Category: Personal Blathering



My life exploded when I was 17.  I had just gotten out of an adolescent psych hospital where my mother had committed me after she decided I was too much trouble to deal with.  I wasn’t on drugs, I wasn’t promiscuous, I wasn’t doing badly in school, I wasn’t violent, I wasn’t even really much of a back talker (I was too afraid of my mother for that).  I was just a teenager, and therefore a handful.  A handful my mother, an alcoholic with untreated mental illness, was unequipped to handle.  When it was time for me to get out, she wouldn’t let me come back home.  Instead, she made me go live with my stepfather, the man who had sexually abused me as a child.  Six weeks later, he kicked me out over the Thanksgiving holiday.

My boyfriend’s family came to my rescue and let me come to live with them.  I’m not sure what I would have done if they hadn’t.  There was a place called Covenant House in Houston for runaway teens, but I can only imagine what sort of environment that place must have been.  I just wanted to finish high school and go to college.  Their kindness and generosity allowed me to do that.

I was still a teenager, though, and one who had been essentially raised by wolves: I was selfish, and while I had good manners, I lacked the knowledge of how to really treat other people with consideration, since I had never been.  I’m sure I was incredibly rude and ungrateful on more than one occasion over the next two years that I stayed with them.  And while I’m sure that I thanked them for letting me stay there at first, I doubt they received the thanks that they all deserved over the time that I spent with them.

This has weighed heavily on me in recent years.  My life would undoubtedly look quite different now if they had not taken me in and allowed me to finish school and start a path in college, even if I never finished it.  After my boyfriend and I broke up (under circumstances that embarrass me to this day), I maintained sporadic contact with them for a few years, and after that dropped off their radar.  In retrospect, this was incredibly rude of me.  On the one hand, it makes sense for an ex-girlfriend to fade into the background.  On the other hand, these were people who took me into their home at a time when my life was in deep crisis and could have taken a grave turn for the worse.  I should have maintained some kind of contact with at least his parents.

I didn’t, though, and it bothers me.  A few years ago, before I got on Facebook and reconnected with just about everyone from my past, I searched the internet for my ex in hopes that I would find an email address or some other way to contact him so that I could express my thanks and let he and his family know how I was doing.  I found an email address, and sent a letter along with some photos. I never got a reply, or a bounce notification, so I was never sure if the letter got stuck in a spam folder, or if the letter was received and was deemed upsetting, or what.

Fast forward about three years, to being connected on Facebook to old friends, including the ex’s current wife (which makes me happy: I suspect he always had a crush on her).  I had been thinking about my lack of contact, and gratitude, over the years again.  My curiosity was also piqued again as to whether or not that letter ever made it to its destination.  So I asked her to ask him if it did, and she said yes: he just wasn’t sure what, if anything, to do about it.

I’m not sure what to make of that.  There’s obviously no desire for communication there, or he would have at least written back to say “I got your letter, thanks for writing.”  I also don’t know if he passed my expression of thanks on to his parents, which is important to me.  And there’s my sticking point.  Do I write again to see if that information got to its final destination?  I don’t want to upset anyone, but I also want to make sure that people know that I appreciate what they did for me.

This raises some questions.  What’s the real purpose of my wanting to get in touch?  Is it really for the mere expression of gratitude?  If so, then that’s just for them.  Or is to make myself feel better?  If so, then that’s for me.  In light of knowing my original letter reached my ex, it’s important for me to ask myself these questions.  If I’m really thinking of other people, maybe I should just let things be.  Or should I at least ask to see if I should speak or write directly to his parents?  After so much time, maybe they’ve forgotten all about me and any contact would just be confusing, or unwanted.  This is my trouble.  I can only know by trying, and then it’s too late if I’ve done something upsetting, which I don’t want to do.

Hence the title of my post: am I doing this for them, or am I doing it for me?  It’s not the job of other people with whom I have had no contact for nearly 20 years to provide me with absolution.  Only I can do that.  Still, it would make me feel better knowing for sure that his parents know how I feel.  I don’t know why it bothers me so much.

So that’s what’s on my brain these days.  I’m going to wait and think on things some more before doing anything, if I do anything at all.  Really, I just want people to know that I care about them and think about them and that I haven’t forgotten what they did for me, and that I’m sorry for anything that I might have done wrong.  But only if doing so won’t be doing something wrong itself.

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Minefield


I’ve been inordinately preoccupied lately with the subject of how girls mature in the modern world, seeing as how I have a 9-year-old daughter who seems to be maturing at a frightening rate.  My own upbringing, along with cultural stereotypes, have primed me to see the teenage years as a minefield requiring an emotional flak jacket, forcing me to steel myself against having my daughter unwillingly ripped from my arms as she does everything in her power to separate herself from me using methods guaranteed to purposefully shock and horrify.

Pardon me while I attempt to rip this pair of shit-colored glasses from my face.

I know this is the most extreme version of adolescence possible, and it is generated by my fear that my daughter and I will have the same hate-filled relationship that my mother and I had.  I do not trust my own bipolar-addled mind to react in a healthy way to the vagaries of her changing brain in the coming years, and I’m terrified of ruining the relatively happy relationship that we have now.  I’ve also heard too many stories of mothers who have loving relationships with their daughters, only to have them turn sour once they become pre-teens and teenagers.

