Thursday, October 31, 2019

Samheim, somehow

This may be the hour
Something move me
Someone prove me wrong
Before night comes
With indifference

I'm ready for this season to be over.

What season, you ask?

Good question. It's not exactly Halloween, or Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or even Autumn.

It's this nebulous and drab season that I'm abysmally mired in for reasons unknown.

There have been bright spots, flashes of light and lightness.

But the gray keeps coming back.

Neil and I went to spend a couple of days in Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

I wasn't feeling it and raised the idea of postponing the trip, but Neil wanted to go.

He'd played in a punishing softball tournament the weekend before. His knees have been bothering him more and more.

He did see an orthopedist who ordered an x-ray, reviewed the images, and said that Neil is the poster child for knee replacement.

Neil of course wanted to try the most conservative approach, so he's been taking prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, bolstered by ibuprofen when he needs more help.

We drove to the park on a Thursday, stopping in Black Mountain for a delicious brunch at Louise's Kitchen and yarn at Black Mountain Yarn Shop, arriving at the park in time for a late afternoon hike. We chose Cascade Falls, an easy four-mile round-trip hike with a gentle elevation gain. Neil was hurting but stoic, until he took a misstep on the way back, and then he was really hurting.

That was our best day.

We checked in to our hotel, which I'd found online and chosen because it was inexpensive and highly rated. Our room backed on the river, and had a little patio which might have been nice if the weather hadn't become dreary and damp.

The room was weirdly configured. It had a double bed set practically up against the front window and a single bed against a wall that sort of doubled as a couch. I'm pretty sure I'd asked for two double beds, but what are you gonna do? If you are with Neil, you won't ask about changing rooms. It had the usual amenities though and was clean, so there's that.

Frankly, being away from home and out of my personal habitat and routines is hard for me right now, but being with Neil makes it bearable, so I made the best of it. We went out and had a pretty good Tex-Mex dinner too, better than any we've found closer to home in fact.

The second day was rainy, and Neil was still hurting pretty badly, so hiking was out. We drove back toward Asheville and went to SAFF - the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair - at the WNC Agricultural Center, in Fletcher. Neil could barely walk from car to venue, so he found a place to sit where he could prop up his leg. I wandered around the vendor areas and bought exactly nothing. Not sure if it was my mood, the dim lighting, the desolate weather outside, or simply not finding any yarn interesting enough to justify paying full hand-dyed-yarn prices.

We drove back to the park in time to buy a mug for our collection, and see some elk, which I have to admit was a bit magical.

Elk don't mind a little rain.

On the way back to our hotel, we picked up subs so we wouldn’t have to go out again in the cold and wet. Got up the next morning and headed home, stopping again for brunch at Louise's, which will now be a tradition on any trips in that direction. That was Saturday, which meant that Neil had to tough it out until Monday before he could call the doctor and start the process for getting knee injections.

By Sunday he had also come down with a cold and was doubly miserable, while his doctor’s office worked through the insurance hurdles to arrange the cortisone and, hopefully, gel injections.

The timing on all this isn’t great, with about a week left until we leave for Dallas and Kandace’s wedding on November 9. I’m drinking lots of OJ, gobbling Airborne gummy gels, and trying not to catch Neil’s cold.

One of the things on my schedule that I was most excited about was an advanced yarn dying class that I went to on Monday. It was a lot of fun, but when it was over I felt deflated, let-down because that thing that I’d most been looking forward to was over.

I do have lots of pretty yarn to work with and a lot of projects in my mind and a couple on my needles. I have my Tuesday yarn group and a workshop in December, some of the bright spots in this colorless (and seemingly endless) life interval.

Things aren't dark, just gray, a painter's palette in shades of gray.

The wedding is a bright spot of a sort, but it’s interwoven with tension. Travel, interacting with new in-laws who I’ll rarely, if ever, see again, having to dress up at least twice, associating with my ex-husband, all the logistics to juggle, it feels like a lot, too much.

Yes, it will be nice to see my children and my grandson, my stepchildren are coming too, and my brother. But it’s a week away from home, and after that, Neil is going to Houston for a few more days. I didn’t want to go this time, but it’s hard to hear him full of plans for seeing a lot of his friends, knowing that he’s probably relieved not to have to worry about having me along.

