Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A ramble

A friend gave me a copy of Eat, Pray, Love and I thought I'd give it a shot. Gilbert has a nice witty writing style, but I kept thinking, "This woman is infantile, self-centered and nuts!"

Then I realized that during the time she's writing about, she is exactly the age I was when I was infantile, self-centered and nuts. 34. The early part of such a journey will, has to, seem that way. When you start with practically no inner life, you can easily strike out at your outer life, get selfish, hurt people. What's good about her story is not her initial lunacy, but her decision not to get stuck there. Progress is what matters, and progress takes a
l-o-o-o-ng blasted time.

This photo is from around March 1988. I'm 34 years old, about 3 months sober, and have that new-to-the-program stare: "How did I get here? What in the world do I do now?"

At the time I thought (oh so wrongly!) that nothing had changed. Relationships were an emotional puzzlement. My need to feel capable and confident was still unfulfilled but I no longer even believed that substances could meet that need.

In 1988 I am in emotional kindergarten and I want to be Graduated and have a new life right now.

I went to meetings and looked around me. One who really seemed to have her act together was "Meg."

I've been thinking about her lately. "Meg" and "Jim" were relative newlyweds in their late 30's. Each had 3 kids from failed former marriages. They got into the program, found each other, and formed a family. They had a baby, and I confess I watched the progression of her pregnancy with a mixture of envy and horror. Seven children! She joked about her lousy childhood and how The Sound of Music had been her unattainable fantasy of home and family, and now here she was, probably trying to act out the film. They had a lovely sunny house and the cutest von Trapp Family-style Christmas card you ever saw, and she still had emotional problems. But she went to meetings and talked about them and faced them. She acknowledged her need for real therapy, and found a shrink with strong medical credentials. That's what you do. Pretend everything's hunky-dory, quit your support network, and that's when you get into trouble. She seemed to be doing it right.

I went to lunch with her one day, and unloaded about my then-boyfriend. "He is cute, isn't he?" she said to me with a wry grin, and I found myself reading this statement as a smart assessment that I needed to put my brain in charge and judge whether it really could become what I was looking for.

This might have been her meaning, or it very well might have been early stirrings of my own mind coming back to life. Maybe both. Meg's life deteriorated later, but if I've learned anything, I've learned that that in no way means she lacked smarts and insight. We're a patchwork of sanity and craziness, all of us who are getting our marbles back.

If my own smarts and good judgment were indeed stirring to life, the stirrings were very early because I put a lot more years into trying to hammer bad fits -- friends, lovers, career -- into what I wanted them to be. There are still days when a nice toxic dose of regret will reactivate in my mind, like a mental malaria, but with decreasing frequency. Other days, I breathe deeply and tell myself that I took the time I needed to take in order to learn what I absolutely had to learn.

The photo is a moment in time. A few years later things were radically different. I was getting my marbles back. Meg began to have dissociative episodes, a schizophrenia-like hallucinatory illness, or some deeply buried memories of some serious childhood trauma. She disappeared from the group and rumors were vague as to diagnosis or prognosis. She and Jim split and she was at one point found wandering the streets hundreds of miles away. But no moment-in-time situation is the end of the story. My last news of her is at least 16 years old. It may sound batty to hope that she's found her way back to herself and to a happy life but I have, honest-to-God, seen it happen, and several times. I know people who have overcome wreckage the likes of which I've never had to crawl out of. It's a matter of willingness to take time, time, time to grow up, and not feel too lousy about starting so blasted late.

Meanwhile, back at the book, I keep thinking of an earlier book of poetry, by a poet I've written about before. Like Gilbert's book, it's about both travel and an inner journey, about food and beauty and inner longing and a joyous embrace of life, and it seems better centred and less immature. Gilbert is OK, she has something to say, but I think Miller did it a little better.

Monday, March 23, 2009

So much great stuff to read online!

And me with burning, watering eyes from pollen allergies. The stuff is bad this year. My eyes reject the glare of the computer screen after a few minutes.

