Anxiety Knocking on Your Door

 

steel door handle on door

Photo by lalesh aldarwish on Pexels.com

Heart pounding, pulse quickening, shallow breathing-these are all very real symptoms of anxiety. I know because my anxiety is severe and at times crippling.

In examining my work as a writer, I have discovered that anxiety stands out as one of the great forces driving my narratives. What I have also noticed is that, when describing the condition, writers, myself included, focus on the physical manifestations listed above. We use these descriptions because they are accurate. Stating that, in the midst of an anxiety attack, your heart rate increases and you feel a pounding in your chest is not melodrama; it is truth.

The issue for the author, however, is because we use these descriptions so often, we have weakened their power. So, my self-assigned writing task for today is to describe anxiety in a way that reflects the truth yet eschews phrases that may, unfortunately, sound trite.

Here goes…

For me, when anxiety strikes, it is like hearing a knock on the front (or back) door. I assume that when most people hear a knock, they don’t panic-unless of course they have committed a crime and are waiting for the police to show up and arrest them.  Most think that perhaps it is a neighbor wanting to borrow a tool or a cup of sugar, or it could be the UPS carrier delivering a package. But, for a person with anxiety, a knock on the door always generates fear. The knock can mean that, in fact, the police have come to arrest you, although to the best of your knowledge, you have committed no crime. Or it could be someone coming to deliver tragic news. Or a home invader is positioned right outside the threshold. That knock on the door brings terror, and that terror spurs all those physical sensations we are going to avoid in this bit of writing.

What’s important to note here, is that if you suffer from anxiety, there is a constant rapping on your door-it comes in the sunlight, the moonlight and the shadows.

It reminds me of something I experienced as a teenager (true story). My father was a prison warden, and high-level corrections staff and their families were required to live on prison grounds, so, when I was ten years old, we moved onto state property. Our house was one of four built atop a hill.  Behind our homes were miles of forest. In front were fields and on the horizon, one of three prisons. For a child, the experience was what you would imagine-lonely and frightening.

One New Years Eve, my parents went out with my father’s colleagues who lived on the street. My brother was with friends and that left me alone on the hill with my best friend who came over to watch movies. I remember it was after midnight and we were upstairs watching Stand By Me when we heard a rapping on the back door.  We ran downstairs to see who it was, but when I turned on the back light, there was only darkness. Nothing else.  We grabbed knives from the kitchen and waited until my parents returned home.

So that’s it. Someone emerging from the darkness to rap on your door.  That’s anxiety.

A side note: a few months ago, I was startled awake by a rapping on the door. I looked at my phone; it was 3am.  I checked on my children before running downstairs and  peered out the window to find nothing. Just darkness.

 

 

 

Writing from Dark Places

lighted candle

Photo by Rahul on Pexels.com

Most of my writing is dark-themes of loneliness, isolation, mental illness and uncertainty weave their way throughout. At times I wonder if it is irresponsible, this putting more darkness into the world. But my writing is born from places shielded from the light-the space under the stairwell where I hide, the corner of the basement where the single sunbeam cannot reach. If I wrote from places other than where I sit, anything I produced would be dishonest.

Before I became a writer, I was a dancer. Dancing was my life from the moment I began my  formal training at three-years-old. I was good-technically-but didn’t possess any real artistry until I felt true and profound sufferance. I could hear the music, move to the music, but could not feel it. Only when I learned fear, loneliness and longing for things that no longer existed did I acquire an understanding that connected me to music and movement. It was that understanding that allowed me to merge the two through dance.

Not until I knew darkness could I understand the haunting ache of Arvo Part’s Tabula Rosa or the torment of his Fratres. Not until I understood fear could I  connect to the foreboding of Marin Marais Bells of St. Genevieve, or the terror of Mozart’s Requiem in D.

But, locked away in a studio listening to these pieces, working through them, I found an almost ecstatic beauty and pleasure in the movement born from them, a beauty that never could have been experienced without the painful feelings and memories the music evoked.

This is the paradox of darkness-with its sadness, comes a heightened joy.

As with dance, so too with writing. Darkness is the foundation upon which beauty and joy is built, at least for those of us fortunate enough to have experienced enough pain to fully embrace the light that emerges from the shadows.

As an artist, a writer, a lover of this wretchedly beautiful world, you must be honest; you must not ignore what exists- the darkness, the sorrow, the joy, the sublime. As Mary Oliver states in “Wild Geese,”

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Read and listen to full poem here.

