Monday, October 13, 2008

And the Gears come to a Grinding Halt...

As much as I have complained about gas prices and gas availability lately, I guess I finally got what I deserved. My sweet little car came to a grinding halt last night as the transmission left us on the side of the road. Actually, it left my daughter, home from college for Fall Break, on the side of the road. It was 12:30 am when I finally got someone to take a look at it and help me get it home. It would crank, it would shift, but it would not move! Just my luck.

So we towed it home behind his SUV with three feet of chain between my front bumper and his rear bumper. It was one of the wildest rides of my life and I hope never to do it again. I really thought he would take it easy on me, but the hour being late and he just getting off work, I guess time was of the essence. Three feet is not a lot of space between two moving vehicles, one with little control over brakes or steering. While I knew he could not hear me, I had a mantra of how terrified I was going non-stop the entire ride home. When we got into my yard, he wanted to know if I had a rough ride. So funny!

So now it sits on the driveway, waiting its sentencing. Will I fix it or will I send it to the junk yard? Considering that it is a 1994 model, the cost of replacing the transmission is more expensive than the car is worth. I hate to admit it, but it is probably junk yard bound. It has been a good little car. But all good things come to an end.

Mass Transit, here I come.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Darkness has Descended

Darkness has descended here in the Southern U.S. For whatever reason touted at the moment (or whichever one you believe), we are having a gas shortage. Most gas stations only have regular gas and the prices range from $3.74 - $4.29 per gallon. Frequently gas stations have no gas at all, which means that consumers are lined up when the pumps are working. Planning ahead is a good habit, but in this age of convenience, many of us have taken availability for granted and are getting frustrated with the wait. Just a few days ago, I watched as individuals waiting in line screamed at each other, attempted to block people who were trying to leave the station (because they thought they were trying to cut in line!) and even witnessed a few threatening gestures. By now we should all know that if we need to stop for gas, we need to leave the house a little earlier. But for some reason, we seem to think that the world will stop for us. Certain gas stations I will simply not frequent any more because I am sure that violence is eventually going to break out on their premises.

Additionally, a cool front, bringing thick, dark clouds and lots of rain has also moved in. It is expected to be here for a few days and it has created a natural darkness in the area, too.

But neither of these situations is necessarily bad IF people will learn how to use them to their advantage. I am driving back and forth to work, planning my grocery shopping to coincide with those trips, and basically, staying at home. We are a land of people who are used to doing what we want, when we want. If we forgot some small something at the grocery store, we think nothing of jumping into the car and running to get it – even if we could do without it. Right now, if I forgot it, we do without it. There are other alternatives. I have found that by staying at home I have extra time to clean the house, work on taming my kitties, tutor the little girl next door in algebra, read a few books for pleasure in addition to studying, and even catch up on a few movies I have wanted to see for a long time. As for the disappearing sun, well, this semi-darkness is soothing for a time. I love the feel of the misty air on my face when I take my walks. Fall is one of my favorite times of the year because of the cooler weather, so I don’t begrudge this cool front for bringing it in early. I am enjoying my coffee on the back porch both mornings and evenings. And I pulled out one of my soft, lap blankets to snuggle into as I watch television or read in the evenings. It is a taste of a promise of what is to come – and I am enjoying.

I know that these clouds will lift – both the cloud over the pumps and the physical clouds over the Southeast. But until they do, I think that I will enjoy the change and the forced confinement by reclaiming some activities that I had abandoned in my search for “convenience.”

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Finding Balance

Past, present and future. Time is a mystery, often seemingly looping back – or forward – upon itself. Some say that time is a continuum; some believe that past, present and future exist within the same plane. Still others believe there are alternate realities with varying impressions of time. All I know is that time – at least the time we have – is too short to waste one precious moment.

Déjà vu; past lives; regression therapy; retrieved memories. Have we forgotten how to live in the moment? Why do we need to “reclaim the past”? Tarot card, fortune tellers, palm reading and second sight. Why do we need to “predict the future”?

We spend so much time in the past and future that we waste what we have right here – in the here and now.

My daughter is a high-stress, always-by-the-plan person. Often I talk with her and the sound of her voice is strained and almost painful. She forgets that life is not always about future plans. I recently wrote to my daughter:

“Learn that sometimes we must live in the moment.

The only moment we are guaranteed is the one in which we are currently living. Yesterday is gone. You cannot change anything that happened in that time. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. The best laid plans can be laid to waste on a whim. But today, this instant, is ours. Make the most of it!

When you begin to stress, take a deep breath and claim the moment as yours. And then do something worthwhile with it. Don’t stress over what you haven’t done or what you have left to do. Concentrate on what you can do right now. And don’t forget to smile because it can change a life and that life might be yours!”

If I had to describe a picture for what I was trying to say it would be as follows:

Picture a continuum, a time line. There is a small block in the middle that is bathed in the most beautiful sunlight. To the left, the sunlight fades gradually into complete darkness. To the right, the sunlight fades less gradually into complete darkness. That small block in the middle, bathed in sunlight, is the crux of the balance in life, the balance between light and dark. Live in that moment!

May you find balance and peace.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Why do we Fear the Dark?

Growing up, we used to attempt to scare ourselves silly on ghost stories and scary movies. Invariably, the setting for such tales is often at night or at least in a dark alley, a dark warehouse or some other dark and scary place. I suspect that this is one of the ways that we – as a society – support the notion that darkness is scary. I think of the movie, Darkness Falls, where it was necessary for those who had seen the “Tooth Fairy” to remain in the light or fall victim to her wrath. Our myths of vampires lead us to believe that we are only safe from them during the daylight hours, a time when they are not able to prowl. Werewolves change on the night of a full moon. Demons make deals at the crossroads on the same such nights. Why this predominance of “evil” activity in the dark?

Humans rely heavily on their sight in order to navigate the world. While we learn in infancy that our tactile senses are invaluable in exploring our world, we lose this tool quickly as we are almost constantly instructed “not to touch.” Noise pollution is a strong deterrent to our sense of hearing. Our sense of smell is most often used in the modern world simply for pleasure – the aroma of an excellent meal, the tantalization of the scent of a lover, or the easy pleasure of the smell of fresh-cut grass or rich, dark earth. Taste has been relegated to the simple act of appetite. Where does this leave us? Only with our eyes. Which leads us to our fear of the dark, because for most of us, the dark makes it harder to see.

I never understood this concept until I began to experience a phenomenon called “night blindness” a few years ago. Night blindness predominately refers to the limited vision that many experience when driving at night. The combination of the darkness, the reflective quality of headlight, the harsh overhead light from street lamps and the various others forms of light such as neon signs, etc., clash upon each other and cause a distortion in our vision that creates limited vision and/or problems with depth perception. It is a frightening experience and one that is difficult to overcome. It is even worse if one wears glasses, as all these light sources then reflect off the lenses. For the first time in my life, the darkness was not a friend.

Luckily I found that there is a coating for glasses that will reduce light reflections and I also found that contact lenses decrease the problem significantly! The experience was worthwhile, however, because I began to understand why so many people were “afraid” of the dark. In addition to not “understanding” darkness, they are unable to successfully navigate in the dark, causing stress, anxiety and often fear. However, if we train ourselves to better use our senses, we can overcome such fears and become comfortable night beings.

