grief at the edges

boy

the shock of your body:
lean, suddenly

I failed to notice
when it lost its
memory of
enclosure
(resuming that
knees-up
posture like
re-folding
origami)

I had only
noticed it
fattening
on bread
on milk
on chicken
on fruit
on cheese
on pastry
and pushed
down the
grief of
my body’s
failure
photo 2.JPG

I had the nicest weekend with my son.  He's a little over two and half and we can really spend time together now like two people enjoying each others company.  We went out to eat at a little diner and he sat in the booth across from me, chatting amiably while we waited for our food and ably cutting up his own waffles with a knife and fork when the food arrived.  He helped me make a cake, we chose books together at the library.  It was all lovely and it felt, in a way, like what all the hard work of parenting an infant has been leading up to.  And, well, one way or another of course it is.  Somehow today, though, I keep feeling these waves of grief.  Grief that he's growing and I don't have a baby anymore, sure, but something more too.  

I think that a lot of what many people find so impossible about parenting an infant is sort of what I loved about it.  I loved feeling so raw and ragged and exposed.  I loved the animal survival of my days.  It was the most self-annihilating experience I've ever had.  The bullshit press of normal life just lifted and there was nothing but food, sleep, love, tears, yelling, laughing, pissandshitandvomit: time dilating and contracting by its own weird logic.  Even after I returned to work and things got a little less far-out, that intensity was still available and often unavoidable.  But as he's toddling into this reasonable boyhood, I feel myself around all the time.  I can't turn around without finding myself there.  And, god, I want so much and need so much.  And I feel a kind of grief.  And I don't know if I'm finally grieving for all that I lost over the last few years:  my child-free life, my relationship, my home, my imagined future, my free time.  Maybe I'm finally back, enough, from wherever I had to go to get through raising a baby to grieve all of that.  Maybe I'm just grieving the loss of that raw, self-gone state as much as I'm grieving the fact that my boy is no longer a baby.  I don't know where it is coming from but it perches there at the edge of all this happiness I have in my life right now, still flying away if I turn to look at it.  

I looked at my stack of books and New Yorkers and I burst into tears.  

I looked at my stack of books and New Yorkers and I burst into tears.  

what i did on my summer vacation

<i started writing this in September, I think I thought I'd eventually write something more substantial...but, what the hell, i'll just publish as is!>

at the beginning of the summer i committed to having a summah, to saying yes all summer long to whatever adventures come my way.  in the weeks leading up to the end of spring term i started feeling really anxious about my summer off, worried that i'd squander away my days.  well, i didn't piss away a single day.   

North Carolina

Beach.  Family.  Jesse, Ali, and Lu visiting.  What a way to start the summer!

New Hampshire

Abbott and I went to NH and visited with my family.  Sylvia and her family were there at the same time.  Overload of awesome!

Camping/Lassen

This really ended up being a highlight and it's crazy because I almost didn't go.  A friend was celebrating his 40th birthday and organized a camping trip to Lassen.  Daniel and I drove down through central Oregon and camped in the van on the way.  Everything about this trip was totally incredible.  Camping with Daniel out in the middle of nowhere, watching the Perseid meteor showers, and talking was a total revelation.  I can't believe I almost didn't go because I felt like I needed to stay home and "deal with stuff".  (What stuff??  Who knows?) 

Oregon coast

Two days in a beautiful cabin in Oswald West park with Christy, Bryan, and Eamon.


Ashland

The annual trip to Ashland with friends.  Late nights drinking amazing wine, rafting, and some spectacular plays.

Happy hours in the park, photo class, Abbott's gymnastics, Abbott's swimming lessons, selling the house

another

here is another i started cutting quite some time ago and abandoned it both because it wasn't coming out quite right technically and, especially, because it really just seemed painfully, embarrassingly obvious -- the poetry of high schooler, or whatever. 

but i came across it today and it still had resonance for me -- about a way that i can feel that can be hard to express with words but that this image does, if inelegantly.  I don't know if I'll resume cutting it; i can't quite remember what I had planned for the rest of it, the paper remaining around the woman's figure and the technical problems still bug me a bit but maybe what i'll try to take from it is that i shouldn't be so hard on myself.

scan0002 (1).jpg

the revolution

I'm going to post some paper cuts i've made over the last many years.  the scans i did of the first batch, all made some 5 years ago, didn't come out great and there are underlying problems with all of them (having to do with the paper i used, one of them had some water spilled on it, etc, and in the one below, the fact that i actually screwed up the lyric i cut...nothing like the feeling of cutting paper for a couple hours to realize you left off an 's'....) but i'm posting them anyway. 

