Category Archives: Essays
Little missives about whatever strikes me.
So much of how we see ourselves is based on how our peers, our friends, our family, and our community sees us. Yes, if you are a person with good self-esteem you can be in the world as a more confident, relaxed, grounded individual. But even the most secure person struggles, at times, with how they think other people see them. We are constantly being influenced by what our friends, family, and society think of us. Whether we like it or not, whether we know it or not, whether we admit it or not. We carry those opinions, thoughts, comments, with us throughout the course of our lives. Little voices of disapproval or questions about our actions, our look, and our direction pop up occasionally as annoying ghosts in our minds. It happens to me.
I’m a pretty relaxed confident person in that I don’t care much what others think of me. OK, more accurately, I may care a bit, but I don’t let that influence the decisions I make and the way I am in my every day life. Most of the time. Keyword — most. It’s strange how those little voices come up at the strangest of times. How those negative experiences, comments, criticisms, stay with us over time, no matter how hard we try to exorcise them from our heads and our lives.
When I was a kid I spent a significant amount of time with my paternal grandmother. She loved me so much, treated me so well. She was not a nice person. As I grew I realized she didn’t treat my brother as well as she treated me. She called him names, excluded him from activities, made comments about him. When I realized this I slowly stopped spending time with her. I loved her, but she wasn’t good to him and I loved him. It was my little way of standing up to her, and my not wanting to be around that sort of behavior and negativity. Even as a kid I felt that stuff profoundly. Negative emotion, action, etc. I can’t stomach it. No matter how many toys you buy me. My aunt, who was this same grandmother’s daughter and my dad’s sister, didn’t get along that great with her own mother because of this playing favorites type of mentality. Yet, she was her. Maybe it was to make up for how my grandmother was, but my aunt, who treated my brother like a little prince, was not nice. She was not nice to me. She called me names, excluded me from activities, and made comments about me. Once, when my brother and I were at her house we were eating a meal. She looked at me and said, “you eat like such a pig”. Bam. There it was. That moment changed me a little bit forever.
For years, and even still once in a while, that little line pops into my head. Because of that line when I was a teen and a young adult I never liked eating in front of people. I was so self-conscious, always afraid people would see the pig in me. The pig that she’d noticed and pointed out. The pig that in reality didn’t exist, but existed after her comment so much in my head and my heart.
I grew, and grew out of those feelings. My self-esteem took a long time (for not just this reason of course) to grow and blossom, but it did. I realized it was her problem and that I had never been a pig, but it informed so much of how I was in the world for so long. Perceptions. Judgements. Those ideas other people have of us and those we have of ourselves can be cruel and are often wrong. I saw myself as a pig because she’d seen me that way.
We tell ourselves internal stories. Stories about ourselves, about our world, about the people we see all around us — friends, family, strangers. We do this all the time. It’s how we explain things, people, interactions, relationships, to ourselves. These stories, told as a constant monologue in our heads, are our way of explaining our world to ourselves. This is what that means, this is what that looks like, this is how this or that person must be, and on and on. They are really just our stories, even if they are about other people, because they are based solely on our own thoughts and experiences. Our experience of ourselves, our histories, the path we’ve been on. Our experiences inform our stories. Always.
We can never, and I repeat, NEVER, know another person’s story. Not really. We think we do, we assume things and place expectations on every other person we know, see, and meet, based on what’s happened in our own lives, based on what we’ve been told, and based on what we’ve been through ourselves. But these stories and assumptions and ideas about people are false truths. We get arrogant and judgmental and place unfair expectations on others based on what we think we know of them, what we think we see, or what we think we would do in their place. Instead of really knowing what we’re talking about we often fill in the blank with our own ideas of a person or a situation. These ideas coming from, again, what our own thoughts and experiences have told us must be true. We, as humans, do this all the time. I do it all the time. I try not to. I fail.
To look at another person and automatically assume you know what they should do, how they are as a person, or how they should act, is arrogant. To hear about another person, another group, and assume things about them without having any real interaction with them is wrong and it’s sad. It’s harmful to them, to ourselves, and harmful to the world. It automatically separates us from each other instead of connecting us. Any time judgement seeps into a thought, a conversation, an opinion, we’ve lost a bit of ourselves. We’ve lost a bit of humanity.
This is not a particularly flattering story to tell on myself, but here I go none the less. Years ago I worked at a prison for kids. This particular one was called a youth correctional facility, but it was a prison. I’d just turned 23, and a few months earlier had graduated from college with a degree in psychology. I fancied myself as liberal, open, and non-judgmental. Part of the orientation were these little tours of the different units at the facility. One of those units, a place called the Secure Intensive Treatment Program, was on the tour. This particular unit, which I would end up working at three years later, after a lot more experience, was where the kids who’d committed murder and attempted murder were housed. Basically it was what would be called maximum security in an adult prison. I walked in there with expectation, pre-conceived notions, and prejudices I wasn’t even aware I had. When I walked in I thought I didn’t have any prejudice, any judgement of others. By the time I walked out I knew I was sadly and shockingly wrong about myself.
Part of the tour of this particular unit, other than a staff member telling me about what they did there, was a tour of the unit by a kid who lived there. I heard this from the staff and immediately started looking around at the kids in the unit. There were all sorts of kids there, pretty much all races and ethnic backgrounds represented. In my mind I zeroed in on this one particular kid. I’m not sure why. He was big, and gruff looking, and African-American. I was instantly afraid of him. There were other kids there that pretty much fit his same description, but I kept saying in my head, please don’t let my tour guide be that kid. Any other kid, but not him. Fate has a sense of humor. The staff couldn’t read my mind, but sure enough, he ended up being the kid the staff picked out to show me around. I introduced myself, he introduced himself, and off we went to the various parts of the program. He was soft-spoken, thoughtful, and explained the ins and outs of the place with wonderful perspective and detail. I liked him instantly.
My experience, which was non-existent with criminals, very limited with African-Americans, on the fringe with people who were gruff looking, and nil with teen felons, filled in a story about this kid. Before I even started talking to him I thought, I assumed, I knew who he was and because of those perceptions and assumptions I was afraid of him. I was sure he would be dismissive and sarcastic and intimidating. Sure of it. I knew he would be scary to talk to and deal with. I couldn’t have been more wrong and I learned a big lesson that day. A lesson about myself and about how we see our fellow humans without even knowing them. How we judge without having any real experience, the experience which then lets us know someone and understand them. Let’s us see them honestly, and in a real way.
These are the traps, the stories, and the falsehoods we find ourselves in. We go there all the time. Intentionally or unintentionally. I know I do. I don’t mean to. I try to be my better self, but I know I don’t always succeed.
The homeless are many in Portland, where I used to live. When I was a kid visiting Portland for various activities at various times they were called bums (which speaks a lot to our judgmental nature as people). Later on, when I was an adult living in Portland there’d be the every so often news story about the homeless problem. I used to avoid them at all costs, try not to look them in the eye, and generally sort of pretend they didn’t exist. I assumed I understood them, knew things about them, without knowing them at all. Harsh, but true. I’m not proud of it, but there it is. On the other hand I was always sensitive to kids who lived on the street. I worked with teens and had (still have) a soft spot for them. I don’t know why but I’ve always loved that at risk youth population. They are tough and vulnerable and resilient and sensitive. Many are just downright amazing. I had experience with homeless teens so when I saw a homeless kid on the street I often gave them some change, said hello, acknowledged them in some way. I looked them in the eye and I saw them. Adults living on the street — that was different for me. I had no experience with them, other than what the media portrayed and what I’d heard other people say, so I’d avoid eye contact and walk quickly past to avoid any sort of interaction that might happen. I didn’t really see them at all. Where’s the humanity in that?
Things changed, my perceptions were altered, when on my second date with K we met a homeless woman. We were sitting outside at a café having coffee. The date had been going on for a while. We were having great conversation, enjoying each other. I saw this homeless woman half a block away, heading our direction. She hadn’t noticed me yet so I did what I always did, I avoided her gaze, I looked away. But as fate would have it, she approached us anyway and asked for money for coffee. I didn’t know what to say, hemming and hawing, looking around, being generally uncomfortable. But K — she rocked it out. She looked at the woman, in the eyes, and said that she wouldn’t give her money but she’d buy her a coffee. The woman said she didn’t like the coffee from the place we were sitting in front of and wanted the money so she could buy it elsewhere. K offered to walk down the street with her to buy her coffee at another place. The woman still refused and again asked for money. K then offered up her own cup of coffee to the woman, who again refused and then walked away. The point of this is I learned a great lesson that day, one of many from the woman who is now my wife. Compassion, interaction, and most importantly — acknowledgement. K saw that woman. She interacted with her. She didn’t avoid or dismiss or shun. She engaged and talked in a meaningful and genuine way. I loved her all the more for that. And I learned something from her. Now, when I see a homeless person, I see them. I look them in the eye, I say hello. I now, because of real experience, see the homeless as people. People whose stories I don’t really know. People whose experiences, the experiences that led to their homelessness in the first place, I have no way of knowing and definitely no right to judge.
I was perusing the internet the other day and came across a video of a homeless veteran who had agreed to do a little exercise with a crew of people from a ministry who have made it their mission to work with, help, and try to enrich the lives of homeless veterans. They did a time-lapse video of the exercise. In it they cut and colored his hair, trimmed his beard, and put a new set of clothes on him. He couldn’t see himself until after the transformation has happened. Finally, when they were done they brought out a huge mirror and showed him to himself. He was stunned, mouthing the word wow before he got up and hugged a member of the team.
Seeing this video started me thinking, which led to this blog post. This guy, who in the beginning looked exactly like what you’d expect a homeless person to look like, looked like a CEO of a company when they were done with him. A haircut and a change of clothes is all that really happened, but it changed the perception of him. Ours and his own.
We carry what others think of us, say about us, and the judgements they make of us around inside of ourselves. Those thoughts and judgements always end up incorporating themselves into our lives, into the framework that makes up who we think we are. It happens to each of us and when it does it makes us uncomfortable, chiseling away at our foundations, even though we try to keep those judgements at bay. Yet, we turn around and do it to others. We see people, groups, other humans and we think we know them, without knowing them. We make up stories about them without hearing their stories. We judge, without knowing anything about their real experiences.
We should know better. We obviously don’t know better. We should strive to do better.
Maybe if we think the best of the people around us, they will think the best of themselves. Maybe if we work hard at being interested and connected with people they will be interested and connected. Maybe if we treat each other with kindness and compassion instead of judgement and accusation they will be more kind and compassionate. Maybe, just maybe, if we treat people as human beings, they will be more human. And maybe just the act of being more connected, and compassionate, and kind, and human gives us each a bit more humanity. Maybe if we listen more and judge less the stories we tell ourselves will contain more fact than fiction.
Ever find yourself sitting in the garage after you’ve pulled in, unwilling to get out of the car because the song that’s playing is making you feel something?
That was me just now, and damn, it is great to be alive.
Every once in awhile I find myself, because of a song, or a video, or a thought, or something my honey or the grandsons or the dogs do, just loving being alive. And not just loving it, but being so overwhelmingly grateful that I’m here, enjoying whatever it is that’s making me feel so much at the moment, I cry.
There’s a story behind this. Yeah, yeah, isn’t there always?
The story is a tad long, but it’s mine, and today I’ve decided to tell it. Here goes…
At the end of 2009, November it was, life was moving along just fine. Work, home, friends, family, dogs… a good life. Then, unexpectedly and out out of the blue, my honey got sick. Not just sick, but really sick. Sick as in we went to urgent care, they said oh, you have pneumonia, and here … have a shot in your bum, and go home. Only to be called by an emergency room doctor a couple of hours later who, after reviewing the blood work, told me to get her in immediately. He even told me all the other hospitals along my route in case she lost consciousness. Seems she was sicker than we were originally told. She went into the cardiac critical care unit. One of her lungs was completely full and the other was half full of stuff. This was effecting her heart as well, hence the cardiac critical care unit. She was delirious, literally. I didn’t know what she was saying half the time and she didn’t know much of what was going on. The nurses repeatedly told me she was the sickest person on that unit. She was there in critical condition for a week, before they were able to downgrade her and then finally send her home. I stayed with her at the hospital, never leaving. How could I? She’s my everything. It was the worst week of my life. Which, after you hear the rest of the story will mean even more than it does right now.
Fast forward to May 2010, six months after her illness, and I started not feeling that great. Looking back now I wasn’t feeling great for a little while, but by the end of May 2010 I really wasn’t feeling good. On June 1st we had yet another fateful trip to urgent care. Some blood work results, and they sent me directly from urgent care to the hospital, by ambulance. Seems I was so sick by then that if I’d gotten in a car accident on the way to the hospital from urgent care I would’ve bled to death. The EMTs took me directly to the oncology unit. A couple of transfusions, a bone marrow biopsy (my first of three) with the results a couple of days later, and what we feared had come true. I had leukemia. I was told that it was the deadliest form, but if I lived through the first month, it was also the kind that was curable. Scary, but… good? Yes. Good. If I lived, I thought, I might live.
I spent a month in the hospital… multiple transfusions, multiple tests, and my first round of major chemotherapy. I say first because though I got out of the hospital a month to the day that I went in, I had to go back in later in July for a second round. I was in for a week that time. Then again in August, for another round and another week. And then, in September, I got to do my last round, which was only two pushes (the last of which was on my birthday), outpatient. Unfortunately I ended up getting a neutropenic fever after that round and ended up in the hospital again, for another week, anyway.
By October I was done with the major chemo and starting on maintenance treatment. Which would last for two years and entailed me taking rounds of ATRA (the thing I started right in the beginning that really saved my life), low dose chemo in the form of pills, and a shot, every week. I had to go into the infusion center every week for that shot. It was my life, our lives, for two years. My first, and diagnosing, oncologist, who was an amazing guy, told me that the maintenance treatment was akin to sweeping the floor. Done to make sure we got anything that could be lurking. I was all for it. My attitude, during the whole thing, was let’s go. Whatever we have to do, let’s do it.
In November, of that first year, I had the third of my bone marrow biopsies. They did a molecular scan and I was cancer free. No aberrant cells found at all. Yay! I cried, my honey cried, my Mom cried. I think I might have breathed deeply for the first time since the ordeal started.
Here I am, three and half years later, no longer on maintenance treatment, still getting blood work and seeing an oncologist every three months. Leukemia free. I will do this for another year or so before, once again, my protocol will change and I will only have to go once every six months, and then, at some point, maybe once a year. Who knows. I’m OK with whatever the schedule is.
I chronicled part of this journey here, on this blog. Not posting during that initial time in the hospital, except maybe right in the first few days, but posting here and there during the months that followed. I posted about things that happened, but I never really posted about how I felt.
Damn, I’m so glad to be alive.
