Wednesday, November 23, 2005
I’ve been reading Lamentations every morning this week, just reading the entire short little book straight through in a different translation each day. This morning when I read the above verses I just for some reason thought of Pandora’s box. The hope part, of course, is what made me think of it. So I thought I’d craft a piece about Lamentations and weave in portions of Pandora. But. That’s just how things are with me right now. My notebook is crammed with notes, little things I want to write about here, and that’s all there is. Notes. Notes about Hannah, about Lizzie, about children in my class, about Pittsburgh, about each of the books I’m reading. That’s the problem, I think. I’m reading too many books. I’ve always done that–kept at least six books going at a time. Right now, there’s Lamentations, a novel about a man taking a bicycle trip across the United States in an attempt to come to grips with the loss of his parents, an anthology of the best teen writing of 2005, a book about using poetry to create community, and a book about fighting for intellectual freedom in public schools. What I need is a reading/writing retreat. I need to find someplace to go, where I can take a box of books and a box of notebooks, and read and write. I need that. Because until that happens, I’m going to have all this inside me, this going in six different directions, and no sense of rest or resolution.
So, there will be no Lamentations/Pandora piece today. Just hash. A reflection of my current state of being.
Speaking of reading/writing retreats, Bill is converting to Catholicism. His wife is Catholic, and they had been attending an Episcopal church as a sort of compromise. But she wasn’t happy with that, so he is taking conversion classes. I wish I had talked to him more about his classes while we were in Pittsburgh, but there was just no time. What that has to do with reading/writing retreats is that his wife goes on lots of retreats. Sometimes they are solitary/silence retreats. That is fascinating and very attractive to me. It makes me think of Philip Yancey–when he spent a week or so in a cabin in the Pacific Northwest and read the Bible straight through and saw things he’d never seen before. Anyway, Bill is taking these classes. He told us this when we were at an oyster bar we’d walked around in circles trying to find, in 20 degree weather, gale-force winds. So I was still pretty much frozen and couldn’t really find it in me to enter the conversation. Even when the whole discussion they were having about genre turned to an argument over the Left Behind book Lisa is reading right now. The Catholics, Methodists, and Episcopalians at the table wanted to label it fantasy; Lisa held out for another genre, I can’t remember what. It is always interesting to me, being with this wide array of backgrounds. Patricia, Leslyn, and now Bill are Catholics. Rachel is Episcopalian. Lisa is Baptist. What am I? Friday night at Morton’s (a famous Pittsburgh establishment with no prices on the menu) I tried to talk to Patricia about the Catholic Bible, but she said she’s never read it, so we didn’t get very far. The food at Morton’s was almost too good, if that makes sense. Every course was a meal in itself, and by the time dessert came, we were almost too full to enjoy it. But only almost. All the food we had in Pittsburgh was good. We’d been told we could not leave the city with having pierogies and Yuengling. Both were excellent. So I’ve had to practically fast since I’ve been home, and I’m finally starting to feel somewhat normal again.
Back to the retreat thing. I’ve been thinking about it, and even though I’d really like to go on a solitary-all-by-myself trip, I also think it would be very edifying to go with a group of people. We could all read and write and come together every five or six hours to have a meal and share. Maybe at a state park. So I’m going to give some thought to who I’d like to do that with. You’d really need a broad range of people to make it work. Obviously people who read. I’m just thinking out loud, but maybe we could read through the Bible. Divide it up into books among the participants, then come together to share insights. Anyway, it’s an idea. Maybe over Christmas break. It’d be a good way to end the year.
Which leads me to another question I wrote in my notebook: If I were stuck in an elevator, who would I want to be stuck with? Usually every year during Thanksgiving week I make a list of the people in my life for whom I am most thankful, and I try to drop them a line and tell them so. I didn’t do that this year. Not that it’s too late or anything, but I just can’t get my thoughts together. I think I would like to be stuck in an elevator with all of those people. Because I am beginning to really understand that I don’t spend enough time with the people who mean the most to me. I take them for granted. I don’t treasure them. I mean I do. Privately. But I don’t tell them so often enough. Would I tell them if I were stuck in an elevator with them, away from the distractions of daily living? Would I? Or would I say, "Hey, I saw the funniest e-card that had a turkey singing I Will Survive?" You never know until it happens, I guess. Maybe I would start with the turkey, and then say "So, tell me about your relationship with God." Maybe.
