white noise

11 01 2010

The Dr. sleeps with the radio on – our local NPR affiliate runs the BBC – all night long. White noise for him, by day (via a steady stream of CNN, HLN and the like) and by night, are voices commenting on world affairs.  After all, it is his bread and butter to know what is happening around the globe.  Sometimes in the darkness, I can tell what time it is without looking at the clock by counting the times I’ve heard the stories on repeat – they are on a cycle that runs three times. Those aren’t my favorite nights.  I don’t blame him for my insomnia because as many times as not, the talking heads don’t bother me at all and despite all the yakking, I sleep fairly well.

A few years ago some friends in LA introduced us to genius little white noise machines that they had in each bedroom.  Just cranking those puppies up regardless of whatever else was happening in the house (usually late night recording sessions involving a dozen or so people in and out- so LA for us artsy fartsy types) the cacophony was so masked that sleep was just an instant away.  I was officially addicted.  Once back home I got one of these by Brookstone called Tranquil Moments ® Sound Machine for Sleep that sits on my bedside table.  There are nights when both the radio and the white noise machine are going.  If I’ve been working with words during the day then I need to quiet the voices at night. No more words – no talking…just noise.

If it is too quiet I am distracted by the constant hum of the tinnitus I think I’ve inherited from Billy.  Oh, it could be meds, it could be impending deafness inherited from the Mrs. or it could be insanity…but I can hear it right now throbbing it’s way through the veins and vessels in my head like little subway trains using my ears as tunnels.  The word in Spanish is a perfect onomatopoeia for what it sounds like to me – zumbar: to hum, buzz or whirr.  (When pronounced in Castilian that “z” becomes a “th” sound.)

The subject of white noise came up when Shop Girl’s friends from Spain were visiting.  She has a nice machine in her bedroom and suggested the use of said device for the jet-lagged duo so as to drown out Donny Diva’s squawking for a midnight snack.  They just guffawed at the preposterous notion that you could actually sleep better by piping noise into your ears.  It is all around us whether we notice it or not…on planes, in the malls, in office spaces…almost everywhere.  I love the fact that to muffle certain noises all you have to do is add ALL noise to it.  That IS white noise.

There is another kind of white noise affecting my life these days – snow – drowning out voices in my head telling me what I should be doing.  It’s either been here by the foot or along the lakeshore by the multiple feet or dumping right along the southern edge of the lake, making stretches of the highways impassible or not advisable at best.  It almost seems like I’ve been on vacation with this extended time at home since Christmas.  The Mrs. has survived just fine thanks to the kindness of a good friend from church who stepped in during my absence – doing a grocery run and sorting through a week’s worth of pills.  These people have saved my skin on more than one occasion and I am very grateful.

There have been moments where adding just one more voice of worry to the chorus ringing in my head (“Is she eating enough?,” “Has she remembered to take her pills?,” “Will she try to drive somewhere in this weather?”) has begun to work like a white noise machine.  By adding more things that I can’t do anything about – it’s actually calmed me down and relaxed me in a weird sort of way.  It’s helped me to focus.  I have more energy.  It’s like getting eight hours of uninterrupted sleep!

Maybe it is because I’ve turned my nervous energy toward my own basement for once and have donated about a dozen boxes of stuff and thrown away an extra eight bags of garbage in the last two weeks.  I can hardly wait till next week when I get started on a new facet of my winter project. I found a place that will take the twenty-plus boxes of books collecting dust and donates them to schools and libraries around the world.  To think that someone can actually USE all those tomes we bought instead of spending money on groceries during the Dr.’s years of graduate and post-grad work –  really makes me happy.

With each box and bag I carry out of this house – it is like white noise music to my ears.  By Spring, maybe Donny Diva and I will both be sleeping through the night.

slamming doors and behinds

26 11 2009

If only old houses could share with us the mistakes people have made over the years and save us some grief.  On my trip down to fetch the Mrs. I was listening to an NPR interview with Amy Dickinson of Ask Amy.  The subject matter was the gracious comeback using as an example the most recent blast from Martha Stewart toward Rachel Ray and Ray’s gracious response.  I’m not a fan of either one particularly but I was interested in the whole situation in light of gatherings that will happen around a stuffed bird today.

