Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Melissa is F-I-V-E, five!

Hey big girl,

You're five. FIVE! F-I-V-E, five. That's half a decade, and you know what I learned? Half a decade goes pretty dang fast. In five more years, you'll be ten. That's half of twenty, and twenty is all grown up. This whirlwind growing up gig is mind blowing!

This morning when you woke up, you turned over and said, "Guess what, mommy? I'm no longer four. I'm FIVE!" And then you demanded your present, which was a dollhouse that you can use to make up lots of stories. You have a vivid imagination, and I really love that about you: I love to sit and listen to you make up stories, and act out all kinds of scenarios that are very super important to people who are 5 or about to turn 5. Like who gets to play in the Housekeeping Center. And who gets to go first. And who gets to be whose friend. And who has to go the Thinking Spot. Very important dilemmas and dramas for pre-school people; which actually aren't that much different from adult dilemmas and dramas, if you think about it (which you don't, because it's not my TURN yet--stop talking about grown ups, Mommy! is what you'd say to that, if I read this out loud to you).

Can I tell you some more things I love about you at five years old? Of course I can! Your favorite story topic is You.

*You're opinionated. You've always been opinionated; at 3 months old you had an opinion. I sense this is in your blood, part of your DNA make up, an ancient ancestral trait that stretches back for eons. Often it's exhausting, but I want you to know how much I love that you have opinions, feel them intensely, and so I spend a lot of time encouraging you to speak them to the world strongly and with no fear (in a respectful tone of voice, because currently we're working on reigning in your backtalk-y tone of voice that gets you into trouble at school...because you're a teacher's kid--YOU CAN'T GET IN TROUBLE AT SCHOOL).

*You have a lot of questions. And when I say "a lot of questions," I actually mean a large, endless, astronomically huge warehouse lot of questions. When I say, "We're having hamburgers for dinner," you say, "Can we have spaghetti?" And this question is followed up with a lot of "Why?" "But why?" "Why?" In the last week alone, you've asked me why people are bald, why we can't have chicken nuggets for dinner instead, why can't we eat chicken nuggets every day for dinner, why can't you pour your own drink from the ten-pound jug of iced tea that will land on your foot and break it or fall and flood the kitchen, why can't you use the big, dagger-like knife to cut out the pumpkin's eyes? Can you light the candle in it?

I sense this need for answers is also in your blood and DNA, a trait that goes back as far as time.

*You think farts and poop are funny. You can talk about farts and poop all day long. You like to shake your booty. In fact, you love everything about your booty. The Booty Shake: it's your favorite dance (we need to get you some dance lessons--though your shaking booty is quite adorable, your repertoire is lacking and The Booty Shake can simply not be the only dance you know. I mean, Homecoming and Prom will be complete disasters). This trait is in your blood and DNA, but only stretches back two generations and from half of your family, which would be my side of the family. Your maternal relatives are just a family of people who love fart jokes, because we're from the classy part of Pennsylvania.

I have no idea where The Booty Shake comes from; we'll put that one on your father.

*You forgive easily and quickly. I hope you'll keep this trait forever and ever. I know I need it a lot right now. I can't even tell you how many times I've done or said something incredibly wrong and you've let me off the hook (after throwing stuff at me and making me put you in the Thinking Spot, compounding my parental guilt times ten even while I seethe with righteous anger: Seriously? Seriously? Did she throw that at me? At ME?? Oh hell no, this time out is going to last three days. Throw things at your mom. Seriously???).

*You are a force of nature. People ask me all the time: When will Melissa get a sibling? And I have to say: Never, most likely. Besides, why would we need another kid when we have a 3-in-1? You are an active girl; I always know you've fallen asleep because suddenly it's gone quiet. And if it goes quiet during daylight hours, I always check on you...nothing good ever comes out of Melissa suddenly going quiet. Science experiments (not approved by actual scientists) in my kitchen are typically involved.

*You love boy AND girly things. You are a soccer-playing princess. You like Monster High because they're a little bit hideous and a little bit beautiful. Which I really like about you, because it tells me you're well on your way to a deep understanding of what it means to be a human on this planet: yin yang, ugly pretty. We'll talk later about why.

*You're a scaredy cat. You like Haunted Hathaways but only because I'm prepping you for future ghost hunts (you're terrified of ghosts, by the way) (and the Big Bad Wolf) (and creepy sounds at night). Sorry, sweet girl. You get this terror of shadows and The Dark from me; that's a gift directly from my DNA to yours. (Can I tell you now that part of the reason I don't play Bad Mommy and force you to sleep by yourself in spite of your very real and deep terror of doing so is because I'M terrified to sleep alone?) (We may need to look into therapy soon.)

*I love to watch you sleep. Right now, I am watching you sleep. You sleep with your arms flung out just like you did when you were 1 month old. And when you're asleep, your face goes soft and I can still see the baby in you. Everyone told me I'd miss that baby when you got bigger, and Everyone was right. I can still see me holding you in a mirror, so tiny and small and helpless. And now? "NOOOOO! I can do it! Not you, ME!" is a constant, shrill, crazy rant echoing throughout our house. And in our car. And the grocery store. And the mall, parks, restaurants, movie theaters, playgrounds, the public library (you get shushed all the time), and a whole slew of other places we go.

