24 June 2010

Mr. Clean

I was introduced to this song circa 1995/6, by my friend Nate. As was typical in those days, he put it on a mix tape for me.

Someone told me Bill Withers was a janitor before he was signed as a recoding artist. I think they were thinking of Kris Kristofferson, but let's not let the truth be the enemy of a good blog post.

Little Nate (as we called him, to differentiate him from another friend, Big Nate) impressed the hell out of me for sticking around the morning after one of my parties to help clean up. He got down to business quietly and matter of factly, putting all the dining room chairs on top of the dining table so he could sweep and mop underneath. I'd never once thought to do that, to clean so thoroughly. It was a small gesture, but it made an impression on me.

Little Nate was, as my friend Becca would have put it then, a bit of a drunk. I wonder if he's still as committed to the whiskey as he was then.

Here's to you Nate. I hope someone is hoisting the chairs up onto the tables and making sure the floor gets a good mopping for you - metaphorically, or hell, literally, why not. 

The Only Way Out is Through

I've been doing a lot of reading lately about how memories take shape, and how they in turn shape us. Parenting From the Inside Out gets pretty deep into brain mechanics, in an effort to explain how our childhood memories effect how we raise our children. A lot of the brain-talk is a little more scientific than this blog needs to get, but what stood out for me was this fact: the human brain is thought to be the most complex thing in the known universe. The most complex thing. 

Makes sense then that we are the only entity concerned with "truth".

Here's a question I've wanted an answer to -- the truth, as it were -- for some time.

As I've noted before, this parenting thing has been hard for me. I look around at my mom friends and wonder: why am I struggling so hard? Most of said women are not only succeeding as moms, but are also juggling jobs, cottage industries, daily blogs, or pursuing their dream project on the side, or dealing with multiple children, or at the very least, not falling apart as often as I seem to.

So what gives?  I've got one stellar child. A little active, maybe, and a frequent night waker, but by all accounts a model mini-human being. I don't work, I have a very proactive and supportive husband, my health, and lots of friends and resources at my disposal. What is wrong with me that being a mom is such a struggle?

10 group therapy sessions, 6 individual sessions, a few 12 step meetings, multiple pertinent books and hours of reflection later, I understand a little better.

Bear with me. Some of you won't like this much.

Apparently, I have not been merely experiencing my daughter's childhood; I am reliving my own. Which was light on roses, heavy on the thorns (if you get my drift.) Additionally, I am feeling for the first time all the difficulties that I was unable to accept and absorb as a defenseless child, one without the benefit of facebook, cathartic writing, warm baths, margaritas, reckless driving and the ear of good friends that I enjoy today. What I couldn't take on board then got stowed away below decks, if you will.

I'd really rather not get much further into this line of thought because I know plenty of readers will consider it 100 proof BS, and I'm not prepared to defend my nascent standpoint. But that's where I'm at and let me tell you, it's not a fun place to live most times (big shout out to my husband for being dragged along on the roller coaster).

Along the way I found the incredible Mary Karr. She became an illuminated signpost in the dark unmarked path I was straggling down. I have now plowed two-thirds of the way through her memoir triology,

The Liars' ClubCherry : A MemoirLit: A Memoir

so let me summarize her journey for you: spectacularly traumatic childhood leads to eventual alcoholism and general babymamatraumadrama. Things begin to turn around when she 12-Steps her way into religion. Stability, personal and professional success and general satisfaction with life are the end result (but please don't take my word for it -- read for yourself. I don't do justice to her extraordinary powers of storytelling).

Hmmm, I began to think to myself. Religion. God.  Prayer. There's a concept. Heck, I remember God. Used to be pretty tight with him back in the day.

So I tried it. I thought long and hard about what I wanted, what I really, really wanted, then took a deep breath and asked for it: more of the Santa Barbara feeling, please. I'd like more of the contented inward stillness I get when I'm in that town, descending the Thousand Steps or under the eucalyptus on the Douglas preserve or watching the top of Los Padres winking through cottony wisps of coastal cloud. I'd like the peace that comes from being with people who care about me and want the best for me, like I get when my half-sister and I converge there and hang out with her dad (who lives in SB and is the reason I know the area at all).

That's what I asked for,  and the very next day my half-sister called to tell me that her dad was thinking of us and wanted to sponsor a little trip, for she and I to be together.

Wow, I thought. If that's the power of prayer, than count me in.

Of course, if you've read my older posts, you know that this is not the first instance of me reading helpful intervention as From Above. But I have to learn something about three thousand times before I really believe it, apparently.

MythologyA few weeks into this rapprochement with the divine -- because though I was willing to recognize a higher power, I wasn't necessarily reuniting with my childhood notion of the Great Bearded One -- and I stumbled into a problem. While reflecting on the way I had as a child been sacrificed to my parents' needs, I remembered the story of Iphegenia. Re-reading my high school copy of Edith Hamilton's Mythology I came across this passage about her:

"The Greeks, as has been said, did not like stories in which human beings were offered up, whether to appease angry gods or to make Mother Earth bear a good harvest or to bring abut anything whatsoever. They thought about such sacrifices as we do. They were abominable. Any diety who demanded them was thereby proved to be evil, and, as the poet Euripides said, "If gods do evil then they are not gods".

