Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A picture is worth a thousand wordles

I like the way wordles make certain words jump out at me; like those magnet-poems that used to be so popular, just changing the placement of a word here and there completely changes the meaning of a sentence. Since my thought processes are so closely tied to words and sentence structure, this changes the meaning for me.

I also really like jumbled up words. I imagine if someone could peek into my brain, this is just how it would look inside there.

Differences in perception, or lost memories

I've been thinking about the excellent comments from a recent post; I really like the dialogue that happened there, and the different perspectives my friends bring to my awareness.

Several years ago on vacation I stopped by the first school I ever attended, Saint Francis of Assisi Catholic school. Being familiar with the concept of how memories are formed -and knowing that perceptions will change as a person's mind matures and the importance we place on various details will shift with maturity and life experience- and knowing that it would in actuality be vastly different from how I remembered it, I focused on those details that had seemed so important as a five year old. I noted differences in reality versus the perceptions I had, and I found that even though I misremembered a lot of things it didn't change the fundamental experiences I had.

I have spent a lot of time figuring out what my various experiences mean to me as a person, and what they don't mean. And one of the things that I have learned from this self-exploration is that I truly am not defined by these experiences; I feel that I am defined by how I react to them, and how I conduct myself. I am defined by the things that I have control over, and not by what other people choose to do to and around me.

In all this exploration and revisiting of the past, there are holes. Spaces in time where I cannot pull a memory out of an event. I know certain things to be true, because people I trust have told me, but I don't have recall of those events.

I understand the reason for some of these memory-blanks, but I find it unsettling. It makes me feel sort of emotionally dizzy, like when I'm riding in a car and not paying attention to the road. I expect to be somewhere but when I look around I am not at all where I thought I was. Not being able to remember much of my life leaves me feeling a little disoriented, and very occasionally I feel desperately certain that the memories contained within that moment are the key to unlocking any number of things on my list of personality traits to figure out.

Is it important? At the end of each day am I worse off because I don't have these pieces filled in? No. Does it change anything in a really big way? I don't think so. But it's always the thing one doesn't have, that one wants so desperately.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Partying with my imaginary friends

Last night I had a dream that all my imaginary friends and all my real friends were at a party. Everyone was all congregated, so some of the sex-addict spouses were mingling with my super-slutty screw-anything-that-moves friends, and some of the recovering alcoholics were hanging out with the hard-core drinkers.

I was greeting everyone at the door, and trying to practice mindful awareness. In Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond Ajahn Brahm talks about present moment awareness, and used a simile of greeting guests at a party: one must acknowledge the guest (or the thought) and move on to the next one, not stop to engage in dialogue or one would miss the next guest/thought. In my dream-party I was trying to acknowledge and greet each guest, but also trying to practice that present-moment awareness and not lose track of the next guest. I had prepared ahead of the party, and had note-cards with expected boundaries for each person. As each guest came to the door, I would ask them to choose a boundary, such as "don't offer me a blowjob" or "don't make me a drink", and pin it to their shirts. This was my excellent plan for managing the relationships between my blog friends and my other friends. Unfortunately, my attempt at providing an easy way for my friends to create visual boundaries was working in direct conflict with my present moment awareness.

I had a long queue at the door, because some of my friends were taking rather a long time to choose their boundary-slips. Meanwhile, I was quite concerned about how guests were interacting and I left my post at the door to check on everyone. Things got out of hand rather fast, and a fight broke out over the boundary note cards because two people wanted the same boundary; some of my friends were engaging the others in triggering behaviours. Alcoholics were drinking, sex-addicts were having sex, and junkies were shooting up; co-dependents were peeking through cracks in doors, stomping their feet, and insisting they were fine. I felt responsible for everything going wrong, and was rushing from one group to the next reminding everyone about their boundary-slips and passing out note-cards for people to write their feelings on. Afterward, I was going to hold a circle in which we all discussed how our boundaries got broke, and how we felt about it.

