Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Bag of tricks

Good or bad we think we know
As if thinking makes things so
All convictions grow along a borderline

What’s this? Yet another post from me, and it’s still July?

Yes, I did.

Some people drink to quell anxiety. Some eat, some use drugs. Some work out relentlessly.

I write, it seems.

Who knows why, but I’m battling a lot of anxiety of late.

I mean, I have chronic anxiety, but I’ve learned to live with it pretty well, with the help of a bag of coping tricks and baby doses of medicine.

These spikes are different. They’re not panic attacks, just this heightened sense of foreboding.

I’m trying not to reach for the pill bottle to treat it.

All my life, I’ve grappled with varying manifestations of separation anxiety.

I chalk up the earliest incidences that I recall to losing four relatives in three years, beginning around the age of ten.

Both of my grandfathers died. My father’s sister, my aunt Tess, died. And my cousin Margaret died.

Margaret was just 24 when she died of leukemia, back in the day when doctors didn’t have the treatments that they do now. She was 12 years older than me, so I would have been 12. Margaret was married and had a year-old son.

We didn’t know she was so sick. Her father didn’t want Margaret to know how sick she was, and suspected that a stream of visits from relatives would have clued her in. Especially relatives she didn't see often.

I wasn’t close to her, there was the age difference, and we didn’t see as much of my father’s family as we did my mother’s.

It shook me badly though.

Of course I was a kid and didn’t connect the dots, but year I was 12 was the year I stopped sleeping over anywhere. That summer was the summer between elementary school and junior high, or in my case, high school, because Hunter High School was a six-year program, from seventh grade through twelfth grade.

I remember going to orientation, at the big Gothic building on Lexington Boulevard at 78th Street, in Manhattan. We toured the basement locker room area and I remember that it was very dark and creepy. The who thing, the subway ride, so many new girls, so many smart girls, the hugeness of it all, had to be overwhelming.

That summer my parents packed me off to sleep-away camp somewhere in upstate New York, for eight weeks. My brother and I were taken to a bus depot, where we boarded camp buses. I had an ominous feeling. I may have cried and begged not to go, but I can’t swear to that memory.

Things did not go well at camp. I hated the cabin. I didn’t fit in with the other girls. They’d make fun of their mothers, talk about how goofy they looked and acted. I loved my mother. I couldn’t join in. The girls were boy-obsessed. They planned a middle of the night raid on the boys cabin. After they all fell asleep I got up and turned off the alarm clock.

You can imagine how popular all this made me.

I hated camp life. The heat, the bugs. The food. The sports. I liked arts and crafts, but it made me really angry when I had to stop painting my squirrel portrait to go to swimming. I especially hated swimming, because it meant having to get undressed and into a bathing suit.

I was a “late bloomer.” I didn’t start my period until I was 14. I was flat as a board while the other girls were already showing curves or at least stuffing their trainer bras with cotton. I wasn’t ready for any of it.

At the end of a week, I went to the office and got permission to call home. I asked to come home. I never in a million years expected to not be allowed to come home, but that is what happened. My parents said no.

In retrospect, I think their motives can be rationalized. They thought that I was homesick and that if I stuck it out, I’d adjust and have a good time. They wanted to make me tough. I think also that my mom really cherished her time off from kids. She thought I’d be bored at home, in the summer, in the city. She didn’t want to make plans for me. She wanted to go to the theater and to the beach club with her friends.

She never understood that I was perfectly happy at home with a book.

The camp moved me to another cabin, with older girls, who were at least slightly less immature, and that was better, but not great. Day after day I wrote sad letters home, sometimes to my cat, pleading to come home. Once a week I called. At the end of the third week, my mother said that if I’d stop writing sad letters and write happy ones, they’d let me come home after parents weekend the following week.

So for a week I wrote happy letters and packed my duffel bag. When my parents arrived for parents weekend, they were surprised that I was still determined to come home.

“But you sounded so much happier in your letters,” my mother said.

