innocence

Seeing the way children care for each other. Tenderness but no coddling. Breathtaking. I was with my niece and nephew today. Honorary titles but no less meaningful. We see their neighborhood friend up the street all by himself. He’s on the young side to be all alone; not criminally young, but younger than I’d be comfortable with.

“What’s Jason doing up here all by himself?”

“He does this all the time. He doesn’t have a mom.”

“I know, but he’s a little guy to be all by himself like that.”

“But he’s like an outdoor cat. You see Aunt Kiki, me and Evan…we’re indoor cats. But Jason, he’s an outdoor cat…he’s still got his claws.”

“Yeah, don’t worry Aunt Kiki, Jason can take care of himself.”

The thought of an 8 year old, still needing his claws. So he can be an outdoor cat. So he can “take care of himself.” The simplicity, the truth and the profound awareness that every child isn’t as protected and fussed over. And with that, I suddenly feel very old.

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Wunderkind

I recently moved across the country in order to start a new job, and while some parts of this transition have been difficult (namely living by myself for the first time and trying to make sure I don’t choke to death alone in my apartment) it has been a rather exciting time.

Editor’s note: choking to death alone in my apartment is a legitimate fear. When I was in middle school (ok…it was college), my father instituted a rule that I could not eat dinner while watching America’s Funniest Home Videos, because I would laugh to the point of hurting myself. For real. I choked on my food and had to give myself the Heimlich maneuver…twice.

One of the harder parts of this transition has been lacking the time to write poetry. I am working full time now, and I’ve found that a busy mind with too much solitude was the ideal environment to let my imagination run obnoxiously wild. I fear that I have lost that gift for the time being, the trade-off being living the life for which I was pining. To gain one thing often means letting go of another, but I grieve the loss of late nights, fevered dreams and furrowed brows just the same.

Last week I was thrilled to see my goddaughter Ana perform as a “bonbon” in her ballet school’s production of The Nutcracker. I was even more thrilled that while she waited backstage, she used the time to pen some poetry in her mini spiral notebook.

Below are two poems written by Ana (age 8):

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I’m pretty proud to know this kid.

I’ll cry if I want to…

In two days time I am driving across the country to begin a new job. One of the reasons I started my WordPress account is that I was laid off from my job about 4 years ago, and I needed some way to channel my thoughts and occupy my time. This new adventure is such a huge change for me, not only because I have not had “regular” employment for 4 years, but also because I have never lived away from home. I don’t mean that figuratively – I have literally lived in the same house for my entire life. I didn’t go away for college and the longest I’ve ever been away from home is for 3 weeks.

I had big plans for today. I was going to run some last-minute errands, finish packing, and have a marathon of Summer Heights High playing in the background. At about 2 pm today I heard a thump in front of my house followed by the worst siren I’ve ever heard. I live in an area where sirens, car accidents and even fights are not all that unusual, but something was different about this siren. I opened the front door to see a dog laying in the middle of the street, who had just been clipped by a car. The husky was trying to move out of the middle of the street but his back legs had been badly injured. The “siren” had been his cries of pain. I ran out to the middle of the street and held the dog in my lap for about half an hour while waiting for animal control to come and assess his condition.

My neighborhood has had it shares of ups and downs. Over the decades, there has been a lot of transition, changes in the community and even violence. But today…today I was so proud of my neighborhood. Everyone responded so quickly. Seconds after I got to Balto, neighbors were directing traffic around us, calling 911, contacting animal support, and getting in touch with the dog’s owners. As I held Balto cradling his head in my lap, his 11-year-old owner came running up, tears streaming down her face. She held my arm and kissed Balto’s head, saying “But he has to be okay. He’s a dad…and he has a dog wife.” It took everything in me to keep from bawling in front of this child, the whole time my brain saying “Dammit kid, I am barely holding it together right now.” I hastily wiped off the dog blood from my arms and hands so she wouldn’t see.

