We Dream Again

What is it about the year-end? Makes us face our fears and disappointments, and count our hopes again like pieces of treasure in our palm? The seasons herald change as they fall into one another but the calendar shows us we don’t cycle in place. We wheel forward. Birthdays, anniversaries, “three years since” are private touchstones across memory and longing but the new year is a giant communal marker of time that leaves no one unaffected. The Eve is a live wire between the past and future and with the turn of the year, we cross a mental threshold.

For some of us it’s simple math, only so many grains of sand left in the hourglass. We seek to balance the equation, weigh our dreams against the run of time. But it’s more than a race with the clock. No matter our age or station or story, the height of the new year holds out a second chance. We hope for better, of our life and of our self, because to be human is to grow. In character, strength, achievement there is room for more and we seize fresh opportunity. So we turn our feet toward our dreams, reset our compass to the hope of this winter sun.

Prague Astronomical Clock

Prague Astronomical Clock

But Everybody’s Doing It

This happens not to be how I view my blogging but this metaphor is built into every one of our blogs. You’ve all done sales. Every time you’ve recommended a book, movie, or restaurant, you were doing it. And every referral of yours that someone’s followed through on showed either your delivery was good or the product sold itself. Well, here you are self-employed as a blogger, your currency not dollars and cents but time. So why isn’t your blog growing as you’d like?

1. They don’t know you’re there.
I’ve seen you put up 800, 1200 impassioned words and I’d love to see you earn more than four likes. You obviously care about your blog. It looks good. You’re open for business. But it sure is quiet. If your livelihood were at stake, what would you have made sure to do before the Grand Opening and kept up? Right, advertise. I didn’t think this needed to be said again but are you visiting and engaging bloggers? Do better than I did. When I stepped out on WordPress, it was just my nose pressed to my words. I didn’t know to look up. Twenty-one months later, giving to get is how I neither blog nor live but if you’re offering decent material, Natural Cyber Law says you should enjoy some support back.

2. But they’re not buying.
There is a sense in which we’re all peddling our blog and asking passersby for their time. Our FOLLOW ME button betrays us in this hope. If your business plateaus, what do you do? The question really is what should you do differently? You change the marketing, move, rethink your niche or product. The product would be the last thing you touch in blogging because there are so many of us out here that a decent presentation should connect you with like-minded viewers. Through the wide range of topics I have covered, my offering comes down to my writing. My product – though I wrinkle my nose to say it that way – is every word I lay as carefully as a mother does her newborn in his cradle. If the idea of sales is too crass for you as it threatens to be for me, think of sponsorships. Sales is really the business of eliciting support for merchandise, service, or information, and sponsorships seek patronage usually on a larger scale or for artistic enterprises. Whether small or big, quantitative, or qualitative, patronage is payment in various forms for work considered worthy. In blogging, what you’re asking of us is our time. You either convince us you’ll make it worth our while or you don’t.

3. There’s nothing in it for them.
Remember, you’re not filling a private journal but seeking an audience. You scribble away zealously. You really want to write this, share that. But will it grab us? If you were someone else and stumbled on your blog, would you be impressed? Would you follow? I’m not talking about subscribing to your own blog to raise the count. I’m asking if you’d find any amusement, entertainment, beauty, insight, inspiration, intrigue, laughs, provocation, stimulation, information that’ll make you want more on that blog. Leave you actually looking forward to more.

The Land of the Living

March 2003, Journal

Friends were ready to call 911 this week.

Painfully sleep-deprived with glands really bad off, I attempted a home sauna. I didn’t realize it’d be too much after last week’s sauna at the gym. I drank at least a gallon this time but started seeing lights flash in the bathroom. My hands tingled. Things took a fast downturn the more I drank. I vomited myself completely out. Totally dehydrated, I went into shock.

I couldn’t move, lost sensation and perception of color. The few muscles I could still feel stiffened like wood. Lightheaded, I could hardly speak. Or crawl. I collapsed on the phone and managed to eke out a few words.

The wildest thing was the perfect succession of friends who came. After my doctor, the first friend I got a hold of was out on her lunch break right nearby. She made a bank deposit for me before the hour passed so the rent check wouldn’t bounce. Also went and picked up what I needed from my doctor’s to keep me out of the hospital.

