Friday, December 30, 2011
"It is a Celebration of Freedom and Joy"
How should we begin to celebrate? And why? What is there to celebrate? And what is freedom, and what is joy? And why am I asking all these questions?
Why is it that tomorrow, on New Year's Eve, many of us will celebrate by drinking too much and laughing and acting kind of crazy and raising cheer and putting on pointy hats and swinging noisemakers and rattlers and kissing the person next to us at midnight?
Why is it that I think that kind of celebration is rather odd?
Why did Peg and I decide to write this way? What possessed us to sit in my den in front of the woodstove, just asking and asking questions? What does it mean to ask? What does it mean to write? Why when given the chance to select any page of the book about Jewish traditions, why did Peg select page 82? Why did I select the phrase, IT IS A CELEBRATION OF FREEDOM AND JOY? Why do I have trouble celebrating? Why does writing this way feel like a celebration? Why does writing this way feel like a prayer? Why does writing this way feel like a way to find God? Why does celebrating this way feel so important?
Why is it so important to celebrate? Why do we celebrate the start of a new year? Why don't we celebrate every single day? Why don't we look up in the sky every morning and celebrate the sky? Why do we wait until New Year's to celebrate? Why do we think that the new year is going to be so much different and better than the old year? Why am I convinced that this year is going to be the start of a new and better kind of writing?
Why haven't I celebrated Renata's escape from prison? And how exactly should I celebrate that event? Why have I spent 17 years writing about the big day when the nun would go free from prison? Why, when she went free -- Chapter 52, posted very recently -- have I not celebrated? Why am I waiting? What am I waiting for? Is it perhaps because I don't know how to celebrate?
IS IT POSSIBLE THAT AT LONG LAST I AM FINALLY CELEBRATING RIGHT HERE WRITE NOW?
Now that she is free, where exactly is Renata going? Will she find a disguise? Will she elude the authorities searching for her? Will she find a place to live? Will she make a new life? Will she get married and become some farmer's wife? Will she miss the convent and Sister Teresa? Will she end up getting caught and going free again?
Why do I think I need to worry about all that?
Why do I worry so much? Why don't I tell you why? Why don't I finally tell you the true story of my own prison, the one I grew up in? Why is it that my own story is so tied up with Sister Renata's? Why was I unable to see that connection between Renata and me for so, so long? Why have I been trying to escape the story of my own life the whole time that I've been writing about Sister Renata in prison? Why is it that I have always wanted to write the nun's story instead of my own? Why is it so very dark and scary to think about telling the true story of my mother's illness and me sitting there beside her bed when I was only four years old?
Why after five decades can I still see my poor mother hunched over, squeezing her pillow as she was gasping for breath? Why is it any wonder that at four years old I was absolutely terrified? Why is it any wonder that at any moment I was petrified that my mother would die and that I would be responsible? Why is that my mother and I are entangled so tightly? Why I am thinking that I actually WAS responsible for my mother getting ill?
Why is this now the true story that must be told? Why was I imprisoned in a tiny hospital crib in a big dark hospital in Bristol, Connecticut so many years ago? Why is it that 56 years later I can still feel those square metal bars of the small crib in my tiny hands? Why can I still remember having such a high fever lying there that my mind started boiling and I began having "machine dreams," visions of gigantic gears and cogs of all sizes turning and turning while I lay there sweating and getting as hot as this woodstove blazing now at my feet?
Is it possible that I have some of the details mixed up and that I was sweating in fever later, when I was sick at home in bed? Is it possible that I really did have pneumonia three times before the age of seven? Is it possible that my mother really did think at one point -- I think I was five -- that she was going to lose me because I was so ill with measles and an ear infection and pneumonia all at once?
Is it possible that the nurses kept phoning my mother from Bristol Hospital, begging her to come to see me because I was only three years old, screaming and crying for my mother and I wouldn't stop? Is it possible that my poor mother came to see me as much as she could and stayed with me and fed me mashed peas through the bars? Is it possible that I hated mashed peas but adored my mother and held her fingers through the bars? Is it possible my poor mother stayed way longer at the hospital than she should have, because I was so sick with pneumonia, so sick I was hospitalized for weeks? Is it possible that my mother got so overtired visiting me that she herself came down with a bad chest cold that ended up in asthma?
Is it possible that my mother wheezed and wheezed her whole life and so often her breath sounded like a dry whistle and so often she coughed and coughed and so so often scoured up gobs of green phlegm and that phlegm was the same color as the mashed peas she fed to me in the hospital?
Is all this just a crazy old story of a mother and a daughter and like all those stories it can never be told completely? Is it possible that this story is more important than any other I've ever written?
