Thursday, April 30, 2020

We are all grieving.

I came downstairs to Big Brother helping
Little Brother with ABCMouse.
This sight helps me breathe deeper.
I keep thinking of essays I want to write. I think of them at 3am. What is it that you think of at 3am? Or for you is it midnight? Or 5a? Or noon? Our brains are working overdrive, trying to survive, to breathe, to keep our hearts beating and our families fed.

It's Anxiety, and it's invaded most of us. We can't sleep. We worry about everything. Our brains jump to worst or all scenarios immediately.

I've always thought of anxiety as an evolutionary trait. It's part of me, and it's what helps me write. It's also literally saving lives right now. When you are worried about entering a grocery store, you worry about all the bad things that might happen, and you (I hope) act accordingly with precautionary measures: maybe staying home, ordering curbside pickup or delivery, or being extraordinarily careful if staying home isn't an option for you. Anxiety isn't all bad, you see.

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I see so many posts of grief of my friends, and I want to reach out an hug each of you through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, from across the street, from my front stoop.

This is so hard, right?

I have been trying to connect with you blog readers for ages, but I can't seem to get anything written. At this very moment, I have Angus hanging on my left arm and Graham leaning on my right. One is coloring, and the other is writing in a journal. These five paragraphs have taken me an hour to write.

During the past hour, one mirror was broken, two tantrums were had, two cups of tea were made and then went cold, one pencil was snapped in two, I yelled at my beautiful children. Also during that time, they drew beautiful pictures of forest habitats, David shaved his beard, the kids picked up the toy room, and I tried to lower my pulse by taking deep breaths, which have not seemed to work.

The only thing that calms me is writing. It is so hard to write when it is impossible to be alone.

How are you all doing? For real? Most of us are not ok, and that is ok. 

What has helped me is lowering my expectations. It's been beautiful. I have tried to accomplish three things a day. That's it. Three things. 

But my brain still rolls in overdrive, wanting to do SO many things. I want to collaborate on eight zillion projects. I want to blog every day. I want to homeschool my children in a Sound of Music kind of perfection. I want to savor every moment.

Instead, there are tears, there are smiles, there are cuddles, there are "get your hands out of my shirt" shouts, there is screen-time, there is art time, there is movie night -- so many movie nights -- and there are no plans for the future.

There is comfort music and there is comfort food. There are baked good deliveries from amazing neighbors and group text threads galore. We fit too much into our daily lives, both for distraction and for community. It's a dichotomy, and it's not wrong. It's human.

We are both grief and hope. We are complex, and that is okay. 

Enjoy this blog? Please, if you are still employed, toss $1/month to my Patreon page. Patreon is allowing me to volunteer my time for other art, like that "Lift Up Louisville" song, which I spent my family time recording, making videos, promoting, etc. Also, I dyed my hair PURPLE, and only Patreon members have access to the video :) 

Thursday, May 1, FACEBOOK LIVE. 2:45-3:15 Eastern time, aimed at 7:45pm-8:15pm United Kingdom time! For the Europearn House Concert Hub
Sunday, May 3, FACEBOOK LIVE via ZOOM 7:00pm Eastern time. on the Adath Jeshurun page. 

Friday, April 17, 2020

Give yourself grace and permission.

Newgrange, Ireland, and my shadow.
Six weeks ago, I was in the Wicklow Mountains in Ireland, mapping out a memoir I’m writing about the sandwich generation and my experiences caregiving for two parents with cancer while also solo-parenting an infant and a preschooler (the book now feels completely inappropriate to finish, now that being an adult orphan with young children is not so unique, thanks to pandemic, but anyway).

I took that trip to give myself the space I’d missed out on for years, when other people’s health was priority. It was an affirming trip, a beautiful trip, and I’m also 100% sure that the French couple next to me in the pub one night (and I only went out ONE NIGHT) had the Coronavirus. (My cohort in Ireland agrees, and as that couple finally left, every other table in the room looked at each other with a “Why in the world were those two just dry coughing over their entire dinner and dessert???”)

