December 31, 2013

First Hodge-Podge

Original photo courtesy of Caron,
then heavily edited by yours truly
Welcome to Hodge-Podge Day here on The Beauty of Eclecticism, another semi-regular feature I am introducing for when you need updates on numerous of the disparate threads and interests that hold my life together--or sometimes try to strangle me--in one post. There really is no better metaphor for this variegated aspect of my life than the crocheted crazy quilt, a device which I learned to make at my mother's knee when she finished several projects and had numerous scraps of various yarns left over. Hence, the newly-established badge for Hodge-Podge Day. If anyone else feels the need to do some hodge-podging, you are welcome to lift the badge and use it; a simple link back would be good. (Let me know if enough of you ever want to turn this into a weekly meme, and I'll set it up here.)

Item the First: Volunteering

When you're suffering from multiple emotional health issues, and have been out of circulation from the human race for a while, finding a volunteer position can be a great way to begin to ease yourself back into the world. A couple of hours, one or two days a week at most, is a stress level most people can handle, especially when they're not being paid and can walk away any time if they feel it necessary. For me, libraries are definitely the way to go. I avidly use libraries as a patron, so what could be more natural than giving some of my time back, learning to have a very small schedule of hours when someone expects something of me again, and getting my toe back into an academic world. It's a completely symbiotic relationship, and one that I hope even may lead to a paying job eventually, once I'm ready for that again. I got my first paying job at 16 by volunteering at my hometown library; maybe, in a few months, lightning may strike again for me. In the meantime, I had my grand tour behind the locked doors of Lakewood Library today. I am the newest official volunteer of the Jefferson County Public Library system, and I start next Tuesday. I think even I can handle two hours, one day a week, for the time being.

Item the Second: The Poor

Photo courtesy of Barnes and Noble

I'm beginning to realize just how many of us desperate and destitute there are in the Denver Metro area. Yesterday, Brigid the SuperPreschooler and I had our day together, and even though I had not one dollar in my pocket, I took her to Barnes and Noble to play with their lego station and train table, two activities she dearly loves. As I sat watching my little girl play, the second person in the past three weeks walked up to me and asked if I could help her out to buy a little food. Until recently, I'd never actually considered standing in the Wal-Mart parking lot holding up a homemade cardboard sign asking for food and gas money, so I've never fully appreciated until now how much it genuinely hurts me to have to say no to these people. This woman had two little ones with her; if I'd had that dollar in my wallet, I swear I would have given it to her, considering how many, many people are fighting to help me. Poverty is the painful gift that keeps up a vicious spiral of giving.

Item the Third: Good News?!

Let's not mince words--and I rarely do!--a lot of my life sucks right now, and I tend to share that with you in jagged detail, don't I? I thought it might be healthy to give a short recap of what went RIGHT in 2013, for all our sakes.

I started this year with a mystery illness that left me in horrible abdominal pain and nausea, having to take prescription pain killers and nausea meds every six hours and visit the ER at least once or twice a month. 2014 begins with the mystery solved, my surgeries just a memory now, and the scars nicely healed. They're big and very visible, but they are a reminder that I survived, and I wear them as badges of honor.

Brigid and I safely made it to Denver, where we have found friends--and in her case, family--waiting to help us. We have not gone hungry, and we managed to make it all the way through 2013 with roofs over our heads, a state of affairs that seemed in imminent threat of changing a few times. Thank God, and thank you, all of our wonderful friends.

My applications for food stamps and Medicaid have been successful, thanks to the good people of the state of Colorado, my newly-adopted home. I can buy food, I can get medical care, and though that's not enough, it's two of the major stressers of my life removed at a stroke.

Finally, 2013 saw the end of the specter that has haunted my waking and sleeping hours for 18 years. My student loans were forgiven. All that I went through to see that miracle occur was a hellish experience, but at least it was not in vain. I start 2014 penniless, but debt-free, and there are worse places to start by far than Square One.

