Kempton Baldridge, rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Waterloo, Belgium.
When Kempton first approached me about reporting on a day in the life of a clergyman, I was eager to give it a whirl. Then he mentioned that often his days start around 4 a.m. because the predawn hours are distraction-free, a time he devotes to writing, scripture, and tasks that require his undivided attention.
Oh, that sounded good for HIM, but I confessed that the only thing I do at 4 a.m. is roll over and pull the blankets up closer to my chin. I never extricate myself from bed at that hour unless there’s a crisis requiring ambulances and fire trucks.
Kempton, being a considerate guy, decided to share a day with me that didn’t start that early. He offered to let me accompany him on his rounds on Ash Wednesday, a day that started at 7 a.m. for him and included dropping his daughter Grace off at school. He promised to swing by my house in Tervuren and pick me up between 9 and 9:15 a.m.
The road approaching my village is closed as is the road going through it. My home is conveniently located in a neighborhood sandwiched between these two dead ends.
It’s easy to get to my house—if you have a helicopter. If you’re driving and follow the omlegging signs, you’ll end up miles from where you intended to go, sitting on some country road bordered by freshly plowed fields and rolling green hills with no signs for navigation.
Seeing as it was the first day of Lent, God decided to test and build Kempton’s character by letting him wander in the wilderness surrounding Tervuren for forty minutes while attempting to reach the Promised Land of my neighborhood.
He didn’t arrive until just before 10 a.m., and I can’t be sure, but it seemed he had a few more gray hairs. Still, he managed to smile before whipping out his cell phone to call Mambwe Kamanga, a former parishioner who he was supposed to meet in Waterloo at 10 a.m. for a visit. Of course he couldn’t get through to tell him he was delayed.
“Ah,” Kempton said, “No good deed goes unpunished.”
We headed back to Waterloo, and Kempton reflected on how his former life as a military chaplain was different from life as an Episcopal priest.
“Back then I had no office, no steeple, and no choir but I always had lots of administrative support. Now I have a church, a choir, an office, and no administrative support,” he explained. He told me he spent lots of time doing things like ordering printer toner and making and collating copies. I wondered if we’d be doing that during our day together, but Kempton said no, “The first thing we need to do is make ashes for the midday service.”
“What? We don’t order them online from ashes.com? " I asked with a twinkle in my eye.
Kempton explained that, no, priests don’t buy the ashes for Ash Wednesday, they’re made by burning dried palms leftover from a previous year's Palm Sunday celebration.
And so this is how I found myself (along with Mambwe) watching Kempton unleash his inner pyromaniac. After loading a stock pot from the church kitchen with palms and offering a prayer, he pointed a lighter into the pan and tried to get the palms to burn. As they smoldered, a sweet smoke that smelled remarkably like the blue haze that hangs in the coffeehouses of Amsterdam filled the air. Suddenly the church felt like a set for a Cheech and Chong movie.
Hmmm. Maybe we should take this operation outside. Mambwe, Kempton and I moved outdoors into the parking lot, and Kempton continued to tease the palms with the lighter until flames billowed out of the stock pot and threatened to singe his tweed jacket and his eyebrows.
Mambwe and I wondered what the cars traveling the traffic circle bordering the parking lot thought of our operation.
“Those Episcopalians sure have some weird rituals! What’s with the parking lot flambé?”
Bringing the pot [ahem] inside, Kempton demonstrated the dirty work of ministry as he attempted to crush the charred palm remains into fine soot. Ah yes, now I know why priests always wear black! It’s to hide the nasty charcoal stains!
I warned Kempton not to touch the pristine white of his clerical collar and smudge it. “It’s made of plastic actually,” he said.
PLASTIC? The image of my priest cleaning his collar with Windex at the end of each day left me feeling vaguely disillusioned. Wow, the day was already full of surprises, not the least of which was that the church now smelled like weed and Kempton was not a Man of the Cloth but Father Vinyl.
As Kempton worked to pulverize the blackened palm stems and I joked about donating a mortar and pestle to All Saints, Mambwe filled Kempton in on his siblings, mother Irene, and life in Zambia. Mambwe, newly graduated from university with a public relations degree, is job hunting in Belgium. When Kempton invited him to be a counselor on an upcoming mission trip to Romania, he eagerly accepted and began filling out the paperwork.
