Tag Archives: relationships

Process

paisley.snake
I listened to a song “The Climb” recently and it started me thinking. (After I stopped laughing about the singer, someone so young and privileged I doubt they have a clue about a real climb. Anyway.

I thought longer and harder about “the climb.” What does it really mean? Is life a climb? A process? Is that why so many people are so miserable when they don’t get what they want immediately (including me?)

“Maybe it depends on what it is you’re seeking,” says Tonya, one therapist I spoke with. “When you have unrealistic expectations, you set yourself up for disappointment.”

“So what are realistic expectations?” I asked, searching for definitive answers.

“If you don’t have a degree in Business Administration, and no actual working management experience, it isn’t realistic to apply for a CEO position in a Fortune 500 corporation,” Tonya explained, “But if you’ve made an effort to educate yourself beyond just acquiring a degree, pursued a specific career goal, then you can use that to show your unique initiative when you apply for a management position. You have to make decisions about what you ultimately want-not just more money, and all right now.”

“OK, I see how that applies to job seekers, but what about happiness?”

“Happiness isn’t a destination, its part of the journey, like sadness, frustration, hunger, joy, anxiety…the journey of life is a process.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that you can’t have everything you want right this minute, and that’s not a bad thing.” Tonya smiled as she explained.

Savor the process, another person told me. He’s an artist and is working on something all the time.
“I don’t worry about how long it takes me to finish a painting,” he says, “I like the feel of the brush on the canvas. I like mixing paints. I like stretching canvas. I love the process. If you don’t love process, you’re going to be frustrated with most things in life, I think.”

“Think about process in everything,” a new mother told me, “I get up in the middle of the night to a crying baby, a terrible odor. I never get a ‘thanks for my bottle, Mom,’ when I stumble into my baby’s bedroom at 2am. I listen to his wails and I’ve learned to identify the difference between ‘I’m hungry, I’m wet, I’m lonesome and what’s going on out there?’ And I love it all because I accept the process. My other child, my 5 year old daughter, helps me prepare dinner, change the baby, plant vegetables, feed the cats… and no, it isn’t as fast as I could do it myself, but she’s learning to be a person, not just a creature that needs entertainment! She drops things in the kitchen. and we clean it up together. I don’t have to have everything perfectly aligned, or just so. My children depend on me to teach them how to be independent, responsible human beings. Nothing significant happens in an instant. I make myself stop occasionally, even when I’m changing a diaper, and consciously acknowledge what I’m doing. That’s how I figured out what process means.”

So now, I am actively catching myself “in process.” I don’t try to hurry up and get dinner on the table. I cut the vegetables and boil water for tea and think about what foods taste good with what other foods. I experiment. That also means I miss a lot of TV. On purpose. Life is not TV. I’m watching and listening, I’m paying attention. Process means paying attention. It’s interesting, this idea of process. It makes almost every activity more interesting, more meaningful. It also reduces stress because I’m not panicking.

I even manage work better- I’m paying attention to what I’m doing, not thinking about what I have to do next. At first, I’m slower because it’s a new behavior, but I eventually become faster because I’m focused. And I enjoy everything a lot more. At the end of the day, I feel a sense of accomplishment rather than feeling that I hadn’t done enough. Process means there will always be more to do.

This week, make a conscious effort to stop what you’re doing-whatever you’re doing-at least once a day and really pay attention. Listen to your wife, husband, children. Really listen, don’t try to formulate answers while they’re talking. Look at the color of their hair, the way their mouth shapes the words. At least once this week stop and experience the process of life, of living. It’s over much too quickly.

What I owe

I’m healing, though more slowly than I’d like. When I’m active, I’m happy. Even when I’m reading or writing, my head is active. Not being able to do what I want is another kind of trapped for me, but at least I know the reason for it and can measure progress.