So I'm on a program of "environmental formula" eye drops (Moisturizing only. Not the redness removal kind. Very unhealthy, those!) and drifting away under the headphones with my eyes closed for substantial stretches of time. I'm ready for the pollen to Go Away.

Friday, March 13, 2009


It's time for our annual lowcountry mini-autumn. Live Oak trees -- mature trees, but not the young ones -- shed their leaves and grow them back within a couple weeks. Each has its own schedule. This one's early, most others around are still green or just getting started. On Wednesday, it was green. Thursday morning, it was golden and shedding everywhere. If I'd known that today would be cloudy, I'd have photographed it yesterday when the sun on the gold leaves was quite beautiful!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The names have been changed

Thanks to a link on mojo's blog, I've seen a commercial that I just love, but that song! O, that song. Not only does it refuse to leave my head, but it takes me back to summer camp.

I've sometimes encountered songs I ought to know, and people who give me puzzled looks. "But didn't you go to summer camp?" they ask, when I say that the song is unfamiliar.

Oh, I did. Boy did I. Let's call it, oh, Camp Gethsemane. No reason. I just need a fake name that starts with "G" for reasons that will become clear. It was unique, it was intense, and it lasted 7 weeks, so the impressions it made got ground in good.

We did not sing universal camp songs. We almost exclusively sang Camp Gethsemane
songs. Each year, all the cabins would participate in a song contest and 3 winning songs would get added to the repertoire, all set to popular tunes, but with lyrics rewritten to sing the praises of Camp Gethsemane. Its exquisite patch of mountain land, given by God to His Elect, as a place to nurture our wisdom and strength for the crass world we spent the rest of the year in. Its values. The lifelong sisterhood we'd entered. The song in the video, "Boom-de-yada" is familiar to me but in melody only. Our version had a Gethsemane lyric that I've mercifully forgotten.

"Normal" songs weren't forbidden, as long as they weren't irreverent. If your cabin went on a campout or picnic, you'd sing a few standards around the campfire, "Michael Row Your Boat Ashore," etc. But few. Gethsemane-specific songs simply dominated to the point of killing most opportunities to sing secular songs.

That's kind of a joke, that word "secular," like we were in some kind of religious cult. But I have to admit, Camp Gethsemane was the place where the Christian Living teacher informed us that almost everybody was destined for Hell except certain correct-thinking Protestants, and the Jews, who deserved to go just as much as the Catholics did, but who were God's Chosen People and therefore had a free pass. This is a unique view I've never run into elsewhere. I won't say he was speaking for the camp leaders but I've never heard that they objected.

Every moment of every day was regimented. We took classes all day long, normal stuff. Canoeing, tennis, swimming, art. Evenings were programmed. We could each have a free period during the day, but with the time it took to walk from your last class, and allowing time to get your next one, time to sit and think and goof off was short. Behavior was regulated every minute. One night a large group of us from several cabins had a big happy pillow fight out on the tennis court. The director heard it (it was hard to miss) and descended on us, white-faced and enraged, as though she'd caught us doing drugs.

On Sundays we wore dresses to "chapel" in the assembly pavilion, and white all day long. We had a morning service, then broke up into smaller Sunday School classes, then reassembled in the pavilion for a church service wrap-up. Then in the evening we attended vespers.

The ceremonial aspect of Camp Gethsemane was spectacular. A final-Sunday vespers tradition involved carrying candles in a line down the hill to circle a large area of the campus, a shimmering circle in the dark, the ceremony capped by floating the candles on little square wood platforms out onto the lake.

It was breathtakingly beautiful, but even better was the Honor Circle Ceremony. It would have wowed Leni Riefenstahl.

Honor Circle Ceremonies were unannounced until the evening on which they'd take place. As night fell, we'd all line up by cabins and, when given the signal, march up the mountain behind the camp in one long line, to the mysterious shrine called, as was the special group of girls chosen there, the Honor Circle.

It was far enough away to keep us mere plebeians from wandering up there during ordinary daylight hours and profaning the sacred ground by ambling about, slouching on the seats and chitchatting, or God forbid, sitting in the Honor Seat (reserved for the Director, "Mrs. D," who as daughter of the camp's founder had been inducted into The Circle decades earlier). Though obviously a manageable walk away, one had to plan and think twice about violating its boundary, and few did. We saw the place only in the primevally forested darkness, illuminated at first by the counselors' flashlights as they led us up, and then by a huge bonfire.

