Have Seen, Will See

America, June 2017, in the nave of the church from 1702, a mural of the gospel being preached to successive groups: gentiles, who look suspiciously white, Asians (an Indian woman, a Japanese woman), Africans with breasts in the fresh air, and finally Native Americans, who wear their babies on their backs and cover their breasts.  I’m the white lady who showed up at random, at noon on a Tuesday.  The other worshippers are casual with each other, saying hello, clasping hands.

The woman next to me opens a prayer book for me, to the Eucharist Rite One.  I do not need this, but it is sweet.  It reminds me of being at the monastery, where a sister usually opens my books and sets out my materials.  I’m always away from the monastery long enough to forget some piece of how the books and booklets work.

It really doesn’t seem okay, me the white lady looking up at the mural of the black people kneeling around a white preacher who has brought them the light, in this black congregation.

When I first walked in, the priest was reading from Revelation.

I hate Revelation.  Martin Luther and I feel it should be struck from the Bible for being full of craziness that inspires crazy people to do crazy things.  It is full of magic but magic that suggests the future is something outrageous, with no basis in the past, and I hate this idea.

Luther ended up leading a split in the church, and I was sitting 1,500 miles away from most of my family and friends, so the joke’s on us.

Revelation did inspire what is possibly my favorite television show, “The Leftovers.”

And the first time I went to worship at the church I took as mine in Kansas City, I looked over and saw a stained glass window with John sitting looking back over his shoulder, with a tablet in his lap.  Angels are standing on a golden staircase.  At the bottom it says: “Write the things which thou has seen, and the things which are.”  I am mad for this window.

We’re wandering afield, though: “Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, ” Revelation 1:19.

A deceptive quote, because it continues: “The things that will be.”

I only ended up there because I had mistaken the time I was supposed to be at work.  I was an hour early.  My work schedule has been irregular.  I realized halfway through my commute.  Rather than get on the bus for the last part, I could check out that noon service at that church.  I had already explored the churchyard.  It had those coveted old time headstones with the heads with the winged skulls.  I’m flying away, yo!

This time, not only was the red door open, I had time to go on in.

The priest reading Revelation, and five little old ladies listening, occasionally nodding.  One had a purple hat with purple sequins.  I tiptoed in and sat on a type of pew cushion I’ve only learned about here: velvet, hard as a rock from the weight of a million butts.

“Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are.”  My eyes filled with tears.  Like a good Episcopalian, I showed no emotion, just blinking quickly and knowing that something was real I had doubted.

I’ve been in deliberations about where to live, what to do next with My Life, and see, here were capital letters for me.

Although I’m a practicing Christian, I can currently only categorize what I believe in as, “capital letters.”

“Do you have any questions?” the priest said.

The ladies did not.  I was sitting very quietly looking around, trying to be the most gracious guest in the history of the world.  Behind me, on the back wall of the church, the one the clergy look at most, there was a painted Jesus rising and four angels on each side of him giving him support.  The ceiling, between beams, was painted with shields that were symbols of the disciples, and probably other things, too, I wasn’t sure.

“We’re having a service next,” someone told me.  “It’s up there.  Would you like to stay?”

“Oh, yes,” I said.

I shook hands with the priest on the way up, explained I was visiting, “And I’ve always wanted to see the inside of your church,” I said.

“Oh, it’s not mine,” he said.  Touche.

The ladies, and some more people who trickled in, sat in the pews up the steps up front, and we faced each other in two pews on each side.  There was that crazy mural.  To me it looked like one of the African ladies’ faces was at the crotch of the white priest, which was even creepier, if that’s possible.

I looked carefully at all the bare feet, of the people who were gentiles, Asian, Native American, African, and the feet were very well done.  Feet are tough.  The breasts were also perfectly nice, neither lurid nor prissy, just regular old nipples of people who don’t wear shirts for no particular reason, it’s just awfully warm and they don’t like that horrible bra sweat you get waiting on subway platforms when you’ve just taken a stupid shower and wonder why you bothered.

We rose when the priest came back in, wearing robes.

The ritual, exactly as it always is, speaking, listening, reading, standing, sitting.

The sermon was on St. Boniface, who spread the gospel in Germany.  The church was founded in 1702, as the priest mentioned.  It was founded by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts.  All parts are foreign, aren’t they? Many parts are foreign as far as grace and mercy are concerned.

I had to sneak out at the peace.  I had to go on to work.

