Thursday, August 27, 2009

Human Being: A Tough Gig

Blah, blah, blah, holy ground, blah, blah, mindfully barefoot in the now.

Do you ever wish you could take yourself off like an itchy sweater, hang your self up somewhere, and come back when you're ready to wear yourself again?

I'm trying to think of analogies, metaphors, images that describe the sheer weariness of dealing with my own repetitive crap. Whack-a-mole? Dusting in a sandstorm? Carrying water home in a sieve?

Or just not realizing the laptop was unplugged and the battery ready to die--thereby losing most of what I'd written here. Talk about living in the now--.

I've misplaced my debit card AGAIN. For a while now, I've been mostly careful. Mindfully putting the card back into my wallet and my wallet into my purse. (This is a major improvement over the whole drop it in my purse, pocket, car seat--or the bag of whatever stuff I've just bought--routine that I've kept for years. ) However, now not only will I be inconvenienced but I will have the opportunity to impose on others. Hey, if I give you a check, could you deposit in your account and then give me the cash back? Or, god forbid, I will have to actually walk into the bank and talk to a human person. Makes me wonder--am I distracted, human, or do I like to impose on other people and mess with myself at the same time?

You can't pretty up your shit either--it's like lighting a stick of incense in a locker room piled to the ceiling with week-old unwashed gym socks.It won't make any difference, no one will notice, and the place will still stink.

Worse are the stupid, self-centered, hurtful things I say and do while I keep trying to be this serenely loving person who embraces all of humankind, and dances barefoot on the holy blessed ground.With all those other holy blessed creatures.


Like all god's children I have feelings. Nice ones, exaggerated ones, hurt, lonely, peaceful, angry, anxious, fearful, jealous. All kinds.

Like everyone else.

Oh, look a bear inspires action--scared inspires doing something. Something seems to be wrong with a loved one--anxiety can inspire action.

Being pedantic, aren't I? Intellectualizing feelings, distanced and detached. But it IS true that feelings are...well, feelings. Emotions. The only reality they sometimes indicate in the weather in my head, the pinging in my brain.

Which avoids the whole reason for wishing I could shed myself and wondering, as I write, why I'm writing about it. Therapy, confession, or self-flagellation, the fingers keep hitting the keyboard.

The other day I pitched a fit. Not just a snit, a pout, but a true angry fit.

The kind nobody wants to talk about afterward--not the objects, the collateral damage, or the perpetrator.

One of those actions for which the phrase "and we will never speak of it again" was created.

The details of what triggered this outburst really aren't relevant. Some one did something that hurt me. I like that phrasing. It's very close to "see what you made me do." which can be used to excuse just about anything from spilled milk to genocide.

The point is I felt some crazy, conflicted, jealous emotions. Very, very real--that sick hollow feeling in my stomach. Tears that feel like a river at flood stage, ready to spill over the levee--that hit by a truck, panicked gut response.

Which is fine in that whole not fine way. An honest, instructive response.

Worth a discussion later. Much later.

But, oh, I discussed it then. First in that tightly pitched, everyone has done something rotten tone but with the superior edge that says I will rise above it. Next step, in my repertoire, is the cool, controlled, rational explanation of my point of view and the reasons I am most justifiably hurt and upset.

The feelings I have and the physiological response ARE unpleasant. I have every right to those feelings.

The horrible thing is knowing that abusing the other person--and verbal abuse IS abuse--is effective in reducing my tensions. The cycle of I'm hurt, I am a victim here, a victim I tell you, excuses the relentless pounding of how could you do this, you are so selfish, so thoughtless, so mean to me--see how I'm hurting.

Worse than that is the finale. I feel better. The tension in my body has lessened. The powerless child has regained some power, and the screaming tantrum throwing two year old has "shown them."

Now is the time for apologies. The fact that these apologies are sincere, the regrets deep--the equivalent of the abusive spouse's flowers--doesn't change the fact that hurting someone else has been used as therapy to ease my own pain.

