Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A mixed bag of guilt

"You always say you know me, somehow I don't think you do."

Back in the day, and I mean way, way back in the day, I was a runner. Yes, in my twenties after avoiding aerobic exercise throughout high school and college, I started jogging. I couldn't run 50 yards at first, but I built up stamina quickly and pretty soon I was running four 10-minute miles four times a week. I did this for two and a half years, until both of my knees were screaming "mercy."

After that I launched into Jazzercise and later low-impact aerobics, with bouts of Hatha Yoga, Pilates, Nia and Tai Chi. Followed by a long period of couch potato ennui, where I counted parking at the far end of the parking lot and taking 3 flights of stairs as my exercise program.

This post isn't about exercise, even though I'm proud to say that I started walking a couple of miles daily this year and for the last two months I've been walking on the treadmill at the community fitness center for at least an hour at least four times a week, sometimes more.

No, this post is about guilt. The guilt I felt in my running days if I couldn't (or didn't) run. I don't consider myself prone to addictions, but having taken up an exercise regime, I was slightly obsessive about it. I never got a runner's high but I did get a profound sense of relief from having completed a run. Conversely I suffered discomfort when I couldn't run and shame if I skipped it. I remember running in my hometown of Forest Hills, New York, on concrete sidewalks when the temperature was so cold that I had to breathe through a bandana.

I've been diligent about walking on the treadmill every day that I can, but I don't find myself stressing if I miss a few days. I even allow myself weekends off and if I'm on a trip out of town, that's OK too. I enjoy my walks because I watch old British mysteries on instant video on my iPad while I walk. I'd never give myself permission to watch movies or TV shows during the day otherwise.

What is causing me guilt at the moment is missing a beadmaking day. At this time of year, I work in the mornings, starting before 9 a.m. and quitting about noon when it gets too damn hot in my west-facing garage studio. I don't make beads when Neil is off, which is one day per week or two, and I don't make beads on weekends if I have other things to do. But I guard my bead time relentlessly on weekdays.

The thing is, it's a mixed bag, this guilt. I have trays full of beads and I make them faster than I sell them. So I'm confused about where this drive to constantly make more comes from. Momentum has something to do with it. The idea that I'll only improve my skills by practice, practice and more practice plays in. The knowledge of just how much glass I have in my stash to be made into beads bears weight. Having discipline to work through creative slumps is important to me, and much of the recent past has been a challenge creatively.

It's 91 degrees right now, on its way to 97 degrees, which isn't terrible but isn't great either. It's also past noon, so no beads today. I'll clean the ones from yesterday, maybe take pictures and draft listings for my online shop.

I didn't plan to skip today, but I knew it was a possibility. I went (fasting) to have my blood drawn this morning, because I want to know my cholesterol numbers before I renew an expensive prescription for Lovaza. What should have been quick and easy was a four-stick ordeal. I asked the phlebotomist to use a butterfly, a tiny needle used on babies, because yes, my veins are that small. She said she was using a small needle and stuck me on the back of my forearm after evaluating both of my inner elbows. She got a partial tube, the first of three tubes, before she gave up.

For sticks two and three she did use a butterfly, one in my inner left elbow and one on the inside of my left forearm, and got squat. I'm not a baby, I have a reasonably high tolerance for pain, and no squeamishness about needles, but the third futile stick caused me to shed a tear. It's not like I ever breeze through having blood drawn, but four sticks is a record. At this point the phlebotomist called in another phlebotomist. She hit my vein with the butterfly but my blood dripped rather than flowed, so filling three more tubes was tedious (and hopefully we got enough blood for all my routine tests to be done).

I had to pick up milk for Neil, along with our other staples, cat sand and cat food. I made a quick stop at Ulta to spend my coupon on some tea tree face wash, and then picked up what I needed at Kroger and came home. Put the milk away and had some breakfast and by then it was 11 a.m. and I decided not to make beads today. Reasonable but guilt-inducing all the same. Especially since tomorrow I have an early doctor's appointment and while I hope they are super-efficient (I printed the new patient forms from the website so I can just hand them in when I arrive), there's a fair chance that if I'm not home by 10 a.m. I'll blow off beads again.