Sit in the darkness a few nights a week, giving your eyes time to adjust to the dark and re-learn how to pick apart shadow and solid objects, using the shades of light to distinguish your surroundings. Find a quiet place outside to sit and listen – just listen – to all the noises around you. Close your eyes; separate the noises into individual sounds and identify their owners. Crickets, cicadas, various night birds and the gentle !ping! of a bat’s sonar. Even if you must sit indoors, try the same experiment and notice each drop of water from the kitchen faucet, the noise of the icemaker refilling and the gentle whir of the ceiling fan down the hall. Hone those tactile skills! Concentrate on the experience! Notice the texture of the sweater of the next person you hug. When chopping vegetables, feel the differences in weight, texture and density. Learn to identify favorite earrings or your best linen skirt by feel instead of sight. Take notice of the next bite of food you place in your mouth. The acid of tomato, the mellow ripeness of cheese, the firm texture of al dente pasta, the crunch of salad greens – sometimes bitter, always crisp.

Reconnect with all of your senses and learn to enjoy the darkness instead of fearing it.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Darkness Reunion

I feel like it has been forever since I’ve had time to do any writing just for me. In the past month I took one child off to college and dealt – via phone and text messages – with all her adjustment woes, began a new semester in my job at the local university, and began my own fall course in the road to my own degree. While it has only been five short weeks, it feels as if it has been an eternity. Of course, during that time I also dealt breast cancer scares for a good friend and for my sister, the loss of the air conditioning unit at my home, a strange problem with my car threatening to run hot for no apparent reason, and an odd little pain in my wrist that wakes me up in the middle of the night. I guess that leads to full days that might give the impression that more time has gone by than in actuality.

With my air conditioner defunct, I have been enjoying the night – and the dark. I have opened all the windows and doors to allow in the evening coolness and the night breezes. The crickets are singing me to sleep at night and my kittens are enjoying lying in the windows sills to get a closer look at the birds and squirrels. I have a few fans running throughout the house and, for the most part, it remains bearable. Thunderstorms have been prominent over the past week, so in the evening, before the sun would normally withdraw its light from my humble abode, the coolness of dark descends. Sometimes I will simply sit in the dark to watch television; sometimes I light a candle and listen to the crickets and birds; sometimes I turn on the smallest of lamps by which to read. I know that the heat generated by a light bulb won’t change the temperature in the house, but the truth is, I enjoy the dark.

Darkness is soothing and peaceful. You know how people instinctively scream when the lights go out? Well, I laugh. For as long as I can remember, I have able to find my way through the darkness as easily as I can navigate in the light of day. I am comfortable with night noises and with night creatures. Several of my kittens are nocturnal and I can understand their joy when night descends and they are ready to play. After a long, hard day at work, darkness relaxes my body and mind. A walk in the dark can be exciting. Quiet footfalls, carefully placed, can allow you to see much that you will never see in the light of day. An owl with his midnight dinner; a raccoon scavenging for food; glow worms on the bank of a quiet river.

Who knew the loss of an air conditioner was going to bring me such communion with the darkness?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Sharing the Beauty of Night

A few years back we found a cockapoo (cocker spaniel/poodle mix) that had been dumped by the river near our home. He had been there for some time, was hungry and scared, and so horribly matted and dirty that we couldn’t tell his true color. He was an amazing little dog and I was disgusted with the people who would abandon them as they had.

We named him Willie because, like Willie Nelson, the poor little animal was down on his luck and bankrupt. Within a week I found out why he had been abandoned. One evening as I sat reading, Willie crept to where I was sitting, lay his head on my shoe and looked up at me with very mournful eyes. I had no sooner asked him what was wrong when he went into a major seizure. I was immediately on the floor with him, cradling his head until it was over. I scooped him into my arms and headed for my car. He had a second seizure in the front seat of my car and a third in the exam room of the emergency animal clinic near my home.

Since he had three seizures is a short period of time, Willie was an immediate candidate for phenobarbitol. He did well on the medication, but it did not completely control his seizures. As is common in animals with seizures, he was very disoriented afterwards and would sometimes bite. This did not deter me from holding him during his seizures, keeping him safe, and insuring that he knew he was well loved.

Since I do not have a fenced in back yard, I had to take Willie for walks when he needed to heed the call of nature. Our yard is a little over an acre in size and has a great many trees and other plant life. It hosts a variety of birds, squirrels, rabbits, and other critters, too. One of Willie’s favorite times to “take a walk” was between midnight and 1am. He would come to my side of the bed and slip his nose underneath my palm to lift is up and drop it on the bed.

I love the night. Summer or winter, there is beauty in the night that is evident at no other time. Willie and I would walk through the trees, stop and listen to the night time animals, watch a bat flit about overhead, and stare in amazement at the stars. The night sky in winter is unbelievably clear and brilliant. We often stayed out even after he had done his business, just to enjoy the essence of night. This is the beauty that so many do not experience because they allow fear to stand in their way. I shared this wonderful beauty with Willie almost every night and in many places – at home, in the mountains of NC, on a nearby lake island, and in the nearby woods at the river. We would listen for owls, gaze in open-mouthed amazement at a carpet of glow worms, and wonder about the creatures splashing in the nearby waters. We were small and insignificant – in a setting that was awesome and very special.

I did not have Willie long, and I hope that he is seizure-free and happily chasing butterflies in his new life. I am grateful for every night that he woke me up to walk with him in the middle of the night and enjoy the beauty that lives there.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Recognizing Darkness

I have come to realize that there are times in our lives when we do not realize that we are walking in the dark. My daughter is going through such a time in her life. I can see the darkness; I can see the pitfalls – but she is as blind as she can be. In fact, she thinks that the sun is shining.

I cannot understand why she has made recent decisions, so I decided to look at my own life to see if I could find any similar patterns. I have, sadly, realized that there was also a time when I was walking in the dark and was totally unaware.

When I was young, life at home was not pleasant. No details, but it was an abusive environment. I left; decided that I didn’t want to go home at the end of my shift one night and…didn’t. I went to a friend’s apartment feeling certain they would allow me to stay. They turned me down. I was shocked. I called someone I worked with and they told me they knew where I could stay. They put me up at a hotel for the night and the next morning they took me to the apartment of a woman who needed someone to baby sit her kids while she was at work. The baby-sitting paid my room and board and I got a part-time job at night for “spending money.” I was in the company of people I barely knew, with no contact with family or long-time friends, and the guy who introduced me to this woman wanted more than friendship. But I didn’t see a problem in the world. Not one. I was happy without knowing why; I enjoyed baby-sitting the kids and I met a lot of new people.

All “good” things come to an end…the guy who wanted more than friendship, was married. The kids were in an abusive situation with their mother. Before I came along, they were terribly neglected, as well. When one of the men she brought home with her attempted to make it with the nine-year old daughter, too, I turned them all in, forfeiting my place to stay. I was scrambling for someplace to call home once again.

Why couldn’t I see this coming? How could I be so stupid as to trust people that I didn’t know? What was I thinking? Yes, I was in my own “bad situation” at home, but I had options other than to put myself out into the world – in the dark – trusting my safety to a whim. Why did this particular option seem the most reasonable? And why couldn’t I see that I was walking in the dark?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Running Blind

Yesterday my oldest daughter informed me that she had moved out-of-state because the past two states in which she had lived were “just not for me.” She has moved, with four individuals whom she barely knows, almost 400 miles away from home. She has no transportation, no job, no money and no phone. She called me on the house owner’s land line to tell me what she had done and to give me a phone number where she could be reached. Along with her, she has moved her two black labs. I reflect on her words and her actions and I must admit that I am puzzled.