Imagine my relief when I woke up this morning and realized it was just a dream. It was a good reminder to me not to take the burden of responsibility for other people's actions.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Blocked

I have so much to say. I have been sleeping really well since Mr. J went back to work; that means that I have been remembering my dreams with full colour-clarity, which is actually not so pleasant. I have a lot to talk about, a lot to work out, and a desire to work it out here; unfortunately, I've also been working hard. Combined with being still sick --thank you honey, I'm paying you back for that soon-- I haven't been able to sit myself down and write it out.

I'm blocked, the same block I always have, and it's making my brain full.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Life story

Cataloguing a life is hard. I am trying to figure out where all the pieces fit and some of them don't make sense. Some things I don't remember clearly, and some experiences seem to belong to someone else. I frequently feel as if my past belongs to some other girl, especially when I sit down to tell the whole story.

What do you do when you don't know your own life story?

Hating Reginald

My mom married Reginald when I was twelve. He had been dating my mom for a couple years; I liked him okay in the beginning, but that was fueled largely by the fact that he gave me the boxed Chronicles of Narnia set for my birthday. I tolerated him at best, until he and my mom got serious. As soon as they had an established relationship he started parenting me and I didn't care for it. I had a father, albeit one who was missing in action, and I didn't take to being told what to do by my mother's boyfriend.

I'm sure I wasn't the easiest child to be a step-parent to, and he certainly wasn't prepared for day-to-day life with me. He was only about twelve years older than me, for one, and as far as I was concerned he was practically a kid himself. I was smart back then, the sort of smart that adults describe as too smart for one's own good. I was more clever than Reginald; I had a quicker wit than he did, and I thought fast. He thought sort of slow, and his sense of humour leaned toward sophomoric practical jokes and humiliating others in public. He was easily amused and didn't understand big words, and that made me contemptuous of him.

Reginald drank and used drugs in the early part of his relationship with my mom. He also had a temper, and was easily set off whether drunk or sober. He started being physically abusive towards us, a meanness that was never really turned off and always sat hovering around him waiting for an opportunity to strike out at us. I didn't help matters, displaying a bad attitude towards him and disrespect towards my mom.

I became sullen after we all settle in as a family, began getting bad grades and acting out in school. I started sneaking my mom's pain pills and stealing cigarettes. I began shoplifting, an embarrassing little habit I was lucky enough never to be caught at.

I also began writing in earnest then. I withdrew into fictional books, reading constantly and losing myself in a fantasy world where drug addicted fathers and abusive step-fathers could not penetrate.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Leaving home

My mom and I left Sacramento in something of a rush. I didn't know it then, but things had gone crazy after Frederick drowned; there were lawyers involved, and legal action against my grandparents was being pursued; I was going to be asked to testify about my cousin drowning and my mom thought it best that I didn't experience a legal battle.

We moved to Washington in September of 1988. I hadn't seen my dad in months. We'd had a fight that last time I'd seen him, a fight about his drug use. He'd spent our most recent weekend together holed up in the garage with a group of his no-account friends, after promises that he'd hang out with me. They were getting high and working on their motorcycles. I wanted to be doing those things with my dad, maybe apart from the getting high, because I wanted to do everything my dad did and I was mad. I called my mom to come get me and take me home.

The fight happened when Mom arrived. There are so many things I don't remember about my life, important events, or my family, but I remember that fight as clearly as if it happened yesterday.

Dad was angry that I was making judgments against his lifestyle. I was a child, after all, and didn't know what was best for anyone. I threatened to call the police on my dad for drug use; I told him I was scared about his behaviour and didn't want him to end up dead. He said he'd rather be dead than in jail, and told me I was being naive if I thought there was anything wrong with what he was doing it. It wasn't a big deal, getting loaded, it was just to take the edge off. I wanted that, didn't I? For him to be able to relax? He was an adult, went to work and did what he was supposed to do. He should be allowed to relax on his weekends as he saw fit without a kid telling him he was wrong.

