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I have been sucked into a vicious cycle. I’m not sure how it even started, or why I continue to show up for it, or how to resolve it in a way that I am satisfied with.
I am a busy person, and end up with piles of (organized) clutter, because it’s something that’s in progress, or being worked on. That, to my way of thinking, is the stuff of life. It’s normal. It can be dusted, if it takes me too long to get back to it. It poses no health hazard, and though it may be an eyesore, it’s a temporary one.
On the other hand, I have a thing about wanting/needing a simple level of sanitary conditions around the house. I like the kitchen to be clean, the dishes done, the sink scrubbed, the counters washed. It grosses me out otherwise. I like the bathroom to be clean, the toilet scrubbed and wiped, the shower stall clean, the floor swept, the counters wiped. Otherwise, I am grossed out.
Apparently I have a much lower threshold for ‘gross out’ than Jeremy does. Enter vicious cycle. I express preferences. He verbally acknowledges said preferences. I assume that we’ve reached a certain level of understanding and that action will follow. I end up frustrated when the action that I assume will happen does not happen in the time frame that I find reasonable. I get angry, I express preferences to him angrily. He does what I asked.
I think that one of the most anger-inducing aspects of the entire circle is that I am not the one who’s causing the unsightly and upsetting unsanitary conditions to begin with. Jeremy eats more and more often than I do, and he fills the sink with “soaking” dishes frequently. Those are not my dishes, and not my messes – and how long does he think it takes to soak off macaroni and cheese, anyhow? I am not the one who leaves shorn beard hairs clinging all over the sink. I am not the one who stands up to go to the bathroom.
And yet, since my level of ‘gross out’ is lower, I see all this stuff, and I have to address it. When I see it, and I end up addressing it, after he’s said that he will address it, I understandably become angry and then I angrily express that to him. Then he, chagrined, goes to take care of it. Or, he sees that I am in the process of addressing it and attempts to take the dishrag from my hand and take over. Oh, no, no, my friend – your opportunity to take care of it has passed.
I made casual mention of this phenomenon to my boss the other day – a man who’s about my age or a bit older. He said, “Um. That never stops. You don’t grow out of it. That’s just how guys are.” He’s a jokester, so I was standing there, expectantly waiting for the punchline, when I could see he was all seriousness. Ugh. Dismay.
So, I’m on the ‘Path of Mastery,’ and I’m relatively enlightened (a good deal of the time) – so, I can see that I have a choice here: continue this ridiculous merry-go-round of anger and disappointment that’s getting us nowhere fast, or step off and make a new decision. That new decision has to take the shape of either me upping my threshold for ‘unsanitary messes’ (not likely), or just doing it when I see it, and shutting up about it (also doesn’t feel great).
I suppose, too, that the short answer is that I could become more tolerant of the people with whom I choose to live. But, that’s a two-way street – and my preferences for cleanliness should not always have to take a back seat and holler to be noticed.
So, until I figure out a way to jump off this carnival ride in a way that I can live with and that doesn’t involve me hollering every week of my life, I’m at an impasse. Though it is unfathomable to me, I can see that he truly doesn’t see it and truly isn’t bothered by it. Though it is unfathomable to me, I can see that he hasn’t gotten around to the mindset that I have: “If I look away from this mess now, I’ll just have to do it later, because there’s no one gonna come behind me and clean it up.” He probably hasn’t gotten to that mindset because I come along behind him and clean it up. There’ve been a few times where I was tempted to wait him out, but I just couldn’t do it – couldn’t stand the mess (cause I live here too).
So, long story short, this seems to be a phenomenon within the gender. I’ve gathered information from outside sources that confirm those suspicions. I am boggled by it. I am frustrated by it. I know that I cannot be the first chick who’s ever voiced these particular concerns about this particular set of circumstances. I also know that it’s not exclusive to the gender.
Knowing all that, though, doesn’t really help me in the now. He’s been making efforts over the past few months to address stuff before I see it and get tweaked. Usually, though, it starts with me prompting him – and that’s the step I want to eliminate. The same messes get made week after week. But what seems elementary to me may not be elementary to everyone.
Well, there are some dishes in the sink staring holes into the back of my head. And since I see it and it bothers me, I’m off to go clean it up.
I had to work on Thanksgiving Day from three-thirty to ten-thirty at night. By the time I had been there for an hour or two, I had a real good case of the saddies and was well into one of the best pity-parties I’ve thrown myself in a long, long time.