I was, as maybe you can or can’t imagine, scared as hell. Scared doesn’t even cut it really. I was terrified. When you hear the words, “your body is chalk full of Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia” everything sort of freezes. Slow motion starts and you look at your honey and your Mom and your brother who are all there with you and they all start crying at once. You look back at the doctor and he’s looking at you, and you say something that seems like it comes from you, and from someone else all at the same time. You say, “OK, what do we do, let’s go”. I didn’t cry. I didn’t cry at all. Everyone else was crying, but I just felt this thing come alive in me. Will. An amazingly strong will. It was there, nuzzled right up against the terror. I would be so determined and yet I kept thinking about things like, oh god, if I die my honey will be alone, my Mom will lose a child (which is unthinkable), my brother will lose his sister, that my grandson won’t know me, that my honey won’t have any more adventures with me, that my dogs won’t understand if I don’t come home. I was so worried about everyone else. Interesting. I kept rehearsing the speech I would have with my Mom if it looked like I was going to take a bad turn. The speech where I tell her to be with my honey, to help her through losing me, to comfort each other. I wanted to live, I was fighting to live, but I also had to prepare myself mentally for the other thing that could happen.
I went through some awful things while I was sick. After the first round of chemo, while I was still in the hospital, I got so sick I don’t remember much, thank goodness. I had to be helped to the bathroom (by my honey or my mom), someone (my honey or my mom) had to shower me, I would throw up and have diarrhea at the same time which the nurses would have to clean up. During this time I also had to have a test (one of many), I don’t remember which one, and part of it was that I had to drink some stuff. I remember my honey, who spent only one night away from me during that entire time (working from the hospital, sleeping there, taking care of me) having to try and talk me into drinking it because I was getting so sick from it. I was sick anyway, and having to drink that stuff didn’t help. She convinced me and encouraged me to get enough of it down so I could take the test. She also had to talk me into taking my pills every day, and trying to eat, and taking a shower. She was my champion.
Everyone talks about the chemo, but no one talks about the other things… weird little side effects from basically having no immune system, like yeast that develops on parts of your body that you can’t get rid of, and other just as lovely things. I had a reaction to one of the transfusions and had to have a major dose of benadryl shot directly into me. I had neutropenic fevers followed by loads and loads of IV antibiotics (two at the same time), which didn’t help with the nausea. I had a pic line put in that was very difficult for them to get in and three weeks later an infection from that pic line which resulted in them having to take it out. I had ultrasounds because I had so much scar tissue in my veins in my arms after pushes and lines and blood draws and IVs that a couple of times they wanted to make sure I wasn’t clotting too much in there. I ended up at urgent once, during those first few months, because I got a hemorrhoid from all the laying and sitting, that started to bleed. Gross. But, so it went.
I think the worst of it though, ultimately was, and is, the anxiety. I’m a person who never had anxiety before all of this. I’m pretty laid back. Pretty care free and pretty full of joy. Anxiety was something unknown and foreign to me. But during this I developed anxiety. So much so that leaving the house, after I had been allowed to go home, was scary for me. My body would just react… feeling like I couldn’t breathe, heart pounding, panic. When I was neutropenic, which was a lot during those first months as every time I’d have a round of chemo my numbers would crash, I had to be so careful. When I was in the hospital the precautions for neutropenia were major. Gloves, masks on everyone who came in, no flowers in the room, no fresh veggies or fruits on my food tray (and if there was, even a sprig of parsley placed there accidentally, they had to remove it quickly from my room and get me a whole new tray), restricted visitation, basically creating a germ free zone. It wasn’t just that I might get sicker, it was that I could die. My body couldn’t fight anything off when I was neutropenic. An infection became life threatening, as did a cold. So I got anxious about a lot of things. When I was permitted to go home my honey had to remove all house plants from the house (there’s a fungus that can be in the soil that could kill me if I inhaled it), we couldn’t have fresh fruits or veggies, no one could see me if they had even been around someone who might have been sick. I was weak and tired and nauseous most of the time. And just when I’d start feeling better, just when the numbers would start to rise, I’d have to have another round of chemo. My life became very boxed in and small. Hospital for treatment, then home where leaving the house (I’d have to wear a mask when I was outside the house) was not worth it or even possible sometimes. I couldn’t drive, couldn’t do anything really. My honey didn’t even sleep in our bed during this time. She slept on that same air mattress she’d used in the hospital, next to our bed, with the dogs, who couldn’t sleep with me either. It’s not just that things were dangerous to me, I was dangerous to them. I was leaking poison out of my pours most of the time. No kisses, from my honey or the dogs, no using the same toilet even, because I was toxic. All of this created anxiety in me. I still get it actually. Less and less all the time, but I do. I have pills for it. I got them a lot in the hospital, and used them a lot during those months of chemotherapy. They help. And thank goodness for them. Sometimes my mind would go and go, worrying, and worrying. A loop of worry and fear and anxiety and sometimes, panic. As I said, I’m better now, but I don’t know how many times my honey has had to look me in the eye and say to me, “it’s OK my love, you aren’t sick anymore, there’s no leukemia in you… none”. And the rational me then sort of wakes up, comes to again, and knows it’s true.
And damn, it’s amazing to be alive.
I guess I’m recounting all of this because I never have before, and it’s time. Time for me to say it aloud, as aloud as this is. But I guess it’s also because all of this is the counter point to what I was feeling just a bit ago sitting in our garage after having come home from running some errands. Nothing big happened while I was out. I just went to the library and then to the coffee roasting house and then drove home, sipping some coffee and listening to music really loud in the car. It’s sort of gray outside today and the leaves are falling. But as I drove into the garage, and shut off the car, staying in there to listen to the rest of the song (Change by Rascal Flatts, for anyone who’s wondering) I was overwhelmed. Overwhelmed because the leaves are falling, and the dogs were barking in the house knowing I was home, and I knew my honey was in her office working, and earlier today we’d gone swimming with our grandson, and the music was so beautiful. I started to cry. Crying from a place of overwhelming happiness and a feeling that life is so big and wonderful, and so fully felt.
Damn, it’s so so good to be alive.
I am grateful and I’m humbled by the quality of my life.
The thing I learned from my honey’s illness, and then mine, was something I already kind of knew anyway, but it got reinforced big time. It’s something, a feeling, I wish everyone could feel and something I wish everyone could know, without having to go through something so major, so awful. It’s the surety of knowing that there’s nothing important in life save for the people we have in ours. That is, period the end, the only thing that matters. Stuff, problems, annoyances, possessions… none of it matters. Not really. The time we spend having adventures and experiences with the people we love and who love us, that’s what matters. That’s what you think of, what you fear you’ll miss, if you think you could die.
It’s so damn good to be alive because I have so many fantastic people in my life. People, and dogs that is. People I love to be with, who love to be with me. People who I miss when I don’t see them, who miss me right back. Dogs who love me unconditionally and bring me so much joy I can hardly stand it sometimes. People who I laugh with, and get angry at, and cry with, and am silly with. People I have adventures with. People. There is nothing more important than our relationships and the experiences we create together. It’s the journey we’re making, with each other, that matters. It’s what matters most to me.
I am so happy, so thankful, so grateful, and so overwhelmed to be alive. Life is so beautiful.
Missing people just plain sucks.
I’m sad. I just finished watching a video about the School of Piano Technology in Vancouver, Washington. And no, pianos themselves don’t make me sad, just in case you were wondering. What just made me sad was missing my dad.
My relationship with my dad was… complicated. My parents divorced when I was a young pup. Knee high to a grasshopper. My dad, who didn’t want it, didn’t handle it well. My mom, for her part, wishes she would’ve done the whole thing differently, but we’re human, and we handle things the way we do. Better or worse. Life is messy, and so was this.
After the divorce my brother and I lived with Mom full-time. Dad had visitation and Mom, who still thought he was a great guy, wanted us to have him in our lives. She talked kindly and fondly of him and often encouraged us to call him. Dad, who was a person filled with light and joy by nature, couldn’t handle the separation and his best defense was to ignore that it happened, and consequently, to ignore my brother and I. Simply put it was easier for him to pretend we didn’t exist than it was to actually be engaged with us on a part-time basis. The whole situation was made more difficult by the fact that he remarried and after a few short years together they moved to Montana. Being so far away just put further distance between us. My dad had a great life there. He and my step-mom had five children together and were happy. It was good for them, for him. But he was still my dad and though I loved him, and knew he loved me, he dropped the ball in the being a parent to my brother and I department. He dropped it big time.
Missing people just plain sucks.
There were hardly any calls to us, and when we did talk to him it was because Mom had asked if we wanted to call him. And when, finally, we were on the phone with him, after we’d made the call, he would cry, say he missed us so much, and ask how come we didn’t call more. We were pre-teens, he was the grown up. Who should have been responsible for keeping in touch? Apparently, according to my dad, the pre-teens. I think I only ever got one or two birthday cards from him. He never wrote a letter.
Missing people just plain sucks.
When he first moved to Montana we didn’t see him for four years. Not because Mom stopped us from going, but because Dad didn’t ask us to come. I remember our first visit there, I was 12 when he moved and 16 when we went for the first time. My brother and I went by train. It was strange suddenly being with him, with his new family, and feeling outside of it all. Feeling apart. He tried to make us feel like part of the family, but he was a tad clumsy with those things. I have memories from that visit all clouded by this feeling of us all being a bit uncomfortable. The weird thing is that when we were with him we were his everything. In person he was fantastic. Showered us with attention, talked as if nothing was off, as if we hadn’t just spent four years not really communicating at all. We were his light, when we were there with him. I’m sure that then made it strange for my step-mom and for my younger siblings. Suddenly he was all about us. Wanting to introduce us around town, spend all his time with my brother and I. He would say things to us like, take this to your mom, referring to our step-mom as our mom. It didn’t feel right, to us or to her. He wanted one big happy family when we were there. Like I said, he was awkward with things like that. Then, when we weren’t with him, when we were back in Oregon, it was as if all the lights shut off. All communication once again stopped. Like a switch. A switch I wasn’t very good at understanding for a long long time.
Missing people just plain sucks.
This happened every time we went to Montana to visit, or my dad and all came to Oregon, which wasn’t a lot. After I was a bit older I drove out for my little sister’s high school graduation and then for my younger brother’s high school graduation. Same thing. Switch on. Switch off. It’s something K saw first hand a few times after we got together and she never understood it. She always said it was so strange that he didn’t communicate at all with me and then when I was with him he couldn’t get enough of me, showered me with attention and affection. Switch on…. switch off. It was actually kind of nice to get her opinion about it. All those years feeling that way, to then have her confirm how odd it was, was comforting. Made me feel a little less off kilter where the Dad situation was concerned.
My brother and I handled this whole switch scenario very differently. When we were younger my brother had Dad on a pedestal, way up high, something porcelain and delicate and beautiful and not to be disparaged or messed with. Dad was the end all and be all to him. For me that wasn’t the case. I was angry. I remember my brother and I having big yelling matches about Dad. He defending him as I screamed about what an ass he was for not caring, for not talking, for not being there, for basically abandoning us. I wrote Dad letters I didn’t send. Made mixed tapes for Dad that, unfortunately, I think I did send. Embarrassing, and yet not embarrassing. I was a teenager who desperately wanted her father to love her. To acknowledge me when he wasn’t right there looking at me. To be my father, my dad, whether or not he was standing in the room with me. Because honestly, I adored him too. I wanted desperately to have his attention. After we were adults, my brother and I did a swap in this regard. Me, having come to grips with who Dad was as a person and who he would always be, and my brother having an experience with Dad in regards to my brother’s wife at the time that would make him so angry he didn’t see or speak to Dad for six years after. Dad didn’t really do anything, but he didn’t stand up for my brother or his wife and my brother couldn’t make excuses for him anymore. I think all the anger he hadn’t allowed himself to feel over the years came out because of this incident. And I think the amount we love and adore someone informs the amount of anger we can feel for that same person. He was bitter and enraged. For a long time. Just as I had been bitter and enraged for a long time.
Missing people just plain sucks.
Later, after we got older and Dad and his second family moved back to Oregon, it was really too late. They lived not far from Mom, probably only 20 minutes or so, but I never thought of visiting him. It wasn’t a vindictive thing, it was just that it didn’t occur to me. He had made himself so absent in my life that he was absent in my thoughts. By then I would see him every couple of years and that was about all. I didn’t even think of seeing him. Didn’t think of making that effort. Strange. It’s amazing how someone can be gone from your life for so long that they are no longer a part of the every day culture of it. You think of them sometimes, and those thoughts and feelings are usually warm and tender and genuine, but during the course of a normal day they don’t even enter your mind. It’s sad, but that’s what happened with Dad.
Missing people just plain sucks.
Several years ago now I got a call from one of my younger sisters. She told me Dad had had back pain and had gone into the hospital. Everyone always teased him about how he whined about his pain or an injury, or whatever. This time he wasn’t whining. He went into the hospital and 11 days later, having gotten out and been sent home on hospice, he died in that house 20 minutes from my mom’s place. I was there. During those last few days I spent time with him at the hospital, listening to him writhe in pain as the cancer that was attached to his spine grew so quickly it broke his back. I was there telling stories from my childhood with him and our visits together over the years. I asked him questions, he asked me questions. I was there at their house, one that had never been mine, watching the stream of well wishers from their church who brought food and spoke so fondly of him. I was there to talk to him about music, which was his life’s blood, and laugh with him about some silly thing or another. I was there standing by his bedside with my brother when our dad apologized to us for not being the father he should have been. I was there to forgive him and to tell him I loved him. I was there when his breathing slowed and then stopped for the last time.
Missing people just plain sucks.
I’ve been thinking about Dad a lot after watching the piano hospital video, which made me cry and cry. I was thinking he was such a joy-filled, emotional man, and here I am, a joy-filled and emotional woman. I’m blessed to have been his daughter. He didn’t always do it well, being my dad I mean, but he did do some things right. Most especially when I was with him. In person he was awesome. He was passionate and joyful and silly and fun and so warm. He was one of the most genuine people I’ve ever known. Honestly himself regardless of the situation. He loved to laugh, and that laugh was so infectious anyone hearing it had to laugh right along with him. He had music in his blood. So talented and effortless, able to play pretty much any instrument, though he stuck with the pedal steel guitar because it was the hardest thing to play and he loved that about it. I loved to listen to him play. Loved it. I loved watching his face when he was playing and singing. I swear light shot out of him in all directions when he was sitting at that guitar. Getting to see he and his band play together, live, was always awesome. I loved his mis-matched outfits and his love of sweets and his gray hair and how when he walked places he moved fast. He never moseyed. He was blind, but that guy could move. I remember watching him do single axle jumps while Ice skating and can picture him floating the river with us. I can see him playing frisbee at my step-grandparent’s house, leaping in the air, and I remember fishing his glasses out of the river after he, my brother, and I went into the water when the raft ripped down the middle. I love how he loved his coffee, with loads of sugar and cream, and how he was always the first to lend a hand when someone needed it. I loved how he smiled and I loved his laugh. I remember being a tiny girl visiting him one night at the gas station he worked at at that time, and how he walked over and bought us hot chocolates at this diner next door, and then lifted me up so I could clean someone’s windshield. He made things an adventure. I remember feeling like I was having an adventure almost every time I was with him. Not many people do that, give that feeling. He did. It was a gift.
Missing people just plain sucks.
