Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Open Letter

This is a sort of open letter as I begin to write, because I don’t want any one person to feel it’s directed at him or her; though in truth it is directed at several people. It is also for me, and for the world
There is no real mystery to me. I am not the aloof enigma many of my friends suppose. I’m uncomfortable talking about myself like this, but there doesn’t seem to be any other way to be heard, and hopefully, taken seriously. I am no more complex than you, the reader, suppose yourself to be. Yet, I’m known as someone calm and strong, someone who doesn’t emote a great deal, who can be trusted in a crisis, will listen attentively and try to help when you have troubles.

I know there are also times when what you want is to see how I feel without difficulty, or to get a reaction of some kind from me. I can and do disappoint you. I don’t have all the native skills required to anticipate this need, or respond to it effectively. For some of you, that fact alone is difficult to believe, maybe because you have such a high opinion of me (and if so thank you), or maybe because it’s a difficult notion for you to relate to. I don’t know, and if my conjecture here is laughable you’ll have to forgive me.

A few words about your expectations of me: I am not terribly emotive, but I am empathetic. I don’t deny having emotions: I have very strong feelings, in response to a great many events and people and ideas. When you show me your emotions, I have no trouble imagining what that’s like for you, and responding in a way I hope will meet a need or provide comfort. But I’ve spent a lifetime protecting myself from my own emotional responses, because as it happens, my tolerance for my own feelings is possibly a little low. When life becomes stressful, when there is a great deal of tension at work or in relationships, when I get enough negative feedback, I turn not on you so much as against myself. I become self-destructive.

What that means: As I grew out of childhood, some of the misery of childhood fell away, and I became more resilient. I had lots of good times. My lows were still dangerously low, but I knew enough to stay away from trouble as much as possible. I was the sort of person who was obviously looking for a good time. And I was fun to be around. A little shallow-seeming, possibly, but hardly anyone holds that against you when you’re in your twenties.

I didn’t begin to encounter what felt like impossible emotional situations until my late twenties and early thirties. That’s when I began to recognize problems in myself such as disabling depression, suicidal thoughts, and constant anxiety. I didn’t have the words to describe all this, exactly, but I went to many therapists and listened to what they had to say. I resisted taking medication, in part because I knew I could control myself most of the time – I took pride in that.

Did that pride make me aloof and superior-feeling? It’s possible, and I wish that weren’t so. It’s possible that every once in a while I became impatient with people I cared about, and made them feel inferior. I’m sure I’ve pushed people away, and walked away from relationships that seemed like too much work. I’m sure I’ve always been wary of commitments. Being an island becomes more than just a self-defense mechanism – it grows into a way of life. I’m sure my skill at revealing limited emotion has been honed, over time.

But know this: Even with the help of therapy, and ultimately antidepressant medication, it still catches up to me occasionally. After one too many fights, one too many hurtful remarks, one too many disappointing interactions, I get self-destructive. Mainly I drink. Sometimes I act out in other ways. Sometimes I start thinking about my wrists, and how good it would feel to slice them open, and let all the awful intensity escape from my body. Darkly, I think how that would feel for you – in response to your demands, your disappointment in me, sort of a black revenge.

I shake that off though, and feel like a bad person saying it.

Except of course, some of you who say you care still won’t believe me. Or, you’ll be shocked and angry at the words I’ve chosen, the accusation you feel from me. Or you’ll be disappointed, that I’m so grubby and so much like anyone else. I don’t know. I’ve had plenty of negative feedback lately – from people who are disappointed with my lack of response; who call me a liar when I’m being completely honest; who mistrust my ability to be articulate; who aren’t as interested as they think they are in knowing how I feel, perhaps. I get angry, a lot, lately; but mostly I just feel tired. Very very tired.

My saving grace is my little boy. I see the intensity of his feelings, and how he manages them. I see how he was born like me, a little bit, and I try to protect him, because he is my one consistent source of love and trust. He deserves my best.

