The three best things that happened to me yesterday happened before 6:30am: 1) a line in a poem that wouldn’t come right seemed like it would; 2) I thought of a way to return to a writing project that I keep abandoning; and 3) my 4-year old son walked into the kitchen in his penguin pajamas with his armload of sleeping paraphenalia and said, “Hello there, my friend.”
More on Alligators and Unwilling Self-Exposure
One thing most women of a certain age know is that the search for a bathing suit requires extensive online research (going to an actual shopping establishment is torturous and laughable), along with a potential bank loan to finance the cost of the suit. You have to pay for coverage, slimming and enhancement, and no price is too high.
A year or two ago, when I knew I had to deal head-on with the burdensome weight problems caused by my anti-nervous-breakdown pills, I suffered through the purchase of two bathing suits. Or bathing costumes, really. They cost approximately $8,000 each. When I went down to visit my parents in FL last month, I knew I’d need them because my son would want to go in the water and I would, against all my desperate longings, have to accompany him.
I forgot the suits at home. Mostly because I packed at 4:00AM on the day of the flight, and my head wasn’t quite right. But I arrived in Naples with a dilemma. I needed a suit, but was highly unwilling to pay the exorbitant fee one involves, nor could I face the trying-on process. So my mother, who accused me of forgetting my bathing suits at home on purpose, which was ridiculous because they are worth more to me than gold, frog-marched me into Wal-Mart to acquire a bathing garment, along with, I desperately hoped, a large cover-up.
The first cover-up met with maternal disapproval: “That looks like a shroud!” “Perfect,” I thought, and tossed it into the cart. As far as the bathing garments…suffice to say that when you are looking for something well-cut and flattering, Wal-Mart is the last place you should even consider going. Unless you are a 16-year-old size 2, it’s best to interpret the old person’s greeting at the door as, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”
When it was time to go to the water park, I lathered Gabe up and then retired to the bathroom to squeeze, yank and shove myself into the horrible Wal-Mart bathing garment. On went the shroudish cover-up. And then, in the car, the final humiliation came.
I was wearing sunblock, but as I had not been exposed to sunlight for six Midwestern winter months, I was looking forward to “getting some sun.” “You need a hat, ” my parents said. “The sun is very strong, you need something to keep the sun off your head and face.”
“Absolutely not,” was my first thought, as I have a number of gorgeous and exotic beach hats at home, and could see nothing like them within reach. But no sooner could I turn around when a white GOLF visor was being shoved on my head. A golf visor. A white one. Not even black. I felt like a land manatee in a bad disguise.
When we got to the water park, I slunk into the water with Gabe, and it was actually quite fun, the playfulness, the pleasure he was experiencing. However, out of the corner of my eye I was stealthily watching my father, who seemed to want to capture these moments on film, and I knew without question that if I saw him even reach for his iPhone, I would slap it out of his hand in a heartbeat, right into the 4-foot deep kiddie pool.
There were no alligators at the water park, but their repulsive, fearless presence from the day before haunted me. People In Florida say, “They are more afraid of you then you are of them. No. No, they are not. (click to watch).
Now, the thing about alligators is that they give occasion to experience a deep, primal fear. Alligators can and will come after you. The bad thoughts in your head about the size of your stomach or thighs will come after you too. But they don’t have to kill you. The time that I spent in the water with Gabe made me feel light and free and playful. My body felt like my body again.
Alligators are a constant reminder of the predatory nature of depression and desperate, panic-ridden thinking. It’s said in research literature about self-development, fear, and growth, that the worst decisions we can make come from the “reptilian” part of our brains. That is our basest level, the one most preoccupied with self-preservation. The poet John Donne said that “When a man is wrapped up in himself he makes a pretty small package.”
My parents, who are tremendously great sports, got in the water also, especially my Dad who took Gabe down the waterslide tons of times. We all went on the lazy river, which was very relaxing, except for the weird 20 year olds with multiple tattoos whose tubes kept bumping into mine. (At public pools you are practically naked at very close proximity to total strangers and this is not okay with me.)
