Following the Leader

…for those of us who were born with fire burning just beneath our skin and hearts that yearn for a different kind of life, the growing up and becoming process is not so easy. We too crave acceptance but not for a false and crudely designed version of ourselves.

Today is all about the inner critic. All about that cruel voice inside each of us that endlessly criticizes everything we say and do. That tears down the walls of our fragile houses of self esteem and leaves nothing but rubble in its wake. I have found that the more weak and spineless a thing is, the more soulless and wicked are its acts. It is as if the inner critic can only become strong through destruction. That like a snake it suffocates our creative expression and swallows our psyche whole.

For so long I was a slave to the inner critic. So many of us are, learning to be that way to get by, to survive. Always editing myself, editing my words, my clothes, even my hairstyles. Looking at pictures of me over the years however, I am literally blown away. What I find arresting, completely astonishing actually, is how beautiful I looked on those days when there were accidental lapses in my steely control. When my hair fanned out in a proud mass of curls. When my clothes didn’t match perfectly. When I had a wide open, un-sanitized smile.

I know I am not unique when it comes to this. I know we are all battling this same horrible demon, usually planted there in middle school if not beforehand. We are somehow taught that to succeed in life we must assimilate. That “following the leader” is the key to a lifetime of happiness and anything else will bring about sure ruin. Some of us can and do succeed early and often and following in the socially acceptable footsteps of our predecessors comes naturally. But for those of us who were born with fire burning just beneath our skin and hearts that yearn for a different kind of life, the growing up and becoming process is not so easy. We too crave acceptance but not for a false and crudely designed version of ourselves. We want who we truly are to be that which is loved. In order for that to happen an immense courage must be summoned. Enough courage to burst through the stone wall of the inner critic and embrace the mountain top of freedom. We may be afraid of the drop but we must trust our own instincts and abilities. We must believe we can and will stand firmly rooted, letting the inner critic topple over the edge forever.

Easy to say, not so easy to do. It is truly a divine act to become one’s own master. To form one’s own destiny. To give oneself the gift of choice. It is an act of love. The wheel of fate will turn regardless of whether one is riding in the cart above or caught below between the spokes. In reality the inner critic is an illusion. A mechanism we create and then use to judge ourselves based upon what we imagine are the standards for love and acceptance. But, as previously mentioned, any affection gained while we are not being true to our natures is by definition false and only adds to the gaping hole of self loathing which feeds the inner critic. True love is just that, true. Until we love and accept ourselves truly as we are it can never be found. True love of oneself comes before everything else. It is the foundation for a beautiful life. My father would always say you teach others how to treat you. How very right he was. By loving yourself truly, others will love you the same way, “following the leader” so to speak. How much better to lead them towards joy in the hopes that they too will one day learn to love themselves and throw their own inner critics over the edge into the abyss where they belong.

Priceless

I’m not your bitch…
I’m not your candlestick either,
I won’t just light up for you.
I’m tired of doing tricks
On my back.
I’m not your pet,
You can’t tie me to a tree
And throw me bones.
I will never lay down at your feet,
I will stay a wild thing,
I will never jump up and lick your face, just to hear everyone’s so
Proud of you
Proud of you
Proud of you.
I would rather drown in a sea of my own undoing, than fly with the wings you made me,
Suffocating in a sulphuric air I cannot breathe.
I am worth more than anything you could give me…
I am
priceless.

 

 

 

Pukey Cat

My daughter woke up this morning with a stomach ache. At 6:13am. Because today is Saturday and no one had to be anywhere. Of course I was already awake because my cat also had a stomach ache and coughed up a huge hairball. Apparently he wanted me to know all about it because he kept jumping on my legs and climbing onto my chest and my head. He was also trying to eat a bag he found under the bed and then poking his claws into the side of the mattress making all kinds of ridiculous noise. Since this was all going on at around 3 o’clock in the morning I was not happy and put him in the living room and shut the door. So of course he proceeded to scratch the door and whine until I let him back in. My husband slept through everything of course, snoring like an oncoming train. Lovely, I thought. All I need is grandma and the dog down here and we can really have a party! Binx (my cat) continued to climb on me and eventually fell asleep on my legs. Ah, I thought, finally some peace! I had just fallen back asleep when my daughter woke up “Mama my tummy hurts.” I considered my options for about a minute and then I let her play with my phone. That’s why you don’t let them have it all the time. So when you really need it, they are engrossed by it and it’s not something they’ve become accustomed to and are almost bored by…Of course she played for a few minutes and then I had to turn the volume down. Her room is right next to ours and I cannot sleep to the sound of high pitched cartoon voices. Then she had to go potty, “Mama I have to go potty!” then all this commotion woke the cat back up who resumed trying to climb on my head just as Nick let out a loud snore.

