Friday, June 21, 2013

The Pitfalls of Perfection

I have a serious dilemma: I want to be perfect. Or at least I want you to think I’m perfect. I’d like to be known as the girl who never says an unkind word, the one who always does the “right” thing. Whether it be paying my taxes, parenting my children, or driving like I really do give a damn about the person in the next car, I’d like for you to believe that I’m the model citizen. And the ridiculous thing is that I probably put less energy in to being a model citizen than I do in making you think I am. It’s all about image management.

I grew up with the Yoda mentality, i.e. “Do or do not. There is no try.” It was that black and white. The unspoken but very real setup was that you either hit the mark or you were a failure. Problem is, the mark constantly changed and there was never any warning or explanation for the shift. I can’t even begin to recount how many times I doubled and redoubled my efforts to avoid a verbal flogging, but I never could be perfect enough to avoid it altogether. The problem, of course, wasn’t my imperfection. All kids are imperfect, and all kids are kids. It was the grownups’ expectations that were off the mark, but when you’re a kid you take your cues on reality from the grownups. I started believing pretty early on that if I made a mistake it meant that I was fatally flawed. And when you’re fatally flawed, people abandon you. For me, that is undoubtedly the crux of the matter.

Trying to be perfect is all kinds of crazy. For starters, it’s impossible. There’s no way any one of us can make a hundred on the life test. We’re going to hurt and disappoint each other, and I think the key is in owning that and making whatever amends are necessary. That’s the high road. But I don’t like to own it; I’d rather hide or make excuses. Why? Well, there’s the yucky ego part, meaning that my pride doesn’t want to bow to anyone else. But the worst of it for me is that it feels like confessing I’m “bad.” I didn’t do something bad, I am bad. And that mindset, according to self-help guru Brene Brown, is the hallmark of shame. I can tell you firsthand that shame sucks. It’s like being boiled in toxic chemicals.

Imagine a paradigm of grace and tolerance, where we all admit that we’re flawed and sometimes do stupid shit. Then we could get on with our lives and look at things more objectively when imperfection rears its ugly head. Unfortunately I think the M.O. on this planet is to pretend that we’re not infected with the universal human ailment, that is, imperfection. We minimize our behavior or actions to the point of becoming smoke-and-mirrors experts. Just call us David Copperfield; we’re all professional illusionists to some degree.

So I’m here to confess that I’m not the most virtuous kid on the block (but then you probably already knew that.) I’ve been known to gossip or lie or betray a confidence. I’ve said hurtful things to others. I’ve let people down. And I can be quite judgmental. But that doesn’t negate what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.” I can be very self-sacrificing, kind, compassionate, trustworthy, generous and accepting. And when I do those things, I do them really well. *

Perhaps the problem isn’t that others abandon me when I show my humanity; maybe it’s that I abandon myself. It’s the equivalent of standing on the side of the road and hurling stones at myself as I’m walking by. When I beat myself up for failing or hurting others, or for making a mistake, the self-talk borders on vicious. At its worst it’s self-hatred on steroids. Maybe the most disturbing thing about it all is how cloak-and-dagger the mental brutality can be. Quite often I'm not even aware of the dialogue going on in the background of my mind. So I’m trying to learn how to own my blemishes without self-destructing, how to humbly confess my failures to others without sentencing myself to death row. I don’t know… maybe for some people that’s not so hard. I think if I spent less time trying to control your perception of me, and more time on readjusting my perception of myself, I'd be a lot happier. Unfortunately, that’s probably the taller order.

* A song I wrote in 2004 nailed this concept for me. As I said in my last post, we're all a mixed bag. Here's a link if you're interested in hearing Here I Am, Anyway.

Photo Credit: Anneheathen

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Finding Our Way Through Father's Day

Believe it or not, Father’s Day has only been an “official” holiday in the United States since 1972.

Like, in my lifetime.

