Thursday, November 30, 2017

THE END PRESENTS: What I Came Here For

Was it possible that, in everybody’s lymph system, a nascent novel is knocking around?  A few errant cells that, if given the proper encouragement, cigarettes and gin, the requisite number of bad affairs, could turn into something serious?  Living a life is not the same as writing a book, and it got me thinking about the relationship between what we know and what we can put on paper.  For me it’s like this:  I make up a novel in my head (there will be more on this later).  This is the happiest time in the arc of my writing process.  The book is my invisible friend, omnipresent, evolving, thrilling.  During the months (or years) it takes me to put my ideas together, I don’t take notes or make outlines; I’m figuring things out, and all the while the book makes a breeze around my head like an oversized butterfly who’s wings were cut from the rose window in Notre Dame.  This book I have not yet written one word of is a thing of indescribably beauty, unpredictable in its patterns, piercing in its colour, so wild and loyal in its nature that my love for this book, and my faith in it as I track its lazy flight, is the single perfect joy in my life.  It is the greatest novel in the history of literature, and I have thought it up, and all I have to do is put it down on paper and then everyone can see this beauty that I see.

And so I do.  When I can’t think of another stall, when putting it off has actually become more painful than doing it, I reach up and pluck the butterfly from the air.  I take it from the region of my head and I press it down against my desk, and there, with my own hand, I kill it.  It’s not that I want to kill it, but it’s the only way I can get something that is so three-dimensional onto the flat page.  Just to make sure the job is done I stick it in place with a pin.  Imagine running over a butterfly with a SUV.  Everything that was beautiful about this living thing—all the colour, the light and movement—is gone.  What I’m left with is the dry husk of my friend, the broken body chipped, dismantled, and poorly reassembled.  Dead.  That’s my book.

When I tell this story in front of an audience it tends to get a laugh.  People think I’m being charmingly self-deprecating, when really it is the closest thing to the truth about my writing process that I know.  The journey from the head to hand is perilous and lined with bodies.  It is the road on which nearly everyone who wants to write—and my of the people who do write—get lost… Only a few of us are going to be willing to break our own heats by trading in the living beauty of imagination for the stark disappointment of words.  This is why we type a line or two and then hit the delete button or crumple up the page.  Certainly that was not what I meant to say!  That does not represent what I see.  Maybe I should try again another time.  Maybe the muse has stepped back out for a smoke.  Maybe I have writer’s block.  Maybe I’m an idiot and was never meant to write at all.

---Ann Patchett
This is the Story of a Happy Marriage


When I was probably 10 or so years old, Mrs. Chase-- one of my mom's best friends, got me a birthday present:  a brown teeshirt with I'D RATHER BE WRITING MY NOVEL emblazoned across th' front in big, capital letters.  It immediately became my favourite thing in my whole wardrobe and was beginning to fall apart and get full of holes before I outgrew th' thing.  *I* was going to be a writer when I grew up!  *I* was going to be a novelist!

Except, of course, like Gordon Comstock of Orwell's Keep th' Aspidistra Flying, I too was a writer and i couldn't write.  More precisely, while my head might be choc FULL of Patchett's flying butterflies, I never could get any of them down and onto th' page in any meaningful way.  Even before I had Comstock's money problem* of needing $$$ to be able to produce writing, I found that I couldn't put together a decent story that actually had any kind of three-dimensions to it.  I had SEVERAL novels lined up in my pre-adolescence head, but when I tried to put them down, th' butterfly died even without me squashing it into 2 dimensions, cuz th' butterfly was hollow to begin with:  th' story itself, it's plot, wasn't all that interesting and couldn't be sustained for any amount of time.

so, naturally I decided that I wasn't and couldn't BE a writer. I would call myself a "scribbler" and be done with it (you know, after th' unscessful writer / narrator in Jeff Noon's novel Vurt).  There.  That would do for th' nonce:  it told everyone (especially me) that I was a hack of a writer, but I still liked TO write.

And that sufficed for quite some time, and through roughly 11 years of NaBloPoMo, which ends today, and for which I've participated in yet again successfully (actually MORE successfully than in recent years as SOME of th' stuff I've put up has been actually halfway decent; unlike th' drek I've cranked out in previous years).  It wasn't until I began reading Ms. Patchett's book of essays that it occurred to me:  actually, you've been right all along since you were 10:  you ARE a writer, you're not a novelist.  if anything, you're an ESSAYIST and your talent, such as it is, lays in th' personal narrative.  But, like Patchett goes on to say, you gotta do it; you gotta write, and write for hours and hours a day, and when you're done writing something, put it away and start something new.  You're out of practice; you've not SERIOUSLY written like that in probably 8 or 9 years.  

I don't often like being THAT honest with myself, but it has to be done.  Yes, I suppose I can begin to call myself a writer again, though probably not th' professional kind that will e'er be paid for their writing.  But considering I basically write seriously 1x a year for th' first week of November and then loose orbit and interest, if I WANT to be a writer, essayist or novelist or even monologist, then I have to sit down and actually PRODUCE something.   

Well, I says to myself,  I've been writing for a full month now...  maybe I should continue??  I mean, after all, there's no REASON that Still Life has to sit vacant and dormant and empty for 11 months out of th' year...  there's no REASON I can't retreat here several times a month, or maybe even once a week, if I REALLY push myself to write...??  I mean, why stop now??


*But still, it was not the desire to ‘write’ that was his real motive. To get out of the money-world—that was what he wanted. Vaguely he looked forward to some kind of moneyless, anchorite existence. He had a feeling that if you genuinely despise money you can keep going somehow, like the birds of the air. He forgot that the birds of the air don’t pay room-rent. The poet starving in a garret—but starving, somehow, not uncomfortably—that was his vision of himself.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

THROUGH TH' YEARS WE ALL SHALL BE TOGETHER / IF TH' FATES ALLOW...

here we are as in olden days, happy golden days of yore
faithful friends who are dear to us gather near to us once more...

Through th' years we all shall be together, if th' Fates allow,
Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow...

...and have yourself a merry little Christmas, now...


21 years ago my mom died unexpectedly, and all those wonderful, annual and repetitive traditions I loved and lived for stopped abruptly.  For reasons they alone understand, the Fates did not allow us to all be together that Xmas... or th' next 2 decades.  Mom lived in NE Ohio on Erie's shores, I was living in Pittsburgh at th' time, and since have lived back in OH, FLA, NY back to OH and now I'm in NC.  it's been tough each and every year, because inevitably as time goes on, th' Fates do not see it fit for us all to be together.  This year, for example, there are two less cats who th' Fates have allowed to be here in our midst:  Windy died in February of this year, and Tallulah in October.  Oh, Discordia.

