Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Visitors from another realm

Sometimes I think we are visitors from another realm, and we flash back there to a more real existence occasionally. In this other realm, we are not separated from each other; we aren't trapped in these annoying fleshy structures that cause so much grief, the older we get; we aren't hungry, or thirsty, and we are free to do important and beautiful things. Or, maybe, we are free just to be -- our truest, best selves (but not individuals).

Here's an example, sort of.

When I was pregnant with Andrew, I forgot how to drive. This experience happened suddenly, at a most inconvenient time, while I was driving the windy (whine-dy), narrow-laned stretch of Highway 281 in downtown San Antonio. I suddenly felt that I could not navigate those curves. I was trying to concentrate with all my might, and I just couldn't do it. I pulled off into a parking lot of one of the nearby universities, and called Dwaine in a panic. He came and escorted me home, trailing behind me to be sure I would make it. His presence gave me enough confidence to make it. I think I was also feeling some faux labor pains, and to call them distracting would be an understatement.

It's easy enough to blame that lapse in concentration on being preggie, but sometimes I have quite a similar experience. I realize that I am about to completely zone out and lose any awareness of who I am and what I am doing. All the things I thought I knew just disappear, language too. This impulse is quite pleasant. Getting ready to meld with the universe. Wow, groovy. Here goes! However, when this happens and I'm driving, I have to snap out of it quickly.

This experience mimics a recurring nightmare of mine. I don't know how often I actually have had it, but it is a familiar subconscious memory. In my dream, I am driving on a highway, speeding along, not paying attention that much (just like in real life), and I suddenly realize that I am going way too fast to navigate a curve. I start veering crazily around on the road, and usually wake up in a cold sweat at this point.

The metaphor is obvious -- my impression that I am in control of the direction of my life is an illusion. In my dream, I become aware of just how "out of control" and erratic everything really is around me, and it's terrifying.

The last major crash in my life was when my mom was diagnosed with acute myelocytic leukemia. Shortly before this, my dad had a fairly major car accident and was in the ER overnight. Then, three weeks after her diagnosis, mom passed away in the ICU, where she'd been 9 days. My sister and I and dad (our entire nuclear family) were in the room, my sister and I hysterical while dad was holding us. Mom didn't go out easily, and I suffered flashbacks for more than a year. She died at the age of 66 in 1999. I've thought of her quite a bit recently.

I have the strong impression that we come from somewhere else, visit here for a brief time, and go somewhere else. This in-body experience is multifaceted and many people see all the pain. But I keep thinking of all the beauty and love and ease of living all around me, in my wonderful life here in modern-day USA, and how lucky I am compared to most people, most living beings, on earth. I am part of an incredibly wealthy and pampered society. Am I appreciating my life enough? No. I get stuck in daily details and dragged down by unimportant things. As my kids say, I am often stressed out. That is one thing about this American life, we love to run. (Not jogging, unfortunately, but cramming in too many things on the old to-do list.)

Something that helps me remember to cherish everything is this little trick I got from a movie (don't recall which one, I'm sure that more than one has used this idea). Pretend that you have died and have been absent for some time. Then, you are granted a wish to go back and relive just one day of your life. It cannot be a special occasion, just an ordinary day. So you return to that day, with that one opportunity to live it to the fullest, to see loved ones and friends again at that moment in time. Imagine how you would feel and act. Your kids and spouse would wonder why you were smothering them with love and attention.

The point is, TODAY is that day! You just don't realize how precious it is, and how fleeting.

There's a San Antonio radio station that repeats this saying every morning, and I need to hear it every day. Yesterday's history. Tomorrow's a mystery. Today is a gift. That's why it is called the present.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Are writers neurotic by trade?

I'm wondering if it is very un-writer-ly, or just unattractive, to share my insecurities about writing. I come up with ideas to blog about (I have way too many to actually use), and recently, I find myself being self-conscious and even self-censoring. That's certainly different, right? Usually I plow on ahead, blind to any consequences, discretion, details like that.

Emily Dickinson never shared any of her insecurities on paper. And her writing and mine bear such obviously close comparison. (Other than I'm not a poet, not nearly as pithy or witty or brilliant, etc.) But she didn't have much sense of humor, either, in her writing, except in a very dry way. Couldn't really describe many of her poems as LOL types.

