Saturday, February 28, 2009

Lesson NOT learned, I guess.

I believe in looking at most situations and seeing what lesson I need to learn from them. Especially if it is a situation in which I repeatedly find myself. I have found that, if I can figure out what the universe is trying to teach me, the situation will usually resolve itself. Don’t know how it works for you, but that’s how it seems to work for me.

But there is one situation I haven’t figured out yet: during those times when I am in deep pain and dark despair, why does my ability to contact anyone disappear?

I mean that literally, so let me explain.

Yesterday I was laid off. From a contract that was supposed to last through 2009 and probably beyond. From a location 300 miles from home. Where I was told to look for permanent housing because this was a long term contract, so I signed a year’s lease and moved Lionheart and the family pets here to join me. From a large business in a small town surrounded by nothing – the large cities (and closest other employers) are 3 hours away in any direction. From a project unexpectedly cancelled by the new CEO. Gotta make your mark in the first 100 days, I suppose.

Needless to say, last night my mind was reeling and my emotions were in turmoil. I needed my “Support Infrastructure”. So there they were, readily available, or at least reachable – right?

Wrong. When I need them most the universe makes them disappear. Lionheart, who has some disabilities which prevent him from working (and we are fighting in the courts to get coverage for them, so no income there), was not doing well yesterday so he spent all day in bed, woozy and uncommunicative. No problem; I have friends, right? Who, for whatever reason, were not answering emails or cell phones yesterday. None of them. Granted it was a Friday night, but my friends are geeks and have families – they are not out partying until two a.m. in a loud club where they can’t hear their phones.

It’s kind of freaky. Twilight Zone freaky. Especially the cell phone thing. I even tried a text message – for which I immediately received a return message that said “Message Deleted”. WTF? Never seen THAT before! It reminded me of a similar situation, enough years ago that the majority of us still only had land lines and I’m not sure that Al Gore had yet invented the internet – I desperately needed to talk to someone – anyone – and the entire phone system for the area went down. No phones for something like 14 hours.

So, this only happens occasionally, maybe once every few years, when something knocks the stuffing out of me and I REALLY NEED a sympathetic ear. Then I am held hostage by the communication gremlins of the universe.

Why? What lesson am I supposed to learn here? The obvious would seem to be to learn to be strong on my own. Except that I think I have amply demonstrated over the years that I am strong on my own. So I have no clue. But I really want to figure it out, so I don’t have to go through it any more.

Any suggestions?


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Short and succinct

“Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper.”

---- Robert Frost

“Sometimes my education fails me.”

---- My Daughter

To cry or not to cry, that is the question.

I believe we cry in relationship to our greatest injury. I first saw this watching my daughter as she grew. When she started walking she might cry if she wobbled and sat down with a thump. Later, if she bumped her elbow on the coffee table she would cry, but not if she sat down unexpectedly.

The first time she scraped her knee she cried a lot, but no longer cried for other, smaller bumps and scrapes. Then, after the first time she spectacularly wrecked her two-wheeled bicycle and got those serious scrapes and that one good gouge (from the pedal – remember how much those hurt?!) she didn’t cry for those smaller injuries any more.

I think this holds true for emotional injuries as well. We cry over those first small hurts because that is the worst pain we have ever known. Then as we progress in the world, gain love and loved ones, lose love and loved ones, and suffer the pain and vagaries of life, we weep for the greater hurts we suffer, but perhaps not so much for the smaller ones.

Unfortunately, if we are hurt enough, we may eventually stop crying at all. This may be a survival mechanism, both since tears make us appear weak and vulnerable, and since they are often a ‘reward’ to an abuser, prompting or prolonging the abuse.

Do you know someone who you never see cry? It doesn’t mean they don’t, of course; they may just shed their tears in private. But some of us suffered so greatly that the ordinary ‘slings and arrows’ of life are just minor stings to us. But I don’t think this is a healthy state of being.

I spent a long time healing my mental and emotional injuries and I thought I was doing quite well. I didn’t consider the fact that I still rarely cried, and never in front of other people. Then I met Lionheart, the man who would become my (second) husband. Somehow, and I don’t yet understand it, he made it both okay and possible for me to cry again. One evening, quite early in our relationship, I spontaneously burst into tears. It actually frightened me; this was just not something I did, and to make it worse, I didn’t even know why I was crying.

Then this amazing man took me in his arms and gave me his thoughts on why I was crying. And as I listened I realized he was right. And that it was okay. Everything was okay. And the world didn’t end.