I cannot say that I was the perfect daughter. I had my wild streak and I definitely had – and still do – a sense of rebellion that runs deep within me. But when I “ran,” I had a reason for running or a goal I was running towards. My daughter will run “away” because she decides she doesn’t like her locale or because one person has wronged her; she states she will “eventually make her way” to a town where she aspires to attend a well-known cooking school. But she is starting off this journey at the mercy of strangers and without any provisions. This, I cannot understand. This disturbs a mother’s heart…

When she first moved away from home, I gave her a heart-shaped stone – tiger’s eye – and told her that whenever she was lonely she could take it out and know that she carried a piece of my heart with her. Oh, but I wish I had a similar talisman, for it is I that misses her most.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Beauty vs. "Ugliness" in The South

As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I was born and raised in the Southern U.S. To be more specific, I was born and raised in Southeastern U.S., in the land of plantations and iced tea, steeped in a history of slavery and irrational political decisions and stirred vigorously with the sword of religion and the wand of a variety of magical pathways. It is the Deep South – a land of intense beauty and even more intense ugliness. On a daily basis I find myself struggling to find a rational balance between the two. Often I would like to ignore them both and pretend I live where everything makes sense, but I cannot do this. As I struggle to create a balance within my life and the area in which I live, I often find myself in conflict. How can I admire the beauty of the thick-limbed magnolia with its brilliant, heady flowers that cannot stand the touch of one finger, knowing that trees of its kind were used to hang those who committed no transgression other than to be born with the “wrong” color of skin? The words of Billy Holliday echo in my head – that “strange fruit” swinging from the trees. I ache at the injustice that has been committed here – that is still committed here.

Yet there is great beauty here. From the coast to the mountains, the swamps to the plains, there is wondrous beauty all around us. There is more than natural beauty that exists here, for despite the prejudice that often raises it’s ugly, hate-ridden head, there is also the product of those who fight against the hate and often win.

After attending a lecture on black Southern authors at one of the university’s here, I was struggling with the concept of how they were forced to write in order for anyone (any white one) to take their work seriously. As I was tumbling these thoughts around in my head, weighing the pros and cons of writing for an audience rather than writing for self, I pulled up to a stop light and glanced in my rear view mirror. There I saw an old model, red mini-van with a vanity plate of a confederate flag. I changed lanes after pulling way from the light and the driver of the mini-van pulled up beside me. She was a young black woman, dressed in an African print turban and dress. She had a beautiful smile on her face and she waved brightly at me from her window. I waved back and found myself questioning if I had seen the vanity plate on the front of her vehicle correctly. She turned down one block and I turned down the next. Oddly enough, she wound up behind me in traffic a couple of blocks further into town. I had not seen wrong – the vanity plate was definitely that of a confederate flag.

Here was this beautiful, young black woman, dressed in bright African prints, with a wonderful smile, driving a minivan sporting a confederate flag. I could not make any sense of it. Yet she was obviously at peace. Whether she had to borrow the car because she own broke down or she owned the car herself, she had no qualms about driving around with a symbol that is deeply offensive to many on her front bumper. She was living her life, doing what needed to be done, and she refused to allow the ugliness of a particular symbol color her world.

I know nothing about this young woman. However, I do know that if she could reconcile her existence and the claiming of her heritage with a symbol that inspires hatred, anger and social unease, then there is no reason why I cannot find a way to achieve a balance between the beauty and the ugliness of the South. Until then, I will make a point of using my own smile – in remembrance of hers – to make my day, and possibly the day of others, a little easier. Until there is peace…

Monday, July 21, 2008

Dark Goddess: Kali

Kali, Kali Ma, Black Kali, the Black Mother, regardless of what she is called, Kali brings with her the presence of foreboding. Sometimes depicted with a belt from which hangs many skulls; sometimes shown with little skeleton children peeping from beneath the folds of her skirts, Kali has a strong connection with death and wild vengeance, which earns her a place with the Dark Goddesses.

In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, vampiress Mina Harker and Quartermain stumble across Captain Nemo as he is paying tribute to the Goddess Kali. Harker states to Quartermain, “Can we trust someone who worships the Goddess of Death?” A strange comment from someone who lives off the life-blood of others, sometimes bringing death in the process.

Stranger still is the paradox of Kali. She is a bringer of death, fierce in battle, who grows drunk on the blood of the slain, enjoying the kill and rejoicing in its aftermath. Yet she is the eternal mother, ever-caring for her children, filled with love for them. They are the only influence that quells her blood thirst. This devotion to her children inspires fierce love from them, as well.

Blood is natural image when speaking of Kali. Both her blood-thirstiness in battle and the use of blood in ancient ceremonies honoring her lead to the conclusion that Kali is a goddess full of wrath and a joy for blood-letting. However, blood is both symbolic of death and of life. It is the life force of all beings. It is present in both death and birth. Without blood, life is not possible.

And thus it is that Kali does not straddle the line between life and death, but walks it with grace, artistry and near-perfect balance. To me, she is a prime example of the balance between light and dark that is so necessary in life. She dances along the tightwire between life and death, her children holding tightly to her skirt-tail, with a smile on her face, blood on her hands, and both love and vengeance carried deep within her heart.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Darkness: Friend or Foe?

Darkness is not necessarily the absence of light. We consider the night to be dark; however, most often it is not. The moon and stars provide light during the night and a full moon can provide sufficient light for wonderful night-time walks. Truthfully, few of us experience total darkness on a regular basis. Our world is full of light sources, and subsequently, light.

On my way to work this morning, fog from the nearby river filled the sky, blocking the sun. I knew that the sun would eventually burn off the fog and illuminate the day to its full brightness. However, for the moment, I was enjoying that subtle light - almost a gray light - that filled my vision. This light was cool, moist, and comforting. It was quiet and soft. There was no harshness. My eyes were comfortable and as I drove into town with my windows down, the air was refreshing. I knew that later in the day the heat from the glorious sun would make the air almost stifling, so enjoying this moment was critical to my day.

I must admit that in earlier days I was a sun-worshipper. The perfect Saturday was spent sprawled on a rock next to the river, soaking up the sun's warmth and its rays. I would fall asleep, only to awake with limbs feeling heavy with the heat of the sun and my body and mind totally relaxed. The most logical action at that point was to jump into the cooler waters of the river and shock my mind and body to its full alertness.

Today, while I still love the sun, I prefer it is diminished doses and I often seek the shadows. I want to be kissed by the sun, but I want to be caressed by the early morning and late evening rays that are not at their fullest potential. I will throw myself fully into the night, where the light is less intense and does not generate so much heat. I love to traipse along under the stars, with the moon guiding my footsteps, and have found life to be quite exciting, in both the city and the forest, with the moon as my guide.

The "dark" is as much my friend as the "light." I often wonder why so many fear it.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Dark Days for Real Estate

Sometimes “darkness” forces us into situations we would not attempt without its prompt. For the past nine months, I have been struggling to hold on to my house. I have fought against foreclosure, jumped through hoops to please the mortgage company as they presented work-out options, complied with a forbearance agreement, and now they have offered me a potential “settlement” that will put me back in good standing with them regarding my mortgage loan.

