Gigantic, Google, Macrosomatognosia, and Me

Attack_of_the_50_Feet_Woman

This post has no neat and tidy ending. It does have a soundtrack, though. Go here to listen to the musical version of these words.

It’s 11:38pm on “G” day for the A to Z April Blogging Challenge. I was determined to catch up and post today but got busy. So just now, I decided to go for it and write on the first “G” word that came to mind. It was “gigantic.”

Since childhood, I have occasionally experienced a strange sensation. It would usually be when I was going to sleep. Early on, I recall no cause, no recurring fear or anxiety. It would just happen. When I closed my eyes, it was as though radiating from the places where my body parts touched, I grew gigantic, universe-sized if I kept my eyes closed and continued to let my arm touch my leg, or leg touch the other leg, in endless variations. It was so scary. And though it happens less often these days, it hasn’t lost its pain.

In mulling over what I’d write on “gigantic,” I thought I’d Google (another G word) it to see if I could find an explanation. My Google luck is well-known amongst friends–ask me anything, and I’ll find it–but I expected this to be the time it failed me. Nevertheless, I Googled “feeling of being gigantic neurology.” And holy moly.

alice in house

It’s called macrosomatognosia and is a rare symptom, most often associated with migraines. It’s also called the “Alice in Wonderland Syndrome” (AIWS) from when she grew gigantic after drinking the potion. Well-known, researched and everything, there are papers on it and forums for those with it.

Over the last few years, as I’ve woken up and opened up, it’s felt like I’m becoming a real girl. And “down the rabbit hole” is often associated with a spiral. And The Oat Project has often felt like a potion to me. And I’ve discovered surprising ways that yes, I’m weird, but no, not the only one (especially in being a Highly Sensitive Person). And when I read the accounts of those with macrosomatognosia, I was–just now, mind you–floored. They described sensations exactly like mine, even “whole body pulsation” (sounds fun, but trust me, it’s unnerving).

Do I know what to do with this? Not really. I’ll probably research it a bit more to make sure I don’t need to “do” anything, but just knowing it’s an acknowledged condition helps to handle it and the sensations I experience more often. Cheers to Google, cheers to you, and may we all sleep well this night! Love and hugs, Your Ever Strange-but-not-the-only-One, Jene’

p.s. This is my “G” day entry for the A to Z April Blogging Challenge. I’m posting 6 days a week for the entire month of April, one post for every letter of the alphabet! This one is late, because traveling messed up my schedule. So stay tuned for the other catch-up blogs today and here on out, and check out some of the other 2000+ writers participating.

Face Your Fears

superwoman hang gliding

I am on a “bumpy ride.” Almost home. The flight to Denver was a turbulent one.
I almost did not get on this plane to Colorado Springs.
I almost got off after the pilot announced it would be a bumpy ride.
I think of all the friends in Denver who could give me a ride home.
I recall my envy at friends’ relief by using Xanax, how they wouldn’t make it through the day without it.

And then, my thoughts do this:
I wish I could dull my senses to happy.
I suck at taking pills, so no Xanax. Sigh.
I am hung over from last night’s wine and hot tub-soaked goodbye party, so more alcohol won’t work. Sigh.

And then, I look at the bored faces of those seated around me, seemingly unbothered by the pilot’s announcement. And my thoughts do this:
What if I had to fly to get to a book signing?
What if all my dreams came true and my writing actually got popular and thousands of people waited on me, wrapping themselves around a city block to get my signature on their copy of my book?
Do I care more about my fear…or their love?
And then, one of my favorite Dune quotes taps me on the shoulder: “Face your fears, or they will crawl over your back.”
Would I allow my fear to defeat my dream and the expectations of those waiting on me?
No. No, I would not.

I feel the pilot revving the engines to test for flight. And then, my thoughts do this:
Neither Xanax or alcohol would change these circumstances.
Neither would make the plane safer or the flight smoother.
They would only change my brain chemistry.
And I can do that myself.
The fear is my own to manage.
I decide which way my mind will go.
If I don’t manage it, my fears will ALWAYS crawl over my back in constant, chronic defeat.

