Sunday, August 29, 2010

Treacherous Journey

I met with my writer friend Jasara yesterday and we had another one of our three-hour marathon conversations that leave us satisfied and full, more so than the food we sometimes share. 
Ever since I met Jasara ten years ago when were in our first year of college--me returning after many years, and Jasara just starting--I have felt like I was communicating with a younger version of myself: very different people, and yet, uncanny similarities. 
After a few years hiatus from regular communication while she got her masters in English rhetoric, we now offer each other support for our writing, as well as other life issues. Included in all our numerous musings yesterday was a conversation about our families. In response to something I said, she asked:
"Which pain is worse--the pain of watching your mom deal with the knowledge that she did not protect her children, or the pain of denial?"
I thought about her question all the way home from Ellensburg last night and the following is an expanded version of what I said.
The pain of knowing has been mom's pain, and her burden to bear. But the pain of her denial was all mine. 
Which to honor? We are told to be good girls, to be forbearing and forgiving and allow the other person their view of the world. But it felt as if my emotional health, my perception of how things really were, depended on my breaking through her wall of denial.  To hold on to denial upholds the "ignorance is bliss," euphemism. But denial separates you from the truth--and the people you love the most.
For years I sometimes not so gently led mom toward the truth.  If I hadn't I would have survived, but I wouldn't have survived the relationship with her. There were times I felt as if my anger would overwhelm us both. My fury was at her telling me how things were when I knew that wasn't how things were at all.  The cognitive dissonance was sometimes too much to bear.
When I first heard her say, "But he was always so good to me," I was shocked. When she said it again, I was furious.  I finally had to say, "Mom, don't ever defend a perpetrator to me again. Ever."
She said, "But I thought God brought him to me." I responded, "If God brought him to you, what does that say about me?"
When I broke the no-talk rule four decades ago and she responded as she did by asking me why I was trying to hurt her, her denial created a rift that took four decades to heal.
But ultimately, the big payoff.  As I quested after emotional and mental health, she too, got healthier...even into her 90s.
I have enormous compassion and respect for her willingness to ride this out with me because more often than not, people are not willing to take those risks.
People leave, die, ignore, drink, do drugs, or simply remain firmly entrenched in denial because it feels so much easier.
That's where it gets tricky. We have to know when to let go and let them off the hook and allow them to be where and who they are, even if they don't change. And I've had to do some of that. She has the right to her perceptions and truth, too.
And ultimately, our emotional health rides not on their decisions, but on ours.
It's for these reasons that I write as I do. Telling the truth in the hope that others on a similar treacherous journey will be set free from denial, or the devastating consequences of denial.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Liar's Club

Just finished Mary Karr's, The Liar's Club, which reminded me that just when you think you have written something shocking or revealing, that's the signal to plunge deeper, to write more honestly, to describe more intensely, to see things more clearly.  She describes her childhood in turns of phrase that make me wonder why I ever thought I could be a writer. But then, of course, I am reminded that we all have our own way to describe what has happened to us (or what we conjure in our imaginations) when we take the time to set hand to keys or pen.
She reminds me that I can tell the truth.
One of the most compelling stories is her unambiguous and poignant description of how and when she was raped by a babysitter. It's a powerful narrative, unlike any I've ever read, clear and heart-wrenching, but without whining. Simply a the last detail.
The book seems to have no clear direction at times, leading us from one fateful day to another over the course of two separate years of her childhood. But then, the denouement -- her mother telling her awful truth. Her father dying, finally happy, after suffering incapacity for five years from a stroke and a long life of war and fighting with her mother and alcohol and kindnesses to his daughter.
It's a tragic story, but not without humor and an ability to write it all without self-pity. She's scrappy and funny and a survivor.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Planting and preserving

Decided to get more serious about preserving food after more talk about hyperinflation and the economy going south. Ben, and my friend, Scott, who has lots of business and investment experience, tell me not to live in fear, that we will know far in advance of hyperinflation, but that storing some food is never a bad idea. I've always thought it was a good idea, simply to save money during winter months and have savory bites for soup and snacks. I just have never followed through on it in any serious way.
So, I bought a food dehydrator, a purchase I've longed to make for many years. Finally, it was, for crying out loud, just do it. Also bought a vacuum sealer for freezing food. I froze a yellow squash last night. Not sure how that will work out.
This morning I cut up a tomato, an onion, four jalapenos, a tray of basil, and some potato. The directions say that all of these are great to add to soups, sauces, or as seasoning. I'll see what works. I thought I would try packaging some for gifts at Christmas, too. But don't tell anyone.
When I'm alone in the garden it takes me away from my obsessing about all the other things going on in my life, my foot hurting, mom's needs, who has or hasn't called me, the dog, (who poops in my garden, chews on the irrigation line, digs in the new beds, barks and chases birds, and causes arguments between me and Ben).
But I shoo Tazie from the garden and go back to my ruminations over the irrigation, deciding what to plant for fall, what to leave, what to do next year. There's always so much to learn...even when you think you have it nailed to the wall.
I picked a German Johnson tomato, a salmon colored heirloom that Sue planted. It has an amazing mild taste. Thought I'd dry one to see how it does.
The beans are ready to pick. I freeze them and then I don't use them. Maybe I'll dry them instead and use for soups or as snacks.  Didn't plant enough potatos...Sue commented she hadn't gotten but two, although I'm sure it has been more that she took home. But we haven't gotten that many either. Two full rows next year!
Four days ago I planted a new batch of sugar snap peas. If there's a late frost we'll get another crop. Planted brussels sprouts -- again. Finally figured out what I had done wrong. I hadn't pulled the lower leaves off the plant so that the sprout could grow. What an odd plant. I planted more beets, and will plant lettuce tomorrow morning. I've weeded and have a pile of weeds four feet high that I need to deal with.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Mouse tales

