Sunday, September 18, 2011

Poor Backslider*

I've been deeply ashamed of my fear of what others think of me.  Being afraid has caused me to do things I didn't particularly want to do, in order to not risk displeasing someone else.  When Shannon asked me once when I'd lost connection with myself I assumed it was because I'd given up something I wanted in favor of what someone else wanted in order to avoid them thinking less of me.  Something about the prospect made me feel so horrible inside I just couldn't face that feeling and it was easier to  give in.

Then culture changed on me, and all at once we were supposed to be able to say no. Enter the shame of not being able to say no or set limits (remember the assertiveness training fad?  "When I Say No I Feel Guilty"?).  All at once, in order to please others, I had to show some spine, and not just go along.

Now there was a bind.

I see now, as I've written before, that there was a very real fear that if I displeased someone, if I disrupted their own fragile sense of self (ego), they would blame me and break connection.  In order to maintain connection with them, I'd see myself the way they saw me (selfish, small, mean, etc), but at the price of staying connected to my own perspective.

My history of Christian fundamentalism predisposes me to think of life in a "Pilgrim's Progress" sort of way.  One is going forward, or one is backsliding.  Last week, on the roof, my discomfort with the woman parking herself within my family circle was compounded by my thoughts that the whole episode  represented backsliding in the progress I've made.  I felt that familiar feeling of bind.  Was my inability to resolve the situation without removing myself from it undermining this new Self I've been working so hard to build?

So I took it in to Shannon as grist for the mill.  I told her that whenever I'd imagine any means of getting what I wanted that involved personally asking the lady to go, well, it just felt impossible.  I couldn't imagine doing it without it being hurtful and humiliating, no matter how gently I asked.  I'd feel a wall of horror at the prospect.  My dilemma was that in this situation I was able to stay in complete connection with myself and my desire to separate (at least that's progress--in the past I would have blamed myself and put away those feelings and forced myself to engage), and I couldn't do that and be one with her.  How do I "be one" with someone I desperately want to go?

Shannon wanted to know if there was anything inside of me that reminded me of this woman.  Yes, I suppose it would be the me who's felt humiliated when I'd thought I was a wanted presence and instead the opposite was true.  Or I'd thought something was true and found out later that everyone but me knew different.  That's when I realized--those feelings I'd have whenever I imagined telling the woman the truth--that was me, this part in me, connecting to that part in her.  But, I was resisting the connection.  That's what felt like the dilemma.  I was afraid I was reverting to my old history of fear of displeasing someone.  I think it may be different now.  I think the real discomfort came from my empathy with her--or, with the part of me that she reminded me of.  Maybe when I feel resistance like that in company with other people, it's a signal to me that I'm vibrating to something in them that is true of something in me, but I'm complicating it by resisting.  Shannon said, "You'll have to play with this.  But I wonder if you'd find that if you stayed one with that part of you in her, if the resonance from vibration at that shared frequency might resolve the whole dilemma."

Now there's a challenge.  I'm not very adept at staying self-aware in 'field conditions'.  It's going to take a shift to experience resistance as resonance instead of as dislike or self-recrimination.

But I like the idea that maybe there is no backsliding.  Shannon said, "You can't go back."

*from the song "Poor Backslider" by Greg Brown

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The One-ness Experiment--day 14

Recap of nearly 5 years of therapy:  I learned to disconnect from myself in order to be in connection with others.  To disconnect from myself I had to not-see much of what I saw.  I had to not-feel much of what I felt.  To not-see and not-feel I had to put my very perceptions in doubt.  I got really good at it.  The result was I was snarled in a knot I couldn't begin to evaluate and unravel.  My very foundation of thinking was disrupted whenever I'd try to figure this out, by the conviction that I couldn't trust myself.

I spent several years with Shannon's support, realizing that I had assumed a burden of responsibility that wasn't mine to assume.  I harbored the doubt that with every conflict I was somehow at fault, due to some ineptness, selfishness, or flaw within.  I took the perspective of the Other, because I wanted to be fair.   I discovered that taking on the perspective of the Other meant abandoning my own perspective.   As I became aware of the pattern I began to realize that I didn't have to do that.  I mulled it over.  I wasn't comfortable with the idea of closing out the perspectives of others--God knows I knew enough people who did that.  They were often bullies, self-righteous; I didn't want to be that.  So I came to understand that the question was, "How can I see the perspective of Others without losing my own?"  Shannon answered, "By being One with them."

I asked, in an earlier post, what this looks like in real life.  I've been experimenting ever since.  What does Oneness look like; what does it have to do with:

The apartment building I live in has 25 floors.  The 25th is the roof, which has picnic tables, a barbecue, lounge chairs.  The management hosted a party yesterday; they probably do it every year.  Up on the roof, from 10 to 2 yesterday.  Hot dogs, ice cream, lemonade would be served.  Residents would display their art, their talents.

It's my turn to live here, since Friday evening. Gary brought the boys over Saturday around 12:30 so we could go to the party.  My car was already in the space that we rent.  Gary said he'd 'jacked' someone else's spot.  I asked what happened if that person came back.  He said they'd just left.  I said, "What if they were just going to the store, and coming back shortly?"  He said they could just take one of the open spots.  I asked about the people who were paying for those "open" spots.  He said it was no big deal, it would all get sorted out.  I told him to take the boys up on the roof; I would take the car he'd parked in the lot and find a place on the street.