Bill was stuck for 40 minutes in a small elevator at the Omni with 12 other people. He is good at picking out places to eat, and he called from his room to tell us he’d be right down and then we waited 40 minutes, wondering where he was. When he came in, he was in a state. Apparently the experience was not a good one, not like my own imagined elevator retreat. He’d just been to a special session that Mary Kaye had done on writing about Katrina, had seen her slides of the devastation in Bay St. Louis, had heard her share her experiences, and then right after that he got on the elevator and was stuck with people who are not made of the same stuff as we are. He said the more they whined and complained, the madder he got at them. He wanted to scream at them, "This is nothing, people! I just left a room full of people who are still looking for family heirlooms two blocks away from the concrete slabs on which their houses used to sit. If you’d ever sat in a gas line for five hours, or waited two hours every single day for a tiny bag of ice, you’d know this is just a blip on the screen. Shut the hell up." While I kind of understand where he was coming from, still I think of the Laura/Caller syndrome. I mean, here are these people right there in front of you (and behind you, and all jammed up against you) who are agitated and uncomfortable and they’ve never been through Katrina. Never been "wiped clean" of their minor irritations, and so they can’t be expected to not need comfort. Love the ones you’re with, is what I think. Take all those horrible experiences you’ve been through and allow them to make you more compassionate toward others, more patient with their narrow comfort zones. Katrina definitely changed us. We are not who we once were. We’re just not. My friend Katherine from Long Beach was in my first session Thursday morning. I saw her across the room early on, then during the break we talked and finished out the second part of the session sitting next to one another. When people would see our name tags, they’d ask us about Katrina, about how it was, how it still is. After the session, Katherine told me she is uncomfortable talking about it with people who didn’t go through it. That it feels right to discuss it with survivors, but now with outsiders. I know what she means. It is sacred somehow. Maybe we’re just not ready, and maybe we will never be. Mary Kaye told me the name Katrina means to wipe clean. I looked it up and found that it means "pure". And yes, I think there is a purity that came to us from having been through it. It just sort of swept away all the things that were extraneous, that didn’t matter. And the things that do matter–people and relationships–were left. I can’t even talk about it here, it seems, even though a total of two people have this link. What I know is that the lessons I learned, about loving and valuing people, were hard and lasting lessons. Dreams about heads in jars and other things perhaps didn’t make those lasting impressions.
Having time off always makes me want more. Yesterday the girls and I spent the afternoon shopping in Hattiesburg, and then we met Tim for supper at O’Charley’s. I’m eating my leftover Bayou Pasta right now with a glass of ginger ale, and later we’re going shopping again. Hannah and I daydreamed yesterday about quitting my job and homeschooling. She would like that, she says. But I don’t know. I have 19 years in the retirement system and I make $50,000 a year. I could still make money from my side jobs, but not what I make now, of course, working the main job and the side ones too. In Pittsburgh, we learned about some different ways to fund staff development personnel and co-directors. Kim wants to figure out a way to buy two-fifths of my contract from my district. I think even if she can find the twenty thousand, my district is just not that progressive. There’s never been a job-share done there. I can think of only a couple of people I’d even consider sharing a classroom with, and they might just be interested since they both have pre-school age children at home. So then if I worked two or three days a week, and Tim rearranged his schedule to be home more during the week and maybe work on Saturdays, we could probably home-school the girls. Well, this is the kind of stuff that goes through my head all the time, and I always just end up doing the same thing I’ve always done, going to work five days a week, and then working all these outside jobs too because they’re the ones that keep me intellectually stimulated, and we are stretched way too thin. Did I learn anything from Katrina or not? It all makes me tired. This is why I don’t have enough time for reading and writing.
Lizzie seems to be going through a crisis of faith or something. She has so many questions, and then when I answer them, my answers don’t always line up with her experience. She rode home with Tim from Hattiesburg last night and he said she sobbed most of the way home and asked why God doesn’t do what she tells Him to do? She’s told Him over and over that her stomach hurts, and He doesn’t make it better. She has told Him. I think it may be time to read the Narnian chronicles to her. She’s watched The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, but I think maybe the Horse and His Boy would be good for her right now. He’s not a tame lion; He likes to be asked. I was having my own deep conversation with Hannah; one that ended with me in tears. I don’t know about this teenage thing. Can I do this? I have no choice. Also, Lizzie is going through a very emotional time. She is crying a lot. Last night, we picked up several DVDs to watch and we all watched The Two Brothers together. But only for a little while, because Lizzie couldn’t take it. She could not relax and watch the movie, because of the threats to the lion cubs from the very start of the film. She was building up to a breakdown from the very start, and then when the daddy tiger was shot and the cubs were separated, she was undone. Absolutely undone. She was sitting in my lap and I kept telling her it would all be okay, that people who love one another are never permanently separated, that it’s only temporary, and that they would find one another. I was telling her all these things about the power of love, and she was in convulsions in my lap. Hannah took her back to her bedroom and put on a Strawberry Shortcake movie and the rest of us watched The Two Brothers. Can I do this? I have no choice. I should be able to, really, because Lizzie is exactly like me. I come undone over separation, too. Sometimes, often really, I wonder why, of all the mothers in the world, my children had to get stuck with me?
