Anne Notations

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Front row seats

Ready or not. Here it comes. Kevin says this photo looks like a still from a Spielberg movie. Be sure to click and see it big.

Tonight I learned first-hand about squall lines and shelf clouds.

Shortly after I pulled into the driveway at home around 6 p.m., a storm rolled up behind me from the north. Michael, our neighbor Felicia, Kevin, and I gaped from the road at the amazing show unfolding in the sky. When the lightning got close, we retreated to our front porches and marveled at the ferocious downpour. The rain quickly moved southeast, so I walked down to the beach and took some photos of the bay.

The word awesome is overused, but tonight I just have to say it: Awesome! There are a lot of photos here, and I love them all and hope you'll click to see them larger.

Elsewhere in Rhode Island, hailstones piled up like snowdrifts and roads filled with flood waters. A fisherman in Bristol was struck by lightning. Trees split and toppled, a chimney was blasted to bits by a lightning strike, and people everywhere were left shaking their heads at this wild day of weather.

New England: If you don't like the weather, wait a minute.

Home, reflected.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Looking forward

Anticipation is a delicious feeling, prickly and breathless and sweet. It's sex without the hormones.

On a few occasions in the past decade, I found myself looking forward to nothing at all for months at a time; indeed, instead of anticipation I was overcome by dread or the wish to escape. It turned out that at those times I was suffering from clinical depression. The wonders of psychotropic medications, paired with my idol Dr. Aaron "Tim" Beck's cognitive therapy, mean that I am now able to live in a fairly constant state of positive anticipation.

To illustrate, here's what I'm looking forward to right now – and at a time when we are still quaking about our finances, Michael's lack of a job, and Kevin's close call with school expulsion:

Going to work tomorrow. Yes, it's true! During the last several months I have taken on a new responsibility in my job – editing the university's internal Web page of news and events. I still edit publications, as well, but it's the return to a semblance of journalism, now in the online medium that I love, that is bringing me new joy at work. (I also established and maintain this two-page site for families of students.) I go in early; I stay late. I'm never bored.

Heading down I-95 this Thursday evening with my college roomie Gail. (That's us at left in fall 1972. Click on it; see how young we looked! See how little my hairstyle has changed in 35 years!) We'll reunite with the third member of our ’73 trio, Beverly, in Atlantic City on Friday and enjoy a "girls' getaway" that will include a steak dinner at Morton's, maybe a few coins in the slot machines, and a relaxing Saturday night at Gail's condo near Philly, before returning home late on Sunday. I can't begin to describe how excited I am!

The annual July 4th fireworks right down the street from our house, on the beach; they actually take place the night of July 3. Some friends are joining us. I adore fireworks and cookouts and summer nights.

A mini family reunion on July 12, chez nous.

Kevin's neuropsych evaluation on July 29. Please, let us learn something useful to help us understand his challenges and help him navigate his junior year more successfully than the year just past. Please, let there be a way for him to love learning.

Picking ripe tomatoes later this summer from the various plants in my tiny raised garden, above. Let's hope the Early Girls live up to their name. We've already been enjoying the herbs.

The release of this!

The following month, the theatrical release of The Clone Wars!

Anticipation is one way I know I am alive and well (and, the kids would add, just a little eccentric). I want to die anticipating the next great thing in my life. Does that make sense?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The hand that whirls the water

Sometimes, this world is too beautiful to sustain brooding. The latter part of the week has been that way. Yesterday morning was postcard-bright, as the view from our front steps (above) will attest. (Click it!) All three of our children were on hand and fizzily entertaining, as was our spirited granddaughter, who made three trips down the road to the beach and could scarcely be pried out of the lapping water, with its fascinating stones and shells.

Thank you, God-Spirit, for ruffling the blue-green bay waters with your breezy hand on these fresh June days, for conceiving the force that through the green fuse drives the orange daylily flowers across the road. Thank you for hope.

Thank you, dear friends who have left kind comments on this sometimes-angsty blog.

