Driving in the rain

Drops of rain accumulate on the windshield
A beautiful bubbled constellation
Slowly covering the world in a mist
Obscuring even the fog outside
Yet letting in the light
A shimmering shield
The refreshing whoosh of air overhead.

The Yin and Yang of the Road

As disconcerting as a disruption of routine can be, it shakes us up in ways sorely needed, if not desired.

Relaxation takes a lot of preparation.

Drinking copious amounts of water cleanses the body; emptying the bladder repeatedly is a pain in the back side.

The Police made a lot of ska-infused upbeat rhythms with lyrics about a lot of messed up stuff.

The road is alluring but lonely.

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Jennifer Butler Basile

Junk food satisfies the soul but not the blood sugar.

Craft superstores, while offering everything a crafter might need, can cause panic attacks.

When the radio dial spins through all other numbers unsuccessfully, a country music station will still tune in.

A handful of Twizzlers is worth a bagful of oranges.

Twenty-nine hours of time with a beloved friend is worth all the trouble and travel.

Stuff We All Get

When I got married, I inherited a staggering amount of pharmaceutical office supplies. Some women marry into wealth. Some women carry a substantial dowry; others, a hope chest full of handmade linens and needlework. I got a cardboard box full of sticky note pads and ball point pens bearing the name of brand-name drugs. A distant cousin on my husband’s paternal side, a salesman for a pharmaceutical company, had a wealth of such products himself, to which I was now a party.

Not one to turn up my nose at anything free, I welcomed this surfeit of stationery. The pen on a lanyard came in handy as I made circuits around my classroom – not only did hanging it about my neck ensure I didn’t lose it, but the big block letters emblazoned along the side. You found an Androgel pen, you say? That’s mine. Unless there was another twenty-something female teacher with stock in Androgel, there was no doubt who the pen’s rightful owner was.

However, this example also illustrates one of the disadvantages of pharmaceutical swag. Your use of said promotional product could be construed as endorsement of said drug.

This wasn’t a problem with the note cube advertising Flonase. Nasal congestion and seasonal allergies don’t carry much of a stigma with them. No one cares if your nose is running or you’re snorting floral scented mist up it. Same with the cute little calculator whose flip-top lid schilled for blood pressure medication. No one will judge me for the inner cleanliness of my arteries.

But I always thought of my audience when I wrote a note on the Wellbutrin pad.

I didn’t want anyone to think that I actually needed an antidepressant; that I was such a frequent flier, I’d earned promotional prizes; that the ‘dealer’ and I were such good buds, I got benefits.

Forget that it doesn’t work that way. It’s not like filling the card of stamps at the grocery store of yore to earn a full set of ceramic dishware. One doesn’t get a sticker for each pill ingested. But I didn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea . . . whatever that meant.

Fast-forward nine years and I’d be fighting my own internal battle with stigma as I debated whether to go on low-level sertraline while I battled postpartum depression. I did. Don’t know which side of stigma won, but I started on the meds I’m still on today.

Today.

The day irony served me a big slap in the face.

The day my physician suggested I add Wellbutrin to my prescription regimen – because sertraline doesn’t seem to be cutting it; because I need a ‘lift’ in the morning to get me going; because while I don’t have ADHD, I need help focusing, prioritizing; because all my labs came back normal and there is no organic reason for my symptoms other than plain old depression and anxiety.

Whoop-ti-do-da-freakin’ DAY.

Four to five years after I started my first antidepressant. Two to three years after I finally (or so I thought) came to terms with ‘succumbing’ to the help of an antidepressant.

Seemingly light years away from that time when I humorously pointed out the name on a sticky-sided square of paper – thinking my worst worry was that people would mistake me for a person who needed medicinal balancing of her brain chemicals.

I have so much more to worry about now.

Everyday Can’t be the Best Day of Your Life

I was driving home from a Girl Scout meeting yesterday, my own three girls crammed into the backseat, when this song came on:

I like this song. It’s catchy. It’s ‘got a funky beat you can dance to’. My girls started bopping all over what limited space they had in the backseat. And it has a positive message. If we don’t treat each day as a gift, we will miss out on the opportunity simply breathing affords us.

However . . .

I can’t help but think that such messages as this, broad sweeping generalizations about life spoken in hyperbole, do us a disservice.

Everyday can’t possibly be the best of your life. Life, the world, doesn’t work like that. There are ebbs and flows, ups and downs.

As someone who’s had a fair share of emotional downs, such attitudes can be caustic.

Today wasn’t the best day of my life. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I rise above and rejoice?

Much more realistic and empowering would be to see the good in each day, but not expect it all to be good. Chalk up a bad day to just that – a sucky day that’s now done with and can be put away. Looking for the next good day is a good idea, but to expect that every day will be one sets us all up for failure.

I know I’m not waxing optimistic here, but for people whose minds and chemicals work against them, it’s not a matter of the glass and how full it is. All the good vibes in the world can’t spontaneously spout water. We can certainly look for ways to fill the glass, but thinking it will always miraculously be full on its own is a sure way to disappointment.

