This time last year, I was feeling “Bookish”.
Having met Meredith Maslich, at the Story District rebrand bash, I was psyched to learn that she heads – Possibilities Publishing – a unique, boutique, partnership approach to the book trade.
Maybe I could turn Unorthodox & Unhinged into a book? A radically manic idea! Meredith and I met over coffee to discuss the possibility. But the journey, from blogger to author, is in reality a gargantuan leap.
Long story short: U&U has not morphed into a book.
But short story long: U&U has made into a book.
A reflective piece I wrote, Make New Friends and…, is the opening chapter in Besties, Bromances & Soulmates, this year’s Possibilities Publishing anthology. Between its covers, half a dozen writers explore “pivotal relationships” and the gift of friendship through short story, essay, fiction and non.
So is it any wonder that”Thank you for being my friend”, the old Golden Girls’ theme song, is ringing in my ears. And this post election week, it rings all the more dearly and resonates all the more deeply.
Our country has just come “through the great ordeal”. Well, we are not actually through anything.
Post election, I am experiencing waves of grief. I am stumbling, disoriented as if awoken from a bad dream. My bleeding heart liberal sensibilities have been overwhelmed. Knocked down and beneath these waves, I struggle to come up for air.
How about you?
As a coping mechanism, I have poured myself into my work. In just two days, I plowed through two week’s worth. I have stayed up later and gotten up earlier, cramming 27 plus hours into my day. Possibly by abandoning sleep, my busyness will belay my fears.
Mania, for a day or two or three, is awesome.
Mania, for a week or two or three, not so much.
So how do I – do we – rein in the mania when we are feeling so unmoored?
Well, very simply, by tightening the ties that bind.
By calling friends,
talking with friends,
having coffee with friends, dinner with friends,
walking with friends,
hiking with friends,
biking with friends,
Netflix/Hulu binge watching with friends,
cocktail partying with friends,
road tripping with friends,
book clubbing with friends,
bar hopping with friends,
pew sitting with friends,
praying with friends,
couch surfing with friends,
shooting the breeze or catching a movie with friends,
cooking with friends,
baking with friends,
crafting with friends,
board gaming with friends,
protesting with friends,
witnessing with friends,
volunteering with friends,
peace making with friends,
reconciling with friends.
Common ground, mutual support, trust, concern and compassion.
Love, respect, and admiration.
Friends restore one another’s souls and revive one another’s spirits.
This art of “befriending” is fueled by our tending to our friendships. Befriending the other, the new, the stranger, in this post-election season, is desperately what we need. Not rushing to an easy or happy-clappy reconciliation, but working towards deep, honest, life affirming connections.
Working towards a radical “we”.
Which brings me back to Besties, Bromances & Soulmate, a perfect little book to honor a friend or tuck into a Christmas stocking (or for Chanukah, Kwanzaa, etc.). These half a dozen stories celebrate the pivotal relationships in our lives.
Friendship begets friendship.
Love begets love.
December 11th at 4:00 PM, this little book is going to be launched. Its a friendly affair with author readings, book signings, and refreshments at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 1608 Russell Rd in Alexandria, VA.
Bring a friend, a family member, an acquaintance, a coworker. Invite a Muslim friend, a Mormon friend, a Jewish friend, a Buddhist friend, an agnostic friend, an immigrant friend, an LGBTQ friend, an African American friend, a Hispanic friend, an old friend, your BFF, your next door neighbor, or the new guy who just moved in from across the street.
Ask a Hillary voter or a Trump supporter to come along.
It’s the Christian thing to do.
A friend in need is a friend indeed.
I know nothing of aerodynamics but I do know that I have a helicopter in my head.
The propellers begin to spin slowly, slowly at first. Then faster and faster they pick up speed.
I feel a rush of wind, a little cyclone swirling counter clockwise.
My feet take leave of the ground.
Climbing skyward, I soar over the trees. I taste the clouds.
There is a lightness of being almost too delicious to describe.
I hover high above the earth. My heart beats so, I hear the swoosh, swoosh of a rush of blood.
Heaven expands before me. Space and time, they stretch.
Gazing above, I truly believe the only direction is up.
Gravity has no hold on me.
Gazing down, I have no fear.
No fear at all.
Buoyant. Euphoric. Exquisite.
Or at least hypo-mania.
A mild and manageable outbreak.
Please do not ask me to medicate it away.
Yes, I have a helicopter in my head and I like it that way.
Hypomania is flying just under the radar at optimal altitude. It is the passion of a polymath.
(I love that word – “polymath”. Go look it up!)
