Wednesday, October 28, 2015

In which I report my lack of interaction with the supernatural realm

The whole gang is writing about their ghostly experiences, and I thought I’d like to do that too. Except I don’t have any ghostly experiences. I’ve heard lots of stories from my friend Steve, and then an old coworker used to tell me tales about skin walkers and possessed dolls and the like. I on the other hand, have little to report, and it can all be quite easily explained.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not gonna report it.

Back in college I somehow ended up going to meditation meetings at this rich lady’s house. One evening the topic of extra sensory perception came up, and I mentioned that I had no such thing. So she found photos and gave each of us one to concentrate on. Mine was an innocuous photo of a smiling woman. Eventually our host decided we should move into the room where this lady spent a lot of time. It was the laundry room, so she was the maid. Yep, wealthy neighborhood. Anyway, I was looking at the photo and thinking what a crock when suddenly my breath got short and I felt scared. “Something bad happened to her. She’s in danger. Someone did something bad to her.” And as it turned out, her boyfriend had shot her. Ba da bum.

During my college summers I lived with two of my brothers at their house. At the time I had pretty frequent bouts of sleep paralysis. Nothing as bad as JP’s, but still unpleasant. Usually I felt as if a magnet was pulling me to the bed, and I would hear staticky, whispering sounds - just the sort of thing the daughter of a schizophrenic wants to hear - and then I would wake up feeling uneasy. Well, on the day in question, I had one of these incidents while taking a nap in my room, and then something - I thought it was a loud noise - woke me. As usual I felt disoriented and a bit anxious. I went to the kitchen and the phone rang. It was my friend Steve, who is some sort of magnet for the supernatural. We were talking and then he suddenly stopped and said, “Who’s picking up on your extension?” “Huh?” I asked, “No one else is here.” “No, I definitely heard someone pick up.” Well by now I am in full panic mode, since the other phones are in the bedrooms. I found a very large knife and walked through the entire house, including the basement. That’s what you aren’t supposed to do in the horror movies, right? Well I have now experienced the sort of crazy that will make you walk around a house that possibly contains either a specter or a real live intruder. Of course I didn’t find anything or anyone, but I grabbed my keys and purse and drove to a nice busy parking lot until my brothers got home. Years later my brother told me that his house has been broken into multiple times, with the thieves entering - guess where? - my bedroom.

On another day Steve dropped by to visit me at my brothers’ house. For some reason we walked around the back. I knew there was a basement, but I didn’t realize there was another, separate basement room that could only be entered through an outside door. We walked over to peek in. The room was painted white and was completely empty. Except for an ax leaning against one wall. Steve was more freaked out by this than I was. He probably still  thinks one of my brothers is an ax murderer.

The final incident occurred right after my mom’s funeral. I was back at my parents’ house, in their bedroom. Dad told me to take any of her books that I wanted. So I walked over to the bookcase and reached into the dark space between the books and the shelf, where I couldn’t really see anything, and pulled out a Bible. It was my mom’s, I knew. I opened it up somewhere in the middle and saw her notes written in the margins. Then I flipped to the front page. There was a little label that said “This book belongs to” and my name. I turned to the dedication page, where my mom had filled in the dedicatory lines.. “Presented to” my name “By” mother “On” inherited. I guess my mom really, really wanted me to read the Bible.

That’s pretty much the sum total of my encounters with the woo woo, and they all have rational explanations. No one is going to hand you a photo to concentrate on for paranormal purposes unless there’s something significant associated with it, and the woman who gave it to me could have been suggesting by body language and tone that there was a dark association. Sleep paralysis makes you feel as if there is an unseen presence, which was only exacerbated by my friend’s suggestion that someone had picked up on an extension. An ax is just an ax, even isolated in an empty room. My mom came from a time and culture where handing down a family Bible was not uncommon.