For the most part, I attend all the family celebrations and stuff – it’s always been important to me to do so. I don’t ever want to look back and say, “I wish I had….” when I have the ultimate ability to stop that from happening right now, today.
So, anyhow, I was well into a really sticky pity party. I was getting truly morose, and feeling pretty justified in it. I was up to my ears in it, when I started thinking about my parents. They always make sure that there’s a place for all of us to gather together for holidays. What would happen when they weren’t here anymore? (I make myself face this unpleasant eventuality from time to time, trying to get myself mentally prepared, even though I’m pretty sure no one is ever as mentally prepared as they think they are).
So what would happen if they weren’t here to issue the invitation and the space and time to get together, to sit around a table with one another and break bread? (The ‘What If’ game is such a lovely and effective addition to any good pity party. Guaranteed to suck you even further into the mire). I am extremely unoptimistic about either of my siblings taking up the mantle and organizing and holding any kind of gathering, so it would probably have to be me. Then I started thinking about how that would all shake down without my parents around as buffers and referees. Not pretty. Not the stuff from which hazy firelit memories are made. The stuff of nightmares, really.
Then I started thinking about what that would mean, if I didn’t get together with them anymore. If it was just me. If Wittler and I didn’t get married, and/or didn’t have kids. If I was truly all alone on Thanksgiving and on every other major occasion for gathering together with family and friends. (See, I told ya – this was a grade-A pity party I was throwing myself here).
And then, it shifted. And I started to think about how that wasn’t the case for me. I had people with whom to gather, though I was unable to for this specific holiday. People who would throw open doors and arms if I appeared today on their doorstep. But other people didn’t have that.
And that’s when I had to scrap the whole mood I’d been cultivating. There is nothing like choosing to walk the ‘Path of Mastery’ that will put the kibosh on a good pity party. You can’t stay in it when you start thinking about what it’s like out there for everyone else.
I started wondering about the really elderly lady who lives a few units down from us. I only ever see the home care nurses – no family – come and go from her apartment. Who did she gather with yesterday? I started wondering about the man who came to my counter – he made sure to tell me that he was alone by choice on Thanksgiving, how he didn’t want to gather with a ‘bunch of strangers’ and keep talking about how the turkey was great (valid). But he lingered there, at the counter with me, unwilling to leave. Wanting me to hear him and see him. Wanting connection.
I started thinking about them, and all the people like them, who are alone on days like Thanksgiving. Who are alone so much of the time. Of those who, perhaps, did not even have the memory of pleasant times gathered together with others the way that I did (warts and all).
As I broke off pieces of my cold pop-tart dinner, I knew that my mom was tucking away leftovers for me to take home with me tonight, when I go over there. I knew that they wished I was there, just as much as I wished I was.
Yeah – you can’t have a good pity party when you’re on the ‘Path of Mastery.’ You can’t keep feeling sorry for yourself, when you know that there are so many others who suffer worse than you do. Standing for a moment on another’s path, wearing their pinchy shoes, has a way of putting all your trials and tribulations in perspective.
Today, I am grateful that I have the ability and the inclination to do this. I am grateful that every single time I get myself well into a good pity party, there is something that taps me on the shoulder and says, “I know you feel bad, but look over there. Think about how that must be for them.”
I am grateful for empathy. I am grateful for the choices I’ve made, and the people who’ve chosen to walk a stretch of this path with me. I am grateful for perspective and sympathy. I am grateful.
If the only prayer you said in your life was Thank You, that would suffice. (Meister Eckhart)
I, like most people, tend to give notice to all the P.I.T.A. (Pain In The A$$) parts of life without even thinking about it. They’re there, and they prompt an emotional response, which – like one of Pavlov’s dogs, I droolingly provide.
I’ve been retraining myself to make it less ‘work,’ and more instinctive to recognize the moments of grace or kindness or joy in my life when they happen. To give them the same or better billing that the P.I.T.A. moments get. So far, it’s working.
Those P.I.T.A. moments are always going to be there. They’re a constant. To be human is to suffer, and that’s just life. But to be human is to also experience extraordinary moments of joy or clarity or beauty or love.
This was originally going to be a post thanking the myriad folks who’ve done me a solid somehow over the course of my life. And I started to make the list. But what I noticed was that the things I remembered best, and wanted to thank them for were all the intangibles, all the small things. Sure, I’m grateful for all the things that people have done for me or given to my physically, but more, it’s the acts of kindness, the small gestures, the smiles, the laughter, that have stayed with me.
