Musical notes

It's a classic April day, wet and cold and gray. I turn up the radio as if the beat can drive out the chill and the gloom. I'm humming along, and I realize the tune is "Call Me Maybe", a song that went down in infamy and parody. But I am smiling, and there are tears forming, because this song means Rosy spinning in circles, singing every word into her hairbrush microphone, a sunny summer when her very best friend came to live with us. It means the smell of coconut oil, the glisten of children's skin in the long shadows of evening, crickets singing us through the night.

Music is woven into my very soul. I wonder sometimes if it is my framework, my foundation. Songs become part of memories, and I am used to the saudade that comes with theme songs of friendships, lovers, family. Not until today did I realize that entwined with the faces and places of my 35 years are strands of specific times, vibrant, almost piercing memories of my children's paths to adulthood. It is beyond bittersweet, that unbearable ache that accompanies the joy of our most precious memories. Longing because we wish we were in that time now, in this moment. Sadness that it was so beautiful and now it's over. Ecstasy - a little taste, at least - because you experienced it.

I am learning to walk something called the "middle path". I can hold a burning coal of pain now in one hand, and a bouquet of happiness in the other. My past has been very black and white: people, activities, possessions, goals, hopes and dreams, inner longings and outward behavior - they were all neatly divided into two piles, good and evil. As my eyes adjust to the many shades of gray that is life in this beautiful, tragic existence, I slowly gain a tolerance for ambiguity. I can rest even if I don't have something figured out. I've learned to put deep questions on a shelf in my head when life needs to be lived instead of figured out.

My everyday playlist includes a song from every decade, every genre: because music is paired with memories, not taste. Local Bon Iver is tucked next to Pearl Jam; Chopin's Raindrop prelude is followed by Regina Spektor...
Rascal Flatts for a pity party...
the Weepies for rainy days...
Jewel for my first girlfriend...
the Allman Brothers and Jackson Browne because of my papa...
Bonnie Raitt for the ups and downs of marriage...
Coldplay for a year my best friend spent in Europe...
Linkin Park brings back the dance of snowboarding.
Simon and Garfunkel for the almost suicides...
Rufus Wainwright for babies and children tended on death beds...
Alicia Keys and Nelly Furtado for the summer my first baby girl was born.

Follow this link, click full-screen and turn your speakers up.

Confessions of a former christian blogger: A sense of Pride on Easter

I used to travel a lot. It's one of the shared passions that drew me to Aaron, in fact. He suffered as much wanderlust - if not more - than I, and I thought then it was for the same reasons. We both get wild from being in the same place for too long. He says it is a prairie boy thing. For me, it is the need to blow the dust off and remember who I really am. I have hungered for this my whole life, as long as I can remember. A need for isolation, and unfamiliar vistas, and long periods of relative inactivity of the mind that allows one to drift along through many problems in a short period of time.

I'm driving down the road in the afternoon, on my way back to town to pick up my kids when I stop to take this picture. It's warm, and I'm looking down at the cuff of my chore coat and a sweater, and I'm driving this big truck past the muted fields that seem to go on forever in some places. I am not seeing rural Wisconsin, though. I am seeing somewhere in Wyoming, Montana, Vermont perhaps. All that's missing is the mountains in the distance.

I used to talk to myself in the car when I was younger. It was only by talking to myself out loud that I could unravel my ideas in a time of life that involved a lot of uncertainty and uncontrollable pain. I always tried to stop because I thought it was crazy. I have lived life in fear of crazy, in fear of people, in fear of being shunned and alone...and therefore crazy. Lately, I've taken it up again, along with fantasies of other states and countries. I guess some pain sinks you so deep in the mud of your old self that you start acting like you're 17 again. The inside of yourself is so loud with keening and details and paranoias that you have to say things out loud in order to hear them. You get so lost in the way you're supposed to be, the way that would make other people feel less pain, or accept you, the way that wouldn't change any of your relationships except the one you have with get so lost there that you can't remember the sound of your own voice.

And so it is on the eve of Easter on the first year I didn't beg at the foot of a cross to be rid of all this. The first year I have spent this holiday with my very own unredeemed and unabashed self and not needed to join in the scourge that is celebrated at Easter. Like it or not, universe, I don't really have any other choice but to be myself. Even if it takes the occasional trip to the relative isolation of a different place, even if it means talking out loud to hear myself think. Even if it means temporary pain and even if it means losing some things along the way.