I joined them a little later.  A middle-aged woman was displaying her belly-dancing talent to Connor's embarrassment. I joined him, Scott, and Gary on some lounge chairs.  We hadn't been there long when a woman came over asking how long we'd lived here.  To my surprise she pulled up a chair and sat down.  I remember the odd feeling of encroachment inside; very different from an experience of welcome.  We talked for a bit; how long we had lived at the apt--and I realized that at any moment a decision might be required:  how much to tell her about our 'living arrangement'.  How much did we want to reveal to a stranger?  I steered the conversation to what kinds of interesting restaurants and shops were around the building, when I noticed she was holding a "bingo" card.  Kind of a creative mixer device, she was to mark off a square for various "finds"--challenges.  Looking over, I could see several.  She was to find someone who'd lived in the building for over 10 years (hence her question, but that didn't explain why she pulled up a chair).  She was to find someone who'd been to Europe.  Someone who liked sushi.  Not a bad idea, the bingo card.  Maybe I'll borrow it someday if I have a party with a lot of people who don't know each other.  Yesterday I saw it as an opportunity.  I'd realized I wasn't taking pleasure in her being with us, and I wanted her to go away.  I'd noticed that I'd come close to abandoning my connection with myself in order to pretend she was a wanted guest.  I didn't want to model that for the boys, but the dilemma was that I could not think of a middle ground between asking her to leave, and putting up with her until she decided to go.  It seemed she was settling in.  In calling attention to the bingo game I hoped to remind her that she'd come for a purpose, she'd fulfilled it, and she could move on to other people.  I asked her if we'd helped her in filling in her card.  She said we had; asked us if we liked sushi.  We do.  She was curious about how my boys had come to like it.  Connor said off-handedly that when he was once a 'picky eater' he wouldn't have even tried it.  She said she had some kind of background as a nutritionist; was always interested in what turned someone from being finicky to not.  He said he didn't know, he just became hungry for things he hadn't been before.  This was kind of an interesting topic for me, since I'd endured years of his pickiness.  I never forced him to eat, though I did try the suggestion of insisting he take "one bite" of anything new he was resisting.  It didn't last long, that experiment, and I didn't force the issue.  It clearly didn't work for our family to force even "one bite" on him.  I lived for years with people remarking on his refusal to eat, to try things and held to my inner lifeline that he would not starve himself, and that he would someday grow beyond a palate of Fruit Loops, cheese crackers, macaroni and cheese.  So it's sweet to see that he has indeed become an omnivorous eater, and didn't require any pushing of the river on my part.  I mentioned that I too had been a picky eater, who came from an era where parents forced their children to eat.  I said that I have a very broad range of food interests now, and having been forced to eat did not have anything to do with it; it was merely a matter of maturity and development.  She asked Connor if I'd made him take tastes of things.  She wanted to know if I'd kept a variety of different foods in the refrigerator, had a variety of dishes available.  Connor didn't seem comfortable, I wasn't comfortable, and I sat with the dilemma.  What did Oneness mean in a situation like this?  I couldn't imagine it meant having to be at the mercy of this woman, but neither could I imagine myself asking her to go.  Had I already "abandoned myself" because I hadn't?  When she was exchanging a few words with Gary I excused myself, got up, took away our plates to put in the trash, looked at some of the displayed artwork.  I hoped she'd be gone when I got back.  She wasn't.  It was a strange quandary.  I didn't want to be unassertive, but neither did I want to be a doormat.  I was clear inside that her presence felt like an intrusion, but I just couldn't come up with any way of sending her away that didn't feel too harsh to me.  The only way I could see to get her to leave was to leave ourselves, and the second there was an opening in the conversation I talked to the boys about moving on to our next agenda item.  As courteously as possible we pulled away and said goodbye.

So what would Oneness look like in a situation like this?  I suppose the younger me would have resisted the feelings of aversion I was having toward her and redoubled my efforts to connect with her in conversation.  I would have felt there was something wrong in me, some prejudice, or in-graciousness that made me want to run the other way, so I would have pushed the feeling away and not let myself know I didn't want to talk to her.  I don't know that I would have been resisting her, but I would have been resisting my inclination to move away.  So I stayed at One with myself, even if it meant feeling the discomfort of being with her and not knowing how to separate.  I wonder, if I'd managed to be at One with her at the same time if I may have found another way to separate which wouldn't have meant that my family and I would have to leave the roof?  I thought of being in connection with her, but I don't think I managed to do it.

It's a paradox.  I think I found a way to be At One with myself, while not denying unpleasant feelings I was having.  I don't know if I've figured out a way to be At One with someone I'm feeling uncomfortable with, let alone do both simultaneously.  I think that my inability to pull that off probably reinforced a feeling of duality--me against her.

All of this is trivial in comparison with the horror and violence of That Day 10 years ago when the jets crashed, hundreds died at the Pentagon and on the planes, thousands in the twin towers.  But isn't duality the common element?  In the early days and weeks after the attacks, it seemed I was seeing a reflective, thoughtful America.  I remember hearing on the radio that people who hadn't spoken in years were inspired to reach out to each other.  I remember hearing that the impulse toward unity prevailed, early on.  It seems it was drowned out.  Duality begets and feeds on itself, with a vengeance.  But maybe there's hope in knowing that at least at first, the impulse was toward kindness, and oneness.

Saturday, September 3, 2011


I did some experimenting this week with the concept of becoming One with people around me.  I watched a jet take off from the apartment window and imagined myself One with the passengers on that plane.

"What was that like?" asked Sharon.  "I...I don't...know..."  Because something felt different inside, but in the vaguest of ways, like the hazy edges of a dream that are impossible to describe.

I experimented closer to where I live.  In the absence of any obvious separation activity, such as arguments, I thought of some people I've disliked.  Or I've thought of behavior I didn't like from people I do.  I tried to apply becoming One with them.

