Early-Mid-Life Inventory

 

Marta b&w apple orchard 2006

 

Early-Mid-Life Inventory for Marta Drew in her 43rd Year
(Wait … 44th year? If I’m 43, aren’t I in my 44th? I don’t know—shut up)

 

Math competency compared to first year of junior high:
unchanged

 

Amount of life spent living in hometown:
approximately half

 

Current social status in said hometown:
Unapologetic Teardown Asshole

 

Garrison Keillor sightings within the last ten days:
one

 

Garrison Keillor sightings within the last ten years:
one

 

Number of Meyers-Briggs personality type indicator tests I have taken since my early 20s, legitimate and otherwise:
countless

 

Meyers-Briggs personality type on every single one:
(I)ntroverted, i(N)tuitive, (F)eeling, (J)udging

 

Current self-improvement goal:
complete fundamental transformation into woman who remains gracious and benevolent even when absolutely everyone is being a dick

 

Progress towards this goal:
anywhere from 4-14 %, depending on how much sleep and ice cream I’ve had

 

Respect for 30-and-40-something women who really really want their children to be Cool Kids:
Zero

 

Favorite novel of all time, no matter what, after reading it at least seven times:
The Shipping News

 

Foods I will not eat, not ever ever, no matter how awkward it gets to refuse them:
tripe/liver/headcheese/haggis etc, bugs of any kind, anything slippery, tartare (raw beef with a raw egg? What kind of misanthrope dreamed THAT up?)

 

Primary vices:
judginess, hyper-sensitivity, meddling

 

Secondary vices:
excessive lecturing, negative thinking, intensity

 

Current investments:
local orthodontist’s office, summer camp, mittens, Legos

 

Number of cookbooks on my shelves devoted exclusively to the topic of baking bread:
at least 9

 

Last time I baked bread:
about a year ago

 

Primary sources of worry:
adolescent child’s fraught relationship with schoolwork, 2016 election circus, fate of Jon Snow

 

Careers I believe would be easier than being a Writer:
Supreme Court Judge, molecular biologist, NASA engineer, Governor of California

 

People I wish I were related to:
Chef Thomas Keller, Meryl Streep, Paul Simon, Mary Oliver, Annie Proulx

 

Temperature below which I feel forced to wear a winter coat:
20 degrees

 

Number of words written on Facebook between 2007 and 2015:
150,000

 

Feelings about that number:
complex

 

Preferred breakfast:
mocha and a morning bun from Honey & Rye or birthday cake (anyone’s)

 

Exit plan if Donald Trump should be elected to American Presidency:
maybe London, maybe Montreal, maybe a remote town in Iceland

 

Number of seizures middle child has had since her surgery seven years ago:
zero

 

Likelihood that she will have another one, according to experts at Mayo Clinic:
close to zero

 

Fear that every one of those experts is wrong:
less than five years ago, but still present in everyday life

 

Family member whose phone number has stayed the same for my entire life:
GramBea

 

Most common astrological signs among my friends:
Pisces, Taurus, Scorpio

 

Fictional characters to whom I am overly and inappropriately attached:
Daenerys Targaryen, Elizabeth Bennet, Severus Snape, Lady Brienne of Tarth, Bridget Jones, Peggy Hill, Tyrion Lannister, Diane Chambers, Mr. Darcy

 

Willingness to participate in any school carnival for any reason ever:
zero

 

Percentage of my children crying as we left the last one we attended:
100

 

Most firm beliefs:
God is real. Camp is good for kids even if they hate it. The worst mistake a woman can make is to dissolve into her family so completely that she forgets who she’s been trying to be all her life

 

Level of interest I have in anything the Kardashians do:
2-5%

 

Pantry items I tend to overstock:
canned tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, honey, olive oil, vanilla beans, flour

 

Number of remaining grandparents:
1 (out of 4)

 

Number of remaining parents:
1 (out of 4)

 

Three things I love about my dad:
his devotion, his soulfulness, his willingness to consider any topic, no matter how esoteric

 

Three things I miss about my mom:
her musical voice, her gift for developing systems, her dauntlessness

 

Most efficient way to show me I matter to you:
remember

 

Average quality of close friends:
extraordinary

 

Belief that despite the shit, life is still mostly beautiful, hopeful, meaningful, magical:
strong, strong, strong

 

The Modern Romantic

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

 

“Do you believe in soulmates?”

 

My rational husband swears I asked this on our first date, but I’m sure I waited until at least our second or third. As far as I was concerned, time was a luxury I couldn’t afford.  I was already aware of at least two obstacles to our long-term viability:

 

  1. We were astrologically incompatible
  2. He was math-and-science, I was liberal arts

 

We were probably doomed. So if I was going to go on watching action movies and dealing with his weird roommate, I needed him to grasp the Fundamental Principle of Romanticism: The Girlfriend is Everything You Have Been Looking for Since Forever. Otherwise, why bother shaving my legs?

 

“So do you?” I was leaning against his chest, so I couldn’t see his face. I waited, feeling pressure build in my chest and behind my eyes. Shit. Shitshitshit.

 

He was quiet for a long time.  A looooooong time. Then:

 

“I think you become soul mates, you don’t start out that way. You spend time together, you get to know each other, and you make your own soulmates.”

 

Now, 20 years later, I can see a kind of practical romanticism in his response, but at 23, I was looking for a lot more nostril flaring. Damn it, was I The One or not?  How long did it take to make a soulmate? A couple of months? That would bring us up to Valentine’s Day — what if we hadn’t become soulmates by then? What kind of Valentine’s Day would that be? I imagined myself in a silky bathrobe from Victoria’s Secret, eating Spaghettios out of the can and watching Sleepless in Seattle alone. That’s what kind. Bullshit.

