Sunday, January 4, 2015

O Captain! My Captain! Your Fearful Trip is Done

When Robin Williams died, a friend and I were talking about the loss of such a great talent and beautiful person. The discussion came around to the topic of depression in general. 

"I hate when people say, 'He was fighting demons.'",  she said. "Everyone says that, it's such a cliche."  I couldn't agree with her.

I have watched relatives and friends struggle with depression.  I have battled it myself. I've looked into it's dead eyes, smelled it's putrid breath, and I can confidently tell you it is most certainly a demon.  

It slithers through your bedroom window one night, and the next morning you have that weird feeling that something is "off".  A perfume bottle on the bureau has been moved....did you leave the closet door ajar?   "I could have sworn I left those shoes right over there..." That night, you have a hard time falling asleep -- is someone watching me?  Yes, yes, something is watching you, and, guess what? It's a motherfucker.  

This will continue for a period of time.  It delights in toying with you, causing your inner monologue to go into overdrive --"I'm fine, it has not come back for me, I beat it, I'm fine, really, I'm just tired, why am I so tired? Is it me or are my kids especially annoying today?" Yes, yes, it is you. Well, it is, and isn't.  It's you but it's also your new,constant companion, depression, and bad news -- it's a stone cold home wrecker.

Relentless. Heartless.  It will not stop until it has you right where it wants you. 

And where is that? 

Isolated. Just you and the demon.  It will sit in the corner and whisper the most dastardly falsehoods for as long as it takes for you to believe the lies. It will tell you you are unworthy of all the things that make your life worth living, the treasures, which when brought to mind, are what bring a smile to your face and coax you out of bed each morning.

"You don't need that friend.  Remember that time, 4 years ago,when she let you down?You don't want sex with your husband. Showering and shaving are so. much. work.Your kids don't need you.  They deserve better parenting from someone else who is up to the task. Leave the house?  What for?  When we are so cozy here on the couch in our sweat pants.  Are you going to eat that ice cream in the freezer? You just brushed your teeth yesterday. Self-confidence? Here, give me that. Joy?  Humor? Just put it all in this bag, pass it to me nice and easy and no one gets hurt. That's it, now, lay back and close your eyes.  There.  Isn't that better? I'll be right here to make sure you don't wake up."

Perhaps you've never dealt with the demon.  I wish you well and pray for it's continued absence from your life. Maybe you are helplessly watching while someone you love does the wrestling. Perhaps you have wrestled your own demon while it insisted on pouring it's particular brand of poison into your ears.  Maybe you are still wrestling.  Maybe you've beaten it. But, somewhere inside, you probably know that it's never far away.  If it's not in the corner of the room where you are, it's still lurking in your house somewhere.  It leaves a sulphurous trail of unease as it slinks from room to room careful to move at just the right speed so you are sure to catch a glimpse of it from the corner of your eye.  

Depression IS a motherfucking demon.  If Robin were still here on this earth, I'm sure he would tell us so. 


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

She's Jus' Bein' Miley... (Blurred Lines, Part 1)

O.K., O.k., I know I'm late to this party.

You know, the week-long party everyone else has already checked into and moved on from?  The Potluck where the guests have brought everything from Slut Shaming Soup to Twerking Tacos, washing it all down with sips of Billy Ray Blaming Brewskis.  Yes, the 2013 VMAs are in the history books, and I, being of middle-age and motherhood,  was wrapped up in other more important things, like back to school shopping and Game of Thrones, to tune in on that fateful night in television and music history.

I heard about it, like I hear about most things, after the fact.  I've often joked that if it doesn't happen in my house, I don't know about it.  So, the morning after the VMAs I woke up to find all of my Facebook friends up in arms about Miley Cyrus' scandalous behavior.  Everyone was all "what was she thinking?" and "OMG! Why was that allowed on tv?"  So I pulled up YouTube to see what all the fuss was about and soon, I too, was all "Jesus, Mary and Joseph in a Manger, this country is going to hell in a handbasket!"  And, that should have been the end of it.  For me, that usually is the end of it.  For in my Real Housewife of Berks County world, there was laundry to do and a cat box to scoop.

