Saturday, August 26, 2006


If you've never been in therapy, I have to tell you it is a very bizarre experience. Not because it is painful (which it can be) or because it is embarassing (it can also be that) or that it is uncomfortable (I tend to think this is a given). The thing that makes it incredibly strange is walking in to a room, having a relative stranger hold up a mirror to you and seeing things that you, a relatively intelligent, thinking person can't see when you yourself pick up the mirror.
For me it's gone something like:

Very Astute Therapist: So Eileen, do you see this here?

Ei: Well, yes, I guess, I do...

VAT: You see what this is don't you?

Ei: Uhm, I guess it's a wall of some sort...

VAT: It's a brick wall, Eileen.

Ei: Oh, yeah...ok...I can see that...yes, that makes sense.

VAT: Eileen, honey, you need to stop smashing your head against it...that's not real healthy.

Ei: that why there is blood running down my forehead?

VAT: There's a box of tissues right there on the table, would you like a glass of water?

Yeah, it's something like that. And suddenly you are out in the sunshine and fresh air and you are seeing brick walls all over the place. And you suddenly start remembering old, old brick walls on which you've knocked yourself unconscious. And you feel pretty foolish. But you also feel pretty damn good, because you know you can stop the madness. And you have a weird desire to walk up to total strangers and say, "Hey, did you know this is a brick wall?"

Well, it's not that simple of course, but I can recognize the type of brick wall that I'm probably most likely to mistake for a feather pillow now. Now I just have to work on letting go a particularly difficult brick wall. But it sure helps to know what it is.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Who am I? Really?

Our minister, Mark, likes to challenge traditional understandings of language, particularly religious language. While we can all agree that being a Unitarian Universalist is quite different than belonging to practically any other church community in North America, he is quite dogged in holding on to traditional Christian language in describing our culture as an organization, as a people. And while I understand that historically, our roots are Judeo Christian, and too that it is a good mental exercise to challenge the stereotypes we embed in the meaning of words, I wonder if we're doing anyone any favors. "Church," "sermon," "ministry" are all words that inspire a thought process inside of the minds and hearts of people. And I wonder if we are challenging stereotypes, or arm wrestling over them. We, as UUs, end up explaining ourselves a lot. We get raised eyebrows from people who have heard us talking about being involved in church and then hear us adamantly rejecting God language and dogma. There's even a much-revered process in the UU tradition, called the Elevator Speech in which you try to figure out how you would explain Unitarian Universalism in the length of an elevator ride to a stranger. I realize of course it is all for the sake of starting honest open inviting Creative Interchange. But I wonder how honest and open they are if they are so contrived? Are we really co-opting another aspect of Christianity that we don’t seem to honor so much, the art of witnessing, an art that I've always seen as recruiting? wonder some Christians don't like us so much. We take their language, their practices, and all their best ideas and wrap it around a package that is not theirs. How frustrating. How utterly rude.

At the same time though, we are humans, with both a desire to express ourselves, claim our right to be in society, to be a meaningful part of that society, and to do it on our own terms. One of my most beloved swiped ideas came from Maya Angelou. She once wrote, in a nutshell, that if a man tells you he’s a bad person, you should believe him. He knows himself better than you do. The original idea, I think was that people will reflect to you what they've already told you about themselves, because they are just setting up the story they've already written. A man who tells you he can't be faithful doesn't want you to fix him; he just wants you to know that he doesn't intend to be faithful. A woman, who tells you that she's always managed to find broken men, doesn't mean to tell you that she is changing her ways when she comes to you, but that she intends to find what’s broken in you. Of course, this is Maya's truth, and to some extent mine, and it, like all truths can be challenged. All the same, it is uncomfortable to look at some of the declarative statements I've made about myself, and claim them as my own responsibility, and yet somehow I must. When I say I'm shy and awkward, I must acknowledge on some level that I'm choosing that. When I've said that I don't love myself in the past, I must know that I have also chosen that.

UGH. My thoughts are so tangled up in knots!