Now this had a much more tangible effect.  I realized  that by connecting in this way with someone, the whole picture shifted.  Of one person who has a need to one-up and has seemed grasping and self-righteous, I had a very different experience.  I was able to locate the Me in Her and understand the ways that I want to be "right", and feel anxious about being "wrong".  Feeling this, I could also see that the experience of being "right" is a mistaken attempt at connection.  Or what passes for it.  Somewhere in this life, a belief that being better-than came to feel like the Connection humans seek.  If not in connection with others, than at least within oneself.    Connection understood this way is oppositional--striving-against enhances that feeling of unity.  I realized that true Connection is always there, always available, hiding in plain sight, and that one doesn't need to strive for it, or enhance it by attempting to take it from someone else.  I realized this as a direct consequence of imagining myself at One with the Other.  I think I even felt...compassion.  And not in the compassion-through-will-power sense.  It rose in response to Seeing what I saw.  And recognizing that this experience of need and scarcity exists inside of me, too.  And in that sense, it's true that if we see a quality in another person, it's because we have it within us.

That's such a change from how I understood it before.  I'd heard and acknowledged it was probably true that what I didn't like in someone was a quality of mine too, but that idea was undermining, not empowering.  If I dislike something, and the disliking means that I'm guilty of the things I don't like, then how do I have any leverage in negotiation when our wants collide?  Also, in addition to disliking this person, or what they do, I have to dislike myself, too.  Then I was simply confused and lost touch with my Self, because I couldn't think through it.   My very ground of understanding was quaking.  Before I could deal with this person I had to try to sort out if I really was like them.  And I was too knotted up to be able to do that effectively.  I was a deer in headlights.

I tried to "cultivate" compassion, but my feelings always got in the way.

This new version of that old lesson doesn't look much different on the surface, but how it changes things.  Disliking something in someone is indeed an opportunity to meet and accept and help mature that element in me.  Separating that quality from myself and polarizing in opposition does provide a kind of inner solidity, because it concentrates a sense of myself (without those hated elements), but it's at the expense of wholeness.  This shift sort of changes the "is it me or is it them" question.  Because the answer is "Yes".

When my children were very young and were just beginning to grapple with the feelings of ownership and desire, I can see that behaviors that our culture once branded as "selfish" were really just the crude beginnings of mastering identity, separation, and negotiation.  In this way, raising children has been very spiritual for me, because as they've developed I've recognized (and remembered) their behavioral and emotional states from an adult perspective.  I can see that desirable behavior isn't a result of shaming immaturity.  In a large part, it's a function of development  (with some adult shaping needed to organize and give meaning to their learning).  As children get older and develop, they begin to understand that while they are separate beings, they don't need that object as a part of their self- identification and begin to value their friends more than things.  There was nothing I could have done to "teach" them that.  They simply matured.

Sometimes we don't.

If I become One with Another, I see the me in them, and the them in me (just as I saw the me in my children, and my children in me).  I thought of my MIL, and realized that a lot of her behavior is motivated by a desire for connection. Unfortunately it's coupled with a belief in scarcity, and thus anxiety about losing it and misguided ways of seeking it.  I recognize the part of myself that longs to be close to someone, and can't bear the thought of my own behavior pushing someone further away.  I see the part of me that is so anxious about loss that I try to grasp, I need to be loved "best of all"--nothing else will do.  And so I redouble the efforts that only undercut the quality of my relationships.

In this way healing and understanding can come disguised as someone I don't like.  I get it now.

"Very good", said Sharon.  Now, do you feel like it might be possible to be in a room..."  "--I don't know if I'd go that far..."  laughter

I haven't actually tried this yet in field conditions.  As I said, there have been no arguments or conflicts this week (knocking on wood).  But it seems that having that sense of equanimity while in conflict or in tricky situations might be a tall order.  Can I really apply what I think I know in theory to fully-dimensional real-life?

And, I notice I feel afraid, a little.  Does feeling compassion for someone make me vulnerable to them?  Will I merely find myself giving way to their whims and desires?

And, I realize that I also gain some sense of inner cohesion and inner connection when I'm in opposition to someone.  I can extend the sense of connection by finding someone to share the opposition to the Other with, and there is a sense of satisfaction in that.  And while I'm sitting here, and I can see that this is an altered and inferior sense of oneness, it seems there may be a vacuum if I don't have that anymore.  In a way I'm afraid to give it up.

And I still don't feel quite ready to be in a room with these people...

Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


I noticed a progression in my last two blog posts.  I can see that I was exploring the ways that one gives oneself over to another.  How someone can give up themselves, in the context of a life, and in the context of a conversation with a friend.

Since my last post I had an opportunity to explore the question of giving oneself up in the context of an important and intimate friendship.

Again the precipitating event wasn't a big deal:  Marti and I have had a standing date for breakfast every Saturday for years and years.  Our usual practice has been to email each other to confirm it.  I didn't this time, because we'd stated our intention at the prior week's breakfast.  Marti is a highly responsible and reliable person.  I didn't think it necessary.  But that Saturday I arrived, and she didn't.

I made several phone calls, and even texted her (a big deal for me since I don't have a texting plan with my phone).  No answer; I gave her a half hour and left.  It worked out fine, since my grocery store was close by and I used the time to do the week's shopping.  I hoped she was ok.

Later in the day I found a message from her in my voice mail, with a heartfelt and sincere apology...she'd completely forgotten and had driven out to Toni's place in the Gorge.  I felt myself move into the wonderful place of our hearts meeting and dissolving any rift, until her message kept going and she said something about us "missing each other", a misunderstanding.  It's "dangerous" to not call her.

Which brought me up short.  "Misunderstanding", and "missing each other" belonged to a different kind of reality, one where there was sort of a shared responsibility.  There was no misunderstanding or confusion on my part:  we have a standing date every Saturday, we'd agreed that it was on when we last saw each other, so I'd seen no need to confirm.  "It's Marti" was what I thought; she doesn't need reminding.  So I understood perfectly.  And we didn't "miss" each other because she was nowhere near me.

The inconsistency of the world she was coming from with the world I was living in was a small one.  She was saying a happened, and I was pretty sure it was b.

