Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tangible Intangibles: memorializing my nana's passing

My maternal grandmother died a couple weeks ago. It has affected me more deeply than I had thought it would. The grieving process has been surprising to me. I've experienced the death of a loved one before--most notably that of my little sister when I was seventeen and the death of my just a couple years ago --but I am only now realizing that each grieving period is as unique as the individual who died. Each death requires its own response and there is no road map.

Nana had been ill for a long time and we'd known since late July that her death was imminent. And just a few weeks ago I made a trip out to Seattle to visit her one last time before she passed on. It was a short trip,less than two days, but it was amazing and harrowing to be with someone who was so near the veil.

Still, her death surprised me and it took four or five days before I emotionally registered it. I am surprised to discover I actually miss her; as a family we weren't all always on good terms with each other and there were many years that went by without us speaking. Suffice it to say there's been a lot of emotional shrapnel from many sources since Nana's death and I've been seeking ways to accept the feelings, experience them, and move forward through them. This has taken on a number of forms (crying, being stressed out, being forgetful and generally muddled, an inability to complete housework, a desire for sloppiness) but what I want to blog about today is the search for a memorial, the search for a way of making tangible a process that is inherently intangible. When Nana died, I lost something--not only her person, but something impalpable that needed to be recognized and named.

I have a friend who owns an expressive arts studio so I decided to spend an evening there searching my mind and heart to find whatever it was I was looking.

My first effort was a song. I made a video of myself singing "Amazing Grace". I was going to upload if for you listening pleasure (or un-pleasure as the case may be)but it wouldn't upload. You all didn't miss much on this one. I find my voice on this song fairly anemic. Listening to my performance of that song now, it smacks of self-indulgence.

My next effort was a picture. I am probably the least skilled drawer/painter I know. But since working in the expressive arts I find a lot of fulfillment in creating visual "art".

I had an idea in my head but was not able to translate it to the paper and so what I ended up with initially disappointing to me. I had meant to memorialize Nana and the picture seemed to fail at that. I put it up in my room (my thanks to the DH for his patience with that!) and studied it here and there. Finally I realized why the picture didn't work for me. I had memorialized *myself.* I was the woman in the picture sitting underneath the obscured rose (Nana's favorite flower). Nana may have inspired the flower, but that picture was all about me--which is why it fell flat. Well, that and the fact that I don't draw well. . .

Anyway, I did some writing that night but it isn't finished yet--which is why I'm not posting it here. I read some of it at the funeral and that felt good. It seemed to resonate with other mourners.

My final effort, and the memorial that worked best was this:

It's an origami star box with curled edges filled with small purple flowers and a butterfly. Butterflies are sort of my personal totem, and a conversation I had with Nana about butterflies inspired this piece. It felt good to create a home and resting place for that formative conversation with Nana and even though it was hard to leave it behind it was okay because I knew could make another one if I needed to. (If that makes sense??)I think it was my way of putting Nana to rest but acknowledging the fact that even though she was gone she was still going to have an effect on me. It was my way of letting her go but keeping our relationship intact.

The truth for me is that Nana was always a fairly inaccessible--intangible, perhaps?--person for me. I loved her and I'm almost certain she loved me, but, it wasn't the kind of relationship you could use to validate yourself or lean on. It was different. . . what's left though, after all is said and done, is that I loved Nana. And love, the very essence of the intangibility, is probably what I was really looking for all along.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Help by Kathryn Stockett--a review!

Hi all! I recently read _The Help_ by Kathryn Stockett and since it is the book du jour right now (or at least a couple months ago it was. . .) I thought I'd post a brief review here.

I know a lot--A LOT--of people liked this book. I did too, mostly. BUT, overall, this book underwhelmed me. It wasn't that it was a bad book or poorly written. I thought it was well paced. I thought a lot of the characters were warmly drawn and likable--especially Miss Celia! Mae Mobley was so stinkin' cute she was unreal, but she was so cute I didn't care :) (I did find a lot of the characters' actions highly, and annoyingly, predictable. Stuart was predictable and so was Minny. The big secret about the "terrible awful" was pretty obvious. The fact that Miss Celia was not actually a drunk but suffering multiple miscarriages was also obvious.)

