Friday, January 30, 2015

Hike. This.

Originally, this was Mr. PNU's idea, even though it feels like mine. Even though, when I get excited and I start researching trailheads and distances, he says he's blown over that I've agreed to do it with him. Like it wasn't my idea in the first place. And then I remember, oh yeah. I married the perfect man for me.

This is the Bonneville Shoreline Trail. Some of it is still in project phase, but from Santaquin to the Idaho border it's 150 miles of rolling hills where the ancient lake used to lap at her shore. It's not grueling like 12K peaks, but it is long, and we're in our forties. We hope to strategically cover all of it by fall, even if I manage to get pregnant. Actually, it's perfect exercise if I get pregnant. Now, if I weren't so busy that I could start a regular exercise regime like my husband has. Or better yet, if my sleep cycle weren't so messed up that I was falling asleep soon enough and getting up soon enough that I could get to the gym with him. My only advantage is that I like food slightly less. Slightly. We're both going to slim down significantly come summer, come five to ten hour days on that trail. Unless of course I'm prego. Then I'm going to take snacks, and I'm going to eat while I hike.

Thursday, January 29, 2015


My affect is fluttering. Mr. PNU is working with me, watching as my emo side comes slightly unfixed. He's being wonderfully supportive and loving, but I know it makes him anxious. We determine that I need more sleep. When I am asleep I sleep well, but my length requirements have dropped off. I've gone a week or two on sometimes less than five hours a night. We're praying hard that something will ignite in my belly. We're on to Maca Root and other fertility measures that seem silly for how easy it was to get pregnant ten years ago. Meantime, I freak out a little when I feel variations that wouldn't have bothered me when I had the Lithium as backup. It's true that I'm overly invested in writing right now. Maybe even fixated. 

I can't tell you how much I love my husband. I want so badly to do right by him as a wife that the stress of possible swings leaves me close to tears. We want a child of our own, but I don't want to turn into a monster. Though Mr. PNU is unbelievably forgiving and patient, that doesn't mean I want to test those limits. He's working so hard on co-authoring publications right now, and on tightening up articles for submission. I know he worries about our financial state, and that he feels unsuccessful because he hasn't secured a full time faculty position. Added stress will not help him. Sometimes I want to go back on the Lithium, but I worry that if I do that uncontrollable baby lust will come screaming back to life. I can't live with that. Even with a husband who is kind and understanding. I never want to have to live through that again.

Monday, January 26, 2015


After writing somewhere close to 55 pages in a week, I've whittled the final product, "Knife," down to 35 for the time being. I think the scriptural references need to be truncated further, pared down to a less intrusive, less abrupt size. Reactions span from wild praise and acceptance of the work as a whole, to demands that I either clarify the speaker's feelings, or even that the speaker's feelings are far too overwhelming. Enough students have read it and responded that reaction also covers every viewpoint in between. Some want better focus on just one scene. Others want me to bring out recurring themes more blatantly. It is a subtle work, I'll admit that. And I feel good that there isn't a single repeating criticism. I'm nervous for class, which is in an hour and a half. This stuff is so raw that I'm feeling pretty defensive. And then there is the concern that Karin, my professor, hates faith stories. This is only marginally that. It's more like, "I have faith, but it's clearly irrational. And I'm going to keep my faith anyway." So maybe she'll give me a pass. 

I must say, however, that those who feel I'm pointing fingers of blame at my mother obviously haven't read the text closely. I'm pretty self-effacing, owning up to things that take serious cajones to admit. 

Mr. PNU is ecstatically supportive of the work. That's enough for me right now. That makes baring the soul worth the tears it took to get this beast on paper.

Happy side note: My Greek and Pre-socratics professor offered to write me a letter of recommendation for grad school today. He wants me to think about Iowa. Gah! Right. Everyone and their dog wants to go to Iowa. Still, my Greek professor wants me to apply to Iowa, and that makes me feel good.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Draft mode

Turned in 26 rewritten pages of narrative at 5 a.m., and since I had to check a box that allows the professor to check the internet for original sources of material, I reverted all of my recent CNF posts to draft. 

Because Ethics.

Mr. PNU is asleep next to me. This is becoming familiar territory. He's a doll. I am going to lay here next to him and stare at his lovely face until either he wakes up, or I finally give in to sleep.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

DSM V, tell-tale interviews, and piecing together truth

This evening, I took a deep breath and conducted an hour and a half long interview with my mother about her impressions of my childhood. In order to truthfully address the topics I want to cover in my CNF class I felt it necessary. From an objective standpoint, the behavior she described does not meet the criteria for early onset Bipolar Disorder, ADHD, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, or Conduct Disorder as from her earlier hyperbolic descriptions may have been assumed problems. With the aid of the DSM V, I've identified my onset of mania at age 13, following my mother's decision to medicate my normative childhood behaviors with Ritalin. Clinicians would classify this as Medical/Substance Induced Bipolar. Although since that time I've manifest many hypomanic and depressive episodes, there is a direct correlation between medication or substance use and each of my true manic episodes. The diagnostic criteria for Bipolar I, affective states ranging from manic to depressive episodes, is not met without those underlying factors, meaning that, properly labeled, my affective disorder symptoms fall within the Bipolar II category. 