Now, thinking about him, the all of him, I’m proud to be his daughter. I had, long before he died, come to grips with who he was. The guy who wasn’t the greatest of dads, yet was. I’d wrapped my head around the fact that he was who he was, and that he would never change. He wasn’t emotionally mature where my brother and I were concerned, but that was what it was, and it was OK. I came to a place of accepting him for him and accepting and forgiving myself for putting him in the place I ended up putting him in my life, which was sort of on the side, just out of reach. And I learned a great lesson from him. I learned to be there for the people I love. I learned that the hard way from him, but I learned it. I think he’d be proud he taught me that lesson, even though I know he wasn’t proud of the way he taught me. I’m also proud that he passed on his dorky sense of humor, his ability to be light and silly, and his love of all things coffee. I’m grateful for those gifts, and for the gift of having had him in my life, even the little amount I did. I’m grateful he gave me my younger siblings; my brother from our mother, and the younger five he had with my step-mom. They are fantastic, and even though we don’t spend loads of time together, not nearly as much as I’d like, when we do it’s wonderful. They are, simply, great people. Each with a great smile. I have a great smile too. My smile came from both of my parents. They both, Mom and Dad, have and had great ones. Smiles from the inside. Smiles that light the eyes. It’s the thing most people notice about me, and it comes from them.
Missing people just plain sucks.
It just does.
I miss Dad, and I love him, and sometimes, when the light is just right or my mood is, I see him in me. Smiling.
I just got done reading a story on NPR, and then watching the video, about the dying wish of a 30 year old. With a request in his will this young man has changed the world. A simple thing has turned into something magical and meaningful, giving hope and the knowledge that good things can and do happen sometimes.
I encourage you to read the story yourselves, but for the purposes of recapping I’ll say this, he willed that his brother/family give someone a $500 tip. That was it. Simple. He just wanted them to do something amazing for someone. They did.
I can connect only a little bit to this story in that one day, when I was in Chicago with my brother, Kevin, we went out to eat at this old restaurant/diner near our hotel, which was near the airport where we would fly out the next day. We walked to this place from our hotel and had a decent dinner. Our waitress, an older woman, wearing one of those old zip up polyester uniforms, was perfect, and we could tell she’d been doing it for years and years. And maybe all those years had been spent at this same restaurant. That’s what it seemed like. Being a great server is a hard thing. It’s a beautiful balance between being attentive and leaving people alone, being chatty without being annoyingly chatty, and knowing when and how to deal with your customers. This woman had all of that, and more. She was sweet and attentive and we liked her a lot, plus she was on it with every aspect of the service she gave us.
Those that know me know I’m a good tipper. I’ve never been a waitress, but I’ve had jobs where I got tips, and I also worked for a catering service for a summer. I know what it’s like to wait on people, to serve them, and it’s not easy. So I tip well if I think the person does a good job. This particular day my brother and I were done eating and I decided to give her a $20 dollar tip. The meal, in total, was probably $30, so it was a decent tip. Nothing like what the young man is doing in the name of his brother, if you read the article I highlighted above or watch the video included with this post, but $20 was a bit more than 20%. It was an amazing thing. For me, I think, as much if not more, than for her. She was taken aback and told me I’d made a mistake. I told her I hadn’t. She expressed a sort of amazed and shocked thank you. I knew in that moment her day had been made slightly brighter. I know her reaction meant mine had as well. It was a small thing to do, but isn’t that the point. Good things, good surprises, can and do happen. And those good things can be a small token of goodwill, a small gesture, a simple act of kindness.
When I was a kid my brother and I used to walk to the little grocery store in our tiny town. One day we were in there looking for a soda and found a bottle of seven up that had a cap on it, but nothing in the bottle. We took it up to the check out to give to the clerk and he thought we were turning it in for the deposit. When he tried to give us the money we said no, we didn’t want the deposit, we just wanted to give it to him as it was back there like it was for sale and there was no soda in it. He looked at us for a minute and then said something about us being honest and good and that deserved a thank you and a reward. He gave us ice cream bars for being such responsible kids. We were shocked. We were just doing what we thought was the right thing, what we’d been lucky enough to be taught to do. Turns out doing that can get you not only a free ice cream, but also a great feeling of self respect and pride. It was a great lesson for me as a youngster. A lesson about not only doing the right thing, but that in doing the right thing you get a great sense of pride and also a sense of community from it.
Awhile back Liberty Mutual had these series of commercials about responsibility. Remember those spots? I loved them. People doing random, small, nice things for each other, someone sees them doing it and then does something themselves for someone else, and on and on. It’s the same idea as giving a decent tip really. It’s putting goodness out into the world. It’s giving people hope and happiness and a sense that there are people out there in the world who will do the right thing, will do a good thing.
I’ve written a lot on this blog about this sort of thing. About people seeing the world from a place of us instead of them, of being positive and helpful and understanding instead of negative and adversarial and judgmental. I mean those words and feel them when I write them, when I say them aloud. There is joy and beauty and hope and surprise and togetherness out there for the taking. It’s a matter of choice and perception. Choose to give. Choose to see. Choose to feel the connections around you. Choose to act with kindness. It’s as simple as opening the door for someone or picking up something someone dropped or looking at your adversary as a human being. And that, my friends, is my tip for today.
It’s taken three years, but I finally wrote the email I’ve been thinking about writing for a long long time. I finally said thank you.
I could reiterate here what I said, but I think I’ll just post the letter I wrote. If there are people out there in helping professions, know that you make a difference. Know those kind words, smiles, and care, mean so much to the people you are working with. I’m so very grateful.
A caveat… I used everyone’s real name in the actual email. I just didn’t want to use them here. This isn’t the most eloquent I’ve ever been, and reading it through I’d already change some things. I guess that’s probably because there really are no words adequate enough to convey the depth of my gratitude and emotion.
Nancy…I’ve been wanting to write this email for some time. I’m sending it to you because you were always my go to contact person. No matter what the situation, you were there.Today I had my 9 month post maintenance check up with my oncologist here in Illinois. Everything was great, blood work great, etc. Every time I go in I think to myself I should write to you, and hopefully if you can pass this on, to a few other people… Dr. B, the nurses and staff in the infusion area, that first doctor at urgent care, S and T in the lab, the ladies at the front desk, and anyone else who might have come in contact with me during my treatment.In case you don’t remember… my name is Tam, my partner is K. I was diagnosed with Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia in June of 2010. I went into urgent care on June 1 and met a wonderful doctor, I think his name was EM, who treated me with such kindness and care, even taking a moment, as they were loading me into the ambulance, to come over, look me in the eye, and wish me good luck. He didn’t have to do that as he was moving on to other patients at urgent care, but he did. I entered the hospital, and if you could pass this on to them as well I’d be eternally grateful, had my first bone marrow biopsy and a transfusion on June 2, was diagnosed on June 3, and was there for a month, discharging on July 1 after a few more transfusions, tests, and my first round of major chemo. I went back into the hospital for a week in July and again for a week in August, both times for the next rounds of chemo, and then for a week in September when I ended up with a neutropenic fever. I did my last two pushes of chemo outpatient, on September 16 and 17 (I only remember the dates because my last push was on my 45th birthday), at the infusion center at Interstate. I then started on maintenance treatment in October 2010. Every week, for maintenance, I went in for blood draws and a weekly shot. I was also taking medications orally, but that was on my own. I spent a lot of time at the infusion center and in the lab. I continued treatment until I moved to Illinois in August 2011. I finished my second year of maintenance treatment here, using the same protocol Dr. B set up and I’d been following in Oregon. And as I said, I just had my quarterly visit with my Illinois oncologist. Basically the 9 month visit since completion of maintenance. I’m doing great. It’s been just about three years since it started. Amazing.The reason I’m writing is because I want to say thank you. And in writing that I don’t think I’m fully expressing the level of gratitude I have for all the nurses, both in the hospital and the infusion center, you, the ladies in the lab, Dr. B, and the other staff including CNA’s, medical assistants, the people who delivered food to me at the hospital, the people who cleaned my room at the hospital, all the techs who performed one test or another on me, and probably countless others I’m forgetting. I get emotional when I think about this, and actually have tears running down my face right now. Not out of sadness, but from that deep sense of gratitude I mentioned earlier.I know every day all of you go to work, then go home to your own lives and your own families. I know that you’re human so some days at work are harder than others because life is like that, and on top of that the work you do is also difficult. Dealing with people, every day, who are very sick and scared and hurting. It’s a huge burden to carry, yet I felt, every time I spoke to you, or Dr. B, or a nurse in the infusion center, the ladies in the lab, and on and on, that I was always heard. I found so much grace and hope and comfort in that. I was, time after time, so impressed with the treatment I received and with the humanity in which that treatment was delivered. And not only did you all treat me well, but you treated K well. She stayed with me the entire time I was in the hospital and everyone was always so warm and gracious to her. And then, after, when we were coming in to the infusion center, and every time you talked to her on the phone, she was treated with respect and care. All of that made, and still makes, a huge impact on my life. I am blessed to have met you Nancy, and blessed to have met Dr. B and all those lovely lovely nurses I came in contact with on this journey. I want you, and Dr. B, and all those others, to know how much I appreciate you, and them. I want you to know that just those little bits of kindness, bits you probably weren’t even aware you were giving and showing, made such a difference to me. I want you to know that I am so thankful to still be here, and more than that to be healthy and happy and leading a great life. I have the life I do because I was lucky enough to have all of you come into my life when you did. What you all do makes a huge difference. You might not realize this, it might not occur to you on a daily basis, but it does. It made a huge difference to me.There aren’t enough words to express the feeling I have when I think of all of you. You will all, for the rest of my life, be in my heart. And the memory of what felt like warm hugs for my soul from all of you, through a little smile here or a little comment or laugh there, while I was going through something terrifying and horrible, will be with me forever. What you all do makes a difference, a huge difference, in people’s lives. I can’t say that enough. So when the day is hard, or bad, or long, please remember that there’s at least one person, two if you count K, who is out here thanking you, and wishing for all of you every good thing that can be imagined.K and I still live in Illinois, though we miss Oregon very much, and are happily very involved in our grandchildren’s lives. We have two now, both boys. The youngest, Dominic, is just two months old, the oldest, Sebastian, nearly three, calls me Gamma Tam. Isn’t that the best?Again, my best to you, and a wish for every good thing for you…. Tamra
Alarm. Uhg. We don’t like the alarm, but really, who does. It actually doesn’t even matter when it’s set for. It could be 5:30 AM or 10:00 in the morning. It’s the idea of having to get up. Being told to so to speak. If we don’t set the alarm, but wake up at 6:30 that’s fine. We’re good. Just don’t tell us what to do.
Wander in to get the water going, the coffee ground, and the french press ready. This step is vital. Coffee before almost anything else. This includes opening the doggie door, poor dogs. Unless of course we already opened the doggie door some time in the early morning and just left it open. Our pups are pretty good about sleeping as long as we do, but occasionally they feel the need to get up and go out during the night. This disturbs and upsets us, but it’s part of the life of being people owned by dogs. They rule. Let’s not kid ourselves.
After coffee comes the waking of the computers, the checking of emails, the brief glance at Facebook, etc. Gearing up for the day by checking into the world outside of our humble abode. Sometimes things need to be attended to immediately, work to do, bills to pay, important emails to send. Sometimes there are no things emergent and the coffee, and we, go to the back deck, weather permitting, to enjoy a few sips while looking at and enjoying our garden, as the Brits say. I like that term, instead of yard. So much nicer really. I’m adopting it.
Garden viewing and email sending aside, at some point these girls have to eat. We are slow to wake, me more than K, so breakfast usually happens first for her, later for me. She’s an oatmeal girl, I prefer cold cereal. We’re trying to be healthy, trying to eat well, so the oatmeal works great for her and I’m currently munching on something akin to cardboard in an attempt to find a healthy cereal I actually enjoy. There have been recent hits, but currently we’re on a miss. I can’t throw anything out so I’m trying to convince myself it’s not that bad. Plus I’m only eating 3/4 a cup a day so it’s only a few bites. At this rate I can move on to a new box in about two weeks. Yay.
At some point in the day we may actually shower, if it’s a shower day, or not. We don’t hold to the shower every day principal. We don’t see the need. I used to be like that, but now it’s a miracle if I get a shower three or four times a week. Yes, if I can tell I stink, I shower, but unless we go for a bike ride or a long walk in the humidity, or we’ve made a trip to the gym, showering is unnecessary unless it’s necessary. This makes perfect sense to me. Maybe we don’t shower or bathe every day because this is a place in our lives that was better before Illinois. A few years ago we put a bathroom addition on our Scappoose house. This addition wasn’t just any addition. It was 300 square feet of bathroom deliciousness. A shower fit for a locker room. Huge, two heads, no door, walk in. And a pedestal soaking tub set in a bay window looking out at the forest. We had no window coverings. We didn’t need them. It’s really the only thing, other than the setting and the enormous shop, we miss about our former house. Our washrooms in our Illinois house could both fit inside that longed for Scappoose bathroom, with room to spare. Taking a shower or a bath here feels a little low rent compared to the bathroom we built there, the washroom we waited for a saved for seven years to build. We did get to enjoy it for a while though, and enjoy it we did. Perhaps we don’t shower or bathe here as often because it makes us a tad sad, a little reminder of things left behind.
Walk the dogs. At some point during the day the dogs get a walk. Usually. This is a change from our former life in Oregon. Where we lived in Oregon was not conducive to going out, directly from our house, for a walk with the pups. Too dangerous. Hilly, windy road, no sidewalks, fast-moving cars, etc. Not safe for the dogs and not safe for their people either. We had to drive them to walk them. The consequence of this was that they didn’t get walked all the time. Sometimes we went for days or weeks without walking them. Here in Illinois we walk. A lot. We would say that their life, because of the move here, has improved tremendously. They have a better backyard, as they have a larger fenced in area to roam at will, chase squirrels, chase an often thrown ball, lay on the chaise under the umbrellas, and generally bark at any dog that happens to wander by. They also get walks here, nearly every day. They get so many walks that if they don’t get one the boy gets antsy. He sometimes stares at us and barks. We then obey, we go for a walk. Again, they rule.
Grandsons on the loose. Well, to be accurate, I should say currently there’s only one grandson old enough to be on the loose. The other is still only seven weeks old so he can’t just run around on his own. That time is coming, and then boy, or should I say boys, are we going to have fun. We see the grandsons almost every day. Yes, there are occasional days when we don’t see them, but we see them often. Yesterday they came over for their Moo Moo’s birthday. Sebastian wanted to know if they were going to bake Moo Moo a cake for her birthday. This hadn’t been planned, but since he asked for it he and Mommy went to the store, bought a cake mix, came back here and made it, and then we all enjoyed a piece or two after. No frosting. Still good. I also spent some time reading to him and telling him stories about where he was driving his truck and trailer, with deer of course. Deer of course meaning there was a little plastic deer on the trailer he was driving around. He likes to drive it around and have me tell him where he’s going… i.e. the desert where it’s hot and sandy brown and you have to wear shorts and flip-flops, or the arctic where it’s cold and white and snowy and you have to wear your parka. He says, as he drives to a new area of the rug, “what does Gamma Tam say?”, and I tell him the story. The grandson rules too.