I like that about you, too: Independence. It's so important. It's good to ask for help, but knowing how to do it yourself works just fine. I love that you're hell-bent on being independent, and I dread the day you walk out into the big, wide world on your own without me.

Until then, I'm still The Boss (yes I am) (no, absolutely not...but you can be the boss of your stuffed Shrek doll) and no we're not having chicken nuggets for dinner tomorrow. Let it go.

I love, you Miss M. You are my best blessing, and I'm so grateful God picked me to be your mommy.


Happy Big Girl 5 Birthday!
Love,
Mommy

Saturday, April 13, 2013

pirate-y career schemes.

I've spent some time over my Spring Break unwinding, genuflecting (occasionally reflecting, but mostly genuflecting), and attempting to be proactive about writing. I am reading a book about starting a career as a freelance writer. I am back to writing (most-ish) every day. I have almost finished a short story. I really wish I could find a way to end that thing--I started it last Saturday, worked a lot on it on Monday, and attempted to put it to rest on Tuesday afternoon. It's really going nowhere, and I'm not sure I'll ever finish it. Right now the ending sentence goes like this: I HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO END THIS STUPID FRICKIN' THING!!!!!!

I'm sure this is exactly what drives literary magazine editors to publish stories: Awesome ending sentences utlizing the phrase "stupid frickin'." Everything ALL CAPS.

However, never fear. I have discovered a new and possibly exciting career opportunity still staying within the storytelling frame, but kind of way more awesome. A couple of years ago, I did a group blog initiated by my friend Patresa called COFFEE. There were about 8 or 9 of us, and we all picked projects to complete that scared the holy living poop out of us. Patresa wanted to sing in front of real people, Holly wanted to complete the Artist's Way, Stephany was learning to live life on her own terms, Katie was working on getting her entire life re-focused, Tawni was going to be an award-winning writer, etc and so forth. Mine, of course, was Grocery Shopping. (Because I'm dangerous like that.) Had I stumbled upon what I stumbled upon this week, however, my COFFEE project would have been: Oscar Winning Movie Extra! (dunh dunh duuuunh!)

Because hello! Movie Stardom without ever getting recognized or harassed by paparazzi? That's just a win-win situation, sweet friends. It pays a lot less than regular Movie Stardom, but I hear if you get a Screen Actors Guild card and they hire you to be an extra at some long distance location, they have to buy you a first class plane ticket to get there because SAG says so (further proof unions are NOT evil). Also, did you know Atlanta is like #5 on the list of New Hollywoods of the South (according to Access Atlanta)? It's true! They film TV shows about zombies and vampires here. And shows about real housewives buying wedding dresses and bras. Because down South we're all about classy. They also film a lot of movies here, too--Tyler Perry being the person who seems to use Atlanta the most (possibly because he has a production company/movie studio here and, like, 500 mansions).

THE HUNGER GAMES sequel was just filmed here, THE BLIND SIDE, and REMEMBER THE TITANS (do you? remember them?). Tyler Perry makes me nervous, but I could so have drinks with Denzel Washington (who also just made another movie here, some airplane movie called FLIGHT--I bet Denzel is completely familiar with Atlanta at this point and even knows his way around Spaghetti Junction like a boss) (fyi--we do this a lot in Atlanta. We name things based on other things and only Atlantans really know what the heck anyone is talking about--Spaghetti Junction is the I-285 interchange that looks like a big old mess of spaghetti from the air. Spaghetti Junction also serves as our official tool of segregration by dividing Atlantans into those who are cool, hip Inside the Perimeter (ITP) residents and the uncool, unhip Outside the Perimeter (OTP) people. Then there's Murder Kroger, because it's right next to a police station and there was a rash of unfortunate homicides in its parking lot..and Disco Kroger, a former gay nightclub turned grocery store. The South: cute, classy, and quirky, without a slight trace of irony.)

But most important? Please consider the following as evidence for my natural inclination toward Movie/TV extra acting stardom:

1) As a child, all I ever did in my spare time was perform Broadway musicals (alone, in my bedroom, surrounded by stuffed animals). My repertoire was wide and varied: Wizard of Oz, Annie, Funny Girl, Westside Story...AND I did my own choreography. At 8 years old, I'm pretty sure that indicates serious tv/movie extra prodigy potential.

2) One long summer between 3rd and 4th grade, some neighborhood friends and I wrote, directed, produced, costume-designed, and marketed a very disjointed outdoor off off off off off off off Broadway theater production based on a conglomeration of STAR WARS, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, and HELLO, DOLLY!. (That last bit was mine--the neighborhood friends were all boys, and I really felt we needed some girly songs throughout, just to break up the monotony of aliens getting their heads blown off). We sold tickets around the neighborhood for 25 cents, then quickly marked them down to 5 cents because mothers complained we were price gouging.

3) I don't want to make anyone feel even more insecure now that you know about my Bedroom Broadway and successful off Broadway Outdoor Theater past, but I WAS also cast once in a high school drama during my junior year--I played an uptight school marm (foreshadowing!) and had three incredibly important lines.

4) I read a lot of trashy celebrity magazines. I mean A LOT. Like, did you know Khloe Kardashian is now the hottest Kardashian, since Kim got pregnant? If you didn't pick up the latest issue of US WEEKLY and read it over a bowl of Kix cereal, sorry--you're clearly not in the entertainment biz insider loop.

