I’m two and half years into writing a book. It was supposed to take one. Best laid plans and all that. It’s been difficult because I’m telling the truth. Sometimes the truth is difficult because of how bad it is. Sometimes the truth is difficult because of how good it is. Either way, it’s vulnerable.
I had hoped to finish in time to enter it into a well-respected non-fiction contest with a deadline of November first, but that’s not looking too promising.
“Life,” as John Lennon said, “is what happens on your way to making other plans.”
I’ve been doing my other full time job while trying to make this book thing happen: Mothering. Holy Mothering! It’s time consuming and challenging in ways no one ever tells you. And they want to eat. Every. Single. Day. Self-absorbed food addicts.
And I have to have a few close people read it before I can show it to outside book people because in it I talk about them. Like my best friend – she’s in it. And then she recently said, “You know you shouldn’t put me on a pedestal.” To which I replied, “Too late.” Like I would ever have a best friend whom I didn’t think was awesome in nearly every way (and like I don’t know she’s not perfect. But that’s just between you and me. I would never tell her that). So, now I have to worry not only about all the truthful things I wrote about difficult people whom I don’t want to see it, I have to worry about all the truthful things I wrote about wonderful people whom I do want to see it. I didn’t realize this would be this hard nor this tricky in this way.
Then there’s the life part that keeps getting in the way, that ends up changing the story line or adding to it. People who come, and people who went…who weren’t supposed to, and how that changes everything. Or at least serves as an unwanted distraction. And, yet, that distraction is all there is of them.
Life. Is it really getting in the way? Or is it just part of the deal?
I keep thinking I’m trying to write a book while doing this life thing. But, really, I’m doing this life thing while trying to write a book.
Copyright © 2012. Christina Caine. All rights reserved.
Click here to hear John Lennon’s Beautiful Boy.
SDS, 1929 – 2012
We visited my eighty-five year old grandmother yesterday. She lives in an integrated, multicultural, working class town in the Midwest that refuses to die.
We lost Grandpa in January. The side table by her recliner has become a shrine, home to his award pins and belt buckles from a lifetime of service to Davey Tree, handsome photos of him as a younger man, the rose left on his pillow by the mortuary the night they came to the house to take his body.
In all of my time in the medical field I’m still processing that my grandfather was the first person I ever had to pronounce.
She’s good. Really. She dreams of him. This makes it feel as if he’s not quite so far away. She talks to him. She shares her day, as she did for the sixty-seven years of their marriage. Yet, I know she feels alone. They had a rhythm. A pattern. One: director of family life and house. The other: author of his domain. It was a symbiotic relationship, one she says was built on trust.
Living in the same town for scores of years and never knowing a stranger affords one a rich life, diverse with friends.
As his health began to fail and they were seen out less and less in their usual haunts – mom and pop restaurants, diners, and family owned places that have been there for years – word got around that Dwight was dying. In the six weeks that he was in the rehabilitation center following his final surgery he enjoyed over one hundred twenty visitors. Grandma received cards and notes from check out clerks at local markets and waitresses and staff from favorite restaurants. They tear up now when she comes in. “I loved that man” a Turkish manager at their favorite eatery recently told her.
She loved him. They never quarreled, she said (though I might have to verify that claim with their daughters). They’d just be silent if they were mad at each other, she recalled.
We saw a teal, white-topped Cadillac on our way out to lunch.
“That looks like our Caddy!”
“It does doesn’t it. Was that the one that was owned by Betty White?” (Not the Betty White, but a Betty White.)
“No, that was the Lincoln. The Caddy I bought with my Avon money and in my own name. One of the men on my route said when he saw it, ‘Maybe I need to start selling Avon.’”
She registered to vote for the first time in her life a few weeks ago. Her son-in-law, my uncle, a retired UAW member, collected all of the paperwork for her. She said she watched the convention speeches on both sides and really enjoyed them. She especially loved hearing the President’s wife speak. “You can tell they really love each other,” she said.
Out of respect, I didn’t ask her for whom she planned to vote.
She volunteered, “There were two things that Romney said that really troubled me.” She held up an index finger, looking far bonier than I ever recall. ”First: He said he’d end Planned Parenthood. And two: He said to students trying to figure out how to pay for college that instead of taking out loans they should borrow money from their parents. I heard one student say, ‘If our parents had any money we wouldn’t need to take out loans.’”
