Wednesday, July 8, 2015

It's been a year since Steve took his life

I have been dreading this week. I have been reliving memories of receiving the phone call from the coroner's office, breaking the news to my family and the dreadful slowness of sitting with searing pain.

My mother looks tiny these days--as if the year inserted a straw into her center and sipped at her life force every time Steve crossed her mind (and he crosses her mind all the time). She speaks of her own passing more than ever--what to do with her ashes and that she is sorry knowing it will fall to be and my sister to handle all the things in her house. I stay close, I listen, and I try to get her to at least use her walking stick (she really needs a walker).

Grief did strange things to me too. I wanted to be normal too fast. And while I was semi-conscious that I was efforting and braining my way through life, the caldron of my emotions bubbled under an unsteady lid ready to boil over. And when they boiled over, it wasn't just me who suffered the burns.

Grief set up little stations to catch my attention. She had a permanent position on Lawrence Exp. where I could see Steve's old apartment and the turn off I would take to pick him up for lunch at Mom's.

She was there at Mo's where I took Steve for breakfast on his last birthday.

She also clings most potently to a small container in my closet that contains the objects I collected from the coroner that Steve had in his pocket. The $40 in crisp $10 bills just feels so sad. That he didn't spend it. It looks like he had just got that money and $40 worth of living never made it out of him.

Throwing yourself into work is culturally seen as a brave thing to do to deal with grief. All the activity of the last year--my technology job, the book writing, taking on physical challenges, setting goals--none of it was therapeutic.

I thought my grief would just recede into background and normalcy would return. I honestly couldn't run fast enough to make that happen. Grief caught me when I stopped to take a breath.

I'm on a temporary moratorium on almost everything...challenges and goals be damned (for now).

I've been sharing this year along the way--partially because I want some company and partially because I want to slay any idea that grief is something that can be heroically (and neatly) endured and then bypassed. Parts of me died (and are dying) as I go through this. I'm still not done with this. I'm not the same woman I was 365 days ago.

One part that died what the compelling illusion that I could "save" anyone. No matter how may righteous seeming actions I might take, I cannot change a course someone else has chosen for them self. I don't regret any of the things I did to try to help Steven in his distress. What has been hard is knowing that there wasn't a magical blend of action that I could have chosen instead that would have "done the trick" by giving him a physical reality that would stand in for the emotional state he needed to stay in this world.

Grief will have her way with me--she has been having her way with me anyway. Only now I struggle less against her terrible tender hands.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

on being "seen" part two

I've written a little about some of these topics before but it's my blog so I get to repeat myself as often as I like.

Part of the experience of being bullied is creating a defense system. Some people do it by becoming bullies--you can't get picked on if you are doing the picking. Some find other ways. Bottomline, as children, without the help of wiser people, you are going to come up with systems that don't cut it over time.

You will bring your old, deficient defenses with you into adult life completely unaware they are deficient. When situations arise that resonate with who you were at age 8 or 10, you will trot out your old remedies and defenses and find them strangely lacking.

My old remedy was to lean against my creative talents. As a child I was very productive and skillful when it came to art. I received lots of praise from adults and sometimes from my peers, so even though I was terrified of being chased home by gangs of angry girls or cruel boys on dirt bikes or accosted in the hallway by some skeevy kid with bad skin, I had art as a refuge.

My creativity held me up for a long time. At least it did until the time that I wanted to take my art into a bigger arena. I quickly discovered that there were people who wouldn't like my stuff. Also, that I wasn't as skilled as others.

It devastated me. I was completely unprepared for my coping mechanism to come up short.

My lack of awareness, finding out that I was vulnerable in the one area I thought I was bullet proof, caused me to run away.

My life existed in two parts--the part of me that got all my self worth from being good at something and the other part of me that was broken, denigrated and deeply hidden.

But I didn't know that I was operating like that. And out of that I created a life of shielding and avoidance.

For years I lived looking over my shoulder, watching for the people who would sense my vulnerability and rip me to shreds. It became harder and harder to share the things I was interested in because of excessive concern over criticism.