December 27, 2013

Homeless 2

For this story to make sense, you need a bit of background information (a la Dickens' "Marley was dead, to begin with"). Item 1: Maronite Christians. For those who don't know or are unsure, the Maronites are Middle Eastern Christians who more closely follow the Eastern liturgical forms and traditions than those of Western Christianity, but unlike the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches, they accept the Roman Catholic doctrine of the pope as the earthly head of the church. They are quite conservative on topics like homosexuality. Item 2: my bumper stickers. I have the following combination on the back bumper of my car.

The rainbow has become a standard symbol for the homosexual community, and the red background with lighter bars stands for marriage equality, i.e. gay marriage rights. I didn't put them on my car to rub people's noses in the fact that I'm a lesbian; rather, they are there to remind me that I can say this about myself out loud and God will still love me. After a lifetime of denying my homosexuality to myself for fear that God would hate me or doom me to hell, that constant reminder is important.

Now, on to our story. Today, I used the last pittance of gas in my car's tank to drive to the local office of the Social Security Administration, where I went through a lengthy and extensive interview, applying for benefits until I can complete some therapy, get my head screwed back on straight, and hopefully get a job. In order to get "low-income housing," one is required to have at least SOME income, and my SuperPreschooler and I cannot be reunited permanently until I have someplace for us to live. SSI would at least be an income.

After that rather humiliating experience, I pulled into the parking lots of several churches, looking for one where some member of the clergy hadn't yet left for the day. As a child, I watched my parents help countless people in myriad small ways, people who needed gas money, or food, or even a place to stay, even though we were often on food stamps ourselves and were more familiar than we ever wanted to be with government-issue cheese, powdered milk, and tinned fruit juice. I found myself reminding God of how often my family had given to others even when we had so little ourselves, and that I needed gas money urgently, and would be lucky to even make it home. The first two churches I visited were deserted for the day, and I finally pulled into the parking lot of a Maronite church. With two flaming gay bumper stickers on my car. Prominently visible.

Clergymen and women are often put in a difficult position when someone asks for financial help; they have to consider whether the person might use the money for alcohol, drugs, or some other vice they have no wish to support. As a "preacher's kid," I am familiar with the problem. The parish priest was just leaving the rectory--the house provided for him by the parish and sitting on the same property as the church--when I pulled in. I couldn't help it; I began to cry as I told him that I simply needed some gas, and assured him that I wasn't even asking for cash. Could someone please just drive with me to a gas station and pay to put a bit of gas in the tank? I pointed to my car, the bumper of which was facing directly toward us.

And that Eastern Catholic priest put enough gas in my car for me to go visit the SuperPreschooler on Monday, our usual day together, gave me some food, and blessed me with the sign of the Cross upon my forehead. I thanked him profusely, I asked him to remember my little girl in his prayers, as well, and I silently thanked God for honoring the good gifts my parents laid up in heaven for me by their ministry. As members of the Body of Christ, we don't have to agree with each other to love one another, but sometimes we forget that, or we fear that others will. I bless the shepherd's heart of a priest who did not forget it, and repent of suspecting that he might do so.

December 23, 2013

I Actually Review a Book!

Reflections of Osiris: Lives from Ancient Egypt
by John Ray

Okay, I really enjoyed reading this book--as long-time followers will not be surprised to hear--so let me enumerate its weaknesses before I dive into any immoderate praise. The author attempted to tell the story of the history of ancient Egypt by making each new chapter a brief biography of an individual Egyptian--king, priest, or peasant--about whom we know something unusual, or the knowledge of whose existence has survived to modern times because an extraordinary document was discovered. As a result, the entire book feels somewhat disjointed, and the eponymous attempt to use Osiris (Egyptian god of the dead/underworld) as the common link for all those highlighted is weak, almost an afterthought in practice, though it works in principle if you already know a bit about the Egyptian theology of the afterlife.

(image by Jeff Dahl)

Now for the fun stuff. The scholarly author has an enjoyably readable style, and most importantly by far, I learned about a HOST of things of which I was previously unaware, and got much more detail about some things with which I was already familiar. So much so, in fact, that I lost a whole day researching Neith, patron goddess of the city of Sais, because of one passing reference in Ray's book that piqued my curiosity beyond endurance. Now that's MY kind of Egyptology read, especially since I've read enough on the subject by now that not just every book sparks a real quest for further detail like that anymore.

