Saturday, November 19, 2016

It's time to simplify things within these walls.

Annie's Thoughtful Thursday, week 11.

There was a time when I had concrete plans for moving from Central New York to Virginia, so I purged the unnecessary from my house. I held each household item that I owned and asked myself a series of questions: "Do I need this thing right now?" If the answer was no, I don't need it now, I asked myself,  "Does he (the guy I was planning to move in with) have one of these?" If he had one, and I didn't need mine at the moment, I would ask, "Do I love this item enough to pack it, load it, drive it for hundreds of miles, unpack it, and find a place for it in the new house?" If not, out went the item. Like ice cube trays. And barbecue utensils. And many other things. When  going through my personal belongings, like clothing, I was equally brutal.
It started becoming a challenge. How many things can I get rid of and still function? Well, the answer is a whole lot. I was surprised at how little I really needed. Getting rid of extra stuff was fun and maybe a little addictive.
When the relationship with this guy in Virginia went bad, not only did I give away or throw out everything he gave me, I got rid of everything he touched. This time, getting rid of stuff was therapeutic.
I am used to living in a sparse, simply furnished house, it's been like this for 3 years or so. I love it.
I started getting rid of more stuff, like papers. Using the 43 Folders system was satisfying and comforting. (Full disclosure, I have 43 folders plus 7 more for storing papers like warranties, pet records, pension and retirement account information, identifying documents, bank account information, legal stuff, and medical stuff.)
Any in-real-life photos are displayed or in albums.
I have one bookshelf, if it starts overflowing, I cull.
I bullet journal to plan and organize time.

I don't really need to organize within the walls of my house. Or work, for that matter, having applied similar strategies there.

I need to simplify things within the walls of my head. What's messy? Personal habits. Finances. Political action plan. Social life. Email. Computer files.

I need less crawling in bed and hiding under the covers and more diving in head first.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, here I come.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Eventually, all things merge into one

Annie's thoughtful Thursday, week 10.

and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters." (Norman Maclean~A River Runs Through It)

I am surrounded by water, never far from a lake, river, creek, pond, waterfall-not cut by the great flood-but rather left over from the great ice age. Finger lakes are connected to the great lake by flowing water. Water falls from the sky, and for half the year or so, piles up around us blocking our way and hiding most of the color.

The ice flowed slowly and powerfully, forming the land high and low and finally melting and gathering into the low spots. It still flows, only now it's liquid most of the time.

The great ice left more than water behind, the land was churned up into gorges, waterfalls, ridges, bluffs, and  (my favorite) drumlins. And the rocks. The rocks on the south eastern shore of Lake Ontario. They are round and smooth and beautiful. Cut by the great ice and tumbled by the resulting water.

Some of these rocks are piled up inside and outside my house. It's impossible to resist collecting a few from each lake visit. They have been washed by waves, pressed by ice, and drenched in rain.

I haven't yet heard the words under them, neither the words that belong to the rocks nor the words that aren't theirs. Next time I will visit the lake with listening ears.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

I have what I need.

Annie's Thoughtful Thursday, week 9

Boy, do I.

A loving, faithful, committed, amazing partner. Two houses to call home, chef's quality food and drink, transportation, family, friends, a great job that I love. Time. Health. Strength. Vitamins. Coffee. Gifts, talents, limitations.

In spite of having a crazy abundant life, I've allowed myself to be sucked into the dark. The election has left me off kilter and struggling.

Yesterday-almost 3 days after the election results were tabulated- was the first time I talked about the election with someone who voted for that guy, my mother. She brought it up and was trying to be comforting. I'm still not ready to discuss this topic.


I will finish November the way I started it, with thanksgiving and being grateful.

Thursday I worked honorably, and on my way to my love's house after school, I stopped and bought a couple bottles of wine. Next I stopped at the grocery store in Union Springs and bought what my heart desired for dinner. When I made it to Dan's house, I had time to put the vegetables in to roast and change my clothes before yoga class. "I'll have dinner ready when you get home." he said. Words to swoon by. I went to yoga. We ate dinner. We drank wine and watched Samantha Bee. We slept peacefully in the most comfortable bed in the world. On my way home, I stopped to walk the labyrinth, sit by the waterfalls, and buy the worst cup of coffee ever.

