Tag: Hope



Hello to all of you up there in the land of the living. Hello to you in the land of make up and home-cooked meals, to you who leave your front door on a daily basis, to you who get up the first time your alarm rings. You’re within my sightline now, and that’s good.

Civilization has been clouded from view lately, or rather, limited to a dim series of doctors’ offices. The four of us have been trading sickness like collector’s cards for weeks now, and our schedules ordered by nebulizer sessions and naps. Sophie and I are the lone holdouts at this point—she fussing inordinately and rubbing yellow goop from her eyes, I holding my cough-wracked sides together and sleeping while my husband cooks dinner. However, I left the house twice yesterday and realized I haven’t forgotten quite as much Italian as I thought. I can still say “buon giorno” to friends, and that’s good.

My list of failures is extravagant at this point. I have consistently been two days behind on house cleaning, and I’ve only managed to make one grocery trip in the last month. I’ve abandoned my friends and my inbox and my fingernails. The balcony planters are still sprouting last year’s twigs. Editing work is piled up around my ears, and the many blank pages in my writing folder feel like the worst failure of all. There is one and only one thing I’ve done well in the last week: loving my little family. I’m hopelessly smitten with them, my daughters with their sunny imaginations and deep blue eyes, my husband with his warm smile and oh-so-scrumptious hugs. Tender moments are alive and well in our family, and that’s good.

And spring is here.

Our wardrobes are switched out, the windows are open, pink and yellow flutter in our periphery. The world is a hundred shades brighter, and… well, that’s good.


The Valley of Strange

I’m not often intimidated by an empty page. First sentences are some of my favorite things in the world, if you want to know the truth. Ending a piece… well, that’s where the palm-sweating and cursing grumbling come into effect… but I adore sitting down and unlocking the possibilities of a blank document. At least, I did before this January broadsided me.

My brain hasn’t checked out exactly, but it has locked itself in a steel-plated door marked “Authorized Personnel Only” to browse classified information without me. I’m no longer authorized, it would seem. Even personal letters I’ve written over the last few weeks have fought tooth and nail and blunderbuss to avoid being committed to paper. I have four (or five?) drafts of a special story collecting dust on my hard drive, and I’ve actually ignored a couple of writing offers. How can I explain? My brain is being a poopy-head?

I have been trying to carry on the illusion of professionalism by sitting at my computer instead of giving in to the power of the nap (as my body has been screaming at me to do… stupid body), but that first sentence is always just out of my reach. So instead of writing, I’ve been immersing myself in others’ stories. Others’ spacious and hearty lives, others’ intricacies and hues and incredible feats. And somewhere between empathy and actual motivation to get off my chair and live is the Valley of Strange.

Perhaps you’ve been to the Valley of Strange too. The scenery is fairly typical—sticky counters, dust piles under the couch, forty-five stacks of papers that were important two months ago—but none of it looks familiar. It’s like waking up to a lavender sky fleeced in turquoise clouds. Shoes are misplaced, words are forgotten, emotions are hazy. No moment registers quite like it should. Breathing just feels… strange.

I keep thinking of a comment Stephanie made last week, about how this sounds like an important time in my life. I sure do hope she’s right, because otherwise, I don’t know what to make of being locked out of my own story. I have to hope that something big is happening in my brain behind those closed doors, that there’s a mountain of AWESOME on the other side of this valley. Yes, awesome with a capital everything, plus clarity and purpose and enough Red Bull to fuel my explosive motivation. Yes, please.


Drink More Pie

The new year so far has been set to Radiohead and Frou Frou with too much black eyeliner and madly-swirled daydreams with sprinkles on top to prove it’s not moping. I’m not fooled though. It’s been hard to face these lumbering gray skies and the remains of last year lying belly-up in the recycling pile. Too many days on that calendar are circled in charcoal and navy, and I’m still not sure I took the right steps to climb out of my mental sludge. 2008 knows, but it will never tell. So I do what little I can to welcome a fresh-faced year I’m unready for: pour myself a mug of hot peppermint tea, light a cluster of candles, and write to discover the good.

A surprise pops up when I glance over a post from one year ago. Despite my pulverized post-partum emotions, 2008 granted me nearly all my weakling hopes. To enjoy my girls, to branch out in cooking, to get confidence in Italian, to take better care of my body, to befriend others, to start down a new spiritual path, to fill myself with others’ words and to fill others with my own… each resolution blossoming quietly while I looked the other way. I would feel sure I floundered through last year if not for the wealth of gifts I hold on this side of it. Several new friends. Morning dates with The Message. Pages upon pages of whimsical love letters to my girls. A recipe treasure trove. Italian vocabulary sets to go with snowboarding, doctor’s visits, board games, babysitting, school, and pie (most important of all, that one). I am rich.

Another surprise: After thinking and thinking and drawing blanks and finally giving up on a word for 2009, I bumped straight into it—Drink—one accidental word to tie up all the loose trails of thought that have wound through my head lately. Drink stands for being present in my own life and rushing headlong into meaningful experiences. It stands for choosing adventure. It stands for refusing to let fear shrivel my decisions and for indulging my ever-present thirst to learn. No resolutions this year, just this one word to live out.

