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Thursday, November 29, 2007

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The long night


I have been nesting, burrowing in. Although it has been bright and warm here, my soul is on northern time. The frantic worry of the autumn has come to an end. "It is night after a long day," goes a prayer for evening from the New Zealand Prayer Book. "What has been done has been done. What has not been done has not been done. Let it be."

Let it be.

My dining room is (mostly) uncluttered. The advent wreath is on the table, ready to be lit. It's not time yet, I tell the boys. I want them to know about waiting; the fullness of time. They will never know what it is to feel a child tumble inside them. To live so intimately with the unknown. I want them to understand how it feels to lean into not knowing.

In an interview for a radio documentary about my father, my mother recalled a time early in their marriage when he stood at the edge of a mountain ledge, spread his arms and tipped his body into the wind, letting it hold him up. My father wrote beautifully about pregnancy, better than any man I've ever read.

I've been moved to pick up the baby blanket I've been knitting on and off (I kid you not) for ten years. I began it when I was pregnant with my first child, and Patrick's mother was dying. When birth and death were over, I put it down to get on with life. Then picked it up again and knit through two more pregnancies and the death of two more parents, each time thinking it would be ready for the next baby. My babies are no longer babies, and Patrick and I aren't having any more. But I am ten rows away from finishing this blanket. I might even finish it today. I wonder what is pregnant or dying this time, what thin ribbon of light lies to the east or west of me.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

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Turkey by Birth, Dressing
by the Grace of God

My six year old's suggested Thanksgiving Menu. To the far left are colon marks, behind which are the names of the family members whose personal preferences he lists as follows:

For himself: Cooclit Pie, Cooclit Milk, Moore Cooclit Things
For his little brother: Botll of Milk (editor's note: I don't want to talk about it)
Mom:Trcey with Stofing
For little brother:Sanwich and Chips
For himself: Ritz
For little brother: Rice Kirspies

I don't know where everyone else was during his survey. My response was borne of wistful thinking. Turkey with a savory bread stuffing, as accompanied the roasted birds of my northeastern youth, is considered blasphemous, if not out-and-out traitorous, here in the South. Cornbread dressing, baked in a separate pan, is what the good lord intended for fowl. It says so in Leviticus. AND Southern Living magazine. Ask Belinda, if you don't believe me.

Every southern family has its own heirloom recipe for dressing. My husband's came down his maternal line, and it is unique from any other I'd ever heard of, until today, when Laurie and I were comparing notes and realized we are closely related by dressings. Which is awesome, because ever since I dined and wined with the sk-rt girls in Chicago this summer, I've had a secret fantasy in which we are all sister-wives.

Laurie and her people are in North Carolina. I recently read that human migration can be tracked by DNA mutation. The farther and longer a particular tribe travels, the more mutations are added to the original code. I think this could just as easily be applied to cornbread dressing. We don't know for sure when or why Patrick's kin started heading westward from the Virginias & Carolinas. But now we know that somewhere along the way somebody added eggs. Call it manifest destiny.

In recent years, Patrick has taken it upon himself to carry tradition forward. He got started yesterday evening. My contribution was to make broth and bake up a batch of cornbread in the cast iron skillet I took from my mother-in-law's kitchen after she died. She was a wonderful woman, a true steel magnolia. My children never knew her, but to their cousins and older brother, she was "Honey". And so it says on her headstone.

With my pies out of the oven, and my part in the dressing-making done, I stepped aside and left him to it. This year, he decided to bring our eight-year-old in on the action. I heard him reading aloud to our son the steps written in his mother's lovely hand, telling stories about Thanksgivings past, and then explaining the difference between cornbread dressing and bread stuffing. True religion.

"You were born in the South, son. Don't ever forget that." He said it loud enough to be sure I could hear, and when I looked up, I caught the teasing gleam in his eyes, daring me to make something of it. But I also caught the pride and joy that was being kindled in the kitchen amid the egg cracking and cornbread crumbling. Patrick's parents died within several years of each other. Their home was sold. The extended family drifted into diaspora. Unless you count photographs, a couple of pieces of furniture, there's nothing tangible at all left to connect Patrick or our children to his parents, to their history.

Until we make cornbread dressing.

Here is Millie's recipe. Her own mother made it with turkey meat, which Laurie says is how it's done in her home, but Millie made it with chicken. If you are familiar with a version like this, I'd love to hear it.