After the ashes cooled, we put them in a small white container that we discovered after searching the entire kitchen for something suitable. I had a good laugh imagining Tupperware offering an Ashes-to-Go container. They have specialized containers for every other use, why not Ash Wednesday? They could design a container with a special lid that allowed priests to sprinkle OR smudge the ashes. Hey, they could expand the liturgical line with Tupperware collars, and Communion Carryalls featuring their patented leak proof seal. But I digress…
With the kitchen counter cleaned and the stock pot scrubbed, Kempton, Mambwe and I wandered into the church. We decided that having Christmas greenery hanging on the walls on the first day of Lent was tacky as well as liturgically incorrect. We took the wreaths down and followed Kempton into the sacristy to retrieve vessels and linens for the upcoming services.
Kempton explained that one of the challenges of having our own church was that there are now an abundance of volunteer positions to fill. For example, because we have multiple services each week, the Altar Guild needs to expand its membership. I remember my days as an Altar Guild chick in Oklahoma. I was only 21 and the older Altar Guild ladies provided training that was a bit like hazing. They were always putting me in my place.
Kempton made quick work of setting up the altar and then took Mambwe and me on the deluxe tour of the new church facilities that we bought from the Swedish Lutherans when they moved. In Kempton’s unpainted office (a work in progress) there are sketches of a steeple planned to crown All Saints one day. Like the church facility itself, the steeple is a both a beacon and a dream.
We explore the building from the basement Sunday School, youth group, and storage spaces up to the top floor apartments, which are flooded with sunlight and contain a few choice antiques. Everywhere we go, the potential of the facilities shines. A boarding school. A hospitality center for the USO. Meeting rooms. Offices. A youth center. The list of possible uses goes on and on.
Soon it’s noon and parishioners are entering into the church for the first Ash Wednesday service. There are about a dozen of us who turn to page 264 of the Book of Common Prayer and officially begin Lent.
Earlier Kempton had informed me that he put together two sermons (a short one and a long one) from bits and pieces he’d written or saved earlier. For the noon service, he goes with a short sermon so people can return to work on time. He preaches from the Ash Wednesday Collect and encourages those gathered to “Give up hate and take on love,” this Lent.
“Speak in love, listen in love, forgive in love, pray into and out of love.”
Communion is given from reserve sacrament, and after the service, Kempton quickly removes his vestments, signs eleven copies of a budget to go to the commune, tells others who wish to speak to him about church business that he has to be on his way, and then speeds out the door with his hands full to head to the U.S. Army Garrison in Brussels for a service.
As we drive, Kempton explains that his goal when there are time constraints on a service is to give people a quick takeaway message and stick to essentials.
“When I was in the Navy, I used to do a ‘combat communion’ service which took 17 minutes from start to finish,” he said.
We arrive at the garrison with ten minutes to spare. In true military fashion, Kempton is offered support from the Army staff. A sergeant tells him she has ashes if he needs them and helps him set up a makeshift altar. The garrison chaplain greets him and offers assistance as well. At 1:15, the service begins. Once again there are about a dozen people in attendance.
The sermon is embroidered with a few extra anecdotes (including one about a Biship blessing a septic tank) but the message remains the same as his earlier version: “Make love your hallmark. Everything you do in love reveals God and is done in concert with His will.”
At 2 p.m., the service is over, and once again Kempton is gathering up his things and ready to move on. Before he leaves the garrison, he pauses to check his mail and collect a package. That’s when he sees David, a worker in the post office who greets him warmly and expresses regret at having missed the service because he was in a meeting.
Kempton offers to pray with him and impose ashes right then and there, and David accepts the offer. Kneeling on the floor of the post office with his head bowed, David enters the season of Lent in an unexpected way in an unexpected place.
And this is what Kempton loves most about his work—moving easily between the military, expat, and native community, finding acceptance in all those places, and sharing God’s love and ministry in a church, in a chapel, in the gym, the barbershop, and yes, even in the post office.
I need to be delivered back to my home to meet my children when they come off the school bus and Kempton needs to get to Leuven for a 5 p.m. service at St. Martha and Mary’s Church. From there he’ll scoot back to Waterloo to watch Grace play in a basketball game that starts at 6:30 p.m. and then it’s back to All Saints to conduct his final service of the day at 8 p.m.
