Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Basement cat time travels to the 80's

That soundtrack in my head has a very 80's feel to it right now. I have finally settled down to sort through the clutter in my basement. It's a much harder task than I thought, but not for the reasons I suspected. I figured that the actual decision-making process would be the thing to trip me up. My slightly ADD brain can't always fit objects into the usual suggested categories of keep/toss/undecided. It always comes up with shades in between. Like, Keep-but-need-to-fix-first or Hang-up-on-the-wall-when-I-find-a-frame or Put-on-knicknack-shelf-when-I-actually-put-it-up. My logical husband is really good at simple categorizations, but this is my stuff. I need to sort it. And so, while that is a bit of the problem, it isn't the whole.

The main problem is that when you sort through really old clutter, much of which consists of childhood memorabilia and college books/stuff it isn't just simple sorting. It's opening up your subconscious and diving in headfirst. If the unexamined life is not worth living, well, mine should be very worthy right about now. At this point it's impossible to *stop* examining it. Every book, every toy, every award, every bit of the flotsam and jetsam of my life is a key in the memory lock of my brain. Every success and failure, every bad habit and old thought pattern, things I've put behind me and things I only thought I had - it all comes floating to the surface in this process. Nobody told me I was going to need a therapist when I was done. I guess part of me knew this, which is why it got put off for so long.

There is something very spiritual about it. Though it vacillates between the utter relief of baggage unloaded and the utter pain of feeling like I've ripped the bandage off wounded places in my soul. It's cleansing, but also tiring beyond belief. And it's more than a little unsettling to realized how much and in which ways I've changed as a person over the years. It's a liquid diet cleanse of the spirit, and about as much fun to live through. And since regular day-to-day life doesn't stop in order for me to do this my life has taken on an odd sort of Time Traveler's Wife quality. One moment I'm lost back in 1982 and the next flung forward into 2013 when my daughter calls out with a question or I have to go referee yet another sibling fight.

It's not making the whole dark-night-of-the-soul any easier either. Especially since my spiritual journey is extremely evident in every inch of what I'm sorting. Books that I remember running out to buy in hopes they would help me solve a spiritual question or conundrum. Classes that uplifted, and ones that made me half ill (found my college dissection kit). The realization hits hard that even one's deeply held spiritual beliefs and sense of self are not permanent, but rather fluid. Buffeted by hardship and bolstered by culture, what we think of as "ours" is much less "us" and more often a reflection of our times and circumstance. It's like finding out that gravity isn't actually permanent. That the center doesn't always hold.

This whole process is hard to convey in the context of our sound byte, need-to-know-yesterday technology infused society. I don't have the brain power to process the past and contemplate the future simultaneously. I've opened Pandora's box and I'm stuck in the very uncomfortable Now. It's weird seeing in my mind's eye the memory frames of my life slipping into place - like that part in every movie where the main character finally figures out what's going on and what needs to be done, buoyed up by suitably noble or desperately depressing music (depending on genre).

I am getting an amusing look at culture, though. That's an unexpected plus. Seeing what ideas have lasted, what trends have continued, and what ones died an untimely death (and others that should have). Amusing myself by actually listening to the music of my childhood while I work. Realizing that as much as I loved Air Supply in middle school they really were quite terrible. And that as much as I used to tease my husband about his sometimes depressing music choices that much of *his* music has stood the test of time. Seeing through the lens of the culture I grew up in how much I've changed and deepened as a person. How I get from the inside out that conversation from Doctor Who's "Blink" between Sally Sparrow and her friend:

Sally Sparrow: "I like old things; they make me feel sad."
Kathy Nightingale: "What's good about sad?"
Sally Sparrow: "It's happy, for deep people."

So, if anyone needs me for the next month or so, I'll be in my basement, listening to bad pop music and good classic rock, putting the pieces of my life in perspective before the next leg of the journey begins.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

When a song breaks you open....

Sometimes when I notice I haven't written anything in a long time, I realize it's because I have not too little to say, but too much. How do you sum up over 6 months worth of thoughts and musings that never got written down? Spiritual journeys should come with a warning label. "Do not open closet door to inspect personal skeletons as they will fall down on your head" Or something like that. I always marvel at people who tell me that their relationship with God is constantly "wonderful", "amazing", "such a blessing". Some of these people should come with a warning label too. I find them hard to be around while my journey has taken a turn to "dark night of the soul". Chirpy Christian memes are no help to me right now.