Yesterday I watched the sky and heard the birds and thought I would like to do a section hike as soon as I can trust my feet again. Only this time I will stop and be part of what’s going on instead of feeling the pressure to simply keep moving. And knowing I will be home after a few days should keep me from closing up like I did on the Trail. I hope.

I still don’t really understand what was happening to me out there. I know eating became harder and harder. Even when I was in town, I could only eat  a little at a time. My body wanted to reject everything. On the trail, eating became an ordeal, a fight that left me frightened and resigned at the same time.

Was this me letting go? I thought of everyone, everything, every unfinished conversation, project, relationship. I struggled with painful homesickness when I remembered my peaceful little house and Max and Annie. They moved restlessly through my thoughts. I wondered if Max was still checking the house for my return. I missed them horribly. I cried while I walked, thinking of all the things I’d done-or not done-to be where I was. I walked every day in pain, searching for something. The woods were no longer the sanctuary they had always been for me. I felt nothing but the pressure to walk and walk and walk. I struggled to interact with the people I met along the way, even though I did enjoy a few conversations, wantd to be part of the relationships I saw developing sometimes. I watched and listened and marveled at the conversations between strangers. People smiled at me and welcomed me into this trail family. Eventually oerwhelmed, I became less and less capable of socializing.

So many days I walked without seeing a soul until I neared the  shelter. I listened to conversations and realized lots of hikers walked alone, all day. Maybe that’s why they gravitated toward each other with such eagerness at campsites. I didn’t want to camp alone for safety reasons, but felt OK lying in my tent on the fringes, listening to people talking and laughing. It didn’t comfort me exactly, just assured me that there would be help if I needed it. Other hikers felt the same, I’m sure.

Closing off, shutting down, were not what I expected to experience on the trail. Just the opposite, in fact. I’d hoped the walking, the solitude, would help me open up, help me see things in a calmer way, help me understand myself and the people in my life. What I understood between the pain and the nausea, was that I was losing any purpose I might have. I felt no reason to keep walking, or anything else.

I decided that besides losing the joy I had always felt outdoors I was also losing the ability to feel anything. I told myself I owed my brother money and that  he deserved repayment of that money, as well as my gratitude for caring about me when I no longer did. One day I stopped walking, saying out loud “I hate this!” and decided to leave the trail.

I’ll pay Johnny back as soon as I can spend days on my feet again (I am meeting my next assignment tomorrow) and plan my next section hike as soon as I get my life on a schedule of sorts. Even though living in Mars Hill is a terrible struggle in the winter and gas is so expensive, I may go back to my little house because that’s where Max is. Being there with Max and Annie again is what I want right now, more than anything. Beyond that, I still don’t feel connected, just obliged. I need to pay Johnny back because he is generous and tender and feels more than I ever did. This makes me regard him with a kind of awe. And I want to deserve his caring.

It’s odd, this whole “why do it?” thing that goes through my head all the time. I watch and listen and wonder why do they bother? My romantic relationships are like old movies now. I can play them in my head and remember that I was in love, that I felt joy and excitement and anticipation and disappointment and pain. I laughed and cried and touched his face, smelled the scent of his skin after we made love and felt my heart jump when I heard his car in the drive. But they are memories washed clean now. Nothing moves inside me when I remember. It is not so hard to keep my life uncomplicated now.

His wife died

She died yesterday. His wife has been sick for a while, and we all knew it would be soon. Friends offer comfort, using the same phrases we have all used “I’m so sorry” “She’s not suffering now” “You’re in our prayers.”

Everyone means well and what else can they say? I wonder, as he nods and shakes hands, or accepts the endless casserole dishes, if he wishes they would all leave him alone?

I watch the delicate ballet of people moving slowly, the way people do when they get up at night, trying not to wake rest of the household. They are being considerate and kind, and he knows it. It’s all they can do, really, and he knows that, too.

