Sunday, January 31, 2010

Why I am Happy to Be an Olympian Couch Potato (Part One)

I am a fan of the winter Olympics. I grew up in a cold weather state, and one of the girls I went to high school with, Kari Swenson, actually became an Olympic biathlete, although her real notoriety came when she was kidnapped while training in the Bridger Mountains alone by two men who lived in the woods, a father and a son, looking for a bride for the son. I kid you not. She was eventually rescued, and she showed true Montana toughness by competing six months later in Quebec, taking a gold medal. I read she is a veterinarian now in our hometown, but she only married in the last few years. I would imagine it took a while to be able to truly put that behind her. For a backwoods little state, we do have our extra share of nuts. However, I digress.

For me, the largest draw was figure skating. I adored it. I grew up watching Peggy Fleming, Torvill and Dean, and a whole lot of Russians, then I would try to imitate them in my stocking feet on the slick kitchen floor. On actual ice I am much less graceful. My two daughters grew up with football and skating, it was almost inevitable when they both gravitated to the sport. When my girls were small I became aware of a young junior competitor named Michelle Kwan. She captured our attention almost from the start, and she became the equivalent of the Steelers for us. We were slavishly devoted. At the same time she rose to the senior ranks, the whole Tonya Harding having Nancy Kerrigan whacked on the knee thing happened, and skating captured a level of attention it had never enjoyed before. Everybody was curious why a skater would go to such lengths, and suddenly there was an unprecedented level of coverage. We followed every step of that young woman's career, and Kelsey naturally wanted to learn to do what she did, and began taking lessons. Never once, not once, did I ever stop to think I was sending out dangerous body image messages to my daughter. Skaters come in all sizes and shapes, I figured. But, of course, now as I look at Sasha Cohen, who is so tiny she is nearly transparent, I think a little differently. Yet, I am conflicted. Figure skating is a beautiful sport, and when it is performed at the top of its level, as Michelle Kwan always did, it is also art. A mixture of art and sport that can often drive me to tears of joy. I have stopped following it closely, feeling bereft of a champion after Michelle retired, but when I do tune in, now to watch the Japanese women dominate the world scene, I become immediately transfixed again.

Some of you may recall Michelle's first true run at Olympic gold twelve years ago, when Tara Lapinski upset her and she ended up with silver. Four years later she was poised to redeem herself in Salt Lake City, and I decided Kelsey, Marissa and I should witness it in person. What happened afterwards was the trip of a lifetime. But, not in the way you might think.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

My Personal State of the Union

I trust everyone watched my President deliver his State of the Union address this week. I was proud of him. What a magical speaker, part dignified statesman, part revivalist preacher, part Regular Joe. And, he's no shrinking violet. I would be in his shoes. It seems that everywhere you turn these days, the media is attacking him. I saw a shot on my MSN homepage last week of the Newsweek cover story, which was essentially that the problem with President Obama was that he governed with his head, not his heart, with a sub-header about how President Obama is ushering in the Sarah Palin Presidency. Give me a break on both counts. I mean, I scarce know where to begin.

However, it was indicative of the about face the media seems to have taken. Once a Golden Child capable of no evil, President Obama faces some unseemly (in my opinion) criticism in even some of the more liberal press. I know he expected a dip in his approval ratings, because that's more or less how the game tends to go, but I wonder if he were to be totally blunt, the past couple of months have been harder than anticipated, and if he ever wakes up in morning and wonders what the hell he's gotten himself into?

Even I admit this has been a rough year, and did not go quite as I hoped. Since that January day when my staff and I watched the Inauguration, huddled around a portable TV in a near empty office, a weary group of survivors from the past several months of layoffs, I have lost that staff to another department, lost that job, was out of work for five months, finally to find a position making $17,000 less per year, with no guarantees that I will have it at the end of the first quarter. When the company's insurance renewed, although they stayed with the same carrier (which I have written disparagingly about before), the costs went up, as did co-pays and deductibles, and the coverage went down. Now, I figure I'd have to have a limb falling off to determine it worth my while to go to a doctor. What I concluded as I listened to the insurance broker's apologetic presentation was that this was the insurance industry's knee jerk reaction to the efforts at reform. They figure to stick it to us while they can. Maybe they assume their wings will be clipped soon. I hope they're right. I was working toward that end, but even I wonder if it will ever happen.

My husband did get a modest cost of living raise this year. But, considering that it was the first increase of any kind in three years, I think we're still behind the curve. Our mortgage went up due to increased taxes, we will lay out more for medical expenses, our savings is on life support after five months of dipping into it, not to mention which all the debt we're still working off trying to pay for medical expenses we incurred over the last decade. And the damn Steelers didn't make the playoffs. All in all, I would say we are definitely worse off than we were twelve months ago. And that's all without taking into account the largest blow of all, which is losing our daughter.

