Dance of the Dryads

photo.JPGForest Tree

Dance of the Dryads

By: Heather Nanni

I feel the leaves beneath my feet.

I hear the sound of the branches snap.

I am lost and this wood is dark.

From this place I cannot retreat.

 

Mighty Artemis protect me.

Please treat me as that sacred stag.

Do not hunt me through this forest.

But for the trees I cannot see.

 

So now I spy the dryads dance.

Unlucky wanderer I am!

To understand this life I live,

I now fear I may lose my chance.

 

Enchanted, I watch each nymph move.

I am mesmerized by their grace.

As a chorus they do not play.

Each one, her own talent to prove

 

I, their captive audience, spins.

Trying to catch a glimpse of each

Hoping one will show me the way

out of this place before fear wins

 

But I have lost my chance.

I cannot see my way out.

They have linked arms and skip around me.

I am a prisoner of the dryads’ dance.

 

 

Etude in Words

Two years ago to the month I was in the throes of a terrible bout of anxiety.  Worry had essentially taken over my life, and I spent every spare moment ruminating over and researching those matters that caused me angst. At some point during July of 2012 someone asked me, “Heather, when you are done spending all your time worrying, what are you going to do?”  I responded, “I’d like to write.” 

Another year passed and in July of 2013 I launched this blog, quirknjive.com.  Despite having an undergraduate degree in English and writing academic pieces and copy as part of my profession, it had been years since I wrote anything creative or deeply personal.  Quite frankly, despite feeling compelled to do it, the idea of harnessing my thoughts and ideas and organizing them into any sort of narrative was frightening.  In my twenties I had worked as a dancer, and receiving a  harsh criticism of a performance was never as painful as receiving negative feedback from one of my college professors on a piece of writing I had submitted.  Never are you more vulnerable than when you write.  If you write with your authentic voice, everything is exposed: your creative ability, your technique and, perhaps most frightening, your intelligence.  Even which direction your moral compass points can be gleaned through your writing. When I shared my fears about writing with my brother Sean, a writer himself, he reminded me of this famous quote by Ernest Hemingway, “There is nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at the typewriter and bleed.”  So I opened my blog and began writing, but I wasn’t ready to bleed…not yet. 

I had conceptualized quirknjive.com as a sort of “mommy blog” about a domestically challenged homemaker who never seemed to be able to get her shit together enough to keep up with the other suburban housewives.  I saw myself as being a Morticia Addams in a sea of June Cleavers and Donna Stones.  My plan was to have a sometimes silly, sometimes bittersweet, yet always insightful blog about my efforts to get through my days despite a variety of challenges, most of those being my own personal inadequacies. So I came up with my tagline, “living life slightly outside of the box,”  and began blogging.  And it was fun at first. 

As I continued to blog, however, I began to struggle to keep to the intended theme. It became a chore to make every post an exercise in self-deprecation.  An old familiar voice began to emerge, and I found myself sometimes venturing into topics that really didn’t quite fit with my site. In March my writing shifted.  I began working with poetry and writing essays that could no longer fit within the confines of my “mom blog.”

So, as I have grown as a writer, quirknjive.com has grown as a blog. My goal now is not to play the role of the self-deprecating homemaker but to focus on the craft of writing itself, to use writing to find meaning when so much in life seems meaningless, and to create.  Of course I will write about my children; we are inextricably linked, and so many of my thoughts are centered on them. Limiting yourself as a writer, however, to a role, topic or theme is like taking a walk in the forest and forcing yourself to only look at the flowers while ignoring the majesty of the trees, the splendor of the sun filtering through the forest’s umbrella, the melody of the birds chirping and the gentle whoosh of leaves blowing in the breeze.   Moving forward, I will use this space not only as a mother’s place to write, but as a writer’s place to be free.

“La Vita e’ Triste” Redux

“La Vita e’ Triste” Redux

By: Heather Nanni

photo.JPG Winter

You think all is well, all is fine.

But this life is sad by design.

Comedy needs the tragic thread.

Humor is born when we have bled.

When peace abounds, winged Eris waits.

A golden apple holds your fate.

In due time discord will arrive.

Only the strongest can survive.

But Thanatos takes even those.

He whisks all to death’s darkest throes.

 

All joy shall pass.

All sorrow shall pass.

We shall pass.