I’m grateful that the usual things are happening for him. Things he can count on, tradition, ritual, expected words and gestures. I know that soon he will be catching himself walking oddly, alone instead of in tandem with her. He’ll throw away countless pots of coffee before he remembers he only needs to make enough for one. How many browning bananas will he throw into the compost pile before he changes the grocery list he’s been using for years?

How long before his friends begin urging him to “get out,” a euphemism for “find someone new.” Will he decide to keep learning the rules of solitaire- living alone?

I, too, am glad she is no longer suffering, but I feel the usual disconnect. This is another experience I won’t have.

My break-ups were devastating. But they were the result of betrayal, abandonment, not the natural progression of life, which is death. After the last, I made a conscious decision to stop trying to do something at which I obviously sucked. I chose to be alone. Now, after several years, I’m poor but man, I could teach a class in Living Alone and Loving It.

I’m not glad that this is something I’ll never know, like childbirth or having health insurance. This is just an observation.

And I’m really looking forward to getting on the Trail.

Countdown

It’s February 15. Mid February. I’m counting in weeks now, instead of months. I have my tax refund, but other things have made serious dents in the money I’ve worked so hard to save for this trip. I don‘t  care. I’ll make every effort to have enough to be comfortable on this trip but if there isn’t much money, I’ll make do with what I have. I mean, it’s not like I haven’t been doing that for…how long now?

In the past few months, I’ve been living in other people’s homes. I try-very hard-to be a good guest and pay my way with housework, errands, cooking, anything to make up for paying with  actual cash. I’ve been more successful at some times than others. I don’t have nearly the amount I thought I would have by now but then, none of us can predict the future. I also would never have predicted some of the situations living in someone else’s home have created.

In fact, I feel terrible even hinting that there has been anything but graciousness toward me. To that end, I won’t post specific incidents, but I will say that I’m never going to do anything like this again. It feels like something else I failed at.  I have spent a great deal of my life feeling like a failure. Failing at marriage, love in general, my graphic design career. Owning a home, keeping a job, I’ve failed at pretty much everything we do as adults to build our lives. Don’t go leaping for the keyboard to tell me I shouldn’t feel that way. Should or shouldn’t has nothing to do with it. Feelings are feelings. We can’t control them. We CAN control what we do. So, every day I just keep getting up and doing my best. Every night, I hope it’s enough. When it isn’t I keep going anyway. I cry, I cuss, I blame the universe, I feel sorry for myself that all my work doesn’t matter…and then I get on with it.

This trip has actually given me hope, a goal, and a chance to do something I’ve always wanted to do, something that can help me define myself in terms other than what I didn’t do.

My art, my writing-my creative life-has helped me see that the other failures aren’t any more important than I let them be. Of course, failing to keep a job can certainly affect where you live, what you drive, etc., but I’ve also learned to just accept being poor and never having anything extra. I don’t want a big house, an expensive car, new shoes every week. I want to be able to keep a little money aside, I want to buy art supplies when I need them, and I want to be able to keep my car running. I have no desire to ever own property. I want enough to spend my days writing, making art, without worrying about rent.

So that’s my long term goal, I guess. A small, simple life that no one can interfere with, or judge.  The past few years have disconnected me to the point I find myself staring at people, wondering why they do it. Old, poor, miserable, panicked. Why? Why do I do it, is the logical sequence and too many days I have no answer. I ache for this time on the trail when I can stop and stare at the sky, listen to birds, drink from a Spring, feel the muscles in my body strain, hear my own breath, open myself to cold and heat and rain and hunger. Feel alive and connected, something I haven’t felt in a long, long time.

gathering leaves

There is snow on the ground now. Autumn faded weeks ago. The last hike I took during the height of blazing color, I marveled at the colors and shapes of the leaves above me, leaves falling gently around me, leaves carpeting the trail under my feet. I bent and picked up a sugar maple. smiling at the golden color, still tinged with green at the tip. I picked up Japanese maple leaves, tiny, pointed and fiery red. There was yellow- green oak, maroon birch, until I finally had a handful of carefully stacked leaves. I cried silently as I walked to my car. I could still hear my mother’s voice, a hundred years ago it seems now, when I gave her one of my drawings for  mother’s day.

