Monday, October 17, 2011

#12 Birth date on a ring - or a tattoo or - ...(identity theft...?)

There is a jewelry company that advertises in the New Yorker (my dad has bought me a subscription for several years, I love that magazine although I am only now working through my back-to-2008 backlog) and the Roman numerals in their ring dates (the chunky dates are the basic ornamentation of the rings) always catches my eye.

I have looked at the website a couple of times ( but couldn’t justify the price since I have so much other jewelry – hahaha, who am I kidding, readers know I have probably spent more money on less stuff but I could not decide what numbers to put on my ring. My birth year? My birth date? My wedding date – naaaahhhhh…

Also the site seemed to be about gifts for others – those you have been born by, and given birth to – not to buy for yourself. Well anyway that was my guilty take on it. My kind-of-happy-to-discourage-self-from-buying take on it.

Then I wondered, in this day and age of identity theft, when we are told not to leave a purse hidden under 30 blankets in a car trunk for even 5 minutes if that purse contains a drivers license or social security card, should I wear a ring with any personal info? Am I at risk just for ordering that ring?

In general I think the only way we can protect ourselves is to keep monitoring our online accounts for odd activity – so many places of business demand our DOBs and Socials and you know, I know, they don’t keep them as locked up as they could/should – think about this, it is usually very low-paid people who do insurance billing. And guess which person in the doctor’s office has your personal info… Once someone used my credit card on a porn site and it was right after I had been to the doctor’s office. And you can believe or not that I had not been using that particular card online, so the doctor appointment was my only risk factor. (Actually – although this makes a pretty good story it may not be accurate, the risk factor may have been my ordering tickets to a comedy club by phone. Gynecologist, comedy club – you can see why I didn't go with exact details.)

If a ring puts me at risk, would I be less at risk getting personal details as a tattoo? It would be attached to me...

One of this year’s tattoo ideas (yep a wide range of creativity and crazy) was getting my date and maybe even hour of birth on my arm. Now, I do think that Angelina Jolie tattooing the latitude and longitude of where her kids entered her life (I read that she recently added Brad’s place of birth in Oklahoma too, as line #7) helps a tiny bit to take away the association of numbers-on-arms with what was done to the Jews by the Nazis.

Hmmm…Angelina Jolie – Sarah Bowie – even I struggle to make this connection. How else do we resemble each other...

We are not in the same category. She is so extreme – has covered up her ex Billy Bob's name (nope I do not have a Craig tattoo, which I think he sees as a lack of my faith in our relationship) and Angelina has gotten many other tattoos – pictures, pictures, words, Asian, Roman, things that meant something to her at the time, although surely she has evolved past some of it by now - yep, has had a few do-overs.

And then given her career, every time she makes a movie they have to cover up the artistry. Oh! That is my connection to Angelina! I have to hide my tatts too.

(If we are seriously expected to believe this is something on Angelina's body – I have to also believe it was taken from about 5 miles away and clumsily enlarged. Hard to unflatter Angelina but they have done it.)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

#11: No Alien Tattoo (I don't think...)

Yes I did in recent months take a web printout of a leggy, big-headed green creature into the tattoo salon. And I was impressed that the intern/office manager or whatever he is – semi-bossy guy who doesn’t do tattoos himself... I have identified the pink-haired Receptionist and the body-hairy (hair amid his tattoos – lovely) Body Piercer and 2 of the Ink Artists but I’m still not sure what Bossy Guy is/does, other than bark at me not to put my purse on the floor (theft risk? health code violation?). How is it really cleaner to place your purse, which has been all over stores and public restrooms and worse in its past year with put that purse on a table or chair where the next client will sit?

Anyway, bossy guy lectured me on the importance of having an overall plan, a pre-plan for my tattoos. I shouldn’t just stick an alien next to the red-crown princess on my left arm. That placement would mean the alien would show only on the back or side of that arm. I didn’t quite see the problem of that – didn’t need the alien to be front & center, I would know it was there like I know the other tattoos I have to keep covered up during the day at work are there – but I did understand his concern about integrating Alien with the artistically rendered Princess which itself was copied – oops, inspired – by an original painting by a non-tattoo artist (painter).

Yes, I would probably have hated a green alien grafted off-center onto Red Princess but I did still sort of want one somewhere on me. So, OK – could you do the alien on my inside arm above the Princess? (trying not to think right at that moment about how I nevvverrr show that mushy part of my arm outside sleeves – well I guess I could admire the upper-arm alien in private, like when I shower or change clothes). Again, bossy guy discouraged me. “That is prime real estate!” (Yes I was laughing in response to that.) I said, OK you’re right, I need to give this some more thought.

Yes!, I was disappointed about not getting an alien that day but I agreed it was a recent inspiration (I won’t say impulse) and could maybe use more cogitation. I like that Bossy Guy was looking out for me and presenting the professional advocacy element of a tattoo business (we won’t take your money for an ill-advised tatt) but I had loved the…yes..the impulsiveness! of the idea of getting a small green alien tattooed on my body.

Which I did not do, that day, or yet. Now how will the mother ship find me…without my special mark…

Fortunately for that week’s need for instant tattoo gratification (I got a Thursday estimate for a Friday lunch-hour tattoo, the salon is not far from my office and lunch hour always sounds like a great idea until the thing starts HURTING afterward and I have to sit at my desk, bandage covered with a sleeve, and pretend I am fine and did not create a further dress code violation on my lunch hour…LOL). But I still managed to get 3 words arranged around my Eye of Horus tattoo that Friday, which I do not consider impulsive although – yes – it was done within a couple of weeks of the thought. This is what I consider (careful wording) a tattoo ENHANCEMENT. Look how beautifully it balances my right arm ink – and the right arm now balances the left. And hopefully the enhancement words will help calm? pacify? explain to? (typing this I realize, belatedly, that I should not have to explain to anybody) those people who have a horrified look as they ask barely disguised versions of this question: is that the evil eye?

(No my arm has not swollen to the size of a ham hock. But I don't like to ask Craig to photograph my tattoos, since he doesn't like my tattoos, and it's a weird angle when you point a camera at your own arm, trust me.)

I do still want my alien. Maybe I won’t do it till next year – or won’t do it next year – maybe I can and should, maybe I could, wait. But, and still, where would I put it if I got it? Prime but hidden (maybe hidden does not make it less prime) real estate of the upper arm? Leg/ankle, that I cover with slacks (haha, really with grubby khakis) at work anyway? Shoulder? back? – both heavily covered areas. I guess I am out of potentially uncovered skin spaces. Although I could show a leg tattoo in capris (not shorts at this weight!) in summer.

Maybe – I don’t know. I don’t like waiting for things I want, have decided I am ready to get. But I don’t want a misguided alien placement either. Thank you, Bossy Guy. I guess.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Birthday Series #10 - October can be too warm for sweaters and too cool for tee shirts

Yikes! The caption of this image I stole online is, "Portrait of a senior woman sitting in front of a birthday cake smiling."

She is wearing a sweater – 2 sweaters – so she fits this post. However, to my chagrin...she looks ancient! Which I am not. Anyway...

Usually my birthday weather is at least cool in the morning – cool dew and sun that kind of makes my sinuses flinch, swell, reverberate – something uncomfortable – when I leave the house in the a.m. And I usually leave the house at usual commute time – only a few 10/19’s have been vacation days.

On one really misplanned birthday vacation day I scheduled an appointment for a dental cleaning (at my friendly efficient dentist’s office, usually a win-win experience) but for whatever reason, that turned out to be one of my most uncomfortable cleanings ever and the one that has made me ever since demand gas for anything I experience while in the dental patient chair. (Sometimes I tolerate pre-gas x-rays, but just barely.) I remember what I was wearing because I dressed cute thinking I would have my usual chit-chat with the office staff, several of who also have October birthdays, and get their birthday greetings – of course they would note my day – and skip out, carefree and painfree, to my birthday afternoon in my navy tee shirt, jeans and navy & white polka dot Keds (I loved those shoes – may they RIP, worn to a respectful Goodwill burial).

So the reason for sharing this dental story is that it is an example of warm-weather dressing in Dallas' October. Somehow the wearing of my slightly oversized navy Target tee shirt under a dental bib, looking down at my polka-dotted shoes, on feet flexed in response to dental-scraper discomfort is still in the front of my mental file drawer. And we are talking 90s here – late 90s, but 90s. No – I don’t get past memories quickly.