My grandmother is the second of five children whose coal miner father died before she was a teen, whose widowed mother raised them through the Depression by taking in laundry and mending and who grew used to eating lard sandwiches at school. If it weren’t for food commodities (food stamps today), snaring rabbits in the yard, a family garden, the kindness of family and strangers and the grace of God – they wouldn’t have survived. She married my grandfather when he was sixteen and she was eighteen – not because they had to – and was very proud of having earned her GED. My grandfather escaped the draft for WWII because he was too young. The youngest of four, his mother died when he was a young child, and it would not be an over-exageration to say that he mostly raised himself. He lied about his age to get a job with Davey Tree where he worked his way up over forty-seven years from crew member to a regional supervisor. He took down a thirty foot pine in his grandson’s yard just weeks before he died.
My conservative Christian grandmother is voting for the first time in her life in this election for Barack Obama because she’s one of the 47% who knows that the President understands her life story and that life is more complicated than a balance sheet and an ideological worldview.
I’m very proud of her.
Copyright © 2012. Christina Caine. All rights reserved.
Click here to hear Willie Nelson sing Good Times.
My grandfather loved Willie. I miss him.
"Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur" 1878 painting by Maurycy Gottlieb
Note: This is a guest post by my very talented and gifted writer friend, Janine Dunmyre. She has graciously given me permission to publish her beautiful work here.
I didn’t expect it to happen. I have low expections these days when it comes to anything Eva. I took the kids to Little Minyan for Kol Nidre. Bought them some new clothes and shoes. Warned Eva. Since that’s usually her stomping grounds. Although Scarlett asked her once, “Is is ok if Mama takes us to services at Little Minyan sometimes too?” Like I said, I went with low expectations.
Everyone recognized my kids so I was forced to introduce myself: Their Other Mom. Jessica, the sort of rabbi, who was once my friend but defriended me on FB and was the “spiritual leader” of Eva and Amy’s wedding, she gave me a half hearted wave. Then services began. Luckily I remembered to medicate Zeke because he stayed beside me the whole time, and I really needed that. We discovered little pieces of paper (for notes?) in the pew in front of us, and he spent the entire time doing origami. I showed him how to make a frog. Eva and Amy appeared about five minutes after everything got started. They sat behind me where Georgia and Scarlett had already established themselves, having made sure with me that they could escape if they got bored. When Stella saw them, she left me to go curl up in her ema’s lap.
I have to admit: I am petty. I decided right before services (and even made a point to TELL God) that even though I know I should pray for the ability to forgive Amy, forget it, I’m never forgiving her. Especially if she never acknowledges she did anything wrong to me. And Eva refuses to forgive me. And now I can’t forgive her for not forgiving me, and, yes, it’s an endless circle of rat poison. (Anne Lamott says: Not forgiving someone is like eating the rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.) That was my state of mind pre-Kol Nidre. Nope. No Way. Hardened Heart. Not Gonna Do It.
Impossible Objects. Made by Derrick Coetzee in Adobe Illustrator. Public Domain.
My youngest has a hate – hate relationship with the laws of physics. He has since he was a toddler, trying with great effort to do things that are impossible and getting terribly frustrated when the impossible doesn’t work out. Like the times he has tried diligently to stack spheres, attempted to attach opposite poles of magnets and endeavored to put objects larger than possible into tiny spaces. I explain that it just won’t work no matter how hard he tries, and each time he replies, “But I want it to work.”
The trouble is we grown ups are not so different. There are a great many things we want to work…in the worst possible way.
I read somewhere where a wise person with an agent and a book deal had written: “The source of all human unhappiness is wanting things to be not as they are.”
I don’t want my children to experience pain. They do.
I don’t want my son to have to struggle in school. He does.
I don’t want people in my life whom I love to die. They have and they will.
I wish some events in my life never happened. They did.
I wish people behaved and thought differently. They don’t.
In ways large and small, we struggle against reality in vain.
What to do?
Learning to accept what is, is some seriously tough work. For some, understanding what we have control over and what we do not takes a lifetime of learning. Letting go of trying to control those parts we can’t, often takes just as long. I’ve heard our minister, Richard Wing, speak enough now that some of his more popular and useful phrases are coming round again, like: “We have an up to us privilege of choosing not what happens to us in this life but how we react to it.” Or from Gordon Livingston in Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: “…by placing responsibility outside ourselves we miss out on the healing knowledge that what happens to us is not nearly as important as the attitude we adopt in response to it.” *
Happiness often eludes us, not because it is impossible, but because we have built so many barriers to it. By not being able to accept what is. By trying to stack spheres.
