Elvis After Midnight: Contemplating Our Obsessions

When I was a child, I had an early bedtime.  And once I was asleep, almost nothing could wake me up.

So decades later, it amazes me to recall a time in my life, around the age of 10, when my mom would regularly wake me from a sound sleep, often after midnight, to let me watch old Elvis movies with her. These aired on network TV, long before the advent of VCRs or on-demand.

Who initiated this ritual?  I don’t quite remember.  Did I plead with her to let me watch? Did she offer because she knew that I was as crazy about Elvis as she was? I can’t recall the negotiations, but I know that we must have reached an understanding that some things are simply more important than sleep.

A couple of years later, I had other idols, people closer to my own age. Teenage singers like Donny Osmond and Tony DeFranco, whose fan club posters covered my bedroom walls. What did I want from these boys who were strangers to me?  Why was I obsessed with them?

I remember lying in bed and yearning for something beyond romance, something I couldn’t name. I wanted to be taken out of myself, transported to a place where I was special and deeply cared for. And somehow these famous boys who made pretty music embodied this for me, as they did for many.

It wasn’t that I didn’t already feel cared for, that I didn’t feel loved. But life often hurt, life was often disappointing.  And I imagined being whisked away to a place where this wasn’t so.  For me, this yearning sometimes melded with something mystical, something almost reverent. I longed to unite with some one or some thing, to be part of something bigger than myself.

Isn’t this the feeling from which devotion of every sort is born? It starts when we are very young and we attach ourselves to many objects, some more deserving than others. Later, if we are lucky and persistent, we find an object worthy of these feelings.  A true mate, a passionate cause, a divine love that knows no bounds.  It is the spark that ignites our souls.

Teen Age Idol

Writing is Magic

When I was young, I didn’t know what to say.   I had feelings I couldn’t express, thoughts that seemed unformed.

When I needed to connect, I retreated into books. Spent entire afternoons on the couch.  Transfixed by Scarlett’s vanity.  Heartbroken when Rhett walked out.  Pulled into a world where words brought everything to life.

Eventually, I learned to speak more confidently.  I talked my mom’s ear off on car trips.  Sure that I knew things of which she had never heard.  She encouraged me, even when she might have preferred some peaceful silence.

In high school, I began to write.  Sometimes the teacher would read my essays aloud and classmates would look at me differently.  How does she do that?

Writing is enchantment.  Writing is magic.  And I was hooked.

As a young adult I sent a few stories to magazines.  Sometimes writing through the night.  Eventually a form letter would come back. Or nothing.  It wasn’t what they were looking for.

In journals I explained myself to myself.  Let it all out.  And I talked to those closest to me.  But I longed for more expression.  More connection.

Then the internet arrived, and I could suddenly write a long letter to a friend, and she would have it instantly.  But who had time to answer letters in such a busy world?   Most preferred the telephone.

Then blogging came along.  I didn’t understand it.  Wasn’t it for sharing baby photos and family vacations?  Didn’t sound right for me.

Finally, on a long weekend, I gave it a try.  I wrote a short post about my Baha’i Faith and my troubling introversion, responding to a WordPress daily writing prompt.

In an instant, it was online for others to see.  I felt hopeful.  I received a few “likes” and comments and encouragement to write more.  I saw what others were writing about and wanted to follow them.

That day, the world became connected for me in a new way.  And I am hooked.

Writing Brings Me Here

Writing brings together my loose ends, ties them into a hopeful package. I hold the parcel in my hands, and lovingly give it to you.

You understand these fragments. You have questions and loose ends of your own.

Like that time you pedaled so hard you flew, the wind stinging your eyes.  What if you never turned back?

The time you wanted to kiss those baby-soft lips, but you froze, a million miles you wouldn’t cross.

That day alone in the house when you sang at the top of your lungs, because the leaves were falling, and your hopes were rising.

Then spring came, wet and green.  You didn’t understand why she left, but it didn’t hurt so much now.

In bed half-asleep with the fan spinning overhead, and the world spinning outside, and you are at the calm center.  You don’t remember your name.

Many people appear, so many faces.  Some come toward you, then abruptly turn away.  Others travel with you a little while, then say they have to leave. One skips down the path with you, holding your hand as you laugh, and never lets you go.

They are all here, they weave in and out of your dreams.  They come to the surface and tell you true things, and you turn on the light to write them down.

Write Here, Write Now

I Want To Be the Little Girl Next Door

When I was 7 years old, I was in awe of the little girl who lived next door.  Her name was Darlene, and she was perfect.  Perfect face, perfect little nose, perfect composure in every deed.  It was like she had been 7 years old for a very long time, and new exactly how to do it.  The teachers loved her, the kids loved her.  I loved her.

She invited me to sleep-overs at her house a few times, and one morning I woke up before her and looked at her while she slept.  Even unconscious, she was composed, her lovely arms framing her serene face, awaiting a glorious day.

I wondered what it would be like to be her.  To inhabit such a life, always knowing what to do, what to say.  I imagined it and felt a giddy freedom.  I would take a break from my confused self, my awkward stumbles, and proceed knowingly, confidently.

