Return of the Frog Queen

IMG_20160625_183034

Madison, WI

I was living in this house when I was 21 years old. My roommate from college took this photo a few days ago when he was visiting Madison, Wisconsin and posted it on Facebook. I was slapped in the face with so many memories: lying in the dark back room in the summer, the only room with air conditioning, listening to music; drinking Mickeys and playing Tetris wars; breaking plates and smashing the Atari in a collective rock ‘n’ roll meltdown; smoking cigarettes all night on that tip-top balcony outside my bedroom, having conversations I thought I’d never forget. I lived there with 5 or 6 men — boys, really, we were just kids — I think I scored the best room because I was the only girl. That school year (1994 to 1995) and the few years afterwards were the most emotional of my life. I can’t really think of a better word to describe them. It was the loneliest and saddest time of my life before this chronic illness, but also the most memorable, the most adventurous, the most creative years I’ve experienced. And all of it is inextricably entangled with music. I’d once made a sign for my Mother’s kitchen wall that said (it was multi-colored like this): NEVER BE WITHOUT MUSIC and I never was. I have an obscenely bad memory, but everything I remember from those years has a soundtrack. I think maybe the only reason I remember any of it is because there was music playing during each scene, searing them into my mind. 1995 was also the only time I experienced depression before becoming housebound and I truly, un-dramatically, credit certain bands with saving my life.

IMG_20160625_180647

CD bliss, 1996

I’ve tried to listen to music a few times over the last four years, but it’s been difficult. First, because I was just too sick and was always striving for the closest thing I could get to silence. Background sounds are still difficult on a too-much-stimuli level, but as my headaches got better, I started to dabble in a song here and there and discovered that, even if I could handle the noise, the emotions unleashed were too much, like a tsunami against which I’d have to quickly close the floodgates for fear of drowning. Memories of sad times making me sad for who I was, memories of good times making me sad for what I’ve lost, regrets about past situations, gratitude for past experiences and abilities — all of it makes my chest start to heave and my breath catches in my throat and I go, “Oh, no way, not going there” and quickly switch to watching happy elephant videos. What I’d give to luxuriate in my old albums, in the memories they bring up and in hours of sobbing! And it would be a luxury — it would be cathartic and fun on some level to reminisce, but the indulgence would be far outweighed by the payback. My life is about equilibrium now; I try not to rock the boat. Plus, it’s really not as fun to go down Emotional Music Memory Lane without a bottle of whiskey.

Screenshot_2016-06-25-18-38-22-1

Kristin Hersh

Having said that, 15 months ago, my brother in Connecticut told me that one of my favourite singers, Kristin Hersh, was going to be in Seattle. I thought it was kind of funny (and kind of sad) that my brother on the other side of the country had to tell me what was happening down the road, but I never look at local listings because it’s a bit torturous to see what I’m missing. I decided to go. It was a solo show in a small, mellow venue where you could sit down and eat while watching. Seemed like the perfect way to test the live music waters. And it went well. It was utterly surreal to be in a public place, especially at night. I felt like one of those animals allowed to walk outside on grass after spending their lives in metal cages. I was unsteady, gripping my husband’s arm, looking uncertainly at the steps, the ceiling and lights, eyes darting around at the crowd uncomfortably, hoping not to be seen in case one of them noticed the outsider and stood up, pointed at me and screeched like that scene in the old Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It was a wonderful night, the hardest part was gulping down the sneaker-wave of tears when she opened with probably my favourite of her solo songs. Again, that unreliable floodgate. It was the music, yes, but so much more. I was out at a show — out at anything, actually — for the first time in two and a half years. I was normal. Or, at least, doing a good job of feigning it.

Tonight, I’m trying again. Jeremy Enigk is playing a show in Seattle and my sister has connections, so she’s going to set me up in the VIP or ADA section. I’m so excited. I had seen Kristin Hersh live probably half a dozen times before, so last year’s venture was noteworthy, but not a bucket list item. But tonight… Enigk’s band Sunny Day Real Estate’s first album Diary was part of the constant soundtrack in that Madison house 22 years ago, so it’s fitting that that photo showed up on Facebook a day before I found out about this show. I took it as a sign. I doubt I would love that album as much if I were introduced to it now, but back then there wasn’t much like it and these guys were college students around my age. And … THAT VOICE. It ripped my angsty heart out.

IMG_20160625_180212-1

my own private Idaho, 1995

I wound up fleeing the midwest in 1995. I drove alone across the country to Seattle (actually, to Bainbridge Island) during what would turn out to be one of the best four days of my life. No company, no mobile phones or internet back then, just me, a camera and my music. A year later, still lost in so many ways, I found Enigk’s solo album, Return of the Frog Queen, and, again, the timing was right and it became one of those keep-me-alive CDs.

So… tonight. I’m going to my second live show in almost four years and this time I have months of improvements under my belt. I haven’t slept well and I have a pretty bad headache (which is rare these days), but I’m not going to stay home to “be safe.” I may not know anything that he plays — I may not even like anything that he plays, that album is twenty years old, after all — but I’ve never seen him live, don’t even really know what he looks like and, if his voice can still do that heart-tug, stomach-clench wail, I might even let myself swim in the emotions for a change.
_____________

LIVE UPDATE: He’s playing some songs I know, I really like the stuff I don’t know and his voice can still hit the sweet spot. I’m floating (not drowning).

