Quiet weekend

Looking out the window to my left, I see that the-neighbors-I-don’t-hate have unfurled a brand-new American flag for their front yard.  Sometimes I think we should unfurl our American flag because we live in such strange times now and it might be better to be seen as more patriotic than not.  But our flag is one that has flown over the capital because that is the kind of flag you receive when you re-enlist in the Navy.  I would just hate to see it get all faded and worn out.  So inside it stays.

I was feeling a little stressed this morning.  Several weeks ago I had responded in the affirmative to a Facebook invite to a Redneck Wine Tasting today that a friend’s daughter was organizing to benefit our local hospice house.  Back then I thought, oh that sounds like fun and it’s a good cause and I will probably want to go.

This morning I weighed my options to see if I could just not show up and not seem like a jerk.

Nearly four years since the big nervous breakdown and I am still not my old self.

I did go, though.

It was harder than it needed to be because I had to go by myself which I hadn’t expected at the time I accepted the invitation.  And there were other concerns that had me second-guessing myself.

My friend is a very conservative, very religious, very enthusiastic, very loyal person.  We were friends from a long time ago when I was a different, more hopeful person and she was maybe not so religious and conservative.

Sometimes I worry that this is a friendship which perhaps should not have made it into this part of my life.

But she keeps reaching out to me and I think maybe I shouldn’t just blow that off.

The wine tasting was held in what I would call a dive bar.  I’ve never actually been inside before, though I drive by quite often.  Back in the day, when the police came to raid it, prostitutes and customers alike could climb out a window and swim away in the nearby creek.  Creeks can be very handy things!

Nowadays, if there is a raid, there probably wouldn’t be any prostitutes.

It was very crowded when I got there half an hour into the thing and they were already running out of raffle tickets and some of the foods.  My friend was all dressed up as a redneck.  She had put her hair in braids and wore some hideous fake teeth and a plaid flannel shirt and gave me a big hug when she saw me.  She was in her element.

I stayed long enough to choose my raffles and then headed for home.  Maybe for the next one, I’ll plan better and bring someone and actually relax a bit and imbibe.

Maybe the next one will find a healthier me and all around better times.

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Christmas Liberation

Christmas is crazy isn’t it?  I don’t know why more people don’t just cry uncle and start doing what they want for the holiday instead of what they think they have to do.  Maybe they just haven’t hit that brick wall yet.  I hit the wall years ago thanks to the Terrible Job.  And now I am slowly building a celebration that makes sense and has a quieter kind of joy to it.

There was a bit of a glitch to deal with last week, though.  My aunt in Texas sent me a second Christmas card which kind of startled me.

Then I opened it and got really pissed off.

Inside was a $25 gift certificate for IHOP.  The Christmas card contained her instructions for what I was to do with the certificate.  She wanted me to enjoy lunch with my mother on her.  She hoped my mother would learn someday that people are more important than things.  As “your wise aunt” has already discovered.

Knowing what I know about the terrible rift in their relationship, I found this to be incredibly condescending.  And I was very resentful that she elected to put me in the middle of it as her peacemaker.  Did she really think I would team up with her against my own mother?

Old me would not have seen this boundary violation for what it is.  Old me would have obediently followed her instructions and then gotten hugely whomped on by my mother who would have been more than happy to vent all the toxins right back on me.  Old me would have been buried in the unhealthiness of both sisters and a rift that had absolutely nothing to do with me.

Phew.  Old me is gone.  But new me did not know how to make this into a fun or satisfying mission.  Life is just messy I guess.

I had to think for a couple days about what to say in my note when I sent the card back.  I came up with a benign yet truthful explanation for why I was returning the gift card.  Personally I thought my note was a work of art.

But my aunt was pissed.  She emailed her response to my note.  It contained an interesting mix of charm and aggression–what we call “stroke-slap” at our house.  Stroke-slap is a way of putting someone in their place without totally alienating them.  Sort of  like the Stockholm Syndrome without having to physically hold someone hostage.

Needless to say, the email did not win me over to her “side”.  I am not without a certain amount of understanding of why she would be angry with her sister (who has been my very own mother all these years).  I can understand both sides and I can understand how it all came to be as the inevitable result of being raised by my grandmother who had untreated bi-polar depression.

We ALL need healing.  We ALL need to build a self from the ground up since that process got interrupted very early in life.  And we pretty much each will have to do this individually.