I went home with them. I was so happy to be home. My mother was so resentful, and didn’t hide it.

Here I should mention that when she was sixteen, my mother left Germany on a Kindertransport, to live with strangers, not knowing whether she’d see her parents again. She had to be tough, she didn’t have a choice. I’m honestly not sure how she felt at heart, but she’s different from me, and I don’t think she ever experienced the neurotransmitter depletion that I’ve wrestled with.

I was glad to be home from camp, but that is when I started to feel massive anxiety about my parents. I was afraid of them dying. I was afraid of that every day. I was afraid whenever they were out of my sight, until I was with them again.

Life went on though, years and years of it. My parents sent me to a different camp the following summer. By the second or third day I was asking to come home. I stopped eating. I stopped doing activities with my bunk mates. I disappeared into the woods for hours.

After a week, the camp expelled me. I went home again.

That same summer, my parents signed me up for day camp. A bus would come every morning and bring me home at night. I cried and pleaded not to go. I went for one day. I did not play ball. I did not change into a bathing suit. I did not eat lunch.

I did not go back.

Instead, I got branded a misfit. My parents took me to a therapist. I didn’t want to talk to her. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me. I sat in stony silence for my sessions. The therapist told my parents she couldn’t help me.

So they took me to a different therapist. Same shit, different day. I still would not play ball.

I think what we needed was family therapy, rather than fingers pointed at me, because I was the one who was different, who couldn't adjust, who couldn't be like the other kids who loved camp.

Until the summer before my senior year of high school, I never successfully spent any time away from home. I tried, again and again. There was a horseback riding camp. I was there for one day. There was a teen tour to Europe. I came home early.

It's a miracle that my parents kept trying or allowing me to try, and didn't just give up and send me to Queens College.

But sure enough, I grew up, and left home and launched. And ironically, when I was 23, I moved 2,000 miles away from my family, to Texas, and never lived near my parents again.

My separation anxiety stayed in abeyance until my children were old enough to maneuver in the world without me. Then I could barely let them out of my sight.

How did I go to work every day for all those years? It was something of a miracle. You do what you have to do. But I only ever felt really secure once we were back home under one roof each night.

If I took them anywhere, to the mall, out for pizza, I always had my eyes on them. If they disappeared for a minute, my heart raced. But I coped. I let them go to parties, I let them go places with their friends. Later I got them cars. And cell phones.

What was I so worried about? The usual things I suppose, traffic accidents, child molesters, alien abductions.

Seriously, my biggest fear was that they'd disappear from the face of the earth.

Little by little, just like when I was a kid, I let go. As someone said, at some point you have to let go and let God.

So my kids went to summer camp, but never for eight weeks, and only because they wanted to go.

And they grew up, and went away to college, and neither of them came home again to stay.

As much as the past sometimes haunts me, there are other times when I wish I could go back and have my kids safe under one roof again.

But instead, I moved 1,200 miles away from my kids, because really, if you are 300 miles away or even 150 miles away, you don't really see them any more often.

Still, it's always out there, you never completely stop worrying. I don't.

All the while knowing that worry is ineffective. Useless.

Why worry twice, my dad used to say.

Why borrow tomorrow's trouble, my mom used to say.

Wise words.

At the end of the day though, I can't turn off the anxiety. If I could, I would. Who would choose to feel this way if they had a choice? Not me, not anyone.

I have to live with it. I have to push through it when I can. I have to be kind to myself when I can't.

Nothing new there. Or here. But writing out the words is one of the coping tricks in my bag.

That is all.

