I Love You Like Crazy

Acrylic mural: Tongue-in-Cheek, after Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun It’s probably inaccurate in more than just the politically correct sense to say that I love my husband like crazy, because it would imply that my affections are only similar to complete madness, and we all know I’m much closer than that in reality. While I flatter myself that I maintain a reasonably plausible façade of normalcy, everybody knows that I’m pretty nutty about my spouse. And those who know him don’t blame me.

He really is a lovable guy.

But aside from the stuff that is evident to the general public, that part about him being a thoughtful colleague, a committed and skilled teacher, a nuanced and inspired conductor of singers and instrumentalists, and all that other excellent and admirable kind of thing, he is smart and curious and kind as a person. I know that when we are together, I matter as much to him as he does to me; that he is a safe retreat from both the minor perturbations of the day and the greater dangers of the wide world when I am in need. And I have in him the great friend with whom I would rather while away the hours either in intensive work or fully at play than with anyone else on earth.

Most of all, I know he not only understands my particular brand of craziness but shares in it as well. Each day, each year, is a surprise package of a kind, and every one of them is somehow richer than all of the foregoing ones as more than the sum of their many parts. Love and admiration and respect and support are all well and good, but if they don’t have the kind of holy hilarity that life with my partner has, they can never be enough.

With that, I wish my beloved the happiest of birthdays, and many more of them yet to come, each in succession with new and astonishing delights.

Unexpected

To my beloved husband with great love and affection on our eighteenth anniversary: you continue to surprise me, all of these years after your initial unexpected appearance as the love of my life!

Digital illustration from a photo: The Base of the WallSnowing Amethysts

At evening, summertime holds breathless sway

When even crickets wait before they’ll sing,

And birds to roost go silent; everything

Takes pause because the lengthy heat of day

Has drawn a shawl of stillness down to lawn

And flowerbed and hedges, ’til a breath—

So shallow it could scarcely ward off death—

Is difficult to breathe ’til the break’s gone,

Until the night resumes its stealthy crawl,

Exhaling with a stirring wind that flies

Up, stirring blossoms upward to the skies,

Their petals dropping, ash-like, down the wall,

Crape-myrtle petals drifting down below

In waves of amethyst, a summer snow.Digital illustration from a photo: Amethyst Snow

Tough as Nails

Photo: A Little Rusty, Maybe

I may be getting a little rusty and weathered, but I’m just happy to be aging.

I’m managing to age. I’m glad. Though I’ve never had such a deep fall into my depressive and anxious episodes as to become suicidal, I’ve had times when I feared it might be hard to keep living, instead retreating into agoraphobic hiding in perpetuity. Those times, I am so very thankful, have been rare. They’re long past, too.

A couple of months ago, though, I had the first of some subtle indications that my longtime sense of shining wellness might have some tiny cracks forming in its foundations. A creeping unease entered into my confident good cheer. When I was first diagnosed and treated back then for my anxiety and depression, I had the strange sensation of learning what it felt like for my symptoms to recede, one by one, and as they did, I realized that the way I’d felt and the whole way I’d understood myself for all of my life before then, was in large part a collection of symptoms. Underneath it all was a different, happier and healthier self I have relished getting to know as I was unmasked by this progress.

I won’t lose that self again readily. I made tracks for the doctor’s office to talk about my options, because I don’t ever want to be held prisoner in that not-me state again. We’re checking my general health, the doctor and I, and plotting a course for reinforcement of the new-and-improved me while combating those things that threaten in any small way.

My greatest reassurance comes from living with the life partner who never ceases to love and support me for better, for worse, in sickness and in health. Backing him up in the task are the many relatives and friends upon whom I also depend. But I’ve come to realize that I have another resource on which I’ll be depending in this adventure. Surprisingly, that defender is me.

See, I understand now what I didn’t and couldn’t back in the day: I could never have made it to my first depressive crash and subsequent healing if I weren’t pretty tough inside. I have always thought of myself as shy, timid and easily cowed, but the truth is that if everything that seems ordinary and normal to other people in the everyday scheme of things—meeting a new person, answering the phone, taking a class—seems infinitely harder to a person with anxiety disorder or the chemical imbalance that causes chronic depression, then I must be stronger than I thought.

I’m planning to win. I don’t expect it’ll happen overnight, let alone permanently, but with my personal army at my back and the right attitude and resources of my own, I think I have a good shot at it.

