How Great Thou Art (amidst the mess)

(While Governing Ana is not a Christian blog, it contains unapologetic Christian content today. You are warned. Please return tomorrow for secular content.)

Earlier posts referenced:

I won’t talk about the details, but my dad has slipped into serious territory. He gets sicker and sicker, and instead of improving in the ICU he has required more intervention.

It’s pretty scary.

I’ve been vilified by a few toxic people for removing them from my life. (They know about my dad’s illness but don’t care, and my dad is more important.) While I made the best decision in a bad circumstance, the unfair assumptions hurt.

The quilting grannies have enveloped me in their love, warmth, and outrageous silliness. They have become so precious to me, and I am grateful for their laughter. I said to them, “It’s so nice to come here for a few hours where the biggest problem is forgetting whose turn is next.” One said I’d made her day, but the opposite was true, too.

Shrove Tuesday brought its annual pancake dinner with a huge turnout. Such a large group meant not getting to talk to many people (more than a pleasantry), but it was a wonderful sense of community.

I’m grateful that this week of difficult news and drama has coincided with Ash Wednesday and three days of church activities. I’m busy, as usual, and can’t spare the time to go to church each day. But in this time of fear, worry, and heartache, that’s where I most need to go. The benefit of an older congregation is that most of my friends have lost one or both parents, if not a spouse as well. When I talk about my dad, they’ve all been there. They’ve visited the hospital, fought with medical staff for safe treatment, and worried through scary procedures. They’ve been there, and they’re okay now. It makes this terrifying time seem more normal and less out of control. At least a little.

In other news, I’ve been saving picking up my violin for the perfect moment. I needed to clean up my living room, or I had to sort out my music. Or I had to take down my Christmas tree (don’t judge) or arrange everything to create a music corner in my office.

Instead, when I heard the latest news about my dad, I started humming How Great Thou Art.

I can’t honestly say it’s my dad’s favorite hymn, but it’s a favorite hymn of many from my parent’s generation. I had this sudden conviction that he was going to die right now, I needed to call him, and I’d play How Great Thou Art for him over the phone.

*cue Hollywood sentimental background music, swelling into a triumphant crescendo*

Sadly, no.

I haven’t played seriously in many years. I haven’t played at all for almost seven. I used to devote up to seven or eight hours a day to practice, rehearsal, and lessons.

Last night, amidst the gigantic mess known as De-Cluttering My Home, I said forget it.  I want my violin now.

I opened the case, took out the shoulder rest, and set it up. I tightened the bow hair and applied rosin.

Just tuning the strings was a challenge!

Then a tiny miracle happened. My metronome with its A440 tuning pitch, which I assumed had broken (it’s so old I can’t remember when I got it), was good as new when I put in a new battery.

I tuned.

And, because the violin had lain unused for so many years, it promptly went out of tune.

I tuned the strings again, slowly and carefully.

Then I stood up and started with a scale. A long, luxurious, slow scale (only two octaves, not the usual three) waltzing through whole notes, quarter notes, and working its way up to sixteenth notes. My wrist didn’t oblige and the shoulder rest didn’t sit quite right.

I felt like Leila picking up her violin after her injury and forced rest (though, of course, Leila is a professional musician of world-class caliber, and I am a former student musician who once had dreams of teaching).

My violin quivered. With joy, I think. It’s been neglected for so long that it can’t have been happy.

Normally, and especially after such a long hiatus, I would have continued with another scale or two plus some etudes before touching any performance piece. But nostalgia gripped me, and I started playing (from memory) one of my recital pieces.

My wrist, shoulder, and arm said No! in a resounding chorus.

I printed out the sheet music from Cyber Hymnal for How Great Thou Art, and I played through the melody line.

(It’s an awful setting for violin, by the way.)

I played through it twice, and then I thought…I can’t let anyone hear this. Not when I used to be one of the most promising students in my orchestra.

Then I read through the lyrics. I’ve never paid attention to much beyond the refrain:

Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee,

How great Thou art, how great Thou Art!

This time, though, the last verse jumped out at me.

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation

And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart!

Then I shall bow in humble adoration,

And there proclaim, my God, how great Thou art!

And nope, I couldn’t do it. I should probably be a good Christian and say God’s will be done, but nope. It’s not my father’s time to go. I, Ana Vitsky, issue this decree.

Even though I wrote my prayer request for church saying I want him well, but I don’t want him to suffer.

Mostly, I’d like for family drama to melt away in a wonderful, storybook fashion. I’d like for egos and pettiness to make room for the unmoving, unchanging, and eternal love parents and children have for each other. No matter what happens, no matter how much hurt exists, and even if considerations of safety make contact difficult–even if the external relationship is severed–we never lose love for our child or parent.

Never.