Everybody looks so ill at ease
So distrustful so displeased
Running down the table
I see a borderline
Like a barbed wire fence
Strung tight strung tense
Prickling with pretense
A borderline

Why are you smirking at your friend
Is this to be the night when
All well-wishing ends
All credibility revoked
Thin skin thick jokes
Can we blame it on the smoke
This borderline

Every bristling shaft of pride
Church or nation
Team or tribe
Every notion we subscribe to
Is just a borderline
Good or bad we think we know
As if thinking makes things so
All convictions grow along a borderline

Smug in your jaded expertise
You scathe the wonder world
And you praise barbarity
In this illusionary place
This scared hard-edged rat race
All liberty is laced with

Every income every age
Every fashion-plated rage
Every measure every gauge
Creates a borderline
Every stone thrown through glass
Every mean-streets kick-ass
Every swan caught on the grass
Will draw a borderline

You snipe so steady
You snub so snide
So ripe and ready
To diminish and deride
You're so quick to condescend
My opinionated friend
All you deface all you defend
Is just a borderline
Just a borderline
Another borderline
Just a borderline .

(Joni Mitchell © Crazy Crow Music)

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Killing July

All the things you treasure most will be the hardest won
I will watch you struggle long before the answers come

July is flying by, and I don’t have a lot to show for it.

Unless you count the miles of yarn that I’ve knitted and crocheted. And the meters of glass that I’ve melted.

I finished my Montana Mountain Cowl and started my Courage Shawl.

I finally finished the crazy, gigantic, and possibly over-ambitious wall hanging for the bonus room. I made the wall hanging mostly out of cotton yarns, because I figured it was less stretchy than wool would have been. I didn’t account for the fact that cotton is heavier than comparable weight wool. Yeah I know that makes no sense if you’re not a yarn geek. Yarn weights are diameters or thicknesses. Fifty grams of wool will generally have more yardage than 50 grams of cotton.

The challenge is going to be hanging the piece, which weighs roughly four pounds. Neil has some ideas having to do with a plank and carpenters staples. We’ll see how that goes.

In glass news, I finished a 400 bead order for Beads of Courage, for their staff development and bereavement programs. I’m almost finished with a 150 Halloween bead order from a longtime customer, and now Beads of Courage wants another 200 beads. I’ve been enjoying making them, which is good, because I’ve otherwise lost all motivation to make beads.

Which brings me to a decision hanging over me. I signed up for a bead retreat in Asheville in September. I wanted to go a year ago and last Spring as well, but both sessions were full. I got in this time by signing up the instant registration opened - in the car, on my phone. Neil was driving, just so you know.

But now I’m wondering if I really want to go. I can get most of my payment back if I drop out by the end of July. I’m conflicted because going will be highly anxiety-provoking, even though I suspect it will be fun if I push myself. The expense of hotels and meals is a consideration too.

Primarily though, I’m ambivalent about my lamp working future. The thought of a bead swap, which once would have filled me with joy, now fills me with apathy, if not dread. I don’t especially want to make trade beads. I don’t have a ton of inventory beads to trade. And I don’t need to collect any more beads, not even very cool artisan ones. But if I go, I will participate, even if it means giving away some of my vintage creations.

I’ll keep thinking about it, probably right up until the last minute.

So, between beads, yarn, and some treadmill time, the days keep evaporating. Neil and I have been watching some of the 50-year anniversary of the moon walk documentaries. We finished season five of Line of Duty, and now have to wait a year or so for season six. It’s bizarre because Vicky McClure is such a dead ringer for Chelsea (or vice versa?) that it’s almost disconcerting. Especially in the first and last season.

Vicky McClure/Chelsea

We’re also slogging through Outlander, which I described as “fucking and fighting” loosely interspersed with narrative elements. We both loved Good Omens, I the more so because of three episodes with Mireille Enos.

My readership may recall how much I loved The Killing. I actually re-watched it last year. So, I’m not sure how I didn’t know about the series Hanna. It premiered with much hype on Super Bowl Sunday, but just now randomly rose to the top of my watch list. I was pleased to see Enos featured again.

Now this is embarrassing, but I didn’t immediately recognize Joel Kinnaman. In the first episodes he was long-haired, bearded, and spoke with a convincingly authentic Eastern European accent. But even clean-shaven and short-cropped, it took me until episode four to wonder, is that, could it be, Kinnaman. By the time I searched IMDb for the answer, I was sure, I was just confirming.

