Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Happy Birthday, Baby Narcissist

It was my birthday yesterday.  My sister gave me a book called "It's My F---ing Birthday", a series of "state of the union" addresses the thirty-something and then forty-something main character gives herself on seven subsequent birthdays.  Upon visiting the author, Merrill Markoe's, website, I am amused / perplexed to read that one of her main objectives with this novel was to examine the tricky business of having narcissistic parents.  Was my sister aware of this?  Is this an acknowledgement that she's finally in on the joke?  Or was she just so enamoured with the title she was oblivious to the content?

Regardless of my sister's motivation, I was intrigued by the character's annual entries (I've only made it to her 38th birthday, so don't spoil the ending for me if you've already read it, please!), which she concludes with answering the questions: "what did I learn this year?" and "what do I want to learn next year?".  It seemed like a good set of questions to ask myself on the auspicious occasion of my 41st birthday.

A good set of questions which I managed to totally avoid by answering "happy birthday" emails and FaceBook wall posts all day, and celebrating with great food and wine and single malt and midnight naughty activities [sorry Mom, but I figured I'd lost you in the first paragraph, anyhow...] with my incredible husband.

Couple this with my friend Louise's recent blog entry, "What do I fear?", which I have been studiously avoiding for over a week while fighting the gnawing feeling I must respond with my own answer to the question and... well, the stars are apparently aligning and trying to shake or stab some of that truth-I-hold-so-dear into my consciousness.

Because my first answer to the question was: nothing much, really.  There's so much I used to be afraid of -- speaking the truth, being alone, being imperfect, falling on my face, not being loved -- that I've done and survived with flying colours, so am no longer afraid.  I lived my first three-plus decades in such all-consuming fear that I truly feel fear-free now.  Of course, I was afraid with Don's cancer diagnosis, but I also knew I could handle whatever had to be done, because I'm really freaking awesome in a crisis.  Pathologically awesome in a crisis.  I sometimes catch myself trying to create a crisis so I can remind myself just how freaking awesome I am.

I'm not afraid of spiders.  I'm not afraid of being alone -- and Don has learned to not take it personally when I do the "I've got the house to myself" happy dance.  I'm not afraid of being unloved, because the people who threaten me with that are the people who aren't capable of loving in the first place.  I'm not afraid of speaking the truth -- some people wish I were, but I'm not, sorry!  (not really...)  I'm not afraid of screwing up, because that's how you learn new things.  I live a free and open and fear-proof life, trusting my gut and going for it.

Er... Alyssa... um...  [tap tap tap]...

If you're not afraid of anything, could you please explain some of your neurotic, knee-jerk reactions?

Because SOMETHING has to be scaring you into all that crap.  You know, the having to say "yes" to everything and take responsibility for stuff you don't really want to do, at your own expense?  The fact that, even when people aren't asking you to do stuff, you're finding a whole pile of stuff to do anyhow?  The fact that you became Little Miss Cranky Pants after a Saturday of jammies and cheesy television?  And practically had a nervous breakdown when your husband said he didn't need you to take care of the pile of stuff on the stairs in order for him to love you?

You're afraid of something, Lyss.  You're definitely afraid of Something.


Yes, I'm obviously riddled with fear and guilt and all that ugly stuff when I'm not DOING something.  But... maybe it's just a silly residue...?  Maybe...?  Because my brain and heart KNOW I'm still loveable if I'm in my jammies watching cheesy tv.  And my home is no longer in a place where if I don't keep everything together, the world is going to blow into smithereens (and, if it had blown into smithereens in those early years, it might have actually been a good thing).  Nobody is going to kill themselves if I don't put their needs before my own.  I know my future doesn't live or die on whether my desk is clear.  And I've even learned, after the seven years when I upped the ante from living with narcissists to living with a sociopath, that the world doesn't explode if you don't pay the credit card bill on time (although, it's much easier if you do, trust me!)  All of the reasons I used to have for this obsessive-compulsive workaholic behaviour are gone gone gone.  I know they're gone.

And yet... while I have been working hard at saying "no" the last couple of months, and started weeding out the things I don't actually have a passion for, it's been like ripping out my entire body's arterial system through my eyeballs.

Taking that jammies-and-cheesy-television day on Saturday turned me into Medusa-on-acid for Sunday and Monday.

I'm not SUPPOSED to relax.  I'm not SUPPOSED to take a day off.  I'm not SUPPOSED to look after myself.

Why the hell not?!?!?

And here, we get back to what the universe has been screaming at me this week.  I am TERRIFIED of becoming a narcissist.  (She writes, in a blog, that she thinks people want to read... oh shut up, Alyssa!)