Additionally, I worry about what I see as a deep divide in both Washington and Main Street America. An unintended consequence, it seems, in electing a liberal leaning African American man as President is that politics became more polarized than ever before. Both parties tend to dig their heels in on the their respective side of the fence and refuse to give ground. For a while now I have worried that Washington was more about playing politics than governing, and that seems to be deepening. Out among the masses, it seems to have drawn out the nuts. Rallying behind people like Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin, the lunatic fringe seems to gathering some force. And that really worries me. I worry that the vast majority of middle Americans are too wrapped up in just trying to navigate their busy, stressful lives in hard economic times, that they are not paying attention to this trend.

Some might expect me, therefore, to cool on my position as an Obama supporter. I am sorry to disappoint you. For my part, I still drink the Obama Koolaid. I trust him above all others as having my best interests at heart, and I trust he is a moral man trying to navigate the tricky waters of world politics with better intent than his predecessor. Some may call me naive or deluded, but I believe history will prove me correct, and in the meantime, I stand by my man. Do I have I empirical evidence for such a declaration. No, not really. It's a hunch more like. It's a feeling that, as rough as things have been, they could have been much worse. I do still have a roof over my head, as expensive as it is to keep it there. I am working. Mother is being cared for, and for the moment I can afford to maintain that level of care, no matter how ungrateful she is for it. My daughter is in college and making me so proud every day. I have food on the table. The Steelers just hired Jerry Olsavsky, a former player, as a assistant coach for the defense. I am very excited about that. So, I'll take what crumbs of hope I can, and hold out for a better day. Rome was not built in a day, the saying goes; the economy will not turn around in one scant year. That said, I am praying for a better year in 2010 for all of us.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Spring Chicken Turning Into An Old Crow

(SPOILER ALERT: I don't think I have any males out there reading this, but in case I do, you might want to skip this one, it's not for the faint of heart.)

You begin your family with an expectation that you will raise your kids, they will move on to begin their lives and you will have a little time to yourself before you have to care for your parents. I always knew that timeline was a little off for me because my parents were already in their 40's when I came into their lives. But, I held out hope anyway because Mother was so stubbornly independent. And, trust me, she would rather me not be interfering with her life right now, but it's not a matter of choice for either of us, so here we find ourselves. However, I missed that little window, because I could have used it to explore and come to grips with my own rapid advancing clock. I could have learned how to accept that life is a hard teacher, the hardest of all, and one of the biggest lessons she has to teach us is that "Never" is one of those words that is hard to live up to. And I used it a lot when I was younger. I was pretty sure of myself and how I would approach my own old age. Of course, all those "I'll never" statements were made from the comfort of my own youth. One thing about life, it's not black and white, it's all shades of grey, really quite literally.

What brought me to this post is what I saw in the mirror yesterday while dressing to go to a movie. I saw a total stranger. The woman, the much older woman, looking back at me was someone I didn't know. When did I become this old? Suddenly, with a crashing thud, I understood exactly what makes a midlife crisis a crisis. It's not easy to wrap your head around the reality of the mirror and the image of yourself that you carry around in your head. In my head, I'm the nerdy teenager who gets giddy over movies like Avatar and has only been beaten once at Star Wars Trivial Pursuit. I like clothing that looks like it could be at home at Woodstock. I'm NOT the grandmotherly type that stared back at me. But, I've had to make some concessions to my age finally, many of which I said I would never do, and the most visible is I have to cover my grey.

I had spent three hours in the salon yesterday morning getting partial highlights. This was only the second time in my life I had ever colored my hair, the first being on Black Friday last November. I always liked the color of my hair, brunette with a touch of Celtic red, so I never wanted to alter it other than let it bleach in the summer sun. I watched my mother dye her hair from it's natural brown to an ash blond since I was little. As a matter of fact, I only know she had brown hair from photos, I have no actual memory of seeing her that way. It seemed a high maintenance, vain way to avoid accepting a natural progression. I always told myself I would just embrace my grey and let it happen. Yeah, right. Actually, I was luckier than a lot of people whose blood lines hail from the British Isles. I had random sightings of a silver strand in there now and again for a long time, but it was not until the last few years that they began expanding their hold, and it wasn't until this past year, with all the strain and the stress, that they began to make their play for domination. The result was that my hair became mousy. And that made my naturally pale features seem even more drawn and sallow. I considered my options, but among the things I had to legitimately think about is my marketability. Would an employer look at me and think there's no way I'd have the energy to get the job done? In the end analysis, there was a lot of other ways I would have liked to spend my money and my time; I'm blind as a bat without my reading glasses, my teeth need work, I want a Mike Wallace jersey and wouldn't mind having a Sidney Crosby one, but I did think it was important to at least look like I was a good bet in the work place, so the hair do won.

