Sunday, September 30, 2012

Panic Attack: Its a Trap!

Guess what Boys and Girls?  I am having a panic attack.  Huzzah!!  According to the my shortness of breath, pounding heart, cold limbs, sweaty palms, and "impending sense of doom" is not normal.  Normal people spend their Sunday nights lazing about the house, reading the paper, and going to bed early, NOT breathing into a brown paper bag and fighting tears.  No, I don't know what is wrong.  But, I feel sure every single person and thing that matters to me is about to go down the tubes.   My attempts at calming myself by writing out each positive event that happened this past week and my hopes for the future are met with the General Ackbar who resides in my brain screaming: "ITS A TRAP!!"    You're not Luke Skywalker, Jennifer Nicole.  You're Luke's stupid schoolmate who gets blown to hell.  Muahahahaha.  No, there is NOT a moral to my story.  I'm having a fucking panic attack. Why would you expect that?  Get over yourself! I need hug and a tranquilizer, and since neither seems likely I'm just gonna have to sit here wheezing and typing away.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Dreams that You Dare to Dream

"Someday I'll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds are far behind me." Like Dorothy, I spent August of 2011 in Oz.   Well, actually, I attended conferences in Germany and Belgium, but the similarities are there, trust me.  Like our Heroine, I was  unsure about my decision making and my safety in Oz.  Why, you ask?  Well, I'll tell you why.  On the one hand, poor girls from Southern Indiana don't go to Europe.  In fact, we rarely leave the state so I knew the trip was a small miracle.   On the other, packing up on your own and leaving the continent for a country where you can read most of the language but not speak it is more than a little overwhelming.  And because I'm a poor planner when I landed in Brussels, I didn't have a friend, a phone, or even a fucking map. I was lost.  Welcome to Oz.

Long story short, despite the rocky start, it was good month.  Sure there was a lot of stress and many a botched bus ride in the wrong direction, but I made it through and came home with fuzzy a Soviet Union hat from East Berlin (which I hid from my Czechoslovakian conference participants who were born under a Soviet regime),  chocolates from Bruges,  magnets from Antwerp, a Berlin Bear, plus happy memories to boot.  More importantly, at my lowest moments, when I sent a call out to Facebook looking for support, I found a warm and gentle voice that did much to keep my sanity in tact.  When it was time to leave, I was thrilled to be going home, but grateful for the memories as well.  And as I boarded the bus to fly from Brussels to Heathrow, and then home  to O'Hare, Israel kamakawiwo'ole's rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" played on the radio.

As I listened to the song, tears filled my eyes because I realized, in one month, quite a few of my pie in the sky dreams had finally come true.  Maybe it wasn't quite the way I'd expected, but it was still good.  Of course, all was not well when I returned home to Kansas, I mean, Indiana.  As you know, by winter of 2012, I sunk into a deep depressive episode that I am still recovering from.  Since last January, each time I try to be hopeful about the future, panic takes hold of me.  What if I hope and trust only to be devastated again?  There are no assurances in this life.  No road maps to our future.  No way to skip ahead to the end of story.  That's hard for me.  But, lately, I've been realizing that maybe if one of my dreams can come true the others can, too.  Maybe I've had to and will have to wait a little longer than I'd hope, but that's okay.  Maybe this is about patience.  Maybe we have to dare to dream if we want our desires to come true.  So instead of giving into the panic and refusing to hope, I think, I'll remember my tour of Bruges, a warm voice, and that "the dreams that we dare to dream really do come true."   

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Universe Broke My Mouth

Well, Folks, it finally happened.  Years of gabbing, chattering, whispering, and occasional screaming broke my mouth.  No, really, apparently, I have "Trismus" which according to Wikipedia is "the inability to normally open one's mouth due to one of many causes."  There you have it.  Due to one of many causes (probably my incessant jabbering) my mouth refuses to open properly.  Not only that, but I'm experiencing terrible chewing challenges.  Why me?  I'm already completely insane (I have documentation and eye witnesses).  Isn't that enough for one Hysterical Historian to deal with?  Must the Universe deny me the right to freely open my mouth and let forth my opinions?  Well, FUCK YOU, Universe.  Guess what?  I do NOT have carpel tunnel (yet), but I do have a WEBLOG.  Expect multiple updates, editorials, and rants until my mouth heals.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Holy Spirit and the Incredible Hulk

Last night, the bible study I attend spent an hour discussing how the Spirit of God is portrayed in the Pentateuch.  Among other passages, we covered Numbers 11:17, 25-30; Judges 6:34; 14:6, 19;  and I Samuel 10:6; 16:13-14.  After discussing more than thirty five verses, we were asked which adjectives best describes the Holy Spirit of the Old Testament.*  My answer, you ask?: HULK SMASH.  Now, before you judge me, allow me to make my case here.  In Judges, we see the Holy Spirit moving upon Gideon to overthrow the alter of Baal and slay more than seventy people.  Furthermore in this same book, we find the Spirit of the Lord moving upon Samson to slay thousands of Philistines.  Now let's turn our attention to I and II Samuel where the Spirit moves "Saul to kill his thousands and David to kill his tends of thousands" (more Philistines), not to mention, rending apart lions.*  All of this rending, and tearing, and killing leads me to conclude that perhaps our modern conceptions of the Spirit of God are a bit tame.  Quite frankly, I find the Holy Ghost of the Pentateuch rather frightening.  I mean, come on!  Who wants to be on the wrong end of that?!  Please don't get me wrong here.  I'm not trying to sacrilegious.  All I'm saying is that when it comes to the Spirit of the Lord, we won't like him when he's angry.

*The term Holy Spirit is only used twice in the Old Testament.  Both times appear in the book of Isaiah.

*The quote is take from I Samuel 18:7

*The term Holy Ghost is not, to my knowledge, found in the bible.  It used when singing the doxology probably because it rhymes with "hosts".  

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

My Panic Bird

"Free me from the panic bird on my heart and my typewriter." Sylvia Plath

My Panic Bird flew away

Only to perch upon my shoulder again today
My Panic Bird with me resides
Inside my Heart, he always hides
My Panic Bird controls my steps
For his talons, tears I wept
My Panic Bird clamps my lips
Allowing my Love to stumble and slip
My Panic Bird has come back home.
To be with me, and me alone.

"For years writing had provided Plath with a means of reconciling her disparate selves, a tool for 'ordering and reordering the chaos of experience.'  It was, Plath wrote, 'a religious act,' 'a reforming, a releaning, and reloving of people and the world as they are and as they might be.'  In the end, however, even writing could not still 'the panic bird' that always fluttered near her heart." ~The New York Times

Sylvia Plath resided with the fear that her Panic Bird (mental instability) would descend upon her life, and fly away with her will to live.   And eventually, it did.  I understand her anxiety.  You've been sick, but, suddenly, you're improving.  Taking steps forward.  But, in the corner of your eye, you can still see your Panic Bird lurking.  Waiting for the right moment.  The sight of that cruel Feathered Friend allows old fears to creep back in:  What if all the pieces of your life fall apart?  What if the people you love disappear?  That's when your panic bird descends, you know.  When everything starts falling apart.  Panic Birds don't visit during joyful moments.  Instead, he waits patiently until your entire life goes to hell in a hand basket.  Then he pecks out what's left of your brain.  My Panic Bird is hovering. I want assurances that this next year will be kind to me.  That I will finally be happy.  But there are no answers.  I pray for assurances...  I'm scared.  

Saturday, September 15, 2012

God's Away On Business

I felt a Cleaving in my Mind--
As if my Brain had split--
I tried to match it--Seam by Seam--
But could not make it fit.