Livingston continues: “Coming to terms with [what is] is inevitably a process of forgiveness, of letting go, the simplest and most difficult of all human endeavors. It is simultaneously an act of will and of surrender. And it often seems impossible until the moment you do it.” *
Copyright © 2012. Christina Caine. All rights reserved.
*Livingston, Gordon. Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart. Marlowe & Company. 2004.
A very nice lady saw I was struggling in the grocery store the other day and offered me her reading glasses. They were helpful. It seems quite the conspiracy, though, that at the very same time our near vision begins to fade our eyebrows decide to go rogue.
Copyright © 2012. Christina Caine. All rights reserved.
After dropping my first grader off at school not so long ago I happened to follow a particularly large vehicle out of the parking lot. The olive green, Titan pickup truck displayed three neatly placed bumper stickers prominently in my field of view. They were hard to miss, but I’m a noticer. I notice things.
They were: an NRA member sticker, one saying ”The American Dream isn’t a Handout” and this one:
- (This is an AR-15, the same semi-automatic rifle used by James Holmes in the Batman theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado earlier this year.)
From this, I interpreted this was a person who is passionate about the second amendment, who clearly feels strongly about it enough to want to display it on their vehicle, and who likely has an empowered sense of ownership about their guns and their right to use them in accordance with the law. I gathered it also represented something of their point of view about freedom, liberty, self-determination, independence, and security. I took all of that in then paused for a moment and wondered: If this imagery and message speaks to him/her, maybe other images could convey a similar idea. And I imagined these:
I thought if the image and message of the gun evoked a deeper understanding of rights and liberty , freedom, ownership and self-determination for some, perhaps these images could effectively communicate the same feelings women have about contraception, their health, their bodies and their rights as well. And, perhaps, other people would stop and notice, as I did, and draw a connection between their own passionate beliefs and support for their causes and someone else’s passion for their own. Images sometimes have the power to do that.
So I had these made into bumper stickers in order to convey my point. They are available here along with other items here.
I hope they will be effective.
The phrase, “Come and Take It” originates with the The Ancient Greek phrase Molon Labe from the Battle of Thermopylae (480 BCE) when King Leonidas I of Sparta refused to lay down his weapons in response to a surrender demand from Xerxes I of Persia. On this continent, it was used by the leader of the American troops
in a confrontation during the American Revolution with British forces in 1778 at Fort Morris in Georgia. And was revived again in 1835 during the Texas Revolution when Mexican forces demanded the return of a canon and the Texicans responded by issuing instead a challenge: Come and take it. Immortalized on a flag bearing the image of a cannon with a five pointed black star above and the defiant phrase below, it has come to symbolize the resolve of those protecting their territory, their freedom and, indeed, their very lives.
The birth control pill became legal in 1960. Prior to that there was no reliable, easy to use, female controlled form of contraception. It’s why so many of our mothers and grandmothers had nine and twelve and fourteen kids.
As Loretta Lynn’s song, The Pill, so aptly captures in verse:
“This incubator is overused because you’ve kept it filled
The feeling good comes easy now since I’ve got the pill
There’s gonna be some changes made right here on Nursery Hill
You’ve set this chicken your last time ’cause now I’ve got the pill”*
(To listen to this song click here.)
The frustration of the revival of an issue we thought was settled by our mother’s generation is captured well in one woman’s protest sign: “I can’t believe we still have to protest this crap.”
Let’s not take a step backward on the issue of women’s reproductive rights and contraception. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has produced an informative educational video that outlines the economic and personal impact of accessible birth control for women around the world. It explains that for every one dollar invested in family planning six dollars are saved in costs for housing, healthcare and public services. I hope you will take the time to watch it here.
Let’s insure we keep contraception and women’s healthcare safe, legal and accessible.
Don’t try to take it from us.
Copyright © 2012. Christy Caine. All rights reserved.
My deepest thanks to Dan Wilkinson for creating the Pill and Uterus Come and Take it images. He’s an incredible web developer and all around awesome guy. Please check out his site.
And also to friend Mike Patrick of Patrick Solutions for helping me tweak it a little more.
* The Pill, written by Lorene Allen, Don McHan, and T. D. Bayless, recorded in 1972 by Loreta Lynn on MCA records and produced by Owen Bradley was released in 1975. Lynn said in a magazine interview she had received messages of gratitude from rural doctors telling her how her song had done more positive marketing for contraception to their patient population than any of their own education efforts. This is the power of media.
This one will probably get me in trouble.