Cornbread Dressing

(you need 2 iron skillets of cornbread already baked)*

Simmer one cut up or whole chicken in salted water for broth. Strain broth and skin and debone chicken. Add 1 stick butter to hot broth.

1 small onion
1 celery (1 cup, chopped)

Have broth hot. Break up hot corn bread, add about 4-6 cups broth and mix well in a large pot or bowl. add onion and celery mixture, and 1&1/2 tsp poultry seasoning - salt if needed by taste. Stir in 1 dozen raw eggs and deboned & skinned chicken. Toast up to 8 slices bread extra dry and break up into mixture. The mixture should be slightly soupy. If out of broth, boil water and add. Bake in two 9 X 13 dishes or pans at 400 for one to one and a half hours until set.

*this goes without saying for southerners, but others need to know that this means unsweetened cornbread. I make mine with stoneground cornmeal and it works beautifully in this recipe.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

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I woke up very early after a restless night (punctuated by thoughts of, "Oh my God, did I really tell the whole internet about it?"). I got up, made coffee, and picked the paper off the front porch.

Though Linda's orders last night were not to think about it all too much until we could all sit down for a strategy session next week, I needed to face my fears. I opened to the classifieds, to see what the rental housing market looks like (if we sell we will need to let our credit repair for a while before we buy something new). There were plenty of houses in nice neighbourhoods within our budget.

I thought how nice it would be to be completely debt-free, and unencumbered by the past. I thought how sad I would be to see other people's children playing in our yard, climbing in our maple tree. I wondered if it would feel okay to put dress up clothes on everyday, go to an office job. I thought about the years I did that, with never anything left over at the end of the day for writing. I thought about all the good people who are proud to do it their whole lives. I thought about all the little ways this house has been withdrawing its energy from us; burned out lightbulbs, the new downstairs water heater that won't stay lit, the finicky ignition on the gas range. I thought about something I heard Christiane Northrup say on a PBS special once: that every so many years we go through a rebirth of sorts, and that it is heralded in the same way literal birth is. The placenta, or support system, or whatever it was that housed and nourished you, begins to shut down, forcing you out into the birth canal.

I let all these thoughts swirl around the bottom of my coffee mug. I turned over the paper, and saw the long list of Foreclosure notices in tiny print. I've never really looked at them before. Buried deep in the legalese were names. Names of real people. People like us, I thought.

It's extremely unlikely that it will be us. We have a range of choices still before us. More possibilities emerging by the hour. But from here, I can see how it happens. I can see how families tip past the point of being able to right themselves again.

This will be my last update on this situation for a while. I'll let you know from the other side of it that all is well. All will be well. In the meantime, I've got a long running list of things I want to write about, and money isn't anywhere on it.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday, or just a great day. If you find yourself in the position to reach out and help a family out who is less fortunate than we are, I hope you will.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

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All the news not fit for print

Boy, I never wanted this to be a blog where I was giving out real-time, blow-by-blow updates of my life. Quality over quantity was the goal. It was (and is) principally about the writing. But as Geoff just reminded me with his concerned comment in the last post, a blog is different from other kinds of writing. A blog isn't just about the blogger; it's about the community that gathers around it, and becomes invested in it. It's still about the writing, but now it's also about you.

I know that many of you have been checking back repeatedly for an update. I wish I had good news to tell you. The deal is dead. We have one creditor whose own legal department is preventing them from getting paid off in full (they mishandled our line of credit, causing it to become delinquent; they admit the error in writing, but won't revoke the delinquent status). We are pursuing one slim avenue of last resort before calling the realtor. I doubt we will get any answers this week in light of the Thanksgiving holiday. I don't know what else to say. I'm tired of writing about money. I resent it taking up this much of my energy. I am weepy and exhausted and I'm flat out of nuggets of spiritual truth and gratitude and other variations on "that which does not kill us."

But the dining room excavation is going very well.


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Monday, November 19, 2007

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Knit One, Purl Two...

My ex once told me a chant that he and his fellow business majors used to shout at the fine arts students at college games:

Knit one, purl two, hey artsies, f--k you!

Isn't that charming? I think of it every time I knit (also, anytime I catch a whiff of artistic pretension).

It was a little past midnight last night when I hit the publish button on this week's Flawed But Authentic post. I wrote about the power of doing the next right thing in times of crisis. Or anytime for that matter.

