Sunday, February 24, 2008

Fugue on Forgiveness

I've always like the word "fugue" because of its dual references to music and psychiatry. So, a polyphonic composistion or a disoriented amnesiac state.... your call. See which one fits.

I went to church this morning. It's a campus church at NIU, so forgiveness came up as a theme a time or two. When the music started to get to me (about 1 second in) or the homily started to lose focus (about 6 minutes in), I went off on my own mental meanderings about the forgiveness that is eluding me.

Anger is also eluding me, for whatever it's worth. I can't sustain it. It takes too much energy. But that's not quite the same as saying that I've forgiven Dave, either. Anger and forgiveness apparently aren't opposites. And let's just be clear that I have nothing like the project of forgiving the person who shot and killed my children, as 5 sets of NIU parents have. I can't even begin to imagine how one would undertake such a project. So I am very aware of the triviality of my dithering.

My first thought... Dave doesn't deserve forgiveness. Ummm.... yeah. Since when is that the point? But it matters. I don't want to fuel his enormous sense of entitlement. "See, I can do all the wrong things, create mayhem in other people's lives, and they forgive me. Aren't I just the cutest thing?" I can't even stand thinking about it. But of course, I'm supposed to forgive anyway. Forgiveness only makes sense if it's a gift. Resentful forgiveness must be some kind of misnomer. And certainly I'm aware that I've been forgiven when I didn't deserve it.

A possible answer to the first thought is that I should forgive not for him, but for me. Forgiving him would (or might) free me. But really now... can there be a self-centered reason for authentic forgiveness? That seems improbable.

Next up is the thought that I might as well forgive him since he matters so little to me any more. But that's not forgiveness; it's disdain. We're getting nowhere fast. Aren't you glad you don't live in my brain???? Count your blessings.

Might forgiveness prevent me from vigorously defending my own needs and preferences in the divorce settlement? Or can a person forgive and simultaneously accept no more crap from the other person EVER?

Seventy times seven. Turn the other cheek. Forgive and forget. Dave doesn't even know if I've forgiven him or not; we haven't spoken in months or e-mailed in weeks. What difference does it make if I do this or not? The best I've come up with is that I don't want to be the kind of person who doesn't forgive. That's pretty unconvincing, as theological positions go.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Dear Red Bike

I still love you. You'll always be special to me, but I need to date other bikes. It's not you; it's me. I need to mark this as a new time in my life -a time when I can do daring things. In this case that means biking longer and harder than you can go. No, no... that wasn't a double entendre. Really. I meant mileage, sweetheart.

My new sweetheart is this bike:

The only difference is that it's a bright lime green. It's an Orbea Aqua Dama, in the smallest size they make with special adjustments to make it even smaller. It's a road bike, and I CAN NOT WAIT for good weather. My old red helmet just isn't going to work, either. Sheesh. How many of these "dear bike" letters do I have to write?????

Friday, February 22, 2008

I Can't Get Warm

Literally and metaphorically, I can't get warm.

On this morning's commute to work, the radio announcer referred to today's low of 7 degrees (actually a significant improvement over the last few days) as "cool". Have people lost their minds? Perhaps their brains are frozen and will thaw and become functional again in a few weeks. Seven degrees is honkin' freezing, people. It's an insult to the human person.

True enough, February always makes me cranky. My house is drafty. My office is cold. I'm tired shoveling the snow away from the dryer vent and tracking salt into the house. Surely there are homeless people I could help in the Bahamas. What am I doing here? But there's more than just the February blues going on.

It's Friday night, and I'm alone in my drafty old house. In my pajamas at 8:00 on a Friday night, because I'm cold. Cold and alone. Blech.

There must be stages of admitting one's situation to oneself -stages of allowing all the grief into consciousness. Or it washes up again and again in waves until it's processed. Or something. The last two nights have been brutal hours of tormenting myself. How could this have happened? Why me? I'm chilled and scared all the way into my bones, it seems.

It's boring even in the telling of it. I know you don't want to hear it. But I think there are still tears that need to be shed, even at the risk of being boring. A glimmer of a thought here is that I've been good about some kinds of taking care of myself. I've been good about reclaiming bits and pieces of me. But I might be going too easy on myself. I've been gentle, but not powerful -not that those are mutually exclusive.