Or maybe parallel-ly would work better.  That should be a word because it is definitely a thing that I am trying to do.  It’s my way of being in relationship with someone who does not understand boundaries WHILE I am building the necessary boundaries.  And hoping that some bit of it will sink in so that the other person can begin to see that boundaries are a thing and that they are good.

Boundaries have the potential to liberate a soul.  And that is what we all want even if we don’t realize it.

My response to the somewhat astonishing email was short and to the point.

And she responded AGAIN with the stroke-slap business.

I decided to let her have the last word which was a smiley emoticon.

If nothing else, I can now see when I am in over my head with people.

Yes, this did bring me down while it was happening.  Luckily I have such low expectations of Christmas that feeling down wasn’t exactly a tragedy for me.  I let it flow and did some comforting self-talk and Voila!  The down feeling gradually receded on its own.  This healing thing is really happening!  It’s taking a long time but it’s happening.

This Christmas just might be a turning point in the journey.

 

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Progress? Who knows….

Tonight I learned how to make Christmas cards with two friends of mine and about ten other women at our local library.

While checking out one of the card-making stations set up by the instructor, I recognized a woman carrying a cane who came in along with two other younger women.  She was the mother of one of the girls who, in junior high school, made my life a living hell for several months.

At the end of eighth grade and beginning of ninth grade, I was the main character in one of those two-against-one-best-friends-betray-a-weaker-friend-mean-girls-scenarios that you see portrayed in so many movies, TV shows, commercials and… cold-blooded crime shows.

Of course, since it is my story, there is so much more to it than that.  But for now I’d rather just write about tonight.

When I saw the mother walk in, I quickly assessed if her daughter was with her and I didn’t see her at first.  So I thought, good.

It turned out, however, that I was wrong.  As everyone seated themselves for the class and got comfortable, it turned out that indeed, the “evil one” was going to make Christmas cards, too.

It did not occur to me to leave, so we’ll call that progress.  And I did not have an anxiety attack, also progress.  I did decide to avoid being near her, which meant a certain amount of hyper-vigilance.  I’m not too sure how to grade that one.  Maybe it was just some good, old-fashioned self-care.

If I had never met this person before, and knew nothing about her, I’d be under the impression that she was a nice woman who was close to her mother and enjoyed some of the same things I do.  All that might even be true to a certain extent.  I mean, we were actually friends for a time way back when, so there must be something in common.

At any rate, I do know about her.  I know what she is capable of.  I know what I carry around with me to this day because of her and the other girl involved.

People like her are the reason that people like me leave their hometown and never come back.  I did leave for ten years but circumstances brought me back here and now it looks as if I am here to stay.

I actually had her as a customer once at the Terrible Job.  At the time I had no way to avoid waiting on her.  She seemed nervous and hyper and like she was trying to please me.  And the whole time I’m thinking, “Ha!  Your son is in prison.  You raised a violent criminal!  Why am I not surprised?  Your violence led to a second generation of violence.  Ha!”

I expected to see some sign of this tragedy in her face, but there was nothing there for me to see.  I also wanted to see some sign of sorrow or shame for what she did to me way back when.  But again, there was nothing to see.

No, people like her do not carry their own shame.  They carry no sense of responsibility for the effects of their actions on others.  Instead, they give their shame over to their victims.

Over forty years later and I’m still having to deal with such things.

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True Story!

In fifth grade, ecology was a big topic.  So that year, the downtown merchants association held a poster contest.

I was so excited.  My idea was to draw an example of road-making using recycled glass bottles.  It was something I had seen in one of the ecology films they showed us.

It was tricky artwork.  I had to draw a steam roller which was very difficult.  I planned to use colored cellophane for the broken glass in the blacktop.  And of course, there was a human figure sitting on the steam roller running the thing.

The girl drawing next to me admired my work but I was highly critical of it.  It wasn’t coming out as perfect as I wanted and I said I would probably draw something different for the contest.

She asked if she could copy my idea for her poster and I kind of scoffed.  Then she offered to split the prize with me if it won.  I didn’t really think it would win, but I agreed.  We made a deal.

She copied my work down to the very last detail.  It couldn’t have been more identical if she’d used tracing paper.

I went on to draw a very perfect and very ordinary picture of bottles being washed out in a sink.