I am grateful today for everything that has ever happened. I am grateful today for all that’s been said (and not said), for all that was done (and not done). It has brought me to the very place I stand today, and it’s a good place to be.
Wishing all of you the kind of peace that comes from liking where you are, and knowing that everything that happened was meant to get you there.
I’ve just got to divulge something here. Something I fail to understand.
I live with the King of Condiments.
When we moved, my brother looked in the fridge after we’d unpacked everything, hoping for a small smackerel of something, anything – and found…an ‘empty’ fridge. He exclaimed, “Where are all the bags of stuff I carried up that had to ‘go in the fridge right away’? I’m starving!” I directed his despondent gaze to the ‘frigerator door – and the array of sauces and syrups and jars and bottles and shakers tucked into the shelves. Yes, all five bags of ‘food’ went on the door shelves – the ones reserved solely for Condiments.
I don’t understand this incessant need that Jeremy has to decorate his food and doctor it up with a bunch of sauces and mustards and stuff. Maybe it’s ‘cause my folks are of German descent – a heritage that does not lend itself to savory and succulent cuisine. Maybe I’m culinarily unimaginative.
What I do know is that it is maddening to hear the rattle-rattle of a knife pinging around the sides of yet another nearly-empty mayonnaise jar, when it feels like I just bought some. And the inevitable cry that accompanies this discovery: “Babe! We’re out of mayo!” *sigh* Again?
I love that he loves food. I love that he enjoys and savors the experience of making food and devouring food. It’s novel.
I just don’t understand this whole conspicuous consumption of condiments gig that he’s got rollin’ here. From the rate that these jars go dry, his sandwiches should look like soup – that, or he’s eating far more sandwiches than I envision one single human being could manage.
It’s a mystery. And one I may not ever understand. In the meantime, I need to go add ‘mayo’ to my mental shopping list. Again.
Dig it – today I am trying to emulate Hildegard of Bingen and be as “a feather on the breath of God.”
I’ve struggled my entire life to find the right balance between two totally different outlooks, and unable to cling to one or the other. Either I adhered a little too tightly to the preferred outlook of those who had a huge hand in the way that I was raised: “God helps them who help themselves.” Or, I clung a bit too tightly to that whole “the lilies of the field” outlook: neither toil nor spin.
There’s gotta be something in between those two things. Something manageable, something I can maintain.
I’ve always been a planner, and that’s served me well in so far as I’ve gotten far and done a lot in the relatively few years I’ve been kicking around the world. I’ve asked myself more and more lately if getting far is as important as ending up where you hoped to be.
Because I’m not altogether certain I have.
And that’s okay, in a way. I wouldn’t take any of it back. Not even the most craptastical parts. (Which then begs the question that maybe wherever we end up, is exactly where we were meant to be, whatever it is. Which is like the chicken and the egg, and makes me feel like I can literally feel my brain turn inside out).
But that’s not really what ol’ Hildegard is getting at. She’s talking about letting go of all the anxiety we create around the idea of having to get anywhere, and letting go and trusting that you’ll end up wherever it is you were meant to be at the right time.
Because what really creates that anxiety? Nothing that really comes from within me – it’s all stuff I internalize that comes from without. All the shoulds and oughtas. All the expectations of those around me, spoken and unspoken.
So, yeah. Every single time I start to feel all wiggy about where I’m supposed to head next, I’m going to think about being that feather, just floating on the breath of God. Knowing I’ll get there – wherever there is – just when I’m meant to. And not a second sooner. No matter how much anxiety I generate about it.
Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle
Everything I do is stitched with its color.
Separation, W. S. Merwin
I am watching someone go through a hard time. Except, I have always been watching this someone go through a hard time. She is the best architect of her own downfall, time and again. What do I do with that, when I love her?
I watch, and I stand back, and when advice rushes up my throat and bites at the back of my teeth, begging for expulsion, I swallow it bitterly down again. Because advice does not help. Guidance does not heal. Suggestions do not bridge the crevasse opening at our feet.
So I stay silent, and I hear her story. Again, and again, and again. The facts of the story change, and the faces in it come and go, shift, depart, return. But the story? That stays the same.
And I am finally coming to a place where I can honor the fact that it is her story. That if I can only love her, and let her have her story, I will find peace with all of it.
I am finally coming to a place where I can accept that my advice is really like unasked-for editing of a story that she is comfortable living. I need to let her have her mixed metaphors and incorrect tenses, because this is her story and she its author.