At one point I looked up at a woman who was helping me to keep Balto calm and said, “Today is my birthday…” (I told you I had other plans for the day). She looked at me with tear-brightened eyes and said, “Oh shit.” Animal control came and transported Balto to the emergency vet. I don’t know what’s happened to Balto. I don’t know his humans, only that they live somewhere a few streets down. I don’t even know their names.

I fell in love with that dog in all of five minutes. And such is life. We love. And we say goodbye. It only takes a moment to love, and we are changed by that love just as quickly. And then, we have to pack up our boxes, fill up the car, and take our leave. And it sucks. We bleed out our love and cry out our loss. Loving and saying goodbye is messy, bloody, and hard; then we wake up and do it all again the next day, because we have to. And we speak in metaphors because sometimes the truth requires words that we don’t have.

Once Upon a Time…

Once upon a time…I had a good job.

I had money; not a lot certainly, but compared with my financial situation for the past couple years, I was FILTHY rich. I even had benefits, health insurance and a company matched 401k…whaaaaaat??!! Then a mean witch called “corporate downsizing” robbed me of my job and most of my savings. She’s a bitch all right, with a capital B. Yet somehow I can’t complain. Well, I could; and truthfully, I have. But since then, I’ve realized how much I had to lose in order to see what’s really worth holding tight. I had to lose clothes shopping at my favorite stores. I had to lose eating out for lunch every day. I had to lose my daily trip to Dunkin’ Donuts. I had to lose weekly movies and expensive vacations. I had to lose even the cheap vacations. I had to lose all the extra BS that seemed to be necessities at the time, in order to live a life of true necessities. I’ve learned that more money coming in, almost definitely means so much more money going out; that a bigger paycheck doesn’t always last that long when you have to expend soooo much just to keep up with creature comforts.

I’ve learned that coffee in a french press made at home is better than Dunkin’, and way better than Starbucks. I’ve learned that a summer morning spent reading on the front porch surrounded by flowers is an excellent way to spend some hours. I’ve learned that yoga in my living-room can be just as good at stress-relief as yoga in an expensive studio. I’ve learned to truly live on a budget and that I really, really love mac-n-cheese for dinner. I’ve learned that a phone call to your best friend who lives across the country is the very best form of therapy. I’ve learned that being caught in a torrential downpour at a kiddie amusement park with the best friend and her brood is a truly cleansing experience, that jumping in puddles is  awesomely messy, and that fireworks are truly the best.

The best thing I’ve taken away from this time-out, is that I found my voice in my writing. I never had the time before. It was always “later,” or “someday,” or maybe even “never.” I always had the words, but I never had the will or the nerve to put them down on paper (or laptop). They were constantly floating around in my head, bursting at the seams, only to be crammed down again and locked into the dusty box of “one day.”

I’ve learned what true depression is, what causes it, how to cope with it, how to heal from it, and how to plod on every. single. day.

I’ve learned that while money is great, friends and family who love you and support your dreams is even better. If you have a “time out,” don’t be discouraged. Use it as an opportunity to hone the skills that may have been lying dormant all these years. Look inside. Look forward. Look to the flowers, and trees, the birds, and bees, to the sunrise and the sunset, to those you love, and even those who make your blood boil. Love those who can make you giggle and value those who make you think. And always, always keep looking up.

Keep reaching for your goals, my friends; and never be satisfied with giving up.

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evan

ana

tigerlily

Freedom in Friendship

love

William Shakespeare’s Sonnet number 116 has long been a favorite of mine. But more recently I came across the above quote by Adam Clarke. At first I found it difficult to hold both of these statements to be true. On first look they seem to be mutually exclusive, such opposing ideas that I feel my brain being tied into a knot. For my purposes I don’t speak of romantic love but of friendship (but I love my friends, so forgive me my broad interpretation). Here is my quandary: when does faithfulness in a friendship cross the line into lack of self-respect, by staying when things are terribly dysfunctional? On deeper inspection, I find these quotes to be quite complimentary.

Shakespeare is indeed right when he says “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.” Love is faithful and kind and patient and covers a multitude of sins.