As I bid him goodbye after what feels like a full day of activity, it occurs to me I’ve shared less than half of his day. As I climb the steps to my home, I say a little prayer of thanksgiving—not just because it’s been a privilege to witness his dedication and share moments of humor and grace but also because I’m so, so glad our day didn’t start at 4 a.m.
February 9, 2008
Earlier this week Pete went to the vet to get vaccinations and the passport he'll need to fly out of the country in March. Yes, he had to get a passport to LEAVE Belgium. The U.S. doesn't require it to enter the country, and our dear departed Amy didn't need one to enter Belgium in 2005 but Pete needs one to leave. Go figure.
The vet checking out my glossy black cat noted that he was "overweight." He weighs 6.5 kilos.
Does this coat make me look fat? Maybe I should suck my stomach in?
The vet says he needs more exercise, which is why Petey has been hitting the gym.
I'd rather be kickboxing! Will this flatten my abs?
Pete has been on light cat food since he was neutered last March, but apparently he eats too much of it. He's like a woman who binges on Snackwells.
Dr. Get Thin said I shouldn't put Petey's food into a bowl but instead hide little kibbles of it all over the house so he has to "hunt" for it. No more rolling off the sofa and grabbing a snack in the kitchen. Nooooo! Now he has to work for every bite that goes into his mouth.
"Where's my food? If I lie down next to my bowl, will it magically appear?"
His friends Sylvie and Martina, the women who saved his life when he was a kitten, hated the idea of Pete hunting for his food and staged an intervention. They saw him when he was only a scrap of feline fur, and now it brings them great joy to know he's "fat and happy." They sent salmon terrine to show their love. No more hunting for light food nuggets!
Thanks Sylvie and Martina!
Sylvie and Martina have rescued many, many cats in Brussels and continue to place neutered/spayed and vaccinated pets into people's homes. If you're in the Brussels area and are interested in adopting a cat, contact me and I'll put you in touch with these lovely, kind-hearted and generous souls. (You can also follow this link which has contact info.)
February 8, 2008
Belgium is famous for beer, chocolate, tapestry, and lace, but few people know it is home of the city that inspired the generic term "spa." The city of Spa in the Ardennes is the home of thermal springs that fed an industry of restorative baths, saunas, and relaxing beauty and body treatments.
Yesterday, in a bid to loosen our tight shoulders and unclench our muscles, we headed to the mountains. The drive was longer than I expected. It took us about an hour and a half to get there from Brussels, but this part of Belgium is a world away from the flatlands where I live. The geography reminded me of my childhood home in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, and the landscape was covered with a light dusting of snow that highlighted every tree branch, rooftop, hill, and steeple. It was so pure and so beautiful and transported me to a happy time in my past.
The spa we visited is perched on a hilltop overlooking the city, and offers dramatic views of the valley below and the woods that surround it. We skipped beauty services (known as "cures") and opted to just enjoy the pool and baths. The pool, heated to a very warm temperature, also has a whirlpool attached, Jacuzzi-style jets in certain sections, and a "river" exit that takes you outside onto the terrace and into outdoor pools where the water remains warm but the air is winter brisk.
There are lounge chairs, heat lamps to dry under, massage chairs, and a cafe, all under an enormous atrium dome that pulls your spirit upward with stunning skyscapes. I parked my lower back in front of a jet in the pool and just leaned back and admired the line art of the bare tree branches against the everchanging sky--blue gray to heather to pearl white to blue. While the facilities were very nice, it was the setting that really sold me on the experience and helped recharge my batteries and unknot my tense muscles.
I was surprised it wasn't more crowded, considering it was a Saturday. There were people ranging in age from their 20s to their 60s. Lots of couples. Some of them quite enthralled with each other. Sigh.
I really feel old (and cynical) when I realize how annoyed I get when people exchange long tender kisses or gaze passionately into one another's eyes in public. It makes me feel like a bitter middle-aged troll who may be loved but will never be an object of adoration again. Except in my cat's eyes. Thank God for Pete who signals his deep joy and contentment with my presence by purring and stretching his sleek glossy paws out to touch my face. He channels a lot of adoration and sleeps curled against me every night. I ought to buy him a Valentine.
We came back from Spa relaxed and content, but last night E-Grrrl began running a 103 degree fever and came downstairs late at night while I was making art. I sat with her from midnight until 2 a.m., worried at how sick she was, concerned about the headache that was accompanying the fever. When I finally went to bed, I couldn't sleep--meningitis anxiety bubbling up from time to time, drawing me back to her bedside.
