Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Sunday, October 29, 2006
And was frozen in my tracks.
The newborn morning is a magical thing. When the sun is up and the world is officially awake, but still young and fresh. When the day hasn't yet started walking around and getting into trouble, but has just sat up for the first time and blinked it's wide eyes.
The sun came from the east over the hill in front of me (an embankment that lifts the street up to send it vaulting over the quarry and the train tracks south of my complex). The sky was blue and the sun shone down on the grass, where the vivid green was almost hidden by a dazzling blanket of dew. It looked like every blade was encrusted with diamonds, and I was struck with a physical sense of wonder, of awe, of worship, and of humility.
My breath was startled out of me, and I began to cry, because of the amazing, incredible beauty of an entire hillside sparkling under the young day.
I don't think I have words to convey the image, or the emotion. But my soul was shocked to stillness. The sort of stillness that comes after the earthquake, after the fire. When suddenly within yourself you hear the still small voice. It was always there, but too much was in the way. When you hear it all of a sudden like that, it can be shattering.
I haven't been to church very regularly lately. Today was my first day back in the Catholic Student Center choir after over a month of weekends home sick or weekends out of town. I was looking forward to this day back as a sort of coming home, even though my voice is still very weak from the strep. I miss my community of faith, and I miss the peace I find in doing things this way. I was prepared to get emotional about it. I wasn't prepared to have the prison walls riven open before I'd even gotten on the road.
But there I was crying as I drove, barely able to catch my breath. All because of sunlight on dewy grass. And there I was confronting the part of my soul that is helpless. I'm a pretty confident person, and I like to do and to fix, not to submit and wait. But this stripped me down to something inside myself that is completely helpless. Something that lies prostrate, is very easily hurt, and has *been* very hurt, and still hurts very much, and can only offer itself up to God and say, make of me what You will. I am nothing without You. In fact, I'm pretty much just lying here on the floor in the dark sobbing my heart out and praying that You will send me strength and peace and joy, because I can't find them alone. I've tried. Please help.
He so often does.
We sang a song in church today that I have always loved. But without the morning's vision, it would not have touched me like it did this time.
He healed the darkness of my mind
The day He gave my sight to me.
It was not sin that made me blind.
It was no sinner made me see.
Let others call my faith a lie
Or try to stir up doubt in me.
Look at me now, none can deny
I once was blind but now I see.
Ask me not how! But I know who
Has opened up new worlds to me.
This Jesus does what none can do.
I once was blind but now I see!
That dazzling light this morning opened up a new world. A world I don't know yet, and don't understand yet. But the eye-opening for me has always been like peeling an onion, or better, the thinning of the veil in slow stages. I'm not saying I have it all right. I have my questions. I have my doubts. But I'm doing the best I know how to do, and this is what feels right for me.
I'm used to feeling these things out in places like Glacier or the Hill Country. In places where I feel like my soul can stretch out as far as I can see without running into anything or anybody. I feel so much freer, less confined out there. But it looks like the Spirit can still manage to find me in the big city, too. It's nice to be reminded that I'm never completely lost in this crowd. And that thought in itself, that I am never lost, even among so many people, can be pretty darn breath-taking, too.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
of dark mornings
of being cold when it's warm outside
of caring so much
of not caring enough
of being told my vote doesn't count
of people who talk about happiness in terms of politics and not people
of narrow minded bigots
of respiratory protective program standards
of the word "shall"
of being the walking reference index for the finer points of Shell formatting
of bulleted Word styles that won't stay put and Word tables that behave in inexplicable ways
of "quick" format edits for people who can't format worth crap
of cars and buildings
of gas prices
of the shifting concrete in the road by my apartment
of the poor customer service at the nearest T-Mobile store
of not being able to sing through my full range
of having no breath support when I play
of not having any completely free weekends at home until next year
of having only one free evening a week
of being lonely
of having no time to meet new people
of weighing 15 lbs more than I want to
of my lack of motivation to lose weight
of never going out dancing
of never getting asked to dance when I do
of not seeing the friends I don't see
of my own impatience with others
of fighting losing battles
of being sick and tired
Sunday, October 22, 2006
Okay, 12 pm yesterday (Saturday) found me performing invasive surgery on a box of granola bars whilst driving west down I-10 at 85 mph listening to Miles Davis. Headed home. For real this time. I didn't stop in Schertz.