I recall a hang gliding flight, strapped in over a tandem pilot at 2000+ feet above the ground. The wind, some straps and metal and nylon, one man, and me, far above the earth. I expected it to be quiet and peaceful, floating on the wind. Instead, it was shuddering loud. We cut through the air.
Flying is cutting through air.
Thus, turbulence is normal and expected, and a “bumpy ride” is not necessarily unusual or unsafe. I look out of the plane’s window, watching the jet prop hum. I fill my mind with the memory of soaring up into the spiral of a thermal, like a bird.

Then I recall Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, one of my favorite Miyazaki movies. The heroine flies her own wing with the same everyday blasé with which we ride bicycles.
I flood my mind with my longing to be like her, with the sensation I always get watching her ride the wind.
Then more images from my other Miyazaki movies flow through my mind as the plane taxis down the runway.
The sky is where I long to go. It’s my favorite part of Miyazaki movies: Castle in the Sky, Howl’s Moving Castle, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Nausicaa.
I fill my mind with my own imagined sensation of riding the wind.

It is memory.
I remember, and breathe.
And my panic calms and floats away.
And we take off.
And I breathe.
And I write these words. For me. For you.

Fifteen bumpy minutes later, we land. I am home.

p.s. The day after I experienced this, I was trying to recover from the trip, sore and exhausted, when suddenly my body kicked into its hypersensitive tingling panic in customary head-to-toe waves. Darkness began to overwhelm my mind as usual…and then I remembered the flight and what I did with the fear. So I decided that my body’s panic was instead the hypercharging energy I need to do what I want to do, to finish my book, to keep writing, to manage single-mom life, to just be. And my mind calmed and the darkness receded. I shall fly.

p.p.s. This is my “F” day entry for the A to Z April Blogging Challenge. I’m posting 6 days a week for the entire month of April, one post for every letter of the alphabet! This one is late, because traveling messed up my schedule. So stay tuned for the other catch-up blogs today and here on out, and check out some of the other 2000+ writers participating.

Exceptions: The Game of Thrones, March Madness, and I Do Not Watch Television

game of thrones

I do not watch television.
I do not own a tv.
If I watch tv, it shall never be in the daytime.
If it is in the daytime, it is only because I’m sick.

These are my rules.

The medium stresses me out. I hold my breath when in suspense. I have an outsider’s suspicion of the popular. I can’t sleep for a couple of hours after watching at night. The ads! Ack! I sold advertising for two years and know marketing and watch them wondering how people laugh at the disgusting manipulation! And though I pine for a tv every time a big game comes around–like the NCAA championship tonight–I remain at “no,” I shall not have one in my house.

But here I sit, not sick,  the morning sun clear and bright on the street perfectly visible outside my living room windows…and I watch tv. I mean, it’s on a monitor via the web, but still, it’s tv.

I am not cleaning (as planned). I am eating, which is good, as lately I’ve been in a stage of forgetting to eat. But I’m watching Game of Thrones and happy as a clam.

What happened to my rules?

I’m a preacher’s daughter. In our church, going to the movies was the province of the secular world, for less Holy Spirit-filled people. No movies. I saw five before leaving for college. And I actually understand why they forbade them. Movies are powerful vehicles of themes, information, doubts, and titillation over which the church could exercise no control except to forbid it.

But then, the VCR (for you young’uns, like a DVD player) was invented. And the exceptions started flooding through church structures, beginning in the homes of perfectly heart-centered, holy people. I recall noticing a feeling of almost secret chagrin in those who admitted owning one (shame, in other words). Today, going to the movies is acceptable–and perhaps those days are viewed as a more simplistic time.

So technology unmade the movie ban. When does progress unmake my rules? Can it be good?

Sometimes, when I break my own rules, the unexpected happens (though it happens so often, I should expect it). The church discovered the power of the medium as a result of the unmaking of their rule, now using video to more effectively broadcast their message.

And though I sat with some chagrin and shame at “wasting time” in the middle of the day, when I “should be writing” (though, holy moly, did traveling exhaust me this time), I was inspired. Watching Game of Thrones motivated facing down the writing of gut-honest-memoir The Oat Project. How?

