Thursday, December 30, 2004

Where heartbreak and horror is put into words of beauty...
Water is a must read from A blog is a Happening

I've added some charity links in the left tool bar. Most related to relief work, and one the organization that we adopted through that has programs in both India and Thailand.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

I am fighting with an affection-starved cat for use of the keyboard. Forgive my typos today. She really shouldn't still be starved at this point as I've been home a full day now, but Acorn is insisting on sitting close enough that her tail interferes directly with my reach of the keys and she is gradually getting more and more irritated at me as she does not like her tail nudged. It flicks back and forth more rapidly, her signal of displeasure and the approaching likelihood of my hand getting bitten.
For the last few days I've been lighting a candle in prayer. I pray for my niece, and I pray for the tsunami victims.
On my flight home, I was seated next to a fifty-eight year-old Vietnamese woman who was intensely evangelical. This I would not have found so difficult, I can usually wade through the persuasion to acknowledge compassion that sometimes leads a person who feels so blessed by their faith to share it with me. That is until they start to condemn others. After about 20 minutes of miracles sharing (of which some of the stories were somewhat interesting in their human dimension) she started sharing the sort of simplistic, hateful sorts of statements that I find so hard to believe anyone could really believe. Things like her belief that "all colored people" rob and steal because their hearts were made black by Satan. Preserving the Arctic and even the basic concept of protecting any wilderness is stupid because God made plants and animals for people to use. At the point where she tried to draw some connection between the earthquake and tidal wave and some divine vengeance God wanted to wreak on all Muslims for following a faith that celebrating killing, I cut her off in anger, then buried myself in a book. I could have explained to her that there were many thousands of non-Muslims in those areas, patiently dealt with her massive misperceptions like I had with the other statements of prejudice, but it was obvious that this woman was permanently lost in a sea of ignorance. She stood up just as the plane taxied up to the airport door and yelled "Happy New Year, God Bless You" across the heads of the surrounding seated passengers. "Accept Jesus into your heart, he loves you! Love him and you will be saved" she continued, failing to recognize that the only people who responded were the very "colored" people around us who she had been so sure were all criminals. She asked me as we rose to leave the plane "Do you know Jesus?" My response, "Apparently I know a different Jesus than you do."
There is a "Star" magazine now tidily tucked deep into the recycling bag, out of sight. Star magazine is one of those celebrity tabs which caters to an audience that will want to know what the supermodel was wearing when she was pulled out to sea by a tsunami, and whether her lipstick stayed unsmudged through the ordeal. The magazine was the last visual reminder of my niece's brief stay at my house after Christmas. Now I feel somewhat like an accessory to a crime, a part of a conspiracy to deceive and kidnap a naive girl, even if it was for her own good, even if she was guilty of far worse crimes, and I'm sure the need to bury the magazine reflects a sense of guilt and desire to remove any evidence of her stay on my part.
I read the growing death tolls, and wonder at the strange way the Western press focuses on the tourist resorts in Thailand as if the hundreds of missing Americans and Europeans and the stories of celebrity survivors mean more than the tens of thousands of Indonesians, Indians, Sri Lankans... The loss of their livelihood and homes haunts me as I read of planes arriving from Western countries to evacuate their particular survivors. It all pisses me off despite the fact that as humans, we just tend to put our "own" faces on a tragedy to make it real. I guess it bothers me because it reeks of the same like-preference that makes a woman sitting next to me on an airplane write off entire countries of people assuming they are expendable if they are not Christian. I say this, but have to admit at the same time that my family stress this week has not disappeared in the wake of the bigger tragedy. Do we ever really feel a sense of perspective?
Now Acorn is standing directly in front of the monitor, making it impossible to see what I am typing without removing her to my lap or the floor. She will jump back up though, this will continue until we both get mad and nasty - she will sink her claws in as I lift her away the umpteenth time, I will carry her to the door and unceremoniously dump her out on the porch, wincing from the scratches. Years of this and I still haven't figured out a different dance. I put her on the floor.
There is something confusing about processing the scale of a distant tragedy the size of the one in the headlines this week, and processing this tiny but personal tragedy of loss and separation in my own family at the same time. One is incomprehensible and horrific, dwarfing any concept of misery I might have imagined. Having visited some of the places devastated does not make it imaginable. On the other hand, I can all too well imagine each moment of my niece's journey, which I have never trod. The fear, the feelings of betrayal, the coming months of loneliness and anger, the denial and the pain of waking up to her much needed reality call. The fact that my niece had many apparent opportunities to avoid her current fate does not mean she could control the eventual fracture along long unstable fault lines, avoid being engulfed in an emotional wave when the influx of hormones and culture of media-driven superficiality conspired to drown her deficit self esteem. After months of acting-out in dangerous ways, pre-dawn yesterday we placed her in the hands of escorts, nice but firm strangers who would drive her to a residential program, the whole thing such a shock she was sure she was having nightmares as it unfolded. That I believe we have saved her life is, I suppose, enough rationale to offset the stain of a long string of half truths and deceptions told in order to insure she did not run away. I think she will hate us longer than we hate ourselves, but being a loving family member means we must not worry about this and put her safety first. Now she will spend a year away from her family rebuilding herself from the inside out. There will be no Star magazines there.
Meanwhile, a world away, millions face such terrible fates. Act of God? I don't think so. Certainly not the act of a vengeful God. Our little family disaster is miniscule in context. Our choices, our actions, our mistakes so inconsequential. I recognize this is both privilege and fate. I send money. I offer to pack supplies. But amidst it all, I can't escape the thoughts of my niece waking up in a strange dorm room hundreds of miles from home and the long road ahead of her as well. I write her cards, letters, tuck in meditation cards and small stones for strength. In both cases, it is so little. So I pray for both and release any sense of perspective.
The cat has now wormed her way up onto my shoulder and it is comforting to pet her. I am aware of the smell of her fur, the texture, the warmth against my chest. Maybe I should go make some tea.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Today she is edgey and curt with everyone, really a change in the normal weather for my daughter, and I wonder if it is a dissatisfaction with how much or what she got for gifts, the toll of exercised patience after four days of close full time proximity with the pesty brother, or just being overwhelmed.