I met Mom in northwest San Antonio at the salon where she was having her hair done. When she was finished, we went to visit an old neighbor that we hadn't seen in a while. After visiting with her for an hour, it was time to go to the reunion. But I made one more stop first. I had to see home. I can't drive up the driveway any more, without being weird and creepy, but I made the turn down that one lane, dead-end road.
I wasn't sure what I was expecting, but nothing had changed. The golden afternoon sunlight through the mesquite and cedar trees. The rusty old mail box and sagging barbed wire around the gate. I could even still see the old pile of unused bricks standing where it's been since the house was built... I took these pictures with my cell phone, cried a little, and drove on.
Our reunion was held in the Spirits Saloon in Rio Medina. I got there around 5:30 PM, and recognized about half the people in the room. And was recognized by about half. :-P Something about having had really long, blond hair in high school and having short, red hair now... I felt somewhat awkward the whole evening with the looking at people looking at me, wondering if we knew each other.
It was fun getting caught up with folks. But I also think I disappointed a few people...
Apparently technical writing is not the glorious future some of my classmates were pleased to imagine for me, Valedictorian and voted Most Likely to Succeed. On girl said, “Oh, wow. I would have thought you'd be a rocket scientist or something.” One of the guys said, “Man, I thought you were gunna find a cure for cancer!” And of course I had to field all of the “Didn't you get married?” questions. Sigh. When you put it that way, I don't really sound too successful. It all comes back to your expectations.
I guess I knew I might seem a little... lackluster... to my classmates. I just happen to know myself a better than they do. And I happen to know that not all really bright people become doctors or rocket scientists. Not all people with 1500+ SAT scores and perfect GPA's go on to change the world in conspicuous ways. Not all of us like rockets, after all. And not all incredibly smart decisions are, by that token, good decisions.
But I'm very glad I went to the reunion. It was fun to see how everyone had changed, or hadn't changed. And I had some great conversations. One of the most musically talented guys in the class immediately asked me if I was still playing my trumpet, and I was happy to say I played in three bands and sang in my church choir. It's a part of my life I'm very proud of, even if I don't make any money doing it and it tears my weekly free time into shreds. But it's fun, and it's a talent I haven't sacrificed to the career gods.
And I had a great time talking to a guy who does graphic design and layout for a small publication in San Antonio. He condoled with me about clients who want to change everything to Arial font to save space, and when I mentioned I'd really like to be an editor some day, he said it sounded like I'd be good at it. Heh, maybe there's hope for me impressing the masses at the 20 year reunion. :-P
So much for living up to my own legend. Fortunately I just don't measure life like that. My friend in graphic design did share something with me that would have made the entire thing worth going to, even if everything else had sucked. He told me how he still remembers, for whatever reason, a morning back in the summer of 1996, just after we'd all graduated. He was driving to work and listening to the radio, and my name caught his ear. Bob Berwick was calling in to the radio station just to say how proud he was of his daughter Laura, and to wish her luck in the coming fall, when she'd be going to Rice University.
I never knew about that. He never told me he'd done it, and I didn't hear it on the air. It's funny, but I'd always thought I'd disappointed him a little by not going to A&M. And maybe I did. And of all the people whose expectations come anywhere close to mattering, I can tell you, my dad is at the top of that list, right beside my mom, and the Medina Valley High School class of 1996 isn't on it. I always knew Daddy was proud of me, but hearing this... Maybe it seems like a small thing, but I can't say how much it made my evening, ten years after the fact. I'm so very grateful that my friend remembered it after all this time, and was able to tell me. It means the world.
Speaking of parents and expectations, I was thinking about this the other day. I met the father of a friend of mine, and he's a pretty impressive person, by my own brief estimation, and by all I hear. My friend asked if I had found him intimidating, and talked about how hard it could be to live up to a father like that. I actually didn't find him intimidating, and I think that's because he seems very good at what he does, which I definitely respect, but what he does is not what I do, and I have every confidence in my own ability to be formidable in my own field.
