Forging Through Winter

The polar vortex has settled over us. This is all due to dislodged warm air from Morocco that wandered up to the arctic and displaced the lower half of the frigid arctic air, pushing it south. Our orange hued corpulent blowhard of a leader has climbed onto his favorite soapbox, asking when global warming is coming back and ranting about the giant hole in the glacier that “is disaster for beachfront homes.”

This is what I am thinking about while the wind buffets the house and I stand over a metal bowl at the bathroom sink stripped to the waist and giving myself a sponge bath because our boiler has gone the way of the Dodos. Buffett is on the radio, images of tropical islands dance in my head, and I wonder if the beachfront property that is in such peril could now be gotten on the cheap because I want out of this cold weather.

I wrote the preceding musing sometime in heart of the winter of 2019. The winters of 2017/18 and 2018/19 were two of the hardest winters I have ever experienced. The former being the worst because the previous fall I had decided to go off my antidepressants, wrongly assuming that I was cured and that much of my depression was situational–the truth is there is no cure. My depression is a part of me and if I want to lead the tango that I dance with it I must do many things, one of which is to take medication.

I  stumbled through the winter of 17/18 in a semi-lucid haze and the few memories of those months are seen through a thick fog. Details were lost to me and that was an extremely scary feeling. My notebooks from this time are filled with Bible studies, poems and scraps of story ideas. I was trying to escape any way I could. By the time spring came and my dour mood lifted slightly, I  began to wonder if I would ever be normal, or if I ever was normal. Erin told me that like any illness my body needed time to heal, and maybe it did, a little.  But by the end of September, I came to realize that the summer had passed much the same way that the winter had. I was forty and in the best physical shape of my life, but my mental state was in shambles and because of this I spent most of my waking hours berating myself for the slittiest infraction and for just being me. I also realized that I was scared witless of the winter that was looming on the horizon. I had been running regularly all summer long and I had falsely convinced myself that it was imperative that I run through the winter to survive.  In one of my notebooks I  made a code red list for what I could do if I could not run. The list included nordic skiing, yoga, and climbing. The list also suggested making a countdown to vacation or summer might be a good thing. The final item was the most important, I had simply written I will make it through.  This showed me that there is always hope, even if it seems unattainable to my depressed mind. I ended up not running much at all that winter. The cold hurts me now, and that was a level of suffering I was not willing to endure.

The winter started off better than the year before mostly because, for the first time since my father had died seven years earlier, I was excited about Christmas. Joy was rattling its chains and I was more than willing to let it out, but it was not to last, and soon the depression began to lead the dance again, and I was right back to where I was the year before., with one major difference: my perspective had changed and my notebooks reflect this. Instead of escapism I was on a quest to see the smallest speck of beauty and joy these cold gray winter months could provide. I cannot deny the beauty of a winter sunrise over a landscape blanketed in snow, the crunch of snow and the joyous yelps and shouts of children,  I wrote one morning. Another entry stated; A painted morning sky, the chickadees at the feeder, the laughter of the boys. I know all these things are signs from God letting me know I am not alone. This faithfulness allows me to rejoice in the gifts of the Lord.

These are the lessons I am choosing to take away from these past two winters and to use this winter as the struggle becomes harder. When I look for the joyous beauty in the world, as hard as it may be,  I will find it. Deep inside I will see the flame of hope, no matter how small, and hear the shackled joy rattling its chains. Then I will know that I am not alone and that with the love and support of my family and the Lord I can hold fast and keep moving forward.

Train From Chicago

The facades of row houses resemble castle turrets. Sidewalks are heaped with black garbage bags spilling off the curb. Ornate copper downspouts and manicured hedges parallel vacant lots and ringlets of razor wire. After the 115th Street station, the tracks veer to follow the curve of the lake. Tall grasses bow and trees wave as we pass. Freight cars full of automobiles sit motionless on the siding. A Trumpeter Swan on her nest is juxtaposed with discarded railway ties stacked on flatbed cars. Garbage decorates the tracks after Hammon as we clatter above rows of houses with postage stamp lawns and one grass-filled pool. East Chicago: Rowdy Roy’s Fireworks, a burned home with You are the 99% graffitied on its walls. The park of Gary, Indiana, is infested with weeds, the fountain empty. The Steel Cats play a block east. The Interstate Inn has been reduced to two rows of hollow rectangles. One half of a city block has been given over to the trees while the other half is manicured to keep up appearances. Outside the city limits could be the swamps of Florida. A line of rusted Studebakers is hidden among the trees. Passenger cars of the 1930s with tattered yellow tarps covering their roofs alongside piles of twisted trestle steel sit in a weed choked lot. A tattooed man with stretched earlobes stands beside a young boy, their fingers in their ears as they watch the train pass. Exit only where you see the conductor. Pink short shorts hang in an upstairs window. A cross, a circle of flowers, and a baseball have been placed next to the tracks. The First Christian Church has broken windows and a blue tarp on the roof. Worship is at 10am on Sundays.