Well, I love the book I’m writing. But I also have so. many. screenplays in me, clamoring for life on the page and screen. Watching a well-done story like GoT was awesome.

I am ready to be donedonedone with The Oat Project, get it launched, out there, plan the promotion, the tours, plot the next one on its theme…all so I can unleash the fiction inside of this crazy mind of mine–the screenplays, the sitcoms, the short stories, the children’s books, the novels, the songs, the poems. But first, I must crest the mountain of the First Book.

This line from Sunday’s GoT premiere particularly resonated. It was the former-knight fool’s words to Sansa. “Let my name have one more moment in the sun before it disappears from the world.” I write to merge my light with everyone else’s, to perhaps shine on someone else’s life, to make my life matter before it disappears from the world, a feeling inspired because I made an exception.

I would have made another last night to watch the NCAA championship game, but had no way to watch it, didn’t want to get out, and had stuff to do around the house. I shall make another exception next week with the next installment of Game of Thrones. And let’s just not even get into my subscription to Netflix. Exceptions matter. And they can be good, And I’m okay with that. May we all grow to the place of grace to ourselves when we make exceptions–frivolous or otherwise–so we may use them. Love and hugs to you all this day! Jene’

p.s. This is my “E” day entry for the A to Z April Blogging Challenge. I’m posting 6 days a week for the entire month of April, one post for every letter of the alphabet! This one is late, because traveling messed up my posting. So stay tuned for the other catch-up blogs today and here on out, and check out some of the other 2000+ writers participating.

Divergent? Or Derailed?

jj at katy

What do you do when you fall short of a goal? How do you Define it? Is it a Divergence? Or a Derailing?

Are you more motivated with humongous, “unrealistic” goals? Or small steps? I am slowly figuring out how I work best. I keep thinking that making big goals and telling everyone so I feel obligated helps me get things done. And it has, but only to a point.

As my eyes have always been bigger than my stomach, I tend to make very, very unrealistic goals. Yes, those big goals push me to produce more than I’d have accomplished without them. But I perpetually feel like a loser, which spirals down into less accomplishment than having no goal would have produced.

As I said in yesterday’s blog, I’m in California until tomorrow. I’ve been here for ten days, wonderfully hosted by two friends who wanted to support and give me space to focus solely on finishing the book. The last couple of days, before bed, I’ve been reading Divergent (can’t put it down, up too late, don’t care…cheers, fellow bookworms).

When I first heard the title, I thought of the usual definition of divergent, that of leaving the accepted path. It’s usually a negative, more like “derailing,” out of one’s control. But in the book Divergent, divergence is born of abundance. It’s too many talents, too much ability.

Right now, old Jene’ would say that because I’m not donedonedone with The Oat Project, as I’d planned, I have derailed on this trip. My big goal was to be done.

But yesterday, I realized that in the last ten days, I’ve finally—FINALLY!—gotten into the habit of facing the words, the page, and largely gotten over facing me from seven years ago, the pain of grief, the discomfort of writing a memoir, the constant self-analysis, the gut honesty it requires. And, I have gotten great work done, moved it forward far more than I could have if I had been home. Friends and strangers, writers and readers, keep reminding me writing always takes longer than planned, that the feeling of accomplishment is in the doing as well as the finishing.

Am I pissed at myself that it’s not done, that I will not be bringing a finished manuscript triumphantly home?

Yes.

But I can’t stay in that mental place. And that triumph will come, because now, I’m slogging. And I like the slogging. It’s not a derailing. It’s a divergence, but only from an unrealistic goal and in the sense of abundance. I don’t need the gigantic goal any more. I have the divergence of too much. It’s a big, often overwhelming, but deeply rich gift to be writing this. And I’ve diverged onto the only path writing can be, of slogging.

Reconnecting with my old self, literally from over 15 years ago, pre-marriage, kids, divorce, book, move, all of it. But I’m not done with the book. Even with a deeper understanding of Divergence, I’m still asking why I couldn’t finish–besides simply the sheer number of hours it takes.