p.s. on this one: http://rd.io/x/QVv0-jdhWIM/

revolution.jpg

snap, snap

I've been taking a great photography class, a class as much about seeing as about f-stops, and it's been a great way to kick the summer off.  Giving myself permission to do this creative, expressive thing has been amazing and I'm only a week into the class!  Something in me must have known I was in need of this permission and that's why I signed up but I didn't consciously realize how closed off i have been to admitting in the smallest of ways that i longed to make time for creativity.  i guess my continued attempts to write here are one way that i've admitted this but writing has always been something that feels really comfortable to me.  I'm so verbally expressive that words just feel...safe...in a way that the camera has stopped feeling.  in high school and in college you would rarely find me without my camera and i loved the feeling of releasing a moment -- that's how it's always felt to me, rather than capturing a moment -- releasing a moment from time.  the feeling of seeing and of translating that seeing.  but over time i became a snapshot-ist and barely that.  taking photos again as a means of expression, with creativity as a stated goal, is breathtaking in a way I never could have imagined.  It's strange to me how risky it feels to me -- just to walk around the block taking pictures!  

here are the photos i've taken for class so far (click to advance): 

summer of bridgewater (aka having a summah)

i've just spent way too long looking for something on the web that encapsulates Howard Kremer's summah philosophy but I'm realizing that, like many great philosophies, it's not actually something that can be summed up in one quote or even one video.  i've come to understand this "have a summah" ethos by listening to Who Charted? and I'm on board. i'm saying "yes" to everything this summer.  i'm grabbing summer while it's here and living it.  I'm going to get in the pool every chance i get (in this year's suit) and i'm going to see my friends and get sand everywhere and stay up late and not worry about my precious "down time" (there's time for that in non-summah).  I have the summer off.  I'm a grown-up with the summer off.  I mean, i have a freaking responsibility to do this thing.  

the owner of my gym started calling this the "Summer of Bridgewater" when I told him I had the summer off and I've grabbed onto that, too.  So, what do you want to do this summer?  Let's go do it!

1001035_10100833773373543_321499489_n.jpg

choices: re-(semi)vegetarianizing

one of the most breathtaking things about being the parent of a toddler is seeing how that kid is learning from you.  he's taking in all of the overt things you teach him - "mama, what's that?" "that's an ant, see it go into it's anthill?" - and all of the things that you are barely even aware you are showing him.  when i think about my own upbringing and how values were transmitted to me, it was definitely at least 90% by example.  mom wasn't big on any kind of direct moral instruction but, never-the-less, communicated to me through the way she lived her life a powerful and coherent set of values that guide me to this day.  given all of this, and also, if i'm honest, where i am in life -- this strange "starting over" i'm doing -- i'm making some choices about how i want to live and how i want my son to see me living.   

one of these choices has to do with how i eat, which probably couldn't be a more boring or irritating subject to write about.  i became a vegetarian at a young age, i don't quite remember when but i was a preteen.  i was a passionate animal rights activist as a teenager and my vegetarianism was part of that.  over the years, my activism waned, as it, sadly, often will as one ages but my vegetarianism remained, mostly out of habit.  when pressed about my reasons for vegetarianism, and when a shrug wasn't accepted, i had some patter about wanting to minimize the suffering that my life caused.  it was patter but, fundamentally, it was also completely true.  i'm realistic about the fact that, as a well-fed American who drives a car around and generally lives a big ol' Western lifestyle, my living causes suffering - unseen suffering somewhere else in the world - both directly and indirectly.  Cutting out the meat just seemed like this really easy way to just eliminate this whole category of Rachel-caused suffering.

But, several years ago, I pretty abruptly decided to start eating meat again.  I couldn't give you one simple answer for why.  I was craving meat almost constantly (which in my 20+ years of vegetarianism I never had before).  I was feeling like my vegetarian diet had drifted to where i was eating a lot of really highly processed foods (fake meats, etc) and i wasn't sure that that was really any better than eating locally, humanely raised meat.  And, frankly, i was tired of my partner always sighing and looking sad because i wouldn't try some of whatever delicious thing was on his plate.  So, meat.  I went for it with gusto - buying half a cow and half a pig from local ranchers for the freezer.  For the first year or so, I was still mostly vegetarian, eating meat at home from "our" cow and avoiding meat when out at restaurants.  But, living in Portland, many (if not most) restaurants source their meat proudly on their menus or on chalkboard displays.  If I could eat the meat from "my" cow, why not from a cow from the same ranch that the restaurant bought?    And from there the slope was more and more slippery.  I never really got to where I was just blithely eating factory-farmed meat but I was definitely noticing and, frankly, caring, less and less where my food was coming from.