She was stunned to see me like that but couldn’t stay. When she dropped off the goods, my roommate had just arrived. Roommie was indispensable. She held the phone to my ear because I couldn’t do even that and as I whispered back to the doctor, kept the paper bag over my mouth and swathed me in blankets. I later learned she happened to have dropped by that moment only to grab some medicine for a sick friend she had with her. By this point, I had called T for prayer. I couldn’t pick up his follow-up calls and then was disoriented and taken aback to hear him at the door. Two other friends entered on his heels. I didn’t want them there, felt so bad for being a bother when I didn’t know them as well, but later saw I would’ve had to call the ambulance if they hadn’t taken care of me that night.

—————————–

So two guys, one girl. They didn’t have enough hands. I was too nauseated and weak to move, to open my eyes, to sip water. Whatever I drank I promptly lost through both ends. I ran through the first remedy quickly and needed more. Friends spoke with the doctor and while one guy ran out to her office, I started regressing and losing feeling throughout my body again. I was limper than a rag doll (at least it has stuffing enough to sit up) that they had to push my chest and head up against the wall, keep the paper bag over my head, quickly lift it while one spooned me remedies every 40 seconds and pulled the bag back down.

It was so incredible we laughed. In his typical humor, T complained his hand was tired and hooked his elbow under my chin to keep my head up in a (gentle) wrestling choke. By the time they put me to bed at 11 pm, I hadn’t slept since three in the morning and my stomach was empty. What they had done was unbelievable. They had to work the next day but labored nonstop for seven hours to nurse an invalid back to life. I’d heard them pray.

It’s like…I’ve been in line forever at the DMV after an endless license suspension that’s kept me off the road, the land of the living. Just as I was making noticeable progress up the line, I found myself forced all the way to the end again. I’m looking out the window at the cars zooming past, sure I’ll never be able to join the world of normal again.

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December 2014

It is hard not to get emotional revisiting this chapter of the craziness I once called my life. I went on to rebuild from Ground Zero, to become stronger, to dance, marry and give birth to the child of my dreams. I went on to write and live all over again. There are many things about my blogging journey that have startled me – not only the growth of this readership but the depth. You don’t know what it is you do for me. Some days I hit publish. And your comfort is so deep, though I hadn’t sought it. Apparently, I’m not done needing angels. We all talk about the treasure of community we discovered in one another. It’s a familiar refrain on my lips because it’s a fresh wonder. I’ve come to genuinely care for many of you these 21 months, and to share in your happiness and sorrows. I wish I could make it better, that things will look up in the new year, that the sun will break through your grief and fears. I also learned to laugh with you. Now that’s living, isn’t it? I look back at these 11 years. Wow, I’ve come far. Thanks to those who would light my way back every time. Normal? I’ll never be normal. And this blog proves it. You are one extraordinary bunch, great minds with the biggest hearts, and I am so very fortunate to know your love, affection, and respect. As you’ve glimpsed, I’ve received a great deal over the years and if the candles I light should ever help you find your way and stay the course, I am so grateful to be able to pay it forward.


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Ten Cents a Blister

He was the survivor of a Nazi concentration camp. His parents and sisters perished there.

I met Robert Walker when I was about eleven years old.

I’m not sure if Robert felt sorry for me, genuinely liked me, or thought I needed a break, but he had me home for a weekend. It was a rare opportunity to spend time in the city. Living on a farm, a religious commune, my brother and I worked hard as we had next to no mechanization.

“After the camp, when the war was over, I came to Canada. I was only ten years old. The family I lived with had a farm. I was paid by the blister.” He held out his hands, palms facing me. “Ten cents a blister. I made sure I had ten blisters. I needed that money.”

Robert showed me his coin collection and his stamp collection. He demonstrated how to remove a stamp from an envelope by soaking it in water, and he explained that fingerprints on a coin are bad because the oils, over time, can corrode the metal. He took me to museums and told me of the importance of wearing a seat belt and that if you’re going to do a lot of walking, the best thing for your feet were shoes with thick rubber soles.

It was so alien to me to have someone talk to me rather than at me. I’m sure I wasn’t an easy kid to like. I smelled bad, my hair spiked in crude chops, and I could be rude and crass, as a result of having lived apart from the world.