What's the next powerful thing that I can do? It's a small thought, but I think the signs are pointing to reclaiming my physical fitness regimen. A new bike has caught my eye. I've been to the gym a few times. Exercising makes me feel better. Training for something makes me feel better yet. And I can work out or train even if other things in my life don't go the way I want them to go. It's something that can help sustain me even if, say, I have to move or I run into Dave while he's here over spring break or something else goes wrong. I need the experience of doing something amazing. All I have to do is take it step by step, in the same methodical stodgy way that I've done the rest of this. That, and cry when there's no alternative.

And start doing stuff on Friday nights, forcryingoutloud.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Social Workers Save the World

OK, we really don't, and we know that. So there's a little dark humor, a little sarcasm, and a little bit of grandiose foolishness in this post. But, there's a little bit of truth, too. Let's see if we can find it.

For years (probably decades) now, there has been a small group of local social workers who meet for coffee once a week. We just chit-chat, really. Sometimes we try to sort through a social work problem that has one or more of us stumped. Many times we fret and fuss about the state of the world and wonder why we're not in charge. We dream about local and larger projects that we might implement, and we've even implemented some of them. But mostly we just talk and drink truly obscene quantities of coffee.

We thought me made no difference whatsoever, except possibly to our own mental health. Well, that's no small contribution to the general well-being of the world, when you consider how screwed up I've been ;) But everything changed (here's the very dark humor) on September 11, 2001. We had missed a meeting the Friday before. Do you suppose that our silly meeting was somehow -just barely- creating equilibrium in the world? Missing one meeting set things off, and the world came unglued for a tragic day? Surely, we didn't know our own power and owed the world a heart-felt apology.

We don't really believe that. We were just being silly.

BUT, we missed the meeting just before the shooting at Northern. This is a disturbing trend, boys and girls. Again, please accept our abject apologies.

OK, sarcasm and silliness aside... We are in fact just drinking coffee and chatting. We get that. But, our meeting, as small as it is, is a part of the fabric of the community. We sit there at Panera, holding up the idealist/liberal/leftie edge of that fabric. Hardly anyone knows we're there. It may not matter. "Without a vision, the people perish."

Our vision for the world certainly isn't the accepted one in this conservative town and nation. Nonetheless, someone has to hang onto it. Someone has to remind people that there is a vision of a just world that could be created, with sufficient will.

And rest easy tonight, dear ones. We met this morning.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Where I Come From

This is interesting new (to me) software: Geni.

It's a cross of genealogical record keeping and social networking. It can be edited by the people you invite. They can add pictures, details, information about their in-laws, perhaps, and much more. I'm hoping that together my sibs and I can figure out whom we're actually related to and how. Heck, I'll settle for who's still alive and the first names of all my cousins. We'll see how we do!

Monday, February 18, 2008

I'm Closing In On It

My new self-definition, that is, because I know you've been waiting with baited breath. (insert eyeroll here) But the thing is, I've been waiting.

I thought I knew that I didn't want to live in the midwest. But when I got in my car to leave my marriage, I could have pointed it in any direction at all. I chose to come back to DeKalb, and no one was more surprised than me. But it was exactly the right thing to do.

I thought I was engaging with the world as someone's partner. Not so much with that. For years, I defined myself as a mother first. And those little boneheads grew up and don't need me any more ;)

So if I'm not anyone's partner and I'm not a displaced southerner and my mothering tasks are limited (and really primarily social calls), who the heck AM I? It was starting to get a little unnerving.

It's coming back to me. The other thing (AN other thing) that I am is social-justice-girl. I lost her for a little while, but she's coming back. Gandhi was right. (No, duh!) "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Which sounds a little self-serving, as though I'm equating myself to Gandhi and my work to some sacrificial Mother-Theresa-like calling that I have.

Quite the contrary. These people are saving me. I've always said to students that we get the clients we need. It might be the client who pushes your buttons, forcing you to learn patience and self-restraint. It might be the client who tries to belittle you and your skills, so that you learn confidence and power. It might be that you've only worked with women, so you get a male client who forces you to re-examine power from a different angle. Whatever. You get the one you need.

It's so much more than that. I wasn't in danger of dying; please don't think that. But vital parts of me were about to be lost. Instead, I have clients who assume I'm competent (the poor misguided dears), so I am. I get clients who are way too busy with their own troubles to care a whit about mine. I get clients who see me as privileged and wealthy and connected -if they think about me at all. It puts things nicely in perspective.