And, so, just as suddenly as I decided to start eating meat, i've decided to stop.  I don't plan to be as strict a vegetarian as I was before this meat-eating interlude but I do plan basically eat a vegetarian diet.  And I plan to do it for the same reason that I sort of drifted into in my twenties.  Basically, it just feels right to me.  It feels like a small thing i can do that says "i care about the suffering of other living beings".  i know that, for me, that has meaning.  and I hope that, for my son, seeing that I'm making choices about how I eat will have meaning.  and that meaning might not translate into him making the same choices -- probably won't -- but the message i want to convey to him is that our actions matter, even if they only matter in how we feel about ourselves and our relationship to the world, even if they are only aspirational.  what i mean is, I don't kid myself that my diet is really doing anything to end factory farming, but on a daily basis i'm doing something that is a choice for kindness and that changes, in subtle ways, how i think about myself and about my place in the world.  

NB (and i hope this if obvious): i don't think you're an unkind monster if you eat meat.  you're undoubtedly making awesome choices for kindness in other areas that i'm stupidly blundering along doing what i've always done.  this is a me thing, not a you thing. 

new, old

things are new for me right now.  and it's an old feeling, a long ago feeling.  transitioning from "i basically know how my life is going" to "hey, it's anyone's guess", again.  i'm unpacking boxes in my new house, knowing this house is temporary, too.  I'm unpacking but will be packing again.  i climb into bed alone at night and, if i'm honest, the grief of my breakup has ebbed enough that my solitude feels exciting and creative.  it's an old feeling - the feeling of aloneness as energy and every day brims with a kind of stifled creative fury.  

what i want right now is to take advantage of this disorientation.  to be unmoored is a gift, of a kind, and i have to resist scrambling for an anchor.  this old feeling is, at least in part, possibility - the terrifying, dizzy, elated old feeling of possibility.  

xoxo

about a week before, daycare sent an email letting us know that they were going to have a party on valentine's da and encouraged us to send our kids to school wearing all red.  i got it in my head that i wanted AMK to have a special valentine's day shirt.  I looked around online and found a cute one that said "XOXO" on the front but I couldn't get it in time.  Then i remembered that my mom had given me a die cut machine for Christmas and thought, no problem, I'll make it myself!  It'll be easy!  I ordered some heat transfer material and planned to buy a red t-shirt over the weekend and throw it together.

I am here to say.  There are no plain red toddler shirts for sale anywhere in the Portland metro area.  Or white ones.

But at this point i was obsessed.  So i bought a pack of plain white onesies and cut off the bottoms

IMG_2276.JPG

and  dyed two of them red (and one yellow and one green)

IMG_2270.JPG

and then ironed on my "XOXO"

IMG_2281.JPG

yes.  crazy.  i know.  but it was fun and it's hard to argue with results:

IMG_2287.JPG

some thoughts on a long drive

bliss

or maybe joy

bliss vs. joy - compare and contrast

second chances (and/or lack thereof)

bob mould: two car rides, 25 years apart

joy again, and it's relationship with stability

the size of my ribcage and its ability to contain it all

self-expression and the challenge therein

the smell of the night in new england in the summer and its relationship to my soul

being seen/not being seen

the baby, the baby, the baby, the baby, the baby, the baby, the baby

high fidelity

imaginary kissing at an imaginary party, furtive and strange, and how it would be a mistake

are all mistakes mistakes?

nostalgia for pregnancy

Eric and Tammy Taylor

how will my son ever understand how much I love him?

unrequited love

every day is like Sunday.  every day is silent and gray.

Y/N, Y/N, Y/N, Y/N

i actually am quite a romantic

what i do

sometimes in all the chaos of life it is so easy for me to lose perspective in all kinds of ways.  I sometimes just feel like my days are this constant wash of just working, washing the dishes, putting the baby to bed.  i tend to focus a lot on all the things i feel i'm not doing -- getting my act together to go grocery shopping, cooking dinner, writing as much as I'd like, sending my thank you notes, etc.  today, though, i took a step back and looked at all this stuff i've been making and doing in the midst of a really, really challenging month (multiple sicknesses spread from family member to family member, disrupted sleep in the little one - and thus for me too, travel, my ongoing health problem, etc), i feel like whatever else i can say about myself i'm definitely not just sitting around watching tv and not making anything.

socks for mom, in progress

socks for mom, in progress

Knitting was my first love, craft-wise.  I taught myself to knit a little while after graduating college as a way of forcing myself to slow down and to have something to do with my hands and my nervous energy.  I knit at a snails pace these days because I have so many other things competing for my attention but i usually do have a project or two going.  I finished (except for grafting the toe) one of a pair of socks for my mom in time for christmas.  want to take bets on whether i finish the other one before her birthday in August?

