Our muses are our loves. People, places, machines, events. Simple as that. The muses change over time. One leaves. Another arrives. It’s always about love.
I try to live my life full of Love, and one of the ways I express that love is through photography. I may not be especially technically skilled, but I think I have a fairly decent eye for composition, framing, et cetera.
Sometimes, the photos don’t turn out the way I want them to, but, despite myself, they turn into something I might like even better – though I might not be able to place my finger on why.
I love taking photos. I especially love taking candid photos of the people around me, ideally while they don’t even realize I’m there, so I capture an unadulterated Moment in their lives. I wish I could just invisibly melt into the visual background noise of any given situation so people wouldn’t feel self-conscious- ok, that sounds a little creepy; that’s not what I mean at all. I just want to capture the natural moment as it unfolds.
When I carry a camera with me, I have to be very cognizant of time if I’m with anyone else. I get 100% lost in the macro, in the weirdly beautiful, or just the strikingly beautiful. I could spend hours photographing a tree or a set of rapids and be perfectly content. I have to be mindful that not everyone wants to stop every 13 inches or seconds to gaze with unmitigated awe at a snail and a tire track and a crushed pop can and a rose and a leaf floating in a puddle and the rivets on a plane wing and a splash of reflected color on a brick wall and and and and.
When I lurk around the periphery, or when you see me surreptitiously trying to sneak a shot with camera or phone, please forgive me. Smile, pose, or pretend not to have seen me, but I would beg of you not to get annoyed or to hold it against me. To be honest, my favorite is when you truly do not notice me, because in that moment, I am not looking for your Camera Face; I’m looking for you. When I take a photo of you, it’s because I appreciate you and I want to remember this moment myself, yes, but it’s also because maybe you’ll see the photo and you’ll love it, too, and it will make you happy, also.
For, you see, the shots I am taking are all ultimately about Love – of you, of the moment, of the surroundings, of the insane unlikelihood of us existing at all let alone having met, of everything – I’m trying to preserve a moment for you, for myself, to look back on. I want you to feel like someone cared enough to capture a moment in your life, like someone noticed you holding a certain expression, like someone witnessed time with you and wanted to remember it. Someone was present; someone was there with you and experienced the same thing from a different perspective and that’s something you now share for the better or for the worse depending upon the moment.
Some perceive it as an intrusion into a private moment and are genuinely bothered, and for these times, I am truly sorry. Let me know; I’ll leave you be. I do not like posing for photos myself, but don’t mind nearly as much if I can at least pretend not to notice the camera. I get squirmy and I get Chandler Face.
Thus, because I know it might make people uncomfortable, it takes more than a little courage for me to point a camera at someone, especially strangers. My Midwestern Polite demeanor gets itchy and wants to make casseroles.
I could ask, but then I’d lose the moment.
Sometimes, it goes badly for the photo.
Occasionally, perhaps more than I want to admit, due to poor timing, the wrong equipment, bad lighting, lack of skill, whatever, the shot doesn’t turn out the way I envision. But I keep the photo, because it helps me remember the moment.
Even though I may not specifically go back and randomly recall a moment or event, seeing that photo will bring back the same emotions and a flood of memories. More often than not, a smile and maybe a little, “aw.”
Sometimes it goes about as expected.
Sometimes, it’s better than I could have hoped.
And I thank my lucky stars every time this happens.
More often than not, it’s somewhere in the middle.
Not terrible, not special, just a random photo of a random moment. But I remember where it was taken and why.
I take a lot of GoPro video, which often yields wonderful candid stills. Love them – I just have to pick the right split-second to grab, the one that’s the most that-moment/that-person.
My favorite, of course, is The Real Camera, with which I can control depth of field, aperture, and so forth. It is also the absolute most conspicuous.
Remembering. That’s so important for me, and, as I stare down the barrel of turning 50 next year, I am extremely cognizant of my mother’s struggle with memory (early onset dementia, compounded by a TBI.) I joke about being a space cadet, but internally, I am terrified.
What if it’s not a lack of paying attention, what if it’s not being cavalier with details – what if it’s something pathological. What if I’m on the other side of this photo in twenty years?
Sometimes I worry that by being so consumed by capturing moments that I am not fully living them. I suppose that could be true, but having experienced a great many unphotographed moments, I don’t know that I really notice a difference. I take such pleasure, such abject joy, in photography that it only adds to the experience (unless it detracts from someone else’s.) I feel a tiny bit of anxiety when I really want to take a photo, but cannot.
I’ve delved into that a bit and I think it’s due to a combination of things:
Worrying I won’t remember the moment later, even without dementia
Wanting to share it with other people
Maybe a wee touch of, if I don’t have proof, did this really happen?
A whole heaping lot of, maybe this will stir a memory for me if I end up like her.
When I’m too old and infirm to do much of anything anymore, put me down in front of whatever thing that’s like Flickr in those times and let me browse back over all the little vignettes I’ve gathered. Maybe reliving things with visual aids will ease the burden of not having any burdens at all, other than my own frail and failing body.
So, my friends – the original intention here was to convey my love and appreciation for all of you whom I have photographed, and to those of you whom I someday will. I will cast you in the best light I possibly can, I will never intentionally embarrass or shame you, I will not publish them if you do not want them to be published. With love comes respect and a general wish for your overall happiness and well-being.
We’re all in this together, sharing. Sometimes, I like something tangible to remind me.
Sunday’s visit was “better,” all things being relative. She was more alert and I’m fairly certain she did recognize me at times. Dad wondered if taking in photos of me when I was younger might stir some recognition, so I went through and found a few representative pictures, including one of the two of us together when I was eight or nine.
When I arrived, she was sitting in her Jerry chair in the community room. There were perhaps eight or so other patients in there, sitting alone or around a table, and Mom was off to the side, staring off into whatever her mind was trying to show her. I pulled up a chair and sat next to her.
I laid the photos on her tray. She clutched at them, almost reflexively, but did not hold them up herself. I held them up, one by one, explaining the photos were of me, of her and me together, and I think she might have had a second or two of recognition there.
Due to background noises, my bad hearing, and her quiet volume, I could not hear or understand most of what she said. Once home, I imported the video I took into Adobe Premiere Pro and amplified the volume. I think she said at one time, “hug me… if you can…” but I did not hug her because I couldn’t hear what she was saying. Heart-breaking. Of course I would have, had I heard. Once, she said fairly clearly, “help me.” Oh, my, I wish I could.
To be completely honest, there were a few moments when I thought I should end it all for her by gently, ever-so-gently, holding a pillow over her face until she quietly suffocated to death. It would not take much, or long. However, I realized that forensic science (should that be called upon,) would quickly discover the cause of her death, and I certainly did not want to spend any time in prison, even for such a crime of compassion. I thought about suggesting to the nurses they give her “a little extra PRN” (as-needed morphine doses,) and very quickly realized that was just a terrible idea. This was Mom’s path to walk alone; no one else could legally help her along.
One thing she asks often is “why…?” At times, it seems like a full question unto itself, at others it seems like she has something more to add but then trails off after the first word. I don’t know whether she’s asking why in general, or why about something specific, but there is no answer I can give her. There’s no good reason for any of it, other than pure human frailty being a motherfucker sometimes.
She manages to communicate snippets, incomplete thoughts. Not long after I arrived, she mumbled something about “my sisters,” but I don’t know what she was saying or asking about them. She has two younger twin sisters, only one of whom has she seen in recent times.
“I want you to stay…” she later said, I think to me, but wasn’t sure.
She is typically very agreeable – when someone makes a suggestion or asks her a question, her response is often a weak, simple, “okay,” with an lift at the end, like a small child. Unless she really doesn’t want the thing being suggested, and then there will be a “no…” with varying degrees of intensity.
I wonder where she is in her head, what she sees, what she believes to be true.
I settled in for this last visit, and, like millions of children before me, I reversed our roles and wiped my mother’s nose; I helped get her fed and changed and bathed; I soothed her to sleep with my voice as I stroked her hair. I thought of singing her a song my parents made up for me when I was a toddler, but didn’t think I could bear it myself.
Perhaps the most important thing about this visit was Forgiveness, and I thought long and hard before saying anything about that to her. I weighed out the pros and cons of lying versus actually being able to forgive versus not saying anything at all. I don’t know that I can forgive her – I don’t even know all the things I need to forgive her for, there’s so much. Then again, this person in front of me was not the same person who committed all those acts of maternal treason years and years ago.