But that was six weeks ago. A continent away, the day before the first positive case was found in Ireland, and, as it seems in my head: a lifetime ago.

Today I’m thinking about all people in my social media friends who are new to anxiety. They are mentally exhausted, freaking out about things that aren’t a big deal, generally irritable, can’t sleep, and can’t turn their brains off. It’s oddly reassuring to see the people whose brains typically work “normally” to be susceptible to stress and anxiety, and it reminds me that my own experiences over the past few years (caregiving, working from home, wiping baby butts, parent butts, unable to take care of myself because that whole oxygen-mask metaphor doesn’t always apply: and yes, I have a therapist) were legitimate.

I’ve written about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs before, but let’s revisit, in case we’ve got any new readers. In the spirit of being kind to yourselves, let’s try to remember that during this pandemic, this strange period of quarantine, of uncertainty, of fear and anxiety, means we are trying to just survive right now.

Literally: we are trying to survive.

It’s a challenge. Happy humans need a lot, but right now, allow yourselves breathing room. Do yoga if you can, but don’t if you just cannot. Because sometimes you just cannot do the things that the Twitter tells you will make you feel better. I don’t care what studies show that getting dressed every day will make you magically feel better about yourself. Sometimes spending that time showering and getting dressed means you missed morning snuggles with your sobbing child, and guess what? I often feel better with bed head and pajamas, no matter what my more put-together friends suggest.

Let us remember that, when we are at the bottom of this pyramid (survival), we are not trying to get straight As in life.

Right now, it’s all pass/fail.

Give yourself grace and permission. Permission to sleep, to hold your breath, to not do everything right, to make butter noodles for dinner, to let your children watch Pok√©mon, to work your ass off because you still have a job (congrats!), to not finish your book, to not return a phone call or a text, to ignore your voicemail, to not make your bed, to not use this “down time” to better yourself.

We are trying to survive.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

The Joy of Connection

Trying to find rainbows everywhere. This one is in Ireland, February 2020.
Last night I played a 30-minute concert for the Kentucky Performing Arts: from my sunroom! After the show, I was a sweaty mess who could not fall asleep, not until well after midnight. Why? I was SO pumped from having played a live show -- with actual, real people watching! Who commented! Who made requests! Who sang along with me! Who cried with me when I couldn't make it through "Souvenirs" without tears. It was such a joy to share feelings and feel connected to the universe in some small way.

You can watch the archived show here.

I wore sequins and brought four instruments and managed to play quite a few songs, including two John Prine tunes and a bunch of originals. It was a great evening. I hope you get a chance to watch the show and smile and little. Let it out. Pour yourself a vodka and ginger ale (John Prine reference) -- or some water in a beautiful glass. Let the love pour out.

Speaking of John Prine -- and I have so many words that I need to save for another blog -- here's a video of me playing one of my favorite John Prine songs.

HUGE thank you to those who tipped last night or joined my Patreon pageThings like that make it easier on me as I try to navigate unemployment claims (so far I don't qualify).

And now ... ugh, how can I play MORE!? I'd love to do a daily livestream concert, but I'm also homeschooling, navigating NTI, still trying to hustle and book future shows and generally stressing myself out.

I was just invited to play a Folk Festival in England next May, so I am working hard on how to make that trip feasible/profitable -- or at least to break even -- by booking enough other gigs over yonder.

Does anyone in England/Scotland/Wales (or nearby?!) run a folk club or house concert or festival? I'd love to come play some music and share some stories with you? And maybe bring Banjo Steve, who could run a banjo workshop or something :) Email me!

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Friday, April 3, 2020

April 3- Tornados and Grandmother Grief

Today is April 3. April 3 was a triggering date for my mother, as it was Easter morning, April 3, 1983, when she received The Dreaded Phone call — the unexpected “your mom had a heart attack in her sleep last night and has been dead for hours.” I was in the dining room eating chocolate from my Easter basket (funny story; Easter & Passover were, to me, exactly the same holiday until I was about 11 and finally saw Jesus Christ Superstar) when the phone rang and I had my first experience with sudden grief, loss, empathy.

