These Things Must Be Clues

By some accounts, things are going fine. I can still make it through long days, and I nap as needed, though that’s not often necessary. Once in a while I tell son to make his signature bean and cheese quesadillas and I meet friends or colleagues for a drink. I’m active on campus, participating in some committees that seem to have meaningful impact for the university community, and for the students. I hosted a really successful event for students this week. My research is languishing, but that’ll be all right; I still pay attention to it sometimes, and I can crank it up again whenever I can just carve out the time.

That’s why I was surprised by the appearance of rage last Sunday morning. Another morning during the week, I felt like bursting into tears as I walked to the office. There’s something beneath the surface that can’t be quelled by good habits, and it’s outing itself.

I do wonder if I’m trying too hard. Not with the basics, but trying too hard to make progress. We’ve gotten through the crisis.  Now we’re in our own rhythm. We get by. Admirably, even. But the next step–desire, ambition, long-term plans–is eluding me, and trying to get there is frustrating at best, demoralizing in its more pernicious forms. I canceled plans with a friend who invited me to a live show that will be highly entertaining and laugh-riot good times. The last few shows I’ve been to have only made me realize how much fun I should be having. I fake it. I laugh, clap, smile and resist the urge to burst into tears. It’s so false. I would have suffered through all that fun, actually, because I’m supposed to be getting out of the house, but Daughter and I got seats on the horse and carriage ride. I’d promised her that we’d do it again in the autumn, and I don’t want to let her down. And that’s out of the house, so it counts. Truth be told, I’d prefer to be outside in the dark under the stars. It’s just easier to do this for her than to try to expend effort on my happiness.

Yesterday, in the midst of yet another long, lonely weekend, I figured that it would be better for Daughter and I to attend a stargazing event with the astronomers rather than me sit around, clean, and dip into the wine. The guy who checked us in greeted me by name, and it took me a minute to recognize him as a grad student I had, back in the day. He’s working an office job on campus while his girlfriend works on a PhD. He was so excited to see me. When I ran into him a few minutes later he said he’d called his girlfriend to tell her he saw me. He continued to rave about how much he loved my classes, how much I’d taught him, he was just talking about those classes the other day, and he still reads the books. None of that penetrated, of course. But here’s what was good–I was glad that my daughter could stand there and hear that. She deserves to be proud of her mom. I inquired about some of his career plans, he mentioned talk of a baby, said he wasn’t ready so they’ll put that off, and what I felt was that this nice young couple has so much promise and enthusiasm, and I was just happy for them, making their way. The conversation didn’t pain me.

The stargazing was neat. I watched my daughter as much as I watched the stars. She is so full of knowledge and wonder. She knows so much about constellations and mythology, and there is still so much to learn. We stood on line to view the moon through telescopes. In the darkness, I could make out her form–bundled up in her tweed winter coat–situate at the telescope. I saw her pause. Then I heard a gasp. And I thought my heart might leap out of my body. I carry around a concern that these children have been destroyed, or, at least, their childhood has. When I hear her emit a gasp, I know she has not lost her childlike wonder or ambition. That’s just me.

When we got home I poured a single glass of wine and proceeded to fire up an online show that I could fall asleep to. I found regurgitated human food on my bed. I was mad–that the dogs were pilfering food, that they were lying on my bed, that I had to clean this mess when I’ve been taking care to keep my room tidy and spare, for dignity’s sake. I stripped the topmost blankets and carefully dumped them in the hallway, to be dealt with tomorrow.

I awoke this morning before dawn, natch. I got right to work, but not with the dirty work. I processed the food from yesterday’s farmers market haul. I blended up a batch of pesto, to have on hand throughout the week for a quick pesto pasta for ever-hungry Son. I soaked bowls of beans–pinto, black, and lentil. I chopped up onions, potatoes and broccoli and had a soup base simmering. I blended that up and put it away. One night this week I’ll pull it out and just add milk and cheese. I steamed sweet potatoes and blended those in the food processor. Some will go in burritos with the black beans. Some will get stirred into biscuits to accompany the soup. The kids will eat soup or veggie burgers if there’s cheese and/or something enticing on the side. I rinsed the food processor and grated a batch of beets. Along with the lentils, I’ll have the makings of a veggie burger. I pressure-cooked the black beans, then followed that with the pinto beans, fragrant with onion and cumin and chili powder. As these things cooked and simmered, I thought about the various ways I could include the dark leafy greens into these dishes. The sun rose. I tidied up the kitchen, worked my way out to the hallway and gave that a mop. I started to make piles of papers, a sign that I’m ready to revisit the finances and make another sweep at the bookkeeping, a job I dread, not because of the tasks but because of the import of it.

I finally had to contend with the dirty blankets. I decided I would dump the thrown-up remains-of-whatever-it-was into a paper bag. I’d start by filling the bag with the cardboard in the family room, where they’d torn apart a pizza box. Yes, the other night they pulled a pizza box off the counter and ate the last piece of pizza. While cleaning that up I found the bag of bread from Friday. I thought that Son had gobbled that up, but the dogs had. And another loaf of bread, from yesterday’s farmers market, dragged off the counter last night. What is up with these dogs dragging food off the counter? That’s not on their list of naughty doggy behavior. Hmm, I thought, filling up my garbage bag–pizza, bread, bread, something on my bed. My goodness, these dogs are craving carbs! At the advice of the enthusiastic pet shop owner, we’ve been buying some fancy, paleo, no-grain dog food. I’m not keen on the paleo craze for humans, but I trusted the pet shop owner’s advice. Ends up that the paleo craze may be just as trendy for dogs. Whether it’s for the sweet carbs or the trusty fiber, my dogs are craving grains.