Tonight I bring up this observation.
"I don't think I know what it is that is bothering me, but something seems wrong."
We talk some more, and I can see her chin quivering in the darkness.
"It started in the department store on Wednesday night. I just had this sudden feeling of emptiness." I ask where she feels this emptiness and she tells me it is in the pit of her stomach.
"But I don't really feel like probing into it very much."
I return to some thoughts I had thought to share with her a few days back, because I know this emptiness feeling well, how there can be so many gifts, so much food, so much and yet you feel...
"yes, lonely."
It doesn't do much good but I try and explain how gifts and food and family are expressions of love, but not love itself. For some they act as substitutes, in my family clearly they are symbols of true caring feelings, but there it is. I tell her that it is good for her to know this feeling inside herself, not to shut it out or deny it in the midst of all the other feelings. And that I love her more than any gift could ever represent. But I don't explain why she feels so alone because I am no expert. I am just now starting to probe that emptiness myself, and lately it sadly whispers that someday she will grow up and move onto sharing Christmas with her own family and I must survive this along with so many other ways of being alone.

I am thinking tonight that so much changes with time - every holiday with its losses and gains. All I can do is preserve the traditions and rituals that have some meaning or tender memory for me, do my best to create some fun and warmth, then let the holidays weave into their own tapestry for my children. I can't fill that hole inside them with anything I can put in a stocking or cookie, I can't make their lives ok by running out to buy batteries at 2, I can only listen and hope they find a voice inside that grounds them when they start to realize that even in the face of abundance all around, the only thing they really have is themselves.

I am thinking when she is 45, she will do this more gracefully than I do if she can already name it at 12.
For now it is enough for her to sleep the exhausted sleep of a Christmas night in the bedroom I share with her, the same bedroom I shared with my sister 40 years ago.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Seeding Joy (a Haibun)

For the Solstice, I was gifted by a dear woman friend with an evening of lovely warming food, candlelight and friendship. Her solstice gift was a bag of bird seed, symbolizing the planting of seeds in the darkness to germinate and grow as warmth and light return when the days start again to grow longer.

Cunning flicker of energy
Nuthatch promptly breakfasts
On seeds newly offered at my windowsill
Darts into adjacent rhododendron
Slides vertically to the “y” of a branch
To wedge and chisel tiny slivers of peanut, sunflower
Returns before he’s finished, greedy child, to steal another
Gifting unfinished bits to the late sleeping squirrel

Happy Solstice to you all!