Yet how do I forgive a person who cannot remember the things that she’s done to me? How could I not? I know that forgiveness is as much for me as it is for the person receiving it, but my own benefit has never really been a good motivator for me. If it were a lie, it would be for her, and how could I begrudge her that?
I don’t even know that it was a true thing when I said I loved her. It’s been so long since I’ve thought of her with any shred of positive emotion that I no longer actively feel the love for her as my mother. What I felt was compassion and kindness and despair for a fellow human being who was suffering and who should be let go. I felt a generic sort of love for a now-gentle and helpless person. Subconsciously, of course, I’m sure all sorts of havoc was being wreaked.
I cried or struggled not to cry a lot on Sunday. I’m sure some of the tears were related to the painful past we shared, and, to some degree, acknowledging that my mother was in fact dying no matter how estranged we might be. The first time I really felt certain she recognized me was … profound, I suppose. It wasn’t long after I arrived Sunday, when we were still sitting in the community room. Our eyes locked, and hers seemed clearer for a moment. She clutched at my hands, reached out on her own and touched my face. Not long after, I cried a full-fledged cry, surrounded by strangers in various degrees of suffering, in various degrees of awareness and lucidity. One of the nurses kindly and silently brought me a box of tissues when she saw me, and her compassion renewed my tears.
I thought to apologize to her, but I realized that crying in situations like this is normal and natural and healthy. Nothing to be ashamed of, although I am always ashamed when I cry in front of other people. My traditional “Stuff all the feelings down just like this casserole” Midwestern upbringing forbids ugly crying in public or in front of … well, in front of anyone, really.
Here, however, it would probably be more peculiar if I did not cry. In the face of this kind of suffering in any living being, how could anyone not be moved to tears? What kind of monster would not cry upon seeing her own mother in such a state?
In the end, everything is stripped away, everything but the most basic needs, the most basic thoughts, the most basic feelings, wants, desires. The need for human contact, the need for physical comfort, the need to be cared for and reassured. There’s nothing left of any residual badness or evil or unkindness from the past; all of that has been cleaved away leaving this empty husk, a bare shell of a woman who seems very sweet, very gentle… and full of needless suffering. So much pain.
Her former business partner and close friend wrote some kind words about Mom to my aunt, and I realized once again how the outside world knows a very different Lynn than I did. No one else experienced her as a mother, and most people from her public persona would never believe the things she said or did. How could such a kind, generous, sweet, compassionate woman be so cruel? Because untreated Borderline Personality Disorder, that’s how. She was both personae, now she is neither… though she is closer to her public persona than her private. This is a good thing for her and for everyone around her.
She’s obviously suffering so much. She is in constant discomfort, even while she’s sleeping, and she is obviously distressed in her thoughts as well as in her physical sensations.
This photo shows, starkly, the overall tone and sentiment of my visit with Mom Sunday, the second day. Both of us overshadowed by the agony of her affliction.
One of the fears I had about visiting her was of making things worse. If she did recognize me, would it cause her stress, anxiety, too much excitement? What if she did recognize me, and was reassured that I was there… and then I was suddenly gone? Would that traumatize her anew? These were among many fears and concerns I had to stare down in their red, beady eyes.
I’ve read about how people try to interact with dementia patients, though it was suddenly very starkly clear I was unprepared for this. Things are different when it’s personal. Things are different when 48 years of life and experience are scattered and flung to the four winds, leaving me standing alone in the barren field of her dementia. She was there, but not there, caught in some purgatorial hinterlands of her own failing mind.
I knelt before her, having no idea where to start.
“Mom? Hi. Hi, it’s me, it’s Erin. I’m your daughter.” I managed a weak smile. She was fairly sedated, and could not keep her eyes open for long. When they were open, it was difficult to get her eyes focused on me (or on anything, for that matter.) After awhile, same nurse who told Mom I was here knelt with me before her chair with the tray removed. She took Mom’s hand and put it on my face and took a very authoritative, loud tone.
“Lynn, Lynn – your daughter is here. Your daughter is here. She came to see you. Touch her, hug her! She’s here and she loves you!”
I had not yet said “I love you,” and I wouldn’t for awhile. I didn’t want to lie, and I didn’t know whether it was true. I was still trying to adjust to this wretched figure before me being my mother.
I had the feeling the nurses’s words were as much for my benefit as for Mom’s; she didn’t know our history, she only knew Mom had been asking for me and that I had never visited. She kept trying, kept putting mom’s hand on my face, kept trying to get her eyes to open and focus.
Then, after getting virtually no response from Mom, she said to me, “Oh my God, her brain is just gone, it’s gone.” Mom’s hand fumbled on my face and neck limply and without much response. “Lynn! Touch your daughter, she came to see you from California. Lynn! Lynn! Your daughter loves you!” This was the first time I came to tears – the kindness of the nurse, coupled with her stark words, mixed with the enormity of our relationship, of the situation.
My mother’s house was a very nice two-story Colonial in a good neighborhood, full of her books and beloved possessions. Here, she was sharing a room with another dementia patient, with only a few scattered belongings to remind her of home: Some photos, my old deacon’s bench that held my toys for so many years, one of her favorite paintings, a few knick-knacks on a bookshelf. Nothing more.
Mom walks almost continuously. If she is not sleeping, she wants to walk. This is apparently common in dementia patients, and in her case, they believe she is looking for me. She very frequently talks about “my daughter, I have to find my daughter,” and worries about me being in some kind of danger relating to water.
Sunday morning, my dad told me of a time when I was 4 years old and we were at Lake Michigan camping on the sand dunes. My mother was back at the campsite, while Dad and I were playing on the beach. I took it upon myself to wander off, he thinks maybe back toward the campsite, but I didn’t know my way and I got lost. I was only away from my parents for maybe 10-15 minutes at most, he said. However my mother was in an absolute panic, and I’m certain it felt like a small eternity to her and probably to my father as well. He wondered (and now I do as well) if that’s where she thinks she is, and why she feels like I’m in danger and need rescuing. Cruel. Stuck not in happy times from her past, but horrible ones.
We got her laid out on her bed, only ever so briefly before she struggled to get up again and resume her endless march, and I looked over her tiny body closely.
I recognized the mole on the back of her left calf, and not much else. Her face… no. Her entire person… no. There was no visible sign of my mother. She had been devoured, erased by this disease.
I went through the video, grabbing still shots and editing them, finding ways to express how she had faded away:
She was kept fairly medicated for pain, as she had fallen recently and had a huge, awful bruise all over the right side of her bottom and back of her right thigh. Because of the physical pain, she often wore an expression of anguish, which I amplified in some to show the awful, ugly reality:
One of the wonderful caretakers told me she had recently gotten Mom to smile and dance a little bit, but her dancing was just moving her shoulders back and forth. I was happy to hear she had a moment of fun. She told me that before Mom took a radical turn for the worse, she had a friend, Phil, on the floor who would walk with her. They would sometimes stop and kiss. Sweet.
The patience of these women was profoundly humbling; I could never hold a candle to a one of them. It is exhausting and difficult to keep track of my mother as she carries on in her search which will always only end in failure to find her goal. She can no longer walk alone, she has to be accompanied so she doesn’t fall.
Trying to get her into bed, even when she is literally falling asleep on her feet, is impossible. She has a nearly superhuman strength, apparently also common with dementia. It took everything I had to try to keep her lying down, or to get her to lie down – it was impossible without hurting her.
They could restrain her, it would be the easiest thing for them, but instead… they walk with her. They ask her questions, they try to get her to engage. When all else fails and they must attend to someone else, they sedate her further and wait. Her tolerance is so high, they have to dose her repeatedly to get her to calm or sleep. She seems to be more comfortable in her Jerry chair than in bed, so we try and try again to seat her for more than 30 seconds at a time.
She wants her hands held almost all the time, she wants human contact, and reaches for every hand she sees. While she was lying down quietly for a rare moment, I held her hand for the first time.