“God****!! I am just trying to sleep and it’s F***** impossible with this family, even the cat won’t let me sleep!” Needless to say I was still tired.

Well, Nick was kind enough to get up with Alice and Binx and let me sleep a bit longer, although since we don’t have our curtains up yet having just moved in, I was up with the sun anyways. Then it was coffee and tea time; coffee for grandma and Nick, tea for me since too much caffeine leaches the lithium right out of the bloodstream. Grandma had her usual eggs and tomatoes for breakfast, Nick had his usual nothing and I had my usual round of pills followed by oatmeal and more pills. Good morning bipolar how are you today? Alice and I usually have the same thing for breakfast, (except for the pills) AND she always has an organic gala apple cut into slices. Today Daddy was driving the ship and he didn’t cut it up for her, hence she was forced to eat the skin. It was so hard for me not to rescue her because I could hear her protests over the whole apple he offered her. But I knew if I got up and cut it for her she would just eat the middles and avoid the skin which is the healthiest part (mamas you feel me!!) This is one of the many reasons why Daddies are so important too, sometimes they can sense when a child is ready to move onto the next step. When it’s time to stop babying them and let them grow up a little. I gave Nick a silent high five and dozed back off for a few more minutes.

After breakfast it was meal planning and making the grocery list with grandma. We just got an instant pot and we are trying to learn it. As both of us are seasoned cooks, we are having to modernize ourselves in our attempt to adapt to it. I experienced success yesterday with a beef stew. I was actually pretty impressed with the results. My first try I had to take the meal out and finish it on the stove. I learned it’s helpful to read the user manual beforehand.

Done with the list we hit the road. Nick stayed home with Alice to clean up her bedroom. We didn’t have a lot of time, Alice’s friend Athena was coming for the afternoon. I wasn’t all that worried though because my mother in the grocery store is like a force of nature. Especially when she has a list and a time frame. It’s a truly a sight to behold. Just stay out of her way.

An aside: Today is St. Patrick’s Day so my mother is making corned beef and cabbage for dinner. I’m writing upstairs in the kitchen since Nick is watching wonder woman downstairs. She keeps telling me to add things into my blog. “Put in your blog about how much you love writing on a beautiful afternoon in the valley while your mom cooks corned beef and cabbage!”

“Ok mom.” She drops a carrot and I kid her about throwing carrots around the kitchen.

“Add it into your blog! Write it’s a beautiful life in the valley with my mother making corned beef and cabbage and throwing the carrots!” She is proud of her idea.

“I’m going to write about how you keep telling me to write things in my blog about you!” This makes her laugh. A few minutes later she tells me to put something else in my blog. Because this is what she does now and as a matter of fact I am putting it in blog after all. There you go mom.

We were shopping and my mom was on a roll when I got the text from Nick. Alice threw up. Oh no, not again. The acrid smell of just puked macaroni and cheese took me days to get out of her mattress the last time she was pukey cat. I called him and he put me on speaker phone. Alice was in the bathtub. “I’m not sick!” She yelled from the tub.

“Yes you are, you just threw up” Nick said this to me as well as to her.

“NO!!” My poor kiddo she just wants her friend to come over I thought.

“Are you sure it’s not just something she ate?” I asked this knowing the answer.

“I wish you could be here to see her in person.”

“Yeah I figured,” I was as bummed as Alice.

“I’m not sick!” Alice continued to protest against what she saw as an unfair authoritarian governing body. I hope she never loses that fighting spirit I thought smiling in spite of everything.

After texting with Athena’s mom we set up a future sleepover to assuage the sorrows of both girls over the cancelled playdate. It will be Alice’s first sleepover and I’m just blown away by how popular she is already. I suppose it’s not surprising and I’m so glad, it just opens up a whole new world of joys and fears for me. My daughter is pure sunshine although she can raise holy hell when the mood strikes her. I’m teaching her to use her powers wisely.

Back at the house I was sautéing asparagus to go with the meatballs I just microwaved. “Can I have a meatball?” Alice asked me this and I sighed, knowing it’s a bad idea and also knowing if I don’t she’ll scream until she throws up anyways. It’s a no win situation. (Don’t judge, sick children are crazed irrational beasts not to be trifled with!) So I gave her the meatball knowing that was not the last I would see of it. She ate it and didn’t ask for a second one which I took as a bad sign. She reached for an apple however, and washed it herself in the sink and took a big bite (Good job Daddy!) a little while later, I was helping grandma organize the cupboards in the kitchen and it had been just long enough for me to forget to worry about Alice and the return of her meatball. Suddenly Alice, who was right beside me, popped open like a champagne bottle and puke flew out of her. The meatball! Immediately the dog ran into the kitchen and grandma grabbed her around the collar pulling her back

“Nick we need your help, Alice is throwing up!” Grandma yelled from the kitchen her arms around the dog. “I can’t do anything I have Abby.”