I write this letter because maybe if I explain myself one more time, someone who isn’t happy with me will come to understand. It’s not that I don’t love you; but the way I show it will probably always be different from yours. I love you because it’s easy, almost always. But I’m not that easy, I guess. And I know I won’t change much as time goes on, because I still have to protect myself, always, from what I feel. Bad feelings are part of life. Conflict and pain and disappointment can be expected. But there’s a lot of wonderful stuff out there as well, and I want very much to enjoy those moments, and also to help make other people’s lives a little better. I focus on that. I’m sorry about the rest.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Undergoing Transformation

I will not be posting any new thoughts here for a time, while getting my new Typepad blog up and running. Stay tuned for further info!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

what a dream i had

Last night I went to a funeral, at a chapel near a nursing home in north Minneapolis.
The woman who had passed was a long-time member of my church, from back in the St. Paul's days. She was well-known as a consistent volunteer with our Free Monthly Community Dinner.

The neighborhood was old Eastern European, as were the many residents at the nursing home. Their chapel was small but ornate, lots of dark carved wood and old-fashioned pews. The altar was barely more than an alcove, but gilded and somewhat Catholic in detail, very old-century. The home itself seemed very down-at-heel, a sixties construction of brick, wedged in between two unrelated structures on a narrow sidestreet. The name of the home might have been Mallory Place, or something similar. John, our building manager at Grace Center, said he recognized the place as one where an aunt of his lived, or had lived in the past.

I was a little ashamed that I couldn't recall the name of the deceased; she was someone my friend Cathie would have known better than I, since I only occasionally attend the Dinners. I stood before the lectern-like table at the entrance to the chapel, peering over the shoulders of other gatherers, trying to reach one of the funeral bulletins -- the pre-printed floral kind that funeral homes often provide, with the name and dates of birth and passing inside. I tried to reach the nearer guest book, hoping to find a clue in there. I certainly didn't want to ask someone the very name of one I'd come to mourn.

Other members of my church were there, mostly older. Craig was there too, though not presiding. Cathie had come as well, but was engaged with others in conversation as we entered the chapel. There was a service, the details of which escape me now. (Side note: I'm sitting on the train, typing this into my BlackBerry, and a girl across the aisle from me has just gotten her eyelash curler jammed up -- she had to pry it off her eyelid, and was gasping and laughing in embarrassment. Yikes.)

Anyway - the presiding clergy were more like priests than pastors, dressed in ornate Episcopalian robes. One priest seemed to be Paul from St. Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco. The other turned out to be, surprisingly, my old colleague Yuri from the local art scene. Both are gay, though I'm not sure why this matters. Both were apparently old friends, and well-acquainted with the deceased woman. At the end of the service, Paul asked Yuri to join him at the altar, and they made the assembly laugh by cavorting and pulling faces. It was as if they'd been known for such antics, years before when the two worked together regularly. Everyone responded with good humor.

I don't recall now what happened next; I never learned the name of the elderly woman who died. I remember sitting on the passenger side of a car, though, as it traveled down a broad boulevard; and seeing off to my right a building I recognized as the one where Chuck Mahlmann's funeral had been held.

Such a long train ride...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

all my eggs in one basket, part 2

I used to obsess over procreation. I created many drawings and collages inspired by the topic. One of my favorite scultpures out there in the art world is the ironic/iconic beaded "bloody" tampon someone submitted for the annual juried show at the Women's Art Registry of MN. And I read widely on related subjects-- nothing self-help, not the Kama Sutra or those "home massage" how-to's -- but great volumes like the mid-19th century "Strange Sexual Practises" and other odd titles gleaned from the Books In Print catalogue. (I worked at a university medical book store for a while, which helped.) I knew homosexuality back when it was still listed in the DSM-III-R. I knew geishas seldom had relations with their clients. I knew swingers, married bisexuals and life-partnered lesbians. I knew about adolescent fertility rituals in Borneo, and I knew that someday, I'd marry and have a baby (or two), and my firstborn would be a boy. This urge to reproduce and the semi-conscious awareness of it dominated my motives far more than I knew then, though for a time I debated having a child without a long-term relational attachment to the father. None of this has crossed my mind in a long while.