(if you could see the pause here: breath out, trying not to cry in public, feeling/thinking shitshitshitshit, feeling like a loser, embarrassed, thankful)

Yesterday, it hit me: I have so much more healing to do than I realized. The first week here, I was a block from the ocean but didn’t go over very often. A BLOCK from the OCEAN. WhatthehellwasIthinking!?

I was writing, I told myself. And my grief-sensitized nervous system still gets overwhelmed by tons of people, so the tourists were too much. But then yesterday, I sat on another beach amongst few people, and realized why it had been hard. It was the weight of the sea.

After a while of sitting a few feet from the water, breathing with the waves and being soaked in the complete sensory overwhelm that is the ocean, I wrote the following (And is it hard to share this with you? Yes.):

Dear Mom,
Hi. The irony that I write to you now, when you can no longer read this, is not lost on me. But I shall go ahead, for today.
I’m sitting on a beach, looking out at the Pacific. I thought of you because this is something I would have liked to share with you.
I am afraid. Afraid that if I immerse in the water before me, I don’t know who will emerge.
Will it be me? Am I “me” any more, apart from the sea?
As I lie here on my belly, feeling my back begin to burn, I am close enough to these words to be mesmerized by the movement of ink soaking into the page.
I am afraid of getting in the water.
Will it wash away all the pain? Will it salt my wounds? Will I want to keep walking in, to disappear into the deeps?
That is the fear.
It might be too much.
For the sea is salt water as are tears.
Will I drown? Will I want to drown?
I wish you were here. Love, your daughter

I don’t want to drown. I want swim. I want to cut through the water of the sea like a porpoise. I want to play in this life, in my task of writing The Oat Project. I want to feel light and strong and supple in the water, feeling it as I move across land. I want to diverge more than I derail. And I want to see it that way, instinctively, because I know what moving in the water feels like, because the salt and sand of this place is embedded…as is my mother, as is my grief, as is the brilliance of the sun.

Right now, in just a few minutes, I’m going to go back to that place on the beach. And though I’ve already showered and “gotten ready” for this day, I shall immerse, the disdain of derailing drowned in diverging in the deeps.

Love and hugs. Jene’

p.s. This is my “D” day entry for the A to Z April Blogging Challenge. I’m posting 6 days a week for the entire month of April, one post for every letter of the alphabet! So stay tuned, and check out some of the other 2000+ writers participating.

p.p.s. This message brought to you by my dear friends Mister, and Karen (go like her page and buy her jewelry!) and the dear ladies, ample wifi, lovely double shots, and great food of Katy’s Café.

Call Me! It’s California!

spiral stone

T-Mobile thinks I’m in Mexico.

Last night, as I arrived at the unexpected gift of two nights in a condo on the beach, my phone pinged. I wondered who might be texting so late and looked to find T-Mobile’s cheerful message: “Welcome to Mexico! Texts are $.50 and calls are $1.79 per minute!”

T-Mobile is wrong. I’m in California. But I am close enough to our southerly neighbor that the signal’s line is blurred.

Now, I’m a flexible person—“bendy”—both physically and mentally. My bones are loosely joined, longer tendons making them flow and pop in and out of alignment easily.

I naturally adjust to circumstances. Though others perceive this as peacemaking, I have always thought it was the logical course for a shy person.

Lately, though, I’ve been wondering if it is more a part of who I am, rather than a behavior imprinted by a nomad upbringing. Adaptability is almost always a good thing…almost.

My trainer recommends lifting weights “to tighten you up a bit.” I wonder if I need to tighten up a bit metaphorically, too. To bend a little less. To stand tall and strong for myself. To perhaps expect and hope sometimes to be the one around which others adjust. Not always. Just sometimes.

Sometimes, a little play in the line throws everything off instead of making everything smoother. Sometimes, jiggy doesn’t cut it. Sometimes, Spot On is best.

Because T-Mobile’s towers can’t pinpoint my location, I lose phone service. And though I am all about Flow and Flexibility and Surfing the Circumstances, I’m embracing a little falcon-eyed focus to craft and move into the life I want.