Days have passed here in the real world, which, in the rarefied air of the the entertainment and media worlds, translates into decades.  The cameras and talking heads have moved on to other topics of import (actual import, such as Syria, and who has been cast to play Christian Gray in the new 50 Shades of Gray movie.  By the way, my guy, didn't win the part.)  And yet....

And yet, I can't stop thinking about it.  I can still see young Miley, with her tongue hanging out (what??) and bent over her big foam finger (why???)  ...I just don't get it. Back in my day, Madonna stepped out onto the stage in her half a wedding dress, rolled around on the floor singing "Like a Virgin" and that was it.  That was all we had, we didn't know any better and we liked it.  (shout out to Mr. Dana Carvey) Show's over and we all went home happy.

I could join the chorus of voices decrying the vulgarity on display that night and nearly every night on MTV and other channels.  I could (and did) shake my head in sadness as another young lady fell victim to our society's insistence on hypsersexualizing it's little girls. My daughter was too young to worship at the altar of Hannah Montana, but I commiserate with my fellow mothers who had to try to explain Miley's behavior to their teens and tweens last week.  I know my time is coming as Selena Gomez comes of age and embarks on her R rated movie career.  Another sweet one bites the dust.

Is there blame here?  Where should it be placed?  We have been quick to blame Miley, but I have to point out, and don't know why I have to point this out, Miley wasn't the only one on stage that night. It was a HUGE production on a HUGE TV broadcast, put on by a HUGE worldwide company. Thousands of people were involved in this production on stage and behind the scenes.  Months in the planning, myriad executives, dancers, singers, advertisers, Miley and....Robin Thicke.  While we are so quick to judge Miley a slut and say she has behaved in an "unladylike manner".  Very little has been said about Robin's performance.  He was kind of hard to miss up there on stage, the guy in the tight black and white stripes. Allowing his very married crotch to be twerked upon by our girl Miley.  Where are the people decrying his behavior?  I have to wonder if this is OK with his wife?  Why is it ok with him? And, in my own, middle-aged naivete, I must wonder, why was he not enough of a gentleman to step up and say it's not ok for Miley?

I have more questions than answers here, I realize.  I'm surprised that so many of us, and I include myself in this, still have the knee-jerk reaction to shame Miley and and take Robin's behavior in stride. But upon second and third look, other questions come to mind--why do we build our celebrities up to such a level and then stand back to enjoy the free fall?  We can say we didn't see this coming.  Really?  We didn't see this coming?  Remember how quickly Britney Spears went from warbling "I'm Not a Girl" to the wild-eyed, shaven-headed crazy lady who attacked a truck with an umbrella?  How do we stop the objectification of our young ladies? How do we teach them to value and advocate for themselves? How do we teach our young men to value our young ladies and yes, even advocate for them?  And don't even get me started on Billy Ray Cyrus.  To paraphrase comedian Chris Rock, Billy Ray had ONE DAMN JOB as a father, and that was to keep his daughter "off the pole."  In this he has failed.  I hope and pray there are still fathers in the entertainment world who look at their daughters as a treasure to be jealously guarded rather than a commodity to be sold on the cheap.  I'm looking at you, Joe Simpson and Michael Lohan.  Yes, let's remember, Miley's not the only little girl gone shockingly wild--she's merely the latest.

Because unfortunately, from where I sit, the world still looks like a man's world.  And Miley's just livin' it.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants. (Not That There's Anything Wrong With That ...)

One of the best, if not THE BEST thing about being in my 40's is the fact that I know my own heart.

I know, with great certainty that I choose chocolate over vanilla, red over grey,  Clooney over Pitt, Bennett over Sinatra.  Given the choice I would spend a night in with a few friends over a night out in a crowd.  I have no trouble choosing toothpaste and toilet paper.  I've lived.  I've tried. My heart, my taste buds, my ears, eyes and bum--we know what we like.