My mother is still asserting that she believes that I was molested by my biological father, while not recognizing the repeat instances of sexual abuse that I reported to her by a cousin, my next door neighbor boy, and a boy who lived down the street. The molestations I recall coincide with the years that I began to exhibit depressed affect from time to time. 

The interview looked roughly like this:

Did I throw tantrums? If yes, how often?: Yes, but not often. Not more often than other kids.
How early did I manifest irritability/anger?: No. You weren't angry or irritable.
Was I argumentative prior to adolescence, or just passive aggressive?: You argued some, but not a lot. You never asked for permission. You would say okay if told not to do something, and you still did it.
Did you note behavior that we classify as affective prior to Ritalin use?: Doesn’t recognize that there was.
What was the behavior I exhibited that lead to the ADHD diagnosis?: You were not good at finishing homework, or things I asked you to do. Mainly cleaning your room.
Talk about my resisting boundaries: It began when you were 3. I allowed you to ride your bike from corner to corner. I walked you to one corner and said, "This is a corner." I walked you to the other corner and said, "This is a corner. You may ride your trike from one corner to the other." It was clearly delineated. I would go back inside and work in the kitchen. I'd come to check on you later and you'd be gone. 
How long would I be gone?: From the time I discovered you missing until I found you. Over your entire childhood that added up to hours. But no, not hours at a time. Just until I found you once I realized you were gone. When you were four you started visiting the Durrants [an elderly couple three doors down]. I found you there enough times that I asked them not to let you in unless you had a note from me that gave you permission to visit. It worked until you started saving the notes and reusing them. It was on that same street your tricycle started to squeak. I could always tell where you were by the squeak until another neighbor oiled it for you. Then you went missing again. Do you remember taking A— to school?
A— my sister? No. Tell me about it.: I think you were in the second grade. She must have been at least a year old, maybe two. You were riding the bus, and you snuck your sister on to the bus and took her to school. Imagine what it was like for me to find two kids missing. [Did this woman EVER pay attention to her children? Really, how does a seven year old leave for school with a two year old and their mom doesn't notice?]
Yeah, I had totally forgotten that. [It's still just a fuzzy recollection.] 
What other boundaries did I have trouble with?: You got into my drawers. That started when you were 5. You'd steal things and later I'd find where you'd hidden them while I was cleaning your room.
What things did I take?: It's been so long. I can't remember everything. You know, things like nail clippers. I can't remember anything else. But you were always stealing my stuff, getting into my drawers. Not your dad's.
I remember getting into dad's stuff too. It wasn't just your drawers I got into. Can you remember anything other than the clippers?: Oh, and my jewelry.
Did we ever play with your jewelry together?: No, we never played together with it. You took two of my rings; my high school class ring and a ring a friend gave to me. If I remember right, you said they're plastered into the ceiling in the dining room of that house.
Yes, I just wrote about that. I'd forgotten which jewelry it was. Where there other boundary issues?: I learned there was never anywhere I could hide money that you wouldn't find it. In my bedroom drawer, my wallet, the freezer.
What else?: You mutilated toys. You stuck pins in the breasts of dolls. You destroyed the rubber stamps to a printing press we gave you. You had a bride doll that started out as mine but I eventually gave it to you because you damaged her dress.
How did I damage it?: I don't remember. I just know it was irreparable, so I gave it to you.
Where had you kept it?: I kept it in a box in the closet.
Had you got it out to show me?: No, I don't think so. But my sense was that there was nothing I had you didn't know about.
Were there other boundaries I crossed?: I saw your lying as boundary issues. You were generally untruthful.
In order to avoid punishment?: It got to the point I never knew to believe anything you said or not. Do you remember telling people you thought you were a cat?
Yes, I had a heightened sense of fantasy. I remember telling people I was a horse and a mermaid. What about behaviors that might be classified as creative?: I remember one day I came in from gardening and you had all of the spices out and were mixing them together. I think that's when I started referring to your kitchen messes as concoctions.  
So I largely played on my own?: Yes, you played by yourself until we moved to the house on Main.
When I was six.: Yes. Then sometimes I tried to arrange playdates, but most kids your age had siblings and they wouldn't want to leave their siblings at home to come play with you. So you played alone.
Did you play with me?: No, you were good to entertain yourself. The only time I began to worry was when it got quiet. 
[Meaning I was either gone or was concocting something.] What about other creative behavior?: I wouldn't call it creative. This behavior I classify as breaking boundaries because I'd tell you not to do things and you'd still make messes, long after other kids had stopped.
I have 17 and 18-year-olds who still make creative messes. It's part of raising artistic kids.: Is it? You destroyed a lot of things.
Destroyed or repurposed? That's what my kids do.: Oh.

The interview paints the picture of a child severely neglected, while my recollections lend support to emotional and physical abuse. My mother also ignored the sexual abuse I reported to her. Mr. PNU overheard most of the discussion, and is as befuddled as I am. "If you'd lived in a city, or the suburbs we wouldn't be having this conversation," he said once I'd hung up the phone. "Because you'd be dead." 