This Peacock believes herself to be a person of insatiable curiosity. Engaging in encyclopedic endeavors. And with boundless energy, of course.
I blog. I preach. I write. I teach. I walk. I read. I talk and talk. I swim and float and dive in deep. I delight, dig in, and devour my work. I scatter seeds and rattle beads. I vocalize and volunteer. I spin tales and search for holy grails. I cruise the river front. I wander DC. I pound the pavement in front of me. I breakfast with the birds, lunch alone, and dine with friends. I binge watch Stranger Things. I speed read three tomes at a time. And I drink lots and lots of coffee.
My head expands exponentially as does the universe, so Hubble says.
The world is so, so wonderful, I dare not miss a thing. I dare not go to sleep.
My brain says that I do not have to.
I stay up later.
I wake up earlier.
I hear the engine sputter. I feel the propellers falter, the copter lunge and lurch.
Turbulent, nauseous, like stumbling and tumbling over rocks.
Sky sick, I lose control.
The ground comes rushing towards me.
I hate when this happens.
My grandiose pride bruised. It begrudges me my humanity.
But wings of wax melt in the sun. Weight returns to my body. More than I would like to admit.
You know, I think I need a mental health day. I play hookie and “call in crazy.”
“Yes, Joani,” my colleague Chuck says, “that sounds like the sane thing to do.”
So I do.
Drink coffee in my pajamas.
Stretch out on the couch.
Read the paper.
Surf Hulu and wade through Netflix.
Take a late shower.
Gather my thoughts.
Scribble them down.
Publish and post them on U&U.
The helicopter has landed.
This Peacock is safely on the ground.
NOTE: Manically submitted at midnight, Sunday, September 12, 2016.
“On December 5, 1900, the New York Herald headlines screamed:”
Amelie Rives First Husband
IS OUT OF ASYLUM
Search Fails to Find Wealthy Demented Man
Who Left Bloomingdale Institution…
Former Wife, Princess Troubetzkoy, Also Insane.”
This is the dark and delicious tale of doomed passion: meticulously researched and wonderfully told in Archie and Amelie: Love and Madness in the Gilded Age by Donna M. Lucey.
Archie is John Armstrong Chanler, born in 1862, and heir to the estate of his great –grandfather John Jacob Astor of New York.
Amelie Rives, born in 1863, is the goddaughter of Robert E. Lee and descendant of a storied first family of Virginia.
Archie’s family fortune was built on the fur trade, clear-eyed capitalism, and Presbyterian rectitude. Orphaned at a tender age, Archie and his siblings were raised by committee. “A wild and willful bunch” they were tamed by “nannies, tutors, and distant guardians.”
The eldest and legally responsible for his younger siblings, Archie, at Eton honed a refined and reasonable self-control — while underneath simmered his literary and artistic appetites.
A nephew of Julia Ward Howe, a progressive scion of the salon, Archie was intellectually curious and cautiously broad-minded. A romantic and eccentric soul, he was also an inventive young man full of ideas and boundless generosity.
Amelie Rives of Castle Hill was a gifted young writer — gifted — with a dark sensuality. The provocative prose of her first novel, The Quick or the Dead?, garnered her both notoriety and the notice of the literary lions of her day – including the likes of Oscar Wilde and Willa Cather.
Amelie’s Virginia home had “an air of civilized taste and ancient leisure.” Her noble ancestors included revolutionary war heroes and ambassadors to France. But the “War between the States” left the family homestead in tatters. Her father, a civil engineer, like a nomad wandered from post to post to keep his family financially afloat.
And so women, strong women, ruled the roost at Castle Hill. Captured in an 1880 photograph “Amelie, a young beauty at seventeen, stands behind the powerful figures of her grandmother and her granite faced Aunt Ella – as if she were next in line in a dynasty.”
Seductively, Ameilie wielded both her pen and her person to woo the men in her life. Though a woman of the Gilded Age, she boldly bucked the constricting conventions of her time.
Amelie cast aside her corset and wore exotic flowing gowns. Described as “a sizzling vessel of molten lava”, she was also surprisingly religiously devout. Most passionate and erotic in her prose, she made her reviewers blush and made her suitors swoon.
Archie madly, deeply, hopelessly pursued her. After three persistent marriage proposals, Amelie accepted and they were engaged.
Hot and cold, like fire and ice, their eight-year love affair was doomed to failure. The first two years the couple skipped across Europe — settling down long enough only to become unsettled.
Amelie seemed to love Archie the most when he was absent. And when he was absent, Archie was a tortured soul never quite knowing how to rekindle Amelie’s ardor.