The thought behind, I strove to join
Unto the thought before--
But sequence ravelled out of Sound
Like Balls--upon a Floor.
~Emily Dickinson

"I'd sell your heart to the junk man, baby 
For a buck
For a buck
If you're lookin' for someone to pull you outta that ditch
You're outta luck
You're outta luck
The ship is sinking
The ship is sinking
~Tom Waits "God's Away on Business"

Some families are close knit, full of love, support, sugar, and, spice, and everything nice.  Unfortunately, most of us are not from those families.  No our relations are made of snakes, and, snails and puppy dog tails (don't ask what they did with the rest of the puppy).  That is why in times that try one's soul, we know to expect our "loved ones" to show up, sit on top of our chests, and wait to see if we stop breathing.  No, there isn't a moral to the story, my Friends.  Morals are for happier, healthier people.  This morning I woke up to the sad realization that not only was there a cleaving in my brain, but, also, that my ship is, indeed, sinking...God's away on business.  

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wonder Woman versus The Glass Glass Lady

"Hey, you created me!  I didn't create some alter-ego loser to make myself feel better.  Take some responsibility!" Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

Fact: Shy girls make poor waitresses.  

Fact: Nature intended this introverted, geek-tastic gal to become a librarian..or, a hermit.  Unfortunately for me, my socioeconomic status prevented that future.  Thus, surviving my first job as a waitress required me to endure no less than two months of nausea, break copious amounts of flatware, and eventually don an alter-ego.  What I learned from that experience is that secret identities, not mention leather whips and tights, turn mild mannered girls into Wonder Women when necessary.  If you need proof look to the story below. 
(Please Note: The real names of the individuals in this episode have been changed to protect the innocent)

Customers come in all shapes and sizes, my Friends, and most fail to leave a long lasting impression.  Those who prove the exception to that rule, tend to make a bad one, and, such was the case with the Glass Glass Lady of Vincennes, Indiana (her nickname came from her demand to have her water and coffee served in a bar glasses, or, as she termed it, a "glass glasses").

Now, the Glass Glass Lady, an older woman around the age of sixty, always demanded seating in the front of the restaurant and, always, ate alone.  Hold on.  Stop feeling sorry for her.  I can't believe you are taking her side.  Sometimes, not all the time of course, people eat alone because they're mean.  Anyway...  Once seated, GG would sit, like a spider, waiting to catch her next unwitting victim in her web of personal ailments, snide remarks, biting insults, and absurd requests.

Now, you think I'm being unkind.  I know you do so I will give you a typical Glass Glass Lady request: (Please, keep in mind, Brayten's served pre-mixed lettuce that included cabbage and GG ordered a side salad and made the request below every single Friday night for at least a year.)

GG: I cannot eat the cabbage in that salad so I need you to pick it all out by hand.  Do not bring me out any of the cabbage.

Server: (who is bewildered) I'm not sure we can do's pre-mixed.

GG: I want a salad and I do not want the cabbage.  Simply pick it out by hand.

Listen, Folks, these sorts of petty and ridiculous requests might have been taken with a bit more consideration if GG had ever tipped any of us above fifty cents.  Here is fair warning, my Friends, if you're gonna throw a waitress, who makes $2.15 per hour, two quarters once a week then expect that equivalent in service.  Now bearing all this mind, one packed Friday night, GG and I finally came to blows.  In an act of goodwill, I had broken the restaurant's policy and taken the Glass Glass Lady's check to the counter for her because she had informed me the trip would tax her too greatly.  After wasting precious minutes cashing out her bill at the hostess station, I hurried to get to my paying customers.  As I did so, I dropped off GG's receipt and change, and rushed off only to have Ms. Glass Glass haul my ass back toward her.

GG: You shorted me a nickel.

Me: I gave you all the change the hostess handed me.

GG: I saw you drop my nickel. Now, go look for it.

<Insert long awkward pause in which I stare at GG like she's insane>

GG: I'm not being ridiculous.  You dropped my nickel and I have bills to pay.

Me: <Reaching into my apron, grabbing a dime, and tossing it on the table>: Keep the change.  Maybe you'll be able to pay your bills now.

