Monday, April 26, 2010
In addition to adoring everything I buy, there is the element of getting used to being out of control - I've never lived debt-free but in the past year or so I guess I've gotten more comfortable (for want of a better term) with living with more debt. Yes, it bothers me at night and other times, but I keep breathing...and spending. Similarly, I've learned to live with a tire of belly fat - something that would have been intolerable in my younger life - so intolerable it would have been unthinkable. I had at least 3 quasi-anorexic phases and for many years my danger zone was weight over 115. Yeah. Seems so distant... I couldn't get comfortable in a chair if I felt any belly against my waistband. Wow. Yes, that's distant.
So - in some ways I'm just another addict or at least OCD type, but if I look for things unique to me, back-story or big picture, I come up with a lot of stuff to discuss...
Here is a start:
I am from a family where both sides are what used to be called packrats, now more clinically called hoarders. For good or ill I mated with my opposite - my favorite example of how different Craig is, is that after he pays a bill he shreds the statement. Once he lost a credit card and had absolutely no record of the number. Because he's paperless! and wasn't then yet online. I, on the other hand, have a hard time parting with any scrap of paper. Being on anxiety meds the last 3 years has helped - I obsess less about every keep vs. toss decision. But my natural bent would be to KEEP.
Sibling genetics on this - my brother Dave either doesn't have the gene or has bent over backward fighting it. He has no stuff, really no history of himself in his own house. He is a great dad and does keep a stuff-history of his children's lives, but of Dave-stuff there is little.
But my older brother Tim, poor guy - maybe as the eldest son, especially of a family that had lost their mother and became subsumed by another, larger family - he thought he should keep things. Whatever the triggers, there were probably many, because he kept LOTS. In his car trunk, in the body of his car, in his office, his attic, and an entire Tim Room of his house - a room that was packed so densely it was, yes, as bad as what you see on the TV show Hoarders. He was a real fighter through his 5 years of illness and didn’t really see his death coming, so didn’t prepare for it. Not that he would have been able to clean up his stuff - didn't have the time, energy, or ability to make the Keep vs. Toss decisions - but his passing left his widow with much Tim stuff.
That same year, 2005, I noticed a media trend – more articles and TV programs about hoarding. I remember forwarding one article I especially liked that made points including these: hoarders tend to be highly intelligent. They make connections, often emotional, with the items they keep. Many things matter to them. When I sent the article to my sister-in-law she was really touched by it and said it helped her to understand things like why Tim kept a paper ornament one of his music students made 15 years before. The ornament reminded him of the student, and the student was important. So...
Yes. I totally relate to that. So many different objects are important to me for so many different reasons. Eons ago, my first therapist in Dallas kept trying to tell me I was like everybody else - not a comfort! My second therapist I liked so much better because I could tell he admired my uniqueness. One of the important early things he said to me, after listening to God knows how much 20-something-Sarah drivel was, "You have a great ability to make connections between things." He described that as a sign of intelligence - a type of intelligence. I was beginning to realize there were different types, and dimensions of types. There are many categories of smart I will NEVER consider myself but even I agree that I am a supreme Connector-Of.
Back to my spending...often it's about connections. These earrings will match this pendant! Yes, I already have 25 pairs of orange or pink earrings and numerous orange and pink pendants, but I still want to make new pairings.
Last year I bought Blue & Green Vases by Carol Nelson, in large part because I already had a blue-green vase I love. Then last week I bought Antique Bottles by Rivkah Singh because it resonates with Carol's painting and my vase. When will these connections end, or at least my need to make them? Here is an uncropped version of the photo at the top of this post. Does the uncropped or the cropped look better? Last weekend I had the framed painting lower than the windowsill - on top of a bookcase, maybe that looked better? I could play with this stuff endlessly...I almost do.
Our neighborhood grocery store had sock monkeys for sale before Easter, and I almost bought one, thinking whinily, "I never had a sock monkey growing up..." (I probably never wanted one, but a whine is a whine.) The next week I actually had “sock monkey” on my grocery list, but to my horror the store had no more of them. Probably they were shipped back to the Easter warehouse. I thought I might find one on Etsy, and I found a great one - a Munkybun, by a lady who has made the creation of Munkys her life's mission. $20 for a basic Munky, plus shipping from Canada. I got a red & pink one. And then the next month I decided I needed an orange one - because I love orange, and the Munky lady had found some orange striped socks, and I didn't have any orange-striped socks - or an orange Munky, so now for another $20 plus shipping from Canada I have two Munkybuns. Does all this sound sane?
Never mind about that sanity question.
Another dimension of my hoarding has to do with my glass half empty mindset. The rare times I make myself wait to purchase something, if someone else buys it in the meantime or it otherwise disappears, I go slightly crazy. That situation is so upsetting to me that in self-protection I assume anything I don't buy immediately will disappear. So, OK - is this something else in myself that needs medication - or an element of motherless daughterhood (not trusting the future) - or just a Sarah Quirk?
Another way Craig differs from me is his confidence that things he wants to buy will be there when he gets around to buying them. And more amazingly, when and if he's ready to buy, if the thing is gone, he's fine with it.
How does he do that...how does he be that... I'm not entirely joking when I say to Craig, "In my next life I want to be you." Able to let go of things, compartmentalize memories and feelings, wow. That would be a refreshing change from the Sarah existence.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Well, Saturday night while we were at a friend’s house we left him out for 3 ½ hours. Despite his behavior in the not-so-distant past we were so amazingly confident of him this time, based on the last two nights. As we approached our back door, we felt contentedly full of red wine and veal (that’s what you get when you visit a French friend) and were experiencing only a smidgen of our usual fear (variations on, “What has the little bastard done now?”).