“Is she in the kitchen?” Nick always asks the important questions first.

“Yes!” I was momentarily frozen having to wait for her to stop exploding long enough to race across the carpet to the bathroom. Not wanting to repeat macaroni and cheese night (picture me knee deep in a bathtub full of bubbles and puked up macaroni and cheese with Alice covered head to toe in the stuff. Even in her hair. Good holy Lord it was nasty!) I finally found a second to grab her up and run past grandma and the dog into the  guest bathroom where my poor girl could finish puking in peace. Motherhood is so glamorous.

As I’m finishing this blog all is calm momentarily and one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite songwriters has come sailing through the living room, making me feel sixteen again. The sheer potency of her music always makes me catch my breath. It literally pulls me out of my life and thrusts me into another world, another reality. Listening to the song which is China by Tori Amos I think of how easy it is to feel far away from the ones you love, how for so long when Alice was sick I was the only one there. Or worse when both of us were sick I was still the only one there. Nick would come home from epically long days and it was so hard for us to find that common ground. He’d leave his world of work knowing he’d have be back in the blink of an eye and enter my world of the home and family which was also my work and there was nowhere to meet in the middle. So many of us find ourselves in that place and the strain of it is written so clearly like tattoos all over our bodies. All over our faces. Tori says it best…

“China all the way to New York I can feel the distance getting close. You’re right next to me, but I need an airplane, I can feel the distance as you breathe. Sometimes I think you want me to touch you. But how can I when you build the Great Wall around you…” Tori Amos

Luckily our days are easier now and I’m not flying solo anymore. I can greet the day with a sense of joy rather than one of sheer exhaustion. When Alice is sick I have help and the moments with my family are meaningful even when mundane. I spend most of my time in a state of gratitude for all the large and small moments. I love them because they are mine to love. That’s a thing no one can take from me no matter what.

 

I did not love this world

I did not love this world
This world did not love me
I longed for my escape
Beneath the twisted roots of trees
Beneath the velvet waves of black
In the deep and swelling lake
Free from lies I could not take
And a life spent on my knees

I did not love this life
This life did not love me
I longed to be subsumed
By the endless hills of green
Where the God and Goddess rule
Where the wild things might find grace
Where Mother Nature’s face
Remains untainted and serene

I did not love this time
This time did not love me
I longed to disappear
Behind the curtain of a dream
Where the clocks have lost their way
And the two hands spin apart
Where the ache of my poor heart
Is eclipsed by moonlight’s gleam

I did not love these days
These days did not love me
I longed to soar beyond
Into tomorrow’s bright reprieve
Where the past is laid to rest
And ancient wounds are finally healed
And ancient wisdom is revealed
And there is nothing left to grieve

Yet love did raise my head
So I could see the sky
A panoply of colors
The sunrise in my eye
And love did warm my heart
So I could stretch my wings
And feel the soaring joy
Of the songbird as he sings
Yes I had long forgot
That Life was mine to live
And Happiness a choice
And Love my gift to give

Kimkoa 2018

 

 

Blood on Their Hands

As suicide is associated with depression and a person with manic depression which is another term for bipolar disorder is 50% more likely to attempt suicide than a person with unipolar depression which means non bipolar clinical depression, there is no more vulnerable a group than the bipolar teen.

So this morning was a brain cloud for me. My daughter was being especially difficult because she was tired after refusing to go to sleep last night until well past her bedtime. I was up late as well, as was my husband and no one was dealing from a full deck. As a result I was lacking inspiration so I started watching a terrible movie about a suburban woman who goes crazy from the pressures of her life and believes she’s a dog. It opens with her attempting to commit suicide by wrapping a belt around her neck and tying it to the chandelier. The scene is disturbing as is the rest of the movie, not surprising considering the premise. However it got me thinking about how desensitized we’ve become to the concept of suicide, that it’s simply become a “thing that happens.” The scariest part is our children thinking suicide is an option when the waves of life come crashing down on them and they are gasping for breath. In his essay The Decay of Lying Oscar Wilde wrote that “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.” If one agrees with this premise it would stand to reason that artists bear a great responsibility to the public in regards to their creations. As suicide is associated with depression and a person with manic depression which is another term for bipolar disorder is 50% more likely to attempt suicide than a person with unipolar depression which means non bipolar clinical depression, there is no more vulnerable a group than the bipolar teen. As adolescents are already impressionable and less able to think past the present moment suicide may seem a viable option for escape from their troubles. Especially if they are battling bipolar disorder and have either not been diagnosed or are not taking their medications. So for an artist to create an environment on screen where characters are laughing at the concept of suicide, or where an attempted suicide is used as simply a vehicle to push the plot line forward, creating sympathy for the character without addressing the issue, is wholly irresponsible. People copy what they see in the movies and in videos, most especially adolescents.

