Saturday, May 29, 2010

Bucket List

A bucket list is a list of things you wish to do before you die.

I compiled one yesterday for my brother to read. Here it is;

1. Going to Ireland and staying for a little while.
2. Owning a really tiny little dog, that I can carry around with me.
3. Visiting major art museums in NYC, Washington D.C., London, Paris and Rome.
4. Hand knitting a blanket.
5. Ballroom dancing with my husband.
6. Swimming naked.
7. Eating totally vegetarian for a year.
8. Writing a book, or several.
9. Writing a song and singing it with back up instrumentals.
10. Reading all of Shakespeare's plays (with a critical guide to literature so I understand everything).

I told my husband yesterday about the list, and what makes number one. He was intrigued, because going to Ireland is something he would like very much to do. So we made a strategy. This Saturday is the first time the company has authorized over-time work in about a year. He worked about three hours. When he gets a statement from his company of how much he was paid in over-time, we will take half that amount and put it into a savings account titled "Ireland". Half the amount will go into the household budget, but half will go towards making our dream a reality. We don't even know how much we would need to go to Ireland. I would want to buy a handmade sweater and Irish jewelry. But mostly, we would want to see the land. There is an art museum in Dublin that of course I would wish to visit. But what I really imagine doesn't include a lot of driving around. I want to find a beautiful spot and stick to it. Walk around a lot, on a trail, by some cliffs. Stay at a Bed and Breakfast. Visit the ruins of a monastery or castle. Do some drawings. Maybe draw my husband's face. Really take the time to artistically study his face. My husband said that knowing that his overtime pay is going toward a trip to Ireland would encourage him to work more. Right now there is not that much overtime work available, so this is an account that would probably grow very slowly. We would have years to plan and research the trip.

I can remember, about 15 years ago, watching television and an add came on for a Cruise line trip. It was an all inclusive package; they provided the air fare to where the boat was initially docked and then as the boat sailed all your meals and entertainment were already paid for too. I watched this add and then I thought - "I am too sick and poor to ever go on this type of vacation."

I was living on disability at the time, and I suffered from symptoms of my illness every day. So much then seemed beyond my ability to ever possess. I had given up on ever getting married because in my experience no man would want the financial burden of a wife who didn't work. The men I dated were living on the edge of poverty and we needed, as a couple, my disability checks. When I marry, because I became sick at such a young age without a history of much work, my disability checks are tiny. I am given much more money by the government, and have far superior health insurance, if I am single. I dated nice men, but they were no fools. They weren't for the sake of love, going to change their style of living, and do with less, just to get married. As my grandmother used to say, "Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free". I would have sex and live with these men, even pay them rent, with my disability check. I had always experienced modern romance, where each partner is responsible financially wholly for themselves.

So I didn't expect a boyfriend to pay for a Cruise boat for me to go on. But I think, besides the money, what got me angry at the advertisement and all the fun it represented to a normal person, was that I was so sick that I knew I couldn't handle an airplane ride, or the stress of traveling through uncharted social territory. The vacation advertised was supposed to be relaxing, but all I saw, were situations that would cause me to get sick and my symptoms to worsen. Back then I could become catatonic, curled up in a little ball not moving in bed after such an emotional, but common, experience such as making love. Yes, once my boyfriend called my mother in a panic because he didn't know what to do with me, I was frozen and uncommunicative after sex. At this time I was also in and out of the hospital, becoming suicidal when stress overwhelmed me. I complain about being fragile now, back then I was more fragile. It was hard to watch an advertisement on television for something that was beyond my ability to handle, but which I knew, the majority of the non-disabled population could handle.

Other advertisements that got me down were for new cars. I was dependent on whatever car my father bought for me. Just having a car, and being sick on disability, I knew, was a luxury. Living in a city, and having contact with really poor mentally ill people, who lived in crime infested apartments, opened my eyes to the luck I experienced by having some little support by my family. The older I grew the less my family wished to support me, as hopes of me making a complete recovery faded, but I did get some financial support from these boyfriends and husbands that I acquired, and that let my family off the hook. Another form of luck I had was that I was white and semi-intelligent and could take advantage of the forms of charity that the city provided. I got food from a food pantry. I went pawing through charity donated clothing or visited the Salvation Army. I used the bus and walked. And good apartments were available to me because I was white and wore nice clothing - when I was interviewed by apartment managers or roommates I made a good impression. Always I said I had disability but I would say that I received assistance from my family, and when they looked at me, they believed me.

I was terrified that one day my family would cut off assistance for my car. They would either not wish to pay for mechanical repairs or they would not wish to pay for insurance. Being dependent on others good will is hard, and unfortunately, I did not enjoy as good a relationship with my family when I was sick as I do now having recovered partially. Now I can hold my tongue and be nice, back then, I said whatever I pleased and often disappointed my family by being too sick to socialize with them. I was absent from many holiday gatherings. I couldn't handle the stress of my youth, my youth being so near to me, and all the fighting I did with my parents when I was young. Perhaps as well I was also an angry person, angry at being sick and powerless over my own mind. My illness made me into a smaller person. It still does. But luckily I have a husband who does not mind me being small, and who takes care of me when I am small.