I am finally coming to a place where I can recognize and act on the knowledge that the choice to read that story with her is mine. I do not have to pick up the phone and hear the next chapter and verse of a plot which never thickens, and characters who behave in ways I predicted on page two. I can let the phone go unanswered, and preserve my peace when it suits me.
I do not have to allow her thread to be the color I paint my emotions with, my reactions with, my mindset with. Her presence, for so long, has dictated climate, and I finally know how to move out of that weather pattern kindly and compassionately.
I am finally able to see the thread stringing boldly through her own story, and though I don’t care for the color or the pattern she’s choosing, I can just let it be hers. I pick up my own needle, choose my own thread and color my days in way that I prefer.
My mistake was always in believing that we wanted the same color thread. My mistake was in believing that it was natural that she would want to sew me into her heart and her life in the way that I delighted to sew her into mine. My mistake was in thinking that we wanted the same story, that we longed for the same thread to color our lives, that we looked out upon the world and saw the same things.
We don’t, and we won’t. And I am finally able to cut the thread that bound me up so tightly in what she wove, and be at peace with it. I can finally know that I can love the beauty of the one who weaves, even if what she’s weaving is discordant with what I choose to create.
And when, inevitably, I find myself snagged up and tangled up in the old habit of matching my stitching to hers, I am going to pull out this blog and read it again and remind myself of what I know is true.
Today is Veteran’s Day – a day to honor and remember the sacrifices that men and women have made in the name of defending our country. There has always been a part of me that has issues with war and the need for a military at all – the idealistic part of me. I am a pacifist at heart, and the idea of war as a necessity of our current way of life is a complete and total affront to all of my sensibilities.
When it comes right down to it though, sensibilities aside, I am grateful beyond belief that other people have been and are willing to put their lives on the line for an ideal that they wholeheartedly believe in – our freedom to continue our way of life.
And all of those ideals are lovely things, but the reality of war, and what it must be like to know with a visceral and genuine certainty that it is within your job description to kill others when necessary – and if necessary, lay down your life for those ideals – really is beyond the limits of my ability to empathize or imagine. I simply cannot do it – it surpasses the scope of my experience.
We live such sheltered lives here in the United States. They keep blabbling all over the news about how this is the Age of Austerity and the Great Recession, but I think that the magnitude of the attention paid to our economic woes (while woeful) is all out of proportion. Have we really become so soft and coddled in this society that having to go without cable television is now considered a major infringement upon our ability to enjoy and lead full lives? That is sad.
Austerity is having your sugar rationed. Austerity is having to go without tires for cars and for bicycles. Austerity is having ration coupons and victory gardens. Austerity is to truly go without – and not by choice or preference.
Yes, there are those in the country at this moment who are sunk deep in the mire of an austere existence – I read the news, I hear all about the evictions and job losses and foreclosures. I’m aware. They are experiencing deprivation and loss. They are experiencing austere living conditions – presumably.
On the other hand, the great majority of us have gone on with our lives, without the Great Recession causing much more than a blip on our screens. (I’m sure, at this point, many of you are wondering why a post about Veteran’s Day seems to be more about our economy…I’ll get there, just stick with me). We cannot comprehend austerity, because it has not entered our lives in a real way.
On days like Veteran’s Day, I cannot help but pan the camera lens a bit wider, and take in all of the things surrounding the need to even have Veterans in a world-wide way. I think about the people in Darfur today. But for our Veterans (and several other salient factors), we might truly know the kind of horrors and the “austere” living conditions that have been visited upon the people of that region.
Without our Veterans, we might be subject to the kinds of injustices and the restrictions of civil liberties that so many of the Chinese are suffering today. Without our Veterans, each one of us may be far more conversant with the realities of an austere existence.
I may not agree with it when we persist in sticking our militial finger into pies all over the globe (when are we going to ever start asking whether or not we should, rather than if we could???), but I value the sacrifices of those in our armed forces – and the sacrifices of their families. Think, for a moment, about the reality of leaving your family members behind to go off to far-flung places, knowing that you may never meet again in this life…hard to think about, isn’t it? Think about what it’s like to stand there and watch someone you love walk away from you, on their way to stand on the line for an ideal, knowing that this may be the last time you ever see their face. Tough stuff.
Tougher still than this seminal moment, is the everyday – every morning, and every night, spent wondering where and how they are. Wondering if they are okay, if they’ll be okay tomorrow. Those are the kinds of things that I think about on Veterans’ Day.