Every year as this festive season begins I find myself looking back and missing those halcyon days.  I close my eyes and I can see the world through my childhood eyes; sitting on th' blue La-Z-Boy recliner in th' family room looking at th' bedecked tree; or sitting in th' abandoned living room (why is it in EVERY house I've lived in there's always 1 room that no one uses other than to walk through to get to another part of th' house?) and watching th' snow fall outside by th' light of th' street light.  if I close my eyes tightly and relax far enough into this Vision Splendid, I can for a very brief time, come unhinged in my own timeline and BE there at that time and that place in th' past.

It's temporary, and it's an illusion, and it's no doubt th' exact kind of attachment to a specific time and place that, in Buddhist terms, leads directly to suffering, but it's also th' kind of thing that makes me understand th' motivation of th' mad Soran in th' 1994 Star Trek movie, "Generations":

that disconnect from what was, and that inability to get back there to that good and perfect time haunts me e'ery year, and it's all too easy for me to look back and wish wish wish to be a time traveler in my own life.  It doesn't matter that Emily Webb taught us th' futility of this kind of thinking in 1938 in Thornton Wilder's Our Town, or that I should have learned that lesson when I played th' role of th' Stage Manager in a high school production in 1987 and got to walk onstage and share dialogue with th' dead Emily; it doesn't matter that Wolfe told us You Cant Go Home Again in 1940 or, as mentioned, Siddhartha Gautama taught th' world in circa 445 BCE that attachments lead to suffering and th' only way to break th' cycle of suffering is to break these attachments-- a concept I studied over and over again from my mid 20's onward:  come this time of year, I look to where I am and whom I'm with, which is never where I was and never whom I was with back then and th' attachment to this time and place and it's utter loss tears at my heart.

"You will forge new celebrations for yourself," my friend Djenni told me that Xmas in '96 when I was not invited back to Ohio by any of my family that I'd spent every year of my childhood and into my 20's with.  Through th' years, I've tried, but each year it seems like there's SOME damned thing that happens that puts th' brakes on or dumps cold water o'er everything, and this year it's th' death of our 2 cats.

then, suddenly, as I was trying to figure out how to write this blogcake and where I should go with it, it occurred to me that while th' Fates may or may not allow us all to be together, those who have been so in th' past, there's nothing stopping me from finding NEW people to be with. So perhaps my challenge isn't one of looking backwards in despair at what is now lost and gone, but in looking forward to seeing what may still be...  Maybe THATS where th' wisdom lay...

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

TH' VIEW FROM SATURDAY PRESENTS: Solitary Man

Don't know that I will 
but until I can find me
th' girl who'll stay and 
won't play games behind me
I'll be what I am
a solitary man
solitary man...

---Neil Diamond


What are you thinking about? she asked o'er lunch.  I thought about a pithy response like, "how much time ya' got?" but opted against it; hers was a worthy question and my answer sounded vaguely assholic, but th' underlying feeling was not in any way snarky:  how much time WOULD it take to answer such a question?  I wasn't sure because as we were sitting there, I was trying to suss it all out and it was a nastily tangled Gordian knot of memories, feelings and loose odds n' ends all hopelessly tangled up with each other.
I tried to figure it out by first opening myself up to whatever I was feeling.  As a wave of sorrow swept o'er me, I had to quickly shut myself down a little bit lest I come apart and begin openly weeping in th' middle of a Chinese buffet over a plate full of hibachi chicken and beef.  She didn't need to ask how I was feeling anymore, though she did as what was making me so sad.  th' problem was, of course, I didn't know.

this kind of thing happens to me now and then, and especially now at this time of year, but I was trying to go beyond, try to find out an actual REASON; what was making me feel this way?  I wasn't particularly aware of being sorrowful; if you had asked me I would've thought I was tired or frustrated or maybe even a lil' fearful of all th' work that I still had to do, but not sorrowful.  Where was THAT coming from?

it's not easy, in th' middle of a Chinese restaurant, a plate of food rapidly cooling in front of you, people and waitstaff going by, talk and th' clinking of silverware, to only partially open th' door to your emotions, peek in and see if there's anything going on in there that makes sense, but th' word lost floated through.
Well, that's not unusual, you often feel lost, she said, but, as she said it th' line from Tolkien also floated through my mind, "not all who wander are lost."  what were these two things, seemingly juxtaposed to each other, supposed to mean?

I began eating again and tried to rationally suss out what was going on with me.  I had a feeling it wouldn't fully work as I wasn't giving all my effort and concentration o'er to it, because, as noted, I was in a restaurant, but I realized I wasn't feeling personally lost myself, but that something important TO me had been lost.  Just prior to her asking and my opening, I had been thinking of Big Jim action figures, and how I always played with them 1 at a time:  Jim was always a solo, aloof person in my imaginative play, as was I as a person myself.  it's not that I felt lost myself, cast adrift and still adjusting to a strange state far away from Backhome, which was still th' trouble I had last year at this time; its that something inside me is gone and feels irretrievable, but I don't know what it is.

Actually, if you think about it, you have more now than you have ever had, she said, and this was true.  I also had a lot more responsibilities than I did when I played with Big Jim on th' picnic table on th' back porch, but that comes with th' territory.  suddenly, into my head and almost out of my mouth came a response, I don't have companionship anymore, but instead I was able to hide th' sudden microexpression of pain on my face by shoving a great forkful of food into my mouth.  Unless anyone reads this, which is doubtful, no one will know such a thought flashed through my head.
I've been trying to evaluate this statement all day long, and as night falls and th' day decays my inclination to write more about it dwindles as well, I don't have any good conclusions yet.  After my 2nd divorce I started a blog I called Ain't Th' Marryin' Type, which I deleted almost as quickly as I started it-- what was there to be said that was of any use to anyone?-- but th' sentiment is th' same; I don't do well in a long-term pairbond, and yet like most folken on this earth solitude eventually makes me feel small and...well, alone.

When I was in middle school I'd discovered th' idea of a Utopian society or a hippie commune.  My limited research at th' time using hardback books and encyclopedia at th' library informed me that these kinds of things never lasted for very long, though th' reasons for why they eventually folded and left were vague and hard to understand to my young mind, but I assumed it was because people got jealous, or there were a few people doing all th' work of th' whole community, or people were on too many drugs to be functional.  I wasn't aware that some folded because th' outside community kept sticking their noses in and didn't like what they saw (usually stoned, naked people having sex in th' daisies) and wanted to drive them away.

In my mind, I thought perhaps th' best answer would be some kind of large common house with large rooms and a few kitchens, surrounded by smaller cottages where folk could come together in small groups or just be alone for awhile.  I've never SEEN this kind of arrangement, not even in apartment buildings, though I've been looking on and off for th' better part of my life.  My assumption, then is that this is simply not th' way most humans want to live, otherwise something like it would exist.  

