Grieving for strangers.

20 Aug

Depression has been the topic of the week. And how can it not be? With the world falling apart around each and every one of us — in Africa, in Missouri, in Hollywood. Yet, it’s not new. Just read Edgar Allan Poe. Or the Psalms by Israel’s Ancient King David. So I won’t pretend to add anything to the centuries-long discussion.

I’ll just say I feel it too — the sadness that laps in on the shore of life, sometimes threatening to wash away my tiny island of self. I think we all feel it to some extent. We all grieve and mourn. We all suffer. We all ache. But some of us find our way through it, while others very literally drown.

I have no wisdom to offer, or even any kind of adequate comfort. But I will say I am sorry to hear the Robin Williams — Mr. Comedy himself — found life unbearable. I am sorry to hear about the chaos and heartbreak of so many in Ferguson; the fear and torment in the Middle East; the loss faced by the family of the murdered journalist who could, if they wanted to, view is his execution.

Depression is not something that is easily understood, even by others who have felt the crush of sadness. But life in all its emotional variety is not easily understood through any lens, even the rose-colored ones. So, maybe we should all just pull a little closer to each other, forgive a little more, judge a little less, and maybe wave to a stranger now and then. Acknowledge each other. Remind each other that we’re really not all alone. I know it’s not any kind of answer, but I think it helps.

 

 

 

Pain management.

10 Aug

I woke up late today. A slow Sunday morning, dawning with hot yellow light through the blinds above me around 10:30 a.m. There wasn’t even a small moment in that transition into wakefulness when I forgot that I was in pain. I fell asleep with it, tossed and turned through it, brought it into my dreams, and awoke with it. But this morning I also woke up with something new: A rheumatoid arthritis nodule. A small one jutting out from one side of my middle knuckle on my right hand. I’ve known that I have RA, but seeing that slight deformity made it more real, more shocking.

Living with pain is difficult in ways that I can’t put into words. It’s a battle you aren’t armed for. It makes you feel weak physically, of course, but also emotionally. I am nervous to face a busy day when I am in the midst of a flare-up. What will people think if I suddenly start limping, or drop something from my weak hands? Will I have to cancel my lunch date, or will my friend understand the grimace I can’t seem to hide?

Pain makes you selfish. It makes you horde your minutes to yourself. It causes an obsession with finding your own balance, which often means inconvenience for others around you.

Pain makes you block out the moments that make life layered and tangible — the mundane occurrences like slicing tomatoes for dinner while you dream about traveling. Instead, you have to focus on the strength in your hands, the position of your body against the counter, how far you have to reach, the heaviness of the knife. In those moments, I don’t hear the sound of the juices released from the plump red tomato skin at the touch of the thin grey blade. I don’t hear the wind traveling from the open window in front of me and out the screen door at my back. I don’t smell the sharp and salty scents of the hot pan sautéing onions at my hip. All I can think is, just get through cooking dinner and you can sit down.

Today I struggle to step away from pain; to avoid its stifling definition of my extraordinary life. I want to find a way to weave it in, to allow it a place, but not give it everything I love. 

This nodule represents something. Medically, it shows progression of a condition that is worsening from the inside out. But, to me, it represents a future without writing. Without lifting children onto my lap or swinging them through the air. A life of holding my Love’s hand without lacing our fingers, or having him open doors, no longer out of his own desire for chivalry, but because I need him to. 

The only way I can think to fight the overwhelming fear and frustration at this future contained in that small nodule protruding from my aching hands, is to write. To write a path through the pain. To write a path through the certainties, finding and exploiting the uncertainties, cherishing the hand that I can hold in spite of pain. To write and make sense of something that confines me like a single, black-barred cell. To write and realize that I am not alone; others feel pain, others deal moment-by-moment with the same invisible illness. Others sit through lunch with a half-hidden grimace.

I write to remember that my life — that living — is not about my hands or how am I going to open jars, or even about waking up in pain. Life is about what you do with the pain.

And since pain is now a part of me, embedded deep in my body, I choose to live with it and get on with life.  

Literally.

8 Jul

Lately, I’ve been sorting through past traumas like forgotten boxes in the attic — complete with overwhelming reminiscence that can often be followed by sudden weeping, dust from the trauma floating in the darkened air around me. And, like the stirred air, I am unsettled.

Looking at the past me, watching her again face these experiences that she was not ready for, I want to explain things. I want her to know the things she didn’t understand. I want to redefine the very meaning of the words she clung to — phrases she passionately scribbled in journals and scraps of paper stored in an old metal suitcase. In the midst of these recent moments, as I try to help the younger version of myself finally rest into the past where she belongs, I realize I still need to redefine the words I use to shape my life now.

