Monday, December 24, 2012

Fixing, Spreadsheets & Lists, oh yeah, and Christmas

I've been thinking about what fuels my OCD and anxiety lately.  Of course the shooting in CT was a big driver for the recent up-tick.  Even so, I'm getting pretty tired of fighting it or trying to "fix" it.  So,  Jeff suggested that I just be okay with not being okay.  Just accept that I'm not happy with this anxiety stuff and proceed forward (albeit with the twisted face of a person attempting to smile while writhing in the discomfort associated with feet binding). 

At first I thought that built into his recommendation was the hope that I would someday not be "not okay" and someday I will "overcome" my not-okay-ness and be able to trot down a rainbow path of righteous and productive luminosity.  And we will all sing songs and smile while chasing butterflies and feeling groovy--without the aid of .25mg of Xanax.

But then I realized that this is probably unfair to Jeff.  Because my thinking is outcome-based and not process-based.  I'm an outcome person. I'm not a process person.  Jeff is more process driven than I am.  Sure he likes a good outcome, but he's more of an in-the-day-moment-place kind of guy.  He can access joy faster than anybody I've ever met.  He can be driving down the road grumpy and hungry and in a flash just start singing the wrong lyrics to a song on the radio which makes the car erupt in laughter. "Strong as Stuntmen!" (That's Billy Squire's "Stroke me, stroke me" for all of you out there who don't know Todd Brown's rendition). 

He seizes the moment to find the joy  (while I'm crossing things off a list). 

Am I lucky or what?

He also loves Christmas.   

Usually we have a big Christmas Eve party.  I start the excel spread-sheeting for that sucker in late September.  But this year we decided to dial down the intensity a little, skip the party and let him get through the last few months of his MBA program. I personally wanted to focus more on time spent with the kids, friends and family and less on acquiring things, wrapping things, shipping things, recycling things, etc.

This has bought me a lot of extra time and space which I then promptly used to get all jacked up on anxiety. 

It's funny to write that down and see it in black and white.  Because it's true.

Sitting through the space/time vortex while not really doing anything produces a singular outcome -- I mean, if I can muscle past the squirming: A very distinct sense of peace.  And I'm not saying that it's all hunky dory peace where the dishes are done and that everything is in some kind of perfect order or even alright.  But there is a palpable quietening of all the nerve endings.  And then an opening of different eyes and ears -- hell maybe it's the third eye -- that can see things like Christmas lights and glitter and excitement and hear laughter.  In this peace, I am able to perceive joy, even in if it's only in the abstract of my husband or kids.  Too bad I can't cover or poke out my other four joyless sensory organs and still drive legally.

Like Jeff does. He only sees and hears the good stuff.  And he really doesn't get all bothered by dirt or clutter or to-do lists.  And in the end, I think he gets way more done with less effort.   But he does have a wife with a clipboard.  There is that,  I guess. 

He's really fun to share Christmas with.  He metaphorically and literally grabs the spreadsheet out of my hand while simultaneously admiring it.  I mean, he's got his own little OCD things happening and the dude loves spreadsheets.  Anyway, to my honey, I just want to say I love you and thanks for teaching me how to celebrate not just Christmas but life with or without a to-do list.

Merry and Peaceful-ish Christmas to Jeff, Hank, Big E and the rest of you all! 

Love and Blessings all around! (Kirsten, that was for you) 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Grief and sadness are very inconvenient.  Anger is easy.

I think enough has been said about Sandy Hook for this week.  The decedents have all been laid to rest.  The country has turned down the rhetorical volume in order to turn toward loved ones to celebrate Christmas with those still too young to even know anything has happened.  Winter storm Draco has plowed through the Midwest giving some of us something else to worry about for the next few days: power outages.

I just have an observation or two about the aftermath -- specifically the facebook aftermath.  Grief is pretty predictable.  The first emotion after the initial shock is anger.  We saw a lot of that.  With it a comes a lot of finger pointing.  Predictably, a lot of people fell back along party lines because that conflict was so fresh and familiar.  Fighting, labeling, hate-mongering, etc.   What struck me the hardest was that these strongly negative emotions seem to be preferable to just plain old grief-stricken depth-piercing sadness.

People I know pretty well went right to some pretty horrific politicking complete with tons of expletives on their posts.   But I decided to love them through it because everybody grieves differently.  And it's all messy.   Some messier than others. 

This is what I came away with.   Now let me preface it all with this: I suffer a pretty steady dose Generalized Anxiety and I have 2 6-yr-old Kindergartners.  I had to send them to school this past week.  To a school without a discernible security system in place.  This took extra prayers, extra church time, extra care from my understanding friends, extra meds, extra love from my husband and lost of extra softness for me from me.

The first morning, I refused to let them ride the bus because I wanted 2 or 3 extra minutes with them.  I drove by their school maybe 6 times during the day on Monday and Tuesday.  I stopped in to drop off snacks that I had "forgotten" on Wednesday.  Thursday and Friday are covered because I volunteer there anyway on those days.  Unfortunately that trend of driving them to and from school continued until this afternoon.  It culminated with our bus driver approaching me in the parking lot and jokingly asking if I were ever going to let the kids ride the bus again.  I told him I probably would but it remained to be seen when.  I smiled.  He smiled. Because I knew he understood.  I explained to him that I'm a pretty anxious person and that this whole thing really got to me.  You know what he said? "I get it. You don't have to say a thing."

Extra care. Extra love. Extra understanding. He didn't scream in my face that it was all my fault because of a., b., c.

Sort of like the way that you'd treat a struggling or fearful kid, a sad friend, an injured or sick person.  Extra softness, love, tenderness, care and understanding.

The details will be sifted through in the months, years and decades to come.  The experts will render their analyses.  There will be studies, debates, fights, etc.   But in a Black Swan event such as this, the first step is the inconvenient business of feeling.  Feeling it all.  Not just the pissed-off, angry, hateful recoil feelings but the deep sorrow that comes from recognizing that our time here is brief.   Some briefer than others. That we are vulnerable. Recognizing that fairness is often invisible to us. That darkness lurks in the hearts of all of us.  And that a life well-lived involves hurt. Unbearable and unfathomable hurt. Because a life well-lived involves opening ourselves up to the loss that comes with daring to be connected to each other.

And, it seems the brightest spot in the bleak landscape this past week is the realization that we are all deeply connected to each other.

Like it or not. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Philosophy

 Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.  After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.
  --Zen Buddhist saying

Mind your own business and don't eat junk food.
--Besse Cooper

Besse Cooper, super-centenerian extraordinaire, died Tuesday at the ripest old age of 116. She was born in August of 1896. Amazing feat.  She hit three different centuries, 13 different decades and 2 millennia.  According to her son, she was a voracious reader and loved watching the nightly news.  She got a lot of exercise working on her farm until she was 105 at which point she moved into a nursing home. When asked what her secret to a long and healthy life was, she replied that she "minded (her) own business and didn't eat junk food."  Now isn't that a tidy and succinct personal ethic?  Easy to explain to the kids.  Easy to implement.  Not fancy.  Read a lot, exercise a lot, mind your own business and don't eat junk food.  Love it.

Later on in the day yesterday,  I read (at the behest of Deepak Chopra on facebook) this article by Jean Houston, PhD (I am not familiar with the issuing university that gave her that degree: The Graduate Theological Foundation) about entelechy, a word originally coined by none other that Aristotle himself.   This entelechy concept is about individuals and humanity as a whole transcending to a higher mind--a collective mind, I gathered.  I read the article but it started smacking of kooky Matrix-y dark matter energy stuff about the 3rd paragraph in.   Here's the link.    There were no scientific references to anything that this woman was talking about.  It's pretty short.  See for yourselves.

Here's an excerpt for all of you smarties who skipped it:   

When my research has given me the opportunity to take depth soundings of the continents within human beings, I have marveled at the enormity we contain. Somewhere in the vast treasure trove of the body/mind, I am convinced, we remember everything we have learned over the past 13.8 billion years.

I don't remember where I put my phone. Jeff never knows where is car keys are. So she's wrong about that.  Any-who, yeah, I read through this transcendent stuff and it all started sounding very utopian/marxist/if-you-don't-agree-then-you're-stupid-y.  But the author seemed to be pretending that this was a new concept--this entelechy--that the whole of humanity is magically evolving toward something greater and its cosmically coded into our DNA and this collective intelligence, etc. And that there is ample evidence that we are rising ever higher with each passing day.  Uh...really? She has not seen Honey BooBoo or Jackass, The Movie quite obviously.