Monday, November 27, 2017

THINGS IT TOOK ME 40 YEARS TO REALIZE PRESENTS: Ace of Hearts

I remember being young and hearing about gay men who came out of th' closet quite late in life, often after being married and having children (why it took 30 years for someone to write a series like Frankie & Grace is anyone's guess; this kind of thing has no doubt been going on for centuries...).  I remember finding it hard to believe:  how could you NOT know such a thing about yourself??  *I* knew I was bisexual and attracted to both sexes pretty much from th' time of my sexual awakening and even sooner-- I remember having something of a ill-defined crush on Jack Jones when I was in pre-school and Kindergarten; I sho'nuff spent a lot of time admiring him on his Xmas album record sleeve, though by today's standards they should've touched up his eyes a bit.

Long before I formally studied Freud and his concept of repression, I understood what he meant, but still struggled with it:  how could you force yourself to have sex-- even reproductive sex-- with a person you weren't really sexually attracted to?  How could you deceive yourself for so long?  It made no sense.

Then, just about a year or so ago, a random comment on FaceBook about how some friends of mine had hired a babysitter or otherwise farmed out their young children so they could have a lil' "adult time" (hubba-hubba! they said)  got me thinking.  How long had it been for me?  And after I realized it'd been rather a long, long time, I began to realize that I was perfectly OK with that and-- odder still-- I didn't really WANT it, either...  Th' word "asexual" floated though th' transom of my mind and into my consciousness.  A month later, I realized I was one.  2 months later I started self-identifying as such and outing myself to a few people here an' there.  Back in October on National Coming Out Day I publicly outed myself on FaceBook as asexual, panromantic and non-binary.  

No one was really particularly shocked to hear this, i noticed, though th' vocabulary needed a lil' explanation-- th' difference between bisexual and panromantic, for example (in short, I'm not interested in sex, but I am attracted to men, women and non-binary people who exist in that wonderfully fluid grey zone between male and female).  I was frankly grateful that no one seemed to care-- th' online social groups I'd found were choc full of people coming out as "ace" and getting 9 different flavours of hell from family and friends who wanted to argue with them about what they really were; I got a few raised eyebrows, but nothing more and certainly no one trying to tell me what I was or wasn't.

Why did it take ME th' better part of half a lifetime to come to this realization?  I'm not wholly sure:  I think in high school and college I had wanted to build up some kind of reputation as a sexual being, wanting to get a lil' attention and, of course, being horny all th' time, I was always on th' lookout for a good ol' fashioned orgasm.  Perhaps I was embarrassed by my own bisexuality; perhaps I was lonely and got companionship all tangled up with sexual desire, like a lot of us still do.  Th' practical upshot is I find this new identity far more freeing than any others I've had before. 

I was going to write more, but somehow th' whole thing just exhausts me now.  I am what I am, as Popeye says, and I suppose there's no NEED to go back and either articulate or even defend who and what I am now.  This, too, is freeing.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

TH' BOOK OF LOST THINGS PRESENTS: Where Have All Th' Lovely Lil' Books Gone?

Far, far away from this place, out somewhere in Th' Real World, I took my roommate to our church as th' gloaming came on.  It was eve of my last day of school (well, last day for 5 days of Thanksgiving break) and as there was no reason for me to rush back to th' house to do work for th' following day and then rush back to th' church to pick her up, I decided to just bum around while she was in rehearsal.  There is a fairly large library there, and now and then I like to just wander along th' shelves and see if anything jumps out at me.  Almost no one actually USES th' library, though now and then a box of donated books will appear and just kind of sit there, as no one is in charge of shelving these things.  About once a month or so I look at th' various miscellany and think of volunteering time to bring this whole thing into some kind of shape, until I realize just how overwhelming it would be-- where would you even START?  you'd need a team of librarians and pages to help, and as we enter Th' Season, this would no doubt be one of th' lowest priority.

And yet, I LOVE books, and it pains me a bit to see so many that are misshelved or randomly piled on top of one another.  Someone, in another age long ago before I got here, took th' time to carefully type up and then affix Dewey Decimal System stickers to th' lower spines of about 90% of these books and put lending card pockets and cards with their titles into th' back covers (almost none of which have any names on them from anytime during this decade).  Someone cared a great deal for these books, and I am always drawn to step into th' office of Librarian and take over.  Th' problem, of course, is TIME; there's never enough of it.

I was scanning through 100+ titles of theology, of course, when it all became somehow too much.  Too much thinking, too many words about who-said-what and this-means-that, and so many books that basically amounted to intellectual discussions of how many angels can dance on th' head of a pin, and that kind of thing.  I wasn't smart enough to understand th' really big seminal texts, and th' more simple faith evangelical writings didn't interest me.  But still, I was here, there was about an hour of rehearsal to go, and I was loathe to give up and go home.  Nor did I want to spend an hour noodling away doing silly things on my phone, so I walked 'cross th' room to th' opposite side where there were children's books.  Along th' way, I found a section of VHS video and old fashioned cassette tapes-- no doubt good stories contained thereupon, but no one had th' technology to get to it.  I did find a CD called "Ancient Noels" (practically ancient itself, as it was released in 1993) that I took with me (not bothering to fill out th' card, as A) no one would notice it was gone and B) I'd be returning it on th' coming Sunday to exactly th' spot where I found it) and as I was going along I saw, randomly stuck at th' end of a row of books Th' Christmas Tree by Julie Salamon.
I remembered seeing it before, and when I went to th' copyright page I saw it was almost as ancient as th' CD-- published in 1996; th' year that my own mother died unexpectedly and my whole life derailed (it's a story for a different hour, but I thin in many ways I've spent th' last 21 years trying to come back to life, so powerful was that single event in March of '96).  

As I brought it over to one of th' long couches that had an ottoman and opened to th' first page, remembering that I'd read it and immediately dismissed it as dreck in '96, I remembered that there was a time, oh-so long ago (20 years, thereabouts) when this kind of publishing was normal.  A Cup of Christmas Tea had come out sometime in th' late '80's and, of course way back in th' 1970's Hallmark published several holiday specials featuring Good Ol' Charlie Brown and th' Peanuts Gang.  Every year, it seemed, for ages n' ages there was some lil' feel-good book that came out at Xmastide; something short n' sweet, almost always in hardback and smaller than other books, that was to be this year's thing to remind us of what th' season is all about (usually being good to one another).  Where have they all gone?  

Saturday, November 25, 2017

TH' BOOK OF LOST THINGS PRESENTS: Big Jim

My memory at this time of year is something like a sno' globe:  random and somewhat glittery, but mostly pieces floating randomly.  Just recently, an ancient piece of my own history came loose and I remembered th' Big Jim action figures from my youth (right-- 'cuz you could call Barbie a "doll" but not Big Jim or GI Joe, they were "action figures").  