IMG_20160626_011721

Jeremy Enigk

Title Credit

Advertisements

New In The Garden This Week: Faux-camping, Flower Fireworks and a Birthday Party For Me!

Our fairly new, fancy Kenmore refrigerator (which is about three times the size of the one I had growing up (which is still alive and kicking) and, being one of my first major kitchen appliance purchases, I researched very well, even going so far as to subscribe to Consumer Reports to read up on it) has broken for the third time in a month. Today, after the repairman’s third visit, we opened the fridge door and could hear the motor blade whacking off something, so he’s going to have to come back a fourth time. While our kitchen is a repair shop, I am sequestered in the garden with the dogs, cooking breakfast by camp stove and typing this post under a “parasol”. 🙂

IMG_20140530_131724-1

Our garden is like the world’s slowest fireworks show. Gone are the lilacs, cherry blossoms and tulips. As they wilt and brown, now emerge lilies, irises, peonies and my favourite: the pom-pom tree (not a technical term 😉 ).

IMG_20140530_131009-1

Perfect Peonies.

0530141058

Luscious Lilies.

a820017b-e23e-4aa7-ab6a-995df8b08e4e-1

Stunning strawberries that I can’t eat anymore! 😦

0525141355

Irresistible Iris.

0525141353b

Riley glamour shot.

IMG_20140525_162418

Romantic Rhododendron.

IMG_20140525_162020

Dr. Seussian Pom Pom tree that snows petals down everywhere.

IMG_20140525_161808

Another “rhody”.

IMG_20140525_154426-1

More irises.

Also new in the garden were people (yes, that’s plural!) for my birthday soiree. My sister, her boyfriend and dog and our best friends here in Seattle, Z and J and their beautiful little girl, A. With my husband, that’s 5.5 people and 3 dogs… And I did it! I was out in the garden, sitting up, listening to various voices and mixed conversations for THREE HOURS. How did I do it? I made it between the hours of 3pm and 6pm, my best times. I warned them (for the 700th time) that it had to be mellow, no big energy, no loud talking, no music. I asked them to bring their own drinks and food and totally took the burden of hosting off of me and my husband. I rested for hours before and after the gathering. I scheduled no appointments the day before or the day after. I made sure I had food in my stomach.

The weather was surprisingly lovely that day (surprising because the forecast said it would be overcast and cool). We sat at our garden table and munched on snacks and I watched from behind my sunglasses and listened… just took it all in. This was the first time having multiple people over in eight months and, the last time we tried this, I was in bad shape after half an hour, even though I hardly spoke.

I don’t remember much from my birthday. I had to ask my husband if everything went okay because I think I meditated myself into a state of Zen trance most of the time. I remember trying on the clothes my sister got me and I remember accidentally spilling boiling water on my dog’s back. I remember marveling at how beautiful and sweet little A is and loving my sister’s dog tearing around the garden (“zoomies”). Mostly I remember swimming in my loved ones’ company, listening to their chatter and laughter and feeling so lucky that they wanted to come see me and so grateful for every moment that I was able to participate.

I love getting older. Every year will be a celebration that I’m still here and I’m still living the best I can.

“I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them when they’re gone from your life. I‘ve learned that making a “living” is not the same thing as making a “life.” I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back. I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one. I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
~Maya Angelou
R.I.P.

Lilac Wine

It’s ten in the morning and I’m sitting cross-legged and barefoot at our garden table in the warm sun, wearing a skimpy summer dress. My husband has created an oasis in the middle of the city. There is a fountain gurgling methodically and bird song all around me. I can hear children playing in the school yard a few blocks away and, every hour, the church bells chime the time. I close my eyes and I could be in Italy or France. I hear no airplanes or traffic. I’m sitting under a tall birch tree in April and, although I’m allergic, I’m having no problems. Lilac bows its scent over my head and, although synthetic perfumes now make me wince, I find the lilac’s aroma intoxicating.

If I were healthy again, I would do it all different. I would take the time to notice every bud and leaf, I would revel in meditation and have friends over all the time. I would visit farmers’ markets and experiment with recipes, host dinner parties and enjoy scrumptious desserts. I would take long walks with my dogs and listen to more music. I would never, ever take one minute of health for granted.

Today, I can’t stop smiling. I am outside, my body doesn’t hurt and I’m feeling pretty good. I’m getting stronger, I’m not lonely and the fears of the future have been sizzled away by the sun. We will undoubtedly have to leave this home eventually and, perhaps that will even be a good thing for my health, but, until that day, I will be grateful for the beauty wrapped around me, my family’s health, and for how fortunate I am.

0430141027 (1)

Forces pulling from the center of the earth again…

My Mother, in an effort to give advice on things that could help my mood and mental fortitude, pointed out that there is never music playing in the house and reminded me that my number one rule of life, written in fading marker on an A4 page taped to her kitchen wall, was: NEVER BE WITHOUT MUSIC. I glowered at her. “I’m too exhausted to go downstairs and find a cd.” “It might help bring some joy back into your life”, she suggested. I went back to grimacing silently in pain.

