Credo II (Morningside After Dark edit)

Three times a year — once in January, once in February, and once in April– a sympathetic and broad-minded crowd gathers in the basement of Morningside Church in Edina for a night of stories and songs on a particular theme. The event is free (donations to the church are always appreciated but not required) and always both life-and-spirit-affirming. 

Last night, I did my third MADark reading. I’m always honored to be included, but last night felt particularly special somehow. Anyway, here is the essay I read, a version of “Credo” I edited for last night’s theme: Growing Pains.

 

Lizzie on Henry's shoulder

 

First and most of all, I’m for love –the kind you need and want from the people who give it best.

 

I stand for Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin. I am against mocking people for believing in God and I am against mocking people for not believing in God.

 

I believe in deep quiet, loons, and swimming with horses, which I tried once at Camp Lake Hubert the summer I was 15– it felt like flying. I believe in an Afterlife … not harps and fluffy white clouds so much as a clarity, an understanding, a lifting of all the veils that make us think our stubborn, self-destructive thoughts. I am for a Heaven that reconciles my vision and God’s, a big explanation, God saying “this is why and this is why and this is why.”

 

I’m for Grandma Betty, who kept rosaries in her desk and fed me soft, pillowy doughnuts rolled in sugar on Sunday mornings after Mass. I’m for the tiny, Technicolor strawberries she grew in her garden, which I picked and brought to my dad and grandpa in a metal pail, one by one.

 

I am for Grandpa Skluzacek, whose pickup truck smelled of wood shavings, tobacco, and the fish he caught alone in secret lakes and I am for Grandpa Thacher, who took me to get stitches on my chin when I was 4 and told everyone how brave I was when I wasn’t.

 

Camp Lake Hubert

 

I am pro-cabin, pro-camp, pro-canoe. I’m pro-Constance, who meets me at the back fence now and then to exchange lemons, eggs, sour cherries, solidarity. I’m for the teary girl I saw at the elementary school last October, willing herself down the hall. I was her once. I am pro-aloneness, anti-loneliness.

 

I am in favor of the simple, peaceful Lonsdale cemetery where my dad and other members of my family are buried, but against all the reasons it’s full. I am in favor of tough old ladies and soft old men and I am all in for Minnesota. I believe in flannel sheets, down comforters with the windows cracked, the romance of a December wedding. I would relive mine a thousand times if I could … I probably have.

 

Yes to my dad and stepmom, who honored me by dying when I was right there in the room and yes to my mom and stepdad, who spared me that sorrow. No to a crystal ball, though I badly want one. No because I would use it irresponsibly.

 

I swear by birthday cake for breakfast and I swear by my mom, who taught herself the Club Med line dance with a tape she bought at the gift shop and practiced in our living room until it was perfect. I am passionately pro-nerd.

 

43rd birthday cake for Brian 2015

 

No to mealy apples, no to fake vanilla, and no to both phone and in-person solicitation. Yes to bread, GramBea’s rice pudding, lake swimming, being up late at night. Yes to wilderness and protecting it.

 

I believe in the peonies my dad grew and brought to my house in vases each spring; the Eames chair where I sat in his lap when I was five, watching Little House on the Prairie on Monday nights; I believe in the bronze stars and purple heart he brought back from Viet Nam. I believe in anyone brave enough and wise enough to choose tenderness.

 

I’m for the brilliant nurse who helped me bathe my toddler at Children’s Hospital when she had wires glued to her scalp and I’m for the brilliant neurosurgeon who performed her brain surgery at Mayo when she was three years old. I’m against staying in the hospital with your child alone – don’t do it.

 

Sweet Brian and Carolinbe post EEG

 

I am for raising yourself as you raise your kids, I am for Dad, who worked at my high school and would make a convincing camel face for anyone who asked and I am for Mom, who called me Lamby and Lovebug right up until she died when I was 41.

 

Yes to GramBea playing piano out on her four-season porch as I was coming in from school, yes to the beautiful connection between my children, which is what I have always hoped for. Yes to the way my dad and his sister would laugh together in a kind of harmony and yes to letting your kids see you cry. No to anyone who makes you feel like you’re crazy for feeling too much.

 

Yes to reminding people they are not alone – including myself. Yes to growing up together, to people who are afraid but keep trying anyway.

 

Yes to you, my friends from long ago and far away and yes to you, my friends from always. Yes to everyone who is here now and yes to those who couldn’t stick around for one reason or another.

