Thursday, November 24, 2011

Gratitude, revisited.

It is Thanksgiving again. Everybody is talking about gratitude. It's on the front page of the local paper - heartwarming stories about people who have suffered to overcome terrible obstacles - cancer, hunger, heart surgery -  and are now expressing their gratitude for having made it through, for the support and love they received, for the new chance at life they've been given, for waking up every morning and seeing the sunshine. A bank is thanking their loyal customers with a full page ad (good idea these days, banks!). In the obituaries, family members left behind are posting a note of gratitude and remembrance for a loved one long gone: thank you for the memories and the good times we shared. Another newspaper article extolls the health benefits of a grateful attitude: being thankful lowers your blood pressure, elevates your mood, decreases anxiety and even makes for a better night's sleep.So you better count your blessings or you'll only have yourself to blame if you get sick! We thank each other on Facebook in our status updates (like, like!) and when we sit down at the dinner table before digging into the turkey. We are bathing in an ocean of gratitude, it seems. So I can't help but ask myself: what does gratitude mean to me? I am not a religious person, but the first thing that comes to mind is: to me, gratitude is prayer. It is a practice. It is a way of life. I am grateful to be able to feel gratitude. But what if you are in so much pain that gratitude seems impossible? What if you are so numb that you are physically incapable of feeling anything at all? Yes, intellectually you know the things that you should be thankful for, and maybe there is even a part of you that knows that somewhere deep inside you actually are thankful for these things. But you can't go there. The pain is too raw, too all encompassing. I think of my dear friends who lost their daughter this year. Being a mother myself, it scares me to even begin to imagine what they are feeling. Can they feel any gratitude at all right now? And what about all the well-meaning people that point out what they should be feeling grateful for, in an attempt to ease the pain, to find the light at the end of the tunnel, to make it better somehow? Do you then end up not only not feeling grateful, but feeling guilty for not feeling grateful? If gratitude is prayer, so are tears. And so is laughter.We honor the ones we love and lost by crying, wailing, laughing, and continuing to love, love, love our hearts out. Maybe that is gratitude, too.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

And even more September 11 thoughts

Perhaps one of the reasons that the 10th anniversary of 9/11 resonates so much with me is that this year, we experienced something akin to our own personal 9/11 in our family. A close friend, my best friend's beautiful, vivacious 25 year old niece, was brutally murdered, alongside with her fiance and four other members of his family. Her name was Katie.
   On September 11, 2001, I remember experiencing a very vivid sensation of a rip, a tear in the fabric of humanity. Maybe it was that instant and tremendous loss of human life, all in the same small spot on earth, just a few square miles of lower Manhattan, all within a couple of hours. Maybe it was the sheer violence of the act that obliterated so many lives so completely, until literally there was nothing left but ashes and dust. Maybe it was the presence of pure evil that once and for all negated any possible sense of safety in the world. Whatever it was, I knew that the world would never be the same.
   This January, when Katie was murdered, the fabric of our little world tore. Since then, we have been spending every day of our lives trying to sew it back together, but we all know that it will never be the same. Our needle and thread is the love that we feel for each other, and for her, and the overwhelming sense of community we share, and our blind and stubborn faith in life and the goodness of humanity, even in the face of pure evil. Just like on 9/11/2001, it was pure evil that ripped out a beautiful young life, and five others who did nothing to deserve this. And we were left behind, having to explain to our children, or at least help them cope, because there really is no explanation. And our children are faced with the gut-wrenching realization that this world is not safe, life is not fair, and terrible things happen to good people for no reason.
   And so we stumble on, with sore and aching hearts and frayed nerves, a little more broken, a little more fragile, a little more sad than we already were, but still holding on to hope, and faith, and the love in our hearts. All of our hidden neuroses are now just this much closer to the surface; jumping at every siren we hear, praying silently every time we say good-bye; the never-ending worry about something bad happening to the ones we love is so much more real now, because something horribly bad really did happen to someone we love. The thin ribbon of anxiety that curls through every day is tying our hearts into tight little knots, even more frequently than before. And the sudden sadness that washes over us when we least expect it, triggered by a song, or a smile, or a butterfly, or the way the sunlight is reflected in my daughter's hair.
 There are always more tears to cry; no matter how hard we try, our tear ducts won't run dry, because they draw from the deep and solemn well of our memories. It is what keeps us alive, keeps us human - the suffering, anxious, angry, neurotic, joyful, silly, loving creatures that we are.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