So what do I do with this?  I didn't call her for several days as I thought it over.  One--it wasn't that big a deal.  The place wasn't far from my house, I got my shopping done, all I lost was a half hour (the cafe even bought my coffee for me!).  Maybe I did "share" some responsibility for having not contacted her to confirm ("but it was Marti") (and, confirmation goes the other way too.  I'm not the designated confirmer).  Two--it's such a small shift, the difference in our realities.  Why not go ahead and let it pass without comment?  Three--I can't think of a way to discuss this with her without seeming nit-picky and small  Four--If it's important to her to believe that the mistake was between us, rather than her own, why not do a dear friend the kindness of letting her version of the story stand?  Five--I can't think of any way to talk about this that doesn't sound like I'm a bully, forcing her arm behind her back til she says, "OK!  It was my fault!  All my fault!"  Six--I can't think of any way of talking about this that wouldn't seem accusing, wouldn't make her defensive, wouldn't bring on counter-accusations...wouldn't alter our friendship.

I see that all of the above was a classic and nearly involuntary talking myself out of something by putting my own self into doubt.  It's simple.  I love Marti and want to be in connection with her.  That connection is threatened, potentially, by correcting her version of the story.  If I break connection with mySelf, as I was systematically doing above, I can stay in connection with her.

The trouble with that is, I'd have to be out of Self-connection on an ongoing basis, because what I know to be true would be like the pea under the mattress.

Another problem with talking about it with her though, is that I (also nearly involuntarily) take on the perspective of the person I'm talking to.  And when I do, I can't get back to whatever it was that was informing me.  I only see myself through the other person's eyes, and in that context it's possible I am nitpicky, bullying, overly sensitive, legalistic, and accusing.  And I come away feeling totally yucky and confused.  I suppose fear of that can be added as a number Seven above.

Sharon said I allow the Other's perspective in out of a desire for fairness.  But once the Other's perspective is in me I lose myself.  The door is closed and I can't get back.

I thought about it over the week.  Particularly interesting was the hint that I was attempting connection with the Other in taking on their perspective.  I was attempting to be at One with them, but it was at the price of my connection within my Self.

So when I saw Sharon again I said, "So the question becomes, how can I be open to Another's perspective without losing myself?"  She said, "By becoming One with them."

Say WHAT????

She said, "If you consider the Other to be a part of you, and that other is yelling at you, it's very different to wonder why you are yelling at you?  What's angry in my Self?"

Now is this really possible?  Really?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"So when did you lose your connection with your Self?"

Denise inspired this post with her very kind comments on my last.

I've been mining an incident that's kind of related to "I don't do that anymore".  It's a surprise that I'd be able to find so much in what amounted to a simple awkward conversation.   I suppose there are all kinds of ways someone can give up themSelves in order to accommodate somebody else.

"I don't do that anymore" came back to haunt me in a different guise.

The incident was this:  bookreading group night.  Sitting in conversation with Marybeth who asks how things are going with the separation, the switching off of house to apartment, and the job.  It's brief filler talk, meant to last until dinner is served.  Marybeth wanted to know if I'd set the boys up with chores for helping out.

For me this is kind of like being asked if I breast or bottle-feed my baby.  Or if I let them play videogames, or how many hours they play.  There's already a right answer, and often I'm on the wrong side of it.

This question had the feel of that.  I could feel the air around me bend into the gravity of a world where children should have chores, where any answer but yes carries some kind of whiff of apology.  The world becomes tipped that way and anything said feels like justification of a deficiency.

I took a deep breath and said, "Well, no.  I just ask them for help when I feel like I need it, and it seems to work out."

The truth is that I've made half-hearted attempts to get job charts and codify chore assignment.  And the fact is that my heart hasn't been in it.  I don't have a problem with the status quo, where 'help' is fluid and ad hoc.  I don't feel over-burdened.

But Marybeth went on:  "When I lived in India the women were fascinated with the freedom of American women.  And they'd bemoan the lack of freedom in their lives.  And I'd say, 'The place to start is your sons.  Raise your sons so they'll assume equal responsibility.'  Indian women spoil their sons", she went on.  "And spoiled sons grow up with a sense of entitlement that perpetuates the problem on to the next generation."

Who the hell can argue with that?

So I was in turmoil.  She's just said something that in principle I agree with, yet I'm not really practicing in my home.  Furthermore, the vibe I'm getting from her feels as if she's attempting to persuade me.  I'm feeling something that says she wants agreement.  At least it feels like something is expected of me.  And I don't feel honest with a specific endorsement and I can't bring myself to even nod.  It was a mini-dilemma, with a woman I don't see but once a month, but consider a friend.  I split the difference and in essence crossed my fingers behind my back.  I gave her the agreement she was looking for to discharge the unease, but in my mind I was agreeing only with the principle:  "women shouldn't spoil their sons".

But I'm feeling a thickening in the air between us.  The hallmarks of a meaningful conversation are missing.   I absolutely can't think of anything to say.  I'm a deer in headlights.  I sense it, and I wonder if she's sensing it too.  After all, if the animation that makes a conversation a conversation drains, isn't that noticeable?  Could she sense that I wasn't in entire agreement?  Because she pressed her point a little further.

Then we were called to dinner.

That's it.  I've been thinking about it ever since when I have some time to muse.  Each time I think about it I see another facet.

At first I focused on the sense I'd had that agreement was sought, and disagreement carried a penalty--of a hint of shame, of apology.  As I considered it, it occurred to me that if I felt like there wasn't a conversation, in a way it was because there wasn't.  She had her own agenda, which was to convince me that the boys should have chores.  She was presenting reasons why I should be doing it, and in a sense was trespassing.  I'd sensed a power struggle and I handled it by letting her think she'd 'won'.  Yet I felt strange and awkward after that.

So, I reasoned, some of what was going on was I was feeling trespassed upon and didn't assert my boundaries.  And I was feeling unauthentic in that I was having these feelings and not telling her.  In other words, I was representing myself as other than what I am.

