Self actualization means to me…

After a year of therapy my therapist, who is one of the most wonderful people to ever help me in my life, told me I was self actualized and released from therapy. That was terrific. It also meant the burden of handling the full scope of my emotions fell upon me. And jesus, is that a responsibility.

Self actualization to me means, I make a lot of mistakes, and fuck up many many times. But that’s okay. Sometimes you get thrown on the mat. Sometimes you throw yourself. Sometimes you get a push you didn’t expect. So I get back up from the mat after I make a mistake and try again. I have more confidence now, on how I’ll handle situations. Which is a giant shift in thinking for me because before I thought somehow I could control the situations I found myself in. But the reality is I can only control how I react to things. That’s it. Let’s let the rest go. Right fucking now. Let it go.

Before I turned 37 and changed my life I was afraid of looking deeply within, at my own darkness. However I was a worldwide expert at pointing at the darkness in everyone else. The strange thing is, what I was zeroing in on in everyone else was the darkness in myself that was invisible to me. When you refuse to see your own darkness you separate from yourself. You’re separated from your power. From your wisdom. Your heart. Your instinct. Your art. You can’t let people inside or out. You can’t tell what is the end of you and the beginning of someone else. And boundaries are everything. Control is about boundaries. The more you try to control the more likely you are to crush exactly the thing you desire. Controlling your boundaries too much can keep you from beautiful experiences and people. Controlling your boundaries too little will let in more darkness. Somehow it’s got to be about balance.

I’ve been on this journey in martial arts that began when I was in college and I first set foot on the mat over 20 years ago. In Aikido the more rigidly you hold your body, the more you fight falling, the easier it is to throw you. When you are too rigid and resist change it’s easier to manipulate you, and you’ll you find yourself going in exactly the opposite direction you intended. It’s fear and lack of trust that causes this response. In reality you’re much less likely to get hurt if you’re relaxed, trusting, and unafraid. So I tell myself, be relaxed. Don’t forget to breathe.

Somehow in all of this, all these mistakes I’m making, all these times I’ve fallen down all these times I’ve thrown myself down, the process I’m in of finding myself, there is a lot of pain. A lot of overwhelming emotions, but generally I’m okay with it. Writing connects me to myself. It connects me to my creative force inside and is a bellwether for what I’m feeling and experiencing. Sometimes I have to write it out to understand what is happening in my life. A lot of the time I have to write it out to understand what is happening in my life. Most of the time I have to write it out to understand what is happening in my life. ALL of the time I have to write it out to understand what is happening in my life.

For nearly three years, I couldn’t write. I could do a lot of other things, like watch great white egrets take one slow step after another on the watershed. I could run until I wanted to collapse. I could do aikido and do tai chi until my tendons hurt so badly it felt like I was being stung by 10,000 bees. I could hike 13.5 miles and go bungee jumping and indoor skydiving and take a lot of new risks I was unwilling to try in the past. Because before, I was holding myself to this unreachable standard, this unattainable goal, a quest for a perfect, breakable object that is me. And I thought that once I finally reached perfection, then I would be dashed into 10,000 tiny parts and each piece would shriek and melt, making me unable to be whole again. Fuck that. Break me. And after you’ve broken me once, break me again. I’ll put myself back together again. I don’t need perfection and I can exist in this space and be breakable at the same time.

And so, my creativity has returned and my ability to write has returned, and I can look inside myself and see and feel my creative energy again after a lot of fear and pain and hard work and picking myself up again and again and again. I have so many wonderful ideas for my business. As soon as possible I’m going to rent a studio and create a space for myself to get the fuck back to where I was creatively and professionally when I left my marriage. I intend to surround myself with knitting and my art and artists and that kinetic, energetic, artful and rarely perfect experience that is living. Even if I have to break sometimes to get there. I will get there again. I am there now. In some ways, I was always there. I have my sister’s favorite waterman, my favorite lamy, my old laptop, my newer broken laptop. I have duct tape. I have martial arts. If there’s not a way, I will make a fucking way. I have fear and yet I am unafraid. I have pain. I have happiness. I am whole because I no longer hate the pieces that make me, me. I have everything I need, right here, inside me, already. And I’m ready.

Maybe that’s what it means to be self actualized. It’s what it means to me, and that makes all the difference, and it’s the only difference and it’s all different and yet not different at all. It’s all of those things. All at the same time.

