Thursday, May 28, 2009

A moment

I was driving my very artsy (guitar-playing, picture-painting) twins to meet a friend yesterday. So I was surprised to hear R. say from the back seat, "I like science."
"That's great!" I said with WAY too much enthusiasm. "There need to be more women in the sciences!"
"Um... no, Mom. Scions. I like those cars, the Toyota Scions."

Unspoken: Oh Mom, you're such a dork.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The husband in print!

My husband had a Memorial-Day op-ed piece in yesterday's Washington Post. It's about whether or not Obama should continue the presidential tradition of laying a wreath at the Confederate Memorial at Arlington Cemetery. Here's the link:
Washington Post
As with all things historic, it's a vexed question, and he's already gotten some hate mail (from neo-cons, by which I mean neo-Conferates) for his thoughtful piece. So we know he's doing something right! Anyway, check it out!

Obama did what Kirk recommended! He sent two wreaths - one to the Confederate memorial and one to the African-American Civil War memorial! He said he was "... starting a new tradition." Yay Kirk! Yay Obama!

Thursday, May 21, 2009


As my blog friends may have noticed from my recent and uncharacteristic silence, I've been in a bit of a funk lately. Not a bad one. Just a seemingly inexplicable month-long case of the blahs. Seemingly inexplicable, until I thought about it for three seconds (which I've naturally avoided doing). But once I did sit myself down, give myself a good talking to, and tell myself to snap out of it because it was annoying even me, I realized that just about a year and a month ago, my husband had his surgery. April fools day, to be exact. And for about a year and a month, I've been waiting for it to be over. Well, April Fools!, it's not. He's still pretty disabled (thank you broken foot!) and still has an incurable disease. The depths of human self-delusion are unplumbable. Somehow I was letting myself believe that, in a year, it would all be back to normal....

Anyway, I was cleaning house today and, appropriately, I found the purse I took to the hospital on the day of his surgery. I remember now, that the strap broke while I was waiting and waiting for his surgery to be over. I thought, 'Oh Christ! As if I don't have enough to deal with today!" When I got home I tossed it in a corner of my bedroom and there it has sat, broken and undealt with, like a good little symbol of the whole situation. But something led me to that pile today, and it all came pouring back: the florescent glare of the waiting room; the ten-hour wait during which I was utterly and increasingly terrified he would die on the table; the man with the leering skull tattoo on the back of his bald head, which didn't help calm me down. To say it was a bad day would not even touch on the misery of it. Which is why that purse full of memories sat in the corner for a year.

So, feeling like I was walking into a therapist's office, I sat down and opened the purse. In it were: multiple packages of kleenex, (for obvious reasons), eye drops (so that, at the end of the day, when I saw Kirk and the kids, I could look like I hadn't been crying); a pencil and pencil sharpener for the crossword puzzle I was never able to concentrate on; and a little notebook for writing deep thoughts or instructions, or something. There's only one thing written in it. A quote from I don't know where.

"...but the arts outlive governments and creeds and societies, even the very civilizations that produce them. They are what we find again when the ruins are cleared away."

Kind of gloomy, but also kind of perfect for me. My life has never been lived in the tidy spaces of the beaten path, never thrived in the tall gleaming buildings of "civilization." I'm more about picking my own way through weeds and the ruins and trying to find and make beauty of it all. Art. Which is and passes on consolation when buildings decay, when disease runs its course, when lives end, which they all do someday.

Coincidentally, again, (do you believe in coincidences? Me neither.) the husband and I are going out to dinner tonight to celebrate, not that IT is all over, but that a year has passed and he is still here, we are both still here, hobbling along on our messy happy path through the ruins.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Me memed

Jason tagged me, which is a relief because it's hard to know what to write after an account of your grandfather's tragic suicide.

Meme Rules:
1. Respond and rework. Answer the questions on your blog, replace one question you dislike with a question of your own invention; add a question of your own.

2. Tag eight other un-tagged people.

So here goes!

1. What is your current obsession?
I am a woman of multiple and simultaneous obsessions (to the point of mental sluttiness!). So:
The book on suicide I want to write.
The YA fantasy novel I've written.
The children's book I'm working on illustrating.
My garden.
Finding the silliest images I can for flickr, eg:

2. What do you see outside your window?
A gigantic (about 10' x 10'), thorny, decades-old, and utterly magnificent rose bush just beginning to bloom.

3. If you could have any super power what would it be?
Breathing under water.

4. Which animal would you be?
A mermaid.

5. Who was the last person you hugged?
My oldest daughter.

6.What is your favorite color?

7. What’s your favorite food in the whole world?
A perfectly ripe mango.

8. What’s the last thing you bought?
The cutest French-made shoes (Mephistos) at my favorite thrift! These are shoes that cost hundreds of dollars new! Yay!

9. What are you listening to right now?
Literally, at this moment I'm watching American Idol with my ten-year old and listening to Adam Lambert screech his way through a song. What's the deal ? I just don't get him.....

10. If you could buy one object right now, what would it be?
A painting, possibly this one: "Morning of the Red Bird" by Romare Beardon.