I think that I could be at my wits end, and survive, while I am visiting Ireland. Because I have a helpmate. He can drive the car when I cannot. He can give me courage to deal with strangers because he can easily socialize when I am paralyzed with fear. We can get a room that is available to me in the middle of the day to rest in. My husband's overtime work will pay for our trip. He takes care of me.

Sometimes after a day of too much activity I lie in bed, awake, and can neither read nor watch television. I just lie very still and let my husband rub my back. There is no conversation. He reads his book, and the back rubbing is rather routine and mechanical. But still, that touch, when I am in mental turmoil, feels good.

Last night we went out and ate pizza. In the booth ahead of us was a young couple with two young children. The baby was quiet in her father's arms. But her brother, while he was being put into a booster seat, got an ouchie somewhere on his body. He had not gone willingly into the booster seat. The mother took him up in her arms and began rubbing his back. I watched him forget to cry. He actually was so comforted by the physical attention that he forgot to cry. Someone who loved him, who he trusted, just by human contact, made the pain go away.

And I thought, "I am on so many nights just like that little boy".

Saturday, May 22, 2010


My mother says that she feels like Brunhilda. So that I understand completely what she means, she said "I feel like that cartoon character that has big metal plates over her breasts." My mother is sick and tired of her bras. "They are mostly artificial anyway" she says "all foam and wire. I'm tired and I want to be set free. I should be like grandma and just go without a bra. You know grandma did this, so she was always looking for shirts that had two pockets in the front so that she could then go without a bra."

I happen to also know, that on really hot days, my 92 year old grandmother tended to her housework totally nude. This was not because she had dementia. No, grandma had all her wits about her. She would say that the perk of being old is that you could say anything, anything at all and get away with it. Grandma also realized that by 92 you can treasure your comfort over conventional, social behavior. Oh, I remember the times I patiently waited on grandma's front door step so that she could put on clothing and answer the door. Because I guess it just feels really good to walk around the house in the nude.

When my mother and I were in Maine we drove about an hour and a half, each way, to go to a store that sold organic cotton bras. The lure of these bras, besides that they are made out of organic cotton, is that they have no wires. We arrived at the store and they had two bras left, besides the nursing bras, and those were a size 42 and 46. These are extra, extra-large sizes. My mom is probably a medium size, perhaps a 36. Mom said, "They must be discontinuing their stock". I said, "No, I think a lot of people were buying their bras. We drove all this way just to buy a bra. I think if you do it, other people are doing it as well."

On a hunch, while my husband and I were out walking through town several weeks ago, I stopped at a store that is named "Save Our Corporations From Themselves." You see this large sign out front and you look around for the real name of the store because you can't believe anyone would name their store such a mouth full. What the store sells is clothing made mainly from hemp, but also bamboo and organic cotton. On a hunch, I went inside, and discovered, a whole back wall covered in organic cotton bras. I was euphoric. There were many styles of bras, all without wire and padding, all doing their best to give comfort to the wearer. Some had elastics, some had clever gathering, and some were sturdy, while others were slight. Some made half hearted attempts to lift and separate the breasts, others just bound the breasts together and held them against the chest, making, one uniform lump going across your chest. And it isn't even a big lump, it is a tiny lump.

On the day I discovered that we sell organic cotton bras in my hometown, I of course called my mother, and she set her sights on visiting as soon as possible. Today we both visited the store and mom tried on about ten different styles of bras. She bought three. She also bought two shirts and a skirt. The skirt and one of the shirts was on sale, thank goodness, because ecologically natural clothing isn't cheap. The man at the counter added up all my mother's purchases and, when the sum went over two hundred dollars, my mom said, "Don't you have a discount for seniors?" She had out her check book but she looked reluctant to open it. The man at the counter, perhaps perceiving that he was going to lose a sale, said, "I can't give you a discount for the items on sale, but the rest, I can give you a ten percent discount." And just like that, the total came down, and the check book was opened.

I was so pleased with the clothing my mother bought. It was all soft and feminine and appropriate for a woman who is seventy. She looked stylish as hell even wearing those anti-Victoria's Secret bras that merely flatten a bit and stop from jiggling everything that is already drooping. I thought my mother looked good enough to stand there in the dressing room with a martini in her hand.

The skirt was my idea. My mother said to me in the car before we arrived at the store, "I need pants that cut off right below the knees." Uncertain as to what style she had in mind, I said, "Where have you seen these pants?" She replied, "Oh, I don't know. I just can't wear shorts because my knees look bad, but in hot weather I don't want to wear long pants."

"Ah" I said, "You need a skirt." My mother made an unhappy sound, committing to nothing. At the store they had beautiful, solid colored skirts that had a draw string waist and came down to your ankles. They were made out of hemp, which looks exactly to my uninformed eye like linen. I picked out one for her to try on. She in turn saw a top that she liked. But when she tried on the top with the skirt I heard more unhappy noises coming out of the dressing room. My mother had put on the shirt and then tucked it into the skirt. The way it looked she was cut off in the middle by the draw string. "Untuck the shirt" I told her, and we did this, and then I explained the rule that all the shirts were to fall naturally over this type of skirt.