I addressed this in earlier posts and I will land on it again, that so often in our society the issue of mental illness and its effects on the individual and their family is either hidden, ignored, or not taken seriously. The same can be said of the art around us and how it approaches mental illness. Moviemakers in particular are guilty of this egregious sin, as I have mentioned in previous posts. using serious conditions like bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder or schizophrenia as comic fodder for their storylines. Laughing at symptoms that in real life would be absolutely terrifying to the person experiencing them. In my post “I’m Not Laughing” I talked about watching a movie during which the audience was supposed to laugh at a little girl with bipolar disorder just because of her disorder. I can’t imagine that same audience laughing at a little girl with cancer even though bipolar disorder is statistically more deadly. There is a pervasive double standard in our culture that has to change. My mother explains it this way: mental illness is no different than any other kind of illness. It is simply based in the brain while other illnesses affect other organs. The symptoms look different because the organ affected is different. It does NOT make the illness less deadly. It does NOT make it something to laugh at. Oddly enough, although the movie I saw this morning was billed as a dark comedy, the attempted suicide scene was not made to be in the least bit funny which I appreciated and although the movie itself was badly acted and badly made, there was an obvious sympathy towards the character experiencing the breakdown that I wish were more common in films.

In light of this subject I cannot help but to think of this passage taken from Luke 12:48 of the Bible, King James version:

“For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required:

and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.”

I would call upon all artists of our time to take seriously this issue of mental illness and the stigma it carries. Let them choose with care what example they set for those who would follow in their wake. I would ask them to rise with their God given gifts and talents and use them for the betterment of our society. Let them teach people how to treat each other and work together to eradicate the stigma of mental illness once and for all. Let them have life and not blood on their hands.

 

Forever Young

There was a knock on the door child
Did you hear it?
It was your sister with her favorite doll she wants to play
Will you?
Will you play with her?
The paint on these walls is peeling my dear
And there’s a dampness in the corners
Can you see the spring of mold?

Your flowers are dry and crumbling now…they weren’t like that before…
Come outside your sister is calling you,
“Come out to the garden, come out and play with me!” She cries
But you can’t can you?
The wooden floor beneath your feet is rotting girl
But you can’t feel it
You don’t know it’s there
You’re breathing out butterflies and dust
Your eyes are glass
Your mother braided a violet ribbon through your hair
Your sister will have to find her own way home
Crying now won’t do you any good…

Your blood was warm until you spilled some on the floor.

Kimkoa 2018

 

Singin’ In the Rain

I was nine months pregnant with my oldest son when the Towers fell. I remember sitting in our hotbox of a tiny apartment watching people leaping from windows, the buildings blazing and clutching my belly. I thought to myself the world is ending. There I was about to bring new life into a world rife with suffering. There is death everywhere I look I thought. What kind of a world are we giving our children? Well, the world did not end, although nothing would ever be the same after the bombing of the World Trade Center. So many of us felt betrayed. Our own government had failed to keep us safe. Some of us believed in conspiracy theories that world leaders including our own were complicit behind closed doors. There was a great and sweeping national loss of trust. People were questioning what it actually meant to be an American and if we truly were the nation we claimed to be. Some of us waved our flags higher and with a greater sense of purpose. Some of us tossed them aside in disgust. I myself just cried. For the lives lost, for the loved ones left behind. For the great, gaping hole that used to be the American dream destroyed by violence and greed.

We must ask ourselves what was America was actually built on? Violence and greed? Ask any native person and they will say yes. Slavery? Exploitation of the poor? Ask someone from a poor family or family with slave ancestry and they’ll say absolutely. Is America any different than any other world power? Is there a great nation that has not fought to exist through war? In this struggle to claim superiority one need only turn back the clock slowly over the history of man in the world and see that inherent propensity towards violence. I think of the Flinstones cartoon in which Fred Flinstone would just knock Wilma over the head with a club and drag her into the house when he felt inclined. The laugh track would then play. That’s easily the best description of the American way and really human nature on the planet that I can think of. If you won’t give me what’s mine I’ll just use force. We are learning now that some things can’t be had by force. Some things only come with time…some never come no matter how much we want them to.

