Monday, December 31, 2012

The Eve of Something Big

Silly hats and semi-nudity
for New Year's Eve are a must.
This is my favorite of all the winter holidays.
This eve of the new year.
My celebration is quiet now.
It didn't used to be. There used to be horns and dancing and wild expectations and empty arms at midnight. It wasn't my favorite then.
Now it involves silly hats and self-portraits and discounted Christmas food. Quiet reverie and perhaps some knitting, some snuggling and some every-day-ness that all culminates in the simple knowledge that I will wake up in a new calendar tomorrow.

I don't make new year's resolutions. That's a lie. I make them all the time. I resolutely don't make them in the new year, though. I make them when I think of them, regardless of the date because every day that you wake up is the first day of a new year. It's one of the nice things about the cyclical nature of time.

I devise a theme for my new year, though. It's one of the joys that sustains me through the holiday season, this theme devising. It's like a gift to myself that I can open up and use all year. My favorite kind. More on that tomorrow.

Tonight is for reflection. Last year, my theme was "Tree". That makes no sense when I say it like that, so I'll just post a link here for you to see what all that's about. I re-read that post just today and think I've done all right. I think there were some surprises and some setbacks, but that is how things go.

I'm ending this year in a different place than I started it and I think that's the key, right? I would be so depressed by looking back over blankets of sameness. I am contemplating my year ahead and thinking about the summer sausage we'll be having for dinner. I am listening to my monkeys wrestle and make deals with each other about things that are vital only to them. I am warm, I am content. I have lots of room to grow.

It's been a pretty good year. I wish you all so much good in your new years. I am grateful for your presence in this strange netherworld of pixels and light.

This is the eve of something big. I can feel it. I can always feel it. A whole year unfolding fresh and clean ahead and all the possibilities. Savor the anticipation. I received this note from a dear friend of mine a few years ago on new year's eve and it's kind of a tradition for me to review it every year:

I've got a feeling that this is going to be your kind of year. That you'll be happier than you've ever been, laughing harder, smiling wider, standing taller, walking lighter, dancing crazier, hugging longer, living grander, loving louder, and if you want, selling the pictures to a tabloid to raise money for your new charity.
These are the wishes I have for everyone, really. If we all did even a few of these things, how much better this place would be.

For now, my discount summer sausage and smoked cheddar cheese is calling.
Hugs and kisses to you all.
Make this the eve of something big.

Monday, December 24, 2012

To All A Good Night...

Wishing you all warm  - all you people.
The new ones and the ones who have been around a while.
For a lot of us, it's a big holiday tomorrow.
That's fun.
Holidays are fun. Celebrations are exciting. I love them quite a bit myself.
If it's not fun, don't fret. The thing of it is never as fun as the anticipation.
If it's not perfect, well, welcome to humanity.
If it's lonely or depressing or worse, know that I pray for you. I do.
Each day I pray for all the hurting. All of them. If that includes you, know you aren't forgotten.

Savor it all. It all makes up our lives. It's all necessary. Even the nonsense, even the pain, even the crazy, even the boring, even the empty. There's space for all of it.

These are my thoughts as the days slowly lengthen again, as the year comes winding down, as activity slows and we settle in to enjoy this space we've made in our calendar for giving, for sharing, for eating good food. Take from them what you will. Chuck them out with the wrapping paper and tinsel if you'd like.

I celebrate Christmas after a fashion, so I will say Merry Christmas to you.
Enjoy the days you are given.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Let's Make Some Magic

So then I said to her, oh no you di'int and she was all whatever sucka, I di'id. And then I was all well you just don't even know...

This broadcast has been interrupted to bring you this special report:

It has come to my attention that there's a very real little girl that needs our help. Tara from Faith In Ambiguity and her husband Mike are raising money for a sick little girl and her family in their community who really, really need it. Read more details from Tara here.

Here's the thing. There are the bell ringers, there are the folks who send you the free address labels with the puppies and kittens and ask for a donation, around here there are people from every cause imaginable who come door to door, or who stop you on street corners. Everywhere, it seems, there are people or causes that want our time and our money. Most of them are valid. (Except I never did get my subscription to Garden & Gun that I ordered from that man who came to my door. I hope that he used my $40 well. I didn't really need the magazine, I just wanted to help out. Oh no you di'int! Girl, you a sucker! Hush. That program has been interrupted.) We all have our own stuff going on, I understand that. But this is something so simple, so tangible, so immediate and necessary. Take a minute and read Lidija's story and you decide.

