2014 and Change Happens

Well it’s 2014.  I know I drank deeply of alcohol infused liquids and shoved 2013 out the door this past week.  It was an extremely difficult year, but we all survived and by that I mean at least one of us would have been dead this past Christmas but for a rather random catching of a life threatening condition.  Getting what turned out to be very serious surgery and treatment, then starting recovery took up most of the year from late July to the present, and monitoring must continue for life.  But suffice to say I still have Husband, and am very grateful I do.

There were other horrible, shocking, and unbelievably trying events that occurred. This past year was one of the most depressing I have ever experienced, and it is no exaggeration to say toward the end I was not sure I had anything left in me to cope.  Maybe I’m still not sure, but I accept the false rituals of a new year to give me something to celebrate.

I got a new paper calendar (yes it may seem luddite-like, but it is tangible and won’t evaporate if batteries die) and filled in all the set dates of the new year.  I also started a to- do list, and already feel overwhelmed.  There are times having a family is a positive distraction, it makes me focus on the present (even if annoyingly so) and get on with things.  Money is tight, time is valuable, and the circle of people I know genuinely love me, love us, is considerably smaller.  I can’t say what the new year will bring.  I hope- my raggedy, worn thin, unreliable state of hope- that I find a job.  I hope Husband continues to recover well.  I hope our evil neighbors find something other to do than torment us.  I hope my children stay healthy and dodge the backward blockages of culture and curriculum at school.  I hope my extended family stays healthy and maintains a state of happiness.  I hope the citizens of this country start to pull their heads out and become civil.  I hope those with extreme wealth and privilege realize they don’t live in a bubble and must start taking responsibility for their lives and wealth.  I hope the people who let their cats run wild in my neighborhood keep them in, get them spayed or neutered, or get rid of them.  I hope the song birds come back to my neighborhood.  I hope the frogs, snakes, and newts do too.  I hope my garden is healthy this year.  I hope I can keep going, and have the energy to be a good mom, wife, daughter, relative, friend, and community member.  I hope we find a way, a path, a start to leaving this place.

I hope we are safe.  I hope we are healthy.  I hope we find moments of happiness and laughter.  I will do what I can so my hope is not in a vacuum, not static and passive.  I will live for as long as I am able.  I will try.  Welcome, 2014.  Another cycle around the sun, another 365 days.  The kids feet will continue to grow, gray hair will replace color, and what ever losses occur I hope they are small ones.  Happy New Year.

Winter

I don’t think the group Yaz (Alison Moyet) was being ironic when the lyrics to “winter kills” were being written (as in “that comedian just killed tonight”).  Nor do I think they were referencing the terrific work of Richard Condon.  It’s not an obscure Shakespeare reference either. I’m not sure why that particular piece of music comes to mind right now, but for the fact that we are in that part of the winter that seems to be dragging on a bit too long; the air in the house is too stale and dry.  There seems to be no end to the run on days of too cold to do much out and about, and the general malaise that has set in does not seem to lift.  I don’t know how people in Norway or Finland do it.  Live so high on the map, under the influence of cold.  I’m not one for heat as I have said before, but I get my fill of extreme cold as well.

I sat in the car with the engine off after dropping the wee one at school.   I sat in the driveway, looking at the garden space.  I sighed at all the work that needs to be done once the ground has thawed.  Once spring begins to creep back in.  I visited my grandmother’s grave a few days ago.  They have not properly filled in the site, what soil was laid down has sunk and more needs to be added.  But the ground is so hard right now.  I wonder when they will get to it.  I also wonder when they will set the marker.  I wish I could just plant a hardy rose bush there instead.

I did not master canning the past two years, and I wonder what I will do with the fruits of our garden labors this year.  I would like to do as my great grandmother did; have rows of green beans and bacon pieces, tomatoes, and pickles of every type in Ball jars on cool basement shelves.  The priceless leavings of summer to act as a palliative to winter blues.

We seem to have spent this winter in a 30×30 mile bubble zone, free from precipitation of every kind while all around us winter raged.   It has gotten so strange Husband joked that we must be in a weather experimental control zone.  What small amount of snow we had quickly disappeared. The wee ones lament the lack of snowmen, forts, and sledding they remembered from last year.

The cold drives people inside and life is dormant on the other side of the window.  The few squirrels and birds that do pass by find nothing to feed them and move on.  The chill in the house was impossible to shake today, and no warm bath or cup of tea could keep it out of the air or off exposed flesh.  The wind shook the trees and howled.  The house held its breath, but could not keep the cold out completely. I read the national weather service forecast for the week, and it may get into the high 40’s in a few days.  One must hope.  I can’t shake the cloudy sky in my head right now, and all I hear is “winter kills” playing in a far off room.  Spring will come, and the sun will warm everything it touches.  Soon, soon I tell myself.  Soon.