Well, okay, maybe one little resolution: More pie. Yes, that will do.


Fairytale Medication

I brought my computer along to the hospital last week, thinking that as Sophie whiled away the hours in dreamland, I would whip out a novel or something. Oh, refreshing naivety. Sophie did much more crying than sleeping, and when I found myself with a spare hour Friday morning, I had the following number of brain cells with which to write my novel: -2. I opted for mindless busy work instead and got to reorganizing my e-mail.

The significance of this completely boring story is that I ran across an e-mail from four months ago that I had never seen before. I suppose my old hard drive destroyed it in a fit of petulance, and oh. Deep breaths. You see, this e-mail was an out-of-the-blue offer for my dreamiest of dream jobs from a company I adore. It was fairytale material, folks; not only did the glass slipper fit, it came with a side of work-from-home and compliments aplenty. After I scraped myself off the hospital ceiling, I wrote back to tell them yes, I love you, yes.

And then I discovered that the person offering me the job is no longer employed by the company. I have since tried to make other contacts, but no luck; this little story seems to have reached The End. I am self-medicating with logic—after all, I was plenty happy before I knew about the offer—but sheer disappointment is still clinging to my week.

I keep hoping that there’s some cosmic purpose in my not finding the e-mail until too late. The two times I was turned away from grad school brought this same heartsick confusion… until pregnancy and then an impending move to Italy gave gentle reassurance that I was already where I needed to be. Both times, Something Better was just around the corner. It’s hard to believe that Something Better than my dream job is in store for the coming months, but experience has taught me that trust is far better medicine than logic is, and perhaps—just perhaps—my fairy godmother is still waiting to make her grand entrance.


Flames vs. Fairy Dust

In retrospect, I’m not sure whether to laugh or to cry.

I was young, maybe ten, when I saw the drama “Heaven’s Gates, Hell’s Flames” in a huge Southern Baptist auditorium. Gold tinsel was draped over one side of the stage, while the other side featured a black papier-mâché prison with tissue paper flames engulfing the roof. Heaven, hell.

The drama was very simple to follow. People would die during different circumstances and immediately be sent to the tinsel or to the prison. Two women were gossiping when a bus ran them over; a group of demon-thugs in ski masks dragged them straight to hell. A man passed out from drinking too much whiskey; off to hell. A broken-hearted woman cried at the loss of hope in her life and shot herself in the head; hell. A freshly-scrubbed family dressed in lace and bow-ties walked out of church where the youngest daughter had just invited Jesus into her heart—a fortunate coincidence, since their car crashed on the way home. Gold tinsel for the whole family!

When we got home that night, I asked my parents what happened to aborted babies or even little kids who die before they get a chance to say the all-important Sinner’s Prayer™. No answer. Apparently hell-according-to-the-Southern-Baptists did not discriminate based on age. I lay awake half the night imagining tiny mangled infants being dragged off to burn with Satan. That, my friends, is horror.

I’ve done some thinking over the last few years, and some reading… but mostly thinking. Among other things, I’ve been trying to figure out why the self-proclaimed “good news” can lend itself to a theatrical horror show. Eternal torment for gossipers, alcoholics, depressed women, and babies = the worst possible news. Plus, it makes God unthinkably cruel and vindictive, sending demon-thugs after anyone who forgot to say his or her prayers.

Within the last two years, I decided to focus on the problem instead of repressing it. I tried reading the Bible, but that splintered my heart even more; I couldn’t see anything beyond damnation. I put away the Bible, etched my too-heavy questions onto paper, and asked myself over and over how a deity could claim to be love, then doom his own creations—us, who he made imperfect. No answer. Just my honesty, tinted first by anger, then by dejection, then finally by tired acceptance of an era’s end. Very simply, the doctrine of hell burned up every particle of trust I used to have in the goodness of God.

I am sharing this for two reasons: 1) I don’t believe I am the only person to wrestle with the apparent inconsistencies in my religion, especially when the accepted theology is so unfathomably gruesome, and 2) What I took as abandonment these last few years was time. As a result of marinating in my questions for so long, I’ve learned what I’m willing to believe and what I cannot. I’ve let years’ worth of pretenses slide, even writing about my journey some here (which, un-religious honesty about religion? strictly forbidden by the Association of Preachers Who Wear Ties). This has been a very new perspective for me—standing outside Christianity, looking in, wondering why some of those people look so happy—and only now are the answers coming.

A wonderful friend who’s also sludged through this path introduced me to a book called Hope Beyond Hell that said (and I paraphrase):

Ready for a few perspective gymnastics? Good. What you’ve been taught about hell is based on centuries of tradition. In fact, the Bible has buckets and wheelbarrows and industrial-sized cargo boats full of promises that not a single person will be left to burn with Satan forever. Hard to believe, right? Well, take a look…

It wasn’t hard to believe, actually. It was fairy dust, and my translucent wings were instantly unstuck from the swamp; for the first time in years, I’m flying, glad at long last to still be a fairy.

