Food, Flowers and Friends and Writer’s Block

Writer's Block

Now that I have a blog I can’t think of a damn thing to write about. It’s weird because in my pre-blog life  I was a regular letter-to-the-editor writer, often ranting about things that drove me crazy and once a short and sweet public farewell to Mr. Rogers. I had an on-going list of topics I wanted to essay about. (Yes, I just used a noun as a verb.)

But all of a sudden it’s like I’ve been handed a block of marble and asked to carve out the The Pietà. Just like that block of marble, my brain is frozen and impenetrable. And it’s giving me a headache.  No wonder they call it “writer’s block”.

I read blogs – stimulating and entertaining blogs.  Blogs that make me think, that move me, make me laugh, weep, amaze me, and sometimes altar, just slightly, my vision of the world.  So it’s not like I don’t have good examples to inspire me.

I keep going back to the dead sea scrolls, the archives of my writing past, to dredge up old stuff to dust off and post.  But the old stuff doesn’t fit in the present. It’s all sad and weary and a lot of it is, if I’m honest, just crap.

So here I am with time, a blank slate – a fucking BLOG! – and nothing to say. Really? Trying to break on through to the other side (apologies to Jim Morrison).

Okay. Here’s something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue.  Old because it’s dated, new because it’s dusted off, borrowed (Shakespeare), and Miles Davis kind of blue.

Food, Flowers and Friends

“The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;”

– From Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, 1596.

They appeared from out of nowhere. I looked up and they were there. Carrying food, wine, chocolate, coffee. Carrying firewood. Carrying their hearts. Carrying their love. Flowers began arriving and continued non-stop for a week along with the meals. The phone rang non-stop.

I was in shock. I had found my lover, my fiancé, my best friend, my daughter’s second father – hanging from a rope on a Saturday morning in February 2006. Lisa arrived from California on Sunday. I looked up and there she was – a vision. What was real? What wasn’t? Jody had called Lisa Saturday night and after Jody told her Andrew was dead, Lisa said simply, “I’m on a plane.” Lisa stayed and walked the walk of grief with me. It took a large toll on her to be so close to ground zero.

It was a record-breaking snowy and freezing cold week in February. Lisa ordered bottled water, cleaned the cat litter box, bought me Vitamin B-complex and more. We were all shell-shocked trying to get done what needed to be done daily, hourly. Functioning in a fog of grief and shock. Where was the step-by-step manual? There was no manual.

She drove, screened my calls, reminded me of what I couldn’t remember. The food and flowers and friends kept arriving. The tears of grief kept flowing. She listened to me tell my story over and over and over again to others who came, to those who called. To Andrew’s shattered family in Australia.  Lisa was with my daughter when we said goodbye to Andrew’s body in the morgue.

My three Michaels (Dixon, Greenberg, Houlik) came and went and were touch stones for me. Keeping the hearth burning, bringing food, firewood. Sitting Shiva with me and my daughter. A girl so young and blown apart – her world shattered into a million pieces.

My church friends came with food and prayed 24/7. Hundreds of friends came, called, sent flowers, emails and cards. I was lifted up and carried by friends and Grace – how else can I explain it? I was in an altered universe. Everything had changed, nothing was the same, yet the sun still rose every morning and set at night.

It was the week that Cheney shot his friend in the face while hunting in Texas. And the week that Lance Armstrong and Sheryl Crow split up. People were talking and I was listening. I kept trying to remember who Dick Cheney and Lance Armstrong were.

I was simultaneously broken in a fundamental way while enveloped by the love and grace of my friends. I learned what true friendship was – and was not. I was – and still am – brought to my knees by the powerful force of love and the quality of mercy.

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“The universe is made up of stories, not of atoms.” – Muriel Rukeyser

Life of Pi

One day I was walking around healthy and happy; the next day I was clinging to my bed with a 104° temperature, crawling back and forth from bedroom to bathroom. I mistakenly thought I could control the high temperatures with over-the-counter medication and foolishly let things go too long. The strep bacteria had found a friendly host in my body and began its invasion. On day three, a friend took me to the doctor for IV fluids and penicillin before the bacteria completely had its way with me.

During my illness, I found that all I could do was read. The light from the TV was too harsh, the news too real. I napped and read and stared outside a lot. Once I wished for a week in bed with a good book. Be careful what you wish for.