That’s not to say that a day to honor fathers’ didn’t exist before then. The explanation I hear most often is that Hallmark created it to make billions on Father’s Day cards. (Poor Hallmark; they always get blamed.) The history of it all is too ho-hum to warrant much fanfare, but it basically played out like this: In 1910, a woman named Sonora Smart Dodson wanted to honor her father, as he had raised six children on his own. So she initiated a celebration of fathers at the Spokane, Washington YMCA. In the 30’s, trade groups started supporting her promotion of the “holiday,” including the newly formed Father’s Day Council, which was founded by the New York Associated Men’s Wear Retailers. [It actually wasn’t Hallmark!] A bunch of nondescript stuff happened over the next 30+ years, but in 1966 LBJ issued a proclamation, and then Richard Nixon signed it in to law in 1972. I’m pretty sure that’s when the Hallmark folks popped a bottle of champagne to celebrate.

I’m all for honoring fathers and mothers and grandparents. And I don’t even mind buying cards now and then. But there’s no getting around the fact that this day makes a whole lot of folks want to go hide under a rock. And I’ve found that there are varying levels of discomfort among them. Some people wander up and down the card aisle looking for something, anything, that would be even remotely apropos. There are no cards that say, “Don’t worry that you weren’t ever around; I turned out okay anyway” or “You beat me and harshly criticized me as a child, but now you’re pretty alright.” These are the folks that still have enough of a relationship with their father to be buying him a card, but can’t find one that doesn’t gush about him. If you ask me, Hallmark is supremely biased toward the “good father” crowd (which in my estimation has been shrinking for a very long time.) Of course a Father’s Day card isn’t going to adequately express everything you have in your heart about dear old dad, so even if they had cards that offered a little more truth-telling, they probably wouldn’t sell.

One of my biggest “a-ha” moments about tricky relationships came when I was working on my bachelor’s degree a few years ago. My favorite history professor assigned a lot of reading from primary sources, and I found myself studying a document entitled, “On The Jews and Their Lies.”  It’s an anti-Semitic treatise that disturbed and shocked me so much, I made an appointment with my prof to talk about it. Of course anti-Semitism isn’t new, and so reading historical texts that document that prejudice is something you might expect in a Western Civilization class. But what threw me for a loop was its author:

Martin Luther.

The father of the protestant reformation. The guy who’s practically considered a saint in evangelical Christendom (if Evangelicalism even had saints.) I was so taken aback by the vile and hateful content of the text, I had a hard time reconciling it with all of the things Luther did to introduce an alternative to the Catholic Church. Is this even true, I wondered, or did Luther just somehow get framed as the document’s author? Surely he didn’t really say that the Jews are "full of the devil's feces ... which they wallow in like swine," and that the synagogue is an "incorrigible whore and an evil slut." Surely he didn’t recommend that Jewish synagogues and schools be burned to the ground, and that Jews should be forced into slavery.

But I found out that, yes. Yes, he did.

“How in the world can we trust anything that came out of this guy’s mouth if he spewed so much hate?” I asked my professor, when we finally met up in her office.

“Why would millions of Protestants hold him up as reliable source of spiritual guidance?”

“The short answer is that people are a mixed bag,” she replied. “No one is all good or all bad.”

“Yes, but this is extreme!” I argued. “If he were to write something like that today, he’d be put in the same category as Westboro Baptist Church!”

“Probably. But that was then, this is now,” she patiently replied. “We’ve come a long way. And Luther was known for taking extreme stands.”

We sat in silence for a minute. I had a narrative of “But, but, but, but…” playing in my head. She had clearly accepted that he was an extremely complicated individual. And I couldn’t swallow that. On account of this document I wanted to discount everything I’d ever respected about Luther’s teaching. And truth be told I’ve still not been able to reconcile it at all. I’m grateful that he liberated scores of oppressed Catholics, but this whole scenario makes me want to trash him altogether.

The point is, of course, that things aren’t always black and white. I can certainly, categorically, say that “On The Jews and Their Lies” is an evil treatise. To me, that’s black and white. What I can’t, say, however, is that Martin Luther—as a person—was 100% evil. Though he was clearly an extreme racist, he did a lot of good for a lot of people. And quite honestly, that pisses me off.

You probably know where this is going, but the same is true about all of us. Yes, there are varying degrees of discrepancy in our character, but at the end of the day everyone is a mixed bag. I have friends that had extremely wicked fathers, men who sexually abused their daughters and battered their wives. I would imagine that those adult kids don’t wander the card aisle on Father’s Day. They just wander through another 24 hours of collective dad worship trying to find some shred of peace about their past.