But music is, and always has been. I laugh about the "soundtrack in my head" but many days it's what keeps me sane. About a year or so ago, I realized that I kept hearing all these great songs on the radio while I was driving around - but promptly forgot about them before reaching home where I could write them down. I decided to make a concerted effort to assemble a list of them. I'd scribble down whatever I could learn about each song on whatever was handy or type in my own shorthand on my iPod - many times only being able to grab a line of the chorus to Google later. Slowly the list got built up to a couple dozen songs. Then, technology (not always my friend) intervened and one day my iPod glitched and I was staring at a blank Notes section. Drat.

A few months later, I decided to start recreating the list as best I could from memory (with such amusing designations as "that new Coldplay song" and "song the Black Eyed Peas did at Superbowl" - you know, really informative stuff. Kept listening, kept making notes, mostly rebuilt the list.

And then one day this song came on. It was probably on the list the first time. I remember thinking "Wow, what a great song" when I'd heard it that first time. But this time - I was a captive audience in the car - and I really *listened* to it. It cracked me open and my soul started leaking out. Since driving and crying are *not* 2 things that go great together I had to stop the latter to safely continue the former. But it stuck in that place deep inside and stayed.

Evanescence "Bring Me to Life"

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Inconvenient Muse

I seem to be an expert at bad timing. This is nothing new. Urges to clean and sort at midnight, errands tacked on to other errands even though there wasn't time for the first, let alone more.
And now, of all improbable things, I've got a muse nattering away in my head. All hours of the day (and night). In the very midst of mothering, cleaning, sorting, and home improvement projects- suddenly bits and pieces of story ideas are attaching themselves to my brain. Laundry sorting musings, driving daydreams, shower ruminations. It's like having a board meeting running as background noise in my head. People keep stopping in the middle of sentences to say "What? What are you staring at?". And then I need to reign in my galloping brain and tell them quite honestly I was just lost in thought. I mean, lost in thought is hardly a new thing for me. But now the thoughts are less my usual philosophical musings and more, well - scenes. Sort of like trying to watch TV while someone is channel surfing. A scene here, a character there - a plot line, a bit of conversation.

Great, right? New career, yes? Except for 2 small problems: finding the time to write at the time the idea hits, and (the larger hurdle) - I have zilch clue how to write fiction. I think the last time I wrote something that wasn't a report, essay, letter, or devotional was sometime back in high school, maybe even grade school. Okay, I fib. I've written a few clown skits for various church functions, VBS and the like.

So, being the (usually) practical sort I figure my brain is just giving me an amusing good-for-something-someday diversion and proceed to ignore it.

Uh huh. The Muse is kind of like royalty. "We do not like being ignored. We will show you what happens to those who ignore Us."

And then the dreams started. Full MGM technicolor, many with whole stories of their own. I started writing them down, thinking perhaps they were simply the result of my ongoing spiritual adventures. Just the result of cleaning out spiritual closets (says I).

So now, with school out, and our re-do-the-kitchen-floor project turning my schedule inside out, several very surreal nights of insomnia have shown me the truth of the matter.

The Muse is persistant.

One way or another, my brain *will* work overtime - if it's not on my story ideas, then it will take whatever fodder it finds. I nearly worried myself into a panic attack this week over something pretty silly. All because I've been telling myself that I don't have the time/ knowledge/ ability to write fiction, and so my whirling mind spun its own dark fantasies.

Makes me wonder if Mozart went around plagued by melodies, if his own characters stalked Shakespeare in his sleep. Maybe Van Gogh went mad because the world was awash in color and he couldn't paint fast enough to get the colors out of his head.

So, I guess I'll be finding time to scribble down my odd bits of stories, even if at this point they don't even make sense to me.

It would appear that the Muse deems it necessary to both my sleep and my sanity.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The scientist in me is going crazy

This is the cherry tree in front of our house. I've watched it bloom for 7 springs. Last year, because my daughter thought it was so pretty, I took a picture of it (the top picture). It has always had the gorgeous pale pinkish-white flowers with pink centers so characteristic of the famous cherry trees in the DC area. Charlotte always thought it was funny when they started falling off because they looked so much like a spring snow.