Mom told me a story today. When she and Bob lived in Oregon they decided to take a trip in their camper. They hadn't used it in awhile, so mom went out to clean it.
"I opened a drawer and a mother mouse was giving birth," she said.
"I panicked. I pulled the drawer out and mice went everywhere...and then they died."
She laughed at the thought and then said, "I don't know why I didn't just let her finish giving birth."
Then what, I thought. Kill them?

I told her about the time I trapped two mice, one big and one small, in a paper bag under the kitchen sink.
The recipe I used for trapping mice humanely: I placed just enough garbage in the bottom of a large grocery bag to entice them in.
Once they were in the bag they were unable to climb out.
I folded the top of the bag closed and transported them to the neighbor's barn.
"I'm sure they appreciated that," mom said.
She meant the barn owners, not the mice.
But I was thinking that the mice appreciated it.

She was clear and bright today, asking me about the conference, about her bank overdrafts (I messed up on that one), about the deposit I needed to make. She always thanks me now when I come and take care of things for her. For years she would forget, so resentful I think of needing the care, on the edge of dependency but not wanting to go there. Even now though she is not entirely dependent, still, at 101, getting to the bathroom by herself, brushing her teeth, putting on her makeup. The only place she needs help is with dressing, keeping the apartment clean, meals, hair and nails.

I'm reading Gail Sheehy's book, "Passages in Caregiving: From chaos to confidence." An informative read. Not the book I will write. It is about her care-taking her husband, Clay, through 17 years of cancer. It's a different journey, but she also recounts the journeys of others who were caretakers for spouses and parents.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Important work

Reading caregiving stories today. Makes my situation look like a walk in the park. Seriously. People are amazing, what they do for their loved ones.
One writer describes caregiving as a spiritual journey. Of course it is a journey of healing and enlightenment if we allow it.
It is also all those things we tell ourselves to assuage our angers and resentments and frustrations in the midst of it.
Few of us are so enlightened that we live in the joy of the moment while dealing with the details of caring for an aging parent, or anyone else we may have to care for, including a small child. It's all about caring for another person, throughout our lives.
Isn't that what gives it meaning?
But caregiving a person you once knew as a different person, with a myriad of needs that we could only have imagined?
I remind myself that it's not just caregiving that's a spiritual journey. It's all of life - of course.
And, living in the moment of whatever is handed to us.
The most important work we'll ever do. All of it.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Trailer Love

Ben and I went camping for an afternoon yesterday, hauling our trailer an hour and a half into the mountains so that he could fish and I could read and sit by the river and watch Taz play.
I was feeling sorry for myself when we arrived, sad about a number of things that haven't been going right in my life, unable to be grateful for all the things that are going right. I cried and then went to sit on a rock in the river, allowing the sound of the water rushing over the rocks, and the coolness of the breeze to soothe my troubled thoughts. I wrote the previous post on the way home, feeling relieved and unburdened by five hours in the mountains.

Our new trailer

Australian Shepherd Water Dog

Just a comparison from 2004...Casey Dog and Shy Dog. Think Casey and Taz are related?

Experimenting with exposure - my healing

Ben's healing

Ben gets his fishing dog

Jay. do you know what this is. It's a trumpet shape.

I choose not to be ruled by a number

The Enneagram is a system used to determine personality types, numbers one through nine used to describe each type. According to the Enneagram I'm a number four, although I have not extensively researched this conclusion. It's somewhat similar to Hippocrates four temperaments, sanguine, choleric, melancholic, or phlegmatic. According to Wikipedia "he mapped them to a matrix of hot/cold and dry/wet taken from the four elements. There could also be a balance between the qualities, yielding a total of nine temperaments."
It may be a different system, but the conclusion is the same. We are ruled by our personality types.
As for fours, they are said to be prone to envy.
I can flip from gratitude to envy in the time it takes me to open Facebook and scan the triumphs of friends from the east coast to the west coast.
As quickly as I can say, "thank you, God, for all my blessings," I can deescalate into sorrow that I'm not on a multi-generational family camping trip at a pristine lake in the Rockies depicted in photos on Facebook, holding a grandbaby (the one that gets me the quickest), or on a trip to the Caribbean (my cousins). I just know I'm going to get to see photos of their trip!
Facebook is about family and friends and photos and all the good things, but also some not so good. A friend posted a photo of his beloved wife who drowned in the Wenatchee River three years ago today. He is blessed with a daughter and one granddaughter who his wife will never see. How dare I succumb to envy for the things I don't have in the face of that.
There's no sense in it, unless I'm truly living up to my personality type.
But given my belief that we can all change, I refuse to be ruled by the dark side of my personality.
Envy will ruin a good day faster than a flashflood and I choose not to be ruled by a number.