Two and a half weeks after the towers fell I had my son. He was beautiful, a warm golden tan with huge brown eyes and a serious look far too old for him. We named him Jaden, it was the only name his father and I could agree on. Jaden means “Jehovah has heard” or “God has heard” in Hebrew. But that’s not why I chose that name. I chose it because I love jade, the precious stone from Asia. Jade with its multitude of colors and the swirl of beliefs it carries with it. He was indeed precious and I had not known love of such a magnitude until he came.

It was so hot the summer of his first year I could barely breathe. We lived in Vancouver, Washington, just across the bridge from Portland, Oregon. Our apartment was on the top floor of the building and there was no air conditioning. Just a fan and an open window. One day the temperature neared 100 degrees and he was so hot I had to do something. So I put him in a little plastic drawer full of water and bath toys and put it in the living room with the fan going. He absolutely loved it. Unlike his brother who would come two years later, Jaden LOVED the water. He was always happiest when he was splashing. It’s funny because of my two boys he is most like me and that is just one more way. I love water also and once in, I never want back out. Jaden also inherited my anxiety, the best cure for which has always been and still is a hot bath with candles. There is something so divine about water, the way it slips over your skin washing away the world’s ugliness. I need something to wash it away. We all do.

We had moved back to Alaska by the time Jaden was two years old. His love of water didn’t change with the change in location. I would set up the sprinkler and he’d run back and forth through it, a bubble of joy in yellow shorts. I had not had his little brother yet, so for him life was simple and complete. One of his passions was and still is musicals, he just loved them. He would ask to “sit on the warm” meaning I would sit with him over the vent in the floor of the trailer and wrap a blanket around us making a little tent. Then we’d watch whatever movie he wanted, usually it was Singin’ in the Rain which was his favorite. He would just watch it contentedly, really watch it at that young age. He would sit and watch it whether I was there or not, but he loved the company. As I said he was a beautiful, happy, contented little boy.

In those days, those minutes, those hours I had no idea that Jaden would become horribly depressed as a teenager. I had no idea that he would one day think his life was not worth living and would run away from his father’s house in Oregon, then swallow his pills in a desperate cry for help. I had not even an inkling he had inherited the same gene for mental illness that has plagued our family in a long gruesome line. You can’t look at a toddler and know his future, who or what he will become. That is part of the game of life. There are some things that as a mother you cannot prepare yourself for. That was one of them. I don’t remember most of what I thought other than that it was somehow my fault. I do remember the sound of his voice, thick and broken. I remember Nicole like a general directing all of us who were moving in slow motion from grief and shock. I remember Nick’s arms as my only refuge. I remember thanking God he was still with us. What I most remember however, was not that day or the days that followed, but the day that he finally came home. I remember seeing him walking through the security gate and running towards him. I remember throwing my arms around him, the tears falling out of my eyes and running over my cheeks onto his shirt. I remember he was so tall, as tall as his stepfather and he had sideburns. I just kept holding him and crying and would not let him go. In my mind I saw that little boy splashing in our tiny apartment, watching his musicals and running back and forth through the sprinkler. I tried to reconcile him with the young man I saw before me. I knew I couldn’t just hit him over the head with a club and drag him into the house to protect him from all of the horrors of the world around us. That as hard as it was for me to let go, I had to let him become a man and make his own way. As long as he knows he’s loved I thought. I was finally ready to speak having just hugged him for what must have seemed like an eternity but to me was the blink of an eye. “Do you know how much I love you?” I asked him, through my tears.

“Yeah. I love you too mom.” He smiled at me in that way that only sons can smile at their mothers. There are some moments you just wish could last forever. That was one of them and there would be many more to come.

Thank you Jaden for growing up so close to the captain’s chair. One day when you steer your own ship you’ll know how to keep her steady. Hats off to you and oldest children everywhere. I love you more than all the stars in the sky.

 

Man Versus Time

Aloof the heart of God remains
His eye the mighty wheel of Fate
His children bound by Time’s cruel chains
Where dogs of judgment guard His gate

How still the air of Heaven be
Her vast cathedrals whitely shine
As Angels hover restlessly
Their soundless wings a pure design

Should Virtue’s son or daughter find
The key long sought which fits Earth’s locks
Released, Time’s slaves, their chains behind
Might still the hands of ancient clocks

For as the East arose the Sun,
Each gold and fearless day is won.