It's reported now that she had Asperger's Syndrome. (Yes, I need a spellcheck on that.) Is that a way of assigning a clinical name to people who live by the motto, "I don't give a d*** about what other people think" and "Social graces are for all those losers out there"? Because I sorta live like that, not really by choice but by the mere fact that I never learned many social graces. Yet there's a little part of me that hasn't quite given up on being loved and adored by others. Although I have figured out, it's not the point of life to make other people love me, or even approve of me. At all.

I greatly admire people who are so busy living life to the fullest that they truly don't care what others think. I try to live my life the same way, living for a higher purpose and power.

I'm almost sounding like Ayn Rand, whose philosophy I loathe, so let me clarify -- I don't think people are meant to live in a vacuum of their own insipid thought processes, ignoring everyone else. I think we learn most everything worthwhile from other people. As much as I love to read, I certainly couldn't survive without the thoughts and inspiration of many other people on a daily basis.

At the same time, I spend a lot less time seeking approval from others than I did when I was younger. It's a really important attribute to have lots of self-confidence when you are the mother of teenagers, and the merest gesture or your presence alone causes them so much embarrassment. Andrew alternates between telling me to lighten up and hissing, "Stop dancing!" when we were shopping at a trendy store in the mall, and they were playing way cool music that I recognized from my iPod.

So, back to writers and their neuroses. What else might I have in common with them? Many other brilliant writers seem to suffer from substance abuse issues, depression, even mental illness. There are probably plenty of really sucky writers who also have these problems, but we don't know anything about them, nor do we frankly care. Oh, I can check several of these off! (I don't drink much or smoke, though. No drugs. Need to work on that.)

I was happy to read a brilliant book, the author's first (Kathryn Stockett), called "The Help," on our spring break vacation. It's not exactly a book to read on the beach, though I read it during our trip to the beach. I found it inspiring that a first-time writer could put together something with that much grace and heft, and plenty of humor too. It's quite long, and deals with race relations (Mississippi, 1960s, no more needs to be said); and people relations, in a compelling and very readable way.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The writer's life

Here's how we looked this morning. First, the dog:

Then the hubby, wearing his best "Wild Hogs" look. He's always the early riser. Like Athena, springing fully grown and wearing armor from her father Zeus' head at the moment of her birth, he wakes every morning full of vim and vigor. Makes me want to slap him sometimes.

This is how the boys look right up till around 10 am. They are vampires, creatures of the night, I mean, being as they are teenage boys.

And me ... ha ha! I'm not visible because no one took my picture.

Here I sit, invisible or not, a cigarette dangling from my mouth, sipping a cup of Monster Energy Drink. Betcha didn't know you could sip, not chug, something with the words Monster and Energy in it.

Oops, scratch the cigarette. If I had a cigarette, it'd have to be whiskey I was drinking, and let's face it, my writing isn't that good.

However, I must say, this is the best caffeine buzz I've had since giving up coffee for Lent. Yee-ha!

We're at the beach. Yes, we are part of the raving, unwashed masses who decided it'd be just fab to head down to this tiny strip along the ocean, known to Texans as South Padre Island, by the thousands, and cause hours-long traffic jams everywhere.

The weather, while not exactly balmy, is amazingly good. I speak from experience, since every spring break in memory we've ventured somewhere to camp, and usually the weather is iffy, to speak charitably. We've been on spring break campouts where my favorite memory was sitting in a laundramat, warming up and drying out with the laundry. We've been flooded and stormed on, and in recent years, we have started going home rather than waiting it out. Something about my hubby turning 50, perhaps. So last year, we had half of a lovely week at Ink's Lake until the cold front blew in, and we blew out.

I suspect now that spring is here, it's going to get miserable in a hurry. Little to no transition from the freezing cold.

The very best place to meditate is on the beach. It's also the very best location to run, walk, sit, and probably engage in many other activities which I leave to the reader's imagination. Sand has metaphysical qualities. It's gritty -- like sandpaper -- but it is also so spongy underfoot, when damp. It feels incredibly soft, plush even, and it has so much give, when you sit on it. It conforms to you perfectly, and later, it scratches your skin. Sand has many contradictory qualities. It is a paradox.

