Friday, April 22, 2016

I Am Lost/ I Am Home

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I thought it was a sprain to his back leaving him unable to be stand at the mic and be the master of ceremonies at our parent's 50th Wedding Anniversary in February. My brother Topher, always the natural choice for all things art, culture and entertainment in our family, instead took his perennial place behind the piano and I carried on in his place.

"What is going on with your back?" I whispered to him as Jesse and Lucy hosted the anniversary trivia and giveaway game from stage.

"I don't know. But it hurts."

Though he's had a history of back problems, I had never seen him so uncomfortable.

"I should probably ditch the e.e. cummings poem I was going to read," I said nervously. Though some of us picked up on our mother's love of literature, our general population is more versed in sports and sarcasm. In our group settings, poetry feels out of place. Unless you count our brother Matt's tribute poetry which mostly consists rhyming lines like: We love him with all our hearts/Until we have to smell his farts."

"No, you have to read it," he said. "We need this in our family."

When the game was over, I stood up to fulfill my new emcee responsibilities and heard my brother--ever the director--egg me on, "Read the poem!"

So I read it. I cried. My mother cried. And when the party was over and we started to clean up the place Topher said to me, "I am so glad you read it. It was my favorite part of the whole night. I took a picture."

You really couldn't name very many people in my life who could make me feel like I had won a noble peace prize just for making my way through a poem with tears and shaky voice, but it was good as any reward when my brother said it to me.

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A month later my family found ourselves back together again, reunited in our parent's soft-lit living room, late on Easter evening. Topher and Lisa held hands sitting on chairs in the front of the room. We had been beckoned together for an emergency announcement. Topher started, smiling (how was he smiling?)

"I have been diagnosed with ALS. Lou Gehrig's Disease," he said.

And that moment, I replay over and over again. Over and over and over and over and over again.

Because it doesn't make sense, right?

This disease is killing my brother who is bigger than life. Who, in his forty-three years married an actress, had five children, spent summers in London, wound his way through a PhD, directed hundreds of plays, wrote his own plays, won awards, won friends, won everyone's hearts.

So I heard the words, but they didn't settle in my head. They just floated around, like feathers with no rush to land.

At first I felt fine (shell shocked) and my first instinct was to organize something (helplessness) and for days after I sifted plans in my mind (avoidance). Start a website! Start a blog! Start a facebook group!

I watched Topher and Lisa in their optimism and humor. I observed how generous they are about letting people into their story. I asked them if I could write about what was going on. I thought about writing about it a lot. I decided this summer that I would weather any impending tragedy by writing. I had a plan in place. I was prepared. But I could not shake the shock I felt--the constant buzzing sensation you feel in between that place of fight or flight.

I wrote emails to everyone I knew with an ALS story: tell me what it was like for you when you heard the news. Tell me what you felt. When did it hit you?

And then one day at work, in the afternoon  I got a text from my brother. And I realized, there's a finite amount of texts I would get from him in the next few years. After that, I wouldn't get any. I wouldn't go see his plays, I wouldn't have the hours after his plays when we deconstruct everything. I will have to say good bye to a relationship that has sustained and pulled me and made me feel safe in a sea of siblings. How many times has Topher been my life raft, the commiserate who understood what it was like to feel so very different in a family of deeply shared values?

And then the words ("I have ALS. Lou Gehrig's Disease") finally landed like an anvil on my consciousness. Then the deluge of tears came. I realized that home is being with people who make you feel ok about who you are and being lost is not having them around. I am not home if my brother Topher isn't there too. And that feeling wakes me up in the morning. That feeling sticks around even as we carry on in our lives.

The feeling, always at the end of the day: we're losing the poetry in our family.


e.e. cummings 

if there are any heavens my mother will(all by herself)have
one. It will not be a pansy heaven nor
a fragile heaven of lilies-of-the-valley but
it will be a heaven of blackred roses

my father will be(deep like a rose
tall like a rose)

standing near my

swaying over her
with eyes which are really petals and see

nothing with the face of a poet really which
is a flower and not a face with
which whisper
This is my beloved my

   (suddenly in sunlight

he will bow,

&the whole garden will bow)

Friday, March 11, 2016

Spa Ha Moment: In the Bleak Midlife Conjuncture

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I am thirty-nine years old today. 