5) But more important than all of that,  I have recently learned (as in, breaking news last night during a late night, not-stalkery-at-all-just-casually-interested-in-him Google search): Jason Isaacs may be coming to Atlanta to shoot a new TV series called SURGEON GENERAL. Jason Isaacs, I hear you thinking, Who the heck is Jason Isaacs?  Remember when I wrote about him in my last post? He's like Less Famous Clive Owen. Just as talented and British, but people don't recognize him in grocery stores which I hear tell he's totally fine with. So if I run into him in Kroger if/when he's here, I'll play it cool by saying, "Argh, matey. Can ye hand me over that dozen of bosun eggs? Aye, but ye're blockin' me way."

Heh, because see: he once played Capt Hook in a movie. So you probably just read my imaginary grocery store exchange with Jason Isaacs like, What the....Is she drunk?? and really had no idea why I just did that, but Jason Isaacs would totally know why I was talking to him in pirate, and I'm convinced he'd invite me out for drinks after giving me my bosun eggs.

He's also played Lucius Malfoy in the HARRY POTTER movies and the evil British colonel out to destroy Mel Gibson in THE PATRIOT. But his stint as Capt. Hook in the failed 2003 version of PETER PAN is really just a true, deep travesty of justice because, to date, Jason Isaac's Capt. Hook is the only pirate anybody should really ever even consider inviting to a dinner party. No! Not even Capt. Jack Sparrow! Seriously, I mean it. If Capt. Jack Sparrow even tries to show up, Capt. Hook and I are out of there!

He does seem to play an awful lot of villains, but I think Jason also kind of looks like Jesus here, and Jesus was a good guy. Off camera, Jason's Jewish, and guess what? So was Jesus! (I think he should make a movie in which he plays a swashbuckling Jesus who talks like Capt. Hook, is what I'm saying. Just in case his agent reads this.)

The only slight, kind of tiny little hiccup to my whole Movie Star Extra/Meet Jason Isaacs Plan? I hate hate hate being: photographed, tagged in photographs, videotaped, tagged in videos, and generally being exposed to the world in a full body shot kind of way. So I'm hoping Jason Isaacs and his new TV series crew are looking for extras they can shoot just from the neck up. I'm in big trouble if they tell me NO on that and if so I may have to figure out a better ending sentence (no use of "frickin'", no ALL CAPS) to my untitled really bad Work in Progress I pounded out in a mere three days this week.

Oooh! Wait! Coffee girl! I wonder if the movie/tv crews coming to Atlanta need coffee/sandwich go getters for them? I would be so expert at that--my off off off off off off off Broadway years totally prepared me. Off to Google it!

Friday, March 29, 2013

ghost writer.

Was it really November 2012 when I posted last? I'm surprised I didn't post in February. Usually each February I try to commemorate my dad, who died February 12, 2001, as well as mourn that entire frickin' month. Nothing good ever happens in February, is my personal motto. Besides my birthday, of course. Which I'm considering switching to March simply because of February's reputation.

Thirty-ish days of this school year are left. I am glad. I am also detached. I really, deeply love my class--they are good, sweet children, for the most part, and appear to love me back. But many of them and their families are exhausting me; this school year has exhausted me. This is not something unique to me; I'm not some martyr over here. I have spoken at length with teachers at other schools, in other districts, in all socioeconomic areas. Exhaustion is the Word of the Day for public school teachers all over America.

Can I be very frank and honest for a moment? Do you have a moment?

I have been doing a lot of thinking lately. Actually, all year long I've been thinking. I've been considering this, and considering that. I've done a little networking. I've had good days and thought: this is all right. I've had bad days and thought: really, wouldn't Barnes & Noble be awesome to work at, even if they are slowly shutting down all their stores? I've spent a lot of time thinking and considering.

I've thought about and considered going back to teach ESOL, except I don't want to go back to teaching that right now...people (other teachers) think I'm crazy, because it has its stresses but hey: no grading! But it is increasingly becoming something I can't agree to do. I do miss teaching it, but only for the relief of not having to be responsible for raising other people's children, and that's no reason to teach something. More and more, I feel that is exactly what is being asked of me, to raise others' children for them. I simply do not feel up to this task. I have a Bachelor's of Science in Elementary Education and a Master's of Arts in Early Childhood Education. I know Reading, Writing, Social Studies, Science, and Math. I am not a social worker. I do not possess a psychology or a counselor background. I have taught children for 18 years, and I'm a parent now, and so I try to draw on that experience to help parent other people's children, but because of political correctness often feel my hands are tied to really give them the help they are looking for, on top of the fact I suspect they don't actually want help; they simply want someone else to be responsible. And I am finding I don't want that kind of responsibility. I would just like to teach children how to read, write, and add/subtract. If I could just do that every day, I'd be happy as a pig in mud on a cool Spring day.

I am increasingly frustrated. My house looks like an episode of Hoarders. My husband spends a lot of time worrying (often out loud) about my mental and emotional state. My own child is getting less from me than other people's children, and I will be brutally honest: I am growing resentful.  I have no energy when I get home--I would like to take my child to the gym or the park every day, or read with her or finger paint or teach her sight words or play with play dough or just laugh and have fun. I am too tired--I cook dinner, clean it up, do bath, and then sit on facebook or pinterest because facebook and pinterest are two mindless, numbing things I can do to unwind. I am beginning to suspect classroom teaching is turning into a single, childless person's game.