I'm going to go all Sally Struthers on yo' ass now. (I apologize for that. I don't know where that keeps coming from.)
My chips and queso, if I get them on sale (and I always do) cost me about $5 and last me a few days. Depends on how hard I'm hitting them. So, that's my fun money. $5 every few days for my little gastronomic indulgence that I neither need, nor is it good for me. Here's the kicker, though: I can actually eat chips and queso. Lidija can't. She can't eat anything except one specialized formula that (of course) isn't covered by insurance. We can joke about overeating on the holidays and chocolate and all the ha ha funny funny stuff that gets trotted around the barnyard every holiday season or we can seriously think about a six year old who can't eat cookies. Send her your wine money, send her your coffee money, send her the change you found in your car floor and your cushions, just do something to help this family.

If you can't spare a dime (I know how this can be) then use your influence, spread the word. Make social media worth something more than mean jokes and hedgehog pictures. You probably know generous people who would jump at the chance. I don't know them, Tara doesn't know them, Lidija doesn't know them. You know them. Let's make some magic.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

It's Not About the Wreath

OK, maybe it's a little about the wreath. It's glorious.

We cobbled this together last week with some things we found around the house. It hangs in my kitchen and reminds me of all that's fabulous.

It's a little bizarre, I suppose, that we had all of this stuff just lying around the house.

We walk in glitter, we dwell with painted plumes. 
The jingling of shiny bells grace our footsteps 
and disposable cookware is always handy. 

You know it made me think. You were expecting this. You know it's not about the wreath. Although it is a glorious wreath and one, I believe, should be left up year round. We shall see about that.

In the meantime, it's not about the wreath.

We do not, in fact, leave trails of glitter like fairy dust behind us when we walk. We leave mud and leaves and sometimes mysteriously bad smells behind us around here. We also leave doll clothes and Legos and socks and crumbs and yarn and tiny bits of paper. I sat on my couch the other day, knitting. I wondered rather suddenly Why does it smell like feet in here? I wondered this because, lest you gag and never visit me, it doesn't always smell like feet in here. Of course I did what any reasonable person would do and breathed through my mouth and went back to my knitting. Later I was vacuuming the couch (it happens) and removed the cushion to find no less than six pairs of dirty, smelly little monkey socks stuffed between the cushions. There was some blustering, perhaps some roaring This is disgusting! There was some scrambling and some apologizing and some whisking away of dirty socks - probably to be stuffed behind beds.

But it's not about the socks, either. Not really. (Although I can tell you, that afternoon it was all about the socks.) It's about this: life is messy and it sometimes stinks. Really, really stinks. It's so easy to walk around the chaos and see only the work to be done, only the clutter and disaster and to smell what is rancid. Sometimes you have to bellow about it and get stuff straightened up to your liking. Sometimes you have to stop and make a wreath from a disposable pie tin.

All that beautiful glittery fantastic stuff was already in our house. It was there all along. It wasn't all put together nicely, it wasn't even in the same rooms. Some of it was hidden in cupboards, some of it we pulled off of other things. Some of it we forgot we had. If I had grabbed what was immediately at hand, our wreath would have been made of smelly socks and half-eaten sandwiches, coffee grounds and leaves tracked in on shoes.

We had to look for what was beautiful. We had to make the effort. We had to see new uses for old things, we had to alter some of the things we had, we had to think hard about where we might find things to add to our creation. It was a collaborative effort, with each adding their own ideas, bringing their own bits of treasure to share.

The act of creation.
The act of collaboration.
The act of finding what is beautiful.
The act of bringing all that together in a greater whole.
These are sacred acts. They are acts that move mountains.

They are also the acts which decorate my kitchen on a budget.

But it's not about the wreath, is it?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Monumental Tooth

My last post was honest, difficult to write, depressing as all get-out and necessary. It can't remain as my home page, though. Why not?

Here's why not:

I dare you to look at this picture and not at least smile a little bit. Besides the hilarity, besides the casual arm flung around her little brother, look at my jBird's giant front tooth. That, my friends, is a monument.

It is a monument of tooth-bone to change, to growth, to shedding childish things, but not quite growing into the permanent things, either. I love that huge, solitary front tooth and sometimes I just want to touch it. My jBird is a patient girl, but she rarely indulges me in this. I don't blame her, but still. Look at that thing!

Her teeth will all eventually come in and straighten out (hopefully without a whole lot of orthodontic intervention) but for now, I secretly cherish this giant front tooth that is so awkward, so strange and out of place in her face, but a talisman of more big things to come. For now this is more beautiful to me than any movie-star-perfect smile in the world.

