Archive for September, 2010

I woke up this morning to a guest post just begging to be added to my blog.  After experiencing technical difficulties connecting his computer with our printer, my sixteen year old son, Blaise, had forwarded hishomework to my email account and printed it from there.  Being the writing and editing mom that I am, I felt compelled to read it.  Luckily, Blaise is willing to share his work with me and in this case, with you.  I love this piece because it is a rare glimpse into the mind of my (and maybe your) teenage son’s mind. I hope you enjoy Blaise W. Brennan’s first ever blog post.

The screen beams to life, slicing through the darkness of my room. A moment later, after my eyes adjust and my hand grasps the mouse, I begin to navigate to my browser, and sign in to my Facebook. Facebooking to sleep was not new to me at the time. As the infamous pressures of high school began to materialize, I often found my mind skipping around the homework I had just completed, or the homework that I had yet to complete, and my response was to put it to rest with a smidgeon of social networking.

As I scrolled through the plethora of status updates, a strange thought occurred to me. A trend that had been sitting there upon the white backdrop the entire time suddenly began to take form in front of my eyes. I glanced from picture to picture, status to status, noting each occurrence, and it hit me: I was not like these people.

Somehow apart was I from these people I called friends. I saw girls with skimpy clothing, their faces awkwardly puckered, their hair straightened to perfection and their ears with more piercings than I have fingers and toes. I noted the boys with skater shoes, jeans barely resting on their hips, graphic t-shirts loosely suspended upon their underdeveloped shoulders, and their necks plastered with fake gold chains. I gasped at the orange complexions of the girls who called themselves popular and at the profanity of the boys who called each other “bro.” My findings, in their melancholy, pointed to one conclusion, and despite my reluctance to accept it, I was forced to realize that these people, the mere children I had surrounded myself with, were superficial. They were everything I didn’t want to be.

Was it inevitable that I would, in some shape or form, through some kind of feelings of inadequacy or longing for self-improvement, become like them? My brain droned on, steering me in circles, while my heart cried out for fear of the inevitable.

But it was then that I felt a slight vibration in my wrists that had been resting on the desk.

I shifted in my seat, surprised that at this hour anyone might have tried to contact me. With a few deftly aimed keystrokes I opened the message, its white screen no less agonizing to my eyes than the laptop had been. The message’s choppy texting language deciphered, I discovered that it was an invitation to come see a friend of mine play with his band. His plea was that they had not even played a single show yet, and with their early slot he was afraid that they would have no one to come out and support them.

Anxious for asylum from my recent epiphany, I responded immediately, typing out the message with cold deliberateness. I would go to see my friends play. It seemed like years until the show date finally came around, and in that time I thought about what it might be like. He called it “Manhattan Beach Club,” apparently referring to a music club in our local community. I had visions of enormous crowds “moshing” to gods of rock ‘n roll on stage playing machine gun drum solos and raging guitar. My mom had visions of something else entirely when I mentioned the word “club,” and it was only with heavy reluctance that she allowed me to go.

When I finally arrived at the location on a Friday night, just as the sun was passing over the horizon, I discovered that it was none of those things. The one-story building was a hole-in-the-wall hangout spot at best. The ancient side paneling peeled away from the brick in the foundation (which I hypothesized probably peeled apart from itself as well). Only a few band members had even shown up yet – apparently it was the style of rockers to be fashionably late- and I gathered with some people I had been acquainted with through school or sports, but never became absolute friends with.

In the absence of a ride out of this place, I was forced to stick around at least until 11:00. After about an hour, I noticed a considerable group forming. Not overbearing, but enough that I was able to freely travel through the one room edifice without seeing a single face twice. The music, at first a noisy background to the larger social scene, slowly began to become the center attraction. Anybody still outside had by then poured in and crowded the amateur musicians. Everyone danced, from circles of “skankin’” to headbanging to “moshing” everyone was active, and no one was left out.