Organization Is My Jam

I love to categorize, sort and label–give me some containers and a label maker and I will swoon. Lists are my lifeline to serenity and I become giddy when making them.

Organization, for me, is a meditation, a creative outlet–a way to refocus and bring calm to myself and my surroundings. Sometimes in the thick of it I can find myself overwhelmed, but it all settles out in the end, and then I can step back and take in the beauty and calm of this one organized area of my life ignoring all the other clutter that surrounds me.

I organize everything that I can. I recently organized our travel and camping gear. I sorted and sold unused items, pulled out the label maker and marked boxes and shelves so the rest of the family would know where things went and hopefully would return things to the proper place when the time came. The latter is more of a Christmas miracle sort of wish, but a guy can dream. When Apple came up with the folders feature for organizing apps on the iPhone, I did a little dance, I was that excited. Everything should have a home. My socks have their homes, athletic socks in one drawer, wool and dress socks in two other containers.  I organize my fedoras by hanging them from most worn to least worn. With a change in season comes a change in the order they are hung.  I organize the writing in my pocket notebooks with symbols so I know what the entries are about at a quick glance. When a notebook is filled, the creative thoughts (marked with an exclamation point) go into a list in Evernote, separated into categories, and then the notebook gets a number and a label and is put into the old card catalog.

Color-coding is the flare of organization and as soon as it seemed reasonable, I color-coded the family. Everyone has a color for the calendar and I color-code the boys’ stuff as well, using different colored tape. This makes it much easier as no one has to hunt for a name; we just look at the colors. I color-code my writing process. I’d color-code everything, but that can quickly take me into the realm of chaos which is not where I want to be.

A few summers ago I went a bit Lego crazy and wandered the countryside buying up Legos at yard sales. Then I had to buy plastic tubs to put all the Legos in. My writing desk is actually located in a room full of Legos, I’d love to have a nice reading chair in here but there is no space; it’s all Legos. The Dollar Store is a great resource for things to organize, not the maybe-it’s-a-dollar store, but the dollar store where everything is actually a dollar. One day while wandering the cluttered aisles, I came across cafeteria trays. I got a few different colors and they work great for a Lego project because you can organize the pieces you need. Brilliant!

Just writing this piece has made we want to organize. I am not sure I can think of a better way to spend a stormy day or any day other than sorting, organizing and making lists.

Waning Moon

Inspired by On Balmy Terrain

Sloshing through snow
dreaming of a nomadic way of life
following maps that pointed the way west
via the overland route

But my judgment became clouded by grief
and the smell of red roses
so I gave up fresh water swimming for palm thatched roofs
Soon I found myself alone in the middle of a footbridge

suspended above the ocean

Outlaws threatened to break my knee caps
Under a waning moon I fled north
down a dirt road for home

Pep In Your Step

I sauntered for an hour and a half on the beach this morning, down to the cluster of tires, nearly 4’ high, that had been unearthed by the shifting sands of Lake Michigan. I once ran this section of beach, three miles from my in-laws, to the power plant and back. I thought I had to run to stay on an even keel–only to find that I often would end up tipping the other way, becoming hyper focused on running, feeling that when I did not run I was failing. But today I am flabbergasted, and feeling exceptionally good, at the discovery that just walking with no real goal can accomplish the same thing as running. There is also the added bonus of being able to bring my coffee and stop and write or just sit if I am moved to do so. A quote from Ranger Randy Morgenson comes to mind; When you half your pace you double your fun.

I often whistle, but lately I have been humming because my therapist told me it would be calming, something that makes sense since we hum to our children. I love music but whistling and humming are the pinnacle of my musical ability. I have the rhythm of a cod fish, and that is insulting to the cod fish. Regardless, I am feeling so good this morning that I decided to put a little pep in my step. It is more of a stiff bodied herky-jerky two-step shuffle, but it has this amazing effect of unshackling joy I did not know I had and allowing it to bubble to the surface. A huge smile spreads across my face. Even writing about it months later propels the joy back up.

A little farther on I’ve added singing a nonsensical song to go along with my bopping around like a drunken prizefighter. To my surprise I pass a young woman sitting in the dune grass reading. I abruptly stop my singing and two-stepping and say hello. She glances at me with a shocked and puzzled look and then quickly goes back to her book. Right away I begin chiding myself for acting the fool. Singing ridiculous songs while walking along the beach, you really need to act more appropriately. This went on for several minutes before I was able to stop myself with the perfectly logical thought of. Who cares what some random stranger thinks? Besides, all that goofy singing and dancing made me feel incredibly happy. More importantly who makes the rules on how one should act while walking along the beach? I didn’t know it then but this seemingly benign interaction was a small step in the larger part of my healing and taking back the lead of the tango I have with depression.

I don’t need to be on vacation or walking on a beach to put a pep in my step. In fact, I got up and did a little jig while writing this. This world could benefit from halving its speed and putting a bit of pep in its step. The next time you’re waiting in line at the pharmacy or grocery store, do a little shuffle. When you do you’ll not only unshackle your joy but also the joy of those around you.