My life is filled with grace and love. I have everything I need.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

I am precisely where I need to be today.

I love my house. This has been my home since 1992. I love the many rooms, the high ceilings, the big windows, the secret places, the obsolescence, the shelter, the protection, the welcoming acceptance. 

The last kitchen update happened in the '30's with this certified, genuine Youngstown Kitchen. (To be fair, I did buy a new refrigerator and stove this century to replace the mid-century models.)

I love the shabby, run-down, worn-out, authentic vintage vibe. It's not artfully distressed, it's been authentically distressed by time, worry, and neglect. 

The walls are plaster, the ceilings are tin,the pipes are copper and iron. The light has been pouring through these windows, the snow has been piling up on this roof, and people have been cooking dinner here since 1861.

I used to have the attitude that very bad things happened to me in this house, as if the house had something to do with it. Still, though, many bad things did happen here. But my house has always kept me safe; good times and bad times. Like suffering the abuse of a narcissistic spouse, breast cancer, and my kids' mental break downs.

These days, there's this guy who has invited me to make a life with him in a new house and a new town. I said yes, and I have made a timeline to move by the end of this school year. June 2017. In the mean time there is back and forth, here and there, and over night bags in the car. I've been scattered and discombobulated. There is yet trail blazing and bush whacking through my son's recovery and independence. And the slow mourning of leaving my house.

This is hard work.

This is precisely where I need to be today.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Be gentle with yourself, it's good for the world that you're here. (Ralph Milligan)

Week 7 in Annie's thoughtful Thursdays.

We are coming into the age of the grandmother. Oma. Abuela. Nona. Nanna. Tóta. Mémère. Grandmother Moon. Soon (Lord willing' and the creek don't rise), a grandmother will be elected President of the United States. 

Being an elementary teacher by calling, I tend to take things back to the elements. Grandmothers are the mothers to the mothers. How abundantly powerful is that role.

While I'm not officially a grandmother I am grandmotherly in age and disposition. Here are some things I think are worthy of consideration:

Be gentle with yourself.
Brush your teeth. Eat good food. Move around. Read. Sleep. (Remember the alarm clock? Start using it instead of your phone.) Scatter joy. Diffuse love. And gather those two for yourself. Do things now that your future self will thank you for. And when you're thanking your past self, do it out loud. Always watch what your hands are doing. Take solace in your limitations. And in your gifts. Keep your ass behind you. And keep peace, peace above you, below you, to your right, to your left, and all around you. 
It's good for the world that you are here. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Our lives are fragile. They can change in an instant. Live today in light of the truth-and carry no regrets.~Joshua Becker

Week 6 in Annie's Thoughtful Thursday

It's been 5 years since my breast cancer diagnosis.

The treatment (surgery, chemotherapy, radiation) nearly killed me. Life is fragile, and fleeting, and precious.

Five years ago,  the dog and I went for a walk at Rice Creek Field Station with my son. This is the place where biology students do their research. We often walk the trails here, it is beautiful and peaceful. I had an appointment later to get the results from the biopsy and wasn't at all worried or worked up.

Joe took a picture of me with the dog.

That was the last picture taken of me with all my body parts, just 7 days later I was in surgery. And 3 weeks after that, the torture of treatment started.

I can't find that photo. I was wearing a denim skirt, a pink long sleeve t shirt, and birkenstocks. We tried to re-create it, except for the clothes (I now HATE pink, camo is my new pink).

But the dog didn't want to cooperate; he peed and pooped.

Live all your days in truth and transparency-I strive for that, anyway. And regrets? Nope. The dog pooping as we tried to commemorate this anniversary is a metaphor for not carrying regrets.

That's what I'm thinking about today.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

"Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless in facing them." Rabindranath Tagore

(Week 5 in Annie's Thoughtful Thursday.)

"You're an idiot mother. You're evil. Burn in hell. Every bad thing that happened in my life is because of you. You're a wicked mother who had kids just so you could torture them. Burn in hell. I'm never going to talk to you again."

Let me tell you about post traumatic stress disorder.