I had to put up a $3,000 “contribution” just for them to consider other options besides foreclosure. I had to borrow this from family, as the facts are that if I had $3,000 I would not have been behind on my mortgage payments. Then I had to call three times a week to convince someone to even look at the possibility of a loan modification. I went to court, where a sale date for my house was set. It was literally three days before that sale date when the adjuster notified me and the court that they were suspending the sale of the house to work on a loan modification. Then they issued a forbearance agreement which stated in paragraph one that the payments indicated in the agreement were the same or less my regular payments. The payments were, in actuality, $190 more than my regular payments. I scraped and scrimped and managed to pay the first three payments. The final payment asked for the total of arrearages, plus late fees, plus lawyer’s fees, plus court fees, plus filing fees – totally almost $11,000. I was told to default on that payment and that would trigger the adjuster to look at my file and consider adding this amount back to the principal and renegotiating the loan.

I called the adjuster to give him an income statement. We talked and he assured me that a loan modification should be approved and that my new mortgage payment would be “about” $25 more than my previous payment.

I received the loan modification today! Part of me wants to laugh; part of me wants to cry; part of me wants to curse. They want an additional $1,000 “contribution” payment immediately. Then they want new payments beginning August 1 that are $110 more than my old mortgage payments. Instead of adding length to my mortgage agreement, they have increased the payment amounts and have it ending on the same date, July 2030.

The truly sad part is that the mortgage company really does not want my house. The real estate market where I live is in terrible shape. Houses simply are not selling here. Additionally, my house was built in 1963 and needs extensive repairs and upgrades. They would have to put a significant amount of money into the house just to sell it!

Yet, with this deal, I cannot keep it, either. So, I am being pushed to move. I have begun looking at rentals that are closer to my work (save money on gas!), allow pets, and that have rental payments in my budget. I am starting to believe that this is what I am supposed to do – move. Perhaps for some time now I have been supposed to move and this is the only way to rock me off my foundation and force me to do so. As I consider my options, I will continue to look for the lesson to be learned or the peace to be gleaned from this particular style of “darkness.”

Monday, June 30, 2008

Balance Held

This past week, my daughter was running an errand for me. It had begun to rain and the streets were most likely slick with motor oil that was rising from the pavement and had not been yet washed away. She needed to make a left-hand turn through the intersection. She thought she had clear access to make her turn and began her way across the oncoming lanes. The next thing she remembers is someone knocking on her window, asking if she was all right, her car pointing in an entirely different direction than the one in which she had been headed.

From witnesses, we understand that an oncoming car hit her directly in the middle of the passenger side of her car. She spun several times before stopping against a small embankment on the side of the road. The passenger side of my daughter’s car had folded in on itself. The metal wrapped around both the front and back tires. My daughter hit her head against the door frame, causing her to lose consciousness. Her left knee was jammed in between the steering wheel and the dashboard, causing a good deal of soft tissue damage, but thankfully no broken bones. She was very fortunate to have not been injured worse.

The gentleman who knocked on her window to see if she was all right stopped traffic for her so that she could pull her car out of the middle of the road. [This gentleman was gone by the time I got there and I want him to know how much I appreciate his help to my daughter. I am very grateful that you were there for her.]

She received a ticket for failure to yield the right of way. I expected that and don’t argue with it in the least. Considering the damage done to my daughter’s car and where she wound up after her spin, I did expect that the woman who hit her would have received a ticket for driving too fast for conditions. She was an elderly lady and I was greatly concerned as to her own physical condition. I know that she was shook up and probably, like my daughter, she is having a hard time convincing herself to drive again. Her husband came to the scene to drive her home, leaving his truck in a nearby parking lot. I hope that someone was kind enough to take him back to pick it up later. I should have offered.

These were dark moments for both my daughter and the woman in the other car. I worry about them both – physically and emotionally – as they recover. I am thankful that neither of them were seriously injured. I am grateful that no one else was caught in the accident and suffered for their lack of involvement. I am satisfied with whatever comes of the status of my daughter’s car, whether it is repairable or totaled. It has been a good car and if it can be fixed, I know that it will continue to serve her well. If it must be totaled, we will look for something that doesn’t sit so close to the ground and has a little more presence on the road. My daughter is not contesting her ticket and has taken the responsibility of paying it in advance. She is prepared for the insurance deductible to fix her car and is preparing for increased insurance rates. Not once has she whined, “Why did this happen to me?” or exclaimed, “It’s not fair! What am I supposed to do now?” She understands that with privilege comes responsibility, and is willing to take on both, hand in hand.

In this comes the balance of the situation. I wish it had not happened, but if it had to happen, then at least some good can come from it. A lesson learned without great loss. An understanding gleaned without great cost. In this situation, the balance was held. Would not it be great if it could be held in all?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Staring Into a Dark Pit

Most of my life I listened to my father complain about the pains in his chest. My father loved attention and I grew up believing that his complaints were to gain attention for himself. In most instances, I would ignore him. Occasionally we would ask if he wanted to go to the hospital or if we should call an ambulance. He would say that he didn’t want to go and I would view this as proof that this was just an attention-getting ploy.

A few years ago, my father died of a heart attack. He was living alone in a mobile home and he did not show up for work one morning. His co-workers were concerned when he did not answer his phone and went to his house. My father was dead on the floor of his living room. The coroner said that it was a quick death from a massive heart attack. After an autopsy, the coroner told us that my father had several heart attacks over the years - some very small ones - but this was definitely not his first.

My father never received medical attention for those other heart attacks and now I have to believe that he was not simply seeking attention all the times he complained about the pains in his chest. My father had a high tolerance for pain; as do I. He sat out the small ones until the big one came along that took his life.

Lately I have been experiencing a great amount of stress. Yes, I have stress on my job – like most people. My children create stress – as felt by most parents. My extended family can be a stress factor in spades! But the problem that causes me stress with which I cannot successfully deal is my “romantic” relationship. I place the word romantic in quotations because it has ceased to be just that. The stress generated from this relationship has caused me pain in my chest, migraine headaches, tightness in the chest, dizziness, and other physical symptoms that concern me. I fear that I am playing the same role that was played out by my father years ago.

This relationship, which began as a mutual admiration society, has developed a constant gaping wound that sucks me dry – financially, physically and emotionally. Talk about a dark, dark pit! Financially, I am the sole source of income for all household bills. The income of my significant other pays for one legal responsibility and their gas, cigarettes and booze. Physically, I hold down a full-time job, go to school part-time, raise two children, and maintain a household. They work a full-time (almost full-time) job and …do nothing else. In their opinion, when the work day is through, it is time to come home, take a shower and go to bed. Dinner should be served in bed. Hmmmm…. Emotionally, I am often told that I don’t do enough to keep them happy. I don’t give them enough time; I don’t do enough around the house; I don’t work hard enough on my job; and why can’t I boost our income?!? Jealousy is a frequent emotion – jealous of the time I spend on homework, the time I spend with my children, the time I give to my mother, any time, quite frankly, that is not devoted completely to them. On top of everything else, they believe it is their right to tell me what I can and cannot do! That is just the final straw. I full well know that without me, they would fall flat on their face. And this is the only thing that keeps me from saying – Adios! I am outta here!

And so I battle the dark and hope that I will not wind up like my father before I screw up the courage to let another fall into the pit in order to keep my own self from destruction. Sometimes sacrifices must be made. It is time for self-preservation to kick in.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Dark Side of Anger

Being that I believe a balance is required between dark and light in life, I am a believer also that each person possesses dark and light within their personality/character and is meant to use both as needed in their life. This is sometimes in direct conflict with how we are taught to behave.

