Archive | July, 2009

Video Games Live

24 Jul

Comic-con has descended upon San Diego again. I have a weird fascination with this event. Although I am not a gamer – (the last video game I played was Pac Man when I was about fourteen), I like the geek chic allure of the whole thing. I also have a heart for those with passion and creativity and comic book people, gamers and movie/animation types typically do. 

But did I mention that I’m not really that into video games? I don’t get the Wi phenomenon (did I spell that right?) or how people can spend hours in front of a game boy or computer screen watching things that blow up and bleep. So it was kind of funny and ironic that I found myself at “Video Games Live” last night, a concert that celebrates the musical scores of video games. A friend of mine invited me to the San Diego Pops and I said sure. Because Comic-con is on, the symphony coordinated a presentation of “Video Games Live” with the originator of the concert series. 

What a trip! This was the most refreshing experience I’ve had in awhile. Where else do you get a mix of classic chorale music veering on Gregorian chants, an orchestra and hard core electric guitar solos all ripping at the same time? Not only that, where else does one actually see young people at cultural arts events? Whenever I go to the theatre, ballet or opera, I rarely see children or teens or people in their twenties, which is a true shame because the arts are for everyone and kids need exposure to them. Well, they got exposed last night. I know a handful of kids will now want to take the flute or piano because of the musical renditions they saw of Zelda and Super Mario Brothers scores. I haven’t seen such a heterogeneous, enthusiastic patronage of the arts since attending the Oregon Shakespeare festival years ago in Ashland. (If tickets to such events were more reasonably priced, this might not be the case – art should not be an elitist thing but I’ll save that for another blog entry). 

Top all this with the surreal quality of Comic-con (the majority of the audience were convention goers) and the astonishing beauty of the San Diego harbor and the result: a cool summer cocktail.

Be Not Afraid…

18 Jul


Mothers often say they can intuit when something is wrong with their children; the bond between mothers and children is that strong. Perhaps because the roles between my mother and I became reversed when I was quite young, I too always knew when something was wrong with her. In my twenties, I’d sometimes experience a dark cloud of depression come over me from nowhere. I would feel possessed with the state; like it didn’t belong to me yet had somehow taken over my being. Twenty-four hours later I’d get a call from an ER or friend of my mother telling me she was in the hospital or jail for some kind of alcohol related incident. And then I’d realize that what I was feeling was what my mom was actually experiencing. Because the bond between mother and child is that strong.

My mom is gone now so I don’t have to worry anymore, nor do I find myself overcome with feeling states that aren’t my own. Although last night, as the anniversary of my mom’s death drew near, I tapped into a portal of despair. A view of life quite bleak; a feeling like “What’s the point?” Is that what my mom felt like when she contemplated taking her own life? I think so. I understand why she did it and I simply can’t blame her. While my mom frustrated me to no end, I think I understood her psyche and in that feel compassion. And when I look at the above photo taken of her when I was a baby, before depression and life took its toll, I feel her strength and love for me. 

My mom and I looked nothing alike. She had Bambi brown eyes and dark hair; I was a curly blond with green eyes. But when I look at this photo I see our facial structure is the same and I know our bodies were similar. In personality, we were as night and day different as our eye color and hair yet when I look closely, I see what I have inherited in patterns and behaviors – for good and for bad.  

Starting a diary at age eight, I began writing about my mom’s drinking before I could even spell liquor properly. The pen and paper helped raise me. At fifteen I wrote, (of both my parents), “I have forgotten the name of the stratospheric layer which becomes trapped between a warm layer and cold. This is how I feel though. Trapped between mom and dad. I often feel so alone.” 

I guess I’m not trapped anymore but I still sometimes feel acutely alone. Saturday morning I will go to mass at the church we attended when I was a child. And I will feel less alone. As I did when I came home from work today and discovered a box of roses on my doorstep sent by my best friend in the whole world to honor my mother. This same friend has the voice of a powerful angel and sang in my mother’s memorial service. The song that meant the most to me was called “Be Not Afraid.” The lyrics are below. Mom, may you now rest in peace, never having to fear again. 

You shall cross the barren desert,
but you shall not die of thirst.
You shall wander far in safety,
though you do not know the way.

You shall speak your words in foreign lands,
and all will understand,
You shall see the face of God and live.

Be not afraid,
I go before you always,
Come follow Me,
and I shall give you rest.

If you pass through raging waters
in the sea, you shall not drown.
If you walk amidst the burning flames,
you shall not be harmed.

If you stand before the pow’r of hell
and death is at your side,
know that I am with you, through it all

Be not afraid,
I go before you always,
Come follow Me,
and I shall give you rest.

Blessed are your poor,
for the Kingdom shall be theirs.
Blest are you that weep and mourn,
for one day you shall laugh.

And if wicked men insult and hate you, all because of Me,
blessed, blessed are you!

Be not afraid,
I go before you always,
Come follow Me,
and I shall give you rest.

