PlazaJen: The Blog

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Category: love (page 1 of 4)

A Tale of Two Christmases…

Growing up, Christmastime was always a mixed bag. Because my dad’s mother passed away before Christmas, and he would, shortly after Thanksgiving, go into a very dark depression.  I don’t remember my grandmother – when she died, I was maybe two? And we had plans to go to Florida to visit her, but instead, as life will do, plans changed. My father would retell the story of flying from Florida to Chicago with his mother’s ashes in an urn in a package on his lap, the elderly lady next to him cheerfully chirping, “Christmas present?” And in Dad’s typical biting dark streak, he replied, “You could say so.”  He would then describe clawing at the frozen ground, attempting to spread her ashes, not realizing what the urn ultimately contained. I’ll spare you the vivid description, but it galvanized me as a child, and basically drew a line around my father, his dark moat, he was not to be messed with in December.

So every other year was my Mom’s “Year” for Christmas. A huge tree, loaded with lights and decorations, geegaws and ribbons and red velveteen everywhere. The off years were Dad’s. I would string popcorn and put it on the ficus tree. We had this really old, and to me, AMAZING, three-dimensional ornament that unfolded from two sides of cardboard, revealing accordion-folded beehive-like tissue paper that once the little metal tabs clasped over the other side of cardboard, displayed a two-foot Santa Claus. That was it. That was his concession,  a ficus tree decorated with ornaments I made from colored paper and popcorn and an ancient santa that grew more delicate each year. His darkness got its turn. We tread lightly around him no matter what, and there was always a sense of relief when the holidays were over, when January arrived, bringing with it a new year and the darkness receded.

I felt that deep dark current come forth this week, as someone was trying to excuse another person’s terrible behavior, trying to justify their actions, that they were sure the holidays were hard for them, given some of their life circumstances. I tartly countered, “Is it a competition?  Both my parents are dead. Nobody gets a pass at the holidays and everyone ultimately has to behave.” I regretted it, albeit fleetingly, but it ultimately summed up in five words what’s heavy on my mind, and contributing to a feeling of isolation.  Both my parents are dead. It sucks. I’m alone. My party of three is now a party of one, when you look at all those formative years of Alternating Christmases.  But I also tell myself, I’m not a Syrian refugee, either. I’m not being raped or beaten with my own baby. I’m not suffering through chemo treatments or in an abusive relationship. There are lots of worse places to be and lives to be living.  But I have my own dark current (god, could I sound more like Dexter? Don’t worry, I’m not ordering rolls of plastic sheeting and dressing in three-button henleys) and I know the holidays are challenging for most people, whether they’re trying to measure up to a societal projection of perfection, or are coping with all the things that hobble our lives.

We never had big gatherings – my father shunned them – and weren’t close to other family, whether it was geographically or emotionally. Basically, I’m wired for small gatherings and being the best hostess possible. I was talking to my therapist about this – he pointed out that for some people, it’s not a true celebration unless there are hordes of people gathered.  Obviously for others, smaller gatherings are more valued.  Not having any siblings, I’m kind of out of my holiday traditions, even if we’d stopped getting together, there were cards and gifts and emails. Strands of connection.  There are so many variables, you know? As you blend new families together, as you go home to your parents, the dance steps and conversations and expectations and all that … history. It drives the bus, it plays the music, it conducts the orchestra. We have expectations we don’t even realize we have until they don’t happen, or the plan changes, and then we still don’t necessarily know what those things were, we just know we’re unhappy. Or angry. Or sad. Or all of the above.

All I can say is, be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. If you have a dark moat that rises this time of year, don’t pretend it doesn’t exist, because that only makes the moat angry.  Angry moats want to rise up and drown you with lies and destruction. Acknowledge your moat, even sit with it at times. Because it’s just part of the whole thing. Say some of the things that hurt the most out loud. When I finally said, “I miss my mom,” it was like the dam broke. And it hurt and I cried, and I felt confused, because we had our issues with each other, but those fine strands of connection I maintained are gone, now that she is gone, and this year more than last year, I feel the holes they left behind, and what those holes are connected to inside of me, my expectations, my dreams, my sadness, my history.  And even in my loneliest moment, I am trying to say, over and over, until it feels true, “I am enough.” My heart is not there yet, but I know in my mind, I will be ok. If you have any of this in your own heart or head? I hope you are ok, too. I have faith that you can find it. We are enough.

