malaria nights

April 30, 2005

Once I read that having Malaria as a child leaves one plagued later in life by recurring dreams. Do my repeated bouts of the feverish illness explain my later childhood years of frightful nightmares? Perhaps. I am more inclined to suspect that my own dark and brooding dreams were due more so to a childhood marred by pain and to a nature prone to dwelling on the same.
Like the night I spent imagining my father’s gasping last breaths, other solitary mental images and nightmares of my young mind claim a strangely predominant position in my memories of childhood.
In the years following my father’s death, I spent nights fearing the image that would no doubt appear, unbidden, once my waking guard was weakened by the stealthy grip of sleep.
The dreams would always begin innocuously, with the exciting certainty that I was to be with Daddy again, that perhaps he was not really dead. Or that, even if he really was, I would at least get to spend the span of the dream with him again. But each time, once my dreaming awareness progressed beyond the initial excitement, my heart thudded with the sickening realization that this was not my Daddy. And sometimes with the even more sickening one that it was him.
Each night, you see, he was altered somehow, deformed beyond recognition. I only wished that I were not so certain that it was still him. There was some deep knowledge that it was him, but nothing remained of the Daddy I loved.
In one dream he appeared in the form of a tiny dwarf, with exaggerated features and the head of a grown man but features and mannerisms of a child. That night he approached me cheerfully, awkwardly but speedily coming to greet me. And I ran, horrified more by the prospect of encountering him than I had ever been cheered at the idea of a reunion.
Another night he was not changed so much physically as he was estranged emotionally. He was an adult, and I knew it was him even though I couldn’t place his features into any recognizable form. I was terrified that I had forgotten what he looked like, as I often was in my waking hours, when I would seek out photos to memorize, in case I was losing my own mental images of his face, of his form. At any rate, in this dream he simply passed by me, engaged by his companions, ignoring me. He even looked at me directly, as if he knew who I was, but did not care in the slightest.

There were more, along the same vein of a recognizably him but strangely altered Daddy. I grew accustomed to my vivid dream life—so accustomed that it never occurred to me that it was anything worth coming out of my own head. Now I wonder how common that is, for children. And I remain fascinated by, and still slightly frightened by, the lapsing into the untamed, unpredictable territories of the sleeping mind . . .

my bald spot

April 27, 2005

My bald spot itches. And yes, I am 25 years old. And no, I am not undergoing chemotherapy. I did, however, have a biopsy not too long ago; it was purely perfunctory, though, not dramatic in the least. My doctor, after running blood work and finding nothing wrong, referred me to a dermatologist, who declared, with a rapid wave of his hand, that it was simply Alopecia Areata. “So,” I queried, “why exactly did my hair fall out?” He waved his arm in the air again and pronounced, “Who knows? Some people just react that way—it’s more common than you would think.”
And there you have it. I am just one of those people who, when under the proper combination of stresses, reacts by losing a chunk [or a whole head, for that matter] of hair. I suppose an indication of the stressed out state of mind I was in at the time (several months ago) is the reaction I had when discovering, while pulling back my hair in the morning, this large patch of smooth-as-a-baby’s-bottom baldness:
I felt it; pulled my hand back in confusion; felt it again; held up a mirror behind my head to confirm my suspicion . . . then I laughed. Oh my—I’m going bald! How oddly amusing! Mind you, I was sensible enough to be concerned. So I did my research, talked to knowledgeable friends, called the telephone nurse, and made an appointment with my doctor. What I discovered is that it was in fact probably stress. But I did not know if it would stop with one patch of hair for me, or continue. So my thought process went something like this:
Well, I have one bald spot. I may be losing all my hair. And even if it is treatable, then chances are, by the time the treatment kicks in, I will have probably lost at least another chunk, considering how quickly this one appeared. And what does one do with a couple of bald spots? Why shave the rest of it off of course!
And I proceeded to contentedly plan my baldness. What I realized in the process is that I was actually rather tired of having so much hair to fool with, so that the prospect of not having it anymore was surprisingly pleasant. What I concluded in my planning process was that I would certainly not wear a wig. An image came to mind of colorful cloth scarves wrapped artistically around the scalp. So I resolved to learn how that was done, and to buy various shades and patterns of cloth, and simply alternate head wraps for the duration of my baldness.
When I told my Mother what was happening, she laughed and said that it figured that I would be the one to lose my hair: see, I was always teased for having more hair than I knew what to do with. My relatives wondered where I had gotten all of it, since no other women, on either side of the family, had much to speak of. All I knew was that it could be a hassle having such a heavy head of hair.
At any rate, Mom said that if I did keep losing it, I should at least save it as it fell out and share it with the rest of them. I opted instead to ship it down to Locks of Love. Before doing so, however—and before warning anyone that I had just chopped it off, I took a segment out of the large ponytail I held oddly detachedly in front of me. I put this segment, unmarked, in a regular letter envelope and mailed it to Mom.
But, back to today’s appointment: what my dermatologist generally does [why I think of him as mine, I cannot tell you—I actually have never had a dermatologist before . . .then again, perhaps that’s why I claimed him so . . .]. Well, like I was saying, after a standard biopsy, he likes to do a series of scalp super-hair-growth-serum injections. Ok, so maybe that’s not the technical term for it, but as I cannot recall him ever telling me what it was, that is the term I settled upon in my head.
Today was the 2nd appointment in my series [and necessarily the last, as it is the last month in which I will be insured]. So, upon pronouncing my hair to be growing back nicely—he was, I am pleased to report, “proud” of my hair growth, he then shook my hand, told me it had been a pleasure doing business with me, and jetted out the door in his jauntily comical manner.