I haven't consulted the DSM V with my mother's symptoms yet, but I'm almost certain she has a personality disorder. (And she's a clinical psychologist. Go figure.) I'm also almost certain that I was a delightful child. In fact, tonight I'm feeling pretty badass as a mom, and a human being in general. Funny. Usually when I get off the phone with my mother I'm a wreck for days.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Art show entry

This is M—'s entry for the 2015 SMA High School Art Show.
We took the pieces into Happy Towne Art and Frame this afternoon, 
unaware that they ask for a standard 10 day work period 
to process matting and framing orders. 
I think I freaked and said something like, "Oh shit!"
Because the framer immediately said that if 
we weren't looking to do anything outrageous,
 e.i., work with supplies and frames they had on hand, 
that they could have it done in time for me to pick up 
on my way into my afternoon set of classes at 4 p.m. tomorrow. 
This, my friends, is how you build a clientele.

M— has yet to title the work. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

CNF stuff—or, Musing around

I'm writing like mad. Here's a bit from the latest draft:

When a child is taken repeatedly to doctors and therapists for explanation of undesirable behavior, isn’t said child likely to think there is actually something wrong at her most intimate level? For every time a therapist has asked me how I came to develop self-reflection and I turned up empty, my answer should have been, “My mother taught me.” Doctors and therapists are an easy mechanism for needed attention, and assumed malady is a simple evolutionary adaptation for the children of perfectionist parents. Out of sight, out of mind children hunger on the vine; a good gardener tends to a withered crop—or some unspoken philosophy or other like that. 

So I learned to re-evaluate often. How bad was I? The stories start when I was six weeks old. I cried each time my mother put me down, thus preventing her from doing the pressing housework. At six months I bit her nipple while I was nursing. She responded by delivering my first spanking. I stopped biting. As a toddler, I refused to pick up my toys. I’ve seen the 8mm reel she took of the carton of raw eggs I dropped, one at a time, in a puddle of slime on the kitchen floor. She grounded me to the bathtub while she cleaned up the mess. I’ve seen that footage, too. I cut my own hair at three, and then my neighbor friend’s hair when we were five. At four, I found my mother’s temple clothes and enjoyed a game of dress-up. She screamed at me. I never really understood that reaction.

And then there was the incurable sense of wanderlust that settled over me at two and a half. I didn’t care where on the planet I was in relation to my parents; a testament to an inherent sense of self confidence, or perhaps pathological bravery that my mother has never possessed. The world was big and wide and full of wonder. To me, the fact that my mother couldn’t find me was only a problem when she couldn’t find me. 

Confinements spanned my entire childhood, but as I once heard it so wisely stated, grounding a teen is like chaining yourself to a bear to punish the bear. Still, around twelve or thirteen, I experienced a grounding that started at two weeks, and then expanded each time I didn’t return from school on time to a month. Then two. Until an entire year had passed that, in theory, I was sequestered to that cellblock most people call “home.” Running away was rarely on my mind; the adventure won the tug. But tell that to the cop each time they’re parked in your driveway once you wander home from fourth grade at 4:30 p.m. when school let out at 3:00. 

I can’t remember how many times my mother reported me missing, but she went to drastic measures to allow me a little extra length in my restraints. My father screwed a triangular wrought iron frame that supported a large metal bell into the siding at eye-level outside the back door of our house. The methodology was that if I stayed within ear-shot of the bell, as was allowed, that I could play in the fields for as long as I liked until my mother rang the jarring contraption as if she were calling farmhands in for a meal. I had five minutes to show up on the porch before consequences applied. It didn’t work well for a couple of reasons. First, I didn’t adhere to the sound boundary. Second, rumor of ringing-for-your-child made its rounds quickly through the neighborhood. The practice embarrassed me. I can speculate how much talk was instigated by my mother, but I can’t be certain I wasn’t strange enough that my behavior alone is responsible for my recalcitrant reputation. In the end, my mother abandoned the tactic and the bell fell into disrepair. 

At the first opportunity I hopped onto the orange and pink banana seat bicycle and rode away to freedom. My favorite haunts included Lewiston City Library, a one-room dust receptacle replete with aging tomes of Mormon theology, an Oxford English Dictionary, and an increasingly unreliable world globe. I also took to long walks following a cemented irrigation ditch that ran along the length of the field behind the property where my home was situated. This conduit provided water shares to the acreage of backfields on the northeastern side of town. I tracked its path, which cut corner through my quadrant of Lewiston. About a quarter mile from my home it intersected precariously with a larger canal overgrown with algae, milkweed and cattails. I tightroped the four inch lip of the cement ditch bridging ten feet from one bank of the canal to the other. The swampy overgrowth dropped ten feet below the ditch, and tackling passage provided a thrilling rush of adrenaline for my ten-year-old self. That feat was necessary, however, in order to access the site of an abandoned home burnt to the ground probably a decade before my birth, and a copse of  cottonwood trees intermingled with wild rose bushes. If not at either of these locales, I rode my little one-speed two miles from my home to Lewiston City Cemetery, which bordered the western bank of the Cub River. By my twelfth birthday I acquainted myself with the river bottoms on both sides of town and adjoining routes to the ghostly reminders of life come and gone in between. Almost all of these were out of earshot of that haunted bell. My parents upgraded my wheels to a Huffy ten-speed, and then even the sprawling reach of Lewiston’s borders seemed too confining. My mother relented somewhat, and I pushed into adjacent towns—Richmond and Cornish—on hours long bike rides during the fair weather months. 

But before any of this, two incidents of disappearance need be addressed. 

