Inappropriate Vegetables

This is the time of year when all gardeners commit the same crime: we get busy and walk away from our gardens. I mean, come on. It’s summer, right? We did all that weeding in the spring and all that seeding and all that planting. We’ve been keeping an eye out all season. We have collected tomatoes and cucumbers and basil. We have brought in zucchini and eggplant on a regular basis. Some of us may have even made pickles or tomato sauce. It’s time for a break, right?

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Every time I leave my garden for any length of time, I come back to inappropriate vegetables. Every gardener knows what I’m talking about. It’s as if the vegetables have a sense of humor. Most of us find our inappropriate vegetables in the zucchini section of the garden. We leave for a few days and come back to a zucchini that is so huge it makes the kindest of women blush and the toughest of men turn their heads.

Here is what I found today. (The pencil is to show proportion.):

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But the carrots get in on it too:

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 I have seen a number of inappropriate vegetables that bring a number of things to mind. But the truth is that, even though there are many vegetables in this world that are, (ahem), misshapen, they are still edible. And there are lots of people who go hungry. So even if some of your vegetables might be a little inappropriate, please remember that your local churches, soup kitchens, food banks and pantries are still happy to take them.  (Even if you are hesitant to eat them.)

Teach Your Children To Write “Thank You” Notes

My step-mother was the first person in my life to force me to write thank you notes. I was still growing into my left-handedness and very much struggling with my cursive. It was embarrassing. I was so annoyed that I had to write thank you notes. I remember feeling like the whole process was just a stupid, useless chore. I was about eight years old and I hated it.

My parents, just a few years earlier, had divorced and I had all these new “family members” that I had just met. Why should I have to write a note to thank someone I hardly knew for a gift that I didn’t even want? When my birthday and Christmas rolled around, I was told to sit down and write thank you notes. I crinkled my nose every time.

Because it was my step-mother who forced me to write thank you notes, it was only her side of the family that got them. In my infinite childhood wisdom, I figured that my other side of the family didn’t need any thanks. They knew that I loved them and I knew that they bought me presents because they loved me. What more needed to be said?

When I was about twelve or thirteen years old, I was in the habit of reading the newspaper. I read the funnies regularly and tried to do the crossword. The advice columns were on the same page as the funnies and sometimes I would read them too.

One day, the “Dear Abby” column was about thank you notes. The letter was written from a grandmother who was irritated because she sent her granddaughter money on her birthday each year but never received a thank you note. Abby’s advice was to stop sending the granddaughter money. Abby said that a simple card would suffice.

Realizing that the Dear Abby letter could have been sent from my grandmother, I panicked. I got out stationary and, right then and there, sent my grandmother a thank you letter. I thanked her for every gift she had ever sent me that I could remember. I thanked her for my Christmas presents, my birthday presents, my Easter baskets, and for every other holiday and event on the calendar from the day of my birth up until that point. And then, just to be thorough, I sent a thank you note to every other member on that side of my family. I didn’t want anyone to be irritated with me. I wanted to ensure that I would continue getting gifts.

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When I was very little, my mother used to sing me a lullaby that went, “When you are tired and you can’t sleep, count your blessings instead of sheep.” It was a very sweet song but I wasn’t sure what it meant. I was very young and didn’t have the vocabulary to understand what a blessing was, so I would count all the stuffed animals in my room and give each of them a name. I didn’t ask my mother to define the word blessing but, even if I had asked, I’m not sure that I would have understood the concept, even if my mother would have told me that it was “something that you’re thankful for.” Gratitude might be a concept that we are able to understand later in life, something that we grow to understand.

Now that I’m older, and have nieces and nephews of my own, I completely understand the sentiment of that “Dear Abby” letter. I send my nieces and nephews presents on a regular basis. Sometimes I send them presents because they’ve had a milestone. Sometimes I send presents just because I’m thinking about them. For my older nieces, I usually get a call or a text message expressing thanks. For the younger kids, I usually get a call from the parents.

I still write thank you notes. I write them more now than ever before. I write them just to thank people for being in my life and for being my friend. I no longer crinkle my nose. There are incredible things to thankful for. I’m thankful for being invited, for having dinner, for sharing a bottle of wine. I’m thankful for music, for potlucks, and for sound advice. I’m thankful for the kind of nights that shatter all previous conceptions. I’m thankful for poetry, for harmony and for the sound of new musical instruments. I’m thankful for quotes from Shakespeare, for the sound of waves crashing on the beach and for a first-attempt at fig pie. I’m thankful that I notice so many things to be thankful for.