On a birthday a year or two after that, I canceled birthday lunch with my aunt on short notice because Craig had surprised me by taking the day off from work and inviting me to lunch. This is my Dallas aunt who doesn’t forget my birthday – love her for that! – but Craig was my husband – my fairly new husband. Now yes, something might be a little suspicious in that hubby takes off the whole day from work, to take wife who does not take off from work (it was my first year in a new job) to lunch, but it was marriage year #3 and I didn’t think I should refuse him. Aunt gave lip service agreement to my making my husband a priority, but she also made a follow-up call to tell me I had hurt her feelings by canceling. I always appreciate honesty (yes really) but the situation was confusing for a newly married, motherless daughter who appreciates the mothering aspects of her local aunt.

But anyway – let’s return to wardrobe. A few weeks before that canceled aunt lunch I had bought 2 all-cotton striped men’s sweaters at The Gap. On reflection I realize they were in all ways unflattering to me – shape, color, length. But they were new purchases, they were sweaters, and it was cool that morning – so I wore one. Yes I was warm when I went out at lunch – with my husband, not my aunt. Can’t quite remember if I wore the brown-based sweater or the black-based sweater (both, again, ugly – but soft cotton and comfortable). I know I wore black pants. Because I don’t think I had brown pants then (in my personal experience, black pants have been perennials while brown ones have been occasional) – why in the world I remember this distinction, I do not know – so it must have been the black & multi stripe sweater.

Also, I can’t remember where we ate – but I had lunch with my husband! And apologized again to my aunt.

Not bad priorities, really. Probably? (Yes, I struggle with these questions.)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

#9 in the Birthday Series - 600+ Facebook friends (Facebook birthday)

As my subscribers/readers know, I am not a person immune to guilt. (HA!)

Facebook brings a lot of publicity to birthdays. Facebook aside – I have been yakking about my birthday for weeks. Partly from pride and joy at attaining the 5-0 milestone as an at least semi-functional adult – partly from negative emotions that I’m trying to process (that’s what the Internet is for, right?, processing with an audience...I love that about the Internet).

I have allowed, even encouraged, the Internet to make my life public, and this is a not unexpected aspect. Ahem.

Now, if on the 19th I get 200+ (just an estimate) birthday greetings, courtesy of FB reminders, should I:

1. smile inwardly and take no outward action
2. obsessively click “like” to each birthday comment on a prompt basis
3. spend hours writing a “they like me, they really like me” thank-you message that can only be addressed to a limited number of addressees and becomes a logistical hassle like last year (FOR EXAMPLE).

Guilt – hmmmm – when Facebook reminds people of a birthday, do they feel guilty if they don’t say HBD? That would be guilt #1. Then my reading and response-lack of response-2nd guessed response would be guilt 2/3, depending on timing and degree.

Geez – is this worth it?

Yes, I think so.

As in a zillion other ways, the Internet brings mixed-blessing enhancements. It’s an automatic birthday reminder, and provides an automated means for response. That doesn’t eliminate sincerity – hardly brings it into question – but it’s an alteration of previous experience (which wasn't all so great, IMHO = Internet lingo for, In My Humble-haha Opinion).

But as with almost everything else Internet-wise…do we want to go backwards?


At least, not till after my birthday.

P.S. A humble, apologetic, shy?, anti-tonight post may be coming soon.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

#8, a continuation of #7 - Birthdays with a Father

My 13th birthday, which was soon after Mother died, was celebrated with a Sunday lunch at our family friend Shirley’s house. She made a special effort that day, shopped for a nice 1970s preteen gift, a pale blue suede wallet set, and made a pot roast. I know she was not a confident cook and this entrée could not have been easy for her – I know that because I remember it being a little hard to chew. Well, so is my own pot roast hard to chew, even with a crockpot I invariably get the wrong cut of meat or don’t cook for enough hours (fortunately Craig would prefer meat to be too chewy than too soft, he is that kind of carnivore)…whereas an old-school cook like Mother made pot roast in a pressure cooker so it was consistently soft.

(I hate blogging without illustrations – none of the ones I found for pot roast were quite right but this image was the least fancy – sorry, Shirley!, but I don’t think you served it on a platter with parsley – so I’m going with this one.)

Actually I loved eating at Shirley’s house. We drank Cokes or Tabs (this was the era of Tab) on ice in tumblers, ate fresh brownies (yes, made from a mix but that seemed exotic since my family recipe, thriftily made with cocoa, always came out dry), chocolate chip cookies, and her breakthrough side dish, green peas mixed with mashed potatoes. (I remember her saying proudly, “I realized they get mixed together on your plate anyway.”)

I Googled to see what day of the week my birthday fell on that year of the pot roast lunch – actually the 19th was a Saturday, the day before our lunch with Shirley. My mother had avoided cake mixes for many years but at some point we discovered that spice cake mixes, especially with lots of homemade frosting, were very good - if I'm not mixing up memories my mother's mother, a true baking authority, tipped us off to that. I think it was birthday 14 when my sister made me a cake. She insisted she was old enough but she didn’t follow the directions enough to make a product that pleased me. I think the frosting was more like a glaze (maybe she melted butter instead of creamed it), which of course tasted fine but set off my perfectionism – that cake was one more disappointment (I felt disappointment even when I felt guilty for expressing it), one more thing in my young life that wasn’t right.

What was right was a visit to Shirley’s. Shirley made me feel she was treating me as an adult but there was a good amount of mothering in there too. I’m not exaggerating when I say that arriving at her house always felt like a 5-star hotel to me. It was perfectly cooled (our house had loud, uneven a/c) and lovely – a custom home in the woods. Of course I didn’t care about the outside, never went out there, but the green view was nice from the windows. She had clean carpet (I don’t remember her having pets) (and our house was all lineoleum), brand-new bathroom fixtures (my family’s bathroom tiles had green stuff at the edges), a wetbar ice maker, and a guest room TV with a timer that would take care of you after you fell asleep. Even when having my sister Rachel along was a requirement of me sleeping over at Shirley’s, it was worth it. (Shirley had been Rachel’s kindergarten teacher, and Shirley had been a good friend of Mother’s, and my brothers’ piano teacher – the connection was strong.)

Not too long after the Sunday lunch, my dad made the pronouncement, “I think you like to go to Shirley’s because she makes a fuss over you.” This was heard by me as a criticism and even with adult perspective, I believe it was intended as that. My self-employed, newly widowed father was struggling with his many responsibilities, including paying Mother’s medical bills (he did not have group insurance) and he probably didn’t see me as needy enough, in the family scheme of things, to be made a fuss over. I guess I had absorbed a lot of that perspective because on the night that Mother died (in our house, in her own bed as she had wished), when Rachel and I were sent to spend the night at Shirley’s, I remember feeling like a fraud, someone taking advantage of the situation. Mother’s body had been taken away already and I wasn’t consciously upset, wasn’t grieving, I had known Mother was about to die and now she had died and our household would continue its adapted routine of not being led by Mother. Sure, I would rather sleep in a room with its own TV set (Shirley’s guest TV was bigger than my family’s den TV) but did I “need” to be there?

I didn’t begin to understand how to relate to my dad until I began to help him with his writing, about 10 years ago. Typing the letters he wrote as a very young soldier to his family, and then editing his childhood memoir written in recent years, I finally understood my father as being an emotional person. A bright, curious, sensitive child, born in a family he didn’t quite fit in with, before the decades of psychological labels, self-awareness, the psychologized generation.

Here’s a very appropriate quote from his book, “Growing Up in Rose Hill (we were poor but didn’t know it)”, which in its 228 printed pages has only this one mention of birthdays:

"Birthdays on the farm were not celebrated often. If the birthday fell on a Sunday, Mother would invite one or two friends to come after church. I don’t remember having candles on a cake but several times we had hot cocoa served in tiny tea cups (my birthday is in October so the weather would usually be cool). I still have the tiny set of pitcher and cups. Usually on a person’s 16th birthday a “coming out” party was given. These were supposed to be surprise parties. In the summer they included “ring games” and in winter dominoes and card games. Homemade ice cream was usually served with cake. Neighbors and relatives came to our house for my 16th birthday, but I was so shy I probably didn’t speak to anyone."

Yep, I could make a lot out of that last sentence, and what a perfect follow-up to blog #7, which mentioned my own 16th birthday – I doubt my father thought of any connection to my birthday when he wrote the words above in 2004. My reading on introversion has taught me that parents of introverts – especially parents who themselves are introverted, to any degree – push their child not to be introverted, wanting their child to be part of the mainstream, i.e. extroverted. (Shyness is not always defined as similar to introversion, but I think my dad and I were both, so I won’t split that hair in this particular blog post.) My father’s sensitivities were not encouraged growing up, and he didn’t usually see it as part of his parental mission to encourage his own children’s sensitivities – on certain levels, I think he understood our complexities, maybe even felt a kinship – but it was not close to the surface most of the time.