Eight years after their nuptials at Castle Hill, Amelie runs off with a dashing and penniless prince, a Russian royal named Troubetzkoy.
Divorced and disgraced, Archie, still hopelessly in love with Amelie, supports her until the day he dies.
The truth be told, they drove each other mad.
Separately they suffer bouts of insanity. Some real and some feigned.
Amelie is prone to melancholy and takes up some unusual cures in the sanitariums of the Gilded Age.
Archie, wrongly committed by his scheming siblings for seven years, escapes the asylum only to descend deeper into a manic kind of madness. He becomes a prolific automatic writer of the self-published kind. A most generous and penniless philanthropist, he ends his days scribbling his name on the walls.
Archie, posthumously, is believed to have come by his bipolar disorder quite honestly. It runs in the family. A gift that keeps giving.
Amelie’s madness is of a similar kind. Euphoric, grandiose, verbose, and highly creative, she cannot help but crash from time to time.
Their marriage was both heaven and hell: Brief episodes of bliss, bright bursts of passion. Disrupted by storms, overwhelmed by sadness.
It could not possibly last. And indeed, it did not.
The madness of such love, can it possibly be worth it?
My sensible side says “NO!”, of course. Who wants to end up on the shores of life an emotional wreck?
But my bipolar soul, the manic-depressive me, screams “YES!”
Let me have a mad, deep, intoxicating, engaging, infuriating, invigorating, reckless, mad, mad love affair…
at least one, or two, or three.
Good for a novel, a movie, a play, a memoir. Good for some crazy tall tales to tell my grandchildren some day.
And maybe good for a blog post — or two, or three.
Who knows? Stay tuned, U&U followers.
I’ll keep you up to date one week at a time – – at Sex & The Single Vicar!
Middle child of six, my childhood can be best described as muddled — or better yet, “fair to middling” as my father used to say.
But charmed and enchanted is what outsiders saw.
My dad was a successful surgeon and my manic mom, a stay-at-home mom. Our six bedroom suburban home was well appointed 1960’s style: wing back chairs, antique sofa, oriental rugs. I had French Provincial furniture in my bedroom and my brothers had Ranch Oak bunk beds in theirs. And four bathrooms, so there was little need to share.
And all was spit and polished just about all of the time. Most of the time.
With six children, three adults, and a dog, the upkeep of the castle was intense. So Downton Abbey style, we had household servants. All African American, I am more than a little ashamed to say. Two full time maids: Nan and her daughter, Cornelia. And a handyman, a grown man, we shamefully called Sonny (Joseph, being his given name.). All members of the Simpson family. And Cora, whose last name I do not recall. She came twice a week to do the ironing.
Thanks to them, we were always freshly pressed in our uniforms or nicely dressed in our department store clothes. Shoes from Hahn’s or Stride Rite. Only the best.
And oh my goodness, we ate well too. Very, very well. My mom had a wall of cookbooks which she rarely consulted but seemed to inspire her nonetheless. While other kids had meatloaf for dinner, we dined on Beef Bourguignon. While other kids wolfed down fish sticks, we feasted on Filet of Sole Almondine.
And all six of us went to private schools: Holy Family, Gonzaga, La Reine, Immaculata — with all the standard extracurriculars: piano lessons, softball practice, swim teams.
We were privileged, well to do. And while we were not taught explicitly to look down on anyone else — it was made very clear that we were to be looked up to. Or least to act like we were. “Remember you’re a Peacock.” my dad would say every time we left the house. Like mini model citizens, our appearance was supposed to be polished, our behavior beyond reproach.
Materially we lacked for nothing – or so it seemed. While maternally and paternally, we were falling apart at the seams.
My dad the workaholic doctor was barely at home.
My manic-depressive mom retreated more and more behind her bedroom door — a door on which I was very nervous to knock.
Each morning, I would check out my mom like a weather report: dark and stormy; bright and sunny; cloudy with rain. The forecast was often in doubt and subject to change. When bright and sunny, my mom was the life of the party! Fun loving, story telling, cooking up a storm and shopping ’til she dropped.
I loved this mom very much – but as I grew up I saw her less and less. More and more she was dark and moody, drugged with valium, and with a drink her hand. Medicating herself for this malady for which we had no name. (Which now I truly understand.)
And this middle child — who was just a child – thought it my job not to upset her. I thought it my job to keep the peace, to maintain the status quo, not rock the boat in any way, if I could help it. So straight A, goody-two-shoes Joani kept her head down.