But I can imagine how frustrating it might be to have any sort of expectation that you would measure up to that, and just not feel like you will, for whatever reason. I know there have been times where I set expectations for myself that weren't realistic. That weren't who I was. And I failed. I set myself up for failure, and sure enough, I screwed some things up. In the end, it's a pretty futile exercise, so I'm doing things differently now.
I know my parents did have certain expectations. I told my mom once I thought it would be cool to be a truck driver. That might have been the only time in my life when my mother was not supportive. "You are NOT going to become a truck driver. You ARE going to college. And you're not doing that well in driver's ed, you know." Dude, I was just sayin'...
At the same time, my mom and dad both always said I could be anything I wanted to be. I always admired them for what they were good at. My grandfather was one of those impressive people, and I idolized him. But I've never felt compelled to live up to any of my family members. I do feel like I've gone beyond some of them in some ways, because of the opportunities I've been given. But in doing so, I was only fulfilling who I was, not trying to outdo anyone else.
Besides, for me, success isn't about who's heard of what I've done, or who I've equalled or surpassed. I finished reading Middlemarch by George Eliot earlier this month, and the very last passage really resonated with me.
“[T]he growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill for you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
I expect most of my acts to be unhistoric. I'm not an ambitious person, and I'm not an activist. I've always found it easier to change my own little habits and exchange deep thoughts with my close friends than to change how society does or sees anything. I might never write the great American novel, but I've been touched and humbled every time someone tells me that they like reading this blog. That something I said, or something I felt, spoke to them. If I in any small way make a difference to someone, that is success. And for myself I want to grow and learn and be touched by every person I meet. Those are my expectations.
And when it comes right down to it, those are the only expectations that matter: my own. What do I demand of myself? What do I want out of life? What do I need to do to be the absolute best ME I can be? Not what do I need to do to make money, though that is a needful thing. Not what do I need to do to impress my classmates at the 20 year reunion (that is not needful). Not what do I need to do to satisfy my mother, or heaven help me, my grandmother who doesn't like my hair and keeps saying how surprised she was that I got a divorce. Not even what do I need to do to honor the memory of my father.
No. What do I need to do to be proud of myself? To be happy with who I am and where I am? What do I owe to myself and no one else? Am I doing this?
The answer is yes, professionally, personally, in every aspect of my life. The result is I'm happy, in spite of the things I'm still working on. After all, life is not a destination. I will never arrive at something I can call my life. It's happening to me right now. I can't make it stop, and I can't hurry it along when it's not getting where I want to go fast enough. But I'm doing my best to make the most of the ride, and to me that means I'm a success, in spite of any misguidedly grandiose expectations there might be floating around for me out there.
But you know, I have friends that design rockets, and I have friends that study cures for diseases. If by being a friend to a person, I make their life easier, more fun, or in some small way let them know they are cared about, am I helping? Do I have a little hand in their great works? Is that what Eliot meant?
If so, then I'm all over that saving the world thing!
Friday, October 20, 2006
My name is correct.
My DEGREE is correct (i.e., it shows the degree I actually earned, not the non-existent degree they listed in the graduation program).
It's NOT 8.5x11, so it won't look *too* shabby next to the half rack of lamb my other Rice diploma is printed on.
Now I just have to get it framed. Hopefully less than three years from now.
Monday, October 16, 2006
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Do you ever have one of those days, weeks, months, where things start happening, and they start to bring stuff you thought you’d left behind for a while right back up into your face, surrounding you, and staring at you, demanding attention?
And you get really tired of just looking at them looking at you, and you realize that the only way you’re going to get away from them is to fight your way through them?
I’m fighting. Hopefully I’ll find some breathing room on the other side.
The strangest thing happened to me yesterday. I was driving down Kirby, headed for dinner with friends. I was stopped at the intersection with 59. I was sitting between the Taco Cabana north of Bennigan’s and the building that has the Red Onion in it. And I smelled this smell.
It was a combination of motor oil and Jim Beam and cigarette smoke and… and… and something indescribable, but undeniably warm and human. I guess it sounds fairly terrible, if you didn’t know it, but I did.