After awhile, convinced I would keep close watch, they left me alone with her to walk the halls. Eventually, I closed us in her room, because she was so medicated that when she stopped to turn around at the end of the hall, she stooped over asleep. I wanted to keep her close to her bed and chair, and so we walked in circles around her room. She would sometimes try to open the door, but I held it shut. She shuffled to the other end of the room and seemed to look at the photos on the bookshelf or out the window, but I don’t think her eyes actually saw anything external. I’m fairly sure her eyes were closed, and when her grasping fingers touched upon and gently held the picture frames, she was only keeping herself upright as she fought the many milligrams of morphine.
At one point, she said, “itch my back,” and I thought maybe she recognized me at that moment because she would make that request of me sometimes, but perhaps not. Saturday was mostly just incoherent walking. I talked to her a little, and, when she was clearly in physical agony or was excessively worried about something going on in her head, I would reflexively say, “everything is ok.” What an exceptional lie. Nothing was ok. Absolutely nothing at all was “ok” in her world of turmoil.
I left after perhaps four hours, after which time I was exhausted. It was not a productive or satisfying visit in any way, I had not reached her at all. It was only ceaseless shuffling and struggling, punctuated by seconds of calmness. I went home to my dad and step-mom’s house to ponder, to recover, to wonder.
I began writing this on November 6th while I was back in Michigan. Things have happened since then, and will be in the next few posts.
My mother is dying.
For many of you, this statement strikes a powerful and poignant chord in your hearts as you envision how you would feel were your own mother dying, or as you remember how you did feel when she passed. I empathize with you deeply, and envy you having a relationship with your mother that was different from me with mine.
My mother has Borderline Personality Disorder, which brings with it histrionic, manipulative, and generally cruel behaviors. While she stopped short of physical abuse, the emotional and psychological abuses were vicious. Because I didn’t know how dysfunctional our family was until I was in my thirties, I felt “close” to my mother for a few decades before realizing what we had was not closeness at all, but a wildly co-dependent relationship. I was the very definition of a preoccupied child.
My mother raised me to be both ego-maniacal and incredibly insecure. Depending upon her mood, I was both the best and worst possible child a mother could ever have, and I’ve written about that elsewhere on this blog. To this day, I still wrestle with low self-esteem, body dysmorphia, and other psychological and emotional issues as a result of her unceasing, relentless judgment. Fortunately for me, a gang of wonderful millennials taught this old dog some new interpersonal and personal tricks, and I’ve been so enriched by following their example. Thus, anyone who denigrates millennials as a whole will receive an entire earful from me about “not all millennials,” and how my particular kids have given me a lot of hope for the future of our species.
I don’t remember why she was crying here, but this was before The Great Schism.
In 2010, my mother was in a very minor 5mph car accident in which she hit her head including a direct blow to her Broca’s area on the driver’s side window, which left her with very bad paraphasia, visual disturbances (including the inability to make sense of written words or letters,) bad coordination, and terrible memory issues. Her life was irrevocably altered in an instant due to the misconduct of one reckless driver, as was my ability to reconcile any issues from my childhood with her – she simply did not remember them, and, cruelly, could not remember why I resented her so much. She only remembered the happy times, whereas I mostly remembered the bad.
I’ll spare you the lengthy details of the ensuing legal battles with her insurance company, but suffice to say she was completely screwed from every quarter. Despite the fact we had not spoken in over two years, I became her legal Guardian and Conservator, as well as her primary caretaker for over a year. It was unpleasant for both of us, and I admit I resented her the entire time.
Due to the duration of the legal battle, and the pitiful insurance settlement she received, she lost her car, her home, and most of her belongings. After 15 months, I could no longer stand it, and I surrendered Guardianship and Conservatorship to a law firm who specialized in those things. They’ve done a good job, as far as I can tell.
Since surrendering responsibilities, I have not seen or spoken to my mother. I learned she had been placed into an assisted living apartment because she was not safe living on her own. Then, she went into full-fledged adult foster care in a hospital facility. Last month, her case worker phoned to say she was not doing well and I should come see her if it was important to me to speak to her before she died. She wasn’t expected to pass immediately, so I had some time to decide.
I debated a lot as to whether I wanted to go back home to say goodbye. 90% of me did not. I sought my friends’ advice, which was overwhelmingly (and gently) this: Go, because you may regret it if you don’t. Go for yourself, if not for her. Go, in case she might recognize you. Go, unless it will truly destroy you as a person. Go, because you’re more likely to regret not going than having gone. Go.
Thus, when I received the call last week that she was in the end stages, I booked a flight for the next day and made arrangements.
This was how she looked about a year ago in a photo taken by my aunt:
Such a lost, yet hopeful expression; it just about makes me cry to look at.
Driving over to the facility, I made attempts to steel myself for this visit, but I had no idea what to expect. I realized I couldn’t very well prepare myself for whatever lay ahead and surrendered to whatever was going to happen. I was both relieved to be alone and also really wanting “Walter” with me. Business had taken him back home, and he could not come along. He told me I was strong, and that I could do this. Part of me believed him. Part of me was glad he wouldn’t see me crumple because that would surely inevitably happen.
When I arrived at the absolutely wonderful rehab facility that has been her home for the last year, I parked and went inside. Registering at the desk, I received her room number and directions. Exiting the elevator, I knew I was scant moments from seeing what I didn’t want to see, but had to see.
I approached her room, which was near the end of a hall. Inside, two beds, both empty. Some personal effects I recognized as inherently “Mom.” The beds’ mattresses were thin, much like camp cot mattresses atop frames that could be hand-cranked to raise and lower head and feet. There wasn’t much in the way of noticeable smells.
I knocked softly and called, “hello?” as I peeked inside. To my immediate left, two nurses had a gruesome figure in the shower. I saw this wretched, skin-and-bones, whimpering … the only word that comes to mind is “hag” of a woman being held up and firmly but gently sponge bathed. I don’t use “hag” as a derogatory term here: It is the only word I can use to convey the grimness of the apparition before me. Skin hung off her bones from head to foot, her breasts swung around her waist, bones jutted from her hips and legs, her normally dyed-dark-brunette hair was shoulder length, wild, and completely gray, her face a contorted rictus of misery. She was whimpering in misery almost constantly, in obvious physical and emotional distress.
The expression she wears here is how she appears most of the time – in agony. In hell.
Thus it was I saw my mother for the first time in over five years.
I would never have recognized her.
I stepped back into the hallway to preserve her privacy in such a state of misery and nakedness. I was stunned, heart-broken. My aunt had sent me a photo to help prepare me for what I was going to see, but even it didn’t show anything near the depths of despair to which my mother had sunk. When she went into assisted living, I would imagine she weighed well over 200 pounds. Now? Perhaps 100. When I last saw her, she was oriented and aware of her surroundings, had a sense of herself, and could remember some things about the past. Here? No longer.
When I told the two lovely women who I was, they were astonished. “Lynn!” exclaimed one woman with a beautiful central African accent. “Lynn! Your daughter is here!”
I heard a whining, barely-audible mumble from the skeletal figure. The nurse replied, “I’m not lying, your daughter is here!”
After a few minutes, they had finished bathing her and dressing her in what must have been clothes from the Goodwill, and then helped her teeter-shuffle out of the bathroom. They managed to get her into her Jerry chair, a wheeled medical chair with a locking tray to hold her in – an adult-sized high chair, as it were.
I knelt before her, overwhelmed with compassion and sadness.
Some days we never want to end, others cannot expire soon enough. This past weekend held a little of both, though the good certainly outweighed the bad and the ugly.
As one might surmise from the title, this is going to be a long one, folks, and we’re going to cover a lot of ground (badly, and without much in the way of Organization, might I add.)
Let’s start with the bees, because they’re important, they’re dying all around us, and three of them had important cameos this week. Wait, lies – Let’s start with this weekend’s plans, because they factor into everything.
On Tuesday, I decided to tag along on a group motorcycle camping trip to the Salton Sea from Friday through Sunday. I’d not done motorcycle camping since 1996, and what better way to get back into the swing of things than with a gaggle of other like-minded folks?
Ok, now the bees.
That morning, I had found a very sickly looking bee on my patio furniture. I see dozens of dead bees around my apartment complex, which is always a sad thing. I have to assume there is some kind of pesticide they’re using which is killing them off in tragic droves, one by one, dozen by dozen. I find them lying on the sidewalk every day. I don’t know what sort of bees they are, or whether they are solitary, but I do know we need every last one of them that’s left on this Earth.