Today her fever and aches remain but the headache is gone. I've got a cough, and my son A was complaining of a sore throat this morning. E has to travel this week and has his fingers crossed that health and wellness will be his companion.
So this afternoon I'll be busy making a pot of chicken soup, with extra garlic, hoping for the best....
February 3, 2008
This package from Granola Grrrl arrived in the mail on my birthday. I love the way she decorated the shipping box with stickers and her own message. I had a small collection of stones in a favorite piece of pottery on my dresser. They are now in a shipping crate crossing the Atlantic. No wonder I haven't felt like myself. I'm sure the movers wondered why they had to wrap and box rocks, but Granola Grrrl understands what it takes to be grounded.
This handmade alpaca wool scarf was inside, and warms my heart, not just my neck. It's so soft and so full of goodness that I want to sleep with it. Yeah, I'm a weird grrrl. I'm not blogging drunk, really.
Finally, I recently discovered this chocolate and it is ME in confectionary form. Yes, it has chili peppers and cherries in it. And it's dark. Spicy, sweet, more than a little noir. The mix is unexpected and delicious, just like a certain Grrrl.
Februrary 1, 2008
So cold. So damp. So unbelievably windy.
The days howl and moan, the vent cover on the stove exhaust hiccups its discontent constantly, the garage doors rattle menacingly, and I feel I'm living on the set of a horror movie as the gray skies deepen and dusk falls.
It is a bad time of year not to have a car. I walked to the pharmacy in the rain to pick up meds and then discovered I was three euros short of being able to pay for them. So I had to walk back home, holding onto my hood with one hand, bracing myself. I was nearly stopped in my tracks by the force of the wind gusts.
I raided my son's wallet and then walked all the way back to the pharmacy, looking forward to the day I have my own freakin money, can write checks, and not worry about converting dollars to euros.
It will be so nice to have a car again when I move to America. To not have to worry about the weather when I need to run errands. To be able to go to the grocery store ANYTIME and get bread, milk, eggs, whatever. With two pre-teens in the house, I always need groceries, and I hate, hate, hate the hassles of using public transit to get them, not to mention the pain of how much everything costs here, especially with the crappy exchange rate.
Yeah, I'm crabby, and I'm bored, and I've had enough of living an empty life in an empty house. But I bet you already noticed that.
January 31, 2008
According to Holiday Mathis, this is my birthday horoscope:
"You've set your sights on a different kind of life this year, and the improved version is quickly coming into view. The closer you get to your goal, the more there is to do. This is the pathway to greatness, and you 're willing to do what it takes. Supportive team members come into your life in February. May brings money. Libra and Scorpio adore you."
And today's horoscope:
There's a Spanish proverb that states, "Since I wronged you, I have never liked you." Don't assume you've done something to create waves in a relationship. It could very well be the other person.
I only check my horoscope occasionally but today's is right on the money. Do you ever check yours? How accurate does it seem?
I'm proud to have inspired Neil to launch The Great Interview Experiment, a project that has bloggers interviewing each other and posting the results. I was fortunate enough to have Neil himself interview me. (Kiss my grits, Wendy!)
I've been reading Neil for about two and a half years now. I knew him when he only had a handful of commenters, y'all, before he built his
harem community of female readers and a following of men who liked his thought-provoking posts about sex everyday life, sex marriage, career, sex American culture, sex therapy, blogging, sex and politics. He also writes about the Olive Garden, his mother, Abba, restaurant coupons, his hometown of Queens , and life with his wife Sophia, who may or may not be a midget and may or may not remain his wife.
Did I mention he graduated from a fancy schmancy Ivy League university AND prestigious film school? I bet you already guessed that based on his blog's intellectual subject matter and high-brow attitude.
Proof that Neil reads V-Grrrl and wears women's panties. He's so embarassing.
Neil is a New Yorker living in LA and one of the most entertaining and original bloggers on the planet. He's been a V-Grrrl in the Middle reader for years now, and I'm thrilled to post his interview with me:
Neil: I've been reading your blog for a long time, and I recently went back to read you first posts. Your blog started out more an exploration of being an expat -- an American in Belgium . More recently, your writing has become personal, even emotional, and less focused on your surroundings. Was this a creative choice form or has something happened in your life during this past year to change something in you?
