The take-away message

Yes, your past casts a shadow. What kind?
Yes, your past casts a shadow. What kind?

Where have I been these days? Aside from combing lice out of my hair and a bit of vomiting on the side, I’ve been right here—just thinking is all. You could say I’ve been busy.

I was reading this again.

It made me realize something. Something I needed to think about for five or six days before I could really tell you about it properly.

I’ve gotten the wrong idea about myself, my life, and my opportunities. Much of the rest of society has as well, perhaps. I’m not sure. But I didn’t make it up all on my own. I got it from somewhere.

There’s the tendency to see people who have been victimized as permanently deficient. Your past, although you are also instructed to put this past behind you, is expected to cast a long and negative shadow over your future. You will never be what you might have been. The best that can be hoped for is the same or a similar level of functioning as you would have had if it had never happened to you. But you will still have all of those “lost years” to contend with.

To some extent, that’s true. We will never be who we might have been if life had gone differently for us. Every fork in the road sends us off in a different direction.

But sometimes life makes you who you are, and sometimes you do.

What I mean to say is that, beyond healing and beyond being able to cope with life again, you can choose to use your experiences in ways that benefit yourself and others.

This is not the same as saying your suffering, of whatever kind, was put there for a reason. Probably, there wasn’t a reason. Or the reason you suffered was some version of someone else was an asshole. I am not making a statement about fate. I am saying something about choices. Specifically, about your choices.

In the thick of things, the choices don’t seem apparent. You’re just trying to get through the day. You’re trying to hold down a job while keeping the voices in your head quiet and the terrifying images that flash through your mind on “dim.” You’re trying to take care of your family. Or, you’re just trying to get out of the house once a week at least, despite your paralyzing agoraphobia. You’re trying not to kill yourself.

But you are making choices. You are probably making choices while also just trying to get through the day.

For me, the choice has been to be kinder to others, to try to help, and to try to understand what life is like for other people who aren’t me. I’m not concerned with being wildly successful in my career, or with getting the salary I “deserve,” or with achievement generally. As a child, I was told I had “so much potential.” I don’t really care about my potential.

This doesn’t mean I don’t also want to enjoy my life or have any fun. I do. Now that I can more or less get through the day without too much trouble, I think fairly often about the various books I might write just because they seem like fun. Given more time, I might even do that.

But I also want to help. Life is hard. I don’t think we can do it alone. I really don’t.

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Details

A "before" picture. "After" pictures coming soon!
A “before” picture. “After” pictures coming soon!

Here’s a funny story: so my laptop is equipped with a built-in camera. It’s fairly new, since I managed to short out whatever bit of circuitry is responsible for charging the battery in my old one. And, well, I couldn’t live without one in either India or Country X, neither of which necessarily has reliable electricity 24 hours a day. So a battery is kind of important, even if you don’t use your laptop as a “mobile” device.

I have taken pictures with the laptop camera—you can see an example of one above. They are the blurry-looking ones with the crappy lighting. I had noticed the poor quality of the pictures, but I didn’t think too far beyond that.

Then today I saw the little plastic film that had been placed over the lens to protect it during storage and shipping. And it occurred to me that taking photos through a film of plastic might make your photographs a bit blurry and screw up the contrast.

See, these are big and heavy. You don't want one just lying around anywhere. They also count as deadly weapons. So be careful.
See, these are big and heavy. You don’t want one just lying around anywhere. They also count as deadly weapons. So be careful.

Life seems like that to me. Sometimes it’s the big things that go wrong and ruin your life, but more often it’s some stupid little bit of plastic you’d failed to noticed that throws a monkey wrench into everything.

Success may be largely about what you do with the stupid bits of plastics that stand in your way.

“Stay loose,” is the advice I’ve heard recently. Yes, maybe. That might be the right idea. There is probably a place for marching into the store where you bought the laptop and complaining about the poor quality of the photos it is taking. Then they can remove the stupid bit of plastic for you, while you feel slightly foolish.

But maybe that’s really more stressful. Maybe it’s easier to give it a few weeks—as I did—and see if a solution presents itself quietly, while you’re sitting at the laptop, typing up a blog post and not thinking at all about the poor quality of the photos or what might be causing it.

I don’t know. But a song comes to mind. “You gotta know when to hold ‘em…” You know the one. Maybe that’s what wisdom really is.

Another Not-a-Cat Post

It also means you sometimes put up with people taking stupid-looking pictures of you.
It also means you sometimes put up with people taking stupid-looking pictures of you.