I was raised in the South and taught Southern hospitality and manners. Southern women, characteristically speaking, are not supposed to get angry. We are supposed to remain calm, even-tempered and mild mannered regardless of situation. We are supposed to be the example of how to behave with finesse and dignity. As a result, I spent many years of my life believing that I was a failure as a Southern woman because I felt genuine anger and I expressed it inappropriately because I was not taught proper techniques for dealing with anger. For the most part, when angry, I would cry, leaving others to believe I was hurt instead of angered.

Slowly I came to the realization that not only was anger appropriate in various situations, but healthy! Anger is a beneficial emotion. I do not believe in being over-dramatic and do not encourage fits of fury; however, anger allows us to set boundaries and limits when dealing with others. This is beneficial because without boundaries, we might allow others to run over us with their requests and demands. Anger also allows us an outlet to deal with our feelings regarding injustices. It can give us the courage to speak out against wrong-doing. It can promote our need to raise our voices to complain to those in power. In short, anger is often the catalyst of much-needed change.

In this mode, anger - while dark – is not a “bad” emotion.

Rage, however, can be. While it is not necessary to deny anger, it is necessary to have a sense of control over it. Road rage, sports violence, spousal/child abuse often originate from anger that has escalated out of control. This is the darkness that we should avoid. This is the darkness that can stain our souls.

I am content that I have learned that suppressing my anger is not necessary and that expressing my anger does not make me a failure as a Southern woman. I am grateful that there are programs that exist to aid those who have a problem controlling their anger. I hope that more people will come to the realization that they must control their anger rather than allowing their anger to control them.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Generational Curses

I used to scoff at the talk of childhood pastors when they got on the subject of generational curses. All of that "sins of the father" becoming the "sins of the son" stuff made no sense to me. Oh, the blissful ignorance of youth.

I must admit that my realization of generational curses had nothing to do with the inside of a church or a preacher's well-worded sermon. Instead it came from real-life experiences. Let's start with alcoholism. Alcoholism runs in my family - my father was an alcoholic, his brother was an alcoholic, one of his sisters was an alcoholic. I am sure that it ran back farther than that, but I did not know them well. I married an alcoholic - it ran in his family, too. A father, an uncle, a cousin, a nephew... Then I found studies showing that there is a genetic marker for alcoholism. The sins of the father being passed to the son. And so I began to teach my own daughters about the genetic factors of alcoholism and how to avoid "awaking" that particular gene in their make-up. It was an effort at breaking the cycle. Whether or not it works is entirely up to them.

Addictions are not the only generation curses. Abuse falls into this category. Those who are abused are more likely to abuse others. It is the patterened behavior that we learn and repeat. Those who are raised by enablers often become enablers. Those who fight weight issues often come from families who fight weight issues. It is a vicious, frantic part of life.

It is only through recognizing that we are falling under a generational curse that we can break its hold. The "curse" may begin somewhere other than ourselves, but we hold the key to breaking the cycle. We can acknowledge our risk of dependency and learn to avoid triggers and usage in order to keep that particular curse out of our lives. We can acknowledge received abuse and obtain counseling to keep ourselves from passing on this curse.

We must learn to live - and learn - from the darkness that we cannot escape. That is the permanance of a generational curse. It will always be there. But that does not mean that we have to fall for its effects or pass it on to others. We can learn to conquer the darkness and remove its fear. Dare to explore your own generational curses, take hold of them, and break the cycle!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Dark Side of "Love"

I am sure that many of you have heard the story of the woman who said, “I love it when my husband beats me.” To the shocked faces of her friends she states: “It feels so good when he stops.” Sadly, there are women who believe this adage. A “beating” does not have to come in physical form. Women take beatings every day and no one lays a hand on them. Instead, they view themselves as so insignificant that every demeaning word from the mouths of others inflicts raw, gaping wounds. “You’re a failure.” “You are worthless.” “You don’t understand anything!”

Maybe she works a full-time job, raises the children, takes care of the house, pays the bills and still is told that she “isn’t there for her family” or that she “doesn’t do enough.” A woman who has not experienced previous trauma would tell the person berating her where they could go jump! But a woman who is already experiencing a lack of self-confidence – from whatever source – will take those words to heart and derive her worth – or lack of it – from this twisted view.

Using “love” – withholding it or granting its favor – is despicable. I am not referring to sex; I am talking about the emotion of love. Some people treat others as if their love for them is dependent upon how well that individual pleases them. If they do not agree, make a choice that is not approved, or pursue a direction that is not understood, love is retracted. Once they come “into line” again, love is granted. This is NOT love. This is manipulation.

If a woman desires love, the first thing she must do is learn how to love herself. Loving yourself means removing from your life those people and things who attempt to hold you down and keep you feeling insignificant. Loving yourself means demanding and expecting respect. Loving yourself means no settling for the desires of others when your own desires call to your heart.

Loving yourself – especially for a woman who has already experienced a “beating” – is an act of courage, fortitude, and determination. The rewards are well-worth the effort: respect for self and from others, a chance at happiness, and the knowledge and experience of real love.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Healthy Competition in the Free Marketplace

A few miles from my home is an interstate junction where sits a cluster of three gas stations, a Raceway, a City Gas, and a BP. They periodically engage in price wars, underbidding each other by pennies per gallon of gas. This is a benefit to the customers and I frequent whichever station originates the price war. The lowest their prices have been lately is $3.73 per gallon.

A couple of days ago, a new Wal-Mart gas station opened at the same intersection. While I am sure it is an "introductory" rate, their gas, per gallon is $3.66. Of course, the lines at their pumps were long and the other three were seeing fewer cars at their own pumps. So there prices began to slowly drop. Penny by penny. Until this morning when I drove through to find that Raceway is $3.66, BP is $3.68 and City Gas is $3.66 (and I am betting that City Gas will be $3.65 by the time I drive through on my way home).

This type of pricing war proves to me that gas stations do not HAVE to sell their gasoline at as high a price as they do. I am certain that at $3.66 (a full $.07 lower than this time last week) they are still making profit. However, if it were not for the new station, they would be making MORE profit and we would all believe nothing was really wrong.

To further throw a monkeywrench in the works, the gas station (Shell) just over the bridge past this little cluster sells its gasoline for $3.86 per gallon - a full $.20 cents more! Somehow I don't think we can blame all of the increase in gas prices on the war in Iraq or OPEC prices. There are some red-blooded Americans out there who are making healthy profit in the free marketplace.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Dark Side of Politics

(As soon as I wrote the title of this piece, I realized that I was being oxymoronical.)

In an effort to find out what other choices the American people have in the upcoming election besides McCain, Clinton and Obama, I went searching for those little known or remembered parties who boast candidates in the presidential election. I found or Ron Gunzburger's Politics1.

I knew that we had the Green Party and the Independent Party (yes, Ralph Nader is running - again), but did you know that the Constitutional Party, Liberterian Party, Party of Socialism & Liberation, Prohibition Party, Socialist Party USA, and the Socialist Workers Party also have candidates on the ballot in the 2008 presidential election?

There are also 44 official write-in candidates, who while not listed on any states ballot at this time, are wanting your vote! They represent, for the most part, independent factions; however, there are a few that represent such groups as The National Socialist Order of America, the Marijuana Party, the United Facist Union, and the Light Party.

We are all free to express our opinons in the United States without fear of retribution. That is what we call "freedom of speech." And, like some of these individuals, we are all free to make fools of ourselves if we so desire. Out of curiousity, I did a little research into some of these little known groups and some of them are white supremicists in disguise, religious fanatics, and some are simply not "of this world." Yet they all are free to express their beliefs and take it so far as to be a part of the presidential election process.