Happiness as narcissism?

Happiness is. . .Curiosity.  Being driven to explore.  Creating something out of a mash up of materials.  Being occasionally surprised by science and art. Finding the impulse to think about and do things other than focusing energy on social manipulation.

Although, I suppose being a social manipulator could be a form of happiness, and driven by a curiosity to see what happens “when I do X”.  But that’s a bit sociopathic and clinical.  Most social manipulators do so because they are insecure, and are driven by a need for power.  Or because it is the only way some people know how to be in the world.  Sometimes this is defined as narcissism- being self-centered with little regard for the feelings or well being of others.

But what about people who are not interested in what is often the soap opera of life, necessary for a complex dart board of human relations (various levels of intimacy from the center out)?

What spurred this line of thought, you ask?  I enjoy the show House.  Husband claims (sometimes to insult me, sometimes to praise) that if I were male I would be like House.  At first I laughed.  I am not nearly that smart  Also, the show can be silly.  But I still like the character and Hugh Laurie acts the heck out of the role. I also realize that the constant sociopathic manipulation that the character participates in is something I just can’t find time to do; there are way too many things I’d rather be doing.  For example, I am driven by a curiosity that I call “itchy feet”, the need to travel.  Even if it is only to get to know every dirt road, fire road, black top and driveway in a 30-mile radius (or more when I did not live in a geographic fish bowl).  I also read arcane, esoteric things (to my destruction- I ended up with a dissertation no one could understand much less help me with.  Four advisors might have been part of the problem.  But what is a student to do when the first one dies, the second goes mad and leaves, the third retires, and the fourth just does not know what I was doing?).  I am rarely more interested in the people of my own environment than I am people I don’t have to interact with.  I can read people extremely quickly and usually am not interested in participating in what I find.  I can be blunt, abrasive, insensitive, and unaware (or just don’t care); but I am not intentionally mean or cruel (that takes way too much energy).  If I want to bash someone about the head, they know it.  I despise having to make small talk, and complex formalities.  On the flip side, I am unusually loyal to the oddball handful of people I love.  I have been told lots of things in the past several years by my friends, the most common theme being that I am “not your usual type of person”, “you are a strange duck but I love you”, that sort of slightly annoyed but committed interest.

So, ok, maybe a little like House.

I started this blog with a slant, an in-construction voice appropriate for the title.  This one breaks out a bit.  I only know three people who read it, so I don’t worry about morphing into something different from time to time.

If being driven by a curiosity about the world with little interest in manipulating the people around me makes me happy, I can be called many things.  I think the idea of narcissism has been given a bad rap- we think of people who were off-normal, passionate, and self-centered and had disastrous results (I listed some of the classic historical folks used as examples, but didn’t want to taint the idea so I erased them).  But aren’t the delusions necessary to be happy (read the happiness project stuff ad infinitum to see what I mean) a form of narcissism?  Don’t we disregard the feelings and experiences of others in order to maintain our world view?  Don’t we have to be slightly unrealistic about ourselves to just get up and eat breakfast in a first world country?  If my self-involvement in my arcane interests and my rejection of social norms is a form of happiness, is it also narcissism?  Is it, within a certain range, any different from the desperate, insecure and often boring machinations of many people?  Can we all be called narcissistic?  Or is it just those extreme risk takers, those megalomaniacs, those Wall Street bankers and people on the fringes who are labeled with the term?

I have come to reject much of what contemporary psychology uses as a basis for existing and functioning, so I use the term narcissism loosely.  Getting a label only by degrees of clinical saturation (how much narcissism did you pee out today? Oh then you are ok; or not) does not seek to understand terms.

Anyway.  My attention is drifting.  It is late and I need to either get back to sleep or pick up one of the many books by my bed and read.  Who cares what you think.

Narcissism shmarcisissm.

 

Still Standing

Iris Chang was a young woman who wrote a famous book (The Rape of Nanking).  She became a symbol for many Asian-Americans, and blurred the lines between journalist and historian.  She was to all eyes a very confident, competent, attractive woman who “had everything”.  Yet her internal life went into free fall and she committed suicide at the age of 36 in 2004.  I just finished reading an inquiry into her life and death (Finding Iris Chang) written by her good friend, Paula Kamen.  Suicide seems to be a theme this week, with several young celebrities going that route.  I had been wondering about Ms. Chang for several days when I woke up at 3 a.m. completely at peace with an understanding.

