Morning Has Broken

Sky, snow, sun. Easter, baseball, and birds. Spring.

And then there’s this: that sky.

This is the way to throw off winter’s blanket –  lumps of snow, leaping down from the branches that shape them, making branch-shaped dents in the snow below, brightened under the blue. All that white will revert to green by the end of the day.

The female cardinal came to the kitchen door, hopping from the garden arch to the patio light, looking in at me, as if to ask for help; “please shake the snow off the bent cedars, my nest is at risk!”

I tell her it will melt soon, and it is melting fast. I can see her in there, bustling, making the necessary repairs.

And from the basement rumpus room I hear that my daughter has found a slow, brass instrumental recording of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” that she is listening to on YouTube.

Which she follows up with her own exuberant rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

Well, now. Spring has sprung indeed.

I’m ready now.

Off to pay forty-five dollars more in state taxes than I will get back in federal but not getting bent out of shape about it because, honestly, look at that sky,

I remain,

Your snapping-out-of-it and looking beyond Thursday and Friday to promise of Sunday,

Ridiculouswoman

“Oversensitive” Is A Compliment, Mom

It’s not a problem, it’s a gift.

Never underestimate what an autistic person understands, or especially, remembers.

It is bound to be a helluva lot more than you think.

Even with an autistic person who is verbal, communication can be oblique, indirect, hinted. Somehow, the direct route got derailed in the brain, or entangled in what science has found are far more neural connections than “neurotypical” people have. There’s a LOT more going on in the brain of an autistic person than in a “typical” brain.

As our daughter matures, I am reminded of this daily, and often, I’m amazed.

How did she….? Where did that idea come from? I didn’t know she even know that word!

When I was writing the other day about missing Mike’s centering influence in our lives, I mentioned how he loved to discover new music, and how he and our daughter would learn a lot of great songs by artists I had never heard of before.

One of those was a Canadian singer-songwriter named Jann Arden. They started listening to her when our daughter was a toddler.

Thursday, I noticed she was listening to Jann Arden on her phone.

We hadn’t played Jann Arden in this house for more than ten years.

Suddenly, as I am writing about Mike finding new music, she starts listening to Jann Arden again?

The truth is, Jann Arden’s music was the soundtrack to the most painful period of our marriage, a time that had ongoing traumatic effects for the rest of our lives together.  But Mike had gotten our daughter so hooked on that music during that fraught time that I actually took it away, with the promise of return if she mastered an essential skill.

Denying an autistic child something they are attached to is agony.

But it worked.

It was also the beginning of the end of our listening to Arden’s music.

Until Thursday.

I’ve been writing about how we’ve been going through another wave of grief, unexpectedly, and how I tell her to hang on to the happy memories.

Was playing Jann Arden, within earshot, her way of telling me the sad memories are there, too? She remembers listening to Jann Arden with him, and she remembers me taking the music away and giving it back again after a week of painful deprivation.

She also remembers the wrenching, raging discord too often present in our marriage.

My Mother used to accuse me of being “oversensitive” when things other kids did or said upset me, or when I objected to her nit-picking about my hair, my clothes, my reading habit (“go outside!” – I realized she nagged me about this because she wanted to go outside) or my choice of activities, jobs or diets. When I explained I felt attacked, she called me “paranoid.”

Mom often started her criticism with, “what will people think of your Mother if you (wear that hairstyle, leave that job, eat that food…?)”

Not what would they think of her daughter, but what would they think of her.

It infuriated Mom when I called her on this – that her complaints and criticisms had more to do with her than me.

The idea that I might have some insight into the motivation behind her criticism offended her.

The idea of insight itself exasperated her, I think. Who needs insight when something needs doing. So stow your precious little feelings and don’t forget to unload the dishwasher. We’ll talk about your feelings later. As in never.

Mom saw sensitivity as a threat. Acknowledging undercurrents means uncovering pain. Lost father, lost brother, kid-thwarted career, lost mother. Regret.

She did not want to open that box.

Whatever she had packed away so tightly burst out of her occasionally, as tears or anger. But she wouldn’t say why.

Other than I had forgotten to unload the dishwasher, again.

Or that she felt unappreciated.

I wish my “oversensitivity” had been comforting to her, not annoying. Not a threat.