The list of things I said "no" to was ridiculously long. Teaching or any career where I would need to control a room or deal with unruliness was absolutely off the list of possibilities.

Instead of dealing with people, I developing skill after skill so there would always be something I could hold up to protect the broken bird living in my heart.

But because I could never be perfect in any of my pursuits, eventually those things became new ways for my broken bird to be rebroken.

I ran for years until I recognized I couldn't "skill" myself into safety.

Eventually, the broken bird must be seen for what she is to be healed.

And it is hard. Because with it comes acknowledging that someone else saw you as less than...a person ok to harm. And for me came the double shame of lacking the resilience to stand up to the rigors of a critical world and therefore never being able to take creative risks.

There is a word that comes to mind for someone lacks resilience and that can be harmed.  That word is "weak".

With such a mindset, it's a wonder that the broken bird can ever see the light of day.

As I've said before, I feel a certain safety in writing. As I imagine you, my readers, you are infinitely kind and empathetic. I imagine you've been there. That you have a broken bird too.

The illusion of that safety allows me to write and start the process of being seen. Of giving my broken bird heart light and oxygen.

In seeking and finding others to witness, to bring compassion, to hold space, to seen and be seen--by and by, the broken bird is healed.

The world is not a perfectly safe place. People will not love you automatically. They also will not universally embrace your brokenness.

There are plenty of scenarios in my daily life where I don't feel safe--but I don't avoid them anymore.

I'm more ok with not being perfectly defended--with being vulnerable. I don't need my list of accomplishments to protect me as much. I'm less perfect today than I have ever been.

But I have a better sense of where I can bring my broken bird out into the light. And I do.

Monday, May 18, 2015

In Praise of the Shy, the Quiet, the Introvert

The ones that don't want to fight
but who are endlessly engaged and powered
by our own bubbles

for we are the ones exhorted to "put ourselves out there"
and "be seen"
 in a world ravenous for entertainment and stimulation

we are not here as your puppet show
or random curiosity

like some undiscovered life form
remote from all sight
in some undiscovered rainforest

we don't want to be discovered
lest we be consumed

(you wonder that we even exist)

we will not be consigned to a museum
where we can live in the stasis of your gaze

deep space stars blaze and burn on
ignorant of the limits of your perception

Sunday, May 10, 2015

My Mom--it's Mother's Day

I mention Mom from time to time in this blog but I've never really gone into her story. In some ways I think that telling my Mom's story will be one of the great works of my life because of the slice of history she inhabited.

I started to write a little of Mom's story today but it's way too much to go into in a blog post.

I wrote in my Mother's Day card how everything I have in my life could be linked back to something she either taught me, did for me or gave me and that I give thanks for her daily.

The Super Hero as a young woman.
She smiled at this and then out of the blue said "you know what you really owe your life too?"



If the Allied forces hadn't pushed back Nazi occupation, my Mother would never have met my Father (an American GI) while she waited in the snow for the streetcar that was supposed to take her to her job at the American hospital.

When Mom talks about her young life it sounds adventurous and dramatic--a series of clear, happy images interspersed with genuinely terrifying events. Now that I think of it, it reminds me a little of the story of Candide.

Despite the fact that she lived in such a turbulent, dangerous time under such threatening circumstances, she speaks of most of her life during the war with great fondness.

Honestly, I think it was far more difficult for Mom to be an Army wife in the United States with three kids than it was to deal with Nazis occupying her home town or being shipped off to Germany to do forced labor. But, she managed to do both.

And then I came along.

I don't think having another child at age 43 was what Mom had in mind. After years of my father being away in the service, moving multiple times and raising my siblings I think Mom would have enjoyed being in one place with my Dad retired from the service to enjoy something other than child rearing.

Victory wasn't my benefactor. My Mom's decision to marry my Dad and follow that path was my benefactor. And perhaps the fact that Mom couldn't return to Belarus (repatriated prisoners were being consigned to forced labor to rebuild ware destroyed Russia) was also my benefactor.

Those doors closed and forced another door open for Mom.

