Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Attitude with Gratitude

I complain about stuff.  A lot.  Loudly.
I am the poster child for "White People Problems" or "First World Problems."
Some of it is just my shtick.
Some of it is actual anxiety taking the form of humorous venting.
Some of it is the impoverishment of my soul because I have never known the daily struggle of survival that so many others of this world have.
But I keep things in perspective (as much as a white middle-class person with first world problems can) by listening to the BBC radio every morning.

One of the recent broadcasts I listened to was about used pacemakers in India.  The interviewer asked a recipient of one of these pacemakers whether he thought there were ethical issues about using a pacemaker when someone in the US or Europe would use a brand-new one.  His reply was simple:  "I cannot afford a new one, and a used one saved my life so I am happy to have the used one."

I try mightily to live a similar ethos to this man although for me it is 99.9% choosing to live simply as opposed to not having the option to live otherwise.

This time of year, with the "happy" story of pilgrims and indians being only a snippet of the disease and mayhem associated with the colonization of America and the continued trampling of Thanksgiving (with all its flaws) in favor of the shopping ecstasy of Christmas, I have a difficult time reconciling myself to the "way of the world."  To the haves and the have nots.  To the fact that I am one of the haves.  To the fact that I so much love the security of saving money that I am terrible about making charitable donations.

Jesus and Freud would both have a field day with me.

I struggle, to say the least.

If there is anything about which I am thankful regarding my OCD it is how that repetitive wheel of thought can be a good thing, especially when it is an internal wheel of gratitude.  Though I do vent, there seems to be a relatively quick link between the moment a venting/griping/bitchy word crosses my mind and the immediate moment after when a sentiment of gratitude follows.

No one needs to remind me of the things for which I should be thankful.  From the instant a thought enters my mind, I've had the gratitude loop follow it. I just feel better venting my frustration.

Still, even though I acknowledge my luckiness, I think it is nearly impossible to really and truly, within the depths of my heart, feel gratitude because that requires loss.  I can say I am thankful (which I am).  I can think that I am so deeply lucky and blessed (which I am).  But those deeper levels, the existential understanding of gratitude, the kind that suffers loss of the Jean ValJean variety as so many people in the world suffer today, right now, this instant.  That I do not know.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Reason 7,855 why I dislike the Christmas holidays

Some people with OCD become hoarders.  They cannot throw anything away.
I have the opposite problem, especially this close to Christmas when I await the deluge of STUFF that nearly knocks down my front door starting the second week of December when family parties begin in earnest.

In preparation, I start sorting through things, selling toys on craigslist, donating, donating, donating.  All this would be fine if it wasn't accompanied by a physical sensation that is akin to what I imagine formication feels like.

Making this sensation worse is the anxiety of spending money, especially since we are in the process of getting new windows for the house (the seals on ours have failed causing condensation between the glass panes and making their efficiency nonexistent).  We are hemorrhaging home improvement funds.

Finally, I'm having this weird, sorta unpleasant creative spurt, which may be a result of having too much stuff and trying to avoid spending money on stuff people neither want nor have a need for.   I keep thinking of projects to use stuff around the house.  I'm like up-cycling my life, which in theory sounds good unless the ideas keep pinging my head to the point that I go a little nuts.

I've drug out bowls I made last year using paper and feathers and am making more in an effort to use up what remains of the feathers and paper, and I'm also in the planning stages of some chicken wire projects.  And I'm etching/engraving a bit too using whatever bits and pieces of wood I have around the house and can pawn off from my neighbors.

Sometimes I contemplate cleaning the house or making dinner, but not often.

I think I forgot to take my antidepressant today, and it shows.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Teaching Frankenstein OR discouraging teens from having children

My high school students are wrapping up their/our study of Frankenstein, a novel that I read some years ago (and again this past summer).

This time around, perhaps because I was reading it more closely with the intent to teach it to someone else, I really noticed how much the book says about parenting.  I can't remember if I was a parent the first time I read it, but now I see so much of myself as a mother in the pages, so much of every mother in the pages.