 

Grief, Take Two

James’ grandfather is dying. Stage IV Melanoma; it’s in his brain and lungs and a lot of other places, too. He had a doctor who put him into radiation immediately, but the 2nd opinion at KU Cancer Center confirmed everyone’s worst fears – nothing could be done to save him, and just live what life you have left. Hearing how kind the second doctor was brought my first tears, for he was so kind. So caring. Facing finality, with no good news and surrounded by family, this man took all the time necessary to convey the worst news of all: there is no hope. For hope is that tiny spark in the face of darkness.

Obviously this is painful and horrible and heavy and sad. It is hard to watch your partner struggle with the oh-so-many-faces and emotions grief brings when it moves in and settles down, right in the center of your chest like a boulder going nowhere. It’s hard to relive the memories it all churns up, images I’d pushed far to the back of the closet, the bottom of the box, the gray shell my father had become, a shadow of his former self, his body an empty sarcophagus that once housed a robust, vibrant, witty man. What those final moments were like and how months later they threatened to destroy me, crying at the night sky, anything to end the constant aching pain of loss.

Some of my own defenses kick in, and I don’t cry at home. I have to be strong and kind and gentle and understanding, because it’s some rough shit and it’s my turn to drive. My turn to be a rock. So I’m angry when grief still springs from the office ceiling or the backseat of my car, causing tears to slide down my own cheeks while I fight off old haunted feelings. The best thing I can do is just be here, be there, because if there is proof you can survive some of the greatest loss imaginable, I’ve done it. Still kickin’. Still pissed at grief for being an unpredictable demon, reminding us that with great love can also come great loss.

There are lost periods. Time passes in fits and starts. And where my world, 8 years ago, was filled with a jumble of crazy, of helplessness, wildly racing emotions and rage, confusion and denial, now there is … white static. It’s like that thing you hear in your ears, as though the air pressure around you has shifted, increased, and your head feels like its underwater, but you can still breathe, you just feel suspended by the buzz and hum of containment. It is an odd purgatory, this limbo, for it insulates somewhat against the pain, while you wait for the next verse to start.

White light. Open spaces everywhere.
The hum. Holding my breath.
Just. Waiting.

Disco, Part 2

I’m just going to say it: I am loving some of the new pop music today, if for one reason only, and that’s because it’s got the 70’s funk throwback in its underpinnings. We saw Bruno Mars in concert a month ago or so – he has the 9-piece funk band backing him up, choreographed moves and all. I recall a wonderful Doonesebury cartoon from my childhood, of a group of African-American men, the backup singers/dancers to an unseen singer. As they trade observations, the last words were, “Beats workin’ at the car wash.” My father seized on that line and it became interwoven to so many conversations and laughs over the years, somehow I’ve mashed that into a connector, the kind that tug unexpectedly at your heart. That happened that night at the concert, as Bruno sang “Treasure”, and his backup crew bounced and slid and bobbed in unison, the joy in the music and “Beats workin’ at the car wash” was in my ear and tears filled my eyes, tears of happiness for the connection and memory, tears for the loss of a great, great man.
Bruno’s not alone – Capital Cities is infused with 70’s beats and even nods at the era in their video for “Safe and Sound”, with tube-sock clad roller skaters grooving in unison. Justin Timberlake’s newest pop hits all have a blend of horns and funky bass lines. If you eschew “pop” because it’s too bubblegum, you’re missing out on some nicely retro-feeling tunes!

Bruno’s Treasure video – it doesn’t get more Jackson 5 than this!

Capital Cities – Safe and Sound

New Year’s Day

I say those words, and instantly hear Bono crooning the U2 song…. I … will be with you again…. It was a nice day, spent with the hubby, then after he went off to play backgammon, with more episodes of Deadwood and knitting. We talked about 2012, and what’s important, and how it was overall, a pretty darned good year. We’re each others’ rocks, our dogs are good and provide us with loads of entertainment, work is good, the house is good, the garden is good, and our hobbies delight and fulfill us. I still obsess and scramble with my thoughts and am far, far, far too hard on myself. If I really were the center of the universe, it would make sense. After all, I would need to be excellent all the time, just to keep order in the universe! But I am not, yet I never fail to find fault or construct my failings as the cause of everything that isn’t precisely perfect. I just got a couple poisoned apples along the way and they excel at creeping in and dismissing all that is good or true or kind to my soul. The irony is that there’s no way I would let someone else speak to me the way I speak to myself. Ball peen hammer, I have it. I hope this is the year I put it down, because I’m really going to try. It’s the only resolution I’m making, frankly. Find more self-compassion. Be as kind to myself as I am to those I love.