So, Cheers on this day, to being Spot On! (I’m talkin’ to YOU, T-Mobile)

p.s. This is my entry for day three, the day of “C” for the A to Z April Blogging Challenge. :) MUAH!

p.p.s Thank you, gals at Katy’s Cafe on the IB for staying open late so I could post this. You rock. xoxox

 

The Benefits of Bending

Bending

I woke late this morning after ten hours of sleep. I’ve been in San Diego for a week visiting a friend, and last night, I moved to another friend’s house. Getting away from regular life has worked well for focusing on finishing my book, moving it into the next stage…this time, FINISHING it.

So I’m here a few days more. Oddly enough, I’ve known both of these friends from when I lived in Florida, pre-1996…“Back in the Day!” Last night, she and I had a great time catching up years of life and experience. Waking, I felt the late night, the change of locale, and the being-away-from-home in my bones. I said good morning, we chatted, then my body clamored and I said I needed to do a little yoga to wake up. I went in my bedroom and started.

As I finished up the first sun salutation, I could hear Mark Whitwell’s voice in my head: “Just grab them and show them how to raise their arms and breathe and then they’re doing yoga!” My default is solitude. I acknowledge the need for it.

But this morning, I could feel the connection with my friend in the other room, still strong after all these years. And I knew. I knew I needed—for me and for her—to Bend.

So I stopped and went to her room around the corner and said, “Hey, would you like to do yoga together? I don’t do much, but I could show you my little routine.”

She smiled and said, “Yes! That would be great. I was about to do some, too, thinking if you did it at home, I could, too.” And we did my short sun salutation routine, and woke and laughed and breathed together.

And because I bent my routine, I did more yoga than I would have alone and felt better.

Sometimes, in relationship and even little things like yoga, How We Are—our personality, preference, even the disciplined routine—benefits from bending. Sometimes, we must Bend to properly bend.

Namaste. And cheers to Bending.

An April Fool’s Announcement – Not a Joke

The Oat Project cover

I have learned to avoid announcing my intentions.

The following through, the doing, the making good…they seem to hear my words and spiral away, in and out of me, up, down, or into some other dimension. Maybe my dad was right. I must have a rebellious nature. And sometimes, I rebel against myself. And then, all else aligns with that rebellion to incite Things I Didn’t Predict. Murphy invokes his Law. And then, it all goes to hell.

But I have decided to try again. So, like Bilbo in the Lord of the Rings, I have an Announcement.

Here goes.

(breathing out)

(holy moly, if you could see how long my fingers paused right here)

I am finishing The Oat Project. Right now. This minute. The entire thing. We will have a whole book, a book even Luddites will enjoy (printed), in the next few weeks…several weeks, that is. I’ve stopped working on installments and am focusing on crafting the story as a whole.

This journey: In the summer of 2007, at the age of 37, I “sowed” my wild oats, making a project out of trying a bunch of things I’d never done, like getting drunk, going clubbing, to a strip club, smoking a cigarette, and many more. I didn’t think it would change my life. But facing the fear of doing things my upbringing taught would send me straight to hell, then overcoming that fear transformed me and my life. I saw things for what they were, inside and outside my own self. Seven years later, that project has transformed as profoundly as I have. I’m still a mother of three beautiful children, and they are the hub of my life. The record of that summer, called The Oat Project, has changed, too.

I started publishing it serially in March 2012. Soon after, my mother started a long decline from cancer, and she died on December 4th of that year. My sister-in-law died a week later in a car crash, from which my youngest brother miraculously lived. The past two years have been filled with grief and trauma and depression, and my serialized plans derailed. But finally, I am coming through the darkness, ready to birth this book.

Some complex reasons have delayed my announcing this, including the aforementioned intentions going awry. The heaviest: I kept meaning to announce it first to my amazingwonderful subscribers, but putting and moving words on a page has overwhelmed, let alone finding the right words to the most-patient-in-the-world readers via MailChimp. Dear Subscribers, here, publicly, please accept my humble thanks for your everlasting patience and apologies for the delays since launching the book. You shall be showered in perks, including a very special edition of the book.

