Linoleum Floors are More Than They’re Cracked up to Be

I heard someone say the other day that home is where your story begins.  It’s where we’re rooted, what grounds us in the present and gives us a history to remember.

I’ve been fascinated for years by the notion of place and the impact it has on who we become.  I’ve even oriented my composition classes around questions of space and place, exploring how who we are is so often affected by where we come from.

So it seems unsurprising then that I might orient my memoir about recovering from mental illness around similar concepts.  I’ve posted pieces about fearing homelessness, about my inability to afford housing in any remotely comfortable way, about wanting the hospital to be my home.  I even took this one step further yesterday when I mentioned now owning a home.             

However, an important part of this progression toward home ownership involved twice living in government housing—not a lovely place by any means—but not the housing horror folks often expect.

In June of 1998, I moved into Lakeland Manor—a government-subsidized, semi-high-rise for the elderly and disabled in Dallas, Texas.  I decided this move made sense when it became more and more difficult to afford the small, one bedroom apartment I leased on Northwest Highway.  I scraped and scavenged each month to pay the rent, making myself abide by outrageously restricted spending limits that may have reinforced patterns of neglect and denial I carried over from childhood.  The apartment at Lakeland Manor saved me more than $200 a month—what to me amounted to a small fortunate at the time.  The year before, I had told my therapist that if I could only make $100 more a month, I would feel rich.

I’d gotten to know a woman who owned a home in a neighborhood near the complex, and visiting her home, I’d noticed the place was not-so-bad.  In fact, my friendship with Jeanette impacted my decision to move, as I began to recognize the impact proximity might have on my recovery.

The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex is not a small place.  My apartment was far from my therapist’s office in Plano—an expensive place to live, and I knew how not having a car kept me isolated, if I didn’t have friends nearby.  I had been fortunate to have my friend Ellen living in the complex on Northwest Highway.

I frankly adored Ellen.  She was my friend from Tulsa, my first openly lesbian friend, one who had also moved to Dallas for treatment purposes.  Ellen was witty, brilliant, creative—great fun to be around when she was sober or not psychotic.  Unfortunately Ellen’s efforts toward sobriety left her more psychotic, more often, and in some ways less available.

My move from Northwest Highway to Lakeland Manor had no conscious connection to Ellen’s decline, but tragically Ellen died suddenly shortly after my move, having visited my new apartment on only one occasion.  Ellen’s death devastated me.  There seemed no clear medical explanation for her dropping dead one afternoon in the parking lot of the apartment complex where we had lived.  But once Ellen was gone, I was relieved to have already moved.  I don’t imagine I could have tolerated living there with her gone.

This issue of proximity made one friend I met at Lakeland Manor enormously important, as I finally had a friend who was bright and creative living in the same building.  Elaine was a classical musician who played the French horn—an SMU grad who loved to laugh as much as I did.  Elaine had had a stroke a number of years back, as well as a kidney transplant, so her physical disability qualified her to live in the building.

Elaine was a friend in every sense of the word.  She was my age, came from a similar educational background, and was finally someone with whom I could socialize, without either transportation or finances being issues.

Except for Ellen, when I lived on Northwest Highway, none of my friends lived nearby.  Without transportation in a city like Dallas—especially when you don’t live in a particularly safe part of town—it’s logistically difficult to go out with friends after dark.  And given all the other battles I was fighting at the time, dealing with getting home after dark was more than I could manage—so mostly I stayed home.

However, I couldn’t afford to socialize either.  I couldn’t afford movies or going out to eat or shopping—activities most folks not fighting poverty enjoy.  This created a financial incongruity in almost every relationship—leaving me feeling isolated and alone. 

With Elaine, all of this changed.  Neither of us had any money—neither of us could afford to go out—but there were countless evenings when Elaine would come down to my apartment or I would go up to hers, so we could cook dinner together and watch T.V.  The meals were simple.  We ate lots of pasta. 

dinner with Elaine at my apartment, February 1999

I remember we spent Christmas of 1998 together.  It was icy outside.  We couldn’t go anywhere, but that didn’t matter.  We were friends, and we were together.  Ironically, I owed this friendship and the joy it provided to the fine folks at the Dallas Housing Authority.

So Lakeland Manor, government housing or not, was in many ways a relief to me, my apartment a retreat—a place I could finally comfortably afford.  Plus, since the rent was based on income, I never really needed to fear homelessness again. 

Home is where ones story begins, and the home I made at Lakeland Manor is one that ultimately allowed my recovery to take hold—grow roots—be strengthened.  I gained confidence while living there.  I felt good about myself and proud.

Yes, my apartment had roaches.  It has linoleum tile on the floor.  It was ugly. 

less-than-lovely linoleum floor

But I worked hard to make it feel like home, and quite honestly I loved it, linoleum and all.

