Saturday, July 15, 2006

Sounds of life

It is difficult for me to understand why people who are miserable choose to stay miserable when all they have to do is get up and leave. Many of my friends have been in loveless and even abusive marriages. I don't mean physical abuse. I'm talking about emotional and mental abuse. Their spouses treat them with contempt, often demanding to know where they are at all times and raising hell when they can't account for every single second of the time they're away from home. Their spouses are emotionally cold and verbally abusive. Sex is almost always an issue, either in not getting enough or being forced to have sex on a set schedule every week just to keep the peace. My friends and their spouses seldom talk as friends or even indifferent acquaintances, limiting their conversations to demands, bills, expectations, arguments, complaints and lists of chores. There is often a lack of touch, even so much as a hand on the shoulder or reaching for a helping hand. They live separate lives that just happen to take place within the same walls. They might as well be boarders in a rooming house or co-eds in a dorm the first week of the semester for all the contact and communication that takes place. So why do they stay?

It isn't always about the material things they would lose, although for some that is the most important consideration. It's about the background sounds of their lives that keeps them in the marital trenches, and the fear of what the future would hold for them.

This morning one friend and I talked about this. She has never lived on her own, going from her parents' home to a home with her new husband. Another friend lived on his own for about four years, but they were difficult years spent in a different state where he didn't know anyone. He doesn't make friends easily for all his friendliness and smiles and joking. Those years were miserable. He had just lost his high school girlfriend and was far from home. He moved back home for a few months and moved out again, eventually spending most of his adult life married.

As I talked with my friend this morning I realized that although I have lived alone for most of my adult life, I am not alone. It's probably why I often chose to live in an apartment instead of a house, although I have had a couple of houses. It's the sound of life.

When I moved into my first house alone I had trouble sleeping. It was too quiet. There were the usual sounds of appliances humming in the background, but there were no voices, no sounds of movement. It was quiet and I mean QUIET. I missed the sounds of people walking overhead, talking in the apartments on either side of me, and even arguing and partying. I had taken the sounds for granted because I was used to them and it took time to get used to the quiet, time for my hearing range to extend enough to pick up the sounds from the houses around me through open windows and back yards. As I noticed the sounds and allowed them to recede into the background I became comfortable with my surroundings and was able to sleep again.

I had the same problem when I moved to the cabin a few years ago. Not only was it really quiet but it was very dark, a dark so complete it was palpable. The background sounds that kept me from going mad were the sounds of nature: raccoons prowling, deer and elk moving through the woods and calling to each other, squirrels and pine martens running up and down tree trunks, woodpeckers tap-tap-tapping for insects, whirring hummingbirds, bird songs and rain and wind tip-toeing or clumping across the roof. I have no such problems here in my haunted converted Victorian apartment.

During the week at 4:30 AM I hear Nel in the bathroom getting ready for work, the front closet door sliding open and closed when she gets out her work shirts, the muted sound of the television or the stereo while she has her breakfast, the murmur of her voice when she talks to Miss Kittysocks and Iggy as she feeds them and the glass door sliding open and shut when she leaves for work. Downstairs at the same time, the landlady grinds coffee beans and soon the scent of French vanilla coffee rises and wafts through the open windows. Not long after, the landlady calls Pastor and they go for their morning walk, the remote control unlocking the car door when she leaves and locking the door when she returns. Then there is the sound of her clients coming and going all day mixed in with the sound of the neighborhood coming back to life after a night of silent sleep. Dogs bark, kids call to one another or laugh and argue in the streets. Cars whoosh past, garbage trucks clank and chew, aluminum cans bang and big rubber cans thump as they are emptied. Wind whistles and whispers and crows caw and chatter while squirrels chatter and race through the trees. These are the sounds of my life, sounds I hear every day that anchor me and remind me I'm home.

Even in the most dysfunctional and silent marriage there is sound of life. Whether you're working in the basement or your room or the home office and seldom speak to your spouse you aren't alone. Children have their own special orchestra of sounds and the simple passage of people through rooms, the clank and shuffle of daily chores and cooking, telephones ringing, televisions, radios, music and conversations barely heard and often ignored anchor you to your world.