Is it possible that my own chest infection ended up giving my mother a chest disease? Is it possible as Peg pointed out that SISTER MYSTERIES FEELS LIKE MY PENANCE? IS THIS BOOK MY PUNISHMENT FOR MAKING MY MOTHER SICK?
Is it possible that I am finally understanding why I have loved being in prison for so long, being punished, AS IF I WERE A NUN? Is this now when I understand that so many of my earliest memories are tied up with nuns? Is this when I understand that many punishments were bestowed on me by nuns at SAINT ANTHONY'S elementary school in Bristol, Connecticut? Is this now when I realize why I named my oppressor ANTONIE?
is this why my head is swirling in all this mystery?
Is this also why I got sick almost ten years ago with lymphoma?
Is this also why I developed a tumor in MY CHEST, a tumor the SIZE OF A CANTALOUPE?
IS THIS NOW WHAT I COULD CALL FREEDOM, ME REALIZING THE TRUTHS UNDERLYING THE NOVEL THAT I HAVE BEEN WRITING SINCE JANUARY 1995? IS THIS WHY I FEEL LIKE MY CHEST IS A WOODSTOVE A BUNDLE OF BARS AND RIBS EXPLODING IN FLAMES?
Is this why all my life I have been living in a prison trying? Is this why I have been trying all my life to fix my mother and her life? Is this why I can close my eyes and reach through the bars of my own rib cage right into the rib cage of my mother? Is this why I cannot do that? Is this why we are connected RIGHT at the heart? Is this why I have always wanted so desperately to make my mother happy? Is this why I have never been able to? Is this why I wanted TO FIX MY MOTHER'S HEART AND FILL IT WITH LIGHT? Is this why I still so desperately want my mother not to be depressed? Is this why I want my mother to smile deeply and keep breathing and find joy? Is this why last month when my mother fell and her arm turned blue I thought maybe her blue arm was connected to her blue heart?
Is this why my left ear started ringing last month? Why does Louise Hay say that ringing ears are connected to not listening to a divine voice? Is writing this way connected to my divine voice?
Is this voice telling me that I must accept the fact that my mother, at age 85, cannot be changed or fixed? Is this why I am still always fighting that truth, and resenting my mother, and still and always desperately trying to fix her? Is this a cosmic story that can only be fixed in a cosmic way? Is that what why my friend Denise was trying to tell me? Is this why Denise says that I have to let my mother be as unhappy and blue as she is going to be and get my ego out of it? Is this why Denise says to pray to the divine feminine, i.e., the Virgin Mary, and let divine wisdom prevail? Is this why the medical intuitive, in an amazing reading after my illness, told me on that fateful day, August 6, 2003, that in order to heal I had to stop resenting my mother?
Is this writing all an elaborate attempt to forgive my mother, and to forgive me?
Is this why my mother is not a nun but in some ways she feels like one? Is this why I grew up feeling like a nun without being able to experience any joy or fun? Is this why I feel like I'm celebrating right write right write now the unraveling of some core mystery by writing this book?
Is this why I am scared to finish this book? Is this why I think if I finish this book I will have nothing else to write my whole life? Is this why I feel like I have to whisper the true story about my whole life because it is so painful? Is this why I wonder if I should explain anything because I wonder if I even know the true story?
Is this when I creep up to the big door behind which I see my father?
Is this when I peek through the keyhole and see a whole other story that is so so big it goes back generations to his mother's grandmother who had a baby out of wedlock? Is this why my great great grandmother has no name? Is this why I can't even face the door let alone open it yet?
Are these stories about my father and my mother connected? Are these stories about my father and my mother connected to my sisters and me? Is this why my sisters and I are all kind of crazy and depressed?
Is this why I always picture my mother standing at that old white stove cooking blood red spaghetti sauce? Does that blood red sauce have any connection to Antonie and his murder? Am I just plain crazy writing this?
Why was it my mother used to ladle that blood red sauce on everything we ate? Is this how my mother made art? Is this why I am starting to understand that my mother's cooking was a total expression of her heart? Is this a way I might forgive my mother going forward? is this why I might still have to go backward? Is this why I hate to write about spaghetti sauce? Is this why I hate to eat it? Is this why as a young girl I wanted to run away to California and leave my pasta behind?
Is this why I did run away to live in California? Is this why I never left the pasta behind? Is this why in my mind I'd rather be Spanish like Renata? Is this why I prefer Mexican food instead of Italian? Is this why my mother's cooking makes me so anxious? IS THIS WHY I WOULD RATHER NOT BE ANXIOUS? Is this why I prefer not to resent my mother? Is this why I still don't like to eat pasta and eggplant and lasagna and meatballs and polenta? Is this why sometimes I think we sat every night at the table and ate FOOD THAT WAS TAINTED IN SAUCE?