There are some other notes in my book that I want to write about, but I guess it’ll have to wait. I want to write about Brett Favre and all he’s done for Katrina victims on the coast, about being attacked by an ironing board at the Omni, about dancing with Dick (or not dancing with Dick) at the jazz fundraising dinner, and about how teachers will walk a mile in the snow to avoid paying cab fare but don’t blink twice over shelling out a couple of hundred dollars at the Heinemann exhibit.
Saturday, November 12, 2005
I may write several times tonight because Tim is out of town and I’m scared slam to death to sleep alone. I’m trying to pretend everyone is not at Sugar Creek without me. They all had a big supper together and are having a grand time right now, finishing up the Saturday night meeting and getting ready for the campfire, and I had boxed macaroni and cheese and watched the Food Network’s All Star Thanksgiving. Emeril made cranberry compote and cornbread; Paula Deen made dressing and mushroom giblet gravy; Giada D Laurentis, who is model thin and has a concave stomach (which just makes me wonder whether or not her food is good) made green beans and parmesan crisps. I missed Rachel Ray. I turned it on just as she was saying ". . .then you serve it up to your family and enjoy", and when I realized I’d missed Rachel, I just about cried right there in front of the TV with my bowl of macaroni-and-cheese-from-a-box. To have to miss Sugar Creek and then miss Rachel Ray, too. It’s just too much. Last night I watched Rachel make Porterhouse steak and mussels at 5:00, then pierogis with kielbasa and sauerkraut at 5:30.
I always take extensive notes and lots of photos at camp meetings and then post them on the forum for the people who couldn’t make it. They call me the photojournalist. Yesterday I considered doing a spoof on myself and taking notes on my weekend, documented with photos of me cooking and getting ready for bed and ironing, etc. , but I couldn’t decide whether that would be funny or just silly, so I didn’t do it.
Hannah did not get to Taylorsville until 10:30 last night after the game in Union, so we were midnight getting to bed, then had to get up early this morning to get to the cheerleader competition. Lizzie and I sat there for three hours watching girls flip and twist and gyrate and build human pyramids. Some of the stuff they do is incredible. Hannah is a flyer on her squad, but her stunts are fairly tame compared to some of the things we saw from the 5A squads today. One girl fell not once but three times, and every single time she bounced right back up with her smile in place and was flying through the air seconds later.
Kim dropped by the school yesterday to bring a copy of last year’s annual report and budget for our writing project site. Next Saturday in Pittsburgh we’re going to write the new one to submit to the national office. She asked if I’ve made myself miserable yet, thinking about the trip. I have. She knows how much I miss Tim and the girls, and that I don’t sleep when I’m away from them. So why are we staying two extra days to have a site meeting and write the annual report? Why? And I just check the weather forecast for Pittsburgh. It looks as if we’ll be flying into snow showers Wednesday. Great. It’s 80 degrees here. I did the only thing I could do, of course. I went shopping this afternoon and bought a bunch of new clothes to take. I could get out last year’s winter clothes, but that’d be a lot of trouble, and this way I took my mind off what they were doing at Sugar Creek. Saturday afternoons are always fun there. Anyway, I got a great black velvet jacket with a tie at the waist, a green velvet (I just realized they’re both velvet) pea coat, a green shirt to go under the coat, a pair of brown trousers, and a really great pair of jeans that, according to Hannah "make your behind look cute, Mama". So I don’t know if I’ll keep those or not. Oh, and a pair of really comfortable flannel pajamas. I picked out a new winter coat and carried it around the store for a while, but then I put it back because I already have about 15 winter coats and it rarely ever gets coat weather here. When we got home, Hannah coordinated all the outfits for my trip and I tried them all on for her approval. She has a good eye for fashion. But still, I’m miserable about leaving.
I can’t believe the girls are already asleep, but it was a hard day on all of us. Lots of driving and sitting and waiting, and shopping. Lizzie watched a movie about Jonah when we came home, and she came back here and told me there was a lady in Ninevah who was eating too much and not sharing her food with her neighbors. That made a big impression on her, it seems. I’m glad it did. Lizzie is getting to the age that she has lots of questions about the Bible. She is fascinated by the goings-on in Eden, and troubled by the disobedience that led to Adam and Eve getting "thrown out" of the garden. "Why’d they get thrown out, Mama?" She asks me over and over. She hopes I’ll change my answer, I think.