This week in class I wrote on the whiteboard, "The creator becomes a slave to his creation" and said something on the order of, "That, my friends, is parenthood in a nutshell."

And it is true.

Victor Frankenstein enters into the creation process full of excitement and exuberance, like most people who make the decision to have children.  It is all rose-colored glasses.  And then....the reality.  The baby is born, the monster comes to life, and with it the full scope of "What the hell was I thinking??"

Most of us don't run away, as Victor did.  We plug away, seeing the unpleasant, disgusting, frightening parts of parenthood glare at us full-on.  We come to realize we are slaves to those we have created.  For a time, we are physical and emotional slaves, but throughout a child's life, our hearts are held hostage.  We are never, ever free of our children.  They haunt us in a similar way that the monster haunted Victor throughout the years.

And the funny thing is, eventually our children go through the stage when they hate us just as Victor's monster hates his creator (though, admittedly, for different reasons).  We fear them, resent them, loathe them in our own ways and in varying degrees.

I had, without as much detail, painted this portrait of what having children is like to my students, and one of my students said something on the order of, "You're really making us all want to grow up and have kids."

And I had to laugh because no matter what anyone says, suggests or warns about, parenting is something you think you have a grasp on and can wrap your head around until you become a parent and realize your ass is completely overwhelmed for the rest of your life.  

Monday, November 11, 2013

The money pit

I have come to the conclusion after 16 years of home-ownership that it is overrated. 

I guess there is something warm and fuzzy about equity, but it is pretend money, at least to me.  It's not like I can just get to the money in my house without a whole lot of time, energy, worry and spending more money to sell the house. 

You would think after a decade of parenting I would be used to all this spending money business, but I am not.  With kids, there is a certain amount of reuse/recycle involved, and I can always make a little bit back when I sell toys and clothes at consignment sales. 

And I don't drop thousands of dollars on my kids at any one time.  (yet)

But houses......that is another story.

Last year was The Year All Our Stuff Started Falling the Hell Apart. 
Microwave=slow, overly-dramatic death. 
Vacuum cleaner=bit it.
Refrigerator=didn't technically die, but its limbs were falling off and at 15 years, we knew it was just a matter of time. 

I am old-school, the child of Depression-era parents.  You fix stuff until the repair person says, "Lady, would you please just go buy a new one."

This has been The Year of Big, Substantial Things Needing to Be Replaced Resulting in an Almost Non-Stop Panic Attack over Finances.

The tail end of last year and first of this year we had a new roof installed.

Two-and-half years ago we were told the seals were failing on a number of our windows.  So we are biting the bullet and getting new windows for the house. 

The sump pump died (causing our basement to leak for the first time ever) so we had a new sump pump and a backup sump pump installed.

Today my desk chair fell apart as I sat on it (I'd already tried to put it back together once), and I think our garbage disposal doesn't work anymore. 

I try to be thankful that D and I save money and don't have to go into debt to make these repairs and do upkeep on the house.
I try to be thankful that we even have a house, especially given the destruction in the Philippines.

That voice of doom that lives in the nether regions of my brain starts getting a little too loud when I have to spend money though, when I have to turn over a measure of my security. 

I am thankful for, and yet hate so much, my first world problems. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

An interview that made me think that I'm (maybe) a smidgen of a creationist

One day while driving alone in my car---I don't know where I was driving or why---I heard an interview on NPR about a journalist who was lambasted because she admitted she was a creationist.  I didn't get to hear the interview in its entirety, but I heard enough to know this woman was not extreme in her views.  She didn't say evolution was wrong or invalid or anything that would make me blow her off as a zealot.

What she did say made me actually think that I, in my small little way, am also a bit of a creationist.

In the interview, she talked about the unanswered questions that predate humans and dinosaurs.  The existential questions about how the earth formed and what happened that led to the spark that eventually led to animate life that eventually, over millions of years, led to animals and humans.

She remarked that since there is no definitive, solid answer for what happened that caused the emptiness of space to eventually become planets and stars and whatever, she chooses to believe that it was god.