The itchy sweater doesn't come off, not even sleep is enough to rid one--me--of my self. It's more like housework than anything. If you cook, if you eat, pots, pans, dishes get dirty and one way or another have to be washed. If you walk, the floors get dirty. Toilets have to be scrubbed because our bodies do what bodies do into the toilet--every day you get up to chores that never stay done because there is no done, not really.

And the bigger mess you made the day before, the more work today. I could stretch the analogy like silly putty of course--sheesh, you can throw the dishes, walk on the shards of the glass that can't be unbroken, choose to make pies of the shit and pretend it's blue ribbon....

Doesn't matter.

Human. You feel--I feel. Sometimes I--you too if you want to join the party--feel like crap, are treated like crap--and like any good primate, starting flinging the crap, and rarely only at the one who threw it.


It's a tough gig.

Do you ever wish you could take your self off...?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mindful--Oh, look...a bird!--ness

Mindfulness: not just for Buddhists anymore. Or Jedi, for that matter. It's therapeutic, healthy, calming, spiritual and prescribed for everyone, from nursery schools to nursing homes.

I have a hard time with it. With being present in the moment. My mind skitters, thoughts ping around like a well flipped pinball, the monkey mind break dances, and I can't find my keys.

So what?

Except for the keys, does it really matter?

Well, first of all, I really WOULD like to know where my damn keys are.

Second, though not really second, except for coming after the first, but actually first in importance, is that I don't want to leave--die--without having actually been here.

Maybe I should have listed it first without trying to be funny about the keys? (I do worry about you getting bored, deciding to check your email one more time, or clicking up Solitaire.)

The Dodgers are playing and J.E. and I are watching. James Loney is up. Bottom of the 9th, 2 out 3-2 in favor of the Cardinals. If you follow baseball you already know what happened. Before I type very many more letters I will too. Loney steps back, it all rests on him. The fans are clapping to a beat, now the cheers are rising.

Loney swings, connects--fly ball, caught.

Game over.

J. E. and I say it together--shit!! Or did we? Maybe we each just thought it or I thought it or said it and imagine that he said it,too. But if I write we said "shit!" at the exact same time, that will be what happened, the remember when story. Because the moment itself is gone and the only recording is in my neurons or whatever it is that stores memories in the brain and what my fingers type.

The now is this breath, not the next breath or the last breath. I guess there is really no then and really no will be. Just the now. I know you can't step into the same river twice. Some days I'm not sure about once. And sometimes I think it's all one, the rivers, my foot, the stones under my foot, all that flows and all the appears to be still. Transitory and transcendent, separate and woven tightly together. (And, yes, I do know--thank you very much--that this is the 14 year level of man, that's deep.)

Which means that particular moment passed and I was in an imagined river not here at all . The monkey tosses words in the air, watches them fall, and, and, oh, man, that's deep.

Sometimes in the moment I think about lunch and wonder whether anyone has made coffee.

What is actually around me?

There's a computer screen in front of me and pixels form at the command of my fingers on a keyboard and the pixels shape letter that my mind, and yours, process into words.

On my left there's a coffee travel mug, stainless steel on the bottom, with reflections of the lights overhead. Vertical lines that seem to float inside the metal, not on it. The lid is maybe two and a half inches of black plastic. When I remember to push the button thing on top I can turn it upside down without a drop of coffee spilling. I don't always remember to do that but the amount of coffee spilled is still much less than dumping over an entire cup.

A brown prescription bottle with a label around it and a "push down & turn" message on top. It's a medication that I won't take--offered by my cardiologist when he thought my heart condition was an anxiety attack. Well, I was pretty damned anxious when the various docs first thought I might be having a heart attack and then thought I was an overly anxious middle-aged woman. Don't know how they thought middle aged female anxiety could fake an EKG, but what do I know? (Lots actually but it's the sort of phrase used in those kinds of sentences.) The pills sit there because the color of the pills inside the bottle is different than what the label says it should be. A big hmmm. So of course I've been Googling with no resolution and then figured out I could call my daughter-in-law the pharmacist and she would know.