Which brings me to how the rest of me looks. It's harder and harder to fight the battle of the bulge. I had finally gotten back to a point where I was happy in my own skin after a long regimen of consistent exercise when Mother had her accident. Within a few months where I could only exercise on a spotty basis and ate when the opportunity presented itself, it all went lumpy and bumpy again, only in different areas. I feel almost like someone added a tire around my lower half and then overinflated it! With Mother in the nursing home and finally to a point where I don't have to be with her everyday, I am trying to get back to where I was, but my body has other ideas. My body won't obey me they way it did when I was younger. If it was on a staff of mine, I would fire it!

I realize that a lot of this is because of the biggest mid-life event of all: menopause (and, any gentlemen still hanging around, this is your cue to leave now). I know full well that I really have no reason to complain. In terms of how my personal struggle with the change of life goes, I've had it easy. Two years ago, I began to suspect my body was getting ready to travel down that road when I would skip periods for months at a time, only to have one massive, messy long one, then go on hiatus again. Finally, at some point they started to lessen in intensity, sort of like shutting a rusty faucet off, and then the hot flashes began. And that's when I knew this was for real. You spend your ovulating life thinking of the day when you can stop. Every time you're using a heating pad because you're cramping so badly, you can't stand up straight, or you turn the car seat heater on in 90 degree weather to soothe your aching back, you pray for it to come soon. Well, when it finally comes, you realize you're just trading one issue for another. Irritable? You have no idea. My sleep patterns changed, my metabolism is all but dead, I'm constipated a lot of the time, and the worst of it is my body still goes through cycles, just with no period to show for it. I liken it to what people experience with missing limbs. My body keeps trying to have a period, so I keep having PMS, only it's PMS on steroids. Take last Sunday, I had the period migraine and it put me in a murderous rage. I was completely out of control pissed off at every little thing, from Tony Romo's pouty little face to Brett Favre in purple, to the dogs breathing. The rational part of me felt trapped inside this monster, struggling to get out. I saw it for what it was, but was still trapped by it. But, it's like a ripple on a ocean compared to most women, I know. I've had women I work with literally have to go home and change clothes because they've soaked through their outfits. I've watched women in the middle of the sentence have to stop talking because they are so overwhelmed by the sensation of a hot flash coming over them. I overheard a woman in the salon yesterday talk about her menopause and how she's been on medication for years. I don't take anything. I don't need it. I haven't had a hot flash since this summer. Thank God, because there's no way I'd remember to take it every day and then who knows what would happen. But, the hardest part of it was the day I realized this was really what was happening to me. That it wasn't some false alarm caused by too much stress or just because my body never did get a smooth rhythm. That was a bad day because you realize something else. You're about to cross through a door that is slamming just with no way back. Youth is officially over, and there's really no denying it. Men just don't have any idea what we women go through. The bottom line is, with everything women have to contend with physically, there is simply no way we're the weaker sex. What a crock! See, now I'm totally irritable!

Bottom line is I wanted some time to grapple with all of these issues first before looking at Mother and worrying that all too soon it'll be my turn to be just like that. Oh well. Maybe it's better this way, I don't have too much time to worry about all of it.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Matter of Faith

I have touched on matters God-like in the past, but for those of you who may be new to me, I am not a "religious" person, but I believe in a Higher Power. I believe in God because that was the name I learned as I grew up, but I'm not sure the label matters all that much. I believe other people call God by other names, but that it all leads back to the same entity. And, I believe that the existence of our essence, the thing that makes us us, carries on after our body, our vessel, no longer exists. I also believe things happen for a reason, even if it is not immediately clear what that is. Can I prove it? Well, I have had some things happen during my life that at least lead me to say there are things afoot that we cannot scientifically explain away. Beyond that, it is simply a matter of what I believe.

Anyway, I say all this because tonight, as my husband and I sat in our grief therapy and discussed our individual paths along the road of recovery and acceptance, the question was raised about where we thought Kelsey was now. My husband responded that she is on our ledge over the stairs in an urn. I do not believe that at all. Not at all. Her remains, the little bits of bone and flesh, are in an urn there, but she exists elsewhere. And the conviction of my statement surprised even me. But, I trust in that fact completely and irrevocably. I don't know why exactly, and I can't tell you for certain she is at peace, which keeps me from finding my own peace with what happened, but I know she is not trapped in a black and gold (and, no, it's not coincidental) jar. I know it as sure as I know Hines Ward is an awesome wide receiver. Hands down, no doubt. And that's sort of weird. At least if you think about it scientifically. Why am I sure? Well, with Hines Ward, that's easy. With my daughter, less so. There have been things, little odd things, that have happened over these last months, but nothing I can't explain away as mere coincidences. Bottom line, it's a matter of faith.

