Belonging

We may begin to feel our belonging in the breath – here we may take sanctuary, here we begin to feel our place in creation.  Taking refuge in each breath of our life, in each beat of our heart, we find a quiet place of belonging.  This refuge, this sanctuary, is neither given nor taken away by the chaotic demands of an unpredictable world.  This place belongs to us, and we to it.  It is where we make our home.

Wayne Muller in
Legacy of the Heart: The Spiritual Advantages of a Painful Childhood

“Where My Books Go”

W.B. Yeats speaks to the greatest wish of all writers – and eloquently so.

All the words I gather,

And all the words that I write,

Must spread out their wings untiring,

And never rest in their flight,

Till they come where your sad, sad heart is,

And sing to you in the night,

Beyond where the waters are moving,

Storm darkened or starry bright

W.B. Yeats
London, January 1892

Behind the Mist

“What’s depression?” I asked my father.

“It’s all about the power of the mind,” he said.  “The only thing that will make it go away is your own determination.”  He ran his hand over the window ledge and frowned at the smudge on his fingers.

When Rosa was happy our house was filled with music.  I could never imagine the silences returning.  The light in her studio burned through the night.  One summer she painted Corry Head.  The gorse blazed like a fireball.  Purple heather covered the rocks.  She painted it with the mist falling down and hiding all of the color.  I wondered if that was what her life was like.  Always trying to escape from behind the mist.

–from “To Dream of White Horses” by June Considine

 

There is so much about his passage that speaks to me.  The father’s misinterpretation of how it is to live with depression.  The son’s seeming lack of information, yet more complete understanding.  The descriptive pall the illness brings – both literally in the dust that builds up and metaphorically in the mist that envelops the person suffering.

A Patch of Peat

Beside me a patch of peat was touched with green as though it had gone mouldy, and up from it went a little forest of buds, each on its slender stalk, for spring had come to the moss as well as the curlews.

– from “The End of the Rainbow” by Lord Dunsany

from phys.org

This line jumped out at me because it perfectly describes the little sprigs emanating from the carpets of moss at the edges of the forest right now.  Beauty in nature and word – captured.

The Nest

“We’ve come because of the baby,” she said.  “We’ve come to help.”

That’s all I had to read on the book jacket to be hooked.  There’s a problem, a possible trauma, surrounding the birth and/or care of a baby?  I’m in.  Not because I revel in such things, but because I look for solutions, for ways other people dealt with such things, for ways to support others in similar situations.

But The Nest by Kenneth Oppel (illustrated by Jon Klassen) is so much more.  It is rated for ages ten and up, but I found it compelling and psychically scary as an adult.

There is a baby, the main character Steve’s new brother, and he has an unnamed degenerative disease.  There is confusion on Steve’s and his sister, Nicole’s, parts.  There is the overarching sadness that permeates the entire family’s lives.

There is also a recurring vision that Steve has.  A group of luminous wasps that visits him in his dreams and offer to first help, and then ‘fix’, the baby.  This is where the psychological component of the story comes in.  When dealing with trauma and situations far above our intellectual or emotional understanding or ability, it makes sense for the brain to conjure up solutions.  However, Oppel blurs the line between Steve’s inner world and outer reality.

Steve struggles with an unnamed mental illness, one in which he makes bedtime lists and washes his hands so much that they “got all chapped and red, especially around the knuckles”; that makes him feel as if he is “all in pieces . . . like [he] had a hundred shattered thoughts in [his] head, a hundred glimmering bits of stained-glass window, and [his] eyes just kept dancing from one piece to the next without understanding what they meant or where they were supposed to go.”

In his dreams, the wasps – the queen in particular – talk to him about the baby’s condition, about how sad a situation it is and what might be done to remedy it.  Steve senses his parents’ sadness, feels his own.  He feels helpless, both in not knowing exactly what is wrong with his brother and not being able to do anything to improve it.  The queen gives him a solution.

 

“It’s just not something you can patch up with a bit of string and sticky tape.  No, no, no, we have to do this properly.  Go right back to the beginning of things.  Go deep.  That’s the proper way to do things.  No half measures around here!”