Do they have a chance in hell of becoming President? Not likely. We all know that we are going to have either a Republican or a Democrat in office. So let me put a bug in the ear of some of these little knowns...if you want a foothold in our political system, you might want to start at the bottom of the ladder instead of jumping straight for the top.

Hey, but at least we know we have choices...

Monday, June 02, 2008

A Mishap on the Lighter Side

On Friday of last week, I had a "pollyana" moment that took my by surprise. I decided that the "dislike" I was experiencing from fellow life travelers was because I was unhappy with myself and that this made them uncomfortable. My "pollyanna" solution was that I was responsible for my own happiness and needed to do something about it pronto! Well, I can only take so much of the "light side" and I become nauseus with this line of thinking.

I do believe that we are responsible for our own happiness. However, what creates happiness for one does not necessarily create it for another. My happiness may be a bit "darker" than that of yours...and this is okay. My happiness does not have to emulate yours, nor vice versa.

As a society, we need to learn to accept each other for who we are rather than expecting those around us to fit into a preconceived mold of who we think they should be. I may not be all sunshine and light, but I am a good friend, an excellent mother, and a hard worker. And quite frankly, Pollyanna makes my head hurt.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

On the Edge of Night

Have you ever noticed the lighting at the edge of night - right at dusk, especially after a rain. The light has a sort of haze to it - sometimes gray, sometimes yellow, sometimes pink. The colors of trees, grass, leaves...everything...seem to take on a brighter, almost unrealistic hue. It is as if we step into a world that exists, right on the edge, between day and night. It is a world that is only revealed because the rain has washed away the barrier that keeps us from seeing it on every other day. It is a beautiful place - and it calls to me.

Last night, I was looking at such a world from my kitchen window. I was compelled to take a walk, so I allowed myself the time to enjoy this special time of day. Rain still fell from the leaves of the trees and its coolness was a balm to my skin. The squirrels were about, chattering incessantly. The leaves and pine needles did not make any noise underfoot, because the ground was soggy enough to cushion my footfalls quietly. The air was fresh, cool and moist. I could have stayed out there all night, but the reality of my life (those dishes in the kitchen) was not going away by itself. As I returned to the house, a gentle rain once again began to fall. I stood there for a few moments with my face upturned, allowing the rain to wash away the stress and pain and aggravations of the day that my walk had loosened from my mind.

Once inside, I watched the rain from my kitchen window and I completed my mundane tasks and thought about how special something as simple as a rain shower at dusk can be.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Financial Pressure

It appears to me that our country has evolved into one of have's and have-not's. Don't get me wrong - it has always been this way to a certain extent. However, in recent years, the line that divides the two has widened greatly. The middle ground is in danger of becoming extinct.

I used to consider myself to one of those on that middle ground. I was not well-off, but I had what I needed to provide nessecities for my family and sometimes a few "luxuries", too. My luxuries are not the same as most - I do not mean a cruise or trip to Disney World. My luxuries are an extra swimsuit for the summer or dinner out at a nice restaurant. We have been happy on our finances and we have even enjoyed life on our finances.

Recently, I actually feel financial stress. With gas prices continously rising, I am considering forming a carpool from the subdivisions in my area into town. As I was mulling this over on my way to work, I was also marveling at the number of cars on the road. It has not changed, despite the ridiculously rising prices. Either people really are not hurting from what they must pay at the pump or they have decided not to give up their cars regardless the cost. It makes me wonder where they are cutting their budgets in order to pay for those near $4 gallons of gasoline. Not that it is any of my business...

This has been a rough year for me in terms of cutting back on my budget. My youngest daughter is graduating and while many of the expenses are not necessities, a mother certainly desires certain momentos to mark the occassion. It has pained me that I had to forego senior photos, a yearbook, etc. Nonetheless, she will be beautiful as she walks across that stage in her cap and gown to receive her diploma and my pride will be no less at her accomplishments.

What I really worry about are the families that are cutting their budgets in ways that none of should have to do: medical care, food, clothing, perhaps even basic utilities. Our government argues as to whether or not our economy is in recession; however, these families can tell you without a doubt that we are. The cost of fuel has hit us in places other than the pumps, as producers, shippers and retailers must pay increased prices for the process by which the product is supplied to the consumer. It appears to be a never-ending cycle and those $600-$1200 economic stimulus checks are not going to solve the problem. People are too afraid of what lies ahead to let that money flow easily through their fingers. And I don't blame them!

What is the solution? I certainly do not have a clue. But I hope that someone has a bright idea soon...

Friday, May 23, 2008

Minority Status

What I realized today is that I am in the minority. I have never considered being part of the minority before - it just never occurred to me. But I am...

I live in the Deep South, the Bible Belt. Honestly, I love it here...until something happens to rile up the unyeilding prejudices that exist all around me. This week I was hit with two such situations - suicide and the GSA. The double hit made me realize that I exist in a minority and that I don't like it very much.

I mentioned earlier that one of my daughter's classmates committed suicide this week. It was a shock to all. The statement I hear most from my daughter and her friends is, "I don't understand." They didn't notice any signs, they didn't have a clue. They are confused and hurting. The last thing they need is for adults to tell them that their grief is misplaced and that their friend is in hell. (I don't care what you believe, a teenager in grief does NOT need to hear this!)

I have explained to my daughter that the confusion does not stop with her and her friends. The adults around them are confused, too. They expect that other teens wouldn't notice anything wrong, but they hold themselves responsible for not noticing anything wrong. Adults do not like to be afraid. Generally they express fear in one of two ways: They get angry or they avoid it. Neither are "good" methods for dealing with fear and neither give our teens constructive guidance in how to deal with their own fears. But it is what we do. If we can compartmentalize, then we can accept; if we can accept, then we can deal. Being in the dark, without a clue, is more frightening to adults than to teens.

Adults need to realize that their actions - and reactions - are closely watched by teens in order to decide how they, too, should act/react. We need to do a little better with the compassion, understanding, and guiding.

As if this was not enough this week, our local high school principal resigned from his post becuase he was told that he must allow a chapter of the Gay-Straight Alliance at his school. He went further to state, "I feel the formation of a Gay-Straight Alliance Club at (name of high school) implies that students joining the club will have chosen to or will choose to engage in sexual activity with members of the same sex, opposite sex, or members of both sexes." He elaborated further, saying that the school's sex education was abstinence based and he felt that the GSA was not of the same philosophy. Yes, we made CNN again - I am highly embarrassed to say.

The Gay-Straight Alliance is not about “having sex.” The GSA provides “a safe place for students to meet, support each other, talk about issues related to sexual orientation, and work to end homophobia.” Furthermore, the GSA is a “support group to provide safety and confidentiality to students who are struggling with their identity as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning.” But even when this nonthreatening fact is explained to the school administration and faculty, there is still a problem.

Teachers are admonishing students who are in support of the GSA to the point of questioning whether they are Christian. If they are, then they must not understand the implications of the GSA, or they would definitely not support it.

What is with the bigotry and the ignorance in this town? Twice in one week a group of students struggling to become healthy, happy, productive adults have been informed that they are going to hell in a handbasket for displaying tolerance, understanding, and compassion. Somehow I thought those were desirable qualities in a human being.

