Wednesday, August 13, 2014

On Suicide

A character in the first book of Between Families faces suicide. The scenes and descriptions are somewhat autobiographical and based on when I was 17 and attempted suicide. There has never been something so important to have failed at. I literally have never learned more from a failure than from that one.

That said, I know how I felt at the time and it was such a deep and profound vacuum of sadness that did not allow a single moment of joy in. Each moment was interminable, keen and cruel, and it was impossible to tolerate time. Suicide sounded like a relief from that endless black pit that swallowed up my everything. My depression was situational, not chronic. I have never experienced another bout like it. I was young and didn't have the same concept of time then that I do now. I didn't know how to hold on and wait and that things would get better. I just didn't know.

But I am fortunate in that the depression I experienced was due to things going on in my life. It was situational. I do not have chemical imbalances that make depression an ongoing struggle. I do not know that repetitive cycle of pain and hopelessness.

I don't know what it was to be Robin Williams or the other couple of folks I've known who have been successful at suicide. I imagine if they felt the way I did, much less many times over, or in greater depths of darkness, or with neural pathways permanently damaged by substances, unable to feel joy in a profound way, I hope their suffering from that is over. Surviving that feeling for any period of time is brave. Do not call those who attempt or commit suicide, cowards. They are surviving through insurmountable challenges and the fact they try at all, is a testament to the human spirit. They survived and managed to touch your heart despite a depth of darkness plaguing them that we cannot imagine. They deserve respite from that and respect for trying even if they helped entropy along before the rest of us were ready for it. I wish for no more successes in the nasty business of suicide; I hope you will tell me if you feel the pull of darkness. I hope respite can be found through other means. But my opinion on your sadness is not helpful. My heart is. I hope my prayers are. More than anything, you have my compassion.


My family is attempting to move from one house to another and then still another. It's a complicated process and not in the least less complicated for the age of my kids. Their ages mean that you set a pile in the corner of things to go to the thrift store and then another pile in another corner of things you're waiting to find all the pieces to and there are four more piles like these in every room. And ten minutes later, there are new piles that are of plastic pieces your three year old thinks make great new weapons, and choking hazards held by your 19 month old. They disassemble your piles and toward the end you find yourself putting more and more items into the recycle bin, more things go to the thrift store instead of being stored or sold. In that vein, these are notes I've found scribbled around. I'm recycling them, but first reprinting them here. I've written so many notes on ideas to myself over the years, it's time to let most of them go. I trust ideas will keep coming and hopefully an occasional lump of time to follow up on them. Without further ado:
Gypsy Weasel
An old woman nurses comfortably,
sitting cross legged in a square in Prague.
Milk's gone but baby's happy,
pacified on history.
He doesn't know he's poor,
and grimy, narrowly cushioned
by age
from the cold hard cobblestones.
It is a creaky comfort;...
it cracks and groans
lactose sugar water
sweet as snow on a sunny day,
with weasels sneaking from Lodgepole to Aspen,
conspiring with the gypsies to steal my lunch.
Both not understanding,
incredulous that I,
wouldn't offer a baby everything
when I have so much.
Not seeing it as stealing,
anymore than I see not giving
as not offering up what I have
to the mouth of a toothless babe
who is comforted only by the old lady weasel
her tit shriveled and dry
under the old town clock.
(A note I wrote when I left the residential treatment center where I used to work.)
When I arrived, I swept the light of excitement into the room.
Plans were made, some executed.
Successes of the mind... trials of the spirit
took place in every class I held.
We wrote our hopes into existence, fought our fears with chalk and
words words words
were everywhere.
In that place, we faced things together, candor and jokes our daily bread.
And now that I am gone,
the jokes, like drawings hanging in the window fade.
The outline of a heart holds strong while the others fade to yellows.
As colors fade and memories too, the love holds strong, the love that was every joke
every smile I ever sent you.
Color and light dissipate, the love more abstract, always there
tucked in the corners of books and cracks of walls.
Love is still there.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Tallgrass Writer's Workshop- Written at lunch one day.

