Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Holiday Hoopla

Dear God, give me the strength to write this post. It has been many days since I have written anything, many days of excitement and work, and now I am poor in spirit and bedraggled. It is my third day without a shower, and I would like as well as the healing to write this post, a little later on, the energy to shower.

I stopped all my writing projects when I started decorating for the holidays. But you just don't decorate, you clean as well. Our apartment was due for a huge cleaning. I'm lucky that my husband threw himself into the cleaning project with as much commitment and plunk as I did. All our efforts had an end in sight. This last Sunday we invited a couple and a little old lady that we know from church over to our apartment to have lunch. The lunch lasted over four hours. So I guess it was a success. Our guests were the sweetest, most down to earth people who have over this past year been very kind to my husband and I. We wanted to give back. We wanted to honor them and make them feel special. The husband of the couple is vegetarian so we served baked manicotti and meatballs on the side, with salad and garlic bread. I made brownie sundaes for dessert.

There is a second couple from church, quite elderly, who we have invited to lunch on Sunday December 12th after church services. That Sunday my mother should drive up from Connecticut to be with us as well. I'm going to ask my mother if she could bring my best friend, who lives in Connecticut as well, but has never been to our apartment in Vermont. My friend is schizophrenic and probably incapable of driving the distance to Vermont. Whenever I see her, I drive down to Connecticut. For that lunch I have to make some of the food gluten free, since my mother has an intolerance for wheat flour. I'm going to cook quiches (you can buy gluten free pie crust), and have corn bread and salad. For dessert I think I will make an apple crisp, served hot with vanilla ice cream.

I can't get through these Sunday's without some help from my medication. Last Sunday I took extra anti-psychotic medication and a small amount of a narcotic. Part of the plan is to cook and prepare as much food as possible the Saturday before.

Our propane heater is not working and we are waiting for a replacement part that had to be ordered and mailed to the service department of our propane provider. So we live in the bedroom with its one little 14" electric heater, close the door to the front room, and have another little 12" electric heater heating the kitchen so that it is just warm enough for the cats, and for us to walk through to get to the bathroom or the phone. We have discovered, through trial and error that we cannot plug in any more electric heaters or stronger electric heaters because the breaker will pop and everything will go dead. The house is old and it's electrical system is old. Sunday I went to church while my husband stayed at home and tried to heat the apartment thoroughly (because we don't expect our guests to brave the cold like we do), and cook the manicotti in the oven at the same time. He said the breaker popped three times. I sincerely expect that by our next Sunday lunch the propane heater will be fixed.

I tied garlands of plastic flowers and fabric leaves across all the windows in the kitchen, and hung bows. I took our small three foot artificial Christmas tree, put it on a glass side table, and hung all my decorations on it. I haven't had this Christmas tree out for about four years, not since my husband's daughter was living with us. For the dining table I bought a green table cloth with a bright red runner. Unfortunately the candles dripped wax and I spent Sunday evening after everyone left scratching the wax off of the glass candles with my fingernails, loosening it up with glass cleaner, and then scratching some more. The next morning my fingernails hurt but I found in the pantry a fancy box of smokeless, dripless candles that I am delighted to put in the candle sticks for when we have company again. The wax smeared runner was treated with Zoot, a wicked good stain remover, and then put in a hot water wash. I came out wax free, and perhaps, a slightly less intense color of red. I don't care, it still looks good. For a meal, there is nothing more delightful than lit candles and fresh flowers. Everyone had a cloth napkin that matched the tablecloth and that was tied on the jadeware plates with a bright red and green artificial poinsettia flower napkin ring. I spent over $80 at Bed Bath and Beyond for the table linens and holiday napkin rings which I am certain, my husband has no clue how his hard earned money slipped through my fingers. I don't think he would be too mad though, he was as proud of how beautiful our table looked as I was.

I am an artist at heart, or at least I have an artistic temperament, and thus I love a highly decorated living space. Objects of art, colored glass, fine fabrics, lovely places to sit, blankets and handmade quilts. When we moved into this apartment I was still receiving a large amount of divorce alimony and the rugs and curtains and lighting fixtures are all the best and bought on that money, which is many years now long gone. We have many antiques, but alas, the animals or use have broken most of them. There is not perfection in my apartment. I remember as a teen visiting a relative of one of my father's girlfriends, and the girlfriend told me that her sister-in-law kept little cans of paint and stain to touch up scratches on furniture. That is a personality so opposed to my own. In my life the law of entropy seems strong, things break and get worn out, money gets spent, accidents happen, there are unforeseen bills, but we thankfully have everything we really need and while we morn the accidents and the losses, we let them go, we let glory recede and value diminish, as for instance, when the dog knocks over a table and the the glass on a stain glass lamp cracks. And we are not above buying used goods. Half my clothing is used, and more than half the furniture in the apartment is used. Our kitchen sofa we bought for a sweet $170 recently and it is in perfect condition and very comfortable. A nice new sofa would have cost about $1000. The antique store we got the sofa from does not deliver, so we tipped it upside-down on the roof of our car and secured it with a very long piece of bright orange electrical cable. We did not have enough seats for last Sunday's luncheon, so we went to three used furniture stores to find a chair. What fun, hunting for a funky chair. The extra chairs are stored in the barn. We have decided that all our chairs will be different, but all will have character. Saturday before we discovered that one of our antique chairs was broken, so my husband put between the split wood Gorilla Glue and clamped it tight together. Sunday morning he removed the clamp and the chair was good to go.