And after he gets back, he wants to turn around again and go to see his dad and his mom for a week. I get it, they’re each 90-ish and the time to see them is now, not later, because they won’t be here forever. I was just there in August, and as I said then, staying at his dad’s is a challenge and staying at his mom’s means mostly sitting in her kitchen.

I can do that here, at home, where I’m most comfortable and I don’t have to feel guilty about the cats.

When I was in crisis, back in 2001-2002, I would panic at the thought of all the things I needed to do, all the responsibilities piled upon me and me alone. But then I'd remind myself that I didn't have to live the rest of my life today. All I had to do was to do enough to get through that one day. I only had to do the one next thing, one thing at a time.

So right now, I am trying not to look at the bigger picture. I'm coping with each day as it comes. I made it through the muddle back then, and that was a much deeper, darker colored space. I'm not alone now, everything doesn't rest with me, I just have to play my part as well as I can, and as for the rest, well fuck 'em if they can't take a joke.

Trying to end on a more colorful note, here is some of the yarn I dyed.
All the testers and the big cake from my first dye class.

(Come back soon for pix from my advanced dye class)

And just because it amused me, I made a Facebook page called The Dyeing Life. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it, if anything. I have to plans to become an indie dyer, to go into production mode, to do anything more than dye the occasional yarn for a personal project. I can rent space for that at Hearts on Fiber, and the owner, Kim, already said she would help me.

And oh yes, here is something else I'm excited about. They are having a contest with some of their own dyed yarn. They are selling a kit with six colors of their stubby skeins and one full "mama" skein that ties in all the colors. The idea is to make something by the end of February, which you can then enter into a contest. I have an idea that I'm playing with in my head and hope it turns out to be an award-winning one.

Vibrant, multi-hued, polychromatic spots abound. All I have to do is to remember to look for them.

I may know the word
But not say it
I may know the truth
But not face it
I may hear a sound
A whisper sacred and profound
But turn my head

I may know the word
But not say it
I may love the fruit
But not taste it
I may know the way
To comfort and to soothe
A worried face
But fold my hands

If I'm on my knees
I'm begging now
If I'm on my knees
Groping in the dark
I'd be paying for deliverance
From the night into day

But it's all gray here
It's all gray to me
It's all gray to me

I may know the word
But not say it
This may be the time
But I might waste it
This may be the hour
Something move me
Someone prove me wrong
Before night comes
With indifference

If I'm on my knees
I'm begging now
If I'm on my knees
Groping in the dark
I'd be praying for deliverance
From the night into the day

But it's all gray here
But it's all gray to me
But it's all gray to me

I recognize the walls inside
I recognize them all
I've paced between them
Chasing demons down
Until they fall
In fitful sleep
Enough to keep their strength
Enough to crawl
Into my head
With tangled threads
They riddle me to solve
Again and again and again
And again

(Natalie A Merchant © Downtown Music Publishing)

Sunday, October 20, 2019

The key to happiness

Don't interrupt the sorrow
Darn right
He says, we walked on the moon
You be polite

I’m still in the woods.

At times I think I’m doing a little better.

I bumped my med dose up a notch and that seems to have helped.

I know that that merely treats the symptoms. Which is something. A respite from acute anxiety certainly makes it more possible for me to address the roots of the problem.

Or at least to define the problem.

Neil listened to a program on NPR about happiness.

He asked me to guess the degree to which these things affect happiness: genetics, circumstances, what you do.

I said, that’s easy. Circumstances, a very small amount. After that, it’s a toss up between genetics and what you do.

I couldn’t find a podcast or transcript of the show, but I did find a lot of info about a formula based on research by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky and her colleagues.

According to the formula:
  • 50% of happiness is determined by your genes. 
  • 10% of happiness is determined by the circumstances in which you live.
  • 40% of happiness is determined by your actions, your attitude or optimism, and the way you handle situations.
So I was pretty close, although I though about what you do as being more about what you actually do with your life day to day than about your outlook or attitude.

In college I took a philosophy class taught by a professor of education. He made the claim that work is the greatest source of a person’s happiness. One of the students protested vehemently. She insisted that happiness was to be found on the weekends, in your time off work. She insisted that she was unhappy while working, i.e., studying, writing papers, taking exams, and happy kicking back with her friends and a cold drink at the end of her work time.

