Monday, February 27, 2006


Got child #4 to school at 9:45. School starts at 9:30. District specialist met me in parking lot, scowling, as she had been there at 9:30, sharp, to test him and he wasn't there. New secretary remarked, out of her earshot, that specialist *could* smile. I told her that punctuality was very important to specialist. And that a year ago I'd have seen this as evidence of my being a complete failure as a mother. But not now. I signed him in, and in the spot where you're supposed to write the reason for the tardy, I wrote, "Late: Mother horribly depressed."
It's the first time I've ever filled in that log honestly.
Made the secretary peal with laughter. A good moment.
Got a latte. Feel better. Now have 30 minutes to make this manuscript perfect before turning it in. Ciao.

I've got ten minutes

I’ve got ten minutes in which I ought to be making phone calls, editing, looking at my checking account. Today is Mom’s 80th birthday. We were at her house yesterday celebrating her birthday and mine. I’m taking her somewhere today but there is not enough money this week for me to do that. I’m sure this is all symbolic somehow, but I feel too tired to think about it.
The manuscript I’m editing is taking me way too long. I wish I worked faster than I do, but I’m very particular about how things look in a manuscript. Unless it’s this blog. Here I just write.
I want to have something hopeful to say today, but my house is a mess, I’m low on cash and I’m feeling sort of silly and incompetent.
I’m taking Mom and Dad to child #2’s play this weekend only neither of them knows the other will be there. I’ll have to tell them and then they may make other plans. I’ll have to tell Mom today so that she can make other plans – plans to which she will want me to drive her.
I am such a bitch.
It is not helping me to talk this way or to think this way. Sometimes I think this kind of hopelessness is “real” and we need to write what’s “real.” But how is hopelessness any more real than hope? It’s all “real.” I do know that it’s temporary. It just never feels temporary at the time that I’m feeling hopeless.
The antidote for this is action. I will get into my day. I will drive child #4 to school, do the final edit on the manuscript, go to the appointment and meet the next client, take my mother out. Then I’ll come home and host the poetry reading in town. And I’ll be alive when I do that.
All of this, ALL of it has to do with my life with God. Everything I do is spiritual. Life is spiritual. So what does that mean when I am feeling like shit?
It means I am majorly feeling sorry for myself. There is redemption even in this, but it seems like I’m in the pre-redemptive phase of my cycle.
80 is probably older than Mom thought she’d ever be. I love Mom. And I get so irritated with her when she calls five times a day and says, “I have a suggestion…” I don’t pick up the phone unless I want to.
So what if she leaves this life when I am being rude or irritable with her? What if I’m not being a loving daughter when she dies? I’m only sometimes a loving daughter and she’s pretty tolerant, though I know she wishes it were different. She used to say I was selfish, but that was in high school. She used to say she was afraid she’d get very sick and I wouldn’t take care of her, but she doesn’t say that anymore. She’s got her husband to take care of and that has changed her. She was born to be a nurturer and she’s good at it. It can also be a little suffocating if I let it. But it’s my choice to be suffocated or not.
I want to find my balance with Mom and enjoy her. She’s really a lot of fun. This morning I am not a lot of fun.
Time to take child #4 to school. I’ll dive into my day and then I’ll be fun.
Gotta back up; gotta see the big picture. My son is watching me type, wondering whether I’m putting any bad words in my writing. When I stop, he says, “What?”
Good question.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Things I Am Afraid Of

So a couple of things have occurred to me since my last post.
  1. If lack of money = death, then a budget is constant lack of money. I mean, if you have $500 to buy groceries, then you have to stop buying them when the $500 is gone. You RUN OUT of the $500 and this means you lack money and this, in my very sick logic, means death.