In this knowledge sadness resides.

Only time is eternal.

 

Time leaves us in its wake.

As our bodies crumble to dust

As our memory fades to ash

Thine self this life does take.

La Vita e’ Triste

photo.JPG JackAnna

Over the past week I have caught myself repeatedly muttering, “La vita e’ triste.” You see, my Roman mother-in-law Anna is visiting for the month of June. Over the years, despite Anna’s broken English and my inability to speak Italian, the two of us have forged a means of communication that works.  Sometimes we speak through silence.  Most times I lean on Anna to translate whatever she wants to say into English, and, on rare occasions, I shamelessly attempt to articulate complete thoughts in Italian.

Despite Anna’s joy over seeing us, there is always an undertone of sadness to her visits.  Her son and her grandchildren live in the United States; she lives in Italy.  Piergiorgio left Italy almost twenty years ago and has not returned home.  He will likely never return to Italy, at least not permanently.  He is American now.  His children are American.  And, while I am blessed to have him, his mother has suffered greatly.  Piergiorgio’s mother and father (who we lost far too early) were wonderful parents.  They gave him and his brother beautiful childhoods.  They were good and loving parents who placed their children above all else, and yet that was not enough to keep my husband with them.  Piergiorgio’s is an adventurous spirit.  There was something that called him here.  Unfortunately, with my happiness, came Anna’s sufferance. Where there is great joy there is also great pain.  Such is life.  La vita e’ triste.

I am so puzzled by life.  Recently my son inquired, “Mommy, why is God a bully?”  He continued, “You know Mommy.  Why does he let us love people and then take them away?  Why?”  I have noticed that Jack has been preoccupied with aging. My father, who will turn seventy within the next couple of weeks, is Jack’s best friend.  He and my mother also suffer from Parkinson’s disease.  This weighs heavily upon my son.  Jack knows that we do not live forever.  He cannot reconcile himself with the fact that, while we were gifted with the capacity for incredible love, those we love will be taken from us.  Why?  I was caught off guard.  How do you answer that? How was I to answer that?  I responded, “Don’t worry Jack, we are all reunited in Heaven with those we love.”  But Jack does worry.  I worry.  What is the point?  Why would a benevolent God allow, nay…create, such a painful life? We are born; we love, we rejoice; we suffer; we lose; we die.  La vita e’ triste. 

Of course, there is great, unbearable, catastrophic sufferance, and then there is the gentle sadness of living.  I wouldn’t dare to even venture into the topic of the former.  That I cannot even begin to comprehend.  I am talking about the small things we all suffer as part of the natural course of life. As young children, we are forced to ride the tides of life.  We change schools and say farewell; we move to new homes and say farewell;  we lose grandparents and say farewell.  As young adults we move away from family and say farewell.  As parents, we devote our lives to our beloved children and then release them into the world, only to be left empty and alone.  We continue to say farewell.  As elderly, we say farewell to friends and spouses.  We witness ourselves become obsolete even as we continue to live and breathe.  La vita e’ triste.

And all the while, despite all this sadness, we rejoice.  Babies are born; friendships are formed; lovers are wed; beautiful music is created, delicious food is consumed.  We laugh heartily.  We enjoy sunrises and sunsets. We cradle our infants and cuddle our children.  We sing.  We dance.  We enjoy this beautiful life.  So how is it that life can be so, so sad?  This is the great paradox of living.

I think of one of my favorite pieces of music,  Arvo Part’s Tabula Rasa.  It is a work full of silences, silences which fill the listener with anticipation and excitement.  These silences are followed by the intensely beautiful and melancholy strains of the violin.  The violins pulse like metronomes, speaking the language of love and passion as they count down time.  Everything is finite.  All must end. The music tells us so.   The end of the first movement of Tabula Rasa, entitled “Ludus,” is so dark and forbidding that I almost cannot bear to listen.  And then, like angels whispering from the heavens, the second movement, “Silentium” begins.  And it is peaceful and sad.  As I listen, I picture a lover cradling his dead beloved, all the while, angels sing the sad song of finality and eternity. 

