I haven't written much this past year, a huge 12 posts in all of 2014. It was the kind of year I never expected to happen, really, I never expected to get the privilege of having time to stop, to honestly look at things, to heal.
I wrote in December 2013 that things had blown up spectacularly with my Mother. It still isn't something I want to talk about as publicly as my blog, but if you're someone who knows how to contact me directly, drop me a line or give me a call, invite me out for tea or lunch if you're in Portland, and I'll give you the high level of all my Mother put us through.
Back in April of 2012, when all the chaos of trying to get my Mother's financial assets returned to her by her husband, someone left this comment on my blog. Understandably, I choose not to publish it (exactly why I have a posted comment policy).
Take your mother home
Submitted on 2012/04/13 at 10:22 pm
It’s your duty to invite your mother to live with you in your home. Take care of her until
The day that she dies. Anything less from YOU is a disgrace.
Umm... yeah, I've been carrying that one around for a while. It has made me felt crushed by guilt. Ironically, when this compassion-impaired, ignorant, judging person posted this unpublished comment we were already discussing what would have to change in order to have my Mother move in with us.
We bought another house. I became a landlord and rented out the house I'd purchased. We moved all our stuff. A month later we moved my Mother and most of her stuff into the new house. A week later we had a house full of emergency responders in our chaotic house because my Mother took her lunchtime insulin and fell asleep, so her blood sugars dropped so low as to require a trip in an ambulance. So began our daily oversight of her medications, insulin, blood sugars, meals, etc.
The amazing thing was is that it actually helped. Her care providers were truly seeing improvement in her health overall, things that had worried them for years. The constant message from them was to keep doing what we were doing. The diet changes, the help with medication, the fall prevention (in part due to stopping her over medicating herself), and the regular oversight was really shifting her health dramatically in a positive way.
Except we were to find out she didn't want it. She really didn't want that improvement and even rejected me personally in one of our last conversations in October 2013.
Yes, all this while working in a position at a large high tech company that constantly demanded more and more of my time, and where I'd eventually experience sexual harassment from my boss.
The combination of all of those things just shut me right down last year. "Dangerously Exhausted" was a phrased used by both my new physician and new mental health nurse practitioner. Total emotional and physical exhaustion, nearly the the point of hospitalization. In the end, seriously harming my health as well as the health of my marriage, was all I got out of throwing myself fully into trying to care for my Mother while working to the point of tears over a project that just couldn't succeed.
In late November 2014 I commented to my therapist that it had been a while; that I was expecting to hear from my Mother any day now.
Yes, despite my letter asking her to direct all communication thorough CK, she has sent some cards and letters, which mostly focused on asking for things we've already tried to send. Less than a week later a social worker called CK and told her that my Mother had chosen to go to hospice care, with no further treatment of the thyroid cancer or anything else. CK then called to share the news with me.
So now there is the weight of waiting. Tom Petty said it best, "The Waiting" is the hardest part. This is the state I've been in since early December. Back when she had a "month" to live, possibly more if she responded to the palliative treatment.
Only he was singing about love and passionate encounters. However, the same adage applies to this limbo state I've been in since early December. Waiting for the call, the news that she's finally passed over.
Waiting for the news I've prepared my whole life for. It finally feels like I'm ready for that news and now I wait.
I sent her a letter that arrived early this week. It reassured her that I'm doing fine, that I know she (believes) she loves and cares for me, and that I hope she was finally moving toward peace at long last. Now I just feel the weight of waiting for that final phone call, waiting for the news that she is gone.
October is here, arriving with a burst of rain and then come days of warm, summery days and crisp evenings. Really, one of my favorite times of year in Portland. Leaves are just turning, apples are plentiful, all the moss that had gone brown in the summer heat turns to green again. I'll miss the last two weeks of the month because we'll be leaving the house, and all the beautiful creatures living in it, in the very capable hands of a dear friend while CK and I enjoy a trip.