“To understand many things you must reach out of your own condition.” ~Mary Oliver
Thus, when I saw the wee girl on my chaise lounge, I didn’t have much hope of her being alive. I gently blew across her wings, and she reared up into a groggy but distinctly defensive position: Middle legs and stinger raised, wings outstretched, facing this new unknown threat. Immediately after assuming this posture, she lost balance and tumbled onto her side. Oh, dear. Poison? Cold? I have no idea how to distinguish a poisoned bee from one that is simply too cold. I watched her for a few seconds as her legs clumsily churned in slow motion, trying to get her upright.
I can’t stand to see animals suffer; it causes me anguish in a deep, sensitive, delicate area. My first instinct was that she was dying, and that I should end her suffering. That’s such a final solution, though – I wanted to give her the chance to survive. Hoping she was cold and that I could warm her up, I placed my index finger alongside her body so the heat would radiate out to her. She immediately perked up and began scrabbling toward me – not in an aggressive manner, but in a keenly interested one: Her antennae and front legs reached forward ambitiously, her abdomen and stinger remained relaxed.
As quickly as she could, she climbed up onto my finger, legs frequently missing their steps and wobbling with every one, but she got there and then she sat quite still – only her antennae moved, daintily touching my skin, perhaps trying to figure out what I was, whether I was food, or just a heat source.
“This is quite an exercise in trust for us both, isn’t it?” I murmured.
I waited. After perhaps two minutes, her movements became more regular and coordinated, and after a minute more, she adroitly took to the sky where I hope she will live out a normal, healthy bee life. Thursday, the spectacle repeated itself as I found a similarly beleagured bee clinging to the wall near my elevator. She took much longer to come around, but eventually she, too, flew off into the sun. I videod that one, which is probably only of interest to me (and maybe Steven and Leslie:)
I hope this is amongst the right things to do, and isn’t causing them harm or more stress that will lead to terrible things. Thinking back to both of these times makes me feel happy: Altruism serves the self, too.
Flash-forward to Saturday night around a campfire burning in a large metal pit. A pale, half-inch-long spider ran in circles for over an hour along the rim of the pit, sometimes stopping to inquisitively check out its surroundings, but mostly just running around the rim fairly quickly. For awhile, no one else seemed to notice it, then Chuck pointed it out. We wondered why the circles – if it was too hot, why didn’t it simply hop off the edge into the cool darkness? Around and around and around, sometimes at what seemed like its top speed. Others began to notice it and watched.
I was worried someone was going to knock it into the flames – people are so often mindlessly cruel to tiny beings, particularly when we find them distasteful – but as far as I know, nobody did. I watched them watching it, trying to figure out what everyone, arachnid and human, was thinking. Naturally, I’ll never know. At some point, I looked for it, and it was gone – I hope off into the night to hunt some bugs, and not into the flames to briefly wither and then die. I was heartened, though, that at least for a half hour or 45 minutes, the humans elected to let it live. This brings us to:
Part Two: Compassion
We are strong when we show the smallest of beings compassion. Humans, lacking any real predators (though I do hold out hope for the bacteria and viruses to rein us in, perhaps soon,) might think we have little to lose or to gain by stepping on a spider or by putting it outside, unharmed. I posit we have everything to gain through compassion. The simple act of choosing kindness over cruelty or even over neglect actually changes our brain chemistry and our bodies. For the better. You can read a summary of one such study right here: Compassion Meditation. Scientific article here: Compassion Training Alters Altruism and Neural Responses to Suffering
Beyond quantifiable results, though, lie the more immediate, personal, less tangible ones: We feel good when we do good. Some might feel a sort of smug satisfaction when squishing an insect, but is it really a good feeling? Perhaps for some. If you’re someone who likes the idea of Power and Control, what greater satisfaction is there than to have the ability to decide whether something lives or dies? In the grand scheme of things, one spider, one bee, is meaningless to most of us – but it’s pretty fucking important to the spider and to the bee.
Let’s flip this around for those amongst us who aren’t of a mindset to live and let live. Let’s think for a moment about wild dolphins – these are powerful, intelligent animals, capable of quickly, easily, and efficiently killing humans in the water. Seldom does anything ever go wrong when people dive with them, though. Sure, there is the odd, misguided attempt at coupling, or a “rogue” habituated dolphin getting cranky, but most dolphin “attacks” get no worse than this – spoilers, no actual attack occurs, just enjoy:
They could kill us, but they choose not to. There’s a lot of power in that. Wild-animal-related human fatalities typically happen under circumstances that are usually the fault of either that particular person (getting selfies with wildlife, trying to pet or feed wildlife, provoking wildlife, et cetera,) or of People in General (areas where wildlife is often fed, encroaching onto territories, et cetera.)
Predators other than humans don’t tend to attack without cause – the stakes are too high, even for the apex predators (wolves, sharks, bears, et al.) They forever live in a PVP, very permadeath world (non-gamers, click the links to learn the lingo.)
All of us have the physical ability to intentionally harm or kill lesser beings should we so choose. There have been (thankfully rare) times in my past when I was needlessly cruel that to this day cause me the greatest shame I have ever felt. I don’t know why I did the things I did, and I wish more than anything I could go back and not do them. Instead, I have to live with those memories as a reminder of what I was capable of when my worst self took over and beg the forgiveness of a vast universe.
That Ian Malcolm quote, though: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” We all know how that ended up, don’t we: Velociraptors. Right? Right. The next time you see a spider or an ant that is not especially in your way, choose to let it live and see how that sits with you. I hope it takes, not only to benefit those critters who might otherwise be harmed, but also to benefit you, yourself – walk into the warm light, man; it’s really nice here. For all of us. I promise you won’t be any less of a badass by being kind – in fact, your level of badassitude will increase immensely because you could choose pain or death, and you instead chose kindness and life. That? That is the ultimate in strength.
I have digressed, per usual. My point: Be compassionate, because you can afford to be. It costs nothing to extend kindness, and I suspect that even the most calloused, blackened heart can be warmed through its practice.
Let’s get off this particular soapbox and move on: Part Three: Motorcycles (coming soon…)
[I started writing this post quite some time ago and never finished.]
It has been one week and three days since I first arrived in San Diego.
Those of you following along on Facebook know the journey has not been without its trials, but on the whole… I am so happy.
To catch the non-FB’ers up:
I had a very nice going-away party the Saturday prior to departure, and greatly enjoyed the company of my friends who were able to come. I was especially touched by people I hadn’t seen in some time who went out of their way. There was a lot of booze:
What people didn’t drink was given away. I took only one photo, and wish I’d taken more, but enjoying the moment was more important:
The movers arrived three days early, with three days’ advance notice of that fact. I figured what the heck – the earlier they picked up my stuff, the better the chances they’d get there sooner rather than later. Right? Ha. Read on.
Within ten minutes of their arrival the guy in charge of loading the truck hit me up for some weed. That raised an eyebrow, but ok. I had contracted through Colonial Van Lines, but they sub-contracted me out to Allied. Ok, fine. They loaded me up, and gave me a revised estimate of twice the weight I’d thought. I was unconvinced – yes, there were things I hadn’t weighed, but twice the amount? Seems unlikely.
They had taken the weight right before the pickup, and were supposed to drive immediately to the nearest scale to get a fresh weight, thereby giving the total weight of my belongings. This did not happen. More on that later.
I left my tiny house empty:
The day before I left, I got in touch with the still-absent motorcycle hauler to see why he hadn’t picked up the bike yet. He was going to be delayed, and hadn’t thought to let me know. I let him know I was unhappy in fairly diplomatic terms, and he outright canceled on me. FUCK. I found another hauler that night, but now my step-mom has to deal with them when they arrive for the loading up.
The drive out was quite lovely. It was great to spend time with my dad – I hadn’t spent that many hours with him since I left for college in 1988. He is truly a warm, wonderful, outgoing, and loving person, and I’m proud he’s my dad.
Whether it was leaving the oppression of Michigan, the weariness from the road, or some other factor, I started falling asleep early and waking up with the sun. At first, it was 530am, now it’s between 6 – 7am — without an alarm. You guys – that’s not me. I don’t simply “wake up in the morning” like a normal person. Only once have I slept until the alarm went off at 7, and holy wow did I feel like I’d wasted the day. If I’m not in bed by 11pm, oh shit – I’m up past my bedtime.