The kindness Robert showed me stayed with me, and now as an adult I wish I hadn’t lost touch with him. I wish I’d thanked him. He opened a window to a life that was possible, one I hadn’t conceived of on my own but that had sparked my imagination. A life of being clean, eating sandwiches on a deck in the sunshine, and laughing with people who are content.

The lamp on the bedside table was still on in Robert’s guest room. I had slept with the light on throughout my childhood for the nightmares. My brother and I were told the Devil was always watching for a moment of weakness so that he may possess our bodies and claim our souls. I often dreamed of a creature blacker than night who would appear out of the dark and sit on my chest and choke me.

But that night I thought about Robert and the Nazis and all that he had lost and endured. I turned off the light. I realized that there are demons in this world more real and frightening than anything my father could conjure. And Robert showed me that even a little boy could endure a long, dark night and still be whole when morning came.

John Callaghan at Get Off My Lawn

 

 

We Survive the Night by Candlelight

Once again I have trouble believing how fast it’s gone, the holidays all the more disarming in California for the arrant summer that asserts herself into months reserved for the cold. The year draws to a close, swift like winter night. Beneath the din, the festivities heighten the loneliness for many. It’s the dissonance between the merriment in the air and their private song; the expectations of the season that descend on their Christmas, their New Year’s in a great anticlimax. It’s what I grew up with.

The less you have, the greater the pressure you feel. To spend and to have loved ones to spend the holiday with in a special way. But these burdens are a luxury for people who’ll be grateful just to quiet the growling in their stomach. This time of year is especially hard on those bedridden in poverty. In last year’s New York Times article The Invisible Child, we see a bright girl named Dasani (now 12) struggling against forces beyond her control: “parents who cannot provide, agencies that fall short, a metropolis rived by inequality and indifference. Dasani’s circumstances are largely the outcome of parental dysfunction…her mother and father are unemployed, have a history of arrests and are battling drug addiction. 

The Auburn Family Residence [is] a decrepit city-run shelter for the homeless. Dasani [the last several years was] among 280 children at the shelter. Beyond its walls, she belong[ed] to a vast and invisible tribe of more than 22,000 homeless children in New York, the highest number since the Great Depression.

Sexual predators, spoiled food, filthy communal bathrooms, vermin, and exposure to asbestos and lead were the norm for Dasani and her six siblings. They would wait in line for their prepackaged food in the cafeteria before sliding into another impossible line for access to the two microwaves that hundreds of residents share.

What breaks my heart is that the children “are bystanders in this discourse, no more to blame for their homelessness than for their existence. To be homeless it to be powerless.

Dasani was on the cusp of becoming something more, something she could feel but not yet see, if only the right things happened and the right people came along. In the absence of a stable home or a reliable parent, public institutions have an outsize influence on the destiny of children like Dasani. Whether she can transcend her circumstances rests greatly on the role, however big or small, that society opts to play in her life. School [like hers] can also provide a bridge to the wider world…Few [kids] have both the depth of Dasani’s troubles and the height of her promise. There is not much [her principal] can do about life outside school. She knows this is a child who needs a sponsor, who ‘needs’ to see The Nutcracker, who ‘needs’ her own computer. There are many such children. One in five American children is now living in poverty, giving the United States the highest child poverty rate of any developed nation except for Romania.”

What of these kids caught between the rock of their parents’ failures and the hard place of walls adorned with graffiti and mold? The hand of angels can reach in.

Though we may not be able to rescue everyone from cold, hunger, sickness, or loneliness, we can make a profound difference in so many ways. I name the stories you are about to hear the Candlelight Series after Eleanor Roosevelt who sought “to light candles rather than curse the darkness.” We’ll catch a glimpse of the hands that have lit the way for those frozen in the dark. Of people who chose to see the suffering and meet it with love, who decided they would be the right person to come along. People like the teachers and principal Dasani so desperately needs. We pay homage to those who helped us survive the night by candlelight.

Sleeping Beauty

under a scant sun
winter throws his brume
of snow. fields lie vanquished
in lambent splendor and robed
in frost, trees stand in mute glory

under his imperial breath
creation covets the hearth
her haven, barren slumber:
a bold consummation of autumn’s bounty

the earth waits, a sleeping beauty
’til spring breaks upon the white
spell and redeems her joy.