It's a lovely book, a quick read, and I can recommend it to those interested in the subject, from novices to armchair Egyptologists like me.

December 21, 2013

Homeless, A Series

This is going to be a semi-regular feature on my blog until my current issues of homelessness and being separated from the SuperPreschooler are resolved, frankly because I need to write about my situation from time to time in order to process the things that are happening right now.

Most of Friday was not a good day. Remember when I said in my last post that none of this is easy? That doesn't negate the truth that I am glad to be starting a new life, but to quote a new hero of mine, "Hard is hard." And this shit is hard sometimes.

As you might imagine, PTSD and depression are not improved by the fear of impending homelessness, and it took me a while to get around to doing anything but lying in bed this morning. The first thing of value that started off my day was talking to my SuperPreschooler on FaceTime. I held it together--more or less--until we signed off, then I did a lot of crying. After that, I called a Crisis Hotline. This brings us up to about 4:30 pm, and as you can see, it had been a hella fun day.

I pulled myself together and prepared to finally leave the house, checking the mail on my way out. There, in black ink on white paper, the state of Colorado informed me that my application for medicaid had been...approved! Something else that has gone right in this process. Every flicker of hope is a very good thing.

Photo by Lisa Risager

And I finally arrived at my weekly crochet circle. Technically, it's a knitting circle, but if you've been reading this blog long, you know that I crochet a hell of a lot better and with much more confidence than I knit, so most of the group knits, I continue to work on crocheted Christmas presents, and we all keep each other company. It's a very accepting group, thank God, and often ends up as much a therapy session as a crafting event; we find ourselves telling each other things most people wouldn't discuss in an A.A. testimonial. Tonight was certainly no exception, as we covered the conversational spectrum from the history of Christianity to some truly frightening ways to sneak booze into a nightclub with you. (Fake tampons?! Seriously, this is a thing now? You have GOT to be kidding!)

Overall, it was intelligent conversation, a rare and precious gift from one's fellow human beings at times, and at the end of it, two young women who didn't even know my name yet ended up two of my new best friends. One of them also suffers from PTSD, and the other is a major part of her support network. They spoke to me with compassion and kindness, not pity, told me I was not alone, and generously gave their phone numbers to a near-stranger.

William Cowper wrote,

"God moves in a mysterious way,
     His wonders to perform."

He was absolutely right. Our Heavenly Father usually sends His greatest gifts through other people, the hope generated by the outstretched hand of loving human contact. And tomorrow is another day in which to make things better.

December 19, 2013

New Dawn, New Day, New Life

Photo: The Blue Marble NASA
(with color corrections by Deglr6328)

Nina Simone's
Feeling Good 

Everything in life involves some sort of trade-off.  I got my health back after my year-long, horrific ordeal with pain, nausea, and the meds required to live with both, at a cost of five surgeries performed in the space of about 3 hours and 8 full weeks of recuperation and medical restrictions.

After what my surgeon assured me really was a near-death experience, faced with the fact that both my parents and all my grandparents are now dead and there was no one left whom I could not bear to disappoint, I decided it was time to admit the truth, first to myself, then to the world, and come out as a lesbian. Obviously, the cost was a divorce from the heterosexual marriage in which I had been trying and spectacularly failing to live, but the end of that chapter came as a relief to all parties.

I am in one of the more LGBTQ-friendly states in the Union, hopefully to stay put for a while this time. Hello again, Colorado; I didn't expect to be here again, Denver, but I'm learning to love you very much all the same. However, the cost of this colossal move is that, since my ex-husband is still unemployed and therefore cannot pay either the child support or alimony to which we agreed, I am indigent, homeless (sleeping in a friend's basement--God bless you eternally, faithful friend!), on government aid, may soon have to relocate to a long-term homeless shelter, and am separated from my daughter while I find us a home. She is living with her paternal grandparents in another part of the Denver Metro area, so I get to see her (when I can find the gas money to drive there--thank you so much, helpful and supportive friends!), but the missing her is a very real physical ache at times.