The easy answer seems to be: just don't do it, Amy. Don't go to school at 7:45 and leave at 5:30/6:00 every day. Do what you can and go home and forget about it. But I don't operate that way. Quality matters to me, and if I don't deal with Project X or Y right now, tomorrow it will eat me alive because I won't have a planning period due to this meeting or that one or I won't get to Project S or T and that will cause even further stress than I already have, and I won't have that, concerned friends. I won't have it.

So I'm slowly and reluctantly starting to wonder if teaching may not be the right career for me. Isn't that crazy sounding? Because it's something I really love. Because I got into teaching because I'm a helper and I wanted to help children. Because people say I'm good at it--I'm never going to win Teacher of the Year, but if you stick your kid in my class? I work my butt off with them. Because I've done it for 18 years. But 10 of those 18 years were in a support teaching role, and support teaching kind of, I don't know, lulls? you into a sort of complacency.

On a positive note, going back into the classroom this year was like having cold ice water thrown on me repeatedly. This was good, because it taught me some important things--about human nature and what poverty and powerlessness--and, yes, maybe a slight touch of psychosis--can make people do to one another. It taught me some things about me, like I genuinely like children in spite of some of their home situations. I mean, God bless them, they've got a lot on their plates and they don't even know it. I am crossing my fingers and sending powerful prayers to all the Universes out there, begging these Universes to pull these children out of their lives, to help them defy their odds and the growing, enormous chasm between the classes I'm watching good people in this country (myself included, because you won't see me at any Occupy Something events) allow to happen.

But it has also taught me this is one goddamn exhausting, thankless job. If I were getting paid 6 figures, I'd probably just deal with it for another decade or two. I mean, there are summers off for the love of all--who wouldn't just go find their happy place when needed, for $100,000 a year and decent health benefits? However, I am not getting paid 6 figures. I am getting paid in the mid 5's. And I am not being respected by the very people I'm attempting to help, and I spend a lot of time confused and frustrated and angry about that. And crying. I cry a LOT when I'm at home, because I'm desperately worried my own child isn't receiving what she needs from me. Realistically, I know she will most likely turn out okay--she is deeply loved and hears that all the time. She has two supportive parents who will gently express concerns to her future teachers, not make angry demands. Melissa doesn't need a teacher to send desperate prayers for her out into the Cosmos. But I'm also painfully aware of what schools are expecting from and doing to children these days (another angry rant for another frustrated day), and I need to help my child meet those expectations, to the best of her ability. I need to serve and protect my own child, as much as I love and want to serve and protect other children. I owe that to Melissa.

I think what I'm saying is: my plate isn't just full, it has become completely overloaded. For some people, this would be A-Okay. For some people, overloaded is a challenge, and dealing with angry people is no biggie and besides they love getting punched in the gut; it builds character. This is not me. I do not do overloaded, angry people, or gut punches. And my plate has been overloaded since August, and I have been talk therapy-ing out the angry people and gut punches as much as possible, all the while continuing to reason that it's just a learning curve and if I just move this roll to this side of the plate and push this pile of potatoes over here and push this angry person under the table for awhile....but the moving and pushing and hiding never seem to end. I mean, it will end: Summer will come, and Melissa and I will read books and visit the library and go to the pool and eat ice cream and paint our horrified HOA neighbors' sidewalks with rainbows and unicorns and giggle ourselves silly as Mr. F glares at us through his window, frantically making notes in his little neighbor spy log.

But eventually August will arrive, and the plate juggling will begin again and I find I am dreading that. Really, really dreading that.

Please know: I am not frustrated about my school--I love my school, and my administrators have been nothing but kind and helpful to me and incredibly supportive with some of the gut punches I've taken this year. I am thankful to and for them. And I am deeply in love with all of my coworkers, and think the Supreme Court ought to pass gay marriage just so we can all marry each other and live in one giant teacher commune together. And I am not frustrated about the students--I love the students, kids are kids and I love helping them work on/work out their ridiculous kid issues, as long as I'm not hormonal or ravenously hungry at the moment. Also, when I shut that door and get on the floor with them and read or write, I am completely in my element. I love that feeling. I love sharing books with them and reading their bad writing and showing them a Youtube video about using periods and then dedicating it to the one boy in class who refuses to acknowledge punctuation but is really good-natured about having a punctuation video dedicated to him because he's the class clown and likes that kind of attention. I love that, and if I could do that all day and have time to make lesson plans and grade and not worry about unhinged parents coming up to the school to sue me or beat me up, I'd practically work for free.

However, this is not Reality for public school teachers anymore, no matter where you are in America. And I am really beginning to wonder if the Universe didn't have A Big Plan for me back in 2011, when I volunteered--sheerly on gut instinct--to leave ESOL teaching and take on a different kind of support teaching which then landed me back in a classroom in the very kind of school I said I'd never (never say "never"!) want to teach in a classroom at. Because sometimes the Universe does stuff like that--takes you over here to get you over there which takes you here so you can land there, which is where you were meant to be at this part of your life all along. I find that's the only consistency the Universe has about it--Its inconsistency.

