Soap And Stones

As I was driving to noon mass for the feast of St. John (in the beginning was the word, a phrase for which I took two years of ancient Greek to read), I realized there wouldn’t be any, because it was Saturday.  This is a special day for writers, well, for me, I don’t know that any other writer cares.  I parked at the cathedral, there was only one car, the door was locked, I couldn’t even get to see the cat.  A lady in the one car opened her door and asked if she could help me.  Maybe I should have said, “Let me in!  I must pray!  It is my day!”  But I was a normal person and said I figured there wasn’t noon mass, she said yes.

I tried a couple of Catholic churches, and they don’t do noon mass on Saturdays, either.  Well, it’s less fun to get communion there with the new nice pope, anyway.

I drove to the little modern art museum (it’s contemporary, I know, but I like the word modern and I hate contemporary, it sounds horrible, like coughing).

So  my friend who got hurt is still six kinds of messed up.  It was a car accident.  I haven’t driven since.  I don’t have a car.  I drove today.  Since I was about 22, I’ve worried about someone I know being in a terrible car accident.  I’ve known plenty of people who have here and there done some recreational drunk driving.  And when I actually do know someone who is terribly hurt, it was daytime, some crazy person hit him, there was no speeding or risk taking, just being out in the world, just not hiding under your bed.

My dad and stepmom got on a plane this morning.  They’re fine.

My little city has: the Western Auto sign, which I will paint when I get home, back to New York I mean.  It has Lamar’s Doughnuts, big pieces of grass with nothing on them at all, big roads with almost no one driving on them almost all the time, 80% of the people I love, coffeehouse tables as big as Montana.

photo 3 (1)Then they have a painting of part of the Kennedy assassination.

Who knows?  Who can know?  What was he doing there?  At that exact wrong moment?

You try to be careful.  Then you don’t, because it doesn’t matter, and it feels good not to be careful, to deliberately not be careful, to drive 80 instead of 70.

I have returned to reading Shambhala by Chogyam Trungpa.  He is a silly cheerful Buddhist, a hippie Buddhist who thinks deep down we are all good.  I believe very deeply that deep down we are all good, and also that deep down we are very evil, it depends on the day.  Christianity will raise you to think you are not good, my parents told me I was good, and the church also told me God loved me very much, it was confusing.

Anyway Trungpa writes that the cure for fear is overcoming hope.

I have worked on hope a lot, mostly in the spinster/barren woman/no one will ever love me worries.  Well: I have worked on them, and they have worked on me.

photo 1The other piece I loved is a big wall piece made of soap dishes.  Most of the soap dishes have worn pieces of soap in them, some of the have stones.  The soap, you know, had been held in hands, you could tell.

Why were you there then?  I almost moved into an apartment facing Hyde Park, but I thought the rent was too much.  Instead I moved into the carriages house and a million things happened as a result of that, many of them fulfilling dreams I didn’t know I had, most of them related to Gertrude Stein.

I was on an important first date, and I said, “Who’s your favorite painter?”  and he said he didn’t know, and that was the wrong answer.  What if he had answered sooner, faster, because he did have favorite painters?

I was reading Incredibly Fast and Super Close, I mean Wicked Close and Hella Loud, I mean: Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close (for a laugh, try to get a group of people to come up with this title without enlisting technology)  it didn’t occur to me until later that this was a bad book for a New Yorker to be reading when she flies out of New York.  Think of all the planes that didn’t crash, though, all the people who were nowhere near downtown that day.

All those times we got drunk, we fell, physically and in love, we yelled and said terrible things but did see each other again and made up, we lusted after each other and gave in or did not give in, trusted each other and were let down, trusted each other and were not, we decided our friends were all wrong for us and we would snub them, we decided our friends were the most important thing.  All those times were soap in the hand.

The stones get worn, too.  It just takes longer.

Soap and stones piece is “Used and Worn” by June Ahrens.  Kennedy assassination painting is “Continental II” by Christopher Brown.  Both currently up at the Kemper.

Speak Tenderly

glassesThis week: the social worker was trying to talk to this woman with her eye swollen out of her head, the woman was thrusting her cell phone at this very young social worker demanding she talk to her dad.   The hospital security guards talked about what to have for dinner.  A college girl from Columbia waited for her dad, and then her dad put his jacket over his face and lay down to wait.  The receptionist called people to tell them what time to be there for their surgeries.  A guy I wasn’t sure if he was homeless ate a banana and then he picked up all his stuff to leave and clearly he was homeless and keeping himself together very well.

I typed up a unit plan for the Aeneid and played Candy Crush until it wasn’t fun anymore and squinted because the light hurt my right eye.  I was so pissed this was taking so long, waiting is one of my primary anxiety triggers, that is why I try always to be late for everything.  All elsewhere around the city people were marching and chanting and yelling and lying down in streets because a cop who killed a guy had not been indicted.  I saw one of their signs resting against a newspaper stand the next morning when I was walking to work.

Also this week: one of my students sat toward the back.  Was trembling.  I know what to do.  At least not to make things worse.  Sit next to.  Pat on arm.  Tell everything will be okay.  Let friend take over.  Compliment friend later when he rejoins class.  Thank him.  Go back and offer to listen to problem.  Student tells me what I already know: cousin was stabbed, can’t get cousin on the phone.  I told student you can’t use your phone in the hospital, I was sure cousin was fine.

I still haven’t really felt this.  It takes time.