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I believe in gratitude

I still believe in gratitude. My life has changed dramatically since August, when my Mom’s best friend died and I had to step in and help my mom with her needs. The bottom line is, my mom wants to stay where she lives, with her neighbors and friends and church, and her wish is to die peacefully in her home. I’m trying to help her with her final wishes. It’s hard. I get angry sometimes. With her. With myself. With the situation. Maybe I even get really mad at our very imperfect and very fraught past. I think it’s probably unfair for me to post my deepest thoughts about it all online, but I also think I’m probably not the only one struggling to help a parent who wasn’t picture perfect, who fucked up a lot, who caused drama and hurt. When I think about how much my mom would hurt if she read what I wrote, that hurts me. She asked me sometime last fall, what was a happy memory of her in my childhood. I couldn’t think of a single memory with the two of us that was happy.

I’ve made a point to give my children happy memories with me in them. Maybe that makes me sound superior? I’m not sure. I remember how much I suffered, and that not all of it is my mother’s fault. But I also keep in my heart that my children are humans and if I hurt them too badly they will choose not to be around me when we’re all older. That’s one way I try to keep myself in check. I try to use empathy with my kids and let them know that other people’s actions are not their responsibility. Including mine. If mom’s upset about something, it’s not your fault, unless I say “this is your fault,” and even then.

I’m sure my mom did not intend to wound me so deeply. I wonder how I’ve unintentionally wounded my own children. I try to stay aware. There just aren’t any simple answers.

I am grateful for a few things stemming from having new responsibilities with my mom. Somewhere in the morass I realized I had to stop waiting to have my own life, outside my kids. I make more of an effort to step outside my comfort zone, take risks and make new mistakes and do things for me. I had some dark back and forth with my mom and I got to ask her if she only felt loved if she sowed chaos in my life. Sure, that sounds terrible, but it was an important moment between us. We have had some lovely, quiet, special times together since I’ve been visiting her once a month. She’s talked about her regrets. We’ve talked about death. We’ve talked about my Dad. She tells me not to neglect my family in order to help her. This is a terrible position for all of us to be in. But it is reality and unavoidable. I’m willing to go out of my way to help her as much as I can. I have a lot of responsibility in my own life to take care of family, and I take it very seriously. So I take care of myself now. Which means letting myself get angry and feel anger and BE anger and maybe share too much online. Fuck, I’m not really sorry that I do that. I’ve been doing it in some form or another for 12 years.

If I lose my memory like she has, I’ll have my writing and my photos to look back upon to help me remember. I’m more vigilant about existing in my photos and on videos, so I can look back.

I’m not afraid of anger or shame or guilt. I’ve worked very hard to be able to allow myself to feel a full range of emotions after a very long period of feeling numb. And you know, you can’t feel great happiness if you don’t feel great pain.

I’ve been reading Golda Meir in search of feminine leadership. She has a beautiful quote, that touches me.

Those who don’t know how to weep with their whole heart, don’t know how to laugh either.

So I’m ready to laugh and to cry and speak to my experience, even though I know that my truth will be painful to others. Authenticity is everything. So today, I’m grateful for authenticity.

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Advance Directives and other miscellaneous shit

We used to argue over who was going to take care of our Mother in old age. I would tell Miriam up front, it ain’t fucking going to be me. If you know me or my family in my real life, maybe this won’t be a surprise to you, or maybe it will. At times I was the only one who would say it out loud, and this blog, being my own personal space since 2004, is a place where I’m going to say it again. My mother helped a lot of people in her lifetime. She has also caused a cloud of constant chaos and drama in mine. So much so that when I feel people with her type of frenzied energy in my personal space that I do not hesitate in turning on my heel and walking in the other direction. Or being rude, even. That’s quite a reaction in a southern woman raised to “bless people’s hearts” and drink tea in the shade of my own creation. So, anyway, the past month I’ve been poking myself in all the most hurtful places. Looking and touching my sister’s art, finding her iPod full of her music, her art supplies, her journals, where she wrote her dreams.

I’ve been raging against her, Miriam, for being gone while I have to field phone calls from nurses who want to “send me information on advance directives” for my mother. This should be Miriam’s job and I should be woefully helping HER as little as humanly possible. Because I am the youngest. The weakest. The most spoiled.

I’ve already spoken to my mother about death. She says she is ready for the afterlife, and not at all afraid. I wrote down the lyrics of the southern church hymns she sings. She sings them nearly all the time now, under her breath, when she forgets where we’re going in the car or what we’re doing next, or why. When I see her tapping her knee I know she is singing to herself. Comforting herself in a way she never comforted me.

But then, she asks me if she can have $70 bottles of fish oil and I think, she is not ready. She is not ready for death. Because she thinks these fish oil pills advertised on tv will somehow reverse the tape and she won’t be 76, with a failing memory and a host of health problems, nearing the end of her life. She tells me, “I wish I had more time.” “I wish I could bungee jump, like you.” She looks at me and says “I think you have more freedom than I had.” Then she says she wishes she never returned home from Austria last time she visited.

She never did have a filter. Or the sense to know what is appropriate talk.

