Warming up for April, National Poetry Month, and my annual attempt to post 30 poems in 30 days.
There are the days
When a grey fog
Rolls in to
On other days
Rolls in and
Over me and
I am chilled
The hills and I
Long hours for
Either strong wind
Or warm sun to
Turn the cold,
Since Mom's abrupt departure this past November we've been slowly making the house feel more like our space. We've made the guest room more welcoming and moved in the dressers CK's Mom and step-father brought up for us. What was Mom's bedroom has become our practice room; a space for meditation and yoga.
Several years ago, when Mom was moving out of the home she and my Dad shared I took home the remaining of her Seven Dwarves, a little gnome, and leprechaun. Mom didn't want them, given that she was downsizing to an urban apartment she didn't have the space, and the dwarves themselves reminded her of her mother. We'd put them and a few other things at the front of the door, hoping that the familiar might help Mom in the transition to living with us.
My grandmother had made each daughter a set of the Seven Dwarves. She had got around to making a Snow White for her oldest daughter, her favorite, but never managed to get around to making one for my Mom.
As we've reclaimed the space there's been a lot of discussion about the disposition of these yard ornaments. They really weren't in good enough condition to donate, one even being broken at the back, and having them around just reminded me of the dreams for Mom I've had to let go of.
I took all the ideas and decided to put them all into play in different ways. Those ornaments that weren't already breaking I would "release into the world". Today our friend MC and I took Dora for a walk and placed the 2 unbroken dwarves and the gnome out along a trail in a small park not far from the house. It felt good to place these, I hope that these bring a smile to people walking in the park, a bit of whimsy to brighten their day.
Today is my Mom's 71st birthday. I've not sent her a card and will not be calling her later, in fact I don't even have whatever number she now has.
I feel like a terrible daughter, but I'm working on that because I know that having set this boundary with my Mother is the best choice for the sake of my health and they health of my marriage. I wisely scheduled a visit from friends for lunch and therapy this afternoon.
A year ago we were trying to make a celebration in Hawaii for Mom's 70th birthday, an age I never expected her to see. Even though we'd made all the arrangements and took special care, I was left feeling like Mom found her birthday a let down. On her birthday itself we went out to a restaurant where we could all get tasty food and she could have the fish she had said she was craving. She'd have rather gone to a different restaurant, but knew it would leave CK and I with no real choice for something we could eat. Later she'd make a point to tell me how the fish at a restaurant we like wasn't good, in fact she'd tell me at least a couple more times while in Hawaii that her birthday dinner wasn't very good. The travel back home was miserable.
I feels like things started to deteriorate rather quickly after that trip. Mom's increasing dissatisfaction in living with us; snide comments escalating to sharp words. Again overhearing her telling friends how it wasn't what it seemed here, that we didn't really take good care of her or make anything nice for her to eat or special dishes. Worse, her intimating to people that she felt I was misusing my access to her bank account. Attempts to take her out for lunch on weekends were spent in near silence, her eating but not really interested in engaging with us at all.
When Mom came to live with us I still had this desperate hope that I could really help. I had an even more tightly held hope that my Mom wasn't as bad as I thought, that some of my tense, defensive behavior toward her wasn't warranted. Seeing Mom through the lens of CK's view, free of my history, would let me heal some of that distrust that came up for me.
Only that turned out not to be the case, not entirely and not how I hoped. True, we managed to tremendously improve Mom's health. She was in better health than she'd been in for a few years. She was in much better health for making the transition to an assisted living facility. One of the things that hurts is finding out that Mom didn't really want her health improved, she didn't want to let go of her personal mythology that her health was an insurmountable obstacle and she a helpless victim of her bad health. She resented that careful blood glucose monitoring and insulin adjustments, along with a healthier, vegan diet improved her health noticeably.
The rest of it, the harder part, is how quickly CK saw the narcissistic, petty, ill person I'd been raised by. Not only was my feeling the need to defend myself warranted, it needed to be bolstered by setting the kind of boundary I've now set. As painful as this has all been, devastatingly so, I know I wouldn't have been able to see my Mom and my childhood quite so clearly if we hadn't moved Mom in with us. I was correct that in changing my view by seeing her as CK sees her would teach me a lot, the sad part is that it wasn't what I was hoping for. It wasn't that changing my stiff interactions with her would improve anything, not in the long run, since my Mom has never really wanted a relationship with me. The only relationship that is possible with her is the one where I'm not me, I'm her "miracle daughter" who takes care of her every selfish need. The mirror of the person she wanted to be.
