Puzzlement

Early on, my son was a master at solving puzzles. He began this occupation, this obsession, with a common board puzzle, usually made of wood or another sturdy type of material. These simple puzzles are known to be a staple of most preschool playrooms because they are a foundation for identifying patterns, an essential foundational skill for a developing reader. Each piece of this type of puzzle had an obvious destination, a recessed lair, shaped in the exact formation of what was removed from it. All a puzzler had to do was to align a shape to its appropriated outline. There were no complex connections to be found, no obtuse angles or slanted alignments to be made, the connection was simple and easily afforded, and when all pieces were placed on the board, the scene was completed. For example, in his favorite farmland puzzle, the barn shape did not need to fit directly into, or be in agreement, to the holstein cow piece, nor did the sun have to be reconnected into the many pieces of its yellowed self. Each piece was succinct in its role and had a place to fit into.

Each piece had a place to fit into…

That sentence took me aback. Made me pause and reconsider my pieces and how they fit together. Perhaps this is all because I am turning fifty-one years today, but I know this is more than feeling limited by any stereotyped mid-life-crisis. I actually feel expanded because I am watching, much more intently, the evolution of the days before me. I am now fully embedded, committed to this jigsaw, and, like any great puzzler, I realize you do not quit just because you cannot see how it will all come together in the end. It has made me reconsider and re-examine this life, each piece of it, for either its trickery or its salvation. The acquired shapes can appear so very different to one another, but as with any pieced formation, once assembled, the cut lines are irrelevant. All of the solo shapes come together to create the One of it. It has a harmony of its own self.

But, getting back to my son, as he grew, he wanted new challenges, new puzzles, and his father and I willingly obliged. His baby brother grew much the same way. They were, and still are of course, huge pieces of my life-puzzle, but it has become clear that I have completed their primary phase of nurture. They do not look to me, nor their father, for every piece of their puzzle any longer. They are out there making and finding new shapes of living. It is good to see.

Now, as I reflect more on this, I suppose their father and I have been the known accomplices in the creation of the greatest strategy known to any serious puzzler: do the frame first. After this is established, the rest of the pieces will align together a bit more easily. I know this because I made a promise to my children years before they were born, in the teddy-bear tears of watching my own parent’s divorce, before I knew their father, before I knew myself. I asked the Universe, Jesus, Allah, Buddha, or any being who might be listening, to help me do all that I could, to give my children one father, one house, one family, to collect their pieces.

I know this to be true, because, last year, after we sent our last son off to college and as I was talking to a young friend about the strength of my marriage, the successful launch of our two sons into collegiate life, how we are coping in the empty nest, I realized I was hearing my words differently. It was like something, or someone, escorted me to the audience, front row center, and was telling me to listen to myself, to hear the truth of what I was admitting. The wave of it slammed into my consciousness. Damn. How did I not feel or see this essential piece click into place? It had slipped itself in without me cognizant of its arrival. I must have been looking too long at other misfit pieces to see this all happening. This act of supplication, sent years ago by my younger self, was echoing out all these years, and now, has been delivered, right under my heart. It became apparent to me how all of this suffering, joy, sense of sustenance we expereince is happening all at once. There is no realigning the pieces in the puzzle of our time line, just the ultimate presence of who we are Now.

When and if my sons ever ask me about this life-puzzle we play with, these pieces we twist and turn, manipulate and sometimes lose in the crevices of our continuum? If they ask me if it is really worth trying to complete?  What I will try to say to them, by evidence of of my experience, is that what we search for, in the depths of our pain, will be delivered in love. The questions we ask in life, become our life. The jigsaw knows of its truth. It just waits for us to play with it.