My son had his fifth grade back-to-school-get–to-know-the-teacher-kill-a-forest-by-way-of-forms-event this week. It was hard to miss the pro-greenish overtones of the science curriculum with its hands-on-super-cool-free-AEP-low-energy-use kits highlighted by a fall field trip to the landfill despite the reams of tree remnants we signed.
This year, the health and life sciences teacher explained, the curriculum will include “The Talk” late in May when the students are bored out of their ever-lovin’ noggins. I overheard my youngster discussing this with the neighbor girl at our house at the beginning of summer. Apparently by way of the schoolyard radar, they knew it was coming. Plus, she has an older brother. The school will send home a packet of content in December with a not so subtle nudge encouraging us (the parents) to talk about “it” with them (the kids) before May so she (the teacher) isn’t the first person the children are hearing this from while sitting among their peers in a very public place.
Perhaps now is the time to wax nostalgic for the good ole days when our parents hid books under their bed for us to find. I remember that fateful day like the back of my piece of chocolate cake dropped frosting side down on the floor when my mother cornered me in my room and I sat uncomfortably wedged on the floor between my bed and the windowsill listening to what seemed to go on for fourscore and seven years, her Peanuts school-teacher voice becoming more distant as my mind drifted to the realization that no one was coming to my aid by way of interruptions and why: my father had taken my younger siblings to my grandparent’s house for the day… leaving me there…alone…with her… for this very purpose. (!) I’ve never thanked him for that.
Nope. No questions. Thanks for stopping by. Yep. I’m good, Mom. Got it. Thanks. U-huh. Can I go back to cleaning my room now?
She finally left. I didn’t learn anything I hadn’t already figured out from watching nature shows on PBS.
Grown ups can be so disappointing.
School based sex education is new to me, both as a parent figuring it out on the job and as a student, since I attended a private Baptist school where the closest thing to sex ed was a rule preventing opposite gender students from coming within six inches of one another and overhearing the ladies at church say their prayers had been answered for a baby. In an unfortunate turn of events regarding the six inch rule, I was sent to the principal’s office in kindergarten for disorderly conduct or disturbing the peace or contributing to the delinquency of a minor when, under the influence of static electricity, my waist length hair was touching the boy next to me causing him to figit in the middle of chapel. Emphatic finger snapping by teachers did not mitigate his bodily gyrations as he tried to escape the advances of my disobedient locks. It was shocking as a five-year-old to find myself sitting alone in the high office of my inquisitor mounting my own self-defense by trying to explain to this grandfatherly older man the finer points of static electricity and what “fly away” meant and why this seemed like a self-evident, airtight alibi for not having broken the rule. It was my first brush with gender bias and scientific ignorance but not my last.
Just this week Republican U.S. Congressional Representative Todd Akin, who sits on the House Science, Space and Technology committee and is running against incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill (D) for her Senate seat from the great state of Missouri, made international headlines for what some call a gaff but what the average tenth grader would call a fundamental lack of understanding of basic human biology. Poor chap. He apparently never had “The Talk.” Which is terribly unfortunate given that he made it all the way through sixty-five years of living and earning a Masters of Divinity degree without knowing how a woman gets pregnant. They told us about this in nursing school, that some folks would ask which type of jelly works better – grape or strawberry – for preventing pregnancy. What he said with such certainty in order to minimize what is a horrific experience for far too many women was:
“First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down … ”
As completely ill-conceived and absolutely not backed up with science as that statement so obviously is and compounded by the highly explosive incendiary remark about “legitimate rape,” it sadly seems Representative Akin is not alone. There are others – mostly older men holding political office or those who have a great deal to say about those who do – who don’t know how women’s bodies work. But this falls into a larger conversation about rape, contraception, women’s rights and aspects of a judiciary system that has historically distrusted women which I have previously written about here. And which is directly related to legislation from last year where some members of Congress tried to change the language about rape to distinguish between “forcible rape” and other kinds. So, being a woman, a nurse, a patient educator, a person who has both had sex and gotten pregnant, and the kind soul that I am, I thought I might have “The Talk” with a few good folks just to clear things up.
This may be a little uncomfortable. I’m going to use some grown up words.