  2. I’m not actually afraid of death.

Sooooo, what does all THAT mean? What the hell am I afraid of? Pain. Definitely pain. Though I did pretty well in the childbirth department. Can’t say it was enjoyable, but I didn’t beg for drugs. So it’s not even pain I’m afraid of.
Cruelty. I am afraid of cruelty and cruel people. That’s why I don’t watch horror films, nor do I want anyone to describe them to me. Someone once told me about a scene from Hannibal and I couldn’t sleep after that. And I do find suicide to be cruel. It’s like, “Watch me take myself out and you can’t do anything about it, nyaa, nyaa, nyaa.” It’s the ultimate “fuck you.” That’s why it pisses me off.

Okay, so where am I going with this? I’m not afraid of death because I don’t believe there is any. I mean, there’s a transition from this life to the next one and you do leave your body behind, but I don’t believe we cease to exist. If I did believe that, I might find it frightening. I’m not sure. But I don’t have anything but curiosity about my own transition to the next life. I expect to be in a fierce and loving presence. I expect it to be exciting. But I’m not afraid about that. I have a feeling of trust about it even if I’m not sure how all the logistics work.

So. I am afraid of lovelessness. I told my husband I was feeling a little haunted lately and that when he’s depressed I’m anxious. He said, “You know, I may get depressed, but I’m not your dad. I’d never kill myself.” And I said, “I know.” But I was crying.
I never thought I was afraid of that. But I was filled with a ridiculous sense of relief.

The frightening thing about cruelty and about suicide is its seeming coldness. What has happened to the person who will do violence to himself and others? That’s what frightens me – that thing, whatever it is, that separates a person from his god-ness.
But is it coldness, really? Or is it heat, rage, a howl of despair? Is it actually love?

When child #2 was a baby, we went on a camping trip with Dad. He and I got into a discussion on abortion, which he is against – or so he says. My friend Annie had a Down Syndrome son. I mentioned him and said, “Those are the kids people say should be aborted. “They should be,” said Dad.

There are days I find his cruelty stunning, and this was one of them. We got into an argument as soon as my husband joined in. Dad was against retarded people, black people, gay people. I can’t remember the whole list, but he said he was sick of my husband’s sanctimonious crap. Whereupon, my husband told Dad we weren’t raising our children with Dad’s kind of values and that Dad needed to read the Bible and get to know God. (This is a rather atypical statement for my husband, but he was ticked.) Needless to say, this did not produce a sunlight-from-heaven kind of moment. Instead Dad walked out of the campsite and said he was going to hitchhike the 100 or so miles home.

Child #1 was two at the time. Dad had tied a string to a little wooden boat of hers and she was pulling it along in the dirt. She looked after him with these big, green eyes and said forlornly, “Where’d Granddaddy go?”

I chased him down with the station wagon. I rolled down the window and said, “Get in the car.”
He said, “I don’t have to take that.”
I said, “You’ve walked out on me for the last time. GET IN THE CAR.”
He said, “Oh, well in that case…” He got in the car.
I told him, “Every time things don’t go your way, you leave. You’ve been leaving me since I was born. And when you don’t get what you want, you threaten to leave permanently.”
He said, “You don’t understand the mind of a suicide.”

And now, I almost do. A year or two later, I was in a job that was taking everything I had, chewing it up and spitting it out. I felt like a failure in my chosen profession (teaching), and my children were with babysitters all day, missing me. My daughter would play with her dolls and the dolls would say that the mommy was dead. And for the first time, I wanted to. For the first time I thought, “This is how people feel who want to kill themselves.” I didn’t have a plan. I wasn’t longing to pull the trigger. But for the first time, I understood what it was to have all my hope drained away, as if some vampire had come in the night and sucked me dry. That’s what my dad felt, I think. He couldn’t have known how valuable he was to me. He couldn’t see it himself.

So it isn’t even cruelty I fear, because Dad isn’t really cruel – not when he stops and thinks about individuals. His cruelty is just a forgetting. Anyone’s is. And suicide is not coldness, but a void, an ache, a temporary seduction by hopelessness. It’s just that something irrevocable can happen in that moment of despair.