We drove about 700 miles per day, a very comfortable pace, and had some unexpectedly wonderful encounters along the way, including a period-correct, stupendously wonderful hotel on Route 66, complete with vintage magazines, and (fresh) Moon Pies in the rooms:
The astonishingly good-looking, and astonishingly kind young man at the front desk recommended a restaurant just a few blocks down for dinner. It, too, was remarkable. Just the right amount of kitsch, amazingly food, huge drinks, good prices, even better service. The waiter earned a 50% tip.
Breakfast across the street matched the impressiveness of the night before on all levels – kitsch, service, food, prices.
Should I ever pass through Tucumcari, New Mexico again, I will revisit each of these places.
We saw beautiful clouds and scenery once West of the Mississippi, some of which I tried to catch at 75 mph when I wasn’t driving:
We passed through a perfect parting between rain storms:
We spent a lot of time like this in various construction zones near cities – Tulsa, in this case:
The Mighty Maxima had nary a free inch of room inside the cabin or in the trunk. We squeezed water bottles into every available nook and cranny, leaving only room to see out the rear-view mirror:
As we neared what was to become home, the scenery became more dramatic:
Yuma was literally on fire as we passed through, but no photos of that.
We passed through a section of the country I can only describe as “god’s cat’s litterbox:” Giant mounds of huge rocks and gravel:
And then, suddenly… we were here. Nancy, the wonderful leasing agent, was on vacation, so Dan the Imposter showed me around my new home. The view is better than I could have hoped:
Even the walk from the elevator to my door is lovely:
The courtyard is very pretty, and its centerpiece, an enormous fountain, is relaxing and beautiful:
There is, however, a train stop literally right outside my bedroom window:
While this makes accessing the public transit system incredibly convenient, there is a near-constant stream of electric trolleys going by 24 hours a day. Before departing the station, the driver must signal his or her intentions by beeping an electronic horn. Some of them are quite polite and brief; others, however, must be having bad days, because they can lay on the horn for several seconds.
For the most part, this is just another aspect of the experience of living here, much like being in an apartment rather than a house. There are people everywhere all the time, but mostly I don’t hear them. The walls and floors are quite solid, and only very infrequently do I hear a neighbor, and then only briefly.
There is very little I cannot find within a mile of my apartment. There’s a Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt 3 minutes away – my green hair makes me stand out a bit, and they already recognize me. Uh-oh. YES, IT IS THE GREEN HAIR AND NOT THE FACT THAT I HAVE BEEN THERE ABOUT 5 TIMES SINCE MOVING IN, SHUT UP.
One of the first things Dad and I did was to run across the street to a furniture store to gather up a chair for him to sit in, a desk so I could work, and a nightstand to store stuff in. I had not realized the extent to which Mid-Century Modern had come back into vogue – it was either that, or 1970’s Country. I opted for the MCM look, as I don’t have any particularly strong feelings about it either way, and it might be fun in the long run.
The Flexsteel recliner is super comfortable. Turns out, the color of the chair quite nicely matches a quilt top I made years ago, and recently had finished. Dad broke it in with a nice nap:
The nightstand I bought was on clearance and, as such, could not be delivered – despite the fact they were delivering the other stuff. It would not fit in my car. Thus, I borrowed a dolly and walked it home – fortunately, it was only about a quarter of a mile.
It was on the way back home when things began to go awry with The Movers. My account manager, Alecia, called to say that, despite picking my stuff up several days early, they were going to be late. She also did not have a final weight for me, but promised a.) to have the weight by the end of the day (false) and b.) to have a final arrival date by Friday (also false.) Fine, fine – I have the essentials. I can make it work. I bought a coffee maker, though, because fuck no coffee for a week.
Thursday night, I got to introduce Dad to some of my favorite people: George, Sam, Kevin, Chuck, and Lorraine:
The new motorcycle hauler had given me a window of “before 8/14” to pick up the bike. On the 12th, I called to see how that was going to work out. It wasn’t. Delayed by a week. Great! New arrival window is “sometime before 9/10.” I’m totally not itching for my motorcycle at all, nope. Not with this perfect weather and gorgeous, perfect roads. This is fine. (fuck)
Rolling with the MCM theme, I bought some additional seating: Two counter stools, and one regular one:
I have a roommate. She is approximately the size of a Volkswagon:
So far, she stays in her corner, and I stay in mine, and it’s working out alright.
Every night, about a million crows pass overhead on their way to wherever they roost at night, which is really cool to watch. Dad stayed until Saturday morning, when I saw him off at the Surfliner train. He went up to Fullerton to visit one of my step-sisters and her kidlet, and then went on to Sacramento to visit the other.
Most mornings, it’s slightly to moderately overcast when I wake up, but it burns off by ten or eleven. Then, one day, the craziest thing happened:
Rumor has it, it has happened before. It is likely to happen again. God help us all.
And then Charlottesville happened, and everything darkened. Holy shit, how is this our world, our country, right now?
Yesterday, I spent a few hours at La Jolla Cove, which reminded me on a very primal, profound level how much I love the Pacific coast. This is where I belong – everything in me knows it, feels it. I posted this:
I had an appointment at 5pm out near La Jolla, and to hide from the rush-hour traffic on the return home, I, along with everyone else in the state of California, decided to hit to the beach.
There is no better drug, no better cure for depression or anxiety, no deeper, more peaceful feeling for me than when I am near the pounding surf of the Pacific. My soul calmed, my mind quieted, and my body relaxed. I melted. . It did’t matter there were a hundred other people around – everyone was happy, and playing in the spray, taking photos, and enjoying the overwhelming beauty. I could have fallen asleep on the sun-baked sandstone, listening to the surf, for the rest of my life.
While I’m really impressed with the camera phone on the Pixel XL, I can’t wait until my actual camera arrives. These would be well-served by running them through a quick post-processing, but it’s getting late, and my brain doesn’t want to computer anymore.
One of the things I love about life in the West is there is precious little in the way of protections against killing yourself doing something stupid, either knowingly or unknowingly. This ocean and many things in it will kill you. The rails to the edge are easily climbed over or under, though, and most people do. One slip, and into the churning waves you go, likely getting knocked unconscious by the rocks and quickly drowning. I love it. One day, that may kill me, too.
How many pictures of waves and people and sea lions can you stand? Enjoy a little bit of paradise with me.
I took over 500 photos – rest easy, I’ll just link to the album:
A few hours of bliss. Photos straight from the Pixel XL for FB, post-proc on some for Flickr later..Videos in the next album; these are just stills.
I’m not sure what language that is there at the bottom, but it’s pretty.
Those hours reaffirmed everything about this move. I plan to spend many more there.
Now that I’ve been here a week, it should feel more real. Still, when a beautiful, friendly barista over on Mission Beach asked if I was on vacation, I still reflexively said, “yes,” followed by, “wait, no – I just moved here, it just doesn’t feel real yet.”
I feel like it all could be taken away at any second for any reason. It’s a little terrifying, but I know whatever is going to happen is going to happen, and I’ll be ok regardless.
I thrive on change – almost immediately upon arrival, my creative urges came stampeding back: I want to paint, I want to quilt, I want to write. I started reading a book for the first time in about three years (no, I’m not kidding; I wish I were.) I’m learning Spanish. I’m dying to get a new camera to spend hours shooting, but that will have to wait until my finances recover, because… oh yes, we haven’t gotten back to The Movers, have we. Yes, yes.
You see, I have been jerked back and forth by these asshats for over a week now. We’ll be late. We won’t be late. Your final weight wasn’t taken until 21 hours later. Can I see the fuel receipts to make sure some of that unexpected weight isn’t diesel? No. Also, we’re going to be late again.
Long story short, I’m probably going to owe about $2,000 more than expected. So much for almost having paid off my credit cards! I will be SUPER fucked financially for awhile here. I had over $10,000 in the bank when I left Michigan. After the travel expenses, move-in check to the apartments, groceries, and basic furniture essentials, I now have $2,500, plus almost $2,500 more in credit card charges.