So the reason I'm thinking about this is because I joined a book club. Ok, I didn't join, yet. A friend invited me and she said, this is the book were reading and I went out to pick it up. And I'm having a crisis about it. The book is by Anne Lamott and its titled Plan B, Further Thoughts on Faith. Initially I was skeptical...I didn’t want to be preached "the word of God" in my casual reading. That’s why I'm UU after all. But the women who invited me to this group are also UU, so I thought that there must be something to this, and I checked out some reviews, and bought the book. I opened up my mouth and said, "I am open minded, I want to see what this woman has to say." And I started reading.

Ms. Lamott is a liberal, anti-Bush, "its all about love" Christian. She's anti-war, pro-helping the helpless, and very much into the fact that we are all human "becomings" not necessarily human beings. Even on a personal level, I have much in common with her...struggling with lack of focus when it comes to meditation or prayer, guilt over anger felt for a dysfunctional mother, and the belief that with all things, you can only start where you are, and bumble your way out of it. And surprisingly, or maybe ironically, or maybe even predictably, will all that we have in common, I don't like Lamott at all. I find her weak kneed and self-indulgent. I see her grappling with an urgency to be kind to herself, but not so much to the people who love her. Mostly I find her wishy-washy, and it surprises me that it bothers me so much. She writes with pain-staking honesty about confusion and despair, and I wonder how much she chooses it. And I'm surprised to find that I'm thinking more conservatively than I ever have, but I'm modeling myself after a black poet laureate in my thoughts, rather than a white woman who sports dread-locks and is a New York Times best-selling author, and I wonder which is a more appropriate liberal role model. I tried to think of these two women on a continuum of Liberalness versus Conservatism, but I can’t even place them in the same universe, much less the same continuum. And this all makes me think that we approach this all wrong.

We tend to identify ourselves with people with whom we share a view of the world...religiously, politically, and philosophically, etc. But some things have happened in my life that have made me challenge the wisdom of this way of personally aligning yourself, of choosing your tribe. I have a good friend who is a very conservative Christian. We've butted heads loudly and with much anguish on subject matters that we both hold personally sacred. And yet we are drawn to each other like magnets. We revel in each others company, and I can tell you that I respect this woman so much more than I do Anne Lamott, with whom I should believe that I have so much in common. My friend and I have often wondered about why it is we are drawn to one another when our definition of the world is so different. But reflection on Anne Lamott, Maya Angelou and the language of Unitarian Universalism has made me realize that it’s not the world you have to agree on, it’s yourselves. My friend and I look from different eyes and see a different reality, but we define ourselves in much the same way...survivors, optimists, loving, loyal and strong. We are women who challenge ourselves and our society to do better and be stronger. We do not accept the wimpy voices that tell us we are just helpless little souls with no real power in the world. We know that we are only mortal, but we don't use it as an excuse to not try hard. She said it in a different way, but I think she's right - we don't share eyes; we share hearts.

I've been struggling with my labels lately. The way I define myself has been so limited. I don’t like being a theist or a non-theist. I don’t like being a victim or a feminist or a divorcee or a girl. I've said it before that the only label that defines me, even remotely accurately, is Eileen.

And even that has severe limitations.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The tooth fairy is a thug

So I don't know if I've ever mentioned it, but my son, the almost seven year old is kind of funny about his teeth falling out. That's it, he requires them to come out all on their own, even if they are dangling from a thread of skin, nobody better touch those teeth. He's lost three so far. The bad thing about this method of harvesting teeth is that it's rather much so that no one really notices. Dev will just be talking and you'll notice his tooth is gone. So it has gone with two of the three lost tooth to turn in to the tooth fairy. But amazingly she's come and left a pittance to soothe the soul of the six-year-old child...and I thought she just must be an angel...or I did until today. Now I realize her roots are in organized crime. Nothin' for nothin' now don't you know?

At 4:30 sharp the telephone rings. It's Miss Sweet Soft-spoken Teacher from Elyas' preschool class.

"Hello Mrs. Jackson? This is Miss SST.."

"Hi! What's up?"

"Well, Elyas had a little accident and..."