Later I looked up the history of the church and saw they still use a chalice from 1704.  I’m really kicking myself for missing communion.  They might not have used it, anyway.

The things which I have seen.  The things which are.  I had to leave at the peace.  I gathered my things, excused myself, and they got communion.  My head was wavy with the feelings and ideas I’d had.  I looked at my phone, my landlord had written: what about rent?  I tried to pay my rent with this app I got, and the thing wouldn’t work, and I began breathing faster thinking I couldn’t pay my rent.

This is how long peace lasts and how you can’t hold onto it.  The things which you have seen, the things which are, I rejiggered the app and hit buttons until it said: You paid $900.  It’s okay, see?  Mistakes.  Rent.  Things you forget about because they were so small.

My coworker pulled up and I got in her car.

The things which will be?  She drove us across Queens, from Jamaica to Flushing, through its hills, raggedy commercial strips, duplexes, busses, corners.

The things which will be lunch, sitting on stools discussing Frederick Douglass and Kathy Griffin with my student.  “You’ll love Zora Neale Hurston!” I told her.

She will.

———–

The St. John window at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kansas City is dedicated to a Mr. Alexander Butts (yep).  He ran the editorial page for the Kansas City Star, sometimes wrote lay sermons for inclusion in the paper, and this is a story about him:

One of his friends could not understand his compassion for the poor, and told him at a dinner at the Kansas City Club: “Why, Butts, there is not a better dresser, a better liver, a better society man in town than you are. Look at that carnation in your buttonhole now.”

“Yes,” replied Mr. Butts, “I like the beautiful, the pleasant things of life. But I believe that everybody does, and I would like to have them all wearing carnations.”

The site from whence this story, and the image of the St. John window below, came. 

Top image: “Knowledge of the Past is Key to the Future: Some Afterthoughts on Discovery, by Robert Colescott, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Intersection

intersection

On the opposite corner, four guys guard the liquor store with their leisure.  That is their leisure and this is mine: a paperback book I bought, the first I’ve bought in ages.  I took a pay cut, and stopped buying books.

On one corner I have a green bottle of water, two clear glasses, coffee in a teacup, and a big, wide bowl of granola and white yogurt and uneaten berries.

One man has an office chair, with a star base with wheels, and an orange seat.  The other has a black plastic folding chair.  The others stand.

I never go to the neighborhood liquor stores, with their plastic barriers ,where the alcohol lives behind, like a jail visiting room.  They should have telephones.  I always go to liquor stores in fancier parts of town.  I want to see the wine, choose one based on my whim combination of nationality (French, Italian, or Chilean), signs that declare quality in a number (96!) or vocabulary (cherry, “with red meat,” though I don’t eat any kind of meat).

People who want to be here: young white people, hustlers of all sorts, artists who were so lonely where they came from, and learn a new a different loneliness here, those who came her to be less stuck in the jobs that will have them, because there is American money to soothe the lack of beaches and soil and fruit trees.

People who don’t want to be here: people from here, people tired.

I can’t hear them, but they sit with knees out and lean in.  A ball cap.  Jackets.  Sweatpants.  An umbrella hung from the frame of the metal doors that pull down at night.  The sign above them says LIQUOR, vertically, red, and below the R it says WINE, only as wide as the R.  A sign in the window: New York Lottery, with a rainbow coming out of New York.

He raises a hand, he points.  She looks at faces, walks on by.

The other corner is a pharmacy, which is closed today, its grill-grate down.

The other corner is a deli, a bodega, whatever, a crummy one I must have gone into at some point, looking for Ritz crackers or plain M & Ms.  I don’t remember.  The better bodegas have cats, and don’t smell like fish or musty.

The bus comes, a little girl with pigtails wearing a penguin t-shirt holds her dad’s hand as they get off.

Someone carries an orange bag of laundry on his shoulder.

The brick wall I look at is cream brick, red brick arches, set in and hung like teeth, column, stone lintels, stone pale against the red brick, going up, black fire escape bones, curly iron Juliet balconies, air conditioner boxes, brickwork that makes slats, and all of it behind a stern black dumpster, silver cars, a green metal post crowned with a sign, MONDAY THURSDAY 8:30 am-11am.  A thick red line, arrows at each end.  I never see these.  I don’t park.

A man sweeps the sidewalk trash into the gutter with a bright blue broom.