The other thing to remember? Most people are doing the best they can, with what they have, right now.* It usually has nothing to do with you, or me, or the universe or the moon. And that’s ok. (that’s directed at the voice that comes up and says, “You could do better.”)

*”If he coulda done better, he woulda. (hat-tip to my wonderful Auntie, because I had already written most of this before our chat tonight!)

A New Year’s Wish

As this year creeps towards its end, I am ready to face the new year with renewed faith and hope.

For the people who have fallen by the wayside, I say goodbye, and wish you well, along with the random pebble in your shoe to remind you of me.

For those joining me as we march into 2013? Let us raise a glass and toast a year filled with more laughter than tears, more money than expenses, and more joy than sorrow.

To only wish for good things is foolish; the challenges are where we learn and grow, and our character is built in how we face them.

Peace and Love,
Jennifer

Cold Moon

The 13th full moon of the year, in the last week of the year, only comes along every 27 years. When you reach middle age, and numbers like that are tossed around – you wonder, will I be here when the next one rolls around? Hopefully. Paging through my alumni magazine, I saw a classmate had died – last year. I can still see him, in his food service uniform – just like mine – and now he’s gone. It makes you pause and remember that nothing is guaranteed.

These nights have been reminiscent of the cold winters of my childhood, where snow covered the landscape, developing a hard crunchy crust and glistening in the moonlight. One night, a large full moon rose, shining the brightest light through the trees. My mother thought there were poachers on the property, and it forever became known as a “Poacher’s Moon”, light so bright that in tandem with the snow, you could read a newspaper at midnight.

Late, late at night, I would put on my coat and boots and go out to sit in my dog Oscar’s kennel, and cry. He would lean against me, licking away tears. Sometimes I just walked, under that poacher’s moon, each step breaking through the surface into the powder below. I push those memories down, leave them in the past. We all have our own rows and baggage.

But it is not unfamiliar. This time of year is always challenging. Sunlight is fleeting, the nights are long and cold, and the memories of holidays and the people we love come rushing back. For years, we only celebrated Christmas in a festive way every other year – my father hated the month of December, as he grappled with the pain of losing his mother. I would decorate the ficus benjamina with paper garland and strung popcorn in his years. No tree allowed. In my mother’s years, boy howdy, we had magnificent trees, trees that had been planted and grown over the years on the farm, acres of ribbon, twinkly white lights, everything coordinated. There was the same routine every Christmas Eve – no presents until every dish was washed, order restored, and then my father would still say, “Aw hell, let’s just celebrate Christmas tomorrow!” just to hear me wail my dissent.

Then came the contentious years, and more often reasons found to stay away, and then one last Christmas where we had a battle of Epic Proportions. That was the final Christmas we were all together. They divorced a couple years after that, and I just learned to deplete my expectations. Of course, we never really do that, fully – we still hope, we wish, we want to believe that people won’t disappoint us, that they’ll follow through, they’ll treat you with kindness, they will have the wherewithal to set aside their own demons to give you what you believe you need. We give lip service to the words, “no, it’s ok, I understand, not a problem,” while inside we hope it might be different. But each year, I find myself in a situation or a memory and the tears fall with no restraint. Always relegated to the outside looking in. It’s ok, really, it’s where I’ve always been. And as I pointed out to someone online, who voiced a similar pain, if you’re outside, and I’m outside, well, that means we’re together. So I know I’m not alone. Rarely is one unique in one’s woes, pains or fears.

Oh dad. I’m living your legacy, it seems. Every December winds down with sadness and missing you. It is, indeed, a cold cold moon. I look forward to January, and the proverbial fresh start. Each year I try to invest less in people who don’t reciprocate the effort, and I believe in the tenet “Go where you are celebrated.” Each year I recognize what I do have, what is good and healthy and positive in my life. But in the moonlight, December’s darkness, sharp air entering my lungs, I still feel every winter’s heartache.