So, home is where one’s story begins, humble as that home may be.

Miscellaneous Monday (and more Mindy to come)

It’s Monday.  And we’re launching another week’s worth of less-than-brilliant (but often, above-average) blogging here at Reinventing the Event Horizon. 

And, in honor of the week’s beginning, I bring you an “inspiring” (at least I’m trying) laundry list of updates:

1.  First, thanks to all of you for your kind and supportive comments in response to last week’s news that I wanted to begin moving my blog in the direction of memoir, not that I would discontinue writing about the event horizon that is Haiti, but that I would also address event horizons from my personal past:  namely my father’s organized crime connections and the black hole that is my battle with bipolar disorder.  (To read these posts click here and here.)

I believe the best writing is inevitably the most honest writing and my not addressing these issues was becoming a form of compositional dishonesty—a way of avoiding the shame associated with my father and the sigma connected to my illness.

One way to lessen stigma is to stop hiding, or, in my case, to boldly address my demons in the blogosphere’s bright light, to share my struggle, to tell my story, both the pain of the past and the hope that is recovery.

2.  Secondly, I’d like to announce an upcoming series of posts from my friend and fellow writer Mindy Shannon Phelps.  (I introduced Mindy last week.  To read her first post click here.)   As she finds time, Mindy will write pieces that address our sometimes serious, sometimes silly misadventures in being human. 

3.  Finally, an update on my dog Lucy’s adventures in Vietnam—her Maltese march, North to South, South to North. 

In last Monday’s post (click here to read) I forgot to include a few of the funniest photos—namely Lucy in Halong Bay . 

(Some of you may have heard of a recent accident in Halong Bay.  A tour boat sank.  12 were killed.  To read about this February 17th incident click here.)

In case you’re not up on the geography of Vietnam, Halong Bay is an UNESCO World Heritage site and hugely popular tourist attraction in northern Vietnam.  According to legend, the Vietnamese were being invaded by the Chinese when the gods sent a family of dragons to protect the bay.  The dragons were said to spit jewels into the water, to build a wall against the invaders, what is, in fact, a series of nearly 2,000 limestone islands that decorate the bay:

In fact, a highlight of Lucy’s adventure in Vietnam included a swim with me in Halong Bay:

And last but not least, a photo of Lucy dressing for her outing on the bay:

The bottom line is this, a lesson I learned from Lucy:

Sometimes the most over-whelming of crises can be ovecome with the most obvoius of answers.

Indeed, sometimes the biggest of problems can be conquered by the smallest of canines in the most amazing of hats.

Hats off to our struggles. 

Hats off to hope.

Blogging Buddies mean Blogging Bliss




Sorry to sound like a bad echo of Gomer Pyle, but gosh, darn—comments to yesterday’s post, a news update about Haiti, did indeed surprise me.

So today’s post poses some questions I’d most like my readers to answer—please—I’m down on blogging hands and knees begging for feedback!

First a bit of background—some random notes on how my thinking about blogs is evolving, thoughts that I think will put my questions in context.

(Please know I’m new at this whole blogging thing—so if you’ve been around the blogosphere for ages and all of this to you is old hat—then this post probably isn’t for you.  But, I’m a relative newbie, so bear with me.)

Yes, in 2009 I started a blog meant to follow the adventure we began when Sara returned to international disaster response work and I stopped teaching, followed her into the field, attempting to tell our story.  However, that material (archived on this site) was only read by friends and family.  I did nothing to attract outside readers—rarely more than 10 people read each post.  If we don’t count that—I’ve been doing this for a mere 2 months, so please forgive my naïve enthusiasm, my gawking and gaping—a country girl on her first trip to the big city of blogging.

But truly, what amazes me most about blogging is the sense of community I feel.  I know I’ve mentioned this before, but surely not all bloggers experience the kind of connectedness I feel with those who read my blog and with those whose blogs I read.  If so, WordPress wouldn’t be setting up a blogging buddy-system of sorts—because no one would need it—everyone would already be connected and buddied and belonging.

(I sometimes wonder if I was just lucky enough to stumble into the right group.  Cause I’m new and I feel fully embraced.  Several bloggers have emailed me over the last month or so—offering unsolicited words of caring, kindness, and down-home neighborliness.  I’ve been welcome-wagoned into blogging bliss.)

However, the following questions have come out of this evolving awareness of community and reader involvement in the blogging process.  I pose them to you whether you’re a regular reader here or just stopping by for the first time:

First, I wonder what among the issues I’ve raised, the many topics I’ve explored (a truly eclectic range) would you like to know more about?

I’ve shared some of my art, some of my poetry, some of my personal history, some about the evolution of my relationship with Sara, some about Sara’s work, a bit about my work in India, some thoughts about writing.  But what interests you the most?  And do you have any specific questions I might be able to answer in a post or a series of posts?