These two - with their life and their energy and their constant vibration - these two wear me out and they worry me and they drive me straight up a wall sometimes. But look at how they laugh. They lean into each other and laugh. With their messy hair and hand knit sweaters and heads full of nonsense and of course the giant tooth, they laugh. I can fume around and stew and boil about things that are so much bigger than they are, but you know what? These are the biggest people I know. They have virtually no control over their lives, they have very little say in the things of the world; they get told what to do, where to go, how to behave and to go and pick up all their Legos. Their mother is moody and somewhat unpredictable, she's intense and she's insane and she loves them with all her heart. And still they laugh. With eyes closed, without self-consciousness or guile - so hard, they laugh. This is their default mode.

And that monumental tooth. Well, you know how it is. It brings me to my knees and it makes me laugh, too. So hard. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Earthen Vessels

I tried. I try all the time. I keep the outside input to a minimum. I work hard to create a bubble of peace, of love, of joy, of forgiveness, of grace,  and of simple humanity around my home. I fail sometimes. I slip up and I crack. I have never shattered. I tried.

I can distance myself when I need to. I can look reasonably at terrible things. I can try to see all sides. I can seek honest solutions. I can always find hope. I can always look for good. I tried

I constructed a fragile peace this weekend; made of Christmas candies, ice skating shows, Lego skyscrapers, knitted hats and lots of snuggles. I constructed a fragile peace around what was becoming a towering rage.

I don't have a hot temper. The rage came blowing in like an arctic squall and froze me, empty, hollow and brittle as ice. I tried to warm it. I tried. Instead I let it shatter me.

I just wanted to make some hot cocoa. I wanted something warm inside me.
The mug that bears my son's name hung limp and empty from my hand and my face buried in the front of my husband's sweatshirt. Shaking howling sobs.

So many children... their parents... they were the same age as ours... they're saying - the gun people - they're saying we should arm the teachers... everyone is saying such horrible things... I don't want to live in this world... this shit just keeps happening... I don't want our kids to inherit this mess... I give up... 

My husband wordlessly absorbed my snot and my tears and my rage through his sweatshirt, directly to his heart. He held my shattered pieces while I shook and he didn't say a word. He has never heard me give up. The next morning, he silently handed me the keys when the hymns stuck in my throat and only the words I can't do this came out. I sat in the car in the cold and tried so hard not to cry. I don't like to make an emotional spectacle of myself. I applied the patches of reason, of calm, of faith, of love as best I could and went back inside. My husband squeezed my hand before he went up to speak. He read from 2 Corinthians:
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.
He stood in a pulpit and reminded me, along with the rest of the people gathered there that we are, in fact, earthen vessels. That we are fragile and sometimes we shatter, but that those cracks should allow the light to shine through. His voice broke a little when he explained that no matter what terrible things may happen to us or around us, we can be a source of light, of love, that we contain power. I sat and let the tears come; I let them slide soundlessly again and again down my face. A warm, baptismal rain.

I thought suddenly of our wedding ceremony. At the end of the service, we dimmed the lights. We lit our candles off of the larger one in the center and turned to light our family's candles, too. They turned and lit the people next to them and so on. The flame passed around the dark room until it was on fire. A candlelight vigil to love, to faith, to the community that makes love possible. We were young and we were poets and we wanted to set the world on fire with our love. We believed we could change the world. We exited that room into our life together triumphantly, buoyed on a wave of flame and music - Ode to Joy.

We are older and a little more weary. We have lost some of the hubris of youth. But yesterday, it was as if my husband had again, with shaking hands and voice, re-lit my tiny candle. And now I hold it out, fragile and tenuous, behind a cupped hand, to assuage this towering rage.

Rage has no place in my world. My rage is from the same source as the rage that pulls a trigger. My judgement and fear are no more productive than that of those who would arm the whole world. I shake my head and say I don't understand evil, but I do. I have had my share of destruction, of evil, of tearing down when I should build, of lashing out when I should seek help. I know that what keeps me from ever reaching that point of tipping into the unthinkable is love, is conscience, is support, is this tiny candle of hope I hold in my hand. May it never be snuffed out. May I instead use it to light the flames of others. May I never give up.

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." -Edmund Burke

We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.

I am only an earthen vessel. I am fragile and sometimes I crack to the point of shattering. I will not be destroyed.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Hug Your Children

I have been admonished to do this at least seventy-five times today and I will.

