Saturday, October 25, 2014

Hating Peggy Mack

Is there synovial fluid in the brain? My yoga teacher Joelle regular has us warm up our hands and wrists to get the synovial fluid working. Apparently it’s some sort of viscous fluid in the body, like built-in WD40, that lubricates the joints. I could try spraying WD40 in each of my ears to get my brain working more smoothly, but I suspect that’s an ill-advised decision. But I feel like there are rusty bolts and cobwebs inside my head and I need to do something to get those synovial creative juices flowing. So instead of WD40 in the ear canals, I’ll do a writing exercise. This is sort of free writing. I blindly pick a book off my bookshelves and without looking, turn to a random page and find a sentence. Then I write something off the top of my head that has to end in that sentence that I found. There are no paragraphs, no revisions, just let it rip until I think I’m done. Here goes. The sentence:

 “The greatest part of the tragedy is that Ireland actually had plenty of food.” Bill Bryson, At Home: A Short History of Private Life, p. 85.

You know Mama would kill me for saying this, but I really hate Peggy Mack. Mama has always said that hate reflects much more poorly on the hater than on the hatee. I can accept that it reflects poorly on me, but Peggy Mack drove me to this. She is just so icky. Damnation, I’m into words so I probably should come up with a much better descriptive word than icky. Peggy Mack is awful, abominable (not to be confused with abdominal), deplorable, and undeservedly brilliant. She’s the best speller in the history of the universe. And I will defy Mama giving me the stink eye to say that I truly hate her. Peggy Mack looks like the spawn of vampires, like she has never seen sunlight. Her pale skin is practically translucent. Her hair appears never to have been washed and it hangs over her gray eyes in greasy ringlets. She is at least 6 inches shorter than anyone else in our 7th grade class and she only speaks when absolutely necessary—like when she spells the word parsimonious or when Sister Patrick Joseph calls the roll. When called, Peggy Mack squeaks out a quiet little utterance that indicates she is in her assigned seat near the door, first row, first seat, as far away from the rest of us as Sister could have placed her. And she is the weirdest person I have ever known. Believe me—more than once I have been in the girls’ room and Peggy Mack has been in the stall next to me, sitting on the floor, rocking back and forth and quietly banging her head against the metal divider between the stalls. Sometimes she rocks while sitting at her desk, first seat, first row, near the door. But the bathroom is where the really serious rocking takes place. I worked my derriere off (derriere is a French word—I’ve learned to spell some foreign words too) to win the diocesan spelling bee. Sister Patrick Joseph kept a group of her star spellers after school for two months preparing for the spelling bee. Sorry to tell you that the wretched Peggy Mack was one of the stars. Sister relentlessly drilled us on words, including geographical words like rivers in Africa that I never heard of and medical words like the words for diseases I hope I never catch. When given a word to spell, Peggy Mack would look out the window and very quietly spell every word perfectly, just like someone was outside the window holding a sign with the word on it. Have I said that I hate Peggy Mack? On the day of the spelling bee I was humiliated by misspelling the word accommodate in the third round. The buzzer was louder than ever and I was sent back to my seat like some kind of moron. I know how to spell accommodate but I lost focus and left out an m. Peggy Mack came after me. She spelled it correctly of course and I thought I saw a hint of an evil grin on her wormy lips. She went on the win the spelling bee, took home a trophy that was nearly as big as she is, a bouquet of pink and red carnations, and a big fat Webster’s Dictionary. I was in a funk the whole way home and for days after the spelling bee. Mama got so frustrated with my behavior as a sore loser that she made me sit at the kitchen table and gave me one of her speeches. She told me that it was wrong for me to hate Peggy Mack, that the poor child had done nothing to deserve my scorn. She said I should have some empathy (I know how to spell that too) for Peggy Mack because she doesn’t fit in with the other kids at all. Mama explained that Peggy Mack’s family had moved here from Ireland just after she was born and she suspected that the scrawny, strange child with no friends and odd behavior was a victim of the potato famine in Ireland and that she had not developed normally. I didn’t know there was a potato famine in the late 1940s when Peggy Mack was born but Mama firmly believed that the “residual effects of starvation” had been passed down through many generations of Irish people. So just to prove Mama wrong I went to the library and looked up the Irish potato famine. Seems there was more than one famine, that many people left Ireland because they were starving. Just to prove that Peggy Mack was weird and came from some sort of dysfunctional (I can spell that too) heritage, I read part of the book to Mama: “The greatest part of the tragedy is that Ireland actually had plenty of food.”

