Flying in Formation


Even after 49 years, I can still take surprisingly long time to recognize when a manic episode is starting. It’s not telling every person in town I’ll be happy to come over and answer that computer question after work or even right now. It’s not acceding to all of Thing1’s needs and wants for college and groceries. Nor is it when I’m googling every graduate program and trying to turn the lemons of a stable but unsatisfying day job reality into a Tom Collins of academic and professional success by planning a succession of degrees at schools I could never afford and which would have dubious value for a middle age Hausfrau who already has too many responsibilities and dreams.

No, usually it’s about the time I look at my bank balance and say, “Oh shit,” that I realize mania may be in full swing.

Today I was in the shower when I realized I my flight was ending, sending me knocking at the door at the back of my mind. That door is the place I go when the world becomes my demon, often made worse by maniacal flights of fancy. It’s a gateway to a vast, rich fantasy world as layered and complex as the ‘real’ one everyone else lives in. Sometimes I crash through it as I fall out of the stratosphere, other times, I slink through it.

There’s usually no logical reason for the flights and falls. The wrong screw is loosened, and then up and down and up I go until I find a way to pound my octagonal peg of a personality into a round hole of life.

Over the last few years as I’ve become better at managing mania and depression, a few cobwebs have grown over the door. I may peek through but don’t really go inside. That morning in the shower I rinsed the soap from my eyes and found myself fully on the inside, peeking out, but realizing the kids, my husband and my job require active participation in that outside world.

The lifeline back to the other side, this time, came from an unusual source — common sense. It took the form of a small, almost unrecognizable voice in my head.

“Let go,” it whispered.

Those two words were so simple and clear, more meaningful than just saying no to the drug of trying to do everything because it sounds good. Don’t just fly after every idea. Learn to fly with one or two dreams in a single direction.

So the next morning, I looked at all the creative projects I’ve started over the last year.

The words ‘I have an idea’ can strike fear into the hearts of husbands and resignation into mentors. My sun-singed ideas languish in half-filled notebooks and devices. An almost-finished children’s book marinates on my iPad as I view yet another video on how to write children’s books. Another waits to move from the rough sketch book to the painting table. The pages of still another non-fiction book have started forming. Meanwhile, I’m still trying to explode into the sky and catch every idea for a novel or comic book that flutters chaotically over the fields and mountains, often following their trajectory until I’m blinded.

And then, “Let Go” echoed again.

It reminded me that chasing every dream, soaring towards the sun, may make it hard to tell the difference between the glow of opportunity and a goal going up in flames. Letting go means nurturing a few meaningful the ideas that may already be getting off the ground.

So I’m letting go of the degree research and lining up the writing projects so that I can more easily follow one at a time and stay on course. I hope it means I’m learning to fly in formation.

The Lighter Side

I had three days in a row off, so naturally on the second day, I woke up with a nasty cough that morphed into fever and nausea for 48 hours. By the time I could open my eyes and not see through time, the 24 hour bug had burned off 4 pounds without doing any dieting (or exercising). My head still pounds a bit, but I’m trying to look on the bright side, or at least on the lighter side of the scale.

Cold Turkey with a side of Fries

Tomorrow is Another Diet

Most of my diets start out with the best intentions. The night before the diet, I intend to eat the best foods — and by best foods, I mean best tasting, not necessarily best for you — as I think about the foods that will or won’t be on the menu next to the chart of exercises I swear I’ll start on the same day. They usually end about 12 hours later, right about the time I congratulate myself for not hitting the snooze button at 5AM.

Day one of my breakup with solid food was only slightly different. It was Memorial Day. The Big Guy was working, but I wasn’t. I stayed up till three in the morning the night before finishing a novel and managed to sleep in until 8AM when Thing2 — fully apprised of Mommy’s diet plan for the day — came in to see if, like many holiday mornings — I would be exposing them to a balanced American diner breakfast starring sugar, fat, and more sugar. And salt.

“Is this a test?” I asked as I sat up.

Thing2 looked confused for a second and then grinned. “Oh yeah. It’s a test.” Then he disappeared, skipping down the hall to see if he could rope Thing1 into helping me get this diet nonsense out of the way bright and early. He reappeared its the unsurprising news that Thing1, whose autoimmune disorder has redefined dietary discipline over the last year, was uninterested in indulging. He thought I should stick with my plan, Thing2 reported.

“Yeah,” we both said at once.

I ended up getting Thing2 a new box of cereal and mixing my first shake for breakfast. A second shake at noon before Thing1 and I headed to the Kmart closing sale and I was feeling more than a little cocky.

The day was still young.

