Monthly Archives: February 2012

aim high and don’t forget st. paul’s advice about personal grooming

on december 31, 2010 i made a different sort of new years resolution:  i decided i would meet all 324 of my facebook friends.  i posted a video about my resolution on facebook.  it was the first video i had ever uploaded and i was quite proud of myself.  the next morning, as i had time to reconsider this,  so many of my facebook friends had commented that they were looking forward to seeing me.  i even got a facebook friendship request from a woman who said that while she lived in wyoming (very far away from my home in winneta) i was not to worry because she was moving to iowa (much closer).  and a friend from the philippines posted a picture of a roasted pig and wrote that his entire village was going to give me a big party when i showed up.  too late to delete the video. . .

that felt like a lot of pressure.

UH OH! what have i done??? most years, i resolve to lose five pounds and give up drinking--and that lasts until twelfth night when i go on a white wine and chocolate bender. and nobody even knows about my failures!

but i really believe that what is truly worth doing must at first glance appear impossible.  and my resolution seemed impossible:  i would have to be on an airplane nearly every week.  i would have to visit nome, alaska at the northwestern tip of america, florida at its southeastern tip and everywhere in between.  i would have to visit thirteen countries.  i would have to be organized about it because, like every other new years resolution, it’s for one year.  365 days, 325 friends.  and i couldn’t weasel out of it because everybody i knew on facebook knew about it.

so i started visiting friends, the ones closest to home until i got a little more confident and could consider a lane ride. . . and i ignored the “how are you ever going to get yourself around the world?” that popped in my head.  there isn’t a single day last year that i didn’t think “i’m giving up” and “this is stupid”. . . and there isn’t a single day  last year when someone didn’t tell me “you should give up” and “this is stupid”. . . oddly, my facebook friends–the so called “just facebook friends” — posted encouragements and support.  it really does make a difference.  if you have a facebook account, go out today and randomly pick five friends.  post something positive on their wall.  i promise you, they will glow. . .

at the end of 2011, i had visited with 292 friends–exactly ninety percent.  the remaining ten percent either didn’t want to see me, are dead, are in jail, have abandoned their accounts, have been involved in their own travels so that i can’t pin them down, or are spambots.  oh, and four people who have become too famous to consider me their friend anymore.

this year, i have been more focused on visiting friends who are like me.  there’s a name for me–agoraphobia, or what the ancient greeks would call “fear of the marketplace”.  i like to think of myself as reclusive, hermetic, withdrawn, or maybe just shy.  and maybe scaredy cat is a good one.  i’m one of those people who would never leave my house if i didn’t have to.  you have people like that in your family, in one of the houses on your street, amongst your friends.

yesterday, i really didn’t want to leave the house but i was scheduled to visit facebook friend #302.  janet browall lives about two hours away from me and i was worried because my windshield is cracked.  my car is falling apart.  and also, to be fair, i ALWAYS want to stay home.  but i dutifully drove west. . .

i know what you're thinking--that i didn't actually see janet and that i googled "goldie hawn" and have slapped her picture up on this blog. no, this is actually janet. she's gorgeous!

we spent a wonderful hour filling in the gaps of facebook.  you can’t be friends just by paying attention to posts.  there has to be some physical interaction, even if it’s just sharing a cup of coffee at starbucks.  she has panic attacks and is worried about an upcoming flight she has to take on her own.  i have suggested self-hypnosis because it worked for me.  also, a preflight beer.  or four.

i felt like janet and i had known each other forever and i would have liked to spend more time with janet, but i had one other errand to do. . .

one of the things i am amazed by is the wide variety of religious and spiritual beliefs amongst my friends.  i have come to appreciate how we all strive to make a connection to something beyond ourselves.  my facebook friend bonnie bradlee was the #70 friend i visited last year.  we knew each other in high school and last year we met in person for the first time in thirty years.  bonnie has become a christian and her faith has led her to become part of missions of healing and support around the world.  last year, she went to hydrabad, india to mission.  she had a remarkable story to tell me yesterday.

she also related to me that when she was in india, people wanted to have their pictures taken with her more so than with any other person on her mission.  at the end of the trip, it was with a weary and sorry heart that she discovered that the reason people wanted that souvenir was because she is, well, overweight.  and she believed God has spoken to her, telling her that she cannot mission to his people who are sick or starving when she represents excess.  so for her, this year is about bonnie.  we worked out together and i saw an incredible determination to lose weight.  not for vanity’s sake, or to attract the attentions of a man, but to be able to better serve the Lord.