My student loan mess was finally resolved, as my loans were forgiven. Yes, you read that right. Loans have been discharged. I just had to be diagnosed with PTSD, depression, anxiety, and panic disorder, have horrific nightmares for three years, occasional flashbacks, and other delightful symptoms that have made it impossible for me to work for the past six years before the Department of Education would agree that in my case, discharging my loans was an appropriate course of action. 

They are all costs worth paying, in the end--to get my health back, to be my genuine self, to see my daughter fed and cared for until I am back on my feet, to find therapy for my past traumas and begin rebuilding a life. That does not make any of them easy.  If ever I have experienced a baptism by fire, this has been it. But when it is all finally lived through, and the ash clears from the reverberating implosions of a false life and disingenuous identity I had constructed for myself, I am left with this thought.

"It's a new dawn
    It's a new day
      It's a new life
        for me...

And I'm feeling good."

I will read, I will write, I will crochet, and I will tell all of you all about it. It's good to be back. I hope you have stuck with me for the journey.

April 27, 2013

Lesson 3

Invincible Summer
by Hannah Moskowitz
Simon Pulse, 2011
269 pages

So many times, this book carried me right to the brink of LOVING it, but never quite managed it, and I'm sad to say that by the time I finished, it had failed to even make me like it.  I really wanted to do so, too, because there were aspects of the story that I thought were awesome, and a couple of characters that I really liked, but in the end, this novel just set my teeth on edge, like fingernails scratching on a chalkboard. *sigh*

It is the story of two families who own adjacent summer beach houses and spend their summer vacations there together each year. Though we get little hints and reminiscences of summers when the older children of each family were small and the younger ones hadn't even been thought of yet, the story doesn't begin until just before the narrator-protagonist's 15th birthday. The entire book consists solely of the stories of that and the following three summers, the interactions of various family members and between several members of the two different families.

It's difficult to fully explain my disappointment with this book without striking out into the treacherous waters of SPOILERS, so I will simply say that [A] I thought one of my favorite characters deserved a MUCH better outcome than they got, and [B] I felt that this book conveys some VERY disturbing messages to and about women, especially those who are high-school and college-aged. While I absolutely do not believe in censorship or banning books, I really think that any teens who read this book really need some extensive parental guidance and discussion while they do so.

One thing that I really DID love about the book was the way that three of the characters bonded over the writings of one author whose works have now become classics. If you've ever had that kind of experience, you'll know for yourself how it can happen and what an extraordinary feeling it engenders. When something truly inspires, the reader can spend months or even years engrossed in a single author's oeuvre and worldview. Even when you finally outgrow it, or your first passion for it cools a bit because new pieces constantly extend your horizons still further, there is always a certain attachment, a certain frisson of the old excitment and ardor whenever the book, poem, essay, or author is mentioned.

This bibliomaniac obsession with a newly-discovered author was the part of the book that I most enjoyed and with which I could be identify and empathize BY FAR, and it is one of the strongest and longest-running themes in the novel (hence my hopes throughout that I would end up liking the work much more than I ultimately did). Invincible Summer actually made me WILDLY curious to investigate the writings of the narrator's muse, and that in itself makes reading this book time well-spent, in my opinion. Unfortunately, however, I cannot in all honesty actually recommend this book.

April 24, 2013

Lesson 2

Yes, she's back, o few but loyal gang of readers!  And I feel so much better that I'd swear I've had a complete body transplant, except that if I had, and I were still this overweight, I'd be REALLY pissed!  What I have acquired instead is a personal trainer/nutritionist, and the drive to get up and change things every day.  Thank God for recovery in all its forms. When HE decides to get you well, He doesn't mess around!