Clarke is also right that “love requires love as its recompense,” for true friendship must be reciprocal in nature. Genuine friendship is not an exchange of goods, services, and presents; a “this for that” mentality does not make for a lasting friendship. The only thing required is the exchange of goodwill, kindness and truth spoken in love. A friendship without mutual respect and the permission to allow each other to grow and change creates shackles rather than freedom.

Maybe I should be reading these quotes the other way around. There can only be loyalty, love, and faithfulness in a friendship (love which does not alter) when friendship has been given freely (love begetting love) first. Love does not flee at the first sign of trouble; adversely, love does not require oneself to be bullied, manipulated and disrespected for the sake of loyalty.

As a Christian these quotes will only get me so far. Scripture is really my only compass to navigate the choppy waters of evaluating my relationships. I have found the following verses particularly helpful:

“friendships” to avoid

Proverbs 18:24
There are “friends” who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.

Proverbs 16:28
A troublemaker plants seeds of strife; gossip separates the best of friends.

Proverbs 22:24–25
Don’t befriend angry people or associate with hot-tempered people, or you will learn to be like them and endanger your soul.

friendships to cherish and cultivate

Proverbs 27:9
The heartfelt counsel of a friend is as sweet as perfume and incense.

Proverbs 18:24
A man [or woman] who has friends must show himself [or herself] friendly. And there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother [or sister].

Ecclesiastes 4:-12
Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.

A Winey Conversation

I love my friend Bobbis. His real name is Rob. One night at a Christmas party, while wearing the antlers of truth, we sat in a circle and admitted our most embarrassing nicknames. In elementary school he was given the nickname “Bobbis Bobuardo.” He hated it. So it caught on. Then he really hated it. He hated it so much, that it still makes him angry even after two decades. It makes him so angry, that I am left with no choice but to call him Bobbis at every opportunity. He is extremely patient with me.

Tonight Bobbis and I shared most of a bottle of wine (and whine), some laughs, some hugs, and even a tear or two. After two glasses of wine our conversation struck me as being especially hilarious. I’m sure I’ll read this tomorrow and be like “Say whaaaaaaa?? That’s not even funny.” But much like waking up from a crazy dream and realizing I’ve just discovered the outline and plot of my upcoming bestselling screen-play, right now I am convinced it is brilliant. Bear with me:

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“But to be a sugar daddy don’t you have to have some sugar?”

“I could be daddy. I just don’t have too much sugar.”

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“Hi.”

“Hi.”

“Sorry, not you. I was talking to the dog.”

“Wait…what?”

“Well I know you already. I want her to like me.”

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“Lemme ask you a serious question…”

“Ok.”

“If I won the lottery do you think you’d ever hear from me agai…”

“Nope.”

“Dammit, why does everyone say that?!”

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“You know, all of my Christmas decorating will culminate in one year. Have you seen national lampoon’s Christmas vacation? Its gonna be like that. I’m going ape-shit with Christmas lights…then never again.”

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“If had to pick one person to describe me…no wait…listen…it would be three people.”

“Ok, who?”

“Dwight Schultz, Ellen DeGeneres and George Constanza.”

“Who the hell is Dwight Schultz?”

“Ya know…Murdoch from The A-Team.”

“So you would pick a lesbian woman as a celebrity who embodies your personality?”

“And two men!”

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Thanks for always being there Bobbis Bobuardo, and for supplying me with endless hours of conversation.

And since I am still wearing the antlers of truth, I will admit that my most hated nickname growing up was “Krisinini-dukatinie”…shortened to “Dukey.” A four-year old little girl with the nickname “Dukey.”

You’re welcome.

wpid-IMG_20130630_020649.jpgThis was the wine we decided on.

wpid-IMG_20130630_020733.jpgAnd this is why we made the decision…girls night in.

The Pictures in My Head

Many writers say they write because they have to. I always rolled my eyes and felt that it was a terribly clichéd thing to say.

I don’t roll my eyes anymore.

I write because I have to.

When I was little I had aspirations to be an artist. I loved to draw. I drew all the time and carried a sketch pad with me everywhere. But I was a terrible artist. I would get so frustrated, because I had a picture in my head about what I felt, and I wanted to show everyone else. I had no way to accomplish it. I had no way to put down on paper, or in clay, or on canvas the things I saw in my head. So the pictures stayed locked away for almost 20 years.