For me this weekend, the next right thing was:

  • get my dining room ready for Thanksgiving (in progress)
  • fold some laundry
  • learn to play Jingle Bells on the piano (having discovered there was a piano underneath my paper clutter)
  • laugh out loud (see previous item)
  • indulge in one skein of brightly coloured organic cotton and start knitting a dishcloth for a Christmas gift, then decide to keep it for myself
  • initiate a discussion about felted balls
  • laugh out loud some more (see previous item)

Any time I got the urge to pick up and gnaw on today's anticipated answer on our refinance, I would check to see if it happened to be the next right thing to do. It never was.

Thanks for all the well-wishing. Keep it coming. "This, or something better," is one of the best prayers I know when I am hoping for a specific outcome, but am willing to let it go.
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Saturday, November 17, 2007

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Hanging On.

So, we are waiting to hear whether or not we will be refinancing or hurriedly selling our house next week, the dramatic conclusion to our fall season (backstory here). It is not as easy as you would think for two freelancers (with a crushing amount of debt acquired in the absence of any start-up capital) to refinance a mortgage right now. You didn't think it was at all easy? Us neither, but we sure didn't think it would be this hard. We have been jumping through the lenders' fiery hoops for two months now. I didn't have to furnish this much paperwork to get my green card.

Last week, at the fifty-ninth minute of the eleventh hour, the deal hit a major snag. Our mortgage broker and our financial advisor have been busting ass ever since trying to get one problematic creditor to play ball. Linda, our advisor, has been calling us every day to tell us to just keep breathing. To say we are anxious would be an understatement. We are scared out of our minds.

Here's the good news. We love each other. Our children are healthy. We have friends and helpers. Patrick has lots of work again. We can sell our house if we have to. I can get a "regular" job if I have to. I'm not that big a deal. The world will keep on turning.

Friday, Linda called to say she is optimistic, but we won't have a decision until Monday. "Everybody get off the ledge," she ordered. "Stay busy this weekend."

So I am planning on tackling this:

and this:

It's a dining room emergency. I want to decorate for Thanksgiving, and I have about ten dollars to work with. That should give my mind plenty to chew on besides itself for the next 48 hours. You're welcome to follow: I've set up a flickr set called Holiday Decorating Xtreme Challenge. Gird your loins, and come on.


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Thursday, November 15, 2007

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The Hope Chest

If only for a minute or two
I want to see what it feels like to be without you
I want to know the touch of my own skin
Against the sun, against the wind

Lucinda Williams, "The Side of the Road"

Around the time of my parents' final separation in the late eighties, my mother and I spent a wonderful night together in Ottawa. I was nineteen, and living in Toronto. She had come up to the capital from Newfoundland on business. We marched on Parliament Hill together ("What do we want? Choice!"), we visited the new national museum, we drank scotch on the rocks in the lounge of a posh hotel, we went out for dinner and I ate sushi for the first time. And we talked and talked and talked.

My mother, who remained close to my father right up until his death, opened up to me about their 24-year marriage in a new way: woman to woman. It was very healing for me, and as I listened, I was aware that for the first time, I was glimpsing my mother as her own person. As someone apart from my father, my sister and me.

That night, she shared with me that there had been a moment, when my sister and I were still young, when she fleetingly entertained a plan of escape that didn't include us.

To understand how shocking this was for me to hear, you'd have to know my mother. In the dictionary, under "maternal," there's a picture of my mother. As far as I ever knew, she was the most nurturing, tender, devoted mother in the world. It was impossible to imagine her with her back turned.

When and where I was a teenager, some girls and mothers still assembled "hope chests." It was a wooden chest in which they tucked china, linens and other household wares, in anticipation of married life—the fullfillment of said "hope." Needless to say, the woman who stuck a pro-choice sign in my hand and marched me up Parliament Hill, did not give me a hope chest.

She gave me much more. That night, not for the last time, she stepped down off the altar of sainted motherhood, and let me see her as a real person. A woman who could adore her husband and children with every breath in her body, and at the same time be conscious of the part of her soul that could not be domesticated. She gave me permission to acknowledge that wild place in me, to accept it alongside my fierce love for my family. To not feel the need to reconcile or cure it, but just let it be. The deepest truth resides in paradox. Our humanity is too vast for either/or.

Instead of porcelain and monogrammed pillowslips, this is what I have in my chest.