But, in recent days, with the Supreme Court in hearings regarding the DOMA and so many of my Facebook friends coming out on one side or the other of this Red Equality Sign: >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

I've been feeling a bit....I don't know,..unsettled, I guess.  Suddenly, my 40-something heart and aren't feeling so sure of ourselves.

I have a gay friend, whom I adore, no, not adore, ADORE!  The day we met he said something so funny I choked on the soda from which I had just taken a sip and for over twenty years he has continued to make me laugh so hard the soda still literally and figuratively shoots out of my nostrils. He is the devastatingly handsome West Coast "Just Jack" to my East Coast, only slightly less chemically imbalanced, Karen.  I have not seen him in decades, but through Facebook, we tease and "cheese" often enough that I feel I can confidently count him among my dearest of friends.  I hope all of you, my Readers Dear, have at least one  friend like that. Through the years and across the miles he continues to nestle in the little nook of my heart where he has always been. I wouldn't have it any other way.

But, I'm a Christian, hence my discomfiture.

While so many of my brethren roar their terrible roars and gnash their terrible teeth,  I hang back.  (Props to Mr. Sendak, who was also homosexual)  I have never liked crowds and am in no hurry to stand in line to be among the first to cast stones at people who have not done me or mine any harm.  As I've said before, stones hurt.  But, I wonder, what is my place here in this debate?  Which side of the Equal sign am I supposed to stand on?

For who among us, heterosexual or otherwise, can say we are without sin?  Haven't we all, in our dating or marital histories made questionable choices?  I know I have. Bad boyfriends?  Premarital sex? The guy my mother didn't like?  50 Shades of Grey?  Clooney lust?  Check, check, check, check and check.  

I mull this debate over and as it so often does in my walk, the cliched "WWJD?" comes to mind.  Well, what would He do?

The answer can be found in what He did do.  He loved us --with all His heart, all His soul and all His strength.  ALL of us. And so, that, that love, is what we, as His beloved are in turn charged with.  This love, His love, is kind, it does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking.  It does not delight in evil. It protects and trusts.  It hopes and perseveres.  Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

Is homosexuality a sin?  Will it be the downfall of our society?  Will my gay friends burn in hell?  I don't know that it's for me to say.  I am not charged with judging the choices of others.  I am only charged to love them.

Love never fails.  Love is not mine to judge. I know my heart and I are sure of that.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

I Used to be Disgusted, Now I'm Just Amused...

This past Sunday I was talking to a man with whom I attend church.  He is very intelligent and highly placed in local academia.  During our conversation we both lamented the low, nearly non-existent spelling and grammar standards we encounter when reading the newspaper or an on-line article.  Yes, I suppose I could be referred to as a "grammar Nazi" , but, let me just say in my defense, that although I notice nearly every misspelling or shoddily assembled paragraph I read on Facebook or my other favorite Internet haunts, I never point them out to the writer.  I'm not perfect.  I'm not without sin.  I don't need to cast stones.  Stones hurt.  I usually just shake my head in resignation and disgust and move on.  Until today...

Below is a cut and pasted version of a recent discussion I had with a (and I can hardly say this with a straight face) "customer service" representative for a website from which I ordered some merchandise...

From: Stacey Shannon
To: Customer Service
Sent: Friday, February 08, 2013 5:17 PM
Subject: Orders/Shipping - Order #776594

Hello, I placed my order on 1/22/13 and am still waiting for it.  I 
understand it was damaged during shipment and has been reshipped.  I am 
requesting a refund of the $6.95 shipping fee.  Thank you.

From: customer service
To: Stacey Shannon
Sent: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 2:15:34 PM
Subject: Orders/Shipping - Order #776594

Dear Ms. Shannon,

  I regretfully must inform you that we are able to issue you a refund. The 
package was sent in a timely manor. We have reshipped your package due to 
the damage that was done to it by the shipping company that was used, other 
then that I am sorry ma'am but we are unable to further extend our services. 
The package that was reshipped to you is out for delivery today.