Though he was smaller than GI Joe, he was definitely a spin-off, though if Joe was a tough military grunt, Big Jim was more like a suave secret agent / 007 kind.  GI Joe would not have a set of baseball umpire clothing, but Jim did (which I also owned, always wondering why th' socks were so incredibly long)
Jim also had playsets and vehicles somewhat similar to Barbie, except, of course, more masculine.  Th' two I remember having are his jet airplane and th' camper:


 I'm pretty sure I got these for Xmas on two consecutive years when I was perhaps 8 or 9, but I'm not wholly sure WHY I got them-- I don't seem to remember asking for them in th' first place.  Like my other post about stories that are only small fragments and have large pieces missing, even though this is from my own timeline and my own childhood, I feel like pieces are missing.  For some reason, these unknown questions about Big Jim have been haunting me this week.

Th' fact that Big Jim could easily be interpreted as th' poster child for 70's gay culture a-la th' Village People may or may not have occurred to anyone back when this toy line was being produced, but they arrived in th' package usually only wearing shorts and them hawtt muscles were almost always on easy display
 I'm going to guess th' underlying homoeroticism never occured to my mum, or else I'm sure she'd never have bought him for me.

so, in my mind I'm torn about what all this meant and if it indeed meant anything at all.  My dad was always more-or-less completely oblivious to everyone else, and my mom could be both spot-on or equally oblivious when it came to me.  For example, I was once shipped away for about a fortnight to distant relatives while mom & dad redecorated my bedroom, and i came home to discover that it was done in shades of brown, yellow and tan (I dearly loved bright pink, blue and green), and th' wallpaper was a sports motif (I hated sports-- indeed, I was in my mid 20's before I even knew how football was played).  It was like asking for cake for your birthday and walking through th' door to find that everyone made boiled cabbage.

And yet, mum could come home with lil' knick-knacks and odd bits that I absolutely adored and would treasure for th' next 2 decades of my life.  Sometimes she bought things thinking (erroneously) that I'd like them or that they were something a boy would like (even then I knew I wasn't either male or female in gender, but had no way of explaining this to her), and sometimes she would give careful consideration to what I actually would like, as weird and idiosyncratic as I was, and get me that instead. 

So, then, why Big Jim? 

Clearly she couldn't bring herself to buy me a Barbie, no doubt thinking that playing with girls' things would turn me gay (or something-- who knows?) but did she also realize that I was not a military, GI Joe sort of kid?  Did she see Big Jim as a kind of compromise:  a doll, yes, but one called an "action figure," and one that was clearly big and studly and masculine (all th' Big Jim figures had some sort of mechanism in their arm that would cause their biceps to bulge when you bent their arm at th' elbow)?  You could buy outfits for Jim and change his clothes just like Barbie, but all his clothes were clearly masculine and manly, and that was OK?  Was it a sort of carefully considered compromise, or was it just more-or-less random?  Did she stand there in th' toy aisle, weighing options and carefully considering th' two, or was it just a random grab and toss into th' cart?

I wonder if it was more random than anything else, for I only had th' Big Jim and one other unrelated action figure bought for me by a neighbour at my birthday time.  Jim had other friends and colleagues in his retinue (none female, curiously enough; no Barbie to his Ken equivalent, as it were), and in researching Jim's history I discovered that there's a figure named Zorak who was Jim's nemesis, and another one with a metal hand called Dr. Steel who was at first considered an enemy but turned out to be another ally to Jim.  I never had either of these nor did anyone ever offer to get them for me, though I do remember mom asking me if there was an outfit or playset I'd like for Xmas. 

Friday, November 24, 2017

I COULD BE SANTA CLAUS...

Strange things happen at this time of th' year.  We are almost duty-bound to turn th' inner eye to th' past and take stock of where we are and where we've been, ostensibly with an outlook on where we should be going.  Most of th' time, though, we just look back and (in my case, at least) despair. 

For me, old ghosts come and stand around my chair, sometimes wailing and demanding my attention, sometimes just wanting me to note their existence and not to forget them.  and sometimes just bloody odd mashups of things happen that have no explanation whatsoever, but still strike me sideways.  Here's one:


I was in my cell (where I am th' majority of th' time these days), working on something or another, when my roommate-cum-zucchini came in and sat down opposite me.  She had been cooking something and her red hair was up in a bun and she had her apron on that resembles Santa's jacket and belt.  With her reading glasses on, it struck me in a way that I'm having trouble articulating that she could be Mrs. Claus. 

She stopped what she was saying in mid-sentence and asked, "what?  Why are you looking at me like that?"  I'm not sure just HOW I was looking at her, but try as I might to not say anything she insisted I explain.  I told her that somehow, in a way I couldn't quite articulate or explain, I thought she looked like Mrs. Claus.  She rolled her eyes but laughed, and said "I think you've got a hardon for Mrs. Santa...!"

Having discovered just under a year ago that I'm actually asexual, my first instinct was to argue that I had no such thing, thankyouverymuch! but after several seconds of getting past th' surface / sexual / genderist meaning of th' phrase, I started to wonder if perhaps she was right. 

then I thought about it more and came to th' realization that she WAS right, and why not?  Who wouldn't want to have Mrs. Claus as a friend and even a helpmate?  I mean, she's clearly as jolly and effervescent as Santa himself, she's almost by definition got to be a brilliant cook and baker, she's gregarious and giving and-- though it's a bit strange to contemplate-- I'm sure she IS a vibrant and joyous lover (but these things are private, between her and Santa, so we need not pry into that part of their lives).

It occurred to me, again, that Santa must have T-H-E best job in th' known universe, and since I was a child *I* have always wanted to be Santa.  Not th' mall kind, though that might be fun, but th' real McCoy, th' real one as seen in stories and books and all th' good movies (maybe not th' worried one of Rudolph th' Red Nosed Reindeer nor certainly not Bad Santa); th' one who has a high tolerance for snow and a spacious castle and workshop.  Th' one who once a year visits virtually everyone and brings them what they want. 

Long before it became popular to write novels about Santa and what he does th' other 364 days of th' year, I was already wrestling with these questions.  I decided that Santa and his Mrs. would stay at th' pole until at least th' end of January or Candlemas, and then they would get outta' Dodge for awhile and go on world tours.  They would be weary of snow and cold and would want to see what else there was to be seen.  They would go to Europe and parts of Africa during th' cooler months of spring and fall (depending on what hemisphere they were in at th' time) and see what there was to be seen. 

They would help out where they could, pitching in to plant crops or tend to th' sick.  Mrs. C might spent several weeks rocking ill newborns in an orphanage on th' outskirts of Bangladesh, for example, and sing to them and her voice and th' joy she gave off would soak into th' babies and they would grow stronger and content.  Mr. C might grab hammer and nails and pound together a house, or serve sandwiches at a soup kitchen, or dig a ditch to bring in fresh water or take away dirty sewage.  They would not simply sit and eat cookies and watch TV during their off season, but would actively serve humanity, often with an unseen hand, and often in places where Santa was not known to th' locals as a mythos or construct.

