Being a parent means putting on the mantle of responsibility. If you live away from family, have a young child, have a child with special needs, and/or don’t really have a child-friendly social network, that mantle of responsibility is 24 hours a day 7 days a week in perpetuity. That’s tiring. No matter how much you love your cuddly little bundle of joy, it can be draining…especially when you need to get away or do something physically engaging and you literally can’t leave the house.

This has led to some interesting trials at my house. The most successful, meaning the one that has made me laugh the most and still feel good about afterwords, is indoor badmitten. We play it without a net. We don’t keep score. We don’t even count the volleys, but it is a good time.We have high ceilings, so the birdie has lots of room to fly in.

If you wanted to try this at home, it could be an exercise in frustration if you have low ceilings, but perhaps you have an open porch…or maybe you just have some other absolute silliness you can try. Break a rule you set for your kids. See how fun it is to be absolutely in it for the feeling and the break from all the responsibility. Find a way to be home and let loose. Game on, people.

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We wake up to find out the water is gone. The well run dry. This is living in the country and having a shallow well. Someone lets a faucet drip or leaves a toilet running, because they didn’t jiggle the handle or the float valve got caught up or a hose outside got left on…and we have no water.

It’s a minor panic. The feeling of tightening in the throat and fluttering in the chest comes. What if the water doesn’t come back on? What if the pump to the well is burned out again? What if there’s a problem in the line, something we can’t see? What if the well has run dry?

My co-conspirator runs about with a flashlight, tracking down clues inside and outside of the house. We furrow our brows. We nearly crash into each other as we chase around trying to solve the problem (or in my case, trying to understand how he knows where the problem originated and how to fix it…I desperately want to know how to resolve it if he’s not around, if he’s at a conference abroad for a month or just out of town for a day). I pretend to be useful. I ask questions, but not too many. I know that tensions are high. It’s better to ask non-essential questions later after all is well…with the well. Sigh.

I imagine that this is the life of many people in the world, only much much worse. So many living without clean drinking water, without a well. They carry water, often great distances, from the communal well or the river or the lake, and I live in luxury every day for years at a time. Then one morning, we wake and there’s no water. I am an island no longer. Everything feels vulnerable and precarious.

It’s days like this that make me clear about the vigilance I cultivate. Too easy to take everything for granted: where the power comes from, what it costs, what is means to live with others, what it means to have shelter and food and drinking water. I watch the news and notice that panic isn’t present in my response. I can feel distanced from all of it. My little world is safe enough for now, so I cling to that. A self-defense, I suppose.

And then the well is refilling and the pump isn’t broken and the water is running again. There’s a lot of air in the lines, so turning the spigot means a sporadic gushing or trickling of water punctuated by explosions of air being forced out of the pipes. My child flushes a toilet and shrieks because the noises are strange and violent, but it all becomes normalized in seconds. The noise is music to us, relief from the worry of bigger problems…even when our “bigger problems” seems so trivial in a world full of greater hardships. The worries of the privileged are our panic, says my inner critic. Even as we leave a smaller footprint than most folks in our culture, I can’t remove myself from the feeling of guilt.

Secretly, I wish everyone had five minutes of this experience. Five minutes when the water didn’t work and our dependencies and assumptions were revealed. Maybe I only wish it because when it’s happening to me, I know how fragile everything becomes and how much I need so many people to help me, and how much I need the land and the environment to stay healthy enough to support me. I see that my very basic needs outweigh all the wishes and stresses. I want my well to have water again. I want to feel that security, when a pressing need is fulfilled and the worry is past. It makes me want, desperately want, for the needs of Other people to be met, too.

The fish swim all day in their cell block, for my amusement.

My house fills up with more and more and more. One day I’l move out and live in the  barn until I fill it. Then I’ll move to the shed. And then the truck. And then the yard. And then, if there is any justice, the earth will take me back again.

If I stare at the bowl on the table long enough, I can make it slide off and break. A broken bowl doesn’t need washing.