This year, when the cherry blossoms came out, we got a surprise. For the first time in the 8 years we've lived in this house, our cherry tree produced pink blossoms. At first I thought I was just remembering them wrong. You know, mommy mind, too many things to keep track of, surely I'm imagining it. Well, I took a picture. And compared it to last year's picture (which I'd saved in hopes of printing it out for Charlotte). I compared the two side by side. See for yourself. They're not just a shade or two different. Last year they were *white* and this year they are *pink* - really, really pink. I knew that hydrangeas flowers could change color in response the different pH of soils - and I've seen some that were multi-colored on the same bush. But I didn't know cherry trees (or any flowering tree for that matter) could do this. And do it so dramatically.

The scientist in me is going nuts trying to figure out how this is possible. I guess it must have something to do with the non-winter we had in the Mid Atlantic of the US this year. We had almost no snow, or ice, and it never got really cold that it stayed. And I know the sun is at the peak of its 11 year cycle, with all the attendant solar storms and such. But please, if there's an armchair horticulturist out there - somebody please explain this odd phenomenon to me.

Meanwhile, I've got the only chameleon tree on the block...

Thursday, March 8, 2012

My life has become an algebra problem

You remember those word problems with all the conditions and you had to figure out the equation before you could solve for "x"? The ones like, if a train leaves Boston at 8AM traveling west at 30mph and another leaves Chicago at 9AM traveling east at 50mph how long will it take before they pass each other and in what city? Yeah.... *those* problems - grrrrr, they drove me crazy, from 6th grade on.

Now it seems some days my life has become one. Check this out:

- Christopher's bus arrives at 7:40AM and his school starts at 8:00.
- Charlotte's bus arrives anywhere between 8:15 and 8:25 and her school starts at 8:45.
- Connor's bus should arrive around 8:00, but he can't take the bus in the morning because it makes him carsick.
- Connor's school (in the same district) starts at 8:40.
- It takes 10-15 minutes to drive from our house to Connor's school.
- It takes 3 minutes to drive to Charlotte's school.
- Connor can't be dropped off before 8:25.
- Charlotte can't be dropped off before 8:30.
- It takes 20 minutes to get through the kiss & ride at Charlotte's school
- It takes 2 minutes to get through the kiss & ride at Connor's school

Is this giving anyone else a headache yet?

I gave up and cried "uncle" - after explaining the above to the folks at Connor's school, they have graciously allowed me a few extra minutes before counting him tardy. Thank goodness - this is one problem I don't think "x" can ever be solved for!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Avoiding the Christmas crash

Day after Christmas - presents unwrapped, children cranky and bored, too much rich food eaten, tired and depressed, feels like the flu is coming on. Anyone else experience "Christmas crash"?

In a way, this is all tied in to the spiritual path I find myself on these days. It's December - supposedly "the most wonderful time of the year". A time when the world-at-large tells us we should be "decking the halls" and "rockin' around the Christmas tree". But I imagine I am not the only person who, as merchants and advertisers get louder and more obnoxious each year about hawking their wares - who wishes that the whole commercialized end of the business would disappear for good. Who wonders if perhaps those few unusual folks who book their Caribbean cruise to escape the whole thing have the right idea.

As a little girl, I was crazy about everything Christmas. It was also my Dad's favorite time of the year, so I got to spend extra time with him working on Christmas stuff. But I was an only child, my mom a SAHM, and my dad was home by 6pm every night. And we lived in a small suburb of a small-ish city. Pretty much everything we needed was no more than a 10 minute car ride away.

Fast forward to today - I am a SAHM of 3 children (all school age). My two sons have special needs. My husband, a music/orchestra teacher, has a holiday concert week next week. Four concerts - one each Mon. through Thurs. For us, it will be like he's on a week long business trip. Except he will sleep at home. The oldest celebrates his birthday on Monday, and has his own holiday concert the Monday after. We are a very, very busy family and we live in very, very busy area (metro DC).

I began to realize a few years ago, that if I wanted to keep my health and sanity intact, I needed to pull back from what is "expected" at the holidays. A dear friend compartmentalizes them into Christ-mass (celebration of the Holy) and X-mess (the commercialized end of the season). I know I am not the only one who wonders if we would *all* be better off without the X-mess. I mean really - just think about the many, many things that may be on a person's to-do list at the holidays (and it wouldn't matter much your religious persuasion as the whole country gets caught up in it).

