Monday, July 28, 2014

pooptasia or what it takes to keep me from being a brave little soldier

no pretty way to say this. I've been shitting my brains out for the last 48+ hours.

Yesterday I lay in bed the entire day sipping drinks intended to keep my hydrated and immediately losing anything that had more substance than an ice cube. The house was hot. While we have good insulation, fans etc, heat has a way of accumulating in our little home when the temperatures are over 90. Miss Keri went out on a mission of mercy to find a small AC unit so we could both sleep better and also to keep me from losing even more fluids from sweating.

I felt really guilty. The afternoon was really hot and Miss Keri is so sensitive to heat she usually ends up sick herself if she is out too much. Meanwhile this is the first Sunday since my brother's passing that Mom has been alone--we usually all got together on Sunday to have lunch and visit. Steve called it his favorite part of the week. Mom and I planned a little drive out to the ocean to cool off and to take a little sting out of what the day meant. Instead I was flat on my back only stirring to dash to the bathroom and Mom stayed home instead--no lunch and no break from her day to day.

I didn't have much mental or emotional bandwidth yesterday so my guilt is here with me today--guilt that I wasn't there for my Mom and my parter was out in the sweltering heat doing work to make me comfortable.

Here is the stupid thing. Keri showed up fresh faced and triumphant with lime popsicles, really fluffy TP and a giant fan that worked great to cool our room off. She nimbly assembled the fan while I sat immobile in a chair by the window with a popsicle. I couldn't move so I couldn't help. She was ok.

Mom was ok too. The world didn't collapse.

And honestly, I've been dead tired. I've been aggressively going for "normalcy"-- keeping my grief in a little box and going on with life. I managing most things well but my paper thin qualities show up in the damndest places. Such as...

1. The dog has learned to remove his diaper. Beside leaving a puddle the size of a small inland sea he also lifted his leg on the freshly laundered comforter. This is a particular issue because

2. The dryer needs to run 3-4 times to dry a load which means

3. We need to buy a new dryer. Like now.

4. The crematorium called and said I could "pick up everything" (everything????)

5. And then planning the scattering of the ashes.

6. And dealing with people...the adage that you can always trust people to act like themselves is totally true.

7. And the world isn't keyed into the fact that you aren't running on all cylinders and wonder what's up just because they don't know or don't know what to say or do. You try to be gracious, make sure people are comfortable, not make waves, and above all care for their feelings...because that's what you do!

Dead tired + normalcy act = physical crash

See, cause and effect.

So, I'm here at home near the toilet. The world is turning. The lesson I still haven't quite learned is how little my world runs like a train on schedule. Even eating well, trying to get my sleep in, trying to do less...well, even doing these righteous and sane things, my life is imperfect and my normalcy is far more tenuous than I care to acknowledge.

I can't fix everything with a perfect plan.

If I were going to have one big lesson from pooptasia it would be to remember how messy life is in general for everyone. I have hang ups and judgements about what my life is supposed to look like and how I'm supposed to "be" for the world. In the spectrum of normalcy, I see quite clearly my view of what "should" be in my life is a very narrow band. Being more gracious with myself would be a good starting point. If I were a guest walking into the home of my real life, would I be so unkind as I am sitting in the middle of it? Would I think the things I do or would I cut me some slack?

I don't know that I could have avoided dancing the "pooptasia ballet". My sense is that I could have done things differently including letting some other folks step in to do things--especially the items I think I "have to do".

In the meantime I just got a call from my Mom asking me if I need to have some things picked up at the store. I already have everything but it was nice to know she wanted to take care of me too. Maybe I should let her.

Friday, July 18, 2014

the world doesn't stop

One of the beauties of having your own blog is you can say whatever you damn please. Thank you google for the blogger medium and thank you to all other self publishing sites that allow people like me a means to send thoughts into the world--someone recently wrote (I wish I could find the source) that blogging is very much like sending a paper airplane out the window. You don't know who will read it or what they will make of it or even if it catches their interest.

