Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Happy Anniversary to My Blog!

Our 2006 Christmas card. Out the window you can see, thanks to some Photoshop derring-do by dear Hubby, the fallen tree of my second post.

And our big girls this fall. Mia still smiling, yet with different teeth, Nora still reaching.

It's been five years today* that I started We All Fall Down and what a great ride it has been. Thank you for visiting, my dear readers. Here are few of my favorite posts and oddities from the last five years of writing.

The Point

The girls have transformed from a four year old sprite and her babbling, near-animal toddler sister into a pair of young almost-women. Writing and sharing our family adventures and my own mothering/wifing/being foibles has been both more and less than I originally conceived - less, as I explain here, and more fun, more funny, more healing, more surprising, more connecting, more communal that I had ever hoped.

I'm #4! I'm #4! I'm #4!

Google "sodden prose." Go ahead. This totally cracks me up. I'm also on the charts for "half of life is showing up" (let me take this moment to give Woody Allen some belated thanks) and "Happy Anniversary, Dear Husband," for which I am inordinately and absurdly proud. I will take what the search engines give me.

Only The Good Die Young

Last year was a particularly brutal one and my blog both showed it and helped me through it. During May, as my uncle Phil was leaving us, I only had the energy to post a dark song and an innocent one. That year the world lost Phil, the inspiring Mary Scruggs, and my friends Katy Maguire, John McGinnis, Rachel Levin Troxell, aaaaaaaaaand Paul Mooney.

(Sorry, I have to put in that last bit. Mooney was such a funny dark cynic; he had an ongoing joke about his family never getting the fun they wanted AND having to wait to hear they weren't going to get it.

Paul: (monotone loud-speaker voice) These are the parties that won't fit on the super fun boat ride. Anderson, Smith, Harris, Bailey, AAAAAAAAAAND Mooney!)

Writing the grief was my way to remember and keep the love burning. I miss my friends. I don't seek meaning in their deaths - I refuse to sacrifice them or anyone else I have loved on the altar of my enlightenment, but I do believe I owe them living my life as well and as happily as I can.

Even with the deep losses, writing the five years have been a joy and a celebration for me and I hope a bit of pleasure or interest for you. Hopefully my words have not conveyed so much about the falling down as the getting back up again. Now, let's DANCE!!!

*That is, if you believe the chronology of the posting dates, which I kind of remember fudging because I thought, with newbie, there-must-be-rules-to-this-blogging-business tentativeness, that if a post uses the word "November," it must BE in November.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Original Version of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight"

Solomon Linda (sharp suit on the left) was a South African singer and songwriter who worked cleaning and packing for a Johannesburg record company in the 1930's. In 1939, with his band The Evening Birds, Linda recorded his composition, "Mbube," named for the Zulu word for "lion." The mesmerizing chug of the low-voiced chorus below Linda's high improvised wail made an infectious groove and the 78 rpm record was a South African hit. Although the song sold over 100,000 copies, Linda sold his song rights to the record company for less than two dollars.

Fast forward to the 1950's and folk historian Alan Lomax gives a copy of "Mbube" to Pete Seeger. Thinking the song was a traditional song, handed down and of fair use, Seeger took the chorus of "Uyembube" ("You are a lion" in Zulu), translated it phonetically to "Wimoweh" and recorded it with his folk group The Weavers. The song went on to be recorded internationally by dozens of musical groups, including the doo-wop boy-band the Tokens for whom the song went to #1 on the pop charts, the Kingston Trio, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Jimmy Cliff. In what may have given the song its largest audience, Disney used "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" in the film and stage musical The Lion King.

Solomon Linda died destitute in 1962. It was eighteen years later before his family could afford a tombstone for his grave.

Another tragic story of an artist denied the credit and rewards for his work? Yes, but there's a happy coda. In 2000, Solomon Linda's daughters sued for the rights and royalties to "Mbube." Six years later, they won. The settlement gave Linda's heirs "payment for past uses of 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight' and an entitlement to future royalties" and acknowledgment of Solomon Linda as its co-composer.