 

But what could I do? He was an excellent kisser and I wasn’t willing to give him up, even if he was being stubborn about declaring his undying love for me.  I would teach him. I would show him by example how to be Romantic.

 

And I have, but so has he shown me.

 

“The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.”

~Rainer Maria Rilke, from  Letters to a Young Poet

 

As a young(er) woman, I wanted full possession, an exhaustive inventory of my lover’s heart and mind. And I wanted him to demand the same from me. True romance meant there could be no distance, ever.  I was desperate to know and be known, to understand and be understood.  I wanted the merging Rilke warns against, I wanted two-become-one.  Tear down all the boundaries and there was love, waiting on the other side. I believed that, thanks to a dramatic, romantic nature and seeing Titanic in the theater six times. Love was all-or-nothing: you either grabbed hands and leapt into the churning, icy Atlantic together or you died alone.

 

Brian, who could barely get through a single viewing of Titanic, let alone six, didn’t see it that way. “I would find another thing that was floating, tie it to hers, break off a couple of pieces to row with, and find a rescue boat,” he said after the movie. “He wasted all of his energy at the end, talking to her.”

 

I mean, really. Sometimes it was as if he had never spoken to a woman before.

 

But I couldn’t help loving him. He didn’t talk much, but he was smart and funny when he did. He was a good problem-solver and impossible to rattle. He was disciplined about his work and never complained about how much he had to do, even in the middle of a surgical residency. Best of all — though it took time and wisdom to value this about him– he  was a guardian of my solitude. He granted me the space and freedom to be wholly myself.

 

At first –for a long time, really– all the space he cheerfully gave me felt like disinterest, a rejection. Gradually, though,  his easy support of friendships and projects that didn’t necessarily include him made me bolder, more confident, and more willing to grant him the same independence.

 

And Romance, confined for so long to one kind of relationship and diminished by my possessiveness and anxiety, grew to fill the “infinite distance” between Brian and me. He loved me and I loved him. He didn’t have trouble remembering that, so what if I took my worried eyes off of our relationship for a minute?  What if I rested my gaze on the rest of my life, which had just as much of a right to grow?

 

When I did, the romance I had sought so desperately in my relationships showed up everywhere else –the kitchen, the garden, east-coast cities, northern lakes.  I found it in hospital rooms, in restaurants, on porches and in living rooms.

 

“We do not want merely to see beauty … we want something else which can hardly be put into words — to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.”

~C.S. Lewis

 

That is what romance is –to become part of the beauty that surrounds us all the time, whether we are looking or not. Six months after my daughter’s brain surgery, I went up to my old summer camp to celebrate its 100tth birthday. I spent 11 summers there as a girl and a young woman — Camp Lake Hubert is what my heart looks like on the inside, I’m sure of it. My friends and I wandered up and down the old paths and sat around the campfire like we had when we were 14, sifting sand through our fingers and toes while woodsmoke perfumed our hair. My breath and pulse slowed, I slept without moving. I felt I was returning to a self that had been waiting there in the woods while I ferried my little daughter from EEGs at Children’s Hospital to surgery at Mayo Clinic. I was both a woman returning and a girl welcoming her back. I don’t know if that makes any sense — it does to me.

 

My friends and I were staying at my dear friend Lisa’s family lake house, right on Lake Hubert. I awoke early on the last morning of the reunion and crept through the semi-darkness with my camera. I let myself out and walked barefoot down  rough wooden steps to the dock, where the sun was just beginning to rise over the lake. I knelt on the dock and wept from relief and gratitude for that sunrise. It was all for me, I knew it.

 

The September air smelled of earth and metal. The sun spilled golden light on the silver lake, diamonds flashed among the mellow waves.  Like my wedding ring. I had never felt closer to the very center of my life. I was kneeling alone on the dock, but my friends were still with me. Brian was still with me. Everyone who had watched over me during the horrible months of my daughter’s seizures and tests and surgery was still with me. I had dozens of soul mates, whether or not they believed in the idea or would say I was theirs. I didn’t need them to.

 

Was that morning really romantic? Is that the right word? My people –and especially Brian– are present in all of the places I love and all of the places I love are present in them. They are always with me, part of the beauty surrounding me even when I am alone. There are infinite distances between us, yes, let us allow them to be there as Rilke urges. Let us “see each other as a whole and against an immense sky.” There is romance in that. I can agree to that and Brian taught me how.

 

Yet let us also invite each other now and then into the infinite distances between us, the parts we don’t easily share. The wildest, most vulnerable kinds of beauty live there in those spaces — the parts of ourselves we protect most fiercely because they have made us whole and recognizable to ourselves. That is right and good …we don’t have to dissolve into each other for love. But we do have to know each other. We can’t hide out in those infinite distances between us, floating alone in our imaginations while those we love stand on the opposite shore, guarding our solitude. The beauty we want to be part of includes each other. We can’t be whole without each other. That is what I know.

 

f46eb-sunriseoverlakehubert
© 2015 Marta C Drew

Attachment, a Meditation

Canoe Bay Flower and Veggie Garden Summer 2015
© 2016 Marta C Drew

 

Each Fall, I kneel in my fading garden, I wrap geraniums, sweet potato vine, and petunias around my wrists, and I pull. A few plants come willingly, bursting from their pots in a dusty shower, but most cling stubbornly to the soil they know. I spend the season’s last sunny afternoons combing through the earth with my fingers, tugging at the roots. I am patient and methodical, but the job is never clean. Each plant leaves some part of its complicated circuitry in  the earth and each wiry root carries part of its home with it when it is pulled. This is as it should be. They have meant so much to each other.