I've been using my blog these last two weeks to process my brother's suicide. I have my grief and I have the observation of my grief as well as the experience and observation of the grief of my closest loved ones.

I'm tired. I "know" all the things about "taking my time" and "no way of grieving being wrong" and all sorts of other comforting crap. I also know to not be hard on myself, be extra kind, take time blah blah blah blah BLAH.

The fact is this shit just hurts in a visceral inescapable way. And the world doesn't stop. My instinct on Saturday was to consider going back to work. I did. I found the world didn't stop. And I saw that my work had suffered under the strain of the last month, as well as my newness to the job. And when when someone pointed out the real holes, all eyes were squarely on me.

You know, you can't really wave a flag around and say "oh, I'm sorry, your priority suffered because of my family issue and also I don't know what I'm doing yet." And no one else is pointing that out so you soldier on. You try to fix things and fall forward.

Also being referred to as a rock kind of cements that into people's expectations of being an infinite pool of strength--one you can always dip into to solve whatever. And I know I'm not and I'm taught that I'm not. And yet here we are.

This morning I went to my usual work out with my trainer. She asked me how I was and I said "dead tired" and she asked "tired or sad". I put on my sunglasses and hid my face and had a half-assed work out. Its too much to say I'm sad when I'm about to do inchwork crawls up and down the b-ball court.

I'm sticking to my routines if only in a half assed way because ultimately they support me. More than one time in the last week I thought to myself "hey, why don't I put a straw in this bottle of bourbon". See, the problem is I know better. Drinking myself into numbness won't fix anything (it never did before but hey, awareness now) and I hate knowing that.

Fuck knowing better.

I feel my emotions are very close to the surface and I cannot bear to have people see the face of my pain. But the energy needed to project a mask of normalcy is costly and I may have run out of coin to keep it up. 

Despite all that, the world hasn't stopped.

My wife and I plan to foster my brother's little aged dog who may or may not have issues with using the potty. It seemed like a kind thing we could do that was also manageable (and how much chaos can 7 lbs of dog cause?).

My mother is cycling her grief daily. The most intense pain comes as she wakes up and remembers reality. That pain is tempered through the day by routine and our presence. My sister will most likely return home next week. Mom will have my other brother with her. I will continue to come by for dinner or morning coffee depending what I can work out.

We have seen my brother's body. It brought up uncomfortable questions about what really happened at the moment he pulled the trigger. He was a marksman yet the wound he had could be concealed by a hat. No matter what "experts" say about people using guns to end their lives, there is something kind of tentative about a shot not taken in a more decisive location. Did he want to be rescued? Was this an accident?

I really wish that thought would leave me alone because it can't be answered. Not even by experts.

I know these words aren't nice or comfortable. I know some people reading them will be put off. I too wish I could make this sound like I have it together but I'm not together.

This writing is a balm to salve the part of me that wants to scream in the faces of people who don't know or understand. People don't know what to say--I know. And in this moment is the recognition of every time someone brought their grief to me and I came up empty of words or even the proper attention. I also know in the future I will come up empty but hopefully a little less.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

asking for help

I got an F in trigonometry. It was my senior year in high school and the previous year I managed to get high marks in math and science and even started toying with the idea of pursuing a science focused degree. The first week of trig I was completely lost. Our teacher was a genuine mathematician--something quite different than a regular math teacher. I recall him scribbling some things on the chalk board and looking at us saying "there it is". Everyone looked at him with total attention seeming to understand everything. I sunk in my chair. I was used to simply "absorbing" information as it was presented. I usually didn't have to ask questions or study and got grades equivalent to my level of interest. Not a recipe for success but I had no awareness of that. For a while I simply hid in my own thoughts during class until my mid term report card had an F on it.

Well failing a class my senior year was unacceptable--there was NO way I was going to be late for graduation. I hired a tutor--one of my classmates and I paid her with my own money. She patiently broke the functions down for me as I struggled to focus. I passed. I graduated.