And probably why I don’t have a filter, either. Or give a shit about appropriate talk.

I’ve spent the past 10 years as a mother looking at myself, looking inside, choosing to walk a different parental path than she took. Not hitting. Not abusing. Not neglecting. I may not be the best mother on the block, but I love my children and they know it. I tell them I’m not perfect. That I’m sorry. I let them see me cry. My hurt. I discuss with Maya important life lessons and how my one and only goal is to teach her how to make good decisions. Because when she’s old enough for college she’s going to be on her own and I won’t be there and she needs to know how to survive. And daily I try to help Dmitri make decisions and god knows, I have lots of empirical evidence that that has worked. That what I’m doing is “right.” I have two beautiful children whose beating hearts every day beat “this is right, you did right, we are family.” My heart beats in the same rhythm.

I spent my youth saying “this isn’t right.” I would try to tell people the bad things that went on in our house. And people would just pretend I hadn’t spoken. That those terrible words describing terrible events hadn’t been spoken. A heavy, dead silence of denial. Even Miriam. And she knew I was fucking right because she experienced it herself. People would come up to me at church and tell me how “lucky I was to have parents like mine.” Which, truly, was a mindfuck because what was going on in our house was not luck.

I sat weekly in therapy for a year after my separation and before my divorce was final. At first I was really truly angry at the mere idea that I would have to forgive my mother. But eventually that anger mellowed, just enough for some empathy to sneak in. As a single mother I can see her fear and all her hurts and anger when she was alone, caring for me and my dad was in the hospital, ill. I can look objectively of how we probably didn’t have normal attachment because I was born so early and whisked away to live out my early days in whatever incubator existed at the time. I did wonder though, why my sister and brother who didn’t experience a premature birth had the same lack of attachment with our mother. My therapist and I wrote down once the events surrounding my birth and early childhood and I could see for the first time all the drama and chaos swirling around us and our family, and that mom was likely very depressed. But also. The only time in approximately 520 hours that I saw my therapist with visible anger on her face is when I repeated something awful my mom would say to me throughout my life. Something really cruel and hateful and how she would repeat it with glee and supreme self satisfaction.

Somewhere in there, somewhere inside me is forgiveness. For a while after I forgave my mother it meant that she was showing me more empathy too. She apologized once. For some of the harm she did. I cried. Profusely. I hugged Maya and told her what my mother apologized for and some of the things she did in order to owe me that apology, and I told Maya that if she hurt someone it is never too late to apologize. It really is never too late.

The first few months after I started visiting my mother cross country, things were okay. But recently she’s lapsed into her old chaos soft shoe routine and that’s when it got sticky for me. Dirty. Painful. A reminder of how I was the only one saying “this is not right.” A reminder of the promise I made to myself that I wouldn’t help someone who had been so cruel, to me and others. A reminder of how my therapist told me that most children of parents like mine don’t help them in old age. They leave them to flounder.

So I rage on at my sister, and look at her art with angry, sad eyes, that I have to do this awful thing on my own. That I give up my time and money and my heart and to fly to see our mother, and be away from my kids and I feel like she cares more about a $70 bottle of fish oil pills than me. And cares more about causing drama and chaos than me.

And I look inside, for all the ways I’m like her. I kill the buddha. I hold my ego in my mind’s eye and forgive the parts that are hard to look at. Hateful. Angry. Mean. Cruel. Cold. Chaotic. Other worldly energy driven. And then I try to determine how can this be good. How can it be positive. How can it be alright. Maybe it isn’t really. Maybe as my brother in law said to me that one time, it will never be okay.

Maybe I don’t have to go see her and help her and write her checks and take her to lunches that she never bothered to take me to. To listen to her sing her hymns and hear her talk about how “maybe” her behavior shortened my father’s life. How maybe, she was too hard on him and just never gave him enough time.

And I think about my kids and how I never give them enough time. And that I don’t know how to give them more time. Except sometimes I say “I’m sorry I don’t give you more time, when you’re a kid you need more time to do things. I’ll work on it.” But I’m still shitty at it. I know the thing that deep down makes me me is the same thing that makes her her. I can’t tell you what the difference is between us. I can’t see the difference. I don’t know that difference. I don’t know how to be different.

Today I booked my flight to take her to her next doctor’s appointment after a full month of not wanting to do it. Since she asked me for the $70 pills. Since she bragged to someone just how much “she loves it when I wait on her.” And it would come to me that I’ve been “waiting on her” since I was at least four.

At first, after this summer, when I would accidentally remind her that she had forgotten something she would taunt me over and over with how she was going to go drive her car around the neighborhood. Until I took her keys away. I’m not even sure she remembers how to drive a car.