Now my brain hears little accident and I'm thinking he needs a change of clothes...

"...and he was riding a trike in EL and crashed into another child and he knocked out his two front teeth."

I'm sure she continued talking at this point. Or maybe she didn't all I could hear was myself saying "Oh my god! Oh my god!" over and over again. Or maybe I wasn't saying it, I'm not sure. I told her I'd be right there, called Darius and told him to call ahead to the dentist and find out if we should go there or to the emergency room and I literally ran from my office to my boss, and without actually even stopping I told him what had happened and ran to the car. I think I ran two lights.

When I got there he had about seven teachers tending him. I wondered who was with all of the other children. I scooped him up and Miss SST directed me to the conference room where I called Darius (you know my cell phone picks the damnedest days to konk out on me) who told me I was to call the dentist and then demanded to know what happened. I had no time to talk to him so I said I'd call him back. I called the dentist's office and we were on our way in a few minutes. I called his cell phone number as I was leaving the room and handed the phone off too poor Miss SST, saying, "Please tell him what happened."

We entered the office with milk packed teeth in my purse and sobbing babe on my shoulder. A very pregnant hygienist directed us immediately back to a room and Dr. Charming Pants was there in minutes. He examined scared and sobbing boy. I was doing my best to put on my "Mommy's not worried, so don't you be either." face, but I could tell he wasn't convinced. I kissed his fingers and patted his little face. Dr. CP asked me to step out in the hallway to talk while Very Pregnant prepared Elyas for an x-ray. He started to explain that they wouldn't try to put the teeth back in because, at Elyas' age, the roots of the baby tooth had already begun to disintegrate, in preparation for his adult teeth coming in. There was not enough root for the teeth to attach to, and even if there were, there would be a good chance that doing so would damage his adult teeth. Now I knew there was more to this...but I didn't get there. Not because my baby was crying for me...not because Very Pregnant went into labor...because I, one of the sturdiest moms I know, fainted. I don't know why, I had eaten today, it wasn't the blood...I just flat out went down. I was able to utter, "Hey I'm sorry I'm getting very dizzy..." quickly enough that they were able to help me into a chair before I really went out. I wasn't out too long, but it was a scary enough event that I never ever want to repeat it.

Well, after I so rudely interrupted, Elyas had his x-ray. There was a phone conference with a pediatric dentist in another city. And there is a possibility that he might lose the teeth on either side as well, but they are going to let nature take its course. There is a good likelihood though that the gum will firm up around them and he will retain them.

Meanwhile.... Elyas gets to look like a six year old with lost teeth for probably the next three years. The dentist tells me that scar tissue from this accident could actually slow down his permanent teeth coming in. And then we'll get to see if they got damaged too. Yippee.

Damn tooth fairy. She could've just asked for her money back.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Of Houseplants and Friendship

My Grandma Ruby raised African Violets. They were her favorite plant in the world...her kitchen window sill was always filled with little plastic margarine tubs sprouting little purple flowers and soft fuzzy leaves. She said that they were the sturdiest little plants and so easy to grow. I think she also liked the fact that in the middle of the sand hills of Nebraska, anything tagged with the title "African" sounded exotic and like me she loved the way the leaves tickled against her skin as she lifted them up to water them. By the time my memories all begin of my grandmother the only house plants she really kept were African Violets, sans one huge old philodendron in the living room. I know that it wasn't always the case, as my mother sometimes told me about the houseful of beautiful plants my grandmother kept when she was a young woman and how adept she had been at making them blossom and grow. I think my mother thought my grandmother had grown too tired and old to keep up after all of those plants, and to some degree, she might have been right. But I also think that maybe my grandmother just really figured out that you only have so much time and energy in life, and you have to spend it on that what makes you happy. African Violets made my grandmother happy.