IMG_2257.JPG

Quilting and even sewing in general are pretty new to me.  I've tried sewing in fits and starts since I was a young girl in 4-H but always got really frustrated by it because it seemed so slow and fussy.  Then I spent ten years knitting and when I tried sewing again it was intoxicating because it seemed so fast.  A sewing project that takes a weekend might have once seemed intolerable to me but after spending a year or more working on a sweater it now seems speedy.  This little "scrappy lone star" quilt is something I'm working on for myself, for a change.  I almost never keep anything I make.  I'm almost done with the quilt top on this.  I'll probably finish it up tomorrow or the next day.

IMG_2258.JPG

I recently decided to try doing crewel and got this lovely kit to give it a whirl.  Because, you know, I really need another hobby.  I'm really enjoying working on it and I'm honestly surprised at how well it's coming out.  It's great to work on at night while I'm watching a movie or tv.

DSC_0010.jpeg

I've also been making it into the gym at least 3 days a week, when norovirus isn't getting in the way.  I love it so, so much.  It's still a little frustrating that I've lost so much in terms of strength and mobility since before I got pregnant.  I'm getting there though!

I've also been making time to see friends and do fun social things at least a couple times a week.  

more powerful than ever?

at the beginning of this year one of my favorite podcasts, Jordan, Jesse, Go! proposed "More powerful than ever!" as a kind of theme for 2012.  Naturally, I felt I could really get behind that theme and privately took it on as my own theme for the year as well.  I started the year with a lot of excitement: I was starting a new job, planning my wedding.  Well, the year sort of took a nose dive as I watched my partner draw away from me and then, ultimately, call off our wedding ceremony.  None of this is anything I'm prepared to talk about in any depth in this particular forum, for a whole host of reasons.  I suppose when I took "more powerful than ever!" on as my own theme, I didn't really imagine it in a "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" kind of a way but I suppose that's what it has turned out to be.  Since the summer, I've had to really let go of so much of what I thought my life was going to be.  The mold I was pouring my days into is broken to smithereens.   And I've had to really live with the reality that, right now, I can't really begin to know the shape my life will take with that mold broken.  Limbo has never been a place I've been remotely comfortable being; I tend to like to make important decisions quickly and not look back.  As a result, this months-long-and-no-end-in-sight limbo that I'm in right now with regard to my family life is so disconcerting and uncomfortable.  And, really, I feel like I'm coming close to thriving, given the circumstances.  Though this year has been hard beyond measure, at times, I feel like it has been wonderful:  I love my new job very much, the love and support of my friends and family has been stronger and more obvious to me than ever as they've rallied around me during these difficult months, my son is healthy and happy and growing more delightful by the day.  I'm rediscovering myself, too, in the ways that major changes and challenges will push one to do.

Tonight, though, is New Year's Eve and I'm struggling, a bit, with sad feelings.  I know this is a bullshit drinking holiday but it has always been a favorite of mine.  I know that a year is an arbitrary thing.  But, here's the thing, I like that feeling of being on the fulcrum between what was and what will be.  I like that despite all the year end retrospectives and resolving for the year ahead, New Year's Eve is, for me, a celebration that is really about being in the present.  Having said goodbye the previous year, we can sit, for a spell, not yet in that imagined future.  I like that it is a holiday that is both about self-improvement and also about drunken cheering and kissing and confetti.  And the cheering and the kissing and the confetti and all of that...I like it!  I really do!  And tonight I'm alone.  It's okay; it is what it is.  I had planned to go to a party tonight, J. and I would stay home with the baby in shifts, but J. is sick and I've been up at 3:30am virtually every night this week due to the baby's jet lag and at the end of the day I just felt too spent in every way.  

So, this new year holiday will be a bit more about the quiet reflection for me, and a lot less about the revelry.  That's okay.  I'm more powerful than ever.

grief, remembrance, gratitude

20 years ago, Friday, a friend was murdered by a shooter on my college campus.  a professor was also killed and four others were injured.  and those of us, many of us, who were fortunate to have made it to the old age of 18, 17, 16 still wrapped in the cozy blanket of our innocence, tattered though it may have been in many cases, lost it that night as well.  it was my junior year and i was living at home that semester, working to save money for my spring semester trip to study in Kenya, and i found out when boris called me in the middle of everything, told me what was happening, though he knew little himself in the confusion and fear.  he had to keep the call short.  it wasn't safe.  i shivered in our silent house not knowing how many of my friends might be dead, not knowing if that was the last time i'd hear from boris, from any of them, and more aware of my powerlessness than I ever had been before or, honestly, ever have been since.  