Heaven help us all.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


The past twenty-four hours has been filled with tragedy. A classmate of my daughter's and part of the graduating class of 2008 committed suicide yesterday afternoon. He was an amazing student athlete, obtaining scholarships on both his academic and athletic merit. From the outside, he seemed to have every reason to live. But something that the rest of us could not see was more than he could bear. Suicide is a tragic end to a life that was meant to be so much more. My heart aches for his family and his friends who will struggle to understand what they did not see and why he did not let them close enough to help him.

For all of those who have dealt with the loss of someone you love by their own hand, my heart goes out to you. May you find peace. To all of those who have considered or are considering suicide, please reach out to someone. There are people who care and who will hurt when you are gone. Let them love you in life rather than death.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Keeping My Head Above Water

This weekend I attended a conference where I was quoted some alarming statistics. First, I was told that the average per capita income for an individual in the United States if $45,000 annually. Second, I was informed that in the area in which I live, the average per capita income is $60,000 annually.

Why am I alarmed? Because I am apparently living well beyond my means, as my average income is well below that for the U.S., much less that for the area in which I reside. It is no wonder that I am struggling to keep my head above water.

I am a single mother of two daughters who are both now technically grown. One is living on her own and the other is graduating high school this year and will be attending college in the fall. The one going off to college has received substantial scholarships to continue her education, for which I am extremely grateful. However, I am still struggling to find a way to pay for the portion that is my responsibility. She has been offered subsidized student loans, which we are accepting; however, I am still coming up short in paying for the remainder. Additionally, I actually had to pay income taxes this year. There is a huge difference in how the numbers fall upon the page when your child is no longer considered to be a tax credit! Yes, she is still a dependent, but that has little effect on the end results. Between juggling my tax payments to the IRS and her college tuition payments, it appears that I may have to give up the family home and move to an apartment in order to maintain a budget that is workable.

With the increasing price of gasoline, food, etc. (because everything is going to continue to rise in price), I find it laughable that so many companies and government agencies are refusing to initiate even "cost of living" salary increases. How is the average individual supposed to survive? Why is anyone surprised at the recent increase in mortgage foreclosures? And how can anyone still debate whether or not we are in a recession?

Ah, the American dream...I will let you know whether drowning in a dream is actually possible.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Shining A Light in Darkness

When I took my tax returns to the post office on April 15th, there was a line of protestors on the sidewalk near the drop boxes. They were dressed in costume - a full body pig outfit, partial face pig masks, rubber snouts, and a variety of farm dress. None of their faces were plainly seen. They were protesting the war in Iraq with statements that those of us paying our taxes were supporting that war. One of the protestors spoke directly to me, wanting to know if I supported the war and asking if I wanted a brochure that told how our tax dollars were being used. Of course, I took a brochure. I believe in protest efforts and I try to understand their basis, whether or not I agree.

When the woman handed me the brochure, she made a comment that was accusatory of my support for the war based upon my payment of federal taxes. My temper flared because she made an assumption based on nothing more than me being in a line at the post office. With that flare came the words that I had been holding back since I had pulled into line: "If you believe in your cause, then why must you hide who you are? Wouldn't you want everyone to know that YOU believe in what you represent?"

I do, indeed, believe that there are times when protest is necessary and I have protested along with the best of them for many different causes. I have never covered my face. If I believe in a cause enough to stand up for it, to speak for it, then I should reveal my identity. Identity gives the support more credibility. It's like signing a letter - if you do, you stand by your words; if you don't, then those who read your words are less likely to take them seriously.

Historically, only those who are in fear for their lives or who know they are wrong are the ones that hide their faces when protesting. There should be no one who fears for their lives for stating their beliefs in the United States.

My beliefs on the war? I do not think we should have ever invaded Iraq, but now that we are there, we need to finish what we started. Pulling out now would serve no purpose. Had those protestors stood there with their signs and proudly displayed their faces, I would have a lot more respect for them and their opinions.

Sometimes a little light to penetrate the darkness is necessary.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Accepting Darkness

Darkness is based upon the perspective of the individual. For me, the night and “the dark” are soft, welcoming and peaceful. For others, they are full of fear and worry.

Honestly, I embrace the dark. One of my close friends recently commented that I seem to appreciate the darkness in situations and people. This is true. I prefer stories, movies, television dramas that do not paint an individual as “good” or “bad”, but rather as a composite of both. After all, everyone has their buttons which, when pushed, will set them off. I can appreciate the dramas such as Moonlight, where the hero of the tale has a dark part to his soul that can entice him to act violently. Sometimes that violent action even appears to be justified. I believe that tendency is hidden in us all. I can honestly understand the parent who, upon hearing that the murderer of their child has been arraigned, waits on the courthouse steps with a gun to enact swift and immediate justice. While this side of darkness is not welcoming or peaceful, it is understandable.

However, there is another aspect of “the dark” that is shiny-hard, like obsidian, sharp and dangerous. This is the darkness that I envision leaving a deep, bloody wound when caressed. It is reflective, refusing to allow the viewer to see anything past the surface; reflecting only the pain that is held in the heart. This is a dangerous darkness. It is the darkness that leads to suicide. It is the darkness that results in parents that kill their children – and children who kill their parents. It is a fearful place and little understood.

I believe that the individuals who fear the dark, who are unwilling to embrace the darkness within themselves, are the ones most at risk from this form of dangerous darkness. When it approaches them, they are unaware of how to react, how to prepare themselves for its effects. Unable to cope, they succumb.

Take a good look at yourself and uncover your own hidden darkness. Do not be afraid – we are all a balance of dark and light. We must accept all aspects of self and learn to balance them properly. Do not allow yourself to be lulled into a false sense of security; do not allow yourself to be surprised when it creeps up on you without warning.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Starry, starry night!

Do you ever sit outside on a dark night – perhaps on the ground, digging your fingers and toes into the earth or maybe just sitting in a lawn chair with your favorite throw quilt – lean back your head so that you are staring into inky darkness and watch as more and more stars become visible? When you first look up into the night sky, only the brightest stars are obvious, but as your eyes adjust to the lack of light, the tinier pinpoints begin to come into view, as if what little light they possess is struggling to pierce the darkness. Soon the sky is filled with tiny lights. It is an amazingly beautiful sight.

Often we get so caught up in our daily lives that we forget exactly how small and insignificant we – and I do mean the entire planet – are in the larger scope of existence. Our tiny world is only a spec in the huge cosmos. Far past our solar system are many other solar systems and past them are more. Open space is unbelievably expansive between all of these. There is no limit imaginable that can be applied to the system of planets, stars, black holes and celestial bodies that exist.

It is like attempting to imagine infinity. The human mind is incapable of this concept. Infinity means, quite simply, always was and always will be. Without beginning or end. Always in existence. How is it possible? The mind begins to warp if you really attempt to embrace the concept. And yet…

There is nothing like sitting outside on a dark night with your head leaning backwards, staring into the inky darkness, watching more and more stars become visible to make you understand how absolutely unique you are. How can that be?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Meeting Dorothy Allison

Last night I met one of my literary heroines, Dorothy Allison. She was invited to our public library by the Women’s Studies and English departments of a local university. There she read us a short story which is yet to be published! It was wonderful, as are all her stories. I sat spell-bound throughout the story she read, as if I were being handed a priceless treasure and I needed to carefully retain each tiny morsel. It was amazing to hear her voice, listen to her words and know that they were written by her. She read to us from the legal pad on which she had written – that is how “pure” the story was.