“You mean going right inside the DNA?”

“DNA – aren’t you the clever one!  Yes, good, you’re on the right track.  And we’ll go deeper back still.  That’s where it will make the most amazing difference.”

 

Steve’s relief at the queen’s assurances of making his baby brother better does not last as she reveals more of her plan, however.  It was never about ‘fixing’ this baby; it was about replacing him with a superior one.  In this special nest just outside the nursery window, they are incubating a baby from the larva state – to replace the ‘broken’ one inside.

Ironically, Steve is petrified of wasps and soon discovers he is allergic to them when one stings him on their back deck.  The fact that he looks to the very thing that terrifies him to solve a problem that terrifies him even more speaks to the psychic line Oppel dances along through the entire book.  Another exterior fear, the man who travels the neighborhood in a van offering to sharpen knives, delves into his interior world as well.

All of this swirls around Steve’s compelling need and desire to keep his brother safe.  It is not about perfection – for either of them – but protecting our true selves.  Whether mentally ill or physically disabled, the dignity of an individual human life is paramount.  And Steve dives into his worst fears to safeguard his brother’s.

the-nest-9781481432337_lg

 

A Lilac

I cannot see a lilac without catching out of the corner of my eye
the diaphanous flow of sheer sheeting of the same color.

The folds and waterfall of fabric enveloping my body like the ring of a bell,
smooth against the pop of buds bursting
into three-dimensional triads and quartets of color.

Green hearts gilded with the white patina of many moistured mornings,
a specimen grown gangly and sparse,
cut to the quick before flourishing in fullness once again.

Overtaking its age,
shooting up sprouts all around it,
expanding its perimeter.

It is the harbinger of spring,
of warmer days promised in the perfumed chill.

It is the talisman of youth,
of adventures in grandmother’s garden,
the boundary of Mr. Thompson’s yard,
the backdrop of moments frozen in time.

I cannot smell a lilac without being at once wistful and hopeful.

Lilac-575023

image from Getty

Shock and Awe

I’ve saved every blank book I ever filled – from the first hardbound, mottled watercolor cover to the psychedelic smiley faces.  All but the most recent sit high upon a shelf, my own little archive of embarrassing moments.

Every so often – when I have to move my collection from point a to point b, when I’m feeling nostalgic, or looking for a particular passage – I’ll skim the pages and revisit my words, my state of being at that point in time.  Sometimes the words are merely confessional, the quintessential catharsis for which we all count on ‘dear diary’.  Sometimes the paragraphs give way to great insight.  Sometimes, I read a passage that takes my breath away, that makes me flush with the way the words are crafted, the beauty and power of their make-up.  I crafted such quality?  My God, I really can write.  And then I find the author’s attribute, my little indent and dash noting the actual author’s name.  Drat.  Foiled again.

Though even in that moment just before I discover the author’s name, as I still unbelievingly read ‘my words’, it’s not a self-congratulatory moment.  There’s always a shock and awe involved.  A pinch-myself moment where I get a glimpse of the holy grail of writing.  Is it really possible?  For me?  By me?

But then, a few months ago, out of the blue, my aunt asked me what were some of the favorite things I’d written on this blog.  A few irreverent attempts at humor came to mind; the inaugural post explaining what all these potatoes are, of course.  When I actually dove into the blog to review, I realized just how much writing I’ve done on here.  Lots to sift through!  And lots to reorganize, I realized (so I – and hopefully you – can find it all).

A day or so later, I received an email from that same aunt with a link to a video.  A marketing and public relations professional by trade, she’d been working with a new platform and wanted to share it with me.  I clicked, eager to see what she’d created.  Striking images flowed across the screen, dovetailing each other seamlessly.  Sentences strung together over them told a story.

It wasn’t until nearly halfway through the video that I realized they were my words.

The same shock and awe that usually came over me as I read evocative passages in my journals occurred – only this time, it was I who had penned the words.  The shock and awe were accompanied by gratification.  And a little disbelief.  My journal dreams may yet come true.

 

The video that started it all . . .