Trying to Outfox a Fox….

A couple weeks ago, the handle apparatus inside the toilet broke. Snapped right in two, it was a plastic lever that had been there since we moved in 9-some years ago. James procured a replacement, made of metal, and after some internet consulting and installation, everything was fixed. (Apparently, you have to bend the metal ones to make it fit your tank, which wasn’t immediately clear on the package.) So, after being teased all evening about using brute force and tearing things up when he’s off hunting, I decide I can razz him right back! He had gotten into bed, and I was in the bathroom, and I flushed the toilet, immediately exclaiming, “Holy SHIT, I can’t believe it, the handle broke again!” I hear, “You’re KIDDING ME!” from the bedroom, and just as I say, “Yes, I am!”, the last consonant is leaving my lips and he appears in the doorway, indignant and ready to Battle Royale the toilet. I hadn’t meant for him to get back up, but I burst out laughing, and he scowled at me, having gotten him, and I was told to “watch out”, because he was going to get me back.

A day later, he calls to me from the kitchen, asking what’s wrong with the refrigerator. I say, “What do you mean?” He says, “The light won’t come on. I thought the milk was a little warm.”

Pause.

Me: “Are you trying to get me? Because it’s not working. I just got milk half an hour ago.”

Him: WHARRRGARRRRBLLLLLEEEEE “Dammit, Jen!”

Time Passes.

The toilet handle has issues with not stopping the water from running, so, fancying myself an apprentice plumber, I try things. At one point, I’m certain I’ve fixed it, only to discover a while later, the running issue continues. So this past weekend, I took the whole thing back apart, and adjusted where the bar went into the handle, and while it returns now to a more upright position (aesthetically annoying to me), it works. I told James this on Sunday.

This morning. I attempt to flush the toilet, to be greeted by silence. By now, I’m a motherfucking pro at whipping that tank lid off. I see there’s barely any water in the tank. Hrmph. How can this be? I stare at it. I lift the flapper. I touch ALL THE PARTS. Now, it’s still pretty early, but I’ve had a cup of coffee, and clearly, the issue at-hand is water. I think to myself, “Is there an issue with the water line?” I reach down and feel the shutoff valve knob. It seems solidly in place, no leaks… so I stare into the tank again. Brain tells me “Righty-tighty, Lefty-loosey!” and I reach back down to the valve.

Yep.

:Somebody: got up in the middle of the night & turned the water off. And the last time I checked, the dogs don’t have the requisite opposable thumbs.  I restore balance to the universe, turning the water back on, and decide to leave the tank lid off as a message. “Message Received,” as it were. Two seconds later, I grin. Nope. Better to put the lid BACK ON and leave everything in a working state, and say :nothing:. Because I learned about jokes, practical and otherwise, at the knee of the master, my father. Slicing open a package of M&Ms to fill it with one color, as a joke on his best friend after a hunting trip – left in the car for the friend’s ride home. The best moments can be had when you don’t even witness them, that filament in the brain, rapidly burning with realization as the person processes they’ve been had.

I stepped out of the bathroom this morning as James got up, and stood outside the door, toweling my hair, waiting to hear the water rush. Clink. Whoosh. Everything works. He turns, still stumbling with sleep, and I stand in front of him, leaning in to kiss him and whisper, “You’ve got to get up earlier if you want to outfox the fox….”

 

Hook, Line & Sinker

The Wo and I went to Red Snapper for dinner the other night, before heading over to Starlight to see the Night Ranger, Foreigner & Journey concert. It was more of a “listen”, since most of the original band members are long gone, but they’ve gotten good replacements and all the songs sounded just like they did on the radio, 20+ years ago. Journey, of course, was the most fun – lots of tunes that take you back to being young and clueless, though I think “Don’t Stop Believin’” is now associated more with the Sopranos than anything else. It was bittersweet, because I listened to Journey’s Greatest Hits album a ton after my dad died, so even though I had the association of songs with being in high school, I also had the correlation to driving around and crying. Anyhoo, it was nice to have my husband’s arm around me as the crowd swayed, real lighters were held up to the sky, and we all sang along to those familiar songs.