 

Grandma Betty’s sewing machine is sitting on the floor of my garage these days. It hums and vibrates like a time machine as I pass it on the way to my car or step over it to retrieve a sweet potato from the bin. That sewing machine would carry me all the way to Grandma’s workroom if I let it, pull me right down onto her blue jacquard davenport. It has powers. It has roots. It could tuck me under the long worktable next to the box of fabric scraps from bridesmaids’ dresses, the gown for the Montgomery kolacky queen, somebody’s apron. Even now, years and miles away from where it started, that sewing machine exhales malt and yeast from the basement kitchen next to Grandma’s workroom. It practically speaks Czech. So it stays, though I haven’t used it in years.  It stays, though Grandma is long gone.

 

The gurus warn against attachment. Attachment leads to suffering, attachment is an illusion, attachment is the root of all grief.

 

Each plant leaves some part of its complicated circuitry in  the earth and each wiry root carries part of its home with it when it is pulled.

 

Hanging in the back of my closet –the way back– is my mother’s old full-length fur coat.  I will never wear it, not ever, but I can’t get rid of it, either. When she bought it in the eighties, she was a 5’10” attorney with season tickets to the Guthrie theater and Minnesota Orchestra. She wore it over power suits with shoulder pads. She wore it over Ellen Tracy coordinates to dinner at the Minneapolis Club. My mom and her fur coat were an original eighties power couple: enormous, unforgettable.

 

She wore that coat to chemotherapy once, a couple of months before she died.  Winter was unrelenting that year and she needed the warmth. She had shrunk an inch or two by then and was unsteady on her feet, a column of fur inching across the parking ramp. I carried our purses, a tote bag full of magazines and food I hoped to make her eat. As we walked I kept a hand stretched out towards her, as if I were an animal handler and she a bear stuck with a tranquilizer dart. If she lurched in one direction or another, I would be ready.  Though she only wore her coat to the clinic that one time, all four months of her illness are encapsulated for me in that stretch of parking ramp. Tense, watchful, carrying too much.

 

Once we were inside, I lifted the fur from Mom’s shoulders and lugged its extravagant bulk  with the rest of my burden down the clinic hall to the lab, then an exam room, and finally to the infusion room, where it was given its own chair. Nobody sat on it, though open down the front, its sleeves resting on the arms of the chair, it seemed willing enough to perform the office of comforter. A ghost of my powerful, protective mother’s former self. A ghost that lives in my closet. If I pulled it out and got rid of it, how much of my mother would come with it? How much would be left behind for me to keep?

 

Every person, place, and thing leaves us, yes, but they leave something behind too, threaded through the rest of our lives like strong, fine wires, reminding us how much we have all meant to each other.

 

According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, The purpose of detachment is to let everything nonessential fall away –material things, our suffering, petty likes and dislikes– until only the purest, truest Self remains.

 

If I get rid of Grandma’s sewing machine and Mom’s fur coat, pull them from  the garage and closet where they are of no use to anyone, something of their contexts will come with them –maybe  a scrap of taffeta from a bridesmaid dress, a staple from the old davenport.  Maybe a shoulder pad from an Ellen Tracy blazer or an old Guthrie ticket. They can go. The sewing machine and my mom’s fur coat are nonessential, just things. Even my grief for their original owners is ephemeral, like summer flowers. Everything earthly fades, dies back, and is replaced with something new: another machine, another coat, fresh grief, fresh love.

 

The extraordinary Mary Oliver, my very favorite poet, says:

To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

 

Everything and everyone in this life is temporary, but does that mean it isn’t essential? Can anyone help being attached? Every person, place, and thing leaves us, yes, but they leave something behind too, threaded through the rest of our lives like strong, fine wires, reminding us how much we have all meant to each other. Reminding us we don’t have to be attached to be connected.

 

English Ivy
© 2016 Marta C Drew

Perfection

“I don’t have perfection in my character, but I do have it in my life. Once in a while, when I stop peering at my sorry self in the mirror and gaze instead out at my singular, mysterious life, I see perfection…”

Gypsy Hausfrau

f46eb-sunriseoverlakehubert © 2015 Marta C Drew

I believe most of us understand by now — at least intellectually– that nobody is perfect. We know the brilliant fashion models-turned-artistic-city-revitalizing entrepreneurs with toned bodies and adorably-dressed-free-range-organically-fed children have problems too.  I know they do and anyway, I’m not comparing myself to them.

I’m comparing myself to a Super-Me, an Extreme Makeover Me, the one I would certainly be if I weren’t so lazy/superior/judgy/emotional.  The one I invent while I’m not exercising and not writing and not cleaning the house and not earning a paycheck and not making dinner and not staying on top of the laundry and not being on the PTO and not dressing particularly well and not keeping up on the news and not washing my hair all that often and not kicking my VERY serious Candy Crush Saga habit and not being at all chill.

Even if I could pull…

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A Return

paperwhites

 

Uncle Ed and Aunt Betty –my dad’s younger brother and older sister– were diagnosed with two different cancers on the same day in October of 1992. Ed’s diagnosis, lung cancer that had traveled to his brain and hip, was terrible but not really a surprise. He had always been wild and self-destructive. He lived rough. I knew him only by the twin packs of tights my grandma would wrap for me and sign his name to every Christmas.

 

But Betty …oh, Aunt Betty. She was the voice, the beating heart of the whole family. She was musical, soulful, and giggly. She nurtured everyone within her reach in that enveloping small-town-church-lady way that feels so good when it’s genuine, and in her it always was. At Thanksgiving or Christmas, we gathered at Grandma and Grandpa Skluzacek’s tiny shoebox house, which magically expanded to accommodate all 11 of us. While my cousins alternately teased and fawned over me, an exotic only child from the Cities, my aunt and dad lingered at the table, telling stories and poking fun at each other. Every few minutes, they burst into enormous, musical laughter –my aunt’s soprano high and quick, my dad’s tenor warm and rich. I have a sense memory of that laughter. It’s what I miss most about her –the way she was a sister to my dad. I might miss her for him even more than I miss her for me. I might.