The act of writing is a pall. The illness creates very specific conditions that I must live with. It has not been determined whether it is terminal or not, since the tests for it have yet to be invented.

Save the rats and let the cars all be chewed to extinction.

If you looked in the mirror and saw me, what time period was I in?

Sometimes the life of Poe’s black cat looks pretty good.

When in a Shakespeare seminar, quote from Whitman and Emerson whenever possible. If the professor becomes annoyed suggest she/he might be the problem. If the argument escalates, remind the prof that should this turn out to be a comedy you have no intention of honoring your word and meeting at the front of the church. Should you get kicked out of the course, stand outside the door and charge all the other students a penny for their attendance as fellow groundlings in the pit.

When it patters use the good stuff

*I wrote this several years ago and haven’t changed the present tense or added any commentary, because I think it suits the rawness of my response.

When I became interested in taking another degree (in Fine Art), I felt it was necessary to assign myself work that wasn’t part of the syllabi of my classes. My intention was to learn as I knew some of the great masters in the Arts had. So, I interviewed the instructors at my university who were in charge of the Gross Anatomy lab. They were wonderful people, scientists, medical doctors, and one was even a former medical illustrator. I asked permission to be allowed to enter the lab with a group of physical therapy students who were taking a semester long class on Anatomy and which included a lab component. They would be dissecting human corpses in the lab over the course of one semester.

It was a privilege to be given the opportunity and the responsibility to attend the dissection process in the gross anatomy lab once a week for a semester. I did not complete the whole semester, because of health reasons, but was able to attend bout 2/3 of the semester. It was a daunting, powerful, gripping, and inspiring experience. I learned a new respect for the human body, those who study it, and the absolute beauty of the body’s intricate delicate structures. 

 

I’ve officially had my first day in Gross Anatomy lab and it isn’t that easy to talk about. There were lots of surprises and some serious practice being present to all the new sensory information.

To be clear I went in the lab once before. I took a tour of it with a nuerologist, a really lovely vibrant young doctor who worked as a medical illustrator before she went to medical school and still does some freelance work. The lab was supposed to be empty. This means, all cadavers politely encased in their covered metal lab tables. This was not the case. Instead of a sterile inactive lab space, we walked in to find a class in the process of dissecting. They were diligently working on four cadavers, about five to eight students per body. The smell of the non-formaldehyde embalming solution was extremely strong. I can only say that the bodies were brown and pale ivory, devoid of color and, having had the skin peeled away from chin to the to solar plexus, looked a lot like meat left on the counter too long.

The body absorbs information, but doesn’t always know how to process it. My body hung in there until the tour was over, politely mouthed my thanks and assurances that I’d be in on Monday and then refused to eat anything that wasn’t green for two days. I also came down with a cold and found my mind continually slipping back to the images of the cadavers I’d seen. I wasn’t sure how I would do going back in. My reaction was powerful and quite negative. Some part of me did not want to go back and look at death and decay or smell embalming fluid ever again.

Five days later, I went back. This time to take an hour to sit with a cadaver and draw whatever I felt like drawing. I selected muscle. It was the thing that had haunted me from my first brief exposure.

It was better not to have a mass of students hovering over the cadaver: cutting, looking at textbooks and making small talk about outside of class things, moving the skin sections out of the way so they could get a better angle.

For about five seconds I was a writer. I stood in front of a room of people and took a deep breath about to read a short story I’d spent three years working on. Then as I exhaled I realized I didn’t know what I was any more. I hadn’t even had time to speak the words out loud, “I am a writer,” before I’d lost it.

Why not fake it? Why not lie? Why not say it until it was true?

The falsity never crossed my mind.

I read the story. I performed it, as all stories need to be embodied not merely looked at by eyes darting from right to left absorbing an orderly mass of black symbols staining the page. And then I left the story on the podium and didn’t write another story for several years.

When I fell in love with a poet and songwriter, I stopped almost immediately writing poems. Too frightening to imagine my poems in a room with his. He wrote stories too, but these were more calculated and less vital to me, so I could write stories…for awhile. And then the fears swallowed me up again.