Shopping trips are usually like a pillow smothering my discipline. Whether I’m manic or depressed, shopping is the rush. Food is the opiate. Even scoring a purely functional $3 swimsuit for Thing1, whetted the appetite for the nearby drive-thru.

But, determined not to disappoint Thing1 who is a model of nutritional maturity, I drove past it.

We got home and promptly retreated to the sectional to enjoy the rest of the day off.

Then I saw a notification on Facebook about a petition that needed signing before Tuesday. I knew grabbing the keys, heading out for a drive to blow off steam that hadn’t had a chance to build up on a day off, would break the straw that broke my diet wagon’s wheels.

I grabbed them anyway.

I was driving to sign the petition. Really. And then I passed by the petitioner’s house. And fifteen minutes later the car pulling into a fast-food parking lot.

I knew I was disappointing Thing1 and Thing2. I knew the Big Guy would forgive. I knew I was disappointing myself and starting the best intentions all over again, the best being there would be a clean slate in the morning.

And still I ordered and indulged.

As I drove home, I debated if I should write about it. Should I tell the truth like a recalcitrant child when I got home? On one hand, why not? It wasn’t as if this was the first time I washed out of a diet. It probably won’t be the last.

Usually, however, this stage of the diet happens in secret. I say nothing and then next day I’m off it. No one says anything or even looks at me disapprovingly. But I know Thing1 worries his mom won’t be around for his college graduation. He worries I won’t be able to hike with him on his eighteenth birthday. I know I have some early signs of pre-diabetes, and the only ‘cure’ is control.

So I decided to be honest. On my blog and when I got home.

“I had fast food,” I said as soon as I got in the door.

“That’s okay,” said the Big Guy.

“I’ll start again,” I said as Thing1 said, “You can just start again. It’s a day off.”

Tonight I’m going through the intentions. I’m back on the wagon before I go to bed, and, with any luck, I’ll stay on tomorrow.

It won’t be the first battle that wasn’t won with a single skirmish.

Food, Glorious Drug

Food and I go way back. Almost fifty years now. We’ve had a great relationship. I mean, don’t all great friendships include an all-controlling dominant half (food) and a sycophantic lickspittle (me) or, in my case lick-whatever’s-left-on-the-plate?

I have started to question that relationship in the last few years. I’ve tried to take the upper hand by counting calories, cutting out certain kinds of food colored chocolate with labels like ‘Abandon all self-control here, ye of little self-respect’. A few years ago, I started to dominate the relationship to the point where I’d lost fifty pounds, which helped my five foot three frame look more like a short pear than a cantaloupe.

I controlled intake. I exercised. It lasted a few months.

A broken foot knocked me off my fitness routine, and soon I was back on the Bernaise sauce. And the steak and asparagus. And don’t forget the garlic mashed potatoes. Oh, yeah, that’s the stuff..

Last week I had an inkling a depressive phase might be setting in when the mental call of the country store round table took on a decidedly fried sound. My day of work and deep-fried self-medication wasn’t the first over-indulgence, but as I got home feeling sick from over-eating and somehow still willing to eat more to feel ‘better’, I realized, my relationship to food was more like an addict’s to a pusher.

Yesterday, online, I caught the headline of an article in the Guardian about not just changing the relationship with food, but breaking up with it for a few weeks. By taking it out of the equation.

After read the first few paragraphs (always a good idea when making a healthcare decision) about using traditional meal-replacement shakes that have been around since the 60s and 70s to turn food from emotional balm into pure function, I knew what I have to do. I headed out the door to our favorite British-style diner for a last supper.

Okay, maybe today will be the real last supper.

But I didn’t have to read the rest of the article to know that this sounded right. I need to break up with food. I need to get the upper hand and find another, more constructive emotional outlet like writing or painting (I hear some people swear by it).

So today, like the dozens (maybe hundreds) of Sundays before every diet I’ve ever broken, might be a free-for-all (okay, it will be), but tomorrow, we’re breaking up. I’ll make sure the calorie count is sane and that a bottle of multivitamins is handy, but for the next eight weeks, food won’t be what’s for dinner or for celebration or inebriation.

Food, I’ll call you in a couple months, and if you want to be friends, things are going to have to change.

Freebasing Spring


I’m on wheelbarrow load number 10 or 12 full of dirt and fieldstone, Vermont’s unofficial state crop. I’m trying to level out an area where we’re about to put a deck or, rather, where the nice young man who lives at the bottom of the hill is going to build a deck for us.

It’s been hot and sunny all morning, but the clouds are rushing in faster than was predicted this morning. I’m trying to get a few more loads done before rain moves in.