 

Ed and Betty died three days apart the following spring. I remember little about Ed’s funeral except how old he looked in his casket. He looked more like Grandpa’s younger brother than Dad’s. I remember studying his face, looking for a connection and waiting for a hook in my chest to catch and register the loss. There was none; I didn’t know him and never had. Even as I stood shaking hands with the long, dreary line of mourners, I was thinking more of Betty. Ed’s funeral felt like a dress-rehearsal for hers.

 

Betty died singing, surrounded by her children and insisting they sing with her. Her funeral was a three-day grief marathon beginning in Albany, Minnesota at the Church of the Seven Sorrows, where she had been Music Director, and ending 118 miles away in her hometown of Lonsdale. The air was close, heavy with early-summer heat and the scent of candles. Grandma fainted and it was my job to distract Grandpa, dazed with grief, while Dad revived her.

 

Even as I stood shaking hands with the long, dreary line of mourners, I was thinking more of Betty. Ed’s funeral felt like a dress-rehearsal for hers.

 

Betty was buried next to her brother on the breezy hill outside of town where our people rest. That cemetery is one of the prettiest I know … somehow that makes burying people there a little easier. It’s a simple and intimate place, like the Heaven I imagine. The grave markers of all the Skluzaceks, Uhlirs, and other Czech families like ours remind me that our departure from the people we know and love is just as much a return to others we know and love. Eventually we will all be together –just not quite yet. Still, I wish they could be there with me in those last moments to say “Isn’t this beautiful? Aren’t we so lucky to have this, to have had each other?”
 

After the funeral, we gathered in the basement of Immaculate Conception church for ham sandwiches with yellow mustard, kolachkes, and experimental jello salads served with loving discretion by a team of powdery matrons. Even their pillowy arms were sympathetic, reaching out from sleeveless calico blouses to feed, to comfort, to attend.

 

My grandparents perched like fragile birds on the edge of one of the benches, picking up their sandwiches to take a bite, setting them down again as well-meaning friends and neighbors approached them.

 

“Lord have mercy. Just terrible. Vivian lost her girl when she was 40.”

” My sympathies, we are praying for you. Eat, eat.”

 

Eat. How? They had buried two of their three children in a single week. Cancer casts its shadow over every life in some way or another. It steals children, mothers, fathers, friends, lovers, anyone it wants. It has stolen from me seven times, tried for an eighth. People like to rail at God for these things, but cancer was invented by chaos, not God. Chaos multiplies the cells, breathes fear and resentment into exhausted families, whispers false hope, distracts. God is the eye of that storm, offering respite and comfort and a quiet space, if not a safe one.

 

Betty was a pure loss for our family — a mother, daughter, sister and aunt of the highest caliber.

 

I don’t pretend to know why some people get better while others succumb and are lost, but I have a hard time believing God plays favorites that way. Maybe God decides when and chaos decides how we die. I don’t know, but when people whose loved ones survive cancer or some other physical affliction put on beatific smiles and talk about how God healed their person, it sticks in my craw. Because why wouldn’t He heal mine? Maybe that kind of bitterness is chaos at work in me. I’ll have to give that some more thought.

 

I do know this: Ed, who lied to and used and betrayed everyone in his family, was not an easier loss than Betty, who adored and supported and nurtured. Betty was a pure loss for our family — a mother, daughter, sister and aunt of the highest caliber. Ed was a complex loss: his death meant he couldn’t wound and disappoint anyone anymore, but it also meant he could never become who he was meant to be, the one we all hoped he would be if given enough time.  Ed was the death of a dream.

 

At Betty’s house after her first funeral, I saw Grandpa standing by the grandfather clock he had built for her, his first child, his only daughter. He set the clock to the hour of Betty’s death and stopped it there, his back and shoulders shaking as he cried. He might have been crying for Ed too. He might.

 

I think about Ed and Betty, together on their peaceful hill. He’s telling her his stories now, the ones he never got to tell when he was here. He’s finally within her reach. Grandma and Grandpa have arrived by now and someday my dad will, someday I will, departed by chaos from those we know and love, returning by God to those we know and love.

Dear God: A Few Questions

 

Pamela Park Sunrise
© 2015 Marta C Drew

Dear God,

Why, when I am supposed to have it so easy, has my life felt so hard in recent years?

 

There’s a French saying by someone — I don’t remember who, I saw it on Pinterest– that translates to “I hear your voice in all the world’s noise.” I wish I could hear yours. Could you talk a little louder? You probably feel like you are yelling at us all the time, but you can’t imagine how loud it is down here. Maybe I should remember that when I’m dealing with my own kids.

 

Are you pretty fed up with everyone on Earth right now? I picture you in your sunny offices, dogs and children playing right outside your window, watching the news and shaking your head:

“No, my loves,” you might say (I hear it in an Irish accent for some reason I can’t explain).  “That’s not what I meant. You’re focusing on the wrong things.” You probably say that about me all the time. I say it about me too, if it helps to know that.

 

What am I supposed to be doing that I’m not doing?

 

Where is my mom? Is she with you? With me? Already reborn as the eagle I keep seeing in the park? I wish I could talk to her about how it feels to be here without her. It’s like living through a Minnesota winter without a storm door sometimes. Will you tell her I said that? People behaved a lot better when she was here.

 

How come you made me an only child and a writer and a romantic and uber-sensitive? That seems mean-spirited.

 

Are you pretty fed up with everyone on Earth right now?

 

Do I have a guardian angel? Is it my hairstylist? I think it is. I have a fantasy that when I die (decades from now, I hope), he will meet me wherever I land and explain everything to me. Of course I would love if you did it, but I assume you’re busy.

 

Did you write my whole life before I started living it or was it just a loose outline? I like the outline idea, because then we’re writing it together. Either way, it’s beautiful. Thank you.

