People who have lived with a personality-disordered individual can recognize one a mile away. We are held hostage to the whims, moods, and tantrums of someone who brings chaos and alarm wherever she goes. She will forget (or deny) anything she says when it’s convenient to. The rest of us will still be reeling days or weeks later, trying to understand what just happened.
That is a description of my mother, which will surprise no one who has read my memoir. But does it not sound like someone else? Someone with tiny hands and a big mouth? The weeks since the inauguration have felt reminiscent of my growing up. Actually the months since the FBI director re-opened the investigation into the alleged HRC e-mails have felt like my childhood: chaos and conflict and a sense that events were out of control.
Like many of us, I have alternated between light and dark, between uneasiness about the future and calm within the present. Everyone I know is swinging on the same swing-set. I have felt encouraged by people who have shared how they are coping with their fears and how they are maneuvering through the new American landscape.
There’s the energy and outrage that propel us into the street, to meetings and to small acts of resistance. Then there’s the need to crawl back into ourselves –at least this is my experience as an introvert who loves being with people but only for about three hours a day. Anxiety makes me feel beside myself. I treasure the times when I feel inside myself.
Arranging music last Monday, for example, was a lovely way to spend a morning (even when I find out after I’ve made 35 copies that I’ve done something that’s not going to work.) I arrange a lot of the music for the OK Chorale and I had meant to finish an arrangement of “Fiddler’s Green” over the weekend, no, a week, that is to say, two weeks ago.
It’s time consuming and meticulous work; I need to be in the right frame of mind. Ironically, it’s an activity that puts me in the right frame of mind the minute I start doing it. Written music is precise. It’s fussy. All those little black circles have to be carefully inked in the lines and spaces. I use a ruler to draw the measure lines and the eighth note beams. It’s important that everything lines up and is easy to read. It’s absorbing.
Knitting was calming until I started learning to knit lace. Since then it’s been less so. On the up side of struggling to knit lace, I walked to the Fiber Gallery a mile from my home, three days in a row to get help with finding those pesky yarn overs that run away when I’m not looking.
I poured candles one evening. I burn beeswax pine-cone shaped candles that come from a shop in Longmont, Colorado: Amber Lights The chandler is a friend of one of the Susans in my life– the one known as The Other Susan at All Present because there’s also Susan of Susan and Mike, try to keep up. The Other Susan couriers several candles to me every time she visits Longmont. I burn three or four of them every winter, lighting the first one on the fall equinox.
Anyway, these pine-cone shaped candles burn efficiently and cleanly, often with very little wax left. But I manage to collect a small saucepan of wax bits by the end of the year. I like to melt them down and pour tea lights.
I am cooking again. I’m not much of a cook. I haven’t been a good cook since the 70s. That was the last time I actually read cookbooks and tried recipes and had kitchen routines. Things have changed in the culinary world and I haven’t changed with them. Plus I’ve taken a detour into gluten-free and anti-inflammatory diets, also known as shop-and-chop diets and that’s a world unto itself.
Regarding gluten-free: A student of mine once asked me if I had “that disease” or was I just one of the annoying ones? I guess I am one of the annoying ones but it really does make difference in my joints. I would be much more annoying with gluten in my system.
In any case, I am reading actual recipes and trying new dishes and it’s been fun.
There’s always Bach. I am working on a recital, the centerpiece of which will be the Bach wedding cantata (#202). Bach is more holy to me than any scriptures. As I work on this cantata phrase by phrase, line by line, recitative and aria, I try to sing it straight through several times a week. Those are the times it feels most holy. This piece of music has been around for hundreds of years. Thousands of people have sung it. With every performance it has poured itself into the world and the world is richer for it. This music connects me to a long line of singers who have sung Bach and been carried out of the darkness by him.
For sheer, mindless escape I play Trump Yahtzee. This involves playing Yahtzee on-line. Every time it looks like I am losing, I refresh the game so it never shows up in the stats that I have lost. So far I haven’t lost a game. That’s Trump Yahtzee.
Events in friends’ lives have a way of righting me when I start to totter. My friend Putzer, the Attorney who incidentally has retired so I don’t know if I get to call her that any longer, has a new grandchild. This little girl had some huge challenges at birth. When her life was assured and her mother called her Mighty Miss Matilda, I burst into tears.
Tears were a huge release when I went with Gwen to send her cat Lucy to new adventures in another world. I’ll miss Lucy. Gwen buried her in my yard. That evening I lit a candle on the grave and stayed until the wind blew it out. I tried to get my cats to participate but they acted like I was trying to pull a fast one on them. I’m always trying to enrich their lives and they are so resistant.
I’ve discovered the poet Carl Dennis. One poem in particular digs a little deeper into me every time I read it: “On the Soul.” Maybe it seems poignant because with high levels of anxiety comes uncertainty as to who owns my soul. The poem begins with the line “They told you you owned it” and eventually catches up to:
It would have been better if they’d said nothing
Or told you it lived its own life, like deer
Hidden in the woods, not seen from the road
As you drive past in the car, not seen
When you stop and climb the fence.
Even if they browse on your own land,
They’re happiest left alone,
Stepping down in the evening to the stream,
Bedding down in silence under a screen of thickets
To dream what you may guess at and can’t know.