The Honor Circle (the place) consisted of positively Druidical rows of primitive stone seats, just concrete blocks, really, in a half-circle, to accommodate most of the 300-ish campers. These rows embraced a stone fire pit. Behind the fire, in a facing semicircle was a single row of fancier benches with backs. These were for The Elite, the Honor Circle members, and the upper echelon of camp directors.

We assembled in awed silence. The littlest girls got the front row, not just because they were the shortest, but undoubtedly because they were also the most impressionable and the best recipients of Mrs. D's eye contact. Mrs. D stood at her seat with the blazing torch she'd carried up the hill. When the shuffling and jostling had died down and we stood in proper hushed attitudes, she gestured and we all sat.

Mrs. D. lit the bonfire which had magically been built sometime that day without general camper knowledge, possibly by Honor Circle members. They had various secret duties like this and had been selected for their devotion to Camp and willingness to keep their society's secrets, rather than being tempted to reveal them and impress younger girls. They had meetings so secret that their absence was never noticed and no one knew where or when the meetings took place.

The fire caught and climbed till a massive inferno flailed the air, and the director began her speech. It was always about how Gethsemane Girls were the select, simply by virtue of spending our summer in that rarefied atmosphere. We were finer, wiser, more self-sacrificing, and the burden we had to bear for God and Truth was tremendous. Mrs. D. was a hot flickering orange color as she marched back and forth around the fire and mesmerized us with her declaration of all we had to live up to, and of how Gethsemane would forge us for this Great Commission.

It was nicely timed and the fire would be just noticeably past its peak, as she wrapped up the speech and the next phase of the ceremony began. Honor Circle members silently rose and passed among the campers' ranks, tapping a few. If you were "tapped" you might just have a tearful fluttery sobfest, and you certainly gasped, because it meant you were considered so special, so pure of quality, thought, and deed, that you were Honor Circle material yourself. Your status was temporary. You were only an Honor Circle Member for this summer, though from your ranks the Permanent were chosen at year's end. Only 12 Permanent members sit as active members, though, as in a sorority, Permanent Honor Circle membership is for life. If you happen to visit camp on Honor Circle Ceremony Night when you're 30 ... or 80 ... you'd be expected to sit with the teens in the Circle that night as the fire blazes.

By the end we felt rather weak and burned clean as we filed back down the hill.

No group can win hearts without some more ordinary and achievable awards, so on the last day of camp, a great many campers received a more mundane pat-on-the-back award, called the "Gethsemane G." Dispensing these G's was prefaced by another speech about how Gethsemane and many positive attributes all began with "G." Girl, Godly, good, great, generous, genuine.

I never got a G, much less an Honor Circle Seat. I was not Gethsemane material, though it did hurt. The G was ubiquitous enough for getting passed over to be a real, yet vague, "You're just not our type" statement. Well, I can't really fuss about that because the place wasn't my type either.

But I always thought I was a pretty damned good person and some years later, I saw an initial charm that looked somewhat like the G I never received and bought it for myself.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Ship cheaper.

To think -- we used to pay for shipping envelopes and boxes!

We still have to, on some occasions, but clean, dry boxes left from cereal, cookies, and other edibles make good shipping containers for books, magazines and sturdy items, though they're too flimsy for more fragile things.

I just turn them inside out.

MY RECOMMENDATION : SKIP the ones that contained peanut products. Toss 'em out.

I was about to assemble for reuse this box that had held peanut butter cookies, when it occurred to me that an eBay buyer with severe enough peanut allergies might actually react to the trace amounts in the cardboard. This one goes to recycling instead.

And that was today's project.

Sunday, March 01, 2009


Transplanted tree update: we were pretty sure it would survive the transplant, even before this, since, though it did thin out a bit, it did not fade away over the winter.

But heartwarming confirmation of its health is now evident. Buds are starting to pop out: