Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving

We were all indoctrinated into the cult of Thanksgiving at birth.  We all expect it to be one thing - that Norman Rockwell vision of family.  Perfect bird.  Perfect smiles.  Perfect place settings.  Perfect lighting.  What most of us get is anything but.  On a good year we just roll with it.  On a bad year - well, I'm sure you know how that turns out.  Drinking.  Screaming.  Storming out.

This year I was looking forward to Thanksgiving for the first time in almost 30 years.  Something quieter.  A day I could spend with the people who love me most and demonstrate that frequently.  I wouldn't have to sit and make polite chitchat with people I avoid.  I wouldn't have to walk around with my mask in place all day.  I wouldn't have to pretend that this holiday was amazing and wonderful when what I felt was more akin to dread.  I wouldn't have to worry how any word that slipped my lips might be twisted to someone else's gain.

For 30 years, I have endured this.  I have sat at table with someone I loathe and pretended not to.  I have sat my insides writhing, pretending to eat, all while chaos erupted around me.  Some years were easy.  Some less so.  I did this for family.  I tolerated political lectures that made me cringe inside.  I dealt with auditory-damaging levels of noise.  I dealt with kids vomiting on the table (Yes, this really happened).  I dealt with having someone else's agenda rammed down my throat.  I did it to keep the peace.  Sacrificing my own happiness for that of the greater good - the Kobayashi Maru of my life.  (If you don't get this reference, please just step out).

This year I chose me and said I wasn't going.  My choice.  Frankly I was looking forward to a calm day of writing or finding someplace cozy for my mom and I to enjoy a good meal.  When I bailed, mom followed suit.  When mom bailed, so did my brother.  Seems we were all just a bit tired of the status quo and needed something different.  This caused my sister-in-law who hosts Thanksgiving to have a melt down.  She called to tear me a new one for doing this.  She thought I had orchestrated a take down of 'her' holiday.  She blamed me for all the people not coming as if I was able to control them - ha!  She was irate at extra food, conveniently forgetting a Christmas where her entire family bailed at 5PM on dinner on Christmas day leaving me with 15 extra helpings of everything.  All because there were members of my family in attendance that she does NOT associate with - insert Sour Kangaroo sniff here.  

I couldn't take it.  I exploded right back at her.  Exploded out all the anger that I had inside about her assumptions and bullshit.  I am done taking it for a family that is as fake as that Rockwell one.  And I have no intention of letting her bully me verbally the way she is used to doing with her own family.  Her behavior illustrated the very reason why I chose not to go and sealed the deal for me and any waffling ceased.  I was not going.  Not this year.  Not next year.  Maybe not ever again.  Turns out she did not call my mom or my brother who also decided not to go.  Just me.  Because I am the least volatile and therefore the one most easily bullied.

Something different this year was a last minute meal by Kroger.  (FYI - good bird.  Bad sides).  It was what I needed - quieter, cozy, more intimate, more loving.  My mom sailed through the day without much evidence of her AD and was OK after.  (Previous Thanksgivings would often find her sick or in bed after).  For me Thanksgiving isn't about the turkey, the stuffing, even the pumpkin pie.  It's about the people who sit at table with me and how very much I love them.  This year was a home run.  I enjoyed a very mediocre meal and it went down with more laughter and love than I can remember. 

No zombie Thanksgiving for me this year - although somehow a ferREAL zombie Thanksgiving makes me smile. Maybe next year.  Couldn't hurt the food any.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tail of the Shadow

Walking in to work this morning I noticed that my cast shadow had something hanging off of it - turned out to be my bracelet from Victory of Light - the gummed end stuck on my ass.  That got me thinking about shadow.......

I spent a lot of time as a kid pondering my shadow.  I blame Peter Pan for that one.  I became kinda obsessed with the idea of losing it the way Pan did.  I was intrigued by how it changed shape and size in a way that I did not (or did I?), how that copycat always did what I did, how I could throw shadow bunnies and gators on the wall using a lamp.  What can I say, it was the '60's and I was an investigative child.  I understood that these were not actual bunnies or gators, the same way that gummy bracelet that looked like a shadow tail was not a tail. 