It took a visit to my father in the ICU to realize that I don’t owe anyone anything. If other people want to drag me into their dramas, I don’t have to participate. They can and are hurling abuse at me for walking away, but they’re not my parents. They’re not family, and they don’t deserve a place in my life.

Remember when I started the De-Stuff My Life challenge with such enthusiasm, only to peter out once things hit the fan? Now that it is Ash Wednesday and Lent for real, I’m starting again. This time, though, my goal is far more modest. I want to take out one bag per day, whether it’s trash or donations. (Not ordinary trash that accumulates, but trash from clearing out junk.) Or my goal is to de-clutter for 15 minutes a day. Whichever makes more sense at the time. (Two days ago, for example, I sorted through a lot of items on my entertainment center, threw out junk, and set out a lot of piles of items that need to be put away other places. Putting away those items can be today’s 15 minutes.)

My reward?

Fifteen minutes of violin practice. That’s about all my tight wrist and shoulder will let me do, and (again thinking of Leila) I don’t dare risk injury. Ten or fifteen minutes twice a day will have to be my limit for now, and I will be happy with that.

I want to play for church. I’d love to join the community orchestra, get involved with other musicians, and…

But for now, it’s the little things.

My father may be dying.

I can’t sing the last verse of How Great Thou Art.

I can’t control the scary parts of my life right now, but I can throw out the physical and emotional clutter.

I can pick up my much-beloved violin, and I can slowly, slowly, slowly inch my way back to proper playing.

I saved playing my violin again for the moment when I most needed it. For all those years of childhood lessons, orchestra rehearsals, and tears…I am grateful.

I can always wish my life were better and more stable, but I will never have everything I long for. Instead, I’ll set up my music stand amidst the de-cluttering mess and make my violin sing (or cough, croak, and splutter a few scratchy notes).

How great Thou art.

On Losing a Father

Governing Ana has been quiet lately, and the weekend for the 4th Annual Love Spanks has come and will soon go.

The writing has been put on hold, and the evil day job has taken a hiatus. I returned yesterday, stunned and fumbling through the motions of life.

Last October, I wrote about my father’s return to the world of cancer. If I had to choose three events that have shaped my life and who I am, his cancer would be the second. (Numbers one and three are too private to share.) Because he has been living with cancer and its side effects for about twenty years, he had to undergo some scary and long-term treatment.

When families go through serious, long-term illnesses, all of the unhealthy existing dynamics seem to increase exponentially. No matter how much people love each other, fear and stress can contribute to some unpleasant situations. For most of my life, I have worried that my father might die. These past few weeks was the first time in years that I thought it might happen now.

Due to the incredible generosity of a friend (hard to even call her a friend, as someone like this is so much more), I was able to fly to visit my dad and surprise him in the ICU. (I checked multiple times with his nurses to make sure a surprise wouldn’t negatively affect his health.)

Visiting him was more than I could have dreamed, and yet I couldn’t shake the utter devastation of watching my father’s body wracked with illness.

His formerly strong, big hands that performed difficult physical labor.

His once-balding head, now almost devoid of hair thanks to chemo.

His eyes, squinting through his eternally scratched glasses and a fog of three pages’ worth of medications.

His thin back, not quite covered by the hospital gown.

The legs and ankles swollen with IV fluids and weeks of bedrest.

The lips blackened with sores from chemo, sores unable to heal while his white blood cell count remained dangerously low.

I darted to and from the nurses’ station (ICU nurses, I have come to believe, are angels straight from God), anticipating every need and asking a million questions to make sure he was receiving the best care. Most of all, I let his teams (he was so ill that he had, at one time, four separate medical teams doing rounds on him each day) know that his “I’m fine” did not mean he was fine. Instead, it meant he didn’t want to be a bother and felt he could suffer in silence.

At one point, he asked me to leave the room while the nurse administered his medications. He was too weak to lift the spoon himself, and he didn’t want me to see.

In the midst of his daily battle to live, his only complaint was about trivial, should-have-been-long-forgotten family drama issues.

When he was pronounced ready to graduate from ICU and return to the regular floor (after days of false promises), I thought we would celebrate. Instead, all of the family drama came out.

And I returned, frustrated in my need to make things better.

Instead, I’ve come back to the evil day job and the peculiarities of normal living. My father has now developed pneumonia in addition to everything else he’s fighting. I’m struggling to make peace with what my world will look like without my father. I don’t mean a physically living and breathing dad, but a father. The man in my life who adored me when I was a child, sitting me on his lap and insisting everyone listen to my latest achievement. The dad who was more nervous than I when I performed a concerto with my high school orchestra.

The dad who, despite all of his and my imperfections, thought I was the smartest and best student in the school.

Maybe one day, family drama will lessen and relationships will become easier. Maybe not.

Until then, I hold in my heart the dad who loved me more than any father loved his daughter.

