Monday, January 26, 2009

dig deep

We each live our lives at a certain general level of depth. It's entirely possible to go through an entire lifetime operating on automatic pilot, just as it's possible to be so sensitive, so reactive, so introspective that life becomes unbearable.

Last night, at the end of a long, eventful day and week, I found myself wondering if I was satisfied with my level of living. Was I living too much on the surface, just facing each crisis as it occurred, and not daring to go beyond that? Was I ignoring parenting issues that exist due to the absence of another parent? Was I doing a good enough job of taking care of myself? Was I making flawed decisions?

I had just watched Desperate Housewives on TV. It was a particularly moving episode, to me at least, featuring the significance of the handyman on Wisteria Lane. I bawled my eyes out, wishing desperately for such a handyman in my own life. He wasn't a "handyman", he was a "handy man", one who happened to be there at the times when each housewife needed a soft place to fall.

I rarely feel sorry for myself about being alone, but that TV show awakened memories of times in the past when I've experienced the phenomenon of having people around me to help out with life's hurdles. Usually it's my long lost mother I think of wistfully, but last night I remembered the various guys who visited my life, each helping in his own way. One built me a garage; one helped me through the trauma of losing my grandmother; one showed up at my door when I found out about my mother's pancreatic cancer diagnosis; one loaned me a very expensive piece of equipment for me to use at work.

In that frame of mind, I began asking myself if I really wanted to be alone, and if my life was really on the path I had intended. Am I in the right field of work? Are my parenting policies sound, and am I adhering to them? Am I just going through the motions of executing each day's tasks, unaware of my life's purpose and desires?

I come from a family which operated totally on that level. Questioning or deep thinking were simply not on the agenda. Not ever. I rarely see any of my family members these days because they live hundreds of miles away, but when I do, I marvel, unsure of whether the surface-level lifestyle is good or bad.

My father, for example, has his daily routine, which is never broken as far as I can tell. Tending his wife's many cats seems to be the focus of his life (and hers). They are retired, and everything is either about the cats or any impending doctor's or dentist's appointments. For social interaction they go to church and Bible study. Each night they watch TV, commenting loudly while watching, eating butter brickle ice cream.

When I visit (they won't visit me) I usually inadvertently stir up some type of trouble with my intensity. (I have been kicked out of their house more than once.) I tend to want to analyze things, face the past, and discuss any unresolved issues.

But now that I think about it, the past couple of times I visited, I had changed. I had dropped my former ways, and just hung out, trying to be like them. I can do that for brief periods.

Over the past couple of years, though, I think I've become generally more "automatic pilot" than I used to be, even when I'm not visiting them. Oh, I still react to things now and then, but it's not the same.

That change may seem positive, but as I've said, I question whether I'm missing the boat. Always the extremist, I swing dramatically one way or the other. I either spend every waking moment analyzing every thought that comes into my head, or I ignore all of it.

And I'm not sure which is preferable.

Monday, January 19, 2009

location, location, location......

During warm weather I like to sit outside, feeding the birds, squirrels and chipmunks while I read. At this time of year I still try to attract birds and squirrels with seeds and peanuts, but viewing them through a window isn't quite the same. I'm addicted, though- I can't go through a day without seeing if I can draw wildlife onto my property. I wish I had a huge picture window to make the view more accessible, and if I thought I'd spend many years in this house, I'd be thinking about saving money to make that change.

But......I have a few complaints about my current house. Even though I have stopped talking about moving and have accepted staying here for the time being, I still don't feel as if I've found the place I'm supposed to be. (I know there are books written on this topic- "home" is an inside job, etc., but I am talking about a more superficial "home".)

Things are changing here. There used to be a vibrant senior rec center next to my house, and I had gotten to know many of its members. Last October the city tore down that rec center, and of course, that changed everything. Now I live at the end of a dead end street (the senior center had been placed at the end).