From that moment on, GG never attempted to mess with me again.  In fact, much to my pleasure, she requested a different waitress.  The lesson here: Watch out for servers, my Friends.  We handle your food and your credit cards!  And to my Shy Gal Pals, never forget that you're inner Wonder Woman is just below the surface.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Why Floods Are Served In Bowls

SUCCESS is counted sweetest
By those who ne'er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple host
Who took the flag to-day
Can tell the definition,
So clear, of victory,

As he, defeated, dying,
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Break, agonized and clear.

Emily Dickinson wrote the poem above in response to the close of the Civil War.  In her opinion, the sweetness of success was not truly understood by the victorious Union army.  Rather, only a Confederate soldier who lay dying on the field for his cause could fully comprehend the cruel and tantalizing meaning of victory.  In Emily's poetry, we often see that positive emotions, such as love or success, juxtaposed with deprivation.  For instance, look at "ONE blessing had I, than the rest" (a personal favorite):

ONE blessing had I, than the rest
So larger to my eyes
That I stopped gauging, satisfied,
For this enchanted size.

It was the limit of my dream,
The focus of my prayer,--
A perfect, paralyzing bliss
Contented as despair.

I knew no more of want or cold,
Phantasms both become,
For this new value in the soul,
Supremest earthly sum.

The heaven below the heaven above
Obscured with ruddier hue.
Life's latitude leant over-full;
The judgement perished, too.

Why joys so scantily disburse,
Why Paradise defer,
Why floods are served to us in bowls,--
I speculate no more.

She is granted one, short-lived blessing, and refuses to contemplate why gifts in life are so rare ("joys so scantily disburse").  Or why Paradise is deferred, while floods are served to us in bowls, she'll speculate no more.  In other words, gaining your heart's desire is rare indeed, but, heartbreak and tragedy are all too common.  Personally, I find a great deal of comfort in Dickinson's work.  The thought that someone who lived a century and half ago, felt things things that I feel.  That she so often experienced loneliness and heartache. That she, like so many of us, not only wondered at the scarceness of happiness in our human lives, but also did so in beautiful rhymes is no small blessing to those of us who are left with her work.

Grant I May Be

SUMMER for thee grant I may be
When summer days are flown!
Thy music still when whippoorwill
And oriole are done!

For thee to bloom I'll skip the tomb
And sow my blossoms o'er!
Pray gather me, Anemone,
Thy flower forevermore!
~Emily Dickinson 

"Closer to Love" by Matt Kearny

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Sunlight: Traveling Along Highway 31

"Sometimes our light goes out, but is blown again into instant flame by an encounter with another human being." ~Albert Schweitzer

"All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle." St. Francis of Assisi

On a fairly regular basis, I drive along Indiana's highway 31 between South Bend and Bloomington.  For the most part, I make that journey under the cover of darkness in hopes of avoiding traffic.  And last night was no different except that hurricane Isaac's leftovers blew through Indiana with lighting, blackouts, and limited visibility.  As you might have guessed, my trip was postponed until today.  After such nasty weather, you can imagine my delight when I woke up this morning and discovered blue skies, 70 degrees, and lots of sunshine.   What turn around from the frightening storm that had blown through and caused me to trip and fall down concrete stairs.  

Now, prior to this afternoon, if you'd have asked me to describe 31 north, I'd have told you about how boring it is.  How its an endless sea of corn fields.  How Northern Indiana sucks.  But, today, I realized what an incredible difference the sun makes to that trip. When the light illuminates the trees and fields the view is mighty fine, my Friends.  In fact, I didn't mind the three and a half hours, which I normally loathe, in the car.  Instead, I soaked up the scenery and said a little prayer of thanks for such a lovely day.  And as I did, I realized that the people who mean the most to us are the sunlight in our lives.  No matter how awful the storm, like a flashlight they guide our way and pick us up when we've stumbled down the steps.  Those are the people who make life's journey along highway 31 bearable.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Status of My Lemons