I’m also greatly disturbed by the cultural forces that are at work in my daughter’s life.  She is 9, but the kids at her school are already listening to music filled with descriptions of sex and partying, even the occasional mention of S&M (!).  I know she doesn’t understand most of what they’re talking about (she didn’t even know what the word “porn” meant), but I do, and it bothers me.  A lot.

I would put my foot down and put an absolute ban on such music, but I’m wary of ostracizing her from her friends, which is just as damaging.  And as a very wise friend pointed out, you can’t dictate someone’s musical choices to them.  I’m also aware that every single  generation of parents has thought that the music their children were listening to was going to send them to Hell or ruin their morals.  I am equally aware that the things musicians have sung about really hasn’t changed, not in centuries.  People think of decades earlier in the 20th century as being more innocent somehow, but they were singing about the exact same things they’re singing about now.  Just not quite so blatantly.

There has to be a balance.  I must allow her to be the person she is, but without exposing her to things earlier than she should be exposed to them.  And that’s where the problem currently is.  I don’t know how to do that without cutting her off from the the things and friends that help her express her identity.  I know what it’s like to feel completely separate from everyone around you, and it’s terrible and will do just as much harm to her as not doing anything.

Music is just the tip of the iceberg.  She’s only in the 4th grade.  If there is a hell on earth, it must surely be middle school.  What’s going to happen then, when the minefield really begins in earnest?  Then there will be the clothing battles, and the battles over anything else that I feel oversexualizes her.  I probably will put my foot down with those things.  What about the other things I have to protect her from?  Cyberstalkers?  A culture that with one hand tells her that sex is bad but with the other that she must be a sexpot?  Our culture’s horrible views on body image and health?  Our culture’s twisted views on just about everything?  I sometimes question the wisdom of having a child at this time in history, although I suspect that, as with the music, every generation has felt the same way.

All of these things have stirred together in my brain into a melange of terror that will undoubtedly do its own damage even if everything else is going just fine.  I can barely sort my thoughts together.

I’m trying to turn to books for help, but cultural forces are changing so rapidly, what with the advent of Facebook and Twitter, that almost all of them are woefully out of date.  Reviving Ophelia, written in 1994 and long held to be the gold standard of how to save our adolescent girls from the cultural forces at work in modern times, is grossly outdated (not to mention it views society through the lens of a psychologist who sees only troubled girls, and as such is extremely biased).  Surviving Ophelia is a similarly biased and outdated work that I refused to read as I knew it would only feed the fires of my fear, as did Reviving Ophelia.  I need something that will make me feel better, and empowered, not worse and powerless in the face of the forces I’m trying to battle.

There is one fight that only I have the power to help her win, and that is body image.  It is well known that daughters look to their mothers for how to treat and view their bodies, and that terrifies me, because I hate my body with a passion.  Hate it.  I’ve never had any reason at all to love it.  Why should I?  It’s never brought me anything but grief.  First in the form of negative attention from men and boys, and then in the form of an imbalanced endocrine system which has caused irregular, heavy periods my entire life.  Then I gained weight as a result of trying to make myself unattractive in an effort to shun the attention I got from men.

There was one very brief period in my life when I lost weight and was happy with my body and the attention I got, but my own mental baggage betrayed me once again, and I went back to hating my body and being ashamed of it, wanting to be ugly once again.  I’ve stayed that way ever since, even though I was really quite attractive, at least until I had a baby.  My husband tells me I’m still beautiful, but I don’t believe him.  I look in the mirror and am disgusted by what I see.  I detest what pregnancy did to my body and know that what beauty I did have before I had a baby, and did not appreciate, is gone forever.  I hate my hair.  I hate my skin.  I can’t think of a single thing about my body that I like.  I know that attitude is going to poison my beautiful daughter’s attitude about her own body, and I don’t know what to do about it.

I know there are people who think the way out of this trap is to look in the mirror and tell myself every day that I’m beautiful, but I want to choke when I think of doing that.  I can’t even imagine saying the words, let alone actually saying them.  I can barely look at myself in the mirror.  I don’t wear makeup: it just makes me feel like I have to go somewhere.  All I wear is t-shirts that cover up my body.  I wear my hair in a ponytail all the time.  I don’t take care of myself the way I should because I don’t see what the point is.  I don’t have a mental image in my head of what I looked like when I wasn’t fat, because I don’t think I ever actually looked at my whole body in the mirror.  Ever.  Certainly not on purpose with gladness.  Maybe if I was trying on clothes, but that’s it.  Even then, whatever I was trying on wasn’t for looks, it was for comfort and just to make sure it fit.

I don’t want to be this way.  I want to be someone who gets up in the morning and is happy to see the face and body in the mirror and wants to take care of them, to make them look pretty because they (I) am worth the attention and energy.  I want to be someone who makes the effort and time to go to the gym and to yoga and karate classes because they’re good for me and because they make my body look and feel better.  Mostly, though, I want to be someone who loves themselves enough to think themselves worthy of the effort of all of these things.  Because I don’t love myself.  I think I’m a pretty mediocre excuse for a human being.  Most days, all I can think of are all of the things I’ve ever done wrong and how I don’t measure up.  I certainly don’t treat my daughter the same way: quite the opposite in fact.  But I know the way I treat myself will seep into her psyche.  Maybe not now, but someday.

Maybe the minefield I have to navigate isn’t hers: it’s mine.

Ghosts


I’ve been working hard on my book lately.  It’s mostly written (except for the last ten years of my life), which means I’m editing.  Editing means reading my book over, and over, and over again, because editing happens in layers, I’m discovering.  You go through the book once to catch one kind of mistake, then you go through it again to catch another kind of mistake.  So on and so forth.