And it is not lost on me at all that certain emails and events may have been rained down upon me this year in order to jerk my complacent butt out of its chair of comfort and get it moving.

So I will spend this summer getting ready for another school year but also working on changing careers. Having talked to some savvy Corporate America People Who Know (C being their spokesman), it's been suggested to me for every $10,000 you wish to earn per year, it takes 2 months of work and dedication and making contacts and finding leads and etc and so forth to find a job making that. C would like to see me make $75,000 per year, because he thinks I'm worth that (which uh, hello, I think he and I need to talk about--clearly I'm worth $12 million, but at 2 months per $10,000 I just don't have that kind of time. If only Charlie Sheen would read this! I know he'd cut me a check). I'd be pretty happy with far less than $75,000, and at this point I think C would be too--he has said on at least 100 different occasions he'd rather see me happy than continue to witness what he's witnessed this year.

Which all brings me to my point: upon examining my educational background and current set of skills, I think I'm good at a handful of things (besides eating chocolate at night and googling Jason Isaacs and Gerard Butler and Clive Owen). I love children and story telling. I like to write. I like to read. I like to do research. I like coffee houses and singing birds and waking up with the sun, not before it.

So this is where I've decided to start: I'm exploring freelance writing, which can be slightly lucrative (though far less now, with all the blogs permeating the atmosphere and bad journalism being the rule of the day) but take awhile to break into. Ditto getting a novel/short story published. JK Rowling did not happen overnight--JK Rowling had talent and also timing and luck and Jason Isaacs in the wildly successful movies based on her books. I just want to be able to afford to eat out once in awhile, not sit on piles of Potter-like money. So I'm exploring writing articles and children's books and story telling and writing a novel and short stories on the side. It sounds like a lot, but compared to the enormous stresses I've been dealing with this year, that's a cakewalk in the park.

If anyone knows anyone, please point me in their direction. If anyone needs a storytelling researcher willing to freelance write with children while Jason Isaacs, Gerard Butler, and Clive Owen are in the audience, let me know that, too. If anyone wants to write me a check for $75,000, I will write an entire novel about why it's a travesty you are not Emperor of the World (Charlie Sheen, I'm looking in your general direction).

Sunday, November 25, 2012

midwestern people, writing, schedules, proof of heaven, with an abrupt ending.

C, Melissa, and I just returned from a Thanksgiving Day/week visit to see his father, sisters, and other relatives in St. Louis, MO. I like St. Louis, MO for a few reasons:

1a) Midwestern people, or at least those residing in the Kirkwood-ish area of St. Louis, do not seem to be in total control of their cars. At least 3 times I or Melissa were almost run down in a store parking lot; C claims he was able to escape this potential fate because he's just naturally more "specialer" than us and people not in control of their cars manage to steer clear of him in a magical way.

1b) In spite of this (or maybe because of it), Midwestern people are decent, down to earth, friendly folks. Here in the metro Atlanta area, I sometimes feel like I'm more of New Yorker than a Southerner. People cut you off in traffic, stand in front of you in the steak section of the supermarket utterly oblivious to the fact other people actually exist in the world around them and may need to gain access to your area of the steak section so freaking move OKAY??, and just generally get in the way and don't seem one bit apologetic about it. Just like pre-schoolers in Toys R Us.

However, whenever I am in the Midwest--be it Oklahoma or Illinois or Missouri (really the only 3 Midwestern places I've been that I have any real knowledge about, so I don't know...maybe this opinion just reflects those Midwestern locations and the rest of the people in the Midwest are complete nincompoops) (no! no, they are not--I am kidding: I know wonderful people from Kansas and Iowa, and they are lovely). Where was I? Oh yes, Midwestern people are lovely and polite. They say "Excuse me," and "I'm sorry," when they have to pass in front of you in a store or realize they're in the way...and they often realize they are in the way, because they are not under the impression they're the only ones on planet Earth. Midwestern people are lovely, friendly, sweet, and just NICE.

2) We stay at a Marriott-run hotel when we go, the same one each time. It is near the airport, and very nice. We found it several years ago when we needed to stay in a hotel because C's dad's house had too many people in it...he sent us to a Super 8 motel nearby, which was just fine...there is absolutely nothing wrong with hotels that are clean and useful for their purposes: sleeping and showering. ....Unless there is a night of shooting/homicide in their parking lot. That's when we decided maybe not all Midwesterners are lovely, and we needed a place that was slightly more secure. So we went down the road a little and found a hotel pilots and airline attendants like to stay at, which is this place.

They just remodeled their lobby and so now when you walk in, you feel like you're walking into a really swank hotel any D-list celebrity would stay in (we won't discuss the conditions of the rooms' tubs and the fact that rich people no longer need cord phones in bathrooms to make important business calls...do important business people often make important business phone calls while sitting on the toilet? I wonder). So you feel very swank and important until night falls and you look outside your room's window and see the Hustler Hollywood Emporium across the street, all lit up like a sleazy all-year-round Christmas tree. It really puts vanity into perspective, and I love that.