Sensitivity is receptivity to expressed emotion in people, or observable beauty in nature, music, dance, literature or art.

“Oversensitivity” is the ability to discern things unexpressed, unspoken, unseen, but present, meaningful, and worthy of discussion, or at least acknowledgement.

That’s a gift, Mom, not a problem.

A gift your granddaughter displays in the unique, sometimes heartbreaking ways she communicates what she has discerned, through whatever alchemy of receptivity her overconnected brain employs (sensing tiny blips of my neuroelectricity? or a disturbance in the local magnetic field? glancing over my shoulder?) as I sit here, writing about Mike and music and our lives together.

So thanks for the compliment, Mom, but it is your granddaughter who really deserves it.

Listening again, after a very long hiatus, to Jann Arden, and allowing myself to remember the pain that is the flipside of love, I remain,

Your “oversensitive”

Ridiculouswoman

Meta…for?

Surviving without a center…

Split down the middle, but surviving.

New branches growing independently on either side.

“Things fall apart; the center cannot hold….”

I thought of myself as the center of our little family; I was the breadwinner, the Toilet-Unplugger, The Parent-Teacher Conferencer, the Finder of Doctors and Dentists, the Internet Impresariess and the Did-You-Brush-Your-Teeth Reminderer.

When not at work, my attention was split down the middle between Mike and our daughter, halfway between them in the house, trying to respond to each of them simultaneously.

I’d get home from work and play picture-card games with her until we’d eat the meal that Mike had prepared, ready hours earlier, when they’d get home from school, because he knew she’d be hungry.

After, he would wearily retreat to his room upstairs, to read, play over his chess games and wind down after what was typically more than a 12 hour day caring for, entertaining, feeding, cleaning up after, chauffeuring and comforting an autistic child.

He never complained (although he would rage if I tried to make her something different for dinner, something that included a green vegetable, since she had already eaten whatever he made right after school. His style was to make vats full of spaghetti and meatballs or chicken soup, and then expect us to eat them for three days running, until they were gone. Inexpensive, but not exactly variety-packed.)

He said he liked his job, taking care of her. He was really good at it, exhausting as it could frequently be.

He was Fun Dad. Director of Entertainment. Leader of “excursions,” usually with no cost other than gas for the car. He was a genius at finding fun things them to do, for free. He pedaled her along on the tandem bike. They visited parks and playgrounds. They often took drives just to listen to music in the car. He introduced her to bands and singer songwriters I had never heard of, and they listened to the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s station: she knows all the songs from our high school years through the early years of our marriage.

We hear them now and remember.

If you are a young adult who has lost a parent, what are you going to remember? Doctors’ offices and tooth brushing? Or rockin’ out in the car?

I thought I was the center?

Like that tree – at first I just thought, cool, split down the middle and still growing.

That must mean something. Take a pic.

Now, looking at the photo, I see the magnitude of the emptiness in the middle.  Not like an “I lost myself for years in marriage and mothering- I don’t who I am anymore! Woe is me!” crap metaphor.  I’ve always known who I am and I’ve always had a habit of being who I am quite a bit more forcefully than most people can tolerate.

Mike tolerated it. At first, he loved it.  For years he just put up with it. Then for a long time, he ignored it.  At the end, he came to love it again, when the finality of his illness dissolved the hard shell around me and revealed the innocent heart he first fell in love with, battered and patched, but still there. The heart now permanently exposed, worn on my sleeve. I couldn’t generate that shell again if I tried. I’m an open wound.

The metaphor is, of course, about the branches with no connecting trunk at the center.

The two of us trying to forge new lives without him, parallel lives, still growing, but disconnected from a center.

We look at each other across that gap and wonder, how could this have happened?

She keeps going over the day he died, as if repeating what happened could explain it, or make it hurt less.

It doesn’t.

I tell her we will miss him for the rest of our lives, but that he wouldn’t want us to be sad all the time – when we miss him, think about the happy times and it will feel like he is with us.

She doesn’t believe me.

Neither do I.

Things fall apart.

I tell her that we will still cry sometimes, that it is normal, that it is OK. It will pass.

Until it happens again.

Car crying, suddenly, on the way home after a good chorus rehearsal. Two pieces about the mysteries of death, but only one of them includes hope of resurrection – “de morte transire ad vitam.”

