Remembering How to Feel

I have to relearn how to feel. My mother-in-law went into the hospital with a lung infection for a long week and a half. She rallied, and returned to the nursing home. I finished my third novel Grounded and began preparing it for publication on Amazon. Then Mama grew weaker again. A few days later we got the call we’d been expecting. The home phoned and said that we should come. Uwe and I had the blessing of being at her side as she died. Less than 48 hours later, my book became available.

We were busy with all the details that follow a death. People had to be contacted, and a funeral arranged, and Mama’s body transported to the town where she would be interred next to Uwe’s father. We drove down to meet with the funeral hall director and a pastor, and to visit Mama’s sister and her family. We cleaned out her room in the nursing home, sorted through the little that remained, moved furniture. The book would wait. I’d celebrate its release later. And I wanted to stay strong and present for Uwe, because these are the moments when your partner is so much more important than anything else.

When we finally got done with all the details a few days ago, I turned my attention back to a very special project that will take place next Monday, June 6th. My first-ever writing commission has been to write a story to connect an evening of Gershwin songs. In February I wrote in a 2-week blaze of inspiration for NEAT, the New English American Theater in Stuttgart.  The four singers and a pianist rehearsed the songs. A Welsh actor will read my story. All I have to do is show up and sit in the audience and marvel and enjoy the talent on the stage.

I went to a rehearsal a few nights ago and heard my story spoken aloud for the first time. It is a surreal experience to hear one’s creative work interpreted and combined into a greater artistic work. I was speechless as I watched and listened. Up to that night, I’ve been numb. I figured I could finally allow myself to feel proud, to be satisfied with all the hard work I’ve done with my writing. I gave myself permission to be excited about my book and the Gershwin evening. But when I let myself open up to feeling something emotional, a tidal wave of grief hit me. I’m mourning my mother-in-law of course. I’m grieving for her, even knowing she was ready to go and had given us the gift of waiting until we got to her bedside to leave us. One of us, Uwe or I, have visited her pretty much every other day for the two years that she lived in the nursing home near us. I don’t have to feel bad about not seeing her enough, or caring enough. But I write this in the present tense, because it’s all occurring in real time still. The birth of my book, the death of Mama, the use of my words to connect the magic of timeless songs, it all weaves together for me, I can’t separate out any of the strands. I’m a hot mess, trying to remember how to feel again. I remind myself that any one of these emotions is huge, fraught with anticipation and months or years of living and taking form and interconnecting with hopes and expectations. Love, sorrow, hope, creativity, illness, dying, death, coming into being, leaving this earthly plane…. Trying to remember how to feel any one of these emotions, let alone all of them all at once, overwhelms me.

But mostly, mostly, perhaps what I feel is gratitude. To know what I have in my mother-in-law and my art. To literally feel in body and soul how it all connects. To be able to feel again, even if it leaves me in tears.

And to know I’ve got a lot more tears in me.

NOTES: In loving memory of Margaretha Hartmann.

The Reluctant Pilgrim

When Kim had told her friends back home about the tour, everyone was excited. “Wow! India! You’ll have incredible adventures! It has the most powerful spiritual energy. They say you go to India and come back changed.”

She’d responded with vague remarks; Kim was a reluctant pilgrim. She didn’t trust people who talked about India as a portal to enlightenment.

But Goa was too Western for her tastes after all. After ten days on the beach, she hungered for the real India… whatever that was. She wouldn’t experience more than a small chunk of the subcontinent. What did she expect, beach parties or yoga in ashrams? Goat curry, or moguls and the Taj Mahal? Ayurveda medicine, or Kashmir shawls? Nonviolent resistance, or gang rape and murder on a public bus? Castes and slums and hovels, or India’s headlong advances as a BRIC nation?

There was surely more than the mutilated saint of Goa’s Catholicism. “There are as many religions as there are people on the planet,” Gandhi had said. India was Hindu and as easily Muslim and Buddhist and Zoroastrian and Christian and Jain and Sikh and Baha’i and….

And, Kim reminded herself, India’s a mirror. Travelers who expect poverty and squalor find both in spades. Visitors seeking enlightenment find that, too. What am I here for? If I stay open minded, what’ll I find? She chewed the tip of her pen. 02420_Ind_03_25_011Goa was Portuguese, she considered writing, and gorgeous ocean views, the rave scene and meals eaten in beach shacks. Every sentence sounded like factoids from a travelogue.

Kim put away her postcards unfinished.

© Jadi Campbell 2016. From Grounded. Go to following link to order my books: https://www.amazon.com/author/jadicampbell

NOTES: Go to my earlier posts The Erotic Architecture of Khajuraho, Travel Karma, and Remind Me Again: What Are We Doing Here? to read about our visits to India. Photo Copyright © 2014 Uwe Hartmann. All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image. More pictures from India and of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

 

You Can Have Your Cake & Eat It, Too

If you grow up with the name Jadi, it will be mispronounced. Jodi. Judy. Janie. Right when a community had it figured out, we would move. One after the other, a parade of grade school and high school teachers and college professors stumbled reading roll call.  