Here's the question: is it real, or is it something I need to get through this? Is it enough that I believe it, or should I seek out additional proof? If it creates something positive, does any of it actually matter in the end analysis?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

This Year's Must Have Item

I was standing in line at the grocery store this evening, and was eying the magazines lined up on the rack above the conveyor belt. I counted four of them with mothers of some sort on them. Three of them celebrity moms, one with two "ordinary" women holding bouncing babies that they didn't abort, apparently, with a headline that read "We're Glad We Kept Our Babies". I'm glad for them too, and I'm glad that they live in a country where they have that choice and then can get on a magazine to hawk it. But then my eyes wandered over to the magazine to the left of that one and saw Brittney Spears, already a mother of two, who, according to this reliable (yes, that's sarcasm) source, is about to have another breakdown. I looked a little closer to the magazine to the right and see the "celebrities" with their newborns are that former Playboy Bunny with a bad dye job and some other reality show veteran. Then, there's a fifth magazine showing little blond semi-celebs thinning down after giving birth, and how you can too. In all, if I look way at the bottom of the rack, by where you set down your basket, there was Jack Bauer on the cover of TV Guide, and a few copies of Time's Year in Review. The rest were tabloid-esque magazines of young women with babies. Seriously. I thought to myself, "This is disturbing."

But why? Why am I bothered by society wanting to reward parenthood? Isn't it a good thing that suddenly having a family is a cool thing? Didn't Brad and Angelina do wonders for young mothers I know and respect like one friend, who just gave birth a few days ago to a precious baby girl, or another friend who saw her son off to his first day at Montessori School today, or the young woman who brought the idea of the art auction to us, and is the mother of a young daughter? Hasn't all that celebrity baby making made it easier for them to make their way in society as working women or full-time moms? Maybe, but as I thought about it, I worried that some 17-year old airhead is going to look at all these silicon blonds holding their babies for a photo shoot before handing it back to the nanny and think, "Hey, I want one of those."

Babies are not fashion accessories. Raising a child is not like raising a kitten (which is sometimes challenge enough). I thought of all those long nights, totally freaked out, not knowing what to do when one or both my "babies" reached their teenage years and were in crisis. The hardest job one can hope to have is that of a parent, and the stakes are high. I wonder if people like Brittney Spears really get that. I'm thinking it's a safe bet that they don't. She won't pay the price for that myopia, but there are two little boys who will.

In the end, it's a fine line, I concluded. We should celebrate Motherhood. It's the noblest of professions. But, it's not to be entered into lightly. It's not a part-time job. And, ladies, it's not easy nor is it glamorous. Why is it we never see a picture of Angelina at 3:00 in the morning with spit up in her hair? That's when the true parenting is done, in the small hours of the night when your kids need you the most. When I start to see celebrity parents do down and dirty parenting, then I'll think they're as cool as my friends are. Until then, I think we're putting the wrong people on magazine covers.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Oft Told Tale of the Oft Told Tale

I realize from time to time that I began this blog to chronicle caring for my elderly mother, and I realize too that I have barely mentioned her in weeks. I have not stuffed her in a closest somewhere, she is still being expertly and compassionately cared for at her nursing home, but there really has not been that much to say. She carries on. She's like the Wall of China, I've decided. She just continues to stand the tests of time. Plus, if I'm being honest, I don't see her as often as I was doing this past year. Real life is clawing at me, trying to pull me back in and away from this surreal existence I've spent the last 14 months living. But too, there just doesn't seem much point to dropping by every day anymore. As a friend once kindly suggested, sensing I needed a break, I can skip some days because she really doesn't seem to notice that I'm not there everyday. On the positive side, she's involved in their social activities now, and has friends. I'll confess to some shock when she passed an African American resident in the hall yesterday, and their eyes collectively lit up at the sight of one another and they reached out to touch one another's hands. Is that the same woman who once drove my husband out of the house when he was so offended by her opinions on race? Wow. Maybe that's the miracle of old age, you don't have the energy to hold onto old prejudices anymore. Or maybe you just finally see people for what they really are, which is the same as you. Whatever the case, she's got friends now. I can rest a little easier that I'm not her only social outlet. And, that saves me from having to hear the same story over and over and over and over again. It's not just the Alzheimer's that causes her to do this, there's just not that much that happens in a 91 year old's day to report to visitors. To fill the void, one tends to repeat oneself. But, before you think me heartless, consider that I have been dealing with this for three decades now. Mother has been a repeater for a long, long time.