Kimkoa 2017

A Day Without Rain

When I was in my early twenties I lived in Portland, Oregon. While it was a beautiful city, and still is, the rain was hard to get used to. Now you’d think a girl from Alaska who was used to the shortness of days in winter would consider Portland’s effortlessly warm rainy days a welcome respite but I did not. You see in Alaska, at least in the part of Alaska that I am from, we had sunshine during the winter. It may have been a cold sun that shone, but at least it was sunlight. Alaskans know the beauty of spending a morning wrapped in a blanket with a book and a hot mug of tea at a window, watching the snow glitter in the sunlight. Or charging through the ice and snow down a mountain on skis, racing to beat the oncoming afternoon sunset. Don’t get me wrong, Alaskan winters are tough as well. January and February are so cold and the days so short many of us use sunlamps to counterbalance it and if you don’t have proper winter gear these months are a misery. My girlfriends and I long for the day when we can pull our heels and skirts out of the back of the closet and throw our boots where they used to be. The Holidays have passed and for many of us depression looms. The Anchorage homeless shelters overflow during this time with the people who usually occupy the the midtown and downtown street corners. The hardiest and most desperate of them are still at the intersections though, mustaches standing out in a white frosted fringe, eyes barely visible beneath fur lined caps, layers of ill-fitting old winter clothes beneath tattered coats. Some of them openly drunk as much to ward off the chill as to feed their habit.

Once Nick and I were driving somewhere and we stopped at a midtown red light. There was a couple there holding signs asking for food or money. They teetered in the cold wind, their bottle of whiskey barely visible in a nearby backpack. “I always feel sad when I see that,” I said wishing I could change the world for the millionth time that day.

“If I lost it all I’d be drunk all the time too.” Nick is not one to mince words.

How do you know the drinking didn’t cause it?” I asked him, loving his oddly worded compassion.

“You can’t know, that’s the thing.” He said matter of factly.

“No I suppose you can’t.” I watched them start to argue as the light changed and we drove past the couple without giving them anything, their cardboard signs trembling slightly in the wind.

So as I said, however fleeting and despite the cold, at least there was light. In Portland it was the grayness, the heaviness of the clouds and the never-ending moisture which seemed to seep into my bones that I could not tolerate. Portland’s summers were indeed gorgeously green and lush, a true gardener’s paradise but for me, the winters were unbearably depressing. It was during one such spell of seemingly endless rain that I fell in love with Elliott Smith.

It was a typical Portland winter and my ex-husband Ian and I lived in an apartment together. I wasn’t working at the time and he was, I had yet to figure out how to belong in  Portland and as it turned out I never did. I’d wake up in the morning and try to be productive, while each day it rained I became more and more depressed. I felt my insides turning as grey as the clouds above me. That winter it rained for 90 days straight. Three months of rain and I saw no end to it. One day Ian brought home a cd that changed my life forever. It was Elliott Smith Either/Or. At that time I didn’t know anything about Elliott Smith, I didn’t know he struggled with depression, drug use and alcoholism. I didn’t know his music was rife with references to his drug use to escape his reality, his ongoing battle against his inner demons and suicidal ideation. All I knew was that his lyrics were passionate and deep without being drippy. That his harmonies were beautiful, that I identified with his music on a level I didn’t have words for. That despite his sadness I could hear a vulnerability and a yearning for something more that was so pure it was impossible for me to ignore it. His observations of the human condition were so astute and poetic I was literally blown away. I clung to his music like a castaway clings to clean salt-free water. I felt so alone and so confused by what was going on with my own depression that Elliott Smith’s music became my refuge. He created a world that understood me, that I felt like I belonged to. I let his music carry me through those months and when the real sun finally shone again I was in love.

Fast forward to 2003 when I was pregnant with my second son. It was just a few months before he was born, and I was pushing through yet another winter. This time I was in Alaska and Portland’s rainy winters were a thing of the past. Ian and I were living in a trailer on his parents’ property. I had been out with my mom and she dropped me back off at home. I walked in and Ian who had just found out told me the news. “Elliott Smith killed himself.” I felt like someone had just kicked me in the stomach. I ran into the bedroom and started started crying, softly at first then harder and harder. I couldn’t believe he was gone, that he would no longer make music. It seemed so remarkably unfair. That something-someone so precious could be stolen like that…never to return.

Suicide is an impulsive act. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, in a study from Diesenhammer Department of General Psychiatry, when a group of survivors of attempted suicides were asked how long they contemplated suicide before attempting it, 48% said within 10 minutes of first thinking about it. A Houston study interviewed 153 survivors of almost lethal suicide attempts of people aged 13-34 and found 24% deliberated committing suicide for less than 5 minutes before attempting it. That’s 1 in 4 people taking less than 5 minutes to decide to kill themselves. It leaves me wondering how Elliott Smith was feeling that winter, if he was still battling his demons of addiction and depression but tragically they had snuffed out his light like wet fingertips closing around the flame of a candle.