Letting the Field Lie Fallow

15 Jul

In farming there is the tradition of letting fields lie fallow so the soil can replenish itself before planting crops again. It’s a nice analogy for when we too need to take a rest before having to “produce” again.

Summer for me is often a time when I slow down a little. I read more; lounge more; do less. Right now, as the anniversary of my mom’s death approaches this weekend I am making a particular point of doing less. If I make a “to do” list, I try to cut it in half and only do what is absolutely necessary. When coming home from work, I’m making certain I lie down or sit on my porch and read before jumping in on chores, mail and email. And if I need to go to bed at 8:00 pm, so be it. I’m lying fallow. Letting myself replenish and fill my soul with the process – however it might unfold. 

When someone dies, after the initial trauma (and sometimes during it), ordinary time stops. While there is an extraordinary amount that needs to be done in terms of funeral arrangements, notifying people, etc., there is also much that just goes on hold. Every day life suddenly doesn’t really matter. Work waits; bills wait. Issues of life and death take precedence. Things like the basics – i.e. getting meals and grocery shopping are often taken care of for you by friends. When my mom died, I was so overwhelmed and busy, people brought food and because I didn’t trust myself driving the first few days, friends taxied me places. Someone drove me to the church where I made the service arrangements; another person took me to view my mom’s body. One friend drove me to the swimming pool in the hopes that exercise would soothe and help me sleep; another person picked me up. 

As I slow down and reflect on that time, two things come to mind. One, is how hard the news of my mom’s suicide hit me (even though I’d always expected a call that my mom had taken her life). My body felt ripped open – like a hand grenade exploded inside me, my emotions spewing out with the aftermath. Psalm 6:6-7 describes my state. “I am worn out from sobbing. All night I flood my bed weeping, drenching it with my tears. My vision is blurred with grief…” Indeed I cried so much I developed a stye on my eye, which ironically returned last week I think symbolic of last year. 

But the other thing I remember is how after Wednesday – the midpoint of the week before the service – created a shift in the mourning. I had accomplished most of the tough stuff – signing the death certificate paperwork, paying for the death process, contacting relatives and choosing the service date, time, songs and readings. Now it was time for the final details. Making the service programs, ordering flowers, going through photos and making collages to take to the church. And in this process, a sort of creative peace came over me as I made way to HONOR my mom. My best friend (and vocalist in the service) spent precious time with me as we saw to details and remembered my mom. I remember one night, stepping out on my porch, exhausted but delighted to see a rare cactus in bloom with a yellow flower – my mom’s favorite color. Behind, I saw a telephone pole take on the shape of a cross. God spoke to me in that moment and I felt my mom’s sweet presence ever strong. 

And then the relatives started to arrive and take up camp in a dear family friend’s house on Lake Murray. The perfect setting for reflecting on my mother. We spent hours on the patio of Chuck and Cindy’s house looking out at the Lake and talking about my mom. The house hosted the after-service reception and became an oasis during a very sad time. And a quiet serenity descended as we moved into the weekend of the service and an extraordinarily beautiful memorial. In that period, I realized, “The Lord will comfort Israel again and have pity on her ruins. Her desert will blossom like Eden, her barren wilderness like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness will be found there. Songs of thanksgiving will fill the air.” Isaiah 51:3. In this period, I remember His grace and the sad beauty that came after my mother’s death.

How Nancy Drew Got Me Through

9 Jul

When I was a five years old my mother took me to Toys R Us specifically to buy a Nancy Drew book. (Why we didn’t just go to a book store, I don’t know. Maybe we’d been in the toy store another time and she’d seen that there was a section for Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and Bobbsy Twin books. I don’t think Toys R Us sells them anymore but then again, maybe I’m wrong). Anyway… I didn’t know who Nancy Drew was but my mom talked so much about her (or the books) that my excitement was thoroughly peaked. After all, SHE had read Nancy Drew when she was a little girl.

When we arrived to the designated aisle, I was struck by the yellow spines, the thickness of the books and the numbers of volumes on display. She told me to pick out one. Having nothing to go by other than the pictures of the characters on the covers, I judged the books by their covers and picked out “The Phantom of Pine Hill.” It depicted Nancy in a pale blue pleated dress with Ned Nickerson at her side and a prowler off in the woods or on a cliff. I was smitten immediately. I was getting a big girl book.   

Later that afternoon my mom sat down with me on the couch and read me the first chapter while I looked over her shoulder. Reflecting back on this, these books were way beyond the kindergarden age, not only in reading skill but in content. Nancy was eighteen after all with a boyfriend in college who helped her solve crimes. I don’t really know what my mom was thinking. The only books in my memory prior to Nancy Drew were “Babar the Elephant”, a story about a little whale caught in a fishing net and “The Little Engine that Could.”

Whatever my mom was thinking, she hit a home run. I LOVED Nancy Drew and when we finished reading “Phantom of Pine Hill” (she had to read it to me because the words were too hard), I picked it up and began reading it on my own. To my knowledge, I learned to read by looking over her shoulder. From then on, she only read me a few more Nancy Drew books out loud because I was able to read them on my own. 