I thought about how I might have walked around all day with that fluorescent green tail if I had not glimpsed it in my own shadow.  That seems a good message for the day - that the things that need removed, need changed, are most easily viewed in shadow.  None of us see the shadow part of ourselves when we are blissed out and happy.  It's like standing outside at high noon when your shadow is at its smallest - almost none is visible.  But when things get hard and we react or get reactive, when we are in the place of our shadow, things are so much easier to see.  Like the late evening or early morning - the time of long shadows - where a shadow seems to stretch to the horizon and the viewing surface is maximal. 

I find that I can't do the work when I am in the soup.  But I can give a nod of acknowledgement to say I see you and I will deal with you very soon.  I know there will be a time when things calm and as I move back to the place of joy I will generally be able to yank the fluorescent tail off of my shadow self.  Even if I don't, I have gained a bit of an advantage in knowing those shadowy bits are there and can at least understand why I act the way I do sometimes.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

My friend Jane says when she gets bad writer's block she thinks about writing a haiku.  There is something small and approachable in haiku that seem to work no matter what acid filth is dripping from my pen.  I prefer to write small stones - a moment of conscious presence to wherever I am.  So kinda the spirit of haiku without the syllabic nonsense.  




Little sparrow
sleeping in the eaves
how like my heart you are
small and shelter-seeking.








There is for me something very honorable and appealing about sparrows.  Maybe their nondescript feathers.  Maybe their appearance in bulk at my feeder no matter the season.   Maybe it's the raucous noise that passes for song in sparrow-world.  There is part of me very like to these little birds.  

To the naysayers in my life.......

  • I am deeply, deeply, deeply in love with my job, with science.  I STILL can't believe someone pays me to do this.  That I get to spend hours of time playing with expensive toys trying to unlock the secrets of how this all works.  Happy brain.  
  • I am not my body size.  I am a mostly well-adjusted, content being in a round body.   I don't want to be thin.  I love curves.  I enjoy my roundness.  Resisting a hundred thousand messages a day about fitting into the square hole.  I don't have to do that to love myself.  It would be nice if I didn't have to do it to make you love me either.
  • I practice an odd and interesting mix of spiritual beliefs.  I don't expect you to understand or believe what I believe.  I only ask that you tolerate my choice.  That you allow me the free will to choose.  
  • Speaking of free will.  That is the basis for everything in my world, that each of us has the right to choose every aspect of our lives.  You do not get to choose for me.  I do not get to choose for you.  Trying to make choices for someone else is merely a lame excuse to avoid making your own.
  • I am smart.  That doesn't make me an elitist snob or someone worthy of scorn.   It just means I know stuff.  You may know completely other stuff, practical stuff, like how to fix a combustion engine or design a skyscraper, or maybe you know where those pesky new commands are hiding in the new version of EXCEL.  I think that's the ultimate cool when someone knows a lot about things I don't.  I celebrate that.  I wish people would celebrate their differences with me.
  • I believe in both Western and holistic medicine.  One is not the devil and the other voodoo.  They are both sometimes right and they are both sometimes wrong.  I will use both as I see fit.  (No comments on this - see bullet point #4)
  • My life doesn't have a soundtrack.  There is music, but it is ephemeral and in the moment.  I like it.  I just don't need or use it the way most people do.  So don't expect me to wet myself over RUSH or DMB or Gaga or whoever you're spinning right now.  Honestly I think I prefer silence most of the time.  
  • Pretty sure I have subbed words for music.  The music of the language.  I have an ongoing and lifelong relationship with words and language.  The sounds they make enchant me over and over.  Self-described word hooker and proud of it.  
  • I am also not my wardrobe.  Clothes are kinda irrelevant to me.  They cover me because that is social convention.  They don't make me a better person, or a nicer human being, or a more loving friend.  They are just clothes.  Ditto hair and makeup.  
That is all.........you may now return to your previously scheduled programming in progress.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Bahbye Schtuffs.

Sometimes this funk of schtuff just plops right on me.  Makes me wanna eat sugar straight from the bowl and sleep like a hibernating bear.  That has been the case for the last month or so.....mebbe longer.  Yunno how schtuffs control the perception of time and all.  I have tried the usual things to bust me out, but no luck.  In fact one of the usual things, hiking, actually caused me to injure myself (not once, not twice, but three times!)and, therefore, encouraged the piling on of even more schtuffunk.  Unlike the NFL, there are no penalties in real life for this action.  (How cool would it be to be able to whistle and throw a flag when the schtuff piles on, make the schtuff incur a penalty that is somehow beneficial to me?)

