It’s pouring out today and tomorrow my son turns 40. We’ve had a complicated relationship for years now, something I feel a lot of sadness about, but I have no idea how to reconcile with him anymore. Reconciliation between two people is an exchange, isn’t it? And how do you do that when mental health issues also come into play? Without the process feeling like someone’s getting beaten up, and experiencing a lot of pain? How do we find a better way … of being, of relating? Without a long, gentle conversation, perhaps while doing enjoyable activities together, I’m not sure that is something that will ever be possible with him again. Playing a board game, or cards, doing a jigsaw puzzle, maybe someday camping again? It’s been difficult to accept, it may always feel that way, but as his mother, it is so very hard remembering who he once was on his way to becoming — just a sweet, kind, gentle boy who loved nature, music, and make-believe play — yep, hope is not something it’s easy for me to let go of where my child is concerned.
About the desk trip — it’s really a time trip, but the portal is my desk. Something about being at a desk puts me in a trance, puts me in the zone, and the next thing I know I’m tripping through time and once again swept up in the never-ending story of it all. I sit at the one I have now every day, sometimes staring into space, daydreaming, or crossing my arms on it in front of me, to put my head down for a rest, and I think of sweltering Spring mid-afternoon “naps” in Catholic elementary school. Those nuns were on to something, you know? Siesta.
My mother’s been resting now in her forever plot for seven years today, and I think about her.
She bought me my first desk, an unfinished desk that she finished in an antique off-white she was so fond of in her early furniture refinishing days. How she must have worked on that desk, thinking of how excited I’d be when I saw it. How she even managed all of what she did with the four of us girls, over the years. At that time we were all under the age of almost six. She got me that desk for my sixth birthday, my dad away at sea a lot in those years (Cuban Missile Crisis, Bay of Pigs, Suez Canal, Mediterranean, supposed to be gone for two weeks on one “tour” only to have it stretch into two months).
Years later, I remember her telling me how I cried because she got me a desk for that birthday. Six years old. What six year old wants a desk, right? My twenty-six year old mother had to have been misinformed, surely? But then she had nothing to go on really, her own mother having died when she was seven, before she’d even had a chance to cry over much of anything yet.
I did some of my best daydreaming in school at a desk, and a lot of that as I’ve grown older has turned into some of my best writing, as well as some of my worst. It feels good to sit at this designated place where I gather my thoughts, make my lists and give my brain a rest from trying to remember it all. It turns out not only do I WANT a desk, but I NEED a desk — even if it’s only a tray in my lap. So thanks, Mom, for that first desk. And Mom? Just so you know, I still have it — it sits in the basement holding my laundry supplies.
Yesterday was a long day as we took an unexpected road trip to Southern NH. We avoid any travel through and around Boston especially, because basically the sprawl continues to creep. Ever further, bringing with it more waves of vehicles, including trucks of all sizes and kinds (the heavy equipment trucks are the scariest because who knows how much training the drivers even get, what with the CDL Driver shortage, and the rush to “get it done.”), literally blowing by us when we ourselves are admittedly already over the speed limit at 70-80mph. LOL, and if you saw the state of the roads, and the crumbling bridges you hold your breath on, and under, you wonder why in the name of heaven would there be talk of building more roads, new exits and so on, when we don’t even maintain what we have. No, travel in most of Massachusetts, and anyplace “progress” continues to encroach, is no longer an enjoyable pursuit like the old “Sunday drive.” Not much country left here in this state, and the bits that are left still see their share of amped up, impatient drivers blasting through a “shortcut” to another place. And, while it wasn’t rush hour, man, I tell ya, a road trip through and around Boston to go out of state to pick up your son after you bail him out of jail makes for one hair-raising kind of day. Huh, and that’s just the state of our roads. On my son’s most recent manic “adventure” last Labor Day weekend, he drove cross-country to California in a jalopy of a truck we truly believed wouldn’t make it, but did; and wandered the streets of L.A. for the better part of a month trying to get said truck back from the company that had towed it, while borrowing money to get by until he received his October check, at which time he rented a U-haul van and drove back home. It was a relief to know he was finally safe, even if it was just his RV in the woods. But where we live and its lack of public transportation, you really do need a car, especially if you live in the woods, and all this time we’ve been thinking he’s either borrowing a friend’s vehicle, or must’ve found another wreck to fix up, he’s been driving the frickin’ U-haul, with the idea he’d return it at some point. This is the reality of living with mental illness, whether your own, or a beloved family member’s, in this case both. I’m fortunate in that I’ve had lifelong insight, recognition and acceptance of my own. My son does not. Doesn’t recognize when he’s manic and delusional. Bipolar Disorder with Psychosis. Why couldn’t it just be plain old Major Depressive Disorder? At least it wouldn’t get him in so much trouble. So many of those who suffer from mental illness end up in the criminal justice system, and that in itself is a crime. Between the harrowing ride up to NH, our first hour locked in a cinder block cell-like waiting room, cell phones forbidden, no public rest rooms (we asked); finally asking if we could sit in our car (ring buzzer, speak through intercom, hope for prompt response — staff were polite and relatively prompt, I’ll give them that) because we were wearing our coats and still freezing in there, our dog was in the car, and at least we’d be somewhat comfortable while we waited another two hours for the one Bail Commissioner who travels the State posting bail for others to finish work elsewhere, as well as eat his lunch, before we were finally able to return home — during metro-Boston rush hour. It was a punishing day all-around, and a welcome relief to get home. Just another one of those days, not uncommon in the span of my lifetime so far.