So, that’s it. It’s getting done by hoarding writing time from my single-mom life with astounding support from my ex-husband, family, and friends. And that will continue until it’s finished and in your hands. (If you could see my insides, they are literally churning, and I’m about to cry, because you have no. idea. how thankful, humbled, and amazed I am at the love and support. Please, please know that my life has depended on you all, and you have brilliantly, kindly helped me live. Please know how grateful I am, from the bottom of every cell thankful. I try every day to make some words or a photo that lifts you all up in return.)

Thank you, also, to the Blogging from A to Z community and Dani at Blogbooktours for the inspiration to write this and a post every day in this month of April. Cheers!

And now, back to the finishing. (Hear that, Murphy!? You can put your Law where the sun don’t shine!) May you all learn to woo and work with your intentions on this day. … Oh yeah, also, I’m pregnant, getting married, and moving to California. (April Fool’s wink to you!) ;)

Love and hugs, Jene’

p.s. Until I switch to the full book on the website and Amazon, the first three Adventures will still be up. They’re longer than they will be in the book, so grab those babies on your e-readers.

p.p.s. Photography keeps me sane–sane enough to keep writing. I’m about to launch a photography-only Etsy store from which anyone and everyone will be able to buy prints. Some will be for small prints, others–many of the Front Range–will support larger prints. Check out the Instagram feed to see many!

p.p.p.s. I really still love and believe in the serial/installment form! In the future, you’ll get to subscribe to some fiction that’s been percolating inside me for a very. long. time…and that is FUN and has nothing to do with memoir or projects.

My Mother’s Words to Me, Through Me

The last week or two, a sort of time warp has wrapped every moment in as intense a grief and dark a depression as just after my mother and sister-in-law died a year and two months ago. It’s as though some parts of my mind and body have moved through the pain while others held tight to it, numb and dumb. And those parts awaken unexpectedly. Like a foot that’s fallen asleep prickles, hobbles, and limps, my life gets derailed for a while. And these times feel impossible to overcome, impossible to handle, like they will never end. No energy. Needing people while simultaneously being overwhelmed by them. Mortality’s hair shirt hugging me, stabbing every second. My body’s twinges amplified, nervous system twanging with even small stresses (like driving in snow and ice).

Every writer must conquer some fear in facing the page. In these times, my hard-won, muscular writing moxie goes weak in the knees and faints at the sight of the mountain of pages of The Book I Am Finishing. Self-disdain descends on top of the pain, making the emotional toll of writing a memoir, of digging deeper, something only other people could accomplish. Though I have been writing through this derailment, it’s slowed to a trickle the last couple of days, and the night before last was the roughest one, an intense breakdown making finishing seem not only impossible but untenable.

But last night, things shifted to the better, from talking with my ten-year-old son.

He emailed me from his dad’s house, saying, “I miss Nana.” And I called and we chatted and cried together. I told him the story of the time my mom climbed the tree twice as high as her house and hid for hours. And he felt better and hung up.

He called again a little later, able to clarify how he was feeling. He felt overwhelmed with projects at school and being behind from sick and snow days, and then tonight he started missing Nana, feeling the lack of her more than usual. “It’s just too much, too much. I can’t take it, Mama.” So we talked about what he had to do, about how he’s capable of hard work. And I said, “Xavier, I’m going to tell you the same words Nana used to say to me about how to get through a lot of work.” And then it hit me.

I said, “Xavier, Nana is with us, right now.”

And I laughed, even as we both cried harder. It was so clear.

“My mom said this to me so many times, Xavier,” I said. “To do just a little, to face it for only a short while, and then, with a little accomplishment, finishing happens.” And I could hear her talking to me even as I spoke to him. “So here’s what we’re going to do tonight.” And we agreed that he would do homework and I would write until bedtime. We would work together though a few miles apart. “We’re following Nana’s orders, Xavier, honoring her by doing this.” And we cried a little more, then said our I-love-you’s and hung up.

His pain was real, his anguish true, no reason beyond grief to justify it. But it felt as though my mom was doing all she could to cut through the darkness to reach me. Xavier’s tender heart gave her a path.

She spoke to me by speaking through me. She is with us. And I can navigate the darkness and the task in front of me. I can climb the mountain of finishing the book. I was even able to talk about it, in this post, to you…writing again, finally. And it is with her presence, not in spite of her absence.