Uh-oh…the curtain was on the floor. Well, last time he pulled it down but didn’t rip it. No – this time he ripped both sections of it…just small tears on each section but enough so that the curtains have to be replaced if we have guests over…we could live with their present taped-and-stapled state, but…
When Marley yanked the curtains and the curtain rod down he went a step further than before, he actually pulled a bracket out of the wall. Once again, we are scratching our heads at the breadth and height of this little dog’s reach. (The first time he pulled down the curtains we had thought, approaching the back door, that the house had been burgled - through the glass door we could see the phone receiver knocked off on the floor...it was only somewhat of a relief that Marley had attacked the house, not a stranger.)
The living room looked OK. The bedroom and bathrooms were shut off, out of his path of destruction. Then I head Craig scream from the office.
Plus, Marley had bent and ripped a few more slats from the blinds in that room. Last year I had to cut out the slats he attacked…now that I’ve cut out his latest handiwork, there aren’t a lot of blinds remaining on the bottom half of the window. We had to pull up the blinds to a halfway point – the strings he ripped are kind of dangling, but it doesn’t look too bad. By the way, after last year’s attack we priced new blinds…of course this window is a non-standard size. One of those repairs that will have to wait until we move out…what the hell, let him do some more damage.
Unfortunately this is the room where I usually do my stretching exercises in the morning (when it’s dark outside, and I’m showcased inside with the light on). I had been doing these exercises in a t-shirt and panties – obviously a change in wardrobe is necessitated by the additional missing slats.
Craig refused to touch Marley for the rest of the evening, and he wouldn’t let him jump up on the couch to watch TV. Trying to present a united front, I put my hands behind my back when Marley leaned against my legs for an ear-rubbing.
He really looked sad…but probably sad because he wasn’t getting attention, not because he was experiencing any human-type regret over his actions. Craig kept saying hopefully, “He looks like he feels sorry for what he’s done,” but I repeated what the dog experts say: dog brains just don’t make all these connections.
Even the next morning Craig wanted to continue the cold-shoulder treatment, he was still so disappointed in Marley. I said that was ridiculous, Marley at this late date had even less of an idea What He Had Done. I also pointed out, “Even if/if Marley was sorry for what he did while we were gone, he doesn’t have any hands!, when he knocks something down he can’t put it back up.” Craig ignored these insightful comments.
Now Craig is telling people, “I guess Marley’s threshold is 3 hours.” I find this illogical, since for all we know, Marley had major separation anxiety right after we left and/or saw a cat stroll by, and the damage could have occurred in the first 5 minutes. Then I’m sure he slept peacefully until we, The Punishers, returned.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Last year I realized that my brother’s 11 and 13 year old sons are close to the age I was during Mother’s illness and her death. Despite many conversations in therapy about it, it only sunk in with me through observing these two bright boys, who I would say are emotionally mature for their ages, that I can do better at forgiving myself for being a self-centered 12 year old – because really, is there any other kind of 12 year old, other than the kind that sees their parent as a chauffeur and social director and buyer of school clothes and birthday presents, and becomes peeved when the parent isn’t handling those things.
My dad was self-employed during those years, working 6 days a week and long hours with his appliance installation and repair business, and left pretty much all the domestic affairs to Mother. When she became less able to manage – and she was a Super Woman, so she managed for a long time – we all felt the strain. Her way of dealing with her illness was to keep up appearances as best she could. She hid most of her discomfort and all of her fear from her children. However, in the last year we all knew she had stomach cancer and that it had gone too far to be curable. That news was given to us straight – we instantly believed it – and even if we hadn’t accepted what we were told, it was reinforced as we saw her age horribly – shrinking, losing skin color, not looking or even smelling like her former self.
Eventually, as Mother declined and the inner life and energy went out of our family routine, I just wanted – and yes, I still feel guilty saying or even thinking this – I just wanted it to be over with. That being said, as long as Mother was centered in her couch bed, she was still the authority – in many ways still the calm presence and the smart, practical woman I had gone to with every question of my 12 ½ year life.
When I cleaned house it was always as Mother’s apprentice – she would subcontract little pieces to me – dust this, wipe that down with alcohol. (I keep forgetting to try that in my own house – wiping bathroom fixtures with rubbing alcohol instead of a commercial cleaning product, it’s old school but I remember it working great.) For anything more complicated than dusting I deferred to her expertise.
One afternoon I was cleaning my room, always a frustrating project since I shared with my much-younger sister, whose total clutter kept creeping over our borderline. In defense to this I tried to make my side as perfect as I could make it, which was, not very – nothing matched very well and the wallpaper was faded and out of date. My room was part of the original house shell my father had built in the 1950s, and it still had its original blue wallpaper – kind of a watery, sickly pale blue with raised white flecks that were no longer white. (My brothers’ larger room next door still had its original paper too – pink flowers on a white background, which wasn’t completely offset by the wagon wheel lamps and bed frames. )
For whatever reason that day, I became especially concerned about pencil or pen lines and other stains on the wall near my bookcase, so I went and ask Mother, my oracle, for help. I noticed she seemed weaker than the day before or even that morning, and it took her a few minutes to respond. Her eventual answer was, “Use a piece of bread.”
I countered with some version of, Really?, but she had turned her head toward the back of the couch – she had been spending more time sleeping, probably from medication if not from pain. I decided to work with what I had been given and went and got a slice of sandwich bread out of the twist-tie bag. I tried to rub the bread on the wallpaper, but that was an immediate disaster. Being thin spongy bread it immediately developed holes where my fingers held it, and shed crumbs.
When I went back to recheck things with Mother, my dad had come into the house – lately he had shortened his hours to keep better track of things at home. Or, now that I look back on it as an adult, maybe he was having trouble concentrating on his job, with his wife dying. (Wow – the juxtaposition of adult and child perspective in writing this – it’s a painful kind of clarity.)
Daddy heard my second attempt at questioning Mother about the wallpaper and followed me back to my bedroom, to say some awful version of this awful thing: You shouldn’t bother your mother with that kind of questions.
Or maybe he said, You don’t need to bother her any more - but whichever phrasing it was, my memory is that the emphasis was on my bothering her, being an overly questioning, overly needy child. Mostly, the way I heard his words moved the focus onto my guilt, concerning my needs that didn’t really need to be met. I had been bothering Mother.
