Tuesday, May 08, 2018

May evening

I'm sitting in my backyard typing up a cheat sheet for junior high students performing Finian's Rainbow. It's a cools how, with singable, stylish songs originally from 1947, but it's not one of those shows where the story is thoroughly integrated into the songs. So it takes a little studying to know what comes next. The kids won't know it, but putting together the cheat sheet about who has to be where is as much for my benefit (I"m the director) as for theirs.

It's almost dark and the birds are singing good night. It's only my second night outside this spring. People walk their dogs. Just watched a man in a dress shirt use the flashlight on his phone to help pick up dog poop. High tech, low tech--we're all these things these days. If this were a fancier, newly remodeled backyard, I'd probably have a charging station coming up out of the ground underneath my patio umbrella. Alas, I don't, so this will be a short post.

I think I hear a rotary, push mower going a couple yards over, speaking of low tech, or low-tech nostalgia. I tried one of those for a summer, then bought a new electric mower.

It's good to be out in the spring air. With sounds. the occasional neighbor walking by, soft, quiet darkness.

It was a long winter. It is a much-longed-for spring.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

No words?

It seems to be a thing these days to say, "There are no words" and then to trail off, or shake one's head, mouth slightly open, but with nothing to say.

If it is a thing, a catch-all polite phrase from the second decade of the 21st century, I reject it. And yet a few days ago I found myself starting to type "There are no words ... " in a Facebook message, replying to someone telling me about a mother and father who had recently joined the "I've Lost a Child" club--the club of which I, too, am a member. (No officers, no seniority rankings, no membership records, no secret handshake. Just this one awful shared fact.)

"There are no words," I typed, slowly and deliberately. I had no useful advice about getting through life's dark moments, no sure-fire scripture that comforts me. And I don't like rants about grieving, or truisms about carrying love for this child in your heart for the rest of your life.

But "no words" was not a satisfactory choice either. And a Facebook message was too small a box in which to draft an alternative. I clicked on the bookmark for The Perverse Lutheran and the link to start a new post and faced a much bigger space with no words.  The trouble was not so much with finding them, but with liking the ones I found and leaving them alone once I had typed them on the screen. This post sat as as a draft for more than a week.

There must be words. What are we without them? What else can we balance on, walk with, reach toward, but explanations that use words?

Words help. Years ago when my husband wandered off into dementia, my kids and I talked about Dad's delusions and about how we felt--angry, helpless, sad, frustrated, resigned, spooked. We put words to things as best we could. Words made uncomfortable feelings into things of substance.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Random on a Tuesday, #1–7

Random thoughts in search of perverse (Lutheran) connections.

1. Things I learned by going to Adult Ed on Sunday morning. Who was the first person in the Bible to name God? Not Adam, not Abraham. It was Hagar, the slave who was made pregnant by Abraham and then treated harshly by Sarah. She ran away and encountered God who told her to go back and submit to her mistress, but who also promised that her offspring would become a great nation.
She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: "You are the God who sees me," for she said, "I have now seen the One who sees me."Genesis 16:13
Had I ever heard that before? I suspect it has come up in one biblical feminist context or another, but it was heard anew last Sunday, and with pleased surprise. It's way simpler than all the floundering around I do on my own. It's a resting point. Where is God? Looking at me.

2. My day began with reading The Ethical Case for Having a Baby With Down Syndrome in the NY Times. I liked the simplicity of its conclusion:
If you value acceptance, empathy and unconditional love, you, too, should welcome a child with Down syndrome into your life.
Then I scanned the comment section and came away horrified. One person after another stated, more or less, that they should not be expected to cope with what life throws at them--that there was no value in this. This isn't exactly what they said. Their disapproval was couched in statements about it being "unethical to bring a child into the world who wouldn't have a happy life." Smug able-ist bastards--so certain they can define a happy, worthwhile life in terms of intellect and physical appearance. Of course, I'm a deluded (and aging) (and angry) parent.

