Thursday, December 23, 2010

Last Days and First Days

I took this job before I thought I could hold down any kind of job, much less one that took both analytical skill and creativity. I would come here, sit at my desk and cry, especially in those first months. I would run off to the bathroom, sit in a stall and cry. I would go to the gym, shower and cry and walk back through the parking garage and cry. Leaving the house, leaving the living facsimile of my dead baby every day gave me the space to finally and fully (?) grieve. So I came here and soaked many tissues, napkins and shirt sleeves. It was what I needed.

Three years later, I am ready to move on. I feel as though I have outgrown this position and it's choking me. I am hungry for more. I am not afraid of anything except neglecting my family.

Four years ago today I was sitting in a hospital bed. Around this time of day, I would have been hooked up to the monitors for my morning NST. My girls were alive in me. Three years ago (almost to the day, I started on the 26th), I started working here. Today is my last day.

I am ready to kick some ass.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Masking Truth

In the early days of grief I felt that my forehead had been stamped with the words DEAD BABY. How strange to find that in a matter of weeks the feeling changed to its diametric opposite; I felt suffocated by the mask I felt I was almost always wearing in order to appear minimally functional. My face -- with its default impassive expression -- became a kind of scab to staunch the appearance of bleeding, but for a long time after, I was still actively bleeding just below the surface. Though I think the most acute despair of grief is behind me, I have been intermittently bleeding and picking at my scab ever since.

I started a new job 8 months into this altered reality and I had to try to pretend that it wasn't a huge mistake for my new employer to hire me. I was so afraid of who I had become or what my grief had reduced to me to that the job wasn't ideal and it certainly wasn't some great career move, but it got me out of the house and out of my head. I needed that desperately. Left to my own devices, I was digging deeper and deeper into despair, isolation and self-flagellation.

Now four years after that pregnancy that changed everything, I don't know what I am feeling. Stronger and ready to move on from this soft landing spot that has become quicksand in its turn. Grateful that in the time since then I have found people in whose company I feel understood. Sadder because I see now that the masks serve a purpose. Sometimes, without their benefit (that is, of my own mask and the ones others wear), I am overwhelmed by the pain everywhere all around, particularly in this online world where we lower our defenses more readily. I often lack the strength these days to bear necessary witness without succumbing to a paralyzing sorrow. It is one thing to know, even viscerally, that we each have a story. It is another thing to be able to read so many of them in their unvarnished states, even as they are unfolding in some cases. Perhaps this is one form of the collateral damage of the blogosphere and the sense of community it engenders and enables.

D and I watched The Stoning of Soraya M. a couple of nights ago. [This is not a "spoiler" kind of movie, but skip this paragraph if you do not wish to read about the film.] Despite the late hour, I couldn't hit the pause button and though D decidedly does not share my love of (obsession with?) morose foreign film, he couldn't turn away either. This movie left me a sobbing mess, but here's the rub. If anything, the movie flattened out Soraya's story to deal with how she came to one of the most unjust, horrific ends I can imagine. Understandably, it did not deal with other horrors she endured and about which I only later learned. It made no mention that her husband to whom she was bartered away by a father who both jettisoned her at 13 and disowned her on the day she died was a petty thief. The story version of her life reduced her brood to 4 children, from 9, and made no mention of her two stillbirths. It was tragic enough, to be sure, that she was stoned to death at 35 because her husband was a thug whose power over his wife was so complete that he could have her killed by a mob that included her two eldest sons on the breath of suspicion. I am not doing this story justice and it's really not the point of my post. I'm just flattened by the truth of this and am humbled and shamed by -- not simply the relative equality and respect I enjoy, but -- my undeserved privilege by comparison. It is not a story we don't already know. It is just that I have to meditate on it often. I have to remember when I am feeling unfulfilled by my career and at those times when my children are trying my limited patience. I have to both remember and yet somehow keep moving.

I think I am not alone in saying that sometimes I am more inspired to write than other times and there is no simple answer for why that is. So many topics have been swirling in my head that I don't feel able to or have the time to flesh out adequately, giving them their due. It is also true that sometimes I cannot read any more. I am sitting at my desk in my office where other people purportedly work and multiple times today I have switched to my reader to read a blog or an article only to leave with tears in my eyes. I can't do it again. I have to wear the mask sometimes not only to obscure my own pain but also the pain I read and see in the lives of others.