Love.

Connection.

Help.

Truth.

Attention.

Art.

All of this makes me feel detached. Wandering. Searching again for some explanation for the beauty and ugliness around me. And inside of me.

So I sit and try to organize positive and negative space, these symbols that represent the meaning I am trying to simultaneously give and discover. The shape of each letter, the structure of the sentence, the placement of a comma — all of it changes the meaning. Perhaps this tiny curved line, like a dislodged and discarded eyelash that has floated down to the page, will interject just the right pause to accentuate the word before — what is that word trying to say? what is it trying to connect to? how is it representing me? how is it representing anything? — all of these questions have been circling around me every time I try to write.

Yet, though I feel a bit lost in all of this, I do find answers as I go. At least, enough answers to not stop, to keep going, keep writing, keep searching — all in the same motions: My small fingers flitting over the keys, the bottoms of my palms sticky against the smooth surface they rest upon, my eyes gliding back and forth over the clear black words I’ve just written and the unseen outline of the words I have yet to write.

The words are crowded now, but they bump against each other inside of me, sharpening some and — thankfully, for the tired and overwhelmed 17-year-old me — softening others.

Someday I’ll figure out what I’m trying to say.

Covered in black.

28 Jun

A lot of change has come my way the last few months. I lost my job. I received not one, but two medical diagnoses that brought about some major life alterations. And I earned my bachelor’s degree after 17 years of (mostly) steady plodding through undergraduate classes. 

Believe it or not, all of this was good change. It just took some adjustment, but all this newness has allowed me to reassess priorities, daily schedules, summer plans, and most importantly, my connection to people.

Extrovert or introvert, change unfolds the same for both. But as an extrovert, I soak up energy from pulling people close as change looms over me like a wave cresting a terrifying foamy white. And because of these amazing people, I was able to stay on the shore and greet the new ocean of opportunity. Simply because they believed I could.

The highlight amidst all this, of course, is being able to say — with shoulders back and a wide, silly grin — that, “I am a college graduate. I graduated. I finished school. I DID IT.” Yes, I was 10 years older than pretty much every other person at commencement. Yes, I just happened to have been somewhat suddenly unemployed while wearing my cap and gown. Yes, I had no clear thoughts on how I might begin my new career as I walked toward the stage to shake hands, pose for pictures, and hug everyone in the hallway. But I was filled with confidence nonetheless. Mostly because I graduated. I did something that I thought I couldn’t do: I kept going through illness, calamity, and sudden moves across state lines. But I did it. And something solidified in me during the few hours of graduation and celebration. 

As I sat almost dead center in the commencement auditorium, listening (or not listening) to one voice after another through the main speakers, whispering with a classmate sitting next to me, and waiting for my college to be called, I thought it was ironic that I was covered head-to-toe in black — something that symbolized an end of things, with mourning and loss. I flipped through the multi-page program, reading the lists of names and accomplishments until I found my own. And next to the text, “Elizabeth Mary Prince,” I saw a funny symbol that only a few other names shared. I consulted my friend, who figured out it had to do with the silver cords we both wore around our neck. “Do you know what these cords mean?” I whispered. She shook her head, shrugging while she continued to thumb through her program. And then she nudged me, smiling. Her finger rested on the bottom inch of one white page, pointing to a symbols key that read, “Silver cords: Magna cum laude.”

We erupted in giggles, leaning forward and covering our mouths. I calmed myself, reset my flimsy black cap and wrapped my hands around the smooth silver cords, squeezing the tassels in my palms.

I am a college graduate.

Orbiting the Blogosphere.

23 May

I haven’t blogged for a while. I’ve kept the words to myself. I’ve used them like insulation in a suddenly cold world. I spent time organizing and categorizing and rationalizing. Certain words resounded over and over, with new meaning in each layered echo.

I’ve learned things these last few months, and am more complete because of the learning. Let me be clear, it wasn’t the knowledge that made me more whole, but the process of letting go of naive views, immature beliefs, and a youthful longing. With the experience of accepting my place now — a firm standing, though I’ve let go of the ledge I’ve been hanging onto for years. Strange how that works.

I’ve heard others’ stories similar to this — the jumping off a cliff and discovering a dimension you didn’t even think to have faith in. But now that I’m mid-air, I’m seeing the possibilities.