It all ended up being a bit of a false alarm, in the sense that my Alopecia Areata stopped with only one patch. But I learned a good lesson about monitoring my life balance more closely, being mindful of not letting school and work billow out of control, and keeping social outlets and positive stress-relieving activities in my life . . . and I do love having short hair!

this feeble faith

April 22, 2005

*this evening i distract myself by job applications interspersed with scrubbing the carpet* [we are having another episode of too-good-for-the-litter-box-ness]. consequently, class was a bit difficult to stay focused on tonight. i am, i must admit, anxious. it is official that i am unemployed, and the official-ness unfortunately coincided with the discovery that my scholarship for next year is substantially smaller than i thought. and i am feeling my humanity. oh ye of little faith . . . i try to trust, and believe that He who made me this way [whether or not i like it] is somehow in charge of even my mistakes, my silly human errors. but i worry . . .

mom + pond =

April 20, 2005

As far as standards of motherhood go, I believe I can safely say that my own mother plants her feet firmly outside the boundaries of the expected. Case in point:
Like the good, conventional daughter that I am, I called her this evening to report on the scholarship awards ceremony we were returning from—thinking I was fostering her need to be proud and parental. Like the unconventional mother that she is, she replied with her own rivaling tale of the day.
Overhearing from the front seat, when I said goodbye my grandparents promptly inquired as to what mom had gotten herself into this time. And I duly relayed the story . .
My mother, it seems, invented her own [unconventional] method for breaking in her new shoes this afternoon. She had accompanied my stepfather on a day trip to Keene so as to get some “big city” errands accomplished that their rural town does not allow for. One of these, earlier in the day, involved the investment of a new pair of shoes. Shoes are understandably important for Mom, and so she had decided to try a pair of Merrells this time. And they were on sale, so she [of course] had to buy them.
New shoes afoot, and several errands completed, later in the day she found a nice park, with a pleasant-looking pond, and decided to go for a short walk. Nearing the pond, one crutch found a wet patch of pine needles, her foot accordingly found a slippery slope of grass, and down she went. Into the pond. She emerged momentarily, laughing, and quite wet. Keep in mind that my stepfather was nowhere nearby at the time, and that the park itself was unoccupied, except for Mom. She now found herself in the predicament of being a slightly less-than-normally mobile person, alone, and in a pond. After surveying her surroundings, she noticed some stumps on the other end of the good-size pond that looked promising as far as providing the support needed to lift herself and her crutches back onto dry land. So she, as she relayed it to me, “rolled” to the other side. “Rolled??” I questioned, a bizarre image in my mind. She then clarified that she had probably slided more than rolled. But I dare say, I quite prefer to keep the verb “roll” for my own personal amusement. At any rate, her plan worked, and she got herself out of the pond. Then, being my [unconventional] mother, her next logical step was to go back to the store where she had purchased her fine new shoes and, in all her dripping finery, announce to them how pleased she was with her new shoes, now that she had “broken them in.”