When our guests came the first thing we did was give them a tour of the apartment. In part, this is because there are many pieces of original art hung everywhere. There is not a single door to a room that doesn't have a painting or framed drawing or print hung on it. The door to the bathroom, the door to the pantry. By accident only one door is left free, a small door to a closet where we keep the cat and dog food. I discuss my art, what it means, how it was created. And some of the fun is that we can compare my art with my brother's and my father's art. My brother's art is very serene and he is self taught like me, while my father's art is the art of someone classically trained in school in the manner of an American Impressionist. We share genes, we share biology, but because we are each creative and have vision, our art has turned out so very different. And then there is the primitive art that I have bought of other artists. I like the style of a self trained artist. It feels like their means are limited, but their desire to express themselves is so great that mental hurdles are leaped over. The means to an end is more difficult because they lack training, but the effort and will compensates due to innate creativity. If you really want to do it, you will find a way. This is the spirit of the art that I have bought.

Once my sister visited a home with my former husband that I had decorated, and she said that everywhere she looked, there was eye candy.

There is something to be proud of in serving others a meal. It is not an easy experience for me to do, even with the help of my husband. And then the next day I was so very weak, that I could barely listen to my husband talk. I almost lacked the concentration to listen to his sentences. I even said to my husband, "I have to pee but I am too tired to get out of bed and go to the bathroom". To this problem my husband had no answer, it was so ridiculous a sentiment. But it was true. My weariness was bone deep. And today, two days later, I am not yet completely recovered. I am just really, really lucky that I don't have any obligations. I am really proud of myself that yesterday I did all the monthly bills, walked to bank to make certain there would be enough in our checking account to cover them (there wasn't by a large degree, the consequence of Christmas gift buying and purchases like the table linens and the extra chair), and then to the post office to mail the bills. And also yesterday I went to a knitting group at church to learn how to knit. My instructor kept forgetting about me and letting me screw myself up. I had the feeling, not remembering how my needles and fingers and yarn was supposed to go, that I wanted to cry, but that I was too grown up and too in control to actually burst into tears. The frustration made crying seem an option, but I am really too adult to do this. My plan is to Google "how to knit" and try to get some online instruction, and then return next Monday to knitting group for some more personal attention. I'm not going to give up. And maybe next Monday my mind will be a little more healed, with better attention and retention, so the teaching won't slip and disappear from my mind immediately after it is given, as it did yesterday.

About twice I have gone into the hospital around Christmas time. There is a little more stress for me because I like to celebrate the holiday season so much. Amidst exhaustion there is satisfaction though. And I think I am in a place in my life where there is no threat of going into the hospital. I take too much medication and my husband is such a nurturer, taking care of me when I am weak, sharing the burden of everything I try to accomplish. I'm grateful this season.

I may soon try to go back to my serious writing project. I look forward to having the strength and the free time.

Friday, November 12, 2010


My mother and my grandparents used to take my sister, brother and I to visit Mr. Rouche. I don't know how to spell his last name because I have never seen it printed. I was so young when the family went to visit him. He was as close a thing to a saint as we ever knew. That is how my mother and my grandmother treated him - like a saint. Holy. Because what Mr. Rouche liked to talk about was God. And it seemed like it was God that was keeping Mr. Rouche alive. He was very old. And he was mostly blind. But he lived alone in a little house. It was a clean house, in perfect order. And there were no toys there to play with, this displeased me much as a child. We children were supposed to sit quietly and listen to the wisdom that came out of Mr. Rouche. He was hard to understand. He had a thick German accent and I think he would lapse into German occasionally, which was fine for my mother and my grandparents who understood German, but to us kids it was incomprehensible.

When Mr. Rouche prayed tears leaked out of his half blind eyes. Always it seemed his eyes were half closed. But when he moved into prayer he tilted his head back, closed those useless eyes completely shut, and tears would stream down his liver spotted cheeks. All I understood, from those tears was that Mr. Rouche prayed with all his heart. I do remember him blessing us children. But I don't know what else he prayed for. It was very difficult to visit Mr. Rouche because we kids were supposed to be quiet and listen, and since it wasn't like listening to a nice children's story, since the words were hard to understand (I think too Mr. Rouche's voice was going, he would more whisper than talk) and there were no toys to play with, it was just about the most boring time I ever had to endure. But it certainly has imprinted itself on my memory. I can see the museum perfection of his house, and him, crying and praying, clear as day.

In my church nobody cried when they prayed, at least not that I witnessed. The congregational form of Protestantism that I have always belonged to is very prim and proper. But my favorite time in the sermon was when the minister called for silent prayer. The church I went to did not have stain glass windows, the windows were large and clear and on both sides of the center isle. We usually sat in the balcony so I watched the sunbeams come through those large clear windows and I imagined that God was in the sunbeam and I imagined that invisible angels were in the sunbeam too. When it was time to silently pray I closed my eyes and easily had a chat with God. As far as I was concerned the silent prayer never lasted long enough during those services, I wanted more quiet time with God.