I had been feeling quite down earlier in the day. Having to “be on,” i.e. go to a water park dressed as an entirely unfamiliar version of myself seemed beyond my comprehension and psychological capacities. But it turned out fine. Seeing Gabe smile and play, and feeling the love and effort of my parents was a type of buoyancy. As I said, my dad went down the water slide over and over with Gabe while I stood on and watched with pleasure and gratitude (and fear of the trips to the chiropractor if I myself went down.)
If love alone could cure any of life’s problems, I would be running marathons and writing novels. But swimming in the kiddie pool with my son was a triumph of love and fortitude that was made possible by the steadfast presence of my parents.
As hard as it can be to even, as Andrew Solomon, author of Depression: the Noonday Demon, says, to take the concept of other people’s suffering on board when one is in its depths, I truly believe that is the only way out. Being aware that there is pain in the world, and that our own suffering gives us something to offer back to others in the “same boat” (or the same inner tube) is what helps us pull each other out. It brings us back to life.
The Green Alligator
By Sidi J. Mahtrow
There’s a green alligator.
Lying on the bank out of the water,
His (or her) hide, a bilious green
And as it dries has a certain sheen.
Some would say that’s most un-natural
But I reply that’s colors, factual.
Brought about by being in a water that’s
Filled with chlorophyll bearing plants
And as the gator swims along,
He can’t help but being tagged upon
By those single celled organisms that live there
In the primordial soup we all share.
‘Haps, this is his way
Of disguise from his prey,
But I prefer to believe
He’d much rather have a reprieve
From the pollution
In his watery bouillon
That coats everything large and small
From snout to tail and all.
But as he sleeps along the shore,
Covered by this slime and more,
I wonder if evolution will raise her head
And make all alligators green instead.
Then no one will notice this one apart
From others with the same colorant.
Regardless, it’s best to avoid the alligator, green
Lurking there, grey-black, or some shade in between.
He knows not why you’re there,
But for him, maybe you’ll become the daily fare.
One agator, Two agator, Three
Green alligators neath the tree,
Slipping, sliding, slopping,
Green gators neath the tree.
Mouth open, teeth, a showing,
Just a grinnin
Green gators neath the tree.
Hides a glowing green
Doesn’t seem so mean,
Green gators neath the tree.
Into the water he’s a slippin
Just a dippin
One green gator’s not neath the tree.
Silent swimmin, easy going
Eyes and nose only showing
Green gator’s gettin close to me.
One agator, Two agator, Three
He’s after m….
Welcome to Florida!
Gaudete Sunday? Anyone?
I learned, completely by accident, that the third Sunday of Advent (i.e. today) is called “Gaudete Sunday,” which I will presently explain. I learned this from a holiday party with my girlfriends last night, at which one of them (who shall remain nameless) can be anal and highly competitive, and made up these lists of “Christmas Trivia” questions. (I can say bad things about her because she knows I love her and she helped deliver my baby, and therefore, we have no secrets from each other. None at all.) Anyway, one of the questions we heard, at least while we were still paying attention to her and her lists, was “What is the 3rd Sunday of Advent called?” None of us knew, not even the practicing Catholic, although I think her guess was the closest. The answer is “Gaudete Sunday,” and as I said, I will explain why this matters shortly. The main thing to know, and actually the main thing that is important about the word “Gaudete” is that it means “Rejoice,” and this party, this gathering of five of the most gorgeous women I know, contained so much rejoicing that at one point I had to go outside because I was afraid I was going to vomit from laughing so hard. And the only thing we were drinking was Fresca.
The Joy of Forced Relaxation
My mother used to tell me that, for several years, when I got home from school, I headed straight for the couch and took a nap. And recently, one of my relatives who is retired told me that he had the perfect daily routine: he woke up, had breakfast, read, listened to the radio or podcasts on his computer, then took his bike out for a 20 mile ride, came home, drank two glasses of wine and took a nap. Then he ate a meal, wrote in his journal, maybe worked in the yard. I cannot tell you what I would give for this life. So I’ve been sick for about a week now and aside from the sick part, (and believe me, if I were sick from something really bad, this would be a radically different post) it’s actually quite lovely, because you see many things that you don’t get to see when you’re out in the world.
Six and Counting
Sheldon Kopp’s Eternal Truth #6 is this: “There is no way of getting all you want.” To which I want to respond with a resounding, “Duh.” It seems so very obvious that it hardly needs to be said, except of course that it does need to be said, because we worry about getting or having all we want all the time.