I still don’t cry very often but when I do it feels okay now – that it is safe to do so. And sometimes he still has to help me figure out why I’m crying, but that’s okay too. This is a journey he is willing to share with me.


Do you know someone who never cries? Have you ever asked them why?

Saturday, February 21, 2009


I tend to frighten the family pets when I indulge in one of my favorite pastimes: watching the Ultimate Fighting Championship. This is a mixed martial arts (MMA) combat sporting event where opponents come together “inside the octagon”. In UFC the fighters employ a wide range of skills: boxing, wrestling, and a variety of martial arts such as Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Muy Thai, and kickboxing. Each fighter brings a unique blend of skills, strengths, and weaknesses to the bout, and you never know exactly what you are going to see – ground-and-pound, stand-up fight, tap-out, a knockout in the first 14 seconds, or a call because one of the fighters is bleeding so profusely it is dangerous to continue.

I get very excited as the bouts progress. I jump up and down, scream and yell, and root for my favorite fighter (usually whoever is the underdog). In other words, I act like any other fan of any other sport. But this particular sport is different from any other sport I’ve ever seen in one important aspect: sportsmanship.

Most sports tout sportsmanship but in my experience it is rarely demonstrated; in fact I think the opposite is quite often true. But in the UFC something extraordinary happens after almost every fight.

The fighters check to make sure each is okay. They may hug each other or kneel together on the mat and have a few quiet words. The winner may bow to the loser (a sign of respect in martial arts). I’ve seen the loser actually grab the winner’s arm away from the referee and hold it up himself.

During one second, blood could be flying everywhere and one fighter may be pounding the other into the mat, or choking him out, or beating him into the side of the cage with kicks and punches. But as soon as the fight is called, they are grabbing each other and checking wounds and hugging and talking and in general exhibiting a concern and respect for each other that I’ve never seen in any other sport.

It warms my heart to see it. Quite a satisfactory ending to a pulse-pounding event.


What unexpected action has warmed your heart lately?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Out of the mouths of babes

Has your son or daughter ever said something to you that resonated into your very bones? Served as a wake-up slap in the face? Broken your heart so badly you thought it would never beat again? Say something that you never thought you would hear them say?

For my daughter’s ninth birthday I went to the party store to pick up supplies. While I was there I ran into the store next door just to window shop. I saw the perfect Oriental rug for the living room and bought it on impulse. At home she helped me unroll it and get it positioned just right. As we were sitting on the couch, admiring how perfect the colors were, she said, “You make really good decisions when you’re by yourself.”

“Yes”, I thought, “she is right. I do make good decisions when her dad is not with me.”

When she was twelve and I told her we were getting a divorce she said, “It’s about time.”

“Yes”, I thought, “she understands.”

When she was sixteen she said, “I understand why you had to leave Dad, and I respect you for having the strength to do it, but I will never forgive you for breaking up our family and hurting him so badly.”

“No”, I thought, “she will never understand.”

One month before her nineteenth birthday I became engaged. On her birthday she cried all day and wouldn’t tell me why. Three months later when she was with my fiancĂ©, Lionheart, helping him choose tuxedos for the wedding party she told him she understood why I loved him so much but she cried on her birthday because she realized I would never get back together with her dad.

“No”, I thought, “she should be over this by now.”

When she was almost twenty she decided to go ahead and marry her fiancĂ©. She asked me for a guest list, and I gave it to her when we got together for her twentieth birthday. When she saw Lionheart’s mother and sisters on the list she said, “I’m not inviting HIS family! HE will be lucky if I even allow HIM to attend. You will walk down the aisle with my father and sit with him, the way it SHOULD be!”

“No”, I thought, “she will never get over this.”

When she was twenty-four she handed their first child, our first grandchild, to Lionheart and said, “Here, grandpa, do you want to hold him?”

“Maybe”, I thought, “there is hope after all.”


What has your child said to you that will stay with you forever?

“I would die of fright!”

In this post I want to expand upon my theme of ‘Do it anyway’. In a prior post I talked about my philosophy of ‘do it anyway’ and a little about how it developed. I talked about having a yardstick by which I measure the risk, the danger, the threat of a situation. A measure that helps me to decide if I will ‘do it anyway’. In this post I want to expand on a particular instance in that development.