A few months back, I attended a child’s birthday party. It was filled with pomp and circumstance. There was a bounce house and lots of presents. There was a professionally-made cake. There were little bags of goodies for the children. There was a huge picnic and a barbeque. I ended up doing a lot of the cooking at the grill. The night before, I helped to stuff the pinata. At the party, the kids ran around and had a good time.

The day before the party, my partner and I ran around town trying to find a nice present for the child. It was a little stressful because the child was a recent addition to our family and we really wanted to make sure that she felt loved and included. We wanted to get something that she would appreciate and play with. We decided on a set of fairy dolls and spent way more money than we had on them. We wrapped it and included a thoughtful card.

My partner and I have never received a single acknowledgment for that day. Not a phone call. Not a text. Not an email. Not a card. Not a “thank you.” Not for the help and not for the gift.

Now that I’m older, I know how hard it is to find time and money for the friends and family that I love. I know that every single gift I receive is precious and that every moment I get to be with friends and family is even more precious. It means so much to me when someone takes the time to express their gratitude for my efforts and it is very slighting when they don’t. But I try to shake off because I know that writing “thank you” cards is a learned skill. Unfortunately, it is also a dying art form.

Contemplating Suicide

I have kept a diary since the sixth grade. I now have many diaries, documenting most of my life, stored away in boxes in my shed. According to my well-kept records, the first time that I contemplated suicide was about twenty years ago, when I was 14-years-old. I have contemplated suicide many times since. I don’t ever talk about it because it makes people uncomfortable and, to most people, it is generally a pathetic and selfish thought pattern. But, since the great and powerful genie, and the kind and brilliant comedian, Robin Williams, has made suicide the topic du jour, I thought that I would share a few things about my experience with depression and suicide.

Robin Williams’ death was a tragedy for his family, for his friends and for the millions of fans who admired his work. In that order. I grieve for him under the latter rubric, which is to say, I grieve for his art. Like many people who have been speculating about his life and situation, I never met him. But like so many others, I loved what I knew.

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There has already been so much ink spilled about Robin Williams’ tragic death and I hate the piggy-backing that has subsequently followed. I write this, not because it is timely and might get my blog more hits, but because the subject hits close to home and I feel compelled to share this.

As with any event where a media blitz follows, a lot of misinformation gets spread and a lot of ill-informed opinions are solidified. I have seen a lot of commentary about suicide and depression. While much of it is well-intended, there is so much circulating currently that is neither helpful nor productive. I once heard someone say that telling a depressed person to “cheer up” or “reach out” is like giving someone an aspirin for a brain tumor. I feel like that is pretty accurate.

As a caveat, I’m fine today. That is to say, I’m fine for now. I’ve been fine for at least a year. I have been eating really well and exercising. I stay away from situations that could put my mental health at risk. I stay away from people who exacerbate my occasional severe depression. When I can, I go out into the sun a lot. I take vitamins. I allow myself to find joy where ever I can. I sometimes even recite positive affirmations while looking in the mirror.

I’m not medicated for my depression. I have been fortunate enough in my life that a comprehensive, holistic approach has always provided me with the tools to overcome my depression. Early on, my parents took me to see a therapist. They divorced when I was young and I think my therapy sessions were more for their peace of mind than my own, but I equally think the sessions probably set a good foundation for what has become a battle with depression in my adult life. So far so good.

But I know that there is always the possibility that the depression will come back. And that it could come back worse than before. It occasionally rears its ugly head when I’m having a particularly bad day or bad week. My depression isn’t as severe as some other people’s. My depression is cyclical and occasional, sometimes lasting a few detrimental days and sometimes for a few devastating months. I know that I am much more fortunate than a lot of people who deal with depression. But, like most people who deal with depression, I also know that I am always at risk.

I don’t think that it is a coincidence that Robin Williams chose to act in several movies dealing with the subjects of suicide, displacement, and mental illness. Dead Poet’s Society, The Fisher King, Jumanji, August Rush and What Dreams May Come are among my favorites. I also don’t think that it is a coincidence that he won an Oscar for his role in a film where seizing the day triumphs in the face of death and life’s obstacles: Good Will Hunting.

Depression is not equivalent to having a bad day. It is not a sadness. It is like the scene in What Dreams May Come where Annie Collins-Nielsen, played by actress Annabella Sciorra, can’t get up and can’t even cry. It’s like the scene in Jumanji when Alan Parrish, played by Williams, comes back to his home town after years of isolation to find that no one remembers him or is willing to acknowledge his existence. Depression is a desolation so deep and so clear. It is a submersion. There is no reasoning or arguing. It is an all-encompassing monster, reaching its tendrils into every part of a person’s life.