And that, my friends, is my mother.

in the waiting

April 16, 2005

So now I feel like a fickle and slightly silly female, but in an oddly almost-at-peace sort of way. It seems that it took “moving on” to make me realize how much I really did love my job. I made too much of the creativity that has been blooming for this whole year and, once my job was steady and under control, felt like I needed to face a new challenge, to learn something new. When all this time it was the routine, the comfortable parts of my job that were really allowing my creativity to bloom on the side; if it were not for the steady, “easy” tasks, I would not have creative juices inadvertently bursting out while on my morning commute, while wandering down the grocery aisle, while shaving my legs, etc, etc. . .
In a week of impulsive [and hormonal??] decision making, I decided to burst out from the routine. And in doing so I realized just how much I was giving up. Now I may very well have lost my job. And if so I will grieve. But, I have also called my boss and requested that, if my job is not accepted by another, I can have a second chance with it, can have my dear job back again.
No, I do not want to leave. This is why I have spent several days now crying every time I talk about leaving, why I bawled into the phone, paced around campus rapidly depleting the roll of toilet paper I was carrying with me for lack of a box of tissues, why the only other remotely interesting prospect was another job on campus . . . But I have grown attached to my work—it has been my “child” for 2 years, and I will mourn for it if I leave it now. And if I do lose my job over this, it will have been a blessed lesson learned: a lesson in what it feels like to really grow to love the role that I am here to fill, work-wise; because the truth is that the love I feel for it now is a great enough gift to carry with me even if the job is lost. So I wait . . .

After 2 days of on-edge “what am I doing?” sadness-tinged anxiety, I had a blessed realization today. I burst into tears when talking to my Mother about the prospect of leaving, and am now wonderfully certain, if frighteningly vulnerable as a result, about what it is I really long for now. After 2 years in a workplace I accidentally stumbled into, I seem to have grown bound to it in spite of myself. Announcing my pending departure, and now training and preparing to leave my position has left me moping about and nervous at the same time. And so it was with a grateful shock this afternoon that it hit that I do not really want to leave. All I long for is a life-manageable position at this college I have grown to love so much, and with the students who have grown so dear to me. The overwhelming responsibilities of my growing department has just blinded me to what it is I do love about the place–the stark beauty of the rising sun as I drive up in the morning, the sweet communion of worship in chapel services, the energetic and purposeful passion of students just beginning adulthood and seeing the welcoming wideness life has to offer, the professors who give of themselves tirelessly, offering time, care, and tender concern for their students, the staff members who smilingly greet interruptions in the midst of a seemingly endless to-do list . . .
No, I do not want to leave. I will leave if I must, because I do not know if my sanity will permit me to continue juggling full-time work and studies. And practically, I cannot afford to skimp on studies, as I am now on scholarship thanks to my studious intensity thus far. But oh, if I could stay, could somehow manage it, I would be overcome with joy, with gratitude . . .

scent of a memory

April 9, 2005

The power of association upon a scent never fails to surprise me. When fully considered, it is understandable that all of our senses—smell included—would be powerful forces. Even as an inner-focused person, I certainly recognize how integral my physical body is to the rest of my intellectual, reflective, and spiritual self. But still, I am surprised when something so simple as a scent can affect me to profoundly.
This afternoon it came as I walked into Cadek to answer phones for wutc’s pledge drive. I have not been in that building but once or twice since moving back into town, as my normal work, school, and Church schedule never seems to take me there. Except for once, to pick up a prize that left me even more of a loyal listener to the station [that story I will happily tell, if prompted to by anyone] . . .
At any rate, I walked into the building and was instantly bowled over by my reaction to the smell—it is an old building smell, but seems somehow distinctive to that particular building; I, at least, have never encountered one quite like it. So one whiff of the inside air brought with it a flood of vivid, bittersweet memories . . .
I was 10 years old again, trembling as I walked onto the stage to give my first recital . . .
I was sitting in my practice room one night, bursting into tears when my teacher hinted that perhaps I should try to practice more that I had for this week’s lesson. She said it not unkindly, but I was guilt-ridden already about how little I knew I had practiced that week . . .
I was standing outside listening to my sister play, and wishing I could play Suzuki also [she learned Suzuki method, while I learned traditional]. I never did feel like I did as well with sight-reading as I did learning by ear. So I pretended to sight-read, while in fact relying upon my ears to clue me into the correct notes . . .
What this afternoon’s reaction left me with is just another reminder to stay attuned to what I am experiencing, in its entirety, in any given moment of life. I don’t know about you, but I, for one, would feel a great void without those moments of transcendence that come from living reflectively: the tear-rending emotional reactions, the bittersweet pleasures, the vivid memories, and even the acutely painful ones.

a poet discovered

April 3, 2005

Thanks to a listserv I belong to for writers and lovers of Children’s Lit, I was recently introduced to a new favorite poet [one of my favorites, rather]. As I read a review of his newest volume, it left me gratefully weeping over my keyboard, at work, in plain view, for any passers-by to see . . .
So, I wanted to post an excerpt here, to share the joys of Michael Rosen’s gifted words. And, I suspect, if you read to the end of this post, you just might sypmathize, if not share, my tears:

“Eddie and the Birthday
(Eddie is my second son)
When Eddie had his second birthday
he got lots of cards,
and he had a cake and all kinds of presents
and we sang Happy Birthday,
‘Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday, dear Eddie…’
and all that.
He liked that very much
So he goes:
‘More. Sing it again.’
So we sang it again.
‘Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday, dear Eddie…’
and all that.
And he goes,
‘More. Sing it again.’
So we sang it again.
‘Happy Birthday to you
da de da de da, dear Eddie
da de da to you…
‘And he goes,
‘More. Sing it again.’
It felt like we sang Happy Birthday about
Two hundred and twenty-three times.

