Saturday, May 11, 2013

Walk the walk

Life is full of paradoxes, isn't it? Yin and yang. On the one hand, but on the other hand. I wrote a few days ago of being so furious with the ex-husband and at the same time grateful he's finding whatever peace he'll allow in his life. The only way I can explain this dichotomy is to say there cannot be just black and white, that life's episodes are on a continuum from bad to good. Or maybe it's finally dawning on me that narrow-minded thinking, a byproduct of fear and hate, just takes too much energy that is better used on improving the quality of my life.

About a year ago I got into a downward spiral toward a depression that I know from experience would be a long haul out of. Six months before, we'd closed the magnificent failure of the family business, blame was being cast hither and yon, and most of us weren't speaking to the other most of us. After working an exhausting 60-70 hours a week on my feet, I suddenly had nothing to do. For someone who likes and needs structure, I was destined for The Pit. 

There were weeks I didn't leave the house; when I did it was a major event I had to hold my breath and unthinkingly charge into to accomplish. I started running looping tapes in my head about what a failure I was. In a massive demonstration of self-flagellation I began searching online for people I knew from high school, excuse me, more than 40 years ago, to see what successes they were, so I could add some grease to the spiral. Of course everyone I found was a success! None of them appeared to be criminals so I made the highly logical assumption that if they were Googleable, they were successful.

I still had enough sense to know I'd better stop this martyrdom sooner rather than later so I saw a psychiatrist. He heard my tale of woe and made a small dosage change in my antidepressant, but it's what he said that has really stuck with me. He said to ask myself, "How is this helping me?" That's it. Five words I've said to myself a thousand times. Five words that are a reality check, words that bring me back to the paradoxes my sister's death has stirred up.

It would be so easy to feel nothing but sorrow and loss. How can anything good be dredged up from losing a sibling? Just dive into the awareness of one's own mortality, look at positive proof that life isn't fair, or acknowledge the long-ago waste of her potential and try to find the good in any of this. I asked myself, how is being lost in this darkness helping me?

Well, here it is: Know, really know, that life is short and its end can be unexpected, and you'd better do something with that knowledge. Take advantage of every opportunity to tell those who matter to you that they do - never let a phone call or email end without saying, "I love you." Call the sister you haven't spoken to in years, not out of bad feelings but just because you haven't. Mend fences. Say thank you. Believe in something. Stand up for something. See beauty everywhere. Don't imagine slights. Allow events only the importance they deserve. Cultivate perspective as a sixth sense. The crisis of Mary's death put the ex-husband out of my head for the first time and when he slunk back in I had kind of a "who cares" feeling about it. Even if I have to continue to battle his demon, I KNOW this new feeling exists, it is real, and it will return.

There is a continuum from sorrow to joy, from hate to love, from craving to giving, from denial to acceptance. Find your place on your line and open yourself to ways of nudging yourself from darkness to the light because that is what helps you.

Thought of the day:

“Life is an opportunity, benefit from it.
Life is beauty, admire it.
Life is a dream, realize it.
Life is a challenge, meet it.
Life is a duty, complete it.
Life is a game, play it.
Life is a promise, fulfill it.
Life is sorrow, overcome it.
Life is a song, sing it.
Life is a struggle, accept it.
Life is a tragedy, confront it.
Life is an adventure, dare it.
Life is luck, make it.
Life is too precious, do not destroy it.
Life is life, fight for it.” 
 Mother Teresa

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Give 'em hell, Mary

My sister Mary died Wednesday night. She was four years older than I and had fought diabetes since she was 25 years old.

One of the things I remember most from our childhood was her escape from doing the dishes. When there were dishes to wash and dry, what a coincidence, Mary had to go to the bathroom every time and, wow, her exit from the bathroom coincided perfectly with the last dish being pulled out of the rack by someone else. For years I called an excuse to be somewhere else when there was work to be done, "Pulling a Mary." Another sister remembers Mary being the first in line at the doctor's office when we kids were lined up to get shots. Because she could be counted on to pass out or throw up, the rest of us could have our turn with the needle while Mary was being seen to. What an irony; the one with the most fear of the doctor's office was the one who spent her adult life in and out of them and the hospital.

She was eventually disabled by the diabetes and hypertension and had to leave her job as a social worker for the state. By 1997 her kidneys had failed to the point she was finally able to qualify for a transplant. I remember her saying they had to be functioning at just 10% before she could get on the list, and of course she'd been on dialysis for years. When she died she had one of my kidneys inside her. It too failed her at the end but it worked very well for 16 years, getting her off dialysis, for which I was very grateful. 

She was a fierce advocate for her health.She had to be because she was in and out of the hospital many times over the years, but boy, did she know the system. I was counting on her to guide me through Medicare. Now I'll have to wade those waters alone. She remained in control of her care to the end, spelling out on a board several times her wish to have life support removed. She had fought all her adult life but she was done and made her choice.