I just realized I don’t really have anything to write about tonight. I’m just writing because I’m missing Tim so much, and I’m trying to put off getting into an empty bed. I've been reading a lot at the calm and a little at the zolaboard. It's funny how I can go to the RSS feed and read just a snippet of a calm post, and I know exactly who posted it. I am amazing in that way. I saw that someone had posted a Johnny Cash song, I Walk the Line, and I knew it was James. I knew it. I'm thinking about posting Johnny's Matthew 24 song, but I can't figure out if it would be funny or just silly. When did I become afraid to live my life?
Monday, November 07, 2005
Genesis 15:12 And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him.
1 Samuel 26:12 So David took the spear and the cruse of water from Saul's bolster; and they gat them away, and no man saw it, nor knew it, neither awaked: for they were all asleep; because a deep sleep from the LORD was fallen upon them.
Isaiah 29:10 For the LORD hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered.
Acts 20:9 And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep: and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead.
You never know what might happen when someone goes into a deep sleep, it seems.
I did not sleep at all Thursday night--Lizzie was up all night with an earache. Tim took her to the emergency room, the second time in less than a week, and they gave her a shot, a Tylenol suppository, and some ear drops, all of which barely dulled her pain. Tim stayed home with her Friday and, as the doctor advised, gave her breathing treaments periodically. So I kind of thought I'd sleep really well Friday night, but I didn't. I had the most horrific dream and then couldn't shake it at all, and finally just got on up around 5:00 Saturday morning. I did sleep three hours Saturday afternoon, though, and then again Sunday afternoon after this virus hit me. Hannah had it two days last week, and I thought by Saturday maybe the rest of us were home free, but it hit me hard and I'm still running fever and throwing up water, which is all I've ingested. So, anyway, I don't know what might happen if I were to actually ever go into a deep sleep. I wouldn't want to fall out of a window or anything like that.
I should've named this entry "deep sleep", and I considered it. Had planned to maybe expound on it and share some insights I've had about it, but then it just seemed I wanted to write about a road sign I saw yesterday: Bridge May Ice in Cold Weather. I remember when I was little, that sign used to scare me. We'd go to Forest or Newton and cross these little tiny bridges where that sign was posted, and I'd think it sounded so sinister, and I'd be afraid that one day it would be cold and we'd have to go to the A&P and risk our lives to cross the iced bridges and I'd begin to miss Mama and Angela and Harry because I somehow knew that they would not survive the crossing, only me, and I'd have to walk home the six or seven miles and tell Daddy they'd perished and then the two of us would sit in the rocker, with me on one of Daddy's knees and the other knee, Angela's knee, would be empty and it would be just the two of us, two instead of five, and life would never be the same because of the iced bridge. Never mind that in Central Mississipi the temperature only gets below freezing once or twice a year, and even then maybe only 28 or so and only until the sun comes up. Never mind that. It was one of those irrational fears of childhood. One of those ever-present-just-below-the-surface thoughts that kept you from going into a deep sleep.
So today I'm at home, and I'd thought I could get some sleep, but my stomach won't settle down long enough. I just read back over the last entry, and I did stop before I got too ridiculous. I hope. I'm still upset about not going this weekend, but I'm not blaming anybody or anything. And really, I will need the weekend to get ready for Pittsburgh, to cook and get the girls' things ready and my own things too. And after being sick, and Hannah was sick two days last week, I don't know about going anyway. But. It's Sugar Creek.
I think I'll try again to sleep and if I still can't, I'll get out some winter clothes and put away the summer things. Even though it's 86 degrees and I'd even considered sunbathing.
Friday, November 04, 2005
So this is the way it went: I was in the petite skirt section, wondering whether to go mid-knee length or ankle length, tiered or straight, when I heard a cell phone ring. Not mine, of course, because I have this thing against cell phones and also people who use them in public. At first, I planned to just tune it out and, if the caller got too close to me, give her a few disgusted looks and a snort or two. But this whole conversation was different right from the start. I could hear not only the woman two racks over; I could hear the caller as well. I don't know what kind of phone she had, but it was just kind of strange, hearing both sides of a phone conversation and all. I ditched the skirt hunt and tailed the woman as she moved from skirts to jackets to handbags to belts to jewelry, and what follows is pretty darn close to the exact conversation between the caller and Laura, the shopper.
Caller: Laura? What on earth is wrong with your home phone?