3. Another heavy topic: I ran into a blog post from someone who runs a network of parents of children who have died, at any age. It was a long, long thing, explaining how a parent never gets over the loss of a child. I don't disagree, but it was not helpful to read. Besides, it's not the loss of a child you never get over. It's the loss of this child, this person, this young man, my Kris.

4. Here's my answer to #3--or at least an ideal answer I hope to live into. I have loved "Lucinda Matlock" from Spoon River Anthology since long before I had any claim to living a long life, but now I hear her upbraiding me:
What is this I hear of sorrow and weariness,
Anger, discontent and drooping hopes?
Degenerate sons and daughters,
Life is too strong for you —
It takes life to love Life. 
5.  Kris would agree with the sentiment of #4, and probably like the plain-spoken poem, too.

6. My goal was seven random thoughts, and in a list of seven, somewhere around #5 or #6 should be something amazing. But what I'm remembering right now is how the sewer backed up in the basement this morning--the sewer drain that was rodded out in November and again in January. The only amazing thing here is the size of the check that I will write to the plumber tomorrow morning for cleaning out the drain and sending a camera in there to see what's going on. I am trying not to be anxious or angry about this. Can't choose home ownership and expect nothing but contentment and happiness.

7. "You are the God who sees me." Who smells the stinky basement, breathes with me doing yoga, tastes my tears, softens the air around me, and hears the singing coming from my daughter with Down syndrome's bedroom.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Still winter

In C. S. Lewis's land of Narnia it's always winter and never Christmas. Here in northern Illinois we've already had Easter, but it's still winter.

Is this a weather report? Or a metaphor?

Whichever it is, there's a new, wet layer of it this morning. The evergreens outside my front windows  look like someone has plopped sodden balls of synthetic fluff on every upward-facing surface. The snow is mostly not sticking to streets and sidewalks, but it's covering every bit of anything that has been making an effort to turn green since Easter Sunday. You could call the snow pretty, except that it's April and I'm darn sick of snow. I want to see the daffodils I planted last fall. I want the kind of warm spring sun that makes the early tulips grow two inches from morning to night. I want color in the landscape. I want to sit outside in the backyard after supper.

But it's still winter.

I'm finishing up work on a warm, cabled sweater, the kind that would have been great to wear on St. Patrick's Day a few weeks back.

Macoun at Twist Collective

I still need to sew on the buttons and block the collar. Blocking involves soaking or washing the sweater in water and then pulling and poking, bunching and stretching until the knitted fabric is the shape you want it to be. Then you leave it on the dining room table to dry, which takes less than a day in dry winter weather.

Wool is malleable. When you block your knitting the stitches open up and even out. The fabric becomes softer and more cohesive as the little scales on the sides of the wool fibers make friends with their neighbors. The pieces to this sweater have already been blocked, but the shawl collar needs shaping. It will be stretched out horizontally and shaped around a folded towel to hold it in place. After it's dry, the wool will remember where to roll, where to fold over, following the knitted-in shape.

There is a lot of knitting in that collar--and it's knit 2, purl 2 ribbing, which is a bit tedious. (Knit 1, purl 1 ribbing is worse.) My carpal-tunnel-compromised fingers are tingly this morning after last night's determination to finish. But the collar makes the sweater and you do what you have to do, because, well, craft.

Still winter.

I take to the couch when it feels wintry in my soul, with knitting in my lap or a book, or both. Awaiting a passive sort of healing. The broken and sad parts inside knit themselves back together somehow, with bits and pieces from all over--the wisdom of authors, friends, family, my own past--brushing up against each other, making a new coherent whole.

Under the surface, under the snow--Easter's there, somewhere.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

That time, early in the morning, when you wander, still warm in your covers, between waking and sleeping, between dreams and what the day will demand.

I spent too much time there this morning, trying to recreate and understand scenes that had made so much sense in my not-quite-conscious moments earlier. The reality of certain knowledge dissolved like vanilla extract dropped off the teaspoon into custard, or like warm water at one end of the bath tub.