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Lessons

Lessons I’m learning from years of grief and anger. . .

“Life and death were so unpredictable. So close to each other. We existed moment to moment, never knowing who would be the next to leave the world. I was still in it, barely, and as I looked up from the ashes, everything around me seemed so sweet and so beautiful. The trees. The stars. The moon. I was alive -- and I was glad I was.”
 
Richelle Mead (a writer who writes young adult fiction, in the fantasy/vampire genre)


No matter how much I writhe in pain, scream, curse God, withdraw from polite society, or play the noble martyr, what is still is. I can't read enough books to explain it to myself, can't try to intellectualize or walk in the desert long enough to understand. It's just there and, by its nature, it is beyond my comprehension.

About 17 years ago I began this dance with grief and anger when my husband left me after 30 years of marriage. Then he died. Then my beloved father died after “successful” open-heart surgery. Then my little brother was murdered in cold blood. Then my dearest friend and music partner Mike died from mesothelioma. I was reeling, feeling so lost, betrayed by God, cheated by life. Anger and grief were so intertwined in my gut that I couldn’t find my way out.

Maybe until I stopped trying so hard. Somehow, over time and through the grace of God (thank you, Lord, for staying by my side through all of this nonsense) I began to realize that life had really changed forever. No matter how much I begged, I wasn’t going to get 10 minutes more with Mike. I couldn’t get the Earth to rotate backward and take the bullet out of my brother’s back. I couldn’t bargain with God for a few more years with my dad. My husband was dead and gone—there would be no heartfelt apology from him. These things were written in stone.

What choice do I have? Do I remain forever frozen in the past, cursing my fate, or can I really move on? I must trust that God’s plan will forever be something beyond my understanding. I must be strong and embrace the uncertainty of this life. This was not my plan. But it never was in my control anyway. I have found it incredibly difficult to really accept that fact, to acknowledge that my life is only mine in the sense that I’m occupying this body in this time and place. I have so little control over all the things that happen to me and around me. I’m just along for the ride so I might as well enjoy the view.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Sea glass

On my desk is a small brandy snifter that contains my entire collection of sea glass, a few sharks’ teeth, and some heart-shaped stones that my grandchildren gave me. The entire collection of sea glass is pitiful, the net result of one day last year that I spent walking on the shore of the little Chesapeake Bay community where my grandfather had a house when I was young. Today I poured out the contents of the snifter and studied the pieces of glass. My heart feels a little empty, for it’s nearly September and only once this summer have I briefly walked in the sand and put my toes in the Bay. In the palm of my hand I can hold the Bay. If only the sea glass had the scent of the salty air, maybe sprinkled with a touch of Old Bay Seasoning.

Bottles were once functional—they contained medicine, beer, or other necessities—then they were broken into shards, discarded as trash, and thrown into the Bay. Time and the natural rhythm of the water and the friction of the sand honed these shards of glass into something beautiful, each piece unique. Once trash, sea glass is now collected and admired for its many variations, soft color, and texture.

Funny how that works—only time and surrender to the forces of nature can transform these jagged shards into small pieces of pastel light that fit in the palm of my hand. And likewise my broken life is renewed, honed into something new, something I did not expect or even want. I wanted to be functional in the traditional way—a wife and mother. I wanted to be a whole shiny bottle, no chips, no broken shards. But the Lord’s plan called for me to be broken, at first ugly and jagged. And God continues to reshape me. Just like the sea glass, tossed in the salty water, rolling with the tides. I simplify my life, carve it down, smooth the jagged edges. Simplify so my main focus is something more beautiful—God, growing in faith, and finding the peace that true and simple faith brings to me.

God knows my past, everything I know, feel, and remember. Only He knows my future. He will continue to hone me. I must trust that He will create something beautiful, something I never imagined. I wanted to be a bottle but He is making me sea glass.

Monday, June 30, 2014

A poem for Billy Collins

Billy Collins and the Balancing Act

I sit at my desk, trying to write.
Something. Anything.
Nothing comes.

My feet on the desk,
I lean back in my chair,
Trying to balance my coffee mug on a belly wave.
Too timid to remove my hand from the mug,
Wondering how I could explain to the world the coffee stains on my middle.