Mom took me home then, and I stopped calling my dad, stopped asking him if I could come over on weekends. We moved to Washington not long after, and I didn't see my dad again for nearly three years.

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This post is part of a series of posts about my father.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Dreaming about Dad

It's a dream. A strange one.

I'm in the car with Mr. J and we see my mother walking down the roadside. She is hauling a gas can and walking with a man I don't recognize. We turn the car in the direction Mom walks; we are concerned that she is so far from their home and that they've run out of fuel. When we turn, we see my parents' new motor home ahead, being driven somewhat erratically. It is weaving in and out of its lane, as though its driver is drunk.

Traffic comes to a standstill suddenly as the passenger side door open and my father hurls his body out of the moving vehicle.

Then I'm alone, and in a different car. I've pulled over to the side of the road and am watching for my dad's body, hoping he doesn't get run over and flattened in traffic. A man pulls his car up to mine and calls out the window at me. It is the man I saw walking with my mom, and it's my dad's brother. He doesn't know my dad very well, on account of only having met a short time before, and he asks me if my dad is crazy. I answer yes, he is quite crazy.

We pull our cars off to a side street to exchange phone numbers with my father's brother. We are going to try to find my crazy father and the renegade motor home, and we feel like the only sane people in my family so we don't want to become separated without a way to ring one another.

I am digging through my wallet, trying to find a business card to write my number on, and it's suddenly very important that I give my uncle a new card. One that says "manager" on it, something to show that I am not lazy and irresponsible like my dad. Something to show that I am successful, and to give this man that I have never met before confidence that I can take control of this unmanageable situation and fix it.

I can't find a card that's new, or that hasn't been written on already. There are notes on each one, telephone numbers and license plate numbers scrawled on each and every business card I have. I settle for a page from a small pad, but I cannot recall my phone number properly. It takes me five minutes of writing down the incorrect number before I get it right.

I am at my parent's house; they are both there and, unaccountably, so is the motor home. Mom talks about the day's events as though it has been nothing more than a big adventure; Dad is cavalier about everything, as though the motor home is at fault for running out of fuel. He simply showed it who was boss by leaving it.

I was stunned and disgusted by their behaviour, and questioned my dad about the wisdom of jumping out of a moving vehicle. He became sarcastic about my suggestion of next time pulling over. He repeated it as though it were something silly and illogical. "Pulling over," he said with heavy scorn and overly dramatized finger quotes drawn in the air. He said it in the same tone he might use had I suggested he cut his hair and get a job as a banker. It was something only a total sell-out would do; a mere follower pulls over, someone who can't think for himself and does only what society tells him to do. The responsible thing to do (more sarcasm and finger quotes) because you're supposed to.

For a moment I felt like I might be stupid, maybe insane for wanting my father not to endanger his own life and that of others. Then the old resentment flooded me and I hated him for telling me what to think; hated him for making me feel stupid for wanting him to be safe and responsible; hated him for turning something that was inspired by love into something for me to hate and question.

And that's how it is with my dad. The same place that holds my love for him also holds hatred. The love is now cautious. It no longer runs free, but trickles out little bits at a time. The hatred, though, love-turned-to-anger, that is now unlimited. And when the anger is tapped it is hot and immediate. There are no filters on my anger, no valve that will close. When my dad makes me angry that hatred flows fast and deep, and it makes me sad.

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This post is part of a series of posts about my father.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The day my cousin drowned

I am the oldest of three grandchildren on my mom's side. My mom's sister, my aunt Betty, had my two cousins Midge and Frederick. Midge and I grew up almost as close as siblings because of proximity and sheer amount of time we spent together. So we loved each other as much as siblings might, and we hated each other as much as siblings might.

Frederick is two years younger than Midge, but he didn't have a good start in life.

One summer day when Frederick was two years old, Midge (at age 4) and I (at age 8) were sent outside to play. I think the other kids were living with my grandparents and I was spending a typical weekend at their house. As the oldest, it was my job to mind the other two. I wasn't so good at looking after them, and became distracted by one of the many games Midge and I used to amuse and/or annoy each other in my grandparents' back garden.