Daddy and Mother had 4 children, and when he started dating as a widower he believed he was more successful when paired with women who also had children. One of my favorites of his dates had only one child, a daughter my age (he used to take me on dates with that mom and daughter and our outings always had Houston sophistication, once we saw a Tennessee Williams play – well, performed at a church), but he ended up marrying a woman with 6 children.

My stepmother did observe everyone’s birthday with cake and card and at least one present, but my father not only delegated birthdays to her from then on (after all, Mother had been the birthday planner when she was alive), but was heard to say things along the lines of – I admit this is not a direct quote – with so many kids you can’t remember everyone’s birthday.

Which is a philosophy that still rankles me. Granted he has multiple stepdaughters and he has numerous grandchildren - but he had 4 original children, 3 living today - his sister and brother and his parents are dead. Can he remember the birth dates of 3 original children? It’s not like he is too old and confused to keep track of dates (he rarely misses doctor appointments or TV shows), and I have heard him mention such a thing as a birthday calendar (maybe sometimes it gets lost under other paperwork - you would have to see his office...). In recent years I have finally mellowed about this and I find it funny when he calls me about something completely unrelated on 10/19 and has no idea that date is my birthday. And guess when his birthday is? Exactly 4 days later. Maybe it’s passive-aggressive that I don’t remind him it’s my birthday when he accidentally calls on the 18th, 19th or 20th to update me on some other happening, but maybe it’s also passive-aggressive when he doesn’t keep track of my birthday being 4 days before his.

I had 2 birthdays after I left the house for college and before I moved to Dallas (after which I counted more on my Dallas relatives for birthday observance). I have no complaints about the first one – I flew from New Mexico for a fun weekend in Dallas, and before I left Santa Fe my college friends gave me gifts, not bad for people you have known for less than 2 months – but the next one was difficult. I went to Dallas for the weekend again – able to drive this time instead of fly, since I had transferred to a Texas college, but the only notification I received from my dad and stepmom was a card that arrived in my college mailbox a couple of days late, signed with the names of all (the few, I am 3rd from youngest) family members still living at home, but all obviously in my stepmom’s handwriting. I think she also drew a couple of little pictures, maybe a flower and a butterfly, which was nice of her – but I was not appreciative at the time.

It wasn’t a phone call on the actual date – it wasn’t a Barbie cake. No child wants to be lost in the crowd of siblings – we don’t ask our parents to have more kids, those decisions are nothing to do with us. We want to be treated as unique.

OK – thank you for listening to my toddler self say that. Whew, this post has been freeing. (Although I felt guilt as I wrote it.)

I like to end posts with an image – I tried and tried to find good examples of vintage teacups (not fancy, probably scratched or cracked) like the kind my dad sipped cocoa out of on his childhood birthdays, but nothing was quite right. The image below is not right in any way at all other than it being “vintage” and “German” – but I like it because the set looks orange. Actually it’s described in the eBay text as painted red, but it looks orange when photographed, so I gravitated very strongly toward it.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Series #7 - Motherless Birthdays

My best birthdays, in the motherless desert since Mother died, have to do with having a husband who even in dating days never forgot my birthday, and his family hasn’t either – well, it helps that so many of them were born in October too. Worst of this category: when he thinks because we go out to eat, and he sometimes sends me flowers, he doesn’t need to buy me a card. What is it with guys and cards… One particular year, I was otherwise upset – actually it was the month before we got married and I was of course stressed with wedding plans, and didn’t want to lose my individual celebration, a whole other thing to be upset about – and I asked him to please go to the store and buy me a card, and guy-like he thought even that clear request was silly.

During my late single years, there was a bad birthday when I thought my boss was inviting me to meet him for surprise birthday drinks after work – he and his wife did nice things for my birthday, almost always (cheaper than giving me a raise, I see that now) – but it turned out that he really did just need the paperwork he had asked me to drop off – no party for me. Another year I kept waiting for my Dallas relatives to do something for me, which in a way they did – when I stopped by their house they said "Oh, it's your birthday, isn't it!" and gave me hugs. I then went to Tom Thumb and bought apple spice pound cake and vanilla ice cream to eat alone in my apartment.

These same relatives, who actually do always remember my birthday, had a surprise Sweet 16 party for me. It’s not their fault that during the event I was frozen with a horrid mix of introverted social anxiety and teenage embarrassment. I could not get past the shock of a dinner outing with my stepbrother turning into a house filled with out-of-town relatives. A lot of the embarrassment came from not having friends to be invited – that was a very awkward age, I had maybe 1.5 friends at school and my dad stated rightly when my aunt asked him about invitations, that they (or "it," one girl and some vague other quasi-friends) would not be comfortable at a family party. Steve had told me to dress up, so I had on my pleather platform boots and gaucho pants and vest – yes, I was in fashion for once, 1977 fashion. My aunt had remembered I liked yellow roses and there were a lot of those at the party. I still struggle to make peace with this party memory, I so much appreciated the effort, and the memory of family guests, including a great-aunt and great-uncle who many years ago left my life is poignant, but I still have shame at my inability to enjoy that moment. And now, at my inability to appreciate the memory.

IN CONTRAST: With a mother-ful birthday I woke up to presents and a homemade cake at my place at the breakfast table – I can’t remember for sure if I routinely sat at the end of the table opposite the stove, maybe the birthday person sat at that end (kind of the head) of the table. But this is a birthday memory, so I was queen. This rich tradition occurred every year through the beginning of my 12th. Always there, those items – food and gift-wrapped clothes and toys and books – they were ready before I walked into the room to see them. This was experienced as delicious trust and confidence of knowing it would be there, but there was always a surprise thrill too – the cake flavor, the frosting color, the gifts themselves were specially chosen by Mother. The decorating scheme was homemade – one year Mother arranged Barbie shoes in a shoe-store theme. Yes, by age 12 I was at the early part of the age of criticism, and maybe I wanted something more polished (i.e. storebought, which only as adults do we realize is not superior), but Mother was inspired not just from thriftiness but also from knowing Sarah.

With a motherful birthday, even on a preteen year when all of the 5 friends I invited to the zoo happened to be coincidentally not available (it really was not a conspiracy, they had various real conflicts and their mothers were very apologetic), I still had a good time going with my mother and little sister. Both the Houston weather and my sister were on good behavior, and Mother bought me an alligator charm for my bracelet – it was not a bad day. Best of all, with a motherful birthday – I could take the birthday efforts for granted. I could even have expectations, requests (can you buy me this? will you buy me this?) and complaints that even if unvoiced, felt inwardly justified – Mother should buy me this.

Back then I didn’t feel guilty about wanting or asking for things, or attention. I knew this person, above all others, celebrated my birth. I wish I could take that for granted – from any living person – ever again, but I don’t think I’ll be able to. Life, relationships, are complicated. I have had wonderful mother figures in my life, but I had only one mother.

P.S. Regarding the alligator charm – another relative had given me a couple of dozen sterling charms the previous Christmas. I know he meant it generously, and knowing his shopping habits, I know he had fun buying them. But it was too much – charm bracelets are supposed to be built up slowly, with charms for individual occasions. My mother knew me, and she knew that. I think I still have a box of loose charms that I never attached.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

#6 - When someone dies, you can't take them for granted anymore.

(Feels weird to end a blog post subject with a period, but it's weird without the period too.)

I don’t have the perfect image (and I’m not sure what it would be) to use with this post, but I like this old photo, a group of cousins sitting on a porch at a family reunion – that’s Tim on the far right and me standing up (I was very cocky before I reached the age of self-criticism, which sadly occurred rather early). Tim was one of the older cousins and looks bored with the rest of us, LOL.

This title came from thinking about something that is such a cliché that you hate the cliché, but you hate the circumstance anyway. It kind of helps that other people have taken their deceased folks (for some reason I have been using the word "folks" a lot lately, what else would work here – significant others?, never mind...) for granted during life, so you are not unusual – hence, the cliché. But who wants to be part of the stupid herd, the majority.

I could have spent more time with Tim. I could have been more patient with his very-deliberate speech – he was a teacher, who prided himself on clear communication and always-rational thought – and his way of heavily processing info, and feelings, before he shared them with others. Maybe I got impatient with his objectivity toward feelings – although in other ways that was one of my favorite things about him, his objectivity – it made him accepting of and patient with others. Even if he didn’t show strong emotion, it was OK that other people did.

I counted on him, but that’s not the same thing as appreciating. I didn’t not appreciate him – even physically diminished to the point that even he had to focus on his health (mind over matter was barely working for him, despite his every effort), he had an important place in my life - not as a sick person, but as an older brother.

And it wasn’t like I wasn’t prepared for his death in many ways, I had gotten the message he wouldn’t live forever (even now it's hard, out of respect for him and how he wanted to protect us from his reality, to say I recognized his end was near), and I wanted his years of suffering to end – but he wouldn’t have used that word, let’s get closer to Tim-speak, his years of health challenges to end. Yes, to end. And then when it ends – you want a do-over. For them, for you.