For the last four days I have devoted the best part of my day to praying to God. This is prime creative time. It is after I have shrugged off the night's sleep, drunk a cup of coffee, and read the news on the internet. Then I am ready to go to work. I only intended my prayer time to last for ten minutes, but it seems that every day the ten minutes stretch into longer time and I am loath to let go and stop. Indeed, when in prayer, it feels like I have captured an essence of something and am in communication with something. Like Mr. Rouch my eyes sometimes leak tears. They are not tears of sadness. They simply are heartfelt emotions overflowing. I am so sincere that my body gives an involuntary sign of its commitment to the totality of my emotions. I do not intend to pray with my whole body, but this seems to be the way it is. Just today I remembered Mr. Rouche and I realized that I pray like Mr. Rouch. But now I know, maybe, what Mr. Rouch felt like on the inside. That I never knew as a child.

The first few days I prayed I felt like there was energy streaming off of my body. Instead of pulling God near, as I thought you were supposed to do, I simply overflowed with energy and pushed something out. I don't know if the energy could be measured by science, but my body certainly felt different during prayer. Energy feels prickly and warm and comforting. I feel full and then I overflow. It is mildly ecstatic. At first the prayer starts with me talking, and then I talk in silence, and then there is just me listening to God and God listening to me. It is just the two of us and all this energy making my body feel really, really good.

I'm afraid that my new commitment to prayer has taught me little about the nature of God, except that he is for me a presence full of energy and comfort. And oh yes, he is much bigger than me. I am in the presence of the infinite. And yet, for my sake, when I pray he comes down to my size, to fit in me perfectly. Well, not perfectly because there is that feeling of overflow. Today I felt it the most in my hands. In fact, as I write this my hands have not stopped yet their overflow of energy, something still feels as if it is moving through them and out of them. My hands tingle with energy the same as when I prayed, except now I am not praying, I am typing on a computer.

Last night I discussed how altered I feel physically when I pray. And my husband said that in his experience, ecstasy is a phenomena that diminishes in time. He said that he prays rarely because he prizes the ecstasy and when he puts distance in-between prayer the ecstasy remains. He essentially said, dip too much into the well and it will run dry. Then I told my husband that my commitment to pray is now everyday come what may. My husband said that right there and then he was praying that I not loose my ecstasy, that I not be formed like him.

Today the fear of losing the feeling of God in an ecstatic form made me pray "Don't go away from me. Never leave me." which of course has an answer in the public domain of religion. People who talk about God, usually promise that he never goes away, that he is right by your side all the time. I am reminded of Jesus's words on the cross, "My father, why have you forsaken me?" which makes me think that ecstasy in prayer can be overcome with some nails nailed through your body. Physical pain can interfere with the connection of prayer? I don't know, I've never been tested. And because I've only prayed for four days, days which were simple, uncluttered, and crisis free, I've only prayed during the good times, I do not know what it is like to pray during the bad times.

My husband told me that he was slightly annoyed with the Catholic Church and its tradition of celibate monks and nuns and priests. He said, "Here you have this gene pool of people who can connect with God, and their gift is not passed on to the rest of humanity." It makes me smile, my husband's wish of having the largest possible number of people on earth who like to pray.

Because it feels so good to pray, I'm addicted. I look forward to my prayer time every day. So far, the apartment has been empty when I pray. I do not know how it will be when the man upstairs is playing his music while I pray, or if my husband being home from work on the weekend will interfere with blissful solitude. Will I not cry if my husband is in the other room? And I do not know what prayer will feel like if I am tired or injured or experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia. But I think I've found a state of being, and if I can return to it day after day it will become easier and easier to slip into. I'm a big believer in practice.

And yet, after all I've confessed, after the energy I've described invading my body (which I have never encountered before except perhaps when I was manic during my first breakdown when I was eighteen, 24 years ago, and when, I do seem to remember, I was obsessed with God) I still don't know if God exists. I told my husband this last night too, and he was astonished at my foolishness. He warned me that I will never get scientific evidence. And that if what is happening to me doesn't convince me, it is beyond his imagination what it would take to convince me. He warned me that there are plenty atheists and agnostics who reach out and receive nothing in return, this strengthens their position against God. He said that what I have is a gift, not in me, but bestowed upon me.

I reached out and immediately was contacted. So it seems. To have the experience of prayer, as I feel it, is a total balance to having a mental illness. It makes having a mental illness feel richly compensated for. All these negative mental states I go through during the day because of my mental illness, and I say, it is worth it for fifteen minutes of being in the presence of the divine. Always I thought that my illness made me horribly flawed, but now, I feel tremendously gifted. Broken brain or beautiful brain. If I can continue to pray as I have been praying, I believe to the tips of my toes in having a beautiful brain.

I repeat what I said today to God in prayer, "Never go away. Never leave me." It feels like being terribly selfish, like a little girl asking for a Pony to brush and ride, but there it is. Prayer makes me feel richer than the Queen of England.