I wonder if the fear of walking away from a long term relationship is so much about losing things or status or even an ingrained and well known habit but rather a fear of getting used to different sounds, the fear of not recognizing the background sounds of life that anchor and define us. Like Beethoven's discordant crashing crescendos and dissonant harmonies, even the most dysfunctional relationship has its own comforting sounds, the sounds of home.

Friday, July 14, 2006

The could engine

Remember that book about the engine that could? I read that story many times as a child of five and many more times to my boys and nephews when they were little. I graduated to Homer and Edgar Rice Burroughs at the age of six and left that little engine behind me. The lesson stuck. Walking for what seemed like days in freezing weather coming home from my piano lessons in the early dark of winter or from one side of Columbus to the other when my feet were screaming at me to stop, beg a few coins from passing strangers and get on one of the seeming thousands of buses driving past, I repeated that litany in my mind, "I think I can. I think I can. I know I can." Stubborn to the last.

That applied to so many things in my life where I found myself in the middle of something I didn't want to finish or really didn't want to do. I pushed on in spite of everything, feeling a sense of accomplishment when I completed whatever task I'd set myself. I also heard my mother's voice telling me how I never finished anything I started as I stitched the date and my initials on a complicated cross stitch piece, wrote the last word of a story or even put away the laundry, smiling at the knowledge that she was wrong about me.

I've found I do better with things when someone tells me I can't do something -- like making Extra six days after I began to study the material for an exam when I had only planned to take code to make General or writing a novel or keeping a journal. For more than fifteen years I have written in a journal, paper or computer or online, every single day/night. I have written enough to fill small libraries over the years and continue to write and I continue to feel like that little engine struggling up the hill -- until I hit the top and I'm flying down the other side oblivious to the struggle to get to the top of the hill in the first place. For me, starting is difficult. I procrastinate with all kinds of time stealers: chores, books, paying bills, working my regular job just another hour or two or another five jobs, watching a movie that has to get in the mail before 5, etc. Once I get going and struggle up that first ant hill, the one that feels like Mt. Evans in the midst of a long hard winter, and reach the top I fly down the other side, racing up Mt. Evans like it's an ant hill and coasting through the plains over the long hours as though they are mere seconds.

I will probably always find it difficult getting started on any project, or even going on a trip, procrastinating those first steps that lead to the journey and once on the journey oblivious to the rest of the world as I race along in a world of possibility and endless tasks that suddenly don't seem so interminable and are finished far too quickly.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


The cooling rains ended last night and I have the ceiling fan in the living room and the little fan in the bedroom going, neither of which help alleviate those center of hell moments. Luckily, they last mere seconds instead of minutes, which is a good thing since I cannot remember to take the pills I bought to alleviate my symptoms. This day has not gone quite as expected and I am faced once again with customer service (what a dead language those words are) issues. With all the technology available you'd think someone would actually be able to fix a minor problem without costing me more time and wasting more of my time, but, alas, that is not to be. There is no service in customer service, just an archaic word from a much older and now forgotten time when people solved customer difficulties, thus giving them a job with something more to do than sitting on the arses and answering phone calls just to tell people they cannot help them. Sort of like a help desk run by no one.

I talked to my mother today and she was appalled to find out that her records are the property of her retired doctor and she must pay $27 a page to have her file copied and sent to her new doctor. Evidently, no one at that office ever bothered to read the HIPAA regulations or even consulted common sense. The files may be in the doctor's office but they are the property of the patient and as such are to be released to the patient when requested by the patient or by a referring doctor, as long as the bill is current and the proper paperwork has been signed and submitted. I am feeling a little hot and cranky and I offered to talk to the doctor's staff at his office. They were gone for the day. I'll get them tomorrow morning bright and early and I did leave a message, which they will either ignore or not get, depending on their Machiavellian machinations.

I was in a good mood despite the lack of cooling rain-washed breezes until I was faced with more garbage like this. I was even enjoying a discussion on books and inscriptions and autographs and how much I learn and get from the people on LJ whose journals I read. I was also promiscuously offering advice on gift giving and charity.