Tim and I had the chance to be adult siblings, but I didn’t have the chance for an adult relationship with Mother. To extrapolate from history and our personalities – imaging to the future, like a computer-aged police sketch – takes that relationship out of reality. Our original Scholl family of 6 people was real. It’s long gone in many ways, but it was real. And – it never did have a lot of self-awareness, although we thought it did – being smart people doesn’t mean you know who and what you are, especially as a family – but for our culture (Texan/German/many other things), personalities, small town and decade – we were our closest approximation to real. So I’ll never be able to tolerate a projected, an imaged relationship with Mother that I would consider fake, silly – unreal.

Yes, I was an adult when Tim died, but in a way with his death I became frozen in a youthful sibling relationship. I have written about getting past the age that he was when he died, but he died as The Older Brother, and he gets to stay that way – it’s hard to think of him otherwise. He was always 4 years older. When he died I was still 1 ½ years away from finishing my degree, and I was several jobs ago (many professional lessons yet to be learned, not that I’m an expert now), and newer in my marriage…my 2005 self. We change in 6 years.

It makes me sad that the idea of reconnecting with my mother is the stuff of nightmares (I’ve had actual nightmares) – what age is she, what health does she have – is she younger than I knew her, is she recovering from cancer, is she a walking corpse or ___? I have had some dreams about Tim appearing after death but they are not scary – he utters calm words on a brief (and very unexpected!) phone call, or he appears briefly as part of an insignificant family activity (having dinner, sitting outside) and exudes…calm. Not intrusive.

Hmmm – maybe even in these dream visitations I take Tim’s contribution for granted.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Birthday Series #5 - Do I want Craig to get a bird for Christmas?

Like many of Craig’s ideas it came to him at a party, yes one where alcohol was served. His friend Melanie has a bird named Birdie (maybe Bertie, LOL) who was fun to interact with, at least on a limited party basis. One of her other party guests was also a bird owner and he was talking about the joys of bird ownership. I don’t know how serious Craig was about all this or how serious I want him to be… I might prefer a bird to a fish tank – maybe…fish are something else he's expressed an idle interest in.

Before Craig moved in with me I had a female roommate who had a flea-infested dog (I didn’t realize back then that I liked dogs…wonder why…), fish who liked to turn nasty colors and float belly-up as soon as Linda went out of town (on one occasion I begged my uncle to come over and help scoop them out – I mean, I made him do the scooping), and a bird who never quieted even when his cage was covered, who had a great name (Beethoven) and would sit on your head without too much painful pecking but whose exit (he flew out the back door when Linda was spring cleaning) I didn’t lament too much. (Basically glad she couldn’t blame me, like she may have in the case of the fish.)

My parents used to have a decorative bird cage (yes, pink) in their 1950s-pink bathroom, and for some reason that I can’t quite remember it had a bird in it at one point – oh, I think Uncle Harvey had bought a decorative cage (larger than ours, white, nicer) for his Tomball house before he lived in it year-round, and it was too much hassle for us to keep walking over (3 whole small-town blocks) and feeding the birds in his cage so they were moved to our bathroom cage. There used to be 2 birds, then there was one, and on one sad day when he was out of the cage for some reason – had to be a cleaning, we didn’t think of recreation in those pre-Animal Planet days (nothing on our tiny black & white TV’s few channels addressed the un-socialized plight of pet birds) – my brother Dave stepped square on top of him. The bird was green & yellow, on a pink fluffy Polyester rug, but Dave is tall with large feet and while I don't think he had animosity, at that age he helplessly exhibited a teenage lack of awareness and clumsiness, so the outcome was sad and instantaneous. At my preteen age I found it ironically funny but I remember Dave feeling bad about what happened, so I know it was a pure accident, and I still feel bad for laughing (although I wasn’t sad I no longer had to clean that nasty cage).

Anyway, the Craig story – within 2 weeks of Craig’s friend’s party I had a weird synchronicity: when I stopped on the way home to buy dog food for Billie the customer in front of me, a little old lady with a brown wig that I knew wasn’t her hair (one of those crepe-y, cronelike old ladies who makes you worry about your own aging – sorry to interject this negativity, but it’s a birthday blog theme after all), was buying all manner of bird treats. The cashier, who had a name I thought I would remember but have already forgotten since I didn’t write it down (probably I could just ask for The Bird Man at Petco on Garland Road) gave her a lecture about caged birds really needing a lot of fresh fruit, plus pellets, and minimal other stuff. (“This is junk! You don’t need that unless you want to throw your money away.” He was hardly salesman of the year in terms of cash register receipts.) He was so gung-ho with bird info that he even followed her out to her car, talking. I thought , this could be a resource for Craig. (If I follow up on it for him.)

I don’t think Craig will bother to get a bird – research a bird, buy a bird – unless, yep, I follow up on it. So I could, should, just ignore the topic, given my mixed and mostly negative feelings. But the can-do part of me – and maybe part of the part that loves Craig – wants to nurture his desire for a bird. So I will probably bring it up again.

Craig has pointed at 3 different places in our house where he would put a bird cage – I would prefer the bird be in Craig’s pub – “his” room after all, and one I rarely walk through. But he’s right, the bird might prefer the more generous natural light that’s in the garden room (converted porch where we have a piano, wine rack and china cabinet – sometimes we call it The Grotto when we get bored with Garden Room). But that would mean the bird is right next to us when we sit in the den, watching TV. Maybe not ideal.

In Googling for a photo of Detective Baretta’s cockatoo (which I KNOW was part of Craig’s attraction to the idea) I also found a naughty image for Robert Blake’s “bird.” This kind of reflects my own mixed feelings on the subject.

Birthday Series #4 - Do I want a dog for Christmas?

Up and down and down and up on this question. Up up up when I look at available greyhounds on rescue sites and read the adorable posts from foster parents – these dogs are so sweet and smart and seem to settle in really well in loving homes, especially homes with no kids and no cats like ours. BUT one dog is so much easier, and Billie has adjusted so much better to being an only dog than we thought she would. Nobody to compete with, nobody to worry about (I could tell she was worrying about Marley, having to wake him up for meals, had to handle the threat of outside invaders herself after he went deaf). One dog is so much cheaper too – yes there is that – we are in a budget mode, better late than never, and I hope we can maintain. So does that make it wrong to be thinking about getting another dog? Other viewpoint is – rescuing a dog with no family is a virtuous thing, right? The money would go to a good cause. Hmmmm…

One of the worst psychic wounds is not as people might think, replacing Marley – because there’s no replacing Marley, no question of that – but my continued guilt over the Terror Rein of Bucho (our cousin's Chow-mix puppy). I loved Bucho and (don’t tell Craig), I still miss him, but while we had him Billie was so miserable. I’ll always question my motives for taking him in (he was a kind of foster), for keeping him the several months we did, and also my motives for giving him up.

Do I have too much guilt to be a dog parent?

Greyhounds are so adorable though. I have thought that since I saw one on camera on an Animal Planet show years ago, a lady was taking her other dog to do a nursing home visit and she said goodbye to the greyhound, “Will you miss us?, did you want to go too?” and the greyhound just stayed flopped on its comfy cushion, hardly batted a doggy eyelid.

People who don’t check out the rescue sites don’t realize what couch potatoes greyhounds are. They love to stretch and “roach” – on their back with those long legs folded in as best they will fold (like a dead cockroach – get it? – sorry to have to include that nasty association, but some people don’t get it). I was going to steal a photo example for this blog but they are all so adorable I had to get off the websites – and all so cute I couldn’t choose.

Instead I’m using a couple of photos I took when I dragged poor Billie to a greyhound rescue meet & greet last December. Billie was very nervous – we don’t take her out to public places a lot (I should feel guilty about that too, I think). She looked cute next to the greyhounds, but actually she looked less like a greyhound than I thought she would, next to the real thing – she is a mix of more dog breeds than I realized, greyhound is not necessarily dominant – other than her stride, her love of roaching, and her sweet sleepiness.

She needs to be our priority in this decision. Isn’t she lonely though? Wouldn’t she prefer a bigger pack – especially someone to hang out with her while we are at work all day?

She can’t speak English though. I think I know her well but this is hard to judge. And then there’s element of parenting, do what is best for them, even if they don’t want it. Wow – how would I know if this is such an example.

Maybe I’ll go back to the budget constraint. That is more clear-cut. But you know me and spending money…I obsess so hard about things I want that sometimes I violate budget principles to get them. Although that needs to end, as of 5 years ago (oops!)