There is still more of me that needs to be developed and rounded out. There's the person who wants to travel on my own terms. There's the person who wants to have a home with a certain kind of feeling. There's the person who wants to have a certain kind of spiritual life. And by God, I'm going to get this yoga posture

before it's all over, and my abs are going to look like hers, too, while I'm about it. I'm going to bike the way I want to bike, and not think of that as "less than". There is much to do. But I've reclaimed, with a lot of help from my friends, another part of my self-definition.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

He Speaks Truth

What he said! Mike over at Musing's Musings says it beautifully. Just go read it.

I'm running on fumes myself and can't think to get a coherent post together. Between crisis counseling, my regular work, working on my own emotional center, and stopping to hug my children at embarrassing (to them) intervals, I'm pretty pooped. I work until midnight tonight, but tomorrow I can sleep as late as I like. It's one of my treats in the week.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Yet Another School Shooting

I know you've all heard, and you've probably figured out that NIU is my home turf. My son is a grad student there. Because my long-lost-husband is technically a faculty member there, we have many friends there. Heck, I have many friends there who have nothing to do with him.

Everyone I know and love is physically and psychically fine. But it's still been a hard few days. I NEVER EVER want to relive the hour when I couldn't locate my son.

I said, a jillion years ago with the first school shooting, that one thing I wanted to explore in an academic sense was how -or if- a community healed after such an event. What works? What doesn't? What is understandable but misguided? How long does it take? I never got out to Colorado or Arkansas or Virginia or anywhere else to do the research. How tragic that it will be easy now.

At this point I have nothing wise or insightful to say. I do have this beginning of a thought. The solution is about gun control rather than mental illness, I think. In idle chatter, some wonder whether people with diagnosed mental illnesses should be on college campuses. Should we require medication monitoring, perhaps? Should we, metaphorically speaking, put a big fence around the university and keep crazy people off?

Along with the fact that it's a state school and I'm not sure how you could justify keeping citizens off the property, there's the reality that it isn't necessarily a student or a staff memeber who would commit a crime like this. Anyone with a gun could walk onto a campus and get to work. It's the guns that are the problem. Not the access.

Anyway... we're healing. We're procesing our reactions. We're mostly doing okay. Please think comforting thoughts for the families of the dead. They're cleaning out dorm rooms and claiming personal possessions in the next few days. Funerals will start tomorrow. I can't begin to imagine their suffering, but we should do what little we can to ease it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Writing at the Top of my Lungs

Oh dear. Things are not good. The details really don't matter, but I reached the point this evening where I finally said that Dave and I shouldn't communicate any more at all. If he has something to say, he should say it to my lawyer and she'll convey the message. This guy with whom I have two children and many memories.... we may never talk again. Just when I thought my heart couldn't be any more broken.

When most of this tragic e-mail exchange happened, I was actually at work. He couldn't have known that, so there's no blame here for what ensued. I was almost as distraught at this latest development as I was when I left Swarthmore. I was casting about in desperation for the next right thing to do. Catch up on documentation? Go hang out with the clients? Make sure there are no children unattended and unsupervised? There must be something right that I can do. When things are this bad, I've learned that I have to think very small and very short-term. This is not the time for grand plans. Rather, I have to think of some small thing that I can do right now that has the virtue of not being wrong.

I realized that what I wanted to do -what I MUST do- was write. How weird is that? Some people might need chocolate. Some people might call someone (Actually, I did that, but work isn't a great place to carry on a private conversation of this importance.) Some people (those not at work, one assumes) might need a drink. I was beside myself because I didn't have my journal. If I grab a piece of paper and start writing, will I remember to put it in my journal? If it's not in my journal, does it "count"? What if I get distracted and accidentally leave it lying around where someone can find it?

But there was no peace until I grabbed some computer paper and a pen and started writing. I had to figure stuff out. I had to process information. I had to try to forgive. And I had to put it all somewhere -somewhere not the front of my brain, so that I could continue to function as a, you know, person in charge, but also somewhere where I could revisit it.

I had a professor in college who, when the conversation got heated or entangled, would primly say "writing makes for clear thinking." He would then make us get out paper and pen and write down our arguments. We would roll our eyes and think of him as essentially a prig. But, I still think of that man today. My need to write was visceral.