That was 20 years ago and I don't talk about it, really.  I've never written about it, though I've tried and tried.  In those sun-blasted months in Kenya, I practiced solitude.  I arrived in Nairobi a manic, raw nerve.  All beauty nauseated me.  All grace made me weep.  Kindness from others felt like cruelty.  Five months later, when I arrived in London to visit Max and then in Berlin to visit Sylvia, I was living under the ocean.  Numb; noise from the outside filtered through a mile of salt water.  I wept the entire train ride from Brussells to Berlin, though I couldn't have told you why.  I thought, when I got back, when I went to campus, when I had to see it all face-to-face...maybe then I could write about it, talk about it.  Maybe then I'd start surfacing.  I didn't, though.  I grew detached that year.  When I think about a lot of friendships from that time, it is with an uneasy feeling of regret.  A feeling that i burned bridges, hurt feelings, was a lousy friend, without the ability to recall any particular bad behavior or falling out.  Just a sense of having done wrong -- or at least having failed to do right -- by so many of my friends.  At the same time, it took me ten years after that before I really started to make friends with anyone who wasn't a Rocker.  If I felt distance between myself and my friends from school, the distance I felt between myself and anyone new who hadn't been through what we'd been through was unbridgeable.

With this distance of 20 years, and on the occasion of anniversary, I can begin to see some reasons, some sense in my behavior, in my retreat inward.  The loss of innocence, yes.  Yes, of course.  But also the deep and abiding (it abides to this day, if I'm honest) sense of guilt for not being there on campus that night (my brain knows this is absurd, my heart still doesn't, not at all).  And then the sense of shame for feeling that way, for feeling anything but grateful that I was spared that horror, while so many dear to me were not.  And that my parents were spared that horror.  And the feeling that the tragedy was both mine and so incredibly not mine.  I was friends with Galen, yes, but he wasn't among my closest friends.  I didn't know Nacunan, except in the way that you kind of know everyone on a campus of 300 people.  I never feared for my life.  I was uninjured.  How dare I even cry?  When for others, others so close to me, the losses were catastrophic?  I felt these things and more and I still do feel them after all this time.  

I woke up on Friday and lit a candle, as I do every December 14th.  In the quiet moments before the baby woke up, I breathed and I promised myself that it would be a day of peace and appreciation.  That I would tell people I loved them, that it would be a good day.  I spent the whole day in a meeting and only got the devastating news of the world when I got in my car for the ride home.  Sobbing on the highway, nauseated, angry: it was not a good day.  It was not a day of peace.

How can any of us go on from grief?  I don't know, I really don't.  Perhaps the fact that, 20 years on, I still feel completely unequal to the task of trying to write something of my own small grief, is some evidence that we don't, not really.  But yesterday, Saturday, I was tidying the living room, not doing much of anything and a song came on the stereo that got the baby dancing.  I joined him and we danced around the living room until we'd collapsed in a great kissing pile of giggling, tears of joy streaming down my face.  The pure, giddy bliss of life!  Oh!  Oh, it is so good to be alive!  I don't understand, I really don't, why I got to grow up and my friend didn't.  I don't understand why I get to hold my child in my safe in my arms, when others' children were killed.  I don't understand why I get to move my strong, healthy body through space and feel the sweet joy of dancing, when others' bodies are gone, gone, gone.  I don't understand it.  I certainly don't deserve it.  All I can do is feel this ineffable gratitude.  And I know I can't write this gratitude, the only way I can hope to express it is through the living of it.

At Galen's memorial service a classmate, Jason Spiro, spoke of our responsibility to live our lives to the fullest.  I knew that was true from the moment he said it but, at 18, I really had no idea what that meant.  I still struggle with that question, the question of how to live, how to live fully, how to live in a way that isn't an insult to everyone who has lived and died.  The only thing I really know is how fortunate I am, how ridiculously, unspeakably fortunate.  I am grateful every day for this beautiful life.

hey you, you're pretty great

What's one thing you want to take with you into 2013?

from flickr user LotusMonger

from flickr user LotusMonger

I've worked hard this year at getting better at expressing my affectionate feelings to the people I love.  I've always been reasonably good at telling my family how much I love and value them but I'm less good, these days, at telling my friends how much I love them and telling them specific things I like and value about them.  I think I've gotten way better at this this year and it's been wonderful.  I wrote earlier this week about the desire we all have to be seen in the world and I think taking the time and being brave enough to tell someone something you like about them, it lets them know that you see them.  It feels good for everyone and I'm feeling closer and more connected.