 

I stand for you.
I stand for me.
I am for you and me.

 

Bridesmaids 121199

Credo

Henry blue onesie 8

 

I’m for love –the kind you need and want from the people who give it best. I’m for Wonder Woman and wonder women, Dreamers and underdogs. I am against scapegoating, nepotism, and recklessness.

 

I stand for democracy, honesty, and integrity. I believe in voting for presidential candidates who have studied the United States Constitution. I am pro-Obama, both Barack and Michelle.

 

I am firmly pro-camp-song, pro-knitting, and pro-cookbook. I am for gluten, butter, and sugar and I am against discussing the amount of carbs, fat, or evil in food before eating it, especially if someone else made it.

 

Christmas Croissants 2014
© 2015 Marta C Drew

 

I am staunchly pro-understanding, pro-empathy, and pro-humanity. I believe in birthday cake for breakfast and I believe in mothers who taught themselves French with language tapes and sounded exactly like Julia Child when they practiced. I am pro-nerd, anti-glitter.

 

I stand for deep quiet, loons, and swimming with horses, which I tried once and which felt like flying. I believe in an Afterlife … not harps and fluffy white clouds so much as a clarity, an understanding, a lifting of all the veils that make us think our stubborn, self-destructive thoughts. I am for a Heaven that’s about reconciliation between our vision and God’s, a big explanation, God saying “this is why and this is why and this is why.”

 

I’m for God – believing in Him and trusting Him, even when I don’t understand …especially then.

 

I am against racism, narrow thinking, and sanctimonious bullshit. I am for  including my friends in my family, forgiveness (though I’m not good at it yet), compassion, and generosity. I am for staying in touch. I will always be for connection, devotion, and affection.

 

I am anti-bully, anti-narcissist, anti-terrorist, anti-gun. I am passionately anti-Trump. I stand against cynicism and against women selling each other out. I am for Hillary and I always will be – she would have been fantastic.

 

I am pro-men, anti-mansplaining, manspreading, manhandling, and mancolds. I am pro-mama, pro-family, and pro-choice. I believe in music, art, and teaching lots of both in schools.

 

I am for Harry Potter. I’m for the friends who fought with him and I’m for Snape, who didn’t but still fought for him. I am for the inimitable Alan Rickman, gone too soon. I am for heroes who stand up for the vulnerable and I am for all of us encouraging each other to be our full, best selves.

 

I am anti-liar, anti-coward, anti-hypocrite. I am against wanting to be cool when you’re a grown-ass adult, against anyone who’s mean to waiters, and against political whores (I’m looking at you, Paul Ryan).

 

No to mealy apples, no to fake vanilla, and no to gratuitous violence. No to entertaining yourself by watching videos of people –especially children—getting hurt. No to humor that’s designed to humiliate, no to both phone and in-person soliciting. Yes to romance, lake swimming, being up late at night. Yes to wilderness and protecting it. Yes to fat, sweet blackberries on top of a vanilla cheesecake that’s more custardy than cakey. Yes to Rose Levy Beranbaum, who taught me how to make one.

 

I am pro-cabin, pro-campfire, pro-canoe, and all about Camp Lincoln and Camp Lake Hubert. I am against mocking people for believing in God and I am against mocking people for not believing in God. I am particularly pro-waffle but not necessarily anti-pancake.

 

Camp Lake Hubert

 

I am pro-late-night, pro-early-morning, pro-privacy. I am both pro-Western and pro-Eastern medicine. I am for the old crabapple tree behind my grandma and Grandpa’s house on Cooper Avenue and I am especially for the rosy pink, tart applesauce GramBea made with its fruit. I will never be able to recreate it, but I’m still for it.

 

I am for the roses, hostas, and peonies my dad grew – he knew all their names—and I am for Simon Pearce glass, which is both beautiful and practical. I am for Simon Pearce himself, whom I met a couple of years ago. He was lovely, just as I expected him to be. I am for Chef Thomas Keller, the poet Mary Oliver, Meryl Streep, Leslie Odom, Jr, Patty Griffin, and all others who devote themselves to beauty and understanding the human experience.

 

I am anti-mid-winter, when everything is the same color and looks like the inside of an ashtray. I am also against overhead lighting and music that doesn’t match the occasion or location.