It's natural, that urge to gather loved ones close in the face of horror. The sudden and violent reminder that life is so very precious and short shakes us to our cores and we seek to reassure ourselves that we are all okay. Hug your children.

It won't change anything. There are still families who will be spending their holidays at funerals with impossibly small caskets, at bedsides, in fear and in mourning. There are children who will suffer nightmares and untold damage from witnessing atrocities that no one should see first hand, or second hand, or third, or ever. A mother will go to her house tonight and see an empty pair of shoes by the door, perhaps, or a pile of toys in an unmade bed. She will weep, unable to touch them. Or she will be beyond tears and lie down among them, inhaling the remaining traces of play and laughter and sweet innocence that linger in them. Or she will close the door and walk away, scrub the floor, smash the dishes, go for a run - anything to try to escape the unrelenting pain of death come out of order. I don't know what she will do, because I am not that mother. I have not been that mother. My own children will argue with me tonight about brushing their teeth and I will be relieved when they finally lie down and are still. I will check for their breathing and I will sit quietly and knit and go about my life in my whole and happy home. Hug your children.

It will change everything. Hug them because it's Friday. Hug them because you want to strangle them. Hug them because they are silly. Hug them because they are there. Hug them because they are warm and wiggly and smell vaguely of hamsters. Hug them because it's your job. Hug them because their little sensual buckets need to be filled up with sincere affection and affirmation. Hug them because it is from you that they learn how to love - not from your lofty speeches and declarations, but from your actions. Hug them because it is so important for them to feel comfortable in little bodies and hearts and your physical presence reassures them and teaches them to love themselves. Hug them and let them know they are not alone. Hug them when you are angry. Hug them when you are scared. Hug them when you are completely cuckoo. Hug them when they are sleeping, when they are awake, when they are doing something else and have to holler: "Mo-ooommm! Get off me!" Hug them in front of their friends. Hug them along with their friends. And don't just hug your children. Hug them all. Don't be creepy, but you know there are children in your lives whom it is perfectly acceptable for you to hug. Do it. You don't know what they need, what they get, what they want. Everyone needs a hug. Always. Hug your children.

My heart breaks for the families in Connecticut today. It is not my personal tragedy, I won't pretend it is. I have not spent my afternoon surrounded by emergency vehicles and television cameras, living through a parent's worst nightmare in 3-D. I will not presume to claim this as my own.

Even so, it is my tragedy. It is a tragedy that belongs to all of us as we share in the tiniest degree of their fear, their anguish, their horror, their anger and their dread. It is our tragedy because we cower at the idea suddenly brought to light that our world contains such pain, such sickening violence. It is our tragedy because we empathize, we sympathize, we agonize over these very things. Hug your children.

Hug them, not because we have collectively shared a tragedy today. Hug them so that we can avoid future tragedy. Hug them and take their pulse. Hug them and teach them that sadness need not be anger, and anger need not be violent, and violence is never a solution worth exploring. Hug them and listen to what they tell you with their own actions, the language that does not lie. Hug them and teach them to do the same. Hug them and tell them to live with love, not fear. Hug them and show them how. Hug your children.

Friday, December 7, 2012

I've Got It Covered

I am covered in glitter, I am covered in glue. Chalk dust, eraser dust, snippets of thread.
I am covered in flour and sticky and sweet.
I am covered in yarn and in paper.
I have got out my power drill, my sewing machine, my KitchenAid army.
I am covered in ink and paper cuts. I am covered in bits of notes of things I want to do, say, remember.
I am covered in cinnamon.
I am covered in cherry red pleather.
I am covered in silk, in bamboo, in wool.
I have hooks, I have needles, I have bobbins and sharp, sharp scissors - don't touch!
(And don't you dare use them for paper.)

Each stitch is a poem, every seam a sonnet, I write love letters with every detail.
I sit or I stand and I work on this thing -  just so - and I think of you.

I have not held your hand in sixteen years. Here are some gloves made of wool and remembrance and love.

You have moved to a new place, so cheerfully and like a pioneer - strong, resourceful, adventuresome. Here are some tastes from home to remind you that you are loved so much and sweet and savory and naughty and decadent and good for the soul.

You have wept inwardly over many things this year, but you always look out your windows skyward and see the beauty. Here is this teacup turned into a buffet for birds, so they can come and dine on fine china and sing to you of how much I love you.