A few years ago I was having a terribly hard time. Things at my job had been going downhill for about a year and a half. It was a slow and steady boiling of the water, and much like the frog, I was being scalded. I had been in the soup for a while before I realized I was being cooked. The situation deteriorated quickly and after months of manipulation and dodging, the decision was made to close our branch. Within a one week period of time I turned 30, was downsized from my job, said goodbye to my grandpa (he made it to 92 God bless him) and was dumped twice by text message. By the same doofus.

I also have underlying issues of clinical depression and anxiety. And a host of things in my life that, at the time, I was refusing to acknowledge. I was hurting. I was sad. I was lost about what I should do and where I should go. It was a bad time, and I have no wish to relive it, but looking back over those terrible weeks which stretched into terrible months, I can honestly see God’s mercy. Sounds naive. Sounds mad. Sounds…cliched. But it’s true. I am a master procrastinator (some slam poetry right there…booyah) and I had decades worth of garbage that I was pushing deep, deep, deep down. I hoarded everything, although somehow it was only the bad, grimy pieces I kept and not the bright shiny ones.

I began to see a therapist who happened to be a Christian. I’d seen therapists before, so this wasn’t a new process for me. However, most of my experience was with therapists who were condescending or openly hostile towards my beliefs; and the few who were sympathetic where only interested in pushing medication (side-note, I am all for medication if it helps you, and I reject the stigma in some Christian circles that depression is simply an issue of sin…but that’s a post for another day). Bob was my first  therapist who wanted to know about me. He wanted to know about my heart. He asked me questions about my motivations and aspirations. And he was not afraid to hand me my own ass if the situation required it.

I was having a really difficult time even focusing on a coherent thought, let alone praying. It’s kind of hard to pray to God when you’re angry with Him. Bob suggested writing out my prayers. It would force me to acknowledge the bad feelings rather than pushing them down while putting on the brave Christian face. It would force me to take my time, to realize why I was mad, or sad, or even happy. His other suggestion was to model them after the Psalms. I had never noticed it before, but King David was pretty pissed in some of those Psalms. He’s mad and sad. But he usually ends happy, choosing to put his faith in his Maker.

You see, my brain is full of junk, piles of old newspapers stacked to the ceiling and garbage littering the floor. But it’s also full of treasures. I have pictures in my head. Words are the only medium I have found to get them out.

That’s why I write.

Letter to My Mom

My mom is amazing. I don’t often tell her this but it’s true. She’s kind of awesome. My mom has been a first grade teacher for more than 27 years. She was actually my own first grade teacher at the private school I attended for grade school and junior high. Tonight we celebrated her as she retires from her teaching career. I was asked to write a tribute, to be shared at the party, not only as her daughter, but as one of her former students. Here’s why I love you mama:

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I have had many teachers throughout my life. The older I get, the more I am convinced that I owe several of them an apology letter, Mom included. Of all the teachers that I have had, my mom, Mrs. Cutler, has been the most influential. Mom was the first person to teach me to read and write. She didn’t just teach me to read; she taught me to love reading. Sitting down after dinner together, we discovered the magic of the Secret Garden, the mysteries of the Little Princess and the bravery of Corduroy the little brown bear. I learned the history and promises of the Old Testament and the hope, life, and freedom of the Gospel. Mom taught me to value, cherish and respect good stories and those who have the courage to tell them.

When I was five, Mom showed me how to keep my first journal. It was filled with a short paragraph chronicling the events of each day; each entry was accompanied by a picture rendered in mixed media (usually Popsicle-sticks, cotton balls, glue, and crayon). It was many years later, when I felt I had no voice of my own and no words to speak, that I remembered our first writing projects and was encouraged to try again. I credit mom, more than anyone else, for teaching me so early that words are powerful and when used wisely can heal and encourage the writer, as much as the reader. Mom still has my first journal.