When I was six years old, my parents relocated our little family for a single year to southeastern Idaho so that my father could attend BYU-Idaho. Several thousand people larger than Lewiston, Rexburg was still what most would consider small town America. I attended first grade in a crumbling ruin of an elementary school, Washington, set back on Main Street several blocks from my home, and far enough away that I took the bus morning and afternoon. For reasons I can’t clearly recall, perhaps preoccupation with some imagined adventure or discovery on the playground, I missed the return bus home one day. My father worked part-time in an appliance repair shop on Main Street, a relatively busy thoroughfare just off Highway 20 leading to West Yellowstone. The exact location of the business was unbeknownst to me, but I figured searching for him was the best option when I found myself without transportation. I walked up and down the street, checking in vain at the front counter of various vendors for my father before I gave up finding him. Traversing the grid back in the direction of my apartment home appealed to me next. I walked for a long time before I came upon the sizable city ditch carrying the swift waters of the South Teton River through town. This current may as well have been the Mississippi in comparison with the irrigation ditch and canal in Lewiston, and though fear may not have registered at my being lost and wandering unaccustomed through Rexburg, the water filled me with a memorable pang of anxiety. A group of older children played on the road that bridged the water. They dropped sticks and leaves, anything that would float, into the current from the guard rail on one side of the bridge and then raced to the opposite rail to see which object made it to the other side first. I kept my distance, but stayed close by watching them for a long time. This is where the officer found me. 

I knew I was in trouble, although I don’t know if I was given opportunity to explain once I was returned to my frantic parents. I’d been gone for hours longer than any child should be home late from school. This is likely the first instance they called the police to help locate me. Unfortunately, the officer didn’t stay at my home, because in spite of anything I might have said in defense, my parents, both of them, deemed a severe lesson was in order. Years later, after telling her I was thrown into the corner of a granite hearth and delivered a series of unjustified, open-handed blows from my father over a disagreement regarding simultaneously watching television and folding clothes, I realized that my mother’s criteria for a beating entailed closed fists. This one detail is all that separated discipline from abuse. They bent me face-down over both their laps on the couch, each restraining me with one hand, and then let rain a heated deluge of impassioned slaps as I writhed and screamed in pain to get free. I remember my mother’s nervous laughter in the struggle, which continued for so long that once they had finished meting out the fiery discipline I crawled weakly, exhausted and whimpering, toward the corner of the room near the front door and promptly fell asleep, cheek pressed against the cool tile floor.

This moment in time was termed “the Rexburg spanking,” and it was referenced throughout my childhood as leverage to bring my behavior in line. To their credit, my parents only followed through on the threat once more when I was about eight or nine, and my memory of this second incident is much less clear. But the severity of their discipline didn’t waver. 

I don’t mean to minimize my misbehavior by focusing on my parents’ inability to effectively cope.  My mother’s complaints weren’t limited to my wandering. There was also the issue of my destructive nature, an early criminal sneakiness, and a blatant disregard for the property of others. For instance, at the age of two I somehow broke the legs off of her blown-glass piano. I don’t even remember this kitschy knick-knack, but she brought it up often until I bought her a replacement for Christmas a few years ago. She let me know then that the one I’d purchased wasn’t an exact replica. I was a fiend with nail polish. My mother’s fingernails were prone to split and peel; she didn’t use the stuff. But there were at least two bottles in the house and I’d spilled some, permanently staining the carpet in two rooms. Of course, I also painted rocks and I may have made a few cents selling them door-to-door as talismans. And then there was the time I went down the stairs of our house in a sled and my feet went through the sheetrock wall of the landing at the bottom. My father replaced the sheetrock with particle board and plastered over it. I was informed that should I ever pull the same stunt again the force of impact would probably break my legs. I didn’t try. I also altered my toys irrevocably, puncturing dolls with pins to give them holes for nipples and vaginas, cut their hair, cut the rubber stamps in my toy printing press in half so that upper and lower case letters were separate from one another, sprayed mosquito repellent on dollhouse furniture so that the painted keys on the toy piano wiped away and painted carpet bled away from the center of the rooms of the dollhouse. The same repellant softened the detail on the face of my hand-painted señorita doll from Mexico and lightened the taffeta in spots on her dress. I’m not sure what I was up to with the mosquito repellant, but at five I figured out that it could eat through just about any pigment. How many five-year-olds know that? I wonder if it might have taken the nail polish out of the carpet.

The most memorable incident of destruction entailed the grand idea that if I stuffed a towel tight enough under the door of the second-floor bathroom and ran the bathtub long enough that I could convert the whole room into a swimming pool. All went well until the fluorescent lights shorted out below in the kitchen. Following this attempt at home renovation water flowed freely from the ceiling of the dining room for two days, obliterating plaster and electrical wiring, dripping from the crystals on the chandelier. My father tore out the ceiling next to this fixture to allow for ventilation while the wiring dried. During this period of time I packed up a small collection of costume jewelry, some mine, some my mother’s, in a cardboard box, and using a step-stool placed the treasure in the open ceiling of the dining room so far back that I could no longer see it. My father patched up the hole a few weeks later. Unless he spotted the box during the repair and threw it out without telling me, there is still costume jewelry plastered away in that house. I’m certain I created a corresponding treasure map on a scrap of newsprint from the bulk roll my mother kept for my artistic purposes in the kitchen closet, but it’s long gone.