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Tonight, a special guest blog post from my friend Chris. Tell me about an ornament from your tree in the comments!

My Life As a Christmas Tree

Tonight my nine year old son B and I decorated the Christmas tree together. His sixteen year old brother K chose not to help, perhaps thinking he had outgrown such activities (which has never been true for me when it comes to the Christmas tree). As I unpacked the ornaments for B to hang on the tree, I was reminded of how much of my life history is reflected in the ornaments I hang on the tree.

I have a few tarnished glass ball ornaments that I think my parents had before I was born. They look their age--the colors are faded, the paint cracking. Yet what is most amazing is that for all their delicacy they have survived for more than forty years and the fingers of children and children's children and thousands of miles of traveling as well as making an annual migration from their cardboard boxes to the Christmas tree and back again.

There's an orange wooden duck from Mexico from when I was a child. It's wings are broken off--either one of the dogs or the kids got to it back then, which actually makes it unique and special to me and different from any other ones that were made.

I have a felt Santa face that I made when I was B's age. I can still remember tracing around the bottom of a tin can to make the face and cutting out the felt.

There's a clip-on Koala Bear that looks similar to one I used to carry around with me as a teen, clipped to the collar of my jacket.

There's a homemade clear plastic bow tie filled with little trinkets that evoke a Texan theme, made by my ex-wife before we were married. She made one for each person in my family as a Christmas gift (I think this one might have been an extra one not made for anyone in particular). It was a brief venture into arts and crafts that she didn't pursue again.

There are other ornaments that she and I bought for each other or together as reminders of special times: a stained glass leaf from our trip to Victoria, a shell heart that was a gift to me from her early in our relationship, a gold wire heart that was originally filled with chocolate kisses.

There are a few kid ornaments given to K when he was a child, such as a wooden dinosaur. There's an ornament of a little mouse asleep in an acorn to commemorate B's first Christmas. There are handmade ornaments from when B was younger, such as a red glass ball that he decorated with beads and paint.

There's a set of beautiful deep red glass balls I bought for myself my first Christmas after I had separated--a way of affirming that I could have a happy Christmas on my own.

From my years with C there's a clear glass ball filled with multi-colored string that I purchased when I accompanied her to a Christmas Bazaar our first Christmas together. I also have a few handmade wooden stars and Santa ornaments from some other country in Asia or South America that are companions to ones I gave C the second Christmas we shared.

There are a few more recent ornaments that I got as a gift to myself--a glass ornament shaped like a beautiful green pine cone, a Homer Simpson one with him sucking on a candy cane. And there's a new one this year--another Homer Simpson one--one of those prismatic motion ones that was on the cover of TV Guide that I bought last week with B, who had to find just the right spot to hang it.

When you look at this tree, filled with all of these ornaments of various colors, materials, ages, and styles, it's probably quite the clashing picture. There's no single theme or motif or aesthetic constant. Or rather, there is no apparent theme or motif. The common thread is that nearly all of them reflect aspects of my life and various people I have loved over the years. And, just as my life has followed many different paths and hardly been a single or simple journey, so, too, are the ornaments. Perhaps more than any other thing I own, my Christmas tree reflects a compendium of my life--from before I was born, through my childhood, my marriage, relationships since then and the childhoods of my children--K's past and B's present. Each year a few more ornaments are added and one or two might be lost. But, for the most part, each year there are the same ornaments, arranged in a different pattern. It's not a single theme or aesthetic, but in all of it's diversity and garishness, it's all special to me, and perhaps only to me. I imagine that if I could see a photo of my Christmas tree ten or twenty years from now, I would see a mix of ornaments quite familiar and others new to my eyes. Each has a story behind it and is from a different moment and connection in my life.