She shuts down any naysayers about the same time she starts talking this cosmic smack --- like only the troglodytes are hanging back in the land of matrixlessness clutching their purses.  I can't remember the psychological/philosophical term that explains this concept that a theory can not be disproved because inherent in the refuting is the refuter's basic stupidity.  But the high school equivalent is the "popular clique".   She continues to eschew materialism with the following paragraph:

The preponderance of archaic methods of solving problems from war to water-boarding. From racism to risings of fundamentalism of every stripe. Fear as victor, the terrorist and the terrified supporting each other’s claim to a devolutionary agenda. Then too, too often and in too many places, reality had been diminished to the flattening of one's spirit and the expansion of one's purse.

I don't even really disagree with her until about midway through this paragraph.  But it sounds like just like way back in high school, there is no way in to this society of super-highmindedness and only a one way ticket out.  They let you in.  You are dubbed Knight of Cool by the dude scepter which henceforth requires that you to comply with a silent code of ridiculousness, pettiness, barbarism, teasing, bullying and condescension.  That's what I mean.  Can you imagine going up against this woman and Deepak Chopra and telling them that they are flat out living in some kind of la-la land?  They'll just look at you and say, we have PhDs or MD degrees but of course we've transcended these petty accolades in favor of belittling you on sheer force of our otherworldly and more highly evolved awesomeness.  BTW, Deepak's net worth is reported to be between $75-80 Million smackaroonies.  That's a lot of peyote.   I couldn't get any info on Ms. Houston's quid.

Dude, come on! Besse Cooper's philosophy is so much more accessible, understandable and real.  I think hers has some scientific gravitas, too:

I like Deepak. I have actually met him twice. Once on a path in the middle of the woods in Wyoming. Once at a book signing.   I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a highlight for me.   I would probably like Jean Houston, too,  if she put down the peyote pipe and started speaking English again. Check her out:

My whole point here is that living well is a pretty simple thing. Living a long time is complex and maybe not even something that appeals to you.  But a simple life ethic is infinitely preferable to one that only the cool peyote-smoking matrix-dwellers have access to via their collective higher mind.  I'm always skeptical of a philosophy that says I am required to think exactly like other people and flatten my purse in order to expand my spirit.  Let me also say that generally speaking (and you can even ask Jeff) I love this hippy-dippy cosmic philosophy.  Sorry Fr. Chas. I'm just being honest.  But this time, they lost me.

I wonder what Besse would've thought about that article.  It sounds like she was more of the "chop wood, carry water" school of enlightenment.

If her response to it were anything like Jeff's it would sound something like:

"Huh? This is just like gobblygook. Yeah, I gotta go upstairs and give the kids a shower. Thanks for dinner, Honey." 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Nothing kills joy faster than...

Comparison.  Comparison is the antithesis of peace.  Funny how peace and joy walk hand in hand down el camino real.  But there lurks the comparison hobgoblin, waiting patiently, with the uneven sidewalk segments to trip them both up and separate them. And then steal their wallets and then kick them in the ribs and then insult their mothers. And then spit on them and then..

There has been a lot of discussion on facebook and the blogs I follow about this very phenomenon.  So I know I'm not alone in this internal conflict. Often the comparison buzzes away in my mind just below true conscious awareness.  There,  it can do untold damage to my sense of belonging, peace, tranquility and acceptance.

I know this because I was held hostage by comparison and brutally abused by it all of last year. And this is the inexcusable part:  I was comparing my sweet kids to other peoples' kids.

My kids measure up just fine on all the important metrics. They're kind, gregarious, bright, engaged and engaging, mischievous, funny, loving, energetic and most of all healthy (Thank God, Thank God, Thank God).   But for the entire time we were enrolled in a private preschool (and for the time we were in conflict with a member of our extended family who is not terribly, shall we say fond of our kids), I fell prey to the comparison trap.  Ugh.  It was excruciating.

I had to gnaw off my metaphorical leg to get out of it.

Metaphorical Legs

What I mean is that I had to kind of get to the attachment point.  I mean where did this thing have a hold on me?   Well, I found it right at the "not-good-enough" juncture that connects inside my left temporal lobe and stretches from inside my brain down my neck, strangling my heart and penetrating my soul with a desiccating pulse of freeze-rays. One day in the Plum Market parking lot, I realized the extent of the reach of this tumorous thinking.  I stood paralyzed by the fear that I had burdened my children with my own non-good-enoughness by comparing them to other kids.  And I began to weep. Uncontrollable sobs. In public.

I resolved then and there, walking as I was into Plum Market talking to myself and muttering to the kids to cross quickly, to say, and please pardon me for saying this, "scr*w the world. Scr*w everybody!! I'm on my kids' side.  Because if I'm not, who will be? You all, you comparison mongers, you can go to h*ll.  If that's what this whole parenting thing is all about--your kids being brilliant and beautiful and most importantly: better than mine and them getting a 2000 on their SAT in 3rd friggin' grade--then p**s the hell off.  We'll stay here in our smelly freaking basement playing Legos in our recently-but-I-can't-tell-you-exactly-how-recently-washed, ill-fitting sweat pants and semi-soiled t-shirts singing nonsensical songs and pounding on our drums with no particular end in mind.  You all can rush off to get another belt in TaeKwonDo, play a 3rd instrument, learn Mandarin, origami, chess, space camp, long board techniques, swim team, etc.  But please, by all means,  leave us in the relative peace of my messy office where sit my late-as-hell thank-you cards,  and all the rest of the evidence of my absentmindedness and depressive and anxious episodes, such as my messy and unkempt hair, house, garage, truck, etc.  Oh yeah, don't forget just down the road: my smelly and fuzzy horse whom I adore despite his many challenges.   We are more on the real (and a bit gamey) side in this endoit.  Less jazz-hands, less Tiger-Mom, more fend-for-yourself-I'll-love-you-no-matter-what school of thought/parenting. Later Compari-bots. I'm OUT!"

The only thing I can now compare my kids to is the absolute emptiness that was there before them.  I hope I do them justice. But in the end, it's going to be up to them to live their lives. Not me.  I hope I fill up my own life with good-enough-ness enhancing pursuits that render a decent example for them of love, connection and vulnerability--and authenticity.  And I don't mean that cheesily. I mean it for-realzily.

You cannot compare your insides to somebody else's outsides. 
-- The Courage to Change

Monday, December 3, 2012

I know, I know


Recently we instituted a family-wide ban on the phrase "I know" as a response to a statement or question.   This was borne out of necessity as our littlest one followed every single statement to him with a terse and snotty "I know" as if he were allergic to NOT knowing something.

It dawned on me that he actually comes by the phrase quite honestly.  I say it all the time. I always thought that I was saying "I know" as a sort of accord with the person with whom I was conversing.  It turns out that what I was really doing was shutting them down and making them feel stupid.  I realized this not from them telling me so but from experiencing it from the other side.  When the curt and shitty reply to some awesome juicy piece of news that I deliver to a loved one ends up with the "I know" response, I shut right the hell DOWN.   So I imagine the apples didn't fall far from the tree.

The whole thing is a bit of a cluster.  Jeff is halfheartedly on board but mostly not.  The kids are constantly interrupting us during a regular discussion where it's perfectly appropriate to say "I know" to tell us that we, in fact, have just broken a rule and said "I know" to which we invariably respond "I know, I know!!" which usually prompts a tearful and rapid exit followed by a slamming door and more "I know, I knows." has done something to me.  It has made me so much more aware of sounding like an officious bitch every time I engage in conversation with anybody.   The fact of the matter is that I don't know jack sh*t about much.  Other people are far more interesting.  In an effort to not appear as stupid as I really am or as un-knowing, I should say, I was going out of my way to tell people how much "I know" when in fact it was just a mask for how much I didn't or don't know.  Not knowing something, it turns out, is a good place to start learning.  While knowing everything is not.


Some phrases we've adopted to replace the offending "I know" include but are not limited to the following list:

"Yeah, yeah"
"Uh, duh"
"I hear you"
"What do you think I am, stupid?"
"I see"
"Uh huh"
"You've already said that 1000 times!"
"That's cool"
"I've heard that before"
"Is that right?"
"How fun, cool, great, wonderful, interesting, etc."

Of course my hit ratio is abysmal.  The kids' is better. They catch themselves and then tell me when they catch themselves.   I hope this is a precursor for other forms of exercising self-control for them and for me. The next issue to tackle is yelling.

I know, I know, right?!!!  Now that's going to be a hard one.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Feelings, nothing more than Feelings....