The merchandise in the bodega window is blasted so, so pale, sickly, even in this city where direct sunlight is more craved than room to stretch.

A stocky white blonde woman with a white dog.  Men in strictly worker shoes: brown, black, meaningless.

Men with coverings over their enormous hair, like great eggs they are hosting, or enormous alien brains.

The fronts of our buildings are detailed here: painted top edges that make them taller, with wheat or fleur-de-lis or or oak leaves or banners draped printed in them, stripes made by brick tones.  Their sides, if you ever see them, are dead plain.  No one, here, knows how to use the sides of things because the sides are pressed to the next, almost all the time.

The rain, the weekend being almost over, you live around here?  The chill.  Long time?

Q & A

“Do you prefer Mozart or Bach?” he asked between algebra problems.

“Have you ever been in love?” he asked as we walked to the cafeteria.

“Oh, sure,” I said.  We were working in a basement office.

“Mozart,” I said.

“Why?”

“Mozart is more romantic,” I said.

“It sucks,” he said.  “Being in love.”  We crossed the quad.

“Yeah, it sucks.”

“Did you ever think about selling your computer?” she said.

“What?”

We had spent hour after hour scrawling on legal pads, through problem after problem on a website.  Her teacher had chosen assignments seemingly in random order, each section was unrelated to the previous, and I scrambled to recalibrate my own thinking before I could explain what leap we were making next.  For math work, it was hella illogical.

“No, I love my computer.  And I keep my stuff forever.”

I had told her I didn’t know how long I would tutor, maybe I would move away, adopt some kids.

“No!” she said.  “You can’t leave me!”

Teaching, there was always the understanding, the rhythm worked into all of us: this year I am your teacher, next year I will not be.  Tutoring, it’s up in the air.  I still live with the academic cycle, zooming around at finals time, albeit at a distance.

“You should adopt a teen,” she said.

“Maybe,” I said.

“Now I’m in love, but alone.  In love alone,” he said.

“Yeah.  That happens,” I said.  The campus had emptied out for the day, it was late afternoon Friday.  We walked down a ramp behind the art building, it curved toward the cafeteria.

I sat and recorded my student who had to perform on the recorder, and the harmonica, for her music education class.  She earnestly played “Mary Had A Little Lamb” on a hot pink recorder.

“This feels so silly,” she said.

I smiled.

“I don’t think he cares that much how it sounds.”

“I’m sure that’s fine,” I said.

“I slept from like six a.m.to ten,” he said.

I know most college kids can get by on less sleep than me.  This is hard to remember because even as a college kid I needed sleep.

“You have to sleep.  And you have to eat.  Are you eating?”

“Romantic?” he said.

“I mean, emotional.  That kind of romantic.”

“Oh.”

We returned to powers to a power, square and cube roots and the quadratic formula.

My high school algebra teacher taught us to sing the quadratic formula to the tune of “Pop Goes the Weasel.”  I sing it to my students, and they groan and then they sing it.

“I don’t eat real meals,” he says.

“Okay….”

“But then I got my blood work back, and I’m deficient in all these vitamins.”

“Well, it’s good you’re eating those carrots.”

X is the opposite of b, plus or minus the square root of b squared minus 4 a c, all over 2a.

My mother calls halfway through a six-hour desperation marathon of trying to finish enough algebra to get my student safely through her poorly organized class.

“You want to talk to her?” I ask my student.

They talk . “I know I can do it.  I know I can,” my student says to my mom.

“Are you sure you want to keep going?” I ask her five hours in.

She just looks at me.

“If I leave, will you keep going, or will you cry?”

I stay.

Six hours in, I can’t see straight, or think, we have written equation after equation, running out pads of paper, and suddenly she says, “Wait,” checks another section of the website.

“We’re done,” she says, lightly and mildly because we just have nothing left.

“Oh, my God,” I said.  Our language had fallen from formality to light curses to uncreative profanity over the afternoon, the evening.  “Really?”

“Yeah.”

I walked to the bus.

“I might get a B!” my student said.

I frown.

X is the opposite of b, plus or minus the square root of b squared minus 4 a c, all over 2a.

Image: detail of “Two Men at table with Test Tubes and Beakers,” Walker Evans.

 

 

Chemical

 

Yesterday I was up at the Cloisters looking at a famous painting of the annunciation.  A teeny Jesus is flying in Mary’s window, teeny streaks of light behind him, a toothpick cross on his back.  He reminds me of Tinkerbell.