Never mind the elephant in the room, the house, the town – that a loving mother of four school-age children was dying. (I only later realized that many people, not just our family, were upset by the horror of that.) In general, family shock waves, from delicate to elephant-size, were internalized rather than talked about.
I stayed out of Daddy’s and Mother’s way for a while after that. I think I tried again to dab at my wallpaper with a wet towel or paper towel and then gave up. Then we drifted into the evening routine of dinner and whatever passed for domestic routine back then – probably me trying to lose myself in a book, my dad doing reading or chores, my brothers off doing something and my sister out playing with a friend…and my mother in life transition on the sofa.
I don’t remember that she had conscious, coherent conversation with us after that afternoon. So, that framed my question about the wallpaper as a ridiculous Last Conversation, and one which I had pushed past its ability, like wringing out a rag that was already dry.
Despite the vast tamping down of feelings in our family, there were many awful moments in that time period, but for years I felt this as one of the worst. The Day My Mother – with all that the phrase “my mother” means to anyone, and what it meant to me, given the amazing woman she was and the extent of my dependence on her – stopped making sense.
Not exactly fast-forward, but more than 30 years later…last November while driving to work I heard an NPR piece about cleaning the walls of King Tut’s tomb. I have a vague interest in Ancient Egypt and the pyramids, so I was at least half listening. I could hardly believe my ears when I heard the word “bread” mentioned in the context of cleaning walls. It’s not like I had obsessed about the bread-cleaning story every day of the years since, but “bread” and “wallpaper” had strongly remained connected in my brain.
The leader of the conservation team told NPR reporter Michelle Norris that for the crumbling plaster on the tomb walls and the brown spots of fungus or dirt, they were having to be very careful with their technique - she stressed the need to use simple tools, like brushes and Q-tips, and said, “You can even use things like bread…it’s a good kind of absorbent material, you know, depending on what kind of dirt you want to remove.”
As soon as I got to work I Googled bread and cleaning. One site recommended making a “fist-size wad” of rye bread to rub on nonwashable wallpaper. Other sites didn’t specify rye but said the bread should be stale, and one gave an alternative technique of making unbaked dough - mixing rye flour, wheat flour and cornmeal to roll into a dough ball to rub on dirty walls.
I wish I had known before that the bread was supposed to be mashed into a wad. I don’t know if the kind of bread we had in our kitchen that day would have cleaned my bedroom wallpaper, but it certainly was gummy enough to make a ball.
Cleaning walls with bread is rather weird – uncommon enough that I had never heard of it before or since Mother’s mention – and weird is also the word for my mix of emotions when I heard the NPR report. Some of the feelings were really good - that Mother was still with us mentally for longer than I had realized, that to the end of her conversation with me she not only made sense but was helpful.
Despite my father’s well-meant admonition to leave Mother alone, it felt like the NPR piece validated me for asking her advice – I needed it, she apparently still wanted to give it, and was, even if feebly, able to. There was also some sadness and guilt that I had doubted Mother, but I immediately realized this came from the child-adult disconnect. (Yay! Years of therapy finally kicks in!)
It’s not that she reached out to me from the grave and gave me a loving signal of her continued presence – something I admit I have sometimes craved, although I’m certain it would scare the hell out of me.
But it’s more like, with this new validation of us having been present with each other on that last afternoon of coherence, I am strengthened in living with her memory, without an after-death reaching out.
It feels slim and cold sometimes, but we motherless daughters mostly have only our memories (good and bad), and our cellular connection. Scientists have learned that mothers and babies trade cells during the gestation process , and they know that some of those exchanged cells remain with us for life. It is felt only subconsciously, if at all, but I like to think the cell connection strengthens our memories.
This is definitely not me. I eat to calm myself - I don't meditate. Also my desk has NEVER looked this neat.
Aside from the suit and heels and pantyhose (those minor details), this could be me rushing in late - not because I had a business conflict but because I took too long figuring which of my 25 pairs of orange earrings to wear or navigating (pleading, kicking, throwing treats at) my way past the puppy to get out the house door.
This one is wonderfully metaphorical. Why are they so dressed up though... All the models in the Fotosearch office pics are wearing suits and suit-ettes, except for a few busty receptionist types wearing stretchy tops. If I had to dress in these polyester outfits every day I would bang my head against a wall until the wall or my head split apart.
This one could have accompanied my August 2008 post, Selling T-Shirts on the Beach: http://sarahbowie.blogspot.com/2008/08/selling-t-shirts-on-beach.html
So, lots of years in office buildings, mostly in cubicles. In general my feeling of rightness with my workplaces, work spaces, has hovered slightly between glass-half-empty and wanna quit. Funny thing though - my bosses and coworkers have almost always seemed to think I was doing a decent job. So they didn't do me the favor of firing me, and to stay in my rut I coped in whatever functional (social life, creative pursuits) or dysfunctional (spending, drinking) ways I came up with.
However, 2001 was a watershed year, with a big division of before & after - world events aside, it was a professional demarcation for me. During that summer I became obsessed with the idea that I had been stuck in Dallas offices for exactly 20 years - a sick kind of anniversary - and this made me even more attracted to the fun (well, maybe not fun - a Sarah mix of euphoria and perfectionism, my usual) of writing a journal about our two-generation spring trip to Acapulco. http://sarahbowie.blogspot.com/2008/02/acapulco-excerpts-from-2001-diary.html
In unusual bold and assertive action for my workplace self, that fall I approached my manager and let her know that if/if (please God) I became part of the layoff we all knew was coming, I would be OK with that decision. It was my 15th year with the company and severance packages were still generous back then.
To analyze/sum up: I didn't finish the book I worked on during that winter, and after 6 months at home I went back to my old job, not quite with my tail between my legs. Poor Craig, I know he was uneasy at my break from convention, but even he admitted the time away gave me a better (less dysfunctional) perspective. I had had my job with that company before I met Craig, and I went back to a descendent of the same company, but somehow in the process and transition I reprioritized so that Craig and I were closer to the top of priorities. Like the slogan I had never understood before – working to live, instead of living to work.
While writing at home during that precious winter of 2001, I reinforced my sense of self as a writer and clarified my writing style. I also improved my skills at organizing material and drafting timelines - writerly project management. I remember one awful week where I had strips of printed-out scenes and scribbled notes spread all over the living room, thinking that would help me make a new story timeline - thank God we didn't have a naughty puppy back then, it was enough of a mess with just me and sleepy middle-aged Marley. I mentally chewed up the stuff, but no dog did damage to it.
The hardest thing about going back to work in spring 2002 was not that I hadn't finished my book - the draft of which I religiously back up on disks to this day and which I think still has merit, maybe, I think/hope - but just getting back in the corporate saddle. I had not missed the politics, dress code, alarm clock setting, commute, or uninspired environmental colors. When I really missed my coworkers during that absentee winter I had lunch with them, and we talked about real stuff - it was great to get beyond the Greek Chorus of office lamentations and general BS - something you can't really avoid when you actually work in an office.
Going back - ending my sojourn at home - felt as painful as grieving, and I still have tendrils of that grief today. Why am I here, at this cube, doing this job? I mean, I know I should be grateful to be here, but do I want to be here...is this the best place for me...
In my first weeks back I tried mental compartmentalization - something I have never been very good at, but I hoped the break had changed me - experimenting with visualizing French doors opening and closing as I was driving home from work. I had a real-life example for this: I remembered Grandma closing her living room French doors to us in the den when we were visiting and she gave piano lessons. Well...it only took me a few days to realize that the concept wouldn't work. Maybe it's because I'm a woman - a wife - a female who feels too responsible for too many things - but I am not so good at shutting mental doors.
Some parts of my personality are well suited to an office - detail orientation, ability to get along with others, pride in my work, concern with what others think of me and my work. Other parts are not so bueno – such as, a disinclination to follow rules that don't seem logical to me. One recent test also suggested that I am antisocial toward my coworkers (maybe) and homicidal toward managers who don't treat me right (just kidding - the test didn't say that, but it might be true).
A recent company-sponsored aptitude test rated me high on "mental agility," and that's my new excuse for why I need to take mini breaks to look at Yahoo or Facebook...or DailyPainters...or maybe even eBay. I really believe I am more productive overall if Big Brother shuts his eyes to my web activity. Last month on the elevator-monitor news feed (a sad source for world events, but it keeps me up-to-date with factoids) I saw a headline about a study that found employees are less creative at their jobs when they are blocked from personal web use. (Oh, REALLY?)
Once when a friend commented on my having time during the day to Google and send personal emails, I threw at him a rather violent metaphor for my uneasy alliance with the corporate world: "If I sat here all day and did only my actual job, my brain would explode and blood would be spurting out of my ears. Surely they don't want that!" (Actually they may have preferred the blood spurt to the personal use of company resources.)
Years after dropping out of college, I took online classes to finish my degree. One assignment in my last semester was to put together a life plan. In my final version I had a whole paragraph about how writing full-time had not worked for me - I said I needed the contrast and the pull of a day job, and an office job was probably the best category of day job for me. Yes, I felt like a drone while I typed those words - and I was, I am - but I still recognize the truth in it.
After so many years I am used to structure, benefits...and access to a color printer when my home one runs out of toner. I rail against Dilbertocracy, but maybe I need that to rail against. In too affirming, too creatively supportive of a world wouldn't I become uneasy?
* Thinking I'm trapped in a cube.
* Realizing I have trapped MYSELF in the cube.
* Beating myself up for feelings of work dissatisfaction when there are so many people out of work.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
You may know that there's a Knights of Columbus hall behind our house, facing Northwest Highway. Of course they have good ol' Catholic fish fries every Friday night. Their food service output also seems to include an awful lot of fried chicken, since it's usually chicken bones that Marley runs after in the vacant lot between us and the Hall.
Last Saturday one of our neighbors had a garage sale and since shoppers were parking in the alley all day, there was just a plethora of scents for Marley to explore. He was diving into so many clumps of grass that I stopped monitoring him closely, falsely assuming that he wouldn't hurt himself.
Next thing I knew, Marley was munching on a large object. Of course he ignored my command to "drop it" and I had to grab his collar with one hand and insert my other hand between his jaws to get the thing out. I assumed the round, hard thing with a rough surface was some kind of weird apple or nut?, I didn't really care WHAT it was but I knew it wasn't something Marley needed to eat. Since I was still holding onto Marley with one hand I just threw the apple a distance away and hauled him back to the pavement. He repaid my care and concern by immediately rooting up and trying to chew several patches of aluminum foil that have been stuck to the alley pavement for weeks. "Drop!...drop!...Marley, drop!" It really is amazing that no one ever runs out of their house to save this poor little dog from my shrewish screams.
Unbelievably, I keep forgetting the lesson I thought I'd learned when Marley was younger, "If you throw it...he will find it." All discards MUST be placed in a closed container (preferably a neighbor's trash can).
First thing Sunday morning, the nasty round thing (having aged even more overnight and presumably accumulated more bugs, vermin, or whatever) was back in Marley's mouth. This time when I tried to pry it out it seemed much softer, and broke in half. I AGAIN, STUPIDLY, threw the fallen half away (my aim is never far enough) and tried to get out the remaining piece...from Marley's mouth.
I ended up with a small amount smeared on my fingers and realized it was...Good Grief, a hush puppy. While I was staring at the cornbread goo, Marley (although still on a very short leash) instantaneously managed to go after the piece I had thrown while gulping down what was still in his mouth.
I guess on Friday morning the thing was still crisply (!) fried, but overnight on Saturday it had accumulated moisture from the grass.
Despite my usual fears, the hush puppy didn't seem to disturb Marley's digestion at all. I guess, all in all, it's a much safer thing for him to eat than chicken bones.