Red of Regret

I was wearing a short red dress that day. It was a polyester, short-sleeved, shirt-like, dress that hung straight down from my shoulders to just above my tomboy-ed knees. I always admired its multi-colored Swiss-embroidered multi-colored trim around the edges of the collar, sleeves, and the center zipper; but the most enjoyable part of this dress was the function of the zipper.  It was just too irresistible not to play with. It had a circular pull, along its short race track, from my sternum to throat: zip up; zip down. zip up; zip down. The simplicity of this dress, and the black nylon knee socks and shoes that I chose to accompany it that morning was not only to fulfill its service as proper Sunday morning church attire, but also to celebrate its form. The non-binding design would provide me with all the freedom I needed to move through the day, or so I thought. By the end of that afternoon this dress would restrict me in more ways than I ever thought possible. It would disappoint me, and embed itself so deeply within my memory, because, after it was over, I just needed something, to be angry at.

 

I was nine and it was 1974, a time when kids like me were left to primarily heal themselves after enduring certain life events. There were none of the kid-help social groups I now see in many elementary schools or online Facebook groups to transcribe experiences, we were just expected to ride out the unpredictable current of our parent’s voyage, and, like good little buoys, were expected to absorb any wave that bobbled us. As good journeymen, adults know that even the best of buoys need to be checked and maintained once in awhile or else they will lose their tether and suffer great damage, but some still maintained a belief we had this built-to-last construction. We were destined to become the collateral damage of our parents wants and needs and stay resilient holding on to whatever we could. Which leads me back to the dress. I knew it was best to redirect the anger at it--at the intangible--as it was my best chance to stay afloat.

 

That dress first disappointed me in a place I once regarded as safe-- my backyard. It was once filled with neighborhood kickball games, tree forts, and wonder-year crushes, but today it was quiet. It was only weeks earlier that I played until dusk with my friends and whined when my mom called me in for dinner. It was a birthplace of some of my greatest childhood memories, but now, as I fervently climbed one of it's tall evergreen trees, trying to get away, it became the arena where the contempt began. As the stiff polyester red fabric slid up my thighs, exposing them while I climbed, it allowed branches to scratch and penetrate my skin. It was on me, but it was certainly not protecting me. The tree, I forgave, because I traveled it’s height often in the days before this day, and I understood which limbs could contain me and those that could not, I knew how to watch for the growing light as I approached it’s top, and I always, always, was ready to hear fear telling me when it was time to go back down. But today I only heard my own voice saying, “Please, God Please don’t let her die.”

 

My mother was not near dead. She had just collapsed from the stress of trying to talk with my father, as it was only weeks after we moved out, and, most likely, from the effects of the scotch I saw him spiking her coffee with just minutes before she dropped. But how was I supposed to understand that? All I know is that when she fell to the floor I was terrified. She looked like my giant sized Raggedy Ann doll, face down, limp and lifeless, but, unlike my doll, I had no power to retrieve her, so I just ran. When I came down from the tree, and realized that she was indeed still alive, I looked back into the scene and saw both of my parents sitting together in the living room. A room that was once was filled with all of our adornments of living, our colonial wooden coffee table, the iconic print of toddler John F Kennedy Jr. saluting his father’s grave, the chair with the prickly patchwork-patterned upholstery, was now all gone and scattered-- just like my family. Be a good girl, take a breath, and take it in. My eyes dropped down to see the scratches on my legs, red and stinging from the tree branches, and realized that this stupid red dress was too short to cover the hurt. My hands reached up to find the familiar zipper: Zip it up, zip it down; zip it up, zip it down


What happens next is a collision of love and confusion, a kind of deep-seeded regret that compels everyone to just keep asking for one more moment of forgiveness. None of us knew what we did to each other, no one knew where the compass was pointing to, no one knew that we were losing faith in what was meant to be good. He was asking, she was resisting, and I was left floating in between the literal push-and-pull of their demanding currents of want. She was now on the street, I was in the car, and he was, as always, in the driver’s seat. My mother’s hand pulled me to get out of the car while, on other side, my father clung to my other appendage begging me not to leave him. My nine year old head head hung low, my arms stretched out like Jesus’ gesture surrendered upon the cross, and all I remember saying was, “Please, God. Please tell them to stop.” All the while, taking in my stupid red dress, on my stupid red lap, with its stupid dark zipper leaning against my lower lip, choking me with its stupid metallic taste. This dress was slipping up my thighs, exposing me and the scratches from the tree climb, and it was then I truly realized that it was not what I needed to protect me. It was revealing so much more of me than I ever wanted to be seen. It let me down, it held me back, it exposed me, and it ultimately failed me from letting go of things I didn’t need.