I could refer to quantum physics at this point, reassuring you that your loved ones who have gone on are still here because light never ends, the photons that bounced off and through them are still going, how knowing that it’s measurable, not only metaphorical. But all I hope is to remind you of their presence in you, small as a smile, deep as a dream, great as a goal. Presence is more powerful than absence. She spoke to me by speaking through me.

Lists and Christmas: The One Thing I Want for Christmas

My childhood Christmas lists were a work of art. Crafted from hours with my nose in the Sears catalog, the key at the top was essential. Need Very Badly = NVB. Need = N. Want = W. Want Very Much = WVM. Each item (often topping 100) was coded, with its attendant page number, order number, and price. I made sure there was a wide spread of pricing, the top end reflecting optimism that my preacher father’s church board’s Christmas bonus–usually our only money for “doing” Christmas–would be larger than expected (I still don’t buy presents until the week before). I asked for a telescope four years in a row, starting in first grade, and will never forget the pure joy of seeing it set up in the bay window of our Ohio home, snow falling outside, my fourth grade scientist’s wonder soaring.

Another memorable gift was in my senior year in high school. When fall clothing hit stores, my mom and I were at Casual Corner, our favorite store. The perfect red wool coat practically embraced my 17 year-old swooning self, and I immediately asked for it for Christmas. My mother, who was browsing for herself, distractedly said, “Maybe honey, we’ll see.” Money was tight that year, and I knew what maybe meant. I still had hope, though, and the next week when I was at the mall, I raced straight to my coat…to find it gone. Oh well.

Christmas morning, my mom distributed the presents like we always did, one to each person, opening together, showing what we got. My parents always equalized the number of gifts to each child–I find myself doing the same–but this time, everyone else had four while I had two. I am the eldest; my brothers were then 14 and 16. I sat there in my pajamas, wanting to cry but smiling, holding my gloves and scarf, trying to be grown up about the clear lack of money to buy me anything else, berating myself for being so selfish.

When everyone was done, relaxing, cleaning up the wrapping paper, my dad said, “Hey, what is that? That right there,” he said, pointing to the Christmas tree. I was sitting closest to it, and he said, “Jene’ honey, that looks like an envelope. Grab it for me, will you?” I did, and it had my name on it! I looked at my parents, smiling, and opened it. It was a Christmas card, and inside, in my mother’s perfect handwriting was something like “Merry Christmas, from Mom and Dad. We love you. Go look in the hall closet.” I did, and there was my RED COAT! I couldn’t believe it and burst into tears, thanking them.

I wore that coat for ten years. Like Harry Potter’s mother-love-infused skin, my coat was soaked in the magic of my parents’ love, in protection, kindness, and caring. If someone asks me what I want for an occasion–birthdays, Christmas, holidays–I tend to focus on needs, things that will enable me to be/do better. Only when pushed will I admit to coveting baubles and pretty things, clothes or jewelry. They’re there, flitting in my heart, believe me; but lists have always seemed more a time for needs. But beyond the list and even the pretties, what I have always most coveted is Surprise. Yes, I asked for the telescope and the coat. But the way they were given were utter and complete surprises. That’s why they’re memorable. And why Surprise?

To me, surprise issues from caring. It’s caring in action, in Noticing, Taking Time, Keeping it Secret, Crafting a Plan, and Execution. It’s evidence that I am cared for and cared about…loved. And that is the One Thing we all want for Christmas and for every day…to be loved.

In the midst of years of depression and panic, one of the first things to flee is the feeling of being loved. Logic helps a little, but not with overwhelming feelings of hopelessness that I will die soon and alone.

And yet, this last year of grieving my mother’s and sister-in-law’s deaths has given me a gift beyond anything I could ask for: certainty of love. Even when darkness has and still drags me down and holds me under, I know I am loved. And in a concrete, tangible way, though not always in literal presence. Gifts, tangible evidence of love and care, have been placed in my hands to help and support life and work and, sometimes, sheer survival. You, my people, have been amazing. My mom said words to me before she died that were gifts of love for my entire life. I know my dad loves me. My children love me. My family loves me. My friends love me.