I have seen a lot of messages about suicide prevention and about “reaching out” in the past few days. I appreciate the effort. I really do. I can sympathize with those who have lost loved ones to depression and who hope to prevent suicide in the future. I have seen the messages of hope. I think that my friend, Zack Hamra, offered one of the best messages of hope I have read.

He said, “Please be kinder to yourself than you think you should be. This world is one crazy place if you let yourself get all caught up in it. Slow down. You might actually be right where you need to be. Our mental health is serious stuff, and it saddens me, that in school, we’re not provided with the tools to figure out on a daily basis what this stuff called happiness is really made of. RIP Robin Williams. The whole world loved you.”

The whole world loved you. It rings in my ears like a gong.

The whole world loved you.

Isn’t that an incredible thing? The whole world loved you.

For most of us, we don’t hear these messages on any regular basis. We don’t hear messages of love enough. Whether we are dealing with depression or not. There are many who cater to the love outside, but there are few who are willing to love the people in front of them. People are complicated. There are people in the world who never hear kind words from anyone.

I am saddened beyond grief that a man who brought so much joy to the world has now become the poster-child for suicide prevention. But, as someone who has lived silently as someone actively struggling for suicide prevention, I can tell you that we, as a people, just don’t love each other enough for the world to hold all of us.

I mean this in the kindest way possible, even though it’s shitty: There are those of us in the world who won’t survive this time and place because it is too much to get through. I am heart-broken, like so many, about Robin Williams’ suicide. But unlike many, I completely understand it. I get it. I respect it. And I can’t blame him. I can’t even say that I’m surprised about the circumstances surrounding his death. He goes, like so many before him, carrying the art he could no longer burden, to his grave. May his sweet, sweet soul now rest in peace.

And for the rest of us?

A good friend of mine, who has suffered from severe depression for many years, explained her outward dismay by saying, “They keep saying that ‘it gets better…’” She trailed off with a pregnant pause. The truth is that, for many of us, it will never get better. It just gets different. And all we can hope for is that we lived the best we could. I think of Sean Maguire, Robin Williams’ role in Good Will Hunting.

Robin Williams’ death may very well be the culmination and apex of his entire life’s work. When I heard that his cause of death was suicide by asphyxia, my initial thought was not that he had hung himself, but that he had attached a pipe to the exhaust of his car, the way that Willy Loman attempted suicide in Death of a Salesman. But Robin Williams wasn’t making an attempt. He was saying goodbye.

I have kept a diary since the sixth grade. I now have many diaries, documenting most of my life, stored away in boxes in my shed. According to my well-kept records, the first time that I contemplated suicide was about twenty years ago, when I was 14-years-old. I have contemplated suicide many times since.

Most people who read a blog are looking for simple answers: A fifteen minute pineapple-upsidedown-cake. A quick-fix diet. A simple way to get rid of aphids on roses. A catch-all solution to acne. This blog will not, and can not, offer a quick fix to suicide. The truth is that there is no quick fix. This world is broken and, for a lot of us, it is broken beyond repair.

Here is what you can do for now: Call the friend that needs it most. Make contact. Write a letter. Be nice. Be cordial. Be present. Use your turn signals. Make friends. Help a stranger. Put up with the hard stuff. Deal with the worst of people. Smile. Hug. Love.

And understand, when it isn’t enough, it’s not your fault. Some people just aren’t meant for this world.

I had the incredible fortune to see Maya Angelou speak in 2002. One thing that she said has always stuck with me: “If you think that you are alone, listen to music and read poetry and know that you are not alone. You have never been alone.”

I give you Wordsworth:

 

The World Is Too Much With Us

 

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;

The winds that will be howling at all hours,

And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;

For this, for everything, we are out of tune;

It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be

A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;

So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,

Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;

Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;

Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

 

And I leave you with a medley of some of the best lines from some of the movies that Robin Williams participated in. I won’t specify. Let’s just celebrate his genius. Together, his words build a brilliant and perfect representation of a troubled man who gave the world so much. Hopefully we can be better for them.

“Hunger for hope may be worse than hunger for food.” “Even when you’re squeaky clean, you can still fall in the mud.” “No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” “A whole human life is just a heartbeat here in Heaven. Then we’ll all be together forever.” “Thank you for believing.”

Rest in peace Robin Williams. And for all who are struggling with depression, you are not alone.