Part of the trip for her will be work, but we have several days for just us. It has only taken two marriage ceremonies for us to have a honeymoon, but we're finally doing it. I'm getting really excited for the adventure of an entirely new place, one I've always wanted to visit. I'm also just happy for us, the last few trips CK and have taken together have been completely overshadowed by the Mama-Drama-Rama the claimed 2012 & 2013. We deserve a nice holiday with no emergencies to deal with at home.W
My talk to MozFest didn't get accepted, which is disappointing, but it is nice to not be worrying about my slides, etc. before giving a talk. I will be attending though, if anyone else is there and wants to look me up.
I've been applying for teaching positions at studios around town. Really, it feels like auditioning, particularly when I give a demo of my teaching. I never thought I'd come to prefer the grueling, multi-person, multi-hour interviews of the tech industry, but the audition thing is so nerve wracking that I'd take the old way back any day! What I've discovered is that there are a lot of teachers in the area and a lot of owners that have a very specific image they're trying to project.
No, I'm still not working in tech. The earliest review of that, a date given grudgingly, would be January 2015. However, the overwhelming opinion is in favor of me not going back to the tech industry at all. I've been noodling over this quite a bit the past few weeks after getting some unexpected news about my last company/team. I spent a good week in blue sky mode, fantasizing about going back so I could prove I could hack it, or make a difference, or finish something.
Then I had a good talk about all these feelings coming up with my therapist and after some discussion I saw that a large part of my desire to return to my last company is out of some hope it will "fix" my feelings about leaving college. It will somehow repair the past if I prove something that doesn't really matter in the present.
That brings me back to healing from the idea that you can spend 17 years building yourself into something and be told that you have to stop. I never thought that would ever happen. Maybe wouldn't have had I not had such a supportive wife and felt that I still had to keep everything moving along, regardless of my own health and the health of my relationships.
I am humbled by the abundance of support I now have in my life. Instead of trying to find a job that just gets me by, that doesn't let me take the time to really heal the hurt and trauma I've survived, I am instead thinking of ideas of how to market my private yoga sessions with people. I'm also on Week 6 of The Artist's Way, and that has been bringing me some profound insight on how I view my health and identifying the ways in which I'm mean to myself; writing things down so I can better work with them. I've also been working through a lot of anger about my Mother, huge amounts; my therapist and PMHNP both say that it is about time for me to feel angry, about a whole lot of things.
All that means I'm also still napping, which I'm trying to be less judgmental about having identified my impatience for my need to rest as a way I'm mean to myself! Some things, like having a 45 minute conversation about what it was like at my job this time last year as part of the process to review my eligibility for unemployment benefits, will leave me feeling worn out for a day or two. I am keeping in mind and trying to celebrate that it is an improvement over a week's fugue-state after challenging tasks like that.
The good news about sticking with the hard work is that it is helping things out; I am getting unemployment benefits now that I've been released to some kind of work and am actively searching. I'm going to be applying for a couple of programs that help you establish your own business, which I'm qualifying for since my physician has advised me not to return to my old career. Teaching classes here and there is going to be hectic and costly in regards to time spent commuting and fuel. CK has been brainstorming ideas for me to set up a solo teaching practice, with a class or workshop at a studio here and there.
I've also just started an Etsy shop. It isn't "open" yet because I need to face down my block over photographing artwork to post. In addition to pieces listed, I'll also be taking custom work. This winter I experienced a huge shift it what I was creating and am really excited by the direction I'm heading it, but I've avoiding photography for some fear of failure.
I'm planning to take an introduction to matting and framing artwork class at the Multnomah Arts Center next month. I plan to use at least one of my own pieces of artwork since I have so many questions on how to mat them. I know it will get me over the fear of using the mat cutter I bought a few months ago!
Since I've been doing so much with making art, I've started a new blog, ZenZada. We're also going to include stories about our life (mostly raccoon adventures thus far), reviews of places we stay when we travel, vegan/GF travel tips, and other lifestyle things like that. I started it in part to have a place to write about my co-creative art project with a Portland artist.
Vegan Nosh continues to move along, I've been doing a series of experiments with vegan burger recipes and posting about them. Since we found out CK cannot have gluten, I've been doing more experimenting and cooking at home, which is really better for us in so many ways.
A week ago was my 45th birthday.