Up and down, down and up…

Putting off the decision till Christmas is good – I’m trying to focus on that timing – because most years Craig and I are both around the house for a week or so before New Year’s. We’ll be broke though – with January bills coming up – and Billie will like having our full attention. So I don’t know…but a new home would be a great gift for a rescue greyhound (selfless of me!).

From December 2010: That's a sweet baby named Sweet Pea in the bandana - Billie didn't bond with her, obviously.

Billie remained on the fringes of things.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Birthday Series #3 - not an easy one but an important one

Formerly announced title: "Now I really feel older than Mother and Tim"

Yep, in this post I have gone over my 2-3 paragraph plan, but in a way that doesn't count since almost all the words below spieled out of me yesterday while recharging in my building's downstairs restaurant with - yes - a Chardonnay. (I was not just recharging from the workday but gearing up for the long drive home, and worse, an expedition to Town East Mall in Mesquite! Amazing I accomplished that, plus writing, with just one Chardonnay.)

Maybe for a growth experience I should type this with the draft markings - a few question marks and blanks - left on. Yeah! Maybe. Except I will have to check the reference years - can't stand to be sloppy with that.


Mother died at 48, Tim at 47. I had to look up those dates again - maybe the dates don't matter - but when I turned 48 (Mother) and 47 (Tim) (and also 49, since my math got vague, especially when them not living/dying in neat year increments but half years too, 48 1/2 etc.), it felt like it mattered.

Tim always looked calendar-year (ageless?) young to me, his only aging came from 6? years of cancer treatment. David, now 52, has some gray and a slightly receding hairline. (Not that we talk slang to each other, but - sorry, bro.) Dave has kids - Tim and I don't. Maybe that's a connection to the aged look?, or so friends with kids tell me.

Turning Mother's age of death literally? (should I edit this to, metaphorically?) felt like passing through a doorway.

So having experienced that, it surprises me that facing the 50 doorway, I feel - really far away from Tim and Mother.

My dad turns 86 the week after I turn 50. I can't make the stretch of feeling an age connection with him, although in terms of longevity there certainly could be one - shared genetics, even some shared mindset, the kind of cynicism that I think I've read some studies show can affect longevity. Expecting to be disappointed at least some of the time, not going into as deep a trough as some people might when bad news hits. Now, compared to my "grew up poor and didn't know it" dad I am a vastly spoiled princess, but there is still a link somewhere, to do with rolling your eyes at life. So with my dad on the 80-plus end of the age continuum, I still feel closer to - two dead people. They were older than me in life, but in death we have arrived at a ____?

I have enough imagination to think what a mother who died in 1974 might be like in 2011, but I am way too critical of my attempts. She liked the TV show "Maude" - would she have continued this liberal trend? (I am so glad I remember that - it's not a flimsy memory and it sustains my liberal self - for really pithy episodes she shut the living room door on us and watched it in private - yes, maybe I'm proud of that too.) Or would she have stayed near or gone even closer to her small-town, preacher's daughter ___?

Over the years I have done some info-gathering with relatives and friends who I had thought were close to her, but - from my (data-hungry) perspective, none of the sources provided much. She was a private person, and sometimes after dialogues? (interviews, such as they were) I was left with the sense that I actually knew her better than a lot of others - but the problem is/was, I was a 12 year old girl. Tim, who of course? is also gone, seemed to think he was an expert on Mother. As mature a brain as he had, I didn't think his 16 year old male self was the best resource so I never really grilled him in depth. And now - again, obviously - he's gone as a resource.

My dad struggles to answer specific questions - we stopped talking about Mother soon after she died, there was such a culture? of pragmatism in the family? - she's not coming back. My dad struggles to access such old data. In his writing about his past (his childhood, his early working years) there is a gap between his few mentions of Mother in their dating years and his stories of the last few decades that start out, unquestionably referring to my stepmother, "My wife and I." As a former therapist once said (quoted?) to me, in rueful truth, women grieve, and men replace. Yes, I know this is simplistic but I believe there's truth in it. It relates to healing, survival - but in my case, it relates to loss.

(A faded image of Mother, taken in Uncle Harvey's living room, as she was starting to fade - this was a few years before she died - it's only in this year of MY life that when I regard the image, she looks to be in not-bad shape - a vibrant wife, sister, daughter and mother, maybe just prematurely gray, maybe just busy with her life.)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Birthday Series #2 - Birthday Jewelry

"Free Shipping - Buy 2 Get 1 Free - FIFTY the ULTIMATE F-WORD - Handmade Recycled Glass Image Pendant Includes a Free 24 inch Ball Chain"

(A milestone birthday commercialized...)

Two years ago I ordered what I called the S bling - an oversized, heavy sterling "S" pendant on a sturdy chain. It was delayed in delivery and I had almost given up on it arriving during birthday week, but then the package came to my office right on my birthday!

That same year, a month or so before, I bought a Libra necklace - disappointingly cheaper-looking than pictured online, a thing thing with a muddy-colored "opal" birthstone and a small silver charm. But I still think of it as my October necklace and it feels good to get it out in late September and start wearing it.

This year, I started looking early for a special 50 pendant, but so many things looked kind of cheesy. One pendant, that I can no longer find online, was a mini speed limit sign, available in 30, 50, 60, etc. I wanted to like that one but somehow I didn't. (Maybe it was the association with limitations...?)

Not a huge 50th birthday selection even on Etsy, mostly things like this that looked like disposable party decorations:

I liked the title of this pendant ("Is She the Grownup Yet?"), but really, it was just another party decor item.

But, and, despite my multiple jewelry boxes of wonderful items, I was determined to buy something specially for this year.

I ended up ordering a custom-made silver item that arrived looking much skimpier? (nicer word: more delicate?) than the online illustration. It looks like a ripoff in its cotton-lined box but when I tried it on the artist was right, it is a delicate, classy necklace for someone who doesn't want to hide her age but doesn't want to squawk it out loud either.

I'll post a photo of that close to my actual birthday. If I don't buy something better before, really, just kidding.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Do I have to do this topic? WEIGHT ON DISPLAY


UGH! This is a hard one...

My husband's family likes surprises and he gave me a surprise party for my 40th. Thus, I need to prepare for something broadly social during the month of my 50th.

Is it important that I am now a weight I never thought I would be? (Not a terrible weight in terms of our obese-trending society, even I admit that, but a very high weight for moi...I am Texan, not French, so pardon the foreign language, but I like to think I have high aesthetic standards...) As a person of petite height and for many years, obsessive dieting to maintain weight...evolving into my almost-50 self that now ranks other aspects of life (i.e. hunger and stress-ameliorated-by-food) as more important than poundage...I find myself in an odd place. A place I never imagined I would be. Overweight and, most of the time, not despising myself. But on my birthday, there is a new equation of self assessment.

In October there will likely be a social, public, event. I will NOT likely lose 50 pounds in the next month. So - I will be overweight on this big birthday. Will a tasteful (affordable for fashion but taking money out of my art budget, damn it) new outfit from Chico's or Lane Bryant cheer me up? Can I look at whatever party photos are taken and have the perspective of, "What a great party!" and not - hahahahaha, but not really laughing - who is that fat cow with glasses.........

I saw two very wise friends this Saturday who reminded me, in a broader context, People are not looking at YOU. And I knew this was meant in the nicest way.

I hope I can follow in their vein. Not sure I can. BUT - I will show up for my birthday surprise. And I will probably eat. And at some point, I will make make peace with the photos that are taken :)

Kick Start the Blog Series

RULES (from a non-rule person...)

Pick topics in advance and post them - mostly stick to them ;)

Aim for 2-3 paragraphs and probably force a stop after 3 - can split to a new topic - because otherwise my perfectionism will make things too cumbersome to do the speed and volume I want.

Difficult topics - nearing 50 - but my topics are always difficult...

1. Weight on display

2. Birthday jewelry

3. Now I really feel older than Mother and Tim

4. Do I want a dog for Christmas?

5. Do I want Craig to get a bird for Christmas?

6. When someone dies you can't take them for granted anymore.

7. Motherless birthdays

8. Continuation of 7 - birthdays with a father

9. 600+ Facebook friends (Facebook birthday)

10. October can be too warm for sweaters and too cool for tee shirts

11. No alien tattoo (I don't think...)

12. Birth date on a ring - or a tattoo or - ... (identity theft...?)

13. Three family Libras (are we?)

14. I am a presents-at-breakfast person

15. Should I - will I - work on my birthday?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Oops - surprise! January goals not on track (or are they...)

I follow the blog of Laurie Justus Pace - - and around the turn of the year she talked about creating index cards for personal goals.

I am SO anti-self-help at this point in my life but I liked the index cards idea. I stole some colored ones from Craig's desk (he still believes in the power of old-fashioned office supplies) and went to work on Laurie's suggestion.