I am having a genuine, certifiable, diagnosis-able, mid-life crisis. This feels about right as I've hit all of my life transitions unseasonably early.  But anyway, in a sporadic way, I want to write about what this all feels like in the moment.

My thoughts are often consumed about the purpose of life. And most days I come to the conclusion that I get to choose the purpose of my life, which may seem obvious but it's complicated given my background.

I've taken to reading all I can about Native American practices. Currently we're reading a book (Steams to the River, River to the Sea) to the kids about Sacajawea and her trip with Lewis and Clark to the pacific ocean (or the Lake that Stinks). Along the way we're learning a lot about racism, sexism, human trafficking, and the practices of the First Nation people. These are subjects I want my kids to understand. I have this curiosity about the people who lived in Beringia about 20,000 years ago--the survivors of the ice age and ancestors of the Native American people. Why? Because I am interested in studying human survival. Not just physical, but spiritual survival.

And for that reason, I think about tardigrades with almost the same energy. And extremophiles. Is this getting weird? I know. My midlife crisis manifests itself in obsessions with microorganisms instead of sports cars and infidelity.

When Christopher and I pop in the hot tub at night I look up at the stars and often feel upset about how little I know about this experience I am having. I think about how I will likely die knowing so little about the earth and the stars and sand and the moon. I want to be aware of the physicality of this place I am living in but my mind grasps science slowly and I get sort of anal about information.

I have a real fear of death. I've always felt my comfort with passing was a spiritual gift. I've always been confident about it. But it's like I've come to an awakening and now I search for something in death that resonates. I remind myself all the time that no one knows with surety what happens when we die because we haven't died. Some have had near-death experiences, but the truth is: if you're walking around today it means you're not dead. See how that works?

This probably sounds like such a distant belief system from the one I have written about all these years on my blog. It is different. I didn't ask for a sweeping repeal of all I believed in, it just happened to me. It's like my projected life and my belief system had this coming all along. We unzipped like a coat jacket and now there's a gulf between us. I can see it on the other side, but it seems like a dream I had once, which I have fond feelings for, but don't desire to go back.

Some call this a crisis. It feels like that. Some call it a transition. It feels like that too. Some call this an awakening. I think that's right.

Here's the hardest part for me, and something I have only understood since yesterday while meeting with my dietitian. This crisis has also been a discovery of how deeply flawed I am. I used to walk around with a sense of self-importance--like I was a gift to humanity. And you know, we're all gifts to humanity, but I've lost the idea that I was the most important gift, or one of the most important. Life was a lot easier when I felt that way, to be honest. It hurts to see how much this belief buoyed me up and losing it has lead to great body hatred. Like, if I were to change my body I could get back to being an important person.

I get that this is not my fault. And it's quite common. We shed layers of consciousness all the time--if we're doing human right. But when you are raised by a society that constantly teaches you that all of your problems stem from your imperfect body and that by fixing your body you fix your problems you become a thirty-nine year-old who experiences some serious disconnect upon discovering how untrue that whole idea is. And even though my reaction to stress, discomfort and pain is to stop eating all together (I am an emotional under-eater, not an over-eater) nothing changes regardless of food intake. And dieting only makes us heavier--emotionally and physically.

So I am shedding the pounds of patriarchy instead of pounds of fat. And it's hard. But it's good.

Last of all: the joy of my life still remains discovery. It's afternoons in the desert or mountains with my children and my good husband. It's getting lost in museums or thoughts, highways, historical markers, geography, maps, conversations, and in the stars at night in the hot tub. It's discovering new ways to love. New ways to be loved. It's the discovery of art and friends. The exploration of relationships and families. It's discovering boundaries (BOUNDARIES I LOVE YOU SO MUCH).

And when I do remember to choose it, the purpose of life is discovery.

Regardless how wide the chasm of my belief, it's always been about that.