Not least, thank you, Principal Kavanagh, for readmitting our humbled and repentant son to your high school. Not everyone gets second chances, so we are beyond grateful for this one.

...It was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.

Dylan Thomas

Monday, June 16, 2008

Deep-breathing into summer

These days I seem to have no Great Thoughts, just big worries. I'm worried sick about money – Michael is still unemployed and we're starting to give up hope; in this economy, even places like Home Depot aren't hiring sales staff. Should he start collecting Social Security (at a greatly reduced rate)? Will we lose this house? Will Melinda have to drop out of Syracuse? Michael is irritable; I'm fretful. We snipe and argue, then cling to one another like drowning people in an angry sea.

I'm worried to death about Kevin, whose dismissal from La Salle we are appealing to the principal tomorrow. Even if they take him back, can he (literally) make the grade? What will his neuropsych evaluation next month tell us: that he's chronically depressed? Has ADD? Or that he's just lazy and bored? Kevin took an online IQ test and scored 150. That's probably high, but maybe not by a lot. Yet he flunked two courses for the year and nearly flunked a third one. He's funny and nice, but so inert and affectless I feel like shaking him into life. Is this just a really bad case of teenaged-boy doldrums? What is wrong? Is it our fault? What will become of him? He has two more years of high school (somewhere!); then what? Is college too much to hope for? And even if he gets in, will he do the work at all? Will he ever be able to work at any job?

Now I am (to quote a psychiatrist friend) awfulizing. Step back. Take some deep breaths. Focus only on this moment. Smell the roses – and we finally have some roses to smell! (More on that later.)

In the midst of this gloom, we have celebrated, as well. Melinda graduated from La Salle on June 5, and we couldn't be prouder of her. Her dark maroon academic robe set off the bright-gold ribbon and medal around her neck, symbols of her membership in the National Honor Society.

Kevin, Melinda, and Andrés just before the La Salle graduation ceremony, June 5.

A week later, her report card arrived at home: the best grades she's ever gotten, and first honors. As she posed, smiling, with her many friends outside the cathedral, I thought back to a darkened bedroom in a Bogotá apartment where I lay next to a sleeping, dark-haired baby, six weeks old, watching her breathe. It was the moment when I fell in love with our new daughter so hard, I actually feared being hurt by so much emotion. Ever since, I've believed that God must truly love me; how else could I merit having this particular daughter in my life, and in my heart?

Another joy to me is the closeness among our three children. They genuinely like being together. They laugh, tease, talk, and just hang out. Their childhood rivalries long outgrown, these three gravitate toward one another. May it always be so.

Then there is Caroline, who talks in complex sentences, can't get enough of roving the beach in search of rocks and flowers, and makes us all smile, especially her Uncle Andrés.

Andrés and Caroline crack each other up.

Michael was sick with thyroiditis for several months and has been seeing an endocrinologist. Several weeks of Prednisone therapy have wrought near-miracles, and last week he was able to finish putting railings on the front porch and help me landscape the front yard. We spent Father's Day finishing the shrub and perennial plantings.

The front border gardens in progress.

Ta-dahhhh! (If you click on these photos, they will get bigger.)

Oh yes: about the roses I am to stop and smell. We planted two of these yellow rose bushes yesterday. They have that heavenly tea-rose fragrance that I adore.

Now all we need are front stairs and handrails on the porch, and a nicer lawn. The front porch is our favorite summer room, and at the end of a hot day's work outdoors we sip cold Miller "Chill" beer (hint of lime; yum) and watch the sailboats and listen to the summer birds from our Adirondack chairs.

Amid fear and discontent, there is also the peace of this beautiful place and the sunshine of our children's love. I have to keep reminding myself that all else is mere noise.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Words, smoke, purpose

Some two dozen of us settled into padded chairs at long tables in a tiered science classroom this morning, glancing about shyly, seeing who we recognized. We were university employees enjoying the annual "staff development day" program of lectures, presentations, and tours.