Justice prevailing adds another zing of joy to one of the music world's happiest compositions.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Tom Waits Sings A Song For The Day

Well the moon is broken
And the sky is cracked
Come on up to the house

The only things that you can see
Is all that you lack
Come on up to the house

All your cryin don't do no good
Come on up to the house

Come down off the cross
We can use the wood
Come on up to the house
Come on up to the house
Come on up to the house

The world is not my home
I'm just a passin thru
Come on up to the house

There's no light in the tunnel
No irons in the fire
Come on up to the house

And you're singing lead soprano
In a junkman's choir
You gotta come on up to the house

Does life seem nasty, brutish and short?
Come on up to the house

The seas are stormy
And you can't find no port
Come on up to the house

There's nothin in the world
That you can do
You gotta come on up to the house

And you been whipped by the forces
That are inside you
Come on up to the house

Well you're high on top
Of your mountain of woe
Come on up to the house

Well you know you should surrender
But you can't let go
You gotta come on up to the house

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Only To Be With You

Mia's minimalist "Straw House." All it needs is a little name card on the wall and her masterpiece fits right in at the MCA.

There was a soft and jazzy version of a U2 song playing in the sushi restaurant Friday night and as we stepped outside after dinner, I tried to belt out a verse, but Mia was holding my hand to ward off the November chill and Nora, who had skipped ahead, turned around under a neon bar sign to look back at us.

Nora pointed to the ground with amazement where her post-dinner peppermint had fallen out of her mouth and shattered on the ground and Mia laughed and "I still haven't found what I'm looking for" died in my throat.

I have found what I was looking for, although it has turned out rather different and worlds better than what I sought when I was not yet a mother.

We had a great Chicago weekend together as a family. The girls and Randy and me, and all the pleasures of the city we love.

"You're a sweet momma," said the nice lady sitting next to us at Wishbone the next morning and although I demurred at the moment and gave my good girls all the credit, I was milking the complement all day.

"That lady at the restaurant said I was a sweet momma, girls, SO DON'T YOU FORGET IT!"

I'd chosen the restaurant for breakfast that morning for its history.

"The last time we were here was the morning after our wedding!" I told the girls, and then told Taxi Driver #2, and then the hostess who seated us and then again the nice lady and her friend at the adjoining table.

That sunny morning in 2000, my dear college friends Beth and Michele and Dianne had been with us and here we were again, with two other delightful and whipsmart girls.

In the cab on the way over, I had to laugh at how delicious looked all the other breakfast places we passed - I was hungry - but Wishbone was so worth it, not just for the sweet memories and the fulfilling sense of life's circle, not just for the spinach omelet with black beans and hot sauce, but also (not unimportantly!) for the cartoony animal artwork that kept the girls busy with I-Spy and 20 Questions.

"I see a tiny black heart," Mia said. "I see a butt," said Nora. She was talking about the flying fried eggs with faces and legs and ahem. There was a transparent pregnant cow and giant flower light fixtures and we had a great time.

And my corn muffins were made extra wonderful because of an unexpected delay - our cab ride there had been interrupted by the raising of the Randolph Street bridge for three sailboats headed to winter storage. We hopped out of Taxi #1 to get a better look. As the street tilted up at a crazy angle and the streetlights moving into the air reminded me of Paris folding over on itself in Inception, I was so happy that the girls were able to see this special Chicago moment.

After breakfast, we headed over to the Museum of Contemporary Art for their monthly family day. The giant Phone Bone installation was gone from the plaza in front and I had to tell the girls a cleaned up version of the story we'd heard from a friend of a friend about its sale.

"So Penny Pritzker bought the statue," (I refrained from adding, "not knowing what phone bone meant," although that was the story,) "and had to find a place to put it! She had a giant crane moving it around her house and she finally decided to put it in the yard!"