Spring Thaw

How satisfying to see a path carved into ice
by a tiny stream of water

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Jennifer Butler Basile

A tunnel with curved sides,
etched in glass
so solid, yet ephemeral

A rivulet running through the sandy shoal of a street

Sheets cascading around and about our feet

Miniature ice floes to our giant selves
Undermined and fragile at the edges
if dense and sturdy at the center

Inert AM

A pair of disapproving elderly librarians
judging my three-time renewal of books

But I got special permission from the head librarian

A fleece-clad stranger cuddled in,
stealing blankets and real estate

But she’s asleep, so we’re asleep

The intermittent voices of a tin-can radio man
interrupted by the ever-increasing beeps of the alarm clock

Up and at the absurd

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Unhushable

Suicide is often something spoken of in whispers.  The ‘unexpected death’ in an obituary.  The shadowy family secret.

Until something so very public happens, we cannot ignore the pain and problem for comfort’s sake.

suicide

Click image for news story of Placentia, CA teacher found in her classroom

As a devout Catholic, I grew up with a peripheral feeling of shame surrounding suicide.  Scorning God-given life was a sin.  Only He could determine the beginning and end of your time on earth.  But, then, individuals who consider suicide aren’t in their right minds, are they?  Only someone completely given over to despair and illness would consider such as an option.

I think we, as a society, forget that.  The public interpretation of my faith’s stance on suicide squeezed out that important part.  People of God and faith support fellow humans to become whole – not condemn them if they are not.

Excellent discussion of Catholicism’s stance on suicide.

Unfortunately, the general public doesn’t always feel that way.  Make the mistake of reading the commentary on articles about publicized suicides and ignorance shows its ugly face.  People lambasted this teacher for her selfishness; didn’t she think what finding her would do to her students?  Obviously not.  Couldn’t she have done it at home?

I agree that I would not want my children to discover their dead teacher in their classroom.  But to think that one place is better than another to hang oneself?  To think this teacher selfish for doing it?  Suicide is not an easy, thoughtless decision.  It is often a last resort after much anguished mental and emotional battle.

Honestly, I think this hatred and judgment comes from fear.  People don’t want to be pulled from their artificial bubble of safety.  If you have issues, fine, but keep them to yourself.  Keep your mess confined to your own home, world – don’t let it infect mine.

Suicide is not contagious.  Mental illness is not contagious.  Hate, fear-mongering, and ignorant attitudes are.

How many public hangings do we need to see before we as a society develop compassion and understanding?

Everything I Needed to Know About Life, I Learned in Troop Camp Training

This past weekend, I went on a camping excursion.

I live in New England. There is snow on the ground. Lots of snow. And ice. The air temperature is frigid.

And yet, I signed up to sleep overnight at a Girl Scout facility so I would be qualified to lead a group of girls on an overnight camping trip. Yes, there were no Girl Scouts involved. And yes, I voluntarily chose this wintry weekend.

I attended with the leader of our troop. She was planning on going already, and I agreed that this session would be best since we’d be in a lodge for actual sleeping, rather than the platform tents used during warmer months.

What we failed to take into account was that in order to learn the things needed to go camping outside, we’d actually have to go outside to do them – regardless of the snow banks and bitter cold. We would not, alas, be sleeping in the heated bunk room all weekend.

Thanks to my leader for this photo!

Thanks to my leader for this photo!

We hiked, we sawed wood for the fire, we cooked breakfast on inverted tin cans.

By the time bedtime Saturday night rolled around, I felt like a caterpillar about to burst out of its cocoon. I couldn’t wait to peel off the eight waistbands of the many layers pushing into my middle. My feet sighed with relief as I wiggled my naked toes in the bottom of my sleeping bag.

Either the cold coddled my brain or I was getting used to this ‘roughing it’, because I actually lamented when the leader told us it was too cold to go outside to whittle cooking sticks. I wanted to set bearings with my compass on tree limbs burdened with snow. And my insulated snow pants precluded the need for the heater in the car on my way home.

I dove into the wood pile with gusto when I arrived home. I trudged through the snow without hesitation. No snow drift too high or approaching storm would stop me from collecting wood; I was insulated to within a half inch of movement.

I unpacked my vagabond stove and coiled cooking sticks with ambivalence – thanking God I didn’t have to use them to make dinner that night and wishing I could. I remembered jokes I’d shared with the eight other women I’d camped with, but let them roll no farther than the tip of my tongue because ‘you had to be there’. I snapped at my children when they asked for help or needed to be told to do something after running on the smoothly oiled machines of patrols and kaper charts all weekend.

The irony of choosing to rough it in our privileged society did not elude me – when there are societies who have no choice but to use such survival methods to last the day and we complain of the inconvenience of doing them for fun. Why wouldn’t we stay home with our running water and electric ovens; why scorn the luxuries of modern society?