It doesn't surprise me that two months after the man my mother loved died, she wants to get rid of all her bras. She is feeling some freedom. I don't think she wants to look unattractive, only the rules by which men find women attractive are no longer important to her, - she isn't going to play any of that old game between the sexes. She isn't looking for a new man, she is deep in mourning for the old man. And his death seemed to give her permission to live her life in any way she sees fit. She isn't dressing for a loved one's approval. The only approval she seeks is her own.

Of course, when her daughter told her that she looked beautiful, I hope she heard the compliment.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Civil Rights

Happily said, with great enthusiasm after we exited a video store, "I would do Taylor Lautner!"

This is not my quote. Nor is it a quote of a teenage girl, the majority of which, have a favorite heartthrob, choosing in the Twilight series of movies between Robert Patterson and Taylor Lautner. These actors play respectively a vampire and a werewolf. No, the person who is a big fan of Taylor Lautner the werewolf, and thinks he is sexy, is my 50 year old husband.

I said, "Shh honey, we are in a public place."

Lust knows no bounds between the sexes for some people.

I recently read the book "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo". It is an international sensation, and the movie based on the book is playing in our local theater. I wanted to read the book before I saw the movie. This is always my creed; read the book first so that the movie does not ruin the suspense in the book. If I had a choice between reading a book,- the slow, imaginary telling of a story, with so many nuances, so many hundred thousands of words, and seeing a movie,- where the book is edited and you are a dummy sitting in a seat, with the plot exposed to all your senses, bypassing your imagination,- I would pick reading the book.

As I read the book I loathed it. I loathed the vision of the author, who has characters that are successful and sexy and very much in tune with the political currents of our time. The author had a mind that is so unlike my own. He wrote a thriller, a murder mystery, and I loathed that I was hooked and played with and could not get enough of the book. I had to read it, even to the exclusion of getting my own work done or going to sleep at a reasonable hour. The duties of the day were swept clean, there was nothing more in this world that I wished to do other than read this book. I was taken. I was seduced. It was like the addiction that I imagine a drug can cause. Once in your system you are a puppet on a string. And this was a mere book. But it had a hold on me.

I like admiring the author of a book. But most of the authors who I admire are dead. This cuts down on my internal need to compete. And most of the authors who I admire I wish to write like. But I cannot write like Stieg Larsson who wrote "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo". He is too in the world, and he writes about the world, something I am helpless to do. I write about the interior of the mind. For goodness sake, I have not traveled one town over. I do not know what the center of town looks like one town over, and I have been living in this spot for five years now. I do not travel. I do not explore. And I am exposed, in minimal fashion to the current culture. I cannot tell you what the recent debate about Health care was about in Congress that concluded so recently - even though I read some internet articles about it. I barely understand the recent financial meltdown that caused us to dwell in a recession for so long even though I read internet articles about this as well and was monitoring it as it happened. There are abstract concepts that I do not understand, and most of these exist in terms of a cultural and economic and political phenomena. I understand that I am pro gay marriage, but this is based on my own experience.

I know what it is like to love a girl and wish you could marry her and live with her forever. I don't feel that that sort of love is perverse, it felt natural when it happened to me as a twenty-two year old. It is nice to be in a legal marriage, as I have experienced later in life, and to have that marriage be respected by others as a statement of commitment and emotional bonding. From my husband's co-workers to my own mother, the fact that I am married makes them all view me and my husband with a respect that would not be present if we weren't married. If I can have this respect, I would like gay couples to have the respect as well. So on this issue I am political. But it grows out of the experience of my own mind and my own emotions. I know what it is like to wish that you could hold hands with someone of the same sex, and yet be afraid to do so in public, because it is frowned on socially. I believe that the leading edge of civil rights in America is the rights for gays to marry - because this is treating them on equal terms, giving them equal rights, as heterosexuals. At one time it was illegal for blacks and whites to marry. The two were considered perverse in their affections, the races were supposed to stay separate. Separation of the races was considered natural and a social duty. Now civil rights faces discrimination based on sex, and the general population's notions of what is natural and the duty of society. But this I know, and so does my husband, that love of the same sex is natural and should not be condemned by society.

Who ever said, two hundred years ago, "I know the mind of a black man and it is in every way equal and as fine in its thoughts and sentiments as a white man." Not many could say this.