Laura: We still don't have any phone service. Katrina.
Caller: I've been trying all morning to call your house. Is Helen over there this morning?
Caller: I need her. I'm having some people in tonight. I have to talk to her right away.
Laura: Um, I could have her call you when I get home.
Laura: She can use my cell phone.
Caller: When are you going home? I have to talk to Helen right away. I need a few rooms cleaned and a tray or two. Not dinner, just heavy hors d'ouvres.
Laura: I'll tell her. Listen, while you're on the phone, I've been wanting to ask you about Helen. How do you pay her?
Caller: Laura, that is between me and Helen. It's nobody's business. We have an arrangement. Nobody else should need to know. See, the way we do it is I pay her ten dollars an hour. Most people pay her by the room, but I pay her ten dollars an hour because she does a good job for me. That is between me and Helen and nobody's business. You get your own arrangement. It works for us. How are you, Laura?
Laura: Worn out. We have way too much work.
Caller: Laura, do not complain, do you hear me? You be glad you have a job, Laura. Be glad. There are people who'd give anything in the world to have a job, and you're complaining about yours.
Laura: Well, but it's just that we've been swamped since Katrina and it would be nice to have some rest.
Caller: Laura, there are people who don't even have a house to go home to at night. Have you seen the news? Those people on the coast? They're living in tents and FEMA trailers. How much rest do you think they're getting? Think of that. Those are the people who should be complaining; not people with jobs and houses, Laura.
Laura: I'll tell Helen to call you.
Caller: I just need a few rooms and a couple of trays. Not dinner. Tell her that.
Laura: Talk to you later. Bye.
I was mumbling under my breath, "You're an ingrate, Laura. People are starving in China and I'll bet you ate breakfast this morning, didn't you? You're shopping in Stein Mart and there is no Stein Mart within miles of Bay St. Louis anymore. How could you, Laura?" And then I looked at Laura. She did look tired. Worn. Weary. On the verge of tears. She'd gotten no sympathy at all from Caller, only a reprimand, a calling down, a slap on the hand. She'd been dealt the Whining Complainer card, while Caller played the role of Champion of Katrina Victims on the Gulf Coast. And then I wanted to walk over to where she was looking at reading glasses and say, "Laura. Laura, I know. I know. Hand me the phone, Laura." And then somehow I'd figure out how to find the number of origin of the last incoming call, and I'd dial it and say to Caller: "Caller? I've got something to say to you, and you keep your mouth shut til I'm finished, okay? What is it about you that makes you incapable of having compassion for somebody right under your nose--right at the other end of the line? My friend Laura here just told you she is tired, she needs rest, and what did you say Caller? You said, 'I don't have any compassion for you. My compassion is reserved for other people, people who are not here right now, people who I am not in any danger of actually helping; people I can feel sanctimonious talking about and pointing out their sad plight.' Yes, Caller, that's exactly what you said. Tell me this, Caller. What is the minimum distance from which you can show your fake brand of compassion for people, hmm? One hundred miles? One hundred fifty? You know what you are? You are a cruel person, and not only that, but you are the worst kind of cruel person. You are the kind of cruel person who is cruel under the guise of being compassionate. Why couldn't you say to Laura, 'Laura, you must be exhausted. It sounds as if the hurricane took a big toll on you. You know what? I admire your strength, your work ethic, your stick-to-it-ness. Is there anything I can do for you? You hang in there. I'm pulling for you.' Why, Caller? Why?" And then I would hang up on her and take Laura in my arms and hug her and say, "Laura, I can't tell you how many times I've been on the receiving end of what you just received right here in the middle of the luggage section of Stein Mart. Blow it off, Laura. There's nothing wrong with you. It's not you. And it's not me. It's them. And Laura, don't forget to give Helen that message, okay?"
After I left Stein Mart, I stopped by the bakery and picked up a few things for our weekend guests--a loaf of sundried tomato bread, half a dozen petit fours, coconut macaroons, cheese straws, and white chocolate chunk/walnut cookies. Driving home, I wondered if Laura had given Helen the message yet--if Helen could even now be en route to Caller's. I began to examine the drivers of the cars around me. Is that Helen? Is that? That? I felt an overwhelming urge to find Helen. I needed to find her right away and tell her I knew about her arrangement. And not just me. Me and all the other Saturday morning Stein Mart shoppers. I needed to find Helen and tell her that I knew Caller paid her ten dollars an hour to dust and sweep and make spinach dip and stuff mushrooms. And that if she had any problems, to just keep them to herself and not expect Caller to offer an ear or a shoulder or any other body part than a foot to kick her in the seat of the pants.