I opened myself up to criticism when I started this blog.  I didn't realize so many people whom I respect and admire would have opinions about my writing.  I'm starting to wonder if that is somehow a mask for what really irks them: open sharing of feelings. Not ideas but feelings.  Hey, don't get me wrong. I have a long way to go stylistically. I know that.! do they ever seem to make people nervous.  Ideas seem to just make people mad, especially lately.  But feelings really get folks a squirmin' somethin' fierce.

They're so untidy.

So inconvenient.

So important.

With the advent of the internet (facebook especially), we have enjoyed greater connectivity for sure. But we've also become horribly disconnected.  We can all share our ideas and spark the ire of several hundred of our closest friends all from the relative comfort of our computer chairs.  We can swing our keyboard maces with abandon.  We can do this without ever having to deal with (the tedium of) the expressions on their faces as the words wash over them.  Here's that dirty little word again: feelings.  The feelings that our words elicit get lost in the morass of insults, barbs, jabs, put-downs. In fact, how could feelings ever be conveyed properly when following or followed by a hash-tag?  Feelings need faces to carry the depth of their meaning. They need faces and voices.   Disembodied sharing of "ideas" sans feelings has gotten this country into a lot of trouble.  Worse has been the intentional hurtful commentary specifically tailored to maim and destroy. 

Feelings need faces.

Feelings aren't facts, yeah, I get that.  But as I have said before feelings are indeed feelings. No less important because the display of them teaches detente.

Have you ever dashed a lover's hopes and blamed it on the truth?
Have you ever thought you learned a lesson while spitting out a tooth?
Have you ever poured your heart into a mediocre end?
Have you ever punched a friend?

This is from the song "Punched a friend" written by my brother Michael.  The interactions in the song, while impassioned, have a singular thread: connection.  Direct connection.  There is no digital interface while learning detente.  This is why so many people cyber bully. They cannot see the faces of those whose teeth they have just metaphorically punched out.

Emboldened by disconnection and bolstered by a decline in the reverence for civility and decorum (or what we used to call "manners"), people are becoming more and more boorish and less and less human. 

So I'm writing (again) today because a friend of mine told me I didn't know how to.  Kind of to spite him, I won't deny it.  But also to honor his forthrightness and honesty and trust in me, frankly.  He said "you're learning, but you don't know how to write yet."  Hey, at least he had the decency to say it to my face.  Anyway, I'm writing a blog.  Not a syndicated column.  I'm okay with not being great at it.  I think I've earned the right to tell my story however ham-fisted, canned, trite or cliche it may come off.  You don't have to read it.  But I love him for telling me right to my face and for enduring the stunned silence that followed. 
I've distilled my thoughts today into a few questions:  Do you care if you hurt somebody's feelings with your spoken or written words, deeds, actions or even inaction?  Can you justify your behavior with your righteousness?  Do you blame it on them for being "sensitive"?

If so, what has it cost you?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Green Beans

I've played the role of under-achieving victim for many years.  I thought that if I were small enough, people would not only love me but also care for me.  Just as long as I didn't get too big to out-shine anybody--in any way. Ever. Be quiet, keep still, don't ask for anything, go about your business, don't wake anybody up and surely don't show anybody up.

To quote Nicholas Cage in Moonstruck, "Playing it safe is just about the most dangerous thing a woman like you can do, Loretta."

I think playing it safe is just about the most dangerous thing anybody can do.  Risque rien, n'a rien.  That's french for if you don't do shit you ain't gonna have shit.  (I took that directly from google.translate's French to Texan tab).

A lifetime of playing dumb and safe has left me unarmed for battle.   I can tell you that I believe the time of playing dumb and safe has come to an end.

The conundrum is that you cannot achieve anything until you think you can achieve something. You don't think you can achieve anything if you've never done it.  This is the part where confidence would come in handy.  I have very little confidence but I have bravada or like they say in Texas (and other places), balls. Let me just say it's nothing spiritual like Faith or Grace or anything. It's more base than that.  I wish it were something holy.  But I think the holy thing comes after you get going in a good direction.

So, balls are going to have to do.  Hey man it's like the vegetable stew I made the other day.  I just grabbed whatever I could from the garden and some chicken from the freezer and bam, chicken damn stew without a trip to the store.  Homemade-from-scratch biscuits on top and everything.  It wasn't Nigella Lawson but I used what I had.  It was pretty good even if the green beans kinda went to seed a little.

I guess I'm the green beans in this equation.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


I tried a new yoga class yesterday.   It was mildly disastrous.  I've been practicing Ashtanga yoga off and on for 10 years. I never bought into the yoga culture 100% because, frankly, I'm not that flexible. I'm strong, but I have limited range of motion and I'll never be doing the Madonna poses. Just a fact of life and the nature of my connective tissue.  Ain't gonna happen.

I love yoga. I love the asanas or poses.  I love the feeling of sweating a lot and contorting my body in ways that I wouldn't otherwise ever know were possible for hominids.   However, for the past 6 years, I practiced alone with one teacher one specific kind of practice.  So I got used to having lots of attention and instruction directed at me.  Oh yeah, and there was no music.

So yesterday I tried this Hot Vinyasa class at a local studio.  I had to rent a mat for $3 bucks because my cat vomited all over my nice Lotus mat.  It's a nice room that I took yoga in years ago with the boys when they were less than 2 years old.  That's another story entirely.  The instructor started class with moon salutations.  I'm not sure but I think she said that, because it was a new moon, they do those instead of sun salutations.  In any case, I was not familiar with the sequence of movements in a moon salutation; a fact which was clear to her.  So she came over to me during the first song and said that I could do my sun salutes instead. She seemed cool.  Anyway, I continued through the first song and second song.  On the third song, the woman cranked up the music and wandered as far away from me (I was in the back corner) as she could possibly get and still be in the room.  She went up to the front of the dark room and started giving directions about poses in an absolutely inaudible voice, oddly, all while staring directly at me. 

I kept looking up from my mat at the other 6 people in the class and looking at the teacher for direction but I just couldn't hear her.  What happened next really surprised me.  When I made it clear to her that I couldn't hear her, she turned the music up some more and just stared at me struggling in the corner.  One of the large speakers was situated right next to my mat.  So the episode started to take on a Seinfeld/Friends/Fellini kind of vibe.  There are no large mirrors in this space from which to glean any instruction from my classmates without having to look up.  Also, it was clear the rest of the participants had been in this class practicing forever as they basically did their vinyasas (flow sequences) all at different paces.

I went into child's pose which is a universal restorative pose to regain my composure. But when I did this I was so distracted by the stinky foot smell of my rented mat that I found no comfort there.  By this time I was beginning to feel a lump forming in my throat.   I felt trapped. A bit humiliated.  When I looked at the clock on my cellphone, the instructor strode over to remind me that we have a choice--a space between stimulus and response--where we can chose not to respond.  Uh, yeah. I was looking at my watch to see how much time I would have to endure this bullsh*t in order to finish this class.  I thought to myself as I smiled weakly at her.  I am not a photo-tropic plant responding to a light source. I'm trying to form an exit strategy here so I don't cry in front of you.

I thought, if I roll this mat up, I can be home and walking in less than 15 minutes. After all, "I didn't come here for abuse, I came here for an argument" I chuckled to myself recalling the "Argument Clinic" sequence from Monty Python.

There is something in modern American yoga culture (I have found a few different places) that feels a lot like the in-crowd in high school.  Exclusivity is what it feels like. And I'm on the outer ring. Makes for a smallishness in the pit of my chest that I can scarcely convey in words.  The uniform of these flexible soldiers is LuLulemon.  

Anyway, I skated. As I was exiting, the instructor said, "awwww, thanks for trying."  I took a deep breath and said, Namaste. What I was really thinking was something more like Warrior 2 with some brass knuckles--cuz that's how I roll...n-sh*t.  But of course a smile is much more powerful and disarming.

I cried on the way home, talked it through with my sister -- who said that's why she never does group yoga classes-- and then promptly went on the nicest 50 minute walk in the fall sunshine. A great substitute.

I've been reading a lot about vulnerability.  It's the soul of having a wholehearted and connected life so I don't want to just chuck mine in the garbage when it gets wounded.  But I learned an important lesson.  A person (tiny or big) is never more vulnerable than when they are learning something new.  A teacher is the person entrusted with nurturing that budding spark.  Any false moves during that budding process can effect a person for a lifetime.  It was such a good lesson. It was one I obviously needed so that I could see the impact on my kids when I teach them something new. 

I will try again with a different instructor.   But the next time, I won't take it personally--not even for 15 minutes. It dawned on me that 1) that was not 'yoga' 2) it was mean as hell 3) and most importantly it had nothing to do with me. 