3) St. Louis just feels less ostentatious than Atlanta and, I suspect, it's easier to maneuver. The Monday before we left, Anne Lamotte came to town to give a free book reading/talk about her new book. I love Anne Lamotte, and fervently wish we at least lived in the same town and went to the same church. She is funny and honest and really real. However, I had schoolwork to do so I wouldn't have to think about it when we got back, and I had to make a decision--drive 40 miles in freaky Atlanta traffic to hear one of my writing heroes speak? Or do some lesson plans and pull some other school stuff together? My priorities won this time, but only because of freaky Atlanta traffic. I'm sure if I lived in St. Louis this would not have been an issue.

So, anyway. St. Louis is nice. And it also kept me off the internet (mostly) for several days. What a nice break--do you ever think the internet, facebook, pinterest, etc. are time suckers eating our brains? Honestly, they're starting to make just quietly watching TV (TV, the 20th century time sucker/brain eater) feel like completing a Harvard course in the History of Medieval Law.

What I discovered while not consumed with mindless, brain eating internet tom foolery: I can finish reading a 400+ page book AND still be a semi-competent mother, wrote at least once in my journal (and I NEVER write in that thing--years of dust fell off it when I opened it and it gave a delighted yet shocked squeal of delight when it realized it was getting written in), and Melissa had my fullest attention ever--she was no less hyper, but far more entertaining than usual. My patience (which is never very big) grew in gigantic proportions, in mere days.

Which is why I've concluded the internet is eating my brain (yet here I am, writing on a blog....I know. But I'm writing! And writing is something I have let fallen on the wayside for far too long, so any writing--even rambling, incoherent blog writing--is healthy).

I've decided I need to get myself a schedule. I am a person who needs lists--otherwise, I can't remember who or what I am. And my child, I can tell, will also be a person who needs lists and schedules...we are both easily distracted people who prefer mindless, wasted activities to productive, creative ones. So schedule and lists it is.

On a sad note, Tasha died before we got her to the vet to put her to sleep. Several important things about this, that my soul did take note of:

*I asked God to take that decision off my plate. Because God isn't on my schedule, and doesn't act as fast as I think God should, I assumed God wasn't listening to me at all (never, ever assume God isn't listening) and so I said fine, that's how You want it? I'll go ahead and make the damn decision. I went ahead with my decision.
*I began talking to Tasha about my decision, that I was reluctant to help her move on but that she was incredibly sick and old and there was little we could do to help her get better, but that it was okay for her to let go herself. I told her I didn't think whatever is waiting for us after this is scary at all, and that she would be young and happy again, but that we would miss her so much over here on this side of the veil.
*Tasha began letting go. I noticed in small ways, but assumed (because God never listens to me) that we'd still take her to the vet on Saturday as planned.
*Melissa got sick on a Wednesday, and I stayed home on a Thursday to take care of her. Tasha started going rapidly downhill that night--so much so that I woke up C to ask if we should go ahead and take her to the vet the next morning, though I really didn't think she'd even make it through the night.
*The next day, instead of just taking care of sick Melissa, I helped sick Tasha die.
*Tasha died at 10:15 am on Thursday, November 15, 2012. 

I think events like these are spiritual mile markers; events the Universe puts us through to shake us up and make us see what matters. God did take the decision making off my plate. But God also let me see why we should always be careful about what we ask for--watching Tasha go through her dying process was terrible, for her and for me. However, she has gone onto be part of God's peace, and I am left with wrenching memories of watching her die and incredible guilt that I didn't help her go over sooner so she didn't have to go through that...I won't do that again with another aging animal. Lesson learned, the hard way (as I usually like to learn all my hardest lessons, which I suppose God is already quite aware about me). But God also made sure I was there to be with her when she died, and I am thankful to him for that. And she did die at home, with someone petting her head telling her it was okay to go, just let go, until she finally did. I just wish it had been much more quietly, in her sleep (I think that's what I was thinking/hoping it would be...it was the opposite).

I miss her deeply--people who don't get attached to animals will not understand this. If I were a witch (and I am not, no matter how many times Melissa insists that I am), Tasha would have been my familiar, and my most important, best spells would all be broken now. There are signs of her everywhere still in our house--I'll find pieces of fur every now and then, and the Friday after she died I found one of her whiskers by her favorite window spot. It's always sad to come home and know she won't come downstairs to lay on the sofa next to me, or on a chair. But I think some part of her is still here; I feel her presence everywhere. I hope she understands, in whatever form she's in now. I talk to her every day, just in case she's still here.

I've started reading a book called PROOF OF HEAVEN by Dr. Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon who once thought the brain was solely responsible for Near Death Experiences of people claiming to have been to Heaven when they died. He claims he has evidence that dying is not necessarily a brain thing, and this also makes me want to raise my fist in a victory salute (remember in my last blog entry, how I was all: "Curses on YOU, party pooper brain scientists!"? Dr. Eben Alexander is officially off my Party Pooper Brain Scientist list). It's a comforting book...if you're a party pooper brain scientist, I'm sure you'll find a lot in it to do your party pooper arguing about. Party poopers usually do; it's why they're on my party pooper/not invited list. And if you're very fundamentally Christian, you may not like reading Dr. Alexander insisting on referring to God as "Om" and you might feel slighted because Dr. Alexander never ran into Jesus or Paul or anyone while he was over there. But I think there's still a lot of common ground people of different faiths can high five about, and when we do, we can all stare at the party poopers with looks of giant disapproval. Highly recommended, for both soul peace and world peace against all party pooping.