"When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago" (Friedrich Nietzsche). Okay, fine!  I'll admit it.   At this very moment, I am sitting in Soma having something in between a panic attack and a pity party.   Oh, dear Lord, what fresh hell awaits me?  Rational Jennifer exited the building about an hour ago, and Bat Shit Crazy Jennifer has been running the freak show inside my head ever since.  Uh huh,  right now, I am a veritable Thomas Hardy (19th century author and poet), full of pessimism and woe: Happiness, my Pretties, "is but a mere episode in the general drama of pain" that is life.   Or, in other words, if you're okay right now, just wait a minute and a boulder will descend from the sky to flatten you and your puny dreams. Muahahahhahaa.  

Aren't I a pleasure to be around?  Oh, that's okay.  Go ahead and say it.  I know I'm not.  This Gal is being a whiny little brat.  The Good News here is that even as I type my negative rant, deep down, I don't believe a word of it.  Sure, it's true that I am  "so tired I can barely wiggle," (of course, I sure can worry).  And its true that my life, up to this point, resembles a 19th century Gothic novel.  (And if you doubt me on that, I have witnesses and references.  So back off, Man!   I'm a historian!)  Having stated all that for the record, I think, maybe, that being this pessimistic is not only misguided, but, also, unfair.  Yeah, up to now life has consistently served me up rotten lemons unsuitable for beverage production, but, maybe, at this very moment, I am blessed with delicious ripened fruit, perfect for making delectable desserts of all varieties.  Maybe the people in my life right now aren't like the ones I've known before.  Maybe all my worry, is not only a lack of faith in God, it's a lack of faith in them. 

*To the Sweet Lemons (yes, that's a term of endearment.  It is because I said so.) of my life, sorry you got stuck with such a rotten, whiny piece of fruit.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

New Photograph of Emily Dickinson Discovered

"Faith" is a fine invention
Dickinson is the one on the left
For Gentlemen who SEE!
But Microscopes are prudent
In an Emergency!
~Emily Dickinson

According to The Guardian, Amherst College has found a rare photo of the reclusive 19th century poet Emily Dickinson.  Prior to this discovery, only one picture of Ms. Dickinson was known to exist.  That first photo, of a sixteen year old Emily taken in 1847, is also located in the Amherst library archives.  There is no doubt that the college's administrators are currently doing backflips over the discovery of a second.  Though don't be taken just yet.  Historians of 19th century fashion (yes, some people devote their lives to deciphering different sorts of petticoats and knickers), claim the clothing worn in the photograph is out of date for the 1850s.  Amherst, however, attempted to quiet the naysayers stating: 

“Amherst does admit that the dress worn in the photograph by ‘Dickinson’ does seem to be out-of-date for the late 1850s, but it believes that ‘may be of less significance when one considers the 23-year-old Dickinson's comment to friend Abiah Root in 1854, “I'm so old fashioned, Darling, that all your friends would stare'.”
In other words, "We found a photo that will bring us lots of publicity and money, so shut the hell up and believe in the power of magic, you Muggles!"

"Compass": Searching for Intimacy

Every single thing becomes a word
in a language that Someone or Something, night and day,
writes down in a never-ending scribble,
which is the history of the world, embracing

Rome, Carthage, you, me, everyone,
my life, which I do not understand, this anguish
of being enigma, accident, and puzzle,
and all the discordant languages of Babel.

Behind each name lies that which has no name.
Today I felt its nameless shadow tremble
in the blue clarity of the compass needle,

whose rule extends as far as the far seas,
something like a clock glimpsed in a dream
or a bird that stirs suddenly in its sleep.
~Jorge Luis Borges