I love it when people poke fun at themselves.  Here is a great yoga video by the guy who did  It's getting real in the Whole Foods Parking Lot.  DJ Dave Wittman.  Enjoy.  The people featured in this video have a sense of themselves and yoga that I found refreshing.  Serious, but not taking themselves too seriously.

Namaste, y'all.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Conquering Heights 

I have spent a lot of time and energy the past 20 years trying to avoid pain and discomfort.  Prior to that, it had dawned on me (sometime in my late teens and early twenties) that if I were going to live a life worth breathing about, I was going to have to confront and "lean into" some uncomfortable stuff.  So when an old friend of mine invited me to the top of the World Trade Center one Sunday morning in late April of 1986, I just couldn't decline.   Let me preface the rest of this by saying I am terrified of heights.  I have a sort of mix of agoraphobia and acrophobia. I more hate the feeling of exposure and openness than of the actual height.  In fact, happily ensconced in an airplane seat, I could stare out at the world below me for hours on end.

But that fateful morning 26 and half years ago, I was a wide-eyed college junior staying on the East River in a swank pied-à-terre with some very lovely and interesting people.  The last thing I wanted to do was come back to the apartment and tell everybody what a p***y I was.

We got in the cab and off we went.  We arrived at the now infamous Gothic revival pointed metal arches and breezed in past the door men.  I don't remember getting on the elevator as much as I remember my ears popping incessantly on the very long ride up.

We arrived at the observation deck and I walked outside without pausing to think about how frightened I was.  Because, in my memory,  I was less frightened than excited to be confronting a fear.  I was actually more excited to kick my own ass about something than about being on top of the world.  Odd, but there it is.

I even went to the edge of the railing, which was actually a concentric square (can you say that?) that was maybe 15-20 feet from the actual edge.  I looked over the entirety of Manhattan and frankly half of New Jersey because it seemed like I could see forever.  It was such a crisp, clear and calm morning.  And there I was up there with the angels--scared shitless and doing it anyway.

Pride was the driving factor, for sure.  Or maybe I should say impetus.  But for some reason it wasn't the actual chutzpa that got me out there.  That was this internal dialogue that sounded something like, "hey, let's just give this a try. What could it hurt? I hear you're scared. Don't think. You can do this. Other people do this all the time. This is fun. This is what life is all about. I'm here with you. You can do this but you don't have to if it's too much, etc."

The internal dialogue was incredibly healthy.  My instincts were good at 21.

But then, shortly after this mighty triumph, the personal losses started to pile up as real life started happening.  And with loss comes the feeling that life is messy.  At 21, I erroneously thought that there was an incorruptible causal relationship between effort and outcome.  A direct unaffected relationship between "being good" and "enjoying a good life." And, you know what, it just doesn't work like that because shit happens--even when we're "good."  Not so incidentally,  the two big byproducts of my grief were anger and resentment. 

Instead of leaning into the anger and resentment, feeling them and then letting them go, I made suits out of them and wore them around like battle armor.   In so doing, I cut off not only my connections with others but also that sweet, compassionate, empathic, encouraging voice inside that coaxed me out to the edge and quietly celebrated my internal triumph with me.   That voice was the voice of vulnerability-embraced, not dominated.  But that vulnerability got mixed up with pain and that sweet voice--well she was largely silent for long stretches of the interim years.  

But I'm learning through the book Daring Greatly by Brene Brown that vulnerability is the soul of connection.  At the top of the list of connectees is ourselves. I can't give with an open heart until I receive with an open heart.  Open means vulnerable.  I might get hurt.  No need to gun-up or put on a flack jacket.   Just be with it.  I'll most likely survive.

I read recently in a book called The Biology of Belief that an organism (the scientist was talking about cellular biology) cannot simultaneously fight off multiple attackers, grow and reproduce.  There are simply not enough cellular resources to do all of those things.  If attacked, all it can do is defend.  There are obvious parallels between my own personal struggles with embracing vulnerability and our world's struggles with it.

Apparently they exist on a cellular level, as well.  That should tell us something.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Church Lady Gets her Groove On

There is a part of me that is self-righteous, indignant and extremely judgmental.   It's the same part of me that is ruled by shame--the shame of being, well, human, I guess for lack of a better descriptive.   That part of me, the darkest part of my soul, is not the largest part -- not even close.  I think I have a big heart and expansive soul full of love for most of God's creation.  But that little nasty part is powerful.  And I don't mean powerful in a good way.  I mean that bitch will tear through my life like a CAT 5 Tornado without a backward glance or the offer of a tissue.

The one thing I have practiced often in my life (and some may say have even perfected) is giving up on myself.  I have caved in on pretty much every meaningful pursuit that I've undertaken since I was about 19.  The problem with doing something repeatedly -- anything -- is that you get better at it. It gets easier.  That can be dangerous sometimes. 

Anyway, what I mean to say about that is that even at forty-shma-ma years old, I can do something different with my future.  I can learn to not give up on myself.  I just saw the coolest quote from Peter Drucker:

The best way to predict the future is to create it. 

This claiming and creating a more fulfilling future would never have been possible without first slaying a few internal dragons--the first of whom was the dastardly church lady self-righteous wench at the heart of my shame.  Her weapon of choice: Perfectionism. She uses it like Christian Grey uses floggers in his Red Room of Pain.  Funny to think of the Church Lady in the Red Room of Pain.  Not the best place for her as it would probably take her all of 17 seconds to be seduced by the dark side.  Because, let's face it, the behavior exhibited by those at the extremes of righteousness and abject impropriety are but a hair's breadth apart.  I think self-righteousness belongs under the noon-day sun.   My ex-husband used to say "Sunshine is the greatest antiseptic."  I love it.  (Even if he is an unabashed Michigan Fan) Because it's true.   Shame and perfectionism belong right there, too.

I'm going to fire up a burn barrel at noon with those three witches inside. 

I've decided to replaced self-righteousness with the phrase "It is what it is, baby."
Perfectionism will be supplanted by good enough.
Judgment out, empathy in. 

Judgment, well, that's just so damn lame and frankly rather un-Christian.   I don't know somebody's whole story.  I know that excessive drinking causes liver cancer but that's no excuse to have any judgment for an alcoholic with cancer.   I'm not inside that person's head. I don't know what compelled them to do what they did.  (And who the hell am I, anyway!?) But I do know that loving them while they're sick is better than judging them. 

Jeff says something even more profound than my first husband's nugget of wisdom:

We don't need more criticism. We need more encouragement. 

As hard as this is to admit, the most important person to start with in that whole equation is me.  But after a lifetime on my back forcing me to give up on myself repeatedly for my imperfections, it's going to be an adjustment process for the Church Lady.  So I've decided to coax her down with the promise of some salsa lessons. 
Church Lady Drools over Justin Bieber while doing the Superior Dance
Cuz the Church Lady loves to get her groove on! 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


1) Admitted we were powerless over people, places and things outside of ourselves...
2) Came to believe a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3) Made a decision to turn our lives and our will over to the Care of God as we understood God.
4) Made a searching and fearless inventory.


A searching and fearless inventory?  Faith and bravery is what that will take.

Faith and bravery.

Grab a cawwwfffee and tawk amongst y'selves.

I've been feeling like ass lately.  Inside and out.  So I thought about this last night.  What do you do when you feel like ass?  I mean what does a sane person do? What would Jesus do? What would Gandhi do?  What would my awesome and inspirational friends do? 

One of them says 'lean into the discomfort.'  One says 'breathe into the discomfort and it will ease.'  One says, 'get some sleep when you're sad.'  One says 'acceptance is the key to all our problems today.' One says 'be afraid and do it anyway.'  Those are all good.  But the one that came from someplace beyond voices was this one.  It simply said:

Don't 'give up'. Surrender. There is a difference.  Now go to sleep.

Miraculously,  I'm doing much better now.

Don't give a power greater than myself.

There is a difference.

The difference feels like a warm embrace vs. being dropped down a well and falling infinitely.

Well I'm blond (sort of) but a warm embrace sounds better.  Waiter, I'll have the warm embrace of a loving God.

And hold the falling-down-a-well-infinitely please.

Some Pellegrino, too. Tall glass. No ice.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Mixed Metaphors

Day 2.2

In the program there is a core philosophy of keeping one's own side of the street clean.   Chop wood, carry water, basically.  Also, mind your own damn business, one might say.

Another little pithy quote they often state in the literature is that one should not "go to the hardware store for milk." 

I subscribe to this website called  She sends out daily email reminders of where you should be in her system.   It's fantastic.  It's based on cleaning in small spurts using a timer.   Her philosophy is that you can do anything for 5, 10 or 15 minutes.  So that's the system I use to keep chopping wood and carrying water.  Timers are the antidote to perfectionism. When the timer goes off, you're done.  No matter what.  My side of the street is pretty clean.

