Saturday, July 26, 2008

reading meme's

The National Endowment for the Arts has an initiative they are calling the big read. The website states its purpose is to "restore reading to the center of American culture."The premise of this little exercise is that the National Endowment for the Arts apparently believes that the average American has only read 6 books from the list below.

what to do:

1. Look at the list and bold those you have read.
2. Italicize those you intend to read.
3. Underline (or mark in a different color) the books you LOVE
4. Reprint this list in your blog so we can try and track down these people who’ve read 6 or less and force books upon them

the list

Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
The Bible
Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte

Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
Little Women - Louisa M Alcott

Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
Complete Works of Shakespeare
Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
Middlemarch - George Eliot
Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
Bleak House - Charles Dickens
War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams (I've tried and tried...)
Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame (I tried to read this, couldn't finish it)
Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
Emma - Jane Austen
Persuasion - Jane Austen
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
Animal Farm - George Orwell
The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
Lord of the Flies - William Golding
Atonement - Ian McEwan
Life of Pi - Yann Martel
Dune - Frank Herbert
Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
The Secret History - Donna Tartt
The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
On The Road - Jack Kerouac
Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
Moby Dick - Herman Melville (in HS, we cut a deal to watch the movie instead - does that count?)
Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
Dracula - Bram Stoker
The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
Ulysses - James Joyce
The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
Germinal - Emile Zola
Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
Possession - AS Byatt
A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
The Color Purple - Alice Walker
The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
Charlotte’s Web - EB White
The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Faraway Tree Collection
Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
Watership Down - Richard Adams
A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
Hamlet - William Shakespeare
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

So, I've read 33/100. Not too bad. I am like 5 1/2 average people, or just one lonely geek who read a lot in high school. I have to say, looking at this list, that the nuns at the academy must have known something, because they made me read a lot of this stuff. I am kind of surprised that Gulliver's Travel's isn't on the list, but again, keep in mind that I am a geek.

Monday, July 21, 2008

to every thing...

I feel like I've been in a creative slump for the past week or so. It's not a bad thing entirely, because I feel like the passing of Shannon's due date has signaled some sort of shift in the cosmic process. I miss her terribly and I always will, but my life, my life has finally started to move somewhat (maybe) It's hard to explain, but I feel like I am done with a lot of stuff. (more mental garage sales) It's like I have started the shift to a second purge, and this time the purge includes some of the things that I clung to in those sad, dark, dark first days. I can't say that things are getting brighter, but things are certainly an acceptable level of blah. Am I still depressed? Yep. Do I still have no interest in participating in a lot of life? Yep. Am I still bitter? Yep. But, at the same time, I am better.

It is a more solitary life that I crave now. And it's not a worsening depression kind of wanting to be alone, but a need of wanting to be normal again kind of alone. It's hard when you feel like your life is on display. And I am not really sad that some of the people that I considered indispensible are, in reality, not. Not all of them, but some of them have moved on, and I too, now need to move on. I am not Feb. 6 anymore. I am post-February 7. And that is a whole different universe and not a lot of people are making the jump with me.

I have no idea where I am going with this. But my son is benefitting from having a mom who is trying harder to be present for him and trying to let him be a kid again, as opposed to being a sponge for mom's sadness. And he is the only kid I have on this planet, and he may be the only one at the rate this is going, so I should probably try to make sure that he is not entirely screwed up before he starts kindergarten. I've got plenty of years to screw him up. Rome wasn't built in a day...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Six by one

1 How would you describe your relationship to fear before and after the loss of your baby?

before - I was afraid of stupid, trivial things. I was the horror movie, zombies rising up kind of fear person. Then - fear was just some part of living. After - Fear is reality. I don't need horror movie fear anymore. I have my life. Now, fear exists with me everyday in my personal life and creeps out of the corners when I am most vulnerable. Its shadows change the color of my life.

2 Is your lost baby/are your babies present in your life? In what way?

Shannon is more present than my early losses. I carry her photos everywhere I go. I carry her in my heart everywhere I go. I see her in every butterfly that passes by me. I see her in my son's profile when he is sleeping. She is my reason for being in this blog world.

3 Tell us about something said or done after your loss that left you feeling nurtured or supported.

One of my dear friends sent me a charm with a july birthstone, to commemorate when we were supposed to meet Shannon. People have reached out to me, through my blog and in real life, to help me feel less alone. Someone said "What happened to you sucks and I am sorry." (that's all I've ever wanted to hear)

4 Tell us about something said or done after your loss that left you feeling marginalized or misunderstood.

The world moved on... the people who said nothing hurt me, but the one's who think it's ok to send me photos of their newborn babies when they weren't there for me when I lost Shannon just really piss me off.

