Life as a Hermit – Day 6

Chet is getting a little irritating. Even my dog has started to find him creepy, and I have had Chet around for awhile. He just sits there and stares. Chet, that is. My dog is actually animated, as though by a brain. It’s like Chet’s eyes follow me as I walk around the room. But then I look, and it’s like he hasn’t moved…at all.

I miss people. I miss my girlfriends that I used to go for coffee with. I miss the man who broke my heart. I miss my kids who have gone away to university. I miss being part of a world that isn’t of my own making. I miss turning on the tv and just sitting, mindlessly, pretending that I am doing something when really I am just filling my brain to keep it from wandering places I am tired of going.

What would I be doing, if I was back in the city, I wonder. Sitting in my house and wishing I was somewhere else, probably.  At least I have that, now. I’m somewhere else. How long will it be, I wonder, before I begin to accept my new reality. I love many things about it, but it remains somewhat foreign. It’s a little bit like leaving a relationship. You don’t really miss the things that are gone, you don’t really miss the person, but you miss the stability, the constancy, the predictability of your days. Sure, some of them are horrible days, but at least you don’t have to plan them from the moment you wake up in the morning until the minute your head hits the pillow at night.

Get out of bed, try to avoid an argument before leaving for work. Enjoy the job you hate because it’s a break from all the tension at home. Begin to feel that heavy, toxic dread in the pit of your stomach as five o’clock approaches. Think about whether you can have a few drinks every night and still get work done the next day. Cry, wipe the tears away as you drive into the garage. Take a deep breath and wonder what you’ve done wrong today, what you will argue about. The arguments are better than the silence. The silence just threatens to abandon you unexpectedly, and when it does, it’s rarely good.

I guess this silence is good. It is my silence. I chose it. But sometimes it makes me want to abandon it, and see how it likes it. I think I’m going to let all the air out of Chet.  I can’t deal with his staring, accusing eyes anymore. See how he likes being drained, empty, flattened.

I think I’ve been reading a little too much Nietzsche. Even my dog is starting to look at me like he expects my head to start spinning around. I’ll make us some pizza in the cob oven, that should cheer him up. And maybe a trip into town tomorrow for a little lunchtime Jack and Coke, and pick up some new books.

 

 

 

 

A grocery list to sum up an inspired, serendipitous, unexpected year

I can’t believe I haven’t posted anything since October. I have been back in school taking Creative Writing at the University of Montana. It has been inspiring, fun, invigorating, and, occasionally, still terrifying.

I have met new friends, who already feel like old friends. I have discovered and been buoyed by the support of existing friends to an extent I would never have dreamed. I am living smack in the middle of one of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the world, and it is home. My family remains batshit crazy, but it is supportive and loving and accepting. This is more than many people have, I think.

I am home now in Canada where I will be able to spend three weeks with my boys. I have time to work on my furniture business, with the goal of increasing sales on my Etsy shop, and regular participation in handcraft fairs and events. I am applying for the MFA program in Creative Writing at the University of Montana, to commence next September.

I have had moments where I was terrified and ready to give up. But for me, giving up now only means temporarily getting a real job and spending more time in Regina.  This is the magic of having taken the leap that I did. I know I can do it again, start again, detour, pitstop, take a breather, if need be. But I know that I am where I need to be.  And, wonder of wonders, I give myself pep talks. I read through old blog posts, and the confident, accepting, wise person that I sometimes am tells me to keep going, that I have been there before and I will be there again.

I do go places now, not just on trips.

Transformations

I have lived my entire life in Canada. Since I can remember, I have known that the climate is not for me. But life offers sometimes inexplicable paths, and today I am prepared to believe that it is nothing more nefarious than that. The path has led me here, after all.

I have struggled. I have struggled with depression; with betrayal by those I have loved; with betraying my own dreams and needs, and no doubt those of others as well. I am blessed, however, with a supportive family, amazing friends (old and new), two amazing children, and a resiliency that I thought was tattered beyond repair.

I still struggle with faith, and with finding meaning and sense. I realize that everyone doesn’t need to make sense of the world. But I do, and that is perhaps my blessing and my curse. But through some miracle I have faith in myself, and a vision of a new life that begins again each day, with a new day. And I am learning to let that be enough.

