Thursday, September 11, 2014

Happy Birthday, Elyse

Today was Elyse’s birthday. I say “was” because Elyse is with us no more. She died on an April night at the age of 16 when a congenital aneurysm that no one knew she had ruptured. I knew her parents because I worked with her mother, and when I heard of Elyse’s death, I went to their house, where a large crowd had gathered to be of what comfort we could. Elyse was brain dead but being kept alive on life support so her organs could be donated. That was important to her parents, who were overcome when they learned Elyse’s heart was too damaged to be donated.

“She had a good heart,” I reminded her mom, one of those stupid, useless things you say when you want to be comforting but there are no words that can do that.

My friend told stories.  Elyse was a quiet elf of a child with an engaging grin. She had asthma, but like most teens, she wanted to fit in with her peers. So for months she did not tell her gym teacher about her condition. My friend told about how she learned that when the class had to run sprints, Elyse bravely puffed along, well behind everyone but willing to try. I could see her in my mind. It sounded like an Elyse thing to do.

I had to leave the next day for a planned visit to family, but my husband went to the funeral. He said it was crowded, and he was on a long line to see the family and pay his respects when another coworker saw him and took him on a shortcut through a side door. “The Bishop was there,” my friend told me when she returned to work weeks later. Seeing that Elyse’s father was the principal of one of the city’s Catholic schools, I didn’t find the Bishop’s attendance excessive, but I was glad that my friend had that comfort.

Five months later, on Elyse’s birthday, two airplanes slammed into the twin towers in New York City. Today everyone is remembering, and mourning, the people who died in that attack. It is appropriate that they do so.

But I woke up this morning remembering a little blonde elf of a girl who will never be older than 16, and whose death was no less tragic.


Happy birthday, Elyse.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Like a Girl

I swear I used to be able to write poetry once. Maybe not very good poetry, but actual poetry. This one, inspired by the Always (Proctor and Gamble) "Like a Girl" ad campaign, is more like a really bad essay broken up into verses, but it's what I've got.

Her name was Jeanne.
She was a peasant. She loved her country, 
She loved her church.
She led an army, and won a victory
And then another, 
Like a girl.

When she was murdered,
For so called witchcraft, 
her fame outlived her.
Now she’s a saint
Just like a girl.

Her name was Sacagawea.
She was a teen.
She was a mother.
She helped an expedition, 
Across the waters,
Across the mountains,
She guided the men,
Just like a girl.

Her name was Harriet.
She was a slave,
Who found her way free.
And she led others along a railroad,
Like a girl.

They followed markers
They followed the North Star
They followed quilts displayed on clotheslines
Made with stitches and patches
By many girls.

Her name was Florence.
She traveled with armies,
To nurse the soldiers,
Injured in battles planned by old men.
She nursed the wounded,
She heard their screams
She was unflinching 
When she came to tend them, 
Just like a girl.

Her name was Amelia.
She was a pilot,
She owned the sky.
It wasn’t men’s then,
It belonged to anyone.
So she explored it, 
And tried to conquer it
Just like a girl.

Her name was Rosa.
She rode a bus.
One day she planned it, 
She kept her seat
When someone else demanded it.
She did not waiver.
She sparked a movement,

Like a girl.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Half an Acre

I am holding half an acre
Torn from the map of Michigan
And folded in this scrap of paper
Is a land I grew in
Think of every town you've lived in
Every room, you lay your head
And what is it that you remember?
Do you carry every sadness with you
Every hour your heart was broken
Every night the fear and darkness
Lay down with you
A man is walking on the highway
A woman stares out at the sea
And light is only now just breaking
So we carry every sadness with us
Every hour our heart were broken
Every night the fear and darkness
Lay down with us
But I am holding half an acre
Torn from the map of Michigan
I am carrying this scrap of paper
That can crack the darkest sky wide open
Every burden taken from me
Every night my heart unfolding
My home
I first heard the song Half an Acre on a Liberty Mutual ad several years ago, and found it on iTunes and purchased it. It’s a haunting song, and still one of my favorites to listen to when the mood strikes.
I have an inconvenient kind of mind, however. I can’t listen to words like “I am holding half an acre, torn from a map of Michigan” without thinking, “That must be one big-assed map.” I used to live in a house on a half acre lot. It seemed large enough when I was mowing the grass, even with a riding mower, but I if I look at a state map of Louisiana and try to pinpoint where that half-acre is, well, pinpoint is the operative term.
So today for some reason I decided to figure out just how big-assed a map we are talking about. Google and I had a little sit down and I discovered that one half acre is 21, 780 square feet. Michigan covers an area of 96, 716 square miles. In case you are wondering, one square mile is the equivalent of 27, 878, 400 square feet. So half an acre is very roughly one one-thousandth of a square mile, and Michigan is roughly 96,000 square miles. If met calculations are correct, half an acre is roughly one 96-millionth the size of Michigan.
A pinpoint is looking a little large.
And speaking of points, of course, the feasibility of holding a half-acre scrap torn from a map of Michigan is not the point of the song. I get that. The song is about fear, regret and disappointment, and how each of us needs a home place we can go to, even if only in our minds, when those threaten to overwhelm us. The scrap of paper is a metaphor for the half-acre more or less that we carry in our minds.
The mind that in my case, can’t help asking, “But just how big is that scrap of paper?” Because asking such questions and tinkering and figuring out, that’s my home.



Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Meta Mavis and Meta Tabitha Have a Chat about Their Authors

“Why do I smirk so much?” Mavis asked. “I’m not a particularly smug or supercilious person. Why can’t I have a shy smile, or a fond smile, or an occasional grin? Or a moue? A moue in the sense of a flirtatious pout would be awesome, although a few grimaces of distaste for Mikhail and his roaming hands during the judges’ comments would have been okay, too. Why can’t I have a moue?” 

“I don’t know. I’ve been pretty much banished from existence until my recent engagement.” Tabitha flashed her ring in the light from the window of Mavis’s condo. “I’m not in a position to understand current authorial conventions in fanfiction.”

“That’s true. I’m glad you’re back, actually. I was getting tired of all the drama with Karl.”

“Drama? With Karl? My Karl? How do you have drama with Karl?”

“I’m supposed to be secretly in love with him.”

Tabitha trilled merry peals of laughter. “Oh God. Why am I trilling merry peals of laughter instead of laughing like a normal human?”

“I don’t know. Maybe our author has been reading attemps at Regency fiction. Or getting into the Denim Vodka.”

“The Denim Vodka doesn’t sound like a bad idea,” Tabitha smirked. “Wait a minute. Now I’m doing it, too. Why am I smirking?”

“Our author got tired of writing ‘said’, I think.”

“Now I really need the vodka. You?”

“I can’t. I’m pregnant.”

“Again? Isn’t that like the third time this month? Maybe you should sue the people who make your NuvaRing. Is Mikhail with you this time, or did you throw him out thinking you weren’t worldly enough for him?”

“It’s not Mikhail.”

“Karl? My Karl?”

Mavis hung her head in shame. “It wasn’t my idea. It wasn’t even Karl’s idea. One minute I was giving him an affectionate peck on the cheek to congratulate him on your engagement, the next minute my lips were on his and before I knew it, I was doing something called ‘deepening the kiss’.”

“Better than smiling/groaning/moaning into his mouth, I guess. But you didn’t get pregnant from kissing.”

“No, next thing I know I was on the kitchen counter and we were deepening something else.”

“On the counter?”

“Yes, and I had left a corkscrew on it, too. Ouch.”

“I can’t wait until some of our authors get older, gain a little experience, and see the advantage of mattresses,” Tabitha sighed. “We have a new one.”

“Sleep Number or Tempur-pedic?”

“Sleep Number with a memory foam top. So what are we going to do about the baby?

“You’re going to run me out of town. Wait, is that ‘you’re’ or ‘your’? You are going to run me out of town, I’m going to convince Mikhail that the child is his, and for about a decade I will tolerate a loveless marriage in which we have two more children.”

“Mikhail can’t count to nine?” Tabitha said off-handedly while trying to fit “Mikhail”, “Mavis” and “loveless marriage” into one coherent sentence. She gave up.

“It’s the accent. Accents automatically remove 15 IQ points. Unless they’re French.”

“How about if you tell Karl about the baby, I bow out gracefully, and Mikhail and I go through a few bottles of Denim Vodka and have drunken sex?”

“Suit yourself. Just so you won’t be too disappointed, let me warn you. He wasn’t joking about the hat.”

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Girl at the End of the World

For I don’t know how long I have been seeing this picture on Patheos when reading the several blogs I follow there. It looked interesting, but I wasn’t particularly moved to read the book. 



Then one of the bloggers I follow on twitter retweeted something that sounded interesting from someone called Elizabeth Esther, and I began following Elizabeth Esther, too. I shortly discovered that Elizabeth Esther is the author of Girl at the End of the World, so I decided that if I could find it at the library, I’d read it. A trip to our library’s website revealed that yes, they had the book (2 copies), I could put a hold on one and have it sent to the library closest to me, and a few days later, there it was. Forty some odd years ago when I got my first (barcodeless, cardboard) EBR Parish Library card, I did not envision such efficiency. Now I’m looking forward to the day when a drone drops the book off at my door.

The book is a memoir of the author’s upbringing in an Apocalyptic church, one started and run by her own family. 