Movers finally called with my final weight, which is more than twice the estimate. I asked when the truck was weighed after they loaded me – 21 hours later. They were supposed to go to the nearest certified scale, and I have a difficult time believing there wasn’t one closer, because they weighed the truck shortly before it arrived at my house. . “What assurances do I have nothing else was loaded in that time?” “Well, that would be illegal.” .
I did not mention the guy who loaded me asked me if I could hook him up with some pot 10 minutes after arriving.
“I was told they would weigh the truck at the closest scale. In fact, you just told me that less than 5 minutes ago – the closest scale.”
“Technically, they have up to 24 hours to get that final weigh-in.”
Remaining balance: $3600.
I am One Unhappy eDar right now, very thoroughly researching my options.
That really is the only stress factor right now – money. There are other niggling things – I’m still sleeping on an air mattress and wake up sore every morning, and I’m working at my desk from a camp chair, so my back is just miserable all the time. I can’t vacuum. My internet is only 120Mbps at its best. On several nights, there have been some loud people near or at the trolley stop when I’m trying to go to sleep. It gets dark at 8pm. All of that is laughably minor compared to the overall exuberance – I’ll pay this tax.
Flashback to Day One in California:
We went shopping at Ralph’s, the Kroger of California. Gathered up a full cart of STUFF, proceeded to self-checkout…
Me: “Oh shit, where are the bags?”
Dad: “There are no bags.”
Dad: “They’re illegal here.”
Me: “*BAGS* are illegal?!”
Dad: “Plastic bags are, yeah.”
Me: “Oh – that’s actually kind of cool, but… I sort of need them.”
I ended up buying 6 or 8 very nice reusable ones, but My Face When.
Good on ya, CA – nicely done.
Welp. I just walked face-first through my patio screen door. A not-insignificant amount of skin scraped off the tip of my nose, and an even larger bruise to my ego, as the door is probably toast and I’ll have to get a replacement. Derp.
Met with my first truly unhinged trolley rider just now. He got on, ranting and raving about self-defense, trying to teach “the class” a thing or two about defense. Naturally, nobody was interested. I stopped reading and started paying attention to where this was going. He didn’t initially single anyone out, and no one seemed particularly upset, but the driver opened his cab door, asked him to calm down or depart.
The guy, of course, did neither, and the trolley continued on. There were some timid tourists who looked uncomfortable, but he left them mostly alone.
He moved right next to a young jock, who took umbrage at the yelling guy’s proximity, and then escalated things quite a bit. He yelled back, swore at the guy, threatened him, and finally began to shove him. The driver hollered that security was on their way at the next stop. One of the shoves just about landed the homeless guy in my lap. I sighed, and readjusted to free up my hands.
I caught the jock’s eye and said, “it’s not worth it, man. Just take a step back and breathe.” He ranted about how personal space, being tired of losers, and kept at it. “Dude, this isn’t helping, just chill. It’s not worth getting arrested over.” The three of us went back and forth a bit, then he puffed up his chest, but moved away, and got off at our next stop. The homeless guy went back to bothering the car at large. Yay, small victories.
However, he next fixated on a younger guy who pretty clearly had some developmental issues. He towered over the kid, tapping his hand over his head, asking him intrusive questions, and making the kid uncomfortable. The kid didn’t want to make eye contact with anyone and tried really hard to ignore the guy, who just redoubled his efforts.
Enough. I asked the ranting guy to come talk to me. He didn’t initially want to, he was more interested in harassing the kid, and pretty much told me as much flat-out. I kept at it – not with much skill, mind you, but I was determined.
“He doesn’t want to talk to you, but I do. I’ll listen.” I motioned him toward me.
“Nah, fuck that, I don’t want to talk to you, I want to know what’s going on with him.”
“Come over here and teach me about self-defense.” That got him. He switched from towering over the kid to towering over me. Hanging from the overhead railing with both hands. Those armpits, though.
“Well the first thing about self-defense is not talking to people you don’t know.” He put his face fairly close to mine, but I didn’t change my relaxed posture or expression. I was, however, glad to be wearing dark sunglasses, lest my eyes give away my unease. I nodded – “good idea.”
“NEVER FUCKING TALK TO PEOPLE YOU DON’T KNOW!!”
“I see, ok. So I’m curious what you were doing when you got on the train and started talking to everyone you didn’t know?”
<pause> “PRACTICING. But now you all know me, right? So it’s fine.”
“Ok, right on. Tell me how to…”
“You’re just a woman, you’re just a woman who don’t know nothing about shit, your whole job is just to be a woman and annoy the shit out of everyone you meet. What do you think about that?”
“I think I know a lot of people who would probably agree with you.” The guy in the next row tried and failed to hide a smile.
He carried on about the same topic, and I nodded, said “sure,” and kept asking him questions while the kid he’d been harassing moved to the other end of the car.
“You women just want to tell people how to live their lives and give your opinions and make everyone around you miserable. What do you think about *that*?!”
“I think you’ve had some bad experiences with women.”
By that point, we’d reached the next stop, and security got on the train. The security guard watched us for a moment, and then escorted the dude off the train. He had to get one parting shot in, though, so he stuck his head back through the doors, and shouted, “JUST A WOMAN!!” before vanishing.
An older gentleman seated across from the kid who’d been the target gave me a quick thanks, and that was the end of it. I have a feeling that won’t be the last time, though. Safety pin: Gotta be one. That’s a promise.
It’s been over two months since I wrote the above, and a great deal has happened since that time. The movers arrived with “most” of my stuff, but a lot was missing and even more destroyed. Still trying to get that sorted out.
Plenty of other things to talk about, too, but I’ll save that for another time.
I am very sad to discover I have a new automatic thought process.
Until fairly recently, reports that a Black person had been shot were often related to gang or domestic violence. Of course not always, but often – That’s what made the white-dominated news the most, which is a huge, obvious problem unto itself.
I realized yesterday that my first, instant thought now when I hear about a Black person being shot is, “what did a cop do now?”
Non-police shooters do not even enter my mind as a first likely cause anymore. It is an actual surprise if a cop is not involved. When I read a report yesterday, I literally said a surprised, “Huh!” out loud when I saw the shooting was related to a non-police shooter.
That. Is. Terrifying. And sad. And awful on so very many levels.
My naive, “why isn’t life more fair” self wonders how we are even in this place as a civilization. My pragmatic self knows the sad, tragic answer.
I am not someone who has a generalized hatred or wariness of the police (I am afforded some of that by being white and female, I realize,) and I fully recognize there are wonderful cops out there – I know a good number of them personally.
Wanting to stand up for the good cops who get lumped into the shitty stereotype too long overshadowed my willingness to call out “the police in general” on their behavior. I still understand they have a rough, dangerous job in many areas. I still understand many do want to protect and serve.
However. Those good cops have to get more active, more vocal, and demand accountability from their peers and from their departments. That is seldom a safe thing to do in terms of one’s career, but doing otherwise is no longer conscionable for any officer whose heart and ethics are in the right place.
Joan Allen had one of the most memorable quotes around the year 2000 in the movie, The Contender: “Principles only mean something when you stick to them when it’s inconvenient.”
That is difficult for some people to hear, and even more difficult to live. “But I have these wonderful beliefs! I’m a good person!” Do you stick to those beliefs when it’s inconvenient? For example: Queer allies – do you eat at Chik-Fil-A because that food tastes so delicious it’s worth supporting abject hate, even though you would never personally oppress anyone? Is that chicken tasty enough to deny me and every other queer-identifying person our civil and legal rights?
You good cops out there – stand the frick UP and stop tolerating the insane violence your colleagues mete out.
Every DAY, our Black friends, family, and neighbors are being gunned down, and our judicial system doesn’t give a shit. Because the American public is part of that system via juries and elections, our entire COUNTRY doesn’t seem to give a shit. Most have been fed lies or misleading “facts” about the Black community and have swallowed them whole, never questioning why only certain stories make the news, why the Black population in our prisons is disproportionately high. I am so ashamed of the things I hear white people say, even today, but that’s not important when acting for change. My hurt feelings as a white person don’t come into play. White people – despite millennia of people in charge saying so, we’re not the center of the universe.
We as individuals have to be the ones to make change happen and to hold our entire justice system accountable. We individuals have to find each other and band together to enact even greater change.