After listening to Tabula Rosa, I feel more human, happier, sadder, more complete and more understanding.  Perhaps that is the point.   To understand this life, with all of its joy and sufferance, we must view it and listen to it, as we view and listen to a work of art.  We must be detached, apart from, yet fully emerged.  We must understand and embrace life’s intrinsic sadness.  We grow old.  We love.  We lose.  We laugh.  We cry.  We live.  This is life.  Such is life.  In our final act, we die and others lose and suffer.  La vita e’ triste.

Yet, there is beauty in our delicate frailty.  Joy, sadness and loss is part of our human condition. In order to appreciate this life we must observe it, as if lying supine under the surface of water, and watch life unfold above, knowing we are hopeless as the currents move us in directions beyond our control.  In our hopelessness, we relinquish control and cherish all of it.  Life is wondrous.  Life is beautiful.  Life is sad.  La vita e’ triste.

On Knowing

On Knowing

By: Heather Nanni

Imbeciles speak certainty

What a gift

To speak as if to know

To know nothing and yet speak

Profess

Extol the virtues of a fool

And believe

And others believe your earnest folly

What hubris

Oh how I envy your lack of modesty, your lack of shame

I would trade fortunes if only to share in your gift

To know

I would know

so I would sing

 

Lie with me

in the night                                                                                             

 

Look at the stars  

without fear 

without fright

 

Know all is well   

Don’t question   

Do not doubt

 

The stars will not fall

and burn your dreams out

 

But I am too tired

so tired

I will leave night to my dreams

Perhaps tomorrow I will know

On Words to the Truth

On Words to the Truth

By: Heather Nanni

When we can no longer                                                                       

dance and play      

we are left with words                                                                             

Only words to say                                                                                  

Truth

 

Words and truth    

Oh what folly!

 

Intellect                                                                                                   

arsenic                                                                                                  

Add it to the wine                                                                                      

So we drink and dine                                                                           

We feast on lies                                                                                    

and we think

 

Of honest days                                                                                 

when we danced and played                                                               

and now 

 

round and round and round we go                                                        

the truth, the truth                                                                             

words cannot tell

 

So we twist and bend                                                                            

we turn and convolute                                                                            

and say and say                                                                              

nothing                                                                                                        

No truth

 

Just words upon words                                                                         

we feast                                                                                                

And we think, we deceive                                                                     

And we search                                                                                     

For what?                                                                                             

For what?                                                                                         

What?

 

We do not know                                                                                   

For left with only words                                                                          

the self cannot show                                                                          

itself                                                                                                          

its truth

 

 

 

Tale of the Child’s Night

CYMERA_20140503_211804.jpg Chilld's Night

Tale of the Child’s Night

By: Heather Nanni

“May we look at the stars Mommy?”                                                  

“Yes Love”                                                                                           

Eyes Up

 

We were three                                                                                       

All the delights                                                                                       

two could see

 

The moon showed us                                                                        

the silver platter and said,                                                                      

“Come, come to me.                                                                           

Oh how happy you will be.”

 

But one poor soul                                                                                

The moon swallowed him whole

 

Some skip on stars                                                                          

over night’s great river

 

But for others                                                                                        

that cannot be                                                                                         

They get caught by the Hunter                                                            

and carried out to the sea

 

Fear, Doubt and Religion

We are hardwired for fear. In its purest and most primal form, fear protects us. It is what alerts us to danger. It is what makes our hearts quicken and hairs stand on end when we encounter ravenous wild animals in the forest and see tornadoes making their way through our neighborhoods. It is what lets us know that we need to run and hide or seek protection and safety.

Fear, as it was intended, is good, but somehow humans, as we have a tendency to do, have managed to pervert it, twist it and exploit it, so that which was originally intended to protect now serves to harm. Anyone who suffers from anxiety can tell you just how damaging fear can be, how, when we take an instinct designed with the intention of preserving our safety and set it in overdrive, destructive it can turn.

I have spent much of my life being afraid of everything. Afraid of being bad, afraid of making mistakes, afraid of taking chances, afraid of not being intelligent enough or good enough or enough of anything for that matter. In short, afraid of not being perfect. When I had children, I became overwhelmed with the fear that I would somehow make a mistake so large, so earth shattering that I could allow harm to come their way. Their well being lay in the balance and it depended on one thing-that I remained fearful enough to protect them from life and all its dangers. And I must say that being charged with protecting someone from everything is a miserable task. How stupid and silly we become when we so fully commit ourselves to the impossible.