That explains it so well, that she expected me to mirror back to her the girl she had wanted to be. Between trying to force me into becoming the person she wished she'd been, and either subverting and punishing me for asserting my own identity, it makes sense. When called on this behavior she attacked us.
I wisely scheduled a visit with one of my therapists today. She asked me what it was I was losing by sticking with my boundary-setting not contacting her. I thought about it a lot, I mean I'm clearly "losing" many things that do not further my life or my health. What is it that I feel loss for, what do I grieve, that's what I thought about. I finally replied that I was losing the fairy tale; a mother who cherished, supported, and believed in me. A mother who cheered me on as I made my way and who would always have my back. The kind of mother I see so many friends write about having. I have to set that particular hope aside so that I can move forward with healing and becoming the person I want to be.
I can still hold her in my heart, sending thoughts of loving-kindness her way along with my earnest wishes for her to experience peace and happiness, or even just contentment. I can feel great compassion for her inability to move towards health, but I cannot see her. Having compassion for her does not mean I set aside my own health or sacrifice my relationship with CK.
The last several weeks have been strange, new territory for me. Sleeping. Creating. Learning how to be cared for. Letting go into rest.
I've had a few interviews and a lot of interest, but nothing solid yet. Perhaps as spring arrives new opportunities will as well career-wise.
There's quite a lot up in the air, awaiting decisions from other parties. My goal is to try not to think too much about the unknown. As always, the practice of just being present.
We've made quite of lot of changes around our home since November. We've hung up a few more things, moved furniture around, had a few more pieces of art framed. It feels more like a home now, safer and more comforting. All the companion animals feel it too. Obie particularly has come further out of his shell and plays much more than he ever has, sometimes even bringing me one of his favorite toy mice.
Perhaps one of the most significant signs of healing has been my return to making art. In December I devoted some time to emptying boxes and really making my desk in our shared, basement office usable. I have unpacked Igal's acrylic supplies and have now added several more paint colors and mediums to the mix. At times I'm really mindful of the grief I still feel for his death, how I wish I could share with him how he's influenced my art.
I first started out by making a mixed media collage ATC. Experimenting with how the underlying black or white gesso changed the look. I made a little piece with a bit of scrap cardboard as a base and a great octopus off of a business card I'd picked up somewhere along the way. I started on a shine to feature a bit from one of Mary Oliver's poems. I finally made a page to send to Seth Apter for a combined artists project he's been collecting pages for. I've also worked on two very personal pieces that have helped me process some of the emotions around my Mom.
The puzzle pieces really are inspiring me. Those along with finding phrases and words, either torn from old kids' books found at thrift stores, or specially printed off on laser printer so the words stand up the the acrylic mediums. I had several puzzled pieces that I'd grabbed from the "conference game" at OSCON this past summer. These quickly began to take on layers of collage and acrylic medium. It has been really healing to work a little at a time with these projects, going through materials, finding words, and creating each piece.
I've made small tin shrines in the past, but really focused on using paper to cover the tin almost entirely. Now using the acrylic medium I feel like I'm creating something that has a lot more depth.
A friend recently sparked an idea I had to make a cigar box that would be filled with reminders of what to do when I'm anxious or cannot sleep. It would also have things like a small plush toy, a nice rock to hold in my hand, maybe a couple of nice marbles. I discussed the idea with my therapists and brainstormed lists of things I can do. PB suggested that rather than just note cards I use my puzzle pieces, so that each suggestion was also something lovely and tactile to hold. I then observed what I needed even more was something "travel-sized" so I could have safe, soothing activity reminders that I could do anywhere and I could carry it with me.
I've made a couple of what I'm calling "self-soothing boxes", one for myself and one for CK to take when she travels. The trick is finding the right sized puzzle pieces to fit in them! In my search for them I've found some that I want to try making into brooches. I've also found some as big as my head and am having fun working on a larger piece using one. I finished the box with the Mary Oliver quote, "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" (from "A Summer's Day") and am really pleased with the outcome.
I'm not yet ready to write about the past few months. The high level summary is that Mom has not returned and is living at an assisted living facility not terribly far from here. On the advice of multiple healthcare providers, and even more importantly, my wife, I have asked my Mother not to contact me further. Thus far, she has respected my request.