Customer Service

From: Stacey Shannon
To: Customer Service
Sent: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 12:55 PM
Subject: Orders/Shipping - Order #776594

The package did arrive today.  However, I paid $6.95 for UPS Ground Shipment, expecting it to arrive within the specified 1-5 day period.  This did not happen.  While I understand your company may have shipped the package in a timely manner, it was not delivered in a timely manner.  Surely a refund of less than $7.00 would be a shining example of excellent customer service.  Perhaps your company could recoup that amount from UPS as they are to blame for the damage and unreasonably slow delivery of the package.  

Put yourself in my shoes--would you be happy if you paid a fee for shipping and then had to wait 21 days for it to arrive?  Without so much as an apology or other accommodation from the company you ordered it from? I am not making an unreasonable request.  I'm just asking for some customer service from the Customer Service department.  Thank you. 

From: customer service
To: Stacey Shannon
Sent: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 4:41:52 PM
Subject: Orders/Shipping - Order #776594

Dear Ms. Shannon,   I understand the incontinence that you were put through during this time and we apologize for this. However our answer remains, there is nothing else we can further extend to you at this time. The package was scheduled to arrive at the specified time, but due to the damage it was sent back to us so we could mail out a replacement package to you at our cost. The original claim was denied by UPS. We are in the process of reopening the case. If our shipping fees get adjusted we will do the same for you. Sincerely,Customer Service

From: Stacey Shannon
To: Customer Service
Sent: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 2:34 PM
Subject: Orders/Shipping - Order #776594

O.K., fair enough.  I look forward to hearing from you regarding the UPS claim.  

And just to be clear, I was merely inconvenienced during the lengthy wait for my package, not incontinent.  

Thank you, Stacey Shannon, "Customer Service" representative are OWNED!  At this point, I've had such a good laugh they can keep my $6.95.  It was worth it.  

But, a bit later I received this as a postscript...

Dear Ms. Shannon,
   My apologize for the grammar error, it was a human/ electrical error. We will let you know about the claim as soon as we get more information on it.
Customer Service

Oh Dude, just turn off the computer before you hurt yourself...

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Oh, so THAT'S what that tail is for...

It's not so much "deer in the headlights" as "rabbit in the headlights"...

One late night, about 25 years ago, I was driving home from work.
With my previously mentioned boyfriend who was neither a boy nor a friend. (See Wine for my Horses, Chocolate for my Girls).
I was driving.
In my car.
Because my 40-something boyfriend did not have a car.
Because his credit was bad.
Because he had declared Bankruptcy.
Because he had opened (and closed) a failed nightclub in Florida.
That is the story he told me. Now I wonder how much of it was true.

And by the way, in one of my many, many head-shakingly embarrassing "Hellooooo McFlyyyy" moments of my clueless 20's, why did it not occur to me that a 45 year old man who tends bar for a living, has no car nor home of his own was probably not what we would call "a keeper"??


We were driving home from work, down an unpaved road in one of the many housing developments of the Pocono Mountains of PA when a rabbit darted in front of my car.  Now, for my Pennsylvania wildlife-challenged Readers Dear, let me explain something to you.  A white-tailed deer will often stop and look at the headlights of the car that is about to hit it for a moment or two until it decides to run out of harm's way. Hence the phrase "deer in the headlights".   A rabbit?  Not so much.  A rabbit will run, but not in a logical, straight line. It will zig-zag back and forth in front of the car.  So, try as you might to not hit it, the rabbit will make it really difficult for you. And, true to form, this rabbit zigged as I zigged and zagged as I zagged.  All the while bartender-boy sat in the shotgun seat half-joking, but not really, about my driving.

In recent days, for some reason, every time I close my eyes I see that rabbit   I see the darkness of the night held back by the soft glow coming from my single-chick-Ford-Mustang headlights.  I see that brown little bunny, frantically bounding back and forth from ditch to ditch, with his little powder puff tail in the air.  I remember the dismay I felt, willing him to just pick a spot, sit still, and let me drive around him already so I could just go home and rest.  And I can still feel my right hand as it itched to flip the bird to my smart-ass not-a-friend-boyfriend.

Some days you're the headlights, some days you're the rabbit.  This day, this month, (It's January again.  Awesome.) I am the rabbit.  Frantically running around in a spastic zig-zag, trying to avoid the truckload of grief heading my way with it's annual delivery.  I zig -- "hey let's plan a girl's night".  I zag --"I'm  entirely too much of a hot mess to be around anyone."  I waffle between inertia and frenzy.  Zig. Zag. Zig. Zag...the headlights are upon me ...

I know they are coming.  I know it's going to be bad.  I don't deny it anymore. I'm not even going to fight it. I know I should just pick a spot, sit still and let the headlights, and the attached truck, wash over me.  But, oh, how I want to run.   There is only me, the headlights and and my white, puffy tail, waving in surrender.


Monday, December 24, 2012

Magic for the SantaMama

I don't believe in magic anymore.  Do you?

It's Christmas Eve and today, like the past 9 Christmases, I have been in charge of making the magic.  I am not a little girl anymore, Christmas lost it's magic for me a long time ago.  I grew up and became the SantaMama at my house.  (shout out to my fellow SantaMamas who are in various stages of exhaustion and panic at 7:30pm on Christmas Eve)

And, like the rest of my fellow SantaMamas, I have spent the waking hours of the past 10 days in or near tears as my heart re-broke at the terrible news coming out of Newtown, CT.  The magic, it seems, for our entire country is out of reach this year.  I have trudged through my magic-making duties -- the wrapping, the baking, the hiding of gifts, the cleaning, even church, with a heavy heart and a good measure of guilt.

It has been some consolation to know that 2012 will not be the saddest Christmas I have ever lived through.  And, thanks to some faulty arithmetic on the part of some old Mayan dudes, it won't be my last Christmas.  Because I am the SantaMama in this house, in charge of all things magical, I have halfheartedly performed my magic making duties because, to paraphrase Robert Frost, I have promises to keep.

So, imagine, when, what to my wondering eyes (and ears) should appear, but a series of surprises as my Darling Dears and I left the 5pm Christmas Eve service at our church.  Upon our exit we were greeted by a brass quintet playing Christmas carols, their coats and hats dusted with (surprise!) softly falling snow.  As we said our good-byes and made our way to the car, the piercing sound of a fire engine cut through the darkness, startling me. Being in my nearly constant tearful state, my first thought was, "Oh no, more sadness for someone this Christmas."  But, as the fire truck came into view, my heart did a little flutter as I realized this was a special firetruck with a special cargo.  It was decorated with Christmas lights and carried Santa and Mrs. Claus!  My children and I hopped and waved, the siren blared and the lights twinkled, the band played and the snowflakes fell.  I threw back my head and laughed, for the first time in a week.  And for just a moment, with snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes, I was no longer 46, but 6, and I let my heart be light.

SantaMamas work so hard, trying to give to our  families the memories of Christmas Perfect.  It's all sugar and secrets, credit cards and The Carpenters.  So to walk out into a dark winter's night to have all these little Christmas treats handed to me and mine, unexpectedly, without work, without even asking for them, like so many cookies on a Christmas Eve plate, is not just perfection.  It's magic.


Friday, October 19, 2012

The Insistence of Memory

Halloween is fast approaching, bringing it's usual trappings - tasteless lawn displays, scary movies on TV (I'm afraid to turn it on, for fear of what I might see), pumpkins, princesses, goblins, superheroes, and my favorite, Mini-Reese's Cups.  While my children are eagerly anticipating dressing in their costumes in order to pillage and plunder the neighborhood with the goal of triumphantly returning home with more pounds of candy than they can carry, I am thinking of ghosts. Old ghosts. 

I tell myself these ghosts have taken up more than their share of time and space in my life, that they deserve nothing more from me, but still they persist in their haunting, insist on my attention and resist my attempts to scoop them up and smash them under the big, slimy rock where they sometimes reside and where I wish they would just stay.  "Just go away", I say, but like gnats on a humid day in PA, they invade my eyes and my ears.  They discomfit and distract me, as insistent as a 3 year old who clings to my leg and cries because he's hungry while I stand at the stove making dinner.   