Over the years I have worked on improving my ability to judge what should truly elicit fear and what is nothing more than a part of life with all its uncertainty. But fear still stirs me in deep and powerful ways, and I have to remain ever vigilant of its powers.

Over the past ten days I have given a lot of thought not only to fear but also to religion and its connection to fear as well. Perhaps it was the fact that last Sunday was Easter. Perhaps it was because I did not attend mass on this most holy of holidays, or perhaps it was seeing the parking lot of the church down the street filled with the cars of the faithful. Whatever the reason, I found myself dedicating a significant amount of time thinking over the matter. I was raised Catholic. I attended Catholic schools almost my entire academic life, even earning my undergraduate degree from a Jesuit university. Up until about seven years ago I attended mass regularly and did my best to be a good member of the Church. The problem is that I was not “blessed” with faith. I have always questioned and doubted. My mother once told me a story of how as a little girl (I think I was about five or six years old), I rolled my eyes and incredulously responded “Oh come on mom,” when she taught me about a miracle a saint performed. There it was. My lack of faith. My skepticism. My cynicism already rearing its ugly head at such a young age. I was told to pray for faith, to believe. But I didn’t believe, not completely, not everything. And I feared my lack of faith.

Growing up, I viewed my skepticism as being rooted in some form of evil. As stated in the Bible, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed ” (John 20:29). Unfortunately, I was like Eve. I was lured by Satan and bit into the metaphorical apple. I wanted “wisdom” (wisdom being used as a pejorative here). I questioned and doubted. I was Doubting Thomas. And doubt, when it comes to matters of religion and faith, is something to be feared.

I have learned, however, that there is something inherently damaging about fearing your very nature. “Lack of faith is bad.” “Doubt is bad.” For me these principles of blind faith seem to fly in the face of logic. It wasn’t until after graduate school and spending years teaching English and critical thinking that I realized that my talents lie in my ability to analyze, evaluate, doubt, consider and revise. I see my ability to think critically as my strength. It is something that could only be bad or bring harm when used with nefarious intent. I have learned that if I approach matters of religion with an open heart and mind and a healthy dose of doubt and awareness of the possibility that some things might not be true, not literally at least, that when I do believe something, the belief is strong and powerful.

Spiritually I consider myself a work in progress. I no longer fear that I am bad and going to hell because I don’t attend mass. I am a believer. I believe in much, but not all, that the Church teaches. But I am no longer frightened to say that I don’t fully trust the Church as a human institution. I just don’t. Of course I am neither a theologian nor a philosopher nor a historian for that matter. I am sure there is much out there that may convince me otherwise. But until I have the time to study and reflect and learn, I cannot truly believe. Should I fear my need for more knowledge? Should I fear that my faith needs to be fueled by some fact and study? I don’t, not any more. What I need is time. I need time away from the Church to research it and study and analyze and evaluate and ultimately decide what it is I truly believe. Rather than considering myself a fallen away Catholic, I prefer to view myself as a Catholic on sabbatical. I also don’t consider myself a free agent in the religion market. I am looking to work flexibly within the parameters of the traditions within which I was raised. I am, however, no longer so afraid that I feel the need to go to mass and go through the motions as if I can fool God into thinking I believe in what I am doing.

When it comes to matters of fear and religion I have learned that I do not need to feel afraid that the Church no longer serves as my moral compass. I believe in being good for the sake of being good. I believe that our job here on earth is to love and care for each other, for everyone. If I’m not mistaken that belief is in line with the teachings of Christ. Humans were created to think, to doubt, to gather information and, based upon sound judgement and reason, decide what to believe. That is our nature. If we are to be believe that we were created by God and that God is goodness and love, then we cannot fear that God will condemn us because, even in our search for the divine and spiritual, we question, doubt and seek knowledge.

March

photo.JPGMarchLightJ

March

By: Heather Nanni

March, you roar in like a lion and punch me in the gut.

Yours is a month of cruel contradictions.

The sun, it sits low in the sky and glares harshly enough to burn the eyes.

Yet, it does not produce enough heat to thaw those things

     those things so desperately in need of warmth.

The brown, lifeless grass reveals itself through piles of dirt-stained snow

     an elusive promise of new life trapped beneath dead blades.

You rule with false promise and deception.