I’m sure that with some other kinds of books, this merely gets tedious and boring after a while.  With mine, it’s really stressful sometimes, on an emotional level.  I’m writing about things in my life that made me very sad, or angry, or frightened.  Having to read them over and over again is taxing, to say the very least.  Some things that I’ve been able to distance myself from over the years are much closer to the surface, now that I’m exposed to them so much more often.  I’m feeling things I haven’t felt in a long time, all over again.  Unpleasant things.

These feelings bubble over into my everyday life.  I’m crankier than normal, I feel, and need less stimulation.  Conversely, I’m appreciating parts of my current life more.  The difference between this life and that life are even more stark.  I’m aware of how my daughter’s life differs from my own as I was growing up.  My biggest worries with her are that she’s too materialistic and needs some direction, which seem pretty normal for a kid under ten.  I don’t worry about her needing years of therapy, or being saddled with severe personality complexes that hamper her personal relationships and ability to function in the world.  Like me.  I do worry about her developing bipolar illness, which seems to run in the family, but at least we know it might be coming, and forewarned is forearmed.

I have many hopes and fears attached to this project.  Like any writer, I have that tiny nugget of hope that this will be successful enough to garner a spot on the featured shelves of popular bookstores.  Perhaps even a coveted spot in the New York Times bestseller lists (hey, a girl can dream, right?).  I know the reality will probably be more subdued, though, that my readership will probably extend to my circle of friends and not much farther, if at all.  I may even have to self-publish through Amazon or some other venue, if a publisher doesn’t decide to pick up my manuscript.

I admit, I’ll be very disappointed if I can’t even get a publisher to consider printing my book.  I really do think it has that much merit.  Someone recently asked me why I was writing my memoir.  I didn’t have an immediate answer for them.  I think I started writing it just to get it all out of my head.  I had this jumble of bad memories, interspersed with the occasional good one, and I wanted to put it all down, in order, in part to see if it really was all that bad.  To see if, perhaps, I was ignoring the good.  I wasn’t.  It really was that bad.  It was an extremely valuable exercise to validate my memories and did a great deal for my confidence.

Then I wanted to share it, though I couldn’t say exactly why.  Part of it was attention, I won’t lie.  I think all humans want attention for the things they’ve accomplished.  Most people accomplish things like degrees, or mastery of a craft or art, perhaps.  I accomplished the feat of surviving my childhood, something that took far longer than any college degree.  And yes, dammit, I want acknowledgement for that, because it was fucking hard.  In acknowledging the hard, I found another reason for writing and sharing my story, which is best illustrated by sharing the last paragraph of my book’s introduction:

 

There is a Sanskrit word, bodhicitta, that means “enlightenment”, or “awakening”.  It is the primary goal of one called bodhisattva: someone who wants to achieve Buddhahood as quickly as possible, so they may benefit other living beings through compassion and wisdom.  That is my wish with this book, for others to benefit as I make my own journey to enlightenment, as well as healing.  If even one reader can stumble across their own bit of illumination that makes something make sense enough to propel them forward, then we will all be one step closer to peace.

 

While I feel pompous comparing myself to a bodhisattva, that’s how I feel.  So, yes, this book is for me, but it’s also for everyone else who needs inspiration to move forward with their life if they’re feeling like they’re stuck in the path that was carved for them.  It’s possible to get out of the rut, and to carve a new one.  It’s hard, harder than staying where you are, but it can be done, and it’s far more rewarding than staying where you are.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I have some more ‘be’ verbs to turn into action verbs.


Today was the first day back to school for us here in Austin.  We’ve all been looking forward to it.  Just as everyone groans for the end of the school year, so it is at the end of the summer, when we’re all sick of each other and the child is booooooored.  Even of her favorite video game, Minecraft.

Once again, I’m trying to use the beginning of the school year’s schedule shift as an opportunity to get a new routine going.  I’ve tried this for the last four years, heh.  As I was detailing in my recent post Patterns, I have a vision of how I would like my day to go.  Get up, make tea, get the family off to work and school, then meditate, or at least have some quiet time.

Well, I managed to have at least that part of the day go as planned.  After they left, I turned off the lights, lit a candle on the table in front of Buddha, sat down with my tea, turned on some calming music, and had some quiet time.  I did a little meditation to get a handle on the day’s energy.

After that, the plan was to get cleaned up for the day, but I headed back to bed for a while instead.  We’ll work on that part tomorrow, seeing as how I have to go to work at ten.

Regardless of that disruption in plans, my morning quiet time does seem to have set the tone for the day.  I feel quieter and calmer (although that may also have something to do with have the house to myself for the first time in three months).  I feel more positive.

One thing I’ll definitely be doing right away when I get up in the morning is turning on that soothing music.  I’m a huge fan of Pandora, and their Yoga station plays all kinds of ambient music that is just the sort of thing to have running in the background.  Music can set the tone of my mood instantaneously, so if I can set it first thing in the morning, that can only be a good thing.  I’ll probably light the candle next: it’s something else that can set my mood right away.

Eventually I’ll move up to an actual floor sitting session for meditating, but for now, just sitting at the table enjoying my tea is a good start.


Back when I was a beginning henna artist, I thought I was awesome.  Everyone looked at my work and said so, and that I should start a business doing henna.  I knew I wasn’t quite ready, so I fooled around with it some more for a couple more years, and then decided to start a business.  About the same time, I got pregnant with my daughter, so that didn’t last very long.