V-Grrrl: It wasn't a creative choice as much as it was an evolution. When I first became an expat, the changes in my life were all encompassing, and I was focused on dissecting and analyzing everything that was different. After a while, Belgium became home and life felt more ordinary. Being an expat became a smaller part of my identity and less a topic of my writing.
Another reason my writing has become more personal is that over time I've become more comfortable in sharing my emotions and my life on my blog. It makes for more powerful writing. I try to keep my posts authentic, even if it means revealing things I'm not proud of. That takes courage and was stressful at first, but then as the gap between my "public persona" and my private self narrowed, I felt better, more confident in myself and less afraid of what others would think. It's been liberating to share the good, the bad, and the ugly with my readers, to share my humanity with them.
Finally, I think midlife is an introspective time. So much is going on in my life right now as my marriage matures, my kids grow up, and I take stock of my choices and the relationships I have. For me, it's a time of reckoning, and the emotion of that comes through in my writing.
Neil: You are moving as I write this. Are you moving back to America for good? Why are you moving? What will you miss most about Belgium ? The pissing boy fountain? What will you miss the least? Are you nervous about the move? Or happy about the change?
V-Grrrl: Our plan was always to stay in Belgium for three years, though we did consider staying longer. There are practical considerations driving our decision to return now, things related to my husband's career and also the children's education. I love Europe but want my children to launch into the world from America. As a "trailing spouse," I haven't had a work visa or permit or an opportunity to get one here. I'm not ready to retire yet--another reason to head home to America.
Will we stay in America for good? I hope not. My husband and I talk about coming back to Europe as soon as we launch the kids into the world, and I definitely plan to come back and visit friends and family.
What will I miss most about Belgium ? My friends, E's Belgian family, the beautiful architecure, the way it's green year round, the enormous number of parks, and the Belgian sky, which is moody and dramatic. Believe it or not, despite the prevalence of gray skies and horizontal rain, I like the climate here. I have fantasies about moving to the Pacific Northwest now that I've lived in Belgium .
What will I miss least? The howling wind and the crazy drivers.
As for being nervous about the move--yes I am. When you become an expat, you dwell in a space between your native country and your new country. Expats call that "the third culture." I know I'll never feel fully at home in America again, even though it's "home." The surface of my life looks unchanged but I feel profoundly different. How do I settle this "new person" into my old life? Where does she fit?
Neil: How has living in Europe changed you?
V-Grrrl: When you leave your country behind, you truly start over. Life is stripped of its social infrastructure, family ties, community and cultural touchpoints, EVERYTHING. I shed all my "labels" and everyone's expectations. It was terrifying and liberating at the same time. Disconcerting and grounding. For the first time ever, I devoted significant portions of my time to my personal writing and creative pursuits, including art. Living and traveling in Europe , surrounded by people from different cultures and backgrounds, has been amazing and wonderful and so enriching. I'm more open minded, more liberal. Living in a country where I don't speak the language, where new experiences are a daily occurrence, has also given me confidence in my ability to handle myself.
Neil: I didn't know much about your artistic talent until all of a sudden, you started posting your artwork more frequently. Were you always creating artwork and just being shy about showing it, or is this scrapbooking, etc. a new endeavor? Where would you like to take it?
V-Grrrl: I never took art in high school, but in my last year of university, I took studio art, art history, photography, and a beginning graphic design class. I absolutely loved all four classes and regretted that I was graduating and couldn't pursue more art studies. My dilemma since then has been that I've felt like an artist without a medium. I have a good eye for art and a creative sensibility but lack traditional art skills like painting and sketching. I've always gone to galleries and museums and bought art, and I enrolled my children in private art lessons, but I never did anything artistic or crafty until I moved to Belgium .
My friend Sherry introduced me to rubber stamping and cardmaking, crafts I never thought I'd like but came to love. That fed a growing interest in mixed media art, in collage. Last August, one of my readers sent me a book on art journaling, and that inspired me to dare to claim myself as a mixed media artist. I began an art journal and started posting my pages on the blog. As for where I want to head with it--well I want to advance my skills and use of media. I want to continue to art journal and maybe grow into making pieces for display.