 

I am in favor of the simple, peaceful Lonsdale graveyard where my dad and many other members of my family are buried, but against all the reasons it’s full. I am in favor of tough old ladies and soft old men and I am all in for Minnesota. I am for flannel sheets and down comforters with the windows cracked.

 

I believe in silent understanding and I believe in singing together – my Uncle Will taught me how important that is, how healing it can be. I believe in daydreams, naps, nostalgia, and Expressive Math. I don’t believe in making people guess how I’m feeling.

 

I am pro-humility, pro-unity. I am pro-aloneness, anti-loneliness. I am pro-Brussels-sprout, anti-beet. I am pro-flower and pro-flour. I am for GramBea’s rice pudding (no eggs) and I am for Sue Burritt’s World-Famous Chocolate Cake, which may or may not actually be world-famous, but should be. I am anti-canned-cranberries – you won’t change my mind about that.

 

IMG_20161025_182551

 

I am for giving teachers and administrators the benefit of the doubt, unless you’re ready to stand up and take on the job yourself (trust me, you’re not). I am against hyper-competitiveness and unreasonable standards for kids and I am guilty of both, though I’m working on it. I am pro-public-schools, pro-public-libraries, and pro-public-lands. I am for dads who make very convincing camel faces and I am for moms who call you Lamby and Lovebug right up until they die.

 

I am pro-lilac, rosemary, lavender, and peony. I cannot support cooking vegetables until they’re gray, nor can I support desserts that don’t taste as good as they look. I believe in putting a dash of almond extract in my sugar cookies and I believe in bourbon. No beer for me, thank you.

 

Yes to GramBea playing piano out on her four-season porch as I was coming in from school, yes to the people who camped out with me at the hospice house when my mom was dying, yes to the beautiful connection between my children, which is what I have always hoped for. Yes to the way my dad and his sister would laugh together in a kind of harmony and yes to letting your kids see you cry. No to people who make you feel like you’re crazy for feeling too much. No to Mitch McConnell, Devin Nunes, and Fox News. Shame on all of them.

 

Yes to reminding people they are not alone – including myself. Yes to friendship and shared history, to people who are afraid but keep trying anyway. Yes to women reclaiming their time and yes to men who really listen. Yes to singing in the hospital and yes to therapy animals because really, what other kind is there?

 

Yes to you, my friends from long ago and far away and yes to you, my friends from always. Yes to everyone who is here now and yes to those who couldn’t stick around for one reason or another.

I stand for you.
I stand for me.
I am for you and me.

 

White Peony II

Hello, Old Friend

Cinnamon hearts

 

Hello, Old Friend. I’ve missed you.

 

I am returning (I believe, I hope) from a long absence. I buried my dad in late June, three years after my mom died, and ever since I have felt like my moorings are slipping. There are still plenty of people who love me and whom I love in equal measure, there are still places I want to see or return to, still recipes I want to try and books I want to read. I don’t feel lost or permanently broken – just lonelier and a little bit beaten up. I miss belonging and connection, so here I am, writing to You.

 

I spent about a year and a half writing an essay about my time working at a greenhouse outside of Cleveland. I think I have rewritten it 20 or 30 times, submitted it to 15 literary magazines, and been rejected by 50. That’s not true of course, because the math doesn’t work out, but it feels true. Rejection always feels bigger than my efforts, why is that? It shouldn’t.

 

Anyway, if you’re a writer (or even if you’re not), you’re rolling your eyes and telling me I haven’t even begun to try. You’re telling me I have to keep going and send my essay out again. You’re talking to your screen about how many times very famous writers sent out their manuscripts before someone finally accepted them, published them, made them famous, and produced movies or built amusement parks in honor of their books.

 

And yeah, I know, I’ve heard those stories too, but nobody is going to ride an orchid-themed roller coaster.

 

So with love,

I say this:

Shut up.

 

I am retiring (for now) from my failed career in literary-magazine-writing. In fact, I may bake myself a retirement cake, since I really like cake and happen to be a fairly excellent baker. See? I have plenty of confidence. Self-doubt is not the problem; rattling a locked door is the problem. I do that a lot, especially with people, but we can talk more about that later. Or not. Let’s not.

 

These might be letters, not essays. They might be essays, not letters. I don’t know, we’ll see. My therapist has retired early – a decision for which I am trying hard not to take personal responsibility—so I am all yours. I am trying to stop trying so hard to be “writerly” so I can enjoy writing again. I am trying to let go of writing for redemption and start writing for connection. That is all more difficult for me than it should be, but I intend to try.