I cried and touched Miriam’s things today because the reality is, I don’t want to fucking fly back to Norfolk again to help someone I’ve felt never loved me. Miriam should be here to do this thing, for me, for us, for our mother. But she isn’t here. And my mom needs help. And I’m going to be the one to do it. Even when it hurts. Maybe I can be different from her but also the same. In a way our children are our Advance Directive. Maybe I can help other people like she has her whole life, but also help my own family. Then I could be her and be me together, and heal us both.

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A 24 hour snapshot into the life of this single mom

I didn’t start crying until Maya demanded to know when I was going to return the three quarters I took from her piggy bank.

Let me start from the beginning. First text of the morning, from my property manager, showing me a photo of a water leak spreading on the first floor ceiling. One that indicates the drywall will have to be replaced, and the source of the leak is not known. This is my sister’s house. I visited the empty lot before it was built when I was 13. I spent many many hours there, happily with my sister. I took care of her husband, cleaning up his blood when he was busy dying with cancer and she was already dead. I carried her son up and down the stairs and up and down and down and up ad nauseam. I completely fell apart there, ripped through the seams when my brother in law told me about the last hours of my sister’s life there. It is a beautiful, two story, log cabin style home, full of love and memories and bitter sadness. Now it is mine to run. This past year has been problem after problem with it. Evicting non paying tenants, other plumbing problems, and in general issues that have cost a lot to repair and causing extra work. So the last thing I wanted, was to see proof that yet another problem had arisen. I texted the appropriate responses, contacted my dearest, oldest friend for her help. In so many ways I am surrounded by people that I don’t know what I would do without. How do I do this. How can I fix it. How do I cope.

In the meanwhile, my mother has lost her purse. I feel guilt for not making it to her house in December. I tried flying to her, twice. Once I sat on a plane at the gate for about 2 hours while they repaired a part, knowing damn well I was going to miss my connection even though I asked repeatedly to be taken off the flight should that eventuality occur. I ended up in Phoenix, with no guaranteed seat, anywhere remotely close to Norfolk. So I returned home. They lost my bag, which went on the trip I was supposed to go on, but returned four days later while I never reached past Phoenix. I’m doing everything I can to follow her wishes. This part is hard. She tells me not to neglect my family in order to help her. We have a lot of history and a lot of troubled water under that bridge. I’m still trying to help her. When I made myself get up that second morning, to go on a trip I just knew in my heart wasn’t going happen, I told myself if I were nearing the end of my life, I would want Maya to come see me. To see her face. Not knowing how many more visits, days, or months or years we would have left together. It’s not my fault Mom lost her purse, yet I am consumed by worry someone has gotten her cards and used them. So I do the only logical thing. I lock myself out of our bank because I can’t remember the password, and it’s an east coast organization meaning I can’t call to fix the lock out, cancel her card or make sure her account is secure for another 12 hours. She asks me how will she handle her finances if I cancel her card. I gently remind her that without her card, she can’t handle her finances. I write all her checks now anyway. But I don’t remind her of that. Trying to preserve her dignity.

I’m trying to get Dmitri into a new program. Hoping we can curb some of the more difficult intellectual disability behaviors to try and expand his potential more. The doctors are always so enthusiastic to push you off on a new phone number, a new program, and to let you let a light of hope in. Until you call and call and call that number and discover there is a 1,600 person wait list. I have a mountain of paperwork to fill out before the appointment. I pick up the packet, and set it down again, multiple times, with my mind on my sister’s house, my mom’s lost wallet, the fact that my landlord can’t find the check I’ve already sent, the Virginia house paperwork I have to fill out that day, the Dmitri guardianship paperwork I have to fill out that day, the important bill I have to mail on behalf of my mom, instead trying to clear my mind enough to focus on “having fun” by spending my day with Maya at Disney, because I want to see one of my oldest friends and her family. I don’t fill out the paperwork, maybe tomorrow it will be easier to do. Maybe I can face that I will fill out the pages and pages and we’ll be told we’re on a new, shinier wait list, while I fret and worry about how to raise this young, disabled, man into manhood.

After a great day, and a visit that I enjoyed very much, I get a text about the neighborhood lice situation. Maya has it. I (sort of, mostly) hold it together. Dmitri and I don’t have it. I start the cleaning process. I’m 75 cents short for all of the loads of laundry. I scrounge around the house until I find three quarters. Working, working to comb her and treat her and treat myself and ensure D is free of it (thank god he is, with his fragile immune system). I’m itching all over, haven’t had hives regularly since I left my marriage. I wish the psychosomatic itching would stop, already. I start the arduous, manual labor of cleaning and combing, and the humiliating labor of contacting the mothers of anyone we’ve played with in the past two weeks to share the painful news that my child has lice and I am so sorry, but please check your kid. With many, many apologies.