A little later, she tried again: “You could even listen to music on your phone?” “Yeah, I do, but it just makes me emotional and I’m trying NOT to be emotional. Every time I’m upset, my symptoms get worse. Every time my symptoms get worse, I get more upset. So, I’m staying away from music.” “Not all music will make you upset…”, she said. I think I growled in reply.

Four hours later, I’m alone in the house. I go out to the front porch and watch the warm, beautiful October day. I realise I haven’t actually listened to any music since September 13th when I was at the dog park feeling so good, before the Crash Of The Year. So, I put my headphones on and plugged into my “Guilty Pleasures” playlist. It’s the poppy or hip-hoppy, beat-heavy, fun stuff that makes me feel empowered — like I can do backflips, like I’m one of the stars of Grease/Fame/Glee, like I’m young and strong and athletic. And then… I was smiling. I was swaying. I was elevated. And, even though I knew I couldn’t, I was itching to run, to dance, to sing at the top of my lungs, to compete in the Olympics… And I had the thought: Fuck you, disease. I got this. You think a little pain and exhaustion is gonna do me in? You think daily flu will break me? I’m made of sterner stuff than that. You don’t get to ruin my life. I’ve got nieces and nephews to watch grow up. I’ve got dogs that need to be played with.

It feels like weeks since I felt a little bit of that strength, confidence, happiness. Mother always knows best.

This Woman’s Work

Pray God you can cope.
I stand outside this woman’s work,
This woman’s world.
Ooh, it’s hard on the man,
Now his part is over.
Now starts the craft of the father.

I know you have a little life in you yet.
I know you have a lot of strength left.
I know you have a little life in you yet.
I know you have a lot of strength left.

I should be crying, but I just can’t let it show.
I should be hoping, but I can’t stop thinking

Of all the things I should’ve said,
That I never said.
All the things we should’ve done,
That we never did.
All the things I should’ve given,
But I didn’t.

Oh, darling, make it go,
Make it go away.

Give me these moments back.
Give them back to me.
Give me that little kiss.
Give me your hand.

(I know you have a little life in you yet.
I know you have a lot of strength left.
I know you have a little life in you yet.
I know you have a lot of strength left.)

I should be crying, but I just can’t let it show.
I should be hoping, but I can’t stop thinking

Of all the things we should’ve said,
That were never said.
All the things we should’ve done,
That we never did.
All the things that you needed from me.
All the things that you wanted for me.
All the things that I should’ve given,
But I didn’t.

Oh, darling, make it go away.
Just make it go away now.

http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=iEHqPCA_lzQ&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DiEHqPCA_lzQ

LDN Day 22…God is music.

I knew I should have posted something last night while I was feeling good… Yes, I dared to say good. I was dizzy and my neck hurt and my nose and eyes were driving me nuts blah blah blah, but, there was this moment at the dog park where I caught myself almost skipping, looking at the sunlight and glimpses of blue sky coming through the trees, humming along to music on my headphones, and SMILING. I felt normal. I felt joy. I felt hope. I thought, for the thousandth time, Maybe things have shifted. Maybe this is the beginning of the end of my affliction. Maybe I’ll be able to get up tomorrow and write, “I’m getting better, I slept well, I have hope for a future and career. Hooray for LDN and supplements and…life!”

Well, I’m not feeling so great this morning, of course. I actually had night sweats last night for the first time in weeks. After 10 hours in bed, my Zeo tells me I got exactly 6 hours sleep. I woke up with a bad headache, my muscles hurt, I’m really grumpy and I am the farthest thing from refreshed, but I have this leftover glow from yesterday. It’s like waking up with a really bad hangover, but knowing that you spent the night drinking with a wonderful guy and can’t wait to do it again.

I pray that this upward trajectory continues. I have to stop therapy because of money concerns and my insurance on massage therapy has run out. The low-dose naltrexone is $60/month (not covered by insurance, of course) and I want to be able to afford it for a while longer. I still haven’t finished the laundry I vowed to complete days ago ~ that will happen today ~ but I tidied the house and made oat bars yesterday (details on my next diet post), so those small things make me feel accomplished.

My husband went to a wedding yesterday without me. It wound up being a huge reunion of his late father’s family. I would have loved to have gone and met everyone. I feel like a ghost, like a figment of his imagination. I spent so many years pouring myself into work and now, when I have the time to pour myself into friends and family, I’m physically unable to participate. Cruel joke. Dear Friends and Family: I am participating from afar. I look at every picture, I read every email, I look at all Facebook posts, I cherish every piece of mail. If I don’t reply enough or call enough or show up enough, please know that YOU are the most important thing to me. You all keep me going, keep me hopeful, keep me grateful and compassionate, and allow me to meditate on what is truly important.

Finally, I am grateful for music. This year, whenever I have found myself lost in some good feeling, inevitably, I have my headphones on…

As the great Kurt Vonnegut said:

If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:
The only proof he needed for the existence of God was music.