I was asked today by one of those care providers if making this request and having Mom respect it made me feel happy. It doesn't, it doesn't at all, it makes me feel a great deal of sorrow. I fully accept that my Mom's view of reality cannot be challenged, ever. When that happens she either reacts to destroy or flee, or both really. I've stopped responding in the way I was trained to as a child and now threaten that view of reality. For the sake of my health and the health of my marriage, I am moving on with my life.
It is really hard. The holidays, particularly as compared with all the hope I'd been filled with last year, were painful. I'm still at the stage were animated movies with a princess in it can be triggering.
What I have been allowing myself to be fine with enjoying is the feeling of rest. Not having to time my entire life around blood glucose checks and insulin adjustments for a person who was hostile to both CK and I. My relief & gratitude and my grief can be part of me concurrently, within the same space.
Since then? I've been making art again. It had quite honestly been over a year since I'd really created anything, aside from what I'd made in a workshop last May. While I still need to get back to that large project, I've made a handful of new things. I am continuing to enjoy connecting with other artists, mostly all women, once a month.
At the meet-up at the start of this month, we had all brought supplies to share at a common table. Kind of the collage artist equivalent of a party where everyone brings clothes they're no longer wearing and you pick through all the other clothes, taking home something awesome to you. I'd brought a bunch of traditional scrapbooking paper, since I've been really moving toward using mostly things I've created, and stickers. Upon overhearing how I love finding ways to use real stamps in my work, several other women started looking through the pile on the table to help find all of the stamps (quite a bundle) that someone else had put there. Likewise for to giant puzzle pieces, from another women who'd noticed the smaller, altered puzzle piece I'd brought to share. I left with my heart full at how giving, including, and supportive this group is and how grateful I am that I've made space fr it.
I've been continuing to practice my photography. Last week I was fortunate enough to get a few days in Yachats with Dora while CK was away on a business trip. A good friend joined me for 2 of the 3 nights I stayed. It was the perfect time to practice what I'd learned in November.
CK and I have been working on projects around the house and are having some more art professionally framed. It feels like bit by bit we're reclaiming the energy of the house. I've been napping a lot, which I've been advised to find time to continue to do. The same group of care providers have noted that I've been dangerously exhausted. Physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually exhausted and it may take more than a few weeks to recover.
While I don't feel it is possible to be happy about making the decision to separate my life from my Mom, I do feel some wonder and enjoyment at starting to feel like it will be a year of changes to improve my life.
CK pointed me to Henry Miller's 11 Commandments of Writing & Daily Creative Routine. I am particularly taken with his third commandment:
"Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand."
Not bad advice as a new year begins.
Everything kind of blew up in November with Mom in a spectacular fashion.
The summary: as of November 6th Mom hasn't been at our home and has transitioned to an assisted living facility. She's fine, physically. The full flood of the drama in November is lessening, leaving the shock waves of her actions. It isn't something I really want to write about here, but if you know me you can reach out via email, phone, or ask if I'm up for tea if you're in Portland.
Actually, there's an awful lot going on with a lot of things that I"m not going write about here.
Instead I'm going to write about the photography class CK and I took together. We've been wanting to find something to do together. Given how unrelentingly stressful the past couple of years have been we've needed something to connect over that wasn't Mom or community events.
CK found the class at Newspace Center for Photography and had picked the one being taught by Zeb Andrews. It met for 5 Tuesday evenings and included a Saturday "field trip" photography walk. As a class we decided on a walk in downtown Portland, starting down by the Steel Bridge.
It has been really great sharing this experience with CK and I've learned so much about my camera! Aside from the auto-focus, I've been setting the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO manually; learning to use the meter.
I've also been experimenting a lot more with black & white pictures, light balance, setting focus priority. CK and I've taken a few walks together too, taking cameras along and experimenting. Looking at things in a new way. I've posted my favorites of the photo experiments I've taken.
We had 9 friends, family-of-choice, over for a big Thanksgiving feast. It was lovely to have everyone here. Given how exhausting November had been, and that the Mama-Drama-Rama really had just barely wrapped mostly up in time to do the shopping, it was a tiring day.
I've also finally started making some artwork again. I'm still making it to the first Saturday meet-ups of the Collage Artists' Guild. The December meeting was a "blind bag" gift exchange. You were to have made something, bring it in a plain, brown paper bag, all bags numbered and numbers drawn. My gift turned out to be a stenciled wooden box.