I decided they would have a grand time celebrating Dia De Los Muertos in Mexico, celebrating th' lives of those they knew-- especially children grown into adulthood and then into old age-- and in th' week following would make their way back to th' North Pole.  November would start off with several staff meetings and discussions of what they'd seen and what children wanted, and then things would slowly get started.  Th' various workshops would be fitted and rearranged to produce those things that were wanted, and of course Mrs. C would start preparing for her annual thanksgiving feast for all.  Afterwards, of course, everyone Got To Work for that magical ride on th' night of 12/24 (which, coincidentally, is just 1 month away!!)

Out of those dreams of Xmas past and childhood musings, I've come to realize that Santa is more of an office than just a mythos.  We ALL have th' capacity to BECOME Santa, and not just 1x a year when we eat th' cookies, drink th' milk and set th' presents out under th' tree.  We ALL can be Santa at any time we wish, by doing th' very things that he would do in his off hours.  We can visit th' lonely, tend to th' sick, listen to each other and give what we have. 

Indeed, we ALL cam be Santa Claus.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

MISSING PIECES PRESENTS: Stories I Don't Know th' Endings to

You can’t order a poem like you order a taco.
Walk up to the counter, say, “I’ll take two”
and expect it to be handed back to you
on a shiny plate.

Still, I like your spirit.
Anyone who says, “Here’s my address,
write me a poem,” deserves something in reply.
So I’ll tell a secret instead:
poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes,
they are sleeping. They are the shadows
drifting across our ceilings the moment
before we wake up. What we have to do
is live in a way that lets us find them.

Once I knew a man who gave his wife
two skunks for a valentine.
He couldn’t understand why she was crying.
“I thought they had such beautiful eyes.”
And he was serious. He was a serious man
who lived in a serious way. Nothing was ugly
just because the world said so. He really
liked those skunks. So, he re-invented them
as valentines and they became beautiful.
At least, to him. And the poems that had been hiding
in the eyes of skunks for centuries
crawled out and curled up at his feet.

Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give us
we find poems. Check your garage, the off sock
in your drawer, the person you almost like, but not quite.
And let me know.


---Naomi Shihab Nye
Valentine for Ernest Mann


Poems do indeed hide, but so do stories.  Stories hide all over in plain view, like those hidden picture drawings from Highlights magazine you looked at as a kid in th' dentist's office.  I'm sitting here at th' local community college on th' far east side o' town, and th' place is just lousy with th' ghosts of stories, even though I'm th' only living thing in approximately 15,000 square feet of space (well, th' only multicelluar thing, if you wanna get technical; I'm sure these tables and th' floor are probably o'errun with bacteria).

most of th' time, of course, we're too distracted by our everyday dailiness to really notice, but on occasion something just sort of pings across my radar and it's large and interesting enough for me to make a note about for future reference.  Most of th' stories that I find mentally noteworthy are th' ones that are missing several pieces, usually th' end.  It's like a poem fragment from Sappho, where we have to guess about what th' whole thing looked like-- is this remaining bit th' whole thing, or is it part of something larger?  When it comes to human stories, we can always assume that there IS indeed something larger going on.

This kind of thing happened to me several times a week when I had fled from a bad marriage in Florida and was living in rural NY in a friend's closet.  I found a job working part-time at Wal-Mart in their pet dept, stocking shelves and hauling enormous quantities of cat litter and dog food.  Being in retail exposes you to a LOT of hidden-in-plain-view human stories that are fragmented and curious (and working for Da' Mart, doubly so).  Here's a few that I present for your reading entertainment upon this Thanksgiving Day, 2017...

WE'LL MISS YOU KATE...

that's what th' enormous cookie-cake said, in chocolate icing, in th' cart of th' lady in front of me one evening in th' late summer as I stood with a sandwich and soda, ready to go outside and eat dinner on th' staff picnic table.  

"Oh, that's a shame," said th' cashier, a woman I'd seen but hadn't officially met as our 2 jobs never overlapped, "is Kate going away somewhere?"

"Actually, I have no idea who Kate IS," said th' woman buying th' giant cookie, "I found it in th' discount bakery bin; apparently someone ordered it and never picked it up."

if a poem climbed out of th' eyes of 2 skunks, then a story climbed out of this cake and sat there on th' edge of th' counter, looking at me, blinking, demanding my attention.  Here was a story fragment, th' ending (and, come to think on it, th' beginning) of which I had no idea about.  Who was Kate?  Where was she going?  Why was this ordered and then not picked up?  Did Kate suddenly change her mind?  Did th' person who was supposed to pick up th' cookie-cake forget?  No way of knowing, really. 


I HAD TO GET BETTER; MY PUPPY WAS WAITING FOR ME...

anyone who has delt with th' public knows there's basically 2 kinds of people you run into as part of customer service:  those who wanna get in and out with as little interaction as possible, and those who are looking to tell their stories and would like a lil' human attention, even from a stranger. 

I don't know his name, but I vaguely recall his face:  a gent in a motorized scooter who had a somewhat pale face, white beard and old rumpled baseball cap on.  He came rolling into th' dog food aisle where I was stocking tins, and he asked if I could help him get down some cans and fill up th' basket on th' front of his cart.  He had just recently been released from the hospital after having a new, semi-experimental artificial heart implanted.  At one point, he invited me to bend down and put my ear near his chest and lo' there it was, a definite and rhythmic mechanical clicking sound from deep within his chest.  I was flabbergasted.  Somehow I thought these things so fraught with problems that no one was even bothering with them anymore, and yet here was living proof. 

what struck me then and sticks with me now, nigh on a decade after this story climbed out of th' man's chest and onto his shoulder and looked at me was th' fact that he told me he had to get better and get out of th' hospital because his dog was waiting for him, and they both missed each other.  A great deal has been written about th' relationship between humans and their companion animals, and i'm pleased that in th' intervening years since this story first came to my attention there are lots and lots of organizations that bring dogs and cats in to various places where people are sick or depressed (or, quite often, both) to help them cheer up. 

But, of course, this is but a wee fragment of a story; questions abound about th' man's story and that of his dog, including very practical questions about his medical follow-up and lifespan-- where is he now, for example?