What bothered me most was that I felt like Stockett really wanted a book about the experience of black maids in the South but instead of actually writing *that* book, she wrote a book about writing a book about black maids in the South. Why did she need to have a Skeeter character? What did Skeeter add to the book? Nothing for me. I think Stockett used Skeeter as an escape and as an avenue for excuse. Reading the afterword Stockett's ambivalence about trying to write in a black voice was pretty clear. It was a very difficult task to do without falling on stereotypes--which is what I think Stockett ended up doing. I think Skeeter was her comfort zone, her fallback, her easy road out. That's the big question for me: Why didn't Stockett just write a book about the experience of black maids? I get that it would have been harder and a little more controversial, but the outcome could have been much more powerful. Going all meta on her subject matter didn't enrich it one iota.

My other beef with the book was that it pushed my willing suspension of disbelief a little too far. The poop in the pie was predictable (talk about heavy-handed over-theming!) but not believable. It never would have happened. The antagonist, Hilly, also crossed over into unbelievable land with her breakdown and the threat of telling Skeeter's mommy what she did. It was too scripted and unnatural, too much like what our adolescent selves all dream will happen to the mean girls in middle school. The book would have been much more powerful for me if had Hilly stayed in a more restrained and catty characterization. For me this book was a lot like _Fried Green Tomatoes_, sure "the secret's in the sauce" is funny, but just pushes things that are supposed to be grounded firmly in reality too far into unreality. I think it didn't do the racism/civil rights theme justice because it was over-the-top. It just made it all a little cheaper for me.

I think overall I wanted this book to read more like Literary Fiction, but what it really was was genre fiction--some sort of cross between Chick Lit and Historical Fiction. I'm not a hater, though. I did enjoy the book. I just felt like it fell far, far short of its potential.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Where were you?

On September 11, 2001 I was nineteen and had been married for three months. I was a student at Utah State University. My mother-in-law had recently been life-flighted to LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City because of liver failure. My sister, who was living in Seattle, had just called the day before to tell me her baby was dead. When my alarm went off that morning at 7:17 (back then I believed random times would be harder to sleep through than a regular set time) the voices of familiar NPR anchors filled the room. But what they were saying made no sense. We didn't have a television and I didn't think to check the Internet. It wasn't until I got up to campus 45-ish minutes later that I realized the enormity of the situation. I was almost giddy with confusion and a budding sense of history. All I could think was that now I wouldn't be able to get an airplane ticket to Seattle to be with my sister so I had a long drive ahead of me. Very long.

The world had stopped. Except for the parts that didn't.

Where were you?

Of course, perhaps the most important question isn't where were you then, but where are you now? Hopefully, it's in a more compassionate and loving place.

Friday, September 2, 2011

It's NOT Mormon Moms Who Are Depressed!

It's all moms!! Seriously. My sister blogged this over at Yahoo! Shine. I think this has huge ramifications, so of course I had to blog it too.

The original article, Trying to Be 'Supermom' Can Raise Risk for Depression, hits the nail on the head. Trying reading the article but swap out "working mom" and "stay-at-home mom" for "Mormon mom" and "Supermom" for "Mother in Zion Syndrome" and you could have any article from the past ten years that's been written about Mormons and depression.

The study does point out, though, that women who work at least part time are less likely to be depressed UNLESS they are women who don't cut themselves any slack. If they are the type of women who have high expectations for things to work out and be perfect, they are in trouble. If they aren't sure how working and having a family are going to shake out, they do better.

It's that last part that I think is important for a couple reasons: 1) the so-called "Mother in Zion Syndrome" isn't a Mormon thing; it's an American thing and 2)it's okay for women to be unsure of their choices and work things out as they go--especially when it comes to division of labor between the spouses.

Sometimes this whole motherhood thing gets so complicated and emotional that as women we fail to realize that each of us is born with different talents, abilities, and paths. We pick on each other and we judge each other and force each other to justify our choices over and over. Think about how many times you've had to justify your job (or lack thereof), your number of children, or the amount of housework your spouse does. If we were really being true to ourselves and, as Mormon women--Christian women, we wouldn't do this to each other.

The best part of the whole article was this quote, "Women who have a realistic expectation are more likely to choose men who are going to help out around the house," Correll [associate professor of psychology at Stanford] said. "If you choose someone who will be a helpmate to you, that may lead to lower levels of depression."

That's true no matter your job status, you marital status, or your gender. As Pres. Uchdorf said, lift where you stand.

Have a great Labor Day!
Oh, and if you want to read a quick tidbit about my sister and I and our angsty teenage mood issues, check out this one: .