I made a Metta Shrine out of a small stationery box and did mixed-media collage on it using a page from a book, acrylic paints, tissue papers, metallic pigment inks, and all kinds of paper. CK then helped me fold several paper cranes that I put into the box before wrapping and bagging it up.
Given that it was the first piece of art I've finished since... well, in way too many months, I was so pleased at how excited the recipient was; she particularly loved the vivid colors. Another member of the group commented on what a meaningful piece it was. I'm working on a small ATC right now.
*Click on picture to see set of more photos of the shrine.
It has been a tough year. Really, for newlyweds, we've had a ridiculously tough start to things. I'm profoundly grateful that CK is in my life, encouraging and reminding me that it is safe to trust and love her.
Today I had hoped to sleep in and rest some, but my brain woke up making it impossible to sleep longer. I find myself very tired at the end of a long day. Yesterday felt like a flurry of first-day-of-my-break excitement energy. Today I was tired and a little blue at times.
A little before lunch CK was able to take a break and run a couple of errands with me, including grabbing some lunch together at the market. I made dinner early for us, ahead of a class we started tonight. I also followed up on some leads. It just somehow felt like I was behind on things all day long; a kind of low-volume static of anxiety.
This evening CK and I took our first class in a series we signed up for on the Fundamentals of Photography. It is at a small studio in SE Portland that CK found out about and suggested we sign up for the class together. The setting is a bare, poorly light, little classroom with desks that take me back to high school. Which is to say, really uncomfortable. The last 45 minutes of class I was having a hard time focusing because I was hurting.
Aside from that, I left feeling like I know more about the Nikon DSLR I've been using and that's after just a couple of hours. We're encouraged to keep our cameras fully in manual mode for the 5-week duration of the class. I'm really looking forward to improving as a photographer and eventually being able to use my own photographs as part of other mixed-media artwork.
Meanwhile, the last of the leaves still cling to the pair of red maples in the backyard. Mostly there are leaves everywhere, our yard is in need of some maintenance, but still some leaves cling to the branches.
After a lot of thinking and talking, and frankly quite a lot of reassuring by CK, I've decided to take off most of November to recover somewhat from the past nearly 18 months of unrelenting yak-shaving, missed lunches, canceled yoga class, and late nights at work. The Project from Hell lurches ever onward, only it will do so without me for a little pause.
CK has been calling it my sabbatical. Her goal is that I start to sleep more regularly, more often, and get some rest from the intensity that took off in January 2011 with all the Mom Drama and has really not let up since. I'm also on hand to coordinate meetings, visits, etc. for Mom to transition to a different living environment.
I hope I might actually make a little art. Another casualty of the past months is art as a kind of practice. I've joined the Portland Collage Artists Guild group which meets once a month to learn about techniques and work on projects. The December meeting includes a blind gift exchange of personally made artwork. So I have a goal and a deadline for that!
I'm going to try and write about each day.
Today I woke up a bit later than I normally would and took care of the morning routine without the usual rush of needing to get out to my office. I then went over to the Southwest Community Center for a deep water exercise class. I've not done one of these in well over a year and in the year+ we've lived in our new neighborhood, I hadn't been the community center. I was careful and very mindful of my shoulders and neck, which felt a little sore by 3pm. My lower back felt better immediately.
I've ran an errand and did several chores around the house. In the evening I went to a concert with a friend. We went to see Richard Thompson opening up for Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell. I somehow thought "doors at 7" meant the seating doors, and rushed to get to the venue before 6:45. My friend had just arrived too. We then realized the error and reminded ourselves that this show had assigned seats and went next door for a cocktail.
Although there's really nothing on the menu I can eat at the Heathman Hotel, aside from olives and nuts, one of the sections of the hotel is this posh, grand old lounge with comfy chairs. I first went there in my early 20s and really was charmed. CK took me there for pre-birthday-dinner cocktails a few years ago and I was reminded how lovely and elegant I find it. Getting to pop in unplanned was a nice treat; we toasted my month of respite.
The whole show was very good. Richard Thompson, who we both really went to see, was fantastic. I left wishing the whole show had been just his music. I've been a fan since college but have never seen him perform live. Next time he's in town, as the headline, I'm going to make sure I don't miss getting tickets like I did earlier this year.