My Irish cousin died the other day after a few months of illness. He was 84, a farmer, who farmed the ancestral farm, ReenoGreena, Glandore, County Cork. I met him and his wife, Anne, for the first time twenty years ago on my first visit to Ireland. He was at that time the age I am now. He had one grandson in particular who loved farming as much as he did, and I’m hoping his farming legacy continues through many future generations. For the brief moments I spent with Pat and Anne on my visits, I truly appreciated their down-to-earth demeanor and their ability to see through pretense. My mother was another soul who recognized pretense, and I believe she would have got on with them quite well. How can you not feel comfortable with folks who have no use for lofty pretense?
I watched Pat’s funeral service live-streamed from his parish in Ireland this morning. Normally, I have no use for traditional funeral masses as I have little use for the Catholic Church these days, but this experience surprised me. It was actually a beautiful ceremony. I’ve been to so many services that lack personality and the personal. His was not the case, his daughter Siobhan’s eulogy, even the priest’s words, captured the spirit of my cousin; upon reflection now I can see it soaring amidst the flying buttresses of that church. Although I didn’t know Pat well, I felt a peace and comfort hearing about his life of family, farm, community and church, his absolute faith in the miracle of baler twine and vise-grips as an all-purpose fix-it, not only for hay, but also for trousers in need of a belt or coats with broken zippers. To have lived an entire life, amidst the beauty of a familiar landscape on ancestral lands, surrounded by the stories and the people he shared that life with, ah, what a rich, full life indeed. Who cares about fame and fortune with a life like that? To hear that a local schoolboy, when asked what he wants to be when he grows up, answered with “a Pat Hurley,” fills me with a longing for a life that we Americans know far too little of.
”You can fix anything with baler twine and vise grips, and if you can’t, it’s not worth fixing.”
-Pat Hurley, ReenoGreena
Just made my afternoon pot of tea, and figured I’d try to write a little something. My writing mojo has been fits and starts lately, so I figure best to start where I am to get it going again. And where I am at the moment is parked in the lounge chair again because it’s day 3 of my latest bout with Vertigo. And I’m not talking the Hitchcock movie. The last time I had vertigo, the Epley Maneuvers I did worked almost immediately. This time is taking a bit longer. I tell myself to enjoy the spells when they happen — my friends and I used to sneak into local carnivals, flirt with the carnies and then ride for free on the most terrifying thrill rides — sometimes two or three rounds on the Zipper or the Bullet before the guys would finally give us a break and let us off.It was a blast and the annual county fair was our playground for the duration it was here, so yeah, I tell myself, hey, this Vertigo thing can be just as much fun as those wild rides, yeah? And a heck of a lot safer. (As long as I’m not standing.) Here’s to putting a positive spin on things, right?
Returned home from a few days away yesterday. My dad will be back late from Ireland tomorrow, and today I sweated bullets in his flat, sorting through stuff that’s been lingering in boxes throughout his condo, gathering dust for the six years since my mother died. He has drawers, shelves, his attic — any possible nook imaginable with stuff cram-jammed everywhere. Stuff he’s been holding onto for my sisters, me, grandkids, in the event one of us wants it, or “needs” it. No one’s shown up to claim it, he simply doesn’t have the space to store it, and looking at these dusty boxes and unused home wares all the time…becomes a constant drain whether we’re aware of it or not. Old habits die hard though, he was a supply officer in the Marines, so he’s like the lady with the pocketbook on the old show “The Price is Right,” when the emcee asks for the most obscure thing and some lady in the audience waves that she’s got it. That’s my dad. Before you buy something, ask Dad. He might have it.