Realizing we are far down on the totem pole to the dogs and the grandsons we sometimes need time for ourselves. Yes, the dogs are usually with us, but sometimes we go out. We run errands, to pick up stuff for the dogs or grandsons or the house, have lunch at our favorite place to get good salads and eggplant fries (try them before you mock, they are damn good), go for a bike ride to the market or a coffee shop, spend some time with friends when we can, or just wander around at a local festival when they happen.
We make dinner instead of eating out most every night. Sometimes there’s an exception, like last night, K’s birthday, we got wings to go, after having gone to the pet store for stuff for the dogs. See what I mean. When we make dinner it’s usually something healthy. The other night we had stir fry made with chicken from our local farmer/meat guy who we buy all our meat from, sugar snap peas from our mini garden, green onions from our mini garden, mini carrot from our mini garden, and broccoli from a local organic farm that we purchased at the farmer’s market. It was good. Really good. Nothing like noshing on your own veggies. It’s our first year trying a raised bed garden and so far we are enjoying it. We’re going to have more tomatoes (two plants mind you) and potatoes than we can use, we think anyway, but it’s all good. That’s what sharing with your friends and neighbors is all about.
Speaking of neighbors. We really like our neighbors next door to the east of us. They are a little family, sort of non traditional in that they have been together for 17 years or something and never got married. They have two girls. One is about 11 and she likes to come over and swing on our swing. We have one of those cool wooden play sets that’s like a fort with a slide and a swing, etc. It was here when we moved in. Sebastian calls it Moo Moo’s house. No worries, I don’t make her sleep out there. We call it his fort and he loves it. So, as it turns out, does the neighbor girl and her bestie. They hop the fence all the time, with permission of course, and spend time both in and around the fort. The dogs love this as the girls also like to the throw the ball for them and Weston, who is a bit of a ho for attention, also gets loads of pets. They are sweet, which is why we pretty much let them come over whenever they want to. We get along great with them. We can’t say this for all of our neighbors as we also have the evil former librarian behind us who called the police on us a couple of times after we first moved in and wrote a couple of letters, sent in the mail, explaining how she doesn’t like our barky dogs. One… the police and animal control both said our dogs are totally fine, and two, they don’t bark that much really. And the barking they do it totally in acceptable limits in their own yard. Other people have dogs in this neighborhood who bark more. Is it us? We don’t know. We’ve been here for two years now and she seems to either have accepted her fate of living next door to us, our dogs, and our what I’m sure she thinks as noisy grandson. I wonder if she’ll ever call the police on him, you know, for laughing too much and too loudly in the backyard. I picture her standing on the other side of the fence, finger to mouth, as she loudly whispers… SHHHHH!
Living in a neighborhood, as opposed to on very private property, is a daily difference for us, but one we’ve found we like. There are, of course, ups and downs to it. The downs… no privacy and not as much room to stretch out on the property. We have a corner lot and neighbors all around. They know when we come and go, who visits, when we take the dogs out, they say hi to us on the street, or avoid us all together, they know our business. Not long ago we had friends over for a little chiminea fire and s’mores in the backyard. We were enjoying good conversation and some wine around the fire when we heard a terrible howling sort of sound. Which doesn’t describe it at all. It sounded like an animal in pain. It was an animal in pain. We went into the house, grabbed flashlights, and set off in search of the sound. If we could find the animal or help in any way we were going to do it. We weren’t the only ones. Some of our neighbors also came out with flashlights and as a group we wandered the streets searching. A corner was turned and there was another neighborhood person who said he saw the whole thing. There were foxes fighting with each other in someone’s garden. They must’ve come over from the arboretum, which isn’t far, or nearby farmland, also not far. They had a disagreement and those were the sounds we heard. After discovering what made the racket we all turned on our heels and walked back toward our respective homes, chatting about this and that as we went. A neighborhood… this is what it’s like. That and all the baked goods delivered to us right after we moved in. Astonishing.
Living sustainably. We’ve always considered ourselves a pretty green pair. We recycle, love the land, love to spend time in nature, try to buy local, eat organic as much as possible, etc., etc. We’ve always espoused this, but honestly we didn’t always live that way before we moved to Illinois. This is a case of getting a bit of a reset. Before we moved I started researching. We knew the reputation of the midwest. It’s consumer central. Or so we thought. Before getting here I found a co-op not far from our new house. We joined when we arrived and since then it’s doubled in size. It’s an awesome place filled with local produce, organics, meats, etc. We also found our new town had a weekly farmer’s market. At that farmer’s market we found there were local farmer’s who sold meat they grew, direct farm to table kind of stuff. We joined a farmer’s meat club and since then have purchased our meat directly from a local farmer. It’s amazing tasting, high quality, and doesn’t have any crap in it. We also favor a few vendors at the farmer’s market who now know us and so we have witty repartee with them when we see them. Same goes for the co-op, where we buy all the produce we don’t buy at the farmer’s market and where we also get breads from a local bakery. We try to avoid shopping at big box stores and instead opt, when we can, for smaller locally owned shops. Same goes for restaurants we choose to eat in most of the time. Yes, these things don’t always hold true, but we do a much better job here than we did in Oregon. Maybe because we had to look for things and spent the time doing it. We took things for granted there, and here we don’t.
A little snapshot of our lives. What a day looks like. Similar, I’m sure, to the days of people all over the world. We get up, we love each other, we love our dogs, our grandsons, the kids, our families, our friends. We try to have fun and joy in most everything we do. We make little adventures for ourselves, exploring our newish town and surrounding areas. We did this in Portland too, taking what we called neighborhood walks in neighborhoods we hadn’t explored, taking photos, grabbing a bite to eat somewhere new, seeing what we could find. We’ve had this attitude, K and I, since we met, and I think separately, even before we met. Every day, even the most mundane of things, can be made fun or interesting. We seek it out. People have said to us that we lead a fun and interesting life, that we are always doing stuff. When I think about people we know I think they are always doing stuff too. Going out for coffee or a walk or a hike, cooking a new recipe, playing with their pets or grandchildren or children, looking at sunsets with wonder, and feeling the rain or the wind or the sun on their faces. Life is rich and layered. Life is always there, waiting. It’s waiting for us to notice, to experience, to grab. It’s waiting for us to pay attention to the details. It’s the details that matter. The look from one of our pups, the way our grandson smiled, the smell of some flowers in our backyard, a dance break in our living room, the fun of getting on our bikes and going for a ride, the beauty all around us. Life is waiting for us to not take ourselves so seriously and to realize what’s always right there. Life is so very sweet.
This day, today, we did most of this stuff. Got up, made coffee, pet the dogs, ate breakfast, worked, showered, and looked at our beautiful garden. Later we’ll go to the store and pick up some stuff for the barbecue we’ll have at the kid’s house tomorrow for the fourth. We’re also going to try to watch some fireworks tomorrow night with the kid’s and our son in law’s parents who are here visiting from England. We’ll eat and play and laugh and chat. We’ll love on the grandsons and I’ll take loads of photos I’m sure. We don’t always take big trips, though we sometimes do, and we don’t always go to big events, and in fact we mostly don’t. Usually, like today, we just live our lives. Most days, like today, I look out this window and try to type some stuff, and K works and has meetings and the dogs bark and interrupt her. Most days we chat and smile and make food and watch TV. This is our life. This is our amazing life. This is our daily life, and it is beautiful.
I started writing this on Father’s Day and was, as can happen, distracted by actual life events. Visits from family and then traveling can do that. I had nearly forgotten about this post until I noticed it idling there, the red “draft” sitting beside it in my post queue. It was important to me to get this piece of writing out there, so here it is… late, but no less important to me.
I’ve written many times about how I feel we should look at all sides, find common ground, talk over places we disagree with compassion and a willingness to hear. I’ve also written a lot about being open, non-judgemental, and how we are all, most of us anyway, pretty much the same, wanting the same basic things out of life. I believe all of it.
What I believe as well, more than anything else, is that we should all be kind to each other. We should talk from a place of kindness, act from a place of kindness, and think about the world and our fellow men and women from a place of kindness. This is not to say that we should all just get along and there will never be discord. Of course there will be, and is. It’s just that as we disagree we should do it with kindness. No name calling, no finger pointing, no bending of facts or twisting of ideals.
I was reading an article today on CNN.com, the subject of which I won’t talk about as it’s really not relevant to what I’m trying to say here, and then I looked at the comments. Needless to say it was the same ol’ same ol’. And people, listen when I say this, it came from both sides of the argument. As I’ve said, I’m liberal, but I get just as disgusted with the liberal rhetoric, hype, and nastiness, as I do the conservative comments in kind. What good does it do to point fingers, call names, make statements with no support or basis in fact, and generally act like an ass? We get nowhere doing this. Let me repeat… NOWHERE. We have to be better than this, people. We have to rise above our petty differences and playground tactics so we can have meaningful conversations. That is unless we feel we already have all the answers, know everything, and can learn nothing from each other. Arrogant much?
The key to acting with compassion is kindness. Kindness to ourselves, our neighbors, our loved ones, and yes… even toward people we feel might be our adversaries. I will listen to your reasoning, your opinion, your ideas, much more willingly if you don’t call me a name, make fun of what I believe in, and presume to know me. I don’t know you and therefore should do the same. Other than to say, once again, I really feel we are all after pretty much the same things in life… a good life well lived with people we love.
In an effort to look into kindness, do a bit of research you might say, I stumbled upon the seven virtues. The antithesis of the seven deadly sins, these are the seven ideals, the seven character traits, we should all strive to achieve. I actually read them through, not skimming but reading, which made me realize the deeper meaning behind them instead of the sort of one word definitions that are so often assigned to them. Chastity is a great example of this. People always think of chastity as the no sex virtue. Yes, there is a part of the definition that says save yourself based on your current status, but there’s so much more to it than that. In finding the seven virtues I was fascinated… I’d read them before, long ago, but reading them again, with older and hopefully wiser eyes, I found myself agreeing with them in basic principal, as I interpreted them. Key point here is how I interpreted them. We, each of us, take things in through the filter of our own perception. It cannot be helped. So I read these virtues and this is what I understood them to mean, for myself, and for the larger world. I took the original definitions directly from Wikipedia so take that for what you will. I’ve left in the gloss (the four highlighted words directly after the virtue that represent a brief marginal notation of the meaning of a word or wording in a text) and after that the sections of the definitions I felt summed up the essence of each virtue. I tried to do this paraphrasing elegantly so the basic premises of the virtues shown through. And away we go….
Chastity: Purity, knowledge, honesty, wisdom. To be honest with oneself, one’s family, one’s friends, and to all of humanity. Embracing of moral wholesomeness and achieving purity of thought-through education and betterment. The ability to refrain from being distracted and influenced by hostility, temptation or corruption.
Temperance: Self control, justice, honour, abstention. Restraint, temperance, justice. Constant mindfulness of others and one’s surroundings; practicing self-control, abstention, moderation, zero-sum and deferred gratification. Prudence to judge between actions with regard to appropriate actions at a given time. Proper moderation between self-interest, versus public-interest, and against the rights and needs of others.
Charity: Will, benevolence, generosity, sacrifice. Generosity, charity, self-sacrifice; the term should not be confused with the more restricted modern use of the word charity to mean benevolent giving. Charity—or love (agäpé) — is the greatest of the three theological virtues. Love, in the sense of an unlimited loving kindness towards all others, is held to be the ultimate perfection of the human spirit, because it is said to both glorify and reflect the nature of God. Such love is self-sacrificial. Confusion can arise from the multiple meanings of the English word “love”. The love that is “caritas” is distinguished by its origin – being divinely infused into the soul – and by its residing in the will rather than emotions, regardless of what emotions it stirs up.
Diligence: Persistence, effort, ethics, rectitude. A zealous and careful nature in one’s actions and work; decisive work ethic, steadfastness in belief, fortitude, and the capability of not giving up. Budgeting one’s time; monitoring one’s own activities to guard against laziness. Upholding one’s convictions at all times, especially when no one else is watching (integrity).(The vice “acedia” is more commonly known as “sloth”.)
Patience: Peace, mercy, ahimsa, sufferance. Forbearance and endurance through moderation. Resolving conflicts and injustice peacefully, as opposed to resorting to violence. Accepting the grace to forgive; to show mercy. Creating a sense of peaceful stability and community rather than suffering, hostility, and antagonism.
Kindness: Satisfaction, loyalty, compassion, integrity. Charity, compassion and friendship for its own sake. Empathy and trust without prejudice or resentment. Unselfish love and voluntary kindness without bias or spite. Having positive outlooks and cheerful demeanor; to inspire kindness in others.
Humility: Bravery, modesty, reverence, altruism. Modest behavior, selflessness, and the giving of respect. Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less. It is a spirit of self-examination; charity toward people you disagree with. The courage of the heart necessary to undertake tasks which are difficult, tedious or unglamorous, and to graciously accept the sacrifices involved. Reverence for those who have wisdom and those who selflessly teach in love. Giving credit where credit is due; not unfairly glorifying one’s own self. Being faithful to promises, no matter how big or small they may be. Refraining from despair and the ability to confront fear and uncertainty, or intimidation.
I love the character traits present in these… being unselfish, inspiring kindness in others, loving your fellow human, conviction, honesty, patience, mercy, honor, generosity of spirit, justice, peace, and compassion. Just to name a few. These are the things we should strive for, these are the ways in which we should act in our own lives and toward our fellows. This is how we should live in the larger world.
I read these virtues and thought again, the greatest of these is kindness… it generates all the other traits. If we are kind to ourselves we are better people out in the world. If we are kind to our fellow humans then we spread an energy of joy and understanding versus judgement and antagonism. Kind people act with charity, they act with mercy, they act with love.
I don’t profess to always be the kindest of people. I try, but am honestly not always successful. The hope, my hope, is that I am more kind than not, that I think before I speak and act, and that I am always attempting to be aware of my actions and their impact on the people around me and the world at large. What kind of energy do I, do we, want to put out into the world? There are two options… positive energy, which pushes things in a loving and caring direction, or negative energy, which diminishes and constricts. It’s our choice every day. It’s the choice we make when we interact with the barista at our coffee shop, our partners friends and family, or a homeless person, or someone we are angry with or maybe disagreeing with. It’s a choice people. We need to try and be better.
I say strive for kindness… we would all be better off. The world would be better off. Small acts to large, every act of kindness matters. It matters, and it makes the world a better place.
… stepping down off soap box now…
I’m sentimental, empathetic, and very in tune with the feelings of others. Always have been. It’s the thing that makes me cry during silly commercials, sporting events, and when I hear a song on the radio that makes me think of someone I love. I feel things deeply. All things. Sometimes this makes it hard, I’m sure, to live with me. When I’m upset I’m emotionally upset, which I myself don’t always understand, and when I feel love I am so full of love I sometimes fear my body won’t be able to contain it. All of this emotion comes from the same well deep inside of me. It is at times overwhelming, explosive, warm, joyous, and all consuming. I don’t always appreciate these deep feelings I have, and have sometimes wished I didn’t have them at all, but honestly, I’m glad I’m like this. I’m glad I see, and feel, the world this way, through this blanket of empathy and love.