I take out the trash, do the dishes, the mountain of preventative lice laundry. Maya cries because I try to teach her the lesson that it can’t always be about you and sometimes you have to wait for Mama’s help because Mama is working. My heart hurts. I don’t hit her or surround her by people that tell her women should be covered in long skirts, without earrings and makeup in order to truly love the lord, that women are valued less, and belong in the home, with less worth than men. And yet I wonder if she will come out of childhood feeling about me the way I felt about my mother, and that if I’m like my mom and my memory goes, will she help me like I help my mother, and call me every day, and worry and visit and do all of the things that I have done for someone who caused me so much pain and strife in my own life. Dmitri goes to school in a pair of swim trunks the next morning and I am too tired to fight and bargain and threaten to take away his music to get him to wear regular clothes, so I just let him. Everyone gets a shower and their nails cut. Except me. Sometimes it’s not always about me and sometimes I have to wait.

On most days I’m proud of all I do and all I’ve accomplished and how I successfully navigate being a single parent and handled the challenges. Some days Maya asks for her goddamn 75 cents, the only payment I’ll receive for the barely moveable mountain of work lice will cause me to do, and I’ll feel like that’s all? That’s all it’s worth? Seventy five cents? And then I’ll cry, a lot, until it makes other people uncomfortable and I’ll tell myself, Sometimes it’s not always about me. And sometimes I have to wait.

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Radiohead now and 20 years ago

Generally I try to avoid “why me” in dealing with the intricacies of life because it’s simply not productive. Recently I began going through my sister’s artwork in an effort to find a painting. When I saw how neatly everything was organized, and the sheer volume of it I became immediately and thoroughly unglued. Her organization and thinking was in such stark contrast to mine. Just as her life was. In many ways we walked the same path, independent of our parents choices. Vegetarians, for a time. Masters degrees. Both married to successful men with PhDs. Artists. Mothers. Caregivers. Weirdos.

I think it was when I opened up her art supplies that I fell apart. Touching them. Looking at them. The impact someone leaves behind when they leave you too fucking soon.

It made me think of the last time I allowed myself a “why me” moment. Twenty years ago this year Tristan and I were headed to a Radiohead concert at the Black Cat in DC. The next day we had plans to attend the HFStival. We must have left after work because I was tired and let Tristan drive my car and man, that was a shitty car in the history of shitty cars. But when you leave home at 17 and become completely financially independent from your parents you do things like work two shitty jobs at a time and drive a Mitsubishi Mirage Hatchback that is inevitably a total piece of garbage. Anyway, Tristan commonly lacking in common sense found us lost, clueless, in a really bad neighborhood with him at the helm, and then me forcing him to ask through a bulletproof window how to get the hell out of where we were. Frustrated with his lack of direction, our lack of progress, his inability to sense danger, I canceled our trip further into the bowels of DC. The next day was going to be a long day anyway (and it was).

Currently I’m planning to see Radiohead in 2017 and this time I’m not going to get lost in a bad neighborhood on the way to the show. Tristan and I didn’t last much longer after that concert. I was 19 in 1996, and although I walked a different, more rebellious path than my parents, somehow I thought I was going to be like them. I thought it was perfectly reasonable for me to find myself a 51 year long relationship like they had. Even though much of the time they were really, truly terrible for each other. I remember laying in the dark with Tristan, in our living room. We had just watched “Play Misty for Me.” Which is a deeply unromantic movie. I mean, I can’t think of many movies that are an immediate turn off like that one. So anyway that seemed like the perfect time to ask him if he thought I was his soulmate. His answer cut me deeply. (Aside, if you ever want to know what it’s like to be cut to the bone, date an artist.) “No.” “NO.” He didn’t believe in soulmates. So then I said, trying to recover, well, Tristan, when we’re forty, let’s have an affair. Together. We laughed it off, but life continued and he did what artists do which is cheat on you in your own home that you had together and completely disassemble your heart. If you want someone to cut your heart to ribbons and then set it on fire and then send those ashes to space, love an artist.

He used to draw/journal daily in a Stillman & Birn. After he stopped coming home from work at the end of our relationship, I stepped over whatever decency that was stopping me from looking inside his journal for the year and a half we were together previous. Because I knew the relationship was ending. I saw the drawing of another woman. And then another drawing of her. And another. And another. And I knew that was that. We argued about it, me screaming and screeching like a hysterical banshee, him denying it, calling her a fucking bitch. But I caught them at home, him locking himself in his studio. The strangest part was somehow it was all my fault? I never could understand it.