however, i am a mischievous woman.  and i believe God appreciates a little whimsy.  i took bonnie to get a manicure and a pedicure.  after all, Paul the Apostle said to the Corinthians “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  you are not your own; you were bought at a price.  therefore honor God with your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).  he had some definite opinions about manicures, pedicures, working out, getting a good haircut, although he really didn’t go in for laser hair removal and restylane.

today, i will work on getting that windshield fixed and then i have to get myself out on the road again. . .


the unbearable is borne with such grace

i wandered lost in detroit circling 11 mile road before pulling up to the home of f2fb friend #301 brenda jeffries.  i was late, my gps has something wrong with it.  as i pulled the mini up to the curb, i noticed movement behind the front door.  but i was distracted by the lot across the street.

“that’s my daughter,”  a voice said from behind me.

“brenda!”

we hugged.  and then she repeated that across the street was her daughter.

at first i thought she meant that her daughter lived in the quirky little camper surrounded by tiny stone angels and plastic flowers brightening the gray city snow.  then i noticed the weathered posterboard of a young girl.

“that’s where the car was parked,”  brenda said, shrugging her head towards a clump of bushes.  “when raven was taken.”

six year old raven was playing on august 4, 2008 in the lot while the car idled.  brenda could check in every once in a while by looking out her window.  the other kids went home safely.  raven disappeared.  three days later, her charred body was found.  the police wouldn’t let brenda see her baby girl and it was left to her eldest son to text her pictures from the morgue.  the crime remains unsolved although brenda has a pretty good idea (and so do the police) as to who did it.  the camper is where people have sometimes gathered for vigils in raven’s honor.  the lot is owned by the city, as are many pieces of property in the neighborhood although brenda is as tied to the lot as any generation of farmers to their fields.  i put one of the stuffed animals that eastman has given me next to an angel.

brenda didn’t get out of the house much before–and going to the funeral was the hardest experience of her life on so many levels–but after her daughter’s murder, she found it unbearable to work at the store two blocks away where raven often hung out after school while brenda worked.

brenda finds it difficult to be in the house by herself and her three remaining children coordinate their schedules so that they can be with her as much as possible.  when i was there, her eldest son had moved in with her–his bedroom is at one end of the hall and brenda’s room (which she shares with all of raven’s possessions) is at the other end of the hall.

i went to use the bathroom and i couldn’t get the light to work.  then it dawned on me that the electricity had been turned off.  which may have explained the necessity for turning on the burners on the kitchen stove.   i met her adult children and her baby granddaughter — who is so adorable i nearly made the oft repeated compliment of “i just want to take this one home with me!”  for once, my mouth wasn’t as fast as my cautious brain.

we looked at pictures of raven and some dolls that brenda has for her.  we both share the catholic faith and there is a beautiful rosary dangling over a portrait of raven in the living room.  i noticed the prayer card from her funeral and then another card–one of raven’s best friends was killed in a car accident two years to the exact day after raven.

brenda is part of a number of agoraphobia support groups on facebook.  i never knew they existed until this year and they are generally closed and invitation only.  it’s one way in which facebook protects privacy.  a lot of brenda’s friends are from england.  her  adult children are her “safe” people–but she trusted me enough to take a walk with me.

we stopped in front of the store where she had worked.  where raven had played.  where she told me about her attitude about the amber alert.  oddly, while i was filming her, a dark nondescript car (hell, i can’t tell the difference between any brands) parked behind me.  the car and its driver stayed put, just watching–i felt kind of spooked.  in fact, i sort of felt like if i had brenda’s life i wouldn’t leave the house much either.

i drove away wishing i had a magic wand.  that i could make brenda’s life better.  that i could make raven come back.  i drove back through the snowstorm to chicago thinking that all the petty stupid things i get mad at my sons for–not calling enough, not cleaning their rooms, forgetting valentine’s day (!)–i needed to back up and count my blessings.  i made a promise to brenda’s eldest son that i would return and i will.

brenda, who bears the unbearable with such grace, has often sent me messages of encouragement or of support and i wonder where she has the energy and the stamina to care so much for others!

oh, and the car that pulled up behind me while i was filming brenda?  it followed me out onto lonyo avenue and up michigan until i veered off onto the 94 ramp . . . .


for every facebook friend who has never seen snow. . .

the before. . .

the after. . .

i was really really surprised by what i found in detroit but this is before that. i am grateful to my facebook friend for seeing me.

and this is now we do it!!