Amazingly enough, when the prizes were announced, my “partner” had won second prize!  It was $5.00!  So, $2.50 for me!!  Not a huge prize, but woo hoo, it was money!!

When I noticed how proud and happy she was acting, as if the whole thing had been her idea alone, I reminded her that she had said we would split the prize if she won.  My expectation was that she would acknowledge our deal and let me know how I would get my money.

What she actually said was, “I did NOT!  You’re just JEALOUS!”

I wish I could go back in time just to see the expression on my face.  It must have been comical.

I did feel a little stupid as I realized what I had done to myself.  I guess I should have gotten it in writing!!  But I was not jealous and I was the opposite of a liar.  She was the liar.

So here we are in the year 2016.  How has each of us fared since grade five?

I am an unemployed civil servant who had a nervous breakdown and will likely never work again.

She is a nurse with a masters degree who was hired a few years ago to set up a brand new cancer center with all the decision-making powers to go with that job.  She hired a head-hunting agency who found this job for her.

On Facebook she likes to post heart-warming memes to boost morale.  She posts every time she gets a manicure or massage or goes on a cruise or meets someone famous.  She looks very happy and I imagine she is.

Maybe I’d be happy too if I didn’t have to worry about the impact I might be having on others.

We are both married, she for a second time, and have children and grandchildren.

I don’t want the same things she wants or has.  Except maybe for her supreme sense of self.

I can’t be the only person she has treated that way.  I think most people will take advantage of someone who doesn’t know how to take care of themselves.  They might even tell a little white lie to soothe away any tiny bit of guilt they might feel for taking advantage.  It appears she does far more good in this world than harm.

For me the most shocking thing about that story is that a ten-year-old girl was able to come up with such an ugly lie so quickly and naturally:  I did not, you’re just jealous.

At least she got $5.00 and her picture in the paper.  And I got the first of many, many life’s lessons.  And I still don’t know what to make of most of them.

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Ancient Ruins

My choreography friend and I decided to make ourselves official.  We invited two other friends to belly dance with us and we are called the Ancient Ruins.

Of course, with my hearing slowly deteriorating, I thought she wanted to call us the Ancient Runes.  I thought, what a cool name!  We could get T-shirts with our names converted to runic symbols!  A couple weeks previous I’d had a dream that had some letters on a boulder that looked like runes.  I’d been wondering what the dream meant.  It meant I have ESP!

Oh well.  Back to muddling through life without the advantages of fortune telling.

It felt weird at first to go ahead and do this.  It felt disloyal, even though we were among the marginalized dancers.

We did not keep it a secret.  Our long-time teacher knows and she is actually jealous.  Eh, if she wanted a different kind of troupe than what she’s got now, she should have kept a better handle on things.  I’m always so impressed by people who wreck things, or are otherwise uncooperative, then get jealous when the marginalized ones cope by doing their own thing.

People be so messed up!

We are teaching our friends the new dance we choreographed and they are enjoying it.  Because it was designed at a duet, we need to change parts of it to accommodate two more dancers.  All of us are making the changes as equals.  We can spend as much time on it as we want without anyone whining that they are bored.

We also have a new dance in the works already.  One of our new troupe mates had a favorite song that she thought sounded danceable.  She shared it with me and I fell in love with it instantly.  It will be perfect for the kind of choreography we want to do–“Heathens” by Twenty-One Pilots.  I suspect we will start working on it in earnest after the holidays.

In the old troupe, nobody would have given her idea the time of day.  And nobody wanted to learn the dances my friend and I choreographed.

I wonder if all groups kind of fall apart when you go past a certain number of participants.  Four seems to be just right for now.  I can think of two more compatible people we could invite, but then we would outgrow my spare room.

We still have to navigate what we will do with our new troupe.  There will be the possibility of performing at some point.  But I think that is the main thing that changed the other troupe into something I don’t recognize anymore.  It brought out the divas and control freaks and some passive-aggressiveness on top of it all.  Nobody wants that for the Ancient Ruins.

I just want a healthy and nurturing outlet for some creativity and self-expression.  We couldn’t have that anymore with the old troupe.  I plan to participate in their Christmas Hafla in a month.  There will be Mexican food for dinner afterwards.  Then I suspect I’m completely done with it.  My first graceful exit.

 

 

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Disappointed Not Entirely Surprised

So the United States of America has just elected the bull in the china shop to be the next president.