I was raised in a homegrown, fundamentalist Christian group—which is just a shorthand way of saying I’m classically trained in apocalyptic stockpiling, street preaching, and the King James Version of the Bible. I know hundreds of obscure nineteenth-century hymns by heart and have such razor sharp “modesty vision” that I can spot a miniskirt a mile away.Verily, verily I say unto thee, none of these highly specialized skills ever got me a job, but at least I’m all set for the end of the world. Selah.
This excerpt from the back cover sums up both the book’s content and the author’s breezy style, a style that covers a world of heartbreak. In one sense the book is an easy read: it’s written simply, there are no mind boggling statistics or difficult academic concepts to absorb, and it’s broken into short chapters. In another sense, the book is a difficult read, as books about abuse and suffering always are, especially if any of it happens to resonate with some of the reader’s own experiences. Rachel Held Evans described the book as, “the sort of book you plan to read in a week but finish in a day.” My experience was the opposite: I planned to read it in a day but had to keep putting it down because it got to be too much, so it took me closer to three.
Part of what made the book so difficult for me was that the author does not belabor her experiences. Her matter of fact style in describing what she went through (multiple daily spankings, being made to quit an after school activity she loved and needed to get into a private college because it interfered with her numerous chores at home, having a teacher question her science project because when she measured her resting heart rate it was over 100) more than anything she actually says conveys how the bizarre can seem normal when you are raised with it.
In the end, Elizabeth Esther was able to make her way out of the cult she was brought up in, find a new way of living with her husband and children, and even make peace of a sort with her parents. I find it interesting that for her, finding her way to the Catholic Church was part of her healing path. My relationship with my stepmother was a stormy one, but the one thing I am immensely grateful for is that she sent me to a Methodist church and not the Catholic one I had been baptized into. Well, that, and the whole saving my life thing, but it’s pretty much a toss-up in my eyes.

Fortunately, neither Elizabeth Esther nor I are tasked with selecting each other’s spiritual path, and her reasons for becoming attracted to Catholicism make perfect sense to me, even if it’s a path I wouldn’t have chosen. In the end, that’s what makes the book so heartening, the message that we can overcome childhood brainwashing (the author’s own term, from the Prologue) and look at the world through our own eyes. I do recommend reading the book, whether in a day or three or even a week. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

My Own Abbreviations

Things I write out the long way frequently online, and wish other people knew my abbreviations for:

ICBWAT - I could be wrong about that, mostly written when I’m sure I’m not.

IWBIWFU - It’s weird, but it works for us, needed since my husband and I are strange.

ETA: I suppose you could also use IWBIWFM - It’s weird, but it works for me.

YWNGTC - You would not get the chance, my (usually unspoken) response to IWHI, for I would hit it posts on TD. (Yeah, I don’t post much there anymore.)

WMYTYGTC - What makes you think you’d get the chance? See above.


So does anyone else have their own unique abbreviations? Feel free to add them in the comments.

It Rained on My Birthday

At least, it rained all morning long. Having just turned 67, I can be philosophical about rain on my birthday, but we had a lot of errand running to do, and the heavy rain made it inconvenient. We were going to go pick up my birthday cake and a few odds and ends at Whole Foods, and then go see Maleficent, at my request.

John thought there was an early showing of Maleficent, but it turned out that that was for Saturday only, as I found out after he dropped me as closely as he could to the theater before going to park the car.

He always does that. When it’s raining, he drops me off as close as he can to wherever we are going, parks the car, then braves the rain on his own. When we are done, he goes to get the car while I wait until again, he gets as close as he can to pick me up. He has done that for as long as we’ve been together.

So we decided to go see if the cake is ready early. As I waited inside the door for John to finish parking the car, I saw the fresh flower display. I picked out a combination to make myself a bouquet with, and when my husband found me there, I announced that we were buying me flowers. He didn’t argue over that, or the bag of mix and match cookies that I added to the cake, milk, and rosewater that we went there for originally.

The reason I am dwelling on the cookies, the flowers, and the rain is because ever since DWTS ended, I have had romance on my mind. Well, not so much on my mind, but it’s been on the minds of the young fangirls I hang out with on Tumblr, as they review every look, gesture, hug, and sentence that occurred between “Mavis” and “Mikhael” throughout the season. I frequently see things like, “I want someone who holds me like that” or “I want someone to tell me, ‘I don’t need you to be better. I need you to be you and I’ll do better.’ ” Sometimes it’s, “I won’t settle for anyone who doesn’t look at me like that.”

I appear to be the only one who gets an entirely different lesson from these last several weeks, the lesson that goes, “It has never occured to me to tell my husband ‘I don’t need you to be better. I need you to be you[rself] and I’ll do better.’ I bet he’d love to hear that.”

I’m not sure about the lovestruck gaze. I think if he caught me gazing at him like that, he’d assume I was having a neurological event and rush me to the emergency ward. But he might like it if I could at least refrain from rolling my eyes when he launches into another story about his latest day of dam inspections.

Of course, I have been on the other side of this situation: accepting crumbs and trying to convince myself that they were true love. I understand the younger ladies of my internet acquaintance who are shaping their views of what it is possible and reasonable to expect in a relationship. I’m glad they are determined not to sell themselves short just to have a man* in their lives.

I hope though, that life will broaden their views of what constitutes not selling themselves short. I may have to pick out my own birthday flowers at the grocery store, but I don’t have to wade through a rainy parking lot to get the car. My husband may not send moony-eyed looks in my direction, but he will do battle with my problems with only a plastic teaspoon, if need be.

So maybe I don’t need him to be better. Maybe I just need him to be himself, and I’ll be better. 

Or maybe we could both just be ourselves, because we seem to like each other that way.



*or woman, but I associate the kind of “you need one, so do what it takes to get one” thinking with advice pressed on heterosexual women. I could be wrong about that.