The coroners report leaves open the possibility that either he had help committing his act or he was murdered. His loyal fans come up with new ideas all the time, conspiracy theories abound. He sang about depression, addiction and suicide and although less than 4% of the population are able to kill themselves via stabbing he died from a stab wound to the heart, the placement of which was consistent with a self inflicted wound. Either he killed himself or someone else killed him. Either/Or. The album that saved me that rainy Portland winter. The question with an answer only he knows. His legacy is his music; a beautiful, tragic, haunting reminder of how precious life really is. It wasn’t long after that someone asked Ian and I what we were naming our next son. “Elliott.” I said without hesitation. Because although Elliott Smith himself battled so much darkness, during those months I was drowning and all I could do was pray for a day without rain, he was and forever after will be my sunlight.

From the Tower Window

Believe it is so and it is so
Believe it is so and it is so
She held her breath and squeezed her eyes shut
Believe it is so and it is so
She saw the edges of reality begin to soften
She felt the rush of air, the hum of divinity
And yet
And still
There IT was. The saddest ending. She SAW the flat brick of doubt moldy and damp at the edges, hot and cracked at its core.
She FELT the serpent of intellect poised to strike at her dove of faith the instant the brick fell onto her heart.
She KNEW it would hurt when all of her dreams came pouring out, the blood of her imagination spreading in a scarlet pool.
And still she jumped…

With both feet into his arms for all of Eternity because it was LOVE… and what else could she have done?

Kimkoa 2017

I’m Not Laughing

So I’m trying to write and my cat won’t leave me alone. He keeps walking on my laptop and pushing the buttons and biting my hands. It’s my own fault I guess for hiring him as my managing editor. He stopped now that I’m writing about him. It figures…he must be a narcissist.

Did you find that funny? Would a narcissist think that was funny? Maybe they would if they didn’t see themselves as narcissistic. Or maybe they would be annoyed and saddened by another “narcissist” joke when they’ve been misdiagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder and in reality have Aspergers syndrome and joking about mental health conditions upsets them after what they went through. Maybe they are true Narcissists and are trying to find a way to live harmoniously with others through cognitive behavioral therapy, empathy training and other forms of behavioral modification. Maybe someone reading this blog was traumatized by being in a relationship with someone who was a narcissist and they don’t think jokes about it are at all funny. So where do we draw the line?

I was watching a movie the other day and there was a character in it who supposedly had bipolar disorder. She was a little girl and she just served as comic fodder for the movie. The punchline of a couple of jokes. It was actually pretty horrifying because to my mind nothing is funny about adults not only being insensitive to a child with a mental illness and laughing at that child, but also teaching another child to do the same. You could say that because it was a comedy it wasn’t necessary to get that deep, but I would argue that it’s that level of ignorance which is why there aren’t more resources for individuals suffering from mental illness.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health bipolar disorder affects roughly 5.7 million American adults which is about 2.6% of the population in the U.S. aged 18 and older. Roughly 2.9% of American adolescents are also affected by bipolar disorder and in both groups the numbers are rising. Children are also affected however the numbers vary widely as children often shift as they grow. In a previous blog I discussed how deadly this disease is, yet people continue to laugh at it as though it were nothing more than a diagnosis of minor mood swings. Well I’m not laughing. I’m not laughing because people are dying. I’m not laughing because unless you are either so broke the government pays for your medications or lucky enough to have a job with good insurance you won’t be able to afford your medications and you’ll spend the rest of your life in and out of the hospital, or in and out of jail and likely end up dead by suicide. I’m not laughing because I’m one of the lucky ones. I live with my beautiful family in a beautiful house and I have an excellent doctor. I am educated and fortunate so it is my duty to speak for those who can’t. I will sing for those who have no voices. I will write for those who have no words. I will stand up for those who are on their knees, begging to be heard, to be healed, to be saved. I’m not laughing because bipolar disorder isn’t funny.

When the Angels Know Your Name

When the angels know your name
When the sun shines easy on the smooth surface of still waters
When you can hear your heart beating
When you have love in your throat and in your mouth and crying out of your eyes in a silent stream
When your feet are stones
When you smell the green of the grass and the dark earth surrounding it and the roots of trees encircle your ankles
When your breath stops and it doesn’t hurt
When your back breaks and diamonds fly out and the pain is a gorgeous thing
When you feel worshipped
When your heart bleeds out your sorrows and is as light as the clouds floating through the sky
When your mind opens wide in a yawning mouth and sings out your passions
When you can taste life itself
You will know you have dreamt of God

Kimkoa 2018

 

Hail to the mighty Stepmother

But then one day you open the door and love walks in. Of course nothing worth having comes easily and all good things must be cared for, must be worked for so you can appreciate their value. Love especially, since it is priceless.