So tell me writers, dancers, artists; tell me your despair, your fear, your pain; share with me your darkness so that I can tell you mine, and we can learn the truth and beauty of the world that goes on and on….

 

 

 

Goth Girls Hosting Superbowl Parties, Chinese New Year, Peyton Place and Other Random Stuff

IMG_20140205_210256.jpg Superbowl

Oh blog , how I have missed thee. The last couple of weeks have been long and busy. I did make one lame attempt at a blog post, and I was angry, so it was angry.   It was angry, angry, oh so angry. To have posted it would have been an act of sheer lunacy.  Instead, I have saved it, which I find rather titillating.  With one click of a key I can send my deepest, darkest thoughts out into blogosphere for all to read.  I can send words I will most certainly…well, let’s not get carried away here.  I will rephrase.  I can send words that I might, perhaps someday wish that I could take back.  It’s all so dangerous and exciting that I’m getting hot and bothered.  No let me rephrase…again. The thought of posting it is mildly exciting because it may elicit a mildly negative emotional response from very few readers.  Bottom line, the night I wrote it I was so very tired, and, instead of going to bed like a normal, responsible person, I had the genius idea to stay up very, very late and blog. I wrote and wrote for hours.  It was epic.  Thankfully, something told me that I should just run the whole thing by Giorgio before hitting publish. Upon hearing what I wrote, my dear, darling, ever supportive husband suggested that perhaps, just this once, I sleep on it before I post.  So I did.  I went to bed like I should have done in the first place, rather than wasting hours pounding out some mildly antagonistic blog. I slept one of those amazingly unsatisfying sleeps where you drop on the bed, as if you just dropped dead, and wake up in the same position as you landed the night before.  When I awoke the next morning, I no longer felt angry, and I decided to save my jive post for a later date. To sum it all up, I delved into the dark recesses of my demented brain.  No, that doesn’t sound quite right. Let me rephrase…again.   I thought some moderately negative thoughts, wrote them down, didn’t feel good about it and decided to put them on the back-burner and focus on lighter matters. In an attempt to purge myself of any residual negativity, I have decided to rundown the silly, awkward and ironic situations I found myself in this week.  So here goes:

Chinese New Year at School: We are in the process of selecting a school for Allegra for next year.  Last week Giorgio and I went to visit one school for the second time.  I really like this place and, wanting to present myself in a somewhat respectable manner, took great care to look my best.   I donned my favorite Chinese inspired jacket, which Giorgio HATES, but I love. Giorgio, who has become a caricature of himself, wore his chef uniform.  He did have to run to work after our visit, but I also suspect that he’s morphing into a kind of chefinator, always in uniform and ready to whip up a souffle on a moment’s notice. Then, we headed out the door. 

Once we arrived at the school and made our way inside, Giorgio, chef-in-uniform, began speaking with a school administrator.  Although I was chatting with an instructor at the time, I distinctly recall hearing him speaking metaphorically and comparing the inflexibility of the current education system to the policies of most chinese restaurants which do not allow simple changes or substitutions to be made to menu items. Hmmmm.

Then we observed classes and spoke to a few teachers.  One of my favorite instructors at the school actually complimented my jacket and noted that it was very festive.  You know, with the Chinese New Year and all, which the preschool happened to be celebrating when we made our way past their classroom.  It was a bit later that I was struck by how ridiculous the two of us must have looked…showing up at a school wearing a Chinese jacket, weaving Chinese food metaphors into our dialogue, all the while one of the classes is holding its Chinese New Year celebration*.  If we don’t get our shit together and stop sabotaging our child, she won’t be accepted anywhere. 

* I do have to add that, in fairness to Giorgio and myself, we really weren’t aware that it was the Chinese New Year.

Superbowl Party at the Aging Goth Chick’s Place:  Let me preface this by stating that I am not gothic.  As a matter of fact, I get the heebie jeebies very easily and can handle absolutely nothing that deals with the supernatural, vampires, witches, witchcraft, the occult, animal sacrifice, human sacrifice, spooky castles set atop cliffs, coffins, fog, medieval crucifixes, incense, velvet, the color burgundy, burgundy velvet …you get the point.  I do however like to wear black.  Of course, on special occasions, like visiting my child’s potential future school, I sometimes offset the black with cool Asian jackets or sparkly costume jewelry. Other than that, black is pretty much the only “color” I wear in the fall, winter and spring (in the summer I usually pull out some hot pink and bright yellow). Also, I do have a sort of severe look  and I have been questioned by my son’s former teacher if we were a goth family (because, as you know, goth families tend to send their children to parochial schools)…

I really need to dedicate an entire post to this topic, so I’ll give you the abridged version.  Jack was in kindergarten.  Due to sensory issues, he would only color in black.  He also told the teacher that we lost our pet snake in our house.  Here again, I am petrified of snakes.  I can’t look at them, think about them, hear their creepy hisssssssssses.  But, Jack decided to tell the teacher that we had one as a pet, or we did until we lost it.  So putting it all together-child drawing in black, mother wearing black, pet snake-she thought that, perhaps, we were goth.