I love you, Dad. And I miss you.

 

Flawed humans (Raven’s Girl sneak peek)

I’ve been writing again. (In other news: Taliaschild is in production for audiobook, and Sweet Christmas Kisses is being formatted for print.)

*cue ecstatic squeals*

Not at the moment, not in the past half-week, and not as much as I’d like.

But I am writing!

I’ve picked up a story I began almost a year ago, Raven’s Girl. The premise: A financially struggling stay-at-home author finds a sugar mama. Raven promises to provide for basic living expenses, subject to review of course.

The catch?

Alena must spend 24 hours each week at Raven’s house, subject to her discipline.

No safeword.

Would you say yes?

The book is almost half written, and I’ve plotted some major scenes to come. Still, although I know the general ending, I have a feeling the characters will surprise me.

All of my disciplinarian characters are flawed (perfect people are boring), but Raven is flawed in ways I find fascinating. She is strict (she’s a Vitsky disciplinarian, after all!), vulnerable, lonely, and commits some immense errors in dealing with her submissive. I must admit I am a bit worried what readers will think. On the other hand, it’s exactly those errors that make Raven so interesting. She’s experienced in her role and has had good training. In almost every other part of her life, she conducts herself with restraint, wisdom, and maturity. So why does she make mistakes with Alena? I’m still digging deep into her soul as I try to find that out. After all, why does anyone make mistakes despite being a good person?

It’s the flaws I find most human. (And what does that say about us as people? Hmm…)

Alena, on the other hand, is easy to understand. She struggles to make ends meet, works hard as a writer, enjoys a good time, and thinks that this arrangement will mean financial security plus spanking fun once a week.

Boy, is she ever wrong!

Yes, she gets the financial security, but many of her weekly visits are anything but fun. I’ve had a blast watching her experience Raven and react (as an ordinary, well-adjusted, mature adult would react) to the aspects of DD that seems most bizarre to outsiders.

Bedtime?

What the freaking heck?

I’m an adult! I decide my own bedtime!

Or so the poor, naive, innocent Alena thinks, until Raven convinces her otherwise. And yes, of course I mean “convinces” her. :D (This is a Vitsky story, after all!)

Before I love you and leave you today, here’s a tiny sneak peek of Raven’s Girl.

My name is Raven. Not Mistress or Madame or any of those titles, but plain Raven. I’m looking for a mature girl (preferably at least 30 or 35) to spoil in the Ann Arbor area. In exchange for one day per week spent at my house (and under my discipline), I am prepared to offer a modest living stipend. Serious inquiries only, please. Will provide references upon request. Girl must be willing to submit to my terms without a safeword. If interested, please email the following application to ravenbynight@kmail.com. Auditions to be held this weekend and next, if necessary. No experience required, and newbies are preferred.

Hm.

Who’d like to apply to become Raven’s Girl?

Can you name 54 things that make you happy?

Revisiting a favorite post about favorite moments. :)

Anastasia Vitsky

I’ve taken the challenge today to write 54 unique things that make me happy. To make the challenge more interesting, I’ll eliminate the typical responses: No friends, family, work, bubble baths, alcohol, or food.

Can you do it? Join me, if you’d like, and put up a list on your own blog if you have one.

54 things that make Ana happy:

  1. Re-reading a favorite book from childhood. A Little Princess always makes me smile.
  2. Color by number. No, not for children. Mindware has a wonderful series called “Color Counts” full of intricate, absorbing, color by number pages. When you use Sharpies (permanent ink markers), the results are surprisingly beautiful. I’ve even hung a few of the pictures up at home.
  3. The snuggle of a newborn baby.
  4. Setting off for a day trip with a cooler and packed lunch.
  5. A real, honest-to-goodness letter or package arriving by snail mail.
  6. Opening…

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The Little Moments: De-Stuff My Life

Okay, so I can’t count.

Also, I can’t edit or proofread when I’m tired.

Apologies for the errors in yesterday’s post. Also apologies for not replying to comments the day before yesterday. I’m home after a long, difficult day, and I should be doing any number of things. Sleep, for one. Preparing food to pack for tomorrow’s meals (breakfast, lunch, AND dinner) for another.

Instead, I’m cuddled up (again) in my favorite pajamas. Listing with fatigue, but determined to carve out a small bit of today for me.

Just me.

This morning, I woke up too early. I could have used another hour of sleep, but my body said no. I didn’t plan on doing much, and in fact I thought I deserved some computer game or other goofing off time.

Instead, I cooked myself breakfast. Packed it. Prepared a lunch. Packed that, too. Threw together odds and ends for a packed dinner.

Cleaned out most of my dresser and sorted through clothes.

Found out I’ve lost a little weight.

Did a happy dance!

Still made it out the door on time for a long day.

Had a wonderful first half of the day.

