Thursday, October 29, 2015

Random, on a Wednesday night

1. What do people DO while they brush their teeth? I get so bored. I leave the bathroom looking for something, anything. But I can't read--too much spit flying around. Can't watch TV--too far away from the sink. It's just such a nothing-time of the evening.

2. I learned this evening that Guinness Stout has a relatively low APV. Maybe not good news for everyone, but good news for me. Most beer gets to me too quickly.

3. I am typing these words while in bed. Every article on insomnia says that screen time keeps you from falling asleep. We'll see.

3. The quilt on my bed is ugly. I made it. It did not come out looking like I hoped it would, but it's been with me for a long time and so I love it.

4. What's true of my quilt is true of my life. Not what I hoped it would be, but with me for a long time and mine to love.

5. I knit no more than a dozen stitches today, and those were while I was on hold on a call to a software support desk.  Settled in for a long wait, and instead, right away, I'm talking with Nancy, who likes carrots cooked with brown sugar and cinnamon.

6. How do I know this about Nancy? Because I stuffed a fat baby carrot in my mouth seconds before Nancy picked up the call. So I had to explain why I was, um, mumbling. A general discussion of carrots ensued.

7. Ensued is a word that serves a very specific purpose, so it doesn't show up in many sentences. It's dismissive and uninteresting, though it can be used ironically. Irony improves many things that are otherwise uninteresting.

8. I'm reading a book in which the author, a well-published woman, humble-brags about her skills at word play and uses words in ways I'm sure she thinks are wonderful and I find kind of cloying. Sentences end up being about words instead of about stuff.

9. Which is not to say I don't like good words. I just don't like it when they're prodded to step out in front of their pals.

10. Because, besides being a Perverse Lutheran, I am a Modest Lutheran, socialized through the generations to be suspicious of anything showy.

11. Perhaps that's why I love my quilt and my modest life. Doesn't explain why I get bored brushing my teeth.

Saturday, October 24, 2015


Here’s my story about my friend Judy Torgus, which I was asked to write and share with La Leche League alumni who are collecting stories and memories of Judy. 

By the fall of 1983 I had been working at the La Leche League office in Franklin Park for four years. My reference librarian desk was next door to the Publications office, and I regularly read, wrote and edited copy for newsletters and information sheets.

I was not especially good at getting to work early in those days, but I usually got there before Judy. She always made an entrance, with a story, something she was outraged about, or just new jewelry. Who could resist wanting to be in her circle?

It had become apparent that fall that my father, a college professor, was having strange troubles. He was not himself, he fell asleep often, he seemed lost. I had been married a year by then, the oldest of three daughters, and I had been the one who had begun making calls to the family doctor, to a neurologist, to the psychiatrist who was treating him for something that looked like depression.

On a Wednesday morning early in December I drove him to the hospital for a CAT scan and left him there with my cousin and former roommate, Beth, who was an instructor in the nursing school. I had gone to work. A couple hours later the phone call came to my desk. It may have been my mother who relayed the news, more likely it was Beth. Daddy had a brain tumor, frighteningly large. He was being admitted to the hospital, they were talking about surgery, I should come.

I was 29 years old. The way roles played out in my family, I knew that a lot of things were about to become my responsibility. I was crushed and scared, ready to be responsible, feeling helpless. I went into the hall and around the corner to tell the ladies in Publications what had happened and that I was leaving to go to the hospital.

And Judy said, no, wait, you need to have some lunch.

But I have to go.

No, she said, you need to eat.

I’m not hungry, I said.

You need to eat. We’ll go next door, I’m taking you. Then you can go.

She took me to lunch. I ordered a tiny cup of vegetable soup with saltines. And when I asked, she told me about losing her parents as a child, something she rarely spoke of. How it was hard, but she and her sister were okay.

It gave me what I needed.

Judy came flying into many other moments of my life. She arrived with gifts and food and enthusiasm after the births of Kris, Eliza and Kurt (who was born on her birthday). She listened as I puzzled out what was wrong with Lon, my husband, as he slipped into Alzheimer’s. When she died I had been waiting for her to get better, so that we could have dinner and I could talk with her about my son Kris having ALS. Her husband had died of ALS. She would tell me it was okay.

Judy wanted to fix things, but there are so many things in life we can’t fix. Yet we are, nevertheless, okay.

And Judy is one reason I know that, even without hearing it from her one more time. And we can celebrate life, despite all the junky parts, with travel and jangly jewelry, with blue dresses, friendships and bright smiles.

We’ll share those things and continue to be okay.

Sunday, October 18, 2015


Saw this on Facebook a little while ago:

Everything is interconnected. Gratitude improves sleep. Sleep reduces pain. Reduced pain improves your mood. Improved mood reduces anxiety, which improves focus and planning. Focus and planning help with decision making. Decision making further reduces anxiety and improves enjoyment. Enjoyment gives you more to be grateful for, which keeps that loop of the upward spiral going. Enjoyment also makes it more likely you’ll exercise and be social, which, in turn, will make you happier.

And cleaning my room, hanging up all my clothes, rearranging my closet and my dresser drawers, and cooking a decent dinner--these must fit in there somewhere. Focus? Planning? Decision-making? Something in that circular path, because that pasta dish made for dinner tonight is going to be leftovers for a couple of days, reducing anxiety and improving enjoyment.

Sigh. At least the busy-ness got me through the afternoon. I'll be able to get dressed this week without having to dig through a basket of unfolded laundry. There will be clean sheets on the bed tonight--if I  remember to put them in the dryer soon.

The topic this morning in church was healing, thanks to St. Luke, Evangelist, known also as a physician, who is commemorated on Oct. 18.

I don't like crying in church. In fact I'm pretty damn tired of it, but there it was, with every hymn, every lesson. Healing is a sore spot. I would like my son Kris to be healed of his ALS right now. I would like the trajectory of that awful disease to reverse itself—bam! and have him climb back up the slope to being his whole, moving physical self again. But this is not the way the natural world works. So what I'm left with is a religious/spiritual reframe-it distinction between cure (which won't happen) and healing.

Healed is, I guess, a spiritual state, something about no bitterness, or perfect trust in God, something that happens in the metaphorical heart, not the tissues of the body.  Or it's some acceptance of the finitude of this life and the resultant sweetness. Or lasting love. Or something greater than ourselves. Or the cross of Christ and Jesus. Or depending on God and being okay with whatever happens.

Or it's something about being strong. That's the Lutheranism, the Christianity of my youth--admiration for people with strong faith, who never waiver, or who "fight the good fight" and conquer doubt and anger. And we all want to be that person, don't we? So you put on a good face. You express anger and doubt and—did I say anger?—only where it's permitted, in privacy or in deep heartfelt talks with spiritual advisors. You're told to "have faith" or lean on the little faith you do have.

Shit. It's so much harder than that. I've bumped up against randomness, wretchedness, sulkiness enough that the grey cloud of life's meaninglessness moves always alongside me.

Today, tomorrow, this week, doing healthy stuff--sleeping, reading, knitting, walking, deciding to cut my hair or clean off the table where the junk mail ends up, even working--will probably do a lot more for me than spiritual whatever. Out walking today, I saw a beautiful sky and intensely green leaves about to turn gold. Reading in my chair yesterday I finished "Moby Dick," grim story, awesome writing. Knitting feels good in the fingers and you can measure your progress.

Concrete stuff. Incarnation.