Wings? A Net? The absence of heavy gravity in my bones? Angels? The sudden thickness of low-hanging clouds? Who knows — I certainly don’t. But I’m enjoying the leap nevertheless.

What a pleasant surprise.

Defined connection.

30 Jan

con·nec·tion

noun \kə-ˈnek-shən\

1) Something that joins or connects two or more things.

2) The act of connecting two or more things or the state of being connected.

3) A situation in which two or more things have the same cause, origin, goal, etc.

 

In a way, I am a connection. Without me, certain introductions would not have been made – or broken. Certain ideas would not have become product. I have joined “two or more things” simply by my curiosity. Simply by my presence.

In this way, I have been a connector. The offspring of creator. A found-object artist. I asked questions and gave answers. I stepped in and shied away. And those decisions influenced a “state of being connected.”

My brother and I have the same parents. We have the same list of childhood addresses that trail across the nation. We share memories of holidays, stupid jokes, friends. We shared the same songs — writing lyrics simultaneously. And yet, we aren’t wholly connected. Even in the past reminiscence, often we have differing viewpoints — like separate movie screens focused on opposite frames within the same scene.

Connection, to me, is illusive. It’s layered — like a bolt of gauzy cloth. I can see every layer, but cannot differentiate them. They are connected, yet separate. And I am wrapped up in it all.

As a sensitive soul and an abstract mind, I long for connection. For definition in connection. For connecting to tell me who I am, what I am worth.

My memory lurches forward, “I remember being there,” I say. What I mean is, I can see it in my mind. Memory based on visuals. But I connect to the emotion, the thought, the idea of the memory. It is unfocused and complex. And it often builds a picture of my past-life that is inaccurate. My mind building within the blank spaces — an innate desire to smooth out the gauzy fabric of my mind, to create a foundation structured on a rich black timeline, to connect myself back together again.

And even as I reach back, to re-connect, to rediscover old connections that rationalized reality then, I am still anchored in this moment: My fingers touching the smooth plastic keys, my wrists resting on the edge of the computer, my mouth moving slightly with the words.

Even now, I am still connecting.

On dreams and reality.

15 Jan

I’ve always had a strange dream life. Nightmares mostly. Some might even call them “night terrors.” But even with the rare good dreams, came wild imaginings drawn across a mental plane that is only loosely attached to reality. Adventures with movie-like plots, where I began as a young and agile female character racing through darkened city streets on a mission of unmeasurable importance, to a wizened male character looking through a bright window at the peaceful countryside.

Once, during a dream where I was playing myself, I stood in the downstairs portion of my two-level apartment — the squared-off twisting staircase behind me, my large square mirror to my side — and looked around the room. “I’m dreaming,” I said, self-aware. So I woke up, walked downstairs, peeked in the mirror and realized with shock, “I’m dreaming.” So I woke up, walked downstairs, scanned the room and glanced at my reflection and thought, I’m still dreaming. Panic filled my sleep and I ran back upstairs to my bed to wake up.

So, I woke up and raced downstairs to see if I was awake. I leaned forward at the bottom of the staircase, my hand resting possessively on the little wooden crown at the end of the railing, and searched the room. My heart began to slow. I looked in the mirror. I breathed deeply. I must be awake now, I thought with comfort. I let go of the railing and turned to go back upstairs. A small gold and glass lamp twinkled halfway across the room to my left. I paused. Something wasn’t right. I don’t remember that lamp. And I certainly don’t remember it resting on the ceiling, with its white cord trailing along the popcorn crumbs as though gravity were reversed somewhere above my head — a mirror image. “I’m still dreaming!” I said, my mouth filling with a yell.

I sat up in bed, panting. My dog — a mini, grey and white thing that I allowed to sleep under the covers with me — snorted and moved away. I pinched my arm (seriously). I swallowed. I listened. And that’s when I knew I was finally awake.

The sound of reality is a layered and complex orchestra of noisemakers at varying distances, which dance with the tingling pressurized ring in my ears and the thoughts that are so subconscious I’m always nervous I’ve said them out-loud. My dreams, though sometimes filled with screams and explosions, are virtually soundless — save for one single tone, voice, focus. There is no complexity amidst the confusion and emotion. There are no layers that paint an invisible, textured canvas over the scene played out in front of me.

As I sat up, breathlessly deciding on reality, my dog settled in and began to snore immediately. A lone car pressed its tires against the paved country road just outside. The elderly wood and brick house resettled in the night around me. The wind tickled the loose glass in the window frames. And my heart — which was still steadily thumping — banged against the bones in my head and chest.

I’m awake, I thought, laying back down to sleep.

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