The next logical question should now be, "How's the Re-Education Reading Challenge going?", especially since those of you who contributed to the reading list put a fair bit of time and thought into which books to add.  The answer is, slow but steady. According to my Goodreads challenge widget, I am woefully behind, as you might imagine, but after a month of post-surgical fog, my keen reading appetite returned to me, and so I have been faithfully plunging ahead throughout the end of March and all of April so far. I may not finish in this calendar year, but I'm not ready to concede yet--we've got a lot of year left!--and if I don't finish in 2013, I've decided to extend the project until I HAVE read them all. I feel I owe that much to the list's contributors, and to myself.  Meanwhile, I can use my laptop again, so let the reviews commence!

by Laurie Halse Anderson
Square Fish, 2011
198 pages

Another book that is certainly not light reading, Speak is the year-long journey of one girl learning to value herself, to defend herself no matter what it costs her, and to find herself sufficient company when she and the "cliques" in her high school discover they have absolutely no interest in each other.

Once again, we are dealing with the aftermath of an assault, of physical and emotional abuse, but in this book, the author rips away the facade of safety and respectability of the American education system as it currently exists.  All the million tiny opportunities afforded to abusive personalities in all-too-frequently unsupervised moments are portrayed with such poignant accuracy that it's clear the author still remembers her own high school experience with startling (and no doubt, often painful!) clarity.  Her descriptions of bullying, verbal abuse, and especially, of learning ways to hide in plain sight in large group situations such as the cafeteria, certainly resonated with me. Based on the book's brief introduction, this novel has obviously done the same for many, MANY others in the decade since it was first published, particularly for people who suffered far worse things in public school than I ever did.

Reviewers of this book often mention Laurie Halse Anderson's dry, caustic humor, with which she infuses her protagonist here, and it's a good thing she does; otherwise, this book would be so depressing that it might be impossible to finish! It's a seminal work that helped shine light on a cultural evil from which this country suffers--none of which makes it COMFORTABLE reading by any means. Just as it should be.

March 27, 2013

No More Spoons!

My dear friends, after keeping you waiting for FAR too long, I am back with the big announcement! I am NOT a Spoonie anymore! In other words, I did NOT have a mysterious, undiagnosable illness that will be with me permanently--I had a giant lump of scar tissue, surrounding the mesh my body had rejected from the previous FAILED hernia repair! It had pulled my digestive organs all different directions out of their proper places, not enough to damage them but enough to create the past 10 months' worth of mounting nausea and pain. The surgery has finally been successfully carried out, I am several weeks into recovery, and I am SO grateful to God and my surgeons that it's finished. I am also VERY grateful to my friends and family for helping me survive and finally escape this nightmare. And for those of you who may be wondering, I AM still progressing with my Re-Education Reading Challenge, and am nearly finished with "To Kill a Mockingbird." I see what all the fuss was about on this one. Reviews coming as soon as I can comfortably use my laptop again!

January 15, 2013

Surgery Announcement & Reading Update

First off, I have wonderful news--my surgery has been moved up a full two weeks, to January 30!!!!! Thus proving once again that there IS indeed a God, & He hasn't given up caring about me.

In other news, I have begun the second book on THE LIST, & may I say that you guys certainly didn't give me a bunch of fluff to read, did you? :D "Speak", by Laurie Halse Anderson, is profoundly serious from its very first lines. If it has been as influential in YA in the 12 years since it was published as I'm hearing, then it certainly is high time that I read it. All I can say is, I'm glad that I've had enough time for my horrible memories of public school to have stopped giving me nightmares before I started reading this!

January 13, 2013

Lesson 1

Hurray! I've officially finished my first book for My Re-Education Challenge! (Please note that links to all my reviews for this challenge will be available on the Challenge homepage. Reviews of any other books I read for the year will be linked on my "Reviews" tab, as usual.)

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
by Stephen Chbosky
MTV Books/Gallery Books 2012
213 pages

Well! We're certainly starting off the year with a bang! This book is definitely NOT a fluffy, light-hearted read. For most of my way through it, all I could think was that it reminded me of J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy in its unrelenting sobriety and human tragedies, only on a smaller, less cynical scale, because this book's protagonist and first-person narrator, Charlie, is very sweet and certainly an innocent.

But Stephen Chbosky is a very talented, subtle, even sly author. I immediately felt that Charlie was a sympathetic character; before long, however, Chbosky had me truly caring about many of his characters, through the vehicle of Charlie's deep and sincere love for them. Charlie is a beginning freshman in high school, and scared about this big change in his life. He has problems the full nature of which are slowly revealed over the course of the novel, and this is another element of similarity between this book and The Casual Vacancy, touching as it does on issues of mental health.

