First Snow

Muffle my fears, please…not my heart…

Late this year. Usually comes before Halloween.

Heavy, wet, sticky – the whipped-cream, white-frosting kind, that will likely melt away by tomorrow, I hope without taking a few branches down with it, when the wind blows.

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I love the muffled, muting effect of snow. Calming.

I need that today.

Yesterday, the early dark seemed menacing. More than two years on, there are still times when Mike’s absence, and the accompanying not-having-a-man-in-the-house feeling, gives me the creeps. Don’t get me wrong, I am a strong, independent woman and always have been. I can handle things, and pretty much have handled them for myself since I was 18 – and for my late husband from the day we were married until all the arrangements were finished after he died, and for my daughter since she was born.

But knowing I can handle it doesn’t keep me from sometimes doubting I can handle it, especially when I’m feeling inadequate – the too-frequent, bleak feeling of being only half, and the lesser half at that, of what our daughter needs.

She misses him so much. Two years and she only now has begun to repeat, “when a person goes to heaven, they can’t come back. Dad’s not coming back.”

And the only response I can offer is the same as I have been saying all along, that while he can’t be here with us in a way where we can hug him and talk to him, we can always feel his love with us

“Dad’s love never ends.”

I remind her of those times when we’re driving somewhere, and she suddenly changes the radio station and the song that she lands on is one that was special to us, or better, one that was special to just the two of them.

They used to drive around listening to music, sometimes just to drive around, listening to music.

I’ve invited her to bring her CD’s into the car with me, but it is not the same car and he’s not driving it. She just relies on the radio, now.

I keep thinking we’re getting better, that we’re learning how to move on, and then I’ll have a night like last night and a morning like today, where each moment of hope is countered by a moment of fear, guilt, shame or anger. The four horsemen of “this-is-not-who-I-want-to-be.”

There is no love without forgiveness. Why can’t I forgive myself? Why do I magnify every lapse of parental patience into a major, soul-crushing crisis of inadequacy?

Because Mike’s not here to tell me to snap out of it and stop being such a drama queen?

She gets over it before I do.

Way to go, Mom. Some Mom.

BAD MOM.

Am I doing anything right?

This third Thanksgiving without him, I agreed to take our daughter to dinner at my brother’s in-laws. They eat much earlier in the day than we usually do, but it is a chance for my daughter to finally have a family holiday with a lot more family – I’m nostalgic for the big family holiday meals we had when I was a child, with grandpa and the uncle or the cousins. She’s never really had one like that. Grandpa died long before she was born, the cousins moved away, and Mike wouldn’t go, so for years it was just the two of us and my parents. Then just the three of us, at home. Now just the two of us, alone – but I keep the empty third chair at the table. That’s probably not healthy, anymore.

I hope the change will be good for her — she’ll get to meet some cousins-in-law that have only been mythical to her so far.

And I hope it will be good for me, to be around more people – other adults – and to be forced by social convention and good manners to get out of my own head for a while.

By the end of today, my daughter will have new carpeting in her room. Carpeting called “party” from a series called “joy.” Appropriate for her beautiful, joyful, resilient spirit.

The new carpeting for my room and the hall won’t come until January, but I don’t mind waiting. Next year, 2019, is a Big One for me, birthday-wise. Might as well start with new carpet and go from there.

For today, though, I’m just going to look at the snow, eat some soup, be still, and try to “get back to just right,” as we say in our house.

Hoping that the muffling effect of the snow will muffle my fears and my self-doubt, but not my heart, I remain,

Your jittery, inadequate, unexpectedly blue but believing

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the sun will come out soon,

Ridiculouswoman

I Can’t Take Me Anywhere

I haven’t gotten into an argument with anyone today…yet

I don’t care who you are, where you’re from, what you did, as long as you love…”

-Max Martin, recorded by the Backstreet Boys

(I left out the “me” in that quote deliberately.)

I have one goal for today: not to get into an argument with anyone.

