Monday, September 28, 2009

The Zen of Dr. Seuss

I love Dr. Seuss. Ol’ Ted managed to impart so much wisdom in his children’s books. His illustrations have inspired me. When I was a kid, I thought I would grow up to write and illustrate children’s books. I am sad to say that my dream did not come to pass, but my childhood was more in the category of science-fiction/horror, and I had to channel that creative energy into staying (relatively) sane.

As a mom, though, I simply adore reading Dr. Seuss to my daughter. At bedtime, after the jammies are on and the vitamin consumed, teeth brushed and room restored to order, she picks out the book(s) to be read. In the past couple weeks, while I’ve been struggling with depression, she’s been selecting Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? along with other Dr. Seuss books.

Toward the end, there’s a page that kind of chokes me up:

“Thank goodness for all of the things you are not!
Thank goodness you’re not something someone forgot,
and left all alone in some punkerish place
like a rusty tin coat hanger hanging in space.”

I think that those lines kind of hit too close to home, but what I have to remind myself of, when I get sad about my past, is that THAT ISN’T MY LIFE ANYMORE! It does me no good whatsoever to compare myself to other people who seem to have sailed past the things that tripped me up and left me floundering. I can’t concentrate on feeling like I’m too far behind in some kind of race. I survived my past, and that is the only part I need to remember.

All I need to do is go in and (try to) wake up my beautiful daughter, or turn the tap and get clear water, or go for a walk on my own two legs, or visit the library.
I have to remind myself how very, very fortunate I am NOW, in this moment, today.

I didn’t remain in the horrible place I once lived in (figuratively, not location specific). I got myself out. There are so many people who live in desperate, filthy, violent, dangerous, fragile conditions. People who have no joy, no beauty, no leisure, no choices, no peace. I am not one of them. I didn’t give up, and I didn’t drink the koolaid, and I didn’t pass it on.

If I have to carry the damn book around with me for a month, I guess that’s what I’m going to do. It has made me feel better than a lot of other things have.

“When you think things are bad, when you feel sour and blue,
when you start to get mad… You should do what I do!
Just tell yourself, Duckie, you’re really quite lucky!
Some people are much more…Oh, ever so much more…
Oh, muchly much-much more unlucky than you!"

Saturday, September 19, 2009


I am sad. I have been vigilantly emptying boxes and sorting through the tangible remains of my past. I have paged through photo albums, stood looking at framed artwork trying to decide where and if to hang it, and finding out just how many of some things I somehow accumulated (like the absurd number of throws I had until I got rid of a lot of them).
I’ve put in the donation box the pile of tapered leg jeans, the cropped shirts, and the Jane Fonda style workout gear. (No, the rest of my wardrobe isn’t a tribute to the 80s. I don’t know what that was about.)
I’ve been able to zero in on the moment of my life that I abandoned the photo albums I kept filling for decades and began to keep pictures only on my hard drive. Despite how relentlessly I (thought I’d) weeded my possessions, I had a stunning collection of fast-becoming obsolete electronics and accessories.

For almost twenty years, even with my cross-country moves, I had a sense of stability, a grounded-ness, and the concept of a home base.
I had a garden that I worked on for years, spending the winters with my catalogs and gardening books, spending the springs watching for growth and weeds, and all the time pruning and digging and mulching and trimming. Smelling, literally, the roses, listening to the rustle of the cottonwood tree, the music of the birds, the skitter of the squirrels. I always had dogs. I brought to the house my sweet doberman and my lab/shepard mix. Then there was a brief succession of “temporary dogs” – including roommates’ pets. Then there was Molly, my first purebred black lab, joined 3 years later by Maggie, the other one. The neighborhood was a grid of residential streets lined with sidewalks, at the end of which was a lake that was eventually surrounded by a walking path. Throughout the neighborhood there were people that recognized me because I walked the big black dogs all the time, and many of them knew which house I lived in. There were also quite a number of people who would comment to me when they saw me about things they’d noticed while driving by my house: improvements I’d made, or cars they’d seen parked in my driveway. I had the same Vet for 20 years. I spoke at a few City Council meetings, and once had a meeting with the mayor in his office. I was recognized in that town and I felt like I belonged there.