Earlier today I watched a Youtube video of a man using a flash mob, in Central Park, to help him propose to his boyfriend of many years. It was beautiful. Simply put, love is love. There can’t be too much of it in the world, in my opinion. So while I was watching this video I started to cry. It was moving, and as noted above, I’m a crier. I felt for them, was happy for them, happy for the people watching, happy for one of the guys Mom’s who was there to see it and crying herself. My honey looked over at me, we were both in our office, and said you must be watching something emotional. I had headphones on and tears streaming down my face. She’s used to this.
I watched the video and listened to that song and thought, once again, of my honey and how lucky I am to have her. It’s really, I think, why I was crying today. I was overwhelmed by the love I feel for her. I am difficult to live with. Difficult to love sometimes I think, but she is always right there, loving me as if it’s easy for her. Making me feel as though it’s easy for her, as though it’s something she has always done, something that’s natural and true. I am so blessed and lucky that she somehow manages to understand me and love me for all that I am, good and difficult. For 10 years. 10. I can’t express how much I love her. It comes from a place so deep inside that deep well of mine that I don’t think there are actually words. Just feelings so big and strong and true they defy articulation.
Honey… I have loved you for a thousand years and will love you for a thousand more….
We can be a divisive country. Throw politics and religion into the mix of any conversation and it’s likely people will not agree on something. It’s our passion and our conviction that makes us so.
In those moments of disagreement we are also not always our better selves. We point fingers, call names, and talk way too much about us and them. It can get ugly. It can get cruel.
Today, reading and watching some of the coverage of the terrible tornado that struck Moore, Oklahoma I was moved by that amazing other side of our collective personality. The wondrous awe inspiring side that pushes all divisiveness and disagreement away. The side that rises to these terrible occasions. Because when the going gets tough, as it sadly does from time to time, we as a people rise. We forget about political and religious differences. We forget about color and sexual orientation and economic division and we extend our hands, our hearts, and our help to anyone and everyone who needs it. We become our better selves in times of hardship and tragedy. We become the people we should strive to be every day. We become one big human family.
In times like these I’m always so proud of us. So proud and so moved.
I know I just did a 10 Word Review about Roger Ebert‘s Film Festival otherwise known as Ebertfest, but even though I put down those words I still feel there’s more to say. Now, sitting here, it’s sort of tough to put what I think I want to say in words so bear with me.
Attending this festival for the second time was even more amazing than the first. It’s not just seeing these films, most of which I’ve never seen before, that challenge the edges of what I would normally watch. It’s the atmosphere. It’s being in the company of people who are of like mind about art and film and community. It’s feeling like you are a lucky participant in something very very special.
This year, given the fact Roger passed away only a couple of weeks before the festival, it was an even more humbled and emotional experience. Every person who spoke on stage said how much this man was obviously not only a great writer, but so generous of spirit, so kind to new film makers and old alike, so enthusiastic about the meaning of film and the way a film should be watched. Each told stories about Roger and mentioned, in some way, his impact on their lives and careers. There were wonderful tributes to him told in words and fittingly, in film. Chaz, his wife of many many years, was there. A woman full of heart and grace, much like her husband.
I loved this experience, as I did last year, and I loved the films as well. As I said earlier, they pushed the boundaries of what I would normally choose to watch, which is a wonderful thing. There’s no way, under the normal circumstances of my life, I would’ve chosen to see a movie like The Ballad of Narayama (1958), yet there I was, watching it and more than that, enjoying it for the shocking story, the color, for the Kabuki style I’m not all that familiar with. It’s the beauty of this festival for me and so many others I’m sure. This seeing something I wouldn’t normally see, or even know about. This pushing my own viewer boundaries. And I think, without being presumptuous, it’s what Roger probably intended when he created this festival in the first place. To have a festival of overlooked films. Films that because of their beauty, or story, or style, or imagination, or brashness shouldn’t have been overlooked. There’s no buying or selling or submissions for this festival. It’s a festival purely for the love and joy of film. Which I think adds to the festivals character and feeling of community. People come because they love film, they love their community, and they love the experience of it. They come because they love stepping into the beautiful world Ebertfest creates.
I loved this experience. Loved it. At the end of the day it’s exhausting, seeing so many films in so many days, but I loved it. I loved having to stand in line early so that when the doors opened the 1000 pass holders could all rush in and try to find the perfect seats. I loved the restoration of the Virginia, which is where Roger used to see movies as a kid. I loved sitting near people I don’t know and chatting with them about film and park district stuff and popcorn. I loved watching and listening to people interact and commune. I loved getting my Virginia Theater travel mug that I could then bring every day to get however much coffee I wanted, free refills are always good. And this was good coffee, from the roasting house we frequent normally who also happens to be a sponsor of the festival. I loved the dance along, the sing a long, and just plain going along on this rid of a fest. I loved hearing and reading Roger’s words and listening to the panel discussions, those we attended but also online for those we didn’t, after the films. I loved being in the company of my honey and of Ann. I loved the salads and eggplant fries we had each evening during our dinner break at Guidos. I loved how good this festival was for the community given all the people that descend to participate and then spend money at restaurants and hotels, etc. I loved the beauty of the surroundings of the lovely lovely park district owned Virginia Theater. What a gorgeous building and so big with it’s 1600 seats, an organ that descends into the orchestra pit when the organist is done playing, lovely plaster work, stained glass, and an enormous screen that really does a film justice.
I guess, not having had the words in the beginning, I found them. This experience, without sounding trite, is transcendent. It inspires and makes the world larger. Which, to me, is the best of what can and should happen. It connects and brings joy. It expands ones mind and consequently, ones heart.
Lastly, and less emotionally, I guess I should let everyone know which films we enjoyed the most as, after all, it was a film festival… Tam loved In The Family, a film that hit close to home and was so beautifully and sweetly done it exuded a warmth and light that was wonderful to feel and behold. Karen loved Julia, a movie so hard hitting and raw it gripped you from the beginning and never let you go. We both didn’t like Escape From Tomorrow, a strange and uncomfortable film we didn’t understand, nor did we really want to understand. As honorable mention for a film I liked I’d like to add the short I Remember, which I found to be full of beautiful images and emotion.
I’m so glad we attended the festival again this year and I hope, even with Roger’s passing, this festival continues and we can go again next year. I’m already looking forward to it.
I’d never owned a house. I was, until I met Karen, a gypsy of sorts. I moved and moved all up and down the valley, over to the beach, down to Southern Oregon, and back to the valley. When a person moves so much they tend to pare down. Meaning I also didn’t have much in the way of stuff. Some books and music, of course, and same old boxes of papers and some memorabilia from childhood, but otherwise not much. What I owned fit into a small Uhaul.
My life was, to a certain point, about movement, change, experience. The places I lived were weigh stations and spots to put my head at night, places to keep my CD’s and my stereo. They were not home.
Then she walked in. She walked in and some months later we bought a house. We owned a house. It was my first one. More than that though, we made a life there. The house was home for me, really, from the moment I stood on the front deck that hot summer day, wind moving through the trees, peace… quiet. I can’t explain that feeling, though I’m sure many reading this have had it. It felt right. Puzzle pieces moving, click, into place. The sound of that wind in the trees, a bit like the sound of the ocean, eyes closed listening, and instantly a house suddenly became a home.
We moved each of our things in, things that had been separate but were then combined. Things which had been mine and hers, but were then ours. We bought furniture together to fill the rooms and pots and pans and silverware to fill the kitchen. We bought art, oh how we love our art, and TV’s, cool bookends, and shampoo. We worked on the yard, planting flowers we chose, and putting up hanging baskets. We got wind chimes and hand blown glass hummingbird feeders, had decks, a paved driveway, and fences put in. Karen built tables and things in the shop, I took photo after photo after photo of the flowers in the yard. I trimmed trees, she weeded, I worked on the Japanese Garden, she mowed. We hauled in loads of topsoil, spread a bit of bark dust, and moved tons of rainbow rock. We lived.
Karen and I both got sick in the house, but we also recovered there. We added on a master bathroom and painted some of the rooms. Mom got married there, we threw big and small get togethers, we brought home both our babies, Weston and Riley, who loved it and called it there own, relishing the use of their doggie door and playing Chuckie in the yard. We sat in the hot tub at night, stars all around, and listened to the deer walking on the hillside. We even had a mountain lion living at the house for a time.
In our house we laughed, and danced, and cried, and hugged, and sometimes yelled. In our house we ate, watched TV, played cards, got snowed in, had visits from mostly everyone we love, watched the deer, and tasted good wine. In our house we loved each other.
A house is just a house, until suddenly it becomes a home. We poured our lives and love and heart and our souls into it and it gave back in kind. It is a reflection of the life being lived in it and ours was beautiful. That house, our first house, was not just a house to us, it was our home. A home we both loved… and love still.
Weston is a guy of deep thoughts and feelings. He has soul.
I looked up a moment ago and there he was sitting on the chair in the corner looking out the window. He looked like a person, deep in thought, contemplating all of life’s ups and downs. He looked introspective and philosophical. He looked like Weston usually looks.
Six years ago we decided we wanted to get a dog and we decided on a Schnoodle because Karen’s daughter, Mary, had one and we loved him. So cute, great personality, small, and to top it off they don’t shed and they have hair akin to human hair so they don’t have dander and don’t smell like a dog. Ever. In fact they sort of have a smell all their own, each in their own way, like humans do. But I digress.
We went and looked at some dogs in East/Central Oregon and when one of the little guys came over and licked my toe it was all over. He was the one. Six weeks later, in April of 2007, we went and picked him up in Portland where we met with the woman who raised him. We’d had a name picked out for him already, but when we saw him, looked in his eyes, we knew instantly the name didn’t work. He looked too smart for the name. Too studious. Too deep. So on the drive back home, with the little guy sitting on Karen’s lap in the brand new bed we’d gotten for him, we threw names around. None fit until somehow one of us, I think it was Karen, mentioned the town of his birth, Weston. Yes, he was born in Weston, Oregon in the Blue Mountains. We looked at each other and that was it. Somehow, some way, Weston seemed right. It suited him. The him of major thought and intense looks.
Now, nearly six years later, he still has that same look. That deep look. He looks at you and into you at the same time. He is a guy of passionate feelings and sincere real love. He is incredibly smart, cunning, and curious. He is our little man.
Riley is girl of deep feelings, but of a different sort. She’s a little spitfire.
A year after we were lucky enough to get Weston we decided he needed a companion for those times we had to leave him at home. We didn’t want him to be alone. We wanted him to have a little pal, a buddy. He got a sister, not a natural born sister, but a sister none the less, and they have a love hate relationship. We had a name picked out for her too, and that one ended up sticking. Somehow Riley fits her. She’s full of energy, very vocal, and loves to put her head up against our heads and have a little pet. She gets so excited she can hardly contain herself, and is a tad quirky, but we adore her.
This morning when I looked over at Weston looking out the window a wave of love came over me, as it does so often with both of our little furry babes. Karen and/or I say, at least once a day I think, “I love them”. One of us always says it and the other one then always says, “I do too”. And we do. We love them. We love how they love us. How Weston always welcomes us home with a whole body wiggle and Riley always wants to lay in a lap. We love Weston’s kisses and the little girlie’s insistent pawing for a pet. We even love their more annoying habits, as you do with little beings you cherish. We love the schnoods. Like I loved how he was looking out the window this morning like a little person. Just as I love how, right now, he’s laying in my lap snuggling, looking back at me with those eyes with those deep deep feelings, and Riley is all curled up in Karen’s lap snuggling in close to her. We love them.
We love them.
When I was growing up I watched, like many of us, the holiday film “Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town”. I was five the first time it aired. It’s amazing how something so simple as a young kid watching a fun holiday movie can stick with a person all these years later, and yet it has.
For some reason, unknown to me actually, whenever I’m facing some difficult time in my life, and there have been a few of those, I hear the words of the song “Put One Foot In Front Of The Other” in my head. It pops in there, all on it’s own. Most specifically the chorus, “put one foot in front of the other, and soon you’ll be walkin’ cross the flo-o-or, put one foot in front of the other, and soon you’ll be walkin’ out the door”. It’s meant to be a song about trying and making a change. For me it is those things, but it’s also a song about moving forward, one step at a time. It says to me that as long as you keep taking one step and then another you will move through whatever it is that’s hard into somewhere new and beautiful. It’s a song about fortitude and perseverance, it’s about looking forward instead of backward. To me it’s a song of hope.
Putting one foot in front of the other gives me comfort and reminds me, in the larger scheme of things, that though life can be hard, inconvenient, scary, and awfully painful sometimes, it can also be magical and beautiful and full of wonder and love.
Today I thought I’d share the little song that’s had such an impact on my life because I love it, but also because maybe there’s a person out there who will feel the message, get inspired, get up, and put one foot in front of the other. It works for me.
I love my Mom. It’s not just loving her though, I admire her. When I think of some of the best qualities a person should have… truth, trust, honesty, integrity, acceptance, humor, a non-judging attitude and spirit, honor, fun, smarts, strength, an ability to keep moving forward no matter the circumstance, and grace… she has all of that in spades. I have known this, and looked up to her, my entire life. She’s a fantastic role model, someone to aspire to be like, and then on top of that, she’s also my friend.
Mom and I sat at a restaurant I like while I was in Oregon this sad month and she said to me she was glad we could talk to each other about most everything. I agree. The truth is Mom and I have been friends most of my life. I’m lucky. I watched her while I was there for those 19 days and I, again, was amazed by her. She is no stranger to sadness and heartache and yet she shines. She keeps moving, keeps making sure those around her are OK as well.
I saw Mom with Don’s kids, who are fantastic people by the way, and I loved her all the more. Was so proud to be her daughter, yet again. Mom has a way about her. A way to calm and make you feel like you matter and that you are important. She does this effortlessly. She does this naturally. She does it with everyone she’s around. It’s why people love her. My friends, throughout my life, have loved and do love her. And over the past three weeks she was these things for Don’s kids, without even trying. She probably doesn’t even know she has had this effect her whole life. The feeling she instills of calm and peace combined with that smile, the famous smile that beams light and love, it engulfs you. Her presence says everything will be alright.
Somehow, through tears and sadness and heartbreak, she manages to keep that wonderful smile. She manages to see that there is still beauty and love and hope and reason in the world. This doesn’t mean she hasn’t been hurt and sad and angry in the last three weeks, or at other times in her life, it just means she knows how to feel that and still see the love around her. She looks at the world with the best eyes… eyes of hope and love and possibility. She doesn’t let circumstance weigh her down, change her outlook, make her cynical and hard. She never plays the victim and has never been one. It’s spectacular, really spectacular.