I had heard late in my teens that I might have trouble conceiving due to some hormonal irregularities. And several years after that I was told that my spine was in such bad shape I'd probably spend a third of any pregnancy on bed rest. After years on the pill, my gynecologist assured me it could take months to purge the drugs from my system, and I shouldn't hope for a quick conception. And yet, after just a few weeks I was "sprogged up." Just like that. After many many long nights imagining it would never happen. 9 months (upright) plus one C-section later, I was a parent.

And my son is almost 8, now, an only child; yet somehow I remain attached to my fertility. Somehow, those primitive rituals and laws of attraction really do define us, even in this post-gender-role society. My viability is somehow part of my appeal to the opposite sex. It's well-known that a woman with a small waist, flat tummy and pronounced booty is attractive to most straight men precisely because her figure indicates she is ready to conceive. It's the ideal we're encouraged to strive for, as women, though the hourglass figure is in and out of style at least once per decade.

I read a short article in Newsweek last week, about the rising rate of divorce and remarriage in couples over 50. Longer life expectancies mean there's time for a second mid-life crisis before retirement, though hardly anyone can afford to retire early in this economy. If we work, we continue to receive medical care (that's the theory); we continue to look for meaningful engagement, to redefine ourselves, to seek diversions. We fall in love, or out of love, or make the decision to go it alone with occasional companionship. Notwithstanding the spectre of cancer, and other conditions more likely to develop with age; constantly reminded to take better care of ourselves, it's easy to believe we have choices. More exercise, better health, less fat; and a long middle age lets you forget a little that biological time only moves one way. Viagra, anti-depressants, yoga; triathalons for rank after rank of middle-aged born-again adolescents, it's the new American dream. We no longer have faith in the value of land, the hometown, find little use in putting down roots. We have our bodies, we tend them and fix them up as carefully and lovingly as we would our homes. Some of us.

The spectre of menopause is just another reminder, another opportunity to come to grips with loss. I dye my hair, ride my bike and walk as much as I can, work to keep my weight down. Make sure my husband knows he's not the only man who looks at me appreciatively. Try to define myself, for myself, again.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

All my eggs in one basket

It's been a trying week, physically. My period is two weeks late. My right hip is killing me.

I took a pregnancy test on Monday and it came back positive. I couldn't believe it. We use birth control. It seemed so unlikely that I took another test, and this one came back negative. Good grief. So I emailed the Gyn's office, thinking I would make an appointment for my annual, and if I still hadn't had my period by that time I'd ask for the blood test. But, things have changed since I gave birth to my seven-year-old -- they no longer invite you in for a blood test. The scheduling nurse emailed me back. "If you're pregnant, we need to make an OB appointment for you, but that's not until your 6th week." What? Okay, I tell the her the story of the conflicting tests. Next thing you know, I'm getting a phone call at work from Peg, the nurse practitioner. "So, what's going on? Is this a good time to talk?" I tell her the story, and she says "go get another test, and do it first thing in the morning. That will be the tie-breaker."

Which is what I do. I pee on the stick, again. And, nothing. Negative. So okay, I'm NOT pregnant. But why the positive test? Who knows. And why haven't I had my period? "Well," says the doctor, "you have been showing other signs of early menopause..."

I have long had names for our second child chosen -- girl names. And I have struggled at times with the desire to make another baby, but there are many reasons not to. I confess I was hopeful -- I wanted to be pregnant. I wanted it to be a surprise, an event that did not require a decision to be made. But no. And I have mixed feelings -- about aging, about giving up on the idea of also having a daughter. About what it means to add a child, when there are already days I find myself counting the years until my son turns 18, 21... and goes out on his own, that I might do the same. And our financial status is a little uncertain at this time, and I'm already working my ass off... it would be too much to be pregnant on top of all that. And yet, things would have to give, if I were. Something would change, of its own accord. It would be a little like waiting until you have a new boyfriend or girlfriend before you break up with the old one -- finding an excuse, the leverage for change, a way out that avoids accountability. More reasons not to get "pumped up."