I went for an Literature degree.

Thank G-D for tutors. Something that everyone knew would help if I just bothered to reach out to one. They show up. I pay attention. Things get better.

I still struggle with asking for help.

The week since my brother's death has been an excruciating crawl.

People have been writing and calling asking to help--asking for things to do. There has been precious little to do other than a few phone calls. We go about our days and break down in the middle. I made up a bunch of chores for my family to work on to while the hours away.

I decided to go back to work. It was like being back in my trig class.

I'm not accustomed to entering a job and not "getting it" by just listening and observing. The difficulties of the last month also have hampered my ability to join the hive mind that is my new work place. I didn't know what I needed so I awkwardly asked my boss for guidance. She made herself available and just as awkwardly did her best to help (help is so much easier to give if the problem is well defined--but as all technical people know, problem definition is 95% of solution).

In the meantime entropy was at work and something I thought was on track was disintegrating. I did the things I knew how to do. I got more help. I resigned myself to wearing a pointy hat for a while and not pretending to know what I was doing.

At the end of the day, on my way out of the building, a familiar number rang my phone. I almost let it go to voice mail--I could listen to the kind message later when I could unpack my grief from its little box in private and take note that someone noticed and was sending love. I chose to answer instead.

My friend, someone I knew from my last job and a dear soul, broke his heart open into my ear. His genuine grief, his tears, his raw words cracked my little box open into sobbing. He said he just wanted to sit next to me and cry with me.  He lives 30 miles in the opposite direction but wanted to do my chores, bring my family food...anything to assuage our pain.

I've been avoiding talking. Mostly I've been avoiding explaining. Suicide doesn't make any sense and people want to ask questions--I expected a lot of having to tell people things. But I actually did need to tell someone. I needed to verbalize everything that had happened in the last month. To not use my keyboard to put a safe veil up. I was never going to call someone up and tell them any of the things that happened. No matter. That raw naked part of my psyche was making calls to whatever angelic forces exist to look for cracks in me to get that kind of help in. And they sent my friend. He got past. And the crack is a little wider and others will get in over the days and weeks too.

When I got home there was a package with a little teapot and a box of tea. There was also a lovely wooden box filled with cookies and sweets--the sorts of things you put out when you invite someone to listen to you.

I'm closer to sitting with someone but it's still very hard to contemplate. Angels and spirits keep scraping at the crack, making it a little larger--easier for light and rain to get in.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

William Steven Mobley--my brother

Two nights ago my brother Steve took his own life. The last 24 hours have gone slower than any time I can remember. The grief is so different. As I sit with my family we are all playing in our heads the "what could have I done/done different to make things ok for him".

I don't want to delve into the details of my brother's life. Suffice it to say things were very hard for him on every conceivable level and he had crushing depression that made it just that much worse.

A healthier man might have made different choices. But he wasn't healthy in the way that leads to those kinds of choices. At the same time he didn't want to be helped. He put up with my meddling and went along with me because he loved me and it was probably easier than rejecting me outright. Just this action of trying to humor me shows great love. If he had any hope it failed him when he needed it most.

My sister is here. We had other plans for the week that brought her to town. We hover around our mother watching her face and try to contain her monstrous grief by holding her hands. My Mother's iron core falters visibly--she looks like a small, crushed thing. I hold her but lightly--she feels brittle and breakable right now.

A friend of Mom's comes by--he is an ex priest and grief counselor. He suggests that we have an informal sharing of memories when we are ready. Mom's eyes sweep the house. "I see these painted cabinets, this new floor--everything he ever fixed for me. That globe in the corner...it still has the card that says "I want to give you the world". I am surrounded by my memories of my son."

I want to blame some people. Understatement. I have real rage--the kind that lets you see what kind of monster lives inside yourself. The kind of rage that shouldn't be allowed near phones or have the keys to the car. I feel it rise up and subside. Its what happens between sobbing, doing mindless chores and staring at the wall.

Time has never moved so slowly.