I don't know what this means. I was howling in pain -quietly. I was struggling to understand. I was trying to reject bitterness and anger. I was, at the same time, trying to claim a spot on the planet that says that I am NOT unworthy, unattractive, uninteresting or just plain awful. (I'm smart enough... I'm good enough... and dog gone it, people like me.) I make no claims of being good at writing. I just need to do it.

Writing makes for clear thinking.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Messages in a Bottle

In an extrememly snarky e-mail to me (re: the Dear Dave post, so I suppose I ought to have expected that!) Dave made the remark about my blog... something along the lines of "why you want to publicly parade your life in this way is beyond me". That's not really a quote. I deleted the e-mail, but it's the general idea of what he said.

A) Fuck you and the horse you rode in on. I'll do anything I please. Oh hell, that's not what I really think; it's what I wish I thought. What I really think is something along the lines of "don't criticize my strategies for healing wounds you caused."

B) I have friends all over the country and world, and blogging is an easy way to keep in touch with them.

But really, the answer is somewhat different and somewhat more than both of those. Two years and a bit ago, I wanted to play around with some ideas that weren't going to get enough of my attention in my real life. Putting my thoughts out there into cyberspace would, I hope, hold me a little accountable. Moreover, I was (and am) enthusiastic about the populist nature of the internet. The idea of adding new voices to the discourse -any discourse- is one that pleases me immensely. And I wanted to find a community of like-minded people -the people who want to change the world.

Many of the people I now think of as close friends were completely unknown to me at the beginning of all this. I was sending messages in a bottle, and somehow through the miracles of cyberspace, my little bottle washed ashore on their islands. We became connected, even though we may never have met.

I'm not sure that blogs really create community in and of themselves. The nature of blogging is that one person expounds and everybody else listens and responds. It's not the perfect medium for what I'm looking for. Shared discourse isn't quite what the medium can support. And some people (quite a few of them, if the logs are any indication) read but don't feel comfortable adding comments. Some of those people comment privately in e-mail, and some are just quiet -even though they may drop by every day. I'm the only person who knows they're here.

Nonetheless, we've done quite well for ourselves, I think. We have some other characteristics of a community well in hand, it seems to me. There's a sense of membership, I hope. I certainly feel a sense of shared influence and emotional connection, both hallmarks of a community. And we're pretty close to having our 25,000th visitor.

But really, I do want the software that would allow for more collective brainstorming and shared reflections. Got any great ideas there?

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Security vs. Adventure

Is this a false dichotomy? Rock climbing is a perfect example. We spend a lot of time and energy (to say nothing of money) staying safe with ropes and harnesses and carabiners and other stuff so that we can do this essentially ridiculous but very fun thing -climb to the top of a vertical stack of rocks. Still with me? I'm about to go off on a tangent.

The past few months have been about wrapping myself in a security blanket. Creating that security blanket for myself was more than just a psychological, empowering nicety. It had to be done. I did small things like start locking the house. I did bigger things like getting myself back in the work force and starting to pay my own bills. I moved money so that meddling former-partners couldn't have access to it. I literally talked myself through every day, asking myself how, at the end of the day, was I safer and more secure than I had been that morning.

I'm still afraid a lot of the time. It's not quite all the time, any more, but close enough. But I'm also starting to realize that my life lacks adventure. Adventure of my own design, I mean.

Thanks to the intervention of a friend, I've made a huge leap in my healing process. I am so close to fully over this guy, you have no idea. Maybe someday it will be appropriate to tell you all the details, but for now just believe me when I tell you that I now believe that we are fundamentally incompatible.

But given this new state of affairs, hyper-vigilance about security is still -sort of- about him. What am I securing myself against? After all, I have the basic things in place. I am the hero of my own story. I no longer worry that the most interesting thing about me is him. But my story is too small, still.

It's time to do more than survive. It's time to think about thriving. While, you know, staying attached to the ropes and harnesses. I'm still me, after all ;)

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Climbing High

OK, we need a little comic relief from yesterday. Here's some proof that we do actually climb rocks, we sometimes get to the top (the kids always do... I sometimes do) and we have the cool equipment (clearly, the key ingredient to fundamental coolness!). FIrst I'll show you how it should look.

That's Nicholas. He's really good. Here's another view of the same climb. Just another day of parenting -keeping my baby alive!