But, then habit takes over. Trying is difficult to stop. We begin again and again and again. “Rinse and repeat,” says one of my friends. I never do it literally, but figuratively there’s a lot of truth in it. The starting and the stopping. The declaration, “I will never write again,” is just one of the constants. I will. I can’t ever quite quiet that need. And some times I think that’s the success. That I can utterly give up and then writing, like a weed that can’t be rooted out, sprouts anew. Whether it’s a poem or a song or a story or a blog or a text, this is how I live…even as I struggle to control it, I can see life is always more vigorous than my censoring. Life is always stronger. It never gives in.

My first memories of playing focus on the object of my desire at that time, a plastic honey bear with a yellow screw-on lid shaped like a dunce’s cone, and Tupperware.

The rules were simple:

1.) Get the bear

2.) Hide. Hide yourself and hide that you have the bear.

This usually meant that I’d find a cupboard that didn’t have safety latches, like the cupboard that housed the Tupperware, and then empty the contents of the cupboard onto the kitchen floor. Climbing inside the cupboard, carrying the honey bear, I’d use my feet to close the door. That was an essential part of the game. Feet close and open doors, whenever possible.

It was never hard to find me.  Plastic containers littering the floor, the sometimes ajar cupboard door with a tiny foot sticking out, my constant humming of made up songs telling the story of what I was doing or thinking all drew attention to my game. I was two or three, I didn’t care if I was found. That wasn’t the point. I knew it was inevitable, but part of the fun was the struggle that  came next. My mom telling me to put all those containers back, began it. Would she notice that I had the honey bear? Would she notice that the honey bear still had honey in it? Was she more likely to take it away if it did or didn’t have honey in it? How much could I drink before she got it away from me?

Those were the days when she’d fill it with water, traces of honey still filling the bear’s toes. Lovely days of drinking honey out of the honeybear and feeling like I’d gotten away with something grand.

 

 

As a woman who values privacy, I recognize the vastness of what isn’t being said. Sometimes I think most of the conversations I have with family, friends, and strangers are really about the things unspoken.

So, when I get in a conversation with someone who does talk about the unspeakable, the strained, the uncomfortable, the wobbly, the sort of-wishful-unsure-what I meant to say was-fear filled-grieving-lost-hard-horrid-unbecoming-confused-humiliating-haphazard-stumble bumbling-exposed experiences, I try very very hard to keep quiet and listen fully. These moments are beryls, precious gems, which I’m being given a privileged glimpse of. I remember that we may have mapped the cadaver’s heart perfectly, but the head/heart that is in us cannot be mapped. It is sung, told, felt.

In honor of the spilling of all things unspoken, I offer these few moments from people who gave me one of the greatest gifts I know, they told me a part of their story. My love and gratitude to each of you, for your teachings. (I hope all who read this will understand that I have decided to use only stories of people I met in passing, who I have not had contact with in many years.)

“Thank you,” she said to me, “for what you said about the woman whose father was, you know, raping her. Me too, you know. I mean not my father, but anyway, you know…she was me.”

“I don’t let anyone touch me, so no one can use me.”

“They never told me, my father and stepmother, that the woman I thought was my sister was my mother. I hate them. I hate them all.”

She said she wasn’t sure if she was a good mother, because she gave away two of her four children when she found she could not feed herself and them. (She had her two youngest children–a toddler and an infant–adopted during a time of incredible poverty when she contemplated prostituting her body to feed her four children. She chose the youngest two, because she felt they would be the most able to adjust and the easiest to have adopted, but the pain of this experience was/is a wrenching torment and also what she described as her bravest hour. Years later she became remarried, her two older children were able to remain with her and her new husband, go to college, and they, quite literally, owed their survival to her sacrifice.)

When he was three he stood in the yard and swung the bat again and again at the tree until the tree bent, until the tree broke and the boy cried…but couldn’t see why he should have been crying, says he wasn’t angry. “I wasn’t angry,” he repeats even now.