OTHER FRAGMENTS...
I found notes about those stories from a file circa 2006 or thereabouts, and in it was another note re: "C--, who has cancer but is happy."  Sadly, I don't remember exactly what that's in reference to, but I seem to remember it was from a phone call I got one long and otherwise frustrating and dull night when my ex was being a P.IT.A.  If memory serves, it was a woman who said she'd just adopted a cat, perhaps th' cat of a friend who wasn't moving and wasn't able to keep em, and wanted to know more information about electric self-cleaning litterboxes.  Having lived with cats previously I had some knowledge and input, and th' woman was happy to talk to me about it before she spent th' $$$ or drove all th' way out to th' store.  She mentioned she was battling cancer and naturally had limited energy to go traveling th' wide world in search of such things as litterboxes.

I remember her telling me, in her own words, that despite th' discomfort and hell of treating cancer, and despite th' fact that th' disease would undoubtedly shorten her lifespan, she was still a happy person.  She talked about how sometimes when people are literally given a death sentence they either lie down and give up, or else they get up and live more vigorously than before, and she had become one of th' latter types. 

I remember being inspired by this story, because I remember feeling down in th' dumps and depressed and somewhat lonely myself at th' time.  But it occurred to me that compared to her experiences, my problems were relatively small.  Like th' others, years after her story climbed out of th' phone receiver there in th' card and party supply aisle of Wallie World and sat on top of th' phone, staring at me, I not only wonder what happened to her and her cat, but I further wonder-- and more importantly-- wonder how *I* might develop this attitude myself.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

TO REMEMBER ME PRESENTS: Th' Hour of Recollection, Revisted


THE HOUR OF RECOLLECTION:

Deceased and otherwise absent lodge members are recalled each evening at 11 p.m. when the lodge esquire intones, "It is the Hour of Recollection." The exalted ruler or a member designated by him gives the 11 o'clock toast, of which this version is the most common:

 "You have heard the tolling of eleven strokes. This is to remind you that with Elks, the hour of eleven has a tender significance. Wherever Elks may roam, whatever their lot in life may be, when this hour tolls upon the dial of night, the great heart of Elkdom swells and throbs. It is the golden hour of recollection, the homecoming of those who wander, the mystic roll call of those who will come no more. Living or dead, Elks are never forgotten, never forsaken. Morning and noon may pass them by, the light of day sink heedlessly into the west. But ere the shadows of midnight shall fall, the chimes of memory shall be pealing forth the friendly message: To our absent members."


also:

 The faults of our brothers we write upon the sand... Their virtues we carve upon the tablets of love and memory.

Nobody talks like this anymore, ever noticed that?  But then again, th' BPoE DID evolve out of an actor's guild in New York that was attempting to circumvent th' blue laws so they could drink later into th' night.  When I was an Elk I was always too tired and ready for bed by th' time 11 PM rolled around and never actually heard The Hour of Recollection recited.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

THE EPIPHANY TREE

Th' tree, said Calix to Rusty, in th' calm of one evening, was planted on th' grounds of an elementary school where I served as a long term kindergarten assistant.  This was BackHome, you'll understand, justa'bout exactly 3 years ago from where we sit, though of course with all th' changes we've been through, it feels like a hella' lot longer.

Since I was an assistant and not teaching staff-- and a substitute, what's more-- I was given various duties, including car-rider duty in th' morning.  This basically meant getting to campus at least a full half hour before th' start of skool so i could be outside to direct n' monitor traffic and make sure that students being dropped off were safe and actually goin' into th' school th' way they were supposed to.  I spent a lot of time looking at that tree, and one day it dawned on me that it was turning colours.  Time was passing, th' seasons were changing, and as the Pagans might say, 'The Wheel of the Year was turning.'

Calix stands up, stretches, and walks to the fireplace to poke at th' logs and shift them around a bit.  Rusty hasn't yet figured out what exactly in eir mood makes Calix want to get up and poke th' fire vs. just let th' thing burn brightly by itself even though logically all th' wood should be used up.  Since this place exists in eir own imagination, e can let it burn and stay seated or e can let it die out like a regular fire and occasionally replenish it.  Rusty remembers at least one occasion where th' fireplace tools floated up and manipulated th' logs on their own accord.

I was Pagan myself, then.  Actively reading and doing magic, though often still trying to suss out my place in things.  I called myself a Witch and eschewed th' masculine term 'warlock', and if you had to pin me down to one tradition I suppose it would've been Kitchen or Hedgewitchery:  th' magic of hearth and home.  I had no wish to rule th' world or hex anyone, which made me somewhat unusual.  In retrospect I think it's because I have no gender identity, I was more at home blending th' sacred masculine and feminine together, which was not th' way that th' group I was running with was used to doing things.  He stands up, stretches his back, and continues, gazing into th' flames.

I'm watching this tree slowly change, thinking that I really should be doing MORE to honour Nature and the Wheel's turning, but of course needing to be pretty deep in th' proverbial broom closet 'cuz i was working in an elementary school in th' Kindergarten room; talking about Witchcraft or Neopaganism in general simply wasn't done if you wanted to get along.

Meanwhile, in th' week after school started, a church that was down th' street from th' school donated an enormous amount of school supplies:  crates of pencils, new bookbags, reams of paper, erasers by th' score and even some clothing.  Th' church had no affiliation with th' school or th' district which are city-wide in th' north, but county-wide in th' south), nor did they make a ceremony out of it or expect or ask for some kind of praise or kudos-- they just showed up, said "here!" and left.  A lot of Pagans were critical of Christianity (and, frankly, with good reason), but at th' same time, th' one thing that could be said for Christians was that they were giving.  There was ONE Pagan food pantry in th' whole surrounding area of where we lived, and they barely got any donations at all.


Something about this tree, e says, turning to come back to th' couch, where e sits down crosslegged on th' cushions, caught my eye.  Somehow it reminded me that while October was just dawning, th' weather would be cold soon enough and after that Xmas would be here.  Except I wasn't celebrating Xmas, but rather Yule and th' Solstice.  It felt like something was missing.  What was missing, I eventually decided, though it was hard to admit, was that 'tis-better-to-give-than-receive ethos that you (at least ostensibly) find in mainstream Abrahamic faiths. You didn't see any Pagan groups coming together to offer up new backpacks or pencils or... well, or ANYTHING to anyone else, in or out of need.

Calix pauses, and Rusty senses a kind of exhaustion come o'er em.  This kind of thing happens now and again, a kind of exhaustion comes on; a story that started off needing to be told just becomes somehow all Too Much, or too complicated or Th' Moment becomes somehow lost in th' partial telling.

Monday, November 20, 2017

WORDS NOT MY OWN PRESENTS: "Only Child"

Izumi took a handkerchief from her coat pocket and wiped away her tears.  With a start, I realized she’d been crying for some time.  I had no idea what to say, so I sat waiting for her to continue.

“you prefer to think things over all by yourself, and you don’t like anyone peeking inside your head.  Maybe that’s because you’re an only child.  You’re used to thinking and acting alone.  You figure that as long as you understand something, that’s enough.”  She shook her head.  “And that makes me afraid.  I feel abandoned.”