By the time I was 2/3 of the way through this book, I could barely put it down to deal with little trifles like eating and sleeping!  It may have many of the typical hallmarks, even cliches, of an average YA "coming-of-age" tale, but it's very intelligently constructed, and is simply an interesting, well-crafted story, though NOT for the faint of heart.

On a personal note, I identified very clearly with the mental health problems Chbosky adresses, though mine began for very different reasons than those named in the book.  It was very interesting to me, even though it was also saddening, to see from the inside how things develop as a result of abuse, rather than from fear for terminally ill parents and surviving a natural disaster, which were my particular triggers for 20+ years of emotional ill health. I sincerely hope, now that this book has been made into a major Hollywood film, that it will greatly help to raise awareness concerning mental health problems in adults and especially in teenagers and children. In all their mental romanticizations about the supposed "carefree innocence of children," too many adults never realize that traumatic events have as great an effect on children as on anyone else. Worst of all, the child's suffering often goes unnoticed and therefore undiagnosed; kids may not comprehend what is happening to them, don't know how to ask for help, and frequently act out in ways and for reasons that even they don't understand. It is vital that both adults and children receive treatment as soon as physically possible after a traumatic event, because the longer the emotional wound festers, the greater the chance of serious, even irreparable repercussions.

Moreover, the stigma that our society still attaches to emotional and mental health problems--in the 21st century, for God's sake!--has got to stop. It makes it much more difficult for people to get the help they need, or to lead a normal life. Some employers are too nervous to take the "risk" of giving them a job. Mental health professionals actually have to advise their clients NEVER to mention their illness at work, for fear that an applicant might be denied or an employee fired on those grounds, even if the company would invent some other, less harsh-sounding reason for their action. As I said, I sincerely hope that this powerful book, and the very popular film adaptation of it which has now been released, will go some way toward changing the status quo.

January 12, 2013

Readin' Books and Feelin' Foolish

(with apologies to Simon and Garfunkel)

Oh, my dear friends, it meant so much to me to open my Blogger dashboard today and see so many votes of confidence and promises of prayers for me! It also made me feel like even more of an idiot to have to admit that *drumroll*

my damn surgery got postponed until February 14th!

And to my utter chagrin, it was all my fault.  I was supposed to discontinue one of my regular medications several days before the surgery, and just simply forgot all about those instructions until about 36 hours before I was supposed to check in to the hospital!  It has taken me this long to get over wanting to kick myself and throw things, to work up the courage to admit my utter foolishness here, especially after all your kind words in support of me.  But, I have those encouraging notes now to carry with me next month when I do finally check into the hospital, and to keep my courage up when I get nervous about the whole thing.  So thank you to ALL of you, my knights in shining armour!

The upshot of all of this is that I'm still living with all the symptoms I've been dealing with for almost a year now, and therefore not really feeling up to blogging much. NEVER FEAR, however, because I am already plugging away at the Master List you all generously helped me compile for my 2013 Re-Education Challenge.  I'm nearly finished with the first book, already!  I'm reading them in the order in which you sent the recommendations in to me, which seemed only fair, but I also have the list available on Goodreads in a format which allows you to sort them by title or author.  I will try to put up a post when I start each book, to let you know how I'm progressing on the list, and will definitely be posting a review for each one unless some calamity strikes.  Thank you for your faith in me, and your support.  Hope you're having a wonderful 2013 so far!

Currently Reading:

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

January 02, 2013

Radio Silence

Beloved friends and readers, provided that my dumb mistake in forgetting one of my pre-op instructions doesn't throw everything off schedule, I'll be going into major surgery tomorrow, & thus will be absent from the internet for a few days. Never fear, however, for as soon as I am able, I am eagerly looking forward to beginning "My Re-Education Reading Challenge," attacking the Master List that you compiled for me with all my energy and gusto. Happy New Year, & be praying for me/wish me luck, please!

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