I like the idea of buying a second hand book that someone has loved and thought about, reread and written in, and even perhaps given as a gift to someone else, noting their gift by an inscription. That brought up the negative side: death, spurned gifts and gifts that were left when the relationship grew cold and died. I prefer to look on the brighter side of things. Whatever the reason for the book ending up in a second hand shop, it gives me the chance to share a moment with the previous owner (or buyer of the gift) like a time capsule of sentiment and thought. You learn so much about a person through writing in the margins and where the book opens on an often read and reread page or where they stopped when they put down the book.

This led to a discussion about giving a book to someone who cared so little about your inscribed gift they gave it to someone else or threw it in the trash or sold it at a second hand store. I asked whether the person was angry because they had been spurned and if their only intention in giving the book was to be recognized and thanked and, in a sense, enshrined.

Gifts are like charity, or should be like blind charity, giving a gift because you care about someone and want to show that but without expecting anything from them -- even a thank you. When you expect a gift in return or some gift of thanks and/or affection you diminish the gift and make it a trade. I'll give you a gift if you give me what I want -- attention, acceptance, acknowledgment, love, etc. (wasn't trying for alliteration, it just happened) Charity should be blind -- if given at all -- because when you put a name and a face to the gift you build expectations of being acknowledge and accepted and even thanked. If you don't get what you're expecting you end up angry and hurt and/or just plain sad and blame the person. Gifts are like love -- you love because you want to give someone something special, but you put limitations on love and on relationships when you expect -- and even demand -- reciprocity. If you truly love someone, it shouldn't matter whether or not they respond. The gift of love needs no acknowledgment. It simply exists for itself, for the sake of love.

I know. It sounds sappy and sentimental, but all too often we all build expectations in our minds when we offer a gift or charity or love about what we want in return. That's not a gift. That's an exchange of one thing for another. I give you love and you give me back love or I won't love you as much. Love then becomes a transaction instead of a gift. You are buying a response, a feeling, acknowledgment, acceptance, attention, etc. with your love. That's not love.

This is why I have such a problem with laying up treasures in heaven. It's a transaction. I agree to be a moral person and do what's right because I expect you (deity, god, goddess, etc.) to reward me with paradise. Giving money to a church is the same thing. When any entity supposedly doing good and asking for your donations to help with the work expects you to pay them for their job it becomes a decision of whether or not to employ them or loan them the money with the expectation of a return of some kind. You become an employer who is paying for a service (in this case placing a bug in god's ear on your behalf or buying a seat on the expressway to heaven) and that defeats the purpose.

When we learn to love with expectations, without the usual quid pro quo exchanges and disappointments, we will have truly evolved. When we can say we love someone and want their happiness even if it doesn't include us and mean it, then we will have truly evolved and we will find few angry, disappointed and hurt people in the world.

I'll shut up now.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

What happened to us?

A friend told me about a dream. She said a man and woman were standing on either sides of a door and the door closed between them. When the man saw the door closing he ran to stop it but was too late. He hung onto the door knob and cried and begged for it to open and then the door knob disappeared and he really lost it. He said he wanted more time and that he felt lost and alone without her. He crumpled to the floor in front of the door and cried because he had waited too long, taken too much time. Each night the dream repeated. Sometimes he was quicker getting to the door than other times but inevitably the door shut and without a door knob he couldn't open it.

Then one night the dream changed. A box with a glass front appeared. On it was written "For Emergency Use". When the door closed that night, he broke the glass on the box and found hinges, screwdriver and what he needed to "fix" the door so it would open again. He said he wanted to talk and he asked, "What happened to us?" The door closed but he stuck his foot in the door and refused to let go, asking his questions over and over while the woman on the other side cried. He was more in control than on previous nights when he couldn't open the door with the door knob gone, but he was still distraught, unable to understand what had happened.