Heller/Weigler (Kinnaman/Enos)
Holder/Linden (Kinnaman/Enos)
OK, so he looks almost exactly the same. It was the accent that fooled me.
Enos and Kinnaman play drastically different roles from detective partners Linden and Holder. In Hanna, both are criminally violent, even if for somewhat well-meant motivations, and they are adversaries. They have limited onscreen time together, in fact. But there is one moment in episode six, in an elevator, when the Linden-Holder magic is there. It’s in the way the look at each other, in the way they communicate without words.

I didn’t love the show. So much of it centers on 15-year-old Hanna, and the story line of a teenager, raised in isolation, functioning in the real world, isn’t compelling. The violence also is over the top and improbable to boot, unless you believe that a teenage girl, even one raised as a warrior, and her mortally injured guardian are able to overcome squadrons of soldiers with automatic weapons using mostly acrobatics and bare limbs.

The show has been renewed for another season, which raises, or begs, the question, is Erik Heller really dead? Hanna and her friend thought so, and actually buried him, in a shallow grave. It’s kind of hard to picture how he could come back from that. But it’s also hard to picture how the story would go on without him. I don’t mean the plot, that could be worked out, but the Enos-Kinnaman connection is what saves the series’ bacon.

In my opinion anyway.

Some of the series renewal news reported that Kinnaman would be back. But the also reported that another dead character would be back. So who knows. I’ll be googling periodically. Fingers crossed.

And I'll probably re-watch Hanna season one when there's an air date for season two, to fully appreciate the Enos-Kinnaman dynamic.

Now that I know.

Time it was I had a dream, and you're the dream come true
If I had the world to give, I'd give it all to you.
I'll take you to the mountains, I will take you to the sea
I'll show you how this life became a miracle to me

You'll fly away, but take my hand until that day
So when they ask how far love goes
When my job's done you'll be the one who knows

All the things you treasure most will be the hardest won
I will watch you struggle long before the answers come
But I won't make it harder, I'll be there to cheer you on
I'll shine the light that guides you down the road you're walking on

Before the mountains call to you, before you leave this home
I want to teach your heart to trust, as I will teach my own
But sometimes I will ask the moon where it shined upon you last
And shake my head and laugh and say it all went by too fast

You'll fly away, but take my hand until that day
So when they ask how far love goes
When my job's done you'll be the one who knows

(Dar Williams © BMG Rights Management)

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The truth about grandmothers

The company's gone and I'm sitting alone
Away from the noise and the fuss
The pets have returned and this weekend I've learned
Little children are nothing like us

So, our houseguests have come and gone, and for pretty much the whole visit, the soundtrack was Cheryl Wheeler’s song, Little Kids.*

In my head only, of course.

It was a short visit, just four days, three nights, but it felt longer. And it was originally supposed to be longer, two nights longer, but Laurie decided this would be long enough. And it was. Traveling with a toddler is a lot. Hosting a toddler is a lot.

The fun has begun.
We had some of the hottest days we’ve ever had here, but we did cram in a lot. Playgrounds, the pool, the aquarium. Alino Pizzeria, Carrburritos, and the Galway Hooker. Bagels, sandwiches, pop tarts. Pelican SnoBalls, and Whit’s Frozen Custard. Legos, crayons, toy trucks, bedtime stories. Lots of bedtime stories.

We also squeezed in all of season five of Black Mirror, after the baby was asleep.

All in all, it could have been worse, and it could have been better.

I'm reading a book on my iPad to Blake. Notice how entranced he is. By the iPad.
It’s an odd role, being a step-grandmother, especially with the strained historic relationship I have with Laurie. I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t, so I mostly don’t, which is the path of least resistance. I say only positive things, which isn’t hard, because Blake is a good egg, mostly cheerful and very bright. There was a meltdown or two, but as I said, if he were good all the time, then I’d worry.