After spending last Friday night throwing up and hoping to throw up and wandering my dad’s house looking for some kind of medicine maybe I should take, I pulled myself out of my brother’s old bunk bed with the model planes flying above me and the giant stuffed pony on the top bunk watching me like some kind of creep to be driven to the Christmas tree farm where we talked with Jack Russell’s son (Jack Russell died last year) about the prospects for keeping the tree farm open, and how much water the baby trees need.  My mother took the tree home, I went back to the bed with the model planes above it.

At church tonight we didn’t pray together for Eric Garner’s family, or the police, or the city, it is unusual for us not to be on something like this, but we are between priests.  We did have Isaiah, though: “A voice says cry out! and I said, ‘What shall I cry?  All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field.”  Or perhaps you would prefer: “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”

I heard our neighbors knew Eric Garner, went to barbecues with him.

I told people who were going to the protests that I hoped it would be fulfilling.  I think it was like telling people I hoped a funeral would be good.  Some funerals are better than others.

In my advisory, we watched the CNN video about the Garner verdict and I told my students black kids look like my kids to me.  They talked some, too, and then they wanted to play Uno and loud music which I generally don’t like except for the new Beyonce song, that I might like.  “Oh, my God, Ms Schurman, you know this song?”  And we talked about the video, I liked it, she hated it.

I’ve been wearing my glasses for a week now, very unusual.  I had eye problems that made doctors forbid me to wear contacts, but it’s been years.  I used to put them in to go dancing, against medical advice, I couldn’t stand the idea of going out, dressed up, in glasses, I did not feel pretty in glasses, also the way we danced glasses would sweat or fly off my face.  This week the problem has been that it has rained.  Without an umbrella on Friday night it got hard to see, walking from the subway home.  I just took them off.  Nice, rain on your face, when it is not too cold and you know you are going home.  I could hardly see at all, blurs of red tail lights and smears of yellow streetlight and none of the sidewalk cracks.  I got there anyway.

Image: Spectacles, Met Museum Online collection, gift of Mr. Alfred M. F. Kiddle, 1940

Guard Dogs

cerberusThe two big news stories since I moved from Missouri have been: anti-Semitic lunatic shoots up the Jewish Community Center, and cops shoot teenager who is black and unarmed.  Is that where I am from?  Well, yes.  It is a place that struggles with fear in its own ways.

We will always have trouble with people in authority and how they scare themselves and other people.

Terrible things happen when people get scared.  I was scared of Kansas City’s east side, the black side of town, until I went there for work, until I knew and loved so many people who lived there.  I’m still scared when alone in unfamiliar neighborhoods that look uncared for, neighborhoods where kids aren’t out playing or there is no one to see what happens to you.

I am scared of being alone, although I like being alone.  I am scared of not having enough money.  I am scared of falling down steps.  I am scared of thinking I am being funny but people are offended or think I am weird.  I am scared of not having enough time to think.  I am afraid of looking back on my life and thinking I was a coward.

When I get scared, I watch a lot of television.  I make a plan that involves begin to list things that are wrong with other people in comparison to what is right with me.  Being a hard worker, or laid back, or smart, or ignorant, really, anything will work.  I used to work a lot with logic, having faith in the logic of the world, the logic of other people, or even in playing the odds, how likely is that to happen?  Also, I think about how to make myself so okay that I will never need anyone else and then no one can ever disappoint me again.

These strategies are actually rather effective and thus it is hard to stop.

When cops get scared, really bad things happen.  Either cops are scared, or they are stupid.  They know people hate them and want to kill them.  They have a lot of fear to manage.

When teenagers get scared, and they are scared almost all the time because you may not recall but their whole selves are construction zones where heavy shit can fall and they aren’t even the foremen, usually.  Teenagers who are black have particular and real reasons to be scared.  Especially the ones who live in neighborhoods that give them PTSD.  This is still gunshot season, until about the first frost.  Then things calm down until Christmas when people have to deal with their families, or realize they don’t have money for presents they want to give.  And then you know the people who are supposed to protect you are people who even if you want to, you have trouble trusting.

Really bad things can happen when teenagers get scared.  Not necessarily the things people think of, running away, withdrawing, but often counterphobic stuff like stealing a car or borrowing a gun or cussing out a teacher or throwing a book at her.  (Said book was nowhere near aerodynamic enough to be anything more than a gesture, don’t worry.)

I think scared people are helped by sitting in a quiet room with someone who is either not afraid, or pretending not to be.  I am very good at the latter, not to brag.  Posture is important, too, that is, sitting next to someone, side by side, is usually good.  Lots of quiet is good.

I have plenty of fear experience, both of the average type, like, I am too afraid to move to New York, which is something I still think regularly although it’s hard to have faith in now.  And the pathological type of the anxiety disorder, which is a different species.

For religious people, repetition helps.  Chanting and praying the hours and ritual helps.  Singing helps.  Letting yourself feel your feelings helps, but this is very hard.

For many fears between people, conversation about food and annoying parents or annoying children helps.  The weather is a place to begin.

I had no great interest in the movie “Big Fish,” but I remember a scene with a big black dog.  Someone had to confront this very scary dog, and when they did, the dog ran away.  This doesn’t always happen.  Sometimes bullies don’t back down.  Sometimes they beat the shit out of you.  Sometimes they kill you.   You may be better off, though, working on your happy medium of not running away, not becoming aggressive, something in between, whether it is jokes or silence or shifting your weight.