Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Isabel Blackwell Roberts

Today has been one of the most wonderful, exhausting, rewarding, and grounding days of my life...(sigh)

In all the ways that matter, I met this woman for the first time today.

She is my paternal grandmother. Or as we say it down South, my daddy's moma. She was born in 1924, weighing less than 5 lbs. She was the first child of Mr. and Mrs. John Blackwell, and as such, they took dozens of pictures of their black-headed baby girl. Her people (her kin, her the South, her identity) were the Williams(es) and the Blackwells of New Hanover County, NC and Marion County, SC, respectively. She married my grandfather, a navy pilot named Benjamin Franklin Roberts after he lost his left arm in 1944 at a naval base in Pensicola, Fla. The Roberts family had lived in South Carolina since the 1600s. When they married she was twenty. He was twenty-one. In the wedding photo they look not at the camera, but at each other...laughing.

She gave birth to five children (in descending order, by age): John, Isabel, Giles (my father), Ben, and Sallie. My grandfather was an accountant at Zeman's general store on Main St. in Marion, South Carolina; his parents didn't get a house "in town" (read: off the farm where he was raised with 11 siblings) until their children were grown. She, my grandmother, was a nurse, and then a homemaker, and then a nurse again. She was raised in Marion, in a two-story grey house with a wrap-around porch just blocks from the home where she would raise her children and live out the rest of her days. She was voted most likely to succeed in the 1942 Marion High School yearbook (she would go on to Duke Nursing small feat for a woman in the forties who lived a state away). My grandfather was voted both Most Attractive and Most Neat in his 1941 MHS yearbook.

She once rode a parade float, advertising Coke: buxom body in striped bathing suit, a similarly-shaped glass coke bottle in hand, she laughed in a picture...sixty-some-odd years ago. She was serene, my father says. She was good, kind, warm. In a home as formal as the Roberts', she was the one that said 'I love you' to her children, and never missed a sporting event, dance recital, instrumental performance. She developed colon cancer in her late 40s. She was a practicing nurse again by that time; and, rather than tell her family(even my grandfather) about the cancer, she kept it a secret and took chemo treatments while at work. She taught all five of her children to cook, clean, sew, and balance a checkbook...things they would need to know. She battled cancer in secret for nearly five years. When she died, her two youngest children, Ben and Sallie, were still in high school, living at home.

My grandfather remarried; Marian Elvington Roberts is the woman that I grew up knowing as my "MaMa" (grandmother). My grandfather doesn't discuss The War, or the accident that cost him his left arm. And he doesn't discuss my (biological) "Granibel," as we could've called her. Neither does my father, until today. I have spent a lifetime scraping together her story, stitching up dates, pictures, anecdotes, begging my father for information. Daddy, what was she like? Was she pretty? Did she like to read? Did she have brown eyes? Could she sing? Do I remind you of her?


Today was the first day I spent alone with my father in years...since I was a little girl. We drove Marion. I peppered him with questions about (my) Granibel that I have been compiling since I was a child, and for the first time they worked...they unlocked something. In my father's quiet way, he began to tell me of the woman I wish I could meet more than anyone else in the world. We filled hours in his pick-up truck, time I usually dread for its heavy silence, with one steady question and thoughtful answer at a time. From beyond the grave, my Granibel is healing a much-tattered father-daughter relationship...

Monday, June 26, 2006

Mind in Motion

I need a little direction.
I never thought I would say that, but I do.
I have a life plan, don't get me wrong. I need direction for "like" tomorrow...and the next day.
Until then, I am taking one "happy pill", and at least one "chill pill" a day (my loving euphamisms for the brain-chemistry-redesigners "they" have me on). I think the pills give me brief moments of contentment. But, I am a clinger, and as such, a ruiner of contented moments. So it is difficult for me to recognize contentment when it comes. What do I mean? As soon as I experience something resembling "safety" or "comfort"...I cling, I attach, I try to stop time in its tracks and....poof.
Contentment erased.
Anxiety replaced.
Hence, the pills.

Better than the pills, I think, would be a dose of Buddhism. I am trying. I have been trying for about 6 months, off and on, to redesign my inner monologue, to ingest the tenets of Buddhism. Resistance to change, clinging, suffering, is dukkha. And there is no Self and Other. I made them up. And so did you. The concept of nonself, that's a doozy. And karma...the law of causeality. I am trying. I am trying. I am trying.

This post sucketh. I am publishing it anyway. Mind in motion, afterall, is what it's about.

Friday, June 23, 2006

I Am Changed.

How do you start a post when you haven't posted in weeks? And, during those very weeks, your life has changed fundamentally. You blog, as a new and different person, a self related to the self that wrote here before, but not one and the same. I stand in an ironic relationship with my past self.

Current self: 20 years old. sipping "Monk's Wake-up Tea" (a coconut oil and tea concoction, caffeine free, delicious) to combat my jet-lagged sleep cycle of a 90 year-old. (I awoke unassisted at 6:30 this morning. and i was chipper. this is serious.)

Home alone, I just watched Lost In Translation. Can't say I am in the least disappointed. I am moved. I miss China. To my relief, my senses are not dulled by the medication I am now taking. Welcome, to the narration of my life. My current self is "sick" according to the psychologists and psychiatrists, a spinal analysis witch doctor, and my chiropractor. My body (aside from my spine...which is like saying "my railroad, aside from the tracks") is in good working condition. My mind is circling itself, tricking itself, outsmarting itself (?), as usual, conjuring a reality that may or may not match up with The Reality. But isn't everyones?

I have rings of Buddhist prayer beads--oiled, wooden, carved, blessed--and a row of yellow jadeite flowers circling my wrists. Also, there is a patch of hairlessness on my right forearm: circular, with a square of normal hairy skin in the center, from the EKG monitor sticker from a Shanghai hospital. These elements = proof that I was in China this time last week. The patch of hairlessness intrigues me. It is the shape of (ancient) Chinese coins: the larger circle symbolizes the heavens, male, and yang. The smaller square represents earth, female, yin. It is like a semipermanent tattoo, traceable to the finger; the bleached hairs trick the eye into not seeing it.

My twentieth birthday (in chronological order):
pure fun,
sobering up,

We went out the night before. I had a stage, Chinese techno, boys (and girls) to dance with. Got drunk. Slept. Woken up, showered, handed coffee. Maintained drunken academia. Sobered up. Many people sang "Happy Birthday" to me. Lunch. Overwhelmed by the extravagant beauty of the Jade Buddha Temple in Shanghai. Tea Ceremony. Panic Attack. A lot of touching: massage, essential oils, breathing into a bag. Heart, Pain, Numbness, Fear. Certainty of Death. Doctor. Ambulance. Breathing again. View only of heads and faces and colorless sky. Elevator. Bed. Kind old woman doctor. Laughter, Joking. And he; he wiped away my tears, looked me close in the eye, played with the control for my bed, held my hand, formed my fingers into Chinese numbers, touched. She made me laugh, stroked my hairline. Felt childlike. Left hospital. Taxi. Shower. Black dress, red necklace, high heels. He smiled to see me. Dinner. Dancing. Close dance, getting him in trouble. Twinkling eye, kiss on the cheek. Maybe in another time and place, starry eyes.

I know this makes no sense, poor reader. I am only beginning to tell this story, and it is tremendous. The feelings first, the words will come later, filling in some blanks, leaving other margins to you. It was a frighteningly alive, and happy birthday. And the days since are changed. When I close my eyes, I am standing on a point, flanked by a dragon and a phoenix, off-balance, and tipping...also....visionary...paradoxical...