                                                     And there on my computer screen is a photo of Billy Collins.
                                                     He’s smiling, perhaps a hint of smirk in that smile of his.
                                                     Billy knows about my cowardice.
                                                     That bald-headed bastard, that charming smarty pants.
                                                     He knows.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Solitude

This is an oil painting by Cindy Baron, an artist who lives in Rhode Island. It is entitled Solitude. It's rather small 12 inches by 8 inches. I haven't seen it in person, just saw the image after another piece of her work caught my attention and I searched for more of her work.

I can't explain what happened to me but the instant I saw the painting tears spilled out of my eyes. What was it? Something that went from my vision, skipped through my brain straight to my heart.

Discovering the title of the painting was an after-thought, a delicious coincidence. Yes, solitude.

Funny, but I've had a recurring thought lately, an urge to go to Telluride. Alone. Maybe it's all connected.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Paul and Linda

Maybe I'm reading much too much into the image. I see innocent days. A blonde child, a shaggy dog, a jeep with the steering wheel on the right side. Paul and Linda by the sea wearing their wellies and socks, perhaps matching wellies and socks. The guard rail kept them from falling into the frigid waters but it didn't stop life from moving forward.

He was so charming, so incredibly successful. She won his heart. They had it all. But they didn't get to live it out. Maybe it wouldn't have lasted. Maybe their life together, lived in the glare of the headlights, would have unraveled eventually.

But here by the sea they are frozen in a happy domestic moment with their child and their shaggy dog and their wellies.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Garden tour

Yes, the virtual garden tour. All photos taken today. Tomorrow it will look different--things come, things go. I lost some things over the very harsh winter but thankfully most of the hydrangeas came through and the old cherry blossom tree is still hanging in there.

Front door, crepe myrtle trees, spirea

 
Back door, climbing hydrangeas, a peek at my Tibetan prayer flags :)


Back utility enclosure--the Japanese climbing hydrangea is going crazy there


Back yard under the cherry tree--there are chickadees nesting in the bird house


Volunteer ferns (came up when I pulled up the overgrown ivy) under the cherry tree


Front step--hosta in a pot

Front--under my kitchen window

 Back patio


Patio view from inside the living room


The sun

Oakleaf hydrangeas on the brick wall from the road

Friday, June 6, 2014

Pillow with no name

There was a big, big Amazon box on my doorstep a couple of days ago. I pretty much knew what it was before I opened it. My body pillow had arrived.

I’ve spent years sleeping single in a double bed. In most respects it’s not a problem. Actually it has a lot of advantages—no one snoring or kicking off the blankets or encroaching on my side of the bed. I can sleep in the middle of the bed. I can get up and get back into the bed a thousand times without anyone shouting, “Donna! For the love of God, can you just stay still for more than 5 minutes?” Or worse, “I’ve had it with you and your coughing—go sleep in the basement.” (I had pneumonia when he said that. I slept in the basement for weeks.)

The body pillow is filled with genuine goose down and has a hypoallergenic cover. It’s nearly as tall as I am and I can manipulate it to suit my moods. I can throw my leg over it when my hip hurts. (I hear Taj Mahal singing, “Throw your big leg on me mama ‘cause I might not feel this good again.")

Last night I had a crazy dream about trying to find a place to pour water into my computer. I often confuse the coffeemaker and the computer, can’t remember which one needs water to function. So when I woke up from the dream, feeling a little too warm, I kicked the body pillow on the floor. Can’t do that with a man. Don’t even try.

Since it shares my bed nightly, I’m thinking my sleeping companion needs a name. It needs to be a male name—that’s just the team I’m on. I know the pillow is made of goose down and the source of the goose down could be my inspiration for a name. I’m thinking pâté de foie gras, the pillow must be of French origin so I’ll call it Alain. Nope—checked the tag. It’s goose down from China. "Damn, why China," she whined. I could call it Mao Tse-tung but I’m not in the mood to snuggle with Chairman Mao. Or I could risk punishment, tear the tag from the pillow, and give it any name I want. I’m working on it. I think it’s worth the risk.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The humble abode

Finally . . . I'm keeping a long-term promise to post photos of the inside of my house. (Not including the lower level--respectable in its own right--and the exterior. Garden photos to come.) It's always changing, chalk paint furniture coming and going, things moving around. This is how it looks today.

Living Room (I know you'll love seeing my laundry drying outside)








Dining Room






Kitchen (Miss Eva eating in the corner)






First Floor Powder Room (note that Frida Kahlo cannot be on the same wall as the Guadalupe--they don't get along well)




Random Hall Photos




Guest Room




Guest Bath



Master Bedroom (my tranquil place, the park outside the windows. . . )




 Master Bathroom (with my bracelets)






My Office