I guess he can't help his corn pone craving...wasn't his breed bred to assist with manly hunting/fishing expeditions? I think they call them "hush puppies" because campers would cook the corn meal and throw it to the baying huntin' dogs ("Hush, puppy!") to distract the dogs from the scent of the other food on the campfire. That's what my mother's old Betty Crocker cookbook says, anyway.
There's an Asian-born artist on Daily Painters whose technique I admire but whose gallery has mostly black/dark-gray/dark-brown backgrounds for his otherwise appealing still lifes. Recently he branched out and did a mini still life with a red-orange background and while I had to agree with the comments on his blog that his technique on this one needed a few tweaks (the fruit was not "anchored" to the plate - that took me a while to get but now I do, the kiwi pieces were floating in space because the shadow/border line was not there), I was very tempted to buy it for the colors and probably also to reward him for going brighter!
Several days ago I went through the DP gallery of a Copenhagen artist who does especially interesting still lifes (dark and water-y but I somehow like them anyway) and I emailed him to ask about an older painting he had done, of a tri-colored marble on a shiny black surface, against a black background. Yes, it was dark and moody, but somehow colorful too. I was trying to challenge my general acquisition taste and thought this might be a good breakthrough piece. However, I admit I was a little relieved when he replied that the painting had been sold long ago - although two other people had since inquired about it, and they would get priority if he painted another one. (Well dude, maybe you should mark the thing SOLD online?, just a suggestion...)
Of course every Sarah post is enriched, deepened, by a childhood reference...or two. I have always been fascinated by Uncle Harvey's photo scrapbooks of the 1967 tour of Europe he gave his parents, but I couldn't handle certain photos - of celestial (?) European masterpieces, usually behind church alters, of angels and saints floating into vast cloudy space. Something about the dimensionality, the infinity, just terrified me. In a way this is not so different from my fear of dark backgrounds, which to me also are cloudy and bottomless, with backless depths...
And here's one more childhood reference - my parents seldom went out without children at night, but I remember one occasion with a babysitter, a distant relative of my dad's, who got witchy at lights-out time. I don't know what this woman's problem was...I agreed to go to sleep on schedule but asked if we could leave my bedroom lamp on, something Mother allowed. (It was a Little Bo Peep lamp with a dotted-swiss lampshade...later recovered with pink and orange sticky paper, which looked no better.) No - Cousin Witch, for whatever weird reason, said my room must have total darkness only. Then I was so full of righteous indignation I couldn't sleep anyway! Who made her president... Actually after being my babysitter she went on to have a long career with the Post Office - natural selection!
40-something years later, I fight with Craig about leaving lamps on at night...but my art purchases are damn full of light! Energy and warm colors and LIGHT.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
(To illustrate the "scary" purchasing concept I'm attaching my Yahoo avatar - Sarah with shopping bags - hahaha.)
Immediately in viewing the ART file I notice color patterns I wasn't aware of before. Everything is so bright! What does this say about me...is Sarah someone who enjoys life or is scared of the dark?
A new online friend recently commented that my blog portrays me as someone who enjoys life. Wow - why did that take me so by surprise...happy surprise though! Maybe with the curiosity and humor that seem almost always to be part of my breaths and thoughts (along with the massive anxiety and paranoid and guilt and...), I have made a good stab at being a glass half full instead of glass half empty person - nah! Aren't I still a cynic? But can you love color as much as I do and still be a cynic...
Anyway, back to this JPG file, and its vibrancy... Earlier blog posts discuss my learning to embrace red, orange and pink, colors I had consciously avoided for years (for, I now realize, dysfunctional reasons). Amazing considering my history, I am now known (by about 2-3 people, but that's enough for writing purposes) as someone who loves red.
And that's a good thing - because, No one should be scared of red! (Reclaimed colors, hear me roar.) And red is awesome in a beige house. I also enjoy - and historically have consciously limited myself from - purple, although even today, much as I love its intensity/coolness, all the wonders that are purple, I only want purple in small doses - it's a kind of condiment to red, orange and pink - and blue.
I say blue because today I was thinking, what colors did I use before? Probably good old safe blue, said to be most men's favorite color (and yes I think it is Craig's favorite color, but since when do I incorporate his preference in anything even vaguely artistic), and neutrals - i.e., brown, beige - I love gray but I don't necessarily consider it a neutral...not sure what gray is though...need more blogging and wine to pursue that thought.
It may be hard to believe for someone regarding this JPG, but our first couple of years in our first house, Craig complained that everything was "too brown." Doing my self-critical cutting-to-the-bone thing, my early married self had decided mixing unmatched things was tacky and anything new we bought (towels, furniture, dogs...?) should be brown so as to pull together the colored things we already had.
What?! So the brown brick house with brown trim, brown cabinets and beige carpet, off-white and sand-colored walls was our nest. In a way I was right - when I had less revolving credit than I have today and the Internet was too young to supply me with Daily Painters, our beige-based house did have a certain congruency. It was boring, but congruent.
More than a decade later, having re-embraced warm colors such as red and orange, I am now re-dabbling in blue. Part of my new reluctance toward blue is that, not being a swimmer or tanner or even someone who makes bodies of water a vacation priority, I don't feel worthy of blue, qualified to buy or display blue.
What?! Isn't some huge % of our bodies made up of water? So, that line of reasoning seems like more unfair self-containment...
No! I don't have to float or swim or even drown in water to hang art with blue or blue-green...by creation I am a water creature. (Another topic that needs more wine...)
Sunday, April 11, 2010
We arrived in Tomball 5 minutes before Kris’s engagement shower started, all the food was out already and the Jordan sisters were gorgeously dressed…I dashed to a bedroom to change out of my jeans and my Green Eggs & Ham sweatshirt while Craig put Marley in Daddy’s back yard. As Craig was carrying our bags into Uncle Harvey’s house, he saw Marley walking down Daddy’s driveway. I guess there were still too many holes in Daddy’s fence…so Craig staked Marley (tied his leash to a stake, he didn't crucify him) in Harvey’s backyard, where unfortunately he, his water dish and his disreputable-looking toys were in full view of all the shower guests through the living room window…the guests could also hear him barking. After we and the guests noticed the large hole Marley was digging in Harvey’s yard, Craig took him down the street to Rachel’s house.