I got it though, what the professor was saying. If you’re lucky enough to find something that you are passionate about and follow that passion into a career, then I can totally understand that satisfaction and happiness would flow from the work you did in pursuit of that passion.

I’ve always regretted not figuring out how to channel my passions into a career. I know I would have derived much happiness if I could have put my talent, for writing, for example, into a job in support of a cause I believed it.

Of course, not all of us can be Pulitzer Prize caliber writers, enlightening mankind about the perils of climate change or the mandate for gun control, while getting paid a living wage. Not all of us can be New York Times best-selling authors of novels or memoirs that get optioned by Hollywood and made into blockbuster movies. Nor foreign correspondents covering humanitarian issues, nor evening news anchors, nor weekly newspaper columnists, nor any one of a number of occupations that I’d have found meaningful and happiness-generating.

Or maybe that’s pie in the sky, and all those careers have dark sides, second novel failures, biting annual reviews, ugly competitiveness, ageism challenges, a bullet in your head in the Middle East for your trouble.

I’ll never know.

I did the best I could, I did what I needed to do, I certainly had career high points as well as the low ones, and somehow I staggered through the finish line with enough resources to do whatever the hell I want to do with the rest of my life.

I do wonder about those statistics though. And here I will say that the figures are a generalization of a very complex equation and not a set of hard and fast rules.

So even if, say, depression runs in your family, if there is a hereditary component of mood disorders or an inherited susceptibility to a dearth of neuro-transmitters, that does not unequivocally condemn you to a life of unhappiness.

Nor is the reverse true, that you are immune to sustained unhappiness on the basis that no one in your family tree significantly suffered from psychological malaise.

As for the contribution to happiness of attitude and optimism, this idea skates uncomfortably close to the theory that we can choose to think our way out of depression by adopting a positive attitude. By pulling ourselves up by the proverbial bootstraps. While I agree that we have some choice about our actions and the way we handle situations, I’m unconvinced that we can choose our outlook. Would anyone chose to be unhappy or depressed if they could simply choose to be upbeat, optimistic, happy?

On the whole I’d say not, but I’ve considered the thought that melancholia can become a comfort zone. I can be down, blue, wistful, dispirited, when I don’t know what else to be. But that’s not the same thing as true unhappiness or clinical depression. Which aren’t the same thing by the way. I can be unhappy because a friend died, for instance, but not depressed. And I can experience depression with every reason to be happy.

What I can choose are my actions and how I handle this sort of unbound depression.

I keep going. I keep moving. I keep putting one foot in front of the other, doing the next right thing, taking baby steps when I must.

In my specific case that means signing up for classes, getting outdoors whenever the weather cooperates, walking online the treadmill, creating things. It might mean numbing my dinosaur brain for a while with crime drama or or historical fiction. It means spending time with Neil, even if it’s just going grocery shopping or making soup or going out for dinner or ice cream. It means shopping for a mother-of-the-bride trousseau. It means knitting hats and cowls to give as gifts.

It means going through the motions when I can’t be fully enthusiastic. It means getting dressed every morning and taking a bath every night. It means pretending to be OK when I’m not 100 percent OK. It means staying self aware so I’ll know if pretending gets risky and it means seeking outside help should I stop being able to help myself.

Right now I’m holding the black canine at bay. He hasn’t left the building but his jaws are momentarily muzzled. If he hasn’t gone to ground by the end of the year, I have a plan to hire an obedience trainer.

And yes, I know, obedience training is as much about training the master as it is about training the beast.

My mother-of-the-bride costume, unless I find one I like better.

But the shoes I am definitely keeping.

Don't interrupt the sorrow
Darn right
In flames are prophet witches
Be polite
A room full of glasses
He says, you're notches, liberation doll
And he chains me with that serpent
To that Ethiopian wall

Anima rising
Queen of Queens
Wash my guilt of Eden
Wash and balance me
Anima rising
Uprising in me tonight
She's a vengeful little goddess
With an ancient crown to fight

Truth goes up in vapors
The steeples lean
Winds of change, patriarchs
Snug in your bible belt dreams
God goes up the chimney
Like childhood Santa Claus
The good slaves love the good book
A rebel loves a cause

I'm leaving on the 1:15
You're darn right
Since I was seventeen
I've had no one over me
He says, anima rising
So what
Petrified wood process
Tall timber down to rock

