I took this photo a few years ago. It could be any Vermont cemetery, with headstones dating back to the Civil War and even the Revolution.
A number of people in my family in recent generations have served. We’re lucky, however, that they’ve all lived to tell their tales.
One of my hobbies is genealogy, and, in tracking one of the Big Guy’s great-grandmothers, I’ve discovered a number of family members who weren’t so lucky. Some of them gave limbs. Others did give lives, but all of them went to war, leaving families to make their own sacrifices.
I have lots of Vermont cemeteries and historical societies on my ‘to visit’ list as I try to trace the stories of how people met and lived. We do have some stories, however. They’re stories of husbands whoncame home from war forever scarred. There are also stories of mothers raising families of seven on their own, keeping up the fight on the home front long after they had buried husbands and the wars had ended. They are stories of families who continued making sacrifices for the rest of their lives.
Yesterday the Big Guy worked. My boys and I missed the parades, knowing they never feel quite the same when the four of us can’t be there together. The three of us had breakfast at our favorite greasy spoon and then spent part of the day in the garden. In our brief travels, however, we passed a few of those picturesque cemeteries that we see everyday, and this time I found myself thinking, not only of the people who gave their lives on the battlefield but of the people who gave them up. And then I thought of the people who are still giving their lives and the ones who love them and are giving them up still.
I’m not a cockeyed optimist, but there’s still a part of me that hopes that some day we (as a species) will serve them and ourselves by finding a better way.
My idea of a hot car is one that goes from zero to sixty – degrees – in under fifteen minutes. Even when I plunk down my two dollars for a twenty million dollar fantasy, a dream car is usually last on the list. My automotive apathy, however, met its match when I married a classic car junkie.
Not content to merely thumb through car magazines, the Big Guy lives for car shows. He’s successfully passed his love of all things automotive on to our two boys which means any car show or antique car museum in a 60 mile radius shows up on our weekend to do list. That’s why it’s hardly surprising that we’ve found ourselves speeding down route 22 in New York in the driving rain on what would normally be a lazy Sunday afternoon.
The rain should stop. This antique car show is at the studio and mansion of the man who sculpted the Lincoln memorial. Despite the rain and the fact that my fantasy to do list still doesn’t include finding another car show, I’m looking forward to the afternoon. It’s not the gourmet lunch or the elegant display of painstakingly restored cars that will make the day for me, however.
As with past shows – elegant or rustic – I know I’ll be focused, not on the cars but on the boys. My day will be spent snapping one photo after another as the Big Guy hoists six-year-old Thing2 up to examine the brass lights on a shiny Model T. I’ll try to surreptitiously capture twelve-year-old Thing1’s lanky form bending over to study a curvy dashboard through the window of an antique Mercedes. And, at some point in the day, when they’ve dropped their guards and their games and the three of them are smiling, comparing notes and fantasies, I’ll make another, permanently mental image of my three boys being boys on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
A week ago I got the prescription. Two days later I picked it up. I’m not functioning. These magic pills feel like my last straws, but I still can’t bring myself to open the bottle.
It’s been twenty-odd years since I last turned to Prozac. The drug and the disease it’s meant to treat are both better understood, and I understand I’m at that place where I need help that can’t come from myself or another human. I’ve tried other magic pills and management methods. Some of them get me out of the cave for a while, but, as the characters on my favorite guilty pleasure show ‘Once Upon a Time’ are fond of saying, All magic comes with a price.
Managing the big “D” with tricks means getting through it, but it also means experiencing every throb of worry and pain in every nerve. It means that tears are always waiting in the wings for the weak moments as over-analysis of very interaction keeps the psyche in a constant state of almost-adolescent angst. The magic pills dull that pain, but they do have a price.
Some cause weight gain (pretty depressing). Others lead to all nighters for nights on end. But all of them, while evening the keel and pulling my attention from the depths back to the horizon, wrap themselves around the soul like a neoprene wetsuit. It’s not a straight jacket, but the thick, impenetrable insulation does inhibit sensation. It’s a price, and the question I ask of every bottle of magic pills is how much?