If you take a walk on a college campus,
do it on a Saturday in June.
It's a ghost town then.
Students tucked in,
no more dressing in stockings to head down to the Student Union for breakfast,
with hair fresh out of rollers, the crick not yet worked out.
Graduation has moved online.
You wear a cap and gown at midnight and Skype in from Greece and Thailand,
or work's bathroom if you transferred in from community college.
So go to a college campus on a Saturday in June.
Sit in a carefully landscaped courtyard, where your thoughts can settle like the dust on a bookshelf
far from the honeysuckle smells of the countryside which are souring now, fermenting, dying.
Where cottontopped folks sit in rockers and used to give uninterrupted advice,
whether it was 140 characters or *gasp* more.
In the courtyard, you'll find, along with your dusty thoughts,
a concrete fountain turned off and a piano in waiting.
Chiseled in the concrete, evidence of the past in block letters
1932, 1934, 1935
and the piano,
draped with a bright blue tarp begging to be undressed, caressed, keys tinkled on,
it's tied to a street lamp, dimmed now.
Strapped down like the identity of the town whore (then)
or worse, the town bore (now,) pompous and self-interested.
Still telling long tales of who was who and what family wronged which
and which was what one and which ones were who
While millenials zip by in peddal pushers and helmets.
What used to be reserved for Saturdays at home- the pedal pushers
or pilots- the helmets
They're chasing the bees.
They've gone missing, haven't you heard? Colony collapse.
It's all the twitter here
A screen blue, a few taps & the light changes, brightens.
Faces alight, the youth mobilize, ipheromones at the ready

directing them where and when
abuzz the hundreds of followers pass flowers blooming in the bushes.
The birds cheaping and nesting in recovered private.
A statue in bronze, a hornet in World War II attire.
It's not what the swarm had hoped for.
Was a hornet part of the collapse or just honey bees?
They'd wanted a queen.
Someone to order them,
tell them what to do,
how to protest,
how to fix it all.
in 140 characters or less
a brand
that block letter stamps into you
the answers
short and sweet.
Not a relic in a flight suit
male and irrelevant. A drone.
I pull out a pocket knife.
Night falls.
The street light chirps on.
The millenials and bees and ideas all gone off
I settle in,
cut the cords
lift the lid
and play.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Sit & stare time

Do you ever feel like there's just too much struggle, suffering, pain, life going on all around you? I used to not feel it so much. I could walk through the world and other people's stuff didn't get picked up and glued to me like it does lately. It stayed put and I kept moving. But now, now I've got all this mama going on. Or maybe it's age. I don't know. But now, I seem to feel the sadness more keenly. Here's a few of the more recent things:

I was at a local, free, community dinner on Tuesday night when this man passed out. He looked to be about 25 or so and his skin was gray, ashen, not a color you should see on skin. He didn't come to right away. I thrust the baby toward my mom and took off.

When I was in middle school, there was a situation where a teacher was choking in front of us. Even though we'd just had Heimlich training, there were so many of us that no one moved. Luckily she got it out on her own but I was watching and thinking how someone should do something but surely it should be anyone but me. And then I was thinking how long it had been and how weird it would be to intervene now. And I thought how if she died everyone would think it was because we all panicked and that'd be true but it was also that we didn't like her. And what if we actually hated her? And I knew I didn't hate her but I also had sat so long that the inertia of it all had set in and overcoming it was too big. So she got it unstuck and the whole room seemed to breathe and now it stays with me. You should get up.

So I got up and started going through my First Aid/CPR training and before I knew it he came to and we helped him sit down and got him some juice and a cold compress and his color started coming back and a nurse came and so I tried to move on. But he didn't really get medical attention and his color just looked so bad. And I can't stop thinking about him and wondering if he's ok. What if he used heroin or was having a heart attack or I-don't-know-what. His friends seemed too self-invovled to actually take care of him. I hope he's ok.