But back to dinner. I opened my fortune cookie first, and it said “Happy news is on its way to you.” I read it aloud, said something to the effect of “That’s good,” and waited to hear what the Wo’s was. He opened his, read it, and then said, “You will be the bearer of happy news.” I was like, ZOMG! That is SO AWESOME! And he studied his for a little while longer, and then tossed it down.

I eagerly snatched it up, because if that was not a picture opportunity waiting to happen, I don’t know what is, and immediately my brow furrowed, because I could see his fortune had a LOT more words than what he’d spoken. “Dude. What the hell. That’s not what your fortune says.”

He didn’t even realize I’d fallen for it! But I had. While he laughed, I explained, earnestly, why I thought it was SO EPIC, and yes, I was disappointed because, DUDE, the universe was saying HAPPY NEWS IS COMING, and while I don’t put much stock in fortunes or horoscopes, I was entertained that we would manage to get such symbiotic messages.

Alas, it was not to be. But, I’m ultimately an optimist, and I’m also pretty confident – so I actually know some good news will be coming my way really soon, and if a slip of paper wants to echo that sentiment, excellent.

I realize I’m a slacker with my blog. I think part of me was surprised to discover people read it? I mean, I know my friends sometimes read it, my husband keeps up, family does here & there, but after several people told me randomly they follow my blog, I realized I started writing (and not writing) with the audience in mind, deciding how much I did (and usually didn’t) want to share. I guess that’s the thing about blogging, huh? You go out on the front porch & play your banjo, and you just don’t know who-all is listening. Most of me doesn’t really give a shit, but the part of me that’s been stepped on, blindsided and where the memories of the personal hurts reside? That part has held me back. It’s not about work, really, it’s not about politics – it’s just…. finding the balance of giving, taking the time to find the words, deciding if something’s REALLY that funny, or did you just have to be there?

But then I look over my shoulder, at even just the past few weeks, and I think, ok, haven’t blogged about the Caffeine Crawl. Haven’t told you about how I went to prison this summer (just visiting!), haven’t chortled at the misfortune of those who deserve it (well, ok, maybe that’s one of those things I shouldn’t share…too often.) Sometimes I want to use my blog to twist the knife, because if you’re really still reading it, I want you to know I think [your baby is ugly] [your husband thinks you’re nuts] [you’re the reason you’re unhappy] [man I can be a bitch]…. ha! So I edit myself. It’s the long pauses in my head, the ones that took me so long to recognize and hear, that say “Don’t say that out loud.” or “Maybe just let that go.” But typing those things out sure did make me laugh.

Maybe that’s all part of it, too. The Wo and I have been together over 11 years. We have thousands of inside jokes accumulated, and it’s one of the elements of our marriage that I treasure – we know how to make each other laugh, we know how to prank each other, and it’s never done with malice.

And it’s why, as we were standing side-by-side under the stars, singing “Faithfully” in a sea of 8,000 people, that when we got to the part in the song where he sings, “I get the joy of re-discovering you…” I started to shake. Wo was alarmed a bit, at first, thinking perhaps I was having an Emotional Outburst. But instead, I was shaking with laughter, thinking of our dog Tripper, who, whenever we pull out the couches and chairs and unearth the bones of days gone by, seizes on one with great gusto, and as only this dog can do, rockets it all the way to the back of his jaw and rolls it while biting at it, resulting in the stupidest dogface ever, combined with a crazy rattling sound of bone-hitting-teeth repeatedly. The first time it happened, James said something about them rediscovering the bones, and I immediately started singing, “I get the joy of rediscovering bone,” to that very Journey song. Because that’s what we do, song-association, all the time.

The girl can’t help it.

5

Five years ago, Life took my world and upended it, spinning me off onto a journey no one ever really wants to take. This blog became my voice for dealing with some of my grief; some of it you never saw, darker times and a desire to end the pain any way possible.  What really pissed me off about the pain after my father’s death is that it just wouldn’t go away. After all, we experience heartbreak when a relationship comes to an end, shouldn’t our heart sew itself back up, the wound heal, the ache easing each day, until one day you forget what he looked like, you struggle to remember his last name?

Nope. Grief is a motherfucker. It’s non-linear, and sometimes it can feel as raw and as fresh as the day it happened, which gives your brain whiplash the first 600 times or so, because you just think, “How…..?” Grief comes with a horse-sized dosage of bewilderment, that’s for sure.