Mom has had her share of sadness and loss. My heart aches for her now, as it has in the past, as she deals with this heartbreak. But I know something, something she knows too, something she said to me herself, I know she will be OK. And she will. Knowing that doesn’t mean I’m not thinking of her many many times a day and trying to will my love to her over the miles between us, I am and I do. It doesn’t mean that I don’t want to hug her and tell her over and over that I love her and that even though I am miles away I’m holding her. I think she knows this. I hope she feels it. But knowing it helps me, and her too I think. Because it’s true. As she gets through the hours, and days, and the next few months, she will keep her life moving forward. She will love and be loved, she will have happiness and joy, she will laugh and have peace again. She will be OK because she is grace under pressure. She will be OK because she knows there’s more good than bad in the world, and that light always shines it’s way into dark spaces. She will be OK because Mom is strong beyond measure. She’s stronger than even she is aware of I think. She will be OK because it’s who she is.
I love my Mom. But more than just love, I admire her. That admiration causing tears to stream down my face and my heart to swell with pride. I love you Mom.
I can’t believe it’s been a week. A week. Time goes so fast, or slow, or fast again, depending on how you look at it, and how you feel. To me, and in talking to Mom, to her as well, it seems as if the last week has stretched out creating the illusion that oh so much more time has actually passed than has. Yet all in slow motion… stretching. It’s strange.
It’s strange what emotions do to you. Sad ones anyway. A week ago today Mom called me early early in the morning to say her husband, Don, has died suddenly, and what everyone believes is pretty peacefully, in his sleep. She woke to strange breaths, tried to wake him, called 911, did chest compressions until the ambulance arrived, and watched as they worked on him both here at the house and then again at the hospital. He couldn’t be revived. She was sitting with him when she started making calls.
I couldn’t believe it early that morning and still I don’t know if I can believe it. I was just here visiting a month and a half ago. Just here at the house hanging out with them. Here chatting with him, loving that occasional mischievous grin he’d get sometimes when he thought he was pulling one over or getting your goat a bit. I really liked that grin. I really liked how he made my Mom happy. Gardening, traveling, spending time with family, trying new Vegan recipes together, reading the paper over good espresso in the morning, and watching the news at night.
Don was a passionate man. Passionate about seeing and exploring the world, passionate about his grandkids and kids, passionate about my Mom and their life here on the farm. He loved trying new gardening techniques and recipes and finding just the right mix to make a suet the birds would like and eat, mixing it up in big batches and devising a plan of delivery so the bigger scrub birds couldn’t get it all.
Sitting here helping Mom go through some of his papers I discovered he was a bit of a poet and philosopher at heart, eloquent when he wanted to be in writing his thoughts down. Snippets here and there of things he’d experienced while traveling, feelings he’d had as kept moving forward through life.
He was an amazing guy, and though I didn’t know him nearly long enough, or know him as well as I would’ve liked, I really only need to know this… he loved my Mom well, he loved his children, and he adored his grandchildren. He had friends he cared about and who care about him. He knew what life is all about. He lived his life using that as his guide… it’s about the people you love and who love you. And because he lived his life that way, because he knew it was all about loving his people and them loving him, he made such and impact on those people… he made an impact on me. I can see him in the beauty of his grandchildren, in their smiles, their sense of fun, in their determination. I can see him in his children, how they are as parents, who they are as people. His legacy is vast and far reaching. His memory, his impact on everyone, so lasting and strong.
Don… you loved well… and you are so well loved…
And if you can hear this… hear me… I hope the fish are bitin’ where you are, and I hope they look out because Fly Fish Don is coming.
Wow… Thanksgiving is tomorrow. Can’t believe it. Sometimes these things sneak up on us. Not that we aren’t prepared, we are. It’s just that I can’t believe it’s already that time of year. We have entered the holiday season. And again I’ll say… wow.
Now that I’m getting over my shock at the time of year it is, I want to give some thanks, as has become my tradition here at the think tank every year. I am thankful for so many things….
First, as always, I’m thankful for my honey. I just spent a couple of weeks away from her and let me tell you, I’m no good without her. I mean this in a metaphorical sense people so don’t go making assumptions about my lack of self esteem… my self esteem is in tact. It’s just that I don’t like being without her. As I explained to my Mom and my brother, Karen is my home. A house is a structure that, if done correctly, reflects who we are, feels cozy to that end, and shelters us from the elements. A home, on the other hand, is where our heart lives. Mine lives with Karen. Hers with me. We are simpatico in this. Which makes it all the more real and heartfelt. My home is with her, no matter where we live, and I am beyond thankful for that. I’m blessed to have met her, lucky to have snagged her, and honored and humbled by the fact that she continues to love me, and love me more every day. I can’t begin to express what this means to me, and really I don’t think there are words to describe it. She is my breath, my light, my warmth, my love. She is my split apart, and I am hers. I whisper, thank you thank you thank you, out to the universe every day for her.
Mom and Kev… We are, and have been for a long long time, the three amigos. Having spent time with you these least three weeks (one here and two there), I appreciate you even more, if that’s even possible. There is a magic that happens when we are all in the same room. I’m so lucky to be a part of that. So lucky to have you… I feel love and gratitude for you every day.
Mary, Martin, and our little man… Thank you. Thank you for allowing me into your lives, into your family. As I’ve said before, I never had my own children, but nevertheless I consider you mine. I feel a part of a family, with children, and grandchildren, that I would never have without you and your acceptance and love of me. I love you guys and am so very grateful for you every day.
My family and friends… I tear up thinking about all of you, near and far. For one person to be blessed with such an outstanding group of people in my life… I am so humbled. You bring the zest, the encouragement, the support, the fun, and more love than I thought possible. I’m amazed every day by the depth and quality of the people in my life. Not only the sheer numbers of you, but by the people you are. Each and every one of you is a stellar human. I mean this. Family to friends, each of you brings something so uniquely you to my life. I treasure that. I treasure how individual you are, how loving you are, how fun you are, how many smiles and laughs you’ve given me over the years, and I feel so fortunate to have all of that with you. I am blessed beyond measure for knowing you, for having you in my life, and for continuing to get to spend time with you when I can. No matter the distance it seems we always manage to pick up where we left off, be that a year ago or yesterday, and I am honored by that, by your presence in my life. I feel you with me every day and I’m so very thankful for you.
The pups… I don’t know if I’ve said this before, but they are so important to me and every day I’m so loved by them, and grateful to them for their little selves in my life. They are my home as well, and I am so lucky to have them. They love without condition, without pretense, without judgement or agenda. They’re always excited to see me, even if I’ve only been outside for a moment, and they are always completely genuine. I love them more than I can measure, and am so very thankful for them. They bring a joy to my life, our lives, that can’t be measured.
I always say the only thing in life that truly matters are the people we love and who love us. I mean this. Everything else is set dressing, though nature, in all it’s glory, is a wonder and something I’m also grateful for every day. To that end I’d like to include the following poem by e.e. cummings. He’s my favorite poet, and I’m humbled by and grateful for his words, words that have helped, at times, me to get through periods of struggle. Words that have at times helped me to better explain the world to myself. This is one of my favorites of his… and it pretty much sums up the rest of it, the rest of what I’m grateful for…
i thank You God for most this amazing
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
I’m going to ramble a bit now…
I’m sitting here in the office this morning listening to Karen work and I have that feeling, but I’ll get to that later. Earlier I was perusing Facebook… reading news, seeing what my peeps are up to, checking in. I know a lot of people are sort of Anti-Facebook now, but not me. I could care less about the ads, I don’t generally even look at them, the commercialism, because of course it is, it’s a business, or the fact that they have my info, everyone has my info nowadays. I use credit cards, I buy things, I sign into and out of websites all the time. It’s the modern digital age and as much as I care about my privacy, or at least not letting people have access to my credit card info, the feeling of needing to be so private lessened a lot when I was in the hospital for those long long days and everyone saw everything I had. Perspective. Facebook to me, especially since the move, is a way to know, by looking in one place, what our friends and family are up to near and far. It’s a way to stay in touch. It’s not perfect, but it works for me. It’s like being in a big digital ongoing conversation. A community of sorts. I like that.
I respect my family and friends who are so passionate about world affairs, causes they hold dear, politics, etc. I respect them immensely. I have issues I also care about, though I think not with the kind of passion they exhibit. I admire the chutzpah in them. Sometimes I even wish I had more of it. Some days, like today, I wonder why I don’t. I have things I believe in, and will talk about if I’m in that kind of conversation, but most of the time I keep things to myself. And most of the time I’m more concerned with things like beauty, joy, art, telling stories, music, and love. It’s true. These things consume my day, my mind, more than anything else. Except for maybe my honey and our pups, but then that’s all about love, which is one of the things I care most about. I have always been this way, and yet… not.
I fell into a degree in Psychology because I was good at it. I have always been, for friends and family alike, a sort of pseudo counselor. Additionally I was fascinated by the mind. How it worked, both physically and emotionally, and why. I was interested in motivation, understanding, function. I was also, and continue to be, an incredibly emotional person. I cry at the drop of the hat, feel things more deeply than I sometimes want to, and have a sense about the emotions of others that at times overwhelms me. All of this, plus a passion for at risk kids and their issues, led me into work with those kids. I did that for a long time, cared deeply about what I was doing, and felt like I was making a difference every day. I was. I know that with certainty. But living every day caring very much about what you are doing, wanting to help to facilitate change in both the kids and their circumstances, feeling and battling an overwhelming sense of hopelessness in those same kids, their parents, other agencies, and the circuitous nature of generations of people living difficult lives took its toll on me. I cared very much and that sense of caring was what finally guided my decision to leave that profession. Circumstances helped me do it more quickly than I had anticipated, but the writing had been on the wall. I needed to not live in that world any more. To not take it home with me. To be in a more positive environment. I needed to leave.
Two years ago when the bomb dropped on our lives, and I say our because it didn’t only affect me, we were living our lives. Loving our lives. Traveling, working, spending time with friends and family, having as many adventures and new experiences as we could. Dinners with friends, traveling to new places, walks with the pups, etc. Our life was amazing. Then the thing happened. The big C. Suddenly, without warning, swooping in to change our lives completely. Days with friends and family and pups replaced by meds, and IVs, and poisonous life saving drugs, and sickness, and baldness, and… love. So much love pouring in to us, to me, that I was overwhelmed by it. So much. It was like a tidal wave of well wishes and good feelings and sweet remembrances and karmic hugging. I was stunned by it. Knowing you have a good foundation of people in your life is one thing, seeing them, seeing that in action, is another. I was humbled, shaken, amazed.
We made it through those times, which I can’t even describe…. so much happened, so much. And I came out of it, away from it, am still in the end of it, with a sense of wonder. A sense of what is truly important, for me anyway. And here’s what I think… people need to spend more time thinking about love. Not love as in romantic love, but love as in love of your fellow-man, love of this planet we call home, love of people we don’t understand, but should at least try to. There’s too much push and pull, too much righteous indignation, too much of this whole idea that “I” know best and “you” should listen. Too much arrogance. Too much of people being afraid of things they don’t understand when really if we just live our lives the best we know how, treating people in our lives with the respect they deserve, and by that I mean all people, we would be so much better off. Even those we know are struggling or living their lives in ways we don’t think are right or correct or healthy. If we respect each other as human beings, knowing there are faults in all of us, knowing we are none of us perfect, and then move through life with the knowledge that, for the most part each of us is doing the best we know how, things would improve. If we focused on beauty, and love, and how similar we are instead of how different we make ourselves, things would improve.
I know there are people who say this is me living with my head in the clouds, but seriously. We are all the same. Living our lives, loving our families, wanting what’s best for them. We may have different ideas about what that is, or what that means, but that’s OK. Just the simple acknowledgement that we are the same would mean then that we would never be able to judge someone for how they lived, for what they thought. We would come at the conversation from a place of trying to understand instead of trying to conquer. We would be more able to work together. From a place like that no one would be denied basic rights, their humanity, their ability to live a happy life, whatever that is for them. Judgement would vanish. And with it fear would go. Fear that always comes from a place of us vs. them, from not understanding, from living our lives looking at “them” over there as our enemy instead of as our possible friend. More than that, because we aren’t going to be friends with everyone, we could agree that we won’t always agree. And that’s OK. It’s OK for us to do as we please. And yes, of course I don’t mean those that hurt others. There are still rules. Rule one, don’t hurt anyone intentionally or even unintentionally by the actions you take.
So, this is all Pollyanna to many people I’m sure. But I’m tired of the fighting, the push and pull, the politics of it all. I’m tired of all the ways we try to stand out, live separately. We live together, whether we like it or not. We depend on each other, whether we like it or not, and we can choose to be afraid of each other, of all the things we don’t understand, or we can hold out our hands to those we disagree with, have a real conversation, and move forward. Actually take steps that lead us toward something wonderful, instead of taking steps backward to places we’ve already been.
I don’t have the answers, I don’t even pretend to know all the questions. I know me, my honey, my life. I know that the way the wind sounds in the trees right now is gorgeous and that sound is the same all around the world. I know I love to laugh, and so does everyone else I’ve ever met. I know a lot of people are angry about this or that, and they have a right to be. I’m not discounting that. I’m just saying… love a little more. Hug a little more. Put yourself in the other guys shoes a lot more. Be kind. Be patient. Be better. We could all be a bit better. Which, I guess, is the feeling I was talking about earlier. That feeling of wanting to be better. Look past myself. See into things more clearly, with more depth. To be understanding. To love with all I am, and be thankful.
It’s been all over the news.
Usually, when things like this happen, watching disaster coverage on TV that is, I always think… man… how terrible that is, over there… so far away. Now, it’s here, right here in Oregon and Washington, and it’s pretty surreal.
Personally, my house hasn’t been flooded out and, as far as I know, my family, both in Oregon and in Washington, is all safe, warm and dry. But even still… it’s terrible. National Guard trucks coming through all the time, ongoing announcements from disaster relief organizations, helicopters flying overhead, the Governor touring and then requesting that FEMA get into gear with supplying money and modules to replace buildings for schools and homes. It’s heartbreaking.
And yet… even though it is heartbreaking, it’s also amazing how people step up… lending a hand, giving money, supplying food. These kinds of things always have two sides to them… the loss and devastation and then the wonderful response to that loss and devastation from the community. People coming together and helping each other. It’s the best in us meeting the worst mother nature can give head on. How amazing is that. How beautiful. It brings a greater sense of togetherness, a hopefulness during a very tough time.
In a world where we get images every day that are frightening and hostile and violent, something like this, when people step up and come together… it reminds us who we can be and who we are. It’s humanity at its shining best.
Sometimes, believe it or not, I revert back to being a kid. Or at least, I have kid moments. I’m no longer embarrassed by them because, you know, they just happen. Probably, I think, for everyone. My latest, which occurred last night, was by far one of the most hilarious I’ve had.