There are those who had physically or emotionally abusive dads who are now the kindest, sweetest grandpas to their grandchildren. These men are drastically different people than they were back when they were raging around and verbally decapitating their own children. But to the new generation, they’re the picture of paternal love. 

And then of course there’s the multitude of kids who were abandoned by their fathers and never got the chance to go card shopping.

Obviously I’ve left out one demographic, those people who have (or had) amazing fathers. These folks enjoyed persistent love, advocacy, protection and presence from their dads, and love the opportunity to honor them with a special day. To those folks, I say, “We’re happy for you.” Envious, maybe, but then somebody’s gotta win the lottery. To those who have lost beloved dads, I say, “Grieve, but cherish your memories. You don’t know how fortunate you are to have them.” And to those for whom this day brings up the dad-shaped cavern in your soul, I’d recommend staying off of Facebook and doing something really, really nice for yourself. Something you wish your dad had done for you. And the truth is he might’ve, if he hadn’t been such a mixed bag.

 Image Credit: Peter Hurford,

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Golden Chick and the Briar Patch

It was a gorgeous afternooon for a bike ride, especially since I'd been cooped up in my office all day. One ritual that I have started looking forward to is riding past Golden Chick (it's on my route). The smell is intoxicating. Today I even circled around for a second ride through the invisible cloud of crispy, greasy, chicken goodness. Truth be told I don't even like skin on fried chicken, but I do love getting stoned on the smell.

As is my practice I watched out for anything unusual I could tell you about, but didn't see anything remarkable today besides the absolutely gorgeous sunny, blue sky. When I rounded a corner I thought I saw a guy peeing off the bridge but it was just a mom pressed against the railing, fiddling with her young kid (who was standing in front of her about zipper-high.) I did see the tree you see above, which reminded me of the fabled briar patch. I hate "Song of the South" because I think it's racist, but I can't help but love the story about the briar patch. I decided that this photo would be the show part of my show and tell today.

Here's my playlist.

Because I Told You So Jonatha Brooke

She’s Got A Way Billy Joel Not sure if it still is, but this used to be my ringer on Craig’s phone.

New York State of Mind Billy Joel Okay, this isn't the first time I’ve said this (and it will probably not be the last) but one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to in my life was Billy Joel’s 52nd Street tour in 1978. He played at the Erwin Center here in Austin and it was one of those shows where the sound engineer got things profoundly right. Listening to him play the piano was like having Bose headphones on. Anyway, I remember an elaborate backdrop of the New York skyline that lit up during the show, and it was pretty amazing (especially in 1978!) Hearing this song always takes me back to a fond memory of my teen years.

It occurred to me while I was riding today that probably one of the reasons I love Billy Joel is because he was classically influenced and trained but he had really distinct pop sensibilities. My mom was the same way. She grew up as a prodigious classical pianist and taught piano throughout most of my childhood. But she also became a mainstay in the Austin piano bar scene in the seventies and she absolutely loved musicians like James Taylor, Carole King, The Eagles, Linda Rondstadt and Leon Russell. Because of his jazzy, classical-tinged piano style, listening to Billy Joel play always reminds me of my mother.

Golden Lady Stevie Wonder

Your Head Holds Gold, Your Heart Holds Diamonds Bob Schneider

Losing Heart Brandi Carlile

Hollaback Girl Gwen Stefani There are a host of songs on my iPod that got there as a result of trying to build a playlist for our wedding in Long Beach. All six of our kids and a host of twenty-something nieces and nephews were there, and we wanted to get the dancing started. Craig thought he downloaded the clean version but… he didn’t. When the song came on and everyone was dancing, he kept trying to say, “Uh-huh, it’s my ship, it’s my ship.” Yeah, right.

I’d Be Lying Greg Laswell

Have You Ever Brandi Carlile

When You Walk On Eliza Gilkyson A great song about leaving this planet. My sister, brother and I are still trying to decide what to put on our mom’s headstone. We’ve tossed around several ideas but none have seemed right. Yesterday I walked around in the cemetery on Hancock Drive, thinking perhaps I would get some ideas on how people worded things about those they loved. It was a beautiful day and a really interesting experience. It warrants its own blog post, hopefully soon.