I’m pretty down with never experiencing ghosties and such, so maybe I’m screening out a lot that would be significant to the spiritually sensitive. You wouldn’t catch me dead at a seance, or rather that’s the only way you’d catch me at one, and I don’t go near ouija boards. I try never to look in mirrors in the dark and I never once as a kid played Bloody Mary. Sometimes when I lie in bed with my back to the room, I start to feel uncomfortable and turn over so that I’m facing outward. You know, just in case there’s something that will only target me if my back is turned. I don’t care how ridiculously superstitious this makes me sound. To quote Stephen King: “The thing under my bed waiting to grab my ankle isn't real. I know that, and I also know that if I'm careful to keep my foot under the covers, it will never be able to grab my ankle.”

Monday, October 19, 2015

Just Being Here

Even home with a mind-cracking headache, I still find delight in the disruption of the routine. I like hearing the neighborhood as it is when I'm not around. The cars going by sound different when I don't have to join them. There are thrums and hums and sonorous clanging from some unidentifiable piece of machinery doing unknown work somewhere in the distance. A few chirrups of birds. The faraway growl of an airplane. Inside, the window blinds creak as the cat inserts herself between them and the window for a sunbath. Being still is one of my favorite activities, something I inherited from my mom, who could sit in an old lawn chair under the stars for hours. I used to think she was boring until I discovered the pleasures of sitting quietly in various locations, some urban and busy and some pastoral and slow. It is deeply satisfying to sink down into existence and simply feel it sustaining you.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Pick an Obession, Any Obsession

Okay, what next? I need something new to focus on so exclusively that I drive my family batty. Right now I’m unanchored, and I don’t like it.

I pick up and drop interests in a regular pattern. They last about a year before they suddenly deflate and drop back to earth. A few years back it was knitting, then crafts in general, followed by Sherlock and Doctor Who, which segued into anime, which dragged the Japanese language along with it. And now… I just don’t know. I’m a little jittery without something to occupy my mind 24/7.

It’s not like I’ve completely abandoned any of the above. I could suddenly dive back into knitting, or finally drag out the sewing machine. I even went to the dollar store and bought craft pumpkins, because Pinterest. I still want to go to 221B Con and Timegate, and buy manga. But the pure obsession is gone, and I’m much less likely to commit to any of them with the unbridled enthusiasm I once had.

I never know what might grab and harness my attention. It could be a new TV show, or a fictional character, or a literary genre, or a board game, or … or … glass blowing for all I know. But until I’ve discovered whatever it may be, I’m restless and uncomfortable and petulant.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Meeting Myself in Passing

So the other day I was talking to my therapist (don’t you love posts that begin with someone talking about their therapy - blah blah blah - well, that’s my life right now) and after suggesting I write a letter to my dead father (which I will delay until the last possible moment), he also told me to look up a book called The Power of Now. Now I like my therapist, but I also found a card in his waiting area for some lady advertising “energy healing,” so I’m a bit wary. He also has a very strange beard, sort of like an unusually long, rectangular-ish goatee, but so light you could actually miss it at first or think that it was a large piece of fuzz floating in the air. I’m greatly puzzled by that beard, primarily because I can’t imagine why anyone would find it a good idea. But, facial hair aside, I really like him. At last I have found a therapist who is not the dreaded “Christian counselor.” Blue Cross Blue Shield isn’t considerate enough to let me filter a search in such a way as to weed out the people most likely to get on my last nerve. How hard can it be to find a damn secular therapist in the South?

Anyway, I looked up the title on my beloved public library website, and saw that it’s written by Eckhart Tolle. Well of course I’ve heard of him, somewhere or other. Probably in an inspirational quote posted on Facebook. And man, I am on a waiting list for that book because everyone wants to read him, which makes me suspicious that he’s a purveyor of some sort of woo woo.. On the other hand, the name Eckhart reminded me how much I enjoyed Meister Eckhardt. Someone who takes the name Eckhart can’t be all bad, although Meister Eckhardt has been accused of purveying his own sort of woo woo. But it’s the kind of woo woo I can revel in.

Eckhart reminded me of how much I enjoyed mysticism in general until Southern religiosity hemmed me in on all sides. When I lived in NYC, I often popped into St. John the Divine just to sit. It’s a beautiful cathedral, quiet and dark with a lingering, faint smell of incense. When I lived there they had a gift shop with books by Eckhardt and Mechthild of Magdeburg and so forth. It was a good place. On my own in my apartment I would burn a little frankincense - the sap, mind you, not some powdery stick- and put on some Gregorian chant and just be still for a while. I sought out places I could be still, like the Cloisters and the Medieval section of the Met.