“Oh, I love trees!” she had said. The drawing was a detailed study of three maple trees against some rocks. “I love anything with trees in it,” she said, looking at the drawing and smiling as genuinely as I had ever seen her smile.

I said, “You want some with color? Mama, I can draw any kind of trees you want.” I was suddenly sorry that I had not brought her something magnificent, an oil painting, something other than a pencil drawing.

“Oh, yes! I love fall leaves. Paint me something with trees in the fall! All those colors! I always wanted to go to the mountains in the fall and see those colors, trees as far as you can see, in orange and red and …well, you’re the artist, paint me something like that!”

My mother had never been to the mountains in the fall to see the leaves. We lived in a small North Carolina town; she had been raised less than 12 miles away. She had been to Aiken, SC, the coast (once or twice) and the small towns in between to visit relatives. That was the only reason anyone traveled, to visit relatives. You moved if you had to find work and you traveled to visit relatives. That was the world my mother was raised in.

She had seen pictures of the mountains in fall. I did paint a picture of fall trees at a lake, with the trees mirrored in the water. She gasped and hugged me and hung the picture near where she spent most of her last days, in a chair surrounded by reading material.

Now, as I gathered leaves, I remember how much she had loved them.  I had been gathering leaves every fall since her death without really knowing why I had this compulsion.  I had gathered leaves and made placemats, bookmarks, mounted them in small picture frames, pressed them in books to be useful later.

I thought about her as I stood there holding leaves of brilliant red, gold, green-bronze, and purple…and I remembered her saying once, “Oh, I don’t know what tree it is, but the leaves turn red-gold in the fall.” I laughed because I knew the same thing. I couldn’t remember the names of certain trees, but I knew how they looked in the fall.

Suddenly, I realized my mother had shown me a way into art. She had shown me how to love something I couldn’t name. I didn’t have to have a reason to make art; I just had to do it. The pictures didn’t have to mean anything; they just had to be worth looking at. They should be something you wanted near you.

I love the shape of trees, in all seasons, and I find myself looking for them everywhere I go. They are trimmed, trained, and pushed into line in the city, carefully placed in proximity to houses in the suburbs, planted in neat rows along the interstate…but in the mountains they are wild and messy and completely free. Aflame in the fall, boldly naked in winter, tender during spring and welcoming in the summer. They hold out their leafy branches like arms and whisper with the wind while I’m hiking. Birds live in them, calling to each other and me, when I’m there.

They live out loud here and my mother lives in them. I felt that realization like a hard thump on my back. She loved something she couldn’t even get to. She had been raised in the fields, a tenant farmer’s daughter. There were trees nearby, wild, scrubby pines, and dogwoods near the streams. She had probably always felt trees were a safe and welcoming symbol for a time gone forever. I had never realized that about her until she, too, was gone forever.

She was more complicated than I knew. She wasn’t a good mother; this isn’t an attempt to paint my mother into someone I think other people will like. She failed us, as a mother, and there is no way around that. She failed her children but not because she was selfish, an addict, or any of the most popular reasons for failing your children. She failed because she didn’t know what to do and the few things she tried didn’t work. I have lived long enough, and failed enough, that I am beginning to understand.

She was only 17 when she married my father, who took her away from the little she knew. That’s what abusive people do, they isolate their captives. I understand now that she was no older, emotionally, than her own children. She loved us when she was rocking us, breastfeeding us, changing our diapers, etc. But when Daddy walked into the room-or staggered-she knew only terror and as we grew older, she simply watched in frozen horror when he decided to whip us, bellow and terrorize us, etc. She did what most abused people do; she tried to make us understand that WE had to keep from making Daddy mad. I understood pretty early that it didn’t matter what the hell you did or didn’t do, when the demons got into him and you fell into his line of sight-you were a goner. Hell, we made jokes about it.