He Waits For Me Eliza Gilkyson

Spark Over The Rhine A great song about John Lennon

A Day In The Life The Beatles One of my favorites

The Long Way Around The Dixie Chicks This song always makes me think of my friend Jan. In 2007 we took a road trip from Los Angeles to Napa Valley and this tune frequently popped up on our playlist. I am going to try and find the DVD I made and do a blog post about it here. Anyway, Jan and I had both recently survived major tragedies and this was our exercise in "I'm gonna live, damn it!" We had a blast.

Frozen Man James Taylor This version is on Taylor’s live album, “One Man Band.” If you’re a James Taylor fan, you MUST get this disc. It’s a combination audio/video package, and is beautifully mixed and mastered. About 18 months or so before my mom died, Craig said, “Let’s invite your mom over, watch the concert on our big screen TV, and I’ll make dinner.” It was one of many get-togethers that I will always treasure because she sat here on the couch while we brought her food, poured her wine, and enjoyed the music with her. I am deeply grateful for a husband who would orchestrate such a wonderful night.

Let’s Get It On Marvin Gaye Oh, what can be said about Marvin that hasn’t already been said? A classic. I smiled as I listened to some of the cheesy lyrics (“If the spirit moves you, let me groove you good…”) Ahhh, the seventies.

Think About You Eliza Gilkyson Favorite lyric in this song: “I’m a sucker for a heart half-closed; a part withheld and a part exposed…”

Turpentine Brandi Carlile

Rockin’ Down The Highway Doobie Brothers

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Frisbees, Hello Kitty and Addiction

Today while I was riding my bike I noticed two guys playing Frisbee Golf (there’s a course in the park by our house.) One of them somehow tossed his to where it landed on its side, rolling across the terrain and then across the street. He had to walk toward me to get it, so I stopped. I thought that since I promised to notice something on every bike ride, this was my chance. As Scott got closer to me I decided to talk to him (which is how I found out his name.) Here’s how the conversation went:

Me: Hey, I’ve always wanted to see inside one of those Frisbee Golf bags. Can I take a picture of it?

Scott: Disc. DISC Golf. But sure – go ahead.

He opened up the bag and I snapped a picture.

Me: Oh yeah. Disc.

Scott (holding up Hello Kitty): I always find interesting things here. I’m going to take this home and put it on Ariel.

Me: Who’s Ariel?

Scott: My car.

Me: Your car’s name is Ariel? (I figured maybe he likes The Little Mermaid.)

Scott: AriAL. As in antenna.

Me: Ohhhh…

We exchanged good wishes for a great evening, and went our separate ways.

Without further ado here’s today’s playlist. I never cease to be amazed at how many experiences and memories music evokes.

1. Barricades of Heaven – Jackson Browne (I love the live album this is on: Solo Acoustic Vol. 1)

2. Scenes From An Italian Restaurant – Billy Joel (Just so you know, I don’t like much of anything he released after about the early 80’s. Anything before then, however, I typically love.)

3. Breakfast in America – Supertramp (The rhythm on this one always reminds me of a soldier marching with arms and legs in sync.)

4. Say Hello, Wave Goodbye – David Gray

5. Gravity – Sara Bareilles (The first time I heard this song, our son Brandon played it in the car when he picked us up from the airport. I liked it okay, but when I saw a dance about addiction that was choreographed to the song, I fell in love with it. The dance is a-m-a-z-i-n-g. The choreographer, Mia Michaels, made the guy the addiction and the girl the addicted. If you happen to have walked down that dark road – either as the one who has a chemical dependency or the one who loves someone who has one – this will blow you away. Every time I watch it I marvel at how tragically beautiful it is. You can see it here. Be sure and pay attention to their faces.)

6. Dream On – Glee Cast (I wouldn’t call myself a full-fledged Gleek, but I watch the show. And I LIKE it. Of course I like Aerosmith's version better, but I'm not in charge of the shuffle, now, am I?)

7. Crash Into Me – Dave Matthews Band

8. Drunkard’s Prayer – Over The Rhine (Such a great love song. First lines: “You’re my water/you’re my wine/you’re my whiskey from time to time/You’re the aching/on my bones/all the nights I sleep alone.”)