The energy has diminished- now, only an occasional dog owner drives to the end of the street to release his/her dogs into the park outside of my house. The lack of leash laws in this city has been a source of much controversy, and I have given up fighting. The dog owners clearly believe that their dogs' freedom is more important than the safety of other dogs and people in this city park. Three years ago, my dog was killed in this park by another dog, and my son was bitten by an offleash dog. An elderly man with whom I had shared many conversations used to walk in the park regularly, and one day he was terrified out of his wits by a dog attack which I witnessed through my window. He never returned.

Another change- my next door neighbor is dying of bone cancer. He has been a true neighbor to me, in the old-fashioned sense. He and his wife have cared about my well-being. Formerly a man so energetic that I had to wonder if he had ADD, the cancer has rendered him suddenly immobile. Unable to walk over to my house, he calls me nearly every day to check in, with a hoarse voice sounding like a ghost's. He usually passes out after a few sentences. I know he's not long for this world. His wife will sell the house and move to their home in Florida.

I understand why feng shui rules dictate that a house should not be located at the end of a dead end street. It's because of the lack of energy flowing around the house. The senior center brought in energy even to this dead end, but now it feels isolated and lonely, which is the last thing I need.

It's great to be so surrounded by nature, though, in the midst of a major U.S. city. I don't have to breathe air pollution when I sit outside or when I jog, because of the park on which my house is situated.

On the downside, it's not a pedestrian part of the city. It's suburban even though it's within city limits. You have to drive everywhere, which I dislike strongly. Everyone says, "Can't you walk in the park?" and of course I can, but that's not what I'm talking about. Until I moved to this city, I got by without a car. I walked or biked everywhere. That's how I grew up- it's in my blood.

The changes that are occurring here are sad ones, and this is certainly a difficult time of year, with ice storms and dangerously frigid temperatures. I rarely allow myself to even think about any dissatisfaction- I'm just lucky that I don't have a foreclosure sign out front.

Monday, January 12, 2009


Living in a sprawled-out city lacking decent mass transit means that ice is a bad thing. Cars were not meant to drive on it, and in this city, each man, woman and child owns 1.4 automobiles. Even the most impoverished among us manage somehow to own cars in this city, because they have to. When I moved here, I had never owned a car. I was told in no uncertain terms that if I didn't buy a car and start driving it, I'd lose my job trying to rely on unreliable public transportation.

I complied, reluctantly. The only ways I can show my defiance are by A) taking the bus to work once in a while, bragging about it widely, and B) owning a car which is as small as possible.

The car looks elongated here, almost like a station wagon, but it's a subcompact- a Honda Civic hatchback. To carry my defiance a step further, I refuse to adhere to society's rule of replacing one's vehicle a minimum of every 6 years. This Honda is 18 years old. (Yay!!!!!) If I must drive, at least I'm going to do it my way.

"Do you feel SAFE in that thing on congested highways!!??," they ask. Well, my answer is this: I've never been in an accident with this car, whereas the average accident rate where I live is one every 7 years for each driver. The Child and I have been 100% safe in this car (against all odds, apparently). And whenever it breaks down, as aging cars will from time to time, it either breaks down in my driveway or within a short walking distance of my house. The last time it broke down, it was within a mile of the shop where I have it worked on, and miraculously, I was able to drive it into the shop on its last breath. (The alternator was kaput.)

Those who know the life story of my car acknowledge that it's magical.

Getting back to the ice, the photo at the top is symbollic of the way I am trying to focus these days. The ice has a downside for those of us who have to get to work come hell or high water, but it also has its magical side, which turns the world outdoors into a fairyland.

However, I have heard stories recently of people I know who have been seriously injured just by walking on ice. One of The Child's babysitters, one who did yoga everyday and appeared to be extremely fit, fell on ice while trying to walk from her car to her house. The result was a disabling hip injury for which she had surgery. She can barely get around now, and yoga is out of the question.

After hearing a shocking number of stories like this, I decided to take action against ice. I searched the internet for solutions and came up with this:

These "Stabilicers" are supposed to be attached to one's shoes to provide safety on ice. I immediately ordered a pair. I guess I'm not as concerned about ice as I think I am, because I've never even tried to attach them to my shoes. But somehow I feel as if I have a grip on the ice problem.