For those of you who don’t know of Dorothy Allison, she is a Southern writer, born and raised in the town of Greenville, SC. Her most famous work is Bastard Out of Carolina, which was made into a movie of the same title. She also wrote Cavedweller, which was adapted to movie form. I fell I love with her writing through a collection of short stories entitled Trash. She also wrote a collection of essays about her life under the title, Two or Three Things I Know for Sure.

What makes her an exceptional literary artist? Quite simply, it is her brutal honesty, vaguely clothed with humor. This is not humor that lessens the severity of the truth, but rather the spoonful of sugar given with the medicine. It makes it go down easier, but there is no doubt in your mind that it is still medicine. Her subject matter is the rural South, its people and its ills. Poverty, abuse within families, and the degradation of women are common in her tales. However, in the midst of all the pain and the ugliness, she draws out the beauty and the strength of these women and how they deal with the hand which life has dealt. Some of her short stories and essays also deal with prejudice in the forms of socioeconomic status, gender and sexuality. Allison writes about the life she lived and the women she knows.

She also talked about herself, her family, her life and the tradition of story-telling. She willingly fielded questions from the audience that ranged from her philosophy of Southern writers (why must they leave the South in order to write the truth about the South?) to her personal life in California. Afterwards, she signed copies of her book.

I have seldom known what it is to be awe-struck and very rarely have I been awe-struck in the presence of another human being. Quite frankly, it usually takes a phenomenal act of nature to inspire awe within me. However, I was awe-struck as I stepped up to the table for Dorothy Allison to sign my copies of Trash and Two or Three Things I Know for Sure. Any semblance of intelligent conversation on my part was hopeless. Meeting Dorothy Allison was a ray of hope in a recently frustrating darkness. I am grateful for the opportunity.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Courage to Explore the Dark

Recently a close friend was diagnosed with a brain tumor. To me, that was darkness itself, but she did not react in that manner. She was upbeat and positive, sure that all would be well. Her family realized the seriousness and came from states away to be with her when she had surgery. Everyone around her felt the intensity of the situation. Yet she remained her smiling, happy self. The surgeon was able to remove the tumor in its entirety, but is was cancerous and - to make matters worse - he determined that it had not originated in her brain, but had moved from another area of the body. Not good news; it was getting darker in these woods. But still she remained positive. A complete body scan revealed - nothing. There was no sign of cancer anywhere else in her body. Where did the tumor originate? Her doctors decided that chemotherapy was necessary since they could not locate the source. She came home, only to return to the hospital after a week because she was not healing as well as they hoped and there was a great deal of fluid accumulating around her brain. The doctors installed a shunt to drain the fluid and are keeping her in the hospital for a week to monitor her. Still, as long as she knows she is loved and she has food (LOL She does have her appetite!), she is not allowing the darkness to take over her mind. She has decided to retire early and stay at home with her family. She has a small at-home business that will take up her time and keep her busy. As of yet, all that she has voiced are the positives about her situation. And then I realized why the darkness was not taking over her persona. She had ventured off the beaten path. She had pulled together her courage and when life's road gave her an unexpected twist, she forged head-on into the darkest woods and explored her situation. In doing so, she had to face the dark, but she was also able to find what was hidden there: the opportunity to retire early, concentrate on her family and her cottage business, and to find out what was in store for her life on a path that she had not considered in the past. She is aware that she will have to dwell in the darkness for at least a time; however, she found a way to illuminate the darkness enough to make it habitable. Now it is up to the rest of us to learn from her courage and to dampen down the darkness that rises up from within when we look at the situation and do not see it from her perspective. We can either add to the darkness or help her illuminate it. I hope that we rise to the challenge as well as she has.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Dark Goddess: Tiamat

Tiamat is a Babylonian goddess of Untamed Primeval Force or Chaos; she was also known as the goddess of all salt water bodies. Her counterpart was Apsu, god of the fresh waters. The two gave birth to all the Babylonian gods and goddesses, but Apsu was unhappy with the clamor of all his children. Tiamat did not agree with his complaints; she was a young mother and, as the embodiment of chaos, she was not bothered by the children’s constant clatter. Apsu took all he could and then approached Mummu, his helper, and they plotted together to kill the children. But the children stood up to him and under the guidance of Enki, god of magick, killed their father and his aide. At first, Tiamat was not displeased with her children. She understood their need for self-preservation and she had not agreed with Apsu’s displeasure. However, as time went by and Tiamat aged, she became lonely for Apsu and began to resent her children’s actions. Enki, in his guilt, had gone to live in the swamps, where he had produced a son with Damkina. This son was called Murduk, who eventually becomes the god of light and justice. When Tiamat decides to rise up against her children in revenge, they send Murduk to face her. After a fierce battle, Murduk surprises them all, tearing into the heart of Tiamat and crushing her skull. He renders her body into pieces. Murduk uses one half of her ribs to create the earth and the other half to create the sky. Her eyes become the sources of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. From Chaos is created order and a new world.

Why is Tiamat considered to be one of the dark goddess? Perhaps it is because she is the origin of chaos and most humans fear chaos for it is the embodiment of the unknown and unexpected. Perhaps it is because she allows her children to kill her mate; or because she eventually rises up herself to kill her children. There are many justifications that can be used in these situations, but the truth is that our justifications are based upon the minds of humans and Tiamat possessed the mind of a goddess. Her reasoning is unknown to us. Through death, Tiamat gives birth to order and a new world – from chaos comes order. Perhaps part of understanding the dark goddesses is understanding that dark is not evil.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Beauty of Anger

Anger, for me, has always been a “dark” emotion. It is treacherous, like some thick, thorny bush in which only the smallest of birds can build a nest. And yet, even they sometimes find themselves impaled on its wicked thorns.

I was raised in the South and was schooled that anger was not a proper emotion for women. Southern belles were not prone to “fits of anger.” I learned well, stuffing my anger inside of me, not allowing it to show through to the outside. To do so would have been a black mark on my reputation and my soul. For the longest time, I felt myself inferior because, while I could hide my anger well, I could not stop myself from feeling it.

Over years of time and learning, I have come to realize that anger is a very natural and healthy emotion. Furthermore, I have come to embrace my own anger. It is so much easier to deal with the emotion of anger when you have permission to express it. No stress; no bottled-up rage; no guilt. Just the raw, dynamic emotion of anger.

People and relationships can survive properly displayed anger. They cannot survive the lie of pretending that anger does not exist. The denial of anger leaves deep scars on the psyche and the soul. The need to deny our anger should have gone out with drawstring corsets for tiny-waisted – or not – Southern women. Here’s to admitting when we are angry and realizing that sooner or later, everyone is.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Song Of Darkness

Singing a song of darkness and pain –
Tiamat, Kali – I call your names.
These dark goddess women I call to my side
As on through the anger I frantically ride.

Hecate, your wisdom is greater than Time;
Vengeance is righteous and justice is blind.
I call out your name in the dark of the night,
That you add your strength to my quest, my fight.

Persephone, the power of darkness you know
In the depths of hell, your own power grows.
Upon your release to walk in the day
You make use of Time to hold darkness at bay.

Cyres, Cerridwen, please hear my song –
Durga, Innanna, by your word make me strong!
Lillith, dark angel, eyes full of fire,
Aid in my quest when I falter and tire.

Avoidance of darkness so many attempt;
Wholeness is lacking when dark conjures contempt.
Embracing both forces for what they shall be
Is the only true way to for a soul to be free.