The tour guide said the announcement, the word of God, impregnated Mary, so Jesus was headed to her ear.

Do you know what’s inside you?  Or how it got in there?

Or do you know what’s inside and what’s outside?  Or what is chemical, what is science, and what is natural, whatever we mean by natural?

It still pisses me off that my anxiety remains relatively untouched by meditating, yoga, a hot bath, a massage.  Those things help keep me going when I’m in the worst of it, but they help only a little.  The itch is so deep in there, I can’t really reach it with anything but chemicals.

What helps is the drug no one actually knows exactly how it works, but perhaps keeps the serotonin in my brain from disappearing, raising my levels of serotonin to where most people’s are normally.  And where mine were until six years ago.  What we know is people can feel better.

When you’ve been having panic attacks and pretty much everything sounds scary to you for no reason, feeling better is a more intense version of when you have a terrible flu, and the first time you leave the house again, you just look out at the world, and your walking and talking and all the stimulation, you’re like, “Awesome!  This is amazing!”  I think, Why would I be afraid of the cafeteria?  Or lunchtime?  Or the bus?  Wow, that’s crazy.

It does take a while, the last week I was deliberately trying to force my brain wrong, to see if I could… could I?  I could work myself up a little, get nervous, that’s as far as it could go.

My sister came to visit, and it turned out to be less a go-save-the-faraway-family-member mission and more of a good time that showed how much better I am.

We walked in circles in Fort Tryon Park, accidentally.  I had never had trouble finding the Cloisters before, but this time, when it was raining and her shoes soaked up puddle after puddle, the curved paths, past scent-glowing lilac bushes and along the cliffs that guard the peaceful Hudson from the city, we somehow made a circle, regrouped, made another circle, whoa.  And only the third time we tried did we get a straight path, we got to where we could see the tower of the Cloisters rising above the trees.

“These trees are taller than in Kansas City,” she said.

“Nah,” I said.

“No, they are,” she said.

“Hm.”

We got wetter, and wetter, in circles, on sidewalks, on gravel, until finally somehow we got in the right line.  I saw the bell tower first, then the driveway.

When we were little girls, our grandparents took us to the Cloisters.  We took a taxi from Penn Station.  I remember someone saying it would be a long ride, and expensive.  We saw the unicorn tapestries.  I bought a flat gold bookmark in the shape of a heart.  Like everything from New York, it was precious to me.

We joined up with a tour at the museum, and the guide explained that a tapestry and two different shades because the bottom was a repair job.  “They did a wonderful job,” she said, “but this part with the color still vivid is plant dyes, and the part done with chemical dyes is the part that is all faded.

“So, go plants!” she said.  The plants in the tapestry were roses, which, in medieval times, had plenty of thorns and were heavily scented, and did not climb.  And lilies of the valley, who hang as jingle bells down stems, we had seen them in Fort Tryon Park, licked with rain.  Lilies of the valley are the flowers our stepmom dug up from her mother’s yard, and planted in her own.

In the center was a tree that isn’t real.  Only the fruits are real, pomegranates, which stretched to show their seeds, and dropped beads of juice.

Image: Detail of “The Unicorn in Captivity,” Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

Tea

How is the anxiety disorder?  How is the Russian Tea Room?  I prefer the Russian Tea Room.

It took a glass of wine and a call to my mother to get me into Manhattan.  I had successfully passed through lunchtime (for mysterious reasons a great anxiety trigger) and my oh-shit work is over I have nothing to distract me was the next hurdle.

After the wine and the talk, I got myself on the bus, on the subway, no problem.

Then the sidewalk in front of Carnegie Hall didn’t scare me, not the glossy building across the street, waving and dizzying, or the dark.  I waited for my friend, and looked up at the grocery flower display out front of an apartment building I used to visit, twenty years ago.  New York charms: in winter, the Christmas trees out with us, in warm weather, the cut flowers in their bins, waiting.

We had a couple of hours of a string quartet, lost in musing, under the chandelier, at the faces of each player, their bow hands, their shoes, listening for the second violin part, which is the best, their ring fingers, three of four were married, who was a little fat, who was tall, the different browns of their instruments, a bow hair that, loose, caught the light.  The ideas of the music.  Beethoven bridge between old-fashioned and modern, between us and them, right?

We went two doors down to the Russian Tea Room, through their frosted revolving door.