When the second Star Wars film came out, everyone at the firm where I worked treated me to (insert uproarious laughter here) “Hey! It’s The Return of the Jadi!”

Perhaps it was inevitable that I married a German named Uwe.

Uwe is a common name in Germanic countries, but just about impossible to pronounce correctly for anyone else. “Ova?” my mother suggested. “Ewe-y,” grinned Dad; I know he did it on purpose.

We had a quiet wedding in Germany and a party Stateside a few months later. A restaurant catered the reception and a local bakery made the wedding cake(s).  

I’ve written elsewhere about the awesomeness of German bakeries [1]. For our party, rather than do a tiered and tired yum-where’d-you-get-this-cake-that-tastes-like-sugar-covered-cardboard, I wanted to honor the country I was marrying along with meinen Mann. I went to the best bakery in town and made a proposal:

I ordered six sheet cakes, all different. Yellow cake. Coconut cake. Carrot cake. Chocolate cake. Spice cake. And, yes, one white cake. Turns out I’m a sucker for tradition after all. The bakery manager dutifully wrote everything down.

“And,” I continued with the order, “I want you to write our names on all of the cakes. Wrong. Except for one of them. Here’s a list of names for each cake,” I said, and handed him a page of phonetics.

When we went to pick up those cakes before the party, the bakery let us know how much fun they’d had filling the order!  

Twenty-three years later I recall those cakes with a smile – and wonder where the time went.  

JayDee and Oyvay 4Ever!

Hochzeit1 Hochzeit2

NOTES: [1]  Go to My Mother-In-Law’s Cookies for more about the tradition of yummy German cakes. [2] New Morning Bakery in Corvallis, Oregon still prepares their own baked goods and meals.

Good Things Come in Threes

There is an old saying that ‘good things come in threes’. Right now this is true for my writing at bookoftheday.org ! I am in the unique position of being featured 3 times around the site. Broken In: A Novel in Stories is one of the books of the day. Tsunami Cowboys stayed on the ‘Trending’ list for weeks, and remains on the The Trending Jumbotron Top Ten page (http://bookoftheday.org/top-ten/). And I have an author page.  It’s not often that a writer gets to share news this good! Please take a look at the site and explore the pages. In our electronic age, clicks add up.

My Next Public Reading

To learn about the Writers in Stuttgart and our public reading on Friday, March 18, visit this link : NEAT Recommends the Writers in Stuttgart.
PS: For your added amusement, click on the bottom left photo to the right of the link’s screen under Dark Monday in February. That’s me on stage, in our first performance of The Vagina Monologues!

History’s Loop 3

“The danger was all the candles. I’d set some on the back of the toilet and on the edge of the tub so people could see to use the facilities. And we placed an old candelabra in the living room. Lynn bent over it and just about lit her bangs on fire. After that just grownups were allowed to go near any candles or handle the lanterns or grill. Responsible adults only.” Her eyes focus far in the past.

“But it was like a party.” Keith contributes, “We were all together. The Robinsons were our best friends and our kids were all roughly the same ages and in the same grades and played together. If this was the end of the world, I was glad the kids were safe and well fed, I’d just eaten a great steak, and I was with the people I care for most. Although if I’m honest, if I remember right that steak had freezer burn. And it was cold outside; it was November. But I remember it this way, the best meal and one of the best nights of my life. Isn’t that funny?”

“Funny….” Sue’s voice trails off.

I don’t know if she considers it funny ha-ha or funny terrible. Maybe both. Cass and Jolie have finished their meals and sit. Their eyes move in their faces as they follow our conversation.

“We didn’t talk about what was happening. It’s not that it happened fast; just the opposite. It was all so gradual. Information kind of trickled out.”

Our own meals arrive, and they fall silent. The waiter leaves, Timber and I start to eat, and only then do they return to the story.

“On the drive home from work,” Keith continues, “I listened to the radio. And while no one reported it as a possible attack, I know that’s what I suspected. I was going to keep that to myself and not worry my family. But when I walked in the house I took one look at Sue’s face and knew that she was thinking the exact same thing. But all she asked was, ‘The city too?’ and before I could do anything more than nod a yes the kids burst through the door to tell me all about the lights in the whole neighborhood going out. We just kind of looked at one another over their heads and it was parents’ mental telepathy, as parents we were going to guarantee their last night on Earth was, like Lynn kept saying about the house being lit up with candles, ‘magic’. And, Jeff.” Keith takes a big swallow of water and resumes in a low pitch.

Timber leans forward to hear.

“He wanted to help. Together we filled a bunch of gallon jugs and pitchers with water. Then the sinks and the bathtub. Later when all the kids had gone to bed we sat with Jerry and Irene and had a night cap. They left and went back next door.”

“’I want to check on the kids,’ Jerry told you,” recalls Sue. “That night was the first time I thought of him as a good dad. Irene always had to haul him home once the two of you got going drinking beer or shooting the breeze out back.”

“Beer drinking doesn’t make someone a bad parent. But yeah, he liked his booze. A twenty-year old Scotch on the last night on earth isn’t a bad thing.”