My theft ranged from petty shoplifting to swiping dollar bills from my parent’s wallets, and everything my mother deemed hers and not mine in the house. I stole a bag of Hershey’s Kisses from a grocery store when the family was on a trip somewhere in Texas. I was five. I carefully opened the bag in the backseat of the car once we’d pulled away from the parking lot, unwrapped the first chocolate and popped it into my mouth, and then asked my mother what H-E-R-S-H-E-Y-S spelled. She asked me where I’d seen the word. I told her I’d read it off of a piece of paper on the floor of the backseat. She asked to smell my breath. We drove back to the grocery store and I confessed to my thievery to the manager. I’m lucky I wasn’t executed. I stole a marble turtle from a tile shop in Juarez on the same trip. My mother didn’t catch me for that until we reached home, but she made me do chores for her to make the money to send back to the señor who owned the store. After the swimming pool incident my father refinished the walls of the upstairs bathroom with tiles from the señor’s company; I suppose, despite my theft, they managed to keep a working relationship. 

I admitted to stealing from my mother’s wallet while I was bearing my testimony in sacrament meeting one Sunday. The guilt suddenly welled upit seemed the right thing to do. I bore my testimony a lot, which also seemed the right thing to do, although the other kids in town didn’t agree. A ragtag group of neighborhood boys started following me home after church each week. I already knew they didn’t like me; my mom had their dog put down when it chased me across the road. They jeered and yelled insults at my back until I reached the sidewalk in front of my house. “Give up, Gudri! Just give up!” And then I went inside and they went around the neighborhood gathering fast offerings. 

I did take certain odds and ends in my house without asking. Like scissors, nail clippers, tweezers, mosquito repellant, pencils, notebooks, liquid paper, the hole punch, tape, rubber cement, my mother’s jewelry, nail polish, and foodstuffs. This was considered stealing. If I hadn’t received permission to use any household item, or to eat anything other than a slice of bread or my mother’s bottled fruit between meals and I was caught with the item in my possession, a charge was added to the running tab my mother started keeping when I was twelve. She is a meticulous accountant. 

As illustration, if I baked my favorite shortbread cookies without her permission, and through some failure on my part to adequately scrub the kitchen to its original polish she discovered my deed, I was charged $5 for the cube of butter. Flour and sugar prices were minimal. If I was caught holding any of her office or beauty supplies, or if in their absence they turned up as she rifled through my cluttered dresser drawers or through the monstrosity reminiscent of a landfill that existed beneath my bed —$5. Cheese was also outrageously priced, along with ice cream, coconut, chocolate chips, cans of shrimp, tortilla chips, packages of Jell-O, and pasta. She eventually began hoarding all of these items in her room, since my bill quickly reached well over $500. This included the estimated $100 I’d stolen from her secret cash stash in the freezer, which I took with me on a two-week dance intensive in Boise when I was fifteen. With no real job of which to speak and a meager allowance of $5 a week, which was automatically applied as a deduction to the tab and never saw my wallet, I was reduced to extra menial chores in addition to my daily household responsibilities to pay off the debt. This labor carried on for four years, no end in sight. 

My mother’s solution was forgiveness. For my sixteenth Christmas I was told ahead of time that I wouldn’t receive presents. Instead, when I woke that morning, my mother handed me an 8 1/2”x11” sheet of paper, rolled up like a scroll and bound with a white plastic ribbon, bearing an official statement of my forgiven debt, and scriptural references scrawled in typical decorative font of the late 80s from PrintShop. “Though thy sins be as scarlet…” Gratitude was expected. And so, until the next time I snuck food in between meals I was back at zero balance. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

The effect of waiting

Month four winds up this week. I'm trying not to try and failing miserably.

This month I haven't had a single moment of—"What the heck am I doing trying to get pregnant?" 

Still, while shopping together at Walmart last night, Mr. PNU and I had a heart-to-heart about the fact that these attempts are driven by something quite different from what I was experiencing in my last marriage. That was some deep biological baby lust. This action is based on the notion that my husband and I are completely devoted to each other and we want a child of our own. Subscripting my body to nine months of possibly irreparable form bending gestation is how we make that happen. Again, I think we're okay if it doesn't happen. It's just that this month I actually wanted something to catch hold without any reservation.

I'm writing a mess of non-fiction in the interim. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

When Can I Go Home?

We decided to give L— a guitar for Christmas and her birthday
because she kept borrowing the one I bought
with my first extra paycheck living on my own at 18.
I still can't really play,
and I rarely sit at the piano any longer.
L— turns fourteen in 15 days. 
Her favorite artists are Sarah Jaffe, Katie Perry, and Horsefeathers.
She used to ask me to play the songs I'd written,
over and over again.
She's been writing poetry for a while,
her own songs for a few weeks.

This is her first.
It took a little begging to get it on film.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Recollection and redemption

The task of writing is a salvaging of salvaging.
No tugboats left at sea on this one.
Time for all captains to bring their cargo in to harbor
to tally what's been dredged up.
What do you call faith, woman? Why is it so oddly misshapen?
Why didn't you leave it 20 leagues down?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Tuesdays and Thursdays are for homework. So it is written. So I am writing instead of following through with the plan.