Oh Robin, Our Robin.

Waking up early this August morning I began to persuade my BUNN coffee machine to administer its grace. I stood there watching it huff and puff, drip and putt, and spit its defiant reminders of it’s unique design. “Oh, right. I always forget about this part”, I found myself mumbling to my sleepy self. This machine’s capacity for immediate giving is predicated upon daily use, and since I was away for six consecutive days, this slow re-start time is imperative for it to regain strength, to reawaken its function, to refill its hot water reserve and perform as it once did. Perform for me. Give me what I needed to make me function. “Get on with it already.” I heard my impatient self declaring, but, as I said this, I felt a nudge from deep within, something sad, and I was quickly reminded of the last night’s news. Robin Williams dead at 63. My impatient anger mirrored something else.

I realize that I am more angry at the man behind the curtain that tricked you — Oh Robin, Our Robin — into believing that you were nothing more than a physicality, an after thought of of this rhythm of life, that It somehow persuaded you to give up on your capacity to live and love. I am left wanting and needing more of you. Just like this damn coffee machine. I want to ask you, and the so many of you who have chosen this same means of exit, did we expect too much of you? Did we not understand your unique design? Did we somehow talk ourselves into believing that you required no other avenue of sustenance, because your bountiful giving of joy must have, must have, provided leftovers for you to live upon? What did we miss? What could we have done, at that moment, to re-deliver the joy back to you? You must have been sputtering and puttering, unable to fill your tank. You leave me so scared Robin, because how is it possible that a man who had the capacity to tap into so much joy, be tricked into feeling that it was all so trite? Oh me, Oh life, what sovereignties do we not extend to each other? What resilience can we give? Grief knows no comfort, no answers, in this morning after. #sadness #RobinWilliams

Baggage

Started a book today called The Magicians by Lev Grossman and this passage spoke to me:

“You probably feel sorry for me, he went on airily. He wore a dressing gown over his regular clothes, which gave him a shabby princely look. “You shouldn’t you know. I’m very happy here. Some people need their families to become who they are supposed to be. And there is nothing wrong with that. But there are other ways of doing it.”

Early on I learned that you sometimes need to move far away from what you know, to see what lies within the wake of what you want to be; or, at least, learn to not trust yourself to the same certain familiarities presented to you. You have to force yourself to stop looking straight ahead, stop taking in all the bullshit presented to you, and really listen to the images whispering from the sidelines. Because, from these peripheral voices, although they are ethereal and chaotic, the substance from which they are created is not absorbent to your fears; it merely repels them. And it is only when you learn to trust which you cannot see, that exists in direct opposition to what society defines as real, is when you have made the first step into a journey established to be your fate. It will synchronize your life into the mystery that was destined for you—and only you.

As a child I found this peripheral truth much like children from Narnia found the wardrobe, like Harry Potter found the passage to Hogwarts, like Frodo found the fellowship, like Siddartha found his way to being Buddha. All are the same story of redemption, of finding the breadcrumbs on the path, of absorbing great pain and failure for the sake of knowing the one truth given to all creatures that walk this earth. These heroes presented their stories, lifted the edges of the storybook curtain, of the the peep show door, allowing us to see that there are enormous promises given to us, found in more places, if only we resist the temptation of strictly believing in what appears to lie ahead.

I clearly admit that I am no savior. I am not the star of any pop-time TV show, nor am I a magician, or have enormous amount of physical stamina to climb life’s Mount Doom; but, I am a really good spectator. And, if anything, I can rest in the lonely ability to unpack the suitcases of stories I observe all around me. Because, we all desperately overpack for every journey we take, and I, like a weary traveler after a long journey complete with many layovers and re-connections, watch the luggage turnstile before me, spinning its truth, weighing itself down with every last indulgence, and sadness, and sparsity of happiness we all lay upon it. I search for the right bag to grab, take hold of it and just run; sprint away from it, like every tenet of my life is dependent on the contraband it contains. We all need to grab ahold of what is rightfully ours, the containers  without the name tags, or fancified bandanas identifying the bag to its rightful owner. We all need these grab-and-runs, so we can leave something more behind; more than just a bag of bones, without a voice, without a soul to complete the journey.