I wasn’t particularly sad because I didn’t have much of a relationship with her, but I remember feeling just awful for my mother, whose grief was immense. Born in the early 1900s, she was part of The Greatest Generation — and their grandchildren were seen occasionally and heard from never. We went to her apartment for Passovers and Rosh Hashanah’s, but (along with her pound cake and brisket) I mostly remember being shuttled off to a tiny desk in her bedroom to play paper dolls that smelled of stale cigarette smoke. Hello, little girl, aren’t you cute, now go play ...

I’d asked The Four Questions just days before when we’d been at her apartment for both Passover and her 63rd birthday, the 31st of March. Four days later, she wouldn’t wake up.

Did any of you out there know my grandmother? And while I’m thinking of her, Evelyn Helman Speevack, did any of you know Abbie Osterman Kaelin? Because she died shortly after my 2nd birthday, and I have no memory of her either.

I’ve got a grandmother problem, made worse by the fact that my children will not remember (or only have the vaguest) memories of my own mother.

If you knew either of my grandmothers, would you tell me something about them? Favorite foods? Attitudes? Hobbies? Favorite sayings? Travel habits?

I’m leaving this blog out in the world, and I so wish my grandmothers had had blogs I could pour through.

Anyway - deep thoughts from today. XOXO

P.O. I only mention the Tornados in the title because my parents moved into this house the week of April 3, 1974, and told me repeatedly about the awful tornado that Louisville experience that week that ripped apart our neighborhood.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

The Powers of Negative Thinking

I know - I KNOW. I've been negative. I've tried everything I can to shift my thoughts, to focus on gratitude, to focus on the positive. The problem with that (and yes, I recognize that already I'm pointing out a problem, but this is the point!!) is that for everything I am abundantly grateful -- and there are so many things for which I am grateful -- I am brought back to sadness that I can't call my parents to tell them about this cool new thing for which I am grateful.

Grief is a process. Grief is unending. Grief is a ball in a box.

I've read all the articles. I've read all the books. I've talked to all the people. It doesn't change the fact that my parents are dead ... that they died horrific, slow, painful and unproud deaths. It doesn't change that they didn't see their grandson play the son of Mark Ruffalo and Anne Hathaway in a fucking Todd Haynes film!! These HUGE things ... these celebrations and joys are celebrated and then immediately deflated because I don't have my best friends to share them with.

Stained glass window in my mother's former dining room.
Grief and depression and love and regrets. Oh, to be human is so complex.

I wish I could believe that my parents were sitting on a fluffy clouds in the sky looking down at all their grandchildren are doing. Maybe you believe that. I don't. I can't. I'm sorry.

I sit here in the dining room of my childhood home -- a home I bought from my mother, so Medicaid wouldn't take it if she outlived her prognosis (cancer had already practically bankrupted my parents during my mom's breast cancer treatment in 2001) -- staring at a beautiful stained glass window that my mom chose, and under which she would draw her last breath and then never exhaled again.

Y'all know how she painted this room five different colors and never bothered to move the furniture, but just painted around it. Well, the window that remains contains several jewel-tone colors that remind me of all the colors she once painted this now-greige room.

I love the daily reminders. I hate the daily reminders.

Any positive news is immediately flanked by negative thoughts, no matter how much therapy or reframing or "it's just a thought" or meditation or whatever happens, and I hate how it's making me feel.

All I've got is writing and music, and the outlets for that feel very small at the moment.

Hold your loved ones, my friends.

Here's a John Prine cover that makes me smile and cry. Perhaps that's the point. Tears and smiles go together, and that's okay? Ugh. Thanks for coming to my journal entry.

Anxiety and empathy and all that i'm trying

What is it you miss the most? I miss interaction, which is strange because I'm mostly introverted. I can't imagine how the extrovert...