Tuesday, which is for homework, was instead filled with sleep, visiting with a friend with Parkinson's who is losing her hair to medication, playing taxi for my oldest son in exchange for entering his sphere of existence (half an hour here, fifteen minutes there), meeting another friend for late vegetarian lunch to discuss a local poetry project we're undertaking, taking my youngest son for a tri-annual haircut (mothers of autistic/sensory kids will relate on why it's only three times a year), shopping with the same son for veggies and quinoa meant to placate his vegetarian big brother, cooking said dish, listening to my youngest daughter play her latest song on guitar, and waiting

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Insert automatopia of your choice *here*

I am blogging on the toilet. If you read me often you probably won't care. If you've just stumbled in, this may be your last visit. Either way, I don't care. At least not today.

I have this thing. It's somewhat karmic. Most people call it January.

I spend it in chaos. I spend it figuring out that my idealism is not ideal. This is the month I most often live up to Ex No. Nightmare's diagnosis of Borderline. I am all the scrambled colors on the palette. I am trying to make sense of the shift of light. I am balancing on the fulcrum that hinges Atlas to the world, the point that holds up the first tortoise. I am the underbelly of so many gruesome things.

This is a lot of self pity, a lot of things fallen apart. This is the end of three of my marriages; the ones that have ended. This is the pit of abandonment. This is the flight mechanism. This is PTSD. This is angst. This is reinvention. The dustpan. The ashes at the bottom of the phoenix next 12,000 leagues beneath the surface of the heaviest ocean. There is no spark here. Just desperation.

This is the month my husband told me the spark is gone. I am still loved. But this is where the dopamine tappers off for him. And thus, for me. 

This feels like the end of the universe and yet, I think, this is how all the sad married couples live. This resigned stasis. 

This is who we never wanted to become. At least, that's what the dopamine said. 

Except, I find it difficult to find the drop-off. I can't delineate. Maybe this is where I'm still really ill because I don't like the prognosis at the end of adoration. How does one do this? 

I think, it might be because I have gained 15 lbs. It might be because I have shaved my head. (Welcome the Ugly Narcissist.) It might be because the Manic Pixie Dream Girl I am self-programmed to be gets boring, or at least not so fascinating as anything more than that constancy of impulse and bubbling engagement with the world. 

But I guess I'm the one who's distant tonight. And riding too many suitcases from too many years past to know how to effectively communicate how it feels to be the luggage weight on a baggage car to nowhere.


Universal surnames

Today I am a faded ember. 
Or perhaps there is not enough oxygen in the room.
Stars are an assumption waiting on time we don't have 
to spend waiting around for outcomes.
Maybe the edge of the universe is rushing 
toward us. Maybe that is speculation.
Like the great-great-grandfather
no one is certain disappeared into the Yukon. 
Like the six children he left somewhere 
in the middle of Arkansas and Idaho.
Like an orphanage 
and the sixth time you practice identifying yourself 
with the dizzy line of a fly trying to escape 
into the flecked night sky
through the windowpane.
The map is a renaming too.
Like star charts.
Like an eraser chasing you through a dot-to-dot landscape.
Like the pictures our children give to us to wallpaper
the refrigerator, then reupholster the landfill, then
mulch the ground where you will lie and they will lie
until the story of connection 
is a picture of bonemeal and ash and dust 
and improbable starlight.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Four things and the need for sleep

I've been taking hard stock of life and priorities, and after discussing problems through with my husband conclusions were met.

(1) If I'm going to finish my BA without incurring a nasty heft of debt it's time to cut back on my wandering interests. I dropped the Philosophy minor, because with my husband's philosophic library, who wouldn't? I've seen Good Will Hunting. I can read. This subtracts almost 15 needed credits from my tally sheet. I'm down to maybe two semesters if I can squeeze my final math class out of the summer.

(2) I may have passed Advanced Poetry last Spring with a steady A, published all the poems I submitted after the completion of that course, and crafted a few sure pieces since with little mentoring input, but I'm not done studying poetry. It's my genre. Living without study of the craft makes living difficult. I approached the same professor (since Laura is on sabbatical and I'd milked that feedback market until she said I'd surpassed her tutelage) and hit him up for a second run at the course; at first as TA, and then, when we both realized he's enough of a lone wolf that I'd only end up under foot, he agree to allow a directed reading course of my own tailoring, specific to my poetic needs. It will earn (3) credits, but I may have given myself enough work for (4). By the end of Spring semester I aim to have studied Hass, Strand, Gluck, Li, Simic, and Merwin for two weeks each. I will have written two poems a week, for (28) completed pieces by late April. I will submit to no less than (8) journals, and will complete a written evaluation of what I've learned from each poet and my incorporation of these skills in my own work. It's an endeavor. My professor, Rob, signed off on it with no questions asked.

(3) I don't like "trying" to get pregnant. I may very well be too old, and peeing on sticks stresses me out. Tracking my ovulation has been informative, and I'm more in tune with how my body responds to hormonal changes through the month, but sex has lost its spontaneity and thrill. Sometimes I feel resigned rather than resolute. In fact, Mr. PNU and I aren't always 100% sure that this is what we want anymore, even if he feels like we should, even if I felt an irrepressible urge to have a child throughout my third marriage. What is revelatory is that I can live for three months, med-free and happy even under stress. But there is the goal of an MFA, working as an adjunct, continuing the writing life. A 13-credit semester of undergrad work is hard enough with five kids; I have no idea how I'd do grad school with a baby. And the five kids we have are great kids. So we haven't ruled out having a child together. We're not thinking contraception, but we're at the point where conceiving is not a pressing priority.