I stopped dancing. I looked to my left and saw people with nothing to prove to anyone. The girls were not flirting, the guys weren’t trying to impress. I looked to my right and saw not baggy pants and low-cut shirts, but high-schoolers who wore what was comfortable and practical. There was a unity here that contrasted to the ruthless, selfishness of every “friend” I had in school. There were people here who rejected the falseness of our peers. People who had found their realization long before I had. It wasn’t futile. I was with people who could be real. Happy. Honest. This was who I wanted to be.

I put an arm around the friends at my side, put my head back down, and fell into the rhythm of the music. I danced, and I felt a grin stretch across my face.

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I Believe

Two weeks ago, as I was still caked in mud and blood from my trail race, I sat on the floor of my kitchen, a sobbing mess as my mother told me about her latest health issue.  She had spent the night in the hospital aftercoughing up blood and after blood tests and x-rays the doctors had told her she had a mass on her lung.  They told her that four of them had gone over her x-rays and were all in agreement that this was BAC Lung Cancer.  She would need to have a biopsy to confirm, but they had no doubt.

For the past week I have chosen not to worry. Instead, I prayed every morning when I woke up and every night before I went to sleep but contrary to my normal reaction, I chose to let God take the worry.  The biopsy was scheduled for this morning and though I woke up with a heavy weight on my chest, I immediately started praying.  But my prayers were interrupted by a memory of another time I prayed for my mother.

I was 22 years old and I was in France with my class for a mandatory winter term trip abroad.  The other girls around me were, as you would expect, excited by the prospect of being in a new country and seeing it with two professors who knew the country so well.  Even though I had never even imagined visiting another country, I found it hard to be excited.  Instead, I found myself worrying about my mom and my brother and sister.  On the second day of the trip we were at Mont St. Michel.  As we walked through the village to go to the large monastery at the top I spotted a small chapel built into the side of the hill.  I told my roommate to go ahead of me and I ducked into the chapel.

January in France is cold.  That day was bone chillingly so.  And even as I entered the chapel I knew it would offer no reprieve from the cold.  It was dark inside.  So much so that I had to stop and let my eyes adjust.  The only light came from the candles sitting on the far side of the church.  I made my way to the candles, lit one and knelt to pray for my mother.

At the time, I was not yet Catholic.  To be honest, I was not religious at all.  I didn’t attend church and I prayed when it suited me.  I didn’t spend time being thankful for the things I had.  Instead I prayed when I needed God’s help.  I did believe.  I believed that God would help and so I prayed.  I prayed with everything I had.

Only two months before, I had sat holding my mom’s hand as a young doctor told us her cancer had spread more than they had first thought.  When they had removed her breast, they had also removed some lymph nodes to be tested and eight of those had tested positive for cancer.  The doctor told us as gently as you can tell a mother and her daughter that she might live a year.  He told us they would do everything they could do to give us that year but she should start making arrangements for my younger brother and sister.

As I knelt in that chapel at the bottom of Mont St. Michel, I prayed with my whole heart.  I begged God to spare my mom.  I told Him that I knew I could survive but I didn’t know how my brother who was only fourteen and my sister who was only sixteen would survive it.  I begged Him to please let her survive at least long enough to finish raising them.  For the longest time I knelt there praying for my mom and my brother and sister and then I heard, “Ann, she’s going to be okay.”  I turned around expecting to see one of the professors who had come back looking for me but the church was empty.  I was all alone.  Except, I didn’t feel all alone.  Suddenly, I was no longer cold and I was no longer worried.  I had really handed it all over to God and He had really heard me and yes, he had really answered me.  I had no doubt.  I knew it.

Twenty years later I still have my mom and as though God wanted to show me he meant what He said then, I received a call from my mom this morning, when she should have been in the hospital for her biopsy.  “I’m alright,” she said, “They made a mistake.”  When she arrived at the hospital this morning they performed another CT scan and were able to get a better picture of what the four doctors had seen.  The new views showed more clearly the scar tissue left over from her bouts of radiation treatment.  They have asked to see her again in four months but right now, my mom is cancer free. And I am not alone.