I had never had that feeling before that in my life, except in Yosemite. For the past four years I’ve been living in a little box with my nose in my keyboard, and raising my baby.

For the past week or so, as the number of cardboard boxes has diminished, and I’ve been finding a place – or not – for my things, I’ve felt the past following me around, like my dogs used to do. As I confront each pile of stuff from my life, I can’t help but remember so many things. Some of it is deeply painful.
Something I read yesterday really shook me up, and I wish I could write about it. Let’s just say for now that my past contains a period of about seven years in my youth that were obscured by trauma, and that have – to varying degrees – affected me ever since.
It doesn’t always hang over me like a storm cloud, but sometimes, and usually at random, it finds a way to seep into my soul and run like icewater through my veins.
I used to say that my house was my sanctuary. It was solid, and secure, and it wasn’t an accident (although I was aware of the irony) that it had a big oak door and was “patrolled” by big black dogs. The roses and the windchimes softened the affect, but – like the third little pig – I chose a house made of bricks.

I don’t feel unsafe here in this new place. It is amazingly tranquil and bucolic, along with the gates and the security. But I am still a ghost here, so far. Even now with my daughter, I blend into the scenery of the little families and suburban normalcy. I am invisible.

That is what, sooner than economic need, will drive me back to work, and soon. I have a few mundane tasks around here to complete, and then I will be pursuing employment.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Yeah, baby!

We woke up to a chilly, cloudy day. Cool air was coming in through the windows, and by mid morning a light rain was falling. Ahhhhh!

M wanted a fire, and it was just the morning for it. I read for a while and basked in the soft comfy chair, with the fire warming my toes, and loving a lazy Saturday. Of course, we had to head out to Costco and the supermarket. It is kind of funny to explain to M why we buy frozen chicken breasts at Costco but not apples. I remind her that we don’t have ten people in our family, and that we would never be able to eat the apples before they would spoil. (A lesson that she was able to grasp much faster than her father!)

We made my favorite oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies. In the past week or so, I’ve been trying recipes that I’ve been wanting to try. I made a yummy bruschetta that I know I will make again, and tomorrow morning I plan to make a frittata. I bought a convection oven last year that I am only now getting to use, and I love how fast it cooks a chicken breast.

The whole time I was in California, I didn’t cook except for a few isolated times. My mother has her very large kitchen arranged in such a way that neither I nor my father could figure out, and she wasn’t about to let anyone interfere. I had only two tiny shelves to store my food, and one shelf in the refrigerator. Anything else I had to keep in my bedroom (like my cans of V8) or out in their garage in my refrigerator, which they also kept stuff in. It quickly became clear that it was not a fight I could win. I stopped trying to manage an unmanageable situation and lived on convenience food, prepared food, and restaurant food. That I gained a few pounds is not just attributable to my busy schedule!

I am getting a cheap thrill out of my rice cooker, my steamer, my countertop produce and my pantry. My favorite cookbooks – Sunset and America’s Test Kitchen – are seeing the light of day, and I am figuring out how to cook on an electric stove. (I’ve always had a gas range)

I love that M wants to help me with everything, and that she is learning the basics of how to prepare and cook food. We talk about how to make things and she helps me shop. By the time I was in junior high I could make dinner for six by myself. At times cooking has been nothing but drudgery, but when the rest of my life is making sense, I find that my love of good food returns and cooking is the pleasure it is supposed to be.

And damn, it smells good in here right now!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Only Words

Something was bothering me last night and I could not get the noise in my head to stop so that I could go to sleep, so I ended up staying up a lot later than I wanted to. One of the things that I was thinking about was how much it bothered me how my parents talk to people.

I had the opportunity to spend some time on Sunday with some of my Colorado friends, and got to listen to Andy, and bask in the glow of the lovely atmosphere that surrounded me as I sat there in their yard and enjoyed the company. My daughter was running around with the other kids, I was talking to other grownups and laughing and listening to the conversations, and it was all so pleasant and healthy and fun that I really had a warm, peaceful feeling inside. I thought, yes, this is what you went through all of it for; this is what you came back for.