Of course, we all do it. We forget who we've told a story to, so we tell it again. People listen politely and don't let on. I've done it. My guess is, if you're around my age, you have too. But Mother has been notorious about it for a long, long time, and it can make you batty. Now, it wasn't always her age that made her that way. Back in the day, she'd come home from work, have a few adult beverages and then call me up, her speech a little less crisp than it should be, and then almost like she was on a looped recording, she'd cycle through a monologue again and again.

I don't really remember it happening much before 1982. Before then I was still in that phase where you work odd jobs at odd hours and then your social schedule fills in between, so it was hard to catch me. Remember this was long, long before cell phones or even answering machines as a standard piece of equipment. But, by 1982, I had settled in to a working girl kind of routine, I had a 9-5 gig, and not a lot of money, so most nights were at home. Mother had an uncanny knack of calling me on Monday nights in the fall or on Thursdays at 9:00. She knew I'd be home then. Monday Night Football, and Hill Street Blues. I was addicted to Hill Street Blues on Thursday nights. As a matter of fact, the whole Thursday night NBC line up was pretty good, so I rarely worked late that night, and was always home, ready to curl up and watch my favorite show when the phone would ring. Naturally, this was also well before things like a VCR, DVR and a pause button. But, there was no resisting her. She knew I was home. And she knew why too, but there that phone would be, shrilly ringing. Thank God for re-runs. Sometimes I was mildly amused by it, but sometimes I wasn't. It depended on her mood. Sometimes it was just pleasant chatting, but sometimes it was because she was angry with me. I left her after all. Left her behind with a husband she didn't understand (she often complained how he had changed after the military, part of that generation that never really accepted the frailty of the human psyche and how what he saw and did impacted him. She was far from the rest of her family. And there were a lot of times in those early years she was blatantly angry about that. I listened to her because I still needed her. I needed her financial support from time to time, but more than that, she was my Mother. And sometimes a young woman just still needs her mother. But, sometimes I would get off the phone and just cry for hours. I think I listened too because I knew I had hurt her deeply when I left, and felt like I deserved it to a degree. Not enough to go home. I missed home, I've missed it from the second I stepped off the plane here, but at least I got the repetitive stories once or twice a week, not everyday.

I listened too because I felt for her. I felt she was lonely. Dad was invariably asleep in his easy chair (a condition I can unfortunately now relate too, because if you let me sit too long in one place, I'm likely to nod off myself), and she was there in the house essentially alone. They had lots of friends, but they were all a bit older even that my parents, so the nights spent together had gradually thinned down to an extreme rarity. So, she'd roll her hair up in curlers, knock back a couple whiskey and waters, sit in front of the television and call me to vent. I think I was smart enough to see that, but not what to do about it. I'd just get horribly frustrated because she was taking up my show telling me the same thing over and over again, but, mad as I was, I would listen passively. When I did try and defend myself, it went badly. That's generally when the tears would flow. Poor Greg, who was dating me by that time. He put up with some after shocks in those years, let me tell you. Isn't there a law in psychics somewhere that says a reaction will always generate an equal and opposite reaction? Well, she'd let me have it, and so I would let someone else have it back.

Don't get me wrong, she wasn't always like that. Other times, she was my mother. She was generous and supportive. But, she'd still repeat herself. That never changed. On those nights, I was still frustrated to a degree. I was still missing my date with Capt. Furillo.

The funny thing is, I look back on that now and wish she could have had the benefit of some counseling. I think I was her only outlet, and I was way too immature to handle it correctly. And, honestly, it wasn't my responsibility. She shouldn't have laid all her frustrations at my feet. Over and over again. But, neither of us saw that. Now, the tables have turned, and she is my responsibility. The question therefore is whether or not I've matured enough to see her actions for what they are and help her manage them better than I did all those long years ago. What you tend to find is, that's harder than it sounds. There's still this tendency for both parties to see themselves in their former roles. I'm the daughter, she's the Mom. All of it is rolled up with the emotion of that, whether it's good emotions or bad ones. I need to heed what I've realized when I interact with her. I need to do better. But, I swear, if I have to hear about the wedding invitation she got one.more.time...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Art Auction

I have been getting more questions about the art auction I am helping out with, so I thought it was time to address it here. The thing about it is that it is very much like most other aspects of my life: it's ironic. Kelsey would be royally pissed about it, frankly. Not that her art is making its debut and will be used to help increase awareness about eating disorders, but that it took her death to get me to do it.