A few years later, when I had more free time, I started doing henna again, though just for myself.  Again, my friends were adamant that I was good enough to charge money.  I agreed and began my business once again, armed with better art books from The Henna Page.  It wasn’t terribly successful, but mostly because of the environment in which I was working, which had way too many henna artists in it already.  Most of them at about the skill level I was.

All this time, I had been involved in a virtual community at the same website where I had been buying my art books.  They had an annual conference in Las Vegas that I was just dying to go to.  I planned on going in 2006, but it just wasn’t in the cards.  I kept buying better henna art books and practicing, though.

Finally, in 2007, I was able to go.  It was awesome.  It was the first time, I was able to spend time with other henna artists.  Despite the relatively large number of henna artists in my city, none of them would talk to me.  They were all fiercely protective of their business and saw any attempt at outside communication from another artist as an attempt to steal it.  This wasn’t my intention, but they were still tight-lipped.  Understandably so, though, as our town was still overrun with mediocre henna artists charging way too much money.

In Las Vegas, however, I had the chance to watch some of the world’s best henna artists do their art.  I learned all kinds of tips, trick, and techniques.  While I did very little art while I was there (I was too embarrassed to do so amidst the company I was in), I was soaking in the knowledge around me.  I went home with a full head, and got to work.

My art skill increased by a factor of five, I shit you not.  After Las Vegas, though, I looked at every single thing I had ever drawn before, and it looked like ass.  I was embarrassed to have charged money for it.

I feel similarly about my book project at the moment.  I’ve been reading a small, but potent, book called The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing and Life.  It’s only around 100 pages, but each one is a carefully cultivated garden of words intended to pass on its bounty to the reader, in the hopes that they will also be able to find the thrift and beauty in their writing that will ensnare their reader at the beginning and carry them to the end.  I’m not quite done with it, but I’m already sure that I’m going to rewrite my book, probably more than once.  What I’ve produced thus far is called “the vomit draft”, and while it contains everything that will eventually be contained in the final product, it is not worthy of other eyes yet.

Which is why I’m so embarrassed to have already given it to some friends to read and edit.  I was stuck, though, and foolish enough to think that I had something mature enough to warrant the sort of attention I was asking to be paid attention to it.  I think I was also really proud of what I had done and wanted to show it off.  I mean, I had written, over about a decade, 100,000 words detailing the length of my life.  It was quite an accomplishment, to be sure!  It wasn’t one to share so intimately with others quite yet, though.  I wound up creating a second draft that was 40,000 words shorter than the first because I removed things from it that really belonged in their own book, or at least as a separate appendix.  Then there was a third draft that contained edits I and my husband had made.  Now I’m on a fourth draft.  And if that book I’m reading is any indication, there could be dozens of them, some of them complete rewrites.

This pretty much kills my goal of being done with this project by the end of the year, unless I’m able to do some incredible work over the next few weeks to a couple of months.  I do need a deadline, though.  If I don’t have one, it will never get done.  I’ll have to make a project outline and divide the entire thing into segments with their own individual deadlines, and then glean a tentative final deadline for the whole project.  Dividing it into smaller segments will also make it easier to work on.  Right now, it’s so big.  I keep looking at it as the whole book.  I have to break it down into smaller parts.

I also need a goal for the project.  Why am I doing this?  Just for myself?  For the family?  To help others?  Just to do it?  For publishing?  If so, do I really have aspirations for serious publication?  Like, getting on the bestseller list sort of aspirations, or self-publish on Amazon sort of aspirations?  I suppose all authors want to be successful.  Who wouldn’t want to do a book signing at the New York Barnes & Noble?  Will I be disappointed if my aspirations aren’t met?

I know I want this book to be helpful to others.  If there is a message to my story, it’s that you don’t have to be defined by your past.  That it’s possible, with enough muster and work, to break the cycles of even generations of severe dysfunction.  So many people think that they have to do things a certain way because the people before them did things a certain way, that they are locked into a particular course, but they aren’t.  Not if they don’t want to be.  They have to want it bad enough to do the work, but it is possible to carve a new path away from the rut of stagnation and death.  It also takes patience, because it takes a long time to carve that path.  Sometimes I look back and it seems like that rut is still right behind me.  Other times, though, it has long faded into the distance.  A mere happy shadow against the horizon.  I want to give other people the hope that they can have that happy shadow as well.

And if healthy people happen to be interested in my story as well, then that’s just fine, too.

Patterns


My good friend B has been helping me with my memoir.  She was telling me that I need to make it more personal in places, and suggested there needs to be a section where I talk about myself and how I deal with the world: what my patterns are that help me cope with things.

Well, I have a pattern of retreating when things get too intense.  I had too much input when I was growing up, and now I just can’t tolerate too much of it.  I don’t do well in large crowds unless it’s something I’m really into, like a Rush show or a fireworks display.  Even then I might need pharmaceutical assistance to deal with the intensity of it all.  If life in general is stressing me out, bed is my retreat.  I’ll head there as soon as I can to read or watch television, and have a hard time getting out of it in the morning.

Another part of retreating is getting angry, because it pushes people away, increasing the space around me.  Sometimes that’s the only way to get the space I need.  I suffer from the strange dichotomy of being a lovable hermit, which means people like me and want to be around me a lot, but I don’t necessarily reciprocate the feeling.  Not as often as they do, anyway.  I can tell my nine-year-old daughter that I need space to myself, but since she’s nine, she’s self-centered and doesn’t always listen.  Sometimes the only way I can get what I need is to get angry with her when she’s not respecting my boundaries.