But bloody hell, I've been talking about taking a break from lampworking. Maybe for just a week, certainly for no more than a month, but trying a break as a way out of the repetitious rut I've fallen victim to. Nose-to-the-grindstone purposefulness has neither bred creativity nor more versed results. Maybe a breather would be an alternate approach worth trying. What am I afraid of? What have I got to lose? And yet, I feel the obdurate draw of the torch. Siren or muse, I can't tell right now.

I make beads, therefore I am.

I'm getting closer on the new frit blends too. I had to order more pinks, seven more pinks to be precise, to finish tweaking Heirloom Roses. I also ordered one more purple to complete Kalahari. And Beachcomber is done, I just have to make more example beads and write up the listing. I'll have the latter two for sale on August 1.

Here's a quick peek.

I'm also in an exchange called Sisterhood of the Traveling Bead. In a nutshell here are the rules.
I receive a box with beads, glass and beadmaking supplies.
The beads are mine to keep.
All the things in the box do not have to be used.
I make beads with ONLY what is in the box and send them, along with a new box of glass and supplies, to the next person on the list.
The next person on the list keeps the bead I made.
They make beads with ONLY what is in the box and send them, along with a new box of glass and supplies, to the next person on the list.
I've got the box right now, and here what was in it.

I have a couple of weeks to work on my beads made with the box contents. But in typical Liz form, I'll get them done sooner rather than later. Lots to work with here, including a couple of rods of silver glass, silver foil and shards, and those beautiful eye cane that I will slice into murrini. Fun times.

So here's the plan for tomorrow. An early morning appointment. Torch time. Massage at 2 p.m. because my masseuse is taking the month of August off - the whole month! Had to get in one more before she goes. Treadmill time, the usual, 4 miles and an episode of Inspector Lewis (I'm watching Season 2 now.) Dinner.

And then Neil is off on Friday, and on Saturday I have a trunk show, first one of the year, at Spring Beads. Which reminds me, I need to get my show trays in order and take stock of my show supplies.

And buy chocolate.

"You know I hate it when you stick your hand inside my head
And switch all my priorities around
Why don't you go pick on someone your own size instead?
Go on without me, I'll just slow you down

You always say you know me somehow I don't think you do
Maybe you should buy another vowel
You're jumping to conclusions so I can't keep up with you
Go on without me, I'll just slow you down

I'll just hold you up
When I fall behind
I'll just throw your schedule off
So you get going if you're so inclined

You know I hate it when you put your hand inside my head
And switch all my priorities around
You think you're pretty tricky but you're simply overbred
Go on without me, I'll just slow you down."

[Warren Zevon, I'll Slow You Down, from Life'll Kill You. He was a Genius.]

Friday, July 19, 2013

The bead hoarders blog hop

"You don't know you're beautiful. That's what makes you beautiful."

Today, Saturday (OK, tomorrow, since I'm posting this on Friday night) is the Bead Hoarders Blog Hop. What's a BHBH you ask? It's like the Bead Soup Party and Blog Hop. Without the Bead Soup. Instead of swapping beads with a partner and making something with the beads you get, you use the beads in your own stash.

Lori Anderson, who coordinates this shindig, says it best.
So what's this blog hop design challenge about? Well, I've noticed that I'm really, really good at collecting beads, but not so good at parting with them! I've amassed a scary number of beads that need to see the light of day. I have excuses -- lots of excuses. This one is too special, this set cost a lot more than I usually spend, this set needs just the right accent beads.

Enough excuses! It's time to play!

You use your own hoarded stash and make as many pieces as you like.
It sounds easy. I have a stash. I have intentions to use at least some of the beads in my stash before I die.

Long ago, I acknowledged that I'm a bead collector, more so than a jewelry maker. Long ago, I gave myself permission to just own my beads and released myself from the pressure to do anything with them, except maybe look at them, handle them, take them out and reorganize them. Beads are pretty, little gems of stone and glass. I get as much (if not more) joy from simply having them as I do from making things with them and wearing them.