I had started reading Life of Pi the week before, on vacation in Hawaii. I was sitting on a beach one day and a rogue wave came ashore and washed over me, my book and everything. The book survived and I laughed and said that the ocean had kissed my book. That it was the Pacific Ocean was fitting. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that baptism created a bond between me and this strange little novel.

A week later back stateside, my relationship with Pi gradually became a surreal experience of life imitating art and vice versa. Yann Martel’s fictional story and my reality became intertwined over time and became one. When I wasn’t sleeping or reading, I found it hard to find the seam of where the story ended and my life picked up. All the usual patterns in my life were broken, day and night were a blur. I even forgot, for a time, that I was a mother.

My shifted reality took place in my bedroom, on my bed. While Pi was cast adrift in a lifeboat on the Pacific, with Richard Parker, I was cast adrift on a sea of illness, my bed my lifeboat. One day I looked up from the page I was reading, noticed my cat at the end of the bed and saw Richard Parker.  I blinked; was I hallucinating? Suddenly, my domesticated cat became a Royal Bengal tiger sitting calmly at the helm.

My dehydration was Pi’s, and his mine. The rolling of the Pacific became the dizzy sensation I felt whenever I tried to stand up and then fell back down, fearful of triggering an onslaught of rolling dry-heaves. If such a thing is possible, I gradually fell in love with Pi, Richard Parker and the green, mysterious and deadly, floating island. My time in bed, fighting the bacterial army that was marching through my body, became a scaled-down version of Pi’s epic journey of survival on the Pacific.

The bond deepened during the duration of my illness.  I finished reading Life of Pi still in bed and sick, but getting better. As the penicillin was working its magic, and I began to re-enter my life, I finished the book. I cried after reading the last page and last sentence because, just as Pi said goodbye to Richard Parker without the tiger’s slightest acknowledgement, I said goodbye to Pi. Richard Parker bounded off into the jungle without even a glance back, and of course Pi did not care a whit about me. After Pi was finally rescued and was being cared for in a Mexican hospital, I understood his depression, his loss. The book’s ending was brilliant, yet I wasn’t quite ready to let it go.

At one point in the story, Pi wishes for a book, “My greatest wish — other than salvation — was to have a book. A long book with a never-ending story. One that I could read again and again, with new eyes and fresh understanding each time.”  Ironically, his wish was my gift, a book that lifted me, sustained me, and kept me afloat on an unsettled sea.

My emotional involvement with this book is unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. I read Gone With the Wind several times as a teenager and became so absorbed in that Civil War saga all I could do was eat, sleep and read — with red-rimmed eyes  — for weeks. I was emotionally involved in that story, yet somehow this was different. It was simply a matter of love. I wasn’t in love with Scarlett or Rhett like I had fallen in love with Pi.

My week in bed was nothing compared to Pi’s epic journey of survival and of course my journey was real and his wasn’t (or was it?). But somehow the essence of fiction and nonfiction was a shared experience. My illness, it turns out, was one of those transformative illnesses, where my life was inwardly altered. Addictions were broken and attention was shifted to the temple that is my body. Gratitude for good health was renewed, as well as an awareness of how quickly things can change. In the end, my illness turned into a philosophical and spiritual gift, not unlike the thread that ran through Life of Pi.

The combination of being so ill and reading this particular book was a recipe for transformation. When a person is changed so remarkably from the mere reading of a book, I call it Grace.

 

 

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“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” – Flannery O’Conner

Ah, here I am in the blogosphere after several rushed and halfhearted attempts over the last year to create a blog and then flaming out after hitting a technical wall. I’m still technically a blog virgin, despite the foreplay, because I really don’t know how all this works. But I do like to read blogs and find that recently I’m wasting much of my life reading blogs. When I’m not moving around the planet on planes, trains, automobiles, taxis, shuttles, pedi-cabs and other modes of transportation, I spend much of my life reading. Now, I can read and write!

Thank you Greg Campbell for giving me the big kick I needed.

So. Where do we go from here? I suppose I will sputter and spurt at first beforeI really get going. I don’t have a well-formed plan for this blog except to say that it will serve as writing therapy for me – to get out all the thoughts, ideas, and stories that have been rattling around and collecting in my brain, heart and body for so many years. Yeah. OK. I’m ready. let’s go!

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