The strange mixture of love, empathy and loyalty that we feel for one another is the product of connection. You see sites everywhere that have little social networking icons and they cheerfully announce "We're social" or something along those lines like it's all song lists, likes and Farmville. I enjoy the entertainment. I really do. Sometimes it is just the thing. But more importantly, part of the reality of being "social" is interacting with people when they decide to take their masks off for a while. It is often sublime. It is stained with blood, too. What a responsibility we bear to each other. What an amazing opportunity it is to banish isolation, to practice compassion. I am so often in awe and I hope for those moments of strength when I can rise to meet this gift.

Friday, November 19, 2010

What Took Me So Long

I have always loved photography. I have always enjoyed creative pursuits. Alas, I have never had the confidence or the risk tolerance to pursue these things professionally. I haven't even been willing to enter a lousy photography contest. Ever. The first time I shared anything creative that I made (outside of a classroom setting where it was required) was earlier this year on still life 365.

But I could only share pieces of mine because Angie started actively asking for work. As a part of her effort and for the success of this amazing project, I could put aside my own ego/insecurity/vanity and participate, but on my own, I  never could. I posted that first submitted piece, a sestina, on this blog months after I wrote it and then only because the blog was visible solely to me at the time. For some reason, on sl365, I don't see the work I submit as about me at all, but rather as a part of a dialog among people who share the experience of babyloss and who use a variety of media to work through that experience. At the same time, it is as though a switch was flipped and I can and want to do more creative stuff! In front of others (potentially)!

From where I sit now,  my earlier reticence seems awfully pathetic. Not because I am great at any of this stuff. I recently had a revelation that someone's greatest talent might not actually be that great in the grand scheme of things. We have such a hard on for fame and greatness in our culture that it is easy to lose sight of how truly rare those things are. If the thing I am best at is photography, well, I am keeping my day job.

But I have hampered my own progress along the continuum of mediocrity by not exposing myself to greater scrutiny. That is, until this week!  I recently joined the local photography club. One of my neighbors is a member and I like her a great deal. I started going to meetings with her early this year and last month, I joined. This month, I entered the competition. The theme was water.

This image was eliminated in the first round because it did not adhere closely enough to the theme. I wasn't surprised, but I thought I would take the chance. Still, it got a laugh, which was a very nice reaction. I was hoping for a bit more feedback from the judge, but the judge actually didn't do a lot of thoughtful critiquing in my opinion.

The second image, which you may recognize from my masthead is one I have played with -- cropping, adjusting the sharpness, exposure and contrast. This is the most recent incarnation of the shot. I think it is more powerful without the other boats. It got an honorable mention.

And I owe it all to the inspiration I have drawn from others in the community.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

On Flying Forks, Momentarily Dodged

I am sitting right now in the office of a cancer practice alone and I am about to shit a brick. Good thing I brought something to type on. I pound a virtual keyboard with great force.

Now I am in an exam room. I am thinking about forks, the kinds that are in roads, the roads that are metaphorical.

Th Kleenex box is within reach. This has the opposite of its [presumed] intended effect. The room is crammed with vomit- inducing upholstery in a sickly purple. The speckled tile alternate lavender and aqua. There's nothing worse than pastels when they get dingy.  Even the baseboard is eggplant and plastic.

Right now it's 50/50. I walk out okay or I don't, ultimately.  I know that all too well now.

I am here for something presumed to be benign. Four years ago, almost to the day, I went to the antenatal testing center for something we presumed to be benign also. I walked out of there a different person. So, right now, my face is burning and my hands are freezin


The hematologist/oncologist walked in as I pounded that last 'n' and we chit-chatted about myriad topics. Strange that in the course of 5 minutes we discussed technology, finance and the most private and profound losses I have experienced. For him, just another day at the office. For me, my heart ripped open, but my face blank and clinical. The grief and panic brain, which are one and the same, wanted so desperately to yell profanities. Still, chatting casually was better than waiting in that room alone.

I have an active fear of cancer. The absence of (much) family history or known risk factors does not assuage my fears. Something about its seeming ubiquity, the sheer numbers, has convinced me that someone close to me will soon be drafted. And perhaps, now that I know better than to believe in balance, I no longer think that I am off the hook, that I have paid my dues in suffering to the coffers of human existence. Quite the contrary, actually. I have seen loss beget loss and so I am attentive to its possibilities, wanting, above all, not to be surprised.