I was studying playwriting, but not going to class. I was called back for a part, but didn't return for the next stage of auditions. The teacher had a political consulting business. Her husband ran a dry cleaners next door. I talked about pregnancy and how having children was the heavy, most important thing. She was a big woman, heavy — pregnant?

Surely, I thought, there is a clue here for me about me. But I could not grasp it. Head in the pillow, I worked my way through to Tuesday and what happens on Tuesday. Things more truthful floated by, but they would not stay.

It took me a long time to get dressed. One thing I put on didn't go with another, and I ended up in the wrong tee-shirt,  wearing big clunky earrings all day. Heavy again.

I started a new book for Holy Week with my coffee. But it's Tuesday already and it's the same book I started last year and like last year, I won't get through it.

The vague, creeping edge of gray-green anxiety crept through me, like tasting something that's a bit off.  I did not shake it all day long. Not when wandering off to look at yarn and sweater patterns on the internet. Not while wandering the back aisles at Target looking at lampshades. Came home with Easter candy instead, then jammed it into a bag and tucked it out of sight on the dining room buffet. I googled "Easter brunch menus" and my browser slows to a stop as I click through photos of 53 eggs-for-Easter recipes.

And now I'm drifting off to sleep again, still not sure I am who I am and that whoever I am has a clue.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Kurt writes

Sharing a poem from my son.

Death in the digital age
by Kurt Grahnke

Whenever I send emails to myself as I so often do,
Recapitulating articles, which I may never read again,
Shipping docs through e-space to be given physical form
Through a printer I haven’t learned to sync up with yet,
Your name pops up right below mine, with a picture too,
Like email doesn’t know you’re dead.
Not too many G-R-A-H-N-s out there anymore.

Sometimes I think about sending you something,
As if that gesture might symbolize anything important.
It might manifest my lack of comprehension
Of what it means to be erased.
I can’t control Z your absence,
But the computer doesn’t know that,
So if I send you a message,
Do you get it?
Of course not.

But can’t these metaphors
Be strong enough to bring you back into existence?
Is our shared Netflix account, your facebook, our text history
Enough to make an argument for your continued presence in this world?
Are we all immortalized through our gadgets and data we leave behind?
If google suggests an advertisement for me about a baseball game that only came about because of all the things you once sent me,
Are you still talking to me?
It’s hard to say…
I love you so much
That I realize you aren’t.
But I’ll still go to the game
And wish you were there.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Broken, scattered, holy

I'm sitting in my aunt's sunroom, reading while regularly looking out at the birds on the bird feeders. A few minutes ago they were everywhere, clustered on the feeders, hanging upside down to get the suet in the netting, on the bench that serves as a rail for the deck. And then I shifted in my seat, ten--maybe twelve--feet behind the glass patio doors, and they all flew away. Shazam.

One of those fellows is now atop a pine tree at the edge of the lawn, a visible sentry, while the flocks of I-don't-know-what-they're-all-called return.

I'm out in the country and there are way more birds than can be found even on an active June morning in my urban back yard. I've seen a bright red, rather regal cardinal, a blue jay, a red-wing blackbird, and a lot of grey-brown winged things of all sizes that I do not have the eyes or expertise to tell apart. Their wings are sometimes fluttering hard to accomplish a landing near the food. I can see the wind they're fighting in the direction of the blowing snow.

Soon the people will be up in this house--with their age-old ways of bumping together, breakfasting, chatting, remembering, some fighting new battles with canes and walkers and hearing aids. Mostly loving one another, but with the occasional sandpapery brush-up.

Gregory Boyle (of Homeboy Industries fame) writes in "Barking to the Choir" (my morning reading), that God/the Holy appears in all kinds of unexpected, small things. He watches for them with the attitude of the Buddhist who held the whole glass and declared it "already broken."

The birds are here. the birds have already scattered. They've done so several times as I type this.

God/the Holy remains.