Framing the Scene

I always thought of the shadowed lines drawn by the slats of blinds to be something out of film noir. They always brought my mind back to the darkened auditorium of college, watching Double Indemnity and looking for clues of deception and danger within the frame.

This morning they make angles askew, geometric light patterns. Faint shadows paled by bright sunlight. Dull, flat gray; luminous white back lit by soft yellow.

How ironic that time of day,
quality of light,
the way your eyes flip the image, the brain perceives soft or sinister,
can totally change the mood, your mood.
The way you’ll approach the situation, the day.

It’s really all in the lens we choose to peer through.

Image from James Woodward

Image from James Woodward

The Red Tree: A Child’s Story, A Depressive Tale, and an Allegory All in One

Imagine not wanting to get out of bed in the morning. Not because you stayed up too late or the air is too cold – but because “the day begins with nothing to look forward to.” Forcing yourself out of bed only makes “things go from bad to worse.” You maneuver through a world that “is a deaf machine”; where “darkness overcomes you” and “nobody understands”. Ironically, you are on the inside – locked there by regret – looking out at the “wonderful things [] passing you by.”

Now, imagine you are a child.

In Shaun Tan’s The Red Tree, a young girl is the one going through all these machinations, these miserable feelings. The book jacket summary lists them as “inexplicable feelings”, which though they are, will be immediately recognizable to anyone who has had them. The swirling, at times, surreal illustrations Tan has created to accompany his text add an otherworldly depth that show their meaning perhaps more than the words can. Upon repeated inspection, you find more and more layers of detail and meaning.

This could be a story of a child trying to find her place in the world, which certainly can be daunting itself. I, however, saw deeper evidence of despair. Perhaps my dark lens of depression is translating the clues to match my view, but Tan’s story seems very much to match the trajectory of depression. This book is an amazingly evocative, yet straightforward treatment of a condition that words often fail. It would be perfect for children who may be suffering – either themselves or through someone close to them – to understand what’s happening and that they are not alone. My depressed self sees utter value in that. My paranoid mother hen heart breaks at the thought of a child suffering this way, scared that my own brood may be subjected it. I would call this required reading for struggling adults and extremely-valuable-but-hope-you-never-have-use-it with children.

Still, there is a thread of hope at the end of the story, that doesn’t always come with depression. Just as “the day seems to end the way it began, [] suddenly there it is right in front of you bright and vivid quietly waiting just as you imagined it would be.” In the book, it is a red tree growing from the center of her room that makes the girl smile. I wanted to shake the book and say, “But what is it? Why can’t I find the solution so easily? Just make it appear?” That’s when I thought maybe I was approaching this as a downward motion rather than from the bottom up.

I leafed through the pages once more, searching for the flashes of red I’d only slightly registered the first time. As the girl awakens on the first page, a red leaf is mounted on the wall above her bed. While black leaves swirl around her, the red leaf follows her through every scene. At times, it lies forlornly on the ground or is buffeted by the wind, but it is always there. When she returns to the quiet reflection of her room at the end of the day, there is a small red sprout, which quickly grows in the beam of light shining through the door she opens.

Though I didn’t realize it until I had reached rock bottom, that red leaf of the Holy Spirit followed me around the whole time. It waited patiently for me to open the door so I could flourish in God’s light and love. So instead of some magic trick I hoped to perform, healing myself, I just had to open myself to the guidance and care that was there all along.

How perfect that this epiphany came in time for this Good Friday. Even when Christ was at his lowest, He called out to the Father. He suffered so that we may have peace. And just as importantly, God never abandoned Him through all his trials.

Now I just need to be open to God’s uplifting power rather than the downward pull of depression.

* All quotes from Tan, Shaun.  The Red Tree.  Vancouver: Simply Read Books, 2008.


Stand Up For Mental Health: Crazy Good Comic Big Daddy Tazz | Crazy Good Parent

Big thanks to Crazy Good Parent for sharing this clip from Big Daddy Tazz – and the entire ‘Stand Up for Mental Health’ initiative. Get ready to laugh! (Beware – some language)

Stand Up For Mental Health: Crazy Good Comic Big Daddy Tazz | Crazy Good Parent.

Road Trip

Heads of state

Memorial bridges
Digging ditches

Sticky soles
Caution zones

Pulling muscles
Rustling children
flexing against restraints

Forcing the engine to its limits

Exit 1, 2, 3
Routes A, B, C

Four hours sleep – total net
Are we there yet?

The Sentence is Your Life


Laundry List

Poetry recitals, preschool sing-a-longs,
spring picnics, slumber parties, school vacation,
First Communions, community events, social commitments.

With so much fun to be had,
how can one have any fun at all?

Just looking at the list wears me out -
and I haven’t even thought of doing the laundry yet.

Good thing the laundry looks happy - because he's going to be there for awhile.

Good thing the laundry looks happy – because he’s going to be there for awhile.

Soak a Single Moment


Tart and sweet,

warmth running down my middle.

The cricket click of a processor.

The whine of refrigeration.

The wave of radiation shimmering in the shadow box of mullions.

No matter where I am, I can find the glow of the sun.

It and I travel all over, and yet, connect -

if I look, if I feel, if I stop to soak it in.

Sometimes the grandest thing to be done

is to do nothing but soak in the sun.


No Such Thing as a Coincidence?


“There are no mistakes, no coincidences. All events are blessings given to us to learn from.”   ~ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

For the most part, I believe this.

Yes, we could drive ourselves crazy analyzing every bit of beef for meaning – when, indeed, it simply may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato” (Dickens, A Christmas Carol) – rather than a spectre of our own fate to come.