 

I want to feel better, braver, more hopeful than I currently do. I’m guessing I’m not the only one, which is why I am sending this out into the shrieking chaos of the Internet. Write back if you feel like it. If you don’t or can’t right now, I’ll keep writing to You anyway. I heal by healing –we all do.

 

Love and solidarity,
Marta

Waiting Room

 

Teary Caroline
© 2015 Marta C Drew

I am, despite this public way of telling you about it, a rather private person. I don’t mean that in the sense that I am unwilling to share vulnerable or personal feelings and experiences –obviously, I’m willing to share to the point of emotional exhibitionism. When I say I’m private, I mean that I am deliberate about what I share, how much, in what way, and with whom.  Read my journals and one of us is going to have to permanently move to Iceland. Go through my purse or my closets or my nightstand without my permission and you’re dead to me. I decide.

 

The problem is the waiting room.

 

Before you can enter some of the oldest and largest vaults at Gringotts Bank (the wizarding bank in Harry Potter for those of you who don’t read), you have to pass through a waterfall that clears away any enchantments you may be trying to use to enter the vault under false pretenses. If you have tried to conceal or change your identity, if someone or something else is controlling your behavior, if you have tried to protect yourself in any way from exposure or vulnerability to what could be inside, then it is all washed away. You are just you.

 

The same thing happens to anyone who enters the Children’s West Rehab Center waiting room, only it’s the air swirling around the door as you walk in that breaks all the spells, not a waterfall (which would be impractical and inconsiderate in such a cold climate). You walk in with all of your protective enchantments and it all gets blown away. Everyone sees who you are. Everyone sees what you’re dealing with.

 

If you are a regular, you are dealing with scooters or wheelchairs or companion dogs or leg braces that make your little peanut cry because they hurt. Or you are dealing with tiny little helmets, tiny little glasses, tiny little hearing aids. Your son cries about everything, your daughter can’t properly metabolize food. Your granddaughter has cerebral palsy, your grandson has a heart condition.

 

Now YOU have a heart condition.

 

What do you do? There was a woman once who spent the whole hour she was waiting doing yoga poses and stretches. I rolled my eyes until her son came out after his physical therapy session and I overheard her talking with the therapist about how she could help her son be more successful with eating and drinking. He was at least fifteen years old. There was a homeschooling mama with a church bell ringtone who used the time to drill her older daughter in reading; a tense, germaphobic lady who only allowed her impeccably-dressed children to touch toys she brought with her and sanitized before and after they were handled; a maniacally positive mother who practiced tap dancing and jazz routines with her five-or-six-year-old daughter, who played along but didn’t seem convinced of how much fun she was supposed to be having.

 

You walk in with all of your protective enchantments and it all gets blown away. Everyone sees who you are. Everyone sees what you’re dealing with.

 

But most of us talk. We tell each other what happened to our children, what happened to us, what keeps happening. We tell each other about the doctors who practically bound across the waiting room at Mayo to tell us surgery went well, or about that nurse at Children’s Hospital downtown who would not rest until she found a way to bathe a child without getting the electrodes in her hair wet (an elaborate system of plastic Target bags and rubber bands). We tell each other about the schools and programs we’ve found to make it all easier (horse therapy, art therapy, water therapy, music therapy) and the schools and programs that haven’t figured it out yet. For several months, my dear childhood friend Lindsay, whose son gets therapy from time to time, met me in the waiting room with coffee and we got to have a built-in Mama date every Wednesday afternoon.

 

Of course it’s not just mothers waiting –Thad has been one of my favorite waiting room pals. For at least a year, Caroline’s appointments coincided with his granddaughter’s, so every week, Thad and I talked cooking (he was an old-school gourmand –he made his own sausages and everything), gardening, music, antiques, parenting, traveling, families, weddings, home design, life. Thad is marvelous –I miss him. His daughter-in-law doesn’t drive and he’s retired, so he brought them to the rehab center every single week. Maybe we’ll be on the same schedule again this summer.

 

I wouldn’t say I’m friends with these people in the conventional sense (with the exception of Lindsay) –it’s more like we all operate the various small businesses of the same unethical, sadistic bastard. We all cry about it, we’re all degraded by it, but there’s no choice –we can’t leave; he has too much power and we’ve invested everything.

