Mork Calling Orson

In an attempt to pull myself out of my writing slump, I recently re-read Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg. There is a chapter called “The Ordinary and Extraordinary,” and in it Goldberg describes a trip she took to the Hopi land in Arizona to see the snake dances.  The snake dance festival is a ritual for the Hopi, and Goldberg describes the event as extraordinary….miraculous, even.

As I am reading this I am thinking: Ok….so there is a serious lack of Hopi dances in the suburbs of Philly.  So what do I write about?  Phoebe’s Friday afternoon tap and ballet?

But then Goldberg writes:

It’s not that we need to go to the Hopi mesas to see greatness; we need to view what we already have in a different way. If we see their lives and festivals as fantastic and our lives as ordinary, we come to writing with a sense of poverty.  We must remember that everything is ordinary and extraordinary.  It is our minds that either open or close.

I read this over and over, because I loved the idea of it – that something in my life could be seen as miraculous or extraordinary.

But I struggled with really believing it.

The truth is, ever since Phoebe started kindergarten I’ve been feeling a little…lost. Irrelevant. The what-the-hell-am-I-doing-with-my-life kind of feeling. I tried to fight it by being proactive. I committed myself to writing more, and volunteered to be Phoebe’s class mom.

But while I think about writing constantly, the actual act of writing seems to get lost somewhere between grocery shopping, laundry and car-line.

And as for the class mom gig – well, I suck at it.  I can barely organize events for my own two kids, much less 13 of them. This week I sent out an email to the other parents about the Valentine’s Day Ice Cream Social, and it took me two days. I re-read it ten times: checking and re-checking the email addresses, adding and deleting exclamation points.  How many smiley faces is too many?  It’s kindergarten, there should be smiley faces, right?  I am still recovering from dropping all the orange juice in the parking lot the morning of the Boo Breakfast. Right before I slammed the trunk of the car on Emma’s head.

My daily life as something extraordinary? Uh…I don’t think so. Except on the days I change the sheets on the top bunk bed. Completing that task without self-injury is nothing short of miraculous.

The minutia of motherhood aside, my inner writer was committed to the task of finding the extraordinary in my seemingly mundane life. But I needed a different angle, another point of entry, a different perspective. I needed to put myself in the shoes of a distant observer. But how?

I brainstormed:

I could pretend to be a stranger from another country, sent to observe a typical day in the life of an American stay at home mom…or better yet…

I could pretend to be an alien from another planet, sent to Earth to observe the behavior of an average, run-of-the-mill Earthling.

That’s a great idea!

Wait a minute…

That’s Mork and Mindy.

So I did what any wannabe writer committed to the art of procrastination would do: I downloaded the entire first season of Mork and Mindy.

I watched Mork and Mindy as a little kid, but all I remembered from it was Nanu-Nanu, Mork’s awesome striped vest, and Jonathan Winters hatching from an egg.

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Mork was sent from the planet Ork to observe the emotional behavior of Earthlings. His mission was not to feel emotion, but observe emotion. But at the end of each episode, when Mork reports his weekly findings back to Orson (the leader of Ork), it becomes clear that Mork is not just watching life, he is living life. He becomes immersed in it. And he is super hot for Mindy.

Mork notices that Earthlings tend to immerse themselves in the business -and busyness- of life rather than life itself.  And what is life itself?

Virginia Woolf wrote about the  state of “non-being” that threatens to dominate our lives. We go through the motions of life, distracted, not fully present – embedded in “a kind of nondescript cotton wool.”

I spend a lot of time tangled up in the cotton wool. Why? Because so many things make me sad: dead leaves blowing in the wind, bare winter trees, most Johnny Cash songs, rain in January.  So I sit parked in car line glued to my phone rather than admire the statue of beautiful Mary standing outside my window, because Mary statues make me feel weepy (I’m not as loving as Mary! Mary would never drop the F-bomb in the Whole Foods Parking lot with Jesus in the car!). Also, I don’t want to be the Mom That Cries in Car Line.

But as Anne Lamott points out: “The bad news is that whatever you use to keep the pain at bay robs you of the flecks and nuggets of gold that feeling grief (or sadness, or loneliness) will give you.”

Life is determined to rid me of my black and white thinking.

For the last week or so, I have tried to become a Mork in my own life: innocent, observant and open to simply noticing. Some findings:

IMG_6079Ducks like to ice skate on frozen ponds.

IMG_6075Emma holds Phoebe’s hand when she thinks I am not looking.

IMG_6115Bare trees make room for pink skies.

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Our shadow-selves have longer legs than Gisele Bundchen’s regular legs.

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Maybe I am not as irrelevant as I thought.

Some of these extraordinarily ordinary moments made me a little weepy, but feelings of melancholy were overshadowed by intense gratitude. For just being alive. Being alive is an extraordinary thing. Even when you are dropping orange juice and giving your kid a concussion before school. Even when you feel lost or stuck or like a general waste of space, it helps to stop and look around. Because the world is trying to show you that you are exactly where you need to be.

This is Jessie, signing off, until next week. Or maybe until after the Valentine’s Day Ice Cream Social. Nanu, Nanu.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Martha, Martha, Martha

During this season of Lent, I have been trying failing trying to start each morning with a short Bible reading and reflection.  One that really hit me was  Luke 10: 38-42, when Jesus Visits Mary and Martha.