My aunt had locked the door when she sent us outside, either by accident or to prevent the incessant in-and-out routine that we were so fond of back then. Either to tattle on someone else, or pee, or get a snack we were bothersome by routine and were forever being yelled at to pick a location and stay there. We often ignored such directives, and the door sometimes got locked behind us. Sometime during the day we lost track of Frederick, and he fell into the pool and drowned.

When I discovered him, he was grey-faced and unresponsive. I didn't know enough to pull him out of the water and start CPR and I panicked when I discovered him floating face-down. When I couldn't get inside the house nor rouse my aunt, I left the yard and ran to the fire department located at the opposite end of the street from my grandparents' house.

The building was empty, and I couldn't find any firemen. We later learned the fire men were having a barbecue in the yard behind the fire station and I was thoroughly berated for not locating them properly.

Frederick was eventually taken to the emergency room, where he was placed on life support. He was comatose, and would remain so for two years.

My grandparents and Aunt Betty blamed me for "the accident", as they refer to Frederick drowning, and it was a long time before I understood that I was not at fault for what happened. I no longer feel responsible for his current state, which is vegetative, but that early hurt drove a wedge between me and my family, one that is not fully healed today.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Throwing out the phlegm

I've been sick and I don't think I'm getting better any time soon. When I was growing up, Mom used to give me whiskey when I had a cough; just enough, usually in the bottlecap, to relax me enough that I could sleep through the night without coughing so much that I'd tear my own throat.

Alas, I have no whiskey on hand these days and my usual solution to colds --honey and lemon juice in boiling water-- isn't doing a whole lot of good for my cough.

Being an internet detective like I am, I googled "home remedies for cough" on a whim, just to see what le internet decided to give me. My first hit got me this sexy bit of advice:

In a large vessel just simply take plain water and boil it. Now inhale these vapors of steam by covering your head region with the towel. Taking deep breaths in between is advisable. You may cough in the beginning and every thing will be fine in ten minutes, it will help you later to throw out the waste (phlegm).

I was especially appreciative of the advice to take deep breaths in between, as well as the reassurance that later I can throw out the phlegm.

When I had regular insurance I had a doctor from South America. He prefaced every visit with, "I'm not so good with the English, please keep your patience ready". I loved him, despite a deeply ingrained dislike of Western medicine, and when I read this paragraph on the web I totally imagined his voice in my head.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Hero

My mom likes to tell this story of the day I was born.

After she delivered me the nurse wrapped me up and handed me over to my mom. I looked at her, right in the eye, and screamed. Screamed like my life was being ripped from my body; screamed as though I was looking evil right in the face and wanted nothing to do with it.

She was heartbroken, my mom, having just squeezed me out of her pee-pee (her favourite phrase to make me all oogy) and I hated her. She didn't understand why or how, but her baby, the brand new little person who was supposed to make all the pain go away, hated her.

She blindly handed me back to the nurse who thought maybe Dad would do better. According to the story, and this is Mom's most savoured part, I gazed adoringly at my dad, heaved several deep breaths as my cries dwindled down, and promptly feel asleep.

Mom had just done all the work, all that squeezing and I wanted nothing to do with her, favouring my father for some reason.

And that set the tone for my childhood. I don't know if there was a bigger case of hero worship than that which existed in my heart for my dad. I adored him, did everything he did. When he spit on the ground, I did the same; when he tucked his thumbs in his belt and swaggered around, so did I. When he said "fuck", I said "fuck". When he worked on his motorcycle in the driveway with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, I watched him with rapt attention. I wanted to know everything he knew.

Dad was my hero, and he could do no wrong. My mom liked to tell me that I was Dad's hero too, but I wasn't enough to make him stay around, and stay clean.

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This post is part of a series of posts about my father.

Spotlighting

I really like what MPJ is doing with her series posts, and like a little sister I'm gonna copy her.