sometimes it’s a strategic retreat not a full scale sprint to safety

so i blew into oberlin, ohio expecting quality time with f2fb friend #1 my son eastman presser.  unfortunately, he was dealing with some major drama (girls), work (do they actually do that in college), and rehearsals for a concert he hoped i’d attend.  i had a full day to kill and it got to me.  i descended into my own personal form of darkness.

a chorus of voices in my head, each having their own lines--you're a bad mom, you're a failure as a writer, you have squandered your youth, you will never find happiness, you are going to die alone and broke, you gained ten pounds and look disgusting. . .

oddly, i was at the computer so i posted a status that i was having a major anxiety attack.  i was looking up where the oberlin hospital is located.  i wondered if they had state of the art cardiac and stroke care.  then i noticed lots of messages and comments popping up from facebook friends.  breathe, a great many suggested.  take a hot shower.  watch the movie enchanted april (hey, if i knew how to get the television to work in my room i would!), go out and sing the national anthem, someone wrote and pretend you can do it better than whitney houston.  well, i can but that’s only because she can’t do it anymore at all.  hugs, many sent me and others sent me their own experiences. i’m not alone.  i was really really really touched.  this is exactly the sort of thing that makes mark zuckerberg’s creation meaningful.

i pulled it together to get to eastman’s performance at a recital by michael pisaro who is visiting from the california institute of the arts near los angeles.  what he does with a two minute “rest”–well, he definitely solves the Mozart problem of too many notes.

an hour and a half of experimental, atonal music–very modern and sophisticated.  my stomach growling drew the attention of several audience members.  an hour and forty five minutes no intermission.

and then i went back to the hotel room, took two ativan and got into bed.  thinking about pennsylvania.  the trip, the hours, the turnpike.  took another ativan.  looked for something to read.  the gideon bible.  but too much stuff about being struck down dead.  and then the yellow pages for oberlin.  sort of funny.  under elderly care they had something called the scooter shop!

i enjoyed the image of oberlin citizens of a certain age getting out their hog scooters and terrorizing the neighborhood!

 

this morning, i had no sleep and was frankly more exhausted than when i went to bed.  i made a decision.  onward to detroit.  it’s closer to home.  i’m feeling a bit bruised.  i think this is a strategic retreat, not a dive for the covers of home.


checking in with a facebook friend . . .

yesterday, i went to coldwater, where i met f2fb friend #294 molly parshall.  she was with her husband jeff, who is my f2fb friend #300.  molly last month made a commitment to change some things about how she lives.  namely, how she stays in her house.  she is a smart, motivated woman who is going to one day change the world.  but right now she’s just about changing herself.  this is how she took charge of things a month ago. . .

 

from a distance, using only facebook and an occasional phone call to check in, i wasn’t too sure how molly was doing.  i think she had focused more on sharing with me the times she hadn’t been able to do what she set out to do rather than on how much she’s actually done.  i was really wowed when i came to the parshall home on the river’s edge.  she was so happy and cheerful and i got to meet jeff for the first time.  jeff works at the local foundry but had the day off.  i took a chance–i asked to drive with her and jeff to the train station.  we got there.  yeah, sure, she had a big anxiety attack and we had to turn around, but we made it to the station.  i’m so damn proud of molly and i’m so amazed at the love and support of her husband jeff.

after we got back from the train station we three walked down to the river in back of their house. i can't wait for the day when molly and jeff visit me in chicago!

 

the afternoon was a delight and i left with a huge smile.  but i had the ohio turnpike to contend with.  and that is no fun whatsoever.   now i am napping in a hotel in ohio before making the push to drive into pennsylvania. . .


am i a lying, manipulative bitch?

only in the nicest sense of the word, i hope.  and only with my favorite facebook friends.

i drove far south, over the course of two days, to meet f2fb friend #298 colleen kennedy jacobs.  colleen suggested that we go to the best cafe in town.

bill's toasty shop has a facebook profile under the name "bill's toasties". . . . the menu features fried cheese, fried pickles, fried broccoli and cheese, fried . . . oh, you get the idea! in any event, it is quite famous throughout the state and beyond. and bill's toasties has 5,253 "likes" on facebook. can't beat that!