I can say now, as a woman, "I have known the love of a woman, and it is in every way as fine and equal as the love of a man." Still, not many can say this. Only a fraction of the population has had bisexual relations. Thoughts of attraction to the same sex, perhaps yes. But acting on it, not so much. But the condition two hundred years ago was that only a fraction of the population knew a black person that they had respect for. They might know a black person, but much of the value of this person was invisible to them, they saw blacks through a vale of society's misconceptions. Blacks were shunned the same way that gay people are shunned. What father wants for a son a homosexual? And two hundred years ago what person could say that their best friend was a black person? I know it would hurt my husband to be called a faggot. And I know it would hurt my best friend (a black woman) to be called a nigger. Civil rights is the answer to curb the tide of popular opinion. Popular opinion dies hard. But laws too contain iron and steel. When Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation he not only freed the slaves, he started a trend to change people's perceptions of black people. Now we have a black president. We need to start laying the groundwork so that some day we can have a gay president. Giving gays the right to legally, and religiously marry, is the groundwork to putting this path of renewed perception in place.

There is something about my illness that limits me to exposure of the world around me. My brother is currently doing interviews with famous people. Some of these interviews are published on his website, He cannot approach these people directly. Usually there are layers of people to go through before he encounters the celebrity. They have handlers. But my brother can swim through the currents of society. I can't do this. I'm in retreat from society. I hide. I read my two hundred year old books. Modern books, even when they are good, pain me. And I am not active in civil rights. I have a political view but I don't press it. Do you know what society seems like in a two hundred year old book? It seems like a dream, it is so foreign to our own modern sensibilities. And yet, for the good writers, words coming out of their character's mouths sound fresh and clean. Human beings at their core do not change so much in two hundred years. If an author can unvale a soul he has done a task that will last for a thousand years or more.

I say to myself as I write my book; "I am writing a dream". That is my only objective. Some of my mentally ill characters are living through dreams of their own because they are so loosely attached to reality. So I am writing about dreamers and the dreams of the mind.

I cannot thrill like Steig Larsson's thriller. My seduction has to be different. I have a schizoaffective illness and this colors my work and my life.

May God grant me the breath, and the movement of my fingers so that the dreamers in my head are all given a voice. I must, as I live, finish my book.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

My Husband's Hat

This is a view of my kitchen. You can see one of my cats on the back of the sofa. There is a lot of pattern and color in my kitchen. On the floor are oriental rugs. Its funny because some of the oriental rugs were bought in antique stores, one new, and two at the town dump in the recycling department. Some of the rugs are really worth something, hand made, and some are machine made and were bought for about $10. And yet, in my kitchen, they abide well together. It is the high and the low co-mingling. What they share is pattern and color. Oscar Wilde said that the soul of a room was in the carpet. What you put on the floor determines how the rest of the room will look.

My husband's co-worker thinks that it is funny I set out a nice kitchen table with fresh flowers. I worry about the table cloth matching the candles, and usually include some type of center beaded or fancy cloth place mat. I like to switch how the table looks every month, or every other month. He thinks it is funny because we rarely have guests, or even visitors, to our home. And yet I'm obsessed with how the home looks. What we do, we do mainly for our own delight. We aren't impressing anyone because we have very few friends to impress.

Recently my husband bought a new hat to go with his new white suit jacket. The suit jacket was a gift from my mother and used to belong to her companion Pete who recently died. My husband got a lot of his shirts and two other suit jackets. There was a yellow stain on one arm of the white suit jacket that I treated with stain remover twice, and then for a third time by throwing the whole jacket into the washing machine with Woolite on the delicate cycle. The stain became so faint that it is practically invisible, and the jacket is now suitable to be worn.

On the first day that my husband went to wear this white jacket to church he put on the one leather black cowboy hat that he loves. I said no. The black hat did not go with the white jacket. He said that he was going to only wear the hat in the car and outside as we walk up toward the church. Men do not wear their hats inside church. I still said no, a black hat with a white suit looks ridiculous. So he went to church bare headed. It is hard to argue with me when I say no.

Unknown to me, my husband looked inside his black hat, read the label, went on-line, and found a store that sold hats from the same company. He bought a quality tan leather hat for $35. I was told about the existence of this hat after it was bought. My husband said to me, don't I buy dresses and then show them to him after I have bought them? True. Now this hat, it is handsome, with tan leather braiding around the crown, and it goes nicely with the white jacket.

I cannot express how much my husband's hats mean to him. Especially the black leather cowboy hat. It has a band around the crown that was a gift from Mom and Pete. The band is black leather worked with silver and turquoise embellishments. He wears the hat everywhere. To the grocery store and video store. When we go for a walk. And of course, to church when he wears a suit jacket that is dark.

After he bought the handsome tan hat, a thought occurred to me. I said, "When you go to church you leave your hat on a rack above the coats. Once, at church, someone's pocket book was stolen and then found, minus its wallet, in the street. Your hat could get stolen just like that lady's pocket book was stolen because you leave it unattended. You should not wear your nice hats to church."

And do you know what my husband's reply was? He said this; "If my hat gets stolen, then whoever takes my hat needs it more than me. They can have it."

I was astonished. I do not think, "If my jewelry gets stolen, whoever takes it needs it more than me." I think, "It is mine, I love it, I protect it. And I will hate, with every fiber in my being, whoever takes my jewelry from me."