First, there is some trauma. Lets say, your severely mentally ill loved one terrorizes you by

  • setting fires outside your bedroom door while you are sleeping
  • spray painting mean comments around the inside of your house (for example "stupid" on the door, "therapist=the rapist" on the hallway wall)
  • telling random strangers, "I'm sorry, she's messed up." or "She's a child abuser."
  • threatening to call the authorities and do anything to get your teaching certification revoked
  • now and then disconnecting the electricity to the house
  • regularly telling you, "Go drive yourself off a bridge." and "I hope you die today." and "Why don't you just go kill yourself so I can have the insurance money. Then your life will have meaning." and "You're a fat, ugly bitch."
  • locking you out of the house (that time when I was in the back yard with the dog in July; 95 degrees, barefoot, and no leash)
  • shooting you with a BB gun while you are relaxing on the couch
  • asking you to make appointments (dentist, psychiatrist, gp),  refusing to go, then blaming you for never making appointments
  • abusively complaining about: how you breath, how you walk, how you brush your teeth, how you shower, how you smell, how you talk, how you drive, how you eat, how you cut your nails, how you do the dishes, how long you take in the bathroom, saying out loud that you need the bathroom, that you talk on the phone ("I know you're talking about me."), the music you listen to, and, oh my god, how dare you sing!
But the worst and most damaging

  • randomly throwing things at you when you're not expecting it - boots, cans, bags of cat food, rubber bands, shoes, books, bowls of hot soup, water bottles, balloons filled with water (not the kind that are designed to burst, the kind that are meant to last) tomatoes, expensive medicine (ruining it, and it can't be replaced without a new prescription and $1,000), and more at your head, chest, back...
And this continues for a couple of years or so. There is really no visible way out, no way to stop it, no way to rationalize with an irrational person. I'm the parent, the responsible one, the one in charge.
So there's the trauma. 

Then came the hospitalizations, a bunch of moving out and moving back in, very definite healing, and the realization that I'm not obligated to take care of him anymore. 
So there's the post.

Now the stress disorder: when the triggering incident (the opening quote above, from a few days ago) leaves you a shuddering, weeping mess on the couch. The words, yelled at you through clenched teeth feel like stabbing knives. Actually, knives stabbing me may not have hurt as much as the words. And you react like a jerk/bully shouting accusations back. And then you feel sick, dizzy, nauseated, and you feel pain. For days. 

We are going to be ok. Different, but ok. There will be appointments with the therapist, I'm going to try Cognitive Behavior Therapy, he is going to try practicing mindfulness. We will fearlessly face these dangers. By golly.

                                      (This is me being fearless. Photo by Gabriel Espinosa)

Sunday, September 25, 2016

"Tenacious (yes, you)."

"Everybody lies." (Gregory House)

Week 4 in Annie's Thoughtful Thursday.

I have a clean driving record. Which means, when the record is printed out (Go to the DMV website and set up a "MyDMV"account. Print out your driving abstract. You will need your license and a credit card. It costs $7.00.) it mostly is blank and simply states "End of record." No tickets. No violations.

Why did I need to print out my driving record? On a beautiful August morning, while I was on the way to pick up my mother for a trip to the Rez, a cop pulled me over and wrote me a ticket for failure to stop at a stop sign. "Do you know why I pulled you over? You failed to stop at the stop sign at Seneca and East 11th." Of course I did stop at the stop sign. I always stop at stop signs. At this particular stop sign, I was playing that game (you go, no you go, no you go) with a lady in a black pick up truck who finally went first, turning left. We waved and and laughed as she passed in front of me. She was on her way to work at the county building (I know because later I tracked her down and got her statement). When I told the officer I absolutely stopped at the stop sign, he said, "No ma'am. There were no other cars there." He was polite, very apologetic, and about 12 years old. "You can always go to the DA and tell him your story. He'll probably do something about it. I don't always tell people to do this, but..."

So how do you talk to the DA? There is no city DA. But the city court website gives instructions on how to deal with traffic tickets through the mail. But if I plead "not guilty" there would be a trial. So I called the city court to get contact information for the DA. "It's the county DA. The DA will only talk to you if you show up while court is in session." And she gave me the days and times court is in session.