I know that I’m on high alert.  I’m tired.  I’m annoyed.  I’m stressed.  There will be off handed remarks – not intended to hurt but considering the fragile state of affairs – they could wound.  I will consider before I speak.

There will be families gathered all over the nation today.  Some that barely see each other save for special days.  Others who see each other too much for comfort.  There will be words, silent digs, people intentionally pushing “red buttons” and feelings getting hurt – old wounds opening again and again and again…and people wondering at the end of it all why it is that they put themselves in these positions year after year.

My hope for this Thanksgiving is that we allow each and every person around the tables where we will gather – to be themselves.  That we not try to change them, to judge them, to mold them into something we think is right.

We have maybe a 12 hour ordeal in front of us.  Twelve short hours out of our lives to be gracious, kind and loving.  I will do my best to weigh each word and response to the never ending questions that will come my way.  I will try to be a grown-up and put myself in someone else’s shoes and wonder how all this will look to me 30 years from now.

winter or hell?

20 07 2009

plazaliteEarly the other morning as I was driving down to the Mrs.’ place, NPR was my travel companion as is the norm.  A story came on that instantly brought tears to my eyes and I had to really concentrate on staying on the road because I couldn’t see.  It was about summer nights in Spain.

There were a million things that flooded my mind – the first being a popular word play that pokes fun of the two seasons in Spain: invierno (winter) and infierno (hell). Sirocco winds blowing off the Sahara desert during these months would make it feel as if we had moved into a convection oven.

persiana2Air conditioning was a luxury that was never part of any of our living situations.  Persianas are plastic or metal horizontal slats mounted outside the windows which could be lowered completely to black out all light or left part way up allowing some airflow. These were lifesavers.  I always loved the polka dot shadows they cast on the walls or the clacking sound they’d make with the slightest breeze.  Especially during these weeks of July, the white noise commentary of the Tour filled dark rooms on suffocating afternoons.  Everyone would move at a snail’s pace so as not to expend unnecessary energy.

It wasn’t until after 8 p.m. that the sun’s arc would be at a tolerable degree in the sky so as to not singe our eyebrows. The persianas would be rolled up letting in any smidgen of breeze.  Little by little the streets came alive.  The darker it got outside – the more people would be on the streets.

Nights that Best Boy and Shop Girl would still be out playing hide-and-go seek or some other foolishness at midnight were the norm.  It was no cause for worry.  It wasn’t dangerous.  No one was going to call Child Protective Services on us.  Half the population of the pueblo was out on the streets soaking in whatever cool the darkness afforded.

Mornings were quiet – given everyone’s love of pushing the envelope on the circadian rhythm thing.  Maybe that pattern really resonated with my ruling planet being the Moon and I got stuck in the cycle. Here so many years later I’d still rather be awake at 2 a.m. and sound asleep till just before noon.

But I don’t live there any more.  Nor do I live in a neighborhood that I’d let my young kids play outside at midnight.  I learned a long time ago that it was wasted energy to pine away for where I’m NOT.  It’s best for me to recognize the good and the bad in each place – see its uniqueness and live in the space that I am physically present in at the time.  Being bi-cultural means embracing the tension.  Easier said than done.

When I was in Spain, I missed the four distinct seasons of the Midwest.  Surviving the rabbit hole winters here in Michigan makes me long for the Mediterranean light.  The acrid smell of scorched earth during the drought month of August in Spain would make me fantasize about standing out in a raging thunderstorm along the shores of Lake Michigan.  And now – one of these nights where a blast of Canadian chill makes for what is referred to as “good sleeping weather” here makes me think of those days when I’d roll around toasting like a corn dog in bed all night long in Madrid.