For years, I hated her, felt sadness for her, regretted her. Now I’m seeing that she gave me more than I realized. She helped me see with an artist’s eyes. She helped me learn to love the natural world, helped me appreciate it; see that there is a universe out there that has nothing to do with me and everything to do with me. She helped me see that everything is connected.

I finally realize she was a human being-complicated as human beings are. She wasn’t one thing. She was brilliant about many things and sadly child-like in other ways. She loved me as only she could and I held that against her. If she could have gone to the mountains in the fall, she would have. She couldn’t, but I could and now I live here. This is the first place I have found true meaning in my life, and I thank my mother for leading me here.

Bamboo is the new wood

I’m listening to comics, my neighbors, people in the grocery store, near me in a  restaurant, I’m reading newspapers, watching CNN and you know what?

I’m tired of the same old shit that may have been funny once but after years of thinking about this stuff, it just gets on my nerves.

I miss George Carlin.

For years I’ve been laughing out loud at the relationship jokes. Inside, I’ve been hearing those jokes over and over and they’ve been fermenting.

You know, the ones about women are from Venus, men are from Mars? No, we aren’t; we’re all from planet EARTH.

I finally realized we laugh at all that crap to jusitfy the stupid shit we do and put up with!

You know how male comedians drawl about how their wives either can’t or won’t cook or won’t give them blowjobs and that’s why men cheat…or how their wives always remember their birthday so they live in terror of forgetting her birthday even though they remember every hole of golf they EVER shot … you know that bit. And they end up explaining that they are “wired” to cheat and disregard anything they don’t find important so it’s not their fault and we should giggle and muss their hair and sigh with happiness that he finds his way home…most of the time.

After all, they’re really just little boys with pockets full of rocks and snails.

I don’t know about you, but it creeps me out to contemplate sex with a child.

Then the female comedians rant about their husbands forgetting their anniversary, or running into the stewed tomato dispayy in the grocery store because he was gawking at some teenager in hip huggers. The comedian tells us about her husband who spent $400 on a  golf club and shrieked when he saw the price tag on the shoes she bought for work in the snobby uptown office. But then she ends the story telling how gooey she got when he got all teary-eyed at their baby’s birth.  (We don’t need any more people!!!)

He gagged at the first diaper change and remained a breathing corpse through the baby’s endless middle-of-the-night feedings (though both parents had to get up for work.) Then she brags about working all day, doing the housework-like women should receive a medal.

This is not a man-hater rant, so don’t bust my chops with a bunch of  “boy, you must be a dyke or something.” This is a rant about accepting less than adult behavior-just to say we’re in a  relationship.

Can’t we evolve past our primal programming any better than this?

Some of us have opted out of the baby derby. Life can be just as rewarding without multiplying or even being in a committed relationship. You know what else? We don’t have to justify living with a Neanderthal (or a shrew) no matter how cute they are.

I’ve got a cat.

Something else-these trendy slogans …”60 is the new 40.” I remember when 40 used to seem so old. Now that a lot of us are 40+ we’re still using an age for old! 60 is 60!! I’m healthy, bright and I’m learning stuff all the time. I know lots of people of different ages and I do everything that I did at 20-except sit by the phone and hope “he’ll call.” Lots of the people I know who are LOTS younger than me can’t keep up, so don’t cram a lot of preconceived ideas into a number-we have insurance companies to do that (gggrrr.)

I’ve learned age is relative. (yeah, what insight, huh?) Also, if you’re trying to varnish your number, you’re hanging with the wrong crowd.

OK, comments welcome, but remember, I don’t hate men, I actually know a few people in good relationships and I take my hat off to them, and there are old people around (though not necessarily 60) so please don’t comment if it is to tell me something I already know.