I've written a lot about Colin, and it's scattered around my blog. I thought I'd put that all in one spot.

I'm also working out some mental constipation about my dad and my family's relationship to drug addiction, and I thought that the two most important addicts in my life deserve their own little spotlight.

My dad

I have wanted to talk about my dad. For a long time, and for different reasons, it has been important to me to get some of my feelings out.

I get to the that point, then I stop. I have written this sentence so many times. When I was a girl, I wrote in my many notebooks about my dad. I'd start with "I miss my dad" then stop. I didn't know what I missed about him, or why I missed it. Was it the broken promises? Maybe it was the lying. Maybe it was the ruined weekends he forgot to pick me up for daddy-daughter time at his house. Maybe it was the hurt feelings I would have when he'd lock himself in the garage with his friends and get loaded during the weekends he actually remembered to come get me?

I don't really know what I missed back then. All I know is my dad was my hero; from my earliest memories it was so important to me that my dad thought I was cool, that he loved me and wanted to spend time with me. He didn't, not in the normal way.

He does love me, really, and he did back then. But that has never translated to making me a priority in his life. He didn't know how to make time for me. When I got older he didn't know how to relate to me. He didn't like my clothes, or the way I spoke, or how I wore my sweatshirts on inside out, or how I had friends of a different colour, or how I had sex with boys and girls.

Our adult relationship is a little strange. Sometimes I am perfectly happy with the way things are; he is what he is and he's not changing, not in real drastic ways. He's a good man- he's been clean for a couple years now, and he doesn't care what colour my friends are these days, and he's good to my mom; and other days ... other days I want a dad who doesn't make me constantly worry about a drug relapse, or who could maybe take charge of things when they get bad. I always feel like shit when I'm unhappy that my dad isn't like other dads, then I get angry with myself for feeling bad because I want a more responsible father.

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This post is part of a series of posts about my father.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Happy despite ...

I went to KFC to pick up dinner tonight. While waiting in a very long line in the drive-through, I noticed an old man standing on the side-walk. He had a reader-board around his neck advertising family night at the Round Table Pizza, and he was smiling and waving at the cars. He was somewhat stooped, being very old, and he had an earring in one of his ears. Every so often he would turn around and wave and smile at the cars headed in the opposite direction. Then he turned toward the line of cars and waved at us. I waved back, and he blew me a kiss.

He made me smile; he looked so happy to be doing what he was doing. When cars would honk he would shout and throw his fists in the air; when people waved their arms out their windows he would yell "hello" at them.

Maybe holding a sign on the side of the road isn't the most fulfilling thing to do, but he was making the most of what he had. Maybe he was barely scraping by and had to hold a sign because he couldn't stretch his budget any further; maybe he was retired with a military pension and his wife died, so he took a job just to get out of the house. Maybe his grandson managed the Round Table so that old guy just volunteered to help out.

Whatever the reason, that old dude really made my day, smiling and blowing me kisses. It made me want to go to Round Table. I wanted to jump out of my car and give him a big hug; I wanted to buy him a cup of coffee and ask him how he got to be so happy. I wanted to find out what circumstances brought him to where he is today, and is he really as happy as his smile says he is.

When I'm old, I hope I remember that man. I hope I remember to make the most of what I have, and to make a choice to be happy even if my life or my circumstances aren't perfect.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Not in charge today

I was going to go into the office early today. I was all prepared to talk to my assistant and put my foot down on the attitude, and resolve problems and give warnings and make it better. I was going to take charge of the day and make it work for me, make her work for me or show her the door.

That was how I felt on Friday, at any rate. Today I'm not feeling great still; my stomach is upset and my eyeballs hurt and I have to wear a skirt because Mr. J left my pants in the dryer all night and now they're wrinkled. I cannot possibly take charge of things when I'm wearing a skirt. Skirts make me feel girly; sometimes wearing a skirt and feeling girly are both perfectly acceptable things but when I take charge of things I'm wearing pants.