I have had a lost weekend of sorts, but without the benefit of a Yoko or her personal assistant. I am on what may be the last trip of that lost weekend, before I return to reality, such as it is. And this is what I have discovered in the last 7 months:

1 – I’m the most myself when I’m doing something a little irreverent, a little crazy, a little bit spontaneous, or all of the above. I know this because the people that really know me tell me this all the time. And I think they know it because I have proven it to them over and over again. This is a lesson in surrounding yourself with the right people, the people that make you MORE, the people that don’t want to change you.
2 – I am, as a recent husband told me, a flower that wilts and may even die if left out of the sun too long. Lesson learned. I know this and remind myself every time I breathe the warm air of summer at home, or of the winter somewhere civilized. And if I permit myself to forget this lesson, I will wilt again.
3 – I will either marry again numerous times (two completed marriages so far – I now object to calling them “failures”), or not at all.
4 – Writing is teaching me patience. I write when the mood strikes me; I write what inspires me on a given day. And I don’t give myself deadlines, I just try to write, or even just think about characters and plot lines, every day.
5 – I don’t need to be the parent I planned to be two marriages ago. I will be the parent that follows her heart and gives her children all the love and acceptance that follows from that. I think I will be providing mostly love and adventure more so than stability, but I’ve decided that’s why kids have two parents – their dad seems to be pretty much dialled in on the stability part.
6 – The universe is always speaking. You just need to listen, and sometimes take a leap of faith. Sometimes daily. And if you don’t, you will literally be struck on the head repeatedly until you start to listen. In my case, I had two concussions in two months that made me reassess everything that was left after my second marriage dissolved into a sinkhole.
7 – This will be a terrifying way to live. But I’ve never really been scared of much, so what the hell.
8 – Change is a constant, and ought not be feared. See 8, above.
9 – I’m happy.

That’s a pretty good list of accomplishments in seven short months, I figure. And I suppose on the days I feel like I haven’t accomplished very much, I can just remember how I felt a year ago, look to tomorrow, and smile. Or skip along the sidewalk or go for a swing in the park or have another ice cream cone, should it strike my fancy.

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Inner Good Girl, GET THEE BEHIND ME!

Each time I think that I can’t handle any more instability, every time I think I have thrown off the last shackle of convention, I see myself in the mirror, and I say:

REALLY? I have that much further to go?

Today (again), I was ready to give up. I’m broke. I mean really broke. Borrowing money from random people broke. I didn’t make my mortgage payment. Well, except that I did. GODDAMMIT I CAN’T EVEN DO THAT RIGHT! My bank account balance is -$927.41, so I suppose that means that my mortgage payment went through, even though I only have a $500 overdraft. I thought that was going to be “the moment.” The moment when I said, I can’t take this anymore, I’m going to be responsible and get a real job, and just be a miserable zombie in a suit like everyone else in this fucked up world.

But my mortgage is paid (sort of. I can`t wait to see what kind of nasty “service charge” they try to throw at me this time. But what are they going to do? Change my bank balance to -$1927.41?). See? I’m still thinking like a sheep. I was aghast at the idea that I was going to be one of THOSE people who were (gasp) in arrears on their mortgage.  Which means, I suppose, that I’m not really one of those people. Yet. I have always paid my bills – mostly on time. I have a decent credit rating (but not for long).  I care about my credit rating.  God, do I have a long way to go.

Sooooooo….. Now what? Well, I’m going to finish my goddamned book for starters. And if I have to ask my ex-husband for some of my money that’s tied up in a piece of real estate, or if I have to go crawling to my parents who supported my brother until he was THIRTY FIVE (Yes, I was yelling just now) and ask for some money, SO WHAT? I DON’T HAVE TO BE PERFECT ANYMORE. I JUST HAVE TO BE HAPPY.

So for one blessed month (more if I can rationalize it in a month) I am going to do nothing but write. And put on flowing skirts and headbands and hoop earrings and look mildly crazy but who cares – I AM A WRITER.  And if I need to dress like one to feel like one, then I will do it. If I need to eat oatmeal for breakfast and a handful of nuts for lunch because that’s what is in my cupboard, then I will (And get one of my friends to buy me a Blizzard. See? I really do have a long way to go.)

Yay me. Get thee behind me, good girl. I am exorcising you, one always-pays-her-bills, wears-event-appropriate-clothes, doesn’t-want-to-look-like-a-crazy-person nonconformist teensy step at a time. But I couldn’t put on the flowy skirt today, because it really didn’t work with the brown headband. Maybe tomorrow.

Hard is Happy; Misery is Easy

blue car

 

This has been a difficult lesson for me. I almost went back to misery, because it was the easier path. I have walked it for years, so it is well worn, and comfortable, and laid out before me like a monotonous, flat, and predictable highway. It pays generously, and its price is my soul.