Sometimes I feel held together with twist-ties and tape, or made of wire, like an old-fashioned dress form – the vacant outline of a woman.

Wind goes right through me.

I’m always cold.

Kyrie eleison.

I’m so, so damn tired of being cold.

The sun is out, but our backyard rabbit won’t leave the shade.

nos ad lucem

-Ridiculouswoman

Gaga Wha?

My tongue is bleeding – from biting it…..

Just wanted to be sure you knew that when I referenced “La Vie en Rose” in my post yesterday, I was thinking of Edith Piaf. I hadn’t seen the Cooper-Gaga version of “A Star is Born,” where the song, and it’s title, in neon lights, are featured.

Watched it last night.

Let’s just say I’m very relieved that the Oscar Lady Gaga won was for best original song, and that it was the only Oscar the film was awarded. If it had been otherwise, I’m afraid we’d be spending a lot of time together over in the Snark Tank.

Whew. That was a close one.

Trying to observe the Thumper rule (but still snickering about its double negative) I remain,

Your biting-my-tongue-but-damn-I’d-really-love-to-dish-on-this-one,

Ridiculouswoman

Mood Music

Name your cryin’ song, your guilty pleasure song, and your rock-out-in-the-car song!

Yesterday? I’m putting that down to a bad hair day.

That’s been fixed. The bob’s lookin’ fab today, which improved my outlook tremendously.

But the song from yesterday’s post has stuck in my head.

That song made me feel hopeful in the middle of a bad self-pity party when Mrs. McWhiny reared her ugly head, even when I thought I’d kicked her to the curb; the song  helped me pull myself together this morning to fix the hair and face, and generally get back into compliance with the Middle-Aged Woman Rules.

Everyone has their “cryin’ songs” There are just some songs that make me bawl every time. Cathartic.

In addition to “cryin’ songs,” there are songs that are just really fun, there are “guilty pleasures,” those songs you’d be embarrassed to tell a friend you like, but you rock on with them in the car. There are songs that inspire, that make you laugh, that give you hope.

They can be in any genre from country to classical to rock’n’roll.

Beloved Chicago songwriter (and really one of the best songwriters ever) Steve Goodman wrote some unbelievably touching songs – just try to get through “My Old Man,” where the recording keeps the bridge where he got choked up, without crying. Good luck.

He also wrote a lot of really funny songs – and they’re funny largely because they touch on something that is true – or at lest “truthy,” to paraphrase Stephen Colbert.

For example, Goodman, with John Prine, another best songwriter ever, wrote a song to illustrate that a true country song had to have trains, Momma, dead dogs, divorce, drinkin’, trucks and prison, plus farms and Christmas. The story goes that David Allen Coe, who was the first to record it, and Prine, both complained to Goodman that these things were missing when he originally finished the song.  So Goodman (and Prine) wrote an extra verse (watch the whole thing to the end, it’s worth it, but if you’re in a hurry it’s at about 2:18):

Read the lyrics, and the song notes linked in the upper left here, for the story as told by Prine.

So, how about you name your favorite:

  • cryin’ song
  • guilty pleasure song
  • song that you just have to sing along to in the car

OK, I’ll go first:

I did my cryin’ songs a while ago.

Guilty pleasure: The Calling, Wherever You Will Go

Sing Along Song: It has to be “Bohemian Rhapsody,” right? At least the Wayne’s World head-banging part? No? Ok, let’s see – Oh, another for the guilty pleasure list, I guess –

Bon Jovi, “Livin’ on a Prayer” Roll down the windows and wail that sucker!

Um, but as far as rolling the windows down, you should probably wait until spring comes again.

In the meantime here’s a cute scene from the Big Bang Theory where Howard and Amy discovered a mutual guilty pleasure (for those of you in need of instant gratification, it starts at about :58):

Go ahead – what are your cryin’ songs, guilty pleasures, rock-out-in-the-car songs?

You don’t need an account to play – you should be able to submit your list in the comments. Or you can use the contact page to send your list.

Looking forward to your song suggestions,

I remain,

Your well-coiffed, snapped-out-of-it, sings-at-the-drop-of-a-hat,

Ridiculouswoman

 

 

One Chord of Joy

Moments of music bring comfort and joy…

Great choral music contains chords I could live on for years. The buildup to them is always great, too, and you can’t really appreciate how wonderful the chords are when they burst forth without hearing what comes before.