I’m ridiculously out of shape, my belly resembling the shape of the more bulging clouds. I want to get the earth cleared so he can start after the rain, so I keep shoveling and rolling. As I’m pushing load number 14 to the edge of the woods, though, I push pause.

I step outside time and lie down on a pallet of lumber in the middle of the yard. I’m supine on the pallet, and the pregnant purple clouds seem to tumble through the top branches of the trees that border the yard to my bed. I could touch the sky, if I just reach out.

Wind starts to whip across the yard and the first gentle sheets of rain brush my skin, the smell of the rain infusing my brain with spring. The rain cools my sweat, restarting the world of work and to-do’s, but long after the clouds move on, it will still be spring.

Come Together


We weren’t late, but we weren’t early enough to Thing2’s band concert to have a good seat selection. The elementary school band is small, and I was surprised by the crowd.

The concert program revealed that the middle and high school bands would also be performing. It’s a small school system, so I was still surprised by the increasingly packed house. We’ve been to a lot of recitals and school concerts over the years, so I thought I knew what to expect.

I knew nothing.

The high school band played first. The elementary and middle schools bands sat in the first row of seats waiting their turn. Mr. Neeson, the band instructor, introduced the piece, a march that the high schoolers will also be performing at the Memorial Day parade in five days. He then called for and got a B-flat from the band before them their cue.

The first notes marched perfectly in unison, echoing through the tiny auditorium and daring the audience not to clap. The band, culled from all grades of the high school, handled changes in rhythm and key, and the Big Guy and I had to remind ourselves that we were listening to kids who weren’t old enough to vote carry on a fairly complex musical conversation.

They segued to a jazzier number, a ‘jam’, we were told, that was composed for the concert. The Big Guy and I gave each other the super-impressed look. Our jaws dropped as the students got up from their places and switched instruments.

“I don’t make each kid solo for a performance.” Mr Neeson turned around to talk to the parents for a moment. “I do require they all know how to improvise, to listen to and play with each other.” Then the music started again.

There are fewer than 400 kids in our entire school system and, from the outside, it may seem fairly homogenous. The reality is that our school sees multi-generation Vermonters and transplanted flat-landers, Trump fans, Bernie-or-busters, and everyone in between. There are kids who get new iPhones every year and kids who may get their only meal of the day at school.

There was no way to tell if the pianist was a liberal or the drummer is a libertarian. The only thing the audience knew for certain was that these kids had learned how to change their perspectives, see new points of view and express their individuality, creating rich, beautiful music instead of just noise.

More than once during the concert, the Big Guy and I told each other that Thing2 needs to be in band again. Thing2’s creative spark burns hot enough that he may very well propel himself into a creative life when he’s grown up — with or without a school program. The performances, however, melded into a beautiful example of how arts in the schools are about so much more than vocation or even avocation. We knew Thing2 loved band practice, but it was only when we saw him and his friends working together to make something wonderful, that we realized the music program was teaching him as much about life as it is theory and even creativity.

The high school band finished, and Thing2’s band took the stage. Mr. Neeson turned to the parents again.

“So how many of you are Beatles fans?” he asked. Every hand in the audience went up. He asked if we knew the chorus to the first song on the album Abbey Road and then enlisted us as backup singers.

The band had no singer, but as the first drum roll completed, I saw a few parents mouthing, “Here come old flat-top”. My eyes were damp as the next two lines reverberated, and by the time the band was playing “One thing I can tell you is you got to be free,” every parent in the room was ready to sing out,

“Come together, Right NOW!” And really mean it.

Steppin’ to the Dark Side

Sometimes a blog is art. Sometimes it’s art therapy, and sometimes it’s avoidance therapy.

I’m still plodding along on the illustrations for my first children’s book. The illustrations are black and white with punches of color, a style chosen from several versions of the book by Thing2 (Thing2 has impeccable taste and almost no filter. If he says wear the blue dress, I pick the blue dress). I’m making a few changes from the original sketches, but for the most part, I’m happy with the outcome. I’ve also been a bit worried, leading to an unfinished book and multiple new projects.

I’ve also been trimming and trimming Truth about Trolls to make it the right length, to make sure the story is allegorical and still uplifting.  But because the allegory is abuse, it’s a tough subject.  There is darkness in the injury, but so much of birth and rebirth — in nature and in our hearts — also happens in the darkness like seeds in soil.

Sometimes I worry that dark themes and color schemes will turn off children who are not mine.  I know there are other mostly black-and-white children’s books and some that deal with difficult subject matter, but they are not the norm.  It occurs to me, however, that at least a little of each book, like all of my last book, is as much for parents and other adults as it as for children.

And most grownups I know aren’t afraid of the dark.

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