(4) I'm taking my last semester of Greek, and I have to take it very seriously. I realized today, intimated that I'm no more than an infant in this language. Syntax is my downfall. Sure, I can read the New Testament. Plato slaughters me. His poetic use of extra words for the sake of meter and assonance is daunting in a way few things described as daunting ever truly are. I'm in my second semester of Creative Non-Fiction, which means I'm going to be hacking out around (60) pages of narrative over the next few months. I've already planned out my topics: mental illness, revelation, the Mormon experience, Abraham, Kierkegaard, and reconciliation with faith. Mr. PNU seems hopeful of the final product, and throws out suggestions often, even though I'm uncertain exactly what that will look like. I'm also picking up a Brit Lit section from a soft-spoken darling of a professor, falling in love with Mary Wollstonecraft, and taking up "Pride and Prejudice" for a second go. Basically, I'm a workhorse till May. I'll probably answer this by either breaking down, going nuts, getting pregnant, or writing more than anyone will care to read. Funny how this writing friend stays constant. Funny how I'm writing this when my husband is laying alone in our bed and he is my best friend of them all.

Good night.

How You Will Live Alone

You will go on, noting the pressing half-light,
the hollow of every shadow missing
next to you on the pavement where you stand. 

You will listen for the memory of a voice,
for that hopeful vibration, for some residue 
of a fading chord, for explanation. 

You will observe our marriage living in between:
the persistent growth of hair after combs are misplaced, 
the nail beds mooning wax and wane against your teeth.

Someone will always insist there is a future absence 
from this absence— 
as if winter were not the anticipation of spring,

as if cold were not measured by the wanting
warmth of sunlight, as if our love were not punctuated 
by these nights you did not intend to spend 

in silence. October will sometimes end in a pale shudder,
like a collapsed lung gasping at another year 
come and gone that I intended to go on 

holding you. You will slip your hand into a patient glove
to feel how we both are haunted, and you will know 
this lonesome divide cannot possibly be yours, alone.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015


Print came calling.

Broken Vessels, the found poetry series I wrote last spring has been accepted for publication by the journal to which I submitted. This work is derived entirely from the palette Mr. PNU offered me in his 2 Nephi 2, a Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology paper on mental disability, responsibility and Mormon theology.

This isn't one poem. It's six. Six pages in print, not just online. 

My initial reaction at finding the Poetry Editor's email in my inbox was disbelief. I'd written off the journal as a possible home for the work in the fall, since I'd submitted late last April. This speaks to the necessity of patience in this craft, because I knew due to the notoriety of the journal and the volume of submissions that I would only receive a response if the work was accepted, and there it was.

Mr. PNU's reaction was priceless. "Now maybe we can get some attention on this issue."

Understanding the complexity of compromised reason and its deluded constituents, of sacred covenants to obedience and the doctrine of atonement is as much my husband's theological area of study (mental illness and responsibility ethics the focus of his PhD) as they are the focal points by which I critically assess my life.

I read back over the body of my series last night, to call to memory what it was I'd crafted a year ago. I found it quite pleasing. And so that is my reaction—I'm quite pleased. This is how I want to enter the world of Mormon Arts and Literature. It's a worthy contribution.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Examining the breasty badge of goodness

With the new 'do I can shower and be ready for the day in less than half an hour, but I was up by 8 a.m. We'll call it force of habit that I must still give myself an hour. I stood in the dark under the hot stream of the shower and lathered alone. There is decidedly more of me to wash since my wedding, although my husband insists that shape trumps volume. My terrible eating habits and lack of physical activity now overflow my "fat" jeans and my largest bra cups. The latter is not a bad thing; my post-breastfeeding chest, which might be described as long and slender, has haunted me for the past eight years, and the added fullness from plumped cells smooths out stretch marks and gives shape where previously I had relied on roll-and-tuck methods in push-up bras to maintain the semblance of glamour mag boobs. The muffin top I'm sporting over my size 10 jeans, however, is not a favorite feature of my forty-year-old self. I've resorted to frequently wearing sweats, and accentuating the upper half of my body with plunging necklines on blouse tops. I'm not so terribly overweight that most women my age don't still admire my figure. Average size for a middle aged woman is 12; I'm just under that and what my husband refers to as "hourglass." But the body I inhabit feels like a fluffy foreigner, and I'm only slightly less comfortable in my skin than I was in my late teens. It's hard to feel that one's body is good.

Teenaged girls don't think of the breakdown of the perfectly smooth self, the decay of their peachy flesh. I'm looking into the funnel of the latter half of life, realizing that at 17, when I hated my body and my flushed, healthy skin, women of the age I am now were writhing with jealousy in their less than well-textured dermis. I lacked age to know what I had while I had it. The insight I've gained tells me I shouldn't complain about what I have now. There are the infant aches and creaking joints, my hair's tawny flecks have faded to gray and lightning streaks of white (I remember my father's full shock of white hair at 49, just before his death, and I know where I'm headed), but after a full range of medical tests for various reasons in the past month the results pour in, laughing at my assumption that God had hinted via a patriarchal blessing that my life would be a short. Oh, it may be still. But so far cancer won't likely be the culprit.