Parenting too much?

My reflection of this article of The Atlantic, How to Land your Kid in Therapy 

I have to admit that Mark Donovan and I have fallen into some of these same traps, but as a young mother in the late 1990s, reading all that I could about parenting, I do remember taking in some thought provoking articles about the traps of this self-esteem psycho babble style of parenting. It did make a lot of sense to me, because I personally had learned so much more of who I am today through my own struggles, but I still found it hard to swim upstream of the suburban trophy-kid style parenting. So, yes, we did the fantabulous birthday parties, the travel teams, the "everyone wins" style of thinking. But, I am proud that we, when Joey Donovan was not chosen to be part of the "A' team in basketball in 7th grade, did not demand that the coach change this, but we said to Joey, "If you want this, show the coach he made the wrong decision." In other words, play and work hard in practice. Give it all you got and show him your talents. He obviously did and he was given more opportunities to play "up". #whew #riskWelltaken

No doubt it so very hard to see your child wallow in the end of the pit, in isolation, but from one who has learned more to see in the dark than in the light, I know a parent's job is to teach them how to cope with that suffering, how to use it as building blocks to find their own their perseverance, and how not to give up on who they want to become even if it changes along the way. On occasion, I have said to them, "No one is better than you, but you are never better than anyone else". "That doesn't make sense. mom", they say. "Know your humility. What is given can always be taken away, in a moments notice; but if you know who you are, your gifts, you can always keep you head above the water until the flood resides" They just sigh and walk away. "Another crazy lament from mom", I am sure they are thinking. But, no worries, because as my grand friend Kate Williams Alcott once said to me, "You rant and rave, stand on your parenting soap-box, exasperated that they are not taking in what you are saying, until, one day, they say something so profound, so incredibly perfect, it is as if they go back into the filing cabinet of all your words and teachings once said, and just recite your thoughts." You just stand in awe; gawking at them. "What?", they might say looking at you like you have two heads. You just sigh and walk away.#tablesTurned

As I write this, I look at my cell phone to see if Joey texted me. I think about Tommy upstairs sleeping in his room, still with us, and wonder what he will do today without me. They are never out of my thoughts, never am I able to shut the switch off, but I do know that Mark and I need to let this curtain close as we both feel the final act of Stage One of primary parenting winding down. Stage 2 will, no doubt, bring its own suffering and joys as we watch them spin away from us in college, with job opportunities, and maybe marriages and grandchildren #gulp; and Stage 3 will, hopefully, allow them to return the love back to us as we age out of our lifetimes. Until then, I will praise their endurance to embrace the difficulties and remind them to be humble of their gifts. #lifeMovesOn #parenting #whatIsNext

As the Morning Bell Rang

I wrote this poem in December of 2012 right after the shooting at Newton.

_________________________________________________________________

as the morning bell rang

and as you whispered your giggles

and tossed your crayons

and joined smiles with friends--

It waited at the edge.

 

as your teacher listened to your

stories of tooth fairy visitations

and the indoor soccer game altercations,

and all about your dreams of snowflakes

with mother's kisses still warm upon your checks--

It was circulating.

 

just as you were once living in a world

as right as rain on your lemon coat, 

as perfect as the new-born blanket that held you 

[the one mommy patched for you]

It was beginning to descend

 

oh, my little ones, 

we want say to you that 

the world is in forever  light--not dark--

but, there no words

we can give you and your mommy and daddy today,

who are now left with christmas presents -

unopened and unloved--

for this syringe thrust It's poison 

so deep into the once-safe caverned places we knew, 

we are only now left to devour our own hearts--

just for the sake of sustenance,

to swallow--whole--for you.