My ex-husband found The One. My sons and I couldn’t be happier about it. We joke about finding our Nicks in the “nick of time.” (Her name is Nicole, my husband’s name is Nicholas.) I do believe they truly saved us from ourselves, because as our marriage dissolved we both took dives in the wrong direction. It’s what people do, apparently. But then one day you open the door and love walks in. Of course nothing worth having comes easily and all good things must be cared for, must be worked for so you can appreciate their value. Love especially, since it is priceless.

We live in an age of blended families. Those of us who marry so young we have no idea who we are or what we want are standing up and saying no to a over-arching societal expectation of a lifetime of unhappiness. Those of us who marry for the wrong reasons; to fill a void, to fit in, to hide who we really are, (there are so many reasons marriages crumble) are tired of staying married when we know it’s over because of “what people might say” or “what people might think” or “what about the children??” I can tell you this much because I have children who have lived on both sides of the coin and are old enough to use their voices, kids want happy parents. They don’t want a bunch of yelling and screaming. They don’t want parents who are withdrawn and emotionally shut down either, it’s almost worse. Most of all they hate hypocrisy, they know when you are lying to them and they just want to know what to expect so they know what they’ll be dealing with. Do they care where you are sleeping at night? Not really. As long as they know you are safe and they can call you and they can see you and you get along with each other.

Now earlier I said my ex husband found The One. He did. However she took her time joining our little clan. His first choice turned out to be a nightmare on wheels. No exaggeration on my part. Among her many sins was her aim and desire to replace me and how deep it went even I didn’t know until she was gone and my sons finally began to open up about what was going on when I wasn’t around. Oddly enough my own reaction surprised me. “I’m so sorry.” I said and started to cry. Because it occurred to me that again, as parents, we all had failed. You see it’s impossible to replace someone’s Mother and useless to try. The same goes for the Father. There is a deep biological connection that there are no words for. However there is no replacement for the Stepmother or Stepfather either. That one degree of separation is sometimes the germination for the most beautiful flowering relationship with a child. Most of all when they see that you truly love their parent their love for you will grow.

Nicole changed the game. She flew in like an eagle and landed in the middle of our feuding family and defended me. It was the first time I felt like I was actually being heard by what had become “the other side” since SHE left. To every complaint, every grumble, every hint of frustration she firmly stated “She is their mother. It’s time she got some respect for that.” It was like a bomb going off in my head. It was the stuff of dreams. And then it hit me. Nicole was a mom just like me. She had an ex husband too, married to the worst version of Stepmother just like Nicole’s predecessor. She knew how it felt to struggle to hold onto her dignity while someone else did everything in their power to tear it apart. She was being the Stepmother she wished she could give her daughters.

You see when my sons left one after the other to spend the school year with their father and the summers with me it was heartbreaking. If they had gone to any other kind of Stepmother I would have lost it completely. Nicole was able to navigate those rough waters like a seasoned captain and those were some hellishly rough waters. She could have easily taken aim at me or tried to alienate my sons from me but Nicole is not a stupid or jealous woman. To the contrary she is the very definition of what a stepmother should be. Kind, not easily manipulated, loving, forms her own opinions and in it for the long game. Also, and most importantly, not there to replace mom, there to embrace her and the kids together. Although it might seem unusual, Nicole and I call each other sisters and we have from the beginning. Why do we do this? For lots of reasons but most of all because we feel like sisters. It really isn’t that complicated. Sometimes the truth is the easiest answer of all. Hats off to you Nicole and all the other wonderful women out there who love unconditionally. Sometimes it takes a mighty heart like yours to withstand a storm. I love you.

 

Why Do I Call Her Sister

I call her sister
Because she is a part of me in a a way I have no words for
Because she loves my children as her own
Because she defends me ferociously
Because I trusted her instantly just from the sound of her voice
Because she trusts me
Because she’s tiny and breakable, yet fights like she’s Hercules which reminds me of my mother
Because she cusses like a sailor which also reminds me of my mother
Because she won’t be tamed, I’ve always wanted a sister like that
Because she’s my ally and friend
Because she calls me sister too
Because she’s the best Stepmother in the whole world and that’s a gift only my sister could give.

Kimkoa 2018