kind of talk did for me. To be happy -- genuinely joyful -- was seen as an affront. This is what can happen when depressed people parent, I think. The exuberance of a child becomes an insult. It feels threatening for the joyful child and the depressed parent. Children learn to adapt to the family status quo and hide their natural curiosity and enthusiasm for living. Eventually, they may adapt so well they stop feeling any wonder at all.

It's too late for Mother, I'm afraid. It's probably too late for my sisters. But it's not too late for me.

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

By Mary Oliver

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

T-Minus Five Days and Counting

I ordered some flowers for Mother's Day yesterday. For Mom. She can't see well and her sense of smell has always been severely limited so I wonder why I'm sending her flowers. She doesn't need or want any clothes, nightgowns, slippers, soaps or perfume. She has candy left over from Christmas and Easter still, so she doesn't need treats. There just aren't many options. But sending nothing would send her into a tailspin of grief and "What Did I Do To Deserve This?" (I know this because I was late with her gift one year.) So flowers it is. My oldest sister J thought it would be a good idea, because she's not sending Mom flowers and she's sure neither of the other sisters will, and "She should have flowers for Mother's Day." So she'll have them. They won't make her happy or help her feel loved, especially, but they will remind her she has children who think of her. And they'll tell the other residents and staff of the assisted living facility that Mom's cared for. That seems to be enough.