I’ve had the opportunity to sing some new music this year, I am so grateful these modern, living composers are writing music with chords to live on – sounds that can cause a broken heart to soar.

(Heads-up: some of these YouTube videos may contain ads, sorry – there doesn’t seem to be any way for me to block them for you, so I wouldn’t click other than on the little “x” to close them, if I were you):

Here’s one the chorus that has graciously accepted me is doing – “A Christmas Blessing,” by Philip Stopford. The video has him conducting, in an Irish Cathedral with a much smaller choir, but you’ll still get it (the echoey-stone-pseudo-medieval church we usually perform in was unavailable, so we performed this time in a modern, brick church building that looked more like a 1970’s school or county office building – very exposed sound, not echoey – but we pulled it off).

Anyway, the big moment comes at about 1:25-1:26 on the word “joy;” there’s another at 2:00 on the word “always.” It is worth listening to the whole thing so you get the context and the run-ups to these moments. “Joy” and “Always” just open like a time-lapse film of a huge flower blooming. Yummy.

Here’s another one, by a composer I hadn’t heard of before, that will just sort of rip your heart out, if the Christmas story means anything to you. Even if doesn’t. It feels like comfort for those who feel broken, or out of place, lost or lonely – listen for “love” at about 1:40. Another good one at about 2:43 and the end is gorgeous, so I hope you listen to the whole thing – it has such a beautiful arc to it:

Another by Will Todd – the punch I get from this is on the word “all” at about 1:28:

Because I’m talking about moments in choral music that just slay me, blow me away, blast my heart open, here’s one from the Brahms Requiem, 6th movement, “Tod, wo ist dein Stachel? Hölle, wo ist dein Sieg?” which means, “Death, where is thy sting? Hell, (or grave) where is thy victory?” Von Karajan takes it much more slowly than I’ve ever heard before, but that gives you a chance to really hear the moment I’m talking about. I tried to excerpt it but it didn’t work, so the section I’m talking about starts at about 5:55 with text that means “death is swallowed up in victory” and the big moment actually comes on the word “wo” at about 7:00:

Again, it is worth listening to the whole thing.

At the time I learned this piece, when I was a college kid, it was the sheer beauty of the music that made me come undone, and I never forgot it.

Now, of course, this section holds special meaning for me. There is something so urgently hopeful about this – the music is so, almost vehement – you can feel Brahms desperately trying to convince himself of the text – trying to hang on to hope in the depth of the sorrow of death and loss that gave birth to the whole piece. Tears every time.

We have the second and final performance of our Christmas concert tonight, so I’m off for some more salt-water gargle and tea with honey, just so I can sing my part on “joy,” “always” and of course,

Love.

Sending love and hope that you find your way to joy that will be with you always,

I remain,

Your tea-swilling, salt-water gargling soprano,

Ridiculouswoman

The Three Years Tree

Rule of three tries…

Approach the task with good humor and humility. Presume things will go wrong. Resolve to be patient about it. Presume, but don’t believe, because you got this. Third time’s a charm, Right?

Third time without him, that is.

Set specific time to depart for the local big box hardware store where we always buy the tree. Wear Santa hats.

Strap tree to top of car, rather than stuffing it in the car to provide a year’s worth of needles to vacuum from various crevices for the year.

Get home without tree falling off top of car. Leave tree in cold garage for lunch break.

And now….

Tree stand.

Complimenting yourself for being clever enough to leave the stand on the work shelf in the garage since last year, rather than high and unreachable in the rafters where Mike used to put it, pick up stand.

Discover that unspecified rodent has purloined substantial amounts of insulation (must be from the bathroom in the breezeway that connects to the garage – the one that is now so cold) to construct cozy nest in the tree stand base. Eww.

Don gloves. Remove insulation. Wipe with disinfecting wipes.

Place protective plastic on floor in front of bay window (that Mike meticulously re-puttied when he was so sick, taking breaks to sit down, over three days), for inevitable spillage of water when attempting to nourish tree.

Attach base that looks oddly like a giant cervical cap (ewww) to fresh-cut base of trunk. Place in larger base, that has a foot pedal that is supposed to allow you to waggle the tree around until it is straight, upright and stable, and then lock it there.

Angelic daughter holds tree strait. Perfect! Lock.