And I found this terribly interesting because while I would never, ever, ever think of myself as a creationist because I firmly believe in evolution and do not think the world was created in 7 days and do not think dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time and do not think god designed everything in a perfect little set-up, if I go back and back and back far enough, I tend to think that something godlike was first.

It seems reasonable to my understanding that a god (of some kind and certainly beyond all human understanding) set things in motion and then backed the heck off, allowing those cogs and wheels to turn and create and get us to this point.

That is as far as I get and, honestly, that is as far as I care to go.

I don't like to believe this is all a crap-shoot.  I don't like to think there isn't meaning.  But I also don't like to think god controls everything and has controlled everything since the beginning of existence.  I think there are all kinds of strange movements in nature--vertical, horizontal, diagonal and some kind of "al" that we can't even appreciate in this dimension.

I stand in the middle ground, where I tend to feel most secure.   

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Re-upping for another year

Last Friday, D and I celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary, although celebrate isn't really what we did.  Due to bad weather on Thursday (Halloween), our neighborhood's trick-or-treating was postponed to Friday.  So D took a hippie, Jake the dog and Finn the human out trick-or-treating while I sat with our neighbor and passed out goodies.

(I also tried to recover from an off-the-chain tantrum by G, which resulted in an off-the-chain tantrum by yours truly, which is a post for another day.)

Given the planning, preparation and attendance at 3 separate Halloween parties last week, I didn't even get D a card.  

When we decided to wed on Nov 1, we didn't have the foresight to understand how 3 Halloween parties in 3 days, plus actual trick-or-treating, would keep us me from remembering an anniversary card purchase.  

Married for 16 years and together as a couple for 18 years seems remarkable, and in a way it is.  So many couples don't make it nearly as far.  

I'm not sure how we've kept it together.  We keep our mouths shut a lot.  We accept each other for who we are (and vent to objective, third parties).  Therapy helped.  We have realistic expectations of what marriage is.  We really do like each other.  

And I venture to say there is a whole lot of luck involved too.

Recently I read an essay/blog suggesting that marriage is about making the other person happy, and while I don't completely agree with his point, I don't completely disagree either.  I think it is easy to love someone and want to make someone else happy when life is uncomplicated, when the married relationship is new, when you don't have the demands of children added in.  (If you don't have a mood-disorder, that is probably helpful too.)

In my experience as a mom for almost a decade, I honestly have not had the energy much of the time to worry about keeping D happy.  I have struggled to keep my house and sanity intact and my children alive.  I'm not saying this is ideal; I'm saying it is real.

D and I have also gone through enough "shit happens" experiences, like the death of a parent, like unexpected surgeries and health issues and house fall-apart situations, that take the wind out of one's sails and make it impossible to make oneself happy, forget about making the partner in the relationship happy.

I think my biggest issue with the writer's point is the use of the term "happy."  Happiness is short-lived.  I have moments, snippets, nanoseconds of joy/happiness in my life.  I have large swaths of soldiering on, "what the fuck am I doing," and mundane.

It is a slippery slope to spend too much time and energy trying to keep someone else happy because where and when does it end?  Sure, if both people are trying simultaneously to keep the other person happy then the idea is they are both made happy, but I propose that although we should aspire to this, the reality of marriage, if it lasts longer than a hot second, is that there is a large amount of selfishness.  And if not selfishness, then distraction by that big large entity we call "LIFE."

I think better than the notion of "making the other person happy," is "Do no harm."   What makes D happy is not what makes me happy.  I may like seeing him be happy, but I want to be happy too, and the reality is that sometimes that happiness doesn't have a darn thing to do with him or anything he can or can't do for, with or to me.

But if I pursue my happiness while not doing him any harm, it seems I can find a better balance and not feel the full weight and responsibility of his happiness on my shoulders.

I don't propose that my idea is better than the guy who wrote about making the other person happy.  Maybe it is because he is a man, and I'm a woman.  Maybe because I'm most certainly older than him and have been married longer.

I think my idea doesn't sound as romantic or doe-eyed as his, but so far it seems to have worked for us.
And I guess that is all that matters.