And through that door was a domestic life in a country she didn't understand and that didn't understand her.
The Super Hero, the author and brunch.

But she walked through anyway and picked up little infant me on the other side.

As I strive to understand Mom I start to see life a little through her lens. By comparison, I was raised with a ridiculous amount of privilege and access and security.

Here is the real question I'll leave you with. How do you look back on a life that includes being interrogated by Nazis and dodging gun fire and be able to focus primarily on fond, happy memories?

Answer that, and you have the key to a happy, free life.

So Mom, thanks for all the decisions you made that made me.

Thanks for being in the right place at the right time.

Thanks for believing in music lessons and education and books.

Thanks for letting me do my own thing but being clear about boundaries.

Thanks for letting me fail and figure it out on my own.

Thanks for supporting my eccentric pursuits.

Thanks for loving Keri.

Thanks for being so fiercely yourself.

Thanks Mom. Just thanks.

Monday, May 4, 2015

On being "seen"

I started this essay about being seen a week ago after attending a conference with my peers.

The one way I have tried to be "seen" in the world is through writing. By writing myself out I transform into a less dimensional person--I show what I can bear to be seen.

There is so much people don't get to see.

One thing they say about introverts is that we are energetically renewed by time alone and depleted by dealing with crowds (crowds for me start at about +5 people). Part of this energy depletion is caused by overstimulation (having to parse so much simultaneously) but I realize for me that a far larger part of that is defensiveness--not knowing who or what in a crowd is safe for me emotionally.

I'm still dealing with grief (oh that you say?). Yes, that.

When Sheryl Sandberg lost her husband on Friday night I wish I could have been there to say to her personally that she doesn't have to be strong or inspire anyone right now. With all her power and influence, she still needs the space to fall apart.

I wish that for her with all my strength. I wish it for myself as well.

I hate having people catch me in an unguarded moment experiencing my grief. I hate it with a white hot passion. But because it shows up uninvited I don't have a lot of choice around it. I just roll with it.

I hate having people see my real frustration with things that don't frustrate them. I usually keep those things to myself. When I don't however, I get to hear from people exercising their smart muscles about what a grump I am for letting little things bother me.

I hate having people see that there are so many areas in my life where I am incompetent. The unasked for advice and feedback masked as concern bugs the shit out of me.

I hate having people see my anger. I have it and I'm told I am wrong for having it--it makes people uncomfortable.

Because of these things I have over the decades of my life cultivated a broken self sufficiency--a kind of DIY lifestyle that covered my heart. I could go to my corner, deal with what is broken alone (much of my internal life is duct taped together), and stay silent on those things that disturb me--from the trivial to the global.

But that all started to crack apart when Steve took his life. I needed to be seen. I needed people to know how broken I was (am). I couldn't pretend that I could bear it all and be so strong. I was falling apart on many levels (I still am).

There is risk in showing that. People have opinions, draw conclusions, and project themselves--many times speaking with good intention and flawed execution.

The human compulsion to opine on and insert themselves into things both sensitive and deeply personal to another--part of their own desire to exist, to be seen--it's just out there.

But taking this risk of being seen is how we build a tribe. We show ourselves little by little and see who shows up with their hearing ears on and speaking mouth closed. The ones who see us--not their own reflection speaking back. These are the safe ones. The ones who can see the grief, the failure, the discontent, the disappointment, and even the anger. They are not battered or bothered by it. They don't need to fix it or advise it away. They have been there.

Because of it, I am finding my tribe--person by person. People who can sit in silence with me. People who offer presence and companionship. People who bring their whole selves and who can bear to be seen by me too.

I have a heightened appreciation for these people and seek them out.

Even as this first year of grief is passing, I find my feelings changing but not dulling or dimming. I need to feel all my feelings. I need people who can hold this space with me.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Apple Watch, body scans--what the hell????

I had a soul enriching retreat with an inspiring group of women this last weekend. A great deal was discussed that I'm still digesting. So, I'm not ready to share any of that just yet.

So, instead for your entertainment...
I'm taking a picture of taking a picture.

I got my Apple Watch. 