I can write this but I don't really want to talk to anyone--I don't want to explain anything or tell the story of what I think happened, why he did what he did or to speculate on the dynamics that led to this.

I'm on the phone with people I never thought I'd have occasion to talk to--I forget to be gracious at times and forget that everyone is in their own vortex of pain.

The thought that rips me is that I believe my brother didn't think he mattered any more. He hurt so much. He couldn't do the things that brought him a sense of pride.

He was much more than the things he could do. He mattered. He was worth it.

My sister and I took a long walk this morning. We spoke of regular things and we spoke of our grief and we spoke about our brother. She then out of the blue she asked me "what is your best memory from childhood in summertime". I breathed in deeply. I could smell the cool, mineral smell of the percolation pond, the dry grasses and dust from the dirt path we walked. Life. This moment.

I remember my brother always had illegal firecrackers at the 4th of July. We blew up coffee cans and anything else we could find with M80s. I felt like such an adult when he gave me his cigarette butt to light the fuses. He always had a rich store of illicit fun to share. He could make anything and once showed me a rocket engine he built in the lab he worked in at Applied Materials. We once went swimming together in the dammed up creek behind Mom's house--his suntan oil made a huge rainbow film on the surface. He gave me a packet of Sen Sen and said it would kill alcohol breath. He could make really good soup and let me hang out at his apartment and play his electric guitar. When I had a new hobby he always had the perfect tool or gadget for it and would bring it over as a gift.

Wiring, plumbing, painting, drawing, carving, mechanics, electronics--he knew how to do it all. Any thing I needed help with he always seemed to know what to do--how to make things, fix things, enjoy things. He helped me fix my motorcycle more than once. But more importantly, if I was in trouble he was the one to call--he never asked questions and never judged.

He cared about details and tried to make his loved ones happy. When he stopped caring about those things and started faltering we all wondered "what happened to Steve". In hindsight I see he needed help. He wasn't going to "snap out of it" on his own. Acquiring that kind of lens that makes you wonder what you aren't seeing in people right now--and even so what are the right things to do if you see they need help.

I thought he could be fixed if we just tried the right things together. I don't know. I'm not ready to accept that what happened was inevitable. You hear stories about one person making a difference that changes everything. Its never just one thing or one person. Unless it is. I don't know.

Years ago when Steve got married I remember him saying from his hand written vows that he wanted his new life with his bride to be "free as the wind" (it was a hippy wedding, ok?). He wanted to just do what he wanted to do. Over the last few years he had less and less of that.


I miss you Steve.
His son will come sometime in the next couple of weeks. He, with the rest of us, will go scatter my brother's ashes along one of the roads Steve liked to ride his motorcycle along--shirtless, wearing flipflops and shorts and smoking a joint. That snap shot in time a picture of being "free as the wind". 

Friday, June 27, 2014

reconnecting with outside

I have a porn stash, but it's not what you think. I have subscriptions to Outside Magazine, Backpacker and always pick up the new, thick and lavishly photographed edition of SUP Journal. I pour over their glossy photos, read articles about far away places and draw my own conclusions about which gear is truly "essential". I then indulge in lengthy fantasies about adventures somewhere else.

This is all done from the comfort of my soft chair as I gaze into my own back yard. No camping trips on the books or other adventures. The reservoir I was going for my paddleboard fix is nearly dry--Summer solstice has arrived and I am suffering a huge outdoors deficiency. I make this lament nearly every year but this year is particularly poignant. I spend time in my garden every day and take frequent walks but if anything it makes me more keenly aware of how precious and fleeting this time of year is. I'm just as much of a freak about summer as I am about spring--every peach, every flower, every fresh ripening thing seduces me on multiple levels. Everything is alive right now--as alive as it will be before it starts receding towards the darkness of autumn and winter. I starve for it.

But like anything else, a grand gesture will not soothe my desire to connect. Small things, small things.