The story (as I see it) goes something like this: Jesus and his friends are invited into the home of two sisters, Martha and Mary.  Jesus takes a load off and Mary sits at his feet, waiting to hear what he has to say.  Martha, on the other hand, is flying around the house, frantically cleaning and cooking and most likely muttering expletives under her breath.

The fact that Mary isn’t lifting a finger really starts to piss her off, and Martha says to Jesus: “Umm, excuse me Jesus, can you please light a fire under my sister, because this is crap. I still need to WetSwift the bathroom, and the taco dip isn’t going to make itself.”

Jesus says, “Martha, Girl, you need to RE-LAX.  Sit down, open the wine and the bag of Tostitos and let’s get this party started.”

Ok, what he really said:

Martha, Martha you are worried and troubled over so many things, but just one is needed.  Mary has chosen the good part, and that will not be taken away.

Can’t you just see Mary smirking?  Jesus likes me more than you, Nanana-poo-poo!

Since our move a few weeks ago, I have turned into a major Martha.  My brain feels jacked up on Coke and Pixie Stix while my body bounces around the house, frenetically “doing” but accomplishing nothing.

I wonder what was behind Martha’s “doing,” why she felt the need for everything to be perfect.  For me, it’s Mommy Guilt.  I feel guilty for putting the girls in a new house and school mid-year, so I am going to do WHATEVER IT TAKES TO HELP THEM FORGET ITS ACTUALLY HAPPENING.  I stood for hours on Emma’s bed sticking glow in the dark constellations on her ceiling. When they climb into the car after school looking sullen and sad, my heart breaks.  So I try and fix it (aka. stuff their feelings) with fro yo or cupcakes or a new book.  I decorated their bathroom with a tulip border mural, and bought Phoebe a matching duvet cover that I will take out of the package as soon as I find the damn iron.  As if maybe an ironed duvet cover will make her say, ‘Well alright!  Who cares that I am in a new school with no friends?  I have an ironed duvet cover.  I have ARRIVED.”

But just as Coke-Pixie Stix bender always ends in a crash, so does a Control Bender.  The I Can Fix Everything and Make Everyone Happy routine usually ends when everything falls apart.  At once.  And then catches on fire.

The unraveling began on Tuesday at midnight, when, 4 hours before Phil had to be on a plane to Boston, our ancient radiator in our 110 year old house decided it had worked hard enough.  Water, water, everywhere.  Sometimes, there are just not enough towels.

After dropping the kids off at school and getting honked at by 50 cars for screwing up in the car line again, I waited for the plumber and the Peapod grocery order Phil had placed to “help out.”  I was so engrossed in my radiator water management that I didn’t even look in the grocery bags until the delivery guy had left.

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We don’t drink milk.

While I contemplated buying an extra dairy fridge off Craigslist, my sister-in-law Trisha stopped by.  We chatted for a few and then, after complimenting her new car, I sent her on her way with two gallons of milk and some coffee creamer.  When I returned 30 minutes later with my sullen children, the plumber was in the driveway and Trisha was walking down the street.  Her new car had broken down around the corner.  My first thought was, Oh man that milk is gonna stink.

While Trisha called a tow truck and the girls ran around me in circles shrieking, the plumber -let’s call him Frank- explained my radiator situation.  In detail.  Lots of detail.  My brain was starting to short circuit.  In an attempt to demonstrate how a valve works, Frank kept squeezing my bicep.

For the record, I am a “this is my box” personal space kinda girl.  I could see Frank’s mouth moving, but I could barely hear his voice over the one in my head:

“The valve of a radiator blah blah blah: EXPAND, CONTRACT” (Bicep squeeze).

You just touched my arm.

“So the water flow depends on blah blah valve blah EXPAND, CONTRACT” (Bicep squeeze)

You touched it again.

“So the valve is what determines if you have FLOW or NO FLOW” (Bicep squeeze).

Three times now. 

While I retained nothing about radiators, I got through the interaction without cold cocking Frank.  Trisha returned to her car of rotting dairy products, and the kids and I went to the park.  Jesus should have told Martha to take a walk.  Nature helps get your head out of your ass.

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While putting the kids to bed after a nutritious dinner of bagels and apple sauce, I sat down on Emma’s bed: “Hey Em, you know how you said you were nervous about the Terra Nova test?  Well I emailed your teacher and she said that you are doing great and that…”

“Mom! Why are you bringing that up NOW?  I wasn’t even thinking about it and now I AM.”

“Oh…I’m sorry….I just thought that…”

“Parents just don’t get it.”

That stung, I’ll admit.  But I didn’t get it…she was right. She didn’t need me to fix it.  She just needed me to listen.

Lying in bed that night, I thought about Martha and felt compassion for her.  She thinks she’s doing the right thing, that caring for others is how she shows her love. Someone has to vacuum the dog hair off the couch and make sure the grill has propane.  But when you become, as the reading says, “distracted with all the serving,” you start to miss the point.  You can’t really be with the people you love if you are always in your head.

Jesus didn’t want Martha to be The Perfect Hostess – he just wanted Martha.  And my kids don’t want The Perfect Mom – they just want me.  Which I think for many of us is a hard concept to grasp.  That we are exactly what our kids need just as we are.  No bells, no whistles, no magic cape or fairy wand necessary.  Just us.

As I put away all the towels used in the Great Radiator Flood of 2014, I found the iron in the closet.

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And for now, that’s where it will stay.