Because running a dishwasher doesn’t make you feel like a superhero. Popping a casserole in the oven doesn’t make you feel like a survivalist. Removing the convenience and accessible ease of everyday tasks helps us realize not only how lucky we have it, but also our own resourcefulness, resilience, and ingenuity. We realize strengths and abilities we never knew we had. We aren’t so afraid of losing power or running water anymore. We have options. We are not completely reliant upon services and systems provided by other people.

That is not to say, however, that we don’t need other people. The success of our weekend lay in the expertise and assistance of our leaders; the teamwork and willingness of our compatriots. Work is lighter and more productive when coordinated and collaborative.

By the end of the weekend, I felt like a cross between MacGyver and Grizzly Adams. I could fashion a stove with a pair of tin snips. I could close a jackknife without slicing off three fingers. And I could almost tie a bowline knot.

Granted, taking twelve girls on such an excursion might produce an entirely different set of results. But that’s a risk worth taking because camp provides so many lessons.

Thank God for Happy Children

Thank God for happy children,

for pictures like these

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artwork courtesy of my youngest

May their lives be happy and sunny for as long as possible

before real life sets in.

Goodbye Flip Phone, Hello Moto

The technology in our house is undergoing a transformation.

My husband, who works for a communications company, has always had his finger on the pulse of new: new product, newest update, latest gadgets. I, however, knowing he’s doing enough worrying about it for the two of us, have gotten progressively further out of the loop with each subsequent year past college. With the exception of my blog and attendant accounts, I haven’t added any new technology ammo to my arsenal.

When my husband was issued an iPhone for his job, I inherited his personal ruggedized flip phone. It did the job. It stored important numbers. It texted – after you hit the same alpha-numeric button a kajillion times for one character. It took grainy photos. I actually impressed my husband with the amount of functionality I squeezed out of that embarrassingly outdated piece of equipment.

Only, its days were numbered.

He sent me a text one day that read, “I love you ??” I countered with, “What, you don’t know?” He explained it was supposed to be some cute emoji blowing me a kiss, but our antiquated tech couldn’t decipher it. I still thought it was rather suspect. He thought it was one more reason to get a new phone.

Then, due to restructuring at work, his iPhone would no longer be standard issue. He began shopping for two brand-spanking new smartphones for us. He told me I’d like them so much better. I vacillated between not caring and not wanting one.

I liked the ability to go incommunicado when I left the house. I enjoyed not having Hal summoning me throughout the day and night. I liked not having a technological tether.

And then he forced me to set it up and play with it.

My head nearly exploded the first time I swiped down and a list of updates from all my social media accounts appeared on one screen. I could comment on my blog in real-time. I could find out who that new follower on Twitter was instantaneously. I could add new events to my calendar without deleting two others because the memory was full. Hell, I could even ask Moto what song was playing on the closing credits of the movie that just ended.

The ability to synch and stream and search does make life a lot easier. In a world where everyone else is ‘smart’, it does give me an edge – or at least a fighting chance. It will help me build my platform and online presence with a sense of immediacy that taking a photo with my flip phone, emailing it to myself, and posting it five hours later simply can’t.

There are, however, drawbacks.

To write this, is the first time I’ve opened my laptop in five days. Sure, swiping my smartphone can make me a Twitter phenom, but it ain’t gonna get any writing done.

There are other ways it could hurt my writing, too. Grammar. Syntax. Spelling. Holy God. I already feel myself getting dumber. When I have to stuff my fat thumbs onto those tiny little virtual squares, the least amount of tapping is optimal, but my grammar dander is up big time. I don’t think I’ve tapped a complete sentence yet. With texting, this isn’t as much of an issue, but when you can access email as well, there is a significant drop in quality of communications. I feel like I need to prostrate myself in front of my junior high English teachers.

Smartphones also rob us of another basic language skill: alphabetical order. When my husband imported some contacts for me, I wondered why they were alphabetized by first name or prefix (ie Uncle Josephat). I was going to lambaste him for his shoddy abc order, when I realized new additions filed the same way. When I questioned him on the reason for this, he agreed it was strange, but that didn’t stop me from a lengthy diatribe on how this little feature was killing the skill-set of the next generation. (Yes, tech gurus, I understand you’ve studied the metrics of keystrokes and all that crap, but you’re killing our linguistic scaffolds!)

Last, but certainly not least, smartphones rob us of life. Designed to save precious moments, they steal many others from us. I, myself, in short order became a rampant offender – of that crime of staring into the tiny screen rather than the expanse in front of me. Of running to the notification beep like Pavlov’s drooling dog. In our desire of being up-to-the-minute, in-the-know, we don’t do any of the living ourselves. How stupidly sad.

In an ironic twist of fate, as I prepared to flip my phone shut for the last time, this news broke:

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Anna Wintour and her flip phone

Proof that if you hold onto something long enough, it will come back around again.  Maybe I shouldn’t have been so hasty to kick my flip phone to the curb.  But then, I never would’ve known my flip phone was still in vogue if it hadn’t trended on my husband’s smartphone.

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