Don't interrupt the sorrow
Darn right
He says, we walked on the moon
You be polite
Don't let up the sorrow
Death and birth and death and birth
He says, bring that bottle kindly
And I'll pad your purse
I've got a head full of quandary
And a mighty, mighty, mighty thirst

Seventeen glasses
Rhine wine
Milk of the Madonna
He don't let up the sorrow
He lies and he cheats
It takes a heart like Mary's these days
When your man gets weak

Joni Mitchell © 1975; Crazy Crow Music)

Friday, October 4, 2019

A lost month

And now I wish you only roses, baby, without the thorns
And I hope your dreams are always within reach

It’s a little bit like drowning.

Or so I imagine.

Like drowning, if you were sinking down, weighted, submerged, silent.

You are motionless, fettered, torpid, overcome by paralysis.

Feeling as though your lungs might burst?

That’s how it is when my anxiety spirals out of steady state.


I won’t lie to you. September was rocky for me.

I don’t like to use the word depression. I don’t embrace the concept as a description of a very complicated mental state.

For one thing, everyone gets the blues. Everyone feels down at times. Everyone thinks they understand what depression is.

Clinical depression is something else.

You’d think, having suffered, I’d be the first to endorse the the construct of depression as a physical illness and not a moral failing, a bad attitude, a weak, lazy state of mind.

But despite the hard and personal evidence of neurotransmitter insufficiency that responds (at least in my case, eventually) to pharmaceutical intervention, I still feel culpable and guilty.

In fact, I feel as though I should be shot.

I said as much to Neil recently. That was right after I admitted that I had been wondering if I was about over living.

Because everything important in my life is absolutely fine. Sure I wish I had more friends, sure I’m lonely, but I’m healthy, my children and grandchild are healthy, everyone is in a stable situation in terms of career and relationship. I myself am married to someone I love, who loves me.

Maybe it’s not despite these things but because of them that I’m fearful. We’re never safe. Tragedy, trauma, sorrow, loss, anything could blindside us at any time. If something has to happen to someone, I want it to be me. I don’t want to outlive any more of my loved ones.

I know I’m in trouble when I’ve lost the plot, when none of the things I usually like to do are appealing. Fortunately, that feeling comes and goes, so in the space of a day I may be fine and not fine.

I know I’m in trouble when there are things I know might help, things like therapy, or medication tweaks, but I’m paralyzed when it comes to taking any steps toward change.

Years ago, my therapist Tobie told me that, treated or untreated, depression cycles. So I think, this too shall pass if I just tie a knot in the end of my rope and hang on.

You might call it procrastination, but I choose to call it setting goals or deadlines. I pick some arbitrary future date and decide if I’m not better by then, I’ll seek help, or at least reevaluate my path forward.

One of the things that may have been skewing my objectivity is now past.

Months ago, I signed up for a lampwork bead gathering in Asheville on the last weekend of September. For months the prospect of going caused me much anxiety.

I couldn’t tell you exactly why though. When I broke it down into component parts - the 100-mile drive, staying in a hotel on my own, the planned events, the interaction with fellow bead artists - none of it particularly daunted me. The hardest single thing would be walking in to the first social event, and I knew even that would be only briefly difficult and quickly over.

But the whole thing hung over me for weeks. I felt tired at just the thought of the necessary effort of packing and getting myself there. I bargained with myself. If I wasn’t having fun, I could leave at any time. No one would force me to stay the whole four days and three nights.

But I kept thinking, I’m grown up. I’m retired. I don’t have to do things that I don’t want to do, things that make me feel apprehensive or anxious.

I had nightmares. I had flashbacks to summer camps when I was a kid, when I would have butterflies in my stomach at the idea of a sleepover. The prospect of the event was ruining my month. Was it worth it? Why not bail and give my spot to someone on the waiting list?

Neil thought I should push through my uncertainties and go. He admitted to feeling a little bit the same way leading up to his softball weekends away. He though there’d be redeeming value in going.

Two things eventually cemented my decision. One, I noticed that when I took a class or went to open stitch time at the knitting store, during the time that I was there, the invisible heaviness enveloping me would lift and I’d feel more human again.

Two, I made a hotel reservation. Yes, it could be canceled without penalty until the night before, but money wasn’t really a factor. I was reconciled to the idea that I might lose my registration fee and the cost of one night at the hotel if at the last minute I bailed.