Another pattern I have is being controlling of my environment.  I need things to be particular ways in order to feel comfortable and happy.  Things need to be in certain places.  Things need to be organized in specific ways.  Calendars have to be kept certain ways.  I have my systems, and they must be followed.  It’s the only way I feel like I have some sort of control over my world, even if that control is an illusion.

That’s another coping pattern: I’m totally willing to submit to a fantasy or an illusion to maintain my sanity.  I may know intellectually that what I’m doing is ridiculous or pointless, but if it’s serving some purpose in the moment and isn’t hurting anyone, I’m down with it.

Perhaps my biggest coping pattern, or tool, is music.  I would have gone insane long ago without music.  I cannot work in silence, and if forced to do so will quickly get wired up into a ball so tense I can’t do anything.  Every tiny tic of noise will stand out in my ears, distracting me from my work.  Music can distract me from any mood I’m in except for the very darkest, which nothing will quell.

There are other patterns I would like to instill into my life that would make me a happier person.  Exercise is one.  Exercise and sleep are the two things a bipolar sufferer can do that will do the most to mitigate their illness without the use of medication.  I’ll always need the latter, but it won’t be as effective without the first two things.  Fortunately, better exercise leads to better sleep, so I really only need to work on one of those things.  Like most people, though, I find it extraordinarily difficult to get any kind of exercise routine going.  I enjoy it (mostly) while I’m doing it, but making the time to do it seems to be a huge problem I can never get around.  If I knew why, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing about it and would be making millions of dollars getting lazy Americans off their asses.

I have to figure out a way, though.  I’m at the end of where pharmaceuticals will help my disease.  If I want it to get any better, and it still needs help, I have to get it the rest of the way myself.

Meditation is another pattern that would do me a world of good, although the thought of sitting alone with my thoughts makes me want to crawl out of my skin.  That doesn’t sound peaceful or calming at all.  I keep getting it from all sides, though: meditate and you’ll feel better.  There must be some truth to it, too, because my mind resists meditating more than it resists exercising.  Anything I resist must be good for me, it seems.

The third pattern I’d like to instill is yoga.  It’s a combination of exercise and meditation, and I suppose if I were to pick just one thing to work on, it would be this since it encompasses everything.  Yoga doesn’t give me hard exercise, though, and that’s what I need: an hour or more of breathing hard and sweating hard.  There are types of yoga that will give me that, but I’m not balanced or coordinated enough for them yet.  Still, a good yoga practice would be awesome.  The times that I’ve managed to go to yoga even twice a week have been peaceful times in my life.  I can’t imagine how I’d feel if I went every day.

If I imagined my ideal life, it would be like this.  I’d get up at 6:30 every day with my family and get my daughter off to school, and then I’d spend the first part of the morning in meditation and enjoying tea.  Afterwards I’d either exercise or do yoga, then get myself cleaned up for the day.  The middle part of the day would be spent working, either at my job at the dojo, or at home on my book or other project.  In the afternoon, I’d pick up my daughter from school, then prep for dinner while she did her homework.

Here’s where the day gets tricky and always gets screwed up.  Both of our karate classes are in the late afternoon and early evening, but that’s smack in the middle of dinnertime.  The only way I can think of to work things is for me to prep dinner things, take us to class while my husband makes dinner, and then have him come to pick up our daughter from class so I can go to mine.  That means the two of us have to eat a snack or drink smoothies before our classes.  It also means they don’t eat until at least 7pm and I don’t eat until at least 8pm, which I suppose is fine as long as everyone has had a snack beforehand to prevent The Crankies, which will ruin a nice day faster than anything.

After dinner would have to be kitchen cleanup, which is another area where we always fail.  We both detest washing dishes, and we don’t have a dishwasher so it all has to be done by hand.  No one wants to do chores after dinner, either, so it sits there until the next day, ruining the next day’s dinnertime because we can’t cook in our tiny, dirty kitchen.  So we eat out, which ruins the budget.  All of these little things connect to one another to either make a well-run machine, or a freaking mess.  So far, we’re a freaking mess, and I can’t seem to get the well-run machine going.

I worry about this not just because of my own life, but because we’re teaching our daughter to be an undisciplined slob.  She has no routines of her own and I know it’s our fault: she has none to emulate.

I’m worried I’m too old to instill new patterns into my life.  I’m worried I’ll be stuck in these unsatisfying patterns for the rest of my life, or that it will take something potentially life-threatening to make me change them.  Of course, I worry about a lot of things these days.  That would probably be the best pattern of all to instill into my life: stop worrying so much.

Head Down


I haven’t written in three weeks, not since the post I wrote about the third cat of the summer dying just a week after we’d adopted him.  I can’t imagine why I might not have been feeling very ebullient.

I did throw myself into a project, though.  In recent months, I’ve been working on my memoir, which will in all likelihood go by the same title as this blog.  It’s a story that’s impossible to tell without delving deeply into the nature of family relationships.  In the instance of my own family, the relationship between myself, my mother, and my grandmother in particular.  That was a story unto itself, so I outlined it with the help of a shitload of letters that I came into the possession of when my grandmother’s childhood and beyond best friend had them sent to me.  They spanned from 1940 to the mid-2000s and told quite a tale that told me a great deal about my grandmother and how she may have contributed to the troubled relationship she had with my mother.  I put all that together with what I had of my own material in the form of photographs, memories, and genealogical data to piece together a century-long tale of adventure, sorrow, intrigue, despair, and resolve.