Happy is hard. It is unpredictable. It is illusory yet always within reach.   It glimmers like a mirage, but one that, miraculously enough, inevitably becomes real if I just close my eyes and reach out. It is writing in the dead of night, hearing my children’s laughter, looking back at how far I have come.  It is financial insecurity, and excitement about what will happen tomorrow. It is planning an uncertain, shimmering-in-the-sunlight future of laughter and learning and writing and travel and adventure. But it is nevertheless terrifying, because there is no road or even a path. Sometimes a push from behind, sometimes just an aversion to the highway that would be the easy choice. But often a nudge from a friend, or a smile from a new acquaintance, or the inspiration for a new story is enough to turn me away from that wide, smooth, black highway, at least for today.

And I reach out blindly and pray for the strength and courage and asylum to choose happy again tomorrow.

Elephant Enlightenment, Dysfunctional Family Style

PurpleDumbo

Elephant Enlightenment – Dysfunctional Family Style

There are certain events from my childhood that have echoed through my life with disproportionate significance. The Dumbo the Flying Elephant Debacle is one of them.  On a family visit to Disneyland when I was five years old, I had no greater wish than to ride Dumbo the Flying Elephant.  But for reasons beyond my ability to comprehend, we had to wait all day before I could finally soar above Fantasyland aboard a fibreglass elephant with freakishly large ears.  To this day, I remember the sense of frustration and unfairness that overshadowed a day that should have been a highlight of my young life.  I was the precocious younger sister in a family of two children. My older brother was the perfect, quiet, sometimes sickly well-behaved child. In stark contrast I was the inquisitive, persistent, and rambunctious little girl with energy to burn.
That day at Disneyland, all the signs were there that I was not, as I have always been told, the Golden Child in my family. There was ample evidence of this that day, and over the years. But childhood in a dysfunctional family is often fraught with contradictions.  The public face of the family is there to disguise the dysfunction within, whether it be alcoholism, workaholism, or physical abuse. 
 
One of the hallmarks of the dysfunctional family is denial.  As part of the smokescreen created to hide the dysfunction within, children are often assigned specific roles in the family. For example, a child may become a scapegoat to divert attention from the behavior of an addicted parent.  Another typical role is for a talented child to be set up as an overachiever or “golden child” frequently paraded to the world as a shining example of what must obviously be a healthy, nurturing, family.  As a result, children in this type of environment often grow up to doubt their perceptions, having been told throughout their developmental years that what they were seeing was actually something quite different.
 
In my case, I believed I was the Golden Child because I was brilliant, accomplished, charming, and athletic.  I was told that my brother and I were treated the same.  I believed that the world revolved around me, because I was the golden child and therefore the world was my oyster. Except that it wasn’t.   The world revolved around my alcoholic parent first, and my brother, the first-born male, second. I actually came last. This was evident that day at Disneyland, although I didn’t realize it for years, because I was always told that the world revolved around me, and that I should be eternally grateful for my vaunted position.
Which brings us back to Dumbo the flying elephant.

So there we were at Disneyland. Early in the day I became transfixed by the Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride. There it sat, in all its glory, in the middle of Fantasyland, among other, far less trance-inducing attractions such as Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. I used all of my charm and persuasive skills to convince my parents to let me ride Dumbo, or one of his eight to twelve variously coloured incarnations.  I’m sure it went something like:

MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY: Can we go on Dumbo?  Can we go on Dumbo?  Can we go on Dumbo?  Can we go on Dumbo?  Can we go on Dumbo?

Disneyland’s current promotional description of that very ride lends gravitas to the tragedy of my lengthy wait:

“Soar high in the sky on a fanciful flight above Fantasyland aboard Dumbo the Flying Elephant. . . It’s an exhilarating thrill that is sure to lift your spirit and remind you that, if you believe in yourself, anything is possible!”

(taken from: ) https://disneyland.disney.go.com/attractions/disneyland/dumbo-the-flying-elephant/


But for some reason I had to wait.  So, as the non-Golden Child, I toddled along that day to every single other attraction that anyone else in my family had the remotest interest in seeing.  And finally, after five or six bouts of tears, my mom and I finally rode Dumbo the flying elephant.  It was the purple one. It was the highlight of my young life.  My dad and brother didn’t bother to ride it. They thought it was too lame.  This was another lesson that I learned early in life: other people have the right to make you feel like what you want either doesn’t matter, or at the very least is stupid, girly, and not worthy of their time. 

I would like to be able to say that I saw all of this for what it was, and valiantly rose above the limitations of my dysfunctional family.  But alas, I did not.  I spent many years over-achieving and considering anything less than perfection to be a failure, and believing that all of my accolades made me the Golden Child worthy of praise and unconditional love. But after decades of watching my brother get preferential treatment on everything from deciding what restaurant to go to, to financial support, my brainwashed mind finally saw that (gasp) the world is not a meritocracy. And my family certainly wasn’t either.