Ugh.  Fine.  O.K. Ghosts, you win.  I'll sit with you, you may have my undivided attention for the rest of the afternoon while I type out this blog.  But don't come crying to me when you don't like the attention I'm about to call to your bad behavior.  You've earned this.  What I once considered a flaw in myself is really yours.  Your choices, your shame.  Here you go, fill your Trick or Treat bag with this and then shove it up your ass.  

I was 9, the same age my daughter is now, when my father died.  Suddenly, of a heart attack at age 32.  And while my loss was soul-scarring, having happened in my tender, formative years, it pales in comparison to the surprising and preventable loss my little brothers and I suffered in the years following my father's death.  My father was taken from us, he did not go willingly and, as my very wise great-aunt pointed out to me that evening, he died loving us.  His family, my mother's in-laws, our aunts and uncles--not so much.  They, one by one, some immediately, some over a period of years turned their backs and walked away.  My grandmother, gone.  My cousins, taken from me.  In what situation, what world, is that ever o.k.?  It wasn't.  It isn't.  I don't know that it ever will be.

My mother's parents took us in for awhile, until she felt strong enough to return to the house where we lived with my father.  (How she was able to do that, I'll never know)  Her brothers stepped in to shore up their sister and care for us.  They are the men who took us fishing, taught me to ride my two-wheeler and hit a softball.  And while my other, (former) uncles had the grace to look embarrassed whenever we might chance to meet at the county fair during my teenage years, the damage was done.  There is no way for them to say "sorry" to that 9 year old.  There is no excuse valid enough, no explanation that will ever make her understand.  I recently bumped into a (former) aunt at a foliage festival in my hometown.  And while she and my mom made small talk (here again, I must marvel at my mother's fortitude) I really had nothing to say  to her.  I just looked at her through my big brown eyes.  I don't know what she may have seen in them as she returned my gaze.  I hope she saw my father, for my eyes are his, and I would guess she saw a door with "No Admittance.  Authorized Personnel Only" written upon it.  She had her chance(s).  She, and the rest of them, made their choices and we have all lived with them for thirty plus years.

Thirty plus, I'm a grown up now, with children of my own.  These scars, these ghosts I'm shining the light upon, they still affect me so.  I'm so used to this story, I know it inside and out, that I have almost reached the point of saying, "it's no big deal." Amazing what we live with, adapt to, assimilate into our beings.  But if I take myself outside of it, allow myself to imagine hearing this story from a dear friend, I would tell her, "Hell Yeah--It is a BIG FRICKIN' DEAL!"    I would be outraged for her and rush to assure her that it wasn't her, it was them.  That there is nothing wrong with her, that she is not unlovable, that she is worth knowing and treasuring.       

And perhaps, that is my lesson, the one that I can teach my own Darling Dears.  My in-laws, my children's grandparents, are not actively involved in our lives.  One evening, during my engagement, my 9 year old self cried inconsolably in my fiance's arms at the realization that his parents didn't really accept me.  "They are never going to love me!", I sobbed.  And though he made all the appropriate reassuring noises, really, what could the man say?  I didn't know it in the moment, but since then, I have come to realize the two of us were battling those old ghosts, and on that evening, they won.  

So, now, we don't talk about Grandma and Grandpa that much.  Once in awhile my daughter will ask when we are going to visit them again.  I want to shield their tender hearts from feeling the same scorch of rejection I have carried all these years.  One of the greatest pieces of advice I will ever give my children is this:  "Don't pursue a relationship where there is none to be had.  You will meet all kinds of people in your life. Some of them will be unable to recognize you as the treasure you are, and some of them will be unwilling to do the work needed in order to deserve your love."  

Those people, especially, those who are supposed to love us while we are children, are contemptible poison. Let us save our gifts and our treasures for those who do care for us.  Let us not throw our pearls before  the swine.  

Now, where did I put those Reese's cups....