Yet somehow, having made the hotel reservation, my mind set changed from, "am I going?" to "I guess I’m going." While I still counted down the days with trepidation, the bad dreams stopped and the anticipation stopped ruining my days. I did still put off actually packing anything until the day before I left, but then I did it all, two trays of trade beads, two trays of glass, supplies, and tools. I did my laundry and packed clothes, toiletries, jewelry, shoes, a book, a knitting project, chargers for phone and iPad.

On Thursday afternoon, I loaded my car and got on the road. I stopped at a yarn store on the way. I checked in to my hotel in Asheville.

If I had to change one thing about the trip, I’d have stayed in a nicer place. I chose the hotel based on it being in the Wyndham chain, which had absorbed all my La Quinta points, and the low price. And it could have been worse. My room was dated, shabby, gloomy, and not as clean as my germphobic self would have preferred. But I liked my location, on the first floor, on the end, near the front. The vending and ice machines were just around the corner, breakfast was conveniently close by, and it was quiet. I never felt unsafe.

I also never knit a stitch nor opened my book, although I did watch a little Netflix before bedtime each night. I really didn’t spend much time at the hotel either, but I didn’t know that would be the case until it was.

I might recap the retreat for you and for posterity later, but here are my initial reactions.

I'm not sorry I went. But if I hadn't gone, I wouldn't have missed the time of my life (although I may have thought I had).

Mostly it was fun, comfortable, and easy. Even the first event was eased by meeting Jean Baruch, the leader of Beads of Courage, who I've interacted with online for more than 10 years. She acted just as thrilled to meet me as I was to meet her, so that was an ego boost.

Me and Jean B
By sheer dumb luck, I had a great seat at one of the two tables, with the people I knew best from social media, and the liveliest crowd. But I may have enjoyed the other table just as much, you just don't know what you don't know.

Sometimes it was a bit tedious. We had demos in the mornings and the rest of the day to either try out the techniques we'd observed or do our own thing.

Related observation: lampwork teachers in general spend too much time on unnecessary perfection, such as getting the shape of the base bead exactly right. It's a demo, we went to see the technique, not how you labor to make a perfect bicone.

We had roughly 9 to 10 hours free to torch on both Friday and Saturday. I'd make a bead, rest, walk around to see what other people were doing, go back and make another bead. The time dragged a bit. Part of that could have been that for me this wasn't a reunion with friends, as it was for the majority of the attendees. If I went again, it might be for me too.

On the last morning, we had a chance to swap beads. I put out my two trays and got a lot of positive reactions, which as you'd suspect was balm to this validation junkie. I even sold a few beads, which was gravy.

The decision about whether I'd go again has been delayed because there won't be a spring retreat next year. A retreat next fall is probable but not definite, and it's uncertain if attendees of this retreat will get first dibs, as they would have in the past.

Having been home for almost a week (and having actually made beads once since, which is more than I did in all of September), upon reflection, I would do it again.


Working standing up
Working working working
That's me top right, working.

Well I know it ain't been roses lately, baby, it's just been thorns
And no matter what we do, nothing seems to change
Love has always been my shelter, for you it's been a storm
But for a while I thought we'd almost beat the rain

Now there's a hole here in my pocket where all my dreams have gone
Fallen out like so many nickels and dimes
And last of all you, you'd always been my good luck charm
I should've known that luck's a waste of time

'Cause it don't bring you love if you don't love
And it don't bring you time if you ain't got time
And it don't bring you strength, baby, if you ain't strong
And it don't bring you kindness if you ain't kind

Now there's a whole lot of life to be unsure of
But there's one thing I can safely say I know
That of all the things that finally desert us
Pride is always the last thing to go

But it won't bring you love if you don't love
And it won't bring you time if you ain't got time
And it won't bring you strength, baby, if you ain't strong
And it won't bring you kindness if you ain't kind

And now I wish you only roses, baby, without the thorns
And I hope your dreams are always within reach
And I wish you shelter, baby, from all your storms
They scared you, but they never seemed to teach

That I can't bring you love if you don't love
And I can't bring you time if you ain't got time
And I can't bring you strength, baby, if you ain't strong
And I can't bring you kindness if you ain't kind

(Mary Carpenter © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC)