the dark

I have always thought I would write a book about my life. I am often inspired by memoirs, and I think I would like to write my own. I just have not known where to start. How do I sift through all the events and misfortunes of an overfull life and choose one thread to begin the weaving of my story? For too long, I have stared at blank computer screens and doodled on the pages of notebooks, trying to sort out how to best write for an audience. Wondering what inspirations and insights I could draw from the details of my life that would interest the reader has only resulted in a series of random thoughts, somewhat meaningful blurbs, and false starts. Meanwhile, the growing congestion in my mind from the contemplation of this life has become a thick cloud threatening to extinguish my soul’s spark, and the shadow that it casts leaves me in the dark.

Writing is no longer a pastime or a hobby, but it has now become a necessity. Where to start seems insignificant, I just need a place for this overflow. I wonder if I can cut a hole in the bottom of my consciousness. Then, as it starts to drain and spill out its contents, perhaps I can form the flow into a collection of words and write my way to clarity. But first,  I will begin with the dark. In order to maintain sanity, I’ve got to find a way write my way out of this dark…

*                                 *                                 *

It is dark. I need it to be dark. The lights are off, the blinds are drawn to shield me from the daylight, and, there is a cool damp cloth over my eyes. Even the smallest hint of light can bring the stabbing pain back. It’s quiet too, but not quiet enough. My earplugs help to muffle the beeping of the machines and the voices outside my room, but the arms I am too weak to even lift still long to raise hands and cover my ears. Light and sound are unwitting accomplices to the pain. I just want it all to stop, but there is no escape.

Every three hours, I get more pills and morphine. As everything grows fuzzy and the pain is pushed back into a corner, I feel just human enough to notice my chapped lips, my dry nasal passages and throat. I ask for a sip of water, I try to talk for a minute. Then, I drift off to sleep for a couple of hours, where I trade the pain for drug induced dreams that exhaust and sometimes terrify me. Before the three hours are up, I’m ripped out of sleep by the return of my tormentor, then the endless, retching vomit that is causes, and more blinding pain.

There is always a family member or loved one watching over me, to hold the bucket for me, to wipe my mouth and face afterwards, to gaze at me with helpless pity. “Just a little bit longer,” they try to encourage me, “then, they can give you more medicine.” I close my eyes and flail weakly for the bucket again as the retching and the vomiting continues. No room for my traumatized brain to even attempt forming thoughts, I just have to endure. There is no escape. I am fighting to live, fighting to believe that this will pass and I will heal, fighting to remember who I am and why I should keep fighting to keep at bay death’s tempting promise of relief.

*                                 *                                 *

If I look at a scan of my brain now, there is a small dark area in the right hemisphere. Death came to visit, and though I fought him off, he left his mark. Everyone talks about the miracle of recovery, the resiliency and regeneration, and my luck. To be sure, I am grateful for the lessons and my survival. Yet, within my own mind, I am aware of the changes wrought by the dark, which are so subtle as to go unnoticed by most. Sometimes, as I take inner inventory, I still grieve for what was lost.

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trying

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” That is what I was taught, and I have found value and strength in that principle. Still, on occasion, I have been told I am exhaustingly relentless. I have also been called, and felt like, a failure…

There is something, I’m not sure what yet, but I sense it there, just out of reach. I am trying desperately to get to it, similar to the way I contort myself from the front seat, trying to pick something up behind me off the floor in the back of my car. I strain and twist, perhaps even with a little grunt, but my fingers can’t quite grasp it. Sometimes I can touch a corner of it, but in trying to nudge it closer, it rolls even farther away. Finally, after several failed attempts, my spine tweaked and muscles protesting, I give up.

I feel like the awkward boy in “The Karate Kid.” I keep trying to master the motions (wax on, wax off…), but I am getting irritated because I can’t quite grasp or visualize how these seemingly redundant and subtle movements are going to make me a champion fighter. While I am thinking about it, I am realizing how prevalent this idea was in these older movies. Even Luke Skywalker, in his training with Yoda, had to learn to stop trying in order to master “the force”.

I heard a story recently about a Buddhist monk who, though he had studied with and followed the Buddha for many years, he remained unenlightened. Upon the Buddha’s death, he spent an entire night trying in passionate earnest to attain enlightenment. Finally, as the sun was coming up, he gave up. The story says that it was in that moment, when he accepted that he could not do anything to reach this state on his own and stopped trying, that he became enlightened.

Here’s my thought for today: if after the first few attempts you don’t succeed, you just might be trying too hard.

waiting and cold coffee

Some days are open and unplanned, with the potential for promise or complete emptiness. Some days are like this. So, you shuffle around the house in your slippers, restless and undecided. There’s a mug of coffee in your hand that grew cold hours ago. You sit down in front of the computer and run a hand through uneven hair that’s barely there (because you cut it all off yourself a few weeks before), rubbing the bits of sleep out of the corner of your eyes, while trying to figure out how to translate into words the growing congestion in your mind.