It’s early yet, so I don’t know if it will be something that stands by itself or if it will be part of the memoir, which now needs its second serious editing pass.  That will take a while and will be an interesting exercise in seeing how good I am at slowing down enough to really analyze my own writing well enough to significantly cut it.  Right now it’s like a music piece with too many notes, so it sounds busy and muddy.  Some of them have got to come out.  I do think that if each project were edited properly that they could be put together, and that along with all of the photographs, letters, and genealogical data I have, it could be really really cool.

So that’s what I’ve been working on.  And when I’m working on a big project, everything else slides.  Including my blog.  I needed something to work on, though, to get through the stress of the cats dying.  After the first cat died, I planted a 6’x8′ garden with corn, beans, and squash that is now (mostly) looking pretty darn good.  The broomcorn is blooming and there are baby melons on some of the vines.  The beans are flowering, too, so I expect some of those soon as well.  The whole thing needs fertilizer, a tilling, and mulch.  It’s somehow comforting to see the continued result of something that I planted while deeply in pain and attempting to manifest life after experiencing death.

After the second cat died, I finished up the first editing and collating pass of the memoir and sent it out to anyone who had expressed interest in looking at it.  It was much cleaner after I had taken out some travelogues that should really be appendices or a little book of their own.  I also fixed some of my attempts at playing with writing in third tense rather than first.  It was fun, but sounded pretentious and removed my ability to use that device when I needed to fill in important events that needed describing in that sort of style.  Plus, it’s my story: I should write it from my perspective.  Then the third cat died and I worked on the family history project.

So here I am with a lot of potential, and a lot of work.  One of my oldest and best friends who also has an English degree has been graciously lending her help to me on this project and was kind enough to let me know that my request for editing help was a little premature, but gave me enough to work with using my introduction to allow me to do the same to the rest of the book (and to the other one, now that it’s been written).  Fortunately, I have the ‘problem’ of having to take words out, rather than put them in.  No teacher has ever accused me of using too few words!  I should just make a list of rules to follow and get to identifying everywhere they’ve been broken.

Back to cats, some good did come out of the whole situation.  In an effort to make me happy and to save face for the organization, the people who adopted the sick cat to us in the first place graciously adopted the two kittens we were fostering to us for free.  So we are a three-cat household again.  Our existing cat has warmed right up to them, incredibly.  We thought that she might not, given that she’s so old.  Indeed, she was quite upset for several days, particularly because we had moved her food dish to be closer to theirs so they could get used to each other’s smells.  Once everything was back where it was supposed to be, she was happy again and they’re all getting along fine.  And of course, kittens!!!

We’re still fostering cats, as well.  At the moment, we have a mama and her two young kittens, about 5-6 weeks old.  Which means they’re stupid-noises cute.  Mama’s still a juvenile too, and has a high-pitched chirrup-y meow that is also incredibly cute.  I’m looking forward to finding homes for them, despite my fondness for them.  I’m sure there will be some heart-tugging when it’s time for them to go, but I’ll be happy when they find their forever-homes.

But wait, there’s more, now how much would you pay?  Today, I’m picking up a set of 3-week or so old kittens to live in our back bathroom.  If they weren’t begging for kitten fosters at the moment, I wouldn’t, but I have the space and it’s hard for me to ignore emails telling me that if they don’t foster kittens, others will be euthanized.  Yes, I’m that sucker, but it’s me and suckers like me that are attempting to keep Austin a no-kill city, which we (mostly) are.  So having an extra set of kittens is a trial run.  If it’s just too much to handle, we won’t do it again, but hey, it might be fun and it’s a good thing to do.  The only drawback so far is the increased expense in cat food and litter.  And having to sanitize our hands constantly, at least for a couple of weeks (standard initial isolation procedure).  On the upside, kittens!!!  🙂


Last Wednesday, we adopted a new cat.  His name at the shelter was Bucky, but we named him Alex.  We used a local non-profit animal rescue group that makes a big deal out of adopting healthy animals that have been thoroughly checked out, neutered, and microchipped.  They were even having a special in order to move as many cats out of the shelter as possible, so he wasn’t expensive.  It seemed like the stars were in alignment.

Well, they were in a negative alignment, it seems.  The first day, we noticed he made an odd cough and that he seemed warm.  Just in case, we separated him from the rest of the house so he couldn’t infect our existing cat.  The second day, he coughed a couple more times, more severely, like a wet bronchial cough.  The third day he had his wellness check at the vet, where he was diagnosed with a viral infection and to bring him back in a couple of weeks if he wasn’t better.  The next day he was listless and his breathing had become bubbly.  The next day he was worse and I called the shelter where we had gotten him.  They scheduled a vet visit for the next day.

We took him in and they diagnosed him with pneumonia.  After a brief inner debate as to whether he should be hospitalized, the vet decided to send him home with me along with a number of treatments: antibiotics, appetite stimulants, subcutaneous fluids, a nebulizer, and a syringe for force feeding him if necessary.  I steeled myself for ten days of cat nursing.

The first day went fine.  At his fourth nebulizing treatment I noticed that the inside of his carrier was getting wet and musty, which  they didn’t tell me to watch out for (they didn’t give me any instructions at all, really), so I got it all cleaned out.  His breathing went back and forth between improving and getting bubbly again.  He still wouldn’t eat, so we had to syringe feed him.  He didn’t like it, of course, but we managed to get a syringe full of food into him.