*Photo cred: Justin Hackworth

Friday, February 5, 2016

Special Collection

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Last week Christopher and I were invited to the BYU library Special Collections department for a tour with our friend Trevor Alvord and his fellow archivist Dainan Skeem (and three dutiful BYU student security guards). We took inventory of Jimmy Stewart's personal film collection. We combed through the original hand-written score of Gone With the Wind. We saw first editions of Jane Austen's Emma, Origin of the Species and the Book of Mormon. We went from vault to vault hunting for manuscripts and movie props and even got to see a real Oscar up close and personal (first time!). Trevor was so gracious, granting us some really cool Japanese monster posters and Dainan answered all of my entry-level archivist questions.

At the end of the tour they sat us down and posed a very interesting question to me, "How would you feel about donating your manuscripts, journals, first drafts, emails, correspondences to our 21 century collection?"



"We could come to your house and walk you through the process. We could help you determine what would be worth admitting."


I just never saw it coming. You know?

And of course the question is, "Who would ever be interested in all that junk?

"Just imagine, 200 years from now, a researcher wanting to know who you were, what you thought. What is was like to be you. Wanting to know what you experienced."

Yeah, that's entirely unimaginable.

We shook hands with a promise I'd think about it.

Daily I think about the merits of going to the grave with secrets versus living a wide-open life. The present life is easier for the private, but history rewards those who reveal. Do I want to live in shame now-the disapproval, the dislike, the discomfort I cause others--but leave an honest genuine legacy? Or do I quietly go about keeping my composure and die with my truth?

I don't want my kids to go to that library one day after I have passed on, ask to see the vault that contains my loot and figure out that they never even knew their mother. That is utterly cruel.  It reminds me of the sunny afternoon a relative came over to my house, and while looking at the window, whispered to me a troubling family secret passed on for multiple generations begging me to freeze the information to stop its melting spread.

But I imagine this secret won't have much relevance for my kids--first, the span between them and the contributing ancestor makes the guilty more of a character in a story than a flesh and blood human being. Second, scandal has a way of perpetually cooling down. Secrets are the container for shame and time has a way of making the contents of that container somewhat aged. Teenage pregnancy is not what it used to be, for example.

Certainly I will die with some secrets, and that is my privilege. Partly they are secrets because I don't have words to describe them. No one would understand. So maybe I shouldn't call them secrets, but collateral for living at a time when language was insufficient. Not secrets, insufficient words.

When I started this blog I wrote about infertility. Ten years ago I could hardly find anyone willing to talk about it with me. It was hard to write about because I felt alone in it. I was embarrassed to have this problem. I remember running into a friend at the store and having her say to me, "All the most awful things happen to you." And I remember how angry I felt because infertility had somehow swallowed up all the most wonderful things about me. I felt like a failure.

Before we left, I asked one more question of my friends at the library, "How do you know what is valuable?"

"We don't measure what is valuable. We only collect. What is valuable is up to the researcher."

Writing got me through infertility. Writing got me through transition. Writing needs to help me get through this faith whirlwind I now sit in. It's often very scary to produce these types of posts, but I want to believe there is value in the attempt.

Now I ask myself: do I have the courage to write about it now, and gift it forever?

Friday, January 29, 2016

Spa Ha Moment: Moderation or Things I Don't Get

My friend and trainer Sara Madsen just left my house. She has been training me for three weeks and I can say unequivocally (I definitely didn't not spell that word without help from spellcheck) I feel stronger. I feel buffer. When I have to remove sleeping children from my bed in the middle of the night I do it with muscled confidence and balance control. This is a far cry from woozy attempts that proceeded my starting a solid work out regimen.

But this week I hit a seemingly insurmountable roadblock in which I could not will my body to move or, eat anything that contained vitamins, minerals or general health. My body threw an internal protest--picketing my head with colorful signs that read: HELL NO WE WON'T GO.

This depressed me. I was getting my cardio and my strength training and all my salads in. I was regularly checking in with my dietitian and checking off all the boxes on my legs, chest, abs and arms sets. I was even doing yoga with my kids in the mornings.

But Wednesday my body was done. Thanks for trying. This actually isn't for us. It was good while it lasted.

"I was doing so well," I bemoaned to Sara.

"How well?" She asked me, mid-leg lift. "Like too well?"

Too well? Too well? Is there such a thing?

"Well, I am sore all the time...and I'm exhausted a lot. And I hate eating salads now. I can't even look at them."

"Yeah. It sounds to me like maybe you're doing too much."