Anyway - here's a useless but cool photo of the
Diwali lights in India from a NASA satellite.
Pretty cool eh?


That is until today at work where they had a big Diwali celebration attended by about 500 people! Diwali is an Indian festival - one of the big ones - that celebrates the triumph of good over evil, celebrates light and enlightenment, celebrates by lighting lamps.  Just celebrates.  And there is no Indian celebration that is complete without food - lots of food.  Quite a few Indians where I work, but also a lot of other ethnicities too.  And people didn't just eat and run, but stayed for the talking part.  WTH - right?  No one does that!  I credit the immense joy the facilitators encouraged. 
  Lots of delish food for free (including this girl's fave saag paneer), dancing and fun facts about India.  Yunno the girl is a hooker for useless factoids.  It is a bit late for Diwali which was celebrated around October 26 this year, but better late than never!  Somewhere during the history of Diwali part of the presentation, I felt the schtuffs kinda crack and fall away.  No  surprise there - Diwali is about bringing in the light.  How awesome are the Indians to celebrate light even as the sun is decreasing everyday?  (Oh wait - isn't it just becoming summer where they are?  Doesn't matter.  My Indian colleagues here rocked it hard.)  It made me feel light and full of hope.  So next year you're all invited to Diwali with me. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

There are a couple things pressing down on me, kinda shushing down the brain slopes and gathering momentum toward a blog post.  Today's post is one of those that has finally hit bottom and needs written.  It's about the doings at Penn State.  Yeah - I know lots of people have written about their outrage, their confusion, and their disappointment (join the club).  The thing is, most of those people don't know anyone who has lived through childhood sexual abuse (well they DO, they just don't know it).

I could give a big rat's ass about Joe Paterno, about Penn State football, about the careers or lives of the players and coaches, or about the disappointed student body.  My heart reaches out to those 10 little boys.  It knows how this may affect their lives forever.  I'm disappointed that 6 "good" men did nothing but stand and watch and so it continued.  I think of the boys that might have been spared that experience if that young coach had called the police instead of his boss.  Obviously he didn't think what he witnessed was a crime worthy of it and that makes me want to slap the ever lovin shit out of him.

It's taken me a week to be sane enough to write to this topic because that case stirred up memories, feelings and a flood of tears around my own abuse.  Survivors may learn to live with it, but we never really leave it behind.  IT NEVER GOES AWAY.  So for those of you reading this, to whom childhood sexual abuse is an abstraction let me make it concrete for you.

My abuse began before I remember.  That means every notion I have of who I am contains that.  I don't know who I am without it.  Just like I will always be white and female, I will also always be a survivor.  It has molded and shaped almost every part of my life over the last 45 years.  And it will continue to do so.  I don't say that in a blamey way - more as a statement of how things are so that people can see that what happened in that locker room that seemed 'not a crime' has more effect than just that one action.

Mostly I am an OK happy go lucky middle aged woman.  Sometimes not.  This week on the heels of the PSU announcement the TV show GLEE had a very beautifully done episode about losing your virginity.  I got so angry, even as I recognized the sensitivity with which it had been done.  Angry because I did not get to choose that experience, instead it was taken from me without a thought about how selfish that action was.  I will never know the angst of losing my virginity nor will I know the possible joy - instead there is often a sense of shame even after all these years and countless hours of 'work' around it.

I wonder if every lover I have can tell.  I worry that it has made me different somehow.  More careful?  Less careful?  Less open?  More freaky?  I do know that not a single one of them has seen me for who I am, not one have I trusted enough for that.  And I wonder if I had not had those experiences if I would still have those doubts.  Maybe they are normal and everyone has them.  Maybe not.  See that's the ugly truth - that everything out of the ordinary in my life may or may not be the result of those experiences.

Did I choose science and academia because I could hide there in logicland and never have to own or face the emotional content of my wrecked childhood?  Would I have perhaps chosen art instead?  Or English?  Or the Peace Corp?   Or would I have done just as I have?  The thing is - I don't know.  And I HATE not knowing.

My mom, when she tells stories about me as a toddler, talks about me as fearless with strangers - the complete extrovert.  My mind just can't grasp that because I am a complete wallflower.  Is that introvertedness related to the abuse?  Perhaps.  I do feel inside like I am one person.  Outside to the world another - a very buttoned down one.