Obviously we weren’t soulmates. Almost laughable now. But even 20 years later, he hurt me in a place I’ve not let anyone see or touch. The type of hurt I experienced, I don’t even know how to explain. On how our mutual friends would come to my parents house to check in on me because they were concerned, where I was cooling my heels until I found a roommate. How I’d sit on the front porch with various guy friends and sob my guts out. And how they’d awkwardly hug me, uncertain and nervous and worried. How my mom would come out and see the physical manifestation of a stoner archetype and death metal addict hugging me, and because he was wearing a grubby t shirt with tombstones on it that said “Testament” she decided he was a good boy. “That Joe is a good boy, you should hang out with him more.” Joe thought he was going to scrape up the bits of me that were left after Tristan blew my life apart, for himself. I declined.

I spent so many hours on that front porch, at night. Night after night. Wrestling with another friend, knocking off and breaking one of the large flower pots. Almost getting myself into deep trouble the next morning when my mom uttered “Your father was going to call the police because of the pot on the lawn.” Silent just long enough to realize she meant the broken flower pot and not pot, pot. Remembering the story of how she was going to call the cops on my brother, her own son, for a little pot, until my father came home from work and diffused the situation. I spent that summer living dangerously, skinny-dipping in lakes. Eating at truck stops. Going to drive-in movies. There was so much crying. Crying in the shower. Crying at work. Crying in the car. Crying while walking. Crying in bed, newly alone.

An artist is really never done hurting you. Somehow in their search for truth and beauty your heart becomes theirs and they have no qualms in crushing it, just to see what happens next. Twenty years ago, we broke up in the most horrible of ways. Eighteen years ago he died. Drowned in Crater Lake. We will never have any affairs now that I’m forty. We won’t see Radiohead, this year or any year. He’s long gone and still breaking hearts.

My last “why me” was about 6 or 8 months after he died. His cousin, who I had remained friendly with called me at the restaurant where I worked. That restaurant was THE place that taught me what good food tastes like. The clientele was upscale, the interior was upscale, the food. The chef was previously sous chef at the Watergate, working 100 hour workweeks after his formal training. I was surrounded by good food and I made good money. My mom stepped foot in that restaurant to initiate our reconciliation after I stopped speaking to her for four months because of a really terrible decision she made. I learned about wine and heard the word sommelier for the first time at that restaurant. Beurre blanc. Muffuletta. Asiago. Ciabatta. Pinot Noir. Cab Sauvignon. Syrah. I developed taste there.

So months after Tristan died his cousin called me to find out if Tristan’s cat, Pluto, the evil black cat that would scratch my tender legs in the middle of the night as I haunted the hallway on the way to our bathroom, had had his rabies shot. Because Pluto had bitten Scott and had caused a red streaking infection it was either find out who Pluto’s vet was to confirm rabies vaccination on record, or put Pluto down for tests. As that was the only way to ensure Scott didn’t require the comprehensive, painful, unpleasant rabies treatment regimen, I told him which vet. I knew Pluto was vaccinated. But, crying at work, I wondered, why me. Why am I the one who has to answer that question. And now, all these years later, looking through my dead sister’s art, I wonder, why am I the one that has to do this. Why is it me, cleaning up the pieces of my broken heart. Why do artists hurt. Why do they leave us. Why do they cause us this terrible pain.

The Universe has no answer.

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29 December 2016

I was going to write about what it felt like to look through Miriam’s artwork (I was looking for a specific piece, and it was hell). Or about how the props and sets from Flash Gordon were repurposed in Dune. But I think my Mac just gave up the ghost. So instead I’ll put some videos here I took this year. Do you think they’ll all autoplay at once? Because that won’t be annoying at all. I’m going to go hide in a blanket fort for the next four years. Bye now.

Tea

A video posted by fickleknitter (@fickleknitter) on

Quiet time

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This is a unicorn hot chocolate THIS IS A UNICORN HOT CHOCOLATE, PEOPLE

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MERRY CHRISTMAS DON'T SAY I NEVER GAVE YOU NOTHING

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Maya's artistic process

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Swamp cotton fields

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Night ya'll

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Watching the sets roll in

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In flight

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Shearing time

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Ladybugs get a room #ladybugs #blackeyedsusan #crows

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Take me to my happy place

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Before sunrise on the Queen Mary #cunard

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Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on 29 December 2016

Gratitude ’16

It’s nearing the end of the year and I want to look back on the things I’m grateful for in 2016.

A hug from my daughter
A hug from my son
The sound of wind in the trees
My freedom
Watching birds take flight
Watching birds in the water
My community
The other mothers at my son’s school, who are a great source of support, tears and laughter
Knitters
My friends
My family
The people I’ve met along the way during some really challenging times this past year
My martial arts family
Hiking
Cooking
Eating terrific food
Sleeping
Traveling
Wine
Movies
Music
Texting
A cozy place to call my own
Meditation
Transformation

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Freedom ’16

The best thing I did in 2016 is to stop living my life for my parents, my sister, my ancestors, and everyone else who had an opinion on what I should do to fucking make them happy and begin living my life for myself. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past three years running. Running on treadmills. Beaches. City Streets. Off the beaten path, sandy pathways. Always away from the burden of pleasing everyone and in the end sitting there by myself, alone and unsatisfied. Sweating, hurting, crying, trying. Eventually I decided I would quit and learn to stand my ground.