Christopher was behind us on the couch doing squats. He was looking at me with that look that says, "Just tell her the truth."

"Ok, well the truth is, I don't speak moderation."

"Oh yeah?" Sara said to me in a voice that intimated surprise.

"Yeah, I either do it all or I do nothing."

"She's binary." Christopher said.

"It's not like I want to be that way, except it does have it's perks. When I am on, I am really on. When I am off, I am really off. And I can enjoy both at times. But some times it's really aggravating."

The great quest of my life is finding the treasure chest containing moderation. I am doing it without a map. I have a break through now and then. But mostly I say to myself, "This is who you are. It's not a defect. I can be successful with this personality trait."

But the thing Sara taught me this morning is that I can decide what is all the way. I decide what on looks like and what off looks like.

"Tell yourself success is being active every day. Taking a walk or doing stretches. Tell yourself that the healthiest life-long diet is eating things you like to eat and avoiding things that make you feel terrible."

Such a breakthrough for me.

After she left I lied down on the ground and contemplated what I learned today. And then I decided if I could decide what going all the way looked like, I could also decide what doing nothing looked like. I imagined myself in my spa, looking at the stars charming us from overhead and I realized I knew exactly what off looks like.

It's very nice.

This post is sponsored by Bullfrog Spas. I love you BS. Unfortunate initials, but very fortunate company with amazing spas. I couldn't get through my life without you. This is not hyperbole.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Checking In

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It's January. 3/4 of my kids are sick. I walked Ever to school in nothing but Ck's sweatshirt (it goes to my knees) and a pair of sneakers. I couldn't tell if I was more frozen by cold or by shame. It was one of those things where I said I'll just walk you to the sidewalk and then it was the corner and then I was walking her to the cross walk where all the school traffic accumulates and there I was: no pants. No coat. Sneakers. And when I said good bye she cried even louder and so then I was the bad mom with no pants and tons of a shame and a load of guilt to carry my chilled legs home.

Yesterday my best friend told me she's moving to Central America for two years. It's not ok. I don't usually miss people very often, but this is not good. She's been my everything for the past 8 years of my life and now what am I suppose to do without her? I mean, by all means, I champion her going. I totally think she should go. But I am sad for me and my family. This is true love.

We spent a weekend in red-tinted Kanab, Utah last week. It was amazing. My true obsession with Southern Utah is strong. I came back with a huge list of things I want to explore this year. Thanks to Erin for getting me a new map book for Christmas. Now I have my kids pouring over maps. We'll be in the car with each of us holding a map as our tires transverse the miles to our next adventure.  It sounds romantic sure, but it's a load of work, it can eat up resources (like money) and the kids aren't always cheerfully game. But it's a battle I choose. When we're eating breakfast and someone starts to talk about the glowing minerals we saw in the mammoth cave in Idaho, I think to myself: WORTH IT.

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Horseshoe Bend outside of Page Arizona--one of our day trips last weekend

Also worth it: seeing Bryce Canyon under heavy snow on a bright, blue-sky day in January. I cried at the beauty. Sat there on a log meant for a tourist like me and sobbed at the sight. I don't know. We walked a long the rim one by one stepping in each other's snowy footsteps and it was heaven. I experienced heaven in that moment.

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After walking in the snow on the rim we were all hot, sweaty and needing a break at Sunset Point

I like my job. I feel really lucky to do what I do with the people I work with in the space we do it in. It's close to my home and downtown and I get to have pho once a week and oh my heavens pho is a gift to the world (thanks Vietnam and France!)

My baby Iris Eve is also a gift.  She's pretty dang cute. She reminds me of the Cabbage Patch doll we used to have--big curly yellow hair and blue eyes. She's currently courting all the halloween videos on the kids youtube channel. This has been going on for a month now, ever since her intense love affair with Peppa ended after seeing every episode twenty times I am sure. Please don't judge me about screen time. I don't judge you.

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We call ourselves the blue-eyes club

Also, Iris likes "moothies" in the Blendtech but boy, she HATES the sound it makes when it pummels up all her favorite frozen fruits.

I could keep going but I didn't set out to write a Christmas card here, you know?

Things are good. Not perfect. Sometimes sad. But like Christopher and I always say to each other as we close out our day, "We're doing ok."

And it's enough.