9. One of Us – Joan Osborne (I’ve always liked this song; it’s got a raw edge.)

10. Paradise Hotel – Eliza Gilkyson (Beautiful. Just beautiful.)

11. Blue Mind – Alexi Murdoch

12. Because I Told You So – Jonatha Brooke (The one and only time I was in Portland, a friend and I went downtown to get coffee before driving back to her house in Corvallis. We stopped at a big Starbucks that had an amphitheater behind it. While I was paying for my coffee I noticed a sign that had the names of musicians scribbled on it; it was a list of who was playing that day. I did a double-take when I saw Jonatha’s name. “Jonatha Brooke is playing here?” I asked. "Yes," the barista replied. “Today?” I said in disbelief. "Yes," she said again. Jonatha Brooke plays at Starbucks?? Still blows me away. Unfortunately we weren’t able to stay for the show because we would’ve had to wait about 4 hours, and we had to get on the road. Anyway, this song is on Ten Cent Wings, which is an older album but one of my faves.)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bike Shuffle 2/16/11

I've decided to try and describe one thing I see each time I ride my bike. Today it was the sky: If there were a trumpet for the eyes (as opposed to the ears) it would be sunlight that shoots through the clouds. This photo doesn't do it justice (it was much more pronounced in person) but all I had to take a picture with was my iPhone. I opted to stop so I could show you.

I think this may be good for me in more ways than one: I wanted to ride again today just to see what would come up on my iPod. In other words, it was a big motivator! I figure I have some stories to tell about music, and if that's what gets me writing, then so be it.

Today's playlist is definitely more representative of my current musical taste.

1. Awake My Soul – Mumford and Sons

2. Be My Thrill – The Weepies (saw them earlier this year at Momo's and they were fantastic.)

3. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds – The Beatles

4. Everybody’s Doin’ It – Bob Schneider (For those who don't know Bob Schneider, he's an Austin guy who can't seem to shake the title "Sandra Bullock's Ex-Boyfriend." Another thing locals know is that you'd better find out who he's playing with before taking people to see him. He does excellent acoustic folk/pop, but he also plays with a band called The Scabs. And when he plays with them the lyrics are uber-raunchy. It takes quite a bit to make me squirm, but some of their stuff will melt your eyelashes! However, he's an incredible musician and some of his music is so beautiful it could make you cry. Here's a video if you want to get acquainted.)

5. Down in Flames – Mindy Smith

6. Comes and Goes – Greg Laswell (Greg Laswell was one of my favorite finds of early 2010. Okay, I didn't find him. My husband turned me on to his music. I wore Laswell's album "Three Flights From Alto Nedo" completely out. And just so you know, my music IQ went up substantially when I married Craig.)

7. Sleeping – Glen Hansard (One of my first dates with my husband was to see the movie "Once." I think we saw it the weekend it came out and I really latched on to the album, before it hit the charts. Later that year we saw The Swell Season at Stubbs and they were *$%#@ amazing! However, once they were all the rage I was over it. I still love Hansard's music, but I'm not on the bandwagon. I hate bandwagons.)

8. Meg White – Ray Lamontagne

9. Get Back – The Beatles (Yes, I'm a big Beatles fan. But I became a super-fan when I saw Cirque du Soliel's "Beatles Love" in Las Vegas. It's on my bucket list to take my girls to see it. If you like The Beatles and haven't heard the Love album, you're missing out. You can read the story behind it here.)

10. The Chain – Ingrid Michaelson

11. Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy – Queen

12. Bad Dreams – Joni Mitchell (I love Joni because I love my husband a lot, and he's the biggest Joni fan I know. No, really. Anyway, any song of hers makes me think of him.)

13. Dream Lover – Eliza Gilkyson (This song was inspired by her husband, Robert Jensen, who is a journalism prof at UT Austin. He wrote a book called Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity. Both he and Eliza are liberal activists and see this as a feminist issue." Dream Lover" isn't one of my favorite songs, but it definitely showcases her songwriting abilities – esp. lyrically. Here's a link to a recording of it. I have no idea what the site is, but the audio is decent quality!)