There’s a lot of freedom when you quit. It feels like stepping over the side of a bridge to say no. I feel the swirling energy of power around me, telling me, say yes. Just say yes. But I say no. No. Then I wait for the world to crumble. For buildings to fall in on themselves, the streets to open up and be swallowed whole by the earth. Trees hurtling themselves into the ocean. But the strangest thing is, it never does. No such calamities occur and no one dies because I say no. No one suffers irreparable harm. I don’t die when I say no. There is no impending anvil hanging over my head waiting for me to just say “no” so it can be released. Death’s scythe is not standing nearby just waiting to destroy me for that forthcoming irreverent “no.” There is no darkness and foreboding in no. No death. No punishment. No harm.

Each time I say no I get a little stronger. Each time I say no I protect that fragile beam of happiness inside myself. It’s taken me so long to find it. So many risks, so much work, so much sacrifice. Doing all the things I did not want to do. But here we are. And I have that little beam and I will fight you for it. I’ll stand my ground. I won’t run. You can judge me. Hate me. Hit me. Hurt me. Try to take away from me. You can try those things. But my answer is pretty simple and straightforward.

No.

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My (not so) little (anymore) zen master

I was under a lot of pressure after my sister and brother in law died and I became guardian of my nephew Dmitri in 2011. According to his current school psychologist he was suffering from institutionalized autism as well as being born with Trisomy 21, Down Syndrome. He was and remains non verbal. He wouldn’t make a single request for anything. When I say that, I mean, he was 9 years old, an orphan, moving from Virginia to California and lacked the skills to tell me what he’d like for lunch. He couldn’t focus. I’d watch him peep out of the corner of his eye at his TV for approximately five seconds. He wouldn’t follow instructions. He wouldn’t make eye contact. He was trapped in his own little world.

So I began to nurture this beautiful little child, the only precious remainder of my sister, my best friend, the one person on Earth who really knew and loved me. Mainly it involved picking him up when he would defiantly plop himself on the ground, which was a common occurrence. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that many, many individuals with intellectual disability do this. I guess when you can’t talk, it’s your only way to say “I really do not want to do this, and also fuck you.” (Maybe the fuck you is only for some circumstances, who can say). There were doctors appointments, school interviews, phone call after phone call, guardian ad litem, court, lawyers, health insurance, school transcripts, medical transcripts, prescription medications. God when I think of the sheer scope of all of that on top of handling my sisters estate and probate, plus my own family and successful business I can’t really understand how I did it all.

But something about Dmitri changed my heart in a radical way. I sat looking at him, rocking back and forth, humming, totally cut off from the rest of the world and I had this daring thought.

I thought, if I can love this imperfect child, why in the fuck can’t I love myself.

And so began a journey. Basically what I taught him to do, I taught myself to do. I’m not sure there has been any other experience in my life where I have had so much to learn from one person. On Dmitri’s very first IEP, of which I knew NOTHING, my request was simple. Teach my child to express his needs and wants. Well that’s pretty high reaching for an adult woman who can’t even feel her own feelings, much less express my needs and wants but that was and remains my goal for Dmitri. And myself.

We would frequently go out to eat at a kid friendly restaurant with menus for children that had photos of the food beside the names. For two years, we would go a couple of times a month as a family. We’d sit down, me beside Dmitri, Maya and Mike across from us in the booth and I’d show him the menu. Over and over again we’d go through this process. It was so rote that I didn’t even think about it anymore. We’d take our seats, they’d hand us the kid menu, I’d prop it up so he could see it, I’d ask him do you want Chicken nuggets, and point to the photo. In two years, I’d say averaging approximately 48 visits he never responded. I never thought he would respond. And yet, I wouldn’t give up on him. I couldn’t give up on him. But. Finally, he did respond. When he was 11, after being asked time and time and TIME again he did respond. He picked up his pointer finger of his left hand and he tapped the photo for chicken nuggets. Jesus Christ, he’s actually in there. AND HE LIKES CHICKEN NUGGETS.

When Ric was busy dying and I was shuttling them both back and forth to chemo/oncology or therapy Dmitri had this one truly awful, mean spirited, pregnant speech therapist. He didn’t like her (and I can certainly understand why). So when she would ask him to complete a one step task, ANY one step task, he would distract and upset her by grabbing her name badge and pulling, or taking the small book and throwing it on the floor. I sat through these sessions, quietly, watching him. I had no authority over his life at this point because his father was still alive but everyone knew I was going to become his guardian and care for him. The speech therapist looked at me and said I shouldn’t bother and it would be easier for everyone if I just went ahead and institutionalized him.