Which made me wonder: why am I praying to a god for resolution to a situation s/he/it allowed in the first place? If god can remove/resolve the effects of a painful situation, couldn't s/he/it have prevented it from happening at all?

At the 12 step meetings I attended, I was bereft to hear member after member exclaim how little they knew after so long, even after years in the program. I don't want to sit in a cavernous hall ten years down the line to realize I still don't know anything. I feel like shit now, thank you very much. I would like to feel less like shit tomorrow, and even less the day after that.

Somehow, I don't think praying to a god to take my pain/sins/flaws away is the way to feeling less shitty. Not for me, anyway. I know it works for other people, and bully for them. For me, the only way out is through.

Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time on a small green island there lived a certain young man. The youngest of four black-haired brothers, he grew up surrounded by guitars, pianos and melodies. Music would always be at the tips of his magical fingertips, his grandmother -- herself a concert pianist -- told him. She was right. By the time he was 20 his songs could be heard all over his small green island.

This was one of the songs the young man wrote.

At much the same time, halfway around the world, there was a young woman who lived in a candy-colored house by the ocean. When she couldn't sleep she would walk through the fog to the water's edge and ask the sea lions lolling there to sing to her. Some nights those sea lions would grant her a song, serenading her all the way home, until her eyelids became heavy with sleep.

The young woman used to read many books, one by a famous man who talked about an "oceanic feeling" that is universal to all people everywhere. The famous man had never had that feeling, but the lonely girl had. While thinking about the oceanic feeling,  and feeling sorry for the famous man who'd never felt it, she painted his picture one night.

Many years later, the lonely young woman met the black haired man. A small voice inside his head told him "this is the woman you will marry". But the young woman wasn't so sure.

One night, under a full moon lunar eclipse, he played her the song he had written, so many years before. As he picked out the chords on the guitar strings, she felt the oceanic feeling wash over her like a tide. Something about the song felt familiar; then she recognized it. It was the song the sea lions used to sing to her.

He asked her to marry him that night underneath the full moon; she agreed.

So off the two went to a faraway land where lotus flowers were left as offerings at gilded temples. Together they knelt before nine monks dressed all in orange, who tied them together for eternity, marrying them.

Today, when their baby girl is sleepy, they softly sing the same song to her, so that she can dream of sea lions splashing in cold green waves, and of smoke curling above lotus blossoms in golden temples.

The End.

Who Am I Kidding?

In college I dated a lanky art student who once invited me to the university's art studio. He painted, Pixies playing in the background, while I read on the sidelines -- happy as a fireside-napping tabbycat.

We didn't date long. I probably gummed things up by getting overly pre-occupied with him, or maybe I just wasn't his type. In any case, we didn't drop our respective veils enough to let the other in on our secrets. There was one exception: he told me that every once in a while he would be felled by insecurities that showed up in the form of the question: Who am I kidding?

I immediately adopted the phrase for my own. Even today, all these years later, there is a distinct satisfaction in how those words distill my anxieties so succinctly. Who am I kidding?

Welcome to one such phase of self-annihilation.

A fellow writer friend told me last week over drinks that my latest blog posts seemed to be teetering on the verge of increased self-revelation. That was very perceptive of her; I'm not even sure I knew that was happening.

It is true that I've made a conscious effort to keep things on the frothier side around here, not wishing to plum the depths of my soul out in the bare air of the WORLDWIDE web. That's a lot of eyes.

And yet at the same time those depths are too big a part of the operation around here to ignore. So I'm going to brave it, a little at a time. We'll see how it goes.

If Wishes Were Horses

...this house would be carpeted with road apples.

A while back I offered up an arrangement for our living room that requires some new furniture items. I didn't think anyone would much notice my sketch, let alone read it (Hello...hello...hello... Anyone out there?...there?...there?..) But to my surprise, a few did. So I'm following up.

Here is my list of new items necessary to complete my ideal arrangement:

1. Flat screen tv
Nothing jumbo-tron-ish need apply. Just be flat, easy on my fading eye sight, and unobtrusive.

2. Sectional Sofa
I know what you're thinking. Those giant L-shaped monstrosities? How gauche. Sectionals are the minivans of couches!
I know. I thought the same way. When my oldest dearest friend (a mother of three) told me she was desperate for one of these behemoths, I looked at her askance. That was several years ago, before I joined her mothering ranks. Now I get it.

When you get so little time to sit down in front of the tv, you want that time to be comfortable. And I want to be within touching distance of my darling husband. On a sectional we can both recline, feet up ideally in one or the other's lap.

You know who didn't get it? A production designer friend. She tried very gently -- yet insistently-- to talk me out of a sectional. "Just get a cheap used couch with good bones and recover it. It'll look so much better." I think she was on the verge of a style intervention. But I was (am) adamant.

So, is this one really so bad?

3. TV credenza

I'm kind of into this orange piece at CB2which is really just a sad simularcum of this
Gorgeous right? I love orange in a living room. I read it's supposed to foster conversation. It's a warm, cheerful color that works surprisingly well with many styles and palettes. It was also this guy's favorite color, I hear.

A few things I've learned about myself the past year.

Got your magnifying lenses out?  Good, because today we are navel gazing, after the jump. If you're not bursting with interest in my navel, you may wish to skip this post. But since you've already got your magnifying lense out, why not stare into your own depths for awhile. Go ahead, I give you permission. Go on, its good for you.