5 What's taken you a long time to do again? How did it feel, if you have?

I have a hard time thinking that 5 months is a long time. I've only started to react less with anger at the drop of a hat from feeling like society marginalizes my feelings as a deadbaby mom to some sort of resigned bemusement that the world is as stupid as it ever was, and that it mostly isn't directed personally at me. There's some relief in this mindset, but I still think that stupid is not really an excuse. And forgiveness still isn't an option.

6 How would you describe yourself as a partner before, and after?

Before - I would have considered myself pretty selfish. We have always had an excellent partnership because it was based on the full disclosure that I was the way I was and wasn't likely to change, which in my mind allowed me to put in as much (or as little effort) as I felt like as far as household responsibilities go. Now - our ways of dealing with grief are different, and it is easier to accidentially hurt him because he doesn't express his hurt like I do. I am more present in our relationship, in part, because it takes more effort to be present through my sadness. I am more honest. I am more brittle but, at the same time, our loss has brought us closer together and we are stronger for that.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Happy birthday butterflies

What mom thinks that she will spend what should *would* *might* have been their baby's birthday writing about how much she misses her baby? In my new world, probably more than I'd ever have guessed. And as I look out my office window at our beautiful flower garden, I cry for the first time today - made it to after 6 pm. Not too shabby. (I guess) It was lighting the candle that did it. Stupid fucking candle. Doesn't make me miss Shannon any less. Just made me cry.

A few months ago, I embarked on a selfish task. I decided that my son would ask for a butterfly habitat for his birthday because I wanted butterflies. Shannon's dad and I felt an affinity to butterflies after losing Shannon. Don't know why, it was just something we both felt, separately and together. So, someone actually bought the habitat (we actually got 2). And we diligently sent away for the caterpillars and did all the stuff that we were supposed to do and waited for them to be butterflies.

We went away yesterday, because I didn't want to be at work because I just didn't want to be there on the day before Shannon's birthday and I should be on maternity leave and I just didn't want to be there. We went to an amusement park, and we had fun. Because pregnant people can't ride roller coasters. And even if my brother-in-law thought it was appropriate to tell us about his friend's colicky new daughter. Whatever...

So, when we got back today, we found butterflies. All of them (5) hatched. All of them were alive. I guess it's nice to know that something was born alive on the day that I would *might* have been enjoying mediocre grilled cheese sandwiches at the hospital and marveling at my beautiful daughter, who would have looked an awful lot like Sean, because she did in February, when she showed up way too early and not in the least bit alive. I'd like to believe that Shannon sent me some butterflies today, becaused I'd like to believe that she's the kind of girl that would send a sad mommy something to remember her baby girl.

Shannon - happy due date. I wish you were here with me and daddy and Sean. We miss you every day. And we love you. Mommy sends you hugs and kisses on butterfly wings. With all my heart...

Friday, July 4, 2008

Grief across the lines

These letters appeared in the Washington Post, in Carolyn Hax's column, back in March, shortly after Shannon died. The first deals with the grief of a family, following the death of a family member, and the sheer exhaustion that results from the well-meaning 'intrusions' of friends and family, into someone's suffering and dying and the family's grief. It resonated with me because the process, and the feelings, don't seem so different than what a family that has lost a baby goes through. Of course, the situation is different because Shannon didn't have a circle of friends that went through the dying process with her, but the exhaustion and the grief felt by the family that was left to forever carry her loss with them while the rest of the world moved on, still is....

The second deals with someone who was diagnosed with cancer and was dealing with the fact that none of his/her friends wanted to address the simple reality that they might die and that there were things that the friends could do to help the sick person in dealing with that eventuality. Avoidance of other people's grief and need is wrong. It is also all too common. The family of a deadbaby deals with a lot of the same denial and outright avoidance from their friends. At the time of Shannon's loss, I was feeling it quite acutely. I still feel it today, but it is a lower level hurt, like that white noise hum, it's always there, but I don't always notice it.

¿ On the other victims of terminal illness, the caregivers:

My mother died last year from cancer. Most people refused to believe she was dying. My mother knew a lot of people and had many friends and admirers. Of course, they all cared about her and wanted to be supportive and see her. My dad and I bent over backward trying to accommodate everyone. We were trying to do the "right" thing. If I had it to do again, my father and I agree that we would limit if not outright bar visits in those last few months.

While people's intentions are good, they need to recognize that sometimes their presence is more of a burden or outright detriment to the ill person's well-being. My mother had to summon extra energy to appear "well" and reassure people.

My mother's best, best, best friend is a wonderful woman whom I still respect and adore. However, she practically demanded access and if we tried to politely sidestep, she would just show up at our house at 10 p.m. trying to "catch" my mother. She would then stay while being completely oblivious to my mother's fatigue. Our friend was scared and wanted to be present. We understood that. Truthfully, though, she was also being selfish. She needed the comfort of seeing my mother, but that's not what my mother needed.