1. Decorating the house
2. Writing holiday cards
3. Buying presents
4. Holiday baking, meal-planning (with accompanying extra trips to grocery store)
5. Holiday photos
6. Parties of all sorts (school, work, social)
7. Holiday performances (for those who sing, play, or dance)
8. Extra charitable work (for scouts or religious organizations)
9. Extra services, programs, and projects for church, temple, etc.
10. Visiting far-flung family (packing to travel, or major cleaning to entertain, or

And....that's just the short list. Add in people with December birthdays, single parent families, a bad economy, traffic snarls, short tempers, skeletons in family closets, and flu season - well, someone ought to make a disaster movie out of the whole thing!

I don't think it matters if you celebrate Christ's birth, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, or the winter solstice. Does any of us really need or want this craziness any more? Am I the only one who finds advertisements for thousand dollar laptops, giant flat screen tv's and cars wearing giant red bows insulting?

Well, regardless of whether anyone else does, I've decided that *I* do. And I'm doing something about - by doing less - a lot less. I'm doing the things that are necessary and important to our family.

For example:

1. I will bake my Grandma's homemade chocolate cake for Chris' birthday, and have a small family celebration. Christmas cookie baking optional.

2. I will not feel guilty about not sending Christmas cards - I don't enjoy doing them, and they take up too much time.

3. Holiday concerts will be attended (and conducted, in Brian's case). It's his paycheck and my son's grade.

4. Church will be attended on Sunday only - no Christmas programs, no choir, no special events - exception made for Christmas Eve (if such service is planned).

5. No holiday over-spending. Cash only, within budget. Extended family will have to live with that.

6. Christmas day meals will consist of Special Holiday Breakfast (usually special egg strata with cinnamon buns or some such) and chicken and waffles for dinner. Get your own lunch. Mom is neither Paula Deen nor Martha Stewart. (And since Mom will be starting holiday packing preparations on Christmas night, Mom needs energy to do so.)

7. Holiday decorations will consist of those things which are easy and make sense. One Christmas tree will be decorated. One door decoration will be hung. All other decorations (outside lights, etc.) are on an optional, as-time-permits basis.

8. Holiday preparations will *not* be made at the expense of sleep, meals, or sanity of either parents or children.

9. Time will be made for quiet reflection and family togetherness.

And, maybe those of us with a religious bent - I can only speak for Christians, but perhaps other have this too - should implore our churches, etc. to not add to the burden. I can't tell you how many years I have spent wearing myself out "in the service of Christ" at the holidays. Choir rehearsals, drama rehearsals, dinners, service projects, toy and clothing drives, Sunday school productions, parties, evangelism outreach, extra services. Countless Christmases (and Easters) I've spent sick and/or with laryngitis from singing 2-3 holiday productions a day. In the service of Christ (or so we say.) Perhaps we (and our neighbors) would be better off if we stopped contributing to the craziness and ministered to our families and the poor and lonely at the holidays - and skipped the glitz and glitter.

Me, I'll be at home, quietly lighting candles and contemplating a Light in the darkness...

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Brain cells MIA

Ay yi! There are many pieces of advice people give a new mommy-to-be. Some of them I found helpful. Some of them I did not. I do wish, however, that someone had mentioned I would spend much of my kids' elementary years in a mental fog, wondering where all my brain cells had vanished.

Between never-enough-sleep and way-too-many-things-to-remember-to-do I find myself getting ever more absentminded. Waking up bleary-eyed on a gray, rainy day after a night of broken up vivid dream peppered sleep didn't get me started off well. Zooming around the house sans coffee (fell asleep before setting up the coffee pot) trying to get daughter ready for picture day and little son ready for (possible) field trip I kept stopping mid-stride unable to remember which step in the getting ready process came next.

Managed to make Daughter's bus and Little Son's last bell (he gets driven, bus comes waaay too early for little guy.)

It's ironic, though - to say that organization is not my strong suit is an understatement. I've often referred to myself (or been called by friends) as "the absentminded professor", scatterbrained, bubble-brained, etc. I've had my share of "dumb blonde" moments (a blonde haired friend of mine and I used to share blonde jokes for fun).

And now that I'm MOM.... I get to be...... organizer of everyone! I get to organize four other people, plus myself. With my sleep-deprived, overtaxed brain cells. I swear, Somebody up there is getting a good laugh at my expense most days....