It was Daddy.
For a second I was absolutely certain that if I turned and looked over my right shoulder, he’d be there, in the back seat. With that quiet, still look on his face that he’d get when he was concentrating on something, before he’d look up and see his little girl watching, and smile. Why he’d be sitting in the back seat, I don’t know. But that’s just where the smell seemed to be coming from. Which makes no sense. None of it made any sense.
Because he wasn’t there. Not even in spirit. I’d have felt that, wouldn’t I? And I felt nothing. Just the smell, the memory. And the pain. Trying to drive down the road, make my turns, the every day business of getting where I’m going one step at a time. And all the while my soul flailing around about me, reaching here and there like a blind man searching, searching for the warm touch of a remembered hand. Surely it was right there, just a second ago?
And now it’s all back. It’s been creeping up for a while, and it comes and goes like waves on the beach. I guess I’ve seen it coming. Things have just been happening.
I’ve made some new friends. Eventually, somehow, it always comes up. Normally, because I’m still lax in the tense I use when I talk about him, it’s a little uncomfortable. But no matter how smoothly it happens, it’s never easy for me. The tears just fall on the inside now.
Then I went to my friend’s commitment ceremony. I love her and her family very much. I’ve pretty much been part of the family for years. I lost touch with them all a bit when I left home and got married. But Daddy still stopped by to visit them every so often, and Daddy was always willing to help out anyone who needed help he could give.
It was my friend’s father that Daddy was helping when he died. The visitation in Castroville was the first time I’d seen my friend in years. My ties to her and her family will always be inflected by my loss, and my grief. Not in a bad way, because I love them very much, and I love him very much. I don’t think I can even begin to explain. But seeing her and her family brought it a little nearer.
Then last week, a man in the community band I play in, with the same name as my father, and probably not much older, had a light stroke. He’s recovering very well, and was in band on Wednesday, and everyone was so glad to see him. And I hope very much that he’ll continue to improve, and be healthy. But it wasn’t many months before Daddy died that he had what was probably a small stroke. He was driving, and he lost vision in his left eye, and lost feeling in his arm and hand, and ended up taking out a mail box. And it came a little closer.
So all these things, and other things, have brought me here. To a point in time when some stray accidental scent from a city full of weird smells can turn me around into a tight little knot inside myself. Curled around the old grief, and feeling it in new ways.
I’m trying to date again, some. Who will tell any man who starts to matter that the worst and last mistake he’ll ever make is to hurt me? Who’s got my back like that now? Who will ever cherish me like that again? Whose other, better self can I possibly be as truly as I was his. As he told me I was.
He told me, not long before he died, that he knew I understood him better than anyone ever did, because I was like him. But that I was more. I was the person he would be if he could go back and try again.
And I didn’t tell him what I would give anything to tell him now. It was in my heart, but it was hidden. I told him everything I could. But I somehow couldn’t tell him that he was the person I was going to be before it was too late. That I had so many of his gifts frozen inside of me, and that my greatest wish and prayer was to break them loose, thaw them out, and raise them up. That he was full of a life and a love that I was too afraid to fill myself with. That he gave himself in ways that I was too terrified to risk. But that whatever it took, I was going to do it, damn it, because when I die, I want to have lived.
See, when I lost him, I couldn’t let him go. I couldn’t. But I couldn’t keep him unless I became all the things I cherished in him, all the things that made me proud to be from him. It was the only thing I could do. I know I can be those things. They were his gift, and I hold them in myself. But it takes so much courage, and sometimes I’m not that brave. It takes so much strength, and sometimes I’m not that strong. Sometimes I’m so damned tired of being strong. It’s worth it to me, but it makes me so tired. And it hurts so much.
It still hurts. Every time I throw my feelings of into the ring, which I do every day to some degree. Every time I invest my spirit and my energy in any sort of gamble, and let’s face it, all of life is a gamble. It hurts. It hurts to drop the chips on the table and step back, and it hurts even more to watch someone else scoop up the pot. But I keep on doing it, because if I didn’t, I’m pretty sure I’d lose even more.