I freely admit that I'm addicted to do dads that measure "me". What I'm doing, how much energy I'm expending, all that. I use them all for a while and then find I dislike being measured all the time. 

But I still get them when they promise to get me closer to "truth". 

I want to believe I'm working harder than I am so I'm always looking for some ultimately accurate device that will show me for sure what I'm doing. 

Part of me doesn't really want to know but I can't let it go. 

The other part of me (the one that is high and mighty) likes to dryly point out that my ancestors didn't need to monitor their movements at all. That voice usually doesn't get the mic for very long--I do love gadgets.

And because I really want to know more about this "truth" I had a body scan done--I wanted to see the results of all my hard work with Precious. I just knew underneath my cushy exterior would be a rock solid core of muscle and dense bone. The scan was going to tell me all that.

How body scans work is that you lie down on a table and an X-Ray mounted on a track makes slow sweeps across your body to give you a read out of how much of you is bone, muscle and (of course) fat. Takes less than 10 minutes. 

The scan looks kind of like the figure on the right.
When I got my results back I discovered that if you put me in a jar and shook me real hard, I'd turn into butter. 

Also, I discovered that the human body flattens out to an alarming extent when horizontal. The scan produces a silhouette of a teeny tiny thin person (the green and blue representing the bone and muscle) surrounded by a humanoid ocean of red (adipose tissue). It's not a good look. 

Heck, it was downright disturbing to see! I had no idea about how my excess weight was settled on my body.

I shared the result of my scan with Miss Keri who immediately shot back that the scan was WRONG and that I'm BEAUTIFUL. 

(I love Miss Keri ALOT--if my beauty was the problem she would be correct)

What I didn't know about was how much my muscle mass I'd lost over the years. 

How different body composition looks from being a super active person in their twenties to someone who is in their late forties who only gets in some walks along with going to the gym a couple times a week.

Working out is good but what I'm doing is barely stemming the tide of nature. 

I intend to live a long time. Not sure what quality that will be if I have fat nestled around my internal organs. 

I let Precious in on the scan results. She responded by adding more weight and more intensity. 

It's going to be a bumpy ride.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sugar--I had no idea

There is an awful lot in the media these days about the dangers of refined sugar. I do know this much--if I eat too much of it I feel like crap. Mental fog, low energy etc. Also, insane water retention.

When I was driving down to Ojai with Miss Keri I noticed my shorts were uncomfortably tight around the waist-band. My first thought was "DAMN! These were washed in hot water". Thirty seconds later I considered that hitting the bakery at work and eating more than "a little kettle corn" at home was contributing to my discomfort (nothing out of control but more than I was used to eating--even a gradual increase over the period of a couple of months can make a difference in your weight or how you feel).

So, I decided to just drop sugar. It wasn't hard to do--I don't eat much in the way of processed foods and already know which foods register high on the glycemic index.

So, its been about two weeks. Just as I expected, I feel better and my shorts are fitting the way I want them to again. Here is what I didn't expect.

Yesterday I went for a massage. For several years now I have experienced massage that is either borderline uncomfortable to excruciating. I breath through it, drink lots of water and let the MT do her thing knowing that spending time sitting most of the day, sports injuries and the aging process were contributing to my overall crunchiness.

This is the first time in a long time that I've had deep tissue massage that didn't feel like I was being worked with hot pokers.

I never made the connection that sugar could have been contributing to that much inflammation in my body. For a long time, I've avoided many activities but because I just HURT. I don't have chronic pain but I was experiencing enough day-to-day discomfort that I started limiting myself in what I thought was physically possible for me.

The irony in this of course was that I thought that by changing how I ate I was putting a major limit on myself--what I perceived as limiting my enjoyment was actually limiting me in ways that were more integral to my happiness and overall wellbeing.

A coworker asked me "so is this sugar free thing forever?". I guess it's forever until it's not. I change my diet up a lot and only a few years ago I thought low carb diets were completely stupid. I still think you need carbs in your diet to feel well and for proper brain function but clearly there is more for me to learn around what role carbs play in my diet and what is the best way to take them in.