Now where was I?  Oh yes. I am not goth. I just took some liberties to make the title more interesting.  Anyway, I also don’t look much like the stereotypical gal who gets all worked out about the Superbowl much less hosts a Superbowl party.  In truth, I can care less about the game itself, but I do host a Superbowl party. You see, as child, I always felt left out on Superbowl Sunday.  I believed that everyone else in the entire world was sitting in their living rooms eating cheesy nachos and drinking Cokes.  Although I had no interest in the game, I did like the idea of the holiday that Superbowl Sunday had become.  So every year we have a very small Superbowl party with the kids, my parents, my brother Sean and my sister-in-law Jen.  We make tons of junk food and, some watch the game. Meanwhile, the kids disturb everyone by making  too much noise which is completely unrelated to game viewing, and Jen and I suck down martinis (although this year we tried margaritas which were fabulous and will most likely be replayed next year).  It’s a great time. Even Ginger enjoyed her first Superbowl party and had a Manwich for dinner.

So this year, a couple of hours before the game, I found myself in the grocery picking up our party food and a couple of Superbowl balloons for the kids. The store was PACKED and people were crazed.  Seriously people, if we’re going to treat the Superbowl like it’s a holiday then we need to shop like it’s a holiday and get it done by the day before at least. But I digress.  Back to the story. I foolishly decided to pick up the kids balloons first.  Have you ever tried shopping with balloons tied to your cart?  It’s just ridiculous.  You look ridiculous.  You annoy everyone because you either smack them with your balloons or you bang into them because the balloons obstruct your view.  So that was me, banging into people, smacking them with my balloons and “I’m sorrying” everyone to death.  It was so obvious what I was up to, cart loaded with chips and soda, Superbowl balloons…  At some point I began to feel pretty foolish.  I must have looked pretty stupid, dressed in faux leather skin-tight pants, as usual,  and a faux feather top, racing around, balloons smacking my face.  It didn’t help that I had to endure the sneers of a few hipster types.  Hey, hold up a minute.  What were they doing with nachos in their cart?  Going home to watch Daniel Day Lewis in the Unbearable Lightness of Being?  I don’t think so.  Such a movie would require cigarettes and perhaps some humus and wheat crackers, not Doritos.  That’s right. On Superbowl Sunday everyone (well, a lot of people), even aging “goth” chicks want to eat nachos and pretend that we belong to something greater than just ourselves.  Now that I’ve put it into words, I don’t feel so foolish.  Grant it, I may have looked foolish, but that’s not really very important. Is it?

Peyton Place: A couple of nights ago, Giorgio suggested that we watch the movie Peyton Place.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Giorgio wanted to watch Peyton Place.  And we did.  And it was pretty bad.  All that potential for greatness, flushed down the toilet along with a boatload of melodrama and probably one of the stupidest monologues ever delivered in cinematic history (perhaps an overstatement, but you get my point).  It wasn’t until the next day that I realized what an unusual dude my husband is and texted him the following, “U r a very strange person.  What kind of 43 yr old man stays up until 2 in the morning watching Peyton Place?”  Really. Recently, did any of your spouse’s suggest that you watch Peyton Place?  Of course the two of us fall asleep watching reruns of Columbo (yes we have the box set) almost every night, so what do you expect? 

That’s it folks.  Another week gone and the following lessons learned: don’t publish angry blog posts; don’t wear costumes to you child’s potential future school and don’t waste your time watching Peyton Place.  Oh, and, yes, aging goth chicks do in fact host Superbowl parties.  Peace.

German Cabaret Artists, Cleansing, Pork Fat and Tweak the Bunny…a Week’s Worth of Conversation

Poor lamb. We found her wandering the streets of Stuttgart.

Poor lamb. We found her wandering the streets of Stuttgart.