During your reign, the white mounds of winter

     once burdensome, yet magical

            melt away

     leaving us with the sad, stark truth of what really lies beneath.

Intelligence, Talent and Ability. How Does Our Society Truly Perceive Those with Special Needs?

photo.JPG Intelligence
We have come a long way in terms of how we view and treat individuals with learning disabilities. We no longer force our dyslexic students to stand up in class and read aloud from the textbook, and we certainly don’t berate them if they are unable to sound out certain words.  Teachers, for the most part, are aware of the discrepancy model.  They know that, for students with disabilities, there is a significant gap between their performance and ability levels; therefore, if a student cannot read at grade level, most teachers are aware that this doesn’t mean that the student lacks intelligence.   Unfortunately, “ability” is commonly measured by a battery of tests, some of which are heavily laden in the verbal realm, so if you have a perfectly intelligent individual who was not exposed to rich language then the scores he or she earn will be likely underestimations of their true abilities.   Most teachers, however, are aware of the imperfections of our means of measuring intelligence and will at least give students with reading difficulties the benefit of the doubt.  If only we would do the same for our other “special needs” students, those with ADD, ADHD, PDD, OCD, ODD, SPD, ASD… Unfortunately, we all too often underestimate individuals who struggle with these issues. Unlike many LD students who are able to conform with the pack, the issues that individuals with attention, spectrum and sensory disorders grapple with are often manifested through quirky, atypical and often “bothersome” behaviors. We often become so focused on these behaviors that we don’t see the whole person and the talents that lie beneath the surface.

Just the other day I was in the company of a couple of women, one of whom was a teacher, talking about a child who used to live in their neighborhood.  When I heard the child’s name, I nearly fell over.  After asking a few questions, we determined the child they were talking about had grown to become the same individual that I taught in one of my college classes the previous year.  I recognized her name because she was one of my favorite students. Yes, she was a bit quirky, but she was also very, very bright.  As a matter of fact, I remember this student helping her classmates interpret one of the novels we were reading in class.  What shocked me was that the teacher participating in this conversation was incredulous when she heard that her former neighbor, clearly a quirky and “atypical” kid, was a star in my classroom.  You know, “being special needs and all.” 

What stuck me as most disturbing about the aforementioned conversation was this idea that “special needs” was somehow synonymous with incapable.  The very idea that the woman I know from my classroom had been pegged as someone who was “not college material” when she was only ten or eleven years old was deeply unsettling.  The fact that some teachers today still have these mindsets about “those special needs kids” makes me question the quality of education “those special needs kids” are given.  It makes me wonder how these children can possibly be invited into the pack with the rest of their “typical” peers if their teachers perceive them as ‘other’ and “less than.” This is not a sweeping statement about all teachers.  I am a teacher myself, many of my family members are teachers and most of my friends are teachers.  When my son, who has some “special needs,” was in school, his teachers were some of the kindest and sensitive individuals I have met, and they were deeply disturbed not by his behaviors, but because he struggled despite the fact that he is so bright. 

The conversation about my former student got me thinking about not only how some teachers perceive our special needs kids, but also how we as a society view those who are a little different, quirky and differently-abled. It also got me thinking how we as parents must protect our children from the misconceptions derived from the “special needs” label. 

When it becomes clear that our children are struggling not only academically but socially as well, we seek a diagnosis.  We are encouraged to get testing.  We want so much to put a halt to whatever it is that makes our children’s lives so much more difficult than the other kids.  We have our children tested.  We seek the help of therapists and specialists.  We read and read and read what the experts have to say. Initially we are uncomfortable with whatever label is placed upon our children.  We may keep it to ourselves to protect our bright and capable kids from being misunderstood and stigmatized. Then we realize that we are doing our children a disservice by keeping this information to ourselves, so, first, we tell our family and friends. Then we tell the school and teacher; then we find ourselves telling people standing in front of us at the grocery store because they are obviously annoyed that our children are speaking too loudly.  We find ourselves throwing this label around at the park in an effort to explain to parents that our children are not screaming and crying because they are misbehaved but because the park is too crowded and chaotic that day and that makes our children uneasy or because, despite their appearance, some of our children have weak muscle tone and keeping up with the other children at the park is frustrating, and some days it’s just too damn difficult.  We use these labels to explain why our children melt down at birthday parties.  Parties are too loud, too scary for our children who have sensory integration issues. Then we start to use our child’s label to not only explain behaviors but also to make ourselves feel better.  My child behaves that way, not because I am  a bad parent, but because she has x, y or z. Sometimes people get it, but sometimes the people you most expect to understand, the ones you count on, don’t.  Personally, I was shocked to find that some of the relationships I had cultivated began to wane once I put the label out there. Even more disconcerting, many hear the label, whatever it may be, and decide that this must mean that our children are not only different, they are also less capable.