14. Looking Out - Brandi Carlile (Favorite lyric in the song: “Some people get religion/some people get the truth/I never get the truth")

15. Make You Feel My Love – Adele (This song was written by none other than Bob Dylan. His version and Adele's version couldn't be on more opposite poles!)

16. Bigger Than My Body – John Mayer

I only rode about seven miles; had an adorable little two year-old waiting for me and I couldn't wait to get to her.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Signs of Life

Late this afternoon I took an 8-mile bike ride. Sometimes people get all impressed with that, but really it’s not that far at all. I think it took me about 45-50 minutes but it seemed like 10. Why? Probably because it was a gorgeous pre-spring day (what else do you call 73 degrees in February? The air is warm but all the trees are still completely naked and perched on dead grass, spindly limbs reaching for a brilliant blue sky.) I put my iPod on shuffle and for the first time in a long time just lost myself in living. I rode through a very large park near our house and took in the sights as I listened to whatever came through the headphones. Some of the songs made me think of fond memories, though I enjoyed the variety of all the others too. Yes, I skipped a few, but for the most part I let it be.

I. Love. Music.


I rode mostly on trails and sidewalks (more like a boardwalk) and at one point just thought about swinging my arms around in the wind, so I did. And I sang at the top of my lungs.

I passed a field full of little kids playing T-Ball, none of them probably over the age of six. There was so much life in that wide-open space, children screaming and laughing and looking for their parents on the sidelines. It felt good to be racing down a hill and letting go of all the shoulds and have-to’s of the day, bouncing to the beat as I steered my bike in S’s on the sidewalk. The sun was beginning to set and I realized I needed to go home. But I didn’t want to. I was enjoying being alive, being here, on planet earth. I’m grateful that I can hear music, that my legs work, and that I’m able to lose myself in life again – even if it’s only for a moment here and there.

Grief is a weird thing. Even though I’ve not cried lately or dwelt on the death of my mother, I know it has clogged up my soul somehow. I haven’t been able to write. To read. To pray or meditate much. To create. On my way home I thought about starting to chronicle here what comes up on my iPod when I ride my bike, and suddenly I got excited at the thought. For the last six months I haven’t been able to blog to save my life, possibly because I don’t really know what to say. I feel stuck. So perhaps if I write about my bike rides and the music that fuels them, eventually I will get un-stuck.

I am tempted, sorely tempted, to edit this list because I’m afraid you’ll judge me prematurely. So don’t think you know my musical taste by reading this list.

And don’t be a hater.

Honky Cat – Elton John (Honky Chateau was one of my favorite high-school albums)
Sweet Lorraine – Patty Griffin
Close to You – Carpenters (Yes, THE CARPENTERS! They were the first concert I ever went to. And they remind me of my mother in a big way.)
Way to You – Brandi Carlile (She’s my current singer/songwriter crush.)
While My Guitar Gently Weeps – The Beatles
Dreamboat Annie – Heart (The Wilson sisters have no equals.)
Wrapped Up in You – Wayne Kirkpatrick (One of the most syrupy pop songs on the planet. And it always makes me want to dance.)
Cuckoo’s Nest – Nickel Creek
Cowboy Take Me Away – Dixie Chicks (This makes me think of my daughter Anna, who sang this song in her middle school talent show. I smiled all the way through the song, thinking of her all those years ago.)
Angelina – Dave Berkley
Silver Lining – David Gray
Evil Woman – ELO
One Way or Another – Blondie
English Trees – Crowded House
Winter Birds – Ray Lamontagne
Holy, Holy, Holy – Ashley Cleveland (Over the last few years I haven’t been able to listen to much gospel music. It carries too much baggage from religious circles I’ve been a part of in the past. But Ashley transcends all of that; people who don't even believe in God at all love her. She’s actually in town doing a concert tonight, but I didn’t really have any desire to go. Instead I just put my bike in the garage and stood in the driveway, listening while I took in the nearly-full moon. Here's a link to the recording if you're interested in checking my opinion.)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Blowin' in the Wind

Earlier this year I made a promise to myself that I would post a new blog entry at least once per week. And for a short while I was able to keep it up. But alas, things fell to the wayside again and now it's been six weeks since I've posted anything new. It wasn't that I didn't want to write, it's that I was trying to pack too much into my impossibly full days. It was only after I graduated from college last summer that I realized that I had earned 48 hours of college credit in 15 months, all while starting a new business, meeting long-lost siblings for the first time, and caring for my increasingly sick mother. The ebb and flow of life's circumstances have been extremely erratic for me over the last few years, and especially the last 12 months. There has been lots of joy mixed with generous helpings of stress and sorrow.