You have given warmth and home and comfort to so many people, and I've taken more than my share from you. Here is this blanket, the color of claret - thick and rich - and I've made cables running up it like the sweaters you love because you asked me to even though you were humble about it and because I would make the whole world with my two hands and give it to you if I could.

You have transformed, worked hard, burst free. Here is a bounty of blessings in return: silk scarf in peacock blue with a new hat to match because you and I always cut off all of our hair at the same time - unknowingly, unwittingly - and are in dire straits for new hats. I made them with jaunt and with silk and with bows and they startle with their softness like falling water, each motif in the scarf is a secret prayer of thanksgiving for you.

You have grown up somehow, while I have stayed the same. You were a toddler, a child, and now so far away, you have the beginnings of woman about you. Here is this bag I have fashioned you of brocade silk and found, vintage cotton - the silk is a reminder of the home your mother and I shared as young-as-you people, the strength of friendship, the bonds of the family we make with our love. The vintage cotton is your reminder that even things that are old - unspeakably old! - like me (and your mother) are beautiful and sassy and it all depends on the context, young lady.

And for you and you and you and you, I send some sweetness: some is the kind that you can eat, some is the kind that flows from permanent markers gripped tightly in small hands, and some is the kind that you can frame and hang up on a wall. I have no words but thank you for the sweetness that you bring in stringing the garlands of sparkle and twinkle that connect my family to you.

And for you, gentle readers, I haven't spared much time. For that, I apologize again and again.
Here is my post, I've carefully crafted it for you. I want it to tell you the meaning behind the actions. The import behind the absence. I become ridiculous and stutter with my fingers when I think of ways to thank you for reading and thinking and indulging me so. You are all blessings and I would knit you all mittens if I could.

I am covered in glitter, I am covered in glue.
I am covered in love and in forgiveness, in connection, in transcendent joy.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Music of the Spheres

The planets sing in space. They hang on their invisible threads that bind them all to their rotations and their regulated posts; they whirl - massive, inconceivable - and they sing.

Music sweeps in through the ears and goes straight to the gut and the heart before the mind has a chance to register. It's the opening riff of Led Zeppelin's Black Dog. It's the pause in the finale of Beethoven's 9th Symphony, where the French horns and the violins quietly hint at the theme - slowly, slowly - and then the entire choir breaks free in a frenetic crescendo of Joy. It's the steady down beat in Cold War Kids' Old Saint John that sits deep in the hips and belly and grinds there. It's the space between the notes in a well-struck chord, the magic of voices in harmony, the breath before the bridge.

I explain phonemes to my daughter over dinner, how she had all the basic sounds on her tongue for any language in the world when she was born. She giggles with delight when I speak Mandarin to her. I sing the tones and she copies. I explain that there is music in any language if she'd only but listen. She savors the feel of foreign words on her lips and teeth while she chews her chicken. Her laughter in concert with her brother's is how I imagine the planets sound.

Thomas Tallis is the sound of the changing of leaves, for me. Enclosed in those intricate, soaring harmonies are the buds of new life, the rotation of our Earth, the long journey around the sun and back again. It is the voice of my son, before his L's made it out to the tip of his tongue, asking for more, for louder. It is the windows rolled down at intersections and the music, so large, so encompassing we can't hold it all, must let it spill out onto the streets and heavenward.

Even in silence there is music. The steady tattoo of my heartbeat, the aria of breath in rhythm with my walking this sphere. The birds in my yard perform a staccato interlude while they pause and look for bugs and worms and then on cue, a sweeping legato into the sky with wings outstretched, seeking the breeze to carry them to the next measure. The rustling percussion of the trees and grass and the tympani of the seasons, of time, and of the rain on my kitchen windows.

The planets themselves, sing. This is the thought that occupies me today while I conduct the symphony of my life. The simpler path would be to tick off the things on my list, to hurry small feet out the door, to wash, dry, fold, rinse, repeat. The more beautiful path is to hear the music. A small voice in a crowded store reminded me - harried, hurried, out of sorts - to "Stop. Listen. It's our song!" And there, beyond the din of every day, was the music of love. Barely audible to the imperceptive, was the music of the spheres. For me, it is the music of abandon, of laughing so hard I can't breathe, of a family who accepts my quirks, of barefoot spinning and gathering two small people to my hips, hair and tears of joy in my eyes, sweat and breath and bodies colliding - planetary, holy, otherworldly joy.

Like a super trouper
beams are gonna blind me.
But I won't feel blue,
like I always do.
'Cause somewhere in the crowd there's you.