Since she told me that story I have wondered if he really didn't know what happened between them, how they lost what was once so precious to them. He obviously doesn't understand about how quickly time passes and how empty words are when the words aren't followed by meaningful action. If the man is like so many men -- and women -- I have know, the answer to his question is easy.

What happened to us? Fear.

Mercury days

Mercury is in retrograde again (moving backward through space) and the communication and relationship garbling I've seen over the past few days has been proof Mercury is definitely muddying signals. If you believe in the effect of the planets, stars and cosmic bodies on people, you're in for lots of communication issues until the 28th. So, if someone acts out of character or pushes your buttons, stop before you lash them with your words. You'll leave nothing but scorched earth that will be difficult to clear. Take a few seconds (count to ten if you must) and say nothing and walk away or simply give in. You can sort it all out later on.

Think of relationships like martial arts. When someone attacks you, by using their energy and strength, you can divert or direct their energy in such a way they end up on the ground instead of you, sometimes by stepping out of the way and letting their movement carry them past you or by guiding their energy away along their chosen path. Okay, so it's a lot of words but it does work. When people are angry and bent on lashing out at those around them you can engage them and get hurt, thus hurting them and your relationship, or you can let them rage on. It's like that child throwing a tantrum. The more energy you put into making them stop the more you fuel the tantrum and their need for attention. Best to ignore them until they figure out it's not working. Yes, I've said all this before.

For instance: I have come under attack in the ham radio club because the newsletter was not getting out in as timely a fashion as some people would like. The vice president of the group was the one complaining because I was too close to the edge on deadlines. The members had their issues in time for the meeting so they could vote on the board and club minutes, but it wasn't soon enough to suit the VP. I moved up the submission deadline and made sure the newsletter was emailed to the printer by the 1st of each month so it would be printed and put together in enough time for the VP to pick them up and mail them. Last week, because of the weekend and the July 4th holiday, the issue wasn't ready until the 5th. I called the VP on Monday, the 3rd, to let him know he could pick it up on Wednesday. My work schedule and other concerns got in the way and I didn't call until yesterday to make sure the issue had been mailed on time because the club meeting is tomorrow. I received and email telling me it went out on Friday, the 7th. I emailed back and asked if the newsletter had been picked up on the 5th or not, thinking somewhere along the line there was a problem. I didn't get a response back and I was getting angry.

I called the printer and he said it was picked up on Wednesday, so why didn't it get out until Friday? I didn't get an answer from the VP or his wife and I was getting angrier and angrier because of how they had griped at me behind my back in board meetings about deadlines. I wanted to lash out at the VP but not behind his back. I was going to go to the board meeting and do it to his face. How dare he!? I emailed Les to see when he got the labels and postage to the VP in case that's where the chain broke. They had the labels and postage on Monday, the 3rd. Boy, was I going to hand him his head on a plate. That's when I finally received an answer to my question. The VP wrote that between kids and other commitments the newsletter didn't get out until Friday. I had him now. Personal commitments or excuses didn't cut it for me, so they were definitely not going to cut it for him. He was going to be toast at the board meeting.

Then I stopped and thought about what I was doing. I was angry and I wanted to lash out at someone who had lashed out at me (rather they sniped and did quite a bit of back biting). What would it serve for me to pay him in kind? The newsletter got out in enough time for the members to read the issue and the minutes and be ready to vote on them tomorrow. That's all that matters. Next time I need to keep a closer eye on things and if I get my way the club will no longer use a printer but buy a tabloid printer and supplies and I will put the newsletter together here and get it in the mail without having to rely on anyone else. I might not get my wish, but I have learned something -- stuff happens. As long as the job is done and done right, it shouldn't matter if it's a little close to the deadline.

Sometimes close is a little too close. A friend of mine was in a car accident and that has occupied my mind and some of my time. Luckily, they are going to be all right but their car is going to need to be fixed. Now there are insurance issues and fault issues and transportation issues and all kinds of issues needing attention, which means more anger brewing if things don't work right or quickly enough.

Yes, folks, it's going to be a bumpy night -- probably a few bumpy nights before the 28th. Keep the A/C turned up and pointed in your direction.

That is all. Disperse.