 

Do you really like Donald Trump? I know he’s one of your children and everything, same as me, but he’s such a dick.

 

How can I be grateful for all of the material stuff I have when I feel so poisoned by it? How much am I supposed to share? It never feels like enough. Would people stop treating me like I won the lottery if my name were on the paychecks with Brian’s? It should be.

 

Why isn’t the publishing world more of a meritocracy? Did you know that Lauren Conrad from “The Hills” wrote a novel and it got PUBLISHED? And have you read Fifty Shades of Gray? Idiotic. I mean, come on.

 

Garden Gate Canoe Bay Summer 2015
© 2015 Marta C Drew

 

Thank you for artists like Meryl Streep, Chef Thomas Keller, Mary Oliver, and Patty Griffin. Are they part of your personal staff? Maybe down here on Earth as artists in residence? They inspire me every time I see their work. Wow.

 

Why is it that all the wrong people feel ashamed?

 

Do you love the Kardashians more than you love the rest of us? There’s no reason they should be doing this well.

 

Why do you put people in families together who don’t want to be in families together?

 

Why is it so hard to believe that all I have to do is say (and be) sorry and you’ll forgive me? I make a lot of the same wretched mistakes over and over again — do you really believe me when I keep apologizing for the same thing ? I don’t know if I believe me sometimes. Am I apologizing for all the wrong stuff? I worry about that.

 

Why do some friends come on strong with attention and then retreat into radio silence with no discernible warning?

 

Are you really threatened by astrology and feng-shui and all of that stuff? I really can’t imagine why you would be.

 

What is your favorite spot on earth? Mine is Lake Hubert, but you probably already knew that.

 

Why do some friends come on strong with attention and then retreat into radio silence with no discernible warning? Am I supposed to keep chasing them? For how long should I do that before I let them go? I feel like you’ve given me more than my share of those, but maybe you’re trying to show me something. So what is it?

 

Why do you keep reminding me about people I’m trying to forget?

 

What’s the most important thing to get right about raising my kids? What do I need to change to get it right? Please don’t tell me to read any parenting books — they’re full of fear-mongering and sensationalist bullshit (see question regarding publishing).

 

After all these years of loss and calamity and anxiety, how do I make my faith stronger than my fear? I trust you, I really do … I know you will walk me through anything.  But what’s the next “anything” going to be? Can you help me stop trying to guess?

 

Can I learn to enjoy what and who remains in my life and let the rest go, at least for now? Will I ever stop believing the mean lies I tell myself? Will I ever stop begging for understanding from careless people? Will you help me banish my dark thoughts about losing everyone?

Please help me remember that even if that happened –even if the very worst happened and I lost everyone and everything I love– I still wouldn’t be alone. I would have You.

 

And you have me, listening for your voice in all the world’s noise.

Amen.

dock on Squam Lake 091611
© 2015 Marta C Drew

Snow Globe

 

Snow Globe photo
© 2015 Marta C Drew

 

Though usually a softy — especially with me– my dad was strict about church. We went every Sunday –no exceptions. Of course I tried to get out of it:

 

” I feel sick.”

“Church will make you feel better. Get dressed and brush your teeth. Let’s go.”

 

So we drove to Mass at Most Holy Trinity in my dad’s 1978 wood-paneled Mercury station wagon. In the early years, Dad let me bring books or dolls or crayons, maybe assuming I would absorb  the ritual even if I wasn’t ready to receive the message. I entertained myself back behind the pews under the not-particularly-watchful eyes of the ushers while my dad did the reading or presented the gifts or assisted with Communion.  Mass had been so thoroughly absorbed into my dad’s consciousness that it felt like another language he spoke, another mode of expression, like Czech or carpentry.

 

I didn’t understand Mass — I still don’t– but I sensed what it meant to him and why he wanted to include me in it despite my resistance. He was inviting me into a ritual he had known all his life, a collection of prayers, songs and movements he carried in his veins and muscles through everything. That ritual, compact enough to keep with him even through the hell of Viet Nam, was still powerful enough to bring him all the way home. It wasn’t the only thing that protected him, but it was the essential thing. He wanted me to be protected too.

 

Mass had been so thoroughly absorbed into my dad’s consciousness that it felt like another language he spoke, another mode of expression, like Czech or carpentry.

 

Since my parents were (very) divorced, they divided my time right down the middle, including Christmas. Mom got Christmas Day for the big, loud family dinner at Grandma and Grandpa Thacher’s house. Dad got Christmas Eve, when we took the snowy, rural drive down to Lonsdale to visit Grandma and Grandpa Skluzacek. As the reliable Merc traced the dark, frozen farm roads it knew by heart, Dad and I listened to “Blue Christmas” and “Mele Kalikimaka” on the radio. Alone but not lonely, connected but allowed our own thoughts, we made that trip every year. When I think of it, I picture us in a snow globe.

 

The rituals I shared with my dad always made me feel like that  … as if I were inhabiting a tiny, enchanted, impenetrable space while he held the world at bay for me. I imagine that’s what God does for him during Mass.

 

I struggled under a lot of fear and anxiety when I was a little girl — I still do. I was anxious about what the mean kids at school would do next, I was afraid my dad would die and there would be nobody left to understand me. I worried about tornadoes and bees and big dogs. My head buzzed from the  fear of doing something embarrassing  –something nobody would ever let me forget– like the time I accidentally left the blinds open while I was going to the bathroom at the neighbors’ house. All the kids on my block were playing street hockey in the driveway that day.

 

My adult self knows they couldn’t have seen anything, but my child self assumed they saw everything. Please please please don’t talk about that,  I prayed every time someone mentioned hockey or bathrooms or peeing or the neighborhood or windows or driveways or playing or stopping or any of the kids who lived in that house or any of the kids who lived nearby. Or their parents. Or anything. Please don’t bring it up. Sometimes my prayers worked, sometimes they didn’t.