I'm going to abruptly end this blog post there and go make up a schedule for myself. Winter is knocking and I am at my laziest, least focused during Winter.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

mucho gato, gracias a dios.

a favorite perch.
This was our last weekend with Tasha. I'm looking forward to the week long break and Thanksgiving (my 2nd favorite holiday, second only to my birthday which I feel ought to be a national, if not international, holiday, definitely longer than just 1 day long at the very least and should always fall on a weekend), but I am also wanting to slow down/stop time.

I've decided to help Tasha move on to the Other Side this coming Saturday. She is not well, and even though she's still occasionally hanging out with us and is affectionate, I can just tell: she feels icky. Her meows tend to end in groan-like growls. She has huge mats in her hair I can't get out (side effect of hyperthyroidism),  and I think her appetite is going. Tasha's appetite going is a huge sign of distress for me--this is a cat who loves her food. I don't want her to suffer. I don't want her to end up in any pain. I don't want her to be afraid or confused by anything.

But I will miss her deeply. She has been a good, sweet cat, and there for me through thick and thin. When I decide I love someone or something, I am very tenacious; letting go is not something that comes naturally for me, even after it's painfully obvious to me it's in my own best interest to do so. My friend Patresa told me the other day cats are notorious at clinging to life, well beyond the point it's good for them. Which sort of makes me like Tasha, I suppose, at letting go. This is very, very hard.

I don't know what state I will be in when C and I drive her to the vet this coming Saturday. I know that when my parents had to put my childhood friend/dog Sassy down, I was in a terrible state of grief when I found out. I have had two great animal loves in my life: Sassy saw me through childhood and Tasha saw me through adulthood. I am sure the Universe has another great animal love to see me through my twilight years.

When Sassy died, I was in a lot of emotional distress. I'm sure there are neuroscientists in the world who could explain the following to me, but quite frankly I think those neuroscientists are big party poopers who are simply refusing to look at The Big Picture.

Anyway, I was driving home from work one day, still weeping and grieving over my little black dog, and a tremendous warmth flooded through me. It didn't last more than a nanosecond, but it was so enormous, so gigantic, that even years later, I can still almost feel it. If I were a less sane person (and at times, I have been), I would quit my job, run off to live in the desert, and spend the rest of my life trying to get back in touch with whatever sent me that warmth. It was like somebody gave me a swift, warm hug of deep peace from deep inside of me, just to send me the message: "All is well. Sassy is in a very good place, and she's okay." That was the message, only there weren't words--the message was in the feeling, or actually WAS the feeling. I could feel the words.


(Neuroscientists, you may have your field day now...but over there, in the dark corner where all the party pooper punks hang out.)

I don't know what happens to us when we die. I wish I knew for absolute sure; some people say they know for absolute sure, but I will not make any rash statements I may have to back pedal on later. I am a mere human being, small in a huge and infinite Universe with amazing things we don't even know exist yet. I feel God around me, I have always felt connected to something that--because this is what my culture calls it and so do I, for convenience and to avoid being blasted a hell-headed heretic--I have always called "God."  I believe God is very very real, except I don't think God is tangible, or a big man in the sky sitting on a golden throne surrounded by singing angels; in fact, I don't think God has a gender at all or is even all that judgmental, quite frankly. I'm absolutely certain God wasn't on anyone's side in the recent election. Sometimes stuff just happens because that's what has to happen--it's not good or bad, it just is. If you want God to intervene, just ask Him/Her. Usually, S/He does...usually not in the way you'd like or expected, but the intervention does happen. Otherwise, I think God just loves us, and lets us run around all willy nilly here on Earth, like big crazy kids who really, really need some teacher directed recess but refuse to acknowledge they need that until someone gashes open their leg on some playground equipment.

That's where I think God exists: in the "just is." (Here, I am sure half of my readers are now logging off, shaking their heads, saying something like: "That freaky Amy is surely headed to hell in a hand basket." This is fine! Since I'm also not really convinced there necessarily is an actual location called Hell. Unless Hell is sitting in my very own living room and having to watch Alvin and the Chipmunks "Chipwrecked" 4,000 times straight and then 4,000 times after it's over, dissect every single thing that Simon aka Simone says and WHY he gives Jeanette the bracelet/tiara...and even if there is an Alvin and the Chipmunks Chipwrecked Hell? I doubt any of us could actually get there in a hand basket.) (Unless you're the size of a chipmunk, of course.)

I've offtracked myself. I'm sorry if I've totally confused or lost you...my point is: I think the real issue I have with Death is the God-connected energy we all have inside of us. Some people call it our soul or spirit, but to quiet the punk neuroscientists in the dark corner over there, we're calling it Energy. Something must happen with the energy inside of us--that's a simple law of physics. The energy must have somewhere to go. Once, after my maternal grandmother died, I was at a friend's house sitting on their sofa and I felt her, hovering right above my right shoulder--and I instantly knew she was just passing through...stopping by to make sure I was all right, and then she was gone. But I don't know where she went, because I haven't felt her again. But wherever she is, I know she's in a good place, and that she's okay.