But the conversation didn't seem to leave room for anything but a kind of shame-facedness in disagreeing, because again, who can argue with what she was saying?  And, while it might be possible to have a conversation that included my quasi-diagreement without having to wear a cone of shame, it would take some time to get there, which we didn't have.

So in a sense I was putting "blame" on Marybeth with a narrative that she wasn't seeing me at all in the conversation, but was seeking something.

That's certainly plausible.  That's what's in common, I think, with many unsolicited advice givers.  An implication of a kind of superiority:  I'm doing something that you're not and you should be like me.  This superiority requires agreement to be maintained in the giver's psyche--it depends on validation.

When I talked about it with my counselor, she suggested that Marybeth could have just been operating under the assumption that I was in total agreement already, vs trying to convince me of something.

Which opened up another can of worms.  A very old one, which is probably what kept me in a bad marriage.  If I'm feeling something from someone that's negative, since it's being processed by me and filtered through me, how do I know it's not merely a projection?  (And if I'm 'projecting', what is it I'm projecting?  Am I projecting self-disapproval onto them directed toward me?  Am I really kicking myself for not having the boys do regular chores, but making the Other the vehicle?)  And if I can't know that it's not a projection, then how can I trust myself at all?  I've spent a lifetime exploring this very question.  It kept me from being able to objectively evaluate the nature of many of the conflicts I had with Gary.  Sharon had spent nearly 5 years helping me lean into listening to this voice, and now I've got to question it again?

Looking again at what was present in that moment:  A sense of being 'accused' of spoiling my kids and contributing to gender inequity in the world.  I think there was a realization that while I agree with the principle of raising boys to be responsible men, the way I'm doing it probably doesn't clear the bar she seemed to be setting.  And that was a conflict, because to get to anywhere except acknowledging my 'lack' and getting more evangelization would take a while and we didn't have it.  But here I am with this circle that's begging to be closed with my agreement.  And my brain was blank when it came to other areas of engagement that might circumvent this dilemma.  I think another thing present was that I like Marybeth.  And I sense that she gives me a kind of credit for intimacy and closeness of friendship that hasn't yet been backed up with a bulk of intimate conversations and shared experience.  I sensed that she was offering me an opportunity for connection to back up that credit, and I was going to have to let it go by.  And just today I realized that a hidden element that was also present in that moment was that I sensed I was accusing her.  I was accusing her of giving unsolicited advice, for misreading me as a person who 'needs' help, of having an agenda that she was pressing at the expense of seeing me in the conversation.  I was accusing a well-meaning friend of encroachment.

As someone who has felt accused much of her life, it takes a lot to get me to accuse others.  I'm allergic to it and would rather accuse myself by default than accuse someone else.  Especially a friend.

No wonder I was a deer in headlights.

I guess the takeaway is that I became good at sensing what people want from me.  And implicit was a condition that this "something" was required to satisfy their own self-esteem needs.  To withhold was to hurt.  Case in point:  another conversation about the boys doing chores.  A kitchen table of a friend.  After a long list of things I should do to which I responded with silence, one of the women asked.  I replied that while their good intentions are appreciated, I'm someone who needs to find my own way, organically, from inside of me.  And anything I've said about various difficulties in my life at that time should not be construed as a call for help.  I said it in a factual tone with no intent of anger behind it.  She actually began to cry.

So there are many faces to the conditions where one can lose herself.  The pernicious ones are more obvious.  The well-meaning ones, well, those are more deeply rooted.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

One year on, six months on

One year ago I had just begun a new job, working outside of the home for the first time in 11 years.  My first day was May 26, so this time last year I was still aquiver with the abrupt shift in lives.  I got the job so six months ago I could get the apartment where I sit right now.

Six months ago I began the culmination, the logical consequence as it were, to years of exhaustive examination of my marriage, my self.  I was sifting through every single detail to find a way to stay in that life, and not be here in this.  I suppose all of that searching distilled to a single question:  "Is it my fault it's not working, and if it is, can I change myself so it will?"

I didn't have very stable ground from which to be objective because I've always felt confused about whether or not something is my fault.  I've certainly been afraid that "things" are my fault, in the deer-in-headlights sense.

So, were things not working because I was too selfish?  If I became angry because Gary was unreasonable, was I too sensitive?  Too quick-on-the-trigger to react?  An angry, mean person at core?  Someone who felt inherently inferior and so when Gary was scornful when I didn't read his mind accurately it confirmed my own sense of worthlessness and that's why I'd get angry?  Did I just not have a sense of humor?  Was I 'just' a chronically unhappy person who brought everyone around her down too?  Someone no one could make happy?

I certainly was afraid I was those things. In trying to confront those accusations I was sort of cut off at the knees by my awareness that people often rationalize their bad behavior, and why should I be so special that I wasn't?  How would I know if I wasn't 'just' rationalizing?

So it took years to work my way through what a different kind of person may have cleared up in a few minutes.  Self-doubt had been a strategy a long time ago that I developed to help me tolerate situations I was powerless to change.  Then my own strategy hamstrung me so that I was powerless to change.

Years ago I saw "A Clockwork Orange".  A brilliantly horrifying movie, but what reached into my psyche and totally disturbed me was the aversion "therapy" our psychopathic subject  underwent once he was caught and brought to justice.  Any of you who know the story know that he was a totally repugnant and violent hooligan;  that he was 'cured' by being forced to watch images of violence and sex while being fed a drug that would make him violently ill.  Eventually nausea was so tightly associated with aggression that the slightest hint of aggression rendered him helpless.  The scene at the end where he himself is jumped and is unable to defend himself--in fact, his own natural defenses now wrapped him up and delivered him like a package to his attackers--haunted me for days.  I'd seen violent images in movies before but this one really got to me, at my core.  I see why now.  It was an extreme representation of my own dilemma, which was my own strategy for being with people whose behavior I couldn't understand, which often seemed capricious, arbitrary, and unfair.  (Yeah, I guess I'm talking about my parents, but not in the "blame" sense.  They were products of their own culture, time, and upbringing.  I can say that there were things I needed to do to adapt to the implicit demands of my culture, as expressed through the people who raised and love me that have not served me well.  I can say this while knowing deeply that I love my parents.)