The last of these tests—this morning's mammogram—is my first.

I made the appointment three weeks ago, feeling then as though 2015 were still a long way off and that the experience of arriving at forty, standing topless with my breasts in an imagining contraption belonged to a matriarchy to which I felt stranger. This morning's dawn brought me, a willing initiate, to the rite of mammary priestesshood. I'd been instructed not to lotion or powder my breasts, not to apply deodorant. Of course, I forgot both. The first came to mind at home, and I spent an extra five minutes after my shower lathering again with apple-scented handwash and rinsing over the sink before I toweled off again and dressed. I didn't remember about the deodorant before I was at the hospital with kimono in hand. I'd already phoned in a few #myfirstmammy statuses to Facebook. The technician, Kay, smiled at my admission and handed me two washcloths. I was directed to a bathroom to scrub out my pits, and given directions to meet Kay in the imagining studio down the hall and around the corner to the right once I had cleansed myself of the Secret. I stood in front of the bathroom mirror after washing, the kimono hanging loose and open, my armpits a little raw and red, and examined my forty-year-old knockers. 

I remember taking M— to my breast for the first time after her birth and feeling these extensions of myself finally had a wanted purpose. In seventh grade, I'd donned an oversized jean jacket (kind of like the one E— bought second-hand from a vintage shop on Center Street) and wore it, shoulders slumped forward, for an entire year as a shield from the eyes of 13-year-old boys once I realized that my boobs were a "thing." As a student of dance, that thing was more often than not an annoyance; I was well aware that Balanchine made anathema the busty ballet dancer. The higher my body fat, the closer I came to spilling out of my B cup. The lower, I could sometimes skip the bra entirely. By the time I'd reached 20, my eating patterns and dogged bicycling earned me an A. At my lowest BMI I weighed 115 lbs, wore a size 3, and didn't own a single underwire. I met M—'s father during a period of time that my head was shaved, my nose and my earlobes adorned with piercings, and spaghetti strapped sheath dresses were my staple article of clothing. Without makeup, he told me I could easily pass for a boy. Among his brothers, he referred to me as "porn-star." (Yes, these boys objectified as a matter of compliment.) Only I've seen enough porn to wonder what they were looking at. I'd had little shape, so that, yes, by the time I gave birth to his daughter a year and a half later, I had indeed changed a great deal. (My changing being my first husband's main complaint in the dissolve of our marriage.) 

I adored nursing my babies, airing out the breasts every three hours, the let down reflex. E— stayed attached to my breast for almost two years; "nurch" being one of his first words. He very well may have continued into toddlerhood had I not begun taking an antidepressant when he was 20 months old. Weaning B— at 13 months in order to begin Lithium therapy broke my heart. I accepted then that he was my last. He may still be. In the years since I covered my breast for the last time and put my baby boy on the floor to play I've payed little attention to my chest. My boobs exist as a memorial to those years I fed my four infants. They hardly fit into the category of "porn-star" any longer. In fact, one of my favorite memories of breastfeeding is tied to the birth of L—, my third. M— was just four. I've never been much for modesty while nursing at home, and breastfed in front of my older children without covering. A cousin of diminutive chest came often to help during the first months after L— was born at the start of my single motherhood. One day, as I nursed bare-chested, M— leaned over my shoulder an asked, "Mom, when will Kim have long breasts like yours?"

My breasts are not what they were at 20. They are long, veined and lined by stretch marks, full like footballs when I hover over my husband during sex. But at forty, these pendulous, fatty breasts with their well worn nipples bring me greater pleasure than any other point in my life. They are my matron's badge of honor. 

Kay moved assuredly, gently taking my flesh in her hands and distributing it in the needed areas on the imaging machine. I relaxed and gave in to the squeeze, which I might even describe as pleasantly arousing. She told me when to take an arm out of the kimono, when to put it back in. I told her about the job I'd had at 18 as a figure model for the university in the valley where I grew up. People then asked me if it weren't uncomfortable to stand naked in front of strangers. Frankly, I told Kay, once the robe was off, what was I going to do? Cover back up? I disdained my body then, even though the professor assured me that I was exactly what art instructors hoped for in models. There isn't an inch of my skin that hasn't been reproduced in oil, pastel, and graphite. There isn't an inch of me externally that hasn't been seen, evaluated, applied in medium as aesthetic to a canvas. In comparison to the silicone sex industry beauties I've seen, I'd never in my life dub myself "porn-star." But, I told my technician, for an 18-year-old in the 90s, getting paid $10 an hour to stand around in my skin was enough to make me think I was something to look at, even if I couldn't find the students' reference in my own mirror. Kay laughed. I wouldn't believe the women who won't relax their arms away from their ribcage, she told me. Then, she said, there are women who come in and drop the kimono top, completely comfortable standing exposed. When Kay, who is older than I am, began her job as mammographer in her 20s she said she had no idea what women looked like. Now, she said, she knows there is no end to the variation. And unlike the art students I posed for, Kay has seen beneath my skin. She told me that in the four poses she adjusted my breasts and limbs that she was able to get good images, and she smiled the way someone smiles when they've seen you at the core and they know you are good.