As I helped my son decorate our tree this evening, I actually realized two things. The first is how much this Christmas tree reflects my life. The second is how much my life reflects a Christmas Tree. What makes me special is the unique mixture of friends and experiences I have had in my life. With each passing year some are lost even as new ones are added. It is these friends and experiences that brighten and adorn my life, making it distinct from any other and a reminder of how beautiful and special life can be.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

I hestitate in the silence of morning
House quieted by absent children
You are there, in the slow measured step of the second hand
As it counts out the heartbeats
I listen to the grind of a distant street sweeper
To the Bewick's wren scolding from the spruce
Yes, I know I am late for work, but still
I wait, scanning beneath the hum of the fridge
Between the chinking of tags tossed by an itchy dog
Listening for the emptiness of your death
It lies there in the quiet hush of the house
As if the dust could remind me of your voice

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Butuki from Laughing Knees writes in his comment threads recently:

"Just you wait. No one is going to touch this topic in these comments. I agree with you wholly: this is a sick society; no one even wants to talk about the basic issues. If men and women can’t even talk about being men and women with one another without launching into tirades and recriminations, how can we ever talk about making a better society? I want to talk… I write these posts about men and women because I want to talk and get people thinking through discussion. But not if one side is unwilling to listen to the other."

I wanted to respond but this got too long and off topic for that comment thread.

Dear Butuki,
I am sorry you feel shut down when you try to bring up issues about what culture does to men. In my opinion, you had the (at least one, if not main) reason incapsulated in your post but didn't link the reason to the problem. The truth is, that men do perpetrate much of the violence, and women can't help but be aware of this. For example, in a diversity workshop I attended, 37 of the 40 women had been victims of sexually targeted aggression. I think this is precisely why we shut down that conversation about men's issues. Women are scared to think about the possibility of being a victim and the reality that it isn't just one man out of 200 that is hurting so many of us. We want to believe that it isn't our friends, brothers, fathers, sons. Its the only way we can survive and not walk in terrible fear every step of our lives.

So saying, I think we DO need to listen through that fear. Set it aside and understand how we as women contribute to the factors that make it happen. The same way we need to listen to how we've shut down black men in this country to the point that when they finally do erupt, it's volcanic in nature. Anything contained in a box too small is bound to eventually burst.

Before that workshop, I hadn't confronted how my own fears about expression of anger and frustrations were limiting the honest expression of the men around me. I hadn't confronted how my expectations of how men are supposed to act, even the stupid little things like making men take the scary bug out of the house, put them in a role where they couldn't be whole. I want them to open up their inner soul and confess their greatest hopes and fears, but realistically, in the past if a man showed a strong negative emotion, I got scared and limited it. It probably should have occurred to me that he wasn't going to share his dreams and greatest happiness if he couldn't also express his fears and frustrations, the darker emotions. But it hadn't. I was too caught up in my fear, which in complete fairness for women, is based on our daily reality. The thought that we might contribute to the reasons it happens... well that triggers the "women don't deserve it no matter what we do" argument, again valid, again a defense, rather than a choice to listen and understand without getting caught up in our fears.

What am I unleashing when I ask men to be fully expressive? Can I sit quietly with my fear, with my paradigms, with my biases, looking at them and choosing to set them aside so I can hear?

If I love my son, if I want him to walk in the world knowing himself, sharing himself richly, I must.

So I'm asking you Butuki, my friend, to talk. To help me listen so I can teach my son. I'm asking all of you who read, to talk.

What haven't I let you say?

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Looking down and slightly away from me he says
When I listened to your phone message I thought...
"If I were single, you would instead be saying
'Come over right now.'
And I would come over.
And we would have sex."

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Tomorrow morning
When you wake


Don't turn up the heat just yet
Head for the bath
Turn on the shower


As hot as you can stand
Step in
Immerse yourself in the steam
Until every pore has opened

Now turn, back to the water
And step forward to the far wall
Arch your head back
And lean forward slightly
Until your nipples touch the icy tile

Pay attention
As the shock threads its way
Into your shoulder blades


You are alive.
No one can steal this.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Preferred delivery methods for holiday carols:

1) Drunken carolers on the front doorstep

2) Gospel choir, preferably with several gorgeous guys singing solos

3) Children under five. "He's making a list Of chicken and rice; Gonna find out who's naughty or nice. Santa Claus is coming to town!"

4) Amy Grant's Christmas song on the CD, a roaring fire, and my kids carefully unwrapping the ornaments to hang on the tree - I should state that this is a manufactured fantasy we attempt to create every single year with little actual romance and frequent bouts of stress

5) Peter Broggs singing his version of the Twelve Days of Christmas

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Note to self:
Do not sing along with schmaltzy muzak Christmas carols while shopping or especially while trying on clothing in the store dressing room.

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