Thursday, January 22, 2009

Me & the First Hundred Days: One

(I think I'm going to start using a pencil name for some of my work. I may change my mind about that. Right now Lily Crow is writing Me and the First Hundred Days and a few other things. She pretty much shares my life. I should give her husband a different name, but I didn't since I'm not really trying to hide the fact that Lily Crow is a pen name, pseudonym, alias, nom de plume, why bother? Anyway, I'm going to see if I can transform myself (in a loving and accepting way) over the next hundred days. It may all crash and burn. It may not. See what you think.)

Me & the First Hundred Days

by Lily Crow

I believe it was President Roosevelt who started the brouhaha over the first hundred days of a new administration. He and Congress tried to get the country out of the depression with the New Deal. Congress enacted every program Roosevelt asked for during the first hundred days. Since then, apparently, every president has hated the fact that they are often measured by their first hundred days. I say it’s a good opportunity to set some goals. For the prez and for me.

I would like to get out of my depression. I would like to leap out of my funk. I would like to begin (again) my brave new life. Our country has been in the grip of an administration who defiled our constitution, put the economy in the dumpster, ignored science to the peril of our world, and vacated our civil liberties. I am hopeful that is all behind us.

So I'd like to put all my personal demons behind me, too.

A few months ago, within the space of a few days, two different people said I talked “as if it’s all over.” I realized they were right. After years of illness, after facing the fact of two failed careers, in the midst of grieving over the sudden death of my mother, I had started to think of my life as being over. I was tired of doctors. I was tired of my body and mind always going on the fritz. I was weary of burying friend after friend. I couldn’t seem to find the joy in my life.

I don’t know why I just wrote that paragraph in the past tense. I am tired now; I am still weary; and I am looking for the joy! I don’t want to keep seeking answers elsewhere. I don’t trust my own intuition or my own knowledge, but I need discover what sense I have. I need to get my groove back (with nods to Stella). I am too young to quit and too old not to have some wisdom!

So I’m going to take advantage of the first hundred days of this new administration and try my own new administration.

Day One

On the first full day of the new administration, I wanted to get up early and get some work done. We had just returned from a monthlong writing retreat in Arizona. The house was a mess. I hadn’t been eating right during the retreat, and I wanted to make some healing nourishing food today. I also wanted to start the rewrite on my novel and do some library work.

I got up late. It was cold in the house. It was cold outside. Wind shook the house. I just wanted to crawl under a blanket and go back to sleep. Or go back to Arizona.

I moved slowly. I did the laundry. I did a little library work. Felt like I was walking through sludge. Felt like the bell jar of depression and immobility was dropping down over me again. I wondered if there was something about this house. Had I created a kind of morphic field of fear, anxiety and depression? The woman who owns this house developed problems with her brain while she lived here and her husband died at a relatively young age from cancer. But it took us years to find this house to rent. We live in an area where rich people can buy houses, but ordinary people can’t find affordable housing. Sometimes I think I made all the wrong choices when I was young. I should have gone into some kind of career that would have given me some kind of stability.

Some kind of money.

Of course, twenty-nine years ago, it never occurred to me that I would actually fail to make a living as a writer. I was certain I was good enough and smart enough: I would be one of the lucky ones. Mario, too.

That didn't happen.

But that's another story.

This day, I kept wondering if I was going to fail once again. A goal of transformation in a hundred days? Hah! I had set many goals over the years, but lately I couldn’t seem to reach any of them any more. Last year at this time, after my mother died, I promised myself that I would live a life of joy and purpose. I immediately wrote two novels—which was a good start—but then I wasn’t able to sell them. I became estranged from my agent after years of a great relationship. I began eating too much. And I couldn’t seem to pull myself out of a debilitating melancholy despite help from my naturopath, acupuncturist, therapist, and others.

So what made me think this artificial construct of a hundred days would accomplish anything?

I lay on the couch most of the day and watched any coverage I could find of President Obama. I had said for years that the government cannot do everything for its citizens. It's "we the people" not "I, the government." We each have got to be part of our communities. We have to be involved. We have to volunteer.

Most of what I do every day is unpaid work. Sometimes this is because I volunteer my time and talent; sometimes this is just the way it is. I don’t intend to stop doing that, but I am glad now that our president is encouraging the rest of the country to get involved. But this day, I didn’t feel like being involved in anything.

Mario came home for lunch. After he ate, we decided to take a walk. I don’t like walking in cold weather because the cold triggers my asthma. (Maybe I shouldn’t call it “my” asthma. Perhaps I’ll start calling it “the” asthma. I don’t want to claim it as my own!) But I thought, “Man, I can’t hide out in this house for another month.” So I pulled snow pants and a shirt over my pajamas and put on my long winter coat. I put on a hat and wrapped a scarf around my head and face. Mario went outside to talk to the man working to repair our roof. (While we were away, one of the many storms pulled part of our roof away.)

I noticed Mario’s keys on the steps. He had left them with me because the woman who watered our plants while we were gone still had my keys. Before Mario pulled the keys out of his pocket, I said, “Everyone in town has keys to our house except me.“ That was a slight exaggeration. I had given keys to two young people we knew whose parents had died. Anyway, I joked about other people having keys to our house. So Mario dropped his keys on the stairs.

I noticed the keys and yet I stepped outside and closed the door behind me. As soon as the door shut, I realized what I had done. I patted my pocket. At least I had an inhaler in my pocket. I swore. I realized a stranger was working on our roof and I probably should watch what I was saying. But I swore again.

Mario and I walked to the library and called the woman who had my keys. Her husband came to the library a few minutes later with the keys. He drove me home. The roofer was still there. He looked a little nervous as I walked up the steps. I wondered if I had frightened him.