Milk, to me, represents basic sustenance.  The hardware store represents the cold hard metal reality of the world.  It's also like that old Aesop's Fable:  If you need a hug, don't go to a scorpion.  Go to a trusted friend.  If you happened to have taken up with a scorpion, well, still go to a trusted friend.  Scorpions are people, too. They're just not going to get you across the river as in the old story.  You'll both end up at the bottom.   Don't go to the scorpion for milk either! And whatever you do,  don't let the s.o.b. hitch a ride. 

The Scorpion and the Frog

  A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the 
scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The 
frog asks, "How do I know you won't sting me?" The scorpion 
says, "Because if I do, I will die too."

  The frog is satisfied, and they set out, but in midstream,
the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of 
paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown,
but has just enough time to gasp "Why?" 

  Replies the scorpion: "It's my nature..."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


My son Elliot made me promise to never, never, ever, ever, ever, smoke again yesterday.

I finally told them both that I sometimes smoke, had quit and then relapsed and started smoking again.  Elliot looked into my eyes with such concern, "but Mama, you're going to get yourself on fire, aren't you?"

Well, now.  If that didn't stop me dead in my tracks.

So, Day 1, anew

Our kids are great at reminding us about promises.  They really show clearly how painful it is when we break them. They don't hide behind decorum when we disappoint. They feel their feelings, let us know and then, miraculously, let it go and move on.   Oh, I might hear about it later how this person punched this person in the neck, or that person spit on that person. But, really, if I give my kids the space to feel their unpleasant feelings about even grand disappointment, they usually get over it quickly.  I'm not going to fix their unpleasantness or argue with them about it. I'm just going to allow them the dignity to feel like crap for a while.  Oh yeah, and apologize when I'm wrong or I have hurt them.

I'm reading Love and Logic again--the one for kids 6-12. It's great. I wish I had read these things when I was pregnant.  But now is better than never. I was a helicopter parent at the beginning because of the kids' ages and safety concerns.  But now, eh, I'm a lot more willing to let them have consequences.  Now I'm working on the subtext messages that I send them both.   It's much more nuanced, this parenting business.  It requires that we be aware of what we're saying all the time to everyone.  And it requires that I have my own shit together spiritually.  They are not about me.  They came through me.  I'm lucky and humbled by the task of raising them.  So far, they're doing fine but Man have I got some work to do.  The funny thing is, it's mostly about letting go.

Speaking of letting go, my helper and right hand of 5 and 1/2 years, Andressa Da Silva, left us this week to pursue school full time. (It's no wonder why I hate school so much.) Her schedule no longer permits her to be with us on Monday and Wednesday evenings as she has been forever.   Heartbroken doesn't not even begin to cover how I felt when she delivered the news to me while I stood in Plum Market.  I just began to weep.  And in writing that, I've just begun to weep, yet again. 

To say that she is a babysitter, just doesn't capture her.  She's great.  Great person, great sister figure to my kids, great daughter to me, beautiful inside and out.  I toast Dressa in her future.  I hope she'll be back with us at some point if her schedule permits.   (I have to say that to myself because I cannot fathom life without her right now).

Other areas of life as I have known it for the past 11 years or so have begun to crumble a bit, as well. As a result,  I've had to turn to my Higher Power more. What do they say, rock bottom is good solid ground? I only wish I were more prone to seeking God during the good times if for no other reason than to thank God for all that he has already bestowed upon me.  He has been generous, to say the least.

Another promise I made to myself was that I would teach the kids how to do the same--lean on God during the rough times---by praying with them at night.  First we say a prayer asking for forgiveness, then one of thanksgiving and then a prayer for others and our world and finally a prayer for ourselves and our family.  It is so cute.  Some of the things they say just melt me.  Try praying with a little kid on your knees all lined up by the bed kneeling really close to them.  Precious.

A prayer for Andressa, a prayer of thanksgiving and a prayer for the strength and tenacity to keep all of my promises.

Day 1, indeed.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Taking Inventory

It's been a while since I've written anything except thank-you cards.  Elliot just turned 6 Sunday.  What a great little kid.   His brother, too.

The past 3 weeks have been a time of deep soul-searching and moral inventory-taking.  I've really been enjoying the process--mostly.

I stumbled upon some really intensely personal revelations in my recovery work.  True gifts of the spirit.   Much of it is too personal for this forum.

The cool thing about doing a searching and fearless moral inventory is that I can see the dysfunctional and self-sabotaging parts of my life much more clearly.  The other--and frankly much cooler thing--is that I can also see what does not belong to me but what, perhaps, I've been dragging around as if it did.

I took a trip to the Huron river, set a list of the latter on fire and watched them fall as ashes into the flowing water.  I lit them with my cigarette, mind you.  Hey, what can I say? I like self-destructive irony.  And to quote my friend Khalid Hanifi "I'm not above killing myself slowly for art's sake." But not to despair. I shall quit again.  But numbing behaviors such as smoking sometimes do resurface when the tough stuff bubbles up. And I'm okay with it.  Apparently, it's okay not to be perfect.  Who knew? And anyway,  it's not a permanent address.  Just a temporary lean-to under which I can rest and retool until the metaphorical and metaphysical rain passes. 

There is a time/space between when I have outgrown old and unnecessary ways of being and new and more life-respecting and affirming modes of living take firm hold.  This time/space is lonely, dark and uncharted--but there it is.  Like Henry's favorite early childhood book "Going on a Bear Hunt" says, Can't go over it, can't go under it, got to go through it.  Out with the butts in with the wheat grass juice.  Frankly, I'd rather go on a bear hunt with a butter knife than drink wheat grass juice. 

It turns out that sharing some of my earlier stuff on this forum has been incredibly beneficial.  Not just for me, but for some of my friends who have chimed in to tell me so.  Something about the story of a struggle, no matter how seemingly small and insignificant, taps into us at a primal level. Much more so than talking about the damn weather or our accomplishments.   I know I want to believe I am not alone in my patched-together quest for meaning and purpose.  And I am most definitely not.  Thanks to all for the company while we collectively stumble down this path toward...only God knows where.

I don't want to throw my parents under the proverbial bus or anything but I did grow up with a couple of hysterically inaccurate and downright erroneous beliefs that, frankly, have not served me well and those that I have off-loaded recently.  Now let me preface this by saying that these beliefs are common to my parents' generation.  They are not alone. This is their collective zeitgeist. They were either the children or youngest siblings of the Greatest Generation.  A group of people whose collective history is so overwhelmingly fraught with loss, grief, accomplishment, war, famine, tragedy and triumph that it could never be overstated or, apparently, dealt with. So they just willed it to the next generation to deal with.  Thus we have the strong silent titans as parents.  They should be called the Formidable Generation.  They live on Mt. Olympus.

The first erroneous belief (passed down to at least me) was that there was really no such thing as "love."  My Dad once told me that love was nothing more than a "neurotic clinging."  I think that has to end up in a movie because on its face it's a hilarious thing to say to a kid.  It has a cinematic quality.  It would make a funny scene.   The problem with it for a little kid is that I saw my parents commit many a loving and selfless act throughout my life--and they continue to.  So it was confusing to me.  If you're not doing all these things out of love, then what?  But in my little kid brain, I just didn't get that my dad was basically talking smack and kind of full of shit.  I think he'd agree to that statement at this point about this point. Because you should see him with us and his grand children.  Giddy, doting and playful are understatements.

The other erroneous belief that I learned from my dear Mom was that "feelings are overrated." What I realize now is that in order to feed, clothe, entertain and keep alive 6 children, she had to override her feelings of fatigue, hunger and the all-to-familiar loneliness of a mother of young children.  Now, don't get me wrong there are shreds of commonly held recovery tenets intrinsic to both of their statements.  But in the program we rephrase them as "feelings aren't facts." However, feelings are, in fact,  feelings.   Apparently, no less important than facts.  We just try to delineate the two.  It helps to parse out, well, everything.  And to my Dad's partially true statement I say, that's not the whole truth about love.  I mean the very popular love song "Grenade" by Bruno Mars perfectly illustrates my Dad's point that love can be a neurotic clinging--a dangerous one when you're catching grenades for people who rip the brakes out'your car.  But it is also the power behind everything meaningful.

I learned that little nugget from my parents as well. 

The Formidable Ones.  You know the ones on Mt. Olympus.

I love you guys.


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Failure and Triumph

This quest for a bit of recovery from my anxiety-based issues of smoking and attachment to weighing has brought me so much insight. I've gotten insight into myself but also into the underpinnings of my anxiety--the roots, I guess you'd say.   This has informed every relationship.   It's been a gift beyond measure.