The girls were not impressed, but they did like the abundant crafts and the scavenger hunt and the video about the making of Untitled, Chicago artist Scott Reeder's giant and ethereal painting made by spray-painting dried spaghetti noodles scattered over the canvas. I loved how the museum tied in the children's activities to their current minimalism exhibition The Language of Less. After helping the girls make a 3D outline of a house from neon bendy straws and tape, and then festive banners from cut and glued silver paper, we were all primed to walk the galleries and talk about how amazing things can be created from the simplest of materials.

We split up after the museum - Randy watched the end of the Nebraska game with the girls while I checked out the Exhale spa as part of the launch of Chicago Spa Moms. (You can sign up for a week of free yoga classes and discounted spa services, too! Check it out here, but hurry, the offer is only good through December 3.)

On my way down State Street to Exhale, I walked by a wedding party taking family portraits on the steps of Holy Name Cathedral. The bridesmaids wore wine-red dresses and the family filled up six or seven rows of the front steps. A few blocks down, I spotted craggy-skinned and totally-handsome-in-real-life William H. Macy, wearing a shaggy beard and blond hair to his shoulders.

"Hey! Hi! I love your work!" I said as I passed him and his friend and got a satisfying "Hi!" in return.

My new favorite self-portrait.

Exhale was lovely and relaxing, and the Bears game the next day a very different kind of fun. Movies, Dave and Buster's arcade and some great Italian food were tossed in there too, but the best part of the weekend was just the four of us, making each other laugh, placating the grumpy, holding hands as we crossed the street, enjoying the company.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

I, Being A Woman Born

I'm on my third month of taking a little pink pill every day and on my third title for this piece about the experience.

I started with "Flying on Progesterone" but since summer has ended, that flight has descended to a cruising altitude not quite so ebullient. So I moved on to...

"Menopause? Me? Don't You Mean... Mani-Pedi... Applause, No? No? No?"

...but its promise of finding something funny about insomnia and heart palpitations couldn't be kept for the life of me so I'm sticking with the first line of one of my favorite poems.

The pill contains 100 milligrams of progestin, which is a synthetic version of the natural hormone progesterone. Its prescriptive functions range from preventing women from getting pregnant to helping women stay pregnant, from reducing the damage of traumatic brain injury to slowing the growth of endometrial cancer cells. And it can reduce the symptoms of perimenopause, the transitional phase before menopause.

I went to the doc initially for what I thought was some pretty serious PMS, lasting, oh, just about all month long. I knew it wasn't depression. Too sporadic. Too many moments of happiness. Too much lightness and frenzy. A serotonin reuptake inhibitor like Zoloft sounded like a bad solution, a misdiagnosis. A blood test revealed I had a low level of progesterone, a sign of perimenopause.

Progesterone is the soother in the cocktail of hormones that flies in our bloodstream and bathes our nerves. It balances energy-spikers like adrenaline and cortisol, those heart pumpers who help us run from the saber toothed cat, or jump out of the way of the truck, or get out of bed in the morning, but who are awful companions every minute of the rest of the day.

I was relieved, if a little surprised, to have a diagnosis, but it was some time before I filled the prescription and a little while longer before I actually started taking the pills.

There had to be a worst day, the day I knew I would not kick this by sheer will. But the worst day didn't turn out to be what you might think; it wasn't the loudest or the teariest.

And the worst day wasn't the April morning I scurried my girls out of my uncle's house, my kind uncle who had invited them to a sleepover at his place in the southwest suburbs with his granddaughters, who had prepared special gifts of clay dinosaur eggs and mineral science kits - like their own grandfather, my father, the jeweler, might have done, had he the time.

That wasn't the worst day, even though I sobbed as I drove away because at that point in the spring I could not bear to hear anyone correct my children, even gently, and because in the sharp and cobwebby place that was my world then I could not hear the man talk with pleasure about caring for his grandchildren every week without my own answering brokenglass thoughts ringing in my head like an echo chamber: Who takes care of my children? Who cares for my children? Who do they have?