I realized for the first time from some of your comments yesterday, that the media in the US and other countries is likely not covering Haiti adequately, that you are not getting the news that you need, the news you deserve, the news Haiti needs you to hear. 

What else do you need to know, or what else would you simply like to know?  What kinds of posts would like to see more frequently?

Please know how much I appreciate your taking the time to read my blog.  I’d just like to know how I can even better serve your reading needs.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll continue to surprise me with your comments, your questions, your care and concern for a country in crisis.

Gone Blog-Wild and Comment-Crazy!

Your mothers may have washed your mouths out with soap, but on my blog–

–Big time “back-talk” rocks my comment world!  Gotta love it—

Yeah—I know I excite easily—a sassy six-year-old myself at Christmas time.

But seriously, I posted several questions a few days ago—confessed my insecurities as a writer/blogger and asked if any of you shared these feelings.  Well, clearly I’m not the only one who sometimes thinks herself inadequate—because people commented, commented, commented.  And some of you even posted response pieces on you your own blogs!

I can’t tell you how supportive that feels, how great to be part of a community of writers willing to admit their fears of imperfection—how amazing to be embraced by bloggers who have welcomed me into their world by responding so thoughtfully to the questions I pose.   Thank you!

Thanks especially to Tori (The Ramblings) and Mrs. H.  (A.Hab.’s View of the World) for continuing this conversation in their own blogs.  If this discussion interests you, I encourage you to read their posts, as actually these writers take the dialogue to whole new level.

The question remains: why are we writers/bloggers so gung-ho about comments—why have we gone blog-wild and comment-crazy—outside the superficial realities of Search Engine Optimization? 

For me it’s about community.  I don’t mean to suggest blogging is a religious experience—no, wait—maybe I do—to the degree that posting and commenting, the call and response of it, is like a liturgy.  I feel embraced by it.  Thankful—

So, in honor of the new year. let me proclaim a little less reverently–

–Sass out the ass, my blogging buddies–

And back-talk some more–tell me–what’s the best part of blogging for you?

A Rant! A Rave! A Prayer?

I miss Sara terribly when we’re apart, but now that it’s been four days since she’s returned to Haiti, I’m experiencing the separation more intensely.  I tend to isolate when Sara’s gone.  I want to be alone.  I want to sleep.  I can barely tie my shoe or utter a coherent sentence—let alone clean the house, cook a meal, or walk the dog.  It’s a sad state of affairs. 

Yes, yes—I know I exaggerate, but I did have one small victory yesterday afternoon, having managed to extricate myself from the green chair I’ve been living in for days and drag myself kicking and screaming to the grocery store.  But then again, hunger’s a pretty strong motivator, and the only thing I want to do more than absolutely nothing is eat—eat everything—eat any and all things unhealthy and heart-attack inducing— I could so Twinkie and Ho-Ho myself to an early grave, it isn’t funny.

It doesn’t help that I’m on a diet. It doesn’t help that the date I return to Haiti has yet to be determined and will depend on security in Port-au-Prince over the next several days.  It doesn’t help that Kentucky, besides being famous for its fried chicken, is in fact one of the most boring places on the planet—no rioting, no cholera, no real election fraud to speak of.  Things are so comfortably tedious and middle class, that even the excitement phobic find themselves twiddling their thumbs and begging to be mugged, praying to be clubbed by a decent natural disaster.  Even a blizzard would do.

Obviously though, I shouldn’t tease about these things.  Obviously I should change this ornery desire to be anywhere I’m not—and never where I am—never in the here and now, in this city, in this state, on this day.

Please help me, God, to be content in the coming year—grateful for today, in this house with warm meals and clean water to drink.  Please teach me to be grateful for the little things and thankful always for the heart-pounding passion that makes me miss Sara when she’s away. Please keep her close.  Please keep her safe.  Please take me to her soon.

How do you handle separation from the ones you love?  Does humor help?  Writing?  Prayer or mediation?

(And thanks for the fabulous feedback and comments on my previous post.  Please share your thoughts and feelings on this one, as well.  My readers rock!)


Top 4 Things about Christmas 2010

Though the photos aren’t fantastic, I can’t help sharing a  few of my favorite things about Christmas in Kentucky this year–a holiday away from Haiti with the most precious people on the planet this side of Port-au-Prince!

#4  Hanging out with handsome nephews 

Johnny, Sam and Drew

#3  Celebrating with sisters

Lynn, Susan and Kathy

#2  Seeing my brother’s stocking stuffed with coal a toilet seat–no joke!

Tyce holding holiday throne (still in the box)

#1  Having my Baby home from Haiti in time for the Holiday!

Sara on Christmas morning

Merry Christmas from my family to yours!  And don’t forget to pray for Haiti  this holiday!