He spent that entire night moving around the entire room about once every half hour.  It reminded me of Yin-Yang before he died, who just couldn’t get comfortable and kept moving around.  I couldn’t sleep for the sound of his bubbly breathing: it was awful.  He was laying in weird places, too, as well as laying very limply.  He may have already been on his way out.

The next morning, it was time for more antibiotics, food, and nebulizing.  He had trouble with his pill and I had to try twice to get him to take it, and I’m not sure if he ever swallowed it properly. Then we tried to feed him, which was much more difficult than it had been the night before.  I took his resistance as a sign that he was feeling better so we burritoed him in a towel like we had seen on the internet.  I knew to keep him in a sitting position much like he’d be in if he were eating normally so he wouldn’t choke, but this feeding was not going nearly as smoothly as the one the night before.  Whenever he appeared to be having trouble, I’d stop and let him settle, then try again.

Then towards the end of the feeding, he opened his mouth wide, arched his back, and went limp.  We laid him down, he exhaled, and he didn’t inhale again.  It was horrifying.  I’ve never seen anything die in front of me before, and I still can’t help but think that it was my fault somehow.  Everyone tells me that it’s not, especially since he should never have been sent home with us in the first place, but still.  I feel so terrible.  I was trying to help this poor creature get better, and now he’s dead from that very treatment, even if I was merely hastening the inevitable.  I just wish that his last few moments hadn’t been so tortured.  That’s what I feel the worst about, that I may have inadvertently caused this poor creature agony in his last moments.  I didn’t mean to, and I’m so sorry.  I’m so, so sorry Alex.

I wish that they had kept him for hospitalizing on Monday instead of sending him home with me.  I wish that they had realized last week that he was sick and not adopted him to me in the first place.  I wish that I had said no, I don’t want a cat with a history of an upper respiratory infection when they told me he’d had one while in the shelter, even though he’d been treated for it (not well enough apparently).  I wish that they had given me better instructions for how to care for this obviously very, very ill cat.  I wish that I had more experience in caring for sick cats and doing things like syringe feeding.  I wish that I had stopped the instant he looked like he wasn’t digging the feeding and just called the shelter again, but I had never done it before and didn’t know what to watch out for and he really needed to eat.  I mean, you’re force-feeding a cat: there’s going to be mess and unpleasantness.  I wish for so many things that might have changed what happened yesterday morning.

Even though he was only with us for a week, he was still part of the family, and we treated him as such.  He got the same treatment Yin-Yang and Babalon did when they died: I wrapped him up, smudged his body and his grave, and we said some words over him before burying him with his head towards the West.  He’s next to Yin-Yang, who will hopefully help him on his way to the Great Catnip Field in the Sky.

As for us, we’ve spent the last 24 hours sanitizing as much as we can so the other cats don’t get infected.  To a certain extent all we can do is pray, because he was out and about for a while before we knew he was sick.  God only knows what he touched with his face.  I can only take comfort in the fact that the germs will die by themselves in a few days, and within 24 hours if they get hit with proper cleansing and some Lysol.  I’ve done probably a dozen loads of laundry to clean every single thing in the room he was in, vacuumed the carpet with germicidal baking soda, Lysol’d the areas he spent the most time in, and am fumigating  the air with more germicidal oils.  Anything that can’t be washed has been sprayed with Lysol and left out in the Sun.  And I’ve done similarly to the whole house since his disease may have been airborne (in which case the horse is out of the barn anyway).

It would be bad enough if our own cat, Samadhi, gets ill because of Alex.  It would be even worse if the two kittens we are fostering got sick because of him.  I would be up the ass and down the throat of the shelter who gave us to him in the first place to make these kittens well.  So far everyone has been healthy, and it’s been about a week since anyone was exposed to anything Alex might have breathed on or touched, so hopefully we’re in the clear.  I won’t stop holding my breath for at least another week, though, when I know it’s been two weeks, which is how long the shelter tells people to isolate pets to ensure health.  If nothing is wrong within two weeks, everything should be okay.

And they’d better be, because we like these kittens and are thinking of adopting them.  We were a house of three cats, and we’d like to be so again.

*shakes head*  It’s just not right, but I’m going to try and make it right.  This summer can just kiss my flabby white butt.

Ghost Feet


They say the fog moves in on little cat feet.  So do ghosts.  Mine do, anyway.  When I was a child, I had a cat who would jump onto the foot of my bed every night after I went to bed.  He’d nose open my bedroom door and *poomp* onto the bed he’d go.  So it went for a few years until he got sick and we had to put him to sleep due to a urinary blockage (something that is thankfully treatable these days).  I was in the third grade and absolutely heartbroken.  Sam was my best friend.  He died on the first day of school, which I always thought was a particularly cruel twist of fate.

In the days following his death, I swore up and down that I could still hear my door creak open at night and feel his feet hit the foot of my bed just like they used to.  Fortunately my mother was a fairly mystical creature and was open-minded to the notion that her daughter was being visited by the ghost of our dead cat, so she didn’t do anything to discourage the idea.