Neil: Can I get personal for a second. I've always pictured you as a classy woman, interested in raising her children with strong morals. So, I was surprised at first that, of all my readers, you seemed to always enjoy my sex gags. After awhile I began to notice that your writing is very sensual itself, not overtly sexual, but filled with sights and sounds. Are you aware of these two parts of your personality -- the upscale expat Christian mother AND the lusty sensualist? Do these two distinct personalities ever get you in trouble, like checking out the Reverend's butt?
V-Grrrl: Ah Neil, you know me so well! I am VERY aware of these two parts of my personality; the dichotomy keeps life interesting. My closest friends appreciate "V the Christian Mum" and "V the Lusty Sensualist" in equal measure. I can't say the same for everyone else.
Does it create problems for me? ALL the time. I have to watch how I present myself because not everyone is accepting of my warped sensibilities. My husband doesn't appreciate sexual humor, innuendo, or comments AT ALL, and it's a rough spot between us. He exhibits a lot of forbearance. And me? Must.Bite.My.Tongue.
Once someone accusingly said, "Doesn't the fact that you're a wife and mother mean anything to you?" The question was meant as a reproach for the "inappropriate" nature of some of my comments. All I could think was, "Hmmm, being a wife involves a lot of sex and I became a mother as a result of that. So where are the great chasms separating marriage, motherhood, and sex?"
I have a great sense of humor; I laugh often and laugh loudly. Sex is a very funny business--I can't stop myself from being a bit "naughty" (as Di likes to say). But hey, I appreciate all kinds of humor.
For the record though: I never check out clergy butts, OK? My clergy read this blog, and I just want to make it clear, I'm NOT that kind of grrrl. I am, however, prone to moments of irreverence, the kind of grrrl who hears the Christmas carol Silent Night and thinks, "This will be the LAST silent night of Mary's life. She's got a boy child now. She and Jesus will both be crying in the morning. Wah! Wah! Wah! No more peace on earth for her."
Neil: Is there something that you bought in Europe that is very precious to you that you are shipping very carefully home?
V-Grrrl: I bought fifteen pieces of framed art and some pottery from Italy , Holland, and Poland . My favorite? A small piece of Modigliani pottery I bought in Rome . I wanted to hand carry it in my suitcase because I didn't want to ship it and be separated from it for eight weeks. I practically kissed it goodbye. (Di loaned me a movie on Modigliani over the weekend, and I'm going to watch it this week.)
Neil: Did you stop working full time when you had your kids? I know you worked as a journalist. What are your plans now as the kids get older? Are you secretly writing a steamy novel?
V-Grrrl: I worked as a news reporter years ago, but right before I had children, I was working as an editor for a small publishing firm. After my son was born, I began working part-time from home as a public relations writer and strategist. It was an ideal situation. I worked through an agency on a project-by-project basis for various corporate clients. I wrote Web copy, marketing materials, advertising sections, white papers, and articles. I did a lot of ghostwriting for executives.
I have a mass communications degree, and I think I'm well suited for PR work. I plan to return to it in the U.S. I'm also considering pursuing some freelance writing gigs. Not a fiction grrrl. No steamy novels in me, but I do like to write poetry and essays.
Neil: You met your husband at 17? Did you get married early?
V-Grrrl: I had one serious boyfriend before I met my husband E the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. E was a college senior, five years older than me--attentive, romantic, warm, sexy, considerate. He just kept getting better the longer we dated. I was engaged at 18, and I married E when I was barely 20, during spring break of my second year of college.
I have regrets about some of the choices I made in my 20s, but I don't regret marrying him. We've made a good life together for almost 26 years now. Sure, there are times when we question whether we're meant to stay together; we have different temperaments and sensibilities, but we've persevered.
Neil: Through your blog, I met Di (at least virtually). She takes such wonderful photos of you. How do you know her?
V-Grrrl: Di is from New Zealand and lives in Belgium . I began blogging about the same time she did and we read each other casually for about a year. In the fall of 2006, she sent me an e-mail and told me she was going to launch a photography business and was trying to build a portfolio--would my family mind being photographed? I'd seen her work on her blog and jumped at the opportunity to "model" for her.
I met Di for the first time during that photography session, and I offered to use my PR experience to create a marketing plan and help her with her Web site. Our friendship grew out of that collaboration, and we're very close now. There's an intensity to our bond that I cherish. Our affection for each other shows in her photographs of me--I'm always smiling and have a certain radiance. She brings out the best in me while accepting the wobbly bits. : )
Neil: Where does most of your family live -- like aunts, uncles, etc. Have you missed a close extended family while out of the country.