There's this guy I used to know but not well. He killed himself. Heroin addict. I see his parents at this store all the time and feel so incomprehensibly sad for them that I want to hug them and tell them I'm sorry. But who am I? I went hiking with your son once. I was less than impressed with him. I'm sorry for your loss. That's not the sort of thing I do or say. I'm not a hugger. Not with strangers anyway.

A kid had an anxiety attack in the office today at the school where I'm filling in. I felt so bad for her. I remember being that age and how overwhelming it was and I'm glad she found a place to be while waiting for it all to pass.

There's all these kids with distracted parents, busy parents, no extended families. There's all these kids who need someone, need something. And they look so lonely at a time when it's already so lonely.

A lot of kids' first sexual experiences these days are "hooking up." And I don't know what to make of that entirely. I have a polyamorous friend. She hooks up all the time. It really is fine. Intimacy is part of some experiences but not others. Except these are the first experiences kids are having. Their naked skin touching another person's naked skin. This much of their naked skin hasn't been touched since they were babies and they were loved. But this is hooking up, not loving. And their peer culture is saying they should feel fine. And when they don't feel fine...? They what? Squash it down deep?

There was a girl in the office with a patchwork of cuts deep and wide and scarred up on her wrists. She wore short sleeves. She didn't even care; being that hurt is THAT normal.

Another kid signed out early. I once interviewed him because his parent had a significant drinking problem. I wonder if that's still going on. If he's still carrying that around and pretending to be ok. I feel for all the pretending-it's-ok the kids all around me are doing. I feel for them.

My whole 20s I didn't believe in God. My faith was gone and not for any particular reason. Or maybe for every particular reason. I just remember that I realized that it no longer made sense to me intellectually. I didn't have another answer or disbelieve, I just decided it wasn't important to decide. I decided to just live my life and let the question of god work itself out howeversaways. I became comfortable with this not-knowing. I was wearing jammies when I went to the church of Agnosticism on the sabath. Spiritual but not religious. Interested in your thoughts but incontrovertible.

Then wham, I started believing in God again. And I feel all closeted about it. I don't want you to know and think I'm a religious person. I don't want you to think you can't swear or say something about fucking anonymously. I don't care. So most of me doesn't want you to know I kinda sorta probly believe in God these days. Even though I have many religious friends whose connections I envy. Even though I respect plenty of religious people. I don't want you to think I'm one of them. I don't want you to think you have to hide your thoughts from me. I'm not all that certain. I'm certain I'm not an authority on this; just a friendly ear, an interested mind. 

I didn't used to carry it so long or so far, but now I do. I used to recognize it, let it wash over me and walk away with the moment left behind like a shadow. As the sun came in, the idea fled.

Not now. Or maybe I'm kidding myself. Maybe I've always carried it. I don't know. Maybe I need to put it down and ask god to pick it up. Maybe that's the idea of this God stuff. I don't know. I just know I feel for them all. Their sad is magnetic.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

My two moms

I've been reading crap I shouldn't read. I shouldn't read it because it clouds my head with bad writing but I miss reading so bad reading is what happens. I can't read books when I'm writing. I can't hear my own voice well enough when I'm listening to someone else's.

I read this article I won't cite here because it's not worth you reading it really either. It's a nice idea, I guess. It's a set of photos of moms sitting next to each other. The photos each contain two women each holding a sign that says what two divergent choices they've made as moms. "I had a scheduled c-section. I had a planned homebirth."

The idea, of course, being that two women who have made very different choices can find common ground and be friends. And the reason I take offense is NO FUCKING DUH. Of course two women can make different choices and still be friends. We're grown ASS WOMEN.

Don't insult us like that.