I do like to work with my hands and sometimes I string something just to be doing it. Lately I've been taking apart things I made when I was starting out and remaking them with improved materials, better design ideas and sharper skills.

To the extent that all beads I own are part of my stash, I did use beads from my stash for these pieces.

The idea for the rainbow piece I stole shamelessly from a three-strand piece by talented designer Laura Bracken that she posted on Facebook. It tickles me and I plan to wear the heck out of it, starting tomorrow at a Beads of Courage work day at Glass Sorbet.

The piece with the turquoise green beads is a restring of one I made and liked but saw room for improvement. And because I love love love the beads, I remade it with a new focal and accent beads.

The floral is a restring of a very early piece I made and although I loved the original focal, the flower bead felt more right with the coral beads, and I added the copper hardware.

So that's about it. I could take more photos of recent pieces, but honestly, I'm a bead maker, not a bead jewelry maker. It's fun to dabble, but I'm hoping to have new beads to show soon and I'm testing 3 new frit blends, Heirloom Roses, Kalahari and Beachcomber, shooting for an August 1 release.

I'm sure there will be some absolutely stunning eye candy made by the other 166 participants in this Blog Hop and you can find the links to their blogs at Pretty Things.

"Baby you light up my world like nobody else
The way that you flip your hair gets me overwhelmed
But when you smile at the ground it ain't hard to tell
You don't know
Oh oh
You don't know you're beautiful
If only you saw what I can see
You'll understand why I want you so desperately
Right now I'm looking at you and I can't believe
You don't know
Oh oh
You don't know you're beautiful
Oh oh
You don't know you're beautiful
Oh oh

That's what makes you beautiful."
[One Direction, What Makes You Beautiful]

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Lost in brain space

"If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it."

I guess I knew it was bound to happen sometime. Or maybe not. Maybe my mom would slip away quietly, while still in her steady state, the one where she knows who I am, who my brother is, where she still has some memories of days gone by. Even if she can't remember her grandchildren, or the fact that she has a great grandson. Even if she can't remember what she had for lunch, or whether or not she had lunch.

As recently as two or three weeks ago, she shocked me on the telephone by asking, "how are things in Texas?"

It's as though something in her brain, some little light of memory and recognition flickered out between then and now.

We planned this weekend so that I'd have more time than usual with Mom. Thursday we flew into Orlando for a coin show and auction. Friday we drove to Cocoa Beach, so I could visit a glass vendor and handpick some glass. We spent the afternoon at the Kennedy Space Center. That was an impulse decision, and we were surprised to find out that it was more like an amusement park than a museum.

I have to admit, it was a thrill to see the space shuttle Atlantis. Especially the way it was presented. You go into a room and see a little movie and at the end the movie screen turns out to be a door that opens to the cavernous room where Atlantis hangs, suspended on cables, at an angle that let's you look into the open payload bay.

I live just outside Houston and I visited NASA exactly once, when the kids were small. But the Apollo moon missions are endlessly interesting to me. The first time I rented the movie Apollo 13, I watched it and the next night I watched it again.

And because I felt so cheerful, with 5 lbs. of bubble-wrapped glass in the car, and goosebumps from seeing the Atlantis, I agreed to go on the ride that simulates the shuttle launch experience. It was head-throbbingly intense but mercifully brief.

Afterwards we had a lovely seafood dinner overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. And Saturday morning I regretfully skipped the beach so we could get on the road to see my mom.

We drove some blinding rain and arrived about 1 pm, good timing I thought since mom finishes lunch about that time. I found her in her room, in her wheelchair. Her regular aide is away for a couple of weeks, but a friend of the aide is filling in, and she was there with Mom.

Mom didn't appear to know me, but the very first thing she said to me was, "I want to pass, can you help me." When my dad died at the end of 2010, my mom kept saying, like a broken record, "I just want to go to sleep and never wake up." I thought we were back to that. I was wrong.

It soon became apparent that my mom was playing a fantasy game of bridge.