 

There is no point trying to control what I reveal to my waiting room colleagues –they see everything anyway, just like I see everything about them. We see each other crying and limping and dragging along with our special needs kids as if we have been stricken with the emotional equivalent of each of their physical or neurological afflictions. We have, so privacy is beside the point –it doesn’t protect us from anything except our mutual sympathy and understanding.

 

Maybe that’s why the protective enchantments we rely upon so heavily out in the world don’t work in the waiting room. Maybe our vulnerability is the most powerful enchantment no matter where we are.

 

Jessica

Jessica Heldman and Marta Drew

 

I met Jessica in fifth grade, in Mr. O’Donnell’s class. Mr. O’Donell’s classroom management strategy boiled down to a stopwatch and the misty promise of a trip to Wendy’s on a school day if we could keep the time spent misbehaving to a minimum. I am sure Jess and I rolled our eyes at this, but ours was never merely a giggle-behind-the teacher’s back and shop for earrings kind of friendship –our connection was about shared experience and understanding.

 

We were war buddies from the start. The enemy wore Guess jeans, Esprit sweaters, and the Little Orphan Annie perm that was mysteriously popular at the time.  They whispered threats down into our foxholes and trenches; they invited us to peace talks they never planned to attend; they prowled the halls, the library, the bathrooms and schoolyard like snipers –nowhere was safe.  We huddled behind playground equipment or next to the building, trembling with anxiety and righteous indignation. What made girls act like this? We couldn’t imagine, so we talked –about her years at private school, my parents’ divorce, whether the trip to Wendy’s would ever really happen (it did; Jessica was absent that day).

 

On the days Jessica wasn’t at school, my senses buzzed from overstimulation. I projected my paranoia onto the apathetic kid who stored his boogers on an index card in his desk, onto fellow victims, onto Mr. O’Donnell himself. It was all very Apocalypse Now.  Jessica was more loyal than I was at first, so the friendship benefited me more than it did her.

 

Jessica feels things like I do and she’ll go ahead and say it: “What is going ON? Why do I have to accept this?”

 

I’m part Gypsy, part WASP, which means my battle instincts have always been convoluted –part of me wanted to cut the little bitches with a pearl-handled knife, cursing their families down through the generations; the other part wanted to insult their taste in art and music and imply that they came from new money. I usually ended up throwing my own allies under the bus in my confusion and I’m sure Jessica was one of them, but we stayed close –we understood each other.

 

As we got older –she experimenting with cigarettes and Children’s Theater, I reading dirty novels and stealing change from my stepdad to buy Domino’s pizzas after school –our enemy shifted from the garden-variety alpha-girl to our crippling self-doubt. Who was going to tell us whether or not we were pretty? How much would electric blue mascara and zinc-pink lipstick help? What in the hell were those stupid 4’3″ junior high boys LOOKING FOR?

 

We lay in her room on Camelback Drive asking these questions over and over again. We didn’t get answers, but knowing that Debbie Gibson and Tiffany were struggling with some of the same issues helped a little bit. Having each other helped more. She made me laugh so hard –she still does.  More than that, though, Jessica feels things like I do and she’ll go ahead and say it: “What is going ON? Why do I have to accept this?”

 

That shouldn’t be so hard to find, but of course it is.

 

I’ve been in and out of touch with Jessica over the years –a friendship this long will always have its seasons, so I don’t think either of us worries about it. Sometimes I go find her, sometimes she comes to find me, but we’ll always be able to reconnect because we’re the same in all the important ways –in temperament, values, sincerity, and history.

 

I’m thinking about her because we talked tonight. I hadn’t heard her voice in a while, so I had that time-travelly feeling I tend to get when I talk to someone I knew in childhood or adolescence about how the kids and spouses are doing. For a second it feels like we’re pretending, talking about what we imagine life with husbands and children would be like. But then the tide comes back in and we’re talking about grownup stuff like how it feels to send the kids off to school for the first time or how to balance what we give our families materially with what we give them spiritually. And now I feel time-travelly again, because though we may not have talked about these particular topics as we hid from the alpha girls on the playground, we would have talked about their 10-year-old equivalents, like how it would feel to make a mean girl cry for the first time and how to balance who you want to be with who you have to be.

 

I hope you have a friend like this, one who’s always in it with you, who is scared of and inspired by the same things you are year after year, who is willing to sit talking with you while you work it all out, trembling with anxiety and righteous indignation until you don’t know whether you’re 10 or 17 or 38. It doesn’t matter as long as you know you’re not alone.