I need it far more often.


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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

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$2.99 Answers "What Child is This?"

The December issue of Good Housekeeping magazine is on your supermarket stand, and our littlest Who is in it (along with an essay of mine about Christmas).

Special offline bonus: his given name is in the photo caption. No, I won't tell you the page number. You'll have to buy the whole thing. I'll just say that my writing ranks quite a ways behind Martha Stewart, and slightly ahead of 12 variations on a cookie dough.

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

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Way Over There

Thursday, November 08, 2007

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Fine Lines

I got my hair cut yesterday, which is something I do about 2.5 times a year, and always at the last minute. Eddie, who has put up with this for over ten years, was able to work me into the late afternoon, and I spent my lunch hour looking at pictures of hairstyles on the internet, pretending I might get something more drastic than a trim.

By the time I break down and decide to do something about my hair, I am always so sick of it that I feel like I could just chop it all off. But I never do. I haven't had really short hair since I was nineteen, the year Linda Evangelista cut hers and became a supermodel. I had the same cut. Alas, not the same cheekbones.

In my early twenties I sported a chin-length bob, which I guess I thought made me look chic and mature. It made my face look incredibly, perfectly round, and if you saw a picture of it, you would probably want to pinch my widdle cheeks. I grew it out so I could wear my hair up for my first wedding, and it's never been shorter than shoulder-length since. When I sat down in Eddie's chair yesterday, the ends fell over my chest.

Throughout history, most cultures have decreed that long, unbound hair is the privilege of an unmarried maiden. Once a woman is married or has children, she has been expected to veil or pin or cut it. In contemporary North America we call it the "mom cut". We say it's more practical once the baby's here, but at an unconscious level even secular culture still subscribes to fear of unbridled womanhood. Can't have all that mature feminine sexuality just hanging all out around the children, can we?

My great aunt Nell wore her waist-length hair in a girlish braid down her back her whole life. It was lovingly regarded by most everyone in the family as eccentric. Nell's hair ranks in family lore near 'Staish-in-the-Bed, my great-great aunt Anastasia, who took to her bed one afternoon as a girl of sixteen, and never walked again (it was rumored she'd fallen in love with the village priest and was cursed).

I'm sure Nell's sister, my grandmother Mary, disapproved. She was a beautiful woman herself, and by no means immune to vanity, but was always very appropriate, whether kneading bread in the privacy of her own kitchen with a pair of clean underwear on her head to keep her own hair back, or entertaining ladies for tea from her Royal Albert "Old Country Roses" china. Many of my ideas about aging gracefully come from observing her.

My ideas about aging joyfully all come from this fabulous woman:

Her name was Ferne, and she was my mother's mother. Even in her eighties, she rode bareback, and went dancing, and had gentlemen friends, and if she'd ever had any use for long hair (which I doubt she did even as a young girl), you can bet she'd have worn it to her ankles if she damn well felt like it.

It's a marvelous legacy; the line that runs through the middle of those two great, and opposite ladies, guiding me toward the second half of my own life. Sometimes it seems to runs straight down the center; other times, it zigs and zags.

I will turn 38 on the 23rd of this month. Grey hairs are growing as fast as I can pluck them. There are fine lines around my eyes and deeper ones on my neck. In the past year, an extra ten pounds have settled in all over, and I honestly don't know that I am unhappy enough about it to resist the next slice of warm apple pie that comes my way. I'm not a girl anymore.

"You'll tell me, won't you, if I can't pull off the length anymore?" I asked Eddie in the mirror, as he ran his hands through my hair. He smiled. "You can. And I will."

I was relieved. I love some of those shorter, piece-y styles. On other women. But long hair feels like me.

I've heard older woman say that they look in the mirror sometimes, and they don't feel like themselves anymore. The reflection no longer reflects the person they feel like inside. One of these friends recently confided to me that she intends to have plastic surgery. Although we are close, there was a note of hesitation in telling me. I think she was afraid I would judge.

When I was younger, I would have. There are all kinds of objections to excising age this way, as if it were malignant. As a woman this side of forty, I still feel betrayed when I discover that someone who is older and beautiful has had "work" done. Because until I've learned the truth, I think perhaps it's possible for me. Look at her, I think. Fifty, and still so sexy. Well, why not? Maybe I could be too. Who's afraid of fifty? Not me. And then I find out they've "cheated," and I despair a little.