The famous restaurants and bars of New York are the task of my forties.  Sardi’s, Bemelman’s, now the Russian Tea Room.  I have hardly any more money than I had my early trips into the city, but now I have appreciation for a proper drink, properly made.

We ordered caviar and vodka.

The vodka was poured into tall, thin glasses.  The bartender explained how each one was different.  I tasted each one, and each tasted exactly like vodka.

The room was greener than I had imagined.  There was some red, but there was also green.  All restaurants should be red inside, and all other indoor walls should be white or yellow.

I looked over at the booth where Louis CK had sat with F. Murray Abraham, filming a scene for “Louie.”  Certain episodes of “Louie” have made me right again, and “Amadeus” is, of course, everything for us who are mediocre.

On the way home we argued about death and sat opposite two hoodied guys.  One messed with a pill bottle and then both slumped over in reverie, perhaps to ride the 2 all night.

I have never ridden the 2 to the end.

The Russian Tea Room has glass cases of Russian stuff for sale, nesting dolls, glossy, gold and red painted this and thats.  Little price tags.  It enchants me how places Fancy New York in my mind have their own clumsiness and kitsch.

I tasted the orange-pink caviar, bubbles on bread and cream cheese.  The pills of fishiness squished like vitamin E gelcaps.

And that was enough of that.

Six weeks on higher dose of SSRI.  When the antidepressant is working, it shuts a trap door inside my brain, and the room of horrors, I don’t even know if the demons are still down there.   I don’t know, and I don’t think about it, even.  They become like a bad, flat fiction.  I don’t think about how I might need to drug myself, I get to think about how I might want to drug myself.

Last week at church I had a bout of panic, and I decided this week to stay home, sleep in, lounge.  This was totally unlike me, to let myself off the hook this way, although my doctor recommends it.  The first time I went to see her, and talked about the panic, need-to-flee feeling, she said, “Well, then you should go!”

That sounded completely crazy to me.

She has a very nice black dog, though, and I like petting the dog while she writes my prescriptions, and I like that she is 1,000 years old and her home office is in a luxurious doorman building, with a crummy packing-tape-mended chair.

When I finally got up and out today, I ran into my neighbor.  I went a couple of months without seeing him, which was odd.

“So many people in and out of the building!  I’m glad you’re still here,” he said.

“Oh, yeah,” I said.

We passed an old lady he said hi to, I said, “I haven’t met her.”

He said, “She used to watch my daughter.  And she’s known me since I was this high.”

Somehow we were talking about being 25.

“I’m so glad to be older,” I said.

“I’m not, those were great times,” he said.

We talked about these kids today, and about New York, how he wanted to leave, but had deep roots there, and I said I envied his roots here, and I didn’t say, why does anyone want to leave?

Surprise

DP837725.jpg

The cat has been keeping me up.

Every hour or two, she cries.  Sometimes she yowls out in the hall, making me fear my roommates will be disturbed, sometimes she sits on the floor next to my bed and cries.

“Miranda, come here,” I have to say, pat the bed, she jumps up, I arrange her next to me, and she will stay.  A while.  This is my person.  I’m fine.

Then she will jump down, move her water dish around, and yowl.

I took her to the vet, the vet said all these things were good: her heart, her lungs, her kidneys, her blood, her urine, her teeth.

Her yowls are existential.

I was elated, even through my still muddy mood mess, in week five of meds that take six weeks.  The vet gave me fish oil and advised melatonin, offered something stronger if she needed it.

I don’t doubt that Miranda acts out because I am ill.  It’s just what she does.  She can sense every day I am wondering if I need to take something because I am panicky, or this is a small panic that will pass, if I can breathe through it, tough it out, or if ignoring it will make it flare.

How I return to having to face Manhattan being scary, the subway being scary, midtown, Bryant Park, I’ve had panic attacks so many places, my brain can pull up a lot of old scripts and wonder if we’re in the same play.

My therapist suggests this is New York, this is Manhattan.  New York and Manhattan is coincidence.  No, I said, I got this in Kansas City.  I have panic attacks around a table at dinner with my family, my nice family who understand.

The longer I have this, the less I can get interested in the talking cure and the more I want chemicals that restore.  I’m tired of thinking about my thoughts and wondering about them.  They’re tiresome.

When you are sick, you’ll be sick forever, when you are well, you can’t see the wellness in yourself.

When I walked into church late, the usher said, “How far do you want to go?”  He meant toward the front of the church.