Somewhere I have a collection of Eckhart’s sermons translated by Matthew Fox, an excommunicated Catholic priest who’s so far left he’s staring at the right’s backside. His view of Christianity was so completely different from what I grew up with, and I found it resonated with my satisfaction in meditating on the whatever-it-was that I felt immersed in when I was quiet, or in a special place, or looking at great art.

“I pray God to make me free of God, for [His] unconditioned Being is above God and all distinctions.” “The authorities say that God is a being, an intelligent being who knows everything. But I say that God is neither a being nor intelligent and He doesn’t ‘know’ either this or that. God is free of everything and therefore He is everything.” “If I had a God I could understand, I would no longer consider him God.”

Man, I loved that shit. I wasn’t sure I believed in God at all, but I loved this idea of God. I could relax into that idea, which seemed to describe that feeling of fullness and quiet happiness I would sometimes feel, and which I remembered from certain times in my childhood. I didn’t really care if there were a being out there. And I definitely didn’t do any deep study of mysticism or Eckhardt. I don’t do deep study of anything - I like summaries and the big picture. Still it was important to me.

Then stuff kinda got in the way. I married my first husband, who wasn’t interested in anything I was interested in unless it coincided with his interests. I think he considered this giving us each independence but basically it was his excuse to ignore them in favor of his own, which I enjoyed well enough myself. I just ignored my own. He had a subtly dominating personality. One of his favorite books was The Prince, by Machiavelli, which he thought had been unfairly maligned and which he thought gave much insight into finding your way in the world. Whatever. That’s behind me. Then I married Jeff and had kids and began constructing this new add-on module, the parent.

When I saw Eckhart Tolle’s name, I suddenly remembered a former self who was open, who could be silent and in awe, before I tried to stuff her under a ton of dogma, or hide her behind a facade of respectable belief, and then bury her under the resulting, inevitable cynicism.

It’s a refreshing feeling, this. It’s not that I feel any calling to immerse myself in mystical what not. I doubt incense and Gregorian chants would have the same effect today that they did back then, although I’m not writing it off entirely. It’s just nice to become reaquainted with myself.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

I've been thinking a bit more about Queen of Hearts, because that's how far my brain will stretch at the moment, and how the items I used to think were tacky or just "there" are now sought-after antiques.

How many of you grew up with one of these?

These are glass relish bowls. But in our house they were used for serving cranberry sauce. And by cranberry sauce I mean the stuff in a can that slurps out in one cylindrical jellyish piece. My mom would then slice it, and lay the slices out prettily in one of these little dishes. It was an absolute horror when I discovered that people at it with actual whole cranberries. Gross. Anyway, I have one of these in my cabinets now, as I absconded with it and another cut-glass serving dish, that I doubt my brother has much use for.

We also had these for a while:

I think they were amber. These were always filled with iced tea. At some point they were replaced with something more modern and equally ugly. Only now they've been imbued with a certain dignity, and they're waiting to be snapped up in an antique store. Why my mother didn't have the common sense to buy the blue ones, I don't know. 

Now, if I could find replicas of the absolutely hideous lamps we had in the living room. They were awful, but I loved them. The base was a translucent green and made me think of genies living in lamps. It looked a bit like this, but a darker green and smooth:

I say "if I could find" as if Jeff would ever let these cross our threshold. We don't even have end tables, which would have baffled my mom.

Finally, a walk down memory lane wouldn't be complete without mentioning our TV trays. OF COURSE we had TV trays. Only communists didn't have them. The ones I remember best had vividly rendered paintings of autumn in New England that made me absolutely certain that I lived in the worst place on earth. Our leaves couldn't even get up the energy to change colors. They just lost hope, turned brown and fell. Actually, I suspect they were paintings of the four seasons, but fall was the most captivating. This looks very much like them - I gather the artist was named Robert Wood.