I don't want to be in charge today. I want to pass on taking any responsibility for this day. I want someone else to do it, and I just want to watch. Can I do that?

I want a program, which will allow me to trade responsibilities within a group of people. Like trading chores with siblings ... I'll deal with someone's kids or spouse if someone will come discipline my assistant. Any takers?

Friday, September 5, 2008

No raise, no raise out of me

My assistant has this clever little sentence written on a post-it note and attached to her monitor. During her last performance evaluation I brought her poor performance and rumour-spreading to light, and explained that both her work and her attitude had to improve before I would consider giving her any sort of wage increase.

She was upset at me, and stubbornly refused to see the correlation between poor performance and no wage increase. I explained it several different ways to her, trying to get her to understand that her wage will increase in direct proportion to how well she does her work and with a better attitude.

It was frustrating, and I don’t really think I got through to her. She left the meeting not recognizing how her behaviour affected the evaluation, but with an air of if that’s how it’s going to be then …

That was three months ago, and I committed to another review in mid-September; I thought three months was a very generous time-frame for her to improve herself. Perhaps a little too generous, but I don’t withhold wage increases very often so I wanted to be more-than-fair and not make her wait six months. I was hoping that she’d see a desire to work through a problem on my part, and not just lock into the punishment aspect of the thing.

Then, this afternoon, as I’m walking by her desk, I see her note.

No raise, no raise out of me

Well, then, if that’s how it’s going to be … !

I’m not surprised, but I am disappointed. And I’m frustrated. This woman is older than me by about fifteen years, and that puts her close-ish to my mom’s age, and I can’t help but expect a lot more out of someone that age. I realize it’s not realistic or fair to make judgments or have expectations about others based on their age but I do, dammit! I want people that age to act as mature as my mom. My mom would never do this sort of thing to me. My mom would set the best example ever, because she wouldn’t want to be scolded for performance issues by her own daughter. She would work twice as hard as everyone else to prove she was worthy of working for me, and I’d probably be twice as hard on her because I’d want her to give me the very best work.

Why can’t I expect that from others? Is that really too much to ask?

Now I have to make a decision: I don’t know exactly how I want to handle this. I fancy the idea of making her ask me about her wage increase so I can point at her note and explain how her negative attitude is exponentially reducing the chances of her getting a wage increase ever again.

But that’s just my angry little ego, if I’m honest with myself.

I suppose I’ll have to deal with it first thing Monday morning. I don’t like her damn note sitting on her monitor for everyone to see, and I don’t like the mentality it suggests. I think it’s childish and exactly the sort of poor attitude I warned her about. And I’m incensed that a person would think that it’s acceptable to exhibit such a bad attitude; it’s amusing that she believes she can force me to give her a wage increase if I want better performance out of her.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Fall happiness

I really like autumn. It wasn't always my favourite time of year; it was Colin's though, and we were usually at opposite ends of the depression spectrum during the fall. He was at his pinnacle of happiness, and I was at my lowest point emotionally.

A couple years after his death, a funny sort of thing happened inside me. I think it was my third year without him, which marked one year longer than I ever had him. I got some clarity after that anniversary and because of the timing of his death, it was just turning to fall when my emotions were clearing up. It's like waking up from a dream, that sort of emotional clarity; like coming out of a fog and stepping out into bright light that never used to exist. The pain is still there, still inside but it means something different. The clarity itself was small and I don't actually remember what brought it around. But I do distinctly remember going for a walk during a very misty autumn day and feeling as though his energy was everywhere. He loved that time of year, and I loved him. I didn't have him anymore, but I could love something that he had enjoyed. So I did. I went for a walk in the cold and loved every moment of it because I thought he would have done the same if he were alive.

He completely changed how I view life, and love, and relationships. From the moment I met him, he changed my wiring. He continued to change it, in good ways and in bad, even now so many years after leaving his life behind.

Today, the things that make me happy are:

  • The coming of autumn
  • hot baths with bubbly stuff
  • Netflix

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