Children who are abused at a very young age fail to develop a sense of self - as in this is me, and that is you and they are not the same.  They fail to learn how to say no to someone.  At age 40, I had to actually learn how to tell someone no.  That STILL plagues me.....in relationships, at work, and with my friends. Even now, knowing I am entitled to say No, I struggle with saying it.  As a consequence sometimes my life becomes overburdened with things I really don't want to do.  I get resentful for having to do them.  WTF - right!?!

For thirty years my sleep was plagued with recurring night terrors and I would often wake myself up screaming - screaming out the NO I couldn't say in my waking world.  Screaming loud enough to wake the entire floor of my dorm, my family, my lover - always explained away with a shrug and an apology.  I was sorry I inconvenienced you and woke you from your wonderful slumber in which you dreamed of being pushed in a swing by your Mom into the sun while dandelions gave up their seeds all around you. I was sorry that my imperfect life had impinged upon your Rockwellian one.

I don't like to be touched in surprise.  I almost broke a friend's nose at a party one night for grabbing me from behind in a bear hug.  Luckily someone intercepted my elbow as I swung it around in self-defense and explained 'we don't do that to her' (How he knew that is a mystery still).  At the same time it is the thing I long for most - to be touched, to be loved, to be seen.

Those are just some of the big patterns set into motion by those events.  There are smaller ones like ripples that spread from these.   Some days are amazingly free from drama around it.  Some not.

So for those people who think that too much was made of this, I would correct you and suggest that whatever price is being demanded, it is nothing compared to what those little boys will pay.

Lastly, I applaud a mother who knew her child well enough to observe changes in his behavior, to question, to listen and to believe him.  We all should be so blessed.

Monday, November 7, 2011

UhOh! NoNo NaNo

Grrrrr......that's right kiddies.  After getting everything ready for weeks, after outlining big chunks of plot, after inviting the characters into my head to play again, after stockpiling coffee and chocolates for the entire month of November - the girl has written NOT ONE FUCKING WORD toward the end goal. 

My mom was diagnosed with Alzheimers a couple months ago, started on the meds, did great, then ran out of meds, failed to tell us and the result was a certifiable disaster.  Where before she had very mild symptoms and was high functioning, now she is bad.  Every day there is at least one panicked phone call.  Sometimes the whole day is lost in repeating one question over and over.  Do you understand?  There are tears.  There is confusion.  OMG such confusion.  Arguing about stupid shit I know to be untrue.  This challenges me to breathe and recall that she really doesn't remember the other thousand times we have been over this.  The light of reason has died within her and all that remains is responding to the Because-I-Told-You-So authority.  And that just isn't me. 

Yes, it is like dealing with a toddler.  A big weeping 84 year old toddler.  But, unlike a toddler who will age out of it, she never will.  The best I can hope for is to get her back to a high-funcitoning AD.  It is infinitely more frustrating because she is NOT my child.  I did not decide to have this be part of my life.  I didn't wake up one morning and think 'Gee wouldn't it be great if I spent the next 5 or 10 years taking care of a senile woman?'  In fact, I wasn't consulted at all.  It just happened.  Sometimes that makes me furious that taking care of her supercedes big parts of my own life.  Then I get all guilty for being angry and a bit mopey if I let myself think of this as my only future.  Iwant to run away to someplace where my family can't find me.  Let them deal with her. 

What stops me is being true to me.  I know who I am.  And who I am at the very core is a kind and compassionate human being.  I love her no matter what has transpired in the past.  It's just hard becuase her pain and confusion so easily becomes my own.  Keeping a positive attitude (or in the least a compassionate and patient one) takes a lot of energy.  Energy that I used to channel into writing and other creative projects.  At the end of the day I feel a hollow shell with nothing left to put into those things.  I am left with the desire to create, but not the wherewithal to do so.

My goal for this week with her was simple - to get her to become compliant with the regime of her meds.  Who knew one little task could reduce me to a wiped out, yelling short-tempered bitch?  Probably anyone who has ever dealt with this evil fucking disease.  I find I just can't deal with any more whining (especially not my own), so today I am just giving up and letting the gnawing feeling of failure go. In the end whether I wrote and finished NaNoWriMo ever will not matter. In the end what will matter is how I view myself as a person 10 years from now......hell 10 minutes from now. And I know that I am making the right decision.

Mean Girls Are Never Pretty

Mom's sojourn in Memory Care ended when she could no longer stand and became what they term a 2-assist.  She transitioned to Skilled C...