I got pretty good at it, and so was well-groomed for the marriage I chose.  Once I was able to clear up the baggage about whether or not I was a flawed individual and that's why I was seeing things the way I saw them, it really became very simple.  What does the marriage need to succeed? Are we willing to do what it takes?

To feel satisfied in a marriage, I need to be with a partner who is willing to negotiate disagreement and build bridges after rifts.  This means being with someone who is timely in airing grievances (rather than storing them up and then leaking resentful feelings like a cracked gas tank).  In short, I need someone who has the tools to partner with me to bring a marriage back into emotional equilibrium when something has disrupted it.  I believe I have the tools in my own personal skillset, but I see that I can no more do it for both of us then I could fly if I was a bird with one wing.  And he needs a partner who is either thick-skinned, impervious to passive aggression, totally devoted, or willing to absorb and hold whatever he dishes out without a need to hold him accountable or otherwise bother him with it.  He is unwilling or unable to be the partner I need, and after 5 years of examining this marriage from every angle to see if I could be the partner he needs I see that I cannot.  Or, I could, but I'd have to undercut myself with self-doubt in order to tolerate it.

I don't do that any more.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

I take full credit. If you live in the Pacific NW you owe me a thank you

We've had a wet, and cold spring.  Hell, it's the first of May and our leaves aren't even out.

I'm not someone whose moods brighten or darken with the sunlight.  I don't mind cloudy, wet days.  To me they're permission to get cozy and write and think.  So I've not suffered this extended winter, but I have noted that we had yet to have two days of sunlight in a row.  And nights have been dipping down into the 30's temp-wise.

A year and a half ago we got a new furnace.  Our home was built to heat radiantly, with the source being a gas-fired boiler.  So we were committed to boilers.  This one was 30 years old, and bound to fail (it did), but we'd kept it alive for awhile with patch jobs.  One of those patches was a circulating pump, installed a mere 4 years ago to the tune of about $600.  When we replaced the furnace the pump was only 2 1/2 years old, so we kept it on.

Gary left on a retreat last week.  That night I noted the house felt cold and checked the thermostat.  Holy cow, it was 59 degrees, despite the thermostat's setting of 66.  WTF?

I went downstairs to look at the boiler.  Since it was so new, and had only been serviced a month ago,  I just knew it had to be something stupid--someone had accidentally pushed a switch or pulled something.  I called the number on the sticker on the unit to be told that no, she was a dispatcher, not a technician and so we could not try to do a phone trouble-shoot (to avoid a $99 service call).  She wanted to know if I wanted to schedule.  Half thinking the thing would fix itself by morning I said no; I'd just try to call next day and see if there was someone who could talk me through ruling some stuff out before scheduling.

Next morning it was 57 degrees in the house, and I was having trouble getting the boys out of bed.  I sighed and called the heating company to schedule our service call.  I had to work that day, so made arrangements to leave the furnace door open for the technician.  After the Scott pick-up I found a message on my cell.  There was a problem in the circulating pump blowing fuses that protect the circuit between the main boiler and the circulating pump.  When the big unit would tell the circulator to fire, it would draw so much power that the fuses would pop.  If it was only a matter of some new fuses and a little clean-up, the cost would be only $200-ish.  He hoped that was the case; there was a chance it was more serious and would require a new circulating pump.  WTF!  $1K.  WTF!

That night it got down to 53 degrees in the house, because of course it wasn't a matter of replacing fuses and the new unit wouldn't arrive until the next morning (of course they didn't have one in their supplies already and had to order one).  (It was a difficult decision, knowing that the weather has to warm up soon, but not wanting to suffer through any more cold nights and a weekend coming up.  I could have just taken the unit to a shop that repairs motors, but then we wouldn't have heat until this week.)

So now a credit card company is earning interest on the use of their card, and the house is nice and warm--without the heat even being on, because it's SUNNY AND WARM OUTSIDE--for the...second day in a row!!!  Supposed to get up into the 70's this week for the first time this year.

Bitter?  Well, it'll be good to have next winter, and that's kind of a long time to wait.

Lookin' out my back door

Sunday, April 24, 2011

When the hurricane stops

I'm fascinated by my view from my window in the apartment.  I love to sit where I can lift my eyes periodically and take it in.  If you look hard at the 'Yesterday' shot, left of the bridge the arc isn't a cloud, but Mt. St. Helens with some cloud shadows obscuring the base.
A clearer picture of Mt. St. Helens
We're finishing up month the fourth of our marital separation.  It was such a slow grind getting here and I'm not even sure how we managed to accomplish it.  Next month will mark the first anniversary of ending my eleven years as an at-home mom and returning to my profession.

I was talking about the particulars of this with a friend; what it's like to finally be doing it.  He'd had a major rough patch in his marriage himself during a time of extended unemployment.  Things were said.  Things were done.  He is employed now and things seemingly back to normal.

I wondered at some of the things that were done.  Had this been my marriage the fissures revealed would  be cause for some major questions, because they seemed to go to some issues that were beyond the strain of prolonged unemployment.  They seemed to reveal some cracks in core foundational assumptions.

I figured once the crisis was past he would do his best to forget those things.  He'd tell himself to 'forgive and forget' and set his intentions on forgetting.  He would resolve to start over with a blank slate.  From what I knew of him, this seemed like a safe prediction.

So he was asking me about my marriage, more specifically about the separation from my marriage.  I was doing my best to answer him in the face of not really knowing.  Four months really isn't that long, and I think it's still too new to draw any conclusions.  The data isn't in, and the questions are open (am I doing the right thing?  Am I harming our sons?  Does separation from me for a week at a time harm them more than being free of the toxic atmosphere Gary and I create benefits them?  Will I find this was merely a lateral move--miserable there, miserable here?)