This is Heather Nanni, taking a break from her role as Tweak the Bunny to bring you this post.  That’s right; I’m Heather, not Tweak Bunny or Dashi Dog or Captain Barnacles the Polar Bear or any other member of the Octonauts.  Problem is, throughout the day, Allegra insists that I assume the role of any number of these characters. As a matter of fact, this evening, as I played Octonauts with Allegra as she took a bath, she informed me that she was “not impwessed” with how I was playing the game and gave me notes for improving my performance as Kwazi Cat. Being that I soon have to return to work (I know. I know.  I only teach two nights a week, but there is a lot of planning and correcting at home-I swear), I am trying to give the kids as much playtime as possible.  Unfortunately, all of this role playing is making me feel a bit schizophrenic, so for the moment, I’m happy to be just plain old weird Heather, writing her weird blog.  I’ve been so looking forward to writing this week, and I’ve tossed around a lot of ideas.  I have also been feeling rather grouchy and peevish, so I thought I would write some snarky, petulant blog about something that’s been annoying me as a way of alleviating some of my general negativity. .  And I reject that!  I want to giggle.  So after some careful deliberation, I have decided  against wading over into the dark side, to ignore its enticements,to forgo dark, brooding, smart ass ramblings in favor of recounting the ridiculous thoughts and conversations I had this week, which may very well only be funny to me, so don’t feel guilt by shutting this down; thus, shutting me up. For those maniacs who wish to stick around, here goes…

In search of lighter, happier material, I reflected upon this past week and to my surprise recalled some rather silly conversations.  There was the one I had with another student’s mother at the dance studio about cleansing. She’s a lovely lady and five days into a cleanse, eating only the healthiest of foods, drinking lots of water… At some point during our conversation, I realized that I did not have the willpower to omit all  dietary pleasures and confessed that I lacked both the discipline and desire to give up martini’s and pork fat.  My admission that the previous night, when cutting my children’s meat, I removed the fat from their chops and ate it for dinner elicited a laugh.  Then there was the conversation I had with the owner of the stables where my son takes riding lessons.  He confessed his beer habit and surveyed all present on their poison.  Of course mine is vodka.  Unfortunately when he asked me my vodka of choice, I found myself recounting the sad tale of how my husband and I started out drinking Grey Goose, but how after our first child we had to downgrade to Skyy and how we now find ourselves drinking Majorska.  I then made myself feel better by stating, “It’s not that bad.  At least it comes in a glass bottle.”  I got some pity laughs for that one.  But the very best and funniest of the week came from my husband.

 On Monday Giorgio tried on a new black v-neck sweater, looked at himself in the mirror and matter of factly informed me that  he looked  like a “cabaret artist from Stuttgart.” What?  On what planet would a cabaret artist from Stuttgart be the first thing to come to mind??  Granted, Giorgio did live in Stuttgart many, many years ago, but cabaret artist?  Why not singer or dancer, or performer even?  There’s just something about his use of the term artist that tickled me. I mean he had me thinking Berlin, the world on the brink of war, a tawdry, smoke filled club and a show being emceed by some sexually ambiguous emaciated person with a pale face and dark red lips sinisterly grinning at a pseudo-grotesque, featureless audience, all faces obscured by smoke and shadows. And he delivered it with such nonchalance that you would assume that German cabaret artist  is a typical reference for those of us who reside on the east coast of the United States. 

Upon further reflection, I think, perhaps, despite his adamant denial, my darling husband kind of digs the whole cabaret thing.  It’s got me thinking.  In the very infancy of our courtship I did sport a jet black, super short, Liza Minnelliesque pixie cut.  I also had a penchant for wearing bright red lipstick and fishnet stockings. And at some point during that time I had Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories on my nightstand. Hmmmm.. 