City court is on the second floor of the old post office.  You have to go through a metal detector. Don't wear shorts or sandals. Put your name on the waiting list to speak to the DA, take a seat, and wait. No cell phones. No standing.

A bunch of public defenders are sitting at a table to the left of the judge's bench. I think the bailiff is there, too. They are chatting, it seems like they are old friends. The attorneys have stacks of legal sized file folders. Once in a while, one of them will stand up and call out names, like they are taking attendance. Sometimes one of the people sitting in the audience part of the courtroom answers, they sit down together and talk. They don't seem to recognize each other, so I guess they are meeting for the first time. I can hear every word of client/attorney discussion.

The bailiff announces the judge's entrance and he starts hearing cases. Sometimes the attorney has a client with him, sometimes not. Hypodermic needles are mentioned with just about every case. But not heroine.

In comes the DA, and while the judge continues hearing cases, he calls names off of his waiting list.

This is how you talk to the DA. He calls your name, you go sit next to him on the bench, and you talk. I mean, he looks at your papers and he talks. "Failure to stop at a stop sign? I'll change it to a loud muffler." He must have read the reluctance on my face. "I don't think you understand, I'm not making this go away." No, I don't understand. My muffler is fine, and I absolutely did stop at the stop sign. Would it make a difference if I came back with my attorney? Nope. The only way a ticket will go away is if you go to trial, and then you have to present your evidence and you witnesses and the police officer will come and give his side of the story. If you go to trial, you should have a lawyer. It takes money. And time. Which means time away from work.

So I agreed to lie, and admit that my muffler is bad. The charge is no longer  a moving violation. I lied. And the DA lied. I even signed  statement saying that my muffler is bad when it is actually functioning perfectly. I guess when the judge agrees, and sends my new ticket with a bill for the fine, he will be lying, too.

This is how tenacious I am. I didn't accept the original charge, but I agreed to the lie.

And those poor people who were appearing before the judge with more serious charges? I wonder if they are also agreeing to lie. And I wonder how serious the charges have to be before we decide to hire the lawyer, miss work, and take a chance that the judge wants to hear the truth.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

"Sometimes joy is wrapped in other feelings."

Week 3 of Annie's prompts.

Find the place inside where there is joy, and the joy will burn out the pain. (Joseph Campbell)

The pain. Sometimes there is so much pain that you become numb. Or maybe it's nerve damage. Or maybe you're spending too much time walking blindly waiting for the path to emerge that you are simply disoriented. Maybe just keep walking until you see the picture. The picture taken by somebody he used to love. The one by the waterfall, with the blue eyes sparkling. Take a bath and pray the one who loves you will see you, and say one word. Then those blue eagle eyes will focus on you. Ask and answer questions. You are the one; and he is the one. The numbness leaves, the pain returns. Is the joy wrapped in pain? Or is the pain wrapped in love? Both. He makes a place for you. And the place he makes for you? Where you fit perfectly? Is full of joy.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

"It's a helluva start, being able to recognize what makes you happy." ~Lucille Ball

First in a (hopefully) weekly series of Annie's prompts. (I'm starting with the second week and finishing with the first week. Trust me.)

I grew up thinking my mother didn't like me much. My father gave strength to this feeling when he pulled me aside (I think I was 14) one day and whispered, "I'm sorry your mother doesn't like you." She never acted abusive or anything like that, she just didn't seem to enjoy my company. Or make any kind of recognition of my accomplishments. Although she did recognize my short comings; often, loudly, and with clarity. 
Surprisingly, when I lived in Europe as a foreign student, she wrote positive letters, letters absolutely gushing with loving sentiments. 
In one of these letters, she recalled naming me as a new born. "I wish I had named you Joy, you've brought me such joy since you were born. You bring joy every where you go."
Definitely a cognitive dissonance moment for me. 
My dad also wrote me letters during this time away, usually mentioning my joyfulness; "Even as a baby you were always happy. Strangers would notice your smiling face and ask, 'Can I hug the baby?' That never happened with the other kids." (I'm the youngest of four.)
So yeah, I started out that way and still feel mostly happy. Most of the time. 
It's a helluva thing.