Now my mind just tripped back to Maui where she and my son live. I haven't met the new pup that keeps Kai company there....

Just took off the bracelet that's been protecting my tendinitis plagued left wrist. Didn't even think about it--the right hand just reached over, pulled it, off the alternating brown and white pieces on stretchy string which makes the bracelet a kind of brace--my ex brought it to me from Africa. The bracelet, of course, not the wrist.

Yes, he went on safari with his girlfriend. I was wildly envious because I always imagined going on safari, though not so much as a tourist, on a bought and paid for excursion. Maybe as a journalist, a writer, I dunno--as Isek Dineson?

Time to get the coffee I just heated out of the microwave. And I didn't even mentioned I had left my desk.

Funny. I think the medication I take for the bipolar thing slows my brain down enough to think more carefully. Take more care. Instead of just dumping the coffee into the travel mug (for it's long journey from the kitchen to my desk in the lobby) then wiping up the dribbles on the counter--if I noticed them--I poured it over the sink where dribbles don't matter.

There's actually nothing here that I just see. Photos, of course, are heavy with meaning. To my right is a picture of my parents--had to be taken before 1983 cause my dad went into the hospital on January 19th and never left until he died on April 2nd. And then it was only his body they transported out of there. My brother took the nose clip oxygen thing --still hissing air--from under his nose, carefully removing the thin plastic tubing from around dad's ears. The nose plugs and tubes had irritated his skin (and him). When the morphine was heavy in him, he'd try to brush it away like an annoying bug, then tear at, even, at times, succeeding.

"At least we can get rid of this damn thing now."

I look at his picture and see where my slightly crooked features come from, I see my brothers' faces. My mother looks--slightly anxious? annoyed?--maybe just uncomfortable because she always disliked her picture being taken She died in 1996--March 24th. My dad's sister says "Springtime's not a good time for us."

It's true, most of the family deaths happen in spring. I wonder if I'll die in the spring.

Of course what I'm actually seeing is a flat paper covered with an emulsion that through some sort of magic of light and chemistry is turned into paper with colors that my brain, through information provided by the rods and cones of my eyes, perceives as my parents.

You, of course, would perceive something different, but it's unlikely you could look at the 4 x6 paper and see only colors. Nana and Granpopper? Mom and Dad. An older man and woman? You might just see that. Two people, man and woman, standing next to one another, giving little other information. You might not even be sure of the relationship. Just two people next to each other looking straight ahead at the photographer.

Who might have been me.

My picture dad's probably around the same age I am now--he died when he was 64--so my mother is five or six years younger in the picture than I am now.

Next to the picture on my desk, a roll of Scotch tape, a square of ceramic tile to put coffee cups on, and. a foot away from that--a coffee cup.

I can see my keys from here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Madeleines & GI Joe

Proust had his madeleines, me, child of pop culture that I am, got GI Joe. Went to see it yesterday evening (JE surprised me with popcorn and a movie and it was Monday, which is senior night.)

Did I like it? It was fine, the movie that hopes to be a franchise. Kind of like those Saturday matinee serials that I actually only saw once. (I haven't read Proust either. Actually I'm rather pretentious.)

Lots of explosions. Bad people on the side of evil. Good soldiers on the side of, well, good. The GI Joes (name of this top secret force) is multinational and integrated by gender and race as well.

Esprit d'corps up a gum stump. WE leave no one behind even if we have to bend the rules until they break. Amazing number of explosions, all of which the good guys can outrun. Collateral damage everywhere but no children or pets were every harmed.

But I'm not going to do in depth analysis or view it through any sort of lens, feminist, philosophical, or political. (I told you I'm pretentious.)

Instead I'm going to walk barefoot through the past. A big duh about the barefoot because that's the name of this thing and besides the only way to bring back the past is barefoot rather than with velvet shoes and rose colored glasses.