Here’s the story…
I picked Karen up from the airport last night, she flew in from her latest business trip, and then we met my brother, Kevin, for dinner at Pastini. Dinner was lovely, and tasty. Thanks Kev for the lovely company and for picking up the tab, you are a scholar and a gentleman. The meal passed without incident and afterward we walked our separate ways to our respective vehicles. Ours was parked right in front of the restaurant, but Kev had to walk a couple of blocks down to his. We took off…
Karen and I got to a red light a ways down the road and a car pulled up next to us, but a bit behind us. We thought it was Kev, even though we couldn’t really see the driver, because the car looked very much like his. The light turned green and we moseyed on, moving along the highway out to our house. It was nighttime and so was dark outside. It was then that I got the idea…
I tell Karen that we should pull up next to “Kevin” and make a face and flip him off or something. Karen says, yeah, but we should use the English bird instead of the American one (Martin was kind enough to fill us in on the particulars of the English version last time he and Mary visited). I agree and say, OK, I’ll pull up next to him, turn on the light in the car, and then we’ll do it. So… we do. We pull up next to him, I turn on the overhead light, and we each make silly faces and hold up the sign. Only, it wasn’t Kev. Karen says, in the middle of us doing this… “OH MY GOD, it’s not Kevin. It’s some other guy, with a big mustache. It could be Kev, if he was wearing a fake mustache, but I don’t think he just put on a mustache while he was driving because he knew we’d be idiots and pull a stunt like this.” So, I turn off the light and then proceed to swerve a bit as I laugh so hard I cry, and cry, and laugh. Karen is slumped down in the passenger seat as far as she can be, and trust me, it’s far… she’s small. She tells me she’s embarrassed and that I shouldn’t pull up next to the guy. She keeps saying, let him get ahead of us, or stay ahead of him. The whole time laughing and laughing, it was so damn funny.
Finally, we got to another light that was red, and “Kevin”, who isn’t Kevin, was sitting at the light in the other lane. Karen says to me, OH NO, it’s HIM… and she shrinks back down in her seat again. Luckily we didn’t have to come face to face with him again as the light changed just as we were pulling up and he sped on ahead.
The thing that made this so very funny was that I’d asked her, after she said it wasn’t Kevin, what his reaction was to the whole thing… about the look on his face. She said he had leaned over toward his driver’s side window with a very quizzical expression, as if he was trying to figure out what the heck was going on and who we were. I kept thinking… wow… to be him must have been strange and funny. Can you imagine? Looking over to see the light go on in the car passing you and two perfectly grown up women acting like goofy kids. I can only imagine the stories he’s telling today.
Ah well… it was funny. So funny that I’m sore today from laughing so hard. So funny that when mom called right after it happened and Karen and I were still laughing, she wondered what the heck was going on and Don, who was with her and in the background, wondered what we’d been smoking. He could hear us laughing. My thought about that? We are, sadly or probably not so sadly, just like this naturally. It was so funny that now, writing about it, I’m laughing again. Picturing what I imagine to be “Kevin’s” expression.
Life is a series of large and small adventures. In the grand scheme of things, this was a small one. But for us, and for the imagined “Kevin”, it’s one that will last a long long time, providing, I’m sure, many chuckles and moments of head shaking. Especially from “Kevin” who is, I’m sure, saying to himself, “who were those two ladies who were acting like total kids.” To which I would sheepishly raise my hand and say… it was I. I’m the kid, the kid in a grown person’s body… a kid in disguise.
Karen’s away right now, on business. She left yesterday, and life just isn’t the same without her.
I’m always sad when she goes. I know, this time anyway, it’s only for a couple of nights, but that doesn’t seem to matter much. The missing her is the same…. strong. Intense. Things just aren’t quite right when we’re away from each other.
I never thought I’d be a person who counted on someone so much, or felt so connected to someone, as I do with her. It’s strange and incredible. I quite like it actually. And for a person who’s been pretty independent, depending on someone, well that’s an unusual thing.
Thinking about her, about us, makes me consider the nature of relationships, or at least of my view of them. What does it mean… to be in a relationship, to be a couple… connected.
I guess, for me, it means thinking of that other person before yourself, wanting to make sure they are OK, or happy, or taken care of. It means compromising what I want sometimes because something that might not be important to me is very important to her. It means not being stubborn and trying to get my way, or do things my way every time. It’s about acceptance of faults, and even a sort of celebration of them and the differences in us. Being in a relationship, to me, means I can relax knowing my trust is not misplaced. Which is huge for me. I trust, and she knows she can too. And trust, well… that’s the cornerstone, the place where feeling safe with someone comes from. Without it, there is no safety, no ability to truly relax into the relationship. And again I’ll say… I’m lucky, and I know it.
Being in a relationship means knowing that she’s there for me, just as I am for her. It involves putting her first, before anyone else. Thinking of her, before anyone else… including myself. It’s about having a playmate, a confidante, a friend, and a champion. It’s her knowing that if she falls, or has a bad day, or is upset, I’ll drop everything else and be there to hold onto. It’s big big love, swelling up inside and pouring out so much I can’t stop myself from saying “I love you” all the time. It’s about not just talking, but listening. Being in a relationship is being content, satisfied, and found. It’s understanding each other sometimes more than we understand ourselves. It’s being truthful and honest with each other even if it’s hard, or uncomfortable. And it’s about sharing our true selves with no apologies, while at the same time having an openness and a willingness to change. It’s a celebration of life and what it means to live.
Yes, I’m lucky, and I know it. I have found what people write about in books, sing about, and crave. I have a true partner in life, in every sense. We are, as we think of ourselves, two halves of a whole. When each found the other, we finally found our true and complete selves. I know it sounds corny, but that’s been the feeling…. like the world snapped in place, instantly and audibly, when our hearts met for the first time. I swear, it’s like all the cells in my body took a deep breath and then sighed collectively. And what’s amazing is that the feeling still exists… that instant relaxation, as if I’ve come home, is there every time I’ve been away from her and then am with her again. Every time.
I miss her, and I can’t wait until she comes home, because I know when she does I will, once again, feel like I’m home too. Even though I’ve been here all along, she hasn’t, and without her the house is just a place I live. The us that we are… that’s home. That’s why when she returns tomorrow, well, I’ll feel like I’m coming home too.
The Great Migration
Published November 17th, 2005 Essays 1 Comment Edit
The think tank has moved. I did, however, bring over my little missives from the previous site. Stay tuned….
Saturday, November 12th, 2005
Back to Busy-ness
I am amused and feeling a sense of happy contentment. It’s Friday night, and we have no plans. I think to myself… what a luxury. We seem to be busy all the time. And I want to know, when did that happen? When did busy become the way of life? I’m scratching my head here.
Everyone is rushing. Have to get to the next meeting, the next phone call, the next dinner, the next movie, the next chore around the house. We have calendars on desks, in phones, on computers, in hand held devices. And most of those, well the electronic ones anyway, have alarms. Not only do we constantly have to write everything down, we have to audibly remind ourselves that we wrote it down.
I know, sitting here right now, there are things I should, or could, or am supposed to be doing. I can walk around my house and see all of the things left undone. If I think on it hard enough I also conjure up all the stuff not done outside, but it’s raining, so I have an excuse. Sadly, not only do the tasks around here plague me, but the piles of paperwork and files on my desk start to creep into my consciousness. They do, if I let them. I must fight it!
I want to be a kid again. Or, better yet, be me, now, but with the magic secret super power I had as a kid… that strange and mysterious ability to forget absolutely everything, except what I was doing at the moment. To ignore anything, including the sounds of mom calling from the house, even when she used all three of my names, and that meant business. But, I didn’t hear it, at least not right away. And when I did, finally, she’d probably used the dreaded three name technique to gain attention one, two, or even three times. I was in my own world, master of my own fate. In charge, completely, of my destiny. I heard nothing. I saw nothing. I did nothing, except what I was doing, right then, at the moment.
At the moment, that’s the key.
Now as an adult, I am distracted. I’m watching a movie, or reading a book, or having a conversation… and suddenly, without intent or warning, the voice starts… my evil little inner twin, the task master. It begins to knock on my consciousness, slowly at first, little pictures or a word floating into “view” inside my head. It lets me know, I am not alone. It is always, except when I’m sleeping, with me. Even in sleep I think it’s there, it’s just probably sleeping too. But when I’m awake, it’s awake. It says things like… trash… or maybe… phone call. It doesn’t have to speak loudly, or even report its message fully. It just has to whisper, like wind slightly rustling the leaves. It pushes me, gently. Starting the swirl of thoughts in my brain…. Can you believe what that kid said today? Oops, I forgot to make that call. Where was that file? The look on that parents face was so sad. I need to remember that number when I go up to court. The car is so dirty. What’s for lunch? The lawn should’ve been mowed before it started raining. That shop door needs a new gasket… And so it goes… the list. Before I know it, three scenes of a movie have gone by and I’m thinking, what the hell just happened? Damn, I have to rewind.
Our lives, as adults, are busy. There are appointments and weddings, shopping to do, calls to make, bills to pay, papers to finish, and lawns to mow. There are friends and family to spend time with, work to be done. It is a never ending constant parade of to dos, should dos, must dos. From the moment we wake until the moment we sleep, which sometimes does not come easily thanks to all the thinking, we are bombarded with it. And I, for one, think it’s time we left all the busy-ness behind and got back to the business of being kidlike again. The business of living now, seizing, as they say, the day. Letting everything else melt away… until finally, surprised because it snuck up on us, we get that elusive feeling of peace. Finally, if not briefly, satisfied with our lives, our homes, and ultimately, ourselves… inner voices quieted, a pervasive feeling of giddy awe ensuing, we do face the day, freer than we were. Amused, contented, and still. Think of it, a world of happy contented people. Looking at and living in the moment. Our world would quiet, and we… well… we might, finally, get to see an entire movie… without thinking about a thousand other things, and then having to rewind.
Wednesday, November 2nd, 2005
How to Accessorize
Lately, I feel like an accessory. Or, more to the point, I feel like in being gay, I’m a sort of accessory. Ten years ago, we weren’t, the gay I mean, even talked about, except, of course, in a negative light. Now we are everywhere. Flip the channel on the television and you’ll find us… on talk shows, sitcoms, the food network, and many of those home-decorating shows. We are the best friend, the funny neighbor, and the hip buddy with the excellent fashion sense. We are politically savvy, and not just where gay marriage is concerned. We know and are passionate about environmental causes, finding the cure for various kinds of cancer, keeping arts programs in schools, and education.
The marketing people, whoever they are, have figured this out. Because not only are we everywhere, we are also spending money. We are, generally, successful. Marketing firms know this. They have found a new and vital segment of the population. Sneaking into visual and print media are more and more ads with gay couples, or inferring gayness, in some way. They are trying to tap our market. And us… we’re easy. All a marketing firm has to do is acknowledge us and we’re theirs. Say to the heavens that we exist and are just as normal as every other person or couple, and we are with you, ready to do almost anything, support almost anything, buy almost anything.
Not to say we’re cheap, no… just hungry for simple recognition. A simple acknowledgement that we, just like all those straight people and couples out there, are the same. We love our families, our friends, and our partners. We want homes, jobs that provide a decent salary and some good benefits, peace in our lives. We want to raise families and contribute to society. We are passionate, creative, driven, smart, loving, playful, generous, deep souls… just like all of you. We breathe the same, feel the same, and love the same. We are no threat. We have no plans to take over the world. There is not a covert gay conspiracy, as some would suggest, lingering just under the surface of our wish to be “just like everyone else”. We are not recruiting. There is no secret phone line we must call every week to report the numbers we have scored for our team to determine if we’ve met our quota. No… we are, as much as anyone else, boringly normal.
And the media, as I’ve already toyed with earlier, is aware of this. They know we are here, and yes, we are queer. All of this new acknowledgement and media attention has lent itself to a mysterious phenomenon. Not just as portrayed on television and in movies, but maybe partially because of how we are portrayed on television and in movies, we are actually, in some circles, cool. We are hip, or at least, to know us is hip. Want to be thought of as “in”… mention you have a gay friend, roommate, old college buddy you always knew was gay. Want to be happenin‘… say casually, while relaying what you did last night, that you went to dinner with your gay friend and their partner. It’s social clout you can spend, it is. Think it isn’t so? Think being “in” with the gay doesn’t get you anywhere? Think again. Having a gay friend, relative, and/or a close acquaintance, can get you a long way up the hip and happening ladder. Say you watch Ellen or Will and Grace regularly, that you listen to Melissa Etheridge, the Indigo Girls, or Elton John… let on that you have heard of, or better yet have been to, a gay club or two and you, my friend, are in “the club”. That group of trendy, with it people, who are cultured, savvy, urban, and living on the cutting edge. Know how to accessorize, and the world is not only your oyster… it’s harvested, cooked, and prepared just the way you like it.
Let me explain. Need decorating tips, help with your wardrobe, a new recipe to try on your arriving company from out of town? Ask your male gay friends. They can help. They know which tie to wear with what shirt. And for that matter, they know which shoes to wear with what skirt. They can whip up a soufflé while simultaneously deciding what couch position provides the best feng shui. Need to know how to build a shop out back, tune your Harley, or what football team is ahead in their division, ask your female gay friends. They will be able to knock out a room remodel while quoting the prices of the best and most effective hiking boots sold at REI.
They key here is, according to our ever-present media, you have to know what you need and then know which gay person can be most helpful to your cause. Shoes? Harley? Plants for the sunroom? The starting line up for the San Diego Chargers? Choose wisely, and the gay can help. In fact, it’s best to have a bevy of gay people in your life. You never know when one will come in handy. If nothing else, you’ll be hip in non-gay circles and in with the newly trendy gay crowd. You’ll have an in. You will no longer be the back woods, unintelligent, uninformed, sad excuse for the regular person you once were. You will be, tah dah, friend of the gay. With the right gay friend, you’ll be a well rounded person. Lead a life that’s more vivid, more interesting, more colorful. No longer afraid to shop, to ride a Harley, to better arrange your furniture. No longer in the dark about what goes into a crème brule, or how many players are actually on a baseball team. You will be better equipped to deal with anything life throws at you. You will have constant comic relief. You will be politically correct, and yet somewhat controversial. All because you, my friend, know how to accessorize.
Tuesday, October 18th, 2005
I have this problem. Some wouldn’t think about it in that light, but to me, it’s a problem. I am a bit overweight. And on the surface, that would seem, to most people, to be the problem. But, it’s not. The real issue for me is, with my inner eye, I see myself as thin. It’s true. On the inside, I’m thin and in shape, just as I was 20 years ago at the height of my most in shape period. I can’t seem to realize that I’m not the same smallish, athletic, physically fit person I was then. Because inside, I feel like I am that person. Consequently, I don’t seem to be able to get motivated to work out. Which, at the center of it, is the thing.
It’s a conundrum of sorts. I “know”, some place within myself, that I am overweight. I “know” that the best thing to do is to eat better, work out, drink lots of water. Yadda yadda yadda. I know all of this. And yet, my thin inner me protests. It tells me I am already in shape, I’m already healthy. Why do I need to spend all of that time on the stationary bike, lifting weights, doing strength building exercises? Why do I need to choose the salad sans dressing over the burger with fries? A thin person doesn’t need to worry about all of that. And me… I’m thin. I know it. Thin.