Is this how my mother painted, in blood red tomato sauce? Is why I want to go backward and forward and make my mother a painter? Is this why my mother is such a wonderful cook, but I still can't stomach the thought of spaghetti sauce on pasta and eggplant and lasagna and meatballs and polenta? Is this how I am coming to lose the resentment against my mother? Is this what the medical intuitive wanted me to do? Is this how she wanted me to do it?
Is this a new way of writing? Is this the way I might write the rest of this bizarre novel?
Is this how I will write about my father and his anger? Is this why he always seems so angry? Is this why in my memory we are always sitting at the table with the sauce and the pasta and the lasagna and the polenta and arguing all the time? Is this why my friends were always scared of my father? Is this why sometimes it feels like my father never smiles? Is this weird knowing that I have photos that clearly show him smiling?
Why was it that I was and still am scared of my father? Why was it that as we sat at that table eating all that sauce on all that pasta and all that eggplant and all that lasagna and all those meatballs and all that polenta, my father always spoke like this:
Why is it that I cannot hear my father's voice?
Why is it that I feel like my father helped to turn me into a nun growing up? Why is it that he was so terrified of me having a sexual identity? Why is it that he wouldn't let me wear nylon stockings when all the other girls could? Wouldn't let me wear lipstick for the third grade Christmas pageant? Wouldn't let me shave my legs? Wouldn't let me go on dates?
Why is it that in my mind, nobody in my family ever smiled or laughed or enjoyed anything?
Why is it that we were never allowed to have a dog or a cat or anything that breathed?
Why is breathing my mother's core life issue? Why is it that Louise Hay, author of YOU CAN HEALTH YOUR LIFE, says that asthma is at heart, "an inability to breathe for oneself?" Who gave my mother her asthma? Why couldn't she breathe for herself?
Why do I finally feel like I'm finally getting to a well of dark water? Why do I finally begin to see that I am not responsible for my mother's illness or her depression? Why is it time to come clean with these painful truths? Why is it that I see that like Renata, I am not guilty of any crime? Why is it that Peg and I wrote yesterday and I woke up this morning and started writing more and more and more and why does it feel like I cannot stop?
Why is it that is has taken me so long to see the real reason that I am writing about a nun who is imprisoned for a crime she didn't commit?
Who was it that smothered my mother? What is it that was stifled in my poor mom? Why is it that I now recall a bumble bee? Why is it that I recall my mom telling me that in summer school once, when she was very young, she painted a mayonaise jar a pretty yellow and the rim black and some damn nun scolded her, saying "what did you do that for? That's not very pretty!" Why did that nun say that? Why did she tell my mom that her bumble bee colors were ugly? Why is it that I feel so badly for my mother now? Why do I think my mother would have loved to paint? Why do I want to buy my mom an easel?
Why is it that my poor mother was smothered in spaghetti sauce? Why is it that my mother was never encouraged to flower? Why is it that her asthma might have been a disease that developed in reaction to her old-fashioned Italian upbringing? Why was it that my mother had a bicycle but it was taken away? Why do I think she had skates but outgrew them and never got another pair?
Why was my mother's life so unfair? Why at age 16 was she taking care of her uncle, washing and ironing clothes and yes, cooking spaghetti sauce? Why was my mother never allowed to have joy and fun?
Why do I want to reach back through the bars of time and fix my mother's life? Why do I want to go back and and forward, retell my mother's story? Why do I feel so sad and sorry?
Why do I want to reach back and fix my father's anger? Why is that another whole story that I can't possibly take on or think about right now?
Why is it that by writing this, I can see why my father and my mother never celebrated freedom or joy or did anything fun?
Why do I want to ask God to forgive me for anything I've done wrong. Why do I want to feel free to stand up and celebrate and scream for joy? Why does that feel so difficult when I know that other members of my family are not free?
Why do I want to tell a story that will fix everyone, not just me? Why do I want to write a novel of freedom and joy and happiness and love and forgiveness? Why do I want to write a manual about how to live a happier life by forgiving one's parents EVERYTHING? Why do I want to forgive my mother and father and everyone?
How do I start? What trail of words can I write? What trail is Renata following through the golden hills of California? Why do I love California? Why is it I want to stay there forever? Why is the light so pretty right outside the window? Why is the light so pretty on the golden hillsides?
Why is the light so pretty as Renata is traipsing up the hills? What will happen to Renata if I abandon her? How can I possibly abandon a character I created in good faith so many years ago? Why can't I just celebrate her freedom and not worry how I am going to go forward?
Why can't I just celebrate now and not worry?