Sue turns to the girls. “Cass, you referred earlier to Nine-Eleven. In 1965, the scariest thing was the not knowing. Nine-Eleven was a different story. With that one it was clear pretty quick who the enemy was. We used that information as an excuse to act out our lowest common denominators.”

Cass tenses. “Gram, you don’t really think that, do you?” It’s not a question; it’s a plea.

Timber, Sue, Keith and I exchange glances. Keith and Sue sit up a little straighter. “Never get old people rambling about the past,” Sue smiles at her granddaughter, asking forgiveness. “My story happened half a century ago, and kind of feels like more than a world away from what’s going on now. But it’s the same historic loop: humans scared this time we’ve blown it. But,” she folds the pleat in her cloth napkin, running an arthritic index finger along its seam, “maybe not. We’ll pull through. And the important thing is to be with the people you care about.”

“If you’ll excuse me.” Timber pushes his chair back and heads for the restrooms at the back of the restaurant.

 

© Jadi Campbell 2016. From Grounded. Go to following link to order my books: https://www.amazon.com/author/jadicampbell

History’s Loop 1

We order clam chowders, avocado halves filled with shrimp, sole with crab meat, and scallops sautéed with leeks and tomatoes. Another glass of white wine for me, a third local beer for Timber. Alcohol seems to have little effect no matter how much we drink. And I was never a drinker before.

Before. Back in the days when I was a faithful wife and knew where my kids were at all times. Back when the world was one I could recognize.

“Cheers.” My smile wobbles as we toast one another.

We’re diverted by laughter from the next table. An old woman leans over and kisses her husband’s cheek. She gives us a sunny smile. “I couldn’t help overhearing you order. You picked all our favorite dishes.”

“Oh, Grammy.” The tawny-haired young female who says this and rolls her eyes is improbably beautiful. She has the flawless skin and glossy sheen of someone with her whole life ahead of her. She’s nineteen, twenty maybe, tops, just a few years older than Theresa. She sits across the table from her grandparents next to a friend, who nudges her with a grin.

The young women slurp drinks in globe glasses through straws as they stare at us. I watch, amused beyond words, as they check us out. I can almost hear the category click into place: Our parents’ age group, probably parents themselves. The guy she’s with is cute though – for an old guy.

I’m grateful for the youth at the next table. That’s the thing with a catastrophe: you want your children to carry on, no matter what happens to you. I have a Crosby, Still, Nash and Young album, with a song called ‘Teach Your Children’. Its tender lyrics about how you on the road should teach your children well are suddenly, acutely visionary.

“…Keith James; this is my wife Sue. And this is Cass and her friend Joley. Cass always stays with us in August.”

I come back to the present as the strangers introduce themselves. “Joley and I are starting nursing school and Gram told us, if we want to specialize in geriatrics start with them. Grandpa got his other hip replaced so it’s good we’re here. But I’d come anyways. I love summer in Ocean Beaches.” Their granddaughter in the summer print dress and sandals speaks politely, but she and her friend keep staring.

“I’m Glen, and this is Nicole. Nice to meet you.” Timber’s eager to talk, seeking an antidote to the grim calculations we just heard in the bar. “We had the best afternoon!” he offers. “We went to the beach.”

The two girls burst into laughter and for some reason it sounds familiar. For the first time the granddaughter’s friend speaks. “We were like, jogging, and saw someone who was like, almost bare, fighting a dog for her clothes. And, you,” she turns and looks at Timber and her eyes go glassy in admiration. “You did this amazing series of back flips and took off most of your clothes too! When we saw you come in the restaurant I knew that for sure it had to be you!”

With relish Timber and the girls tell Keith and Sue about the incident. I’m too embarrassed to do anything except nod. At the end of the telling everyone laughs and I join in.

Timber gives the two young women a smile that makes their cheeks flush like a blush wine.

Cass’s grandfather offers, “We’re on a budget, but we go out to dinner once a week no matter what. Thursdays, you’ll find us right here. It’s not just, um, old people’s force of habit. Or maybe it is…”

“Are you from here?”

“We moved here decades ago. We love the coast,” Sue answers. “Our daughter talked us into it. Lynn (Cass’s mom), and her family live in Corvallis. We’re glad to have Cass and Joley with us.”

Keith says, “Lynn’s anxious, but we’re fine. We keep telling her, Ocean Beaches just might be the safest place in the country right now. And if not, then not. Life goes on, and Thursday means dinner at The Sea Shore.”

“How can you be so calm with the world exploding?” It blurts out before I can prevent it. I go red, embarrassed and sorry to have ruined the relaxed conversation. I can’t seem to stop asking my desperate question of everyone we meet today.

I’m saved by the arrival of a waiter. He sets down two plates each of sole and scallops and in spite of myself I laugh.

“Okay, so it is force of habit.…” Keith picks up his silverware and prepares to dig in.

“Truth in advertising!” I tease.

“The scallops? They’re the best,” Joley declares. She widens her eyes and gulps more of her drink.

“By the way,” Keith says. “Your question? This isn’t the first time we were afraid maybe the world was ending.”

© Jadi Campbell 2016. From Grounded. Go to following link to order my books: https://www.amazon.com/author/jadicampbell