I noticed just the other day how I work against smelling things too much. I'm not sure why except I suppose I'm guarding against exhaust or other unpleasant industrial smells. So much so that in an unguarded moment I was shocked to realize how fragrant my lavender bushes are--enough to notice without trying.

Some things have come up in my personal life that are really hurting my heart and literally making me feel tired. I was asking for help but I couldn't escape the feeling that I was the only one who could fix a certain thing that had come up. For a full week I buzzed from one high priority emergency to the next, not really focusing and not knowing what I should be doing. The mountain of things I "should" do loomed ahead of me but both the outline was unclear and what steps I should take evaded me. I felt my ability to "lead" my situation had tapped out and the only way forward was a direction I really didn't want to take. The whole matter made my heart and stomach clench with anxiety.

I came home from a particularly difficult day, droopy and defeated. I flopped in a chair feeling somewhat helpless. I looked at the disorder surrounding me but had no energy to even clear off the kitchen table. The house was stuffy and hot. I got up and opened the sliding glass doors to my backyard wide and stepped onto the cool concrete patio. At first I fretted that I needed to check on what needed watering and rescue from the heat but I stopped. Crickets were singing and my sun caressed sacred white sage was giving off a heady, resinous perfume. I sat down on the aging redwood bench and remained still. It felt good to just stop. I opened my senses to the moment--my hearing, my sense of smell and all the finer feelings that I mute out during the course of the day.

The sky shifted from rose to lavender and one by one the fairy lights winked on. I noticed the cool feeling the evening had as the outlines of the plants in my yard faded darker. My cat Miso came and curled up in my lap and I sat there for several more long moments noticing the shift all around me--none of it my own doing. I continued to do nothing. I was ok.

I felt much better the next day. The mountain was still there but I could see some small things to do. Miss Keri took a large burden from me by doing some important research that I couldn't manage on my own. Later that day my sister called with some extremely good news. For the first time in days I started feeling hopeful.

When I started writing this I wanted to actually exhort you all to try to find time outside as a daily practice but something didn't feel right about that. The sweet power of going outside and seeking stillness was always there for me even in the middle of my chaos. Even though I didn't have enough time and the thought of another practice made me droop, the healing and regeneration of a few quiet moments outside were waiting for me to accept them. Slowing down, noticing, breathing, sensing--these are the things that help me refill on the inside. Not manic doing. Not another list. Not another "thing" to accomplish.

We all do things daily. Some are rejuvenating and some are not. And some habits, even well intentioned ones, won't help if I'm not present for them.

Before rushing off to plan an adventure, a doing or even another practice, try sitting outside for a few moments. Even in the heart of an urban environment life abounds--birds, plants pushing up through cracks, patches of dirt. Find the life around you and allow yourself to experience it on as many levels as you can. Open your hearing to all sounds, your nose to all smells, your eyes to unnoticed things, your skin to feel the warmth or coolness or the stirring of air. Just be with it. Notice what happens inside yourself. That is where the adventure happens.





Sunday, June 22, 2014

Weird and beautiful things...

I started writing a different article when I noticed that I had written 100 blog entries--the vast majority of which I've published! There are a handful however that I lost steam on or just decided to not continue with. Here is why.

Before I kept this blog I had a LiveJournal. At a certain point I decided to discontinue that effort but before I deleted it I downloaded a copy to archive. I was amazed to find I had over 1000 pages of text. I was dismayed however to find out the it was essentially 1000 pages of complaining--the predominant themes being my dissatisfaction with my job (no matter what the job was), my angst over my body image (which I masked with ridiculous and extreme self improvement projects) or other self inflicted misery based on the thought "the world is full of assholes" (I know, enlightened).

The funny thing is that every time I made a post I was sure this was the newest, freshest thing going on in my life. How shocking to look at my self from 30,000 ft and see what a depressing thought loop I was in.

I want to be authentic when I share something with you all. At the same time, I sometime start things and catch myself going down lines of thinking that are unhelpful--rehashing negative stories of the past most commonly. Memory is an imperfect lens--the way we tell our own stories influences thoughts, behavior and emotion right now. Even if some past experience turned out very badly and even if it was completely my doing, I am able to do differently today because I know better. I am not my past.