So when I die, I hope heaven is a great big beach and I can sit on the sand and watch the waves. For a really, really long time. Alone? But then I guess it wouldn't be heaven, except for me! (C.S. Lewis imagined hell as a place where people moved farther and farther from each other. But really, doesn't that sound just a bit like heaven?)

And then, in my imaginary heaven where I'm alone, I can run, forever. I already feel like that's possible, no place else but on the beach.

If there are typos on here, it's because of my husband's finicky laptop. It's even more jittery than me, if that's possible. The cursor jumps my place every few seconds and I have no technical assistance available because Austin and his bro went to the beach. Rode their bikes there. On their own. Without adult supervision. Yikes! Yes, inside I'm screaming, trust me. I just texted Austin, and at least he's still alive (unless that's a clever kidnapper responding).

So, many thoughts drifted through as I watched the waves. Waves are the closest thing to eternity I can imagine here on Earth, and yet they've only been around, what, millions of years? Compared to eternity, any timespan is pathetically brief. So when were the waves born?  When will they die? Their lifespan seems forever, compared to the things we think of
as alive.

We should be able to capture the energy of the wind and waves somehow. Talk about lots of energy, renewable energy. I sat, and it was mind-boggling how busy everything was around me. I'm not even talking about the people, of which there were gobs, littered around everywhere.

Part of me would be quite willing to give up existence, along with every other person, in order to put the world back together without people messing it up. Yes, this thought drifted through quite strongly. But where's the love, Julie?

Yes, I ask, where's the love for our planet? We are the only creature that has fouled our own nest, and we don't seem to have noticed. It disgusts me to think of. Really, are we God's beloved? How is that possible. How did the world look without us? It must have been beautiful beyond description. Terrible, too. Yet the waves persist, before and after us. They are far beyond us and, it seems, they cannot be too perverted by our activity. Like climate. Oops, never mind.

So, back to the waves. They are enchanting. No wonder so many amazing sea creatures have been imagined, mermaids and monsters and the like, in the sea. Sea change, one of my favorite expressions. The waves, though they endlessly cross the same path, do it with endless variety. They change hour by hour, day by day, each moment. Yesterday, the waves were tiny and the surf, missing. Today, they were wind-whipped and nearly majestic. I could see the breath of the wind blowing them at an angle to the shore. Glistening, with a surface like rough skin.

Words cannot describe the beauty of the beach, the endless malleability of the water as it rushes in ever-changing patterns. But since I'm a wordsmith, I have to try to describe the indescribable.

I think sometimes that the thoughts of infants are more pure, uncorrupted by language and labeling. Just see, smell, touch and feel. If you cannot name something, you see it more completely, and it remains mysterious, as it should be.

Labeling leads to lazy thinking. It is a reason adults lose the divine glow that infuses children. The glow is still there, all around, but we, wilfully blind, opt out. We leave it to our poets to remind us of that great beauty.

Speaking of lazy thinking, I'm going to quote just what comes to mind, and it ain't Shakespeare.

Pink Floyd: When I was a child, I saw a fleeting glimpse, out of the corner of my eye. I turned to look, but it was gone. ... I cannot put my finger on it now, the child is grown, the dream is gone.

Labeling, categorizing, these ways of thinking let our brilliant minds off the hook. No wonder, as a group, humans are stupid and unresourceful. The vile creatures!

Let's see, ending on a happy note, a note of hope: eeeeeehhhh! (High C) The beach is lovely, still.

I can't leave on such a sour note. Let's see -- the hot tub beckons! There's a happy thought. I am a writer, after all. Can't be too joyful. That'd be unnatural.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Our newest family tradition

Hey, nothin's happening at my blog. Guess I need to post something. I wish it would just bloom without needing so much effort on my part.

My family and I developed an unintended new tradition, courtesy of Netflix. Hey, I should get paid by them b/c I am promoting them on my blog, but I refuse to compromise my creative freedom in that way! Anyhow, we have ordered every kind of movie from Netflix -- classic westerns, modern & classic dramas, comedies, silly/stupid movies, a Shakespeare play, probably everything except a musical, and I'm sure that will be coming (still haven't seen Hairspray).