It was time for the aide to leave, so she got mom in bed, with her feet propped up. Mom sleeps in a hospital bed provided by the hospice program, and it's pushed up against the double bed my brother and I bought for her, that she slept in for maybe a month, after transitioning from respite care to residence at Homewood, an assisted living facility.

I climbed up on the double bed so I could get closer to Mom and try to talk to her, try to find some evidence of recognition in her hazel eyes. Mom didn't know who I was, but she asked me several times, "what is the contract?" Periodically, she'd bid. "Two clubs."

Light bulb moment. She wasn't asking me to help her die, she was playing bridge. "Pass."

I wish I could say things improved from there. They did not. Mom dozed and we sat with her. Then we went to the Festival Mall for a while. I used to love to go there with both my parents. I couldn't help wondering if this was the last time I'd see it. Neil and I split a black-and-white cookie and had coffee. We went back to Mom, and she was sleeping. Someone had come in and put her in a nightgown while we were gone.

Dinner is at five and usually one of the Homewood aides comes and gets her up and ready. An aide did come in and saw that Mom was fast asleep and left. Mom's room is really dark on a rainy day, there is no overhead light at all, only one table lamp in the far corner. Five o'clock came and I said, lets wait 5 more minutes. At 5:07 I went to the dining room and asked if they were coming for Mom. One of the aides who has been there for a while said, I'll save her dinner for her.

So I went back to her room and as we were deciding to go to our hotel and check in, another aide came with a dinner tray. A grilled cheese sandwich, water, juice, pie. The aide woke mom and wrestled her into her wheelchair, although mom couldn't have been less interested. "Pass," she said, and "leave me alone." Neil and I were trapped and forced to watch in horror as mom was ordered to open her mouth and food was shoveled in, Mom fighting every bite. "Pass. Pass. Pass."

Finally it was over and mom was wrestled back into bed. I tried to make sure she was comfortable.

"Are you warm or cold?" I asked. "I'm not anything!" was the answer, delivered in a hostile tone.

OK then. "See you tomorrow, Mom, bye," and we were out of there.

Hoping that she was having a bad day, hoping that Sunday would be better.

Sunday was no better.

We arrived mid- morning and Mom was parked in the living room, in her wheelchair, having had breakfast and killing time until lunch with the other residents. She persisted in not knowing me. I showed her some pictures on my iPad and got a polite smile, without recognition or warmth. So I sat by her and talked with one of the other residents for a while. I'm not sure what's worse, losing your mind or keeping it and losing your body. This woman seemed sharp enough, but frail. And probably desperately lonely because she wanted to talk.

My mom mostly stared into space or into whatever space her thoughts go when she isn't sleeping. On Sunday it wasn't a happy space. She looked grim and blank. Eventually I rubbed her shoulder and told her I love her and she said, wait for it, "pass."

So we left and went to the beach.

Like goobers, we were wearing jeans and socks and shoes and didn't so much as have a towel. Luckily I go nowhere without sunblock. We took off our shoes and rolled up our jeans and took a walk along the water's edge. It was hot, the drop off was fairly steep so our jeans got wet. I was lugging a big heavy shoulder bag because I won't leave my iPad in a hot car. Neil insisted on carrying his shoes and socks, although I left mine in the sand by the lifeguard stand.

Along the beach were chaises and beach umbrellas, some occupied, some not. It took a while for us to figure out the system, which was basically a young man with a clipboard, an iPhone and a square-up device. I said to Neil, let's just plop down and I'm sure the system will be explained to us. Which it was, $11 for one hour, which I was happy to pay. That might have been the nicest hour of the trip, stretched out in the shade of the umbrella, listening to beach sounds, the taste of salt spray on my lips.

When our hour was up, Neil was ready to go, so we asked the GPS to find us a coffee shop. After a bit of wild goose chasing we found a sort of outdoor mall, lots of shops, not connected by a common space. We wound up at Panera where we split a sandwich and a muffin. After that it was time to head for the airport and go home.

I'm not sure when or whether I'm going back. I probably wouldn't go back if it didn't leave my brother bearing the entire burden of checking on Mom and making sure we are doing as much for her as we can.