The evening before we had dessert and went to a linoleum block carving class together. It is a technique that is also used to carve stamps for things like letterboxes, so now we can make our own stamps to plant. We had a lot of fun taking the short class together, each finally choosing a piece of Banksy's artwork to make carved blocks from. Here's my carving of one of my favorites:
We celebrated my actual birthday quietly by driving out to Arcadia Beach for a picnic and a walk on the beach with Dora. It was an unusually sunny day at the Oregon Coast, which was a real treat. We took our camp stove and I made tacos for our picnic. On the way back home we stopped at a farm stand and picked up corn, summer squash, chilies, and a big head of savoy cabbage. We just took it easy in the evening, eating leftovers and playing boardgames. The next night I grilled a bunch of the veggies for dinner.
CK took off the whole last week of August, two days of it comp time, since she'd worked the first three weeks, nearly continuously. We spent the time working on some house projects, resting, reading, and playing boardgames, mostly Twilight Struggle. CK had picked it out years ago, but we never seemed to find the time to figure out how to play it. We finally did last week and had a good time playing it, although I have lost all the games we played!
Recently a friend from college recommended The Artist's Way to me after I'd had a very upsetting experience demonstrating teaching at a yoga studio. Christie had noticed my interest in it and surprised me with The Artist's Way Starter Kit and The Artist's Way Workbook. She also picked out a couple of other books I'd wanted, one for fun, The Graveyard Book Graphic Novel: Volume 1, and the other for inspiration, Living Your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life. I'll be detailing my experience with The Artist's Way on our new blog, ZenZada.
I also got my proposal, Yoga; a Model for Open Knowledge, submitted to the Mozilla Festival being held in London this October (you have to search for the title, there isn't a direct link to it).
Last month I was feeling very down, so a quiet and restful birthday with CK was just what I needed. It was also nice for us to have some time to just rest and enjoy being home together. It felt like the first time we've had to actually be at rest in our home together after the trauma of the past 2+ years.
CK asked me a goal for this new year. After only a little consideration I said that I want to actually sell artwork! It seems a worthwhile goal and I certainly am set upon the path.
It has been kind of a tough week. Not anxious, more down, just another low of grief and anger to process. Between the session a week and a half ago and going through some photos of me as a child I've been stuck in a kind of anti-social funk all week. Once I just accepted that my week was going to include this processing, made space for it, I was able to find things I felt like I could accomplish and was also to take moments to really feel the happiness the exists concurrently, in the same space as the grief and anger.
Despite my hermit-y mood, I did make it out Friday to a neighborhood, small-business owner lunch. It was held at a place I was familiar with and knew food wouldn't be an issue. I got to practice saying things like, 'I'm a yoga teacher." and "I'm an artist" with strangers. Also practiced acknowledging I got really ill this past winter due to extreme stress and sleep disruption with both my old job and living with my Mother. I left with someone possibly interested in some private sessions to help her create a home practice she is comfortable with.
Today I got up and walked Dora then started puttering around the house most of the day. I may have over done it about, especially since there was a lot of moving stuff from upstairs to down and from down to up. However, I look around at the work done, much of it to improve my own studio space, and it feels good to make progress despite feeling a lot of aches.
After some dinner and watching a little MLS on television I went out to soak in out hot tub, listen to the frogs singing, and appreciate the "super moon" rising. We never really had any wish to have a hot tub when we were house hunting in 2012. That said, we're appreciative of the house having one that's so convenient to use (right off the kitchen on the deck). My doctor and other care-givers strongly urge me to soak every night before bed, and I do think it has been helping a lot with sleep and the level of nighttime-to-morning pain.
Tomorrow CK returns from London, briefly, before heading down to California. It will be so nice to have her company for a little while. Her laugh and made-up songs always lift my mood.
I couldn't resist a haiku in honor of tonight's moon:
Summer moon rises.
Golden and full in the sky.
Frogs sing gratitude.
This week CK is in London. My big goal is to try and do some good photography of the artwork I began working on this past winter. I feel like it has been a whole new expression for me. At times it is almost as if the lack of creative output during those last 18 months or so dealing with my Mother and my job just condensed into a more complete expression if that makes any sense.