He surprised me.  He said on a television program a main character, when asked if she was happy said, "Am I happy?  Or is it just relief that the hurricane has stopped?"  In my life I've experienced something like this, where a chance phrase I read or hear somewhere suddenly sheds light and understanding on a question I didn't know I had.  It's like reading a passage online and suddenly a link is highlighted.  I was delighted that he had experiences like that too.  Furthermore, we weren't talking about my marriage any more.  We were talking about his.  

He said that things seemed better with him and his wife.  He said it was great to have a steady income again, with insurance benefits for him and his family.  He hesitated a moment, and said that he wasn't sure if he was really happy, or if he was just in the relief of the hurricane being over.  He said that right now, he doesn't want to disturb his relief by probing, rocking the boat.  He's unsure if he ever will.  He's poised between further evaluation or resolutely determining that bygones will be bygones.

I think someone making the decision to rock a boat creates a ripple effect.  It sets precedent, and nudges awake decisions once thought settled and asleep.


Saturday, April 9, 2011

One Quarter In

view from 16th floor

On sunny days (we can't seem to muster two in a row yet this spring) there's a view of Mt. St. Helens, Mt Rainier (I think that's what the wild double-peak is I see behind Mt. St. Helen's right shoulder) (when it's clear) and Mt. Adams .

We're three months into implementation of Major Life Change.  I spent an extraordinarily long time getting to this point.  I spent several years blogging my decision (please forgive any repetitiveness; my life's changes have meant distance from the blogging world, and I may have already said this stuff and forgotten).  Sometime in 2009 I decided, then got a job in 2010 (May 26 to be exact.  It's not even been a year since I left my 11 year gig as an at-home mother).  Notice--I decided in 2009; I got a job in 2010, and not until 2011 did we do the roll-out.  Am I a deliberate decider or what.  You can't accuse me of being impulsive.

So now I blog the experience of a separated woman, working in the professional world and raising two young sons.  I blog the experience of living in two places: the house in a rural part of the city; the apartment, which is about as urban as you can get.  I blog the attempt to partner in separation/divorce with a man I couldn't partner with in marriage, in order to keep home as stable as possible for the boys.  To that end he and I do the moving back and forth from one domicile to the other, taking turns at either the house, or the apartment.  I'm at the apartment now, til Monday after I pick up Scott from school.

Gary has his office at the house, so we see each other daily.  Even on my days at the apartment I continue to transport Scott, though it's a little suspenseful; I have to have finished my final patient and then be at his school by 3:00.  Sometimes I have a needy patient who needs extra time.  Sometimes I've made bad guesses and I'm running late.  Sometimes I'm caught in traffic.  My job is with a small home health agency that I suspect gets the dregs of patients discharged from hospitals.  That is, the uncomplicated close-in patients I think are sucked up by the large organizations, leaving marginal patients on the margins of the city.  In other words, I'm often driving major mileage.

Anyway, we're only 3 months into this new way of living.  On the 18th we'll have been married 19 years, and we were together nearly 3 years before we got married.  So, though there's been a big shift and pivot, I am nowhere near out from under the penumbra of the momentum of 22 years of life.

I honestly have to say I don't really feel much of anything.  I guess the description is "flat".  It's not really sorrow, more a kind of dutifulness.  

It's way too early to say whether or not this was a good move.  No... I wouldn't put it that way.  I think it's more accurate to say that it's way too early to expect my emotional affect to reflect that this was a good move.  (It has to be a good move, because it's preferable to how I was living.  I can't imagine going back, not without some major changes that I've accepted aren't likely to happen.)  It's odd how in so many ways I've already moved on to a point where I don't realize that when people ask how I am, they're meaning the separation, not just the general pleasantry.  When I took the boys to visit my parents over President's Day, the subject didn't even come up.  Later my brother was concerned that I'd thought it was because they didn't care.  Which surprised me.  As far as I was concerned it hadn't come up in the way that the subject of our marriage wouldn't have come up years ago.  It's a done deal and not any more a topic of conversation than the air that we breathe.  Apparently I've moved on...they haven't.  I appreciate that they're being respectful of my privacy, but it's really the last thing on my mind.  Someone I hadn't seen for a while asked me how the boys were getting along, and it was only later that I realized that he meant with the separation.  I thought he was asking how they were getting along with each other.  So I went into a long story about how they treat each other.  Funny.

So really, I'm just living with each day of this New Life, and putting one foot in front of the other, with no idea what the future holds.  If I were an ant on a jigsaw puzzle right now, I'd be on one of those maddening transitional pieces, where a shadow is giving way to something else, where the shades of difference are subtle.  I've got to give this at least a year.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


In another interview with Steven Galloway, he was asked:

It's a very morally engaged book, if that's not too cliched a way to put it. Do you think a writer is obliged to take a moral position? Is that moral aspect important to you as a writer?
It is to me, currently. I don't know if it's important for all writers to do it. It's been an interesting process for me, becoming a writer, in the eight-to-ten years since my first book was published: first you want to become a writer because you think you can, and because it would be neat or something, but slowly over time a lot of the things that you thought would be rewarding about being a writer evaporate. Book tours aren't much fun or glamorous. The attention is self-defeating in a way. There are two valuable things that are left then, at least to me as a writer: first, you get to spend most of your working time in a room by yourself living in an imaginary world - something that appeals to me greatly, and a second thing is that you get to be involved in that larger world conversation about what we can do while we're on this earth. You don't get that in many professions. If you're an orthodontist you perform a great an noble service, but you don't get to participate in the same way in that conversation. What keeps me in that little room by myself is that conversation - so it's important to me.

I italicized that section at the end above.

It's so important to me, too.  I miss, miss so much regular participation in that conversation.  Sipping from the pools of others through their blogs, and contributing to my own.