Photo: Tough as Nails

For a marshmallow, I’m actually tough as nails.

Flowers for Two

We are neither dead nor quarantined in a sanatorium. But a shared cold makes for a sad household. One impatient patient is perfectly capable of drawing a thin pall of gloom over home and holdings, but when both (or in this case, all) inhabitants of the place feel lousy, the plot, like the creeping crud in one’s lungs, thickens.

I’m sending a little bouquet of flowers, if only the handmade kind I don’t have to have a car to drive to a good florist’s shop to acquire, to both of us. It’s unpleasant enough to be ill, even a little bit, but when the entire family operation shuts down, there’s no one resilient enough to make all of the necessary chicken soup, commiserate and pat everyone’s head with a sympathetic sigh over his or her immeasurable suffering, and keep everything in the home place properly tended.

So we’ll sit around moping, dragging ourselves to do the required things as best we can and retreating afterward to sit among the dishes that still haven’t been put away three days after washing and that pile of papers mounting ever higher on the desk—not in the files—and try to focus mind and energy enough to write that one necessary report, edit that small sheaf of articles, go through that backlog of digital illustration records to find the missing image…and we’ll nod off to sleep again, interrupting ourselves in that only with dispirited bouts of rib-wracking coughing and wheezing and self-pitying snuffles.

I know perfectly well that this will pass, and though it feels interminable in its midst, rather quickly at that. What are a few days of ‘down time’ in one’s whole span of life? But if I have to sit back moodily on my enervated haunches for the while, at least I’ll send myself and my fellow inmate a batch of hand-drawn flowers and all of the well-wishing I can muster in my current state. Here’s to better days ahead!Digital illustration: Flowers for Us

Under the Arches

I walk into the room after the rehearsal has begun, and the men are working on a slow passage of Handel. Choirs I and II sing the same tenor, baritone and bass parts at this part of the piece, and they have unified their pitch and the round warmth of their Latin vowels so that despite having only ten of them singing a relatively soft phrase, the sonority is beautifully intense and sweeps me into the room on an almost ecstatic wave.photoI sit and finally have a look around. The doctoral student assistant is conducting, and one of the voices raised is my husband’s, from where he’s joined Choir II. I close my eyes for just a moment to listen to the lilt and roll of the men’s voices.

When the women rejoin and the full ensemble begins to move forward, picking up speed and volume as the text becomes more buoyant, I feel myself lifted further on the waves, transported far from this concrete box of a room and its cold fluorescent lights.photoSuddenly I am under the morning light pouring through a cathedral’s oculus, gazing up into the curves of the arched nave and dome. I am pacing sedately through the arcade of a cloister, the afternoon sun warming my heels as it peers into the intervals between the pillars. I am in the garden, watching the sun set on the curled canes of the roses climbing there,the bows of the water leaping in the fountain, the draped arms of the willow as it leans out to embrace the day’s last rays of light.

This is the sweetness of music, and in this wash of light and dark, cool and warmth, joy and meditation I can gladly lie for a thousand years.photo

Going Places without Getting Anywhere

Summer holidays allows some of us lucky folk to indulge our inner travel junkie. This summer was pretty much the lottery winner for the Sparks household in that regard, and it helped to scratch my perpetual go-somewhere itch more than a little. We went on a Road Trip. By that I mean a 6000+ mile loop from Texas to the west coast, north to Canada, and back again, over five weeks.

I won extra, since I got to make that trip with my favorite partner-in-crime, my husband. And he likes driving and I don’t much, so he did nearly all of it. I just got to watch the world go by, cities, states, countries, plains, hills, mountains, rivers, forests, and much more. I sat there mesmerized, my camera propped on my lap or–more often–shooting away virtually aimlessly as we buzzed by at 85 mph/137 kph (yes, there are some places where that’s the speed limit in the US) in hopes of catching some of the amazing, beautiful, weird, wonderful stuff we passed along the way. Thank goodness I didn’t have to try this kind of photography on the Autobahn.

Being dyslexic in so many helpful ways, I am the last person who should be navigator on any trip, but I was reminded that maps of any sort have their limitations anyway, and GPS only adds new layers of complexity and adventure, as when our perky GPS announcer lady (affectionately known as Peggy Sue) calmly informs us from time to time that we are in Undiscovered Country, or as she likes to put it, Not in a Recognized Area. The fun part of it is that the map on our GPS just goes blank at that point except for the little red arrow that is us, which thereupon floats through the air with the greatest of ease. That’s when I really call on my fantastic piloting skills, of course.