Okay, yes, I climb too. I can't even believe I'm showing you this: I'm climbing in a chimney, and it's harder than it looks. Give me a break. See how smooth that rock is??? Another view of the same thing: The clever reader will notice that I'm in the exact same spot. Yeah... that was pretty much it for that climb. Can I distract you by pointing out the wildly cool lavender harness???

Having been more successful than his mother, the boy-child is coming down. He is not landing in a heap of broken bones due to my expert skills. Well, actually, it's due to my acute paranoia that my expert skills are in fact pathetic. But pretend for me, would you?

And we're unclipping and getting ready to go to lunch, where I will ply them with food and drink so that they forget that I am a lame climbing buddy.

Thanks to Victoria for the pictures!

Monday, February 04, 2008

Dear Dave

I can see that you (and Teresa, for that matter) have been exploring my blog several times over the past few days. Only a numb skull creates a blog and yet expects it to be private, and I'm not that, at the very least. So, welcome. Pull up a chair and sit down. You might actually learn something.

But here's the thing. I wish I didn't have to worry about why you were here. I can see not only that you were here, but what the search terms were that led you here. You were looking for references to you. Did you think that I would publicly bash you? Say something libelous? Did your lawyer send you here for ammunition against me? I just don't know. I hate it that I have to consider such despicable things about you, but such is the fruit of your behavior.

Know this. This blog is not about you. My life is no longer about you. True enough, your behavior sent me to the edge of my capabilities. You have pushed me away from you and off into a life I never wanted or even really considered. But having done that, you no longer set the terms. This space and this life? They're mine. You're not the story here.

Now, if you want to read about the story, you are welcome. But know that you are no longer even the subtext. I'm not even sure that I wish it were otherwise, anymore.


Sunday, February 03, 2008

Update on the 18-month plan

If I were a worthy human.... if I had an organizing bone in my body.... if, if, if.... then I would be 1/18 of the way through the 18-month plan. Alas, not so much with that. To hold myself accountable, here's where I really am.

Anatomical, Gastronomical, Sartorial
My weight is unchanged. That's unfortunate.
This is probably due to my also failing to make my exercise goals. The girl-child and I have decided to make that a focus of February -hauling ourselves to the gym, the pool, the dance studio, the rock climbing wall, and/or the yoga studio. If I do something three times a week, I'll call myself having met my February goal. My excuse here is that I was getting used to my new work schedule. But I've been working this schedule for a month now. Enough with the whining. Make something happen here!

I have had people over, but not for brunch. I'm going to work on that, really, but I don't think there's a good time in February.

I have worked, sort of, on a wine collection. My goals here are very modest; I'm so very NOT a connoisseur. So when I say that I worked on it, I bought one bottle of really good white wine and I decided which red I'm going to try to see if I like it. That's good enough for me.

No luck on the neighborhood bar.

I have been rock climbing and I'm even getting less sucky at it!

Sarah the wonder-hair dresser continues to save my sanity and I do have new work clothes, thanks mostly to that fashionista daughter of mine.

The only thing I did to improve my yoga space was buy (and assemble, miraculously!) one of those indoor water fountains. I like it a lot.

Romantical, Platonical, Familial
I filed for divorce and have worked more or less steadily on protecting myself there. I have resisted the urge to call and/or e-mail Dave, which is something of a triumph. That also gets filed under the "protecting myself" category since that never goes well for me.

I got an address book and started entering people's information into it. I purchased and MAILED (ta da!!) birthday cards for January. I wrote to one out-of-the-area friend with the sad news of my life. The rest of that stuff's not done yet.

I haven't bought the house, but I'm working on it. This is a source of some fear and concern, but I'm trying to be brave. Basically, nothing in this category is much beyond the dreaming stage.

Professional, Financial, Educational
Nope... nothing much here, either

Spiritual, Communal
I've started going to church again, as of today. I've nurtured connections with local and not-so-local friends, and I've joined a book group (that hasn't met yet, but it will start soon). The rest of that stuff is still pending.

Expeditional, Recreational
Sib trip is in the planning stages and I'm saving for Tuscany.

Is that enough for one month? I'm not sure. I know for sure that I don't have the life I envision. I'm pretty sure I'm on the right path and am taking steps to keep the path under my feet, as it were. But I feel like I should have made more progress.

And to that end, I have two hours before I need to leave for work. I can spend one of them at the gym and no harm would come from that.