This past week was a watershed time for me.  I time of upheaval and of stuff surfacing that had remained quietly under wraps and also quietly sabotaging my personal success and happiness.   I quickly realized that it was time to exorcise the ghosts and demons both psychological and spiritual that were sucking the life out of my life.  I spent a lot of time at church and in prayerful meditation and talking to trusted confidants and friends about all of it.  

It's personal some of the stuff I encountered. Deeply personal.  Some of it I can wave off with a smile and a joke.  Some, not so much.  It's much more than a scale and a cigarette,  I always knew that.   I just didn't know how much more it was. But it turns out that the scale and the cigarette are the tip of the proverbial iceberg.  Like if K2 were an iceberg, kind of thing.  It's the kind of stuff I want to talk to my friends in Alanon about.  It's not currently stuff I want to discuss here. 

This forum makes me visible and, with courage, compassion and resilience, I could openly share some of what these insights have meant for me--later on.  But right now I seemed to have hit on something that requires a bit more of an inward quest.  So, I'm going to forgo talking about the weighing.  I didn't mind relapsing on the weighing, but I really minded smoking.  I went 87 days without a cigarette. Then I choked when big stuff began to surface.  I've smoked 5 and half cigs in 101 days. All in the past 2 weeks.  I sure wish I could be telling you that I went 100 days without one.  But that's not the truth and the truth is very liberating if not equally uncomfortable.

I have a lot of budding peace about my imperfect execution of my stated goals and then the public sharing of that failing.  I figure it would have only been a true failure if I didn't learn anything, which I most certainly did.  The only kind of failure is really the failure to try and stretch myself a little further.

This is always such a great transition time--a bit sad for loss of the long, hot summer days.  But the possibilities of a new year are so enticing.  I still always equate the beginning of a new year with school and the smell of pencils, fresh paint on cinder block walls and brand new tennis shoes squeaking in school hallways.  I always thought I hated school and I probably mostly did.  But I also did always love the idea of a fresh start, "this year will be better" I would tell myself.  

I think this year really will be better.  And I may even make it back to school.

Who knows? 

Here's to 2012-13.

Monday, August 6, 2012

 Mousse Au Chocolat from the Waldorf

The last time I took medication for my anxiety/depression was in 2004.  We had suffered a series of miscarriages.  The medication turned out to be a disaster on top of misfortune.  After 3 weeks of a state of what can only be described as "an unrelenting and uncomfortable highness"  I swore the crap off from that point on.  Until 2 weeks ago.  Recently, I had become more and more dissatisfied with the buzz of anxiety that accompanied me everywhere.  I was willing to try medication again. 

So I spoke with my doctor and she gave me something that turned out to be more like an elephant tranquilizer than a subtle mood stabilizer.  I have never slept as much as I have in the past 2 weeks.  It's great to catch up on my rest and everything. It's not so great when the accompanying dreams turn into deleted scenes from Alice in Wonderland, rejected for their sheer oddness.  After 5 short days, the meds have softly landed in the trash.

Wrestling with my personal anxiety demon has grown wearisome.  I mean really wearisome.  So much so that I thought I could chase it away with a legally administered pharmaceutical.  The one upside to having ingested chemical restraints was that, during the 3 or so waking hours of my day, I was finally able to sit and read a book from cover to cover for the first time in years.  Anxiety is a monkey that rarely will let one rest long enough for such benign and fulfilling pursuits.  The book I chose to read is called "Planting Dandelions." It was written by a woman -- a mother-- who just happens to be a ferociously talented writer.  So talented, in fact, that I swore to gnaw off my fingers at the second knuckle lest I attempt EVER to write another blogpost, letter, memo or even permission slip as long as I should live.   I'm currently typing with bloody stumps.

So back to the blog.  To blog or not to blog.  That is the newest question.   I was really enjoying babbling on about life and kids and my personal quest for sanity.  Then I stumble upon this ace.  She really nails it. I mean, I don't think her life is any more or less poetic than my own. But her prose would suggest she has mastered the art of turning every single mudpie her kids serve up into a Mousse au Chocolat from the Waldorf.  She even spun the tail of a torrid crush she enjoyed with a fellow writer into something remarkable and not at all untoward.  If I had written about something like that, I'd be defending it in a court of law--certainly not accepting a Peabody for it.  I mean how dare this b**ch turn domestic life and all the shitty little nooks and crannies of it, into art.   I mean serious art.   Where the hell does that leave me?  I'll tell you where: in a corner, rocking back and forth, staring at the crumbs on the kitchen floor, eating my hair and mumbling to myself,  'That was supposed to be my job!'

Then I think, maybe there's room in this vat of maternal insanity for more than one voice.  Perhaps my un-medicated voice is less somber, grammatically correct, tempered and thoughtful and just funny enough.  I don't know. It's the only voice I have.  I mean besides the other ones inside my head (just kidding).

'Anxiety' and its bastard B Side 'Depression' are energy-robbing cads of dubious integrity and origins.  Not to be trusted to medication in my case, I'm sad to report. They're the enemies I keep closer than friends lest they sneak up behind me unawares.   Medicating me only makes me less capable of managing them.  Perhaps less restrained but also less funny.  Which, let's face it, is the only way the whole thing works.  I'll leave the talented writing to the artful b**ch. 

I got the lunatic rants, the cheap seats and the low road covered.

And I got 403 horse power and 4Wheel Drive.  

Thursday, July 26, 2012

As if on cue, one of the two water heaters in our mechanical room exploded and started gushing water everywhere last night.  I had said to Jeff 2 or 3 days ago that there was something bad going on with the water because it smelled so mineral-y and that I wouldn't dare wash my newly colored hair in it.  He said he checked it and that it was fine.

As with any explosion, there are warning signs---usually. The problem is that they often come in a nondescript package and don't point to any one potential hazard.  Is it the softener? Is it the water supply?  Is it the water heater (in this case, yes, yes it was, to quote Phineas)? If so, what course of action should I take when there is just one little symptom showing?  Trying to get ahead of events rather than letting them unfold is a no-win proposition.  There's no end to it.  Shit just happens.  And you gotta deal with it.

Here's to a day filled with no more mechanical problems.

But would it really surprise me?

ps. The plumber just arrived and promptly hauled out a new water heater.  While walking through the backyard toward the basement door, he stepped right in a huge pile of very fresh dog poop.  Then tracked it all over the newly sealed driveway where everybody is walking today.  To all of you renters out there: keep on renting.

God is hysterical.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

 Circumstances do not determine a woman they reveal her. -James Allen

I was mad at myself yesterday morning.  It showed, too.  Bags under the eyes.  Sheepish shuffle.  Uh.  I had one of those evenings that I regret 15 minutes after they conclude.  If the above sentiment is even half true, then I'm just a garden variety b***h.

We had company. Dear, beloved and wonderful company. Three extra kids in the house situated on various air mattresses and bedrolls.  Beautiful sights to behold. They were running, playing and jumping on those very bed rolls and air mattresses with our kids in the basement until about 11:20pm Sunday night.

We returned home after dinner at Zingerman's Roadhouse to find that the A/C compressor motor was not operating.  It was 86* in the guest room.  I called and called Hutzel.  I even reached my old buddy Walt who was on the other side of a few beers, I'm sure.   We waited and waited.  Then at about 10:40pm a technician called and said he was on the other side of Jackson (probably also on the other side of a couple beers) and had forgotten he was on call.  He said that he'd be here in an hour.  It was 10:45pm.

Our guest quarters are barely tolerable on a good A/C day.  The house was an oven that night.  I was so mortified that my guests would be horribly uncomfortable that I lashed out at my husband.  You get the connection, right?  Yeah,  there is none.

I said something to the effect with outstretched finger and arm flailing, "dude, this is mechanical. I'm sick of having to design a new front porch, do laundry, sharpen the chain saw, fry it up in a pan and never let you forget you're a man!" For the uninitiated, that's taken from a commercial for perfume from 1980.

Jeff's school schedule has meant that I'm doing a lot of mechanical-ish household stuff that makes me nervous.  Mostly just because I'm afraid I'm going to screw something up.  Like the A/C unit.  I bought that A/C unit on a recommendation from Steele Heating and Cooling from Chelsea.  He told me the one that was here before was twice the size that we needed and half as efficient.  It was 19 years old so I believed him.  But this one is 1/3 too small. So it just runs and runs and never gets a break.  The math fractions are moving in the wrong direction on this whole equation.  So, personally, I think we should take that little thing out and buy something that looks like this:

Plan B - Right?! Now that's what I'm sayin'!