Me, I certainly didn't inherit Ruby's bubbly, silly personality, her skill for making piecrusts, or her green thumb. I've gone for years at a time without having a single plant in my house because I really didn't think I could make them live. I went through a short phase though, back in Denver where I had a houseful of plants that I had gifted to me by my employer...the office was always changing out plants...had a plant service, and when they no longer fit the decor, they got sent home with the employees or sent to the trash. You know I couldn't let them just wither and die in a dumpster because they'd gone out of social justice gene wouldn't allow that. So for a time, I became a shelter for homeless plants. I had all kinds of amazing and interesting plants. I discussed their care in depth with the plant guy at the office and I spent a great deal of energy taking care of them every day. I started shopping for new pots for them and they gave me a special joy. At one point I even ended up bringing home a small potted lemon tree, which thrived under my carefully noted instructions from the plant guy. Maybe, just maybe, I thought, I DID inherit a little bit of a green thumb! Huh! But you know the only thing that you can count on in life is change. Scott and I split up. When I moved, the lemon tree didn't make it. The stress of being strapped to my little pick up truck and hauled through the streets of Denver was just too hard on it. And I got more involved in theatre again, and I wasn't home as much, and I started to neglect them...not intentionally, but I'd forgot a watering, or there suddenly wasn't enough money for special fertilizers. I was lonely and got a cat that liked to chew on them.

By the time I met Darius, they were all pretty much gone.

In the last few years I've discovered succulents. Succulents, if you don't know tend to be beautiful plants that don't require a whole lot of care. They certainly like a little attention now and then...but if you miss watering them for even a whole month they don't shrivel up and die, they just kind of go into hibernation. In fact, I've found that sometimes you can pay just a little too much attention to them. They don't die, but they get cranky. Between them and my bamboo that grows in rocks with water, I've finally found my houseplant niche.

It has been a thought of mine over the years that relationships are living things that have to be nurtured and cared for. It's only recently that I've begun to look at them with the houseplant in mind, but the more I consider it, the more I find it a worth analogy. Most of my friendships, like my plants, are succulents. They don't require a whole lot other than a little bit of water now and then and some appreciation from time to time. They don't thrive on a schedule or on too much fertilizer. Sometimes they get root bound and you have to move them into a bigger container, but that's an occasional maintenance thing. They are relaxed and unencumbered with watering schedules and demanding fertilizer routines, in fact, they'd probably balk at it. But they are ever present and shine beautifully in my life and their mere presence gives me joy.

Some of my relationships are more like the bamboo...they grown in the damnedest of places and require lots and lots of water, but little else. They have a sort of Zen presence that soothes me, and it is no problem to refill the water once a week because it has become a process that fills me up as much as it is a tending of the relationship, and that gives me great joy.

I have a philodendron or two, that are like my grandmother's...old and huge and you know, you are never quite sure what you did right with it, but it survived the years and it's big and beautiful and you are very proud of it.

And of course some relationships are like great old trees out in the yard. You don't have much to do with them other than appreciate them and make sure the bugs don't get them. They are the relationships that give you shade and a safe place to rest. They are shelter and a haven.

Now like with my plants, I've gone through my green thumb phase of life with friendships too. I've tended hothouse flowers, and shrinking violets. I've tended lovely willowy ferns and clinging vines both of which grow so fast it's hard to keep up with it. I've planted trees that didn't make it to adulthood.

Both with friendships and gardening I think I've begun to understand what I'm capable of and what I am not and what makes me happy. I appreciate my friends who can raise orchids, and while I admire them, I can't. I'm a succulent kind of girl, and I'm thinking maybe a bit of an African Violet lover myself...but I'm not sure I can raise them. I'll have to see if I can channel some of my Grandma Ruby and find out.

Sunday, August 13, 2006


I've been running on "E" for awhile. I'm sorry if I haven't been able to support you the way a good friend should. I've been hyper-focused on my son's issues for a few months. Not necessarily the "right" approach to life, but sometimes the right approach isn't even an option.

But at the insistence of my therapist I did two things this weekend. One was to NOT read parenting books or "take care of my children" when they aren't here to take care of...she saw a pattern in me that I need to be taking care of my loved ones all the time and make no room for myself.