This is a case of two people with very different attitudes. For one, earthly possessions are a passing thing. Even thought I know my husband loves what he owns he is not adverse to giving them up. I, on the other hand, have spent decades of my life accumulating earthly possessions to decorate myself and my home with. It is rather absurd, to think of the number of apartments I have lugged my huge antique ceramic Chinese fish bowl table to and from. And I still get a flutter in my chest remembering selling my art book collection to a book collector in the late 1990's. It is a mistake I wish I never made.

I listen to a little voice inside of me. And the little voice says this; "your husband is saner, and happier than you are."

But I do not know how to change. Just yesterday my husband installed the amethyst door knobs and the way the door stands ajar to the room, the light catches on the purple glass, and I see the glass glow, and I am made glad. As I sit here in bed, writing the blog, I look up and see upon the wall an antique print of a mother with her baby children, sentimental and nostalgic, next to an antique lamp with hanging crystals, and I am made glad. I look at the blue Chinese rug at the bottom of our bed, a bed covered in a handmade blue quilt, and I am made glad at all the shades of blue.

As I write, by my side, on my night stand, is the brass lamp that used to hang in the entryway to my grandparent's mansion. It used to be installed in the ceiling, but I turned it upside-down, gave it a brass colored base with four feet, and had it re-wired. I found it one day in my grandparent's basement and they gave it to me. I look at it and I see history and a piece of the fabric of my life. How I remember being a little princess, covered in a sheet and all my mother's costume jewelry, on Halloween, standing in the entryway, gathering candy from a tray my grandmother put out. The mansion is going to be put on the market soon. This weekend I am to visit it and take out sundry items from the basement before my mother has men come and professionally clean out the basement. My lamp and pictures of my wedding in this grand house are all that will be left to me of it. I remember sitting in the sun in the back steps to my mother's house, and with brass cleaner, making my new lamp shine. Nobody knew its value but me, amidst all the junk in the basement, and it had darkened so much that it did not look like much. It has two arms that loop out to either side and as many brass flourishes as can be imagined. The light bulbs, and the etched white glass shades rise out of a holder of brass leaves. The glass shades are modern reproductions. I had the original shades from my grandparent's home, colored cream glass, but one day a dog knocked the lamp over and one of the shades smashed. Animals have been the ruin of many of my antiques. I used to collect stain glass lamps. Dogs have smashed to bits one of my lamps and left a big crack in the other. The energy of a dog, like small children, cannot be restrained, and like small children, I find it easy to forgive the damage a pet has done. It merely seems to be a part of living. If you have something precious, and you put it out to become part of your daily life, it will get spoiled, perhaps it will and perhaps it won't, but you take the chance.

I am sane enough to let things of value get used, and get broken or stained or worn down in the course of their use. I am not the type to have good china that is never used, or items that sit behind glass, looked at, but never touched. One of my favorite sayings is that "paint travels" and that as an artist, it appears, in other rooms of the house from where the canvas and brushes reside, on the rug, on the arm of a wooden chair, and of course, on my clothing, because I simply cannot create immaculately.

Now I am waiting for a package to arrive in the mail. It is a six yard scarf of fabric, used to decorate the top of a window. It drapes across the top, and then winds around the curtain rod to at last fall down over the curtains on either side. So you end up with two layers of fabric, the scarf and the curtains. Place the scarf well and it will hide all sight of the bare curtain rods. I bought the scarf on-line so there is some mystery as to what it will really look like when it arrives. Only a picture of a small bit of the fabric was reproduced, and pictures of fabric are notorious for not looking like the actual thing. I shopped around at stores in my local area and could find nothing close to the exotic fabric that I found on-line. There is only one window in my bedroom and this is the window the scarf is intended for. So when I sit at my computer, in bed, as usual for hours every morning, this scarf will be directly in my line of sight. I anticipate that it will please my eyes.

I have a name for my behavior. It is called nesting. I feel like a bird that gathers pieces of twigs and twine and feathers and weaves them together to form a nest for their eggs to sit in. It is definitely part of being female. My husband was sitting in the kitchen, waved his hand in a circle, and said, "You are all around me".

Where I live and how I dress is all an extension of my artist's eye. I think, that in my old age, I would like very much to die at home, in the midst, of all my possessions. I can't take them with me into the next life, and I know, I don't need them there. Somewhere in my brain I see the logic of my husband's attitude toward his hat, that it is not essential to his well being, and that as much as he loves it, he can do without it. I struggle with the need for my possessions. I am afraid to admit, that because they delight my eye, my possessions have a hold over me. I just try to limit myself, in some ways, so that the lust for possessions does not overwhelm my meager means of living. I have a weakness. Thank goodness it is not a weakness for booze or cigarettes or really expensive items. I find that I don't need the best. But oh, how I fall to my knees in front of pattern and color, and worship that.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

I Have, I Have Not

Seen standing in the rain outside the town post office, not moving, facing traffic. He is wearing head to toe green plastic rain gear. He is older and has a white beard. Exactly what you would think of if you imagined a rural Vermonter. In his hands he holds a sign. It says "Silent Witness for Peace."

I put on a jacket I bought about six years ago that has never been worn. It has been hanging in a garment bag in the barn. I must have bought it in a thrift store when I was living in Connecticut. The reason it has never been worn is that sometimes when I stumble upon something of great quality, even if it is a bit too small, in hopes of eventually losing weight, I buy it. Thrift store clothes are always cheap. The jacket can be worn but it fits snugly, reminding me that there are two more sizes to go, to meet my target weight. It is a velvet jacket, a plum shade of purple, with a lot of red in it. You could almost call it wine. I put my hand in the pocket of the jacket and pull out two small pieces of paper. One is a subway ticket from the London underground transit authority. A tube ticket. The other is a stub from a move called "Monsters" that cost 6 pounds. This jacket has traveled across the sea to make it into my hands. I take off the jacket and look at the tag on the neck. Sure enough, it is marked by a European designer, with a European size.

We get our package in the mail on the day that the email said UPS would deliver it. Inside are 6 giant hooks with jadeite (green milk glass) end knobs to go with our jadeite collection. Jadeite is what we eat off of and drink from. It is all our mixing bowls and much of our baking containers. It ranges in age from the 1920's to the 1960's and then it was reissued for a short time in 2002. Half of our collection was bought in antique stores, half off of Ebay. The hooks will go on the door to our kitchen and we will hang jackets on them. Also in this box is a smaller box with two amethyst glass door knobs and pieces of brass colored hardware. Now the three doors in our apartment will all have purple glass door knobs on both sides.

All the time I am reminded that there is a larger world out there, and that the way I live, where I live, I live amongst the most privileged people in all the world. My husband and I love our large, four room apartment. There are no earthquakes here and no floods. There are no tornadoes and in the winter we get a small reprieve from ice and snow because we live at the intersection of two rivers at the base of a mountain; it is a small, warmer, micro-climate. We do not want more space to live in, we do not need more space. But it is a constant struggle in my mind to be content with what I have and to give thanks to a higher power and to count my blessings. I do not understand my lust for more. What I try to do is to channel it into making things. If I want more I must write more or I must make something. I want more pages of prose for my book, or more sketches in my sketch book. If I want more I should clean my apartment, taking care of what I already have.

If I followed my silly head, and anything were possible, I would be married to two men, both my first and my second husband. I would like them both please. I love them both thank you. They are different from one another, and the contrasts entertain me. I would like both my past life and my current life. This is my pinnacle of wanting more. "Was I more happy in the past or am I more happy in the present" is not the question to ask me. It is this; why must I continually suffer? My silly head has gotten into it the notion that if I were married to two husbands, each with different strengths and weaknesses, then I would not suffer. I suffered with the first husband, I suffer with the second husband - at least I understand now that husbands can come and go but suffering remains.

I am thinking of doing some Buddhist reading (after I finish the biography on Abraham Lincoln which I am reading to try to understand why he is my therapist's hero), because the first truth of Buddhism is "Life is suffering". From there the Buddhists go on with means and methods to free oneself from suffering, often, by simply acknowledging it and going with it. It is the American creed to seek happiness. I don't know if I can find lasting happiness, although I laugh and smile and feel warm inside to a great degree. It seems that I find contentment, and then the contentment slips away. I have, I have not. The pattern goes on and on and on.

Two days ago I was overwhelmed with depression. I have to go to Maine with my mother for several days in the near future and I feared that should I go, I would become sick and have to be hospitalized - so great was my desire NOT to go to Maine that it seemed, in the moment, that going against my internal desire to stay at home would result in spectacular breakage of the psyche. While I was thinking these dark, fearful thoughts my husband said that he could see that I had no aura. This occurred in the morning, before my husband went to work.

In the evening, after my husband came home from work we wondered whether or not I was well enough to go out into public. He said that I had an aura now, but that it was shaded gray, not it's typical purple. Traditionally it was the night to go to the Pizza joint and share a spinach calzone. We decided to go, because I thought that being around people might be good for me. When we arrived I sat at our favorite table, where I get a view of the street outside. I like to look at cars going by and people walking down the sidewalk. I looked, but I was silent with depression. My husband took both my hands in his and shut his eyes. I did not know what he was doing, it was very strange. I did not try to take my hands back. I studied his face. He seemed to be thinking intently. I got bored and looked outside again. After what seemed to be several minutes he opened his eyes. He told me that he was trying to push some of his healthy aura into my sickly aura, - he aimed for my heart. He said that he could feel something leave his aura and flow into me. I felt ambivalent about the experiment, but honestly, better and better all the time. It could have been because I took a Klonopin pill while we were in the car driving to the Pizza parlor. Taking Klonopin in the evening is a bit like drinking a glass of wine.

After the calzone we watched a movie that made us both clutch each other and cry and cry some more at the ending. It was "The Notebook" and it was all about love. In the end the two lovers die together in the same bed. They simply go to sleep together and are found in the morning dead. This is what they wished for. They are both old and in ill health, he with multiple heart attacks, she with senile dementia. They say to each other that love makes miracles occur, and wouldn't it be wonderful, if they could both leave at the same time. They get their wish. Oh, I am crying now as I write this, tears streaming down my cheeks.