The best part of experiencing culture is the part that you do when you are viewing it from a distance.  I have journals filled with all the frustration I was really feeling on so many levels during those days – but now all it takes to turn me to mush is to remind me of all the things I took for granted.  So my Catch 22 is winter or hell…hell or winter…or hell, why not winter?  Two more months till Fall.

From Georgia with love

8 05 2009

DSC_0057Before my feet even touched the floor this morning, I had mothers on the mind.  My Blackberry blinked with an new email alert and as I lay there reading, my heart went out to a friend living in Casablanca, Morocco who’s son is getting ready to leave this summer to begin college studies in the States.  Two seconds later, NPR played a bittersweet Story Corps piece about a mom putting her daughter up for adoption.

Motherhood comes with loss.  We never know before we get into the club what may be required of us…the form that it will take – but it is inevitable.  Best Boy is making plans to move to LA later this summer.  I do my best to stuff down all the feelings I have about that.  Since he’s the one, who at three years of age was quick to say “no talkin’ B!”, his thoughts and words tumble out only when we are in close physical proximity doing something totally unrelated.  I am already imagining the worst and thinking that the next time I will really have an inkling of what is rolling around in his head is never.

It is the nature of motherhood to jump to dramatic conclusions – most of which never come true.  But some things do and we’ll find ourselves caught in nightmares that we can’t ever really shake – the forms they take are as bizarre as dreams themselves – things don’t make sense and are random, sometimes seen in black and white but often garishly colored.

My thoughts then went to the Mrs.  She just had a sibling reunion at her place with the two remaining brothers.  I stayed put up here in the North so as to give them all their emotional and physical space (I would have had to sleep in the car).  She wondered out loud as to how many more times this side of forever they would all be together again.

She has been in the role of mother for almost 70 years now.

Little did Georgia Ora Smith know how she had prepared her daughter for such a lifelong stint.  Certainly she herself had been an incredibly strong woman who was purposed enough and undaunted by the conventions of her day to become a school teacher on the Red Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota before she wed.  I have to find the picture that has long captivated me with Georgia primly dressed standing tall beside the Chief in full feather regalia – his arm draped around her shoulder.  One of the few things in addition to that faded photograph that I know of – is the hand-hewn, soft, silver spoon that has my mother’s teeth marks still warping the outer edges of the bowl.

Georgia’s third child was finally a girl followed a couple years later by another son. She didn’t know that the Great Depression would bounce their family from North to South like a ping pong ball.  Nor could she predict that her husband would be sent to a mental hospital in the South because so little was understood about grand mal epileptic seizures at the time.

Her diaries record those years when a $5 money order would come postmarked from somewhere on the road as my Grandfather’s watch repair panel truck/livingquarters meandered from town to town looking desperately for what little work he could find in an effort to support his struggling family.  Christmas gifts of an orange along with a glorious quart of milk for each of them that they didn’t HAVE to share is a memory the Mrs. often recalls.   Georgia kept them together as a family.  It was pure determination. She never knew that she only had 14 years to spend with her daughter.  An outbreak of “sleeping sickness” stole her away leaving my mother to be the embodiment of the sacred feminine in an all male household.

After that summer of sadness,  another woman was brought into my mother’s life – her demented paternal grandmother from Canada – now in the care of the recently widowed son and his four children.  I silently scream, “What were you thinking??” but it was family and that is what you did.

My mother must have been 15 or so when she and her younger brother headed out with that demented grandmother she hardly knew – surely still reeling from the loss of her own mother – on a bus bound for the Chicago area and yet another new home.  At a rest stop, the grandmother found a police man and claimed to have been kidnapped by these two kids.  My mom said she remembers just standing there crying and begging the policeman to just take her grandmother away.  It was all sorted out and the journey continued.

A hell of a way to start the journey into mothering.  She had no one to share all the girlie girl things with along the way.  She is someone who’s shoulders have long been weighted with doing – housework, laundry, nurturing, caring, fussing – in short, loving the best she knew how.