More September 11 thoughts

On the 10th anniversary of September 11th, I was restless all day. I was determined to do something to commemorate the gravity of this date. Especially something that involved my 12 year old daughter, who had no actual memories of the event, and even though she had learned about it over the years, never had seen any news coverage, or fully grasped the magnitude of what happened that day. So I finally decided that we would bring flowers to our local fire department, in honor of the first responders. But first, every day life had to be attended to. I made trips to Target and the grocery store, did laundry, the usual Sunday stuff. My daughter was dragging her feet with finishing her homework, and I began to get irritated with her. I wanted to do this special thing, and I wanted to do it as a family, damnit, and we all were supposed to be in a sacred and solemn mood. Instead, we were all mad at each other, yelling, huffing, me threatening to "just go by myself", then more yelling and huffing in the car, as we finally pulled up to the fire station, which was of course closed, and left a bouquet of yellow roses and a card. There, we did it! Grouchy, stubborn, pouty, but we did it. Later on, back home, we all apologized to each other. I explained why this little gesture had been so important to me. We lit candles at our family altar that is filled with pictures of loved ones lost, and an eclectic collection of Christian, Buddhist and Pagan imagery. My little voodoo altar. Then we watched footage of 9/11/2001. We talked to our daughter about what  was happening, what it meant to us personally, and as a country. We talked about where we were that day, and what we were thinking and feeling. Our daughter listened and watched very intently. She asked questions, made comments. She is a very thoughtful and sensitive young person, mature beyond her years, who has been through some traumatic loss herself this year. Her soul could relate. We hugged and squeezed each other extra tight that night before going to bed. Then I stayed up and compulsively watched 9/11 images on you tube. There is a whole collection of images of people falling or jumping from the buildings, and entire discussion groups dedicated to the question whether they were falling or jumping. I felt guilty and voyeuristic looking at those photos, and at the same time I was compelled to watch them over and over again. I found an eery abstract beauty in some of the pictures; it might have had something to do with the sheer impossibility of what I was seeing, leading my mind to view it as art, as fiction. Far away bodies in flight, like birds, in small flocks of twos and threes, rarely alone. Graceful, as if dancing. One of the most unbelievable and haunting images was the famous image entitled "Falling Man", the figure of a man falling upside down, in a perfect ballet pirouette stance. He reminded me of the picture on one of the Tarot Cards. I have to look up that card and see what it means. I think of the Falling Man and his family, his friends. I think of everyone who died that day, and everyone who was left behind. My heart breaks, over and over again. I want it to break. I don't want to forget.

September 11 thoughts

Last weekend, my mother and I went to the San Francisco Opera to see "Heart Of A Soldier", an opera by Christopher Theofanidis based on the life of Rick Rescorla, head of security at Morgan Stanley, who rescued over 2,700 people on September 11, 2001, by evacuating them from the WTC South Tower, ignoring Port Authority directions to remain at their desks. Returning to search for more survivors, he was killed when the building collapsed. As I was sitting in my ornate but uncomfortable seat in the beautiful picturesque opera house, watching the story unfold, I thought about how deeply strange it was that I and all of the members of the audience have memories of this historical event that we are now seeing reenacted; we all were witnesses of sorts, because it happened in our life time, just 10 years ago. Isn't opera supposed to be about ancient myths, glorious battles and tragic love stories from many centuries ago? Can someone really write an opera about something this contemporary, raw, immediate? My answer is yes. Creating art is a culture's way of coping. Just as some of us use art in our personal lives to express what cannot otherwise be expressed, to come to grips with what is beyond grasp, a culture's artists hold this space for all of us, so we can partake. As the haunting, stylized, stark images filled the stage, respectfully created through simple black and white light effects - thousands of falling pieces of paper, an opaque curtain slowly drawing down as the towers are leveled - we watched with tears in our eyes, our souls aching with the collective memories of this unfathomable horror and suffering. Yet we were left with a sense of hope and belief in the goodness of mankind, in the face of pure evil the story of a true hero. Yes, the stuff that great opera is made of. And so the opera serves to remind us of what truly matters in life. Love, death, pain, kindness, community. A fitting tribute.