I’ll be fine. I can be as strong as he was. I can be more stubborn than he was. And I lost him in himself, but I found him in myself. And if I hadn’t found him there, I wouldn’t really be alive. But it still hurts so much. I try to keep him alive as much as I can, because it’s the only way I can do this. And I do believe I will see him again. If I had no other reason to believe in heaven, I would cling forcibly to any faith that gave me that chance. To see him and tell him what I didn’t tell him.
I’m not sure I believe in ghosts. I don’t discount them. But he wasn’t in my car yesterday. Not that way. Sometimes, even if it’s a blasphemous wish, I do wish he could be. I want something I can face, even if I can’t touch it. Some feeling of a presence that could never be anything but loving, outside of myself. Something reflected back of all the love I’ve had in my heart for over four years now, and that will continue to build up in the years to come, with no father to give it to.
When he died, a good friend who lost her mother when she was thirteen told me two things. “You’re going to see him. You’re going to see him everywhere. It’s okay, you’re not going crazy. And it will get better, but it will never be really right again.” Those things comforted me, really. To know that I wasn’t crazy, and that it was okay if I never got completely better. Four years and change later, it still can come over me some times. In the strangest ways, for the strangest reasons. Ever day is better, but no day will be what it used to be, or what it would have been. That last is not actually an unmitigated evil, but it’s still hard.
This is what I’ll be working on tonight. This is what I’ll be working on my entire life.
Sunday, October 08, 2006
So. I've been sick. For a while now. Depends on when you start counting. Was sick over a month ago, and the residual asthmatic cough never went away. But I counted myself better. Until last Sunday, when I briefly ran a low grade fever. It went away pretty quick, but on Monday I had a sore throat. Which I decided was probably more due to having dyed my hair on Sunday, and then having slept with the covers over my head all night. The throat was much better come Tuesday, and Wednesday I was almost back to normal, with just the same light cough.
Thursday morning wasn't so good, but I got up and went to work. And proceeded to go down hill rapidly, until the boss walked by at around 9:15, looked at me, and said, "Do you need to leave?" I looked up at her, then down at my work, then over at my jump drive, and said, "Yeah." I loaded up some files on the jump drive, drove home, looked up a doctor covered by my new insurance, made an appointment for that afternoon, and tried to keep getting work done. With limited success.
The doctor listened to my story, looked at my chart, told me to open wide, flicked a light into my throat, and said immediately "Oh, you've got strep."
So I got a shot, a prescription for some antibiotics, and an order not to go to work until he gave the okay and to come back Monday morning.
So. Since about 3PM on Thursday, I have been in my apartment. I have left exactly twice, to go check my mail. Yesterday I finally went all day with only one sneeze and only used one tissue, which was a great improvement over preceding days. I also watched the entire Star Wars trilogy on DVD using my new lap top. It's very much nice. But I'm a bit burnt out on movies now. I know, that didn't take long.
I also finished one George Eliot novel (Middlemarch) and started a second (Silas Marner). I'm a little burnt out on books. I have been writing for work off and on, and have also been working on some personal essay type writings just to keep my brain from eating through it's own synapses. But I'm a little bit burnt out on writing.
This morning I started to sing in the shower. At that point I realized, 1) wow, I can sing again, and 2) wow, I haven't used my vocal chords in over 60 hours. Lovely.
My usual group of hang-out-on-weekends friends are out of town, because they got to go to New Orleans for the Rice vs. Tulane game. I could not. I was sick.
Only, I feel much better now. Just a little weak still. But I bet I'm not contagious. I'd really like some real food (I've lost 5 lbs living on leftover surprise). And for once the introvert is feeling lonely. :-P
I'M ALSO GOING FRIGGIN INSANELY STIR CRAZY IN HERE!!!
The doctor had better clear me for human contact tomorrow, or I may just lose what few wits I have!
Thursday, October 05, 2006
Am I a fool because my heart
Does not lie
In a cage of my own building?
Should I only let it sing when all
The doors are shut
And every window closed to keep the cat out,
As if it were a tame and pretty bird
Content with dead air
And too afraid to face the storms?
Would you tell a wild, free thing
Where not to go,
Or teach a lark the tale of Icarus?