When I was somewhere in the 5-to-8-years-old time frame, my bedroom that summer was in what was called ‘the sunroom’. This was a room upstairs, in the southwest corner of the house. It had a series of tall windows that filled the two outer walls. They were hung with plastic curtains (Are any of you old enough to remember those cheap plastic curtains?). In many ways this could have been a pleasant room – but it wasn’t. It had one large defect. It was infested with wasps.

When I say ‘infested’ I mean that literally. Large wasp nests hung in each corner of the room and many smaller ones hung in the folds of the plastic curtains. During the day, when the sun poured heavy and golden against the windows, the wasps buzzed lazily in the warmth. After the sun went down and the room cooled, however, the wasps had greater difficulty in moving around and often fell from where they crawled on top of their nests.

My little bed was under the windows on the west side of the room. I have a
snapshot memory of a wasp falling down onto the bed covers near my feet. My mother, who was sitting beside the bed reading poetry aloud, reached over and, using the spine of the book, crushed the wasp to death against the covers.

So I know that, for at least a while, my bed was in that room. And my small cardboard box of toys was under the windows on the south side of that room. I have a slighter longer
‘film clip’ memory of begging the adults downstairs to get my toys for me from that box. They refused. They told me if I wanted my toys I had to get them myself. My next memory is of sitting on the first of the two steps up into that room, watching the wasps as they slowly flew through the air, those long hind legs trailing behind them as they flew. They were flying barely higher than my head as I sat on the step. I remember being horribly, terribly afraid.

I had often had encounters with and been stung by wasps around this house. I remember swinging on the swingset outside and somehow accidentally kicking a wasp as it flew by. I still have a freckle on the top of my foot where the stinger had to be removed – and wasps don’t usually lose their stingers when they sting, so it must have been especially deep. I remember seeing a wasp caught in the fuzzy material of my knee socks as I ran around outside. They also seemed to be magically drawn to getting caught in my long blonde hair. And goodness knows how many times I might have been stung lying in my own bed – thankfully I don’t remember if that happened. I also remember the pain of stepping on honeybees crawling in the dandelions as I ran barefoot through the yard. So I was very familiar with the agony that flying insects with stingers could inflict. And I was staring into a room literally buzzing with them.

But I wanted my toys. So I started crawling on my belly across the linoleum-covered floor as the wasps flew low over my head. I remember, about halfway across, looking back over the smooth shine of the floor to the doorway, so dark in contrast that I couldn’t see into the hallway beyond. I remember reaching the box, then being even more terrified to raise myself up from lying flat on the floor. I remember finally raising up high enough to peer over into the box. I remember exactly how my toys looked as they lay there.

That is the end of my memory. I have no clue what happened next. Did I reach in and retrieve the toy I was after? Was a wasp waiting in there to sting my hand? Did I manage to get out of the room with a toy at all?

No clue. But I do know that, at that young age, I looked absolute blinding terror in the face, and I did it anyway. And it didn’t kill me. So now I never, ever, let fear alone be the deciding factor in any decision I make. If fear is the only reason I have for not doing something - I do it anyway.


The theory of relativity

It’s all relative. A matter of perspective. A determination of your point of view. In my last post I wrote about my attitude of “Do it anyway.” My means of making sure that I don’t spend my life huddled in a corner, paralyzed by my fear. I wrote how many years of practicing this have made many of my fears disappear and many others lessen in intensity.

Well, that sounds all well and good, but just exactly how did I arrive at this particular philosophy? How did I decide that I could “do it anyway”?

As a child I was struck by hearing so many folks say things like, “I could never give a speech/dance in front of people/fill in the blank of your particular fear; it would kill me!”

I thought that was so odd. It just sounded strange; not right somehow. As I grew older I realized that I thought it was odd because I was automatically thinking, “It will NOT!” You see, I knew about things that could kill you. I have been in situations of abuse that did kill my spirit and could have physically done lasting harm if not death. And these things that folks kept going on about were NOT in that category.

I had a yardstick by which I could measure the potential threat or danger of a situation.

Let me weigh the circumstances – give a speech, take a beating. Does the thought of making the speech make my stomach churn? Yes, it does. Will it kill me? No, it won’t. Does my churning stomach make me uncomfortable? Yes, it does. Will it kill me? No, it won’t. And even if I totally bomb, sound ridiculous, and have spinach in my teeth, there is nothing the audience can say or do to me that would even come close to what I endured as a child. So what is there, really, to fear? Do it anyway.


P.S. As for my spirit? As the old joke goes, I thought it was dead. But it got better.

What yardstick do you use to judge whether or not you will pursue an activity?