The last year has been the most creatively-productive one I’ve ever known. Stimulated by new friendships forged at a writer’s workshop at Hubbard Hall in Cambridge, NY, I’ve written and drawn more and more regularly than ever before. Before the workshop, I was a dabbler, trying to choose between two crafts and vacillating between them as the mood struck me. A year of unprecedented encouragement offered a more rewarding search for authenticity in our work. The workshop which started with a focus on rural and small town life ultimately became the search for the stories and meanings in all of our lives.
That search meant opening my eyes and my soul. It meant discovering beauty and meaning in my very ordinary life. It meant living life and recognizing the ways I had kept it out.
Depression doesn’t keep life out. It keeps me withdrawn from life, watching it from my cave, but I’m never quite sure if the pills are a way out of the cave or just a way to be less aware of it. It’s that uncertain but sometimes strong anesthetic effect that makes me fear the cure as much as the disease.
But there’s another uncomfortable reality. The deeper I go, the less I write. Not ironically, and the less I write, the deeper I go.
There’s a romantic picture of the tortured artist. It isn’t entirely unfounded. There is an frighteningly long list of authors and artists whose lives were upended and prematurely ended by mental illness.
However, as I struggle to work at the one occupation that truly gives me satisfaction, I’ve begun to wonder how much of their ability to express their creativity was actually hamstrung by their cranial chemical imbalances. Mania may produce periods of intense productivity, but, as I study the lives of the luminaries, it seems that the despair at other end of the spectrum often coincided with a withdrawal from life and work.
By contrast, the few people I’ve met in ‘real life’ who are working as artists or writers, are the ones who have managed their moods to allows themselves to ‘show up for work’ everyday. There is no drama in the work. There is only the work, as there is with any other job.
Right now, I feel constantly in jeopardy of failing the day job and the parenting job – forget achieving the dream job of writing. I know only fear of the unknown keeps the pills in their bottle, but int this moment the pursuit of the authentic is yielding one other invaluable lesson. It is that fear can be as crippling and counterproductive as any mental illness, and, while the debate over the link between creativity and mental illness thrives, my small hope is that conquering my fear of what might happen will be the stimulating cure to any analgesic effects of the curative I’m about to swallow.
I planted the other morning. It was stiflingly humid out, but I knew storms were coming to water my garden in the afternoon, and there was still one big bed to dig sow.
An hour later I sat down at my computer, soaked in sweat and spring steam. The earth that shelters two-thirds of our house was serving its purpose by keeping the room cool, but I wanted something more. There wasn’t time to shower, and I had more garden time planned after work, but little dots of dirt sliding down a sweaty arm can feel more like the creepy crawlies. When the rain arrived, I was strongly tempted to hit BRB (be right back) in the work chat room and head out for an au natural shower.
The Big Guy set the precedent for this last summer when he attempted to save water with a risqué hose down during a down pour. For a while, the only way to get my two boys clean (at the same time) was to wait for a swimming party, a rainy day or, preferably, both at the same time. Pond jumping is especially purifying in the rain, and only the din of thunder and misdirected parents ordering everyone inside can muddy the sensation.
Outside, the wind intensified, whipping the spindly white birches until their highest branches seemed as if they would sweep the forest floor. I abandoned any ideas about dancing the dirt away in the rain. I knew I’d need to venture out later to mulch anyway, spurring the need for another, if more conventional, conventional shower.
But getting the dust off wasn’t really the point. I knew what I really wanted. It was a cleansing I craved; it was a communion with the elements. But summer is young and I’ve just begun to tend my garden.
It’s Saturday morning, and we’re off to T-ball. Almost all our Saturdays involve some morning sport with one or both of the boys. In winter it’s the perfect antidote to cabin fever, but this morning it’s helping get me grounded again.
A weekend away at the Cape led to a week of catching up at work and at home. I forgot most of what I wanted to write about, and substituting marathon digital days for family face time was hardly inspiring. As we drive down the hills from our house to the main road, it’s impossible not to notice the intense green that’s overtaken the mountains with the longer days. I know that’s not where I’ll find my inspiration today, but I will find it.
We’re a little late getting to T-ball, and the boys have to run to get from the parking lot to the field in time for the first at bat. By the time we get to the dugout, twelve-year-old Thing1 is helping the coaches and six-year-old Thing2 is zipping around the bases and racing bunted balls to first base. It’s one of the few times I don’t have my camera with me, and all I can do is watch and let the rhythm of the day get me grounded in our lovely rut again. And that’s where the inspiration will be.