I would also like to be able to say that I took this realization with great grace and aplomb, and carried on with head held high and self-esteem intact.  But that isn’t how these things tend to work.  Instead, I spent a number of years in crisis, taking responsibility for everyone else’s shortcomings, trying to fix everything around me, and wondering why I felt so empty even though I was clearly so very capable and successful. But self-esteem is often one of the first casualties of the dysfunctional family.  To the girl who is taught that she only has value if she is beautiful and brilliant and accomplished (even though she is still after all, just a girl), every failure is a near-fatal blow to the self-esteem.
But I did eventually ride the purple Dumbo with my mom, who has always done her utmost to be there for me, even though she knew that she could only do so much within the confines of her own invisible shackles. And I finally figured things out for myself, because that is what I do. Because, despite my dysfunctional upbringing, or maybe because of it, I am extremely independent, and capable, and resilient as all get out.  

Maybe I will even get a tattoo someday:  a purple flying elephant to remind me that, when the wait is over and I finally board that whimsical purple pachyderm, in the immortal words of the Disney promotional team:

“It’s an exhilarating thrill that is sure to lift your spirit and remind you that, if you believe in yourself, anything is possible!”

Happily is enough; Let’s leave Ever After to the fairy tales

boys at beach

 

Just because something doesn’t last forever doesn’t mean it wasn’t meant to be, or even that it was never yours. It just wasn’t meant to be yours forever.

I said this to my son the other night after we finished watching the final episode of How I Met Your Mother.  And the funny thing is, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t something I even knew to be true until I said it.

How I Met Your Mother is a show that my younger son and I have shared since we both came to it belatedly about three years ago.  If you’re not familiar with the show, it basically ended like this. Ted spent 9 seasons looking for “the one.” He finally found her, but the universe only loaned her to him for about ten years before she became ill and died. Which, after an appropriate period of mourning and living and raising his children had elapsed, allowed him to see that his old friend Robyn was perhaps the other “one.”  And life went on.

With any luck, my children are learning things it took me four decades to only begin to understand. And somehow, I am beginning to believe that will make it worth the cost of the journey for me, which has been dear.  And for that I am beginning to feel grateful, because I often fear that my mistakes and shortcomings will scar my children as they have me.

It is difficult to give things up: loves, careers, homes; dreams, security, forevers.  Our world often lulls us into believing that we can have some things forever: your one true love, your health, an intact relationship with members of your family. And maybe some forevers are real. Like a mother’s love for her children, or one’s love of books, or the first taste of ice cream each spring.

I grew up believing in fairy tales and forevers and happy endings.  And I can’t really blame anyone for brainwashing me into it: that is just what I wanted to believe in; maybe I needed to.  But the seemingly innocuous dream of happily-ever-after is a dangerous illusion for the dreamer that puts her heart and soul into everything she does.  Because sometimes a person focuses so much on the destination that she forgets to enjoy the journey. And if that destination dematerializes in a puff of smoke, it can take a long time to rebuild the rainbow and a new pot of gold worthy of chasing.

My children are not only my greatest joy and accomplishment; they are also two of my greatest teachers. Somehow my choices and the universe’s sense of humour have managed to teach them, and through them, me, a number of valuable lessons. For example:

  • When you give something a funny name, it takes away its power. Just don’t tell the principal that we have dubbed the official school sanctioned portion of the Grade 8 graduation ceremonies StalinGrad, because I will deny it.
  • A genuine apology can sometimes take all the pain away
  • having your mom home when you get home from school is more important than having two parents that make a shitload of money (having one that makes a shitload of money doesn’t hurt, however)
  • A day without cookies is a day wasted
  • A job that makes your mom bitchy and irritable and always too busy for anything is not a job worth having
  • hugs can cure almost anything
  • If I’m yelling at them to pick up all their crap for the 2000th consecutive day, and I add “And pick up that blood!”, they know that I’m not actually angry, I’m just doing my Mom Thing
  • All they need to do to get Dairy Queen on any given day is to ask their mom if she wants to go to Dairy Queen (I don’t think I’ve ever said no. Why would I?)
  • They understand, perhaps better than I do just yet, that marriages sometimes end even if you don’t want them to
  • They know that Moms will always be there for you, even if you’re forty and suddenly need her to drop everything and come to live with you for a month
  • They understand that what they are taught in school is probably important and is probably right, but that they have a role to play in deciding whether what they are being taught has any relevance to their lives, and what to do with that
  • They know that they are the most important thing in their parents’ lives, but that both of their parents still have lives outside of them.

I am still struggling with this whole enjoy-the-moment thing.  But I am getting better at it.  And it seems that the better I get, the smarter my children become.  So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.