Depression and degrees of sanity are part of the human condition.  When we slip into such degrees that it becomes clinically diagnostic is a question artists, philosophers, and most recently psychologists have been wrestling with for a long time.  Anyone can fall.  Just as anyone can slip and fall in their own house, anyone can slip, and start a decline that even they lose the ability to understand or stop.  That may be one of the reasons depression and insanity are so scary to us, because we know it could happen to us as well.

 I think supremely competent people are as susceptible, even if we don’t want to believe they are.  We all develop habits, and when those habits of mind and action are all we have to fall back on to block any pain or anxiety we have, they can stop working for us and begin to work against us.  Yet we keep dong them, because they are safe.  Those habits are knowns.  Ms. Chang worked.  She followed her habits of work because it was what she knew best.  She had responsibilities to her husband, son, and extended family.  She knew how to be forceful; she had learned how to perform.  But perhaps there came a time when she, like many of us, just did not want to do it anymore.  I’ll call it “pulling a J.D. Salinger”.  When people just say STOP.  They change their lives, and quit doing what they had been- no matter how successful it seems to people around them.  Many times, these people get happy.  Sometimes after long stretches they go back to what ever they had been doing (for better or worse).  I woke up at 3 am and I just knew that Ms. Chang had not been able to say STOP, when she may have really wanted to.

 The consummate achiever and self described geek with rough social skills may have just not known she had that option, or felt too ashamed to take it.  It’s a cliché to say Asian people commit suicide more frequently than any others, and often do it out of a sense of shame that is difficult for Westerners to understand.  Ms. Chang was second generation Chinese-American, and while that may have played a role, I think it was complicated.  What was not, it seems, was the clear inability for her to feel any differently than she did.  She fell, and could not get up.

I read recently about a forest in Japan that has been around a long time, but is a taboo subject for the Japanese.  It is a place where people go to die.  To commit suicide.  There were gruesome photographs of bodies everywhere in various states of decay, like some over populated CSI training lab (the likes of which they have in this country, using donated corpses).  Is it part of our world now that especially in first-world countries, suicide is just a fact?  I sympathized with Dr. Kevorkian when he lobbied to be able to help terminally ill people end their lives sooner rather than later.  That is an agonizing thing, to be sure, but an option I believe ought to be available for people who have terminal illnesses.  I know with complete certainty that if I develop Alzheimer’s and treatments have been useless, I want that option.  But this forest of lost souls, this is something different, I think.

 I talked with Husband about the value of real friends, and strong friendship-based marriages.  He agreed that we need those few folks in the center of our dartboard, the bulls-eye, who know us well enough to help us when we don’t even know we need it.   Those most intimate with us, not the rings and degrees of less intimacy that spiral out from our cores.  We need those central stabilizers, those perspectives.  Especially those of us with strong minds and hearts, whom others rely upon and seem to “have it all”.

 Developing such friends is not easy, and not overtly rewarded in our culture.  It takes a tremendous amount of work, and willingness to shunt some folks off to more superficial levels of friendship or eliminate them from our lives all together.  It also takes time.  We live in such geographically fragmented, fast-paced, demanding realities that the very idea of slow anything- slow food, slow friends, slow entertainment, slow work- seems impossible.  But the lesson I take from Ms. Chang is that anyone can fall, and fall fast.  Three things may have helped- I do not know, but I feel it to be true for myself.  1- knowing that anyone can fall, and letting oneself ask for help, and say STOP.  Change it up, let the ego go.  Pull a Salinger. 2- Teach my children the value of intimacy, real friends, and laughing at oneself in joy as much as self-deprecation; and living it as an example.  3- Live slower and let go any anxiety about what is let go as the compromise.  One last addition to this list is the “don’t put it in your head” rule.  There is so much suffering in the world, and we can read about it, see it.  We must, I believe, be a form of witness.  But also, we have limits to how much we can stuff into our head and try to balance.  So I choose not to watch violent fiction, or read it.  There is too much fact I have to carry around, and I don’t need the added images, ideas, or darkness.

 I have known depression, more than once.  I can’t say for sure what pulled me back from the edge, from falling over an edge I could not come back from.  But I know I have a very few good friends who helped.  I also know that I felt shame, I made huge mistakes- and I still suffer regret, but I am letting it go and trying to stop beating myself up about it.  I also know I am now middle aged, and I probably won’t be the high achiever I wanted to be.  I have to say, “oh well”, I pulled a Salinger of sorts in the past and now I am slower for it.  Oh well.

 Life goes on for me.  For many of us.  Sometimes it is enough not to know why, but just to be glad it does.