Which pretty much means I should go back to bed and pull the covers over my head and hope I wake up to a better world tomorrow.

Yeah, right, Little Mary Sunshine.

Pollyanna.

One thing I’ve learned is that you can’t change anyone’s mind by making it clear that you think you are smarter than they are. That’s a sure way to get someone who is an idiot and is wrong to dig in.

And you can’t make anyone care about things you care about by making those things all about you and who you are.

The only way to make things better is to try to make things better for everyone, by concentrating on the things we have in common. Quit concentrating on the gaps between us and work harder on the things that bring us together. Which there are lots of, if we could just dial the noise back and address real problems with practical solutions. Most of you do that every day at work, with people who may be very different and may have very different outlooks on a lot of things, but who are perfectly capable of working together toward a shared goal.

Making life better for everyone collectively makes life better for each of us individually. Seems self-evident to me. (Yeah, that was intentional).

So I don’t care what equipment you were born with, how you dress it and how or whether you may have altered it, I don’t care who you love (I just hope you have someone to love), I don’t care what color your skin is or what language you speak or where you were born, I don’t care how or whether you worship (I just hope you can feel and have experienced the existence of a creative, loving power greater than yourself, however you may define that power, or spirit, or energy, or whatever) – I just care that you care about other people, and that you try to make decisions that may affect others conscientiously.

I haven’t gotten into an argument with anyone today (so far – heading back to bed now, covers to be pulled over head) but I’m throwing the flag on myself anyway, as I couldn’t keep myself from asking the supporters of a candidate I didn’t vote for if they were far enough away from the polling place (I was just going to work out at the fitness center, I early-voted last week) whereupon they pointed out that the representatives of the candidate I had voted for were standing even closer to the “no electioneering” sign. Oops.

I didn’t stop myself from muttering under my breath in response to something overheard in a conversation I was not party to as I walked back to my car.

The muttering and the challenging didn’t make me feel better – they made me feel worse.

You know what made me feel better? Watching my daughter enjoy being pampered at the hair salon, sitting through a shampoo and haircut calmly, and patiently reading a magazine under a dryer (curly, curly hair, no blow drying, just a gentle old-fashioned hair dryer on a wheeled stand, that goes over the head like a giant 1960’s space helmet) like any other adult lady at a salon.

This is not a small thing. From the time she was a toddler until in her mid-teens, when she finally insisted on trying to do it herself, taking care of her hair was a major battle.

Her tactile defensiveness meant she couldn’t stand anyone approaching too closely, especially from behind, anywhere near her head, like you have to in order to pick out knots in long, curly hair. Mike could do it, though – when she was four, he patiently, gently, over a year, picked out her Sideshow Bob dreadlocks so we wouldn’t have to cut her hair  – it grows so slowly.

And today here she was, accepting not only a shampoo (lying back in the shampoo chair, allowing the head massage and the comb-out) and dutifully tilting her head this way and that at the request of the stylist, conversing, with a little delay in responding, but conversing nonetheless, with her hairdresser, just as if this was an ordinary thing for her. Which it isn’t and hasn’t been, but might be now.

Her hair, though shorter, looks great, she has promised not to keep cutting it herself (just to get it out of her face, which resulted in a kind of curly mullet, hence giving over my previously scheduled appointment to her, for repairs), and she’s already asking about her next appointment.

Sometimes the small victories in life are bigger than they seem, and more satisfying.

So whatever tomorrow ends up looking like, I’ll hang on to those big small victories and keep hoping that everyone else is having some of them too, every day.

Until then, I remain,

Your nervous, off-for-a-nap and hoping for a better tomorrow, whatever tomorrow may bring,

Ridiculouswoman

Perfectionist Tendencies

Perfectionism is just arrogance in disguise. Knock it off, Annie.

I screwed up in the concert Friday night.