You know those local elections? Sometimes, those elections have judges on the ballot. Those are important votes – PAY ATTENTION. Engage. Research. Then VOTE for someone whose values are closest to yours.
Local elections matter – they impact our daily lives immensely.
To my fellow white people: Stand up, speak out, VOTE, be the safety pin. SPEAK to other white people and to our officials. LISTEN when Black people are speaking about these issues. Be selfless, be strong, be courageous. Most of us white people, especially those who are straight and/or cis, have very little idea what it’s actually like to live in fear for our lives in America, which can make it harder to get motivated. Read the reports, pay attention – standing idling by at this point is tacitly endorsing the violence in our society.
Every day, we’re losing Black (and trans, queer, and other non-white/straight/cis) friends under circumstances that are jaw-droppingly horrifying: HELP THEM. Put yourself in their shoes, and imagine what it’s like to be hated simply because of how you look, who you love.
This man below shot a young, unarmed, Black man because he was dating his daughter. Now you fathers of daughters out there might have had similar thoughts about any young man who dates your little girls, but would this asshole have shot a white boy? Probably not, because there would be Consequences for shooting a white person. We cannot say the same for shooting a Black person.
The snowflake status I posted on Facebook yesterday rings louder and louder in my mind as the hours pass:
So this gets picked up by the Googles, I’ll also type it out:
“A sweet friend of mine just posted this, and I love it desperately. #TeamSnowflake
snowflakes? why yes, dainty, and unique alone…… but together…… you bitches ready to be shut down by a blizzard????”
He went on, after reading a draft of this article, to say:
we will have that blizzard I spoke of, you start very nice…..
asking, for accountability…….
they brush you off, no concern, you have already melted……..
two snowflakes come drifting in, also easy to brush off……they melt (after the purpose is done)……..
we drift in……..
now they need a shovel……..
now they need to call an emergency, they are shut down, they can not move……frozen in place dare I say…….
forced to deal with the snow on its own terms now…….
they no longer melt, they find strength by staying together……..
“Winter is coming” is a well-known phrase these days, and carries with it a stern warning. It is a phrase of which the wise take heed in the stories.
We special, precious, soft little snowflakes who want everyone to be treated with equality and respect are often mild-mannered, some of us even meek, and we are ready to understand both sides of an argument, and to see each point of view as inherently valid – even if we disagree.
More and more, our sensibilities are so fucking offended that we are beyond angry. We are beyond approaching some of these situations with “mutual respect” and diplomacy.
We are verging into rageas we see our brothers and sisters of color, of non-binary gender, of other minority status, shot, beaten, shunned, objectified, murdered, tortured, shamed, neglected, legislated against.
More and more of us are no longer sitting politely by, trying to rationally engage with our counterparts. I still feel that is important, but it’s not getting the fucking job done.
What happens when you piss off #TeamSnowflake? I’ll tell you, focusing on American history:
The American Revolutionary War
Women’s right to vote
The New Deal
The Civil Rights Movement
Labor Rights – Weekends, overtime, unions
The ACLU and the NAACP
The FDA and safe food
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights for the United Nations
There is no need to agree with these outcomes to recognize the relentless perseverance behind them. If we are pushed enough, we will turn. We will somehow get our chaotic thoughts and lives together, and we will Get Shit Done.
Each March 31st, we celebrate and support our transgender brothers and sisters, those who are in the closet and out, those who have transitioned and those who have not. We remember and hold in our hearts those who have been beaten and murdered and humiliated. We embrace everyone on the gender spectrum.
I have written and deleted giant swaths of text several times tonight because I just can’t find the right words to put down. A lot of it was rambling, a lot of it was self-serving in one way or another, much was too whingy or preachy. I tried to make terrible analogies to help cis people understand what it might be like to be at risk for simply being who they are: “Imagine your height is a crime,” “imagine the color of your eyes could get you killed.”
None of it was worth a damn (I’m far from a perfect ally.)
Let me start again by saying this: Had I known transgender was a thing when I was much, much younger, I might have chosen that path myself. I have often identified as more male than female, though to varying degrees. Could I commit to transitioning? I don’t know. Honestly, I would probably be too afraid.
Talking with a trans friend about this piece tonight, she said, “It’s really not that hard. You talk to a therapist, and a medical professional, and swallow pills on a daily basis” and, because she’s got an amazing sense of humor, “and stand on the toilet and creep at cisgender people in the bathroom.”
I initially felt like this discounts the struggle it must be… but she’s trans, and I’m not, so I believe her.
Still, I don’t know that I would have had the courage to take that path – it would have been in the 90’s, probably, and I wasn’t even a fully-formed person yet, let alone someone with enough strength and character to make such a tremendous change in my life. The only Big Decisions I was remotely equipped to make back then were, “do I stay up and play Euchre all night, or do I go to class in the morning?” (I seldom made the responsible choice.)
Now, in my forties, I see people my age transitioning, and I am so happy for them, so humbled by their courage. I am just not that strong a person, nor am I fully convinced I would want to live as a man – but it is something I feel wistful for more at times. Thus, I settled into my life as a bisexual cis woman who would perhaps feel at home with a penis. I’m ok with it.
I suppose if I were truly trans, the need to be in a body that matched my mind would be powerful enough to push me through nearly anything. I can’t know – I just try to understand as best I can.
And I stand up for our trans friends. Do that. Be a good person.
I have witnessed people saying cruel things about trans people behind their backs – either out of anger because of a disagreement, or out of general intolerance.
I do not. Tolerate it.
Neither should you. If you see or hear someone harassing a transgender person – hell, ANY person – do the right thing, and speak the hell up. Be the good guy – be the role model. Be the person you would want on your side were you in that person’s shoes.
We all have to fight intolerance together, and some of the battles are just… asinine. Oh, you have to remember not to use their deadname. Whew. Pace yourself, buddy, because that is superhard, right? Oh gosh, you need to remember to use the correct pronoun. Is that really something to get upset about?
Yes – we need to change our mindsets a little bit, we have to rewire names and pronouns, we have a new vocabulary to learn – Big. Fucking. Deal. If you consider that to be inconvenient, imagine having a penis around all the time when you don’t feel like it belongs on your body.
I set out to write about what my trans friends mean to me – and I’m having a hard time with it. My trans friends are … my friends. They enrich my life because of who they are. I am grateful to them for expanding my awareness, for sharing their stories with me, for being amazing and wonderful people – not because they are trans. Their stories are different from many others’, but so are my physically disabled friends’ stories, so are my straight friends’ stories, my female friends’, my male friends’, my asexual friends’, my pansexual friends’ – all of their stories are important to me.
Each person is precious to me, an irreplaceable gem in my heart.
As I’ve struggled through this piece, the main point I want to bring home is that we need to be decent human beings to each other – to everyone, irrespective of gender.
But my trans friends need special attention right now, we need to bring the world to a place of compassion and understanding. For many, this is new and scary – anything dealing with our bodies or, god forbid, sexuality, is automatically terrifying and enraging. We have to help them understand as best we can.
Thus, March 31st. Every year.
Today is Transgender Day of Visibility – we need to have it, we must have it, and it makes me very sad that we are still in a place where we can’t just not be assholes because someone is different.
Be kind to each other – man, woman, or somewhere in between. Listen, pay attention, support each other – because we all need love and support, even when we might not want to admit it, especially to ourselves.
Everyone we meet is fighting a battle of one sort or another – be kind.
It has unclear origins, historically, and may be based entirely upon a misunderstanding of words Jesus is said to have spoken.
The thing about sands is they shift. They move with the slightest breeze.
A line in the sand is quickly blurred, and soon eradicated altogether. A gust of wind, a small wave, a footstep – gone.
Ironically, I have found my line in the sand; I know what it is – at least for the moment, I do. As I have learned over the last three days, “having made up my mind” is suddenly a fluid state of being. I am certain one moment, uncertain the next, and certain of another thing four moments hence.
The gods are having a field day with my life right now, laughing uproariously as I struggle to get a handle on this rapidly-changing, constantly unfolding trainwreck. “Look,” they cackle; “she thinks she’s got it now! Wait, wait – hold my beer,” and they throw something absolutely ludicrous into the mix.
I take the blow, smash face-first into the floor, blink in abject confusion, and then stand back up again, reassessing, beginning the whole process anew, but with different rules, different information, and a deck stacked against me – the deck I myself shuffled, and either subconsciously stacked badly, or just had my usual horrifically bad luck with random number games.