I asked, “Can’t you just put him in his crate inside my dad’s house?” Only then was I told, “Oh, I didn’t bring his crate…he’ll be fine without it, he can stay out at Rachel’s.” RIGHT. If Craig had just packed the crate, our lives would be different today. (Sorry to sound so ominous…rest assured Marley is still alive.)
For the next 24 hours any questions I asked about Marley’s welfare were treated as overprotective mothering. Finally I just stopped asking. Sure, our indoor, only-child dog was fine, spending an entire afternoon, evening, dark/cold/rainy night and chilly next morning with two big Labradors in a muddy backyard. Rachel reported that Marley was playing happily with Duke and Lily and that he had claimed a corner of the doghouse (really just a three-sided lean-to). “There’s straw in there, he can make a bed.” How cozy for him.
Although Craig went over to check on Marley a couple of times (but THAT wasn’t being overprotective, because it was Craig doing it), we didn’t pick him up until we were ready to leave town—he was caked with mud and we only wanted to wash him once. After Craig rinsed him with Rachel’s hose, he brought him into Harvey’s house for just a short time while I finished packing. Craig held him on the leash in the den and we didn’t let him get more than 2 feet from the sofa area.
Although Marley seemed only a little subdued at Harvey’s, he completely zonked out in the car. His eyes were open only about 10 minutes the entire drive back to Dallas. Marley's only movement was to change the positions he was curled up in on the back seat.
He seemed fairly OK back in Dallas, but as Craig articulated, “Something is not quite right.” I figured it was just that since Marley has such a boring life most days, something eventful like this really throws his equilibrium. I left Marley and Craig lounging on the couch and went to take a bath.
Next thing I knew, Craig was barging into the bathroom. “Sarah! Marley has bugs on him!” Something about being wet and naked made me think more calmly than usual (is this why they used to hose down people—maybe still do—in the loony bin?), and I said almost dismissively, “Well, go look at the flea products in the closet, you can give him a pill and maybe some Top Spot solution.” Then I remembered you can’t apply Top Spot the same day as a bath (it doesn’t get circulated through the oil glands effectively, or something like that), so I went out in my towel to supervise Craig. He was almost frantic (as close as Craig gets to frantic). “I was talking to Dad on the phone and Marley rolled over for me to rub his belly and there’s stuff crawling all over him, and his skin is all pink.” So Craig hung up on his dad and ran to get me (I’m the flea expert, I guess).
I told Craig to just bathe Marley and that I would call the vet the next morning to see how soon we could use the Top Spot. This was the best action plan I could come up with, dressed in a towel.
I went back to the bathroom to wash my hair and learned our wonderful water heater couldn’t make the stretch for a dog bath in one bathroom and a people shower in the other bathroom. I almost screamed as I rinsed my hair under the cold water…hydrotherapy was no longer very therapeutic for me, and I was becoming disenchanted with my home environment in general.
Back in the living room, Craig was carefully combing Marley for fleas. He seemed to think his best defense was to pull off as many as he could find with the comb. (This is kind of a guy’s technique.)
I asked, “Are you sure they’re fleas?” “I think so, but I’m not sure, the water is still draining in the tub.” (Duh!) I went and looked, and sure enough, Craig’s tub was polka-dotted with black specks. These are some healthy-sized fleas, apparently they have been well-fed on Rachel’s Labs. They must have wanted a change of scene, though.
I fed Marley his Program pill (which only keeps the fleas that bite him from reproducing, it’s kind of a long-term fix) in a piece of Velveeta. That was probably the happiest point of Marley’s day.
I also tried calling the nearest Emergency Vet, but they weren’t very helpful. “You might see what you can buy at the grocery store…no, ma’am, I don’t know what flea products are for sale at the grocery store. This is an EMERGENCY clinic, and we don’t generally deal with patients with fleas.”
We didn’t want to let Marley run round the house (although obviously the fleas can jump off him and travel on their own) so we put him in his crate for the rest of the night. He looked so PITIFUL behind the bars, and then he started making whimpering noises. Craig was trying to laugh it off, “Ha-ha, Marley’s in jail,” but I was almost whimpering myself, “I feel so guilty…it’s not his fault…he didn’t ASK to go to Tomball…” Finally Craig said, “Just don’t look at him,” so of course I had to look again… Big mistake, those big, sad brown eyes were turned right in my direction.
The weird thing is that Marley hasn’t even been scratching himself—that’s why we didn’t notice sooner. Maybe he’s just too exhausted to scratch?, I don’t know. I keep looking down at my ankles as I walk through the house, although the real danger zone will be in a week or so when the eggs hatch…did you know that a single flea can lay a thousand eggs? I spent a fortune on flea products last summer, and Marley didn’t get fleas, but unfortunately, I stopped using the products during the winter… I didn’t think about the fact that it’s never really winter in Tomball.
This has brought back so many bad memories of flea infestations with my ex-roommate’s dog that last night I dreamed Linda wanted to come back and live with us…she claimed the lease she and I signed in 1989 was still valid…and my ex-boyfriend was in the dream also!, I was trying to be friends with Jim and he kept trying to get romantic, ick!
(Sidebar: Every summer when Linda took her dog home to New York state, they left fleas behind--no dog host, so they sought out Sarah. She always wanted me to use something safe and organic but after I experienced fleas between my sheets and in my bathtub, I brought out the big chemical guns. Linda had asked me to save receipts for her and then she hit the ceiling at how much I had spent on Raid. It wasn’t the money, it was the fact that I had poisoned our home environment. I certainly hope that my use of Raid in the 1990s didn’t give Linda cancer…but it did get rid of the fleas.)
This was one of those rare Mondays I was glad to get up and leave the house in the morning, even if that meant going to work.