Maybe someday I'll go to the mountains just to see them.

I have nothing to say

My feet take me places and my fingers forget to follow: it's as if life, in all it's vacuous chaos, has drained the words right from me with nothing left to put down in black and white. A writer's life has seasons as any artist's does: sometimes life inspires you and you record your perceptions in your own unique voice; then, too, the magnitude of the visual expanse of our world stops us up with it's enormity and no words are adequate to describe it.

My camera is dusty, too. A recent thrift store acquisition of a Yashica medium format SLR camera with a ground glass lens, and an original Canon Super8 video camera have left digital media far behind. I stood in a St. Louis hotel suite a few weeks ago stopped up by the chair they had left for me, the symmetry of it in the lance of light through the crack in the drapes, but more so the fact that I had four days alone in the anonymity of a fancy hotel, with THIS chair to sit in and look out on the urban landscape.

There were other moments of happiness captured: green grass in March under shiny new gray oxfords. An Ethiopian restaurant where I ate mounds of spicy lamb curry with hot from the oven injera. I was on my way to get a new tattoo: something I do when the pain of the past threatens to swallow me whole. I call it alternate rebellion. My brain is sending me on impulsive journeys to places I no longer want to visit, and pain is what stops me in my tracks. No longing wielding weapons against my own body, ironically it is healthier to hand a stranger a hundred and sit for an hour while they stab my skin with a high speed needle and paint.

I rented a car and when my mind began to wander to the sadness and stress of my everyday life, I hopped in and drove fast on the highways to a totally different part of the city. I travel to old St. Louis, which everyone tells me to avoid. I'm not very good at listening to warnings when I'm on an adventure. Especially by myself. So I take pictures of the boarded up old French row houses in the slums; I find a huge stone column, some remnant of a majestic building from the French period - now standing testament to a long-gone era, right in the middle of a road with a round-about built to avoid it. I drink espresso and eat beignets at a bakery advertising "hot and fresh". The windows boast iron bars to deter break-ins, and the inside is dingy and old with cracked linoleum underfoot and wobbly oak tables and chairs. There is a dusting of sugar on everything I touch. The beignets are roasting hot, the sugar melting into the crust. They're the best I've ever eaten. The "espresso" is Southern style - made from fine ground chicory and coffee.

Flowers are just beginning to bloom and I pick a magnolia blossom and set it on my dash. All this beauty in a four day business trip. I breathe deep and think I am lucky - for that is what it is, not a blessing or some experience designed to delight me, but just luck. The worst days of my life have occurred over these same weeks of silence, and it is only by building happy moments into bitterly difficult days that I thrive in no-man's land in a battle I stumbled upon.

The tattoo is my largest yet. I choose my left leg, I choose symbols carefully for their meanings in this season. The top is an enso, a mark that symbolizes an unfinished volume or chapter: it is for strength and for the void that coexists with our universe. Below it, I ask for a colorful eban, a West African symbol that is painted on the fences of small towns vulnerable to pillaging, attack, and other unspeakable violence. It represents the strong fence protecting the village: security and safety for all within it's walls. The diamonds are homes, and the colors all mean something that speaks peace into my situation: black is for warriors; green is for the ability to provide; red is for the deep attachment between the community or family members; and yellow means the space is precious and beautiful to it's inhabitants. The two "e" symbols mean something to me as well. It is a bold move for a bold time, marking a new step in my transformation, a step toward maturity, self-sufficiency, and - perhaps most important - my newly brave and powerful voice.

I return to winter and to adventures with my kidlets. We go to the American Girl store and I am surprised to enjoy it, such a girly place. In just the past year, femininity has been both something I can ignore or choose depending on how I feel, and also it is no longer dangerous. Instead it feels peaceful and joyful and expressive. Watching my girls and niece dance around the store in giddy delight over all the dolls reminds me of the countless hours I spent playing with my baby dolls all alone, dreaming of babies and a home to call my own someday. That desire seemed antithetical to my tomboy nature and my fear of marriage. Things work out differently than we imagine in our heads.

As I write here less, I have sometimes felt a twinge of guilt. But this blog is simply my story. Some seasons have required many lines typed to cipher through all the thoughts in my head. I have less to interpret these days, living authentically instead of in a cage of expectations. So the blog rests for weeks on end while I am busy living.

Which is the best possible development on a blog that has chronicled cancer and illness and loss and grief and shame. Join me in quietly celebrating by simply living the life you were designed to live.