I may or may not have mentioned this, but my cat is 17. She’s in remarkably good health, but she’s old. She’s got some of the same problems she’s had since she was a young cat plus some new ones. (As I will have also when I get to that age.)

She had an accident when she was young that involved falling off a roof. I know cats are supposed to survive falling just fine, but it turns out a lot depends on what you land on.

I’ll spare you the details, but the poor thing has had fecal incontinence and mild constipation for the last 11 years at least. (It turns out this is mostly a good combination.) It’s a little like living with a deer.

And now that she’s 17, she’s developing a tiny, tiny hint of bladder incontinence. If I had no sense of smell, I wouldn’t notice this. Unfortunately, I do.

Luckily, she's very small. And there's usually only one of these at a time.
Luckily, she’s very small. And there’s usually only one of these at a time.

Consequently, the bed is swathed in an easy-to-wash polar fleece throw.

There are some other annoying things she’s too creaky and arthritic to do anymore. For example, she has overcome her obsession with water, and I can now for the first time in more than a decade leave a water glass anywhere in the house that I feel like.

The knick-knacks on the upper shelves are safe as well.

My cat, in other words, is really, really cute. And a bit like living with a deer.

I love her to pieces.

She is not, however, anyone’s idea of a trophy cat.

I’m not a trophy person either. Although, so far, I seem to be able to stay away from the top shelves, and restrain myself from knocking over vases just to see where the water will go,

But I do have my issues. Some of them make me hard to live with, even for myself. (Luckily, none of them involve washing the sheets more often.) But they aren’t by any means all charming.

Miss America has her flaws too.
Miss America has her flaws too.

Just like the cat. And like the cat, I don’t really adore everything about myself. If you lined me up next to a bunch of other people, some of them might have fewer issues than me, some of them might be more beautiful or more socially adept. Some of them will probably know how to dance or how to play sports well. Some of them might be doing more to benefit our world. If you had to spend 24 hours a day with someone, it’s possible there might be better choices than myself.

But there’s this thing called unconditional love. If you practice it enough, you might learn how to do it. You might even figure out how to give it to yourself.

Unconditional loves means you might get annoyed sometimes. You might get frustrated. You might even get really, really angry. But day in and day out, you continue to care and to take care. You continue to think that in the larger scheme of things, this whole business might be worth doing. And you keep doing it.

The Do-Over

In the King James version of the Bible, which I grew up reading, the word for oryx is translated as "unicorn." So I believe in oryxes. Unicorns I'm still not sure about.
In the King James version of the Bible, which I grew up reading, the word for oryx is translated as “unicorn.” So I believe in oryxes. Unicorns I’m still not sure about.

I just read this fantastic post from Michelle at Play and have discovered that every day is a do-over.

Now this may be a seductive fantasy.

A part of my test for any new idea involves how much logical sense it makes versus how much it activates my emotions. If my emotional reaction is greater than the beautiful foundation of logic beneath it, then it’s probably nothing more than a new kind of snake oil.

And this one is a hard call, because I just really like the idea so much.

But the second test is how much harm the snake oil will do if I put it on. There’s nothing wrong with snake oil if you don’t break out in a rash after applying it. Especially if the snake oil was free.

I can believe in unicorns, God, heaven, aliens, ghosts, spirit vehicles, shapeshifters, poltergeist, ESP, and dragons–whatever I feel like–even when there is no evidence for any of it. So long as it doesn’t hurt me.

So what harm will it do if I look at every day as a do-over?

Well, a lot, actually, if I decide that the consequences of yesterday’s decisions have evaporated overnight, or if I decide that my decisions now don’t need to be thought through because I’ll get a do-over tomorrow. I suspect some people do that. It’s probably why we are in so many of the messes we are currently in.

But aside from that nothing. The idea of every day as a do-over won’t do me any harm whatsoever. I’ll just wake up excited at the possibilities the day holds–each and every day.

Michelle, can I get some of that? Because I think it’s some good stuff you’ve got there.

Grace

I'm not quite at the packing stage. But I am full-swing in the getting rid of stuff stage.
I’m not quite at the packing stage. But I am full-swing in the getting rid of stuff stage.

A friend came by this afternoon. I had left some things at her house a week ago–hers was the dog-sitting gig I wrote about a few times. She brought them to me.