What’s most frustrating is once you muster up the courage to voice that label you have been avoiding; once you put it out there; you hear comments like “those special needs kids” or “Oh yeah. Everyone has a label now a days,” as if we just make this stuff up as a means of explaining our kids’ quirkiness. Sometimes we listen to these comments, and we panic.  We think, “What if they are right? What if we are making excuses?”  Sometimes we react by experimenting.  We decide to “ignore” our children’s diagnosis.  We treat them like every other typical kid.  We get frustrated when they get distracted and forget to do what we ask.  We panic when they cannot concentrate on their school assignments and begin to make mistake after mistake after mistake.  And you know what?  Our kids read our panic and frustration.  They understand, and they begin to question themselves, their abilities, their value, their talents. So, yes, having and understanding our children’s diagnosis is good, but we must be aware of how we use it.  All too easily, something intended to help our children turns into something that, when misinterpreted, becomes damaging.   

I guess the broader question is how do we change society’s misconception of individual’s with those particular “special needs” that set them apart behaviorally?  Clearly the answer lies in the example we adults set for our children and the education we provide them at home.  I have witnessed other adults mock the IT guy in the office I once worked at because he was “strange.”  I have seen neighbors shun another neighbor because she is “weird.”  Perhaps we could lead this change by performing positive actions for our children to witness.  There has been a lot of lip service given to being kind, but being kind is more than just not bullying.  Kindness is an act.  You are not kind just because you don’t do something– although it does make us feel good about ourselves when we decide to refrain from making the snarky comment about the “weird” dude at work.  We cannot expect our children to be kind enough and brave enough to invite the loner, the social misfit to join their friends at the table in the cafeteria, unless we set the example.  We need to invite our off beat neighbors to the neighborhood picnic.  We need to chat with the quirky girl at the grocery school.  We need to befriend the odd man out in he workplace because we all know that the office is just a grown up version of the high school cafeteria, with all of its politics, cruelty and misery.  We need to befriend that outlier of the family, the one that everyone likes to gossip about and criticize. By forging friendships with those different from ourselves, with those who perhaps are a bit socially awkward, with those who really need friends, our children will have the courage to do the same. And I am not talking about forging fake, act of mercy, “gee now I feel good about myself” friendships.  I’m talking about true, “damn I really dig this person” friendships. I’m talking about hanging out with someone and truly appreciating who they are and enjoying their company.  Maybe if we do that, then our kids will be less likely to exclude the “special kids,” less likely to roll their eyes when their quirky classmates do or say something a bit out of the box, less likely to conveniently forget to invite them to the party and learn to truly and sincerely appreciate differences in thought and communication and interests.  Through our example, our children can learn not to patronize and take on quirky kids as pet projects but to embrace them as equals-equally intelligent, equally gifted, equally special. 

The most important thing we as parents of those with attention, sensory, spectrum and other disorders can do is to make sure that our children never feel  less than capable, less intelligent.  Never let your children feel less intelligent.  Never allow anyone to believe that they are less intelligent.  Intelligence is the gift our “special needs” kids (and adults) have been given.  Theirs is a beautifully creative intelligence.  They view the world differently than the rest.  Their lens is shaped by great sensitivity, intense emotions and, unfortunately, sufferance.  Our children are the creators, the ones who march to the beat of their hearts, not the collective drumming of a society and education system that does not fully understand. Of course they can go to college and succeed.  Of course they can excel.  Of course they can be fulfilled and happy…if if if and only if, we, their parents, foster their talents, help them to build confidence and develop self-esteem because, yes, they are special, no more special needs than anyone else, but special.  They have been gifted to us their parents and the world, for they see this world differently.  They navigate it in ways which others wouldn’t dream. They see and perceive in ways that others would not find possible.  They are brilliant and no one should ever, ever think otherwise.