In the midst of all this, the waiting, the wondering -- feeling freaked out by my body's forgetfulness, avoiding sex, struggling with the hormones and the emotional tide accompanying this episode -- my sciatica has been killing me. I'm not getting enough exercise, and need to do my PT. If I sit for more than ten minutes, I arise with a limp, and pain.

And I'm drinking too much wine, because it takes the edge off a lot of things -- another reason to be thankful I'm not with child. I'd have to stop drinking wine.

And might also have to stop taking antidepressants, a prospect that causes me some dread. So hey, hey, it's over right? Menopause? Well, as long as my hair doesn't start falling out, I can be grateful.

What does it mean, not to be able to reproduce anymore? Vasectomies are reversible, whereas aging eggs are just a liability. And my fears awake in the night -- ovarian cysts, ectopic pregnancies and the like. But they don't want to see me again at the doctor's office until June. I am filled with uncertainty, and fear, and sorrow.

But this is it, the one life.

Monday, May 16, 2011

nula para obsequiar - zero to give away

It's a phrase I can't trace to any life experience - I'm not a Spanish speaker. And it just pops into my head once in a while. In principle, it's not a feeling or thought I have often. Rarely, in fact, is it the case. So why does the phrase rattle around in my head the way it does?

Yesterday's sermon titled "Never Enough?" made me feel somehow shamed, just the same. Am I hard to satisfy? Am I obsessed with my own hunger? Instinctively I answer, Yes.

And I know I've been a little self-centered lately, maybe more than usual. More confident lately too, and somehow confidence seems to point more to my self-centered thinking, though whether that's causal or just clear-mindedness I don't know. Sometimes, I just want a break from being "in relationship" with others. That's a part of the self-involvement I imagine, though it's also manifestation of my basically introverted nature. I have a very public lifestyle. Doesn't speak to my hunger though -

and while yesterday's sermon seemed to focus on fear of scarcity, it didn't dwell much on the metaphysical scarcity I sometimes give in to. My hunger is, not just spiritual, but also relational -- oddly, conversely. And so much is packed into that statement. And if I continue to pursue more and more the satisfactions of the relational, will I end up with nula para obsequiar?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Well. As my friend JMB reported, 200 hits on the bin Laden post. Lucky me, I'm topical once in a while. Fortunately people are responding privately and via Facebook, and I appreciate the feedback. The positive, and the negative.
Let's try to remember something though folks: If I don't mention you by name, I certainly haven't committed any slander. The people who know you will understand your point of view; and you don't have to care about the people who don't know you as well.  

I compared notes with another friend today about how we talk to our kids when events of universal importance occur. His children, same general age group as mine, heard about bin Laden right away yesterday morning. "Something happened last night that you ought to know about." I respect that. It may not be wise to always strive to protect my own kid from the world as it is. And knowing the news is important.

I found myself uncomfortable with the dialogue as it was reported to me, though, mainly because I'm not sure the socio-political nuances of this particular event are available to the average seven-year-old. And the for-Dummies version of such events, already a specialty of the mainstream media, creates a kind of credulity in the minds of kids and grown adults alike that perpetuates all the other myths we seem to suffer from as a society.Was bin Laden akin to the evil Emperor of the Star Wars movies? As my friend pointed out, the Darth Vader comparison doesn't really work because Vader turned out to be a little bit good in the end. Did I cheer when the Emperor bought it in "Return of the Jedi?" Maybe. It seems likely. And why not? In the movies, the wars end, and everyone lives happily ever after.

I recently asked another friend about a private relational situation, and the answer I got was "It's very complicated, and talking about it wouldn't be useful." I think that's an interesting question to ask oneself: is this line of conversation useful?