Craig left Marley at the vet’s for a flea dip, and we will spray the house again tonight. However, I’ve just realized that our flea sprays at home were purchased in 1995… I called Raid and they told me that products have a maximum of 3 years’ life after they are manufactured. Now I’ll have to track Craig down and ask if he can go by the store and buy some new spray…he’ll probably say what we already have is fine (“Raid just wants you to spend more money”) and act annoyed that I paged him again. He has to leave work early to get Marley, I can’t do it because I have a doctor appointment. So my contribution is to call Craig, call Raid (“My husband thinks we can spray your carpet spray while our dog’s in the house…is that really safe?”) and call the vet (they said the dip will last for a couple of days, and then we can use the Top Spot). I’m not sure my contributions are appreciated, though.
Uh-oh…should I worry that Marley left fleas at Uncle Harvey’s? Rachel’s other dog Audrey was at Harvey’s briefly too, maybe she can take the blame. What are the odds that Audrey DOESN’T have fleas?!
Saturday, April 10, 2010
Our 2nd grade textbook had a story about a boy who was a child version of the adult wimp that gets sand kicked in his face at the beach. In 2010 he would probably be harassed to a horrific end but in the 1950s this kind of wimpy nerd just got yelled at by the bullies and maybe had his lunch stolen. One day the worm turned and Wimpy decided he needed to be proactive – came up with the idea of buying a Charles Atlas bodybuilding kid. Of course in the 1950s no kid’s allowance would stretch to that so he had to get a summer job, which in his case was some kind of manual labor – I can’t remember exactly what but want to say something like digging ditches? Maybe a little white boy could actually get hired for such a thing in that decade…maybe he was digging flower beds? Anyway…by the end of the summer he had saved enough for his Atlas kit. But surprise, surprise – he took a good look in the mirror one day and realized his job had buffed him right up! No need to order the kit.
I think that story stuck with me because everything in my life always seemed (still seems) so painfully conscious, especially the changes. Hard to imagine Sarah not noticing she had accidentally become muscled in the course of 2-3 months. Although…in the early 1980s when I got a moonlighting retail job I was too tired and too broke on work nights to eat much, and eventually I realized I had lost weight and inches. Fortunately I had an employee discount so I could rebuild my wardrobe with smaller clothes and things like belts – I remember one shiny black wide belt I wore with all my skirts, wow, a BELT – shuddering as I sit here typing this in my sweat pants… The purpose of the job as a way to get out of debt was defeated since I soon, like almost everyone else who worked nights and weekends, was depositing my entire Sanger Harris/Foley’s paycheck to make pitiful stabs at my store card balance. BUT…I was slim and trim. Without realizing it! No Atlas Kit for me.
I have always loved the idea of having positive change without noticing it, because my impression is that unnoticed change would be easier, less painful. Another story I liked from my childhood was actually an adult story – my mother had a subscription to Good Housekeeping, a magazine I always pored through intently the day it arrived. It was a rare glimpse into the adult world, sanitized and homemakerish though that world was. One of my favorite things in GH was the long fiction pieces, novellas or shortened novels or whatever they were. Years before I discovered Harlequin romances, I had Good Housekeeping. The best one I ever read – and I think I even remember Mother yelling at me (she didn’t really yell, just calmly/firmly amped up the guilt message a bit) to turn off the light and go to bed, me begging for more time because I simply could not abandon this story before the end – was about… Well, if you have read this blog post thus far, you can probably guess what it was about. A young woman who lost weight without realizing it!
The story was a period piece, probably set in England (or American New England, which for a second-rate writer such as probably wrote this thing, would turn out about the same), and the protagonist was considered unmarriageable because she was overweight and shy, generally lumpish. She was sent to stay with a relative and assigned to be a sort of caregiver for the man next door, who had gone blind. She read aloud to him for hours every day, and there was something about her swimming every day, which doesn’t make sense if this was a period piece – what did she wear to swim? And regardless of time period, how did she read if she was swimming? Maybe it was summer and hot and she and the guy would meet in the evening and talk and she would get in the water to cool herself. OK, that sort of works. But really, this was not the kind of story one would want to examine under a microscope. From the walking to meet this guy every day and the swimming every evening, by the end of whatever time period it was, Plain-Jane realized she had become slim and beautiful. Although actually she didn’t realize that until the blind guy had gotten his sight back. When she realized he would be able to see again she panicked, thinking that he would realize how unattractive she was. But surprise! She WAS ATTRACTIVE! I think there was a poetic kind of realization moment when he gently encouraged her to look at her reflection in the pond or whatever it was where she had been swimming. She didn’t recognize herself. Yes, she had been living in a house without mirrors and had no idea what she looked like.
In my conceptualization (lofty term) of this post I didn’t originally plan to go into so many Sarah-seminal reading experiences but I did plan to get to some kind of wisdom about, isn’t it great when we grow and develop without noticing it, only realizing that we've changed for the better when others point it out. That kind of happy-surprise scenario is part of what makes friendships special and one of the best things about group therapy.
In therapy we often call it mirroring. Aha! Now I have my unifying element for this blog post, and my title. The original title was Strength-Building Kit…I wasn’t sure how I was going to live up to, write up to, that one.
No...Surprise in the Mirror is a disturbing title. Might work for something else but not this demure little Saturday-night blog. You know how sometimes you have the title before you have the thing itself? Uh, this was not one of those times...
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
As children we sang along and danced to the original cast album LP, which had a bad skip in the first verse of one song. I am so deeply imprinted from that, it startles me when the updated recordings of “110” have no skip. My brain knows the words, the timing…and the skip.
Speaking of “skip” – my wonderful Aunt D., with well meaning, has often told the story of the Scholl children dancing around Grandma’s living room to Harvey’s music, but having no rhythm. She doesn’t exactly say “no rhythm” since she is a middle-class white lady, but the point is clear. I know we were jerky and ungraceful but we felt the spirit. In our early years of growing up my brothers and I were exposed only to classical and church music so hey, we did the best we could. (I have had enough nerd self-awareness in my life without repetitions of this story from Aunt D., thank you very much.)