 

“Hey, do you remember that time Mar-duh went to the bathroom with the window open? Mar-duh, do you remember? That was so funny! I can’t believe you did that. Why didn’t you close the shade? Did anyone see your butt? Gross! That’s so gross! Hahaha!”

 

I hated the way they said my name, I hated that I had made such an expensive mistake, I hated every minute of those elementary school years. I concentrated on neither laughing nor crying — just enduring, waiting. I suppose that was a kind of ritual too, learning how to hold the world at bay for myself, even if the space I was inhabiting didn’t feel enchanted or impenetrable.

 

Childhood itself is a ritual, imposed on all of us: the unruly world intrudes on our safety and comfort and the adults who love us push it away –over and over again– until we are old enough and brave enough to push the adults away, invite the world in for ourselves, run out to meet it, get lost in it, find our way back again. The world is never safe. We eventually see that’s the beauty of it.

 

The world is never safe. We eventually see that’s the beauty of it.

 

When I was fifteen, I refused to go to church anymore. I had tried to connect with Mass all year during my Confirmation classes, but I couldn’t find my way in.  My dad and I had one of our very rare fights about it.

 

“It feels dishonest!” I cried. “All I do is sit there and think about boys!”

“I daydream too, Marta,” my dad said back. “What matters is that you go to church.”

 

My mom laughed when I told her what he had said, adding it to her case against organized religion in general and Catholicism in particular. She heard my dad’s argument as evidence that his faith was only a meaningless habit.

 

My mother was a brilliant, perceptive woman, but she was wrong about that. He was telling me that absorbing the ritual matters, even if we aren’t ready to receive the message. The message is enormous — the questions are enormous — the fear is enormous. It takes a lifetime just to sit with all of that, let alone reconcile it. Every time we allow ourselves to get lost in the world, the questions, the message, even our doubt, we have to find our way back. Back to what?

 

My dad finds his way back to Mass. I still can’t get there, but I have the ritual he gave me. I step into the snow globe, into my dad’s old Mercury station wagon, and trace the old roads I know by heart –alone but not lonely, connected but allowed my own thoughts …not safe, but protected.

 

Snowy Road and Trees
© 2015 Marta C Drew

Home: A Collection

 

Red House First Snow 110613
© 2015 Marta C Drew

 

If what my dad says is true, I descend from a band of traveling, singing figure skaters. I imagine them –dark-eyed and wild-haired– wandering with their skates and bright scarves through dark Bohemian forests into the gracious little towns where they stopped to make their living. According to my dad they were fed and welcomed. Maybe once, as she carved loops and circles on the frozen lake, one of my ancestors locked eyes with a local carpenter and thought about him every day for the rest of her life. Maybe another dreamed of staying in one of those towns for months or years. Still, my ancestors didn’t make their home in the towns, they made it by traveling together. Home was on the road and on the ice and in their voices. Home was their togetherness.

 

From second grade through high school, I moved back and forth every Monday between my mom’s place and my dad’s. I took the bus to GramBea and Grandpa Thacher’s house after school once a week, I spent four or five days in Lonsdale with Grandma and Grandpa Skluzacek a few times each year, I spent a month every summer at Camp Lake Hubert. When I think of home, I don’t think of a single place. Home is something I have collected.

 

Mama's Cranberry Bread 112614
© 2015 Marta C Drew

 

My mom and step-dad believed in orphan Thanksgivings. They invited all of their friends who didn’t have family in town and made a different kind of turkey and stuffing every year. I could smell onions, carrots, and celery sautéing in butter as I came downstairs Thanksgiving morning. Before the turkey went into the oven, Mom and I made cranberry quick bread –lemon and pumpkin too, if we had the time.

 

As the sun went down around 4:30, Steve built a fire, Mom and I set the tables, and friends started arriving. They brought wild rice casseroles, garlic mashed potatoes, cranberries with orange zest, sweet potatoes with pecans and brown sugar, apple tarts and pumpkin pies. We brought out the turkey and stuffing, the breads we had made and bottles of wine, and stayed at the table for hours. Sometimes we got lucky and it began to snow out on the marsh while we ate. As everyone left, full and connected, the woodsmoke curled up to the starry sky.

 

My time with Dad was more private, even secluded. The December after our second attempt at family had failed, my dad and I found ourselves alone again in the house on Malibu Drive. I was sixteen. My stepmother and her two daughters had left without a word one weekend when I was with my mom. I was fine with it. I remember bubble lights on the tree, the sharp, blank smell of snow. Each night, when my dad had had enough time alone in his shop and I was done with homework, we sat together in the family room. He lounged in his black Eames chair, looking out at the deck he had built with his own hands a few years before. I lay on my stomach on the floor, drawing or dreaming or writing (bad) poetry.  We didn’t talk … we didn’t need to. As Walt Whitman said: “we were together. I forget the rest.”

 

When I think of home, I don’t think of a single place. Home is something I have collected.

 

When Mom had orchestra or Guthrie Theater tickets and Dad had to chaperone a high school hockey game, I took the bus after school with my cousin Jessica to  GramBea and Grandpa Thacher’s house on Cooper Avenue. Jess and I slept downstairs in twin beds with turned wooden posts and yellow quilts. Before we lay down, we rose high on our knees in bed, facing the pillow and pulling the covers around our shoulders like capes. Grandma and Grandpa were frugal and let the house get chilly at night from October through April. Clutching the wad of blankets at our chests, we fell down onto our pillows, turning just our cheeks to face each other in the dark.

 

Once GramBea had kissed us good night, we played games in stage whispers. Our favorite involved taking turns creating elaborate configurations with our hands and trying to copy the other’s exactly. Lying in the darkness, only a narrow stripe of golden light  at the door to our room, we twisted and laced our fingers in intricate forms.