Once I got inside, I lay on the couch again. This time I watched Top Chef. We ordinarily don’t have television service, but I had turned it back on for the inauguration. I had called earlier in the day to cancel it, but it was still on. So I watched it.

I started to feel as though my first day was a complete failure. President Obama had signed an executive order about ethics in his administration. I don’t like executive orders. They seem too much like something kings and queens do. I believe in the co-equal branches of government. Since Reagan, the president has become more and more powerful. This has happened back and forth during the history of our country. Some people seem to long for a king, a czar, one ruler, while the rest of us say, “Hey! Grow up. Be your own leader. We fought a revolution to get rid of the monarchy in this country.”

I don’t like executive orders, but I’m glad that they’re taking some steps to bring ethics back into government.

I emailed Mario about going into Portland for dinner. We had decided we would start tightening our belts once we got home from the retreat. Not sure how that will go. For one thing, I don’t have a belt. For another thing, we are not exactly spendthrifts. We don’t make much money, so we need to watch most of our pennies all the time. And, it was time to get back into the rhythm of our ordinary life: It was not time to run into Portland for more fun, frolicking, and food.

Or maybe it was.

The idea of going to town spurred me into action. I got up off the couch. I folded laundry. I did the dishes. I took all the stuff that was cluttering the kitchen table and put it away. (At least I think I put it away. Maybe I just put it into the back room where I could deal with it later.)

When Mario got home, I went out into the cold and the dark, and we drove to Portland.

As we headed for town, Mario asked me if the roofer was still around. I told him that he must have left at some point. In passing, Mario mentioned that the roofer had some peculiar religious views. Something about a kind of code in the bible which says that the United States is the salvation of the world.

“This person knows where I live?”

“It’s a small town,” Mario said. “Everyone knows where we live.”

“Does he have mental problems?” I asked.

I was starting to get nervous. When I was in high school, a girl I knew was murdered by someone she knew who apparently suddenly went crazy or who was off his meds. Or something terrible. I found out about it the night it happened while I was watching the 11:00 news at a house where I was babysitting. I heard Bill Bonds mispronounce the name of my classmate, heard him describe the knife and how many times it had been used. Heard that she had driven home after she was attacked and died in the arms of her sister. Or mother.

I remember I couldn’t scream because I didn’t want to wake the kids. I was sixteen years old. The room spun. I ran around the downstairs, mumbling, “No, no, no.” I finally called my father and he came and sat with me until the parents came home.

It was horrible.

Crazy people make me uneasy.

To put it mildly.

“No, he doesn’t have mental problems,” Mario said. “As far as I can tell. He’s looked at evidence and he's come to what he believes is a logical conclusion.”

“So he isn’t crazy?” I said. It was the dawn of a new day. Or at least the first hundred days. I needed to stop living in so much fear. “Maybe it’s like how I talk to fairies and trees. I suppose some people would think that was crazy.”

We ate at the Tao of Tea. A new waitress. She didn’t seem thrilled with her work or us. This was strange because usually the people at Tao of Tea are so wonderful. I ate dal and rice; Mario had chana chaval. $12. Afterward we went to Powell’s. We wandered around the store for awhile and then we ran out to the parking lot.

“Isn’t this so much fun?” I asked.

“It is indeed,” Mario said. We were laughing as we got into the car. I felt happy.

Mario couldn’t see very well to pull out of the parking spot, so I offered to get out and see how he was doing. I said it was clear and then I saw two pedestrians, so I said, “It’s clear except for the people coming.”

I should have said, “Stop!”

He kept going. I was standing in the open door so as the car went back, the door started to knock me over. I yelled for Mario to stop. When we were in Arizona, I had read a news story about a woman who had accidentally killed herself at a drive-up ATM when she leaned over to pick up something she had dropped on the ground. Her car lurched forward and crushed her.

As Mario kept going and I kept yelling, I flashed on this poor woman.

Mario did stop. The two women went by. I got back into the car.

And Mario and I had a terrible fight. Terrible for us. It’s all relative. Mostly I was yelling. Mostly I was scared shitless. Mostly Mario wasn’t saying a word.

I walked around Whole Foods by myself to blow off steam. I had to stop being afraid of what might happen or what could happen or what almost happened. Years ago, a therapist had said I reacted to the world and everyday events the way she had seen children who had been in wars react to the world. This was before they began diagnosing civilians with post-traumatic stress. Years later, another therapist said I had post-traumatic stress disorder.

I’m thinking I don’t have PTSD, but I do have an anxiety-provoking way of perceiving the world when I am under stress.

It ain’t easy being green.

Or being me.

Talk about crazy.

So far this first day was going just grand.

I stopped at the library annex on the way home and did some work. Then we stopped at another Whole Foods and got treats. Probably just a way to stuff all these anxieties back down and away. Hidden from all.

On the way home, we learned that Obama had retaken the oath of office.

“Oh good,” I said to Mario. “A do-over. I could use it.”

I stayed up until 2:00 a.m. I lay on the couch watching Top Chef and looking at a book on Haciendas.

Finally I went to bed.

This first day I was a vegetable. Perhaps on the second day I will be a fruit.


Will Shetterly said...

Yeah! Make it 101 Days!

Anonymous said...

My dear, some would say that you are already a fruit. But I would say that you are just luscious. Happy One!

Stephanie Gunn said...

I can tell you one thing. Your books are full of magic, and have touched me and made me want to live a better and fuller life. That sounds like a success to me.

Anonymous said...

Can one have a pencil name when one always writes in pen or types? Hmmm.

Kim Antieau said...

Thanks all! And Stephanie, what a kind thing to say. I appreciate it very much! xoxo

All work copyright © Kim Antieau 2008-.