Memories…rehearsing with Mother as my accompanist to sing another of Harvey’s songs, Plant a Radish, from another of his musicals, The Fantasticks. At age whatever (maybe 2nd grade?) I took on an affected adult-aping voice and my mother said only, calmly (but still with maternal punch), “I prefer your normal voice.” Point taken – I went back to squeaky girlish with a Texas accent.
Our home church was small and every choir voice was heard. I remember once telling our youth choir director I would like to be a professional singer, or do a choir solo sometime – can’t remember which of those 2 scenarios and it doesn’t matter, since both were as likely as me becoming an astronaut – but she, wonderfully, said with enthusiasm I could not see through, “I think that would be great!” Bless her heart…and just a week before I had done a junior-high negative pontification on “people who use cake mix cakes” as she was serving us same as her house. (I swear I didn’t know…at least until I took my first bite…that cake looked good but it did not taste homemade! Yes, I have always been a cake snob.)
In my 20s I went through a phase of fantasy where I thought I could play & sing at a small nightclub or at least at private parties…while still in Tomball I played show tunes (NEVER sang along) as dinner music at some school events (the dinner consisting of either catered BBQ or hamburger spaghetti) and at a couple of weddings (of teachers from the school). I knew I would have to ramp up for Dallas so I bought a tape recorder – I didn’t have a piano then but I was bird-sitting (nasty-ass bird, I just threw some seeds at it) for a friend who had a piano and did some practicing at her apartment. Geez – I was so horrified at hearing my jerky, gawky sound on the cassette tape (yes it was the 1980s, so cassette tape) that I called my brother Tim for calming (he kind of took on that role after Mother died). I can’t remember what he said beyond “recording distortion” – I’m sure he was nice, but we are a critical family, of ourselves if not each other, and after talking to him I still ached at the disconnect between how I wanted to sound how I sounded.
I’ll throw in a family compliment for contrast here – not too long after my widowed dad married Mrs. Jordan and she and her 3 school age daughters (the older 2 were already in college) moved in with us, Kristin Jordan told me she admired my singing while I practiced piano. Wow! Kris was/is not one for easy compliments but I explained this one away by the fact that my sound had filtered through a wall of the house, from the music room to the Jordan girls’ bedroom.
Soon after moving to Dallas I filled up a shoebox with scraps of paper – song lyrics. The one I remember most clearly came to me as I was waiting for Dallas Area Rapid Transit, every weekday: “I’ll wait for a bus, ‘Cause the system’s underfunded, And there’s only so much the driver can do, But you’ve had my money – and lots of it – lately, So why should I wait for you?” This was my 20-year old virginal shy white chick version of the blues.
At one point I asked the same nice older brother for tips on learning the guitar, thinking that might be better than piano for a singer-songwriter. He loaned me some guitar sheet music and an old cheap guitar he had, a smaller than typical size, but my soft little finger pads could not get comfortable with the strings and pick of even this miniature version, and I didn’t have the what-for to hang in and suffer long enough to make my girl-singer fantasy a reality.It took a few more years to get rid of the idea of myself as a girl singer – and let’s go ahead and use the French phrase chanteuse, since the whole thing was pretty much a baroque fantasy anyway. Even back when talking to the junior high choir director I saw myself thus: On an empty stage – maybe there was a guitarist somewhere or a pianist, or something/someone else vaguely accompanistic. More important than my accompaniment was my OUTFIT: pale slim-fit jeans, an off-white linen-cotton jacket, a light purple tee underneath, and a flower in my jacket lapel or held in one hand – a purple rose or other long-stemmed flower, not too scented.
It’s not a coincidence that in the romance novel I started in the early 1980s, set in New Orleans, the female protagonist fantasizes about singing in a nightclub. Fueled by sexual frustration (you’d have to read the book, which I’ve never finished) and alcohol she finally acts out her fantasy with a credible Billie Holiday cover in a French Quarter nightclub. According to my draft timeline, the remaining 2/3 of her relationship with the man she lusts for/loves happens after that.
So there IS life after singing on a stage. Not that I would know. And yes, I have had my karaoke experiences, most of them horrible…I think I put that in the notes for another book.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
* Frustration with my earthly body image, a topic I have probably said too much about online already (too much about already online? too much online about already? (Now, I KNOW that aliens don't get hung up on wording like this. It's a stupid earthly problem.)
* After more than 45 years I still don't feel I fit on this planet - neither I nor the planet nor its other residents have evolved enough for the habitat to be right.
* I love the quick and noninvasive medical care in movies like Star Trek - lie there fully clothed and you are hand scanned to health.
* Who wouldn't want to time travel, to be beamed into adventure and out of danger?
* According to what I see in movies, aliens (well, also Earth crews) wear the same clothes for sleeping and daywear. Excellent! I prefer to only ever wear day clothes I could easily nap in. Thus naps are only a posture change away.
* Sometimes the only purpose I can think of for my existence is that alien beings will have fun studying me.
* My dad was possibly the victim (?) (lucky recipient?) of an alien probe in the 1930s: http://benscholl.blogspot.com/2008/12/life-after-life-by-raymond-moody-jr.html
* Thoughts of an alien heritage enrich an out-of-body experience, as I described in my January 2009 post about the Planet Violet: "While combating fear of flying on the way to Hawaii at Christmas, I experimented with a variation on out-of-body visualization...my version was, I'm not from here, I'm just visiting - I'm from another planet. I was trying to convince myself that the turbulence and boredom and claustrophobia I was experiencing on the flight over the Pacific were insignificant in the context of my broader Earth journey - everything was transitory."
* See the Planet Violet blog post for more reasons of arguable merit: http://sarahbowie.blogspot.com/2009/01/introduction-of-planet-violet.html
* If you go to Fotosearch.com and put Aliens in the search box, some really cool things come up, and if you pretend you are an alien you have a better excuse to use them as your Facebook profile.
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- ▼ April (12)