Let go.

Tree immediately lists sideways.

Try again.

Tree lists again.

Remove tree with giant cervical cap from larger base.  Notice puddles, resulting from brilliant inspiration to put water in the stand before you put the tree in, on the plastic intended to protect wood floor, running inexorably toward said wood. Dash to kitchen for paper towels.

Angelic daughter decamps to watch TV when Mom’s swearin….erm, expressions of frustration, become a bit overwhelming.

Notice that in your efforts to place and lock tree, plastic has skidded on the floor, shifting tree way off center in front of bay window.

Sigh.

Try again.

Breathe. Employ observation, reason and calculation. Realize giant cervical cap thing needs to be snugger on trunk, and needs to sit lower in base.

Use garden loppers to remove low branches interfering with giant thorn-looking thingees that have to be screwed in tight to tree trunk.

Screw in giant thorn looking thingees.

Sit back in satisfaction. Nice and tight.

Time to try again.

Third time’s a charm, right?

Lift tree with giant cervical cap thing into larger base, and feel the satisfying click as it settles in to the correct spot. Feels stable. Step back to look.

Looks straight.

Praying (because God really cares about whether my Christmas tree is straight and stable, right?), shove foot pedal intended to allow waggling-around into lock position, and stomp down.

Holy crap. Maybe God does care that it is straight!

(No, dumbass, God cares that you get this done so you can calm down and stop swearin…expressing frustration, and move on to the decorating part which allows you to involve angelic daughter, retrieved from her retreat to the TV).

Praying more (hey, it worked), every-so-gently drag plastic back to center tree in front of window.

It worked again.

Lights!

Having been brilliant enough to buy two extra sets of lights last year, in anticipation of the future inevitable malfunction of lights that worked perfectly before, begin stringing lights – smugly, because you checked, to be sure the star that will go on the top gets the female end it needs to plug into.

Carefully distribute two strings of 300 lights in tiers around tree. Pick up third and final string.

Realize that final string will have a female end where it needs to plug into the wall.

Swea…Sigh. Breathe.

I put 600 lights on the tree, backwards. Used the female end that also has a male end at the top instead of the one with just the female end.

Unwrap lights. Rewrap lights. Decide 600 is enough. Last year’s tree, which had 900, was bigger.

Plug in.

Looks good!

Angelic daughter, creeping back in from TV room, proceeds with garlands and chains, and we (ok, I) only break four ornaments in the process of getting them out of their nests in the Christmas boxes and up on the tree.

After placing all her own handmade ornaments and garlands from school years, especially anything that has a picture of her on it, and the one with her Dad’s name on it, daughter decamps to take another break and watch more TV.

Which leaves me to hang the significant ornaments.

Listening to Vince Gill, “Breath of Heaven.” Hold me together.

The one with the little mouse at the front door, welcoming us to our new house nearly 20 years ago. House had LOTS of mice, we discovered.

Sniff.

The one of the little snowman with a shovel, that symbolized that year that Mike shoveled every two hours, seemingly for weeks on end. Big snow that year.

Tears.

I didn’t expect the one that really got me, though – a little bear dressed as Santa.

“Bear” was my pet name for Mike.

More tears.

“Can we have our quiet time now?

Breathe. Dry up.

Of course, sweetheart.

Regard the tree.

Oops, forgot the star.

Managing not to break anything (third time, anyway), clip top of tree with garden loppers. Pop star on top, held by treetop twig through the arms of the star.

Plug in.

Ta-da!

I really should have put that third string of lights on.  The lowest branches have none.

Abandon perfectionist tendencies.  Decide this is good enough.

Because, however imperfect, to me, there really isn’t anything as lovely, peaceful, and comforting as a Christmas tree.

Angelic daughter is tired. Sit with her upstairs until she falls deep asleep.  Return downstairs for more “tree regarding” time.

Play Christmas choral music, volume very low, by some Englishy choir, recorded in an echoey-Englishy-medeival stone cathedral.

Lo, how a rose ere blooming.

Smile.

Wishing you a beautiful tree, or Menorah, or whatever brings you peace and light this time of year, and hoping to get over this cough in time to sing Englishy carols in a big stone church, I remain,

Your tree-regarding, Santa-hat wearing, soon-to-be-cookie-baking,

Ridiculouswoman