This is all my own doing. I knew going in that it was a bad idea – but I didn’t realize I was going to be the one to suddenly have the shoe on the other foot. My mood this very second is nothing short of absurd – I have tripped an emotional circuit breaker of one sort or another, unplugged my ego, and am being controlled by whatever inmates run rampant in my head when I’m not at the wheel.
I keep hearing this quote from WKRP in Cincinnati back in 1979 running through my head – Johnny Fever is … doing something dumb, I assume. Someone says, “let the chips fall where they may!” to which Johnny replies, “wait… I’m the chips!” Later, as the story unfolds, things get tense, and he murmurs in a very scared voice, “chips are falling!”
Welp – I’m both the chips and the thing making them fall here.
All of this is maddeningly vague, I’m sorry. I can’t go into details for more reasons than you can imagine, but these last three days have been a rollercoaster from the depths of hell. A ride of Shakespearean proportion. I half envision a Greek chorus following me around, providing foreshadowing to the audience – none of which I can hear, of course, because the actors don’t know about the chorus.
The irony won’t stop – it steps up its game every time I think things cannot get any more unreal.
I’ve said this many time before, and I’ll say it again – life is not for cowards. My heart-like place is just chaos – it doesn’t know what it is, what it’s for, where it’s going, why it’s here, or whether it’s even a real thing. It is simultaneously dust, and glass, and stone, and tender flesh. This is my life right now.
Unsurprisingly, from the time I began this post until now, the sands have shifted and my line is … if not gone entirely, then certainly blurred all to hell and gone. FOR THE CRAZIEST FUCKING REASON: The least likely person on the planet, almost totally literally, has put my mind at more ease than anyone else has been able to do thus far. We were having two entirely different conversations, depending upon which perspective one took, and it all worked out beautifully for both of us. And I’m at peace. For the moment, of course.
It could be matter of days, hours, or nanoseconds before I am ripped out of this “everything is hilarious/fine” mode – I’m guessing a matter of less than an hour, given the material at hand (buckle up, babycakes!!) – and then who knows what’s next. And then after that. And after that. How long can I keep this up?
Answer: Until I either don’t have to, or until I can’t.
Fuck, I wish I could go into more detail, and maybe someday, I can. But for now – just laugh with me, friends, and wish peace upon my soul. I need both.
This is a difficult post to write, because I am going to reveal one of the biggest character flaws I have carried with me throughout my entire life. I’m working on overcoming it, but haven’t won yet. For most of my life… I never understood true Loyalty as anything other than an abstract concept.
This explains a lot, doesn’t it? I’m sorry. Truly.
Growing up, I didn’t learn a lot of the lessons, behaviors, and mindsets most people take for granted. As an only child, I naturally missed out on what it feels like to have a sibling; in our household, though, that was further compounded by a lot of unhealthy family dynamics. Not only didn’t I have a sibling to talk to, but my family just… didn’t talk. I remember having my first high school boyfriend over for dinner, and how shocked he was we just sat and ate and didn’t really say anything. Granted, he was coming from a family of 10, so dinners were largely chaos, but when he said that, it was the first inkling I had that something was odd in my family. I was fourteen at the time. Little did I know how many other things I took as natural and normal would be revealed over the years to be completely insane at worst, really dysfunctional at best.
The issue I’ve been focusing on immensely of late is Loyalty: I didn’t grow up with anyone who always, always had my back – including my parents. My mother would turn on me like a snake when I made a mistake, or when someone perceived me as having done or said something wrong. She believed anyone else over me (which then led to years of me lying about just about any mistake I made in an attempt to seem like a good child, even when it could be easily proven I had lied.)
I’m sure she took my side once in awhile, but I cannot think of a single instance when she actually did – I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt here by assuming she did sometimes.
Where some parents turn into mother bears when their children are attacked or criticized, my mother joined in. Not only did she judge me, demoralize me, and berate me, but she would call my grandparents (and even some of her own friends, or the parents of my friends) to shame me by regaling them with the tales of my escapades – they were always “escapades” – with more than a trace of vicious glee in her voice. She would backbite my father and me at what I perceived to be every possible opportunity.
She would say nice things about me to others when it made her look good. When she focused on my faults, she played herself as the victim of a horrid child (incidentally, she had absolutely no idea how good I was, compared to how bad I could have been: I was a damned good kid.)
She was inconsistent in every way. Everything was conditional. My relationship with her was always on this crazy knife’s edge – there were a number of times when she “disowned me” during or after an argument or incident. In 2007, I temporarily moved into her house while I was trying to get myself established after coming home from Washington state. It was a fiasco, a nightmare for both of us, and I admit I was not easy to live with due to how miserable I was there. In her classic dramatic fashion, though, she waited until Thanksgiving Day to throw me out, and I was required to be out that night.
Some of this is not her fault. She is histrionic, she has Borderline Personality Disorder, and she is a very intelligent woman – she obtained her PhD in psychology and developed a successful practice. I suppose I can’t say she’s intelligent anymore after her brain injury… but that’s another thing entirely. She has … a complex mental situation going on, most of which has been there since before her accident.
I know she is the product of her own upbringing, her own dysfunctional environment, and I try to be as mindful of that as possible. It’s difficult, though, trying to extend grace to a woman who has destroyed me as a person in so many ways from the moment I was born until I broke off all contact with her a couple of years ago.
As the oldest child of an alcoholic father and codependent mother, and as a sexual abuse survivor, she curried favor wherever and however she could: It was a survival mechanism. As much as I can understand that intellectually, I still cannot truly come to terms with forgiving her for continuing those behaviors as an adult, and for teaching me to live as she did. Indeed, I cannot forgive myself for following her example for decades, because I literally didn’t know any better. I was oblivious.
I feel as if my dad had some loyalty, but he was neck-deep in his own trials with my mother, and I suspect that sucked most of the life and energy out of him. Today, I know (intellectually) he will defend me; but emotionally, it hasn’t quite sunk in yet.
Thus, my primary role model for such things, my mother, was terrible. I never learned that family irrefutably, unquestionably, has my back. I didn’t even realize that was a thing until I started seeing it amongst other families – in college – and it didn’t even sink in then as a behavior in which I myself could engage. I saw parents, siblings, spouses, and friends standing up for their loved ones – even when their loved ones were wrong. They stood by and defended, rather than pile on and henpeck. They surrounded that person emotionally, helped him or her to feel better, despite whatever was going on. How does that even work?
What a feeling that must be, knowing with complete faith and confidence that someone is going to be on your side. I’m pretty sure I had that with Mike, but not knowing to look for it, I never saw or understood it. Unconditional love – what a concept.
Sadly, I learned my mother’s way of doing things. It takes a lot of work to overcome that, even to this day. I’m still unlearning the old, learning the new. That is really embarrassing to admit: At my age, I don’t know how to person!
Don’t get me wrong – I love and have loved people deeply. I was just missing a key component of what that love should include, and how to receive that aspect of it.
The people I have in my life right now are wonderful examples to learn from, though. Seeing best friends steadfastly supporting each other, witnessing spouses finding strength together, hearing my own friends saying kind things about me when they don’t know it will come back to me… these blow my mind. It is an amazing thing I thought only existed on television.
The end result is this: I am a social and relationship moron.
I have spent my entirely life feeling almost entirely alone in my thoughts, feelings, and experiences, when in truth, the only thing I’ve been alone in is my mind. People have reached out to me – I just didn’t know the extent of what they were offering, because I didn’t speak the language.
I’m getting a small grasp on it now, day by day, lesson by lesson. Becoming a supervisor a few years ago helped immensely – I knew it was my job to support, protect, and defend my team more than any other function I might have. Because it was in a professional (and not personal) context, it was somehow easier to develop the skills from scratch. Thankfully, this helped me to become a more loyal person on the whole – not just at work. It helped me to develop new neural pathways which led away from the bitter emptiness of speaking more ill than good.
To everyone I have ever known – I apologize humbly and sincerely for my shortcomings, in this area and in every other. I hope I am worthy of forgiveness.
Thank you to those of you who have tried, and who continue to try, to turn me into A Real Human. There may be hope for me yet. <3