I had talked to her at one point about selling some of my stock and trying to fund a venture where we could sell her art. I envisioned a website people could order from and then setting up booths at Pecan Street (a twice annual street festival with artisan's booths along 6th Street in downtown Austin) and other similar festivals. She liked painting small canvases that were about the size of CD cases. I thought they were marketable, and it would be something she could thrive at if I could get her kick started. Then the stock market took a dive, my modest portfolio took a significant hit, and I began to worry about the long term prospects for my job, for good reason as it turns out, so I got cold feet. Kelsey was disappointed. Working at a sandwich shop for barely above minimum wage and fighting her eating disorder, she had no money for art supplies or the stamina to work and still paint. I let her down, but I didn't really know what else to do. I look at my mother and the amount of money it takes just to sustain her every month, and I know that Greg and I are far from secure. These are the hard choices life hands us.

But, as it turns out, her art will get its debut, and I will be helping to fund it. The proceeds will go to an fledgling organization to promote awareness about eating disorders. She would be okay with that part of the deal, she just would want to know why I didn't make a different decision when she was alive to benefit from it.

I should have, because she was an incredible artist. I'm not sure I even realized how much so until we were choosing pieces to display at her funeral. Most of the pieces were not things I had ever seen. Marissa knew where they were. As she pulled out more and more, I realized there was a lot about both girls I was totally isolated from, even as they lived under my roof. However, the art itself was amazing. Of course, I was not looking at them objectively, but I think most people would agree she had real talent and potential. Without the benefit of expensive supplies, she'd paint on anything. There are a few pieces on cardboard, including the self portrait we used for her memorial card. It was indicative of how a vision can't be squashed. Well, I guess it can be actually. Death squashed it.

But, did it? Will she live on a little by my agreeing to share her art to help raise awareness about the disease that ripped us apart for all those years? I guess we shall see. We hope those of you who can will see along with us. Any artists out there are encouraged to donate a piece and come to the event to promote your art. Don't do what we did; pursue your dream.

I can't get the flier to upload - it's too large, so I'll work on that, but for now, here's the scoop:

The "You are Beautiful" Silent Art Auction
February 20, 2010
7:00 PM - 9:00 PM
at Space 12
3121 E. 12th Street
Austin, TX
Benefiting Austin Foundation for Eating disorders
Tax deductible art donations accepted through February 7, 2010
Cash donations always welcome
For more information:

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Peace and Quiet

"She was so tired now. No matter what you see or feel or come to know, you get tired. You cannot grieve on and on hour after hour day after day."

- Anne Rice
The Witching Hour

It's pretty late. I have to get up in a few hours to begin a new work week and whatever other adventures life and family - Mother - have in store for me, but for the first time in months, the calm doesn't seem repressive. Odd. So, I'm savoring this moment. Greg wandered off to bed while we were watching Julie and Julia. Not his cup of tea at all, but I offered him Terminator Salvation instead, or Red Cliff , both more manly choices, and he didn't want those either. So, I went with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, both of whom I like better than I did the movie they were in. I am tired, but I am tired of being tired, so I think that plays into it a bit. I want to rebel a bit and stay up past my bedtime.

It's sort of indicative of how I feel overall about things. I want to rejoin life, while at the same time I really would like to curl up in a ball and sleep for a week. Our grief counselor says I'm entering the acceptance phase. That seems odd, really, but I think he's right. Problem is, with every door I push open and walk through, I go through an intense bout of something. I don't even know what to call it. Panic. Depression. Fright. Because, I theorize, I am afraid with each new phase I enter, I leave my daughter further behind. That's probably not true, but it feels that way. So, while I may be moving forward in some ways, I'm conflicted. And really worn out. Simply dead on my feet. However long I sleep in a night, it's not enough, but at least it's now a deep sleep, and my dreams are mainly outside of my reach. This is a hard process, you come to find out, so I think it's worn me down. If I were someone else just watching this from afar, I would be fascinated by the stages and the individual's reactions to them. But, since it's me, it's a little different. That's why I see so many movies. It's why I've always done it. For two hours or so you're immersed in someone's world that is not your own. Their troubles are what you're thinking about. And it's best when they're blue aliens or vampires or Chinese warriors from 208 AD because there is little chance you'll find something triggering that will pull you back into your own body before the credits roll.

And the other odd thing about being ready to accept all of this was that I feel so lost. However, that's the trigger that made him pronounce me as graduating to that step. He says it shows I'm looking to move on - seeking out a new definition for myself. Well, maybe. I just feel lost for now. And sort of disorganized. I don't have a lot of ambition or drive, which is why I opted for watching a mildly entertaining chick flick as opposed to doing what I really should have been doing all evening. But, the time is flying, and I really do need to get to bed. The work week will begin in just a few hours.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Why Dr. Zhivago is the Best Movie Ever

People who know me even moderately well will be surprised at this column. Everyone knows I believe George Lucas sits right next to Michelangelo in terms of vision and brilliance. Everyone knows that I believe Peter Jackson sits just on the other side. So, there might be some debate whether The Lord of the Rings films or Star Wars rate as my favorite movies, but no one outside my inner circle of friends knows that neither is correct. Fewer still can help but scratch their heads at why that is. It seems out of character for someone like me perhaps. But, if that's the case for you, then you need to take another look at the film I believe is the greatest of all time.