 Anyway, Giorgio’s description  of himself as a German cabaret artist struck me as so weird and out of place and hysterical that I had to immediately call my brother Sean Crose, another daft kat with an offbeat sense of humour and love of the absurd.  Clearly, my brother and I managed to make our way out of the same gene pool, gasping for air and full of neurosis and weirdness.  When the two of us emerged from the womb, the doctors probably had to beat the shit out of us, not to help us take our first breathes but to get us to snap the fuck out of our first baby panic attacks.  While we nearly killed each other during adolescence, we became the best of friends in early adulthood.  When we weren’t running around the city getting plastered in dive bars, we spent countless hours watching and quoting Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Plan Nine from Outer Space and anything from Mystery Science Theater, Giant Spider Invasion being one of our personal favorites.  So I just knew that he would fully appreciate Giorgio’s referring to himself as a cabaret artist from Stuttgart.  And my brother didn’t disappoint.  He gave me the much desired belly laugh that I had hoped for, and then we got to talking.  We talked about Germany and World War II and Mussolini and Giorgio’s parents who grew up in Italy during the war.  We got to talking about Giorgio’s mother and how she possess a style and sophistication that reminds me of Anita Ekberg in La Dolce Vita (In addition to being beautiful, she’s a great person). We talked about Giorgio’s dad and how it’s a flipping shame that he was taken from this world too soon and how he was just one of those special people whose very presence made you feel good. Then somehow we moved back to talk about the executions of Mussolini and Clara Petacci and back to Hitler and his stupid mustache, which got us to talking about mustaches and mustache style and handlebar mustaches. We talked about how handlebar mustaches are all the rage with those damn young hipsters, which got my brother going on how ridiculous he would look with such a mustache and how he would bear a closer resemblance to our great, great grandfather who came through Elis Island after emigrating from Ireland than a young James Franco wannabe.  And this talk of the handlebar mustaches brought the conversation full circle and back to Giorgio, who, likely inspired by Kurt Russell in Tombstone, once grew handlebar mustache himself because he really is more cowboy than cabaret artist.  He’s an Italian who as a young boy developed a great love for America. He overdosed on spaghetti westerns and, in a music store in Rome,  discovered Alabama’s Mountain Music which began his love affair with country music.  When he met me, a Norwegian techno music loving east coast girl, he introduced me to country music, which I’ve grown to dig. 

So that’s it.  The story of how a silly remark led to a much needed laugh and a great conversation about evil villains and beautiful people and how a great conversation led to a flood of good memories and my personal conclusion that my husband is one awesome and strange dude.

Why Am I Doing This?

So, this is my maiden voyage into the blogosphere. For years, I have contemplated blogging, but, since I have been so busy raising my little people, I felt that I could not justify committing the time to such a pursuit.  I mean writing, especially about myself and my ideas, seemed too self-indulgent, too narcissistic.  Now, I in no way believe that this is a healthy way think. Do we need to justify everything we do?  Of course not.  Are we not entitled to engage in pursuits that give us pleasure and fulfillment? Of course we are.  It’s just that at the time, I was not so enlightened, at least when it came to viewing myself.   Then two things happened. I had an epiphany during a conversation with my husband, and, at about the same time, I picked up a book I had owned for years and never looked at and finally decided to read the first chapter.

The aforementioned conversation with my husband was not unlike the conversations he and I have almost every day.  Don’t expect it to be anything mind-blowing .  I can’t even recall exactly what we were talking about.  All I remember is that he and I were sharing what we both believed were some pretty good ideas when I thought to myself, “Too bad we probably won’t remember any of this in a few days.  These great ideas will disappear as if they were never thought, never uttered.” I know. This is not a terribly deep or intellectual thought, and yet, for me, it was very profound.  It came to me. This is why I want to write. I want to preserve my ideas.  Whether they be smart or silly or simply a reflection of where I am at a certain period in my life, I want to make them real, to give them some weight, some validity, to write them down.  In fifty years, if my mind starts to go, I want some proof of my intellectual and emotional existence.  I don’t want to be left with a withered body and the memories that others have of the me that once was. 

Shortly after I had my mini epiphany about why I should write, a teacher friend of mine came to the house for a visit.  We were sitting in my living room when she spotted The Art of Teaching Writing by Lucy McCormick Calkins stacked up in one of my many book piles.  She asked if she could take a look at it, flipped through the pages and left it on my coffee table.  Now I have owned this book for years.  I purchased it over a decade ago when I was in graduate school, and for some reason, never found the time to read it.  That evening I read the first chapter and was struck.  In it Calkins states

…as human beings, we write to communicate, plan, petition, remember, announce, list, imagine…but above all, we write to hold our lives in our hands and make something of them.  There is no plot line in the bewildering complexity of our lives but that which we make for ourselves.  Writing allows us to turn the chaos into something beautiful, to frame selected moments, to uncover and celebrate the organizing patterns of our existence.* (8)

That, my friends, said it all.  Through her writing, Calkins articulated my thoughts, and thus gave them substance and validity. 

 Reading those few lines written by Calkins inspired me to proceed.  To write.  To write to be heard in a world where so few truly listen.  I write to make my existence, my experience my thoughts real.  I write to freeze time and preserve the beautiful moments I share with my children.  I write to make meaning out of what sometimes appears meaningless and see the beauty in things that otherwise may go unnoticed or unappreciated.  I write because my time on this earth, all our time, is finite and I want to notice and enjoy and preserve all that I can while I am here. 

*Calkins, Lucy McCormick. The Art of Teaching Writing. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1994. Print.