Because Grief’s DNA is love. And unlike an ex-boyfriend, losing someone you love your whole life so deeply leaves a hole that doesn’t sew itself up magically. You stop bleeding, eventually, and the hole toughens up a bit, and life moves on and you realize you just have to figure out how to live with the hole, instead of fixing it or checking out completely.

Despite my tears and lumps in my throat as this day approached, like clockwork, I woke up this morning, remembered the anniversary – and then I thought instantly of all the good things I have in my life to be grateful for, to turn my face to like sunshine, to be my focal point in the day. Funny things, fun plans. Good friends, both on and off the internet, family – both blood and by choice.  At the center of it all, a wonderful husband who’s watched all of this, walked beside me, propped me up and adapted to the changes and loved me completely despite the craziness – and so much more.

I’ll cry again, probably more today; I know it, I understand where it comes from, and I’m not going to try and stop it.  I think that’s a big step in the grieving process: instead of fighting the current when it rushes forward, to just breathe deeply and accept that this wave, this surge of emotion is all part of it, when you love someone unconditionally and completely, you will never stop missing them.  My memories have not faded or been lost, as I feared so much in the first year after his death. I can talk about him, recount stories, even hear his voice in my head, spot my own words and action and instantly know they would be exactly what he would do, and hear his approving laugh in my head when I have a funny encounter or was able to display the quick wit he trained in me.

Miss you, dad. May we all be loved as much to live on in the hearts of others.

For the Love of a Bestie

It’s never been a big secret, my dislike of musicals. It’s not that I hate ALL of them, certainly – in fact, it surprises even me, the number I’ve seen and enjoyed. Chicago, Sweeney Todd, The Producers (the original), Rocky Horror Picture Show, Rent…. I’m sure there a couple more in there, but as you can also see from that list, I’m not into classic musicals and apparently, if it’s not got twisted humor, then there should be death.  OK. So, my BFF, Beth, has teased me forever about musicals, because she loveloveloveLOVES them, and Moulin Rouge is her favorite. She even told me the other night at knit night that she now had it on Blu-Ray so the original DVD could be mine for a low low price.  It’s always been a funny piece of our friendship.  So much so, that on October 22, 2010, she sent me an email with this text:

I’ll quite pestering you about watching musicals if you make me these.
Not an easy bargain for either, but you might win in the end.

(Pattern linked to designer’s blog so all can access. Ravelry pattern link here.)

Yes, Moulin Rouge MITTENS.

Now, what made this even funnier is that I have never been much for colorwork, the technique required to create these things. In fact, I think I’ve even been heard to proclaim how much I hate it. But a seed was planted. A challenging seed. And as I continued to knit on my holiday presents, my brain thought and buzzed and finally concluded I could knit these things. Not to end the banter, never, but because it would be a fantastic present.  A present knit with adoration and humor, and hopefully, not too garbled and jacked up, since my skill set in the technique category was low.

I won’t lie and say it was easy. Especially at first. I started out using Knit Picks Palette, as three of the ten photo-containing projects on Ravelry had been knit with it, and I was ordering some other yarn for holiday knitting. Egads. First of all, it’s splitty as hell. Second of all, even on a Size 0 (that’s tiny, for the non-knitters who have read this far), they were coming out grotesquely huge. I made a mistake in the chart, and decided to start over. (This was giving me some practice on my stranding!) Second attempt? Still came out huge. I couldn’t believe it. So I turned to the trusty folks at the Loopy Ewe, and ordered yarn from their new solid series of “house yarn”. Barn Red and Sand. And oh what a difference yarn twist can make. I’ll confess, there are a couple rounds here and there that are a smidge tighter than they ought to be. But in the end, they made a certain birthday bestie very happy, and I’m damned proud of the knitting accomplishment – because in the process, I came to enjoy knitting colorwork, and even have plans for some other projects now.  What’s especially funny to me is that I watched a TON of MI:5, the British spy drama, while knitting on those, and it often feels like the things we watch are knit up into the stitches, as we look at something we’ve made and recall what we were doing while they were created – so they truly capture both of our passions.  May she wear them for years to come!

Moulin Rouge Mittens

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