Mostly what I learn from maps of any sort is how far we are from where we intended to be and how many complications lie in the space between. But that, too, is part of the thrill and amusement of road-tripping or, for that matter, travel of any sort. The planned and well-known aspects are seldom as exciting and interesting as the things found by accident, the experiences had in passing and the ‘scenic route’ that is a fixable mistake. If we never made any U-turns or wrong guesses or took any side roads instead of the Main Drag, life and travel would be ever so much duller. And this trip was anything but dull. I’ll share some of the adventures with you when the dust settles!digital illustration

Love-Birds of a Feather

I’m as much a sucker for a good bird-brained, glutinous, weepy love story as the next guy. But I only like that stuff in fiction, and only in small doses. It’s not enough for me that a love story should have a meet-cute first act and an upbeat dénouement–it’s the stretch between that ought to be uplifting and exciting. Yes, it’s a rather charming sounding concept, at least on paper perhaps, that love would be perfectly lifelong (a lot riding on how long the lives happen to be) and all-encompassing. Yet aside from the exceedingly rare few seemingly flawless pairs for whom there is no apparent need for a world outside of them at all, most of the best relationships I’ve seen or known happen because they comprise two actual individuals, with all of their own unique characteristics, their daily existence intertwining intimately without losing the color and clarity of those individual souls shaped by their distinct thoughts, actions, experiences and inspirations. A true partnership, with all the challenges of give-and-take, beats cloning any day.

That popular book-and-movie of my younger days, Erich Segal‘s ‘Love Story‘, may by now be better remembered for its tagline ‘Love means never having to say you’re sorry‘ than for its actual story of an opposites-attract kind of couple barging and charming their way through thick and thin, plucky and witty and utterly devoted to each other [because of course his haughty family has disowned him for linking up with One of Them, not of Us], until she dies–but very prettily, mind you–of leukemia and her grieving spouse is reunited with his estranged father. The whole story I could take reasonably well, but that one phrase really stuck in my craw, negating all of the negotiations it took to get the fictional couple from their meeting to the bittersweet end of their partnership at her death. Never mind that Segal himself seems to have had a great marriage that defied the glossy sentimentality of such a thing, it always struck me as cheapening the very joy of learning each other’s ways and enriching each other by simply being flawed and odd yet willing to figure out how to fit the two brands of strangeness together well. If I interpret the slogan as regarding regrets rather than apologies, it’s less distasteful to me, though I still think if there’s no risk of hurt, there’s little chance of reward either. The ultimate hurt, in this case, being not death (the old inevitable, despite the dramatic awfulness of its being untimely and painful in this heroine’s case) but the possibility of the relationship failing or being destroyed.

I guess it boils down to this: if a so-called love is so flimsy and flighty it can’t withstand mistakes and the necessary if clumsy duct tape and chewing gum sort of repairs we make on it, how can it be worthy of the name love at all? I much prefer the sort where feathers do get ruffled occasionally but the draw of true companionship and care and hilarity and comfort and adventure all together makes it well worth smoothing them back down.digital illustration from a photoMore than anybody else I know, I have been lucky in love.

I have never suffered through ill-treatment, being dumped or neglected or abused or any of that terrible stuff. I was raised by kind, loving, enjoyable parents–who still seem to think I’m worth keeping around–and have three wonderful sisters who have also kept my coffers filled with affection and excellent companionship. I’ve had a raft of kind friends who have been constant in their warm and encouraging presence throughout my days. Even the teachers, co-workers, postal carriers and shopkeepers peopling my life’s paths have generally been of a goodly sort. Best of all, I am lucky to know just how lucky I have been. And am.

No, that’s not exactly right: the true pinnacle of all this is that I found a best friend I could love, and be loved by, in the truest sense, for the rest of my life. It’s his birthday today, and I can’t help but be reminded how wildly blessed and fortunate I am in having him as my partner and daily companion as well as my great love. Being the best of friends makes all of the rest of it possible, the love and joy and kindness and life challenges faced together. We are birds of a feather, my love and I, and I wish him a long and marvelous series of birthdays yet to come. And a deeply happy one today, to get the rest of them started.

See you back at the ol’ nest by evening, my Sweet.photo montage