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If It Were Easy

Running a marathon is hard. Hell, training for a marathon can be downright excruciating.   Those are pretty obvious statements, right?   They are pretty obvious unless you are, like me, always harder on yourselfthan others.  When I first started running marathons I thought I was just really bad at it.  I didn’t understand why I didn’t glide over the miles.  Why the people on television looked so graceful while I was pouring sweat and looking for a bathroom every 5 miles or so.  For years, I beat myself up over the suffering I was enduring during long runs.

Until one day while I was training for my fifth marathon, when it occurred to me – marathons are not supposed to be easy.  Wow, what a incredible thought that was.  Suddenly, I wasn’t the only one struggling through my long runs.  I was not alone in the sweating and the runner’s trots.  Others were experiencing the same thing.  It didn’t make the training physically easier.  But it did make it mentally easier.  Instead of finding myself mulling over negative thoughts with every step. I gave myself permission for praise.  Wow, I am out here when I could be spending the morning watching cartoons with my kids.  Isn’t it great that I just ran eighteen miles?  Isn’t it awesome to have just finished marathon number five? Suddenly, instead of beating myself down over what I couldn’t do, I was raising myself up for what I could.

But I am not a fast learner.  Just because I learned that marathons are hard, doesn’t mean that I have applied those same forgiving thoughts to other areas of my life.  So, lately as I have struggled with the rewrite of my novel, pulling my hair out when I come to a bit I know is not quite the way the story should be going, I have been denigrating myself.  What kind of a loser gets stuck on a rewrite?  What kind of a loser can’t figure out how to make characters do what they are supposed to be doing?  Why in the world am I taking so long to get this done?

Then the epiphany hit, again.  After listening to three separate authors speaking on Barnes and Noble’s Meet the Authors and listening to each of them say how hard the process of writing a novel is, suddenly I had that lightbulb moment, again.  Writing a novel isn’t supposed to be easy.  If it was easy, everyone would be doing it and not only that, but everyone would be doing it well.

So I am going to give myself permission to stop beating myself up.  I am going to give myself a pat on the back for sitting down at a blank screen and getting words on paper.  I am going to give myself credit for making an attempt at a dream I have had my entire life. And most importantly, I am going to keep on writing and rewriting it.  I am sure I will have to remind myself of this again and again but for tonight, I am working on a rewrite.  I am writing a novel. I am a novelist.

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Total Abandon

When I brought Zane home from the hospital, I remember worrying about how his tiny head flopped around in the car seat.  I remember worrying about how my big clumsy dogs would react to a helpless newborn in the house.  I remember worrying every time one of the older kids would pick him up and carry him through the house.  After love, worry was the number one feeling in those first few weeks.

But Zane is my third child and the older two are so much older that this worry quickly made its way out the door.  I became too busy to worry over ever single move the child made and I noticed that people around me worried enough for all of us.  My mother-in-law and friends would cringe every time they would see him climb up on the table or head towards the stairs but I was much more laid back.

After he was dropped on his head, broke his poor little skull and came out completely finem I found myself worrying even less.  As a result I have ended up with this child who is so different from me.  While he is not completely fearless, he is close to it.  And watching his approach to life brings me absolute joy.

When approaching something new in my life, my knee-jerk reaction is to worry.  What can go wrong?  How can I keep that from happening?  Should I risk it?  Luckily, I have just enough chutzpa to push through most fears and try new things. But I seldom approach a new event with total abandon.

Zane on the other hand has two speeds – full out or asleep.  This summer he learned to swim.  He went from not even putting his face in the water to swimming to jumping off the diving board all in one afternoon.  And it is not just muscling through the fear with him.  I took these pictures this weekend and caught the pure joy in his face as he jumped with total abandon into the deep end of the pool.

This child of mine that came into the world as a surprise continues to surprise me everyday as he finds enjoyment in every moment of life.  Zane means gracious gift from God and we chose it because we believe he really is a gracious gift from God.  But the name fits his attitude.  Zane lives his little life like everything is just that.  Everything in his life is a gift from God. And I sit back and watch as the gifts continue to unfold.

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