 

but, I do know that 

the moment the aggregate of all your little voices

sent it's pain so deep into our universe,

the sound was retrieved and recorded,

because, on this eastern day-after 

of cerulean blue sky scattered 

with wintered bared branches against it's back,

your souls sleep against my lake of grief and 

I re-member you 

singing about Frosty, and Jingle Bells, and Santa…

Tears now come

as cold as snow.

 

At last, my little friends,

My promise is to you

is that when I hear 

the echo of your the pain 

sent back to me,

I, the teacher, 

who sits with little souls just like you every day, 

will promise to keep the clarity of the 

song you once sang.

 

I pray, in love and light-

to the ones I never knew

but I will grieve for-

ever - more

____________________________________________

K Donovan

12/15/12

My Trinity

and there was a trinity:
given when light was breath
and fire was body

then they asked...
"what shall she make of it?"

 

There are times when I can say that I am given a notion, a desire, to rearrange words and construct sentences, to articulate something very specific. I battle with letters and phrases, I argue with my Inner Critic about what sounds too sing-song and is what articulated as the truth; I allow myself to wallow into sentimentality then rape myself with regret; and sometimes, before I see it coming, I have beaten the intent of my heart so righteously that my head has totally outweighed my heart. I say “You suck.”, and then it is over. But the delivery of the words above (My Trinity) was unlike this. It was very unusual. It did not follow the same riotous pattern.

 

It was as though my Muse crept past my Inner Critic and deposited words at forefront of my heart, complete and concise, unwritten and unreceived, until I was ready to transcribe it. I typed it out as quickly as it was delivered, and I continue to value it as a mirror of the human life I manage. I try to re-member to ask myself, especially when days get a little rattled with the many to-dos and wants, “What shall she make of it?”

 

I suppose this website is a testament, a depository for that trinity. But, you might ask, what exactly is my trinity, the three things of me, that warrant so much of my foundation? I am not so sure I could, or want, to label them, but, in spite of this, I do believe that it was given to me more to celebrate the notion rather that to define its containment. The notion is, that by my own understanding of my own trinity, my own sight, I have been opened to the familiar trio-pattern throughout all humanity.

 

There are many triologies defined already: Father-Son-Holy Spirit; Mind-Body-Spirit; Water-Fire-Air; Birth-Growth-Death; and lets not forget the modern myth film trilogies of Lord of the Rings, Batman, and the Matrix  They become points of direction, of rapture, of self-absorption, of baptism, and forgiveness for all. Each trio designed to deliver truth as we know it, and whether whether it be of cultural or religious flavor, these trios give points of polarity that bounce us around the universe like a ball in the beloved 1980 video game of Pong. We learn the if-then conditional statement: <if at edge,bounce> But I also ask myself if these identities we live with, our masks, also bounce us around this stage of trinity.

 

My identities of mother, wife, artist, educator, writer, woman cause me to bounce. I often see them as divisions, tempting each other to draw the lines to defend their own territory, but the more I live the more I believe they are interdependent of each other. As of late, I have been teaching them to stop fighting with each other and be open to compromise their strengths and weaknesses. (I suppose the educator in me just couldn't help herself!)

 

As an artist, when I enter the two-dimensional cavity, I play with the human figure set before me. I allow myself to get lost within shapes and color as they are presented to me, and for those who have drawn with me you know that I am a pig-pen of a mess when I create; allowing the charcoal dust and pastel crumbs coat my skin sometimes more than the paper destination set down before me. The human figure, with all its entry points, it’s collisions, it’s softness, it’s vulgarity, is my main portal of creation. It has become my schema, my familiar pattern of revival.

 

As my two boys get older I feel the identity of motherhood shrink down. They do not need me as they once did. I am not their touchstone as I once was. I am no longer the teller of their stories, the sustenance of their days, and I sometimes feel their pulling away as an intensity only reserved for the grieved. But, I remind myself, as I watch them continually grow into young men, that I was able to fulfill a secret promise, unknown to them, provided only to me, and revealed only to their father. I rest on those laurels and believe that promises made while in the womb can carry a torch long into the nights we live.


So, as the days continue on and I play with each identity I maintain, each mask, I will continue to ask, “ What shall she make of it?”