A True Day Off

Well, maybe not entirely 'true' because I'm not entirely free of obligation.  The Stupid Dog is on my lap, shuddering, or licking my hands as I try to type.  So now he's needy.  The cat stirs, and like an explosion he's up to go harass her.  Thanks, Sheila.

I've taken him out a jillion times and he refuses to eliminate.  He also only does one function at a time, so pooping and peeing require separate trips.  The trouble is, his cues are so muddled, that whining can mean, "I'm bored" "I'm hungry" "I'm lonely" or, "I need to go potty."  I've logged thousands of miles already in trips out the back door to his toilet.  I just get tired of taking him out to have nothing happen.  But my carpet is held hostage; though to anyone looking at it, it's no longer worth protecting.  The hostage is already dead.

Fridays are my days off from my job as a home health physical therapist.  So far it's been rare that it's been a true day off.  Between the phone calls it takes to hold everything together, coordinate care, communicate with team members, request orders from doctors, and wend my way through the maze of the computer program and still come up with a note that summarizes and convinces Medicare that my home visit was skilled and necessary, I usually have hours of work left to do on a Friday.  Even if I get up really early, and even if I was up really late the night before.  And, even on the Fridays when I'm not the one living with the boys, I pick up Scott from school which is only half-days on Fridays.

This date things lined up well for a Day Off.  It's spring break, so no school pick-up, and Gary took the boys on a spring trip.  I've ruefully noted that it's too bad I have to waste that time with working, and it's very true that my evenings have been consumed with work.  But I made a big push last night and didn't even have to work that long, before managing to finish most of those responsibilities and be able to feel that today really is a Day Off.

(I hope Gary and the boys don't come home early and spoil it)

The dog is making very ominous gastric noises and spasms like hiccups.  I don't even want to think about what that might mean, especially since he's on my lap and on my bed.

I let my Day Off agenda choose me.  My bookreading group is reading "The Cellist of Sarajevo" by Steven Galloway for our discussion book this April.  I actually nominated this book the cycle before this last 18 months ago and it wasn't chosen.  I had the book and so decided to read it anyway, 18 months ago.  So I wasn't in that big a hurry to get it from the library when this month rolled around.  Until I realized that I'm the facilitator for the month of April.  So I got it again and started reading.

I shouldn't be surprised anymore by the enriching a second reading can give.  I read it through quickly a year and a half ago, because it does read pretty easily.  This time,  I've been able to pause and notice some of the questions the author poses, and the ways his characters mull them over.  They're questions we consider even under the best of circumstances, so it's not just a book about life under siege.

The author grounds the story/stories firmly within the setting of the city, naming streets and landmarks, neighborhoods as his characters walk through them.  Oftentimes I breeze past place references, but for whatever reason I went searching for street maps of Sarajevo.  Now I could locate his people, and walk the streets with them.

Which makes the effect more shocking and ominous.  It forces me to consider how thin the veneer of civilization is.  If it could happen in Sarajevo, host of the 1984 Olympics, it could happen in any city.  The objects of civilization around us seem to carry their own inherent stability and sense of permanence.  I think unconsciously my whole life I've been comforted by this illusion, as if the roads, buildings, museums keep chaos from happening here.  Their underlying message seems to whisper "It can't happen here."  But as Galloway said in an interview, "These things are able to exist through an agreement human beings make as to how we treat each other."  It's a little breathtaking to realize the implications of this.  Things that appear so solid are built on the underlying quaking earth of an agreement.  In Sarajevo that agreement was broken and not only were over 10,000 of their residents killed (many, many of them children) and many maimed, and orphaned, but their museums and National Library, which contained irreplaceable, priceless texts were destroyed.  (The besiegers shot at the firefighters who came).

It's horrifying to me to think of making that leap between the kind of normal we in the West are accustomed to and don't even notice, to the kind of normal which is running across intersections and bridges for fear of being shot, shells exploding just because you've queued up for bread or water, walking past husks of buildings that used to be the university, or the National Library.

One of the questions that is ongoing for his female character Arrow is that of hatred.  The author visits and revisits the evolution of her thoughts, as she considers her role as a counter-sniper and her motivations.  Periodically she reassesses what it is that distinguishes her from them, "the men on the hills."  At first she tells herself that they shoot and shell civilians, while she only kills soldiers.  Later she tells herself that the men she is killing could have killed many people in her city.  Later she acknowledges in her heart that she is killing them because she hates them.  BUT, what's interesting and novel about this to me, is she goes further and considers why she hates them.  And her answer is that she hates them because they made her hate.  Them.  Furthermore, she realizes that the men on the hills told her she hated them by giving her reason, and in that sense have dictated what she feels and what she does.  She notices that she didn't fight this very hard.  Later in the book the theme is returned to:  That what is happening is a result of the men on the hills needing the people of the city to hate them.

The author writes:  Do the men on the hills hate her?  Or do they hate the idea of her, because she’s different from them, and that in this difference there might be some sort of inferiority or superiority that is hers or theirs, that in the end threatens the potential happiness of everyone?”
  Years ago, when my children were barely out of toddlerhood, I noticed something.  I'd take them to the park, or library where there were other children.  Sometimes when walking past another mother and child I'd see the children look at each other.  And I could feel something exchange between them--oftentimes a sort of spontaneous mutual hostility.  They'd never seen each other before, but their emotional landscape was already tipped toward dislike.

It makes me wonder if that's the "agreement" upon which our justification for the wholesale murder of war rests.  It occurs to me that war is kind of like civilization, in that it rests upon an agreement of how we treat each other, and it too has an illusion of permanence and stability.  Maybe the word "inevitability" is what I mean.  God knows there are enough resources devoted to it; so much so that it's become an industry of its own.  Run by people whose own self-interest depends upon it.

What really amazes me is that people aren't sickened enough by the result of just one wounding to shudder away in revulsion and resolve to never do that again.  And yet we do.