The second thing was she insisted I plan some sort of outing. I'd confessed that my weekends alone had become a time of shutting myself in from the outside world. She insisted that I get out, even if it was just to go have a cup of coffee by myself. So yesterday I went to Walgreen’s to pick up my antidepressants and some Excedrin, and I discovered I was hungry. I lingered in front of the frozen dinners at Walgreen’s for a moment, but I knew I really hadn't fulfilled the spirit of the "getting out of the house" prescription and a tasty deli sandwich suddenly sounded very appealing. I drove first to the South Union Bakery, where I've had a good bite once, but found sadly that they were closed and on to Crave on 6th Avenue...also closed. I was bummed. I suddenly remembered a coffee shop that's been mentioned to me by a number of people and recently featured in one of my company's publications, a place called the Ritual I decided to give them a try.

The Ritual is owned by a pair of life-partnered lesbians (now see folks, wouldn't it just be easier to say "a married couple?"). It is very hip and urban...when I went in there were old hippies arguing politics in one corner and a little family with the mom happily nursing her baby and munching on a salad in the other. A woman who I can only tell you looked an awful lot like my former roommate back in Denver, Monica, waited on me. I felt instantly at home except for the slippery very rounded far-too-narrow-for my-big-ass bar stools. They serve only vegetarian food, so I ordered up a Grilled Veggie Panini and perched atop an uncomfortable stool and began sifting through the daily newspaper.

Two articles jumped out at was a story about Kevin Costner returning to the small town, and indeed cornfield baseball field, where Field of Dreams was filmed. It was a lovely little report of the festivities they had and the kinds of crazy idealists such an event attracts. FOD has always been a favorite movie of mine, despite my intense dislike of Costner, more as a person than an actor admittedly. The idea of unusual paranormal activity bonding people across time and space made me love the movie...that and James Earl Jones who makes me think I should have been born in a different time and place so that I could curl up next to that big booming chest and let him murmur me to sleep each night. Sigh.

The second article was about the Mesqwaki tribe's annual pow-wow, a well written piece about how generations of the tribe join together each year honoring the rituals of their ancestors, whether they consider them religious or cultural, it being an important part of who they are as individuals and as a community.

And it all made me think.

It made me think that sitting in the Ritual Cafe, reading about two very different, but very life affirming rituals must be telling me something. I finished off the yummy veggie panini and headed out the door. I had to get quarters for laundry and I had a $20 in my purse, but had missed the deadline for getting to the bank, so I headed for the local grocery store, Dahl's, as I knew their customer service counter would help me out. And while I was there, on a weird impulse, I bought myself some sparkling water. I used to live on the stuff, back before man or children. And I came home and instead of tackling the reading list or the laundry I sat back in a tub, sipping my lime flavored sparkling water and I thought about rituals. My abandoned, personal rituals like lime flavored sparkling water, white candles and hot baths on Saturday afternoons. Like reading cards for hours because I wanted to, like watching Little Women in my pajamas with a chocolatey coffee drink in hand. Hanging new swags on the living room window to add the colors of my life or spending hours finding treasures at the Salvation Army on South Broadway (oh and if any of you know Denver at know what a treasure trove that place was where the donation bags of Cherry Creek ended up - 'nuff said.) I drew and painted and listened to the woman deep inside of me...

And it seems like all I've been doing since then is listening to my husband and my children and the society of motherhood. And while I love motherhood and certainly loved my family, somewhere that woman got packed away in a closet like a well loved family game...where every time you look at it there seems to be more pieces missing. So yesterday I got her down, dusted off the box and taped up the split corners. All that was left inside was a bottle of Perrier a couple of half burned candles and some bubble bath. But it's a starting place.

I think it's time to refill the ritual box.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Divorce Diet

So our editor was asking me the other day about how much weight I've actually lost. I told her it's the ever so trendy Divorce Diet, and that I'm astounded more people aren't jumping on board this bandwagon. We had a good laugh.

A few minutes ago she was following me down the hallway and says "Well damn, I'm just gonna have to run out and get married so I can get a divorce too."

Take the perks where you can get them, eh? LOL.

Yes, I did.

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