As ideal as it is, two people do not have to love each other to make a baby. Babies do not come from the stork. Parents do not go to the hospital nursery to pick one out and bring them home. Fertilization can happen in an approximate 72-hour window within a woman’s menstrual cycle, when an egg is released from the ovary during ovulation. An egg can be fertilized within 12 to 24 hours of viability after ovulation as it travels through a fallopian tube to the uterus. Sperm can be present before or after an egg has been released and still fertilize that egg since sperm can live from three to seven days in the female reproductive system. An amazing number of conditions have to be just right for pregnancy to occur. It is often described as a miraculous process. However, a willing participation in copulation is not one of them. Unlike Mr. Akin alleges, there is no scientific evidence that female secretions, or a lack thereof, are capable of discerning the difference between friendly and hostile sperm and preventing access to women’s eggs. It would be nice, surely, if this is how biology worked, like Samantha on Bewitched: want to get pregnant – two nose twitches; don’t want to get pregnant – one nose twitch. Heck. It would be great if menstruation worked like that. But it doesn’t. There is no magic switch. Egg + Sperm can lead to pregnancy whether it got there by way of rape or not. Which is why they created emergency contraception for just this scenario which prevents the union of egg and sperm (not the implantation of an already fertilized egg).
So, to be clear, let’s review:
As reported by Jezebel:
‘…”date rape” is much more common than “stranger rape.” According to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, approximately two-thirds of rapes were committed by someone known to the victim, 73 percent of sexual assaults were perpetrated by a non-stranger, and 38 percent of rapists are a friend or acquaintance….
RAINN defines rape as ”forced sexual intercourse, including vaginal, anal, or oral penetration. Penetration may be by a body part or an object.” To clarify: “Rape victims may be forced through threats or physical means. In about 8 out of 10 rapes, no weapon is used other than physical force. Anyone may be a victim of rape: women, men or children, straight or gay.”
…according to a 1996 article in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, “among adult women an estimated 32,101 pregnancies result from rape each year.” According to Planned Parenthood, more than five percent of all rapes result in pregnancy…’
I’m glad we had this talk. I regret that it was necessary. Let’s make sure our children know about their bodies and ways of protecting them with accurate and useful information.
For more information about rape and sexual assault prevention contact RAINN.
For accurate and informative contraceptive and pregnancy information please visit ACOG, the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Copyright 2012 © Christina Caine. All rights reserved.
This summer we vacationed at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, New York. One of the wonderful things about Chautauqua is the access you get to the speakers. There are multiple opportunities to get up close and ask questions whether it’s during the morning radio show broadcast from the porch of Hultquist where many of them are interviewed or in a meet and greet after their presentation or simply bumping into them on the brick walk as you make your way across the grounds.
I actually met Roger Rosenblatt back in January at a local event in our hometown. He’s a well-published, award-winning author and playwright who teaches writing at Stony Brook University’s MFA in Writing and Literature program. I went without a prepared question. I hoped to be smashing, of course, yet develop it on the fly. (As if I could think of a sparkling, insightful question he hadn’t already been asked 987 times before.) As he moved into his reading from his latest work, Kayak Morning, subtitled: Reflections on Love, Grief and Small Boats, I realized any self-agrandizement on my part was futile and any question about publishing or writing was banal. His was a story of loss. As a gifted writer, his depiction of the journey of grief was intense. Intense in its authenticity.
"Forest Floor Spring Ferns" used in agreement with www.ForestWander.com
I have always been weird. I know this. I just don’t struggle against it anymore. I don’t care that I’m weird. I LIKE being weird. It says more about others whom it troubles than it does about me that it does not. I think.
However, if one is going to be weird, then own it and BE WEIRD; revel in all its finery, in all of its bibliophilic, philosopher-quoting, poetry-reading, theologian-studying, humanity-observing, people-connecting, deep heady existential mystical angst-ridden weirdness. Be that. And be it well. If that’s who you are, and it’s not hurting anyone, then this is what you were born to. Revel in your youness.
Must there be a pegboard of “normal” in which we try to pound everyone? Is any one person more “normal” than any other? What is that? Must I conform to it? Who says college, marriage, kids/career, career/kids, kids to college, retirement is living? For some it seems more like a powerpoint presentation for death. How boring. How mundane. How typical. Is this how we measure and punctuate life? How do we find meaning in something so proscribed, presumed, optimized? Is meaning not ultimately personal? How can the journey be personal if we are only stepping in the imprints of another’s footsteps? So carefully watching the ground so as to tread appropriately that we miss the entire journey. Lift up your heads! Look around! This. THIS is the life you are missing. Not one day. Not some day. Not when I. Now. Today. This instant. This is your one wild, crazy, beautiful life. Are you living? Or are you trying so hard not to step outside the footprints on the ground? Look up! Make your own path in the forest.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
- from The Summer Day, by Mary Oliver
Original composition date: November 2010
Copyright © 2012. Christina Caine. All rights reserved.