Over the weekend I'd been texting my brother and talking to him on the phone. For some reason, I felt strangely validated when I got this email from him on Monday.
I spoke to mom today. It was not pleasant. She wouldn't say I love you and she said she did not have a nice visit with you and when I asked her if she'd like me to come over and visit she said no.

Maybe Mom will rally again. Maybe not. The day will come, if it hasn't already, when it's just not going to get any damn better. Unless she obligingly shuffles off this mortal coil before too much longer, there's every chance it will get worse. If anything is worse than not recognizing your own child.

Worse for me more than for her I suppose.

"Wear sunscreen.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it.

Don't worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Don't be reckless with other people's hearts. Don't put up with people who are reckless with yours.


Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. You'll miss them when they're gone.

Whatever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else's.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don't be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It's the greatest instrument you'll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they'll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings. They're your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Respect your elders.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen."

[Excerpt, Mary Schmich, Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young, Chicago Tribune, June 1, 1997
Covered by Baz Luhrmann, Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen), 1999]

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Looking at the abyss from the other side

"Where is the lion in you to defy him when you're this weak and this spacey?"

A week. Poof.


It was just a week ago that I sat here and talked about my anxiety and the abyss. I was going to talk more about the abyss. I had a week after all. A week between dropping Neil at the airport last Saturday and picking him up yesterday.

The first day was a little weird because it seems when I am alone I play out the scenario in my mind, what if this was my life? What if there was no one coming home?

Stupid, I know. Don't borrow tomorrow's trouble. Stay present. Don't ruin today, now, by conjuring up grim future scenarios.

All is bright, all's right with the world. Keep calm and and carry on and shut those negative thoughts the fuck up.

Last week I got to look at the abyss from the other side. From the solid ground across the chasm.

I did go finally out last Saturday and spent my Ulta coupon and killed some time browsing and people-watching in Old Navy. When I went home there was a message on the machine from the friend I'd emailed earlier, inviting me over on Sunday to swim in her pool and grill burgers.

I go back to college with this friend. We weren't exactly friends then but I had some classes with her and she's hard not to notice as she stands six foot tall. We didn't hang out in exactly the same circles but she was friendly with some of the same people I was friendly with. It wasn't until we both moved to Houston that we became personal friends.

She married another college alum and sadly it was a match made in hell. One that lasted longer than my own. There's a small group of my college classmates living here, but we've always been spread out from Katy to Kingwood and now to me in Sugar Land. But we got together a few times a year and our kids grew up knowing each other.

I was already divorced for four years and dating Neil when M's marriage blew wide open. It had long, no always, been a troubled relationship but it might have continued in codependent perpetuity as far as M was concerned. She made no secret of the last straw, which was the clear evidence of not only unfaithfulness, but unsafe unfaithfulness and its natural consequences.

So she threw him out and she cried a lot and then her father died and it seemed as though she would never get to the end of her sadness. I know how that feels and I want to talk about it, but some other day. This is about M.

In every failed relationship, both parties bear some culpability, one's behavior perhaps more egregious than then other's, but it's a soul in denial who won't examine the roots of the issues and the part they played.

Some of the part M played in her broken marriage was due to her history of dysfunctional past relationships and her own conviction that she was so unlovable that she had to grab what she could get, and of course you get what you settle for. I know something about that frame of reference too, but at some point I reached my limit and said no more, we both deserve to be happy, we both deserve to love and be loved, and it ain't happening here so maybe we need to move on.

M only reached that point when her back was to the wall, and even then I suspect she would have taken him back. It's all to the good that once he had his walking papers he kept walking. And while M grieved, our kids grew up and went off to college and started to get married. M met her current ex-boyfriend in the course of planning her daughter's wedding in the summer of 2010.

They dated for 2 and a half years and about 6 months in, M told me, I think we're in it for the long haul. And she spoke of how he treated her better than any man had ever treated her. It was odd that I never met him, none of her friends met him. He didn't want to meet us, a bunch of college grads. He was rougher around the edges, thrice previously divorced, but as far as I knew he was good to M and she was happy and that's what was important.