As we sat at the table over tea (my drink) and ice water (hers), we talked a little about my leaving. She’s buying an enormous house (in our views, anyway) and there will be plenty of space. She offered to let me leave some things with her.

It used to be I felt I could never ask anyone for anything. I had no one. But they offer.

I don’t know how to explain this exactly, but in general the world is a very kind and generous place for me to be in and it has been for a long time.

My growing up was hard. Life could have remained that way. For some people, it seems to.

I am reminded, writing that, of the therapist I saw in college for a session who didn’t charge me at the end of it. I needed all the help I could get, I suppose. And she didn’t know the half of it.

The secretary from the Dean of Students office at my college whose home I stayed in for three days when I was between places to stay. She had a tiny apartment. It’s not that I wasn’t in the way.

I am even reminded of my teacher in the second grade who drove me to my babysitter’s house when I missed the bus. I didn’t even really know where it was. “Keep your eyes peeled,” she said. I remember that. A funny expression for a seven-year-old to hear. But I did and we found it.

********

This is what grace is. Photo credit: Jon Sulivan.
This is what grace is. Photo credit: Jon Sullivan.

Words tend to stick in my head, in almost the same way those little snippets of songs you can’t quite remember will. Grace was once one of those words. Grace, if you look it up, is the unearned favor of God. It is a blessing given freely, for no reason, just because.

I worked hard to be where I am. I know that. There were days when every second required alertness, planning, self-control just to live through. I’m not ignoring that.

But the other half of it is grace. Some people might call it luck. But I’d rather think of it as grace. Not necessarily the grace of God, but the grace of other human beings.

No Post Today?

Of course, there’s a post today. There has to be a post.

Me. Well, not a boy. Not blond.
Me. Well, not a boy. Not blond.

I’ve managed a post everyday (sometimes two in a day) since June 10th.

There wasn’t a post this morning because I went birdwatching. I am not an avid birder. I was crazy about birds as a kid, but something happened in about sixth grade. Maybe it was earlier. Maybe it was fourth.

Anyway, I started to think it was silly. So I stopped trying to learn how to identify various species. I stopped watching the birds in the garden. I just stopped.

Rather sad actually. Because now I can’t identify anything more complicated than a house finch.

usgs House FinchWe did see those. There aren’t a lot of places in this country you don’t.

I gave it up because the family made fun of it, and that made me think it was silly. But actually they made fun of nearly everything I did, and that didn’t generally stop me. Just some things. The science-y things. And maybe it’s that, as a little girl, other things I did were met with sustaining encouragement. I had friends who liked to draw also. My teachers praised my writing. I knew those things weren’t silly, because other people said they weren’t.

I didn’t know anyone who liked to watch birds. I didn’t know it wasn’t silly.

But there was no one to encourage an interest in the natural world or, for that matter, mathematics–which I have since realized is a beautiful, fascinating world of its own, even if it is one I regrettably know far too little about. There was no one to tell me it wasn’t silly.

I regret I stopped looking for these.

Hooded Oriole
Hooded Oriole

And these.

Spotted towhee
Spotted towhee

Or even these.

Hammond's Flycatcher. Photo credit: Rick Leche.
Hammond’s Flycatcher. Photo credit: Rick Leche.

I regret that I stopped noticing what an astonishing and bewitching world I live in. Because someone thought that was silly.

With

Is this because we didn't have skinny jeans?
Is this because we didn’t have skinny jeans?

I have an obsession. Not in the OCD sense. In the “passionate about” sense.

With.

I have an obsession with “with.”

And, again, let me define that. I don’t mean “with-it-ness” which is one of those weird teacherly things I have been told, quite flatteringly, that I have. (And I hope I actually do.)

Not in the “with-it” sense I grew up with, that I think had to do with pegging your pants. (That was a wardrobe malfunction if I’ve ever seen one.)

I mean in the sense of co-existing.

A lot of “integration” that you need to do following a lifetime of being dissociated has to do with trauma, and re-experiencing, and making sense of pain.

But there’s also a lot of resolving cognitive dissonance involved. There is a lot of coming to terms with being both a feeling, sensitive, gentle person (for example) as well as one who can selectively shut down and stop feeling.

There is a lot of being “with” things. I know some people would rather get past their pain. They’d like to overcome it. They might even like to be strong, capable people in spite of their terrible pasts.

That might be possible.

I’m not aiming for that. I would like to be able to be with myself, to be with my pain, to be a strong, capable person with my past.

And ultimately, I would like to be with you.