“How far do you want to take me?” I said, I couldn’t stop myself.  He laughed.

A lady I knew from my spiritual journaling class saw me and hugged me.

I sat in church this morning both exhausted, from trying to sleep in two-hour increments, and with rising anxiety.  Would the subway back to Brooklyn bother me?  What was I even doing here?  What was the priest talking about?

It didn’t matter.

I heard the road to Emmaeus story, Jesus showing up all, “What’s up, guys?” and having a laugh while his buddies tell him how sad they are that he is gone forever.  It’s such a funny story, such a dick move by Jesus, that it’s hard for me everyone looks so solemn as it’s read.

He’s around, he just lets you be miserable until it seems funny to him to take off his Groucho Marx glasses and be like, “It’s me!  Christ!”

I just kept thinking about if I would have another panic attack, what I wanted for lunch, if I was too tired to go to my writing space and should go home instead, and what I needed to buy: vanilla yogurt, no sugar added applesauce, newspaper to throw away everything but the crossword.

Leaving church, I saw a woman giving the homeless guy who usually sits in front of the church yard a bag of cans of pop and something else.  He said, “Okay…” and I was fascinated if he was going to explain why he didn’t want whatever she had given him.

I went down the street to Chipotle and the lady assembling my burrito looked behind her up at the menu, “Sofritas?”

“The vegetarian stuff.  I know, I always forget what it’s called, too.”

“Sometimes I almost give people the chorizo,” she said.

“That would be a surprise for me,” I said.

There was a chalkboard behind her that said, “Smile at customers!” in English and Spanish.

These small interactions with people get me out of my endless checking in with my mood, my chattery thoughts.

Walking down into the subway, a guy with polka-dot bell bottom pants, a hoodie tied around his waist, and dirty, unlaced shoes, was going down before me, slowly.  I watched him, worried.  He made it down the first set of steps, then he started wandering, on the landing.  I walked past him.   I looked back up at him, worried.

If this was the rough end of his Saturday night, at noon on Sunday, he had had a real rough Saturday night.  There were lost, skinny braids on the second set of steps.

I couldn’t focus on anything at church, which alarmed and depressed me.  The hour I’m in church is usually my barest, warmest, and softest.  Today the priest preached and I just kept thinking, “What?”

I sang my favorite parts and paid no attention, I thought, I just need the magic bread and wine.  Just give me the magic stuff.  Physical treatment (pills) and spiritual treatment (magic bread and wine), and I could be okay.

I had taken two little half-dose of my calm-down pills, one on the subway, one at the church.

Yesterday I had felt fine all day.  I was well.

“She caught a mouse, like, a month ago,” I told the vet.  I know he was deeply impressed.  I know it.

I know he was like, Let’s remember this cat when we’re nominating cats of the year for the secret Cat Met Gala.

“If everything checks out okay, it’s probably dementia,” he said.

This week a student asked me, “Do you think I should take medication for depression?”

So I tried to answer that.

Another student said, “I have to watch two versions of the last scene of Hamlet and compare them.”

Be still my heart.

He knew the story well.  I tolerated the David Tennet version, and salivated at Kenneth Branagh’s, even with his awful white-blonde dye job.  The rest is silence.

Everyone in that play is fucking crazy, except Fortinbras.  Go, bid the soldiers shoot.

“What was Hamlet like in the second one?” I asked.

“Playful,” my student said.

“Good word,” I said.

 

I’m tired of being ill.  I’m grateful for two half-doses that made me feel sane again, and a cup of coffee that made me awake enough to work.

To the woman at my writing space who said, “Is it cold out?”

“It is,” I said.  “But you’ll probably be okay.  You have that vest.”

“But I’ll be cold here,” she said, gesturing at her heart.

“I think you’ll be okay,” I said.

Friday night a friend was in town, and we drank wine and ate good food and talked social justice and the beauties of New York City in a crowded restaurant, just the sort that you would walk past on a lonely night and say, “I wish I was eating there and talking and listening, on and on.”  On a lovely night you would not see the wellness in yourself, necessarily, not even consider that perhaps a Christ-ness was there.

He gets around, though.  He pops up.

Image: “The Monkey Opens the Package and Removes the Rabbit’s Head to the Great Surprise of the Animals” by Allart van Everdingen, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

To Stop

DP836360.jpg

It’s like I have a grenade in my pocket.  Or I hold a fussy baby as we hide in a closet from the zombies.  My brain, it cannot be trusted.