It hasn’t been since then, 1979, that my life has been such that I’ve been able to pay attention to such forces.  Not that I haven’t had pets die in that time period, but other energies have been in the way.  There was a Sam II, a lovely black-and-white critter who came with us from Michigan, and who was also my buddy.  He just up and disappeared in 1986, again breaking my heart.  There was no time or space to detect the subtle nuance of any spiritual return on his part, though: that was the year things began to go truly and horribly wrong at my house, and they would never be right again.  Then there as Bizarre, yet another beautiful creature who was all white with bi-colored eyes like David Bowie.  I gave her to friends when I went travelling, and she was regrettably hit by a car in my absence.  Since I was gone and she wasn’t really mine anymore, I didn’t get any visits from her that I noticed.

The next cat I got was Babalon, and if you’ve been reading in recent weeks, you should know her story by now, and of her kids.  I’ve missed their presence so.  The house is empty.  Babalon had a big personality despite being just a regular-sized cat, and YinYang had a personality twice the size of his massive body.  Samadhi is still here, but she was always overshadowed by the other two.  We love her of course, but she’s not her mother or brother, and I realize it’s not fair to compare her to the other two.  I can’t help it, though.  I miss them so much.

I’ve been “looking” for their presence in the house.  I remembered my experience with Sam, and I’ve desperately wanted something like that.  Well I think I have.  A couple of times the last week or so, I could have sworn I’ve heard Babalon’s faint yowling like she did before she died.  She’d just sit in an empty room and make these plaintive yowls like she wanted someone or something.  I’d always come to her and pet her and tell her everything was okay, and she’d lay back down.  And this morning, after I had awoken but before I had gotten up, just like with Sam, I felt the light footfall of two paws hitting the bed, just as Babalon would do in the morning when she had heard my alarm had gone off.

The only time I’ve felt YinYang’s presence was a couple of weeks ago when I was having a particularly hard sobbing fit of guilt and regret over having not recognized his illness sooner, and I had the distinct sensation of him by my feet walking around in a circle with the message of, “Don’t cry, it’s okay, I love you!”

I was glad for the message of reassurance, even if it might only be coming from my own subconscious, but it didn’t do anything to ease my missing him.  I suppose that’s one of those things that really is only healed by time.  I’ve learned in the last month and a half that grief comes in waves, like the ocean.  It washes over you until you think you might drown, and then it rolls back out so you can heave with breath on the shore.  They come slower and smaller over time, though.  I imagine at some point they’ll just be little waves lapping at my toes as I sit on the shore enjoying the shells of my memories.

Settling In


We’re trying to settle into our one-cat routine around here. The last month has just sucked giant donkey balls. Every little thing reminds us that we only have one cat now, like washing the food bowls. Samadhi’s perfectly happy to munch on her dry food, so there’s not much call for the other bowls any more. The last two or three that we used for Babalon last week got washed Monday, and I cleaned a couple more out of the fridge yesterday. All remnants from my attempts to get her to eat whatever I could. I knew it was a losing battle, but I was going to give it all I could for as long as I could. And so was she, little trooper. I put out so much tuna fish that even Samadhi is sick of it now.

I washed the last few rags and blankets related to Babalon’s last days as well, although I couldn’t bring myself to wash the blue-and-green blanket she slept on. I put it underneath the black shawl Samadhi likes to sleep on: maybe she’ll like having something that smells like her mama. She plainly misses her. The two of them slept together pretty much every single day, and even washed each other. Actually, it was rare for a day to go by that Babalon didn’t wash Samadhi. When I come home, she often yowls at me as if to tell me that the others are missing. I can only imagine how she must feel. If it’s anything like how we feel, it must be terrible.

I imagine this is the plight of the grieving everywhere, but I am trying desperately to keep my mental face pointed forward instead of getting mired down in hindsight and regret. Part of me keeps trying to get really angry at the vet tech who essentially ruined our experience with Babalon at the vet last week when she failed to take her to the back to be cleaned and to have her pawprints taken, but the rest of me is trying to take the experience in as a whole and remember all of the circumstances that created it. It wasn’t her fault: it wasn’t anyone’s fault. It was just a shitty set of circumstances piled on top of an already shitty situation, and there’s nothing to be done about it. It just sucks, and I can’t do anything about it except feel bad. And in the big scheme of things, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t change anything, and not having that set of pawprints doesn’t make me miss her more or anything like that. My expectations that were set with YinYang’s death weren’t met, and that’s all.

Then there’s all of the things that I’m noticing now that they’re gone, mostly related to how much water they were drinking. I’ve never had cats with kidney disease so these aren’t things that I could have known or noticed, but now that I AM noticing them, I still feel bad. YinYang had been sucking down huge amounts of water for years, and I thought it was just because he was staying indoors more. So had Babalon. Now that it’s just Samadhi, she’s drinking what I now remember as being what a single healthy cat drinks in a day, which really isn’t all that much. The water bowl we’ve been using looks gargantuan compared to what she actually needs. And the catbox looks similarly gargantuan now that there’s just one cat using it and there aren’t massive balls of urine clumped up in it.

I wish I had known what I was looking at. I know it’s not my fault and that I took really really good care of those cats and that they lived for a really really long time despite being ill. I still wish I had known, and I still really, really miss my cats. My house seems empty without them. It was sad to cook chicken last night and not be bothered by Babalon.

I know this will happen a lot, and probably without warning. Being struck by sadness. And then there will be the things that I know will make me sad, like eating yogurt. Scraping the sides of a yogurt container will always remind me of YinYang and the way he waited for the last spoonful. Chicken and raw meat in general will always remind me of Babalon. That green-and-blue blanket. Sitting down to visit in the yoga room. Maybe that’s what they mean when they say that the ones we love never really leave us.

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