I was so proud of how my cards turned out - on the printed lines I looked and sounded mature! Centered! I discussed the goals I created with my therapist and she admired them too.

My Four Needs (in order): Food and shelter, Love and friendship, Self acceptance, To write.
My Four Wants (in order): Better job, Improved finances, To be less angry, To feel less lonely.


Once again, the cards have proven their value. I admit I hadn't looked at them for months (ANOTHER SURPRISE! but not really). And I assumed I had gone way off even whatever gentle, organic path I had planned for myself in January.

But really -

Yes, really -

Upon reflection....

Anger is better, i.e. less. My job is better. Writing is almost nonexistent - that always seems to get sacrificed first in times of change (another Sarah trait).

I did NOT have the goal of buying another hundred paintings in a very short timeframe. But, having done that (an unassigned goal) - is there a way to look at it other than as complete addiction/dysfunctionality? I made new friends during my purchases, which ties into the index cards for loneliness and self acceptance.

Whoa - I don't know - am I really ready to explore these questions?

Finances - financial security - didn't I already decide, since January, on some level (secret or blocked, buried or whatever) that art was more important?

No matter how old we get, don't we keep hoping we can have it both ways? To grab new things like a child would, but feel protected like an adult would keep us. I think this have-it-all fantasy skewed my goals.

I could probably blog about this every week and feel it was new.

Friday, July 22, 2011

I'll be basking in this for a while!

Artist Jessica Torrant has profiled me on her blog! Yes it shows my addiction/obsession/hobby??? to even more people but the fame makes that worth it!

Her intent was not just to glorify me but to show fellow artists the collector's viewpoint. Well, "a" collector's viewpoint - I'm not your average collector. I don't know what an average one IS, but I doubt I am it.

Jessica added this comment on Facebook: "As an artist, I just think it is such a rare thing to get this kind of perspective from buyers. Usually a painting is shipped out, (sometimes) feedback is left or we have a brief email exchange, and that's the end of it. To see Sarah's commitment to not only supporting artists but sharing her love for art with others is a wonderful, rare thing."

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Dream State During Business Hours

It seemed surreal at the time and yet all too real – similar to situations of my childhood and since, where I am the odd woman/girl out at a party or feel slow and stupid when called on in class... Games being played that I didn’t understand and couldn’t focus on…feeling stupid, worrying I am being rude, thinking I am being judged for my poor social performance. OOOOPPHH! Not a nightmare but merely (haha) my corporate department open house last month. I have to live with, need to process, the knowledge that I am probably the only employee who had such a strong reaction. From reading a couple of books about introversion I have learned that the freezing when asked to answer test-type questions out loud is not so unusual – introverts take longer when verbally quizzed because we tend to access our long-term memory before responding. We also prefer real conversations to…chit-chat? that doesn’t lead to knowledge sharing? Social interactions where the purpose, outcome, are not clear? Anyway, the “dream” (surreal vision) itself… I had to get directions to a cubicle aisle upstairs that I had been to before but didn’t know the name of…there I met a group of people, some of who I knew, some I didn’t…we tried to follow our printed instructions that didn’t quite make sense…made our way to where multiple choice questions were yelled at us and we were told to squirt foam darts at targets outlined on the glass walls…I didn’t understand a lot of the questions and I struggled to operate my gun properly…soon I gave up my gun to a fellow team member but had to half-hide behind a column to avoid being pushed to shoot again…our company CEO strolled by and fired off a few darts, we all applauded his talent… It took me 20 minutes to realize the VP who was reading off the questions was wearing Dr. Spock ears. At the next workstation the questions on our slips of paper seemed even more complicated than at the foam-dart range…I pretended to write on my test paper with a pen but really just dropped my blank form into the “completed” box… I picked up a free calculator on the party favor table but it was dead so I slipped it back onto the pile. We arrived at the next stop early and a tall black man dressed in a Leprechaun Pimp outfit (yes, really) made conversation with us. I struggled with the Pimp’s written test although he told me I probably knew most of the answers (a compliment which only made me more tense). He was a nice funny man but I didn’t know how much I should stare at his hat or his four-leaf clover medallion. As in a typical dream, semi-significant people kept floating through – the hiring manager who didn’t hire me in January…an employee who I recruited who never smiles, I sure hope he is happy since it took us 6 months to find him…a peer who shares my love of Chucks and to my great gratification, noticed my new ear piercings! I think the department managers had been told to stock candy but not given budgets for it, nobody had good candy (i.e. nothing chocolate) but I was glad not to deal with food temptations.

One area was wallpapered with fake federal currency – that did tempt me – it was a feel-good look I might attempt in my home. After a little more time was killed we were in my own workstation area. When my coworkers (who were more practiced at the spin than I was) took over the tour narration I went to my desk and started working online. Too soon somebody noticed that and pointed me out like a fish in a tank, “Why is she working?” – so I had to rejoin the tour, at least temporarily (till that group went around the corner). My manager had designed a questionnaire whose questions encompassed sister departments – another test I knew I would fail, even though at least one question had to do with me. (“Hint: She is an art collector!”) Of the few of us in my department (two were out with new babies, one was out sick-yes really), I had been one of two assigned to split off early for a tour – the others had intensive guide duty for more than an hour and only now did they have their chance to be tourists – meaning that I and one other coworker now had to be the people explaining what the heck our gang did every day, all year. Uh… Sometimes when a new tour group came in my teammate was trapped on a phone call and I had to go solo (OMG!, nightmare stuff), other times I didn’t see the new arrivals, sometimes they came from a different direction and I couldn’t tell if they were starting or ending (I wanted to pretend they were ending, but if they stood still and stared at me I had to admit they were starting). Two departments down from my coworkers but still part of our group was the mailroom, a vast open space usually off-limits to all but mailroom people. Today it was a sea of flower-pattern cups containing cheese popcorn and other snacks. I went there twice, only once as part of a tour tidal wave – learned some things about the mailroom and put popcorn kernels in my colon. We were supposed to start our department presentation by talking about 6 photos on a poster board and I couldn’t remember what half those photos were…at one point the Spock-eared VP came by and I had to ask him who was which executive and what was which hospital – I thought he might be smirking at me but I might have overreacted to the pointed ears. But before that drama I had to go upstairs and find my group to finish my tourist circuit…we found our group way to an unnamed, unnumbered conference room that one of us (not me) somehow deduced was our destination. Inside were several tables’ worth of employees explaining special initiatives I barely understood. At one station I was given a plastic lei (what was that theme?) that scratched my skin – I took it off my neck and put it around my wrist, couldn’t tolerate it there either. Everyone in that room, some of whom I had earlier seen in other workstations (their energy was impressive but their continuous movement was creepily surreal) seemed to be doing a great job at whatever they were saying/doing – another insecurity attack for me… (This event did not play to my strengths.) On to a high-energy department decorated with cartoon photos (real faces on cartoon bodies, usually embarrassing for both the subject and the viewer) where the employees were wearing yellow tee shirts and red capes. More questions on a verbal quiz…I stood back as far as I dared. The prize was having your photo taken with a color scanner, printed out and taped to workstation walls… Uh, no…I backed up until I was near the stairwell and then crept down to my floor. If someone had asked me I would have said I had a deadline…

I felt like a rodent in more ways than one. Nope, the afternoon did not play to my strengths. It did trigger my instinct to burrow into or under something… I’m not sure if it was introvert overload or employee guilt, but the afternoon left me with a sense of unease. Friday afternoon…by the time I got home I was ready to cross the Chardonnay sea on a cork boat.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Control the Putting Down

If you're in therapy enough years you will occasionally have some insights, and if your therapist's office has a window you may even occasionally see the sun break through clouds within the same half hour as your mental breakthrough – pretty darn cool.

In my session today we endeavored to find some new approaches to my spending, my compulsive behaviors…if not stopping, at least trying to get inside my compulsion to buy so much art so fast. We made some real progress in exploring how negative self-talk, anti-Sarah thought patterns, contribute to the urges to have something external that I consider beautiful, or at least more valuable and attractive than myself.

My behaviors are strong and my motivations are complex. One of my favorite things about Dr. Sally is that she does not try to simplify me. I have always hated that – in all people, and certainly in a therapist. I am complicated, damn it! Dr. Sally can even outthink, out-insight me, and that's why I pay her and why I go to see her.

Last night I was thinking (kind of a night-before-therapy thought), when you stop compulsive or addictive behavior the key is to get at the pre-thought thought. It's not just willpower to stop the finger from pushing Purchase (I had to laugh when Dr. Sally imitated me doing the finger click, which was almost as funny as my friend Henry commenting on Facebook, “Sarah will stop buying when they pry her cold dead finger off the Pay Pal button”)...beyond willpower, it's how to stop the negative pressures from building up and the thoughts and urges escalating and taking me to a place where I create more negativity for myself by buying.