Back in 2009, I got on a huge enviro kick. I stopped using A/C altogether, installed a whole-house fan and stopped using the clothes dryers and started using clotheslines.  I was composting and recycling so much we never even used our garbage can.  I was going to install solar panels, a geothermal system and start driving a Prius but then it got really hot outside.  So on to plan B.

Anyway, all that aside. The point is I don't operate in stressful situations well at all.  My maiden name "Feeney" comes from the old Norse word for "Warrior" and its also synonymous with "champion." I'll go with the former more than the latter.  Anyway, when stuff goes south, my warrior brain kicks in.  That's the part that I've referred to in the past as the Irish part.  Hey, anything to deflect responsibility and blame for just being a plain old b***h.

Perhaps Mr. Allen's little pithy quote is not a complete assessment.   Could there be more to us than what we are under pressure? 

I hope so. If not, I'll at least be cooler.

Who are you under pressure? 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

  "The endless pursuit of beauty, independent of substance, renders the pursuer possessed of neither." 

So I haven't smoked in 82 days.  Confession: I have weighed myself.   That little "relapsey thing" I'm working on with my core recovery group.  It's so humiliatingly personal that I had to take that inside. I didn't expect that it would be this difficult to not get on the scale. But I am dealing with it. As soon as I have some hilarity or an interesting breakthrough about it, I'll be sure and share it.  Until then, I'll just try to 'stay in the day' as we say, (hey, hey, hey) in the program.  And 'keep coming back.'  And my personal favorite (not) 'It works if you work it and you're worth it!' And gol darnit people like me.   That last one is from Saturday Night Live like 20 years ago.  They don't really say that at 12-step meetings.  To quote Diedrich Bader in Office Space,  

"I believe you'd get your a** kicked sayin' somethin' like 'at."

Why do I aspire to a weight that I cannot hit without a great deal of effort,  sacrifice or perhaps limb removal? I think there is a part of me that would love to be smaller, more lithe, more sinewy.  More typical of the anorexic model types that barrage us from every media portal.  But then there's part of me that is afraid if I do that, if I attain that skinniness ideal,  other substantial parts of myself will somehow also disappear.   Of course there's also the part about my having a caboose.  Like Miss Effie said in her Caribbean lilt about her 4'ft. thick concrete house in Grand Cayman, "that bi**h ain't goin' nowhere."

What is 'beautiful' anyway?  There's a saying in French that goes something like "beautiful women are for men with no imagination."  That's taken from the 1925 quote by Marcel Proust.

I like it. And I hate it.  Like women are for men anyway.  Most of the women I know are decidedly against them.  And not for lack of good reason. Wink Wink.  I'm not.  At least not all day everyday.  Maybe we could change it to something like:

"The endless pursuit of beauty, independent of substance, renders the pursuer possessed of neither." -Me 

I once had a man tell me, a man whom I (once) deeply admired, respected and loved, that I simply was not beautiful.  Like out of the blue. Weird. "You're nice looking," he said, "but you're certainly not classically beautiful."  And under my breath I said, "uh, thanks? Dick.  I don't think I ever said I was,  did I?"

His name is not Dick, by the way.

We're all slouching toward flabbiness. Even that bad-ass personal trainer at the gym, Sue.  She's tiny, ripped, strong, pretty.  It's her life to be that way.  But honey, one day she's going to be 65.  And 75.  And 90 if she's lucky. Right?

So when does this spin class end?

That level of intensity runs counter to my spiritual recovery.  And this is really just about getting to know my own heart and head.  It's good to know what's a false object of desire and what's really filling the spiritual tank. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Ed: You have an Oppositional Conversational Style.  

Joe: No I don't

Have you ever spent time with a person who has Oppositional Conversational Style? OCS is what they're calling it now.  It looks something like this:

Ed:  It's really warm out, man.
Joe: It's actually not. It's way hotter in Atlanta.
Ed: Uh, I mean for us here, it's hot.
Joe: No, it was much hotter a few summers ago.
Ed: Uh, well, I guess you're right.

In the above exchange Ed will shuffle away dejected. He will end up feeling well, for lack of a better word, slimed by Mr. No Joe.  Mr. No Joe operates like that in every exchange no matter how benign the topic.  No-Joes leave a trail of anxious, unsatisfied and slightly angry ex-conversational partners.  Many of whom have no conscious idea of the reason for their angst.  Then they, themselves, go out into the world similarly to spread their newly acquired "good cheer."

I could cite case after case of this OCS to you because I know some people quite well who operate like this.  I have had loads of interactions with them.  The problem is that it's beyond negativism.  It's a conversational style that is designed to upset, to rankle, to over-power.   It's a conversational style that develops for a lot of different reasons.  I think the main reason is that people who operate like this feel, at their core, extremely powerless.  It's really just a bullying technique dressed up as polite conversation.  And it's contagious.   Highly contagious.

The art of really listening to somebody requires keeping our big fat traps shut.  It also requires that we hear while suspending judgment, reaction, the need to fix, to share or to interrupt what somebody is saying; both with their words and their body language.  Some guys I know are particularly bad at this because it's, generally speaking, not their primary role in life to take care of kids.  Mothers are always trying to stay a step ahead of kids' fluctuating moods.  This is mainly due to the fact that these are usually clues to bigger potentially unresolved issues such as illness, fatigue, emotional upheaval, anger, sadness, etc. that will ultimately require more attention if left to fester.  Some guys are really great at it.  I even met one, once.

Anyway, the OCS folks out there need to control conversations and people. Some of the more profoundly effected also actually like to watch people get upset.  That's usually skating into the severely pathologically narcissistic spectrum; a spectrum upon which we all fall somewhere. It's just better for everyone when we fall somewhere to the west of pathological.   The OCS people do this because they are largely disconnected.  Being emotionally disconnected from humanity will allow the psyche to engage in the most destructive behavior and, worse, justify it.  They say things like, "they deserved it. They were asking for it. They're so weak. They're so (insert derogatory adjective here)."  It's a basic lack of empathy.  However, that lack of empathy practiced over time becomes a basic lack of humanity.  People who have OCS suffer a constant stream of disconnections.  It snowballs.

The only cure for it is empathy.  But it is incredibly difficult to be empathetic to people who only want to argue with us or make us nervous, anxious, angry and who generally don't hear a damn thing we're saying.   I guess that's why Jesus told us to turn the other cheek.   Not so we could get are asses kicked but so we could gently practice the kind of empathy that is more contagious than its counterpart.

Empathy begets empathy.  Opposition begets opposition.

Empathy met with opposition is still empathy.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Part 2. Bulldozers and a Triple Iced Venti Latte:  L'Chaim!

The bulldozers came at Christmas a few years back.  The eyesore across the street from the old place is no more. No more turpitude.  Just an open field proudly owned by the cute little Methodist church.

Without the Japanese beetles, I never would have discovered why none of my trees ever grew on North Territorial--except in that one spot where it's likely something very large is entombed.  It was because our yard was sick with grubs.  Grubs are the larval phase in a Japanese beetle's life.  (little bastards!)

The whole time I was thinking I was fundamentally at odds with Mother Nature.  Instead, apparently, I was just not putting the right chemicals on my lawn.  Or so Kay Gee told me.  No, the irony of that statement was not lost on me.

I was so dejected that fateful day that I henceforth referred to it as 'The Day of the Beetle.'  It was nearly August and my fruitless growing season coupled with my horseless state rendered me untethered.  I announced to Jeff that I was going to find a horse to ride. In Montana.  It was the height of the horse market at that point.  I explained to him that a decent well-trained Quarter Horse was going for $7,500-$10,000 in Michigan. So it was worth it to go and look elsewhere.  Also, I needed to think.  About stuff. 

About kids. 

He just smiled as I packe.

I got upgraded to first class on the first leg of the journey because I was still working and traveling a lot in 2005.  I was seated next to the nicest guy.  After we took off, we exchanged pleasantries.  The flight attendant brought some wine and we instinctively looked at each other and said "L'chaim" and touched glasses.  He said "I'm not even going to ask you why you said that so perfectly."  I smiled.

Hamilton Montana Views
Hamilton, MT - The Bitterroot Valley
Then he settled into his seat and asked me why I was going to Denver.  I told him that my final destination was really Hamilton, MT where I planned to go horse shopping.  He said,  "horse shopping? Don't you have any kids?"  It sounds presumptuous and rude when I write it but it was more of a compliment.  Like he thought, "of course this woman should have kids.  She looks so maternal."  Or whatever.  But that's how I took it because I think that's how he meant it.