With my first husband, we would sometimes say to one another, that should somebody die, the other one was confident that they would survive. But with this husband I am not so sure. Life would be agony without him.

Why is it easier to appreciate what you have if you imagine it being taken away from you?

Last Monday was my husband's end-of -month at work. In manufacturing they push to get as much product through their departments and out the door, shipped to their customer, at the end of the month. The consequence of this practice is that when it is done everyone in the company stays late. I found that I had the entire day to myself. And I decided, that when my husband came home from work late in the evening, he would find the kitchen cleaned, all dishes washed and put away, a new table cloth on the table, flowers in a vase, and a fresh change of sheets on the bed. I worked so hard that alas, when my husband came home from work at 8:30 pm I was in bed drifting in and out of consciousness. I knew that he usually comes home from the long day wound up with energy and bubbling over with conversation, but I could not be his companion, sleep and drugs had its hold on me. He kissed my face and told me to sleep, but that when I woke, there would be a letter waiting for me on the kitchen counter.

The next morning, this is what I found;

Dearest Beloved: (My Sweet Karen)

Oh Love - the things to feeble and small. How do you spill your Heart in eloquence when it is full to the brim and flowing over with sweet, sweet Love?

You did so very much, My Precious Love - of cleaning and work - and it drained you so, Beautiful Girl.... Now you sleep - so peacefully and pretty, while I watch, my eyes brimming with tears of bittersweet emotion. "I Love You" seems so small and inappropriate to express the enormity of the joyous Love I have for you! Rest Well in the Dreamy Lands Beloved and never doubt that I Love You - or that Gaia Herself hold you cradled in Her Loving Arms.

I Weep because My Joyous Love spills from Me, sweet. To My Beautiful Brown eyed Girl.... Love you Always! -Me

It certainly seems that the work I did made an impression on my husband. I am not unappreciated or ignored. He knows the limits my illness puts on me, and when I make an effort, he knows that I am not like others, and the effort is not like others. Perhaps he holds me to a different standard from most people. This is a kindness, as I cannot behave like most people, except in spurts and drips.

I know that some people may wonder, how can you suffer, when you have such a loving husband? I guess I would have to conclude that love does not cure mental illness, nor heal a personality that is never satisfied. But I am still relatively new to this relationship. Four and a half years of marriage. And I am in the middle of my life. I can change. I can settle and grow content. I can age and grow wiser. I can end a traumatic childhood that perhaps still haunts me. I am a seeker, restless in wanting more knowledge, more understandings, more illumination.

When contentment settles upon me, filling me, holding me, and making a hollow woman feel solid, I understand that every day is new beginning. In the midst of my angst, there are moments when I feel that I stand at the Dawn of a New Creation, when everything is sweet and tender, quivering with holiness, and Life.

I have, I have not, and then I have again.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Joyful People

We were driving home from my mother's house in Connecticut. In front of us was a jeep. On the back of the jeep was mounted the spare tire, and covering that tire was a wrap with the slogan, "Life is good" printed on it.

My husband noticed the words first and he repeated them in a happy, sing-song voice. Obviously this slogan is something that speaks to him inside, - this is how he feels, this is the creed that sees him through every rough patch during his days.

I know this about him. Sometimes I am feeling so much suffering (from my illness) that when I look at him it is with eyes that see him as crazy. When you are feeling bad, being around joy is good for you, of course, but you see it as a very odd phenomena. When you don't have joy yourself joyful people are a mystery. It is like looking at a rare bird. You notice the jeweled colors and beautiful silhouette but you are not the bird, you are just an observer. There is distance. With a human and beautiful, wild bird there is the great distance between the species.

I was at a type of short, Christian retreat last Monday. It is held in a farmhouse in New Hampshire where both husband and wife are retired from their years of conventional work and have both become ministers. People from my church (in a group of about ten or more) go there the last Monday of every month and we have a "spiritual conversation". What is going to be said nobody knows, we speak freely as the spirit moves us. My minister usually attends, she has become great friends with the other ministers and usually spends her holidays with them, as if they were family.

On this Monday a woman who I have never really spoken to at length said something that confused me. And then a second woman, again who I have no ill will toward but haven't quite managed to feel completely comfortable with, said something that echoed the first.

The first woman is a nurse. She said that doctors at work have said to her, "You are such a happy person, are you always like this or are you only like this at work?" And she told the group that she was simply a joyful person. And that she had always been full of joy.

The second woman is a retired councilor, of who and what I do not know, but she worked in the field of helping people. She said that way back when she was in college one of her roommates said something to her that made her think. Her roommate had noticed that she was always happy in the morning. And the roommate felt irritated by her consistent happiness, apparently available at any odd hour of the day. The woman addressing our group then said that she realized that her joy could get on other people's nerves, but that she too has always been a joyful person.