And little old me believed, that if I could be a better little kid, a better little daughter, a better little student, a better little Catholic — that I could keep my house from falling down on my head. I could keep my house from falling down and crushing us all.
Not my job, right?
Of course not.
My own healthy, bipolar, grownup self knows this now. Knows this to be true. I know that childhood chores involve making your bed, doing dishes, and picking up toys. No, childhood chores do not involve saving yourself and your siblings from your very troubled mom and your mostly absentee dad. Though I do believe they loved us as best they could.
But funny how history repeats itself. And funny how whatever we learned at our parents’ knees will stay with us until the day we die.
And it bubbles up in our grownup lives. Sometimes imperceptibly. Sometimes overwhelmingly.
I am still a middle child, peacemaker, model citizen, goody-two-shoes, bleeding heart, employee of the month. Raining sunshine wherever I go — or at least so I think.
And what goes wrong in my world – whether it be my fault or not — whether it be at home, or at church, or at work — I have the uncontrollable urge to fix it. Where things get rough, let me make them smooth. When things are sad, let me cheer you up. When things get messy, I will tidy them up. When others fail, I will take their place. When things get crazy, I will make them sane.
And I will tiptoe, tiptoe around “mom” — hoping against hope — that this “house of cards” wherever it is — this “house of cards” will not come crashing down on those who live or work there. On my head, or the heads of those I care about, on the heads of those I love.
Not my job, right?
We got all dressed up to go Woodies.
At Christmas, my mom would get us all dressed up to go shopping downtown in D.C. As a kid, this little corner of Washington was a wonderland to me. I remember pressing my nose up against the department store windows – bedazzled by animatronic snowflakes, snowmen, and Nativity scenes.
We’d go to lunch in the tearoom where we got to sit on Santa’s lap. We’d ride the elevator to every floor and at every stop — notions or housewares or lingerie — all of the clerks greeted my mother by name.
“Mrs. Peacock, how good to see you. How may I help you?”
At Garfinkels, Woodies, and Hechts she would charge up her Washington Shopping Plate. It was Christmas after all – time to load up on socks, mittens, and gloves. Time to splurge on fancy talcum powder and Christmas cologne, pierced earrings and cultured pearls, Instamatic cameras and baseball bats.
“Put it on my account,” she would say.
In my teenage years, my mom converted to catalogs. Long before online shopping or the Home Shopping Network, Christmas catalogs clogged our mailbox. I remember them being piled high in a basket in the family room by the couch. And I can see my mom sitting there — clear as day – leafing through them: LL Bean, Orvis, Land’s End, Sharper Image, Harry & David’s Fruit of the Month Club.
Armed with just a telephone and a credit card, my mom would shop until she dropped. Sometimes she would buy so much stuff, she would forget that she had bought it and buy it again. Sometimes she bought so much stuff, she would hide it in the attic or the trunk of her car. She would bring it in little by little – hoping that my father would not see.
Until the bills came, of course, and the sh*t hit the fan and my father hit the roof.
We always got tangerines and toothbrushes in our stockings – but it was the stuff under the tree that was the measure of my mom’s moods.
Unwrap a box and you would peek into her soul: bright on the outside, dark and disorganized on the inside.
One year she did all of her shopping at the drug store. She gave me a man’s thermal undershirt, a meat thermometer, and hot pads. Another year she did all of her shopping at the country club pro shop. I got golf balls, a golf glove, and a yellow sweater embroidered with golf clubs and putting greens.
I do not play golf. I have never played golf. It did not compute.
And that’s the point. A manic-depressive mind has no use for math. Bipolar brains are no good at budgets. That would require calculated decisions, measured judgment, and impulse control. Such minds have no concept of living within one’s means.
My bipolar brain included.
In my married years, I abdicated all my financial responsibilities to my skinflint ex-husband. I was the breadwinner and he was the stay-at-home dad. I made the lion’s share of the money but he managed it. He did all of the grocery shopping which was a blessing. He bought everything on sale including cornflakes and he would not buy a new box until the very last flake was eaten.
It wasn’t’ until I was on sabbatical in 1999 that I had my very own checkbook — for the very first time. I was 45 years old.
Now my money was mine to manage. A middle child, I sought to drive a middle course. But I am not a very good driver; I am my mother’s child. My finances too can be tracked by my moods – or is it the other way around?
In my dazzling days, I have charged up my credit cards.
In my dark days, I have neglected to pay my taxes.
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.
I am embarrassed to bear this broken part of my bipolar soul. And I have worked very hard — for years — to balance this part of my brain.
My car is paid for.
My mortgage is small.