Sometimes, after we were together, I noticed I walked like her a little, even spoke like her.  I giggled.  It was like being on TV, playing a part where I knew all the lines.  It felt just right.

But I knew it wasn’t me.  As I approached my house, I became myself again, and that was OK too. I anticipated the familiar surroundings.  Mom making a good meal, even when she was really tired.  My adorable little sister, always ready to play.  And I felt lucky because no one else got to be me in that moment:  walk into this particular place and be with these particular people.  It was all mine, and I didn’t want to be anywhere else.

Yet I still desired to slip into other lives sometimes.  What would it be like to be that girl who could really dance?  Such beauty in motion.   Or the one with the perfect family, whose mom and dad came to all the school plays.   If I were like them, would I feel less broken, would I be happy all the time?

I never answered these question in any conscious way, but there were moments that gave me hope.   Like looking up from a book and seeing the sun shine though the trees, and feeling for an instant that it had come through me as well, filling all my cracks with light.

 

A Brand New You, Effective Tomorrow

My Own Little Bed

When I was 5 years old, my parents divorced and I was sent to live with my grandparents. I was not happy about this. My grandparents lived in a rambling house with many strange, drafty rooms and I, small and lonely, did not belong there.

I wanted my parents, my mom’s kind eyes and warm hand on my cheek; my dad lifting me on his shoulders, calling me Jenny.

But they lived apart now, and I was in this drafty old house until everything was sorted out, and then, I was told, I would live with my mom in a new place. I did not want a new place. I wanted things the way they were before.

But there were cats in this house; two Siamese cats. I liked cats, and sometimes they would let me pet them if I sat very still.

And I liked the little bed that my grandparents put in their own big room just for me. Their bed was huge and usually empty. They always came to bed after me and got up much earlier than me.

But my bed was small and cozy with lots of soft blankets, and about the same size as me. Sometimes as I snuggled in it at night, I could hear a freight train rumble past on the hill behind the house. I wondered where it was going. I was glad I was in my safe bed, and not out there in the cold night. As I drifted off, the house nestled around me, and I felt loved.

Childhood Revisited

In Praise of Sitting

When I was younger, I never sat. Or let me say more accurately, I never rested. I always had an agenda.

Young people can be terribly hard on themselves. In my twenties, I wanted to change the world, be an important writer, really make a difference. Nothing wrong with that. But it made it hard, sometimes, to enjoy a meandering conversation in front of the TV, or a relaxed cup of tea with my husband at the kitchen table.

I was always pushing myself. In my 30’s and 40’s, when my goals seemed less idealistic, I was still chasing a to-do list. Make that new Indian dish, finish my stack of library books, write that letter to the editor, work on my garden, and go for a couple of runs – all before work on Monday.

My goals changed through the years, but never the energy behind them. I was a young, healthy force in motion, staying in motion.

I reflected a little, but it was always with the goal of improving myself, being better, a winner in the game of life. Some might blame my unsettled childhood: making up for lack of friends and stability and self-esteem. Who knows? But I had to cross that imaginary finish line first every time, even in the most mundane arenas.

Then, one day, somewhere in my mid-40’s, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t just go and go all day. I tired easily and developed insomnia. I couldn’t exercise as much I once had. I started reading books about aging and stress and hormones, and became a little depressed. I wanted my old self back, someone I thought I knew.

I learned I had to push myself less and rest more. I wasn’t happy about it at first, but I took the opportunity to learn some meditation, learn to sit in a room and do nothing.

And I really liked it. In fact, I loved it. As I sat, I glimpsed the bright recesses of my being, I found a core of love and peace, something that didn’t need fixing, just a little compassionate attention.

About 5 years have passed, and I still rest between tasks and take some down time every day.  My health has returned and I don’t take my strength and energy for granted anymore.  I have learned that stress will take it’s toll on all of us eventually, if we don’t make time to live off the clock sometimes:  to laugh and love and relax without an agenda.

Now in my early 50’s, I am looking forward to the adventures ahead. I have found a new normal: a place that honors the goals I have for myself, but also appreciates the stillness, the beingness that has no goal but love. I now seek a mixture of work and play, striving and rest, with time to reflect on the person within and all that she is.

Young At Heart

Can I Accept Myself As a Baha’i?

I am a Baha’i, a lover of mankind, but it’s not always easy, because I am an introvert. My faith is about world peace and world unity, yet I don’t want to leave my house sometimes. I love my fluffy red robe a little too much on the weekends. Is this a contradiction?  I’m not sure.

Yet when I do go out, I have a friendly word for everyone I meet. And when I pray, I wish love and compassion for all, and feel myself connected to all things.

I think the real issue is whether I accept my introverted nature as a valid temperament created by God, or whether I feel the need to be someone different than who I am.

I chose the former.  Why?  Because it is very difficult to change ourselves, and because I chose the belief that I am a unique flower in God’s garden of humanity.   Every flower is different and adds to the beauty and diversity of the whole.  I will live as a self-affirming person and glory in my individuality, a unique part, connected to all in love.

And I will vow to change out of my robe by noon.

Un/Faithful