If you want to piss me right the fuck off, go ahead and tell me something I’m trying to do is impossible. She’s lucky that Ric was still alive and I didn’t have the full authority to really show her what this angry southern woman looks like. I politely gathered our stuff and got the fuck out of there as quickly as possible, horrified by what she had said.

He completes three step tasks easily now. I decided at some point if he was ever going to use an assistive device to communicate I’d start by getting him to use i electronics. He did the thing where he’d gaze at the idevice out of the corner of his eye and quickly move on to the next thing. I tried over and over and over again, similar to the kids menu. I’d show him my iPhone. He’d look at it and walk away or push it away. Ad nauseam. One day we were on a field trip at the bowling alley. I had been snapping photos of him all morning. I decided to try a selfie, so I leaned forward and captured both of us in frame. Then I had a thought, what if I handed it to him in selfie mode, would he touch it? I’ll be damned, I put the phone in his hands with the camera reversed and he didn’t bat it away. He didn’t get up to do something else. He saw himself. HE SAW HIMSELF and started touching the phone. Finally I knew it was possible to get him to use an assistive device because he sat there playing with it, unprompted for a long period of time.

Now he points when he wants something. Or bugs you until he gets what he needs. He’s not reluctant to share what his needs are, through his sign language approximations, pointing at an object or physically retrieving the object to let you know what he wants. He’s regressed a little on iPad communication but still uses it to say hi and bye and to regularly know he intends on seeing Mike. When he gets into Mike’s car he queues up the restaurant he would like for dinner. “I would like Wendy’s please” when he gets into the car. He uses the iPad differently with different people because any person interacts with different people a little differently. He points at balloons (I want a balloon, goddamn you). He points at apple juice (GIVE ME THIS APPLE JUICE NOW OR ELSE). He hovers in front of you until you fix his Netflix so he can watch Reservoir Dogs. He is relentless until he gets what he wants.

The last two years in the IEP meetings they tell me things like “you saved his life. No one else on earth believed in him but you” and “you provided an environment for him that caused these successes” and “you changed the course of his life.” We went from a professional opinion of “he belongs in an institution” to “he can have a job one day.” Watching him learn and grow and leave the protective shell of non communication gave me the courage to communicate as well. If this precious, beautiful, non communicating child can express his needs and wants then so can I. I watch him push himself to do things that make him uncomfortable every single day for progress. So I can push myself to do the things that make me uncomfortable every single day, for progress. I watch him immerse himself in the moment into absolute bliss. I can try to do that too. He is my teacher and my zen master, my child, and my sister’s child. He teaches me humility, perseverance, strength, patience, courage, empathy, self love, the ability to show the world exactly who I am, without shame. He is everything and I am so thankful for these lessons and our life together.

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The bravest, strongest, wisest man I’ve ever known

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I am so incredibly thankful for my family. A close family member sent me this article from 1985 today, otherwise it would have been lost to me forever. My dad has been gone since 2007 and I haven’t read his words since I found parts of one of his sermons in his bible after he died. But this. He wasn’t just courageous. He was courage. He was strength. He was kindness. He was wisdom. I watched him struggle and struggle and struggle with depression and I knew it was bad enough where he wanted to take his own life. But he didn’t. He raised me and provided a great comfort to others for the remainder of his days instead. I never remember a man who had a great ego. I remember a kind man who was a stay at home parent taking me to the park and the library to read whatever I wanted, uncensored. I remember him being my protector and my shield against difficult times. I remember very well his first mental breakdown although I had only just turned four. I knew the dark sides of him as well as the light.

I used to spend a lot of time wondering if I would be like him and wondering if when I reached his age I would experience a mental break. Well shit, I am like him and proud of it. But so far I’ve managed to hang onto my sanity despite a lot of difficult situations in my life. I think he’d be proud of me. I think of him and what he would do in any given situation, often. The other day it occurred to me that if he hadn’t gotten ill when I was a child I would have grown up in the church, moving every couple of years to a new place, constricted by that lifestyle. Instead I had an idyllic childhood on a bucolic hundred acre farm, living like we came from money without the burden of actually having it. I had art. Books. Water. Mountains. Gardens. I had everything. I used to spend a lot of time upset that I didn’t have the same upbringing as everyone else but if I had I think my life would have provided considerably less adventure, less risk taking and less living.

The fact that he suffered so was terrible. But it was also beautiful. He inspired many people throughout the course of his life, but especially me. I love you dad. I remember your struggle. I honor it. And you.

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