 

“Can you do this?”

 

Jessica made an attempt, seeing neither her own hands nor mine in the other bed. “Like this?”

 

“No, like this.” We could never do it right and we never would– it didn’t matter. What mattered was hearing another voice in the dark.

 

I need a solid place, a single place, to feed and welcome those who pass through and decide to stay.

 

Grandma and Grandpa Skluzacek’s house was about an hour south of my house, so when I visited them I stayed for several days at a time. My memories of that house are all taste and scent.  Grandma Betty fed me Malt-o-Meal or scrambled eggs in her basement kitchen while she did laundry and made filling for kolachkes. When I was finished eating, she tied an apron two or three times around my waist. Then she cut dozens of squares of dough with her knife — she was done before I could finish washing my hands–and pulled a kitchen chair up against the counter for me to stand on. We worked well together: she dropped a spoonful of poppy seed or prune filling on each piece of dough and I pinched the corners together to enclose it. When she served the rolls that night for supper, she told Grandpa I had made them all by myself.

 

Grandpa liked to drive us the four blocks to the Lonsdale corner store in his red Ford-F150, which  smelled of tackle box, tobacco, and sharp-sweet sawdust. He would buy me a tall bottle of Bubble-Up and pretend he wasn’t showing me off to his friends, who all knew he was. They sat at the counter together in a sturdy row of pinstriped overalls and workshirts,  rating tools and machinery, shaking their solemn heads over someone they knew who had fallen from a ladder. I perched on a stool at the end of the counter next to Grandpa in my cords and monogrammed sweater, forcing myself to finish all of the Bubble-Up. I knew what it meant to be included in this.

 

Until I had children, Camp Lake Hubert was the closest I came to having home all in one place. I spent eight summers there as a camper, experimenting with my character and learning to find my people. When I returned as a counselor after four summers away, I got dropped off one night in the upper parking lot without a flashlight. I walked all the way to Wrens cabin in that straightforward, thorough darkness I will always associate with the Minnesota Northwoods. I have a sense memory of that night, of knowing the trees and steps and buildings so well, understanding myself so clearly in relation to them, that I never even considered the possibility of being lost. I believed I would find my way so I found my way, on that night and others, both at camp and away.

 

Outdoor Winter Pots
© 2015 Marta C Drew

 

 

Maybe I descend from a band of traveling, singing figure skaters who wandered from town to town, maybe it’s just a story. It doesn’t matter …I have never wanted to be one of the travelers. I want to be part of the town. I am not content to wander the way my ancestors did centuries ago. I am not a free spirit; I have always been in search of a place to land.  In all of my traveling back and forth between parents, grandparents, camp and beyond, I never stayed anywhere long enough to feel completely at home.

 

Home is togetherness, yes. Home is my collection of people, recipes, and remembrances. But I have learned I can’t carry that on my back –I need architecture around it. I need a solid place, a single place, to feed and welcome those who pass through and decide to stay. Home for me is a Thanksgiving table, a quiet room, a bedroom, a kitchen. Home is another voice in the dark.

 

 

Rules

Woods at CLH
© 2015 Marta C Drew

Habitual rule-breakers always stressed me out — the sign says “Do Not Trespass,” so don’t trespass, right?  What did they think they were going to find in there, an entrance to the Ministry of Magic? A golden ticket?  What was the point? Disobedience for its own sake never made any more sense to me than blind submission. Either way, you aren’t thinking. Rules, for better or worse, define the borders between our delicate civilization and the wilderness surrounding us, between our tenuous self-control and the wilderness within us.

 

I am the only child of a fifth-grade-teacher-turned-attorney and a high school principal. I grew up with a lot of rules. My parents were divorced and their philosophies of discipline diametrically opposed, but the message was essentially the same: “I am paying attention. I care about your safety, your friends, your education, your decisions. I care about what kind of person you are.” My mother’s rules had a practical angle –she favored job charts, natural consequences, and behavior contracts. My dad was more interested in my spiritual development, so a lot of his discipline centered around showing up for God. It didn’t matter that they were different … both methods translated into love, so following their rules made sense, like accepting love makes sense. Why wouldn’t I?

 

Of course I didn’t. I went home after school like I was supposed to, but then I left my backpack by the door — sometimes outside– and turned on the stereo and/or the TV and/or the oven. Maybe I mixed ingredients for chocolate chip cookies. Then I grabbed a wooden spatula or a whisk, put in my Terence Trent D’Arby tape, stood on the back of the couch in the living room, and sang “Wishing Well” a couple of times. Then I called three different friends, talking to each one for at least 20 minutes and stretching the telephone cord down the hall and up the stairs. After that: cookies and a nap in front of the  T.V.  Around 5:00, I ordered a pizza that I paid for with quarters from my step-dad’s change jar. By 6:15, my mom came home from work and asked how homework was going (it wasn’t), whether I had practiced my clarinet (I hadn’t), and what sounded good for dinner (nothing — I was already full of pizza and cookies). I never tried smoking, I didn’t ever drink, I didn’t cheat on tests or get in fights, but I also didn’t follow the rules.

 

To become a whole, self-aware human being, I had to break some rules.

 

Would my life have been better if I had? I guess it might have been smoother during adolescence. Following all the rules would have earned me more consistent grades and approval from my parents. But following all the rules would also have kept me from taking risks, which is how I really got to know myself. It was my parents’ job to introduce the limits when I was little, but my job to define them as I grew. Ultimately, only I could decide how far I was willing to go, what I was willing to risk, and what (or who) was worth it. To become a whole, self-aware human being, I had to break some rules. I had to crack open and examine the standards I was given and decide what to keep, reject, or fix.  Until then, neither rebellion nor obedience could have purpose.