So, to wrap up this day of reminiscing I bought a bottle of Pine-Sol. It doesn't smell quite the way I remember. Maybe they got rid of some carcinogenic chemical or started using real pine essence or stopped using real pine essence. It's a bit disappointing. Hah, just found out that you can order the original formulation here. No I can only hope Silly Putty does the same.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Queen of Hearts

This past weekend Jeff took me to a special store called Queen of Hearts. Sounds like the perfect store for Bad Alice, doesn’t it? And it is.

Queen of Hearts is an antique store that houses staged displays from different dealers. Oh my God, I wanted to just roll around in the glory of it all. There were wonderful pieces of furniture, some of them as-is and some of them gussied up in interesting ways. One section had cookie jars. One gentleman specialized in vintage license plates. There were more cigar boxes than any Pinterest crafter could ever want.

But it was generally the small things that caught my eye, like the set of pink mixing bowls with the strawberry motif, and the casserole dishes - you know the ones - with little flowers. Most of them flooded me with a sense of nostalgia. A spinning wheel like the one in my paternal grandfather’s house. A butter churn like the one I found in my maternal grandparents’ basement. A straw purse with hideous flowers like one my mom had. Old Butterick patterns. Jeff even found some books on record, pulling out by chance one that contained Black Beauty with, of all things, my first name written on it in marker.

By that time I was beginning to feel a bit teary eyed. I missed my parents. I remembered my mom cutting out fabric on the kitchen table - she never pinned but instead weighted the pattern pieces with table knives. She had an old fruitcake tin filled with buttons (I still have those buttons) and an old Whitman’s Sampler box filled with thread, some of it so old it was on wooden spools. I remembered my dad’s old cigar boxes filled with arrowheads. In storage there are two old, heavy black typewriters much nicer than the ones I saw on display. Soon a chain of associations led me further afield. When Abby was little my dad found a huge lot of Matchbox cars at a flea market and gave them to her. Whenever I open the cabinet where I keep our spices, I smell the same timeless scent I smelled in our spice cabinet growing up, and I’ve stashed my mom’s recipe box there. In one section of the store I found a few old thermoses, the kind with the glass interiors that always broke. How many times I went to drink my lunch milk and found shards floating on top. Whatever happened, I wondered, to the metal Laugh-in lunchbox I used in first grade, with a paper name tag held in place by grubby scotch tape curling up at the edges?

Oh, I wanted to buy so many things, as if I could somehow recapture the best moments of my childhood and carry them with me when I left the store. Instead we left with a set of sundae glasses, something my family never owned, and surprised the girls with ice cream and fudge sauce.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Stress, What Stress?

This weekend was a respite from the not-quite-enough-air issue I've been having. But here it is Sunday night and whaddaya know, I feel like there's a live squirrel running around inside my head. This tells me I was meant for a life of leisure.

I was mentioning my panic and anxiety to Jeff the other day and he said, why, you don't have anything to be stressed about. I don't know if he was joking, but I'm sure my life looks placid compared to his, which is full to the brim with lesson plans as well as the heavy lifting in making our finances work. But, I am a thirsty sponge that soaks up everyone's stress and stirs it into the pot of my own simmering anxiety. It takes very little, just Liz mentioning that her tooth hurts - my heart beats just a bit faster because we don't have insurance this month (long story), and she had oral surgery last month. Because we have no insurance we had to cancel Abby's therapy appointments, and she desperately needs help managing her own anxiety, which manifests as chronic headaches, stomach aches, fatigue, and muscle twitches. Jeff is spending his own money (because that's what teachers do) to supply his classroom, and after the bank account was overdrawn I suggested a credit card just for that purpose. And that reminds me of how much I hate the bitches who made his life so impossible at his last job. If I was ever tempted to embrace the dark arts, it would be in the hopes of blighting their lives.

When I first started talking about this in therapy, I began with "I don't really have that much to be stressed about" and ended up naming so many things: Abby's illness and my worries for her future, Liz's perfectionist streak and her lack of friends, Jeff's former job and the fierce protective anger I felt on his behalf, our desire to live somewhere else and my uncertainty about job prospects if we move. Or the fact that I feel this constant tug of war between my sense of myself and my work.

But now I need to go to sleep. And I hope I really sleep.