We were seven but our oldest brother, Tom, was a Detroit policeman who died in the line of duty in 1972. We miss him still. And now we are five. Rest in peace and good health, Mary, and give 'em hell, whoever gets in your way. It won't be the same here without you.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Work! (Remember Maynard G. Krebs?)

The work I'm doing at the park is plentiful. I'm happy to say there's a lot to do. I wouldn't mind if it were more of a challenge but I know I'm helping because it's work that's been piling up since time began.

I'm almost embarrassed to say how simple it is. They didn't need a librarian, just someone fairly bright with some library experience. One thing I'm happy I don't have to do is catalog because they, like the entire National Park Service, use cryptic and complicated Library of Congress catalog numbers. Unlike Dewey Decimal Numbers that can be as simple as 123 ABC (just think of the shelves at your library), LC numbers look like $(87@\|fGY. Not really, but almost. If I had to catalog I'd spend my entire day thumbing through books, trying to figure it out. I had a very good cataloging class in my masters program, taught by the supervisory cataloger at the National Library of Medicine, but it's like learning a language; you'd better have plenty of practice and I didn't once the class was over.

My work includes converting VHS tapes to DVD; inventorying all the periodicals at the issue level and moving/boxing/purging them; and scanning and converting to PDF their entire holdings of research papers on the Triassic era; I'm going to say at least several hundred papers and manuscripts if not into the thousands. I'm also updating the shelf list, another name for the book inventory, organized by catalog number, by comparing the books on the shelf to the list generated by the catalog. This lets you know what's missing, whether mis-shelved or gone, and forces you to look at every book to assess its condition and if you even want to keep it. While I'm at it, I'm moving all the books that are on one wall of the library to another. Yay!

It's hard to say which of these tasks is the most mind-numbing, but it's necessary library work and they don't have anyone to do it. I've also taken it on myself to create a spreadsheet of their accessions book, a handwritten register of supposedly every book that's come into the library since 1950. Line by line, book by book, handwritten scribbled note by whited-out mark, all transcribed to Excel. I can't believe it's still being done by hand or that they even keep a book like this. All of the information in it should be part of the catalog record in the computer, but mine is not to wonder why.

Are you asleep yet?  

What I'm salivating over is the possibility of working with the collections manager on his records. It will be more like the archives work I did at the museum in DC (no, not the Smithsonian). The collections are the "stuff" held for the museum: pottery, arrowheads, taxidermied critters, skeletons, fossils, petrified wood, everything having been found in the park. The collections manager gave me a tour of his lair, opening cabinets and pulling out drawers, and using long Latin words to describe it all. I kept saying, Oh! Oh! and wanted to touch everything but of course you can't do that. I didn't realize how much I missed museum work until I was crouching in front of those open doors. I'm taking my camera the next time I go but what with the poor excuse for the Internet here it's doubtful there will be enough bandwidth to upload anything.

I look at the grunt work in the library the same as having to eat canned peas as a kid before I could get any dessert, so I'm choking it down posthaste to keep time available, before I leave in the fall, for the collections. I'd love to breathe museum air again for a while.

Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing. (Theodore Roosevelt)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Moving on

In January, when the ex-husband announced he was filing for divorce, a month after dumping the PTSD claim on me, I sat in the living room and wrote. Not much, and I didn't continue writing until I started cruisingat60, but I wrote a little of what was in my heart. This must have been a short time after I'd had a chance to think about what I was going to do, because the few things I wrote speak of my belief in his claim that he was setting me free to live the life I deserved to have and one which he wasn't able to give me. I know now that he was honest about one thing at least: I do deserve this better life.

When I saw them on the iPad I cringed a bit because I hoped they weren't dreadful, full of drama. I think they're ok. They show an insight into the failure my marriage was, an insight I lost as other pain overtook it. It was good to see that my first instincts about the path my life should take, even though they lay dormant for a while, proved to be right. 

This is the first, written as I looked out at my beloved canal.

Ripples, gentle in my wake, move smoothly, steadily, 
away from me.
I move on. 
I struggle against the tide, against the wind, against all odds,
leaving memories and dreams dissolving behind me.
The longer I travel, the more distant and ephemeral they become.
It's sad to leave these things behind.
But I also leave the anger and the disappointments,
the sorrows and broken dreams
that had become such a part of me,
as I'm borne along a now-changing tide.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

8 miles, 2 hours

Not bad for an old broad.

Yesterday was six miles and because there's not a lot to do here except walk, I decided to go for eight today. After I hit the 3-mile marker on the way out and kept walking and walking and didn't see the 4-mile one, I thought, oh, crap, someone knocked it down. Then it appeared, in the weeds. Thank God.