And then you miss that person. You miss them like I miss my grandmother, who didn’t kill herself, but died in her 80’s of pneumonia after a series of strokes. I miss her because we didn’t get to finish being together. I didn’t get to see her off. I got busy with my life and hid from her illness instead of flying out to see her. I’ve no doubt I’ll see her in the next life; I even talk to her sometimes now. But death changes everything you thought was permanent.

So it’s separation I fear. I love the physical you-are-here-now-I-can-hold-you world. And while I don’t believe we really die, I can’t get my mind around the reality that is beyond these three (four) dimensions.

I’m beginning to when I kiss the icons every day. Those people have become real to me in their own way: St. Brigid of Kildare, St. Katherine the Greatmartyr, St. Andrew, St. John the Baptist, Mary, Jesus. I love their faces looking at me while I pray. And even though it’s only wood and paint, it reminds me that the people I love are with me in this extra-dimensional reality. The string theorists say there are 12 dimensions (or is it 11? 13? A bunch, anyway). I find that incredibly inspiring. All these dimensions we can’t see. If “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” as Jesus said, it’s a close as your hand.

The night I decided to convert to Orthodoxy, I didn’t decide. I blurted it out to my husband in a restaurant line, “Okay, I’ll do it. I’ll convert.”
I spent the meal reassuring him that I was not doing this for him, even though I knew it gave him joy, but for me. But I still couldn’t believe I’d said that.

That night I went down to the river and clung to a tree. I looked across the river at the moon and I talked to my grandmother. “Should I do this? Am I crazy? Another church? I was through with churches. What if they try to own me? Tell me how to think? What if I can’t squeeze myself into a box that small? Am I climbing into a box or can my God stay big and full of wonder? Should I really do this? Should I?”
And the answer came back across the river and in the bark of the tree, “It’s all right. You’ll be all right. You don’t need to be afraid. It’s bigger than you think; it’s bigger than they think. Don’t worry. Don’t worry.”

It was so good to hear from her.

We think we are alone. We think we are separated. But we’re not. The air is full of souls calling out their love to us. They loved imperfectly, perhaps, on earth, but love they did and love they do. I think I am afraid of hopelessness, of cruelty, of despair. But love is stronger, love is stronger, love is stronger.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Fear of Finance

Fear of Finance

I wish I could be funny about this. I feel like writing something funny. I’m really funny when I want to be. But today I’m scared again. I’m scared, but I will whistle in the dark. I think sometimes that fear is detached from actual events. Fear is in the mind, not in the event. Or it is attached to a fearful event by association. It may be an outdated association.
So here I am. My husband is depressed this week because there is a hole in our budget. He will have to borrow from savings again. (Having savings at all is a novelty). So here is my thought process, which has its own logic:
Money = incompetence
Money = lack of money
Lack of money = death

Oh, I am so dramatic. I even majored in drama. Metaphorically, I major in drama. For God’s sake, calm down, Tess!
All right. I’m calm, I’m calm. And here are my Rorschach ink blots – my associations that cause money to equal death:
  • Mom & Dad = bills in shoeboxes
  • Bills in shoeboxes = bills in collection
  • Bills in collection = angry Dad
  • Angry Dad = suicidal Dad

This is so pathetic. I am, as I have mentioned, forty-three (had a birthday this month). So you’d think I could unhook from this by now.

16 months ago we had a bankruptcy; last year we left our house behind. Now we’re in the hole again. And all because I am afraid to look at finances consistently enough to stay on a budget. And probably, my husband is, too. But he certainly looks at them more than I do. I just buy things – groceries and lattes mostly – and deposit money into my business account when I earn it.

I’d like to write something now that will show how competent I am…
  • Last night my novel-writing class started. I have eight students. We talked about plotting. I really enjoyed it. It was at the community college.

  • Today I am editing a book for a client. It’s his memoir. It’s interesting work.