I was into Nancy Drew up until the fifth grade. This angered my teachers and librarians who felt I should expand my reading interests, even though I read anything assigned. Deep in my heart I knew this was silly. Who cared if I read an excess of Nancy Drew? It made me a book fanatic to this day and I did eventually graduate to a more diverse literary cannon. 

Nancy Drew books accompanied me on airplane trips in the summer to my grandparents’ houses in Wisconsin and fed my imagination. Because my father was an attorney just like Nancy’s and because I lived with him eventually, I identified with the titian haired protagonist. We were also upper middle class and I had opportunities to travel fairly extensively just like Nancy. But that was where the parallels ended. By my high school years, both my parents were consumed with addiction and life wasn’t as simple or luxurious as in a Nancy Drew book. 

Over the years, I’ve experienced nostalgia reading Nancy Drew books every now and then. I like that they involve a mystery without blood and guts and that they depict a slightly more civilized time in our society. Last year, when I received a suicide note from my mother and didn’t know whether she was dead or alive (or where she was), I was awash in fear. To calm myself down and feel close to her, I drove myself to Barnes and Nobles and bought myself “The Secret in the Old Attic,” one of the books that my mom read out loud to me. I worked during the day because I had to and then read the book each night, grateful that it soothed me. Three days later, I received a call from the police that she was found dead on the streets in La Mesa; the cause of death was unknown but when I told them about the suicide note, they suspected a drug overdose because pills were scattered around her body. The autopsy later confirmed the cause of death as suicide. 

All summer after her death, I continued to read Nancy Drew books. It was a strange link to her and the happiness that was early childhood. I know that if she saw me while up in Heaven during that time, it would have touched her that Nancy was who I turned to for comfort. As the year progressed, I moved on to the Bible, discovering it seriously for the first time in my life. (The librarians would be pleased, as the Bible is considered great literature). But as July 13th rolls around (the day I received her suicide note) and July 18th looms ahead (the day I received the call from the police), I feel the itch for a Nancy Drew book. I’ve been reading Francine Rivers voraciously during the last week – escaping into the days of Ancient Rome – but I think it is time to pick out one of those yellow bound books. And I’ll do so by the picture on the cover and from what I remember of it from when I was little. And while I read it, I will not only think of my mother, I will feel her, sitting there with me on the couch, giving me not only the gift of her time but one of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child. The ability to read and a life long passion for it.

Thank you, Mom. I hope now that you’re in Heaven, you have time now to read and that He is teaching you His word.

Independence Day

5 Jul

I have been fighting the most wicked summer cold. It began to take me down last weekend and then resulted in two and a half days off from work with no change in my symptoms despite tons of sleep. My ears have been so plugged I feel like I am on an eternal airplane ride and the smallest tasks, whether at work or at home seem to take monumental effort. So when Thursday afternoon at work rolled around and the knowledge of a three day weekend sank in, visions of N-Quil and my pillow danced in my head.  

Since Thursday night until now, I have moved from my bed to my porch and back to my bed again, soaking up the sun and zzzzz’s in ample doses. Because I sound like hell, no one has pressured me to attend any Fourth of July barbecues thus giving me true independence from structure. While I very much want to get better (and come Monday better be) lying in bed uninterrupted has been heaven. I think my body just said, “f— it! I’m tired!”

So as  I think about today being Independence Day, I wonder what it means to be free. Is freedom an actual external state, in which we are released from some sort of bondage or a state of mind? While I never want to take the freedoms being an American citizen affords me for granted, I realize much of my bondage is an internal state, driven by stress, worry and warped perspective. How is it that some days I feel completely trapped by circumstances and other days not? And how can I feel imprisoned when there are those who suffer in parts of the world beyond my deepest imagining? 

So I wonder how much my attitude determines my sense of freedom. Have I been captive to my cold or has it provided me the ultimate freedom? Is work something that constricts me, robbing me of free time and spontaneity or liberating me because the pay check it provides allows me to support myself? And are my inner demons threatening to strangle my life force or are they the things that take me closer to the heart of my soul and God? 

I remember the freedom that came after my parents deaths because I no longer feared something terrible would happen. But I also know the emotional pain from their deaths exacts its own price. I know the freedom that comes with being single and having no partner or children to tie me down, but I also know isolation can trap people as much as relationships can. I think the only time I feel truly free is when I’m focused on God and when I’m creating (and there is a direct relationship between the two because I think God gives us creativity as a conduit to Him).

So, as I sit here with my cold – with my plugged up ears, OJ, nasal spray and chicken soup (I’ve been denied anti-biotics)- I thank God for Independence Day. For helping my body surrender, for the incredible sunshine, for the freedoms of this country and for His unending love, which is the only thing that keeps me truly free from my own insanity.

God bless America and bless you God!