My friend is as smart and as strong and as deep as anyone I know. I can't judge her decision. If ridding myself of ten pounds or neck wrinkles were as easy as plucking grey hairs, what would the difference be? If I can have my hair cut or colored so that I feel my best, why not my face or my breasts? I use a face cream that removes old skin cells. Could I use a laser to remove more? A scalpel? Where is the line? I thought I knew it when I was thirty. Now I'm less sure.

It's hard for a woman to talk openly and honestly about beauty and body image. I keep trying, and I'm certain each time, people walk away in disgust. We're supposed to pretend it doesn't matter. But if you landed here on earth from Mars, and even took a short look around, you'd suppose it's all that does matter. It's especially tricky to speak to these issues as a woman to whom genetics or environment has been kind. Who wants to be the skinny girl complaining about her weight, or the pretty girl moaning about her nose? Not me. At the blogher conference in Chicago last summer, there was a closed session on body image that I was passionately interested in, but I got the distinct feeling that a participant without obvious body challenges would be met with hostility. I would have liked to have pointed out that we are all swimming in the same polluted water, whatever our shape or size, but I didn't think I would be taken seriously.

Sheryl, at Paper Napkin wrote a wonderful piece recently on explaining to her daughters what a crap shoot beauty is, how the standards change through the ages, and how it's just dumb luck whether or not you are born with whatever features happen to be valued at any given time. I absolutely loved how she framed it, and if I could add anything to it, it would be that there really are no winners in that game. Even the most beautiful girl will wrinkle. All the lasers in the world can only buy time, not stop it. Even the size four woman is bombarded constantly with the same message: thinner is better. Look at all the "perfect" girls in Hollywood, falling apart. Because even Lindsay Lohan can't live up to Lindsay Lohan.

Physical beauty is a lot like material wealth. Some people inherit it, some people work hard for it. It can be used for good or bad, and it isn't inherently either. It can be won or lost, and if you don't possess the inner kind, there is never enough of the outer.

And at the end of the day, not a single one of us gets to keep it.


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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

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The Road Home

a walk through the leaves from Kyran Pittman on Vimeo.

Near our home, there is a boulevard of shops & restaurants he calls "the City". It is as magnetic to him as any metropolis is to a small town boy with big dreams. When it was time for the return leg of today's walk, the only way I could coax him the half-dozen blocks back to our home in the sticks was to point him toward a river of dry leaves in the gutter. Perfectly sun-cured for leaf rustling.

He shuffled through it joyfully until it ran out. Then he realized he'd let himself be diverted. "The City is gone," he said.

"Yes," I said. "Let's go home and have some milk, and a rest." I hinted that there might be more leaves just around the next corner. There were, and we did.

I wish it would remain just that easy.


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Sunday, November 04, 2007

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Cousins, Cousine

My first Flawed But Authentic post is up today. I hope you'll go read it and let me know that you found your way there. —k.

One of the best things I have ever done, gadget- or technology- wise, was to invest $50 in a webcam & install Skype. My boys' sole surviving grandparent lives at the edge of the world, yet they get to hang out with her at least once a week, singing songs, making faces, holding up new pets & toys. All the things that grandparents and grandchildren need and love to do, and that don't translate well over the telephone.

My sister, nephew & niece were all at my mother's house Saturday morning (not unusual, since they live around the corner from each other). Nanny had found two stray kittens in the snow, and they were hiding under her bookcase. My crew got to share in the excitement. I almost felt like I could nip down to the grocery store, and leave them all with Mum (this should't necessitate a "just kidding", but, JUST KIDDING).

At the risk of sounding like an infomercial, if you have little people in your life with long distance loved ones, don't wait one more day to hook them up. It's easy*, inexpensive, and will make you glad you lived long enough to see such miracles.

*Okay, there were a few minor kinks to be ironed out in the beginning. See related post, Ground Control to Major Tom


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Saturday, November 03, 2007

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Before I get too deep.

One of the things I liked about doing NaBloPoMo last year, was the feeling that I had a license to natter on about nothing. I could write pure fluff & drivel and chalk it up as filler. It was refreshing, and it was good for my writing. I had forgotten about that leavening effect until I got to reading everybody's first two days worth of BloPos. There's a throwaway tone to them that's just plain fun. Want to write about the stinky catbox? Yesterday's trip to the mall? Well, whyever the heck not? There doesn't have to be a point or a moral. It's deliciously decadent, and sort of naughty to someone like me, whose feet are still firmly planted (& sometimes mired) in print.