But I digress.

This isn't an "I-must-help-you-understand-me" manifesto. I'm done making excuses to myself and to the world at large for what I do or don't do. Rather, I'm leading up to a confession of sorts, one that will hopefully help me get "un-stuck." The truth is, this is the post I haven't wanted to write. My mother died on October 11, 2010, and I knew that I couldn't just ignore it here. However, I wasn't really ready to write about it either (and in many ways I'm still not ready.) So what did I do? Nothing. And yet I know I can't pick up this discipline again without at least acknowledging the death of my mother. How do I talk about it without really talking about it? I don't know, but I'm gonna give it a try.

Anyone who's lost a parent or a spouse or a sibling or a child or a best friend knows that there's a lot of chaos that surrounds death, especially when it's long and drawn out. Caring for the everyday needs of someone who is terminally ill becomes increasingly chaotic and profoundly draining and difficult. Little by little my siblings and I assumed our mom's life: we dealt with financial matters, paid bills, took care of her house and her dogs, drove her to chemo and doctor's appointments and to and from surgeries and scans. We made sure she had food to eat, that her hygiene was taken care of. We kept in touch with her friends and extended family, keeping them apprised of her condition. We communicated with doctors and nurses on her behalf, we took care of her insurance, we shopped for new nightgowns and underwear, we switched out beds, got a walker and a cane and a shower chair – anything to try and keep her safe and as comfortable as possible. But I've learned that when cancer is ravaging someone's body, the efforts will never be enough.

On many occasions I told people that it felt like death was a powerful vacuum, one that was waiting for our mom to get weak enough to snatch her from the earth. She was a fighter who clung tenaciously to this life, if only for a few more days, hours, minutes or seconds with her family. And while she was the one leaving, we all felt the pull. Big time. The fact that it wasn't our turn to go meant that we were by nature resistant to the sheer force of her transition. And if you've ever been in gale force winds, you have an idea of what I’m talking about. The physics of staying upright takes a lot of energy because the wind wants to sweep you up or throw you down. Such are the metaphysical winds that death stirs up. We knew that when the tempest subsided we would all still be here, but after she died our clothes were tattered, our hair was blown and impossibly tangled, and every muscle in our bodies ached from the fight. It's been a month, and for the most part I feel like I am just starting to get up off the ground.

When people ask me, "How are you doing?" I don't know what to say. In many ways it feels like I was running on a treadmill at 200 miles per hour and then all of a sudden the belt just stopped and I went flying. I think I am still flying through the air. I've remained somewhat on autopilot as we've sorted through her things and cleaned out her house. I've gone through the motions of probate, selling her car, donating things to various charities. As I type this, boxes of her belongings surround me, and in all honesty it is overwhelming. Getting in to those boxes means not only finding a place for things, it also means remembering. And I'm not quite ready to do that. In the meantime, while I was consumed with helping her die, things piled up around here. I need to deal with insurance claims (my own), bank issues, and a host of other items that are piled high in my in-box. I need to work, do laundry, clean out the litter box, go to the grocery store, write thank-you notes, do some yoga. I need to exercise. I need to make a long-overdue dental appointment. I need to start thinking about the holidays. I need to wash my car and get some new tires. I need to unpack my suitcase from being out of town last week.

I need to rest.

And yet I think in a way I'm still holding my breath. I guess I'm confessing that I don't know what I'm doing and I don't know what to do next. I understand why sometimes people just go to bed and pull the covers over their heads. But I do know this: I'll be okay. I have a wonderful husband, kick-ass children, awesome siblings and incredibly loving and supportive friends. That doesn't mean, however, that I don't have to walk through the debris of my mother's death. And to some degree I must do it alone. This could take awhile. At least now I've broken the ice here, which will hopefully free me up to write again. As my mom used to say when she didn't want to commit to something, "We shall see."

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