Do it anyway

Nike says, ‘Just do it!” Some folks, like Leo Babauta on, say “Do it now!” For many years my mantra has been, “Do it anyway.”

If I gave in to all my fears I would spend my life huddling in a corner. Period. Totally non-functional. Paralized by fear at the thought of doing anything. But when I was seventeen I made the choice to not do that. No matter what it was, no matter what it took, I would do it anyway.

So - am I nervous about giving a presentation? Do it anyway. Meeting new people? Do it anyway. What about driving someplace new? Someday I will post about my relationship with driving. Suffice it to say that white knuckles, tight shoulders, and a churning stomach are the price I pay to drive. But if I don’t drive I am back to huddling in that corner. So I do it anyway.

Return an item to a store? Confront someone with whom I am having an issue? Buy myself anything? Yes, believe it or not, for the greater part of my life, situations like these and many others generated stomach churning fear. But I did them anyway. And over the years the fear has become less.

In some cases it has disappeared entirely. I can now return anything for any reason, because by continuing to confront my fear I have learned that I used to view the clerk as someone in authority, someone who could deny me what I wanted and humiliate me and make my life utterly miserable. Because that’s what the authority figures in my early life did. Now I view the clerk as someone who is there to provide a service for me, a service that I deserve and have every right to expect. That’s not to say, of course, that even now the occasional surly service desk person can’t, for one moment, make my stomach clench. Then I take a deep breath, strengthen my resolve, and do it anyway.


What gets you out of your corner and into your life?

A rose by any other name...

A friend once asked me why I didn’t call my ex-husband, well, “my ex-husband”. Instead I always say “Bar’s dad”.

It’s simple. The term “my ex-husband” is too possessive for me. To me, he is not “my” anything any more. But he will always be our daughter’s father.

He was a good dad when she was growing up. He loved having her with him, whether he was working in his garden or going to the hardware store.

And while she has my face, my hair, and my personality, she has his ears, his hands and his teaching spirit.

Daddy’s Hands

"I don’t know why, but I like your hands the best."

"I know it’s broken. Just have Daddy fix it."

"Pet my face ‘til I go to sleep."

"Lift me up one more time."

"Swing me."

"Plant my garden right here."

Daddy’s hands can do anything
When you’re six years old.

Monday, February 16, 2009


I thought my first husband …

…had self-confidence and a high self-esteem, but it actually was arrogance from low self-esteem.

…was calm, but he was actually passive aggressive.

…knew how to sit back and wait for the right time to act, but he was actually a procrastinator.

When we married I was 19 and he was 25 and we had both just received our Associate degrees, and planned on continuing college for those all-important Bachelor’s degrees. He had served in the army and traveled extensively through Europe. I came from a tiny town and grew up with no family automobile – if you took me 5 miles down the road I was awestruck at seeing a new place. He was a ‘white knight’ who was supportive, nurturing, and a consummate teacher - everything you could want in a parent, er, I mean, husband.

In truth, he did ‘raise me’ as a parent would. He trained me and taught me and loved me – as long as I knew less than he did. As long as I was less competent than he was. As long as I didn’t know enough to stop asking ‘What do we do now?” and start asking “Why did you do that?”

We got our degrees and started our professional lives. My degree in computer programming (as we called it back then) led me to a large traditional business, the kind that can afford to buy the multi-million dollar IBM mainframe computers. And he continued to teach me. I had no clue how to behave in a professional environment and we constantly worked on ‘scenarios’ – if X happens, do Y. If Z happens, do A. And I progressed and learned and gained experience, both at work and in ‘real life’, taking on more and more complex assignments and situations.

And things started to change. The more I grew, the more he withdrew. If he couldn’t be the one who knew everything and could do everything, he couldn’t find a place in our marriage. I had developed into a strong, confident woman. His passive aggressiveness had grown to the point that almost everything in our lives was paralyzed. He would say to me, “I don’t like the person you’ve become.” And I would say, “I know! But I can’t go back to being an inexperienced 19 year old!”

And eventually I had to start saying, “I know! But I can’t go back to being an inexperienced 19 year old! That’s why we shouldn’t be together anymore.

Fast forward through the next ten years. I am a stubborn woman and when I commit to something I commit completely. I just knew that I could fix this if I could find the right thing to say or the right thing to do or the right therapy to try. But eventually I became so numb I couldn’t try any more. So, when our daughter was twelve, I moved out of our house. He didn’t say much about it. I took an apartment only five minutes away so she could stay in the same school and still be close to the house and her dad.