NaBloPoMo, itself a spin-off, keeps spinning out new spin-offs. Like NaBloShoeMo, in which you post a photo of your shoes every day. Now, for some, shoes are sacrosanct. And I respect that. But it doesn't get much more frivolous for me. Still, Susan Wagner is the ringleader, and ever since Susan walked up to me in Chicago with a drink in her hand & said something nice to me, I am her handmaiden. That's how easy I am.

So when the invite came round from Susan to join in, I kind of wished I could, in hopes that she might whisper more sweet nothings in my ear. But I didn't see how, given that I have about three pairs of shoes & a pair of boots that I wear. Hardly a month's worth.

Then yesterday, as I was getting dressed, I looked at the cardboard box hidden behind my dresser where I throw my shoes (I know, I know, I don't deserve to own shoes). I thought what I always thought when I see that box, which is, "I really need to do something about this. Sometime." The box is overflowing with shoes that are worn out, outdated, or just plain forgotten. I don't know if there are thirty pairs, but I bet I could get to Thanksgiving. It would force me to make some decisions, and those of you who are better with dressing your feet could help me.

So although I am three days behind, I have decided to make NaBloShoeMo my way of lightening up through the dark days of November. Yes, given that I have been complaining about fetishists, this is patentedly insane. But my skin grew three layers this week, so bring 'em on!

p.s. those of you who want to follow will have to look in my flickr set daily. That way, the rest of you don't have to suffer through 27 pairs of stinky shoes.


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Friday, November 02, 2007

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Feast of All Souls

Today is the Feast of All Souls, the Catholic version of ally-ally-in, when our prayers for those on the wrong side of the celestial velvet rope are supposed to get extra mileage. It seems like a good day to gather in some loose ends that have been left hanging.

First, in case you didn't notice in my update to the Devil's Due post, my concerns about a mystery site linking to this page have been answered & alleviated. The administrator tells me they are a group of moms who maintain that level of privacy out of legitimate security concerns. So I think they will understand about my freaking out due to my own.

It's been an interesting test of my comfort level with increasing exposure. Before I heard from the admin, I ran a report of search terms people have used recently to access this page. Oh boy. Imagine being in a crowded, public place, and suddenly you can read minds. Some of it is not pretty. It makes me a little nostalgic for the days I had five readers who were all named Jen.

But not too much. I wouldn't trade 99.9 per cent of you, with your wonderful comments & emails, just to get rid of the ones who come here looking for pictures of "streaking boys."( I am a little worried about being the foremost google authority on rottweiler-daschund mixes, though. I've tried to warn you people not to attempt this, but some of you will just have to learn the hard way.)

Helpful hint: if you have a super-secret-but-innocent club, & you plan to link to me, it would probably be wise to send me a heads-up. Because the Mama Bear, once stirred, is not easily coaxed back into her cave.

Live & learn, for us all.

Moving along, NaBloPoMo is on! For the uninitiated, this is the blog version of National Novel Writing Month, where participants blog daily for the entire month of November. I ran this marathon last year, and it was a wonderful, if exhausting, experience. I wrote tens of thousands of words, I got my first big print publication credit, and my readership skyrocketed from the single digits to the doubles. :-) It was very, very good for me, & I thank the mad genius behind it.

This year, however, I will be passing out paper cups from the sidelines. I've decided to focus on getting a hundred page sample of my memoir together instead. I'll let you know how that goes.

Finally, I will be a regular contributor at a brand, spankin' new site, Flawed But Authentic. A year ago, I couldn't have imagined Leah, whose blogger interviews have been the basis for much of my daily reads list, would be inviting me to collaborate with her. Sometimes I lose sight of what a big year it's been around here, but it's things like this that more than offset the streaking boy fetishist.

Look for my first Flawed But Authentic post on Sunday.


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Thursday, November 01, 2007

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The Candle Inside

My kids wore regular street clothes to school today for Hallowe'en. Their schools all celebrate the holiday with parties, and visits to the pumpkin patch, and little cellophane baggies containing unholy amounts of corn syrup solids, but they don't permit costumes. You might assume it has something to do with living in the Bible belt, or the fact that they attend religious schools, but as it happens, the only school that ever let them dress up was a Baptist preschool, and the local public schools ban costumes in the classrooms as well.