I think about both of my grandfathers – who, along with my grandmothers, truly survived ages of austerity. One day this past summer, I got together to art journal with Martina and Dani, and Martina had brought along a Life magazine from the early forties. I paged through it with wonder – I love vintage stuff, mostly because it’s like peering through a window to glimpse what life might have been like for those I know and love. This particular war-time issue had an entire three-page section devoted to the different rationing programs in place, and the reasons for them.
The people did this joyfully – they went without to serve the greater good of the country. I simply cannot imagine any of us lining up, smiling, to decrease our own creature comforts in the name of the greater good. But that’s what they did – my grandmothers at home, while my grandfathers fought.
Days like this exist to do more than give us a reason to fly the flag and wax poetic about the ideals of freedom and struggle and sacrifice. I ask you, take out your dictionaries and look up a few terms – struggle, sacrifice, austerity. Sound like what you’re experiencing? Probably not – and that’s okay, as long as you take this as your opportunity to put yourself in the place of those who are on everyday familiarity with those terms.
Don’t just think about the Veterans today. Think about their widows, their orphans. Think about their parents, their siblings. Think about what kind of courage it takes to stand before danger for the sake of so many you will never even meet. Think about what true austerity is. Think about it tomorrow, and the next day. Think about it next week. Don’t just save it for November 11th.
That said, I thank the Veterans for their service to this country – and by extension, their service on my behalf. I thank all who have ever served – including my grandfathers. My father’s father, Michael Joseph Gaar, served in the Army during World War II. He was color blind in such a way that he could pick out the camouflage of the enemy troops, so he did reconnaissance and scouting. Dangerous stuff. All three of his brothers served as well: John Gaar, Jr., Joseph Gaar, and Leo Gaar.
My mother’s father, John Bertram Hicks, served in the Navy aboard the USS John Hood. He lied about his age to get into the service a year early – I guess it was a bit easier to do things like that back then. They were both lucky – they served their time and lived long lives and raised families once their service was complete.
My Uncle Ed served during the Korean War. My cousin Tony is in the Marines serving right now and my friend’s husband JT is in the Army Reserves, and they’ve each done a handful of tours over in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Thank you, all of you. May you be blessed. As for the rest of us? I pray that we adopt a little bit of empathy, a little humility, and find a way to adjust our skewed perspectives.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about memory lately. Not the kind of thing where you realize that you really need to start taking gingko biloba because you keep forgetting where you’ve put your keys and what time your meeting is tomorrow. Real memory – the phenomenon that contributes to who we become as much as our choices do in the now.
I’ve been doing a lot of journaling lately – that little book gets all the stuff that’s ‘not fit to print.’ That’s where I keep all my ugly. We’ve each got to have somewhere to go with it, and those little composition notebooks are my chosen repository. I’ve even started including humorous disclaimers at the beginning, so that if my ancestors decide to get nosy, they know just what they’re in for. Doing that makes me laugh – imagining their faces.
I’ve been journaling a lot about the memories that I do have about growing up and the way that certain things went down in my life. Wondering about the other people in those situations, and how their memory of those things go, and how that affects them.
I feel like I am doing a lot of emotional vomiting into those poor little notebooks lately. I’ve stopped questioning why this is “all of a sudden” happening now. It’s happening now, because I’m ready for it to happen now. I’m ready to deal with things, or to put them to bed. And the purge is a necessary part of that.
It’s a joke to think that anything like that happens “all of a sudden.” Emotional purges are the unwatched pots left on the back burner – they boil over, and boil over, and boil over until you’ve gotten it all out of your system.
I’m such a little do-er, such a pursuer of all that life has to offer. It feels strange to be so content to just be – which is where I’ve been for the past couple of months. I’m making no grand plans for the future, I’m taking no steps forward. I’m not going backward, though, either. I’m just kind of hanging out and reviewing some things. That’s totally what this feels like.
And I’m okay with it – more so on some days than I am on others. I’m choosing to have faith that just because I can’t see something happening, doesn’t mean that great things aren’t being put in motion to come down the pipeline. I’m doing what’s in front of me and I’m looking at who I’ve been so I can figure out how I got here, and waiting to figure out just where I’m meant to head from here on out.
When I think about it like that, all that comes to me is the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz saying, “All in good time, my pretty…all in good time.” Not such bad advice – if you don’t consider the source.