Last Thursday Mom told me she didn't want to try to change or address her emotions. It hurts a lot. I'm trying to not let it feel like a personal rejection, but it is hard. When it counted all of my parents, Father, Step-dad, and now Mom, have always chose to not fight, to not do the work needed to stay in the world. I'm trying to remember that the depth of Mom's mental illness makes trying seem like a task not worth doing and it isn't that she doesn't care enough about me to try.
Saturday was filled with the wonderful gift of a cooking lesson from a woman who has gone from "vendor" to "friend" in the years we've worked together to provide a tasty lunch at Open Source Bridge. She met me, and a few friends, for "coached shopping" at a new Asian supermarket. Then on to freshly made tofu. Back to our home for a flurry of cooking. It wore me out, but it was good to have that energy in the house.
Yesterday I woke up feeling like I needed a do-over. I had slept alright and got up early enough to have a soak after feeding our companion animals. I then got Mom up and got her started on her day, but was finding my morning tea was leaving me feeling a nauseous. I decided the answer was to just go back to bed for a while.
I did. I slept another 90 minutes or so and felt better for it. Then I went online and discovered the news that Lou Reed had died.
I nearly just gave up and went back to bed, but the necessity of errands drove me forth. The misty, gray day suited my lousy mood. I bemoaned my iPod, which had died recently taking my library with it. Much of it is backed up, but getting our music server going is a project we need to take on together soon. I couldn't immediately gratify my desire to put on Lou Reed's music, loud. I was angry at yet another loss, regardless of the inevitability of loss that is part of living.
I decided the day, with all the tiredness and sadness brought on by Mom's declaration, combined with a moody-funk brought on by the news about Lou Reed, needed flowers. I set out with the intention of glaring down the errands, buying my damn flowers, and defying the misty grey weather by potting them on the front porch.
Then the sun came out. I got home, bought a copy of "Magic and Loss", transferred it to the shiny new iPod CK bought for me while she was flying off on another business trip, and set to planting my flowers. I ended by sweeping down the bricks. In my bones when I sweep down a walk in chilly weather I am drawn back to sesshin. The music ended. I softly chanted some of the Diamond Sutra. I went back inside feeling more grounded.
Today I saw my acupuncturist. I shared with him that I have been feeling foolish for getting my hopes up around Mom. I so deeply hoped that our alleviating the burden of her health management, of stabilizing her health, would create a space for her to want to have a relationship with me based around something other than appointments or shopping. The reality that she doesn't want that and no amount of my hoping and wanting it for us makes any difference is tough.
My very wise practitioner quickly responded, "Oh don't do that. Never feel foolish for hoping. It is wonderful to have hope."
I blinked in surprise at this swift re-framing of my feeling dumb for getting my hopes up. He then added, "You tested the bounds of that hope for your Mom. You've done what you could. It is alright to have had hope then found it wasn't a possible path. It is time to move on."
It still hurts, a lot. I'm trying to reset to new hopes for Mom. That she'll be safe and secure. That she'll find new friends who have more in common with her. I am not going to push it and hope for contentment or ease for her, I feel these will elude her entirely. She will always stumble on joy.
I was introduced to the song, "What's Good", by the late Lou Reed when it appeared on the soundtrack for one of my favorite movies, Until the End of the World. It is actually from "Magic and Loss". I have always been really struck by the lyrics toward the end that remind us that "Life's good (but not fair at all)".
If things were "fair" then Mom would want a relationship with me as much as I want one with her, she'd respond to all the work I put in to try and make that happen. Sunday ended up being sunny and beautiful. The flowers I planted graced our home. Life is good, even when it feels distinctly unfair.
by Lou Reed
Life's like a mayonnaise soda
And life's like space without room
And life's like bacon and ice cream
That's what life's like without you
Life's like forever becoming
But life's forever dealing in hurt
Now life's like death without living
That's what life's like without you
Life's like Sanskrit read to a pony
I see you in my mind's eye strangling on your tongue
What's good is knowing such devotion
I've been around, I know what makes things run
What good is seeing eye chocolate
What good's a computerized nose
And what good was cancer in April
Why no good, no good at all
What good's a war without killing
What good is rain that falls up
What good's a disease that won't hurt you
Why no good, I guess, no good at all
What good are these thoughts that I'm thinking
It must be better not to be thinking at all
A Styrofoam lover with emotions of concrete
No not much, not much at all
What good is life without living
What good's this lion that barks
You loved a life others throw away nightly
It's not fair, not fair at all
Oh, baby, what's good?
Not much at all
Hey, baby, what's good?
Not much at all
But not fair at all