The premise is this mamby pamby bullshit I don't like that implies that because women disagree, sometimes vehemently about these choices, that they're being sophomoric. That disagreements among women are to be taken down to a level where we're being adolescent girls fighting over boyfriends instead of adults making profoundly meaningful decisions with vast impacts on an entire generation of children. To degrade our disagreements on decisions like whether to breastfeed or not and what method of discipline to use, is to degrade our next generation.

The decisions we make as parents are far-reaching and meaningful. They are not benign or arbitrary.

If you choose to feed your child fastfood vs. organic home cooked meals, let's not call those two equal decisions.

I'm not saying you can't value a friend or that a mom is a horrible person for making a decision that was in the moment, the best decision she could make. I'm not saying we should fail to support one another and henpeck her to death. But let's neither pretend that the two decisions were equally valueable. One decision was harder.

I cloth diaper my kids. I don't like rinsing shit in the toilet. Not at all. I don't want a totem pole of martyrdom rectified in my honor for it or anything. But when you say, "that must be hard." It is. And I should be doing more. I should be taking the bus more. You should too. We should be preparing our stories for our children of why we made the choices we did. I want to be able to say, "I tried. I bought things used and recycled and used cloth instead of depositing piles of shit in a landfill."

We shouldn't be holding hands and pretending like none of it matters. Neither should we be scrapping over who does what best. We SHOULD be pushing each other to be better. Not every choice leads to the best outcome. Is it really so bad to have to justify the choices you made? Because certainly not all of mine have been good. But I should be able to be proud of the ones I made that were hard-wrought and good. And so should you. And when you made better choices than I did, I hope it made us all better.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Kickstarter Update

Yesterday I woke up feeling less than. Less than awake, less than enthusiastic, less than optimistic, less than focused. All that leads to feeling less than competent, less than capable of achieving what I set out to, less than certain of my goals and ideas.

Before yesterday, I was approaching the Kickstarter campaign like what I thought a marketing professional would be: energetic, enthusiastic, positive. But it felt fake. 

So yesterday, I wrote honestly. I'm proud of what I wrote:

"I’m supposed to be cheerleading. That’s seemingly what marketing is. Getting everyone up and moving and jumping up and down and screaming: "THIS! This is worth it! It’s amazing! Do it!" and on...
But I’m a writer and not a marketer. Writers are honest. Good ones anyway. And I’m aiming at being a good writer so this marketing stuff is tough for me. It’s tough to ask for help and it’s tough to see the days pass and not hit the fundraising benchmarks you want to.
This project has done nothing if not strengthen my belief in this book. The idea is important. The premise is meaningful. And when I ask why people support I hear "I believe in supporting PEOPLE. I believe in you." When I ask, I get messages with ideas of how to reach more people and shares on FB. When I doubt, I see an average pledge amount of $47. That's a LOT.
But I’m an honest writer and here’s the thing: we’re not hitting the fundraising benchmarks and if the momentum doesn’t pick up soon, this Kickstarter won’t go. It’s all-or-nothing and I feel crestfallen when a day goes by and no one pledges. I feel like a failure to the kids I used to work with when I don’t raise the money I set out to. I’m afraid it won’t work.
So in all honesty, I need to know. Is this worth it? Why do you support it? If you’re visiting the site and haven’t supported, why not? Are there questions that hold you back? Questions you’re afraid to ask? Because you should ask. I’m asking you to ask. I’m asking you to tell me what holds you back from pledging.
If you’ve pledged, I’m asking you to help make this project go. Share it in an email to three specific people you know love to read. Or share it with people you know who experienced struggle, abuse, abandonment and could use this story. And share with the world WHY you supported this project.
Without the word of mouth, this story won’t make it. It will hide in shameful corners with other dark truths that need to be brought to light. Stories need brave men and women who bring them forth honestly and say, “This. This is true. This is hard and I’m afraid, but here is my story anyway.” And they say it into the light..."

The result was raising over $500 yesterday. Being yourself and writing well is the way to go. At least for me. Please check out the Kickstarter project. Click to donate. Click to share.

Thank you