June Heart of the Month: Bring Your Heart to Work
Well, I’m getting June’s Heart of the Month in just under the wire, but I have a good reason: today my mother, MaryAnne Crowley, officially completed 34 years and nine months of a truly inspiring teaching career. She did a few other things in the meantime, such as gave birth to and stayed home with three children, moved house 5 times, supported my dad as he went to law school at night to pursue his own professional dream of becoming a lawyer, got a Masters Degree as a Reading Specialist, learned to play golf, travelled to more countries than I can think of, and compiled a truly spectacular shoe collection, especially for someone with size 5 feet. The best line at her retirement party was spoken by one of the younger teachers my mother has mentored: “You may have tiny feet, but you have very big shoes to fill.”
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The Beauty of Transience: Our Collective Wisdom
The artists Christo and his late wife Jeanne-Claude created some of the most extraordinary pieces of art in the world. Running Fence, Surrounded Islands, Wrapped Trees, and The Gates are some of the best known. They are enormous environmental projects that take up to 25 years to plan and create. None of their exhibits are permanent.
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“My Heart is Like a Singing Bird”
[Note: Not an in-depth post, but a happy, joyful one in gratitude for all the love I received on my birthday, and for being alive in this good, sweet life. Never perfect, always blessed.]
My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water’d shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
Whose boughs are bent with thick-set fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these,
Because my love is come to me.
Raise me a daïs of silk and down;
Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
Is come, my love is come to me.
A year or so ago, I decided to teach myself to memorize poems so that I could recite instead of read them when I do workshops, because it’s much more powerful, and it makes the poems more accessible. The first time I did this I was scared to death, because it was awkward and slightly weird, and I was afraid that I was going to look ridiculous. I may have indeed looked ridiculous, but it was also very exciting, like speaking a new language, which in fact it was. Now I love it.
I recited Yeats’ “The Song of Wandering Angus,” when a colleague asked me to come talk to his class about writing, and it was a lot of fun because that poem rhymes. Today’s poem by Christina Rossetti is one of the first ones that I learned, also because it rhymes, which makes it much easier to remember. And it is exquisitely sweet and joyful. I feel happy every single time I say this poem, which I once did while walking with a friend on hard, crunchy winter ground (now that I’ve started I can’t stop myself).
But today it is spring, full-on and bounteous. I promise that if you say this poem out loud a few times, your heart will lift up. I promise. [note: “vair” is a kind of fur that was used to trim cloaks; don’t feel weird saying it.] Give it a try! And let me know how it makes you feel! It doesn’t have to be your birthday in order to celebrate your one sweet and precious life. As always, my heart is glad to know that you are here!
Here’s some of what my birthday looked like:
A New Season, a New Project and Some Updates on Familiar Things
Well and here we are! The first post-Lent post! I’m super excited and if you’re here, I hope you are too! There’s a new soon-to-be announced project coming up here at From the Heart, so stay tuned for that! For today, you’ll find updates on some familiar topics, AND a new family-related post over at: http://srajek.wordpress.com. It’s about raising social deviants going to Wal-Mart with my boys.
So, updates! A few weeks ago, I wrote about my attempts at being a “secret messenger for good” at work (thanks to Summer Pierre and her wonderful book, The Artist in the Office). As you may recall, things got off to a disappointing start (the inspirational quote that I taped up on the paper towel holder in the women’s bathroom stayed up, the one in the men’s bathroom didn’t last the day). However, I am happy to report that there have been some exciting developments.
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“It Was Like This: You Were Happy”*
If I had thought last week that I would be writing about rainbows and butterflies, I would have felt immediately compelled to dress in black, light up a smoke, and drink JD straight out of the bottle. That’s my delusional edgy writer persona talking and it says things like, “What is this, the Hello Kitty Blog? The Snow White Blog? Are you going to be posting pictures of yourself with tiny birds perched on your finger and furry woodland animals gathered around your feet next?” And then my you-can-be-a-normal-person-and-a-writer-at-the-same-time-voice says, “HEY! If rainbows are good enough for Maya Angelou, they are MORE THAN good enough for you! So GET ON with it!”