When I was in the 5th grade, in a fit of regrettable enthusiasm, I signed up for the speech contest. In case you couldn’t tell, I absolutely loathe public speaking, which is why I guilted someone else into reading this aloud for me. I still remember the title of my poem was Peanut Butter Sandwich, and I’m sure Mom does as well, since she practiced with me tirelessly. We practiced the piece so much, that I developed an aversion to peanut butter for several years. Mom was not my teacher at this point but was one of the chaperones at the dreaded speech contest. I was sitting in my little metal folding chair, shaking uncontrollably, and watching the other contestants perform. I knew that Mom would most likely not make it to my performance. I walked on shaky legs up to the front and looked out at the sour faced judges. I’m not sure what I thought would happen if I did badly, but I was pretty sure it involved being pushed over a cliff with a copy of Shakespeare’s sonnets chained around my neck. I took a deep breath to calm myself when I saw Mom standing in the back corner, giving me a covert thumbs-up. Her encouraging smile and presence in that room gave me the courage to get through that poem and take home a blue ribbon (I’m still not sure how that part was accomplished).

I have thought of a hundred different ways to close this tribute, so that it would be touching, or clever, or funny…or make people cry. And then I realized none of that matters, when all I really want to say is, I love you mom. We all love you. I know I speak for not just myself, but so many, when I say how very thankful I am to have been taught by you.

Everyone else got to have you as Teacher, but I got to have you as Mom.

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I truly love you mom, and I’m looking forward to us driving each other a little more crazy by more time spent together 🙂

Attack of the Zombabies

I often suffer from terrible dreams and insomnia. Last night I had a dream where I woke from sleep (waking from sleep inside of a dream is pretty trippy) and I was covered with toddler bites, which had become infected. Then I woke up for real and spent 15 minutes in half-sleep haze, cataloging my extremities to make certain that I was not indeed attacked by zombie-babies. Distressing, yes. Weird, yes. Insightful? Hmmmm…maybe?

I’ve realized lately that my dreams can be rather telling about the roots of my anxiety. This particular dream was no doubt due to some apprehension over my interview today for a nanny position. No worries, everything seemed to go well, and I was not bitten by any toddlers. I even wore my “you-can-trust-me with-your-children” interview glasses. It’s not yet a done deal, but the family does want to proceed with a “trial run,” which always makes me feel hopeful. It has been FAR too long since I have had full-time employment. Being unemployed or underemployed sucks. It’s discouraging and draining and often seems pointless after a failed interview, especially when I felt it had gone well. Yet, I feel like I have turned a corner. Maybe it’s the warmer weather and the flowers blooming. Maybe it’s my “trust-me-glasses.” Whatever it is, I feel full of hope, that even if this one doesn’t work out, I can trust in God and not fall into a spiral of cynicism and self-doubt.

So here’s to spring-time, flowers, warm breezes, new glasses, and endless opportunities.

Cheers 🙂

skull

“But you can trust me…I’m wearing glasses.”

Surprising Art

In a town close to where I live, the municipality has placed several life-like statues around the commercial district. My sister and I went on a scavenger hunt to track them all down, which led to me calling it “Sisters’ Day of Fun.” She is not too keen on that title and has threatened to make “scary eyes” at me, which has terrified me since I was a child. It usually resulted in our dad allowing me to sleep in her bed when we were little. Two birds with one stone – she was punished since I’m a cuddler, and I was comforted from my night terrors all in one shot. I love the name “Sister’s Day of Fun,” and I am willing to risk some night terrors if it means I can slightly annoy my sibling.

The art installation is called “Taking it to the Streets” and the artist is Seward Johnson. These are some of my favorites pieces (I apologize for my lack of photographic skill, as I have no idea what I’m doing, when it comes to taking pictures, and was using an Android for the shots):

CAM00677

CAM00680

CAM00681“Contact”

CAM00688

CAM00693

CAM00694“Weekend Painter”

CAM00712

CAM00711“Holding Out”

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CAM00715“Building Better Neighbors”

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CAM00727“Holier Than Thou”

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CAM00723“Creating”