V-Grrrl: Most of my extended family is based in NY but my siblings are scattered down the East Coast from Maine to Georgia . I rarely see my extended family, and even when I lived in the States, I often went years without seeing some of my siblings. My parents died 16 years ago, so my siblings and I don't have a central place to gather or parents holding us together anymore. The demands of family and career limited our ability to travel. Most of my nieces and nephews are grown now, and I have more than a dozen great nieces and nephews. Even though we all get along fine, my family is not that close, so living overseas hasn't been that big an issue for me.
Neil: Who are your kids like the most? You? Your husband? No one?
V-Grrrl: My children bear little physical resemblance to me. I have brown eyes and curly dark hair and my kids are very fair, blue-eyed blondes with straight hair like their dad. Thankfully, neither of them got my nose! My son's hands are exactly my hands, and he has some of my temperament--a bit of melancholy with a sly sense of humor. He's reserved. He has his father's mechanical intuition and shares my love of science. My daughter got the best of me and my husband in both her aptitudes and character. She's got the prime DNA in the family.
Neil: I notice you like poetry. Is there one poet that really speaks to you?
V-Grrrl: It changes based on where I am in life and in spirit. I used to be devoted to Emily Dickinson , but lately Mark Strand and Billy Collins have been speaking to me.
Neil: Next week is your birthday. You recently wrote a beautiful post about the passing time. Your son even shaved for the first time. I know that time seems to be speeding up for me as I get older. Do you feel the same?
V-Grrrl: My sister was diagnosed with cancer when I was 16 and she died young, on my 20th birthday. I've always been very aware of the transient quality of my life. I live with a clock ticking in the background, and it gives me a certain intensity and point of view. I have to be sure that the things I spend time on matter to me and that the people I love know that I love them. I have low tolerance for BS. I like to savor my experiences. I'm all about process and less about product. I can't stand to rush around or stuff my schedule full of activities. I don't confuse being busy with living a meaningful life. I refuse to sacrifice my time to the American idea of productivity.
Neil: Are you taking cholesterol medicine yet? For me, getting old is when you have to think before you eat a slice of pizza.
V-Grrrl: I was a vegetarian, distance runner, and vitamin popper in my 20s, and health conscious through my 30s. I always exercised and did the right thing. Around the time I turned 40, I developed an idiopathic cardiac problem. God has such a sense of humor. Last time it was checked, my cholesterol was only 155, my blood pressure was that of a 14-year-old, and yet my life includes regular visits to a cardiologist and daily medication. Sometimes my heart fatigues me, and I have to plop on the sofa. It's humbling.
Neil: Are you a good cook? What does everyone ooh and aah over when you make it?
V-Grrrl: I wouldn't call myself a "good cook" because I reserve that label for people who put far more time and effort into cooking than I do. When I bake, I bake from scratch, and I like to make soups. I love garlic. Di thinks everything I cook for her is fabulous. My husband always thanks me for preparing meals. My kids? They're not so impressed and complain a lot. I hate preparing food for my family. I guess that makes me a bad mother.
Neil: You say that you sometimes get prone to depression. I notice a lot of bloggers have this problem. Do you think writers/artists are more prone to depression than more "normal" folk? What snaps you out of your moods?
V-Grrrl: I've dealt with episodes of depression since I was a teenager. At first it was seasonal. As I aged, the episodes got longer, the remission shorter, and the recovery from them was less than complete. I was losing ground. I was encouraged by a friend to get medical treatment about five years ago and it changed my life. Really, it saved my life.
While I do think artists/writers are more empathetic and sensitive to life than others, I don't think they're necessarily more prone to depression; they just express their angst more openly.
What snaps me out of it? I need medication keep my depression under control. Music helps me shift moods, and getting outdoors and taking long walks lift my spirits. The love of family and friends keeps me plugging along through the dark moments, and anyone who makes me laugh out loud is part of my depression cure.
Neil: and lastly... I just had to ask this --
If I asked for a photo of you in a bathing suit , would you send it to me?
V-Grrrl: If Di took the photo, I just might, not because I look great in a bathing suit but because I accept the body I have now better than the one that used to rock a bikini. Watch the mail, Neil. You never know what it will bring. : )
January 28, 2008