That’s how I found myself scraping dog throw-up into the garbage bag murmuring, “poor doggies.”

I’m proud of myself for not pitching a fit and raising my fists at the universe when I found throw-up on my bed at bedtime. I’ve learned not to exaggerate problems, and how to deal with them or put them off until I have the energy. I’m glad, though, that I’m still attentive to nagging thoughts. The dogs have been sending me clues about the dog food. My lack of happiness is also a clue. It’s not navel-gazing. I’m prone to depression, and if I persist in this state of not-happiness, I’ll slip into a funk that will be bad for all of us. I’ve got to be happier because I’ve got to be healthier so that I can raise my children and do my job and maybe even live my life in the process. I know this. But I can’t force it. I’ve got to pay attention without fixating, to trust my gut about getting out there into the world and know when to pull back. 

I guess that’s the progress. I’m not achieving happiness or even enjoyment, but I’ve got to be patient. Limbo is not a nice place to be, but there are worse places to be, aren’t there?

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4 thoughts on “These Things Must Be Clues

  1. I just made a batch of lentils, too; and broccoli ,and cauliflower; mushroom and walnut soup, and I wanted to boil kale and save the kale-juice for drinking and broth, but the market was out of it when I got there.

    All by way of saying I hear you, and I’m here doing as you do. There’s something about food straight from the earth, about cooking it and using all of its juiciness. I so much wish you some peace; I wish you the strength to stop should-ing yourself. Annie Lennox has a line in her song “Little Bird” that haunts me: “Give me the strength to lay this burden down.” Because that’s what it takes and that’s what you’ve got. Be so kind to yourself; you’re incredibly talented and you’re such an attentive mom.

    I’m saying this because this is how it went for me, and I, too, am terribly prone to depression – although in some strange way that cloud’s been lifted, which has everything to do with Philip dying. Grief, terror, despair, sadness – but not depression. When Philip died I barely went out for a year. I couldn’t work – I just couldn’t. It was all I could do to remind myself that I had a daughter who needed me. Not in the way yours need you, because they’re younger. Natalie was 18. But she needed me to be her mom when nothing mattered to me except Philip. THAT was what I forced myself to do; be a mother to the child who was alive. The rest of it? Who cared. Grief is intensely personal and much as I hated what happened and what I was feeling, I couldn’t be parted from it. Going outside parted me from it and was intolerable. Until it wasn’t any more, which happened as it did. I still don’t go out so much, but I spend my time in ways that feel right to me.

    I hope it’s okay I went on this long; I’m always so touched and moved by what you write. I wish I could sit down with you and have a nice long chat. Since we can’t, I hope you don’t mind if I write.

    • Thank you for writing! I teared up a little as I read, that you know the solace in preparing food, that you know the drive to step up. I will find the strength to stop should-ing myself. I guess there’s fear involved. What will I do if I reach the end of what I’m supposed to do? I have so little will to do anything else. I fear that void, because I fear that I will jump into it. The “shoulds” keep me steady, until I can claim some will, or desire, or–in short–until I give a damn.

      For all this time I, too, never felt the Black Dog. I was grieving, I was sad, I was empty. It never has been depression. I think I fear it coming, though, should I continue as I am. I just can’t imagine that things can continue at this pace, which keeps me active but is so devoid of vitality.

      How many times have I mentioned fear in this message? You know I am stronger than that. And I know you are so strong. I guess we’re just witnesses, here for one another.

      Thank you.

      • Just to remind you – there is only this moment, is all. Doesn’t mean you don’t plan your lessons or your meals or pay attention to clock-time as you need to. But other than that – there is only, ever, now. And when I get all balled up I tell myself, “No resistance, no resistance,” then try to pay attention to what Is Now. And my God do I know that void and the utter terror of it all. But I think the void is where my heart is. Am I brave enough to leap is the question.

  2. Depression is not something I’ve had a lot of experience with in my life…grief, yes. Three times just in recent years. Even during the darkest hours of grief I can usually find a ray of hope to latch on to that I believe will lead me to better days. I often wonder where that comes from. Is it in one’s DNA or is it something we learn from our early upbringing? I read somewhere that the more love/good experiences/success we have as children the easier it is as an adult to find strength during the bad times. The idea is we subconsciously remember better times and know it’s worth striving to find again and we’re less likely to give into depression. I had a great childhood and was naive right though my teens, so maybe there’s truth in that? I do know I really admire you and your dedication to your children. I read your entries like this one and I see strength, hope and progress and wonder if I’m reading it wrong or if you’re so close to the issues you face that you can’t see the same. I shouldn’t even be commenting since, as I said, I don’t have a lot of experience with clinical depression. But I see you as a fighter. I see you finding your way back…..

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