Until it all spilled out last Sunday and for the first time I heard about the alcoholic rages, the verbal abuse, the bipolar shifts in personality. I heard about things that would have been plenty for me to walk away from, the first time they happened, that had been going on for at least the last two years. And then a few weeks ago he broke things off in a cruel and final way and now all her tears and sadness are back.

It's easy to say, why would you want to be with someone who doesn't want to be with you, except for the fact that I once felt this way about a man, that I'd rather be unhappy with him than happy without him, knowing full well how stupid unhealthy that feeling was. But you feel the way you feel.

It sucks to be alone, the more so at this stage of the game, I'll give you that. But M has much going for her, she looks good, she's a lovely person, a wonderful friend, she has raised two very good kids, she has a lovely home, she's competent and capable and has so many friends. And there she was, saying in one breath that men don't like her, saying that she wished she was like one of her friends whose husband will never leave her because she pays for everything, saying that she'd pretty much compromise on anything just to have a man.

And I sat there, with my toehold on the other side of the abyss, the one where there are flowers and sunlight and music and butterflies, and hurt for my friend who thinks so little of herself that she accepts unkindness and I asked her why she stayed with a man who did these terrible things, who told her to leave on more than one occasion. Who was physically mean to her beloved dog. Who called her a cunt and worse.

Do you know what she said? She said, I love him.

If freedom's just another word for nothing left to loose, in this case "I love you" is just another way of saying, "I don't want to be alone."

One thing I learned between my divorce in 1998 and meeting Neil in 2002. Being alone is better than being in a bad relationship. Because there is hope. You are free should an appropriate, emotionally available man happen to walk across your life path.

I've know M for almost 40 years, we've been friends for the past 30 some years. I asked her if I could be completely honest with her. More accurately, what I said was, it's OK if I speak honestly to you, isn't it. And it was more of a statement than a question.

M drinks. Red wine mostly and being a tall woman she can drink quite a lot. The day I was over, she was sticking to Perrier and white wine spritzers and pacing herself. She knows she has a problem. I don't think she knows how much damage she is doing to her psychic health with the booze. It seems to lubricate her emotionalism and tears.

And I understand it as only one who has been there can. It starts out with grief for the lost relationship, the lost person at their best, the lost romantic dream. But soon the sorrow expands, until you are grieving for every lost relationship, every hurt, every rejection, every loss you ever suffered. And that's a heavy burden.

I told M that I believe she drinks to self-medicate her depression. She has taken Prozac for years for OCD and because it controls her OCD she thinks it is working. But it's not controlling her depression and I told her that she needs to have proper med management and that she doesn't have to feel so sad. I think that if she could start feeling better, she would start to feel better about herself. She might feel like a different person. She might even attract a different sort of man.

I'm just a friend, not a therapist, but I spoke from my heart. But I've never been exactly where she's been. I've had more good and less bad experiences with relationships. I've never had her love affair with the bottle. Hell, I've never been six feet tall and considered men to be intimidated by my size.

But I have been hurt, and I have grieved more deeply and longer than I might have done if my neurotransmitters hadn't been so deficient. And I have visited the abyss and I have crawled back out of the muck and I have crossed back over the line from illness to wellness.

So I said what I said and I hope that she heard me. All I can do now is check on her and let her know I care and be a broken record. The one that says, things can and do get better. Where there's life, there's hope.

I'm the poster child for this. There is always hope.

"Up in a sterilized room
Where they let you be lazy
Knowing your attitude's all wrong
And you got to change
And that's not easy
Dragon shining with all values known
Dazzling you-keeping you from your own
Where is the lion in you to defy him
When you're this weak
And this spacey

So why does it come as such a shock
To know you really have no one
Only a river of changing faces
Looking for an ocean
They trickle through your leaky plans
Another dream over the dam
And you're lying in some room
Feeling like your right to be human
Is going over too

Well some are going to knock you
And some'll try to clock you
You know it's really hard
To talk sense to you
Trouble child
Breaking like the waves at Malibu."

(Joni Mitchell, Trouble Child from Court and Spark)