Near the blackboard in front, a traditional Native American solo pipe melody wafted from a CD player. A serene, sienna-skinned woman wearing a long gray-black braid and a patterned dress arranged objects and photographs on the table before us. "Please come in closer and draw together," she said pleasantly. "This is a gathering. We don't want to be separated."

Then she struck a match and lit a woody-looking scrap in her hand, placing it in a large quahog shell. A plume of smoke zigzagged toward the ceiling, and the woman held the shell aloft, waving it gently like a priest swinging a censer. A whiff of fragrant smoke enveloped us. "I am using white sage," the woman said in her serene alto, "but in New England my people would have burned balsam."

Thus began a transforming 80 minutes of connection. The presentation, entitled "A History Right in Your Own Backyard," had been described on the signup list as a glimpse of Native American culture in southern New England. As an Am Civ major who increasingly finds myself drawn to the social and cultural history of this country (as opposed to my earlier fixation on its literature), I looked forward to learning more about the people who had given names to landmarks of my personal environment: Mattapoisett. Sakonnet. Seekonk.

Donna Mitchell, our leader with the leather-laced braid and smoking quahog shell, is a Pocasset Wampanoag who lives in her ancestors' homestead on Watuppa Pond in Fall River. A poet, storyteller, and historian, she presents spoken-word histories and readings at schools and other institutions when she isn't working at her day job in Brown's Africana Studies department.

Donna invited each of us to introduce ourselves and reveal something not necessarily related to our work. Some talked about their ancestry, about Cherokee forebears and Mayflower connections. I described myself as a native New Englander who has been a stepmother, adoptive mother, biological mother "at age 41 – surprise!" (laughter), and now a grandmother to my stepdaughter's child; with a deep interest in family histories.

We learned about Donna's distinguished great-grandfather, Dr. William Perry, a native medicine man who studied Western medicine on his own and treated both Indians and whites. We listened to Donna's thoughts on spirituality, a driving force in her quest to unify the living descendants of America's aboriginal people and transmit their stories to the younger generations. "We are all worshiping the same energy – the Creator," she said. "Religion is just a name for where you fit."

Moving slowly and rhythmically, Donna chanted a poem:
The Journey: The Red Road

As you travel across the magnificence
of this earthly universe
Behold the splendor of all that is.
Look to the heavens
for it is there you will realize the
unlimited possibilities
of all your dreams.
Step boldly onto the earth’s blanket
beneath your feet
for it is there all of your
aspirations will take root.
Sit beneath the shady splendor
of a seasoned tree
for it is there you will learn
the secrets of enduring life’s many storms.
Lay upon the sands of any beach
and listen to the rhythm of the sea
for it is there you will understand life’s
balance of give and take.
Run fearlessly through a meadow
of tall sweet grass
for it is there you will know the depth of your spirit set free.
Climb the height of a mountain
and gaze over its edge
for it is there you will realize
how far you have come.
Seek the comfort of solitude
for it is there that you will know
the Great Spirit and You are One.

By Words in the Wind, aka Donna Edmonds Mitchell

Something about Donna's manner, her wise, unhurried voice and dramatic emphases, felt familiar to me. At the end of the program, she asked everyone to say something they would take away from our time together.

"When you spoke," I said when it was my turn, "I heard the voice of my maternal grandmother. Like you, she was a gifted storyteller and the keeper of our family's ancestral history. I am now the person in my matrilineal line who owns the photo albums going back to the German immigration to Missouri in the mid-1800s, and the family tree on both sides.

"You have helped me to see my mission and place in our family saga. I am a writer, a student of history, and the owner of the information. It adds up! I think it is time for me to complete and write our history for my children and grandchildren."

We all lingered past the official ending time, reluctant to leave a room that had felt briefly sacred and embracing, thanks to Donna's words, her shaman's manner, her warmth. No one wanted to break the peaceful spell.

Being the inheritor of my family's records, photographs, and genealogy sometimes feels burdensome – like when we pay the monthly rent on the small storage locker where we keep our records and memorabilia. I hope I can adopt some of Donna's graceful – and grateful – acceptance of the opportunity to be griot and conduit for my family's American saga.