 

taylorville is the county seat of christian county and it was originally a mining town.  at its heart is the courthouse square and four one way streets force a driver to glide past dress shops, beauty parlors, diners, a laundromat, a bookshop, and a convenience store.  walk one block away from this center square and there’s really not a whole lot more.  but friendly people–i asked a passing stranger where a cash station was and he walked me all the way to the bank!

f2fb friend #298 colleen kennedy jacobs showed up with her “safe” person–her mom–and it was as if we were old friends who had simply missed each other too much!  we talked about golf–colleen’s mother won the taylorville women’s tournament four times and her sister has won it an astonishing ten times.  if it hadn’t been freezing outside, i would have demanded golf lessons from this 93 year old who still carries her own clubs.

colleen overcame many things she’s afraid of in order to come to bill’s.  first, she ordinarily doesn’t leave the house.  at all.  only when she’s with her mother, her boyfriend, or another safe person.  a safe person is very important to someone with agoraphobia–i think i used my sons as “safe” people which probably isn’t healthy parenting.

second, she was meeting a new person.  that makes two of us–meeting a new person is always scary.  facebook can make us believe we know another person, that we’re friends, that we’re simpatico, but really, it’s the face to face interaction that is most important to friendship.

colleen uses a picture of the singer lionel richie as her profile picture. it's a family joke about one christmas when mom put up pictures of all the relatives and added "uncle richie' a favorite singer to the collection. i would not have been completely surprised had a tall black man in pastel attire had showed up at bill's and serenaded me "all night long". . .

third, colleen doesn’t like to eat in public–her mouth gets dry and she gets nervous about swallowing.

i can totally relate to being nervous about eating in public. but i plowed through a "regular" sized burger, some fried cheese balls and onion rings. oh, and a medium diet pepsi. jeez, they sell a "large" triple burger that is three pounds of meat. for under six dollars.

colleen had her first anxiety attack when she was in junior high school and she freaked out so much that she ran away from school to her grandmother’s farm.  her grandmother was a devout baptist totally opposed to drinkin’, dancin’, and whatnot but totally addicted to a medicinal home remedy that contained 11% alcohol.  she gave colleen a healthy dose of the stuff and sent her home with a bottle.

well into the twentieth century, over the counter medications often contained alcohol, cocaine, or opium and people trusted that whatever they were buying was "safe". colleen's grandmother probably had no idea what was in the medicine she gave her granddaughter.

 

colleen continued to have trouble with anxiety and transferred to a catholic school in town.  she married three times, each time to someone from taylorville.  she has two sons although one of them, sadly, passed on.  she has tried every medicine and every therapy she has had access to.  she is so brave and so beautiful and i asked her what she wanted to do most.  ambition is hard for someone like us.  but she allowed as how she wanted to drive somewhere by herself.

lunch was over.  her mother was getting a little antsy. i had to get on the road.  i was invited back to the house.  i asked colleen if she wanted to ride with me–i have a mini-coop and she was sort of excited by the prospect.  so we walked over to the town square parking place. . . and i threw her my keys.

“you drive,”  i said.

well, that wasn’t so scary because she does drive sometimes so long as her mom is in the car. and we talked about how her mom is increasingly showing signs of needing to rely on colleen.  colleen’s siblings have left taylorville and one day colleen will be the one who has to take charge . . . but then i did a lying, manipulative bitchy thing as we drove along the one way streets circling the courthouse.

“stop the car,”  i said.  “i just saw the greatest dress in that window.  i’ll get us a parking space.”

and i opened the door and got out.

now there’s not much you can do on a one way street except go forward.  and the only way to get back to where you are in taylorville is to circle around the courthouse.  one block south, one block east, one block north, one block west. . . to where i’m standing wondering “did i remember to pay the car insurance bill?”

but, you know, colleen did all right by herself!  and just before we walked into the little luxuries* shop. . .

it turns out the dress in the window was gorgeous but alas, not my size, but colleen found a white dress that is motivational.  she’s planning on driving by herself every day and putting aside a little money every time so that she can afford the dress.  as colleen put it “who doesn’t like to get a new dress?”

sure, there’s the dress, but i think her real motivation to grab hold of her life is the fact that her mother is now ninety three and colleen will become her mother’s caregiver at some point.  and also, colleen wants to be part of the bigger world, the one she reads about, the one she interacts with on facebook.

while we were at the little luxuries store, we met the owner colleen's friend laura long. it was a nice reunion!

 

i am very grateful to colleen for a wonderful wonderful day in taylorville!  and i can’t wait to be sitting in my study and hear a car pull into the driveway.  colleen kennedy jacobs gets out, wearing her new white dress, and yells “hey, let’s have some fun, girlfriend!”  she’ll keep the car running!

*little luxuries, at 15 s. washington street, taylorville, illinois is owned by laura long and her mother.

 

 


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