Only Child.  I hadn’t heard those words in a long while.  In elementary school the words had hurt me.  But Izumi was using them in a different sense.  Her “only child” didn’t mean a pampered, spoiled kid but spoke to my isolated ego, which kept the world at arm’s length.  She wasn’t blaming me.  The situation just made her very sad.

---Haruki Murakami
South of the Border, West of the Sun

Sunday, November 19, 2017

SNIFFIN' GLUE

The sense of smell is not an intellectual sense such as sight and hearing. We have so much language to describe how things sound and look—and so few words for how things smell and feel to our touch, our animal senses…

---Garrison Keillor

One of my many strange guilty pleasures is that of sniffing glue.  No, not th’ cement or Krazy kind, but good ol’ fashioned white Elmer’s.  Th’ stuff that th’ smirking bull at th’ top in a lil’ orange triangle; th’ one with all those time-honoured prhases on th’ front like washable, no run & safe, non-toxic and that lil’ red apple appearing sometime in th’ 90’s or so that proudly says #1 Teacher Brand.  Now and then I like to unscrew a bottle and bring it to my nose and give it a few gentle squeezes.  It’s distinct, slightly sour scent hasn't changed for me in 4 decades and it always makes me feel safe and loved.  It’s a Christmas scent to me, as important as th’ aroma of peppermint, pine boughs and apples with cinnamon.

How white school glue, often purchased literally by the gallon and used for everything from actual adhesion to making non-Newtonian “slime” fluids became associated with th’ splendor and pomp of Christmas is actually very simple:  when I was perhaps 7 or 8 I went to my mom’s church’s Hanging of th’ Greens and made glitter ornaments, and there were pots of th’ white stuff lying about, filling the air with a the scent of glory.

In my mom’s church, the Hanging of the Greens was done on a Saturday night before the start of Advent, if my memory serves, and was a combination celebration, potluck, craft- and talent show.  People would gather early to eat dinner, and while the tables were being cleared away the various Sunday school and conference rooms were loaded with tables full of handmade crafts and art projects.  After an hour or more of general browsing about, everyone came back into the gymnotorium to watch various ☧mas related presentations.  One year there was a choral concert, one year our minister came out shoeless and in a nightshirt and cap looking quite hung over, clutching a water bottle and recited ‘Twas th’ Night AFTER ☧mas, perhaps even written by himself, in which he and th’ Mrs had too much to drink and th’ kids were sick in bed from too much candy and cake.  I don’t remember the words, but I may never forget his performance and th’ way we all laughed.

In time I think such preparations proved to be Too Much because by th’ time I was in middle and then high school, there was no Hanging anymore.  I suppose even then th’ world was moving on, and it was too much effort to arrange everything, and even then in th’ late 80’s more and more people were working and had less and less time to sit and do crafts for sale.  But back at th’ time I’m writing, and on one particular year, it was simply miraculous.

Upon this year—th’ same one that Rev. Bucey did his 1-man performance, each room was dedicated to one particular theme or product.  Th’ biggest room, usually given o’er to high school and functionally 2 rooms that could be divided with folding door, was full of 8’ conference tables just COVERED with art projects, subdivided into category by material.  Here were things made of wood, here paper, there clay and there cloth and down there, glass (made by Mrs. D--, a friend of mom’s who had taken up making stained glass sun catchers a few years ago and was now proficient enough to have two or three LAMPS on display).  The materials were so intricate and fantastic, it was like they had all rolled straight out of Santa’s workshoppe:  it was hard to believe that my Sunday School teacher, Ms. B--, had knitted so MANY blankets and comforters and shawls, and that Mrs. H--, someone I knew from one of mom’s many bridge clubs, was a veritable genius with cut paper.  I could barely cut a straight line, so to be able to make an entire nativity scene out of carefully cut and layered bits of wallpaper was something almost beyond th’ capacity for my young brain to grasp. 

I also remember this was the year that I saw and immediately fell in love with a little plaque with a 3D sculpture of Cookie Monster made out of salt clay.  He was painted a lighter shade than his fur appeared on TV—what in HEX code would be “deep sky blue” vs his then close-to-navy blue fur, but I wanted him like I wanted nothing else in th’ world. 
To this day I’m not sure how the artist did it, but apparently they used some kind of clay or pasta extruder, for he was entirely made up of short, nubbly lil’ bits the width of thick spaghetti.  Even then I imagined he must have taken a huge amount of time to make, which was probably why he was th’ only one on th’ table.  I begged my mom for it and, eventually, she gave in, though she felt it was a bit infantile for someone in th’ 1st grade.  Cookie graced my desk for literally th’ next 20 years, requiring a paint job (much closer to his normal blue) when I was a sophomore in high school. 

I remember that year, too, th’ primary room was specifically bake sale items and 4 or 5 of those industrial sized coffee urns.  I remember very much wanting to like coffee just like my parents, and I wanted to feel oh-so grown up to drink th’ same stuff that THEY drank all day long, but I couldn’t ever stand it.  I remember mom telling me that well before th’ night was over ALL th’ coffee had been drunk up, which was probably close to 15 gallons or so.  Such is th’ demand in th’ Midwest for coffee, even at 7:00 at night.  I tried again—and failed—to like coffee then, wanting to seem mature and grown up to be seen standing around drinking coffee and eating sugar cookies, but even with almost more sugar than coffee, I didn’t like it and quietly, surreptitiously dumped it down th’ sink.


But down th’ hall in another room I was most familiar with was a room for making ornaments and other crafts.  Someone had procured a large number of flat  shapes punched out of Styrofoam, and very young children and toddlers were painting them with glue and then sprinkling glitter on them.  A toothpick was driven in the foam on one side so it could be clipped to a clothespin and left to dry overnight.  I’m not sure how I wound up making one myself—perhaps this is mixed up in my mind and THIS part of th’ story is from a time further back then when I acquired Cookie Monster, or perhaps I was just sort of standing around watching and someone asked if I wanted to make one and there I was, swept up in th’ moment.  Either way, the smell of Elmer’s was VERY strong, as there were whole plastic Cool-Whip tubs FULL of th’ stuff with thick paintbrushes sticking out of ‘em, and because pre-school children were making them, glue was quite literally everywhere.

I’d had dinner, and even as a picky eater there was something I liked, I think it was ham, and I’d been through all th’ rooms and th’ shops and even tried having some coffee (and definitely had some cookies).  I was surrounded by adults I knew in a place I knew well.  It was well after nightfall and ☧mas was just on th’ horizion.  There was love and peace in the air and (again, in my memory) I had just convinced Mom to buy me th’ salt clay Cookie Monster.  Paint a Styrofoam ornament?  Sure!  Why not!  I would do everything and anything there WAS to do here this night!  I was in my element.  Shortly after this we rushed down th’ long hallway and around th’ corner to th’ Fellowship Hall where we’d be singing ☧mas carols before going home. 