I am not going to list all the reasons or technicalities here—if you’re interested, check out the book—but I am coming to genuinely believe these things:

That this:

God speaks

(besides “reducing holy mysteries to slogans,”* using fear tactics to force people into religion, and just plain being annoying) is misguided.
* Matthew 7:6, The Message. Jesus says not to do it, by the way.

That some parts of the Bible were never meant to be taken literally, and that some parts have been translated poorly due to the translators’ perspective. That many people have formed dogmatic theologies without studying the original words within their original contexts.

That centuries of pulpit-pounders have done untold damage in spreading the idea that God is ready to throw us in a lake of fire when we die.

That God is a better parent than we are and that his kindness endures forever.

That the multitude of different beliefs, different approaches, and different spiritualities in this world will ultimately lead to the same beautiful new beginning.

That we will see all our loved ones again someday.

That there is hope.


And A Year To Grow On

I had been hoping that I shared a birthday with someone really fantastically cool, like Sean Connery or Chuck Norris. So when my Google search said “No one else EVER IN HISTORY shares a birthday with you, SUCKER!” I understandably felt all cold and alone in this world. Until I remembered Dooce. Who just happens to be really fantastically cool.

So happy birthday to Dooce and myself. Instead of blowing out candles for a wish this year (and rooting for either a wild mustang! or a baby sister! like I used to), I’m writing my own wish list for this year—little and big things I’d love to do before my next birthday rolls around. It’s like I’m growing up or something…

~ Stay out far too late one night just to enjoy
~ Make butterscotch pudding from scratch
~ Learn one beautiful piano piece well enough to play by memory
~ Submit at least ten short items for publication
~ Learn enough Italian to take myself to the dentist
~ Go dancing
~ Write down the girls’ birth stories for them
~ Conquer my fear of ski lifts once and for all
~ Finish my book
~ Help someone through a difficult situation
~ Run around the entire Wii Fit island without giving up
~ Earn at least $1 on my own
~ Have an adventure
~ Learn all the lyrics to “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” (so I don’t have to keep filling in “da da das” when I sing it to Sophie before bed)
~ Get in touch with old friends
~ Venture into an erboristeria (colorful and intimidating Italian herb shops)
~ Wake up early without wanting to injure someone
~ Roll sushi with Dan
~ Start college funds for the girls
~ Try a new flavor of ice cream
~ Walk from our house to the very top of downtown
~ Experiment with a new hairstyle (any suggestions?)
~ Create a new holiday tradition
~ Make an acquaintance my friend
~ Buy a canvas and paint it
~ Skip with Natalie in the rain
~ Rethink an opinion
~ Send a kind letter to someone who deserves it

Now for some birthday gelato… (for breakfast, because I’m not that grown up yet)


The World According to Crap

The problem, as always, is perspective.

I fall, embarrassingly easily, into deep ruts. I go to sleep one night after a perfectly lovely day and wake up the next morning wrapped in pitch-black heaviness. Then comes the vast expanse of hopelessness, days thunking on like a parade of concrete tumbleweeds. I lose track of time almost immediately, and the hole in my mind chants its own dismal credo:
This is your life,
No one understands what you’re going through.
No one can help.
You are alone,
You will be washing dishes and mopping kitchen floors
and changing dirty diapers and crying in the shower
and forgetting how to create
and everything else about yourself—
you guessed it,

Even during the darkest bits, I know none of that is true. Yet I still think in those terms, doing anything I can to rationalize my senseless change in mood, grasping for something to blame. It’s just this house, I think. It’s too much, I can’t keep it clean, if only I had a housekeeper… Or, Two kids are too many, I can’t give them the attention they need, and if I hear one more whine, my head is going to roll out the door and find a new family to live with, if only we could afford full-time daycare… I think, If only I weren’t stuck in this daily routine, and If only I were in shape, and If only everyone else could be as miserable as I feel today… Perspective coated thoroughly in crap.

Of course, I never can articulate these thoughts when I’m in the midst of the muddle. I just operate under the whole weight of my feelings like a toddler, unable to form complete sentences, all fury and petulance. (Confession: I even threw a pillow at my poor husband, just because he was peacefully sleeping and I wasn’t. And I was still mad at him the next day for continuing to sleep peacefully with the pillow on his face. Because how could he sleep through my internal drama? HOW COULD HE?)

I’m familiar enough with this cycle after twenty-something years of falling to know I’m on the upswing again. Not bursting out of bed in the morning, mind you, but catching glimpses of sanity in my future. Very soon now, the rain will dry up, the pollen will settle, the stars will align slot-machine style—cherries all across—and my perspective will bob back into the light. I’ll remember how much I appreciate this little Italian apartment and the opportunity to imprint myself on it, always bettering. I’ll think of the time not too far from now when both girls will be in school, and I’ll remember how spectacularly fortunate I am to be home with them right now, always in the middle of their experiencing. I’ll realize how very gentle this daily routine is with me—how I can float on the soft structure when I lose my way—and how I need the challenges in my life, fitness, language, creative ventures. I’ll swell with gratefulness for the people who anchor me to reality, those who remind me to smile, and especially those who wake up with pillow-missiles on their faces and still hug me tight. And maybe simply writing this now will help me hold onto a glimmer of valid perspective next time I wake up alone in the dark.

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