Thought of the day:
My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She's 97 now and we don't know where the hell she is. (Ellen Degeneres)

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Four months

It was just four months, a friend pointed out a couple of days ago, that took this divorce from start to finish. I knew that, of course, knew that it was in December the ex-husband spun his tale that emotional numbing due to PTSD had prevented him from ever forming an emotional bond with me, that because of it he had faked loving me for 35 years, that it affected him so deeply he dreamt of standing on a cliff, knowing peace was just a step away, that he knew it would take him to suicide when he couldn't handle the pain anymore. It sent me reeling. It was all a lie. And it was a new means of manipulation because he knew I'd believe it and would be so caught up in trying to help him that I would ignore all the clues that pointed to the lies. I knew all the machinations took place over four months and at the same time it hadn't sunk in that my life was turned inside out in that short a time, one sucker punch after another.

I've been so frustrated that I haven't moved away from brooding about all of it, beating it to death, desperately wanting answers when I know he won't ever give me any, and trying to understand who the hell this guy is. I know our marriage was gasping for breath for a long time and we were often toxic to each other, so why am I in such stubborn stasis? Why am I not overjoyed to be rid of this drain on my psyche? I've poked at this like a sore tooth for hours on end.

The conclusion I've come to is feeling betrayed and that I am owed something I am never going to get. The humiliation I felt is over with; his behavior speaks for itself. The fear that paralyzed me is dissipating as I've made my own decisions about the course of my life and they haven't blown up on me. Insidious low self-esteem is leaving me as I find strength, flexibility, and friends who think quite the opposite of his opinion of me. But the feeling of betrayal is hanging around because nothing I did, no sacrifice I made, and no passes I gave him on his own shortcomings or infidelities merited any action from him to at least try to save our history. Regardless of the many rocky times, it was not all bad, but none of it gave him the motivation to act forthrightly. If he doesn't love me, well, he doesn't, but does it cause him physical pain to own up to that?

When I left the house we swapped computers, his laptop for my desktop. I wiped the desktop of all history, passwords, and documents that didn't concern him. He either lacked the sense to do the same or he didn't care what I found, which were things he'd written to the girlfriend, one of which said he'd looked for her for forty years, until he was almost out of time. I read that line over and over. What!? He's a master at telling anyone what they want to hear and I'm sure her little heart fluttered at reading that, but I was furious and asked him, what did that make me, a placeholder? 

What I got in reply was a void. Emptiness, coldness, and anger in every communication that he thinks needs to be made, but what I will never get is an explanation or an apology. I keep looking for one, and because hope dies hard, my recent strategy has been to ignore and delete everything that comes from him. If I don't, I read and reread every word until I've worn them off the screen, I plot replies that are designed to leave him in shreds, and I nurture anger and resentment. 

The strategy worked until yesterday, when he threatened for the third time to withhold money unless I replied to him, saying silence from me would mean I was ok with this. He knows money is my weak spot, what I worry about the most, and says it's all I've ever cared about. I admit that as the years went by and I left job after job to follow him around the country, starting over with every new job I could get, and recently losing a small fortune on a failed business, it gained in importance because I had no financial security of my own. It's something he never understood and it became just one more thing we could never talk about. So, yes, money was and is important, but it's never been just about money. It's been about craving the attention, honesty, and intimacy he freely gives to Joanna but for whatever reason was never able to give to me. It's all I ever wanted and I never got it. It's what I mourn, not him being incapable of these things at all, but being incapable of them with me.

We are again at an impasse, kind of like we always have been. I make him angry, he makes me angry, and we are not talking about it or to each other. It was heartening to learn, though, before he pulled the plug on any more communication, that he's on his own journey of self-discovery, that this new woman has brought him the contentment he couldn't find with me, and one day, hopefully, he'll be the man I thought he was when I fell in love with him. What a paradox, to be so furious with him and yet so grateful that he's finding some peace.


Thought of the day:

Mourning is not forbidden, you know. (Simin Daneshvar)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Belly dialing

When I head out for a walk I take just my phone and a bottle of water. The bottle has a
built in handle and is easy to carry but the phone isn't so comfortable, which I why I stick
it down my pants.

I've been wearing spandex capris which isn't as horrifying as it sounds since I've lost
that weight, but then I can't see myself from behind so what do I know? The phone
goes inside my knickers because I'm counting on drag to hold it in place. It's a much
better idea In theory than in practice, but I still think it's better than sticking it between
the knickers and the capris. So that's where it goes and it's ok for a while, but as I start
sweating all hope for drag disappears. This is where it gets delicate. I obviously can't
let it slide down to my crotch so periodically I have to retrieve it. I have to plan on no
cars coming from either direction because no matter how you look at it, my hands are in
inappropriate places. I also regularly hit the On button with my thumb or, as I did a couple of days ago, I hit the call back button to a friend who got a mysterious empty voice mail mid-grope. I say it was belly dialing because it makes for a better title, but I'm sure it was my thumb that was to blame. Quite sure.