"for it was not knowledge but unity that she desired, not inscriptions on tablets, nothing that could be written in any language known to men, but intimacy itself, which knowledge (Virginia Woolf, To The Lighthouse). Due to the wonder that is the worldwide web, at all times we carry with us our news updates, social networking sites, weblogs, email accounts, and whatever other general entertainment we might like.  In this Information Age, we are constantly connected.  Or are we?  Hold on.  Take a breath.  Relax.  No, I'm not about to bash social media.  As a historian, I can confidently assure you that we are more plugged into our friends and loved ones lives than our 19th century counterparts.  For example, in the 1890s, if you'd have written a letter that simply stated you ate a delicious cookie for lunch people might have considered you Funny Farm material, but thanks to Twitter, cookie reviews are acceptable tweets, nom, nom, nom.  But, if you want my opinion, one thing has remained the same throughout much of human history.  We're all on a desperate search for intimacy.  When we care about someone, we don't find joy in collecting data on that person's life in a little journal as one might with a science experiment.  No, we love learning the details because it makes us feel closer to the other person.  We feel connected.

"Behind each" of our names "lies that which has no name".   Reread that sentence.  Now, think about someone you love or have loved.  Sure that person has many wonderful qualities and attributes, but, at the very beginning, when you first started to fall what were you drawn to?  If you're like me, extremely intuitive and emotional, you won't be able to put it into words.  All you know is that something special is there you don't want to lose.  You are drawn to another person in a powerful way.  The idea of not having that feeling returned or losing the connection is scary as hell.  Yet, we're creatures built for love and cannot do without it.  Its not something that can be inscribed on tablets or written in any language.  It is intimacy itself that we seek.

*Note: Borges' poem, as does most of his work, suggests everything in life, even his writing, is a great unknowable puzzle.  When I first read "Compass" it made me think of the search for intimacy, but I doubt Borges would agree with that interpretation.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Grace: When Your River of Dreams Becomes Shit Creek

POOR little heart!
Did they forget thee?
Then dinna care! Then dinna care!

Proud little heart!

Did they forsake thee?
Be debonair! Be debonair!

Frail little heart!

I would not break thee:
Could'st credit me? Could'st credit me?

Gay little heart!

Like morning glory
Wind and Sun-wilt thee array!
~Emily Dickinson

"It is the history of our kindness alone that makes this world tolerable.  If it were not for that, not for the effect of kind words, kind looks, kind letters...I should be inclined to think our life a practical jest in the worst possible spirit." (Robert Louis Stevenson)  When I was a little girl, I believed in miracles.  Each night, I knelt beside my bed, closed my eyes, clasped my hands, and prayed to God for the awesomeness that would be my adult existence.  That being the case, you can imagine my horror and disillusionment when I learned that adulthood came with dysfunction, loss, heartbreak, and mental illness.  In response, I prayed, yet again:

Dear God,

This is not the miracle I requested.  Perhaps, you mixed me up with someone else who WANTED to be miserable?  If you could correct that mistake, I'd be eternally grateful.


Jennifer Nicole

Unfortunately, thus far, my request has gone unanswered.  The truth is, I want to believe in God, a plan, and miracles...  I still pray though my faith has diminished.  Questions plague me.  Are we "fearfully and wonderfully made" for suffering? (Psalm 119)  Even if we are, I have my doubts about it reigning "upon the just and the unjust".  Some of the best people I know have had a pretty rough go of things.  While some of the biggest assholes I know, are floating happily along Billy Joel's River of Dreams.  Where's the fairness in that? But, maybe, miracles are less about divine intervention and more about individual choices (perhaps those two are linked).  I know.  You think I'm being silly.  But just stop for a minute and consider the difference a smile or gentle word can make during your day.  To say nothing of when someone offers you grace when you've earned reprimand.  (Personally, I don't mention it often, but, those closest to me know I have feet of clay...and a tendency toward crazy! In other words, I need a lot of grace.)  There is a line in Mumford and Son's song "I Will Wait (Nothing is Written)" that says: "You forgave and I won't forget."  We remember grace because offering it is nothing less than an act of love.  We don't earn grace.  Its a gift...and, in my opinion, a miracle.

The first video is Mumford and Son's "I Will Wait", and, the second is Billy Joel's "The River of Dreams".