I think we've plumbed the depths of the '80s -- I think this was when I was growing up, and towards the end, when Dwaine & I went to see a movie every weekend, B.C. (before children), so I have fond memories of a lot of those movies.

Anyhow, so this is a "family" tradition in that often, the whole family actually gathers in the living room -- at the same time. Now, let me explain in a bit more detail. If it's a movie like "The Queen" or "Lawrence of Arabia," my husband quickly falls asleep. Typically, Austin is sitting on the couch, using his laptop -- multitasking, you know. Andrew may or may not actually be in the room, and if it's a movie he is not into, he will either fall asleep (Lawrence) or be playing on his iPod, possibly with a headset on. But the point is, he is in the room with us! Remarkable for a prickly 13-year-old.

So, that leaves me to actually watch the movie. Ha! I take on the burden for the whole family, so I can rave about how wonderful that movie was later.

Occasionally, I confess, I multitask, too. For instance, Andrew wanted to "watch a movie together" tonight, and I'm blogging. It's a rerun, though, something we own. And hey, I'm in the room!

Some truly amazing movies: Lawrence, "Treasure of the Sierra Madre," "This is Spinal Tap," "High Noon," "Casablanca," "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," "Gallipoli," "Moonstruck," "City Slickers," "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "The Milagro Beanfield War," "Mrs. Doubtfire." And we have, currently, 101 in queue. At the rate we watch, that's more than 2 years' worth of movies. Some I can't wait for (The Lonely Guy, Amelia), others are obligatory (North by Northwest, Mamma Mia).

We all get to choose movies, which leads to quite an eclectic selection. We watched all the Oceans movies, and I discovered that if you miss 10 minutes of one of those, you're thoroughly lost for the rest of the movie, so why watch? We've watched animated movies, action/superhero flicks, the few we don't already own; one or two teeny-boppers, and maybe even a dud or two (selected by my kids, no doubt).

Movies are history, in a way. Sometimes, they make history. The best are like fine literature. They capture personalities and moments so vividly. The music can be incredible, and the settings. I still, on the whole, prefer to curl up with a good book. But seeing a good movie, with my family, is a close second.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Writing and neurosis

Is it normal for writers to endlessly self-critique? If so, I fit the mold. I finish a posting and then, later, think, why in the world did I write that?

It smells so lovely outside right now, with the spring flowers beginning to bloom. Our cat has begun to venture outside now. She spent the fall and winter as an indoor cat. She's a Texas cat -- though her coat is thick, she doesn't think it is warm enough to stay outside unless it's at least 80 degrees.

I can't believe spring break is next week, and we're in March, and my kids are growing up and my 13-year-old is nearly eye to eye with me now. When do all these things happen? Maybe while we're sleeping. I just don't know. And summer is just a dream away now. I hope we don't have a repeat of last summer's 100, 100+ days. I will have to leave if that keeps happening.

I was listening to "This American Life" today on my 2-mile jog, which was hot, by the way. There are tons of free podcasts out there. I also have a Spanish one that's a little advanced for me and the podcast I downloaded was talking about nuclear energy, of all things.

Anyhow, on the episode of "This American Life" there was a psychiatrist who was asked for an interview by his 12-year-old granddaughter(?) and decided the only way to get an adequate interview was to do it himself. So he'd ask himself a question and then he'd answer, "well you see, John, ..." and answer himself. This was a repeat of a podcast about how the American Psychiatric Association changed the definition of gay from a pathology, back in about 1973. Quite recently.

I have to run to Andrew's band concert, then to Austin's doubleheader.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Mere life itself, and a tribute

Now what was I going to write about? I need an update ... I'm tired of looking at that silly pet entry. Cute pictures, though.

Was it how I feel like I've never been so busy in my life, working two part-time jobs, driving around two teenagers who are growing up before my eyes? This week, we have something every evening (and often, several somethings) until Friday, when we all can collapse in exhaustion! Oops, I mean - have a family fun night!

Here are my two boys. Their eyes are glowing fiendishly in this pic, like typical teenagers.

Andrew told me tonight that I give him pimples. See, Moms are responsible for everything, especially the bad stuff!

No, that wasn't it.