So I have had some incredibly strange and freaky and really wonderfully inexplicable things happen to me and my energy. Which is how I know that there is great, calming, peaceful...energy? spirit?...that will make contact with you exactly when and how you need it to, in just a way that works for you, wherever you are at in your spiritual (or not spiritual) life and beliefs. And I call that spirit God, but maybe you call it Science. (So you punk neuroscientists can all go back to your dark labs now and continue not seeing The Big Picture.)

Anyway, back on topic: friend Patresa (who is full of good energy and thoughtful and helpful) also suggested I have a heart to heart talk with Tasha, and I have. I have spoken at length with Tasha, telling her about God, and about how I don't know about what happens to us after this physical side of existence. I explained what I've had to decide to do, and why. I've told her the Story of Sassy, and the weird but extremely comforting experience I had after she died. I've told Tasha I'm scared to make this decision, but I'm more scared of watching her get to a point she'll suffer. We talked about what a good, long life she's had. How many cats can say they were born in one part of the U.S. and got to take an airplane ride to live in another part? That's exciting. I thanked her for being such a sweet, even tempered cat--there simply aren't that many sweet, even tempered cats in the world, I think, and I apologized for putting her through the experience of a baby in her twilight years. But she's been a good animal friend/child to me, and a very patient, loving animal friend/sister to Melissa.

I go back and forth between wanting to be in the room when it happens and not wanting to. I do think I want to take her, to hold her in a soft blanket instead of sticking her in the carrier, and maybe go say good-bye to her when she's gone. Or maybe when Saturday gets here, I won't be able to do any of that--C will have to take her and I will stay home.

I think this is the hardest part of being human, dealing with death. The spirit part of me knows this is simply a new beginning, and that it's both useless and silly to waste time worrying about it. It is inevitable, and a part of the experience we agreed to have when we agreed to hang out here for XX years and have a Life Experience. It's in the contract, and not in fine print...they're pretty up front about it, I think.

Off tracking: While living in Arizona (Arizona: desert land of a myriad of spiritual experiences; I swear it's the dry heat), I found out my dad had congestive heart failure. The way the information was presented to me made it sound like he had about 48 hours to live (he lived for 5 more years). I was inconsolable then, the night I found out, and went to bed sobbing. I fell asleep, and had a dream. In my dream, I was sobbing, too, and an older lady--I couldn't see her, but I could hear her--asked me why I was crying. She was intensely curious. I told her because my dad was dying, and she laughed...not at me, or in a mean way, but a laugh like, "oh, is that all?" And then she got very serious and said, "God created all creatures great and small. It's true your dad is dying, but one day soon your time will come too. Until that day, you are never to worry about death and dying."

Then she repeated the last sentence again, but very very firmly: You are NEVER to worry about death and dying...and then I woke up. But only my brain was awake--my body was frozen and deeply sleeping. I knew I was awake, and in my bedroom, and I knew I was awake, but I couldn't move my body. Then, in my ear, a deep male voice said very loud: You are NEVER to worry about death and dying. And then my whole body woke up. All of that happened so very fast--less than 5 seconds. And of course, I was totally freaked out--I had every single light in my apartment on in less than 10 seconds flat to make sure I was alone (I was...or maybe I wasn't. Doo doo doo!). And of course (part 2), to this day I DO still worry about death and dying. I worry about it all the time. Who the heck wants to die? Who the heck wants anyone or any pet they love to die? Dying is the Great Unknown...I could barely figure out how to decorate Melissa's room without knowing what gender to plan for...I make lists about lists to make sure I know what's coming next. But Death...don't worry about it? Just...don't worry about it? Me? Who once took 20 minutes to decide between a gray pair of pants and a black pair? What a useless thing to say to a human being. Who came up with THAT lesson plan, Universe? Give them a D-. (And tell them to stop freaking people out at 3 am.)

Still, I think about those freaky, weird, inexplicable, wonderful experiences of Spirit that happened to me, what I think I know and know I don't know about the Great Beyond. I do not care what neuroscientists, atheists, and so forth have to say about my experiences or beliefs; they happened to me, I like that they happened to me, and I think you and your Science should stick to Global Warming, where you can make a much bigger difference in the long run. They stay in my heart, and they give me a lot of comfort during moments like these, when I have to let go.

Back on topic: Tasha is/was a lot of cat. She has a sweet, gentle soul that I hope will come visit if she can, wherever she goes. She loves ear rubs and cuddling up right on top of you when it's cold...I will miss that, this winter and every winter without her. Other than a warm body to snuggle with on colder days, some long ear rubs, and a full food bowl at all times? Tasha has never really asked much out of Life, or from anyone--she is and was a go-with-the-flow kind of cat. Happy and satisfied as long as she had company and food in her belly...tIf you were on the sofa, she'd hang out on the sofa with you. If you were working at the kitchen table, she'd find a kitchen chair to curl up on. When I was on pregnancy bed rest for 4 weeks, she was my bed rest buddy. She's been pretty quiet and content to just be, which is something I think human beings could learn a big lesson from. Just stay quiet, and be content just to be. Tasha has filled up my whole heart for almost 18 years simply by doing that. I am so thankful that God collided our life paths...I am sure she was sent just when I needed her, for exactly how long she was needed.


I hope she gets some good ear rubs on the Other Side.

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