It took a year for my emotions to thaw** to the point where I could realize that divorce was the only option. When I told him, he said he didn’t want a divorce. When I asked him why then he hadn’t been willing to cooperate with therapy or any of the other things I had tried, he said, “I thought you were going through a phase and it was all your problem.” All I could reply was, "Ten years is a pretty damn long phase!” When I asked him why he never even protested when I moved out he said, “Because I thought you would fall flat on your face and have to come crawling back.”

Well. After all these years, he still needed me so desperately to be that incompetent little 19 year old girl, incapable of handling life on her own, that he simply could not see me for who I really was. All I could do was shake my head and go through with the divorce. I gave him the house, took on all the credit card debt, agreed to shared custody, and paid him child support (required in my state since my income was higher). I shook the dust of twenty-four years of marriage off my sandals and my friends told me they had never seen me happier.


** About three months into the “year of thawing out” a friend asked me if I missed him. I was taken aback by the question; it had never occurred to me. I realized that, no, I didn’t miss him. There was nothing to miss. For 12 years I had done everything by myself. If there was a movie I wanted to see, I went by myself. If there was a restaurant I wanted to try, I went by myself. When I decided to take up martial arts I visited the dojos around town, by myself, and selected one, and started attending classes – by myself. So there was literally nothing to miss. Except the arguing. But I didn’t miss that. I just basked in the peace of my little apartment.

Have you ever spent years of your life trying to get through to someone?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Wanted: Third Grade

Did you ever lose a year of your life? Sometime after my marriage I was helping my mother clean out one of her storage boxes. I came across a large yellow envelop full of childish drawings, done in crayon on that flimsy paper used in elementary schools, most of them folded in half like primitive Hallmark cards. As I flipped through them, reading phrases like ‘Get well soon’ and looking at names scrawled in staggering letters, I was completely puzzled. Where had these come from? Why were they in my mother’s trunk? So I asked. And she said, “Those were from your third grade class. Don’t you remember? That was the year you went to X Elementary and you had pneumonia that winter. Your class made these get-well cards for you and your teacher brought them by.”

Ahh. Puzzle solved. No, I didn’t remember. I experienced mental, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse and have almost no memories of the first seventeen years of my life.

I have become somewhat adjusted to this condition. Since I can’t join in, I just smile politely when people around me start to reminisce about their early years. I do have some of what I call ‘snapshot’ memories, when literally the memory has no ‘before’ and ‘after’ context, but exists on its own, a tiny little film clip. Most of these I can’t place in time other than a very general period, and sometimes I can’t even place the place.

But this was the first concrete proof I had of this. For grades one through six I had attended, I thought, Z Elementary School. But no! For one whole year we had lived in another place and I had attended another school in another building with another teacher and with other children. Children who had drawn and colored get-well cards for me and a teacher who had brought them to me. And I had no memories of any of it. No memories of the location, of the building, of the bus rides every day to and from school, of the teacher, or of the children whose names I saw signed on the cards I was holding in my hands.

That was really freaky.

Most times I don’t think about my ‘lost’ childhood. But sometimes it rises to the front of my brain and I start worrying at it like a sore tooth. Should I get (even more) therapy? Should I try hypnosis to penetrate that blankness and retrieve my memories? So far my answer has been ‘No’. The memories I do have are not great (okay, awful) and frankly I’m not thrilled with retrieving any more.

But it’s a shame that the good had to disappear with the bad. What a kindness, to have taken the time to make and deliver those cards. It would be nice to have a memory like that to look back on.


How’s your memory? Or the memory of those closest to you? Any gaps, missing information, or times you don’t want to think about/they don’t want to talk about? What, if anything, have you done about it?

An inward journey to an outward dance

“Working widdershins” is an expression which means to conduct a ritual starting in the West, then moving to the South, the East, and finally to the North to complete the ritual. However, this term can also be used to describe the process of self-work.

At the beginning of self-work we need to call upon our courage for this inward journey. As we continue this journey we need to burn away our masks so that we begin to see ourselves as we really are. Only as we approach our true selves can we begin to heal the wounds that life has inflicted upon us. As we continue this inward journey we see the death of our false selves, the birth and growth of our true selves, and we find our center, the home of our spirit.

The act of moving inward ultimately brings us back out again, to dance with the world around us in new and wonderful steps, sometimes sure-footed, sometimes faltering, until the circle of the dance leads us inward once more and a new journey begins.

As we journey onward together I will share some of the steps of my dance with you.