Was it how the vehicles both seem to need maintenance every week now, since they both are at or above 150k miles? Dwaine said, we just can't get ahead. I said, at least it's not a financial crisis for us when the vehicles do need work. And then there's the matter of finding something for Austin to drive when he turns 16. No, not that.That's, like, just boring daily stuff. Clouds in my coffee, which I gave up for Lent.

What about those Oscars? Wasn't that the latest night ever? I turned it off before hearing any of the major awards! It was starting to cut into my beauty rest. I did like the hosts -- when did Alec Baldwin become a stand-up comedian? I missed something here. Gee, maybe if I'd been watching TV for the last decade, I'd have a clue. Maybe that's why Steve Martin had to be there for the assist, and I do adore Steve Martin.

I think I've only done one hard workout in the past four days, and that's just not enough to keep all pistons fully firing. I feel so blaaaaaah, mentally and physically. Too much rest isn't a good thing. I cannot focus.

And, what about how we watched half of Lawrence of Arabia, our Netflix movie that has been collecting dust due to the Winter Olympics, and I don't believe I ever saw this great classic film before, and I never knew camels made all those noises or could run that fast? In one scene, featuring about 50 of the beasts, they literally sounded like NASCAR autos getting ready to race. Someday we'll get to the other half, hopefully still remembering what happened before. I refuse to return it only half watched.

And, when will the Oscars finally get environmentally smart and have a category for best animal actor/actress?

How about Bible study? I go with reluctance; it's such a sacrifice to stay at church from 10:30 (when Sunday school ends) till 3:15 or so every week. The class technically begins at 12:15, but it's not worth it to go home in between. But I go, and then we have these incredible conversations that need to happen. Like yesterday, when Kristie asked whether a soldier killing someone in the line of duty constitutes murder. She asked this, married to an Army guy, sitting across from another retired military man, and beside another one. I have to say she's got guts! And we had a nuanced conversation about how it takes a permanent toll to kill other people, even during the most justified of wars.

Kristie also mentioned how Mary Magdalene was supposed to be commissioned as a disciple of Jesus, she read in an apocryphal book not included in our Bible. She's the mother of two daughters; she needs Christianity to reflect strong womanhood, which is quite the challenge.

Bill spoke up and said he can't understand "pro-life" people who talk about prohibiting all abortions in one breath, and then move on to say, that rapist should fry in the electric chair!

We actually have a pretty diverse group, thanks to the big-tent approach of Methodism. I could never go to any other church in Floresville.

And we also had our time of pleasant talking, which I need, but I also feel this tension, like my mind is thinking of other things that seem, quite possibly, more important. I'm just not a socialite.

Here's something I was thinking of, speaking of that. A tribute to a loved one.

I don't remember exactly when I started really loving this person deeply. It definitely didn't happen all at once. For many years, it was a love-hate relationship, very emotional, like my relationship with everyone important in my life. Like my relationship with God, too.

Maybe I first really fell in love at the Walk to Emmaus during candlelight. This is a 4-day retreat, and during that time, you have a surprise party thrown for you. It's amazing -- one of the times I have experienced, very personally and deeply, the wonder of God's love.

So, this person is smart, though lacking in common sense. Funny. Quiet, intense. Physical. Wanting to see the whole picture, not just one perspective. By the way, in the Chinese zodiac, a snake: "Wise and intense, with a tendency towards physical beauty. Vain and high-tempered. The cock and ox are your best signs. Avoid the tiger." Yes, I think that's exactly how it is printed on countless paper placemats in American Chinese restaurants everywhere. And this description is so eerily accurate. Not the vanity part though, surely?

This person is indecisive, at times. Uncertain. Living with adult ADD, a strong likelihood. But overall, just really amazing. And I'm so glad I get to spend my entire life with her/me -- Julie! So I do want to thank you, Julie, for allowing me to see things through your eyes, and live in your body, which so far is still full of grace. It's been quite a journey, one I hope continues for many years. Yes, somehow, there is something that goes deeper than this mere human being, and it is from this deeper consciousness that I can thank myself-you. And the outpouring of my love for Julie is what makes it possible to embrace the wider world with love and compassion.

As I tell my kids, Ily! (I-love-you)

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