But I do believe the universe serves us up soul food at precisely the time we are starving. If we take the time to really see the menu.

Over the last four years, there have been moments I’ve really hated the concept behind this platitude. What kind of sadistic universe would send me depression and anxiety to teach me a lesson? Some would say such a struggle is meant to bring me closer to God, to trust in His care since I could not do it alone. Some would say it equips me to communicate with and possibly console others in a similar situation. Maybe it was meant to break me, to distill me down to my most raw entity to make me grateful for all I have despite all I’ve suffered. I don’t know the grand scheme of things and how I fit in. I wouldn’t be able to offer a treatment of it in one blog entry anyway.

Yesterday, though, as I listened to my priest reveal the healing power of an exorcism he’d performed (yeah, mind-blowing), I suddenly felt the pull of the universe on the strings of my soul. In thanking God for the gift of the human being in front of him, the evil harbored inside that being – whether in the form of guilt, regret, or an actual demon – was excised, freeing the person to live in love.

Now, before you sign me up for an exorcism, no, I am not possessed. Not by a demon, anyway. But as I listened to my pastor, I realized the shame and resentment I’ve harbored this long journey since the birth of my third daughter. The blame I’ve laid on myself for ‘succumbing’ to depression. The weakness I felt I exhibited by allowing myself to feel anxiety. The overall failure to be the master of my own body. The alternate guilt and anger at having such a beautiful life – aside from mental illness – and not being able to appreciate it.

So another platitude: acceptance is the first step?

I’m not sure where I’ll go from here or how much I’ve truly learned from this coincidence, but it’s a starting point. The answer, I know, has something to do with mercy – for myself.

Extra Yarn

“On a cold afternoon, in a cold little town, where everywhere you looked was either the white of snow or the black soot from chimneys, Annabelle found a box filled with yarn of every color.”

It was a seemingly endless box of yarn; no matter the number of sweaters or hats or cozies knit, there was always extra yarn.

Annabelle converted town bullies with her rainbow thread. She led her dog, Mars, around on a rainbow leash. She clothed her naysayers in a prism of perseverance and accomplishment.

image from School Library Journal

The very nature of the town began to change.

And she still had extra yarn.

News spread of Annabelle’s wondrous deeds and visitors came from far and wide. An archduke wanted, at any cost, to acquire “that miraculous box of yarn.” No matter the price, Annabelle declined. The archduke arranged to have it stolen, but once he returned home and opened the box, he saw that it was empty. Hurling the box into the sea, he shouted, “Little girl, I curse you with my family’s curse! You will never be happy again!”

The current carries the box back to the shore where Annabelle and Mars sit. And once Annabelle retrieves it, its magic power is once more ignited.

A box of extra yarn is available to all who want it. We need not seek it out in a secret nook of a far-flung fiber shop. We need not win a life lottery. We need not spend all our riches in acquiring it.

It is there for the taking – if we have the right combination of thoughts and attitudes to unlock it. It opens easily enough; it is how we view the contents that determines the wealth and abundance of them.

We need the wide-eyed optimism of a girl that, despite dreary surroundings, can still see wonder in the world. And doesn’t question the where and why for of happiness, but wraps herself in it like a cozy, hand-knit sweater.

Battery and Rebirth

The land is repairing itself now from the spring deluge it experienced this past weekend. It is still trying to assimilate the stands of water upon its surface, soaking and sucking, trying to get back to base. Clogs of leaves and rivers of sand mark the slick black surface of tar. Mini mountains of rock crumble and crunch beneath car tires.

As I traverse curvy country roads and see nature doing its best at damage control, I realize it’s also pushing forward with its plans of renewal. It’s not just attempting to achieve stasis, it’s battling for the burgeoning growth that has been swelling beneath the surface for weeks. Carpets of moss are a brilliant green against the rust colored blankets of leaves up to their chins. In sunny snatches of land, the green points of daffodils are poking up. The air has lost its bite, but blows a breeze still fresh and new.

In this push and pull of survival and revival, I pass a farmyard with a basketball hoop. The grains of the weathered wood on the backboard peeking through the paint, it hangs sideways, the mottled metal loop of the rim vertical rather than horizontal. Of all the images I see in my travels, my mind’s eye freezes this frame.

Why does human ephemera coexisting with a totally divergent context appeal to me so much?

I ponder this as I drive on and suddenly realize why. All of us – broken backboards, bushes and trees swallowed by muck, humans sunk in quicksand – we all struggle to survive despite the forces that strive to push us down. And we do. Despite chipped paint and rusty bolts that no longer mount us firmly to our foundation, we stand. Though rivulets swell into rivers and strain our roots, we hold. Even while downward sucking motion seems inevitable to overcome, we keep our heads above the surface.

A few years ago, my mother was sorting through my grandmother’s old tool shed. An avid gardener whose advancing age had taken both her stamina and her partner, she hadn’t opened the shed in years. In the discard pile of rusty tools, I found a spadeless spade – a thick wooden handle leading to a corroded metal tip even sharper than its original piece. “Can I have this?” I asked. My mother looked at me incredulously. I wanted it as a reminder, that even in an imperfect form, items made with quality materials and craftsmanship would endure. Also, that any job is easier with the proper tools (ie of course you’ll get frustrated if you try to dig a hole with a broken shovel).



Even with the most vital part of its existence broken, this object will endure and possibly inspire others.

May you find your battered backboard or broken shovel.

Photos: Jennifer Butler Basile

Photos: Jennifer Butler Basile




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