GI Joes. I think my dad and/or my brothers started the boys on them. Or maybe it was their own dad or their constant, insistent pleading. I had been adamant that MY children never going to play with guns or war toys of any kind. Somehow the big GI Joe action figure with the scar, fuzzy stuff for hair, and lots of uniforms and accessories (just like Ken, but MANLY) showed anyway. This GI was maybe six inches tall, his body was stiffly articulated so he could turn his head to look for enemies, bend his arms to fire his weapons, kneel, look like he was striding--or dancing when I got hold of him, creating an awkward arabesque. Not the wimpy mini ones that were the next gen, these stood tall and ready for action, like a good action figure should. (My brother just informed me that GI Joe was probably more like 12 inches tall and they now make them as expensive collectors' items. I wonder if there's a market for original actual child abused Joes?)

My finger tips remember the feel of that flocked head covering that was supposed to be a military brush cut. I knew how fake it was. I had run my hands over my dad's quarter inch stubble all my life.

Of course, like Barbie and Ken, Joe had been neutered. I can't recall if he even had butt cleavage, though I'm pretty sure Hasbro was stamped on his backside.

Nice Gwen, you're probably thinking, but what's the point and where is the barefoot path?

Watching the movie, I was back in the then. Boys in the backyard. which handily always seemed to have bare dirt somewhere. (A fondness for gardening does not necessarily equate with plants actually surviving.)

I think they had a tank that fired real little projectiles and other weaponry that actually did stuff. But what I remember and what I can see almost as clearly as this screen was a big yellow vehicle that could play both offense and defense. It was blocky, rectangular--can't recall if it had wheels or treads, but it was always sitting in the backyard. Once it arrived it became an outdoor toy and never got cleaned up to be brought in the house. Dusty, muddy, eventually battered, inevitably pieces broke off, went missing.

None of that seemed to affect its usefulness. (So at least they grasped the destructive capability of war and acceptable losses.)

G.I. Joes--of course the boys had many--sometimes surrounded it, sometimes the Joes were off on missions elsewhere and it sat, abandoned.

Hovering over that image is my dad's delighted aren't I a bad boy grin. He loved it, the boys loved it when Granpopper defied his peacenik daughter and bought the war toys that his grandsons delighted in far more than books I bought them. I minded less than I showed, but it was a dance where we all knew our parts, a game enjoyed by everyone in it. Marine Corps brat that I am, I cut my teeth on a pearl handled 45. I know that war toys don't inevitably make for warriors.

Then there's that familiar stomach twist of grief. Although my dad died in 1983, loss doesn't have an expiration date and you always miss someone and who you were to them, with them. And the other part is regret and those things you wished you done and wish you hadn't done.

I think the sins of omission stab more than than the ones of commission, though both why didn't I and why did I are almost as good as a hungry baby for waking you up at 3:00 AM.

That's part of the barefoot walk. I want to remember cozy Christmas mornings, everyone smiling, delighted with each gift, the surprises that Santa brought exactly what each child dreamed of, the stockings fill with the most loved sweets and the most fun and funniest small thingies, the family gifts all evoking actual and sincere just what I wanted's.

On the screen, Duke, the GI Joe to be, is watching the woman he loved, as she strides in to the secret base, wearing the black leathers that have been requisite since Diana Riggs. He flashes back to the night he proposed to her, she was a blonde, and they danced. The music is lovely and so are they. The past, in movies, is always a little blurred. Good idea--most everything, including memories, look better when softened.

The actual Christmases? There were starry eyed children, and the just what I wanted's. But the plates didn't match and none of them had Christmas trees on them. The fire spit sparks and I wasn't wearing that long plaid velvet skirt I didn't own.

The tensions--the house is messy and dirty, George is embarrassed, wishes I hadn't invited so many people to celebrate. The dog shits on the floor and someone steps in it. Dinner is complicated when my mother-in-law Ethel is there. She is The Cook and the kitchen is her domain. My mother and I bow out and chop, stir, and mix at her direction. And wash up. But this means my family doesn't get some of the old familiar dishes like cornbread dressing.