Yet, horror of horrors, I fell on the ice while walking the Chihuahua early one morning a couple of weeks ago. To my surprise, I was not paralized from the waist down. I didn't have to cry out for help or dial 911. I didn't need surgery or a cast on my arm. I walked away from it, unscathed.

I guess it's magic.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

starting the new year off right

Happy New Year! And thank you for forgiving me for being a slug-a-blog. The reasons for my recent absence are many, ranging from a radical computer crash to a ridiculous work schedule. And I'm going to be really busy over the next few months. HOWEVER...... I intend to exert Herculean effort to keep this blog afloat. That will be my top new year's resolution.

So I'm starting the new year right with a cup of freshly brewed Starbucks and my blog. As soon as I post this I'll be visiting my neglected blogging buddies, for whom I have a question: are any of you having problems uploading photos? I am, all of a sudden, which is part of the reason I've been missing.

I've always had a weakness for Dear Abby, especially when she publishes one of her repeat profundities, such as these universal new year's resolutions:

• Just for today, I will live through this day only. I will not brood about yesterday or obsess about tomorrow. I won't set far-reaching goals or try to overcome all of my problems at once. I know that I can do something for 24 hours that would overwhelm me if I had to keep it up for a lifetime.

• Just for today, I will be happy. I will not dwell on thoughts that depress me. If my mind fills with clouds, I will chase them away and fill it with sunshine.

• Just for today, I will accept what is. I will face reality. I will correct those things that I can correct and accept those I can't.

• Just for today, I will improve my mind. I will read something that requires thought and concentration. I won't be a mental loafer.

• Just for today, I will make a conscious effort to be agreeable. I will be kind and courteous to those who cross my path, and I'll not speak ill of others. I'll improve my appearance, speak softly and not interrupt when someone else is talking. Just for today, I'll refrain from improving anybody but myself.

• Just for today, I will do something positive to improve my health. If I'm a smoker, I'll quit. If I'm overweight, I'll eat healthfully -- if just for today. And not only that, I'll get off the couch and take a brisk walk, even if it's only around the block.

• Just for today, I will gather the courage to do what is right and take responsibility for my actions.

Each year I'm impressed with these suggestions as is I've never heard them before. I believe they are based on the 12-step program of Al-Anon.

In today's newspaper Abby added the following from a resident of New Delhi, India:

Dear Abby: This year, no resolutions, only some guidelines. The Holy Vedas say, "Man has subjected himself to thousands of self-inflicted bondages. Wisdom comes to a man who lives according to the true eternal laws of nature."

That's a mouthful, eh? Lately one of my themes with The Child has been that of explaining to him the difference between man-made and universal or natural laws. I'm not sure how this started. It may have been one time when he observed me blatantly driving through a red light. It was very early in the morning, nobody was around, and I was in danger of being late for my obligation. There was absolutely no traffic, so I drove right through a red light, openly defying the laws of man.

The Child issued an alarm from the back seat: "MOTHER!!!! How could you DO that???"

Thus launched the whirlingbetty version of man-made vs. universal laws. I argued that there was no way on earth that I could possibly hurt anyone by cautiously disobeying that traffic signal. (Mind you, I don't make a habit of it. I've done this maybe 4 times in my life.) The only thing that really matters is whether or not I am hurting any living thing or any material object.

Then I explained that I have natural "laws" for myself which don't exist in man's legal system. There's no man-made law against hurting people's feelings with damaging words, yet I choose to set this boundary for myself, and whenever I am living consciously, I follow this law.

I've pointed out that the animals live according to the laws of nature (except in cases where humans intervene). The result? They're happy, content, free of mental and social illness.

The self-inflicted bondages in the above message from New Delhi do not refer to traffic signals, but the more insidious bondages set forth by our egos. We tie ourselves into knots secured by the ego's attempts to control our lives, to control other people, to control outcomes. It's only on those rare occasions when we relax into our natural state that the truth, the truth of nature, sets us free.

Nature intends for all of its creatures to be happy and free, like the birds joyously shirping outside of my window on this frigid winter day as they pluck berries off the trees. My new year's goal is to remember that.