On that day, at that moment, those sad questions exploded in my brain, obliterated nearly all the sense and self-sufficiency and compassion that normally rule. Because the answer, of course, it that I do. But I was lost in a sea of need. Now I look at painful questions like those and let them float away, like a balloon on the wind, or a leaf on a stream.

That wasn't the worst day, even though Nora's "I'm hungry" from the back seat nearly broke me and the search for breakfast in the endless looping hell that is the Jane Addams Toll and 53 and Algonquin Road led us to a mostly empty strip mall with the world's most potholed parking lot. A no-name mini-mart and one guy behind the counter who looked like he'd been there all night.

That wasn't even the worst moment, buying the girls crappy plastic-sleeved chocolate donuts with tears streaming down my face. In such a setting I actually felt a little reassured, a bit at home. God knows how many mornings those cluttered shelves had seen red-eyed women with their children trailing behind them; there was comfort being in the sorority.

Walking back to the car somehow lightened, I thought, not for the first time, that I wasn't sure I was suited for the pristine and mild suburbs. I missed the City and her garbagey streets; I missed Her thousand daily tales of woe and glory, disaster and renewal. She's a regular Scheherazade, Chicago is, isn't she?

No, that wasn't the worst day. The the worst day, the day when I at last accepted I needed to let go and take the damn pill, was when I came across a couple of lines in the therapeutic book I had been clinging to like J.D. Salinger's Franny clutches The Way of a Pilgrim:

"To put it simply, emotions are signals within your body that tell you what's happening. When something pleasurable is happening to you, you feel good; when something distressing is happening to you, you feel bad."

"Not for me," I thought. "Not now. Whenever anything happens to me, I feel bad."

So I finally said Enough. Enough with my repugnance over giving up control, enough with the self-righteous my-body-is-a-temple purity that has always kept me away from drugs, prescription and recreational, and that is revealed as only so much bullshit if it does not serve me or my kids.

The first day I knew the drug was working. The feeling of crawling on gravel was gone.

When I woke up after less than eight hours of sleep, I was tired, but the day was not ruined.

Now I feel good. I don't feel drugged or numb or blissfully apathetic - I feel like me, only more, let's say, calibrated.

The monster in Mom has retreated.

Now, needing to make the decision between doing laundry or dishes first does not undo me. Deciding when to make a left turn across traffic is no longer excruciating. An invisible hair tickling the back of my arm when my hands are plunged in the dishwater is no longer the stuff of high drama.

Before the pill, when Mia fell off the kitchen chair and scraped her back, I howled louder than she did. Which was not what she needed. Last week when she caught her finger in the back door, I could quietly soothe her, put the finger under cold water, know she needed to sit down and hold onto someone, kiss her head and have Nora fetch the car keys for the doctor.

This pill is helping me take care of the kids the way they deserve, gently and patiently.

Don't think I'm a contented fat pussycat now. There's still yelling. And seven days before my period, I'll still feel a little crazy. And every single time I hear "Someone Like You," I sob a bit, but who doesn't?

We crowded onto an elevator last month and even though the passengers weren't mobbed enough to touch, a woman in the back, her white hair in a chic haircut, said, "Oh no!" and forced her way out with her husband in tow.

"Are you okay?" I asked as she passed and when she said, "No!" to a not unusual situation, I thought "Been there." And "My sympathies." I knew how she felt - I could remember it well -- when the up and down elevator ride of this lovely old world was just about unbearable.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Big Bill Broonzy "When Did You Leave Heaven"

When did you leave heaven?
How did they let you go?
How's everything up in Heaven?
I'd love to know.

Why did you trade heaven
Just for these earthly things?
Why did you lose your little halo?
Baby, why'd you drop your wings?

Have they missed you?
Could you get back in?
If I kissed you,
Would it be a sin?

I am just only human,
But you are so divine.
When did you leave heaven,
Little angel mine?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Day of the Dead Greetings!

Shrine and photography by Brent and Serena, Todos Santos, Baja California Sur, Mexico. Click on the image for more detail. Brent bought the skull with his allowance money when he was twelve. I'm partial to the kitty fishing for skull.