When I've asked about it, I've been told that it's too unmanageable & chaotic to have kids in costumes. I don't buy it. I have a hard time imagining a situation more unmanageable & chaotic than last year's second grade rave Valentine's Day party. Besides, Hallowe'en is about giving vent to the unmanageable and chaotic. It's a nod to our dark side; what they used to call paying the devil his due. Hallowe'en started out as a pagan protection racket.

It was also psychologically sound. As I've mentioned here & there, I practice & teach Jungian-oriented dreamwork on a non-professional basis. Dreams are clips from the hi-def, wide-screen version of who we are. The Director's cut. Our ego goes through waking life, thoroughly convinced it's got the corner on our truth. Dreams subvert that. Dreams are the underground.

In the course of talking to groups about dreams, I have to do a lot of talking about Shadow. Because one of the chief things that dreams are concerned with is trying to coax us to shine a light into the hidden corners of our psyche. If we can't be enticed there, it may jump out and grab us by the throat. Welcome to your nightmare.

Shadow is all the stuff we disown about ourselves, as individuals, or as families, or as entire cultures. It's all the traits, instincts, tendencies, knowledge that we are not allowed to have. Whatever follows "Well, I never...", there's your shadow. Some shadow aspects are repressed for good reason. Hopefully you got the message at an early age that it wasn't acceptable for you to beat somebody senseless because you wanted to play with their toy. Into the shadows that impulse goes. But if you try & kid yourself that the capacity for violence or greed is something that resides in other people, not in you, well, it will leak out somewhere, onto somebody. And, oh boy, will it stink.

A person who says, I never hate, might be sitting on a powder-keg of repressed rage. The person who froths at the mouth against homosexuality might be a closeted gay. The person who is obsessed with the ineptitude of a leader might be insecure about their own authority. You know it's shadow by the intensity of the feeling, by the way the person or issue seems to hook you.

"Think of someone who just flips your switch the minute they open their mouths," I tell my groups. "Write down some of the things that drive you crazy about that person." Even the person who says they never hate doesn't get stuck on this one.

"Now look at that list, and try to consider that those traits exist, in some measure, in you. And then try & think what could possibly be some positive aspects of them." It's usually a pretty big stretch. It's hard and it's scary.

It helps some people to begin with a prayer. There's a beautiful ecumenical one I use often, written by George Appleton. It begins, Give me a candle of the Spirit, O God, as I go down into the deep of my being. Show me the hidden things. Tell me my nature, and my name.

I love that prayer because it reminds me that it's not a descent into a septic tank we're making. Yes, there is darkness, and things that have festered or gone stale. But there's also treasure.

"Now think of someone you who flips your switch in a good way," I instruct them next. "Someone you practically worship. Maybe it's a movie star, or maybe it's your co-worker. When you see this person, when you are near them, you just feel more alive."

I make them do the same list of traits that evoke those strong feelings. Then I ask them, again, to consider that they are looking at their own hidden charms, gifts, & potential. Also their shadow. For some reason, this is even harder to accept.

Someone I read along the way wrote that enculturation is a process of levelizing. Tall-poppy syndrome, Australians call it. Getting above your raisin', they say here in the South. It's asking good people one thing to own their demons; it's asking them something else again to claim that which shines.

Long before it became part of the movie trailer for Akeelah & the Bee, I loved this passage from Marianne Williamson's book, A Woman's Worth:
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. it is light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?"

Okay, but easier said than done.

Statements like that, however wise & inspired, can only take you so far. Consciousness is limited in what it can contain, intellect in what it can apprehend. The self-help movement fails because it gives people insight without action. People become just enlightened enough to beat themselves up with how broken they are and how they can't seem to move forward. They've gone into the deep without a candle.

Our twenty-first century minds would sometimes love to think they've left behind our old need to physically engage the unconscious with ritual and play, but ritual can be the enzyme that helps us absorb what our minds can't fully digest. Dressing up for Hallowe'en is too unmanageable & chaotic for some, too silly or uncomfortable for others. It's okay. It doesn't have to be your cup of tea. But it shouldn't be reduced to candy & themed t-shirts for everyone. Because dressing up is the whole point; the one time of the year we are permitted to openly reach out toward the parts of ourselves we most fear and most long to be.


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