I know the exact movement and measure where I came in two beats early, loud and clear, doubling the tenors an octave higher, when the sopranos weren’t supposed to come in at all yet. A mistake I had made so repeatedly in rehearsal that I had marked a huge dark circle around the rest – the rest that I nevertheless failed to observe, during the concert. Which will ruin the recording, no doubt.

Fortunately, I have another chance to get it right, tonight.

But that doesn’t make me feel any better.

I feel like I’m in over my head. There are voices in this choir that are as big as the ocean. I have sung in several really, really good choirs in my time, but I’ve never heard anything like this. I’m out of shape, out of practice, out of my league.

I’m wondering why they let me in.

And I keep “watering the weed,” going over and over my stupid mistake, magnifying its importance.

I have long been accused of perfectionist tendencies. I can put a lot of energy into beating myself up over the innumerable mistakes I have made, which continue to multiply, daily. Apparently, getting older doesn’t necessarily equate with getting wiser.

What a waste of energy.

Because perfectionism is really just badly disguised arrogance.

How could I be so arrogant as to think that anyone in the audience even noticed in that very live, echo-y chapel?

And who the hell do I think I am, that I could ever get anything perfect, anyway?

I’ve lived enough life now to realize that making mistakes is part of the deal. My improvisation teachers said that mistakes are discoveries. Go with ’em and see where they take you.

Perfectionism is the opposite of humility, and I’m trying to learn to be a more humble, accepting person – one who listens more than she talks.

(Stop laughing, you guys, I really am trying).

And one who doesn’t take herself so seriously, doesn’t always think she’s the center of everything, or anything, for that matter. Trying to focus on others and not be such a little-miss-know-it-all-smartypants-achiever.

Remember that sketch that Chris Farley used to do, on SNL? The interview show,  where he’d say something or ask a question and then start slapping himself in the head, “Oh, D’oh! How stupid! I’m such an idiot!”

He did that not out of arrogance, thinking that he could have been perfect, but out of humility and insecurity, feeling that he couldn’t possibly be good enough,  even though he was spectacularly, uniquely talented.

And I thought I was hard on myself.

So, I fell off the proverbial horse. Get back on and give it another go, Annie. “I’ll do better next time,” as my courageous, resilient, magnificent, magical daughter says, determined to show me she can muster a positive attitude after a setback.

I’ll do better next time, not for myself, but out of respect for the other members of the chorus.

Some of whom, it turns out, live with significant health and physical challenges, and sing joyfully, professionally and well, despite them.

Where do I get off making mountains out of my mistakes when these people carry on, with their quiet heroism, just being who they are and doing what they do, and doing it well?

So tonight I’ll watch more closely and concentrate more on counting than on the sound of my own voice. Although it is easy to space out a bit, lost in the majesty and consolation of Mendelssohn, I’ll keep my guard up and try to remember that it’s a gift just to have the chance to be a small part of it, and to follow the lead of voices far more magnificent, and musicianship far more honed than mine are at present. Working on it.

Tonight I’ll try to be OK with just being OK.

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Time to go put on the concert black, and stow the ego. I’ll keep you posted.

Until then, I remain,

Your striving, stumbling, struggling, but still singing,

Ridiculouswoman

“There Came a Still, Small Voice”

That buck stopped me in my tracks, and reminded me to be still….and grateful

“…and in that still voice, onward came the Lord…”

-from Mendelssohn’s “Elijah”

I just wanted to grab a little fresh air on what, if the weather nerds were to be trusted, was to be the last sunny (or at least partly sunny) day of October.

I headed out on my usual route at the forest preserve savannah, but noticed a little yellow sign tacked to a post. “New Trail,” it said.

Cool, I’ll try a new path – it headed off in a direction I’d always wanted to explore, but couldn’t because of swampy patches and tall grass.

But now a path had been mowed that way, so off I went.

Within five strides I caught my left walking boot on a small stump sticking up right in the middle of this “new trail,” felt myself go horizontal, and WHUMP, fell face first on the damp grass.