And the candles. On the cake.
He loved them.
‘Eddie, blow.’
He blew.
And the moment he blew it out
he wanted more.
‘More candle.’
So we light it.
‘More Eddie blow.’
Eddie blew.
‘More candle.’
We light.
‘More Eddie blow.’
‘More candle.’
That felt like two hundred and twenty-three times as well.

And he loved the cards.
Everyone who sent him a card
seemed to think he’d like one
with pictures of big fat animals.

Elephants and hippos.
He got about ten of them.
Your second birthday
and everyone sends you pictures of
Maybe they think he is a hippo.

Anyway he had a nice birthday.
Next day he gets up
comes downstairs
and he looks around
and he goes,
‘More happy birfdy.’
So I go,
‘That was yesterday, Eddie.’
‘More happy birfdy.’
‘But it isn’t your birfdy–I mean birthday…’
‘More happy birfdy.’

Now you don’t cross Eddie.
He throws tantrums.
We call them wobblies.
‘Look out, he’s going to throw a wobbly!’
And the face starts going red,
the arms start going up and down,
the screaming starts winding up
he starts jumping up and down
and there he is–
throwing a wobbly.

So I thought,
‘We don’t want to have a wobbly over this one.’
So we started singing Happy Birthday all over again.
Two hundred and twenty-three times.
Then he says
‘More candles.’
‘We haven’t got any,’ we say
(Lies, of course, we had).
‘More candles…’
So out came the candles
and yes–
‘Eddie blow.’
He blew.
‘More candle.’
And off we go again–
Two hundred and twenty-three times.

And then he says,
‘Letters. More.’
Well, of course no one sent him any more,
so while I’m singing more happy birfdys,
my wife was stuffing all the cards
into envelopes and sticking them down.
So we hand over all his cards again
and out came all the hippopotamuses again.

So he’s very pleased.
And that’s how Eddie had two birthdays.
Lucky for us
he’d forgotten by the third day.

Maybe he thinks when you’re two you have two birthdays
and when you’re three you have three birthdays
and when you’re seventy-eight you…”

and later, here is an excerpt from The Sad Book (2005):

“What makes Michael Rosen sad is thinking about his son, Eddie, who died suddenly at the age of eighteen.”
“Sometimes I want to talk about all this to someone. Like my mum. But she’s not here anymore, either. So I can’t.”which makes me really, really sad, because my mom was the person I always had to talk to about things and now it’s been five long years since she’s not been here for me to talk with.

encountering kaye

April 1, 2005

This afternoon I had the good fortune of rescuing Kaye Gibbons from a persnickety water cooler. She blew in, flustered and a bit flighty, to the Southern Writers’ Conference, as I was working the registration desk, and came over to ask for help. I was wearing my official Volunteer Badge, so I guess looked like a good person to ask for help—her problem was that her watch battery had died, and she was worried about keeping to time while she was speaking, so was looking for a watch to borrow. Unfortunately I did not have one to offer, since I don’t wear a watch, but another person there did, so we were able to help her there. She thanked us, then went over to get a cup of water from the sports cooler set up by the wall. Weighted down by bags and papers, and walking in a slightly strained manner in her heels, she fumbled with the cooler and ended up knocking the lid off the top of it. I hesitated before going over there, considering whether my help would be embarrassing to her, but decided to just offer at least. As it turns out, she was grateful for assistance, asking me to help her with the dispenser, and apologizing as I filled her cup. She explained that she was terribly nervous, and sniffly with a sinus infection. Well, who wouldn’t be? I thought. Later, I got to hear her speak a bit and she apparently collected herself mightily well, as she gave a witty address. What I think I appreciated the most, though, was that she was transparent—she had to stop talking for a moment, when she got choked up at the description of a fellow writer who had urged her to be herself, to speak her words . . .
Well, I must say, this was a better brush with fame, as far as I’m concerned, than any Backstreet Boy run-in, or something along those lines [am I dating myself already, at the age of 25??].