Yep, it’s so easy to ignore those yellow-triangle warning signs saying HALT (a mainstay of 12-step and self-help programs): Don’t let yourself get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. If I made a bar graph of those 4 bad things, mine would be maxed out a lot of the day, every day.

There are many stages where I could fight the buying – and they are all resistant to lasting change. The "just one more" seems like an obvious danger point – you should stop before the last purchase, the last glass of wine that makes too much. But really you should, could, try not to open the bottle of wine or get on the art website...and really you could go back and get at the earlier thinking and living that made you crave satisfaction, attention, ____? in the first place.

(Notice how I changed from the me to you pronoun? That makes this only slightly less embarrassing to write about.)

Behavior changes – so difficult. Not easy.

No magic pill for it. In fact my anxiety pills may contribute to all the purchases – I have a little less guilt and anxiety than I would have had pre-pill. Back then I bought too much stuff but I felt almost constantly horrid about it. Now, chemically enhanced, I buy even more/much stuff but it is easier to let go of the anxiety for chunks of time (during which I buy more).

Many years ago I bought a diet book in the grocery store checkout line, a 1980s version of self-published, displayed next to the pamphlets of vitamin cures and baby names. The author was not a nutritionist or personal trainer but simply someone who had figured out and stuck to behavior adaptations that helped her lose weight and keep it off. Portion control was key – control in general.

She talked about how during traumatic times like having a family member in the hospital she had figured out that by sticking to her diet, she felt more in control of the situation, and therefore better. She was able to reprogram her brain from, Daddy is having surgery and a cheeseburger would make me feel better to, I can't control what the doctors are doing to Daddy in the OR suite but I can control whether I eat healthy meals today. The feel-good feeling of staying on her diet kept her at a better place than a cheeseburger would have gotten her to.

Well…let me state for the record that I have never managed to not eat during stressful times with this kind of rationale. During my semi-anorexic phases I did control (many uses, some different meanings, of that same word in this post) the food I put into my mouth, but anorexia is in a bigger way about a loss of control. Sometimes I wish I could transition myself back to those anorexic days (last such phase was in my 30s) but it seems that in one's 40s the mental and physical mechanics that trigger that kind of eating are almost impossible to summon. (Which is a good thing, riiiiight?)

When I started reading that diet book I was eating something like a Sonic steak sandwich – I came home loaded up/down with the book, whatever trashy groceries accompanied it (probably Pop Tarts and Coke), and a Sonic lunch. I remember so clearly reading, "Don't start your diet this weekend, or after you finish the next big meal – start it now." Literally the words in the book said to me, "Put the sandwich down." And I did.

I thought that was brilliant advice and I believed I could intervene my cravings for deep-fried breaded stuff, I would throw away the 2nd half of that lunch and move forward to skinny glory.

But that was not an anorexic phase, just a plain old diet attempt, and I only lost a few pounds before I binged on a streusel poundcake. How do I remember this 1982 stuff so vividly...a new type of streusel cake mix had just come on the market, very moist, evil science at its best. After eating half a cake my diet seemed irrelevant somehow.

Of course that was many years and many weight changes ago.

It’s amazing what our brains and bodies store.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Shaken, Not Steered?

I’ve owned my car since 2004 and never realized it has an adjustable steering wheel – yes, that’s how car-oblivious I am – until I started driving to work yesterday and realized the steering column was wobbly. It took several miles before I had a long enough red light to find the page in my owner’s manual (those are not the easiest texts to navigate, even sitting still) that told me where the lever was. Whew, easily fixed. It must have been altered ("altered" - good word that takes the blame off me) when Firestone inspected my car on Saturday.

I was on a completely straight stretch of my commute on a road with a 40 mph speed limit so the car wasn’t hard to navigate, but it’s impossible not to feel uneasy when a steering wheel is wobbling in your hands. It’s also impossible to avoid the metaphor…barely in control while moving forward. I’ve been told that in a car dream, usually the car is you (the dreamer) – thus I’m piloting myself through…something.

To somewhere. (Should I be all dramatic here – use italics, put a question mark after somewhere, etc.?)

Uneasy times at my company, frustrations in my job…evolving roles within my family and my marriage. Nothing bad, just sometimes…uneasy. Not completely in control under my hands.

And/or I focus so much on what’s under my hands that I’m not properly looking ahead. (See what I mean? So metaphor rich I feel uncomfortable typing it – sounds corny.)

(As corny as this Fotosearch photo...)

I hate the car dreams where I’m forced to drive up an extremely steep road or down one, with terror that my car will slide, fall… Those dreams are rarely about the actual drive, more about contemplating the steep stretch ahead. Even in the dream I have a dim idea that physics of car weight could keep that from happening but I’m convinced of disaster anyway.

There’s another horrible one where I have gone on a hometown visit and can’t get back to Dallas without merging onto two highways that terrify me. I try to remember the back way that takes calmer roads, but I never manage that and instead end up doing death-defying traffic merges (almost a close-my-eyes-and-hope-for-the-best) or missing my exit and carried in the wrong direction, with traffic I can’t keep up with.

Just writing about those last dreams is giving me tendrils of night terror.

The wobbly wheel thing is so small in comparison.

Maybe that’s good perspective for today, as I head in to work. Maintain an appropriate speed and move forward. My wobbliness to date has not taken me off course.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Fears and Dreams Time Capsule

(Funny what turns up on Fotosearch when you enter “time capsule” – this image is called "Pills and Time")

Just because I'm blogging on Valentine’s Day doesn’t mean I have a Valentine’s Theme – in fact, I’ll state starting out that I may not even mention Craig much in this post. Considering how important he is in my life, it’s interesting what a relatively small presence he has in my night dreams, my writing and even my psychotherapy. I think this is because he has always been one of the least complicated parts of my life – there is less to work through, resolve, hand-wring about. It’s not perfect but it’s been consistently good. (This statement from a glass-half-empty person means a lot.) Well (here comes the Sarah disclaimer), not every day is great but overall it is…good. OK – this is sort of a Valentine’s post, LOL.

The other day I was thinking about life milestones, ways to find perspective… A silly memory that always pops up is my friend Joe saying when he got fuzzy on the timeline of his life, he wrote down all the cars he had and the years he had them. What’s funny about that to me is that I have so little interest in cars, in driving…at first thought it's a ridiculous memory tool but actually I have had few cars and the acquisition and divestiture of each was so painful (I hate car dealerships!) that I actually could track a good bit of life and memories that way. Except that would force me to think about bad car experiences - uh no, I'll try a different approach.

I have already done some timelining on the Formative Experiences list on the lower-right of my blog, but this exercise is different. I am going to force myself to go with the first memory, initial impression, my gut-generated words. No belaboring, no wordsmithing – cough it out!

Okay, counting from 1961 in 5-year intervals, which seems reasonable…(at least in car purchase terms, LOL).

(Fotosearch titled this image "A woman sitting in front of a calendar, clock and pills.")

1966: FEAR: I must not be smart because some kids know how to read before they start school, and I don’t. DREAM: Someday I will be a real princess, not just a play one - I already have a white bed headboard with a crest on it (yes, the paint is flaking off a bit – in the 1930s it was my grandparents’ jade green bed, as I learned later).

1971: FEAR: I am stupid because I am not a good knitter, the scarf I’m making has constantly widening edges (my 3rd grade homeroom teacher taught us all to knit, for some reason). DREAM: Someday I might be a teacher, I like it when my teacher has me help other kids with reading.

1976: FEAR: Nobody who is not my teacher will ever talk to me in high school. DREAM: Maybe I will mature into somebody who has an easier life than mine.

1981: FEAR: I will never get promoted out of this file clerk job because one of the senior people noticed I have jagged nails. (He thought I bit them – not true!, I only eat food, I ripped nail-to-nail, that was my tic.) DREAM: Maybe I will be a secretary someday.

1986: DREAM: Maybe my boss means it when he says he might move back to California and take me as his secretary. FEAR: I will not have the courage to move…I will not have the patience to put up with this boring job.

1991: FEAR: I will lose the patience to put up with this incredibly demanding job. DREAM: I will win the lottery and tell my boss to Shove It.

1996: DREAM: Craig and I will live in a bigger, nicer house and have more money than we do now. FEAR: If he proposes (his proposal being a combination dream/fear), he will soon get tired of my weirdnesses and break up with me OR he will insist on having a bunch of kids immediately OR he will insist on moving to Seattle right away.

2001: DREAM: Now that I have volunteered to be downsized with a severance package based on 14 years with the company, I will write the great American novel. FEAR: I have no talent OR I have no discipline AND I will have to go back to the office one day (and I don’t miss the office and I love being out of the office).