I think of the millions of hours Shop Girl and I have spent laying side by side in the dark talking through her days while she still lived at home.  That has all been replaced by Friends & Family plans or free Mobile to Mobile minutes.  Her time in LA just meant my phone would ring at 3 a.m.  And I expect it will again.

What did Georgia know to teach the Mrs., that the Mrs. taught me, that I can teach Shop Girl, who will be mother in her own time?  My mom has always been a sounding board for me.  Secretly, she may have been screaming at me – truthfully, she may have been scared out of her wits as to what I was saying or doing…but she was listening.  To say it never came with judgment is not to say she didn’t show me right from wrong but I never felt like I wasn’t loved and respected as a person who was working through the twisty turns of my own personal journey and she was there to remind me that I was cherished regardless of the outcome.

DSC_0021Maybe the genius is in the baby spoon.  Before children can feed themselves, our hands direct the spoon.  One spoonful at a time.   Sometimes we end up wearing what we’ve attempted to put in…it gets spit back at us or gagged up.  We don’t have any guarantees that once it is in the body it will do its intended work.  But we load it up and head it toward the mouth nonetheless.  And in return, there may be times that our efforts to help get “bit” and permanent scars at the edges of our lives might be markers of our best intentions.

Georgia’s spoon is a constant reminder to love and nurture – weather the losses with grace and resilience befitting the generations of strong women that have shown me the way – but with a steady hand offer up yummy morsels of life itself.

p.s. Here’s a shout out to my neighbor Kathy who is a the consumate picture of motherhood itself.  She runs a wonderful day care and is the best substitute mommy I can imagine while their mommies have to be out there trying to keep food on the table.  And she still has time to have beautiful tulips in her yard.  Right before a storm the other night and they were away, I stole over and brought some digital goodness into my life.

Life is like an onion:

18 10 2008

you peel it off one layer at a time and sometimes you weep.

Carl Sandberg

I just found two more blogs that inspired me to sit here and type even though I can’t see straight. Too tired to be here making any sense of anything – let alone writing, I’ll link you to them soon enough but getting my cursor where it belongs, hitting the right keys and copying URL’s is over the top right now. Let’s just revel in the fact that I am discipling myself to write something today. Any points for that?

Fourteen hour days take their toll on the 20 / 30 somethings – let alone someone almost twice their age. My normal pattern is to start with a photo then move on to the writing. The camera I’ve been borrowing is far far away – taking in images I only hope to view someday with my own eyes parked behind the lens. There are lots of choices in my iPhoto library so in the meanwhile I will use something already captured and make it work. Today, or rather tonight – this one works.

It took some real ahh haa moments thinking about the centering issues I was having, to discover what was really going on in my head. First, having to go back to Billy’s Doctor’s office…but this time it was her turn. Last time, we never even made it back to the “re-visit” that was scheduled for three days later – because by then he was in hospice. To physically step back into that space for the first time was hard even though I wasn’t consciously thinking about it at the time. The second whack upside the head was going back to the funeral home to help her choose the headstone. Tomorrow morning I’ll head out to another necessary evil. There is a Memorial Service being put on by hospice for everyone that lost loved ones in June, July and August. Layer by layer, by layer…peeling it back…

I heard a piece on NPR this week that took my breath away. Please do me the favor and take a minute to listen to Ashley Grashaw’s essay about the California wildfires and the very personal way they affected her family. Even though I was in tears because it all seems too recent and too painful to have to do some of the things she talks about, I was strangely relieved that “dismantling” quirky little things left behind by someone’s life is not to be rushed, very hard emotional work and should come with whatever time frame is appropriate for everyone involved.

So about those onions…eating onions for every meal, every day is not what I want to do, but they are really good, served up many ways. There are times that I just need to peel it all back layer by layer, bit by bit and get at what it is that is making my eyes water. But long ago, working for a chef in a restaurant kitchen, I learned some tricks of the trade to keep my eyes from overflowing. I’ll do the same with all of this. I’ll savor the taste…layer by layer.