So do I act calm?  Sure.  I have to.

I had this new thought, this round, maybe this is what I am really afraid of: there is nothing you can do to stop bad things from happening.

The revelation is not necessarily useful.

It undoes one of my most comforting activities, though, which is thinking about how things can work out.  What if I packed lunches for the whole week?  What if I swept the floors Saturday, so I wouldn’t have to do it on Sunday?

I have an idea I can cheat, hack, with enough conniving.

My idea of how to survive as an artist is to work faster and smarter than everyone else at the dumb shit I gotta do, to have time to make work.

It’s a strategy.

Finally I accept the meds are not working.  The antidepressants are supposed to stop this from happening.

Leading up to this is the hardest part, because  I know the changing of meds is not a happy time.  It’s never easy.  It will make you more crazy before it will make you sane, and you are not sane, you have just realized.  Shit.

I up my current med, this is the first idea.  The first week I’m as crazy as I have been, the next week I am both crazy and so tired I get home from work and fall asleep immediately.

Just as crazy as I had been means taking calm-down meds every four hours or so to avoid being drawn into an endless mental maze of, “Do I feel all right?  I don’t think I do.  I think the walls feel too far away.”  (That’s my special brand of crazy, the walls feeling too close or too far away.)

Being ill this way brings up the usual questions of an ill person, which are, what did I do to get myself sick?  Did I do something?  Did I not do something?  Why now?

My meds worked like a charm for six years.  Really, like a charm, like fight or flight was a snake, ready to pounce, and instead it gazed and nestled down in its basket, coiled cozy.

And with mental illness, the addition of, could I figure out my thoughts, work through my thoughts, therapy this out, or write it out, or feel it out, and the brain would function like normal?

Then, though anxiety is my primary thing, exhaustion from fighting the anxiety is depressing, really depressing, when all you do in a week is go to work and sleep.

I figured out this week that coffee in the morning, much sedative before lunch (lunch is very hard for me, who knows why), then coffee at dinnertime to push back the sleepiness side effects enough to have an evening.

Better.  Friday I got the caffeine right, and got myself to the reception I wanted to go to.  Had a little wine, a little chat, like a person.  I took a painting class, and I reunited with my classmates and we looked at our pictures.

Your feelings aren’t you, but they sure do color the situation.  Emotions are made by your life, I’m lonely from not being married, from living far from family, but they also make themselves, from chemicals in your brain, no one loves me, I am a monster, I have failed at everything.

They aren’t everything, being sad on a rainy day isn’t the worst.  They are something.  A full palate of sadness and happiness and daily sense of accomplishment makes a good life.

Today is Palm Sunday.  I love Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil, Christianity’s darkest festivals, our times of despair.  Palm Sunday I don’t really get.  It was usually set up for us as, hey, look how they love him RIGHT BEFORE THEY STAB HIM IN THE BACK!

As a preparatory downer.

It also sucks because the church reads the whole sad story of Jesus getting stabbed in the back, the week before any of it happens, for the benefit of everyone who won’t show up for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil.

There’s more to the story, guys.

Whatever.  Everyone loves Jesus.  Everyone hates Jesus.  You’re up, you’re down.  It was made an American story.  There are no second acts.

What it does do is open our season of sadness.  The week it is right to be sad.  Jesus was a good person, a funny person, a nice guy, and he was tortured and killed.  It’s sad.

It’s sad like having an unstable president, who scares you, sad like a civil war no one can see the way out of (who can ever see the way out of war?).  It’s sad like not having enough to pay the bills.  It’s sad like missing your sisters.  It’s sad like wishing someone loved you.  Like friends who die.  It’s a good week to be sad, and not let anyone make you feel guilty about it.

We wish you were happier.  We wish it had all worked out.  We wish you never knew sorrow.  We wish you were healthy and felt useful and proud and humble.

One day this week when I was feeling good, I started to get these “may” statements in my head, probably from Buddhist practice.  Theirs are usually “may you be happy,” but I was thinking more like, “May the person who put that suit on that mannequin have a good day. ”  “May the men who broke up the ice at this corner last week feel safe.”  “May the French bakery have enough business that the owner will not worry.”

I don’t know where that came from, but I don’t know where sickness comes from, either.

Image: “Sad Man,” LeRoy Walter Flint, Metropolitan Museum of Art.