Sunday, September 4, 2011


One solitary bird
Against the backdrop
Of an unsettled sky
Like a smattering
Of dark thoughts
Lit up by a mysterious source
From afar

One bird
Poised like an apostrophe
On the telephone wire
Transmitting a message
Of grave importance

Here now
Then suddenly gone
As if it never existed

All that is left
Is an empty sky
Divided by thin lines

Encroaching darkness

Monday, August 22, 2011

"People Are Leaving"

One of the big reasons I feel compelled to write is because of loss. There has been a tremendous amount of loss in our close circle of friends and family this past year. As my best friend, the former Hospice Counselor, likes to say: it's all about grief, man! She would know, because she's been through a shitload of losses if I may say so. Some of what you will be reading here will be my way of dealing with loss - recent, raw, and old, scarred, nonetheless deep, part of me forever. This blog really is about life, death, and everyday insanity.

There really is only one choice: life or death. Nothing in between. Decide now!  And be willing to pay the price.

More on this later.

First, here is a poem I wrote after a recent tragic loss in our community, which you will read about more in here, because I simply have to write about it.

Morning (Mourning)

This is where I want to stay
Wrapped in soft sheets
Surrounded by warmth
And silence
And luminous darkness
Except for the involuntary ebb and flow
Of air moving through me
I am not breathing
I am simply a receptacle
Made from soft tissue
Bone, and water
I have no will of my own
I am but a witness
To the steady pounding of my heart
As if listening
To a stranger's conversation
Through a closed door
Wondering what it means
But not really needing to know
The answer.

"And we're finally here! And shit yeah, it's cool!"

"And shouldn't it be... or something like that..." Ok, Guided By Voices references aside, this is my first official blog entry! Strangely, I have joined the ranks of virtual writers. What is my intent, you may ask? And what the hell does it have to do with Guided By Voices, an oddball cult indie rock band (although they would despise this label, and rightfully so!) from Dayton, Ohio? Well, I've been a writer since about age 6, when I composed whimsical poems about clouds in German with the help of my father (I am German, by the way, born and raised - and not some multilingual child prodigy). And I have been a fan of Guided By Voices ever since I first heard "Bee Thousand" on a C90 tape recorded by a friend and sent to me and my husband (aka The Lord of Overstock) when we were living in Hamburg, Germany, back in 1994, many years before we had any inkling of becoming the responsible and respectable parents of a 12 year old that we are these days (cue laugh track now). Back in 2006 or so, The Lord of Overstock and I formed a GBV cover band, Exit Flagger, together with our dear friend, aka The Official Iron Man. You can still find traces of us on My Space, this now almost defunct social networking site for Soft Rock Renegades and other Hot Freaks. So GBV has been part of my life for a long time, although not quite as long as writing. I was born into a family of writers. My grandfather published his own highly opinionated pro-aristocrat newspaper back in the early 1900's in Germany, my father was editor-in-chief of the Funny Papers back in the 1920's, and later went on to write for broadcasting, aside from self-publishing poetry - and my mother knew she was going to be a writer from the day she could hold a fountain pen; starting by writing the beginning, the middle and the end of many a story when she was little - keeping it to the key parts and doing away with all the extraneous crap... she later became the co-editor-in-chief of Germany's largest women's magazine, and published many short stories and novels along the way. So, writing is in my genes, I guess. And it's always been my favorite way of keeping from jumping off a cliff. So here we are. We're finally here, and shit yeah, it's cool! I have many reasons to write. And you're just going to have to listen.