  • Next week I have a story due. It’s an assignment. That means they asked me to write it. The editor said they wanted me because I’m good at capturing kids’ feelings and getting into a kid’s mind.

  • I have four kids. They like me.

  • I have a husband. He likes me, too.

  • God likes me.

  • Ummmmmm.

I don’t believe this is insurmountable. I’m just not getting past the discomfort of the fear. I’ve got to be willing to walk through it like it’s one of those bead curtains we used to divide rooms with in the 70’s.

There’s this verse in the Bible that goes “Perfect love casts out fear.” Just a sec, I’m going to look it up…Okay, I John 4:18. Here’s the parallel Bible site. Cool! Still no Orthodox translations, but cool, nonetheless.
Basically, it says that God is love and that perfect love casts out fear and that fear has to do with punishment, so that if we are fearful, we have not been perfected in love. Which says to me that I haven’t grasped and understood fully the presence of God in me, which is love and that when I can do that I will no longer be afraid.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Betraying My Father?

I did the unthinkable two weeks ago by completing and submitting a series of poems about me, Dad and suicide. “Are you just going to let him read it when it’s published? With no warning?” my friend, Isabelle asked me.

And I don’t know. When I see him lately and I think about what I’ve done, I try not to think about it. I’ve still got an out: the poems may not win the competition; I may not decide to publish them this summer under my own small press, as I’d planned to do. But it’s what I want to do. I want to publish them. I want to read them in public. I’m ready for that now. I’m ready for it not to be a shameful, secret thing about me that I bring out every once in a while and then think I’m doing it for dramatic effect.

The next step is to turn this into a YA novel in verse. Yes. I am going to do that. And I am going to focus on my first year of college, when Dad lived in his office and I called in the mental health people to confront him after I found his suicide note. I’m going to telescope the next four years and include his suicide attempt and hospitalization and how that was for me. Only I won’t be me, I’ll be “her” the main character. I’ll be the 18-year-old. I’m telling myself this will help people. But really, it’s just that I selfishly want to do this. This is what the “writer’s conference stomachache” is about. It’s about my hunger to tell the real story, to strip away all the falseness and embarrassment I have about it and to just tell it. If it makes me a drama queen, so be it.

I had a rejection when I was in the middle of working on the adult poetry collection. It was for a children’s story I wrote about two first-century saints. It wasn’t a bad story, but the editor felt it was a bit “dry.” This is the first time my work has ever been called “dry” and I wrote to thank the editor. It was such a confirmation that I need to be writing what is most real to me. I’ve had a number of friendly emails with her since. I may sometime write more stories about saints and make them into more picture books. I may publish my children’s story about good manners and republish the one about the little boy lost in the woods who comes across a Sunday school class discussing the Good Shepherd. I may do that. And they may sell. And little children may find Christ when their mothers read my stories aloud. I have about 150 published stories, many of which may lead children to be better Christians. I hope they do.

But the most redemptive thing I can think of for me is to write about betrayal; to write about the cliff walk of not knowing whether your father will jump and how the jagged rocks will slice him when he lands; I want to write that there is terror and there is relief from terror; I want to write how important it is to speak and speak and speak until someone listens, until you listen to yourself and save your own life because it is God inside of you that you are speaking to – it is Christ Himself who will answer back across the bleakness if you just keep grabbing and grabbing for Him, daring Him to try and leave you. I want to write that because it is a scream that so many of us share and I have to join my scream to that scream. I have to say I AM HERE. I AM ALIVE. YOU STAY ALIVE, TOO. WE’LL BE ALIVE TOGETHER.

This is not polite writing and it doesn’t have a good Sunday school lesson to it. But I think that Jesus is wild and fierce and the fire that rages within me is His fire, too. So for awhile I’m not going to write about saints.

But my father – am I betraying him? I don’t know. I haven’t showed him the poems. I may not. I may publish them and he may never see them and I may keep writing and writing about this and if he ever stumbled across it, he may be hurt though that is not what I intend. All I want to say to him is