Which was my dad's domain on the Christmases he was at home. I can see him now, at the countertop of my kitchen the way it was before we remodeled, next to the refrigerator, the big brown mixing bowl (I wonder what ever happened to that bowl) at hand. "Here, taste it, doll. What do you think it needs? " He didn't have to offer a taste, of course. All of us, walking by, would steal a pinch. It didn't matter what you answered either because he really wouldn't listen.The cornbread itself was my mother's responsibility; she made it the day before so it could dry out a bit. And biscuits. but there always biscuits so no special effort was required for those. I make the cornbread now but of course it doesn't taste like my mother's just as hers never tasted like Mamaw's. Somewhere in a far distant past all food was ambrosia and mana and tasted exactly as it should taste and the memory haunts the human race.

Regret. Remorse. Our Town playing on my mind's stage.

Why didn't I spend every moment just watching the boys play? Appreciating the awkward love and good intentions done so badly that we all tried to give. however it was said or shown?

Hair shirts and deliberately chosen paths of rocks and broken, blistering asphalt aren't any more true than velvet slippers, of course. It simply was and the real pain is that it passes. Nothing stays.

Eventually the boys abandoned their GI Joes, though I suspect some are still around, stuffed in the boxes I keep in the garage. Battered, missing hands, feet, limbs--casualties of the wars.

The yellow thing is gone.

I don't remember when. Or how.

GI Joe ends with that iconic Star Wars march of the heroes side-by-side to a swelling triumphant theme and a quick, ominous glimpse of the villain in place for the sequel.

The lights come up; the movie's over. J.E. and I hold hands as we walk down the steps more carefully than we might have years past.

I don't remember when steps became something take with a certain amount of care.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Just picked my font--the first major decision on the whole blog. Well, other than picking the format that took me several minutes of deep concentration. Times, a serif font, is supposed to be easy on the eyes and I love the word serif. This format looked plain and I figure fancy I can add later.

"Barefoot on the ground"? Silly name--where else would you call it barefoot? Bed, bath, shower, pool--that's not barefoot, that's normal. In the trees might be a judgment call on whether barefoot has any significance. When I was a kid bare feet were what you mostly wore in the summer.

Not any more. "Where are your shoes?" is the question I get asked if anyone notices my bare feet outside the door sill--and sometimes even in the house. "Put your shoes on, Sally," is what J. E. says and he should know better, having grown up in he South and gone barefoot as a boy, but he doesn't.

When Moses met the burning bush on the mountainside, the bush that burned without being consumed, the bush from which he heard the voice of God, the voice that named itself I AM THAT I AM, he was commanded to take off his. "For where you stand is holy ground."

Why barefoot? Maybe because nothing comes between you and where you stand, no protection from rocks and thorns, the grit of sand, cool, sweet soil, thick mud that oozes up between your toes, shit you may not have seen--what is, is. Seems like what I AM THAT I AM would go with that.

So, touching the ground is the way to experience the holy?

Wow, that's deep. And probably only the millionth preacher type to say some thing like that. The verses come around in the lectionary and you have to find something to say. There's ten to twenty minutes to fill on Sunday morning and mostly the congregation expects you to fill it even if chances are they doze a little or they work on the week's To Do list--or just drift to that bird outside th window.

Somewhere I read and I wish I could be accurate enough to Google the quote, that Jesus came to teach us that everywhere we stand is holy ground.

Now I'm not sure about the God or Jesus thing--though I like the poetry of I AM THAT I AM--and it sounds more like the Buddha to me, but I do believe that everywhere we stand is holy ground.

So that's what the hell this is, or will be--my attempt to be barefoot on the ground. Meandering, distracted, wondering, and wandering, tripping over rocks and bones, stepping in the shit and oh so endlessly writing about it. Join in if you like--it might be nice to walk along together or bump into each other.

Or not.

The really good thing about this is it's not required reading, I don't expect a paper on it--and I'd really prefer that you don't grade me.