Cut the meat of my left hand on the zipper tab of the little wallet-purse I was carrying (lock in the glove box next time, dumbass!), muddied my black jeans and jammed my wrist in a futile attempt to stop a hard face plant. Bruised my right hip which landed hard on the little lipstick compact I had in my coat pocket (even out here, the middle-aged woman rules apply.)

Up slow. Nothing broken, it seems. The cut, while ugly and bleeding, was small and not deep. The black jeans would survive.

Cursing, dropping “F” bombs loudly, out there where cyclists and joggers and other walkers were no doubt trying to grab their few remaining minutes of October glory (oh, nice) I stood up and kept going, bitching about how I had been lured onto a “new trail” that clearly wasn’t ready for use – more stumps and sticks and logs and branches all over the place. I didn’t want to have to walk looking down just to keep myself from falling again.  So I consciously began picking my feet up higher, in a silly-walk-looking kind of march, and pressed on. Came to a little bridge over the swampy part and took a photo of a stand of russet oaks:IMG_20181029_162322442.jpg

And just after I did, walking on a bit, still cursing, I saw him. A buck, with a small but impressive rack of antlers, looking right back at me. Can you find him in the photo at the top of this post? He’s there, just right of center.

“Oh!” I stopped. I stood still. I slowly drew my camera back out from my rear pocket (grateful that I keep in back there, instead of in the front pocket, where the already cracked face of it would no doubt have shattered for good from the impact of the fall.)

I slowly took a few pics, hoping that cropping or zooming might capture him.

As I put my phone away, it occurred to me that in all the times I had seen deer around here, I had never before seen a buck with antlers.

I tried to move closer, slowly and quietly, but the buck took a step toward me, as if to say, “Hey! I’m eating here! Pipe down and shove off!”

Though the deer near here are used to people, I figured it wouldn’t be totally out of the realm of possibility to get gored by a buck who was irritated that I’d interrupted his grazing.

So I turned around and slowly walked away.

And another, smaller buck with smaller antlers, but antlers just the same, came blasting across from my left, toward the buck I was now calling “Big Daddy.”

Wow.

I had only planned to walk for about half an hour anyway, because I had to get home to prep dinner, greet the companion/caregiver and head off to rehearsal. Cleaned and bandaged the hand, no time to change the jeans.

Before being admitted to the Chicago Master Singers, I had never sung “Elijah.” It has been challenging and wonderful to learn the it. Like all of Mendelssohn is to me, it is a beautiful, moving piece.

In the text, when the Lord at last responds to Elijah’s prayers, after a mighty wind (but the Lord was not in the tempest) after the sea was upheaved, after the fire (but the Lord was not in the fire) – “there came a “still, small voice.”

“And in that small voice, onward came the Lord.”

And above him were seraphim, begun with a soft soprano solo, “holy, holy, holy…”

And the heaven’s were filled with his glory.

I looked up Mendelssohn, to make sure I spelled it correctly, and found that it means, “son of Mendel,” and “Mendel” is probably derived from  “Menachem,” which, if Wikipedia is correct,  means, “one who consoles.”

I found consolation for my minor scrapes and bruises when I saw that buck, and when I sang that chorus at rehearsal, I was reminded that God’s amazing creative glory often comes in moments of stillness, like when that buck and I stood looking at each other, dissipating my little pain and my petty little frustration and my cursing and bringing me back to beauty and peace.

And reminding me of recent, seemingly daily reports of inexplicable tragedies and inconceivable losses of breathtaking magnitude. Feeling simultaneously ashamed (for being so upset about my minor, transitory physical scrapes) and grateful, for how lucky I am, to have another day to walk in the woods.

For those whose grief is fresh, whose pain feels insurmountable, for whom the senselessness of this vale of tears is relentless, may you hear that still, small voice, and be consoled.

I’ll be thinking of  you at this weekend’s performances.

Until then, trying to be still, listening for that small voice, hoping for consolation for all those who grieve,

I remain, your sore, humbled, grateful,

Ridiculouswoman

 

 

 

 

Door Between Worlds

Once a year, the veil thins….