He said, "Listen, I'm a harmless, happily married family man.  But we've got a long flight and I just had a triple Venti iced latte at Starbucks.  So I'm not going to be sleeping any time soon.  Why don't you tell me your life story and the reason why you don't have any kids? I can tell there's a story in there."

I loved the guy's earnestness.  He was forthright and bold, sweet and not threatening in the least. So, I told him of our fertility woes. I told him that my husband and I recently sat down and decided that we'd be okay with or without kids.  That it was a sad realization but that we were only partly involved in the baby making process and the ultimate authority had spoken loudly and clearly on numerous occasions blah blah blah.

He said "Let me stop you right there because that's bullshit. He's just testing you guys to see how bad you want it." Hmm, I thought. I had never looked at it like that.  He went on to explain how when everything in your life comes easily, you think everything should.  And how sometimes God is going to be testing to see how serious you are.  I think he was the first person who I ever heard say "Parenting is not for ****sys so if you think the beginning part is difficult just wait! Don't think it's all fun and all lovey, kissy, huggy and shit all the time.  It's f****g brutal! But your life will be so empty if you don't go and adopt---like right now! Forget about this horse business, go home, fill out the paper work, turn in your crap and have a baby already!" 

Interestingly enough, the horse deals I made that week in Montana all fell through under very odd circumstances.  Bone spurs detected in the vet check in one, reneged deal on the other.  The third horse was as insane as his Jack Mormon 12-kid 3-wife-havin' owner.  I flew home empty handed but did exactly as my friend told me.  I got to work and never left the house for a week. I looked like a mad scientist when I went to turn in our dossier.  But in less than 10 days from that encounter, I had completed all the necessary work for us to be adoptive parents. 

All this from this nice Jewish guy from Oak Park, MI who owns a dry cleaning business, or so he said, and whose three kids had cancer, alopecia and a wicked slap shot respectively.

I can't for the life of me remember his name.

So I refer to him in my head as Angelo Rosenberg.  The Jewish Angel.

Patron of much-needed ass-whoopins and attitude adjustments.

Wherever you are right now Angelo:  L'chaim!

And, of course, Thanks.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Fundamentally at Odds with the Natural World

In 2005 Jeff and I lived north of Chelsea on North Territorial Road.  We renovated the inside of a split level ranch house in '02-'03.  We were nesting.  However, the surrounding neighborhood was in less of a Ward and June Cleaver kind of state. Let's say it was transitional.  Across the street from us was basically a crack house in which things of unmentionable moral turpitude occurred.  There were dogs chained to heavy objects and blue tarps over their dirty kennels.  There were many cars of dubious origins.  It was, in short, hillbilly hell.

To the west of us were situated two rental houses with a constant stream of tenants whose belongings often ended up remaining--in the yard--long after they themselves had relocated.  On the east side of our property was a cute little custom boat shop, car repair place and a daycare center.  Those buildings were all meticulously maintained but still, less residential than the average buyer looks for.  This seemed unfortunate to me.  Because I had the best relationships with the those neighbors. They looked after my house when I was on vacation.  When we had renters for a brief time, they were the neighbors who were out in the backyard counting the 31 beer bottles and cans left behind by a late night gathering.  I had 4 phone calls about that party by 9am the next morning.  So it was that kind of neighborhood. Lots of Gladys Kravitzes--only nicer.

The other redeeming light was across the street. The North Lake United Methodist Church complete with the little red swooshy thing that Methodists are famous for--and a steeple.  The church was completed sometime in the early 1850's and its cuteness almost uplifted every other eyesore on that stretch of road.  Almost.

Despite the esthetic limitations of the immediate surroundings,  I nested.  And nested. For the better part of 3 years. To no avail. There were 4 or 5 miscarriages during that time. I lost count.  So the nesting was a hurky jerky affair interspersed with deep mourning and giddy anticipation.  To be honest, the giddiness fades after the second time.  But I wanted to be fair and give the little guys some hope to hold on to.  So I pretended to be giddy.  Anyway, the nesting began inside the house. When I'd done what I could inside both metaphorically and literally,  I turned my attention to the yard.  Well, if you know me, you know I like to get to know people.  I don't just want to say hi.  I think the clinical term for that is 'chatty.'  I was on a first name basis with the entire Gee family. Gee Farms is a large nursery compound kind of between Stockbridge, Jackson and Lansing.  I bought a lot of trees.  Some of which actually survived.

Then in the summer of that year, when I was 40, I stopped thinking about planting trees and started thinking about planting roses--and adopting.  The two seemed related somehow.

Why adoption got confused with roses in my head, I'll never know.  Anyway, I started buying rose bushes--a lot of them.  I would bring them home and put them in this nice high sandy area adjacent to the extra parking spot that I built myself-with 5 yards of 21AA and a shovel and Jeff's old truck.  I had a lot of angst and steam I needed to let go of, I guess. 

There were several different varieties of peach colored and deep orange roses. I bought large-flowered long stem types mostly.  They were coming along so nicely in that soil.  It was the one patch on that whole 1/2 acre parcel that could actually grow something--and boy was it ever fertile.  I just kept thinking, I wonder what the hell those people buried under there. I'm sure I didn't really want to know.  It grew nice rose bushes. That's all that mattered. What's dead is dead, I thought. Thanks for the phosphorous.  Sometime in mid to late July, the buds started looking plumper and plumper. They looked like they were just about ready to pop.  I was so excited. I went to bed one Monday night so excited I could barely sleep. I knew the next morning the budding would begin in earnest.

At first light, I bolted out of bed.  I went downstairs and brewed up some espresso in my Alessi stove top coffee maker with the melted blue plastic handle I ruined while camping. That thing made the most wicked coffee, I couldn't bear to part with it even in its scorched and misshapen state.  I steamed my milk, mixed up my brew and sneaked outside to have a peek.

There I stood in my pj-s and cowboy boots at 6am staring in horror at a swarm of Japanese beetles making love on and eating my precious rose buds before they even had had a chance to open.   I began to weep.  And scream at them.  And rant, and swat, and swear and weep some more.  I got bit or stung, I don't know which, more than a few times, as I unceremoniously crushed some of the little bastards.  I mean they decimated the entire patch of 25 bushes.  Leaves, buds, hell, they may have even been eating some of the thorns.  At first I looked at the buds which seemed in tact until I got right up on them. Then I realized that what seemed like a bud was really the leafy wrapper in its unopened state with a swarm of beetles inside it,  munching away.

For about an hour, I mumbled to myself and removed beetles.  I even went in the house and mixed up the following concoction -- a recipe I'd found on some website:  Water, some, dish soap, hot pepper, lemon juice, Tabasco and a bit of vinegar.

Well you'd have thought they were at Ruby Tuesday.  They seemed to eat through the natural bug repellant with renewed vigor. So by this point it's about 7:30am and I never smoked before noon. Never.  Had a hard and fast rule.  People who smoked before noon were real smokers. I was just pretending.  But damn if I wasn't out there in the rain, because at this point it had started to drizzle, smoking.  In my pajamas, with a spray bottle in one hand, an umbrella and a cigarette in the other and screaming at those damnable little bastards.  Swatting, yelling, crying, smoking, mumbling to myself, spraying.  Of course.

So about that Adoption.  We're not quite sure Mrs. Mason is an, um shall we say,  fit candidate for that.  Good thing nobody had a security camera on me.  Thank God for those few awesome neighbors of mine.  Just like Colonel Klink, they saw nuh-ssing.

By this time, the morning commute had begun and we lived on a busy stretch of North Territorial.  I knew many of the people driving by.  Many of them honked that morning, in fact,  because I'm sure I was quite a sight to behold.  Think a cross between these two photos:
Carl Spackler from Caddy Shack
Molly Mason from Chelsea

But with no smiles.  At all. Add an umbrella,  an American Spirit, bulging veins at my temples and a spray bottle instead of a hose.   Think Bill Murray in Caddy Shack. Trying to kill the gophers.  Mumbling to himself.

A few years ago I saw the movie "Failure to Launch."  This was an exchange between the two lead characters which I think really sums up how I felt that morning:

Demo: [to Tripp] You were bitten by a chuckwalla. That shouldn't have happened. It's a reptile of peace. I have a theory. This isn't the first time that nature's lashed out at you like this. I believe it's because your life is fundamentally at odds with the natural world.
Tripp: Huh?
Demo: Therefore, nature rejects you.

Therefore, nature rejects you.

I thought to myself, well, Mother Nature, (if that's your real name) you might have some dominion...but I'll be back.  

I stopped gardening that summer--but not forever.

And for a couple of really good reasons.
(To be continued)