 

A few years ago, while I was sitting by the window in my family room, a doe left the path her family usually took across the back of our property. She picked her way across the lawn, littered with my children’s bubble wands and hula hoops, and stepped right up to my window, where she stood watching me from about three feet away. I concentrated on sitting still so she would stay. She had risked something to be so close to me and I knew my job was to make that safe for her. She had broken the rules for some unfathomable reason and now here we were: two girls, two deer, two animals crossing the border between civilization and wilderness. I was the wilderness for her and she was the wilderness for me.

 

I still follow more rules than I break. I wait my turn, I read recipes, I leave private property alone. Yet the world needs rebels too. We need the border-crossers. Because if we must crack open each life for the sake of our own humanity, then certainly the world needs the same treatment for the sake of our collective humanity. We need the rules, yes, the civilization and the self control, however fragile. But more than that, we need the wilderness –all around us, within us, so we remember how little stands between us.

 

Growing Older

 

 

Pamela Park October 30
©2015 Marta C Drew

 

When I think of childhood, I remember sitting on the jungle gym in my dad’s back yard with Betsy Burritt, poking straws into whole oranges to suck out the juice and pitching the rest over the fence until my dad caught us.

 

When I think of childhood, I picture the bubble lights on my dad’s Christmas tree, the bright pink, tart applesauce GramBea used to make with crabapples, the Anne Murray album my mom played while we dusted and changed the sheets on my sofa bed, and summers at Camp Lake Hubert.

 

And when I think of childhood, I think of a spot on the playground at Highlands Elementary School in 1981, where I faced two bright, charismatic, mean-spirited girls in my class:

 

“Does your mom have a boyfriend?” one of them asked, looking at the other and scrunching up her nose.

 

“Yes. Steve.” Voice steady, no tears, voice steady, no tears, voice steady, no tears. I chanted this in my head as I spoke, never doubting their right to an answer. I couldn’t walk away — I wasn’t allowed. Their power was absolute.

 

“I bet they’re humping right now.” Delighted with their audacity, secure in their unbroken, conventional families, they shrieked and giggled while I waited for the bell to ring and end this. Their mothers were at home, doing whatever their kind of mother did. Mine was downtown in her law office, probably humping her boyfriend. Because that was what divorced, working mothers did according to everyone in 1981.

 

And there it was: my child’s perception of the difference between kid and adult: I was at the mercy of my circumstances and she was fully in charge of hers.

 

Furious, wanting to punish her for my humiliation at school, I confronted my mom in our little one-bedroom apartment that night. “Do you and Steve Do It?” I asked her, narrowing my eyes, spitting out the words, waiting for hot tears of shame to slide down her cheeks. As they should.

 

But my mother was a self-actualized modern woman, not about to let her nine-year-old daughter degrade her. “Do you mean do we make love? Yes, we do,” she said, completely, horribly, unbearably at peace with her choices.

 

And there it was: my child’s perception of the difference between kid and adult: I was at the mercy of my circumstances and she was fully in charge of hers.

 

I think about that, now that I am ostensibly a grownup myself. I am not fully in charge of anything. The life choices I have so carefully made come with all kinds of circumstances that bring me to my knees. I am neither self-actualized nor modern by anyone’s standards and I am certainly not a grownup, because nobody should be. “Grownup” implies that the period of development is over, but growth is possible right up until the moment our souls leave the earth. We talk about childhood in terms of growing and adulthood in terms of aging, but aging is just change on the world’s terms. Growth is change on ours. Any child, under the wrong conditions, can age and any adult, under the right ones, can grow.

 

There were at least two more years after that scene on the playground of chasing the mean girls, begging for their friendship, trying to buy their favor with gifts and loyalty they hadn’t earned, inviting them to parties without getting invited back, selling out my true friends, before I finally began to grow out of that. Until then, I was only aging.

 

Even now, having just turned 43, I catch myself getting intimidated sometimes by the mean kids. I still have a hard time in the company of certain people, keeping my voice steady and my tears in check. But then I remember I don’t have to answer to those who want to hurt me for sport. I remember that I am allowed to walk away. I am not a grownup, but I’m growing.

 

When I was little, I watched the adults around me and pieced together an idea of life as a full-grown person: I would stay up late eating M&Ms and watching T.V. like my dad; I would work in an office and attend orchestra concerts every weekend like my mom; I would play tennis down at the park like Grandma and Grandpa Thacher and host big, wonderfully loud Christmas dinners; I would sit quietly in my den at night like Grandma and Grandpa Skluzacek and pare an apple,  the peel falling in one long, whole, vivid spiral from their sure hands. That was my idea of how to be a grownup.

 

I am not a grownup, but I am not a child, either. I still carry the weight of my circumstances, but I carry it better. I carry it smarter.

 

Of course my perception changed as I grew. The benefits of adulthood evolved in my mind from eating M&Ms and playing tennis to living in my own space and choosing the people in it. Growing older stopped being about perks and started being about power. Year by year, I claimed  more of a say in how I spent my time and with whom. I dropped clarinet and started singing. I let go of friends who consistently hurt me, even if it meant being alone. I stopped begging for love from boys or men who didn’t freely offer it. There is still meanness to confront, both in myself and in others. People will die, blessings will come and go, mistakes will be made, but as long as I am growing, none of it can degrade me.

 

I am not a grownup, but I am not a child, either. I still carry the weight of my circumstances, but I carry it better. I carry it smarter. I know what friendship is supposed to feel like and I know how to make decisions I can live with, even if I’m never really at peace with my choices and even if I’m never fully in charge.

 

An adult, according to most definitions, is someone fully grown and developed. If that is true, then let me become one only when my life is over. Until then, let me grow older. Let me keep the oranges and bubble lights, the applesauce, music, and summers at camp. Let me cast off the weight of powerlessness. Let me not age but keep growing, find peace with my choices, until my life is done and falls in one long, whole, vivid spiral from my sure hands.