Late, after the few little superheroes and monsters and teenagers who aren’t ready to let it go have come and gone, I keep the lights off.

I relight the Jack-o-Lanterns and try to capture the look of them, in the dark,

Dressed in black (ok, black peignoir, ooh!) I listen to Hildegaard von Bingen, which, even though this is the prayerful music of a medieval nun, gives the night an appropriately eerie, otherworldy feel. Sometimes I keep the door-answering witch hat on. Go crones!

In the rare years when it has been warm enough, we’ve had that music on, with the lights out and the door open, to add a little Halloween creepiness to the proceedings.

This year, I had to go to chorus rehearsal, so my Hildegaard time happened very late at night, and the photos were taken just a few minutes before midnight. I took the witch’s hat to rehearsal with me. Kept me warm in the big drafty stone chapel, but I had to take it off so the guy behind me could see the conductor.

So Halloween this year was a little different, but it was OK.

Just to add a little more creepiness, I drove home from rehearsal with the gauge on “E” and the gas tank alert light blaring yellow on the dash. Forgot to get gas early this morning and had to stop, making my daughter a few minutes late for work. My bad.

I made it home last night in time to chat briefly with the (very kind, sweet) companion who volunteered to come over on Halloween.  I stowed the candy, got the garbage and recycling out to the end of the driveway, whispered good night to my daughter (who, according to the companion, had just gone up, but probably fell deep asleep once she heard us talking and knew I was home), and changed into that black nightgown.  I put on the Hildegaard and slipped outside.  I relit the jack-o-lanterns and stayed out there for a moment to enjoy that dark, quiet, intense, open-door-between-worlds vibe of the night, and to snap a few pics.

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And now it’s over, for the third time without Mike (who used to answer the door with our daughter, because most of the kids came and went before I got home from work). She says she’s been dreaming about him, lately. Getting up very early in the morning, actually still in the middle of the night, to “take a break.” The new mattresses, for us both, seem to help, though. When I got to bed I slept heavily and well, and she is starting to, again. But not last night.

She talks about missing  him, and repeats what I have told her about how we will carry that feeling of missing him around with us for the rest of our lives, but that we have to learn to carry it without letting it weigh us down.

“Dad wants you to have a happy life. This adulting thing is hard for everybody, but you’re doing great, sweetie. Dad’s proud of you, from heaven.”

And I’m sure he is, because she is doing well. I can see her learning to manage her sadness wisely as she goes about her day, like the gentle, kind, delightful adult she has become. I’m glad she enjoys the companionship of others, because really, what 20-something wants to spend all their time with their Mom?

She just wants to know that I’ll come back. That I’ll come home. That I’ll be there.

I remind her that I’m here. (But I don’t say, “for now.” I hope there will be decades more before I’ll have to start that conversation – time for her to gain confidence in companions, friends, younger family – and herself).

Instead, I tell her that we’re doing a good job of learning to live our lives without him, because we don’t have a choice. We have to carry on. And he sends his love, always.

Dad’s love never ends.

I heard a rustling in the leaves by the front walk, as I relit the candles. Little votive candles inside the pumpkins. We never thought of that when I was a kid, probably because trying to get a tall candle to stand up in the bottom of a carved pumpkin lengthened the whole already- elongated pumpkin-carving process – “who can scrape the insides cleanest?”-  and kept my brothers and me occupied for longer – very clever, Dad. I didn’t realize your  until tactic until I was past 40!

One of those little votives, in the pumpkin nearest the  rustling sound, stayed burning long after the others burned out. Much longer than I expected. Still burning when I finally went to bed.

I’ve decided to take that as a whisper from beyond, through the veil-between-worlds that thins to near transparency, once-a-year, on Halloween.

Wishing you a friendly rustling of leaves, and a glimpse through the occasional thinning veil, or open door between worlds,

I remain,

for one night a year, your “witchy”

Ridiculouswoman