2006: DREAM: When I graduate this November I will tell my boss to shove it, and move on to a job better than anything I have had before. FEAR: I will hate whatever job I get, I don’t know what I really want to do and I am still not qualified for an alternate career.

2011: FEAR: I am heading toward unemployment, bankruptcy and divorce, along with the rest of this declining country. DREAM: I will finish the Great American Novel, make money from it and be able to keep buying art, and if I have enough money Craig will stop grumping about the art.

And to end this post, on Valentine’s Day 2011, here is a final image from Fotosearch: "What looks like an old space capsule has crash landed in the desert."

Yep - that sums me up! LOL

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Empty Purple Tool Box

A couple of HR heads ago we had one who used to give out tool boxes – Joe’s Tool Box – at HR department meetings. Each little wooden container held a Home Depot gift certificate. Kind of cute until you realized (it took most of us about 1.5 meetings to realize) that Joe did not necessarily give these boxes to employees the rest of us would consider deserving. For example if Joe’s admin left early one day and someone else had to help him do something he should have known how to do or at least tried to do himself, that would be rewarded by a tool box. They went to those who went “above and beyond” to help Joe – but it had to happen seemingly accidentally, he seemed to want to believe people helped him because they were just that engaged and empowered, not because he was Big Boss Man.

At home, I don’t like Craig’s tool box because it has a weird plastic or rubber smell from some of the older tool handles, when I open the top I get a waft of something bad like 1950s toys stored too long in a hot Texas attic. (This association is based on some degree of person experience.) I finally started keeping my picture-hanging hammer in a kitchen drawer so I can avoid Craig’s tool box altogether. Yes, that drives him crazy – as does almost everything about my picture hanging.

Third tool box example and the real motivation for this blog… Dr. Feelgood, my silly name for the educated and respectable professional who does my quarterly Medication Management (I love that term!, sometimes it makes me think of throwing a drugged steak into a tiger cage) and I were talking about tool boxes at my last appointment. She is not my regular therapist, she does med management only, which puts her in what seems to me the odd position of evaluating my mental health in a 25 minute discussion held every few months. She tends to seize on one thing I say and run with that – a memorable early session was spent discussing Wal-Mart’s corporate headquarters in Arkansas. I could tell you the dialogue that led to that topic, but it’s still weird.

While we talk she makes notes with a timing that I can’t connect to my comments or my laughter – is she noting that I’m depressed? manic? Maybe she’s just making notes to remind her of who I am for future. Sometimes between appointments I decide I will ask her next time, “What do you look for exactly in our sessions?” but I never do. Anyway – it’s her renewing the Happy Pill Prescription that really matters.

Well, last time Dr. Feelgood and I met I was venting a bit about work, and she gave me advice on coping with my frustration and angry feelings – not bad advice, it was well-meaning, clinical yet sympathetic, but since she has, frankly, only scratched the surface of knowing Sarah, I had trouble taking it to heart. And you know when you are complaining and someone gives advice and you don’t take it to heart, you tend to feel annoyed by it.

She said, “Why don’t you empty out your tool box when you drive to work tomorrow…” (She meant why don’t I stop doing the obsessive mental lists and rants that have gotten me nowhere) “…and put all new tools in the box.”

Then she asked, “What’s your favorite color?” I said, I like many colors…how about purple... “Well, a purple tool box then.”

Leaving her office and driving back to work, I felt the frustration stuff churning up again but when I flashed an image of an empty tool box – even, or especially, a purple one – it just annoyed me. Maybe that was partly because of the association I make between tool boxes and former SVP Joe. (25 minutes didn’t give me time to delve deeply into the tool box thing with Dr. F., so she couldn’t have known that word alone would remind me of feeling unappreciated as an employee.)

I know there is merit in the idea and I wish I could bring fresher thoughts to it. I want to act calm and positive and mature in the workplace. And really I want to be those things!, not just act them.

However the only activity I have managed with the concept to date is making fun of it. For example, when bouncing ideas off my cousin I joked that I could put a loaded firearm in my tool box, but of course I would never do such a thing and I’m not even comfortable typing that in my blog. (REALLY.)

My cousin and I talk about dogs a lot (our dogs, TV dogs, dogs who have died, dogs we saw while driving somewhere, do dogs go to heaven?, etc., etc.) so I suggested I could put a puppy in my tool box.

My cousin has a puppy who possesses the power to stretch and relax In The Moment, to an incredible degree. In fact before I get my blood pressure checked these days I spend a few minutes looking at cell phone photos of that puppy stretched out and snoozin’. Even a tiny cell phone photo lowers my systolic and diastolic numbers, I swear.

Similarly…I could put a blanket in my tool box. Aaaah – another great nap idea. Think relaxation…

Jack Daniels? Yes, I really suggested that to Cousin but I wouldn’t really do it. Alcohol is not for during work – after work is soon enough, and enough in general.

I didn’t get much farther than these ideas but there is surely more to be thought and said about the empty tool box - no, not empty, ready to be filled with better stuff.

Seeing it as purple seems silly – but it’s silly anyway, so purple might be right.

Do I have a bad attitude? Quite possibly.

Do I need more medication? Maybe...

Monday, January 31, 2011

Merging to WHAT?

Some of you know that January has been a challenging month for me at work, and in life – not terrible, no major life or work changes actually resulted (a supportive or annoying friend would say, not yet), but there were lots of emotional/mental challenges and thoughts and feelings. And what’s maybe worse – the net result seems to be, no change in direction.

Funny metaphor on my drive home tonight (working late again, not that that gets me any more money or anything else professionally…who's bitter, right?, LOL). Funny place for a traffic jam, not far from my house in Garland, a few blocks from Garland Road (used car lots, generic-brand car repair shops and gas stations, a thrift store…).

An arrow was telling the left lane to merge into the right, but the people in the right lane had their blinkers on to go left, because the Garland Road light was taking so long and we were on an (on a short strip, not the most vibrant section of Garland) industrial strip with no cross streets that went through to anywhere.

The merge arrow light (yellow, not orange, made of obvious dots, like a fresh Vegas sign) was so bright on the suburban four-lane road at 7 pm – kind of perky and fresh, working hard but doing nothing much. Meaningless-looking road repairs causing the lane closure…but that’s typical, right? I saw one guy in reflective road gear poking a stick into a pile of road dust – not sure if there was a hole under the dust, it really didn’t matter.

I have had just enough wine that I know I don’t need to speculate on metaphors to do with sticks and holes, and dust.

My lane was closing, and it was taking me 15 more minutes to get home. That was my experienced reality – that was what made a difference in my life expectancy, from whatever little difference it made in my daily stress load.

My lane feels constricted (my work/life lane is not really closed, it’s more of a feeling, an interpretation, a new awareness) and I feel (there’s that word again) forced to merge into what’s next to me. A lane I haven’t evaluated, which is probably temporary anyway.

See how stressful this sounds? That’s why even those of us not 100% thrilled with our jobs every day stay in them.

It’s so hard to evaluate potential changes. And impossible to see the future. (We never get used to that.)

Corner Seating

I wrote the beginning of this one last Thursday at Trinity Hall, a Dallas Irish pub (I guess in Dallas, we should say "Irish-STYLE pub") where a friend was having a surprise birthday party.

I had 10 minutes to kill and made myself write without knowing where I was going with the writing. (How could anyone do that without a drink in hand…)

A corner’s not a bad place if you yourself choose to sit in it. Not put there. Not herded, trapped, shunted, not having lost out on a better seat through an office – life – game of musical chairs.

Even though I can’t see out very well I like how the high back supports me. I can see in front of me.

Not like the caves, tunnels where I get stuck in my nightmares.

I don’t remember a dream where I get out – I’m in the dark place, then I wake up or the dream shifts. Sometimes walls shrinking toward me, never much room, air... Also tipped or lying horizontally in the narrow space – disorientation added to the claustrophobia.

I am an observer type person, I hate to be invisible but sometimes I want to be watching what’s going on, hear what’s going on, before I got involved. Even after years of therapy and 4 years of medication, I sometimes get self-conscious in public. Who might be watching me, what are they thinking about me? I don’t necessarily care, but I wonder anyway.

A high bench seat is nice because my back is not a blind side, instead it is bulwarked! I am supported there, no one is staring.

The corner seat does block some visibility to one or more sides, but the blocking feels optional – you could scoot sideways, you could stand up. Again, OPTIONS. And there’s my issue with a blind side – my right eye has less vision, and if someone was going to stare at me, they would probably stare at my discolored right side.

I may need more medication.

Or I may need to sit in corners of bar benches more often.

Might need to get a bar bench for my home – it felt pretty good last Thursday.