Then encountered some more negativity. (I could have used clothes that doubled as armor, as Natasha said!) Rudeness. Entitlement. Blame and anger.

It was a difficult night, but I was pleasant and distant. (It’s a skill that’s taken me a long time to master.)

Then, on the way home (close to 11 PM), I stopped by the gas station. This is the huge gas station where the employees have always been helpful, professional, and appropriate.

Let’s just say the particular employee I encountered was none of the three.

After a difficult night and a long day in a long week, I had a hard time. I wasn’t mad or frustrated, but it was a quiet sort of helpless wishing that everything would go away.

Then the store manager appeared.

He dropped his current task to physically walk over to take care of the problem (embarrassingly, it was due to my user error). He apologized and said he would address the issue. He even offered to give me a cup of coffee or a drink, but I said that wasn’t necessary. I appreciated the offer, of course, but I didn’t need something tangible.

I needed someone to be humane and treat me like a human being.

I drove away renewed in my faith in humanity.

I noticed his name tag, and I’m going to look for contact information for the store. People like that remind us why we keep on when the keeping on gets rough.

Thank you, gas station manager. What you do matters, and it touched the life of this customer.

Letting go of negativity: When De-Stuff My Life, Day 4

After a slight hiccup of sleep, downtime, and enjoying catching a breath, it’s been back to a whirlwind.

Unmentionable stuff’s gotten real. :D

One thing I’ve learned from decluttering my life for the past four days: a messy home increases my stress level. I know this on an intellectual level, and yet every time I try to put off grown-up work until I have more time. The payoff for procrastination is great in the short term (especially when I’m running late), but the cost is higher and harder to recognize.

In diving back into “real” life, I’ve encountered some Oh My GOSH moments of pettiness, stupidity, self-defeating obstinance, entitlement, self-absorption, and outright nastiness. Childishness, if you will.

I’ve come home to the refuge of twinkling Christmas lights (Don’t judge…it’s not Epiphany yet! Oh, wait…), tidier rooms, and little moments of peace.

I might have endured a 14 hour day on not even 6 hours of sleep, and I might have dealt with a jaw-dropping incident of…let’s just say ICK…but I can snuggle under one of my favorite wraps, cuddle in my favorite flannel pajamas, and turn my mind to more pleasant things.

For one, my newly repaired violin waits for me in the corner of my living room. I’m desperate to give it a try, but I like anticipation. Sometimes I prefer anticipation for fear that reality will disappoint. I have thought about this moment for years, and I want it to be just right.

But also, as I’m sorting through a hectic beginning to a hectic week, I’ve thought about the unexpected negativity. Treating it appropriately is far more important that I’ve realized, just as physical clutter stresses me more than I know (until later).

When petty people make petty comments about petty events, the pettiness becomes contagious. It’s easy to stoop down to the level of malicious, busybody gossip. It’s even easier to allow the filth to contaminate our home and heart. We take it in, day after day, without cleaning up the residue.

I take out the trash several times a week, but do I take out the small-minded, hurtful, and ignorant comments I’ve encountered?

I scrub my sinks and counters with disinfectant, but do I spray-clean the corners of my heart that try to hold onto hurt conflict?

How about you? As you’ve worked hard to de-stuff your life (little by little or in huge steps), are you letting go of the pain inside your heart? It’s hard to do it all at once (if not impossible), but perhaps today we can start with one.

Just one.

I have a hurt I’d love to release into the sky like a helium balloon. I think mine is red, heart-shaped, and sounds a bit like a beginning violinist’s first squawk.

Fly away, little noisy hurt. Fly fast and free, away to a land where you can find peace.

And I’ll enjoy the light of my glimmering Christmas tree.

Are you ready to de-stuff your life, one hurt at a time?

Maintaining: De-Stuff My life, Day 4

I pledged to de-clutter for 40 days, and today is Day 4.

In other words, I’m 10% of the way there.

Yay!

Will I have an immaculate home in 36 days?

Probably not.

Will I still have backbreaking labor to sort and downsize my clothes, books, and papers?

Absolutely.

But if I keep this up, I’ll have a home in much nicer condition. :)

If.

Yesterday was a 20-hour day. I did put my printer onto a table, but the table is in the way of other things. I did was a little laundry, but I still have a lot left to do.

And yet, I’m still counting yesterday a success. It was the little things, right? I got home quite late, and I couldn’t wash dishes. I did put away clean laundry, and I did sort through mail.

Yesterday, I (mostly) put away what I took out, and I finished what I started.

There will be more days like this in my future. It’s time to prepare for decluttering in real life, not an idealized situation.

Can I make things as easy to put away as they are to take out?

After all, it’s maintaining that will determine whether this hard work is a long-term or one-time affair.

How about you? How will you maintain the progress you’ve made?