As politely as he could, my father finally had to tell my mother's best friend and her husband that my mother really needed more rest time. Her best friend had her nose completely out of joint because of this. The husband, however, understood and intervened on our behalf.

Intrusiveness is also hard on the caregivers. My dad and I basically ended up entertaining. We would be up all night taking care of diarrhea accidents, medications, trying to keep my mother calm during paranoid moments, then turn around and have to spend the daytime being social coordinators. Would visitors feel included and comfortable being there for incontinence or screaming/crying delusions, too? People want to pick their moments and that's not fair.

Sometimes it's simply not appropriate and oftentimes those inappropriate periods can go on for quite a while. As a patient, would you want everyone seeing you at your "worst" and feeling judged and gossiped about? We knew we'd be the bad guys if we restricted access more.

Knowing that, I'd still absolutely do it if I had the chance again. If nothing else, I didn't really get much time with my mother those last few months. There was always someone in the house and I didn't have the opportunity just to sit with her and talk. I so regret that.

The truth is that all of those people have gone on with their lives. As much as they cared and loved her, they don't live with her death day in and day out like I do. We were her family and we feel it at every holiday, every milestone, and during every daily, mundane activity, like eating dinner without her. They don't.

and, another one.....

Dear Carolyn:

I was recently diagnosed with an aggressive cancer and have been dutifully if miserably going through treatment. The prognosis? Who knows. The whole "every day is a gift" thing has somewhat cruelly -- and somewhat wonderfully -- become a daily, waking thought. How do I get the people in my life to confess out loud that this could, and in all likelihood will, kill me? Everyone around me is insistent on being optimistic and denying the truth that this disease kills people every day, and I could be one of them. I try to talk to them about what will happen to my things, and what their plans are when and if I die of this, just as if I were hit by a bus, but they stick their heads in the sand and refuse to have the conversation with me. Carolyn, I could die from this. I will die someday. These are both factual statements. So why will no one discuss it with me? -- V.

I am sorry. I am sorry about the cancer and the miserable treatments and, in the spirit of your question, I am even more sorry that your well-meaning but cowardly intimates have left you no choice but to suffer alone.

Your question is, why? And my answer is, I don't know. I can guess, though: You live in a society that can't get enough of fictional death, but prefers the real thing to be pat, antiseptic and (this is key) offstage. The difference may be as simple as the ability to click "off" when the emotions start feeling too real. The only thing we have to fear, apparently, is awkwardness itself.

You probably can't call people cowards as easily as I can -- you want openness about your impending demise, after all, not enthusiasm. However, I do think you want to use almost that level of bluntness to get your point across. As your "somewhat wonderfully" observation suggests, you have clarity, urgency and courage on your side here.

Gather these up, then recruit two more allies: specificity and selectivity. Narrow down exactly what you need, zero in on the person who represents your best shot at a straight answer, then ask. For example: "I will need someone to distribute my things. Will you please help me?" And when you get the oh-it-won't-come-to-that answer: "Yes, it will, and you will die someday, too, and I feel better talking about it than avoiding it. Will you please help me?"

And when heads start hitting the sand: "Can you explain why you won't help me?" Clearly this is pressing someone well beyond the point where, under normal conditions, I advise backing off; you can't "get" anyone to confess, or even pretend, anything. But these aren't normal conditions, and your needs warrant extreme measures to flush loved ones out of hiding -- as a favor to them, I could argue. Target the overlap between people you trust, and people who have said to you, "If there's anything I can do . . ." Collect on these offers, and tell people you're doing it.

Ideally, it wouldn't come to this, I know. Ideally, people wouldn't try to escape life's inescapable fact. But, ideally, you wouldn't be sick. I am so sorry you are. As you've been with cancer, be with people: unflinchingly matter-of-fact.

Beautiful people

'The most beautiful people we have known are those who known defeat, know suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way of the depths. These persons have an appreciation , a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not happen.'

-As I sit here, months out from my loss, and days away from what would have been my baby girl's birthday, I can't help but think about the people who I have met on this journey. The collective wisdom of the world of deadbaby moms has provided me with strength, support and a lot more tears that I thought possible. Before I lost Shannon, I would see the posts by these people on the BBC boards, and I would think, 'whew, glad that isn't me'. I would read the stories and they would make me cry, but it wasn't me. And then it was me. And here I am. Five months later and I feel as if I am part of the collective wisdom and the burden on the world that is the deadbaby mom.

And these supportive women that I have encountered, the ones who have left little notes here, the ones who have e-mailed, are extraordinary. And I thank them. I don't know where this journey goes, I don't know if it gets easier (even though some say it does), I don't know if I get my living baby in the end, but I am glad that sometimes I feel a little less alone because I am not alone. And even though this experience has turned me into a more bitter bitch than I was before it, I can deal with it because it just is what it is. Now, if I can only get the universe to find a new punchline for its cosmic joke other than me, then maybe stuff will start to look up.