I happen to know or be related to a lot of his supporters and some of them are giddy with happiness.  Some of them I know to be miserable, narrow-minded people in need of much healing.  Some of them took their misery out on me during my formative years or even in recent times.  So this election result feels to me like the bullies won as they always do.

There was a huge amount of name-calling during the election campaigns.  As someone who endured a huge-amount of name-calling during my formative years, the name-calling triggered me on a daily basis.  My skin is still not thick enough.  I will never think name-calling is a good idea.  It is very disrespectful in a very basic way.

There was a crazy amount of disinformation–or gas-lighting if you really think about it.  Several weeks ago I spent hours on line trying to debunk a meme about “if Mexico can build a wall on their southern border, why can’t we build one on our southern border with them” blah, blah, blah.

I was able to find the person who created the meme and had posted it to a meme website.  I found several articles explaining that such a wall doesn’t exist because of lack of interest, money and the challenging geography in that part of the world.  And finally I found the source for the photo they had attached to the meme.  They copied it from a website for a company in Kansas City, Missouri that builds fences in the U.S.

After hours of work to find the truth, I realized that if I posted my findings, no one would accept it, believe it, or care.  I would just get jumped on as has happened before in my life.  Sometimes it seems like saying something only makes things worse.

I do recognize the problems with our politics as usual and I also want things to change for the better.  It just seems like we, or they, have gone about it in a very tragic way.

A couple weeks ago I told my husband that if we end up with a president Trump, then I would have to keep a very low-profile, especially online.  A lifetime as a target has finally taught me that much at least.  My twelve years at the Terrible Job has also taught me about the wisdom of staying under the radar.

Before we knew the outcome of the election, I felt positive and strong enough to handle any result (never really believing that internet memes could take the day).  Now that we have fallen down into the rabbit’s hole, I’m feeling a little bit ill.  From the healing work I have already done, I know it will take time to let those feelings run their course until they subside and something else can rise up.

Okay, so there is still a day ahead and a life to live regardless of the state of the world.  Time for me to trip the light fantastic.

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Out to Lunch

Today I took myself out to lunch at our local Wendy’s.  It has been three and a half years since the last time I ate there.

Wendy’s was the nearest place for lunch when I was still working at the Terrible Job.  Back then, I went there most days for lunch.  The last few weeks before I quit, I’d sit at my table furiously eating my spicy chicken sandwich and fries and looking at Facebook on my phone.  I mean that I was actually furious.  By the time my lunch break happened, I would have already had a lousy day and it would have been about six hours since last eating anything.  As hungry as I was, I never finished my meal either.  It was during the time period that I was restricting my food intake–sort of an act of aggression but directed at myself.  I’d eat about half my food and then angrily throw away the rest of it and drag myself back to work.

Yes, I was quite a mental mess by then.

Since today is Sunday, I knew I would not run into any former customers or former co-workers.  It would be safe for me to eat there.

Growing up I was of the mindset that I had to go where I likely would be treated badly.  I didn’t really have a policy of avoiding troublesome people.  Well, often enough there was no other option.  I was a kid, I had to go to school.  Going to school involved walking on public streets.  I was just a kid.  What else was I going to do?

Some unhappy kids skipped school, did drugs, got into fights.  Those did not seem like good options for me.

As an adult, I kept up that habit of staying in bad situations.  Often I volunteered for such.  Then came the day when I was at the end of my rope and I decided to go home from the Terrible Job.  I promised myself I would no longer do things that were sure to end in trouble or unhappiness for me.  No longer do I tolerate toxic people or situations.  Sure, it limits where I can go at certain times of the day in this small, crappy town.  But this is my little gift to myself.  I no longer participate in my own victimization.

Today it is Sunday.  I can go to Wendy’s if I want.

I ordered my spicy chicken and fries.  I ate until I was full.  I people-watched.  It felt so normal and safe.  It felt like taking back a little bit of my life, but on my terms.  No self-judgment or self-criticism.  Nobody prying into my personal life.  No having to explain anything to anyone.

It’s really hard to basically start life all over again but not moving away to do it.  Old habits and old distractions and old dangers are everywhere.  I am new, or at least I want to be, and I am surrounded by old.  It has been a very good exercise in letting go and learning how to be detached in a healthy way.

I can do this thing.

 

 

 

 

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