I am on an all cash diet.
I use a debit card whenever I can.
I pull out my credit card only in emergencies.
At least, I try.
Honestly, I still struggle daily to live within my means – especially at Christmas – so many shiny things to stuff into stockings and pile high beneath the tree.
So today as I write – on Black Friday — I am doing my best to sit on my wallet. On Cyber Monday, I will try to stay off of my Mac. And on Giving Tuesday, I will try to be as generous as I can without going into debt.
After all – generosity — is the reason for the season, right? At Christmas we celebrate the Holy One, born poor in a stable; the Holy One, homeless with no place to lay his head; the Holy One who preached good news to the poor; good news for those dirty shepherds who worked the late shift and watched their flocks by night.
He scatters the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He puts the mighty down from their thrones and
He exalts the lowly.
The hungry he fills with good things and
the rich be sends empty away.
And so I pray this Christmas,
That where my heart lies, so my treasure will be,
not just in the stockings and under the tree,
but spent for those in need,
for those in want and poverty,
spent in generosity.
Remember Ferris Bueller’s Bacchanalia?
Ferris’s best class was cutting class. On the verge of graduation, he can’t resist the temptation to skip one last time. He “barfs up a lung” and calls in sick. He “borrows” a Ferarri and convinces his hypochondriac sidekick to go along for the ride. They take off through the streets of Chicago. Hilarious misadventure ensues.
Ferris hijacks a float in the city’s Van Steuben Day Parade, grabs a microphone, twirls it like a baton, and steals the show. All along the parade route, bystanders break out break dancing. Rock out, Chicago!
The Ferrari unfortunately does not fare as well as Ferris does.
The 1961 250 GT goes airborne twice to the Star Wars theme. It does not make it through the credits. Ferris and his friend run it in reverse in hopes of turning the odometer back. But there is no resurrecting the car. Driverless it takes a suicide dive off a cliff into the trees below.
“You killed the car.”
Ferris Bueller just celebrated his “30th” birthday. For thirty years the film has inspired high schoolers to take a “mental health day”. For thirty years the film has inspired really just about everyone to take one incredible and unforgettable “mental health day”.
“Mental health day” , of course, means you’re faking it. You’re lying. You’re goofing off. You’re playing hookie. You’re going AWOL. You’re sneaking around – hoping not to get caught.
Manically speaking, however — “mental health day” — I am here to tell you — is a very real thing.
I took one just the other day.
Hypo-manically flying beneath the radar, I climb, I soar, I swoop and ascend. I coast on clouds in blue, blue skies – on clouds of voluminous white.
My flight is fueled by work, by books, by friends, by family, by church, by walking, by music, by earth, by wind, by fire.
My flight is fueled by coffee and caffeine and extracurriculars.
I f*ing ace at extracurriculars.
I begin to believe that I have flown above my bipolar brain, that I’ve broken the bipolar sound barrier. I believe I’ve discovered anti-gravity. My feet need never touch the ground again. The only direction to go is UP!
So I stay up later doing more and more. I stay up later and I get up earlier – because even in my dreams my head is racing. Racing, racing, racing and there is no finish line. There is no finish line at all.
And then hoped for things do not come true and along with that comes a rejection and a disappointment or two.
I can handle it. I can handle it. I can handle it, I tell myself. And then I can’t.
I wake up with a dull, twisted, knotted feeling in my stomach. It’s a nauseous feeling tinged with grief and loss. And this grownup woman is bereft as a child.
I curl up in the fetal position, the covers pulled over my head, and then a little voice says,
“I think it’s best, Joani, if you take a mental health day.”
A mental health day is a very real thing – just as real any day away for a virus or a broken limb. Your brain is broken and you are in fear of literally losing your mind. You feel your soul slipping from your grip. You pray not to sink beneath the waves.
Call in sick. Go back to bed.
Yes, call in sick.
But DO NOT, let me repeat, DO NOT climb back into that bed. Get up out that f*ing bed – no matter how f*ing hard it is. Make that bed up as best you can so that you can’t slip between the sheets again.
Eat something real. Wear something gorgeous and go out the f*ing door. Soak in the sun or walk in the soaking rain. Go outside no matter what the weatherman says.
Find yourself a table at a little offbeat bistro and order a gourmet meal. Walk down to the river. Read a book.
See your therapist. Visit a friend. Call your daughter.
Talk to God and rattle some beads.
Go home. Crank up the music and dance in your living room.
Take a shower, take your meds, and get a good night’s sleep.
Take a mental health day.
It’s a very real thing – a very real thing, indeed.