Last month at the World Domination Summit (WDS) I ended up sharing my newer work with quite a few people. I was pretty blown away by the positive response and the interest to purchase pieces. I'm going to be exploring the wonders of setting up an Etsy shop in the next week or two and start selling artwork. I've also started to post about art projects, technique, etc. on our new blog, ZenZada; there's even a post up about a co-creative project I've started because of a workshop I took during WDS. I'll continue to explore what art means to me, and how it is part of my healing, here.
Last week had a tough therapy session. After nearly a month of nightmares with a pretty consistent thing, we looked into what was coming up around it. I was disappointed that it is one of those Big Trauma incidents from when I was 9, which was a year really filled with upset all around, but one thing in particular really haunts me. I always hope each time it comes up that I'll be done with it and moving on. Apparently not yet. My therapist says she thinks I need to work on forgiving my 9-year-old self.
All that and CK in London, plus my planned Saturday beach trip has been canceled due to illness. Just enough to make me sigh and feel a little blue. On the positive side, the creatures are happy to spend quiet time with me, I'm seeing a concert tomorrow evening, and this summer has had us listening to frogs singing, which suits our treehouse-feeling home perfectly.
Frog song in the night.
Wind whispering the bamboo.
Waxing moon arises.
tap. tap. tap. Hey, is this thing on?
I feel that at least a short summary on all the things that have been going on is long over due.
By October of last year work became intolerable to the point of triggering my PTSD and my Mother flat out told me that she didn't want to work with me/us to live together or even have a relationship with me. In early November 2013, as I was trying to put on Ignite Portland, Mother pulled the granddaddy of all tantrums in order to get her own way and strike out in one massively hostile, abusive, dangerous action. And I? Well, I just had to stop and was encouraged by HR to go on short-term disability.
I was granted the benefits for two months, but instead of personal recovery I had a couple of frantic months where I was still dealing with Mom's stuff and hostile behavior. I also frantically looked for another job. Then day came where I was supposed to go back to work and I really just kind of halted, the human equivalent of a core dump. My health care providers told me to stop all of it and sleep, take walks with the dog, make art, read and take lots of hot baths. There's new medications too, which have helped me to start sleeping again and keep my PTSD at a more manageable level. I have also officially left my position at my old company.
So I run errands during the weekdays and have been working on organizing more things around the house. Spending a couple of years constantly dealing with my Mother's stuff has had me taking quite a few trips to Goodwill to get rid of things I realize I no longer use, read, wear, etc. A friend of mine and I created two new flower beds in our yard last month, one in the back and the other right outside the front door. I love that whenever arriving home or leaving, the first thing we see now are flowers.
My health care providers remind me that I am doing the necessary work of healing after years of exhausting work from being on-call for so many years and the even harder work of healing the wounds from the abusive relationship with my Mother. Lately there's been more good days than bad, which helps me feel like there's "progress".
Still, there are days were I find it hard to get myself to leave the house. Seeing old co-workers causes panic attacks. News or contact by my Mother causes a week of nightmares and days-long anxiety. Finding yet another box of her hoarded, expired medication exhausts me. I'm told that the level of breakdown and extreme exhaustion I was at in December was pretty severe and recovery may take a long while. I have been strongly encouraged to "retire" early from high tech positions and instead teach yoga and start selling my artwork.
If I were to be hoping to return to tech, my doctor has said that she would consider releasing me to that kind of work until January at the earliest. However, my care providers have enthusiastically released me to start teaching occasional yoga classes. I'm going to be trying to get on the substitute teacher list at some of the community centers, athletic clubs, and yoga centers.
I also am now legally married to CK, which is amazing and wonderful. In early June Oregon's ban on same-sex marriage was overturned and we got our license within hours of the legal ruling. On June 14th we were legally wed in our backyard with a few close friends, CK's Mom & Step-dad, and sister were in attendance.
I've been adding a few new recipes to Vegan Nosh. I love that my food photography has improved so much from the class CK and I took together last year. I've found a linoleum block carving class the day before my birthday and have broadly hinted to CK that I'd love us to go together.
This weekend I will be attempting to spend some time at the World Domination Summit. Ticket was bought a year ago, when spending a crowded weekend with a few thousand people sounded fun. Giving myself permission to just go for the things I want to go to.
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.