Journalling for me today is an opportunity to examine my thoughts and to catch thoughts that are weighing me down--awareness allows me to work the thought over and chose thinking that empowers me. However, this blog isn't a publication of my journal like the livejournal was--I'm trying to share thoughts and experiences that I hope you all find helpful (or at least entertaining).

Having said that, I've recently been spending a lot of thought on how I can share more of my inner world with you. I find this time of year to be so enlivening and inspiring that I can barely contain myself! I feel flooded with images and ideas and feelings that I struggle to express with words. Here at the apex of the year I desire to take all of this in and put out something that captures it all. A perfect kingdom of beauty. I only have the tools I have today--limited skills to translate perception and feeling into mediums that somewhat share the weird and beautiful things inside me. But that's what I want to do. I want to share more with you. I hope you will come along as I strive to more fully express these weird and beautiful things.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

small things, daily things

Ok, it's confession time. Up until a year ago I never flossed my teeth except for a frenzy of hyper attentiveness before dental appointments to somehow cover up the fact that this adult still had juvenile oral hygiene behaviors.

I know, gross.

I then read a friend's blog post (newsletter, facebook thing...can't recall) confession that SHE had never really flossed but read an article that highlighted the importance of good oral hygiene especially flossing for overall health. I was so impressed that she admitted this publicly and was willing to just add this one habit that I decided I would too.

Here it is a year later. I went to the dentist who checked my gums and said they were pretty much picture perfect--no gaps or pockets. I don't think I have ever had a dentist smile and give me a thumbs up for my not bleeding gums. It made me wonder what other things I could make happen by changing simple behaviors. A lot it seems!

I cannot stress the importance of small things in my life. Almost all significant progress I've made with personal goals has been because of small, daily rituals and adjustments. I do pushups, lunges and planks daily--not a multitude but I do them before I leave the house and start my day. I would love to say these had given me into a beach body or made me ready to run a Tough Mudder (not really) but when I went in for a fitness evaluation it turned out I had measurable fitness--the kind of fitness that helps get you through the day and get things done. Even if I never do another race or challenge I have good enough fitness. I'm far from being a couch potato and I continue to get stronger as I go.

I've tried to control my weight with odd ball food plans with varying degrees of success but mostly find myself going back to old habits after whatever dietary regimen crashes and burns (seriously, anything that excludes entire categories of food doesn't make sense). I decided to drop all dieting and find a new way to treat my body. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I've been experimenting mindfulness practices. Just recently I decided to work with a nutritionist at my company gym to evaluate the kinds of things I'm eating and to give me a reality check. He suggested a few small adjustments to my lunch and snacks--nothing huge. He said to make another appointment when those adjustments felt like second nature and I was ready to try something new. I left our appointment feeling sane and relieved that he didn't try to eradicate my Sunday lunch at Mom's house or wine or meat or ANYTHING really.

Who knew a healthy diet was full of...food.

If you are anything like me you probably have a long list of attempts to make major changes in your life by going FULL THROTTLE and changing EVERYTHING at once (over exercising, extreme restrictive dieting, information immersion and so on). Personally, I would make progress but some "thing" would come up and knock me off my stride (holiday eating, I'm looking at you). The cycle=overwhelm. disaster. cold dead stop.

What I've learned is that there is an enormous difference between shifting a habit and and trying to force a change through extreme unsustainable measures.

Creating a good habit--even a really small one--is like putting money in an account that compounds interest. Over time you find yourself wealthy. Getting healthy, rich or anything else you want is mostly about building manageable habits around those things and paying attention. Even a small amount of daily focus can lead to incredible results over time.

Put aside the outcomes and timelines for a while and allow yourself to embrace small things done daily. Check yourself in six months or a year and see how far you've come. Allow yourself to be surprised and delighted by the power of small things.