But this time, and for the moment, what was presumed to be benign seemingly still is. Which makes me wonder; do dues collectors charge interest?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Worst Efforts

For the past few months, I have been losing the battle of focusing on diet and health issues. I am sliding back into a pattern of emotional eating and am largely out of my exercise routine. These things have never been areas of strength for me and yet, it is vitally important to me to set a good example for my children. The truth is, however, that I am a fraud and a hypocrite, not to mention a closet eater. At least, I'm closeted to the kids. D is often my partner in late night snacking, as in everything else (everything, that is, except for exercise where I am a hopeless sloth and he is a disciplined runner).

So, unsurprisingly, I was not looking forward to our local Turkey Trot yesterday. I pretty much convinced myself in the days leading up to it that the fatigue I've been feeling so much lately would overtake me and I would be unable to run the full 5K. But I decided that come what may, I would keep up with my son.

That proved not to be difficult, actually. N made it about half a mile before the complaints started. And the full-throated, high-pitched whining was not too far behind. Now, he's only 6  (almost 7!) and 3 miles is not  easy for a 6 year old, but I was really surprised. He did worse than last year, when he at least managed to get close to the turn-around before really letting loose with the vitriol and hot fuss. We don't force races upon him. He ALWAYS expresses interest (and not in the mamby-pamby 1 milers, mind you). And of course, he NEVER paces himself. Despite all the soccer and running and cycling he's done since our last 5K, he was actually less ready, it would seem. Being my son, he had plenty of perfectly legitimate reasons for why he could not possibly finish the race: his leg hurt, we did not feed him before the race, he hates races, we force him to run, he neck hurt, his shoes weren't right, I was embarrassing him (I was running backwards facing him and singing Journey. I call it encouragement.), etc.

n was in the jogging stroller, except for the brief sprints she did. At one point she was outrunning N. Talk about adding insult to injury! He rallied, ever so briefly, if only to establish sibling dominance. He still whined even then. He complained that it wasn't fair that she was running faster than him. We tried to cut deals about alternating walking with running. Frustrated, we even offered him the jogging stroller. No, he preferred martyrdom and even through all the afflictions imposed by his cruel parents, he maintained a degree of vanity.

Finally, belatedly, and for N, begrudgingly, we made a final sprint for the finish line, after which he turned to me and said, "I finished ahead of you."

Monday, November 01, 2010

Friday, October 29, 2010

Day 16 - A Song that Makes You Cry

That is the prompt that called to me today (okay, yesterday, when I started the post). Although I like to think of my musical tastes as not too narrow, if there is one little corner of the music world that I go back to repeatedly, it is modern folk/alt-country, especially by women. When I really want to listen to music, that is often what I pick.

Patty Griffin is a brilliant storyteller of tragedies large and small. It's no wonder she and Emmylou Harris collaborate so well together. I could pick any number of her songs, some more subtle perhaps. But "Poor Man's House," from her first album, aptly named Living With Ghosts (recorded essentially as a demo) is spare and hard . It starts:
You know you've done enough
When ev'e'ry bone is sore
You know you've prayed enough
When you don't ask anymore
You know you're coming to some kind of 
When ev'e'ry dream you've dreamed is past
And you're still standing 
I could go on, but that last line... There aren't too many people I know who have to live with that kind of sorrow and defeat. "Every dream you've dreamed is past and you're still standing."  Why bother standing at all? Is it an act of courage or duty to do so? Or is it because if there is any glimmer of hope at all, it tends to shine. What is left of us if we have no dreams remaining, not even for someone we love?

I think that there was a time when I was so overwhelmed with grief that I had no dreams left. I remember telling my grief counselor that I had nothing to look forward to and that I had squandered my life -- that I would never be successful at anything again. I truly felt that at 34, there was nothing but downhill left. I guess that I had dreams for my children, but they seemed so remote that I couldn't focus on them. And yet, I was duty bound to them so I didn't consider suicide in anything more than a passive sense.

Daddy's been working too much 
For days and days and doesn't eat
He never says much 
But I think this time it's got him beat

I imagine that what kept him standing was his children, knowing that the alternative would only be worse for them.  The more I think about it, the more I think it was purely duty and not hope that kept him going.

Perspective....I got my ability to dream back over time. My ambitions eventually reignited, with a lot of help. And on the other side of that coin, I would go so far as to say that I have less fear now, less inhibition. A year ago this blog was visible only to me. I had never submitted anything I wrote or created (with one exception -- I did submit an essay to This I Believe) to a public forum. Writing and photography both help me work through grief and also give me a feeling of accomplishment. I'm not quitting my day job, but I am okay with that.

There is no video for this song that I could find, but this is the song put to images. At least you can hear it in Patty's voice, rather than a cover.