My parents both have a snide, snipe-ey way of talking that is not only mean spirited, but I realize has made me feel on the defensive all of my life. Even when I think they are trying to be nice, they just can’t help getting some little dig in, or belittling something, or making you feel foolish and small. It sucks the life out of the room. I have so many problems with my folks that I can’t begin to explain them all, but this one comes across every time we communicate with each other. My father called me the other day to tell me that he was sending M a present. (Because his name in his handwriting on the package wouldn’t tell me that) and he asked me how the job hunting is going.

When I said I hadn’t started looking yet, he made a sound, and then he said “I guess you’re living off your looks!”

Yeah, we wrapped up the call after that.

It isn’t just that my father himself never did what I did – when he went to college, he only worked in the summers, and for the most part my mother supported them – that’s why my grandmother (his mom) raised me. Even when he went to get his Master’s, he took a sabbatical from his teaching job and concentrated on school for that whole year. He had zero to do with us kids, and let my mother do everything. Through all of his adult life, he sat down to meals someone else prepared, put on clothes someone else washed, and lived in a house that someone else took care of. Okay, he mowed the lawn, etc., but only until his kids were big enough to take over.

I have had a job since I was eleven years old. I have never taken a class, until last month, ever in my life, without also having a job at the same time. I saved my money very diligently over the past few years, while I was also paying for M’s daycare, paying for all of my University costs and also paying off my old student loans, paying off my car, and feeding and clothing myself and my baby by myself.

I chose to stop working at the end of June. It is now the end of the first week of September. For him to minimize my hard work and my discipline like that is just so hurtful and unnecessary, I can’t even express.

They say they are so proud of me, but I don’t feel it behind their words. There has always been the undercurrent that makes me feel bad. I am so glad to be at a distance again from them!

I developed some really bad habits growing up in their house, and one of them is my sarcasm. It started off with me just trying to be funny, to distract people from the violence and anger in our house, and to hide behind. It morphed along the way because I was not the pretty, submissive, compliant girl that the society I grew up in told me I was supposed to be. There are times that my mouth gets me in trouble, and I say things that are hurtful. When my target is a bully, or an arrogant asshole, or someone who is taking advantage of others, I don’t regret the caustic things I have said. I don’t mind being the one person in the room willing to say what everyone is thinking. But the times that I have let my mouth run to the point that I have made someone feel like my parents make me feel, I truly feel sorry.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Hairstyles or Mugshots?

Not long ago, some of my webfriends were discussing haircuts from our past. It is a subject that amuses me, because although I like to think I’m pretty adventurous about hair, I’m not, really. Yes, I have periodically cut it very short, but then, predictably, grown it out again. I have done the live version of pretending to be a Growin Pretty Barbie.

I recently spent the day with the local government – I had to renew my driver’s license and register my vehicle, which involved an emissions test. I decided to do it all in one day, and it took all day. Of course driver’s licensing and vehicle registration can NOT be accomplished in the same place. Not even, as it turns out, in the same area. Anyway, it caused me to dig up my files, and in doing, I ran across my collection of driver’s licenses, going back to the late 80s. Before that, they confiscated licenses when you applied for a new one. That was a real drag, because my picture in one was of a haircut that I loved, and somehow didn’t have a picture of myself with it anywhere else. I never could describe it properly to a stylist again. It was my Joan Lunden cut. Remember Good Morning America back in the day?

I thought it would be fun to show you my montage of hair, courtesy of the DMV in the two states I shuffled back and forth between for a while. (I hope this doesn’t get used to forge anything...)

What else is funny? The top one is laminated, like you would do yourself. The technology for making drivers licenses has gotten progressively better and harder to fake, but you can see that Colorado was way behind California for a long time. When I worked behind the bar in Colorado, I once attended a seminar given by the Lakewood police on spotting fake IDs. It was very interesting and informative. It is also amazing what crap some people will try to pass off as real. I never had a fake ID myself. I relied on my personal charm.