I first saw Dr. Zhivago in 1975 (it's tenth anniversary re-release) at the old classic theater in downtown Bozeman called The Ellen, which I secretly always fantasized about going back home and buying. The Ellen (, with its rich burgundy upholstery and fabric walls, velvet curtains, and theatre boxes was the ideal place to see a visually lush epic like that one. I fell in love on the spot. At the time, I was deep in my Russian period. I loved studying them, both pre- and post-revolution. The sweeping vista of Mother Russia is a hauntingly romantic one for outsiders firmly wrapped in their individual liberties looking in. There is the land, vast and mysterious. And there are the people, vast and mysterious. Russians are hard to understand, in my opinion. They brought down a government in a bloody, hard fought revolution only to subjugate themselves with a tyranny perhaps far worse that they themselves made. Fascinating stuff. So, I was drawn to the film initially for that reason, but of course as a teenager, I was drawn to the romantic entanglements as well. What could be better: love and revolution together. Say, didn't Woody Allen make that into a movie?

Of course, I loved a lot of movies when I was a teenager that sadly don't hold up once viewed with a more discerning eye. This one, however, does and then some. I can't tell you how many times I've seen it. Dozens. Fewer than A New Hope, but then again it's longer. A lot longer. Watching it from beginning to end is nearly a full day commitment. And, the setting has to be right to really enjoy it. Cold is mandatory. Stormy is best. That way you can wrap yourself up in a blanket with hot cup of tea and really get in the mood. Every year I hope for an ice storm to shut the city down for long enough to get in a good viewing. This morning we were greeted with the coldest temperatures I can recall in two decades, and I had a migraine. My ambitious plans for the day sidelined, I decided this was the day, so I stretched out in bed, four dogs cocooning me, pressed play and considered what it is that makes me love this movie so much.

On that subject, I can wax rhapsodic and go on for hours. But, suffice it to say that it has, for the most part, withstood the test of time and still feels fresh. There are some things about it that date it a bit - the conceit of the 60's in my opinion is that period movies used current hairstyling methods as though any hairstyle done before 1964 was crap and not worth replicating. And the make-up is a bit thick. Notably on the characters who have to age a great deal over the course of the film. But, overall, it is an amazingly well crafted piece of art. The real thrill for me is that I see something new about it every time I watch it. Because every time I sit down to it, I have been shaped by my experiences and my age, and I relate differently to it. The fact that I always find something relevant is, in my opinion, its true genius.

I have to confess I was a little intrigued by what I might find there given the year I've just endured. I found lots of things to ponder from a different perspective than I have before. From the significance of the colors chosen to a subtle movement of where a character is during a scene. Things you take for granted in a movie you've seen over and over that for some reason catch your attention suddenly. That's the fun of it. The more pensive part of it is how I found myself almost sympathetic to the story's big villain, Victor Komarovsky. That was a first. As I watched him alter lives out of his selfishness, I thought I saw some remorseful moments for the character as well. He came back for Lara after all and took her away to Mongolia. Maybe to stroke his sense of power and ego, but he did it. That told me I see myself as being in his shoes at least a bit. Maybe I was surprised by that a little, but it wasn't too huge a shock. While I have my share of displaced anger carefully placed on the heads of others, I mainly blame myself and my actions as driving Kelsey to where she ended up. Too soon to tell if I always will. Or, if I do, if I can forgive myself. However, mostly I kept thinking about the characters' strong will to live. Not just survive, but to carve out a life in the shadow of trying times. I know that Boris Pasternak was not anti-communist, despite the book being banned in the Soviet Union until 1988 officially, but the film was made in the West, so it casts an unfavorable light on the revolution and the toll it took on the people. History, I believe, would bear that out. I thought a lot about that. How the will to live propels people through horrendous conditions, and how people continue to push through hard times, trusting in better days on the other side. Whether they eventually come or not is almost beside the point. Now, can I do that same thing in less trying times than the Russian Revolution? I don't know. Depends on whether or not fiction mirrors life or the other way around, I guess. In the meantime, if you have a long afternoon to kill, you should check out my favorite movie of all time for yourself.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Perspective - Got Some