After hearing these women speak I felt that something was not right. I believed what they said, that they experience their life as joyful, but only perhaps, because they have never experienced a bad break in the core of their being. To me, it sounded like they were boasting of their naivete about life. They might be joyful, but this did not mean that they weren't capable of hurting someone's feelings or being sharp or critical. As briefly as I have experienced them, they are not wide thinkers. Their joy did not profoundly transform their morals or behavior. They probably have never been, as I have been, through a death of their mind. Its rather easy to be happy if everything in life goes as planned. They both had careers that put them in touch with other people's pain - but did they really experience other people's pain? Or are they simply skilled at shutting it out? How can you call yourself a joyful person if you have been wholly witness and involved in pain? I don't mean that in a career of helping people you must be emotionally overturned and burned out by your client's pain, but I think that the ability to acknowledge human suffering makes you careful about calling yourself joyful.

One thing I know for certain is that my husband is a joyful person. So I asked him the next day, "How come you never brag about being a joyful person?" and he replied, "Pride goeth before a fall." And then he explained his perspective on why these two women had proclaimed themselves to be joyful people. He said that in church you are given a freedom to experience joy and testify about it. It seemed to him that the setting of a religious retreat helped these women feel moved to proclaim their joy. From what others have told me, but which I haven't yet experienced for myself, being full of God is joyful.

I asked my therapist about joyful people and he believes that the ones who feel it consistently for real don't brag about it.

I can't hate joyful people. The people who are joyful kind of shine in my eyes. This includes my husband, my therapist, my minister, and many of the 80 year old ladies in my church's women's spirit group. I don't know the two woman who spoke very well at "spiritual conversations" but I doubt we will ever be friends. The live in the world of "can do" and I live in the world of "trying to". They are not unkind to me, but they don't see anything special in me. Funny how you know the people who feel you are special. I am wounded by my illness, and some people can see this wound and understand that I am a little bit different. I have lived through a death of a mind and emerged different from before. I am a shattered person who has been put back together again. I am marked. Believe it or not, some people like me because I am marked.

I can experience joy but I also know that I have to work for my happiness. I have to take medication. I am strategic with my time. I can work until exhaustion but then I force a rest, and the illness passes over me like the tide, ebbing and flowing, moving forward into my mind and then back out of it again. I do activities that puts me in touch with good people, real people, who are honest and wholesome. I am happy with the quality of the people who are in my life.

Friday I took the dog to the groomers (a bit of a long drive away), picked her up again, wrote a letter, and went to see my therapist. In his office we were having a grand time but I said to him "I am suffering right now. There is no other place in the world I would rather be then here with you, but I have done so much today, that now I am in pain." He looked surprised because I certainly did not act like I was suffering. I was smiling and laughing. But the pain was present. And there was nothing that he or I could do about it.

Saturday I went to see my mother and there was a lot to pack and care about because we were staying overnight and bringing my dog. In the afternoon I felt the onset of pain again, from doing too much and seeing too much and saying to much and in general, being over stimulated. So I lay down on my mother's couch and stared off into space. My husband and mother were in the kitchen cooking hamburgers for dinner. Happily they broke into song, singing together, "Tea for two and two for tea, I love you and you love me".

It was strange being in the presence of joy but feeling as well the effects of my illness. After dinner there was a lot to clean up, but my husband went into the living room and read a book. I said to my mother, "You wash the dishes and I'll dry them and put them away". I was surprised how quickly we cleaned up with this method. But while I was drying dishes, knowing how incapacitated and in pain I had been just an hour earlier, I prayed, "Thank you God for letting me dry the dishes. I want to help with dinner, and now I am well and whole enough to help. Thank you for the health I am experiencing right now."

I don't know if I will ever describe myself as a joyful person. The illness is always present, ready after a period of normalcy to strike and make me bed or couch ridden. I would have to become a person who is comfortable with pain in order to be a joyful person, not resent it as I do, and I am not yet at that stage of self acceptance. But there is something peculiar in my mind which makes me think things aren't so grim.

Our church has recently had a lot of reconstruction. All the paint was peeled off and four new white coats were applied, and much maintenance work was done to make the whole building as beautiful and pristine as possible. The concrete walkway to the main doors was taken up replaced with brick pavers. These pavers could be inscribed with any name or slogan you wished - as long as the words weren't more than 13 letters long and there weren't more than 3 lines of inscription. A paver inscribed costs $100 and my husband and I are still wondering if we can spend the money to buy one. But I know, instinctively, right away, what I would want my paver to say. In two lines, I would wish for people to see this beneath their feet, the words - "Everlasting joy".

I don't know what my message to the world means. I don't know where it comes from or why I chose it. Is this my goal in life? Is this what is experienced in the afterlife? Is this what I think God is like? Is this the potential I see in attending church? Why would I, having been through the darkness of a suicide attempt, and chronic episodes of feeble-mindedness and pain, choose to broadcast to strangers this sentiment? But I am certain of what I would want to say. And knowing that I can make this statement, even if I cannot live it fully, brings me peace of mind.

You want to be a person whose face, as much as possible, is turned toward the light.