You know there is something there, but where are the words? How do you piece them together, and if you did, what purpose would that serve? What are words for anyway? For a frustrated, scowling moment, you resent the constant search and your need for these words. Perhaps, because you recognize that without words, your world would be an endless, barren, colorless landscape. You know, all too well, that without them you would shrivel up and die, and you almost did once….you remember that time when you clung to words, like a life jacket on a sinking ship. That time when you were trapped inside yourself, and as you fought desperately to rescue the words from drowning, those words brought you safely back to the surface of yourself. There you lay for a time, breathless and half dead, drying out on the shores of life…

Since then, the recovery for you both has been mostly floundering, interspersed with brief periods of flow. Then, there are days like these, when perhaps still traumatized and recovering, the words withhold themselves from you. “You have been impatient, you have been needy and too demanding,” they seem to say almost reproachfully, “so, frustrated silence is all you deserve today.” The chair screams in protest as you push it backwards, and resigned, pull your hovering hands back from the lettered black keys.

Some days are full of potential. Some days are just for waiting and drinking cold coffee.

the magic of words

 

“I should have gotten out of bed that night, before they took you away…” my daughter mused this morning.

We were sitting in the car, outside of school, in our usual spot. Snow flurries were lazily drifting down and melting on the windshield. Her older sister always gets out of the car as soon as we arrive, so she can socialize with friends before class starts, and this gives me and my middle daughter our bit of time alone together each day. When she was a baby, she and I were so close. I felt like I knew just how to be her mother, but after my divorce from her Dad, she pulled into herself a little bit. She kept things to herself, and I struggled to know how to read her. Then, a few years later, when her younger sister was born, overnight – literally and figuratively, she became a middle child.

It has only been in the last year that we have figured out how to reconnect. She thinks and feels things deeply, but unlike her often overly expressive mother (and sisters), she tends to get frustrated by and can be uncertain of how to articulate clearly. Instead, she holds it in, until it finds a way out, typically in less constructive ways. Or, she used to. Now, she is writing things, lovely stories with complex characters and thoughtful dialogue, and she is playing musical instruments. As she discovers these things that come naturally and easily to her, she is blossoming in front of me.

So, this morning, we were discussing topic ideas for a short story assignment her teacher had given her. The assignment stated that it had to come from an actual life experience, but she didn’t seem to think she had anything that interesting to write about. In typical mom fashion, thinking that this might also be a great opportunity to help her process a traumatic life event, I suggested she write about her experience of the night 3 years ago when I had been rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. It had been the beginning of the most difficult year of our lives, a time when I was often absent and mostly consumed with my own survival, and I am still not sure what that time was like for her. She nodded thoughtfully, considering my suggestion, and then said, “I should have gotten out of bed that night, before they took you away… so I could say goodbye.”

Then, she smiled, more certain, “That’s a good idea, I think I will write about that.” Inside of me, in that secret place where I store all manner of accumulated guilt and grief, there was a sudden surge of relief. Finally, I get an opportunity to take a peek through a window into her sweet little soul, reassured by the recognition that this is where she and I can meet and make sense to each other, as two people who find companionship and solace in the weaving of words. “And, I think you already know exactly how to start it,” I cautiously encouraged her, and she agreed. “Thanks, Mom,” she seemed lighter again, a return to her carefree self. Then, she kissed me on the cheek and got out of the car, turning to look back at me before she shut the door, “I love you.”

There are mornings when I raise my voice and lose my cool, nagging and rushing to get everyone out the front door on time. There are many moments when I feel inadequate and insufficient for this often demanding and most difficult of roles. There are days that we struggled just to get through, but then there are times like these. When everything comes into focus, and my full heart soars.

bread

Today, everything I start to write has the feel of bullshit. I am trying too hard. Figuring out where to start, how to sound articulate and profound… Then, it becomes all about the reader, not the writing, not the story. I don’t want to agonize over every word, trying to figure out how to paint moving descriptive verbal imagery, like the author of one of the books I have been reading lately. Her book is full of sentences I sometimes find myself rereading 2 or 3 times, not for clarity and comprehension, but to savor them. Her writing is delicious. I want to write deliciously… I want to do more than tell a story. I want the words to stimulate the senses, to inspire a sigh of pleasure, or even a groan of pain.

I was eating gluten free for about 8 months. It seemed to be the right thing to do for my body, at the time, but recently I changed my mind. The reasons are inconsequential, but for 8 months I had nothing with wheat or gluten. For 8 months, I fantasized about the spongy, softness of a loaf of bread. That first piece of buttery bread, after that much time away, was a rare uncomplicated moment of flavorful, textural bliss. That is how I want to write. I want reading the words I put together to feel like my mouth and taste buds felt eating that first piece of real bread, after eight months of nothing but dry and flaky gluten free alternatives. I want to write in a way that feels like a return to the way things used to be, when everything inside is relieved to be reminded of what it recognizes as good.