This week the Steeler Nation mourns. And by mourn I mean whine, fuss, rant in colorful language, and demand that heads roll, up to and including poor Coach Tomlin, the same man who brought us an unprecedented sixth Super Bowl title less than a year ago. How soon they forget. Why this national crisis, you ask? Because we are all spectators in someone else's party this year. The team did not make the playoffs, despite righting the ship late in the season. Number seven will have to wait for another year. I can't even imagine what my nemesis, Mr. Supreme Jerkface, has to say. I stopped reading his comments about mid way through the five game losing streak that caused us to be on the sideline now. But I am uncharacteristically calm about our current predicament. Don't get me wrong, I paced probably about a mile up and down my living room floor over six hours on Sunday and nearly gave myself whiplash trying to watch the television and the computer where I had multiple games tracking (once they won, their playoff fate depended upon teams playing later). And, I swung from high to low on the optimism scale, as the Patriots first built a two touchdown lead and then lost it, and later watched as the Raiders kept it close, daring to think they might actually pull it off and help us out for once. I wanted a berth in the playoffs as badly as any other Steeler fan out there. The difference is, I did not lock myself in the laundry room, curl up in a fetal like ball and cry like a baby for more than several minutes (and, yes, I have done that in the past) when it didn't happen. I have finally learned what my fellow Steeler fans, many of them, do not know, which is that there are far worse things in life than having to wait another year or so to try and stretch our title lead.

Yes, it is true I rode the high of the Packer-Steeler game on through the holidays, and it is true that I am mighty proud of being a long time fan of six time World Champions and have the paraphernalia to prove it. But, I learned that it's a bit like a contact high. It fades after a while, and you're left with the rest of your life, which trudges on as before. And, a Lombardi Trophy being handed to your team doesn't replace that job or pay that mortgage, grow back that hair or bring back that missing family member. Pretty costly lesson if I say so myself, but I am at long, long last able to just be happy that most of the team will be back next year. I am very happy about the rookie wide receiver. My life is no longer in shambles because I will not be sitting down to watch him catch passes from my quarterback this weekend. Rather, I will turn my attention to rooting for whichever team cannot threaten our title totals (sorry Cowboy fans, I hope you're going down) and do not have the words "England" or "Patriots" in their title. I am not looking forward to the vast emptiness of the off season, as always, but I am not angry about it this year. I finally have the perspective I wanted for myself and bemoaned the lack of in my fellow fans only a few weeks before. I really wish I had found it a different way.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Beginnings?

New Year's Eve. The cleaning lady and I were the last ones in the building. I had finished working out, figuring that everyone else would beat a hasty retreat home or on to various parties and I could use the exercise room with no fear of company. She and I nodded to one another as we passed, I wished her a Happy New Year and left her to walk alone to my car. She seemed a bit wistful, cleaning that big empty space all by herself on a night where she knows its daily occupants are off to happier pursuits. I was equally demure, walking off to my car alone. As I drove off, I was greeted by the platinum colored full moon hanging heavy in the charcoal sky as a dusting of clouds lazily traveled across its horizon. I thought that Nature had certainly given this part of the world a beautiful night to send the decade out. But my husband and I had no plans to join the moon and its fellow revelers to celebrate the evening. Greg was never one for a joining a crowd on a night like New Year's Eve. I would be open to it under different circumstances, but this was a unique year. This was an evening to reflect on the past year, not celebrate it and welcome the new one. I could have never imagined, this time last year, exactly how life would test me in the twelve months to come. I hope never to be challenged to that extent again. I know that others have endured more. I know there are places torn by war and poverty where women are subjugated and have suffered more than I can even begin to imagine. But, for all of that, I have to say, I still think this has been one lousy year capping off one long, hard decade. I am glad to see it behind me. Yet, for all of that, driving home doused in the light of that cold moon, I was pensive. For some reason it seemed to be a betrayal to think that I would welcome in a new decade in a few hours when my child was not there to see it with me.

I finally decided that someone in my situation is like a mental amputee. We have lost a limb. We may learn to function without that limb, but we are forever altered. Life is forever altered. I think there was some sort of vague hope that I held over the last six months that I would rediscover myself and my life. Finally, I realize, that while I might reconcile how to live with myself in a new way, the "me" I was hoping to get back is gone irretrievably.

While we didn't discuss it, I could tell something was weighing on Greg during the course of the evening as well. I wondered if he felt the same things. Or, if like he often does, he just missed his daughter. Whatever the case, we passed a quiet last night of the decade, not saying much, just watching movies, finally dozing off to the Thin Man marathon on TCM before midnight even struck.

Today, I watched football (congratulations Joe Pa and the Nittany Lions) while I packed away the Christmas decorations, as I have done every New Year's Day for as long as I can remember. The new decade began in routine fashion, but I wasn't fooled. There is nothing routine about my life right now. I am still learning to function without my missing limb.