I wasn’t to realize until several weeks later, after th’ rush and sturm und drang of ☧mas was over that th’ smell of Elmers glue had been indelibly… well, glued to my experience of ☧mas.  I was in school and needed to take th’ lid off a glue bottle for something, possibly to refill it from a gallon jug or something, when I got a big whiff of Elmers and I was immediately whisked back to that Hanging of the Greens.  For several seconds I was LITERALLY time travelling; I wasn’t THERE in my classroom, I was BACK THEN in that Sunday school room spreading glue and sprinkling glitter.  It might have been closer to Valentine’s day or even St. Patricks when this happened, but it hit me HARD.  I was lifted and taken out of that moment and back to that Saturday.  Readers who are familiar with the Harry Potter series will understand that it was as strong a flashback as if I’d been using Dumbledore’s pensive:  it wasn’t just a pleasant memory, it was a full-on 3D experience as if I was re-living it.

Now, by my calculations, this was something like 39 to maybe even 40 years ago.  As strongly tied to memory and the past our sense of smell is, you’d THINK that after nigh on 4 decades have gone by my neurology wouldn’t do this kind of thing to me anymore, but it does.  Especially at this time, after Halloween has come and ☧mas has not yet arrived, all I gotta do is unscrew th’ cap of a bottle of Elmers (always one near at hand, since I’m a teacher) and it all comes back to me.

Someone should make a scented candle out of it.





Saturday, November 18, 2017

TO GIVE THANKS IS TO DREAM ANOTHER DREAM


Since NaBloPoMo is, for me at least, a time to look back and reflect, and since I've recently crossed o'er into my 49th year (which I'll assume and frankly hope is th' mid-point), I've been finding myself looking back at lots of things, lots of patterns and events going back to my childhood.  Unlike previous years, I've discovered some fascinating things that I've never fully examined before; things that should have been obvious and important but that I've nonetheless missed for some reason or another, usually ego and pride, but also a lack of vocabulary to read th' symbols writ large therein.

One thing that is different this year is I'm finding myself looking forward to Thanksgiving again.

I don't think I fully realized it, but I've been slowly withdrawing from T'giving for several years; perhaps even going back as far as 1996, which is th' first year that my childhood traditions changed.  From as far back as I can remember up until '96 I'd always traveled to Grandma's house for T'giving, it was as regular as breathing.  I might even go so far as to say this was something like my own Green Lantern power lantern:  to NOT return there annually would be to loose a significant part of who and what I was and weaken me as a person.  So, when mom died in 1996 and my family basically ignored me and ceased to involve me in anything, I began to feel like something was missing.  This kept building and building until last year when I would've rather spent th' whole day in bed with th' blankets o'er my head sleeping through th' day than anything else.  T'givin' had become a kind of endurance test, something to just get through and not something to enjoy.  I think we wound up going out to a Chinese buffet last year.

This year it feels a little different.  There is still that feeling of loss and of you-can't-go-home-again that I've been feeling for literally 21 years now, but I'm not sure that will EVER go away; it may not be POSSIBLE for it to go away, it might be like loosing a bit of your very soul-- th' wound will heal, but will always ache and th' scar will remind you there was something here that is no longer.  You will have to learn to dream a new dream.

I'm put in mind of a piece of writing Jenny did on her blog:

Husband 1 mourned every Christmas since the one before our eldest was born. His dearly departed father’s birthday was Christmas Day and his mother passed around Christmas not two years after his father. While I bargain hunted for toys, spent hours hiding in the basement wrapping presents, and committed the last of my resources to manufacturing magic, he wept, drank and sat in the garage, playing video games. And from that same garage, he fetched me a gift on Christmas morning, after all the presents were opened and I noticed there was nothing with my name on it. It was an electric can opener, wrapped in aluminum foil. I wanted a divorce.

Later that year, he attempted suicide after I asked for a divorce and he instead broke his femur, unable to work for six months. We lost the house and went bankrupt. I postponed the divorce for four more years to care for him, shocked that he would try to take his own kids’ father away, he who is so lost without his own. He was ultimately successful, after my second request for a divorce. Rest in peace.
...I spent last Saturday at a Halloween party at our dear friend’s house where he spent the last few months of his life. I stood on the porch that overlooked the woods where he hung himself. I shared drinks with his sister.
“If I keep a green bough in my heart, the singing bird will come.”

I remember this proverb when I’m feeling low. It pulled me through all those dark winters to here. It kept bitterness from utterly consuming me. It let me love again, wed again. And I recall it now, as I shake the fog from around my head. I can lay the cloak of doom down over so many puddles of tears, so that I may cross into the next season. 

I knew her 1st husband well, and though it makes me uncomfortable to recall th’ mas she speaks of in 2010, I remember it.  Doc’s sorrow and his tendency to fall apart at th’ Most Festive Season of th’ Year was hard for ME to ignore and I wasn’t even married to him; I'm sure it was much worse for her.  I began to wonder if perhaps *I* had been doing that same thing myself:  certainly E-- doesn't want a divorce from me 'cuz i gave her a can opener, but there's enough incompatibility there that it's only a hop, skip and jump from th' problems that Djenni and Doc had to th' ones that we had.  I began to realize that I was no doubt contributing to th' melancholy by being such a sad sack on T'giving.  Both Doc and I were / are prone to mourning our lost families, but whereas Doc suffered from alcoholism and possibly bipolar disorder and is no longer in this mortal world, I AM here, alive and dreaming, and I am a still-somewhat-newly-minted Franciscan novice, and as such, God has called me to seek joy and turn away from despair.  I can't help but wonder if Doc was able to hang on just a few more years if my stepping out and onto a Franciscan path might have helped him in some way.

I believe it was th' day after I read Djenni's words that E-- told me that come snow or hi water, regardless of what status OUR relationship was in (or NØT in, as th' case may be) she was going to have a good ol' fashioned T'giving and no more of this Chinese Buffet BS.  Having read Jenny's words and recalling one of th' final T'givings Doc was to have with us all, I decided E-- was right; time to count blessings and not sorrows.  Time to make sure that th' green bough in my heart was still green and growing for th' singing bird to find and perch upon.  This is nothing less than Francis would want us all to do.

I imagine it will not be easy.  at Thanksgiving we become a Nation of Two, there being no place for us to go, no one having invited us to their place and I'm not sure we'd want to go anyway-- it would no doubt feel akward.  E-- likes to do all th' cooking which means i can help most by staying th' hell out of th' way; maybe I'll go out and rake leaves.  My mind will still be playing old home movies and I'll bee seeing ghosts as I have been for th' last 2 decades, but I think I can begin to drum up a little happiness this year.