I’m never sure if she hears me though. She’s hypersensitive to anything I say and filters everything through the most negative interpretation possible. She’s got her antenna up for any word or even look of judgment. And judgment is my middle name, but I try to be as opaque as possible. Which this time meant keeping my eyes on my knitting to the degree possible. Not that that in and of itself wouldn’t have been construed as a form of judgment.

I can’t win anyway, so at least I got some knitting done.

Montana Mountain Cowl pattern by Andrea Mowry. Yarn is
Spincycle Dyed-in-the-Wool in Truth Bomb and Fleece Artist Merino Slim in Silver.
No question, houseguests are stressful. For Neil, it was the little hands on the wall, the milk spilled on the sofa, the pop tarts bits on the floor. For me it was the general chaos, the shoes and toys everywhere, the entire kitchen island covered with cups and books and backpacks and bags and bottles. It was the noise. It was the constant eating, the food waste, the sheer physical size of the extra people in my personal space.

The best part? We survived. Neil said he’s looking forward to a quiet July, and I have to agree. Lazy days of knitting, coffee breaks, smoothies, homemade soup with veggies from the garden. Crime drama on the treadmill, books, maybe beads or maybe not, maybe writing or maybe not.

No doubt I’ll become restive and broody again at some point, but I’ll take that as it comes.

For now, I’ve made a truce with my internal conflict. I’m taking the Scarlett O’Hara approach. I’ll think about loneliness and isolation tomorrow.

And when tomorrow comes, as it is wont to do, I’m planning to approach my Weltschmerz through the lens of the philosophy of Byron Katie, who suggests that we ask ourselves these four questions:
  1. Is it true?
  2. Can you absolutely know it’s true?
  3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe the thought?
  4. Who would you be without the thought?
I only recently heard of Katie and her work (aka The Work), but I’ve long known that some of the stories I tell myself contribute to the impasses I find myself facing. It’s highly probable that I’m the biggest obstacle standing in my own path. And I suspect that shining a bright light on some of my most self-shaming stories might call into question their value as gospel.

Another new tool in my self-defense arsenal was suggested by on online friend, whose therapist told her, when the black thoughts come, imagine a hard stop. Picture a stop sign for example. My friend found that what worked for her was an imaginary buzzer, like you’d hear on a game show if you gave the wrong answer.

I’m already using both the imaginary image and sound. Stop. Just stop. Right now. Not going there today.

I’ll run with that as far as I can.

When and if I can’t, the harder work will come.

I’m not looking forward to it, but it doesn’t truly terrify me either.

After all, tomorrow is another day.

*Little Kids by Cheryl Wheeler

Well hello, come in, great to see you again
Been such a long drive, guess you're beat
Heaven's what's that? It's a dwarf in a hat
Oh no, you've brought the children, how sweet

I'm sure you mentioned it when we'd last spoken
Let me just move these so they don't get broken
He's such a delight, and you're staying the night
You know I just love little kids

Little kids are sticky and cute
Little kids have mud on their boots
And they run through my house
And they torment my dogs
And I surely do love little kids

Now let's sit in here, honey this is your chair
No, kitty's afraid when you shout
Oh, it's ok, it was old anyway
And the other one washes right out

Don't touch the parrot, that's right it's a mean one
How do they do it? I'd need a machine gun
She's patient and kind, I'd be out of my mind
You know I just love little kids

Little kids will cry anywhere
Little kids have milk in their hair
And they run through my house
And they torment my dogs
And I surely do love little kids

Now don't pull their tails
No, they're not mean
And yes, if they bite you, it hurts
It's just a Sears coffee machine
Nobody knows how it works

The company's gone and I'm sitting alone
Away from the noise and the fuss
The pets have returned and this weekend I've learned
Little children are nothing like us

'Cause they put their food in ridiculous places
They leave their fingerprints on their own faces
Oh, how could you say we all started this way?
You know I just love little kids

Little kids, get up way before me
Little kids, leave a trail of debris
And they run through my house
And they torment my dogs
And I surely do love little kids

(Cheryl Wheeler)