As I continue going through my “archives” – as I am beginning to think of my boxes that still remain – I am going to look out for more haircut pictures. 

Also, despite the fact that I started out a size 8 and am now a size 8, my weight in these has gone from 120 to 140.   I lied a bit back then, apparently.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

From the Shadows

I was disenchanted with the whole dating thing. As I got older it seemed more and more pointless. I got to a certain age when the men I was meeting were pretty much falling into two groups: guys who had never been in a long term relationship, and had no idea what to do with one, and guys that had never been out of one for very long, and were trying like mad to just fill a placeholder, more scared of being alone than anything. I just wanted someone who would consider me a gift – not a puppet, not a doctor, not a mother, not a savior, not a bank, not a doll. I had great men friends, and yet I was going to social things by myself.

By pure chance, I met a man I had no business being interested in, and he had no business being interested in me. At first, I was just goofing around, being myself, just concerned my own problems and life. We became friends, as unlikely as it seemed on the surface. We discovered that underneath the veneer of different backgrounds and different life experiences, we were pretty similar people, and we came to trust each other. One day, we became lovers. I knew our relationship was doomed from the start, and we broke it off several times, but he’d let months go by and then I’d hear from him again. The friends of mine that knew about him didn’t understand why I cared.

The lure was that he understood me so well. He didn’t think I was too smart for him, or too independent. He wasn’t threatened by me. He didn’t want me to be softer, or weaker, or dumber. He didn’t have anything to prove to me, and didn’t need me to do anything but let him be himself. Aside from everything else, that was what kept us drawn to each other like magnets for a long time, and through a lot of stuff in both our lives. We had some arguments, even some memorable ones. But that was part of the attraction, too; he would argue with me, rather than just clam up, slink away, agree just to shut me up, or lie to me.

When I knew him, I still desperately wanted a child of my own, and I couldn’t have one with him. That, in the end, put the nail in it. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then.

But I still miss his company. Not the heartache, certainly. Not the rock in the pit of my stomach, knowing he would never fit into my life and I’d never fit into his. But the time I spent talking to him, feeling his acceptance, his encouragement, and his approval of me, was something I have not felt since.

On nights like this, I doubt I’ll ever know that again. I don’t think so. My peak experiences seem to be once in a lifetime kind of things. Something to think about on dark, lonely nights, remembering.

I’m not yet old enough to be satisfied with only memories. I haven’t had the time or the inclination to probe into the shadows of my mind for quite a while. Tonight I heard his voice in the dialogue of a movie actor, by chance using a few phrases that had been his, in his accent. And then the movie was over, and I sat in the dark and felt it wash over me.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Now I’m really a Mile High!

Well, kids, I did it. I finished all of my classwork, all of my requirements to graduate! And I am really proud – I am going to receive my diploma with magna cum laude. I just found out my final grade on my last class and I maintained my GPA.

This has been a long haul. I chose to go back to school and finally finish this degree when my daughter was a year old. So, as long as she can remember, Mommy has been busy. I have worked full time (until the end of June) while going to school. I had a long commute. I had to dig deep and find a tremendous amount of discipline to keep at it: to stay on track, to sit down and do my reading, to write my papers, take my tests, and keep on schedule.

The funny thing is, I don’t know yet what I’m going to “do” with this. I did it mostly for me. I carried around a lot of regret that I hadn’t been able to finish college after high school, and a bit of an inferiority complex because I hadn’t gotten a Bachelor’s degree, even though through all of my times of going back to school, taking different classes and pursuing areas of study, I know that I have more than a simple “college education.”

I am REALLY glad it is over. It hasn’t even sunk in yet; I am so used to having a bunch of deadlines hanging over my head that it will take a while, I think, for me to really “get” that I don’t, anymore. I know one thing – I am looking forward to reading for pleasure, instead of for an assignment. Especially as I look ahead to winter, I am happy that I will get to curl up by the fireplace with a good mystery, and not have to stress about how many more pages I need to read before I am done for the night.