Beginning in the last months of my mom’s life, the Evidence of Love has pounded at my insecurities, sloughing them away like a sculptor revealing the beauty within stone. I can’t deny it any more. It has taken several Ah ha! moments, but the certainty of being loved has finally brought that most essential love, of myself. And with that, I finally–finally!–have the ability and capacity to return the oceans of love that have been needed–thank you, oh thank you–for literal survival this year. Once the core is solid, then can love for others blossom for true.

Was my love before this not real? No, it was real; but compared to now, it seems fractured and anemic. Last night, after I sang with some lovely ladies to lead a Christmas sing-along at a coffee shop, a friend hugged me goodbye and said, “You know, you are so loved, Jene’.” I teared up and thanked and hugged her. Later, I realized what was so different about our exchange, what disconcerted me a little in the moment. When she said those words, I did not recoil in the feeling of being unworthy. I simply sat in gratitude and returned the love to her in my words and affection. No more energy wasted. No more hoops of self-flagellation. No worries over power lost or gained. And because I could rest in her love for me, I could love back freely and completely, with no fear.

So what do I want for Christmas? I can’t have more time with my mom, or hindsight-aided second chances. I could give you a list, complete with a key at the top, of things that would make my life easier, work more efficient, creation more fun. In getting to these words here, a list was involved, inspired by a fellow writer’s list, and after posting it, it felt gauche and awkward, too much a straight line (there’s a reason my symbol is a spiral).

The One Thing I really want, I already have. Gratitude for it often squeezes me in its intensity, its shuddering shattering reality shining all over every moment, even the dark ones. And its depth and richness flows out to you and my family and children and strangers. I need nothing else, and I hope, wish, and actively participate in the process by which you receive this same gift, that of Love.

p.s. But if you must get me something for Christmas, make it a Surprise, and make sure it includes a hug. ;)

Death, Meaning, and a Chest Cold: Gratitude

I keep trying to make meaning with words on this day, but they aren’t coming out properly yet. One year ago today, my family and I buried my mom in Tennessee, on the same hill as her father and family. It was a year ago date-wise, but day-of-the-week-wise, which is how I recall it all–because the days helped me know what reality was–the burial was on a Monday, and Tuesday morning we ate breakfast together and went our separate ways, hugging and laughing. That night, we got the call that my brother and sister-in-law, Krissy, on their way home to Arkansas, were in a terrible accident on I40, that we had lost Krissy and that my brother was barely alive in the ER in Little Rock, one week after mom died.

We were near Kansas City and rerouted the next morning. That night was spent in a daze in a hotel room, watching my children sleep, and we left the next morning for Little Rock. So many of you made it possible for us to be there for Justin as he miraculously recovered. Thank you so much for your help, love, and support in that time. Those words are a paltry reflection of the depth of my heart.

The grief of last week’s anniversaries came to a head today, oddly enough. I have been alternately sad, angry, weeping, numb, at peace, grateful, and so tired. Chinese medicine associates lung trouble with grief, a friend reminded me tonight as I lamented being sick with a chest cold that latched on this weekend. Some days, it is hard to see meaning in any of this, though I know it’s there. Sometimes, people just die. (As I type that, another wave of angry sadness rolls through.)

The most essential meaning is thankfulness for my family and friends, sad for the loss but grateful my baby brother lived. In a cliche I finally fully understand, I don’t know where this year has gone; it feels utterly like yesterday, or last month. Thank you for being with me and us and for your love. Someday soon, I’ll find better words. Love and hugs to you.

p.s. That photo up there is condensation on the window of the Mexican restaurant in a tiny Tennessee town where our family had dinner on the night of Mom’s burial. I don’t recall if Krissy or I first noticed the heart, but she said, “You should spiral spiral that, Jene’,” (referring to my Instagram account). The following morning at breakfast, our last conversation ever was on how my photography was good enough to feature and pursue, and she–a designer–gave me tips and tricks she had learned. I hugged her the last time around 9 a.m. The accident was at about noon. She was always kind to me, supportive of my writing/art, and infectiously enthusiastic. I wish I had years to know her better. Hearts grow and strengthen.