Then it happens. The wake up call. I see a picture of myself and BAM! I can’t avoid it. There they are, staring me in the face. The chins. And, there’s not just one of them, as there should be and is on a thin person, there are two of them. Worse yet, as I hold back the gasp, sometimes there are three… if the angle is not quite right or my head is down. I know it’s me, I see the picture… yes, it’s me. I’m appalled. I’m shocked. I’m horrified. The visual image doesn’t match my inner picture of myself. Where’s the thin me? And who, someone tell me, is this girl with the chins? I can’t get my mind around it. But there it is, in the picture I’m holding in my hand.
If only I could hang on to that image of myself. Keep in touch with the shock of seeing the chins. Spoken of so often now that I almost feel the need to capitalize them as a signal of their “enormous” importance. If only I knew how to translate all of the visual horror into a change of self image. But no, I can’t. I’m horrified one minute, holding the picture, and feeling like the ol’ thin me the next after I put it down. Strange, but true.
I know what needs to happen. I know what I need to correct this terrible disparity. What I need is a brain exchange. A thought swap of sorts. I need to find a thin person who thinks they are too fat and switch mind sets with them. That, it seems, is the answer to my problem. Because just as I know my problem of perceived thinness is getting in my way of weight loss success, I know there are thin people out there whose thoughts of fatness are hindering their struggle to maintain and gain weight. If, somehow, we could switch patterns of thinking, we might, and probably could, both find success. Me as an overweight girl on the path to a thinner me, and them as a person who is too thin on the road to a fuller bodied them. We would both be much healthier. I think it could work.
I know, in the grand scheme of things, there are more important issues to worry about in the world. I know that the state of my reduced me self image should not be compared to world peace, hunger, war, incongruities in the fight for equal rights. And yet one small victory here is big for me. It would mean a reduction in my number of chins. I would see myself as I am now, and act. Which, if one looks at it, is a cause for celebration. Because finally, I might find myself with an inner thin self image that matches the truth of what is. And isn’t that what we are all looking for? An inner truth matching our projection of ourselves into the outer world. Just think… if we had a world where people could truly be themselves, whatever that would mean, what a beautiful world it would be. Self images, far and wide, improved… inner and outer. The thin inner me would rejoice at that. No more inner conflict. No more thinking I’m thin only to find, alas, I am not. No more shock in seeing pictures of myself. I can start… I can… it would just take a strong conversation with myself, again… and a chin up… or two.
Tuesday, October 11th, 2005
Pie and Coffee
Here it is, Tuesday, I’m back at work. How to describe the weekend? I find myself at a loss in this area because I’m emotionally pulled in so many directions. But here I sit, alone in my office during lunch, about to give it a try anyway, as torn as I am.
I guess the first thing that comes to mind is beautiful. And it was. The celebration of my grandmother’s life, held on Saturday, October 8, at noon, was simply beautiful. Not just the setting, though it was, and not just the people, though they were as well. No, it was the spirit of it. The mood. There we were, a large room full of people, all thinking and feeling so deeply about her. All honoring her. And honestly, there was joy in it. Sadness, to be sure, but also a feeling of joy and connection. She would’ve loved her day. Children and grandchildren getting up to talk about her, their voices all filled with so much love and respect. Music… sung and played, food… including, of course, chocolate, a slide show… with music, and people laughing about this thing or that thing they remembered her doing or saying. So much love, and so present in the room, the sense of a life so well lived. And I guess, thinking about it sitting here, that’s the thing. She lived her life well. And we, those lucky enough to be related to her, to be present because of her, learned that from her. We have learned how to live our lives well. The whole event so well organized by her children, the slide show so well done by her son. Her husband, our father and grandfather, so well looked after by his children, his grandchildren. So much compassion, so much respect. And there it is… the truth of the matter, and the truth of a life like hers. Even that day, with her physically gone from us, we were more connected because of her. The family bond strengthening… feeling her arms wrapped around the collection of us, hugging us tightly together. As if she was saying to us, I’m still here, holding you all. We all felt it. As we held each other, as we cried, and even as we laughed. I feel it still. I don’t think it will ever go away. Her power so strong, her influence so rich, her love so great.
We spent the rest of that day together, those that could, and the better part of the next. And then Sunday night we went to watch my uncle play music. She would’ve loved that as well. People enjoying his music, some food, some wine or beer or whatever, and again, being together.
Karen and I left for home after Tom was done making music, and half way there, tired from driving so late, we stopped… for pie and coffee. I thought it was fitting, and I know grandma was smiling. She herself a fan of stopping during early morning hours for pie and coffee, getting a break from driving during long road trips, children asleep in the car. I thought to myself, as afterward we got back in the car and continued the drive home, grandma was there with us. And I know that she’s here with me now. As she will always be… during stops for pie and coffee, during those transcendent moments listening to a great piece of music, during a hug, a call, a laugh, the reading of an email from family. She is there. And that, as it always will, gives me a great sense of comfort… and joy.
Tuesday, October 4th, 2005
A life… Beautiful
My grandmother passed away early this morning. I got the call from my mom some time around 6:30, though now it’s hard to remember just when. I drove to work, not really remembering the drive, and have found myself sitting here, not able to concentrate on whatever task it is I’ve had at hand. And that much, I’m sure, is to be expected. I’m working today because, I think, if I didn’t, I’d just be sitting at home, restless… thinking. Instead, I sit here… restless, interrupted at times by a phone call or email I have to answer, and thinking.
I saw my grandmother three weeks ago. Frail…yes. Tired… absolutely. Full of life… always. She was an amazing woman. Had an amazing life. I walked around my grandparents house three weeks ago in wonder. Slowly passing by photographs of a positively amazing history… awe struck. Phenomenal. 64 years with my grandfather. 64 years of love, of life. A life so rich, so beautiful, that wandering around looking at the record of it, I could feel it’s texture. There were books and drawings, copies of marriage licenses, and picture after picture of a life so full it spilled from those photographs out into the living room, where the miracle of that life sat manifest… in children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. The legacy that’s been left is not just that these people all exist because of her, but that they are all, every last one of them, stellar. Magnificent. They are the best people I know. Intelligent, kind, loving, curious, full of laughter, accepting, driven, artistic, educated, musical, good to the core people. There is never judgment, never an unkind word, ever. They rejoice with each other, celebrate each other, comfort each other… all of them. All the time. There is never a criticism, even a hint of should or shouldn’t… always, in the truest sense of the word, there for each other. My grandparents had seven children, who themselves had 19 children, who themselves have starting bringing many more into the fold. And in the bunch of us, there is not one who is not, in his or her own way, an outstanding human being. All of this, for me, started with my grandparents… the people that they were… are… have been to us. Those two people created the beautiful tapestry that is our family. Those two people created something rare. And we, who are lucky enough to be part of it, know it. It is not, and has never been, taken for granted.
There was a lot of laughter that weekend, three weeks ago, as there always is with this family. My grandmother, central to the scene, as she has always been, involved in it all. I thought to myself, sitting with them that day, what an honor it was, and is, to be a part of it. The luck of my draw. I often wonder how it happened, that I ended up a part of this history, a link in this beautiful chain. I am thankful, every day, for my fortune. I am grateful every day, for the honor of it. And from now, until the end of my days, I will be celebrating my grandmother’s life, as she would’ve wanted me to… by living my life in the best way I can. With joy, love, peace, and happiness, amidst the family… that she made.
Monday, October 3rd, 2005
Three days in San Jose
Just got home from hanging with the in laws. It was a good trip. Karen’s parents seem to have accepted me, and better yet, they really like me. I think it’s nice for her. All the years of not really being able to be herself, and now she can just be. They are obviously happy she is happy, which is really the important thing anyway. We didn’t do much while we were there, other than hang around chatting, but that was nice. Every time I’m with them I like them more.
We did go to a movie one night with her sister, Cathy, and her nephew, Charles. I really like that kid. He’s 16 and sort of quirky, and it’s that great kind of quirky. He’s smart, has a great off beat sense of humor, and he doesn’t feel the need to conform to what’s hip. He’s a kid who absolutely loves movies. Old and new, it doesn’t matter. Plus, he knows about them… technique, directors, cast, etc. He’s passionate about it, and that, in anyone, is very attractive. We saw the movie Serenity. Good movie even if you’ve never seen the tv show. There were a lot of people there who obviously had not just watched the tv show, but have gotten into it so much they dress the part. There are clubs for browncoats. Who knew. Not I, but it was pretty entertaining watching them. It was premiere weekend for this particular film and since there’s such a huge cult following, which I also was unaware of, there was a line, the people in costume as I mentioned before, and pre-show trivia complete with prizes for those who knew obscure tidbits about the characters, etc. Needless to say, I didn’t win anything. I did, however, come home with a key chain, thanks to Cathy’s quick grab of a flying key chain after the trivia was over.
Karen’s parents made a full on turkey dinner Saturday night. I guess they figure that they don’t get their kids together very often and since all three were there, it was a time to celebrate. I got the honor of being the forker. When Karen’s dad carves the turkey a person stands there and forks the carved turkey onto the platter. I was told that not everyone gets to be a forker so I was touched he asked me. Standing there, forks at the ready, I felt the pressure to perform and live up to my new post and title. He said I did well, so I might, if I’m lucky, be asked to fork again.
Today I’m lucky enough to be able to hang at home. Relax after traveling. Karen, busy as she is, had to go in to work today. A perk of my job is getting to take off quite a bit of time. I’m fortunate enough to earn comp time on top of my accrued vacation time, so that helps. I slept in today. What a luxury. Sitting here sipping on green tea, still wearing pajamas that I know I won’t change out of, looking outside at the forest and the rain, I think it’s time to head in and see what movie I can find to watch. It’s Monday, and I’m home. How lucky am I?
What ya’all had to say to this point….
(Anonymous) 2 weeks ago
Jeeze Girl…I gotta take issue with your latest epistle. Your’e one of my best friends and there is absolutely nothing “with it” or “cool” about me…I’m the old frumpy grumpy guy; the token old fart. Therefore your whole primise is ruined. Sorry about that, but then it’s not the first thing I have ravaged or despoiled. ted
(Anonymous) 2 weeks ago
I’m so proud to have a gay friend. Makes me kinda cool. You go girl. But hey the white socks/w black pants have got to go!!!!!
(Anonymous) 2 weeks ago
If ones knows TOKENHIPPYGIRL they also know that chins don’t matter. sm
(Anonymous) 3 weeks ago
Tam, you have a way with words that keeps me cracking up…You are very talented, and this note would be fabulous in some magazine somewhere…When are we going to get you published???
(Anonymous) 5 weeks ago
Pie & Coffee
Thanks for this. I came here to read, once again, the previous piece you wrote (and to send it on to Aunt Elizabeth) and find you have been spinning your magic again. I love these things you write and I know everyone else does too. Thanks again. Love, Syd
I got home yesterday to find a letter from my grandpa had arrived. I was thrilled.
We live in an age when hand written communication is going by the wayside. We call, we fax, we e-mail, we instant message, and we text message. We hardly ever sit down and actually write out, in longhand, what we want to say… and then to follow that up with taking the time to put it in an envelope, address it, put a stamp on it, and mail it. Unheard of.
So grandpa… thanks. I loved getting a letter from you. And, I had no trouble reading it either, as you had imagined I might. In fact, I read it aloud to Karen as she made dinner last night. It was fantastic.
Getting the letter made me think about my grandfather… and there’s so much I could say about him. Like, I wonder if he knows he’s the axis at the center of things in our family. I wonder if he realizes he’s where we all get our incredible sense of what’s right, our wonderful sense of play, and our good hearted and good natured demeanor. Because, amazingly enough, down to the last of the 60 of us, we are all both good natured and good hearted. It’s incredible really, the way we all look at life as a big adventure while at the same time keeping that balanced with a strong sense of responsibility. How did that happen, how did we get so lucky. Personally, I think it started at the top. It was grandpa. Grandpa and grandma.
It is luck really, to be born into such a family. This brood of fun loving, intelligent, interested, educated (and I don’t mean just formally), curious, playful, music loving, genuinely nice, thinking, eclectic, sincere people. And I say to myself… thank God I drew this lot. Thank you thank you.
I think about all of us, the line of us, and at the pinnacle is grandpa. He is the embodiment of everything we strive to be. And I know, if he’s reading this, being the guy he is, he won’t take credit for too much of who we’ve become… but he should. He was the example we all gauged our lives by… and in fact, he still is, and we still do.
He worked hard to support a family of 9, and I don’t think anyone has ever heard him complain about it. Ever. Not only that, through all of those years, he was a true partner to my grandma. They had, at least to an outside eye, a near perfect balance. He was the calm, always, in any storm. Level headed, easy going, and generous with his time, and his attention. As he still is.
One of the most amazing things about him is the glint in his eyes. He has a bit of mischief in him, and always a bit of fun. No matter what he’s doing, when I’ve been with him at least, he seems to enjoy himself… to find the fun. He gets life, knows what’s important, and loves it. To see that glint is to know he enjoys every day, and sees it as a gift. At least, I feel like he always has, and even if that’s not true, he made me feel that every time I was and have been with him, which is incredible.
I think about grandpa and I feel this overwhelming sense of pride. Pride because he’s my grandfather, pride because he raised my mother and her siblings to be who they are, and pride because I get to be a part of that… a part of this amazing history we are making every day. What’s more, I feel like grandpa has always understood me… like he’s always seen the real me. He’s always seemed to know what made me tick, and he has always been genuinely interested in what I had to say, even when I was very young. I’ve learned so much from him. Not just how to tie my shoes, which he did teach me, or how to play chess or backgammon, but what it means to be accepting, generous of spirit, and emotional. In fact, I’m getting emotional now… writing all of this and thinking about him. It’s how I am. I think about what makes me proud or happy or how much I love the people in my life and I get teary…. which, I guess, is something else I got from him. He is truly a grand self possessed man.
Lastly, there’s something else that when talking about grandpa a person can’t ignore or leave out… music and dance. He has played music nearly all of his life it seems, from the time he was a young man. Piano is his instrument of choice. He didn’t learn to read music, but instead listened, and then played. He loves it, completely, and has a style that is all his own and instantly engaging. Largely because of him music has always been a part of our lives, the love of it passed down from one generation to the next. Many of us have learned to play an instrument, or sing, or just to appreciate all kinds of music, the sounds of it playing around us most of our days. And for the gift of that, of making and listening to music, I am immeasurably grateful to him. The joy it brings, the center, the peace… he understands that, and has helped us to understand it as well. Besides playing and listening though, my grandpa also loves to dance. He relishes it, most especially now with his daughters and granddaughters. And when you partner him it’s as if you are transported to another place, forced to let go of everything in life expect for the moment you’re in with him… following him and moving to his own personal rhythm. It’s a wondrous thing. To get the honor of dancing with him, anytime… it’s jumping into life with both feet, letting go, and holding on… all at once. His love of it has been infectious, lovely, and yet another lesson in living life to the fullest.
It’s hard to sum up your feelings for and about someone, but I guess I’ll just say this… to know him is to respect and care about him, and to be his granddaughter is, in a word, breathtaking. He’s taught me so much about life, living well, what it means to be a good person, and fun. He is, without a doubt, one of the best people I have ever met. In fact, he could easily be the best person I have ever met. And lucky me… he’s not just some amazing guy I know… he’s my grandpa.