11. What’s on your beside table?
Piles and piles of books:

12. If you could have a house totally paid for, and fully furnished, anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Berkeley, California

13. What would you like to have in your hands right now?
Enough money to set up a trust fund for my special-needs daughter, pay for college for my other three kids, give my mother extra money (because her savings got wiped out in the bank crash), and have some left over to add to our retirement account.

14. What is your favorite children's book?
The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgeson Burnett

15. What is your biggest fear/phobia?
Heights. Absolutely terrified of them, to the point of hysteria and near-incontinence.

16. What's the bravest thing you've done in the past year?
Ride on a ferris wheel with my special-needs daughter.

17. If you could go anywhere in the world for the next hour, where would you go?
Berkeley, California - I'd have cheap Mexican food at La fiesta, then spend the rest of the time at Moe's books.

18. What did you want to become as a child?
Archaeologist, writer, artist, mom.

19. What posters/pictures do you have on your bedroom wall?
Pictures of everyone in my family. A painting my father bought in Cambodia in 1959.

20. What is your plan for tomorrow?
Try and get my garden in shape, try and get my house in shape, meet the kids when they get home from school. After that, it's all kid care and husband-with-a-broken-foot care.

21. What was your first job?

22. Say something to the person/s who tagged you:
Jason, you're such a wry, funny, understated writer. You have a gift for dialog and dialect. I hope, someday, you write a book.

23.Post a favorite childhood photograph of yourself.
Me caught in imagination land. I'm still doing it, just in different ways.

I'm tagging these people, but ignore the tag if you like.
A Thousand Shades of Twilight
Oh Sasquatch
Willy or won't he?
Yellow dog granny
Kitsch slapped
Mean Dirty Pirate
What would Jackie wear?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Thank you

The responses to my last post were so honest and searing. I've always been the one in my family who opened her big mouth and said out loud what everyone else was silently thinking. And yet I've never really talked with most of my family about this event that shattered some, and changed everything. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences, your family's experiences, with suicide. It makes me realize that I need to do more talking, to my own family and try to measure how deep and how wide this thing is. And maybe even write a book about it. (Because, really, I need another creative project to add to the crew I'm already juggling.)

And I just want to add how amazing it is to have you all out there, reading the messages I send out in this cyber bottle, sending back yours. On this difficult subject, as with so many others, it makes me feel less alone.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Suicide is painless (except for those it leaves behind)

A Jewish friend of mine says that, if you don't know how to process an experience, simply telling it can help, that telling has great power. Now the Jews know a thing or six million about losing and telling, so I'll give it a try. This is about my grandfather who, despite the fact that I never met him, has been a huge presence in my life, because of how he chose to end his. As long as I've known anything, I've known that my grandfather killed himself. It happened some years before I was born, and my mother, who adored him, talked to me about him a lot. I think she had no one else to talk to about the suicide, and I think she was afraid that I would kill myself one day too. Not because I was depressed or suicidal. Just because it's what people did in the family when things got too overwhelming. Some families drink (actually, we did that too), some families go on vacation, we kill ourselves.

As I grew older, I filled in some of the details. He'd had a nervous breakdown some months before he killed himself, because he was afraid he was getting alzheimer's. His doctors didn't give him the medication that was available at the time, and told him the best thing for him would be a vacation in Florida. So he dutifully drove to Florida with his wife, then drove back, and two days before Christmas, on December 23, 1952, went to work and jumped out the window of his office to his death. He left a note saying that his wife, my grandmother, should sell their large house. (She didn't and was rattling around it in an alcoholic haze by the time I really knew her.) But really, I knew very little about it, partly because our family culture is to not talk about unpleasantness.

So the last time I visited my mother, I asked her to tell me more. Here is what she told me:
My family was living in Bangkok at the time, which might as well have been Venus. My mother had just given birth to my middle brother, who she named after my grandfather. She received a telegram telling her that she needed to fly to Manilla and call her brother, but it didn't tell her why. In a panic, she made the long (at the time) flight, called her brother, who asked her if she'd "heard anything," but told her nothing. She flew back to Bangkok frightened and confused and only found out what had happened when she flew home to the US.

Now, before you think it unbelievable that my uncle said nothing to her, you have to know his part of the story. On the day his father killed himself, at the very time, in fact, that he killed himself, my uncle was going to his father's office to meet him. As he approached the office building, he saw a crowd on the sidewalk. He went over to the crowd. Someone said, "A man killed himself. Anyone know who he is?" My uncle said, "I do. It's my father." I can't imagine the pain he went through, then and after.

Please don't think that I am, in any way shape or form, thinking about suicide. I'm fine. Really. I'm just interested in the way this event, that no one talks about in my family, has shaped all of our lives, and how this man I never met has shaped mine. I don't know exactly what I think and feel about this, except that telling it, talking about it, can only be a good thing. As my friend says, perhaps simply the telling of it will help me understand it. If any of my wonderful cousins who read this blog, have further information/comments/thoughts, I'd love to hear them.