 

Thanks to Janet Crook for helping me visualize in more ways than one.

2018, 500, 1

In years past, WordPress has provided a neat little summary of the past year’s writing accomplishments on my blog.  I didn’t receive one this year.  Whether that’s because it’s no longer their practice or because my level of writing activity dipped below their radar remains to be seen.  I did, however, receive this neat little notification the other day.

Screen Shot 2018-01-26 at 9.03.49 AM

500 posts.  That’s a lot of writing.  In my six years (wo)manning this blog, I have written many posts.  My aunt recently asked me which post or posts were my favorite(s).  A few came to mind instantaneously, of course, but once I started digging through, I realized just how many there are –

which helps provide balance to the writer’s remorse that I haven’t done more lately.

Once upon a time, Tuesday and Thursday were sacred posting days, with Fridays as an occasional musing on craft (my weekend write-off).  I’m still unpacking the irony that my writing on mental health paused or ceased when things got really crazy last spring and by the end of the summer/fall when I’d ceased my medication.  It didn’t help that I had another small human pulling at my pant leg.  I’ve also tried to reignite a dedicated writing regimen for my young adult fiction and personal memoir.  Something’s gotta give, I suppose, in my anxiety-ridden, mom-of-four, only-24-hours-in-a-day world.

Still, when I didn’t receive the adorable fireworks animation comparing my readership to the size of small countries, the writer’s remorse kicked in big time.  What were my dedicated readers doing whilst I whiled time away with laundry and survival?  How were my fellow bloggers doing since I’d checked in last?  While the schedule of blogging can be daunting, especially in the midst of daily overwhelm, the process of crafting and posting and interacting is therapeutic for my writing and mental muscles.  I miss the community – and the potential that the blog has.

I have chopped lots of potatoes over the years.  I’m going to keep chopping.  Some days may produce uniform little cubes; others hackneyed hunks.  But it’s good to be back – even in a smashed capacity.

Dialogue 101

The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes by Anna McPartlin9781250093851

My most recent read, devoured well into the wee hours of the morning because I haven’t yet gotten off my holiday schedule and accepted the fact that I have to be up soon in the morning.  And because it was that compelling.

Rabbit.  Johnny.  Juliet.  There is so much that’s good about this heartbreaking and hilarious book, but it’s a particular scene of dialogue I want to shine the spotlight on today.

So tight, so fluid, so funny.  One of those scenes you read and instantly know it’s gold.  The kind of writing you strive to achieve.  The fact that it’s got some great Irish wit just endears it to me even more.

Grace walked through the front door with her suitcase.  Before she had her coat off, Lenny was halfway down the stairs.  When she saw his face, she covered her eyes with her hands.  ‘I’m so sorry,’ she said.  ‘I have no idea what happened.’

He held her close and kissed the top of her head.  ‘You lost it.’

‘I hurt you.’

‘It was an accident.’

‘I threw a mug at your face on purpose.’

‘I should have ducked quicker.’

‘If this conversation was the other way around, you apologizing for hurting me and me making excuses for you, people would call it domestic violence.’

He laughed.  ‘Oh, for fuck’s sake, Grace.  We’ve been together for twenty years and this is the first mug-in-the-face incident we’ve had.  I think I’m safe enough.’

‘I’m so, so, so sorry.’

They walked together into the kitchen.

‘I know,’ he said.  ‘Now can we forget it?’  He put on the kettle and she sat down on a stool facing him.  ‘Toast?’

‘Yes, please.  I’m starving.’

The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes, Anna McPartlin, 2014

Simply See

Home again, and Jane and I are going walkabout.  I have her rigged on my shoulders in the backpack.  Distributed throughout the aluminum frame and snugged straps, her weight dissipates to nothing.  After all, she weighs little more than a good-sized chicken.  As we step into the yard, I twist my neck to get a look at her face and find her looking out over the valley below.  Her eyes are wide and steady beneath the brim of her floppy cap.  How far out of infancy do we lose this gaze, with its utter absence of expectation or prejudice?  What is it like to simply see what is before you, without the skew of context?

from Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting by Michael Perry

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