It’s hard going through this kind of stuff alone, representing several different lifetimes of a family’s experiences — history, travels, and varied interests — all accoutrements meant to enhance daily living and hopefully spark joy, but joyful use is not happening when it’s in boxes. My parents had lots of cool stuff — vintage and eclectic, collected from years of moving, travel, and my mother’s interior decorating passions. I’m basically curating, anything I keep must be used and cared for — I’m thinking stewardship, not ownership. “Curate!” Such an overused word of late, it sounds rathe “twee” and smug to me sometimes, unless we’re talking art and history, libraries and museums. But I love the word stewardship a lot, much more so than ownership, in relation to the things we own, the land we live on, the spaces we reside in. On so many levels, cultivating stewardship, just makes more sense to me, and is making it easier for me to part with things, as I wonder who their next steward will be.
I sat outside early this morning in our jungle before the steam of the day rolled in around mid-morning, at which point I retreated to the atelier, where I now sit. Haven’t sat here for a week, as I’ve been away, and while I love away, I still haven’t found my go-to spot for my morning retreat when I’m away. This mini-retreat I take every morning is something I have come to need as a non-negotiable self-care (so overused that word is, BUT…it works) tool. However, while EVERY morning is the goal, it is not always the case, and that goes for when I’m home as well as when I’m away. I sometimes wonder how I can tweak it to make it more probable that it can happen consistently every day, but I haven’t yet figured that piece out yet. Of course, the other thing I struggle with is when I get to that headspace in my mini-retreat, I realize how much I love it in that place and never want the time to end. I think this is how some mystics are born. They don’t know they’re mystics. We don’t KNOW they’re mystics, sometimes until long after they’re gone. Then we may call them ancestors. These folks, they finally just plain decide to take a seat, whether on the front porch, under a plum tree, along a dusty road, or on a sidewalk bench; they sit, and watch the world go, with its drifting clouds, the wind rustling leaves with a quiet hush, birdsong nearby, a grasshopper jamboree in the distance, and scurrying people. People who pass by every day and eventually slow down a little because they’re drawn in to this character they see, but don’t see — whenever they walk by. A glance, a few glances, a shy smile, or perhaps a Cheshire-cat smile, or a tentative smile. Slowly whatever barrier between them begins to dissolve as they become curious — about a story. Each other’s story. And so something begins…and we get to fill in the ending…someday…if there is one…because isn’t that the beauty of story? The Never-ending part of it?
Chapter 1 is now available. If you’re interested, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. This address is only to be used for requesting the five dollar invoice for the chapter, or requesting to be vetted for French Postcards. I will not and can not respond to anything else, including inquiries that aren’t serious.
Be aware that this erotic/satiric/melodramatic story will evolve. There will be occasions when the activity becomes extremely…erm…active, descriptive, vivid scenarios…get the picture? If you enjoy the languid, and lazy unwinding, rather indifferent eroticism of a slow seduction, this may be for you. If you enjoy the pulsating, intense urgency of a stolen moment you’ll never experience again, this may be for you. If you’re wondering, “what’s it all about, Alfie?,” then yes, this may be for you, too. Because, aren’t we all wondering…just what it’s all about?
Yesterday was a good day, beginning with breakfast by a window in the dining room of an old inn, courtesy of the gracious hostess, Amanda, who made an exception and allowed us to sit in a part of the dining room that wasn’t really open. Because she was right. I did help her open a can of worms — as someone else came in after us and also wanted a window table. I probably should have just waited for one of the other window tables to clear, and why I didn’t think of it at the time, I don’t know. It’s not like we have an agenda, or are on a schedule when we come here. I can be a pain-in-the-butt like that. And that leads me to the next good thing. Conversation. The deeper, rawer, could-be-can-be scary kind that turns out all right in the end because we’re listening more from a place of openness rather than our “wounded animal” selves, and we’re hearing it from someone we know in our bones loves us unconditionally, for whatever-the-f$ck reason they do. Those conversations can lead to better self-awareness, perception, and emotional insight, and I like those breakthroughs. There was also porch sitting, watching pre-schoolers lined up waving mini-flags for the Flag Day ceremony at the church across the street, and checking out the swarm of seniors on a bus tour disembarking for lunchtime at the inn. This included bearing witness to the cleverest comb-over you are ever likely to see. It truly was impressive.
All of this in the end led to some good character and story development for a project I’m working on with my favorite Manimal, and when I can feel like I am not only pleasing myself, but I am also pleasing someone else, well for me, that makes for a very good day.