I come from a long line, really.  It's my birthright.  I was raised (or not) by two thoroughly messed-up narcissistic individuals who should never have procreated.  It's not their fault, I don't blame them -- hell, I've met THEIR parents, and am thoroughly amazed that ANYONE in this family has managed to make it to adulthood (their bodies, at least -- there's still many whose emotional IQs have yet to catch up... or even start the race, in some cases).  My parents really didn't have much of a chance at being good parents, because their parents were serious control-freak nut-jobs.  In the last several years, I've had the opportunity to learn more than any person should about their grandparents, and let me tell you I am no longer in the least bit surprised that my father saw giant coke-bottles chasing him home from school, nor that my mother knew about this yet still thought "oh, there's an awesome father for my unborn children!"

They were messed up.  Their parents seriously messed them up.  Their parents were so freaking incompetent, that both of them were grasping and gulping for whatever care and parenting they could get from whoever was the closest at hand.  And on November 29, 1970, I became the closest person at hand.  I remember my mom once telling me she wanted to have a baby so she would finally understand unconditional love.  It sounded kind of sweet at the time... now I know how destructive a motivation that was.  From the very beginning, it was my job to parent my parents.  2-1/2 years later, it was my job to also parent my little sister.  And with an alcoholic pedophile father and a prescription-pill-popping suicidal mother who had zero parenting skills and more than anyone's fair share of mommy and daddy issues of their own, it was a lot of work.  A LOT of work.

If I weren't 100% on top of things back then, the world WOULD have exploded.  No sick days, no mental health days (hardeeharhar), no days off, no nights off.  My needs were absolutely nothing compared to the immense ocean of needs of my parents, and the need to keep the "one big happy family" facade intact for the outside world.  The grandparents would not accept an ounce of imperfection, and they were mean and vindictive bastards.  I had to keep it together.

My parents were narcissists.  Not by choice, but by design.  They never had their childhood needs met, so they had to find a way to make it happen later in life.  This is why I hate vampire movies.  Once you're bit / damaged, you have no choice but to instil the same harm on others.  It sucks.  Hardeeharhar...

One of the biggest reasons -- well, THE biggest reason -- why I chose to not have children myself was because I know I, too, had really awful parenting, and there was no way I wanted my subconscious to subject a poor little offspring of mine to make up for my parents' lack of parenting.  I did not want to burden a child with providing me with unconditional love.  I did not want a child to grow up to believe his or her sole purpose was to make up for what I had missed.

I did not want to be a narcissist-by-design.

And so, here I am, childless.  Solves the whole problem, right?


OK, yes, it does solve the problem for those unborn children of mine, who are probably hanging out in the place where little baby spirits wait for a body to inhabit, and thanking me profusely for not giving in to the societal pressure to cause 2.1 of them a lifetime of therapy.

My part of the equation, however, is still fully intact, and ruling with a vengeance.

I spent a decade of four-days-a-week-flat-on-my-back sessions working on de-dissociating myself.  I thought I'd gotten them all.  But there is obviously one little piece of me tucked away so very well... and I'm still working hard at keeping her down there.

As Medusa-on-acid will attest, I am still playing whack-a-mole with my inner Narcissist.

If there's even a hint of her, saying she might deserve something good?  WHACK!!!

For years, Don's been making fun of my total inability to accept help.  I've explained it away by citing my fiercely independent streak.  Nobody looked after me before, why should anyone look after me now?  I can take care of myself.  Besides, the minute you accept help from someone, they're only going to let you down by failing to give it to you after all.  You won't be disappointed if you don't allow yourself to rely on others.

Yes, this all makes logical sense, and I've been explaining my some-might-say-fierce-is-a-woeful-understatement independent streak that way for quite some time.

But what the universe seems to be not-so-quietly-stage-whispering is: I don't want to be caught thinking I deserve what I want, because that would make me a blazing Narcissist.  And that would be bad.  So... WHACK!!!  WHACK!!!!   WHACKETY WHACK WHACK WHACK!!!!!

You think you DESERVE a day off where you don't have to do anything?  WHACK!!!  You want to open that nice bottle of wine (I just mis-spelled it with an "h" twice...) for no particular reason other than it'll taste good?  Didn't you see what that did to your father?  WHACK!!!  You want to watch TV and read books and not spend the day looking after the needs of heartless vultures who need you to look after their shit for them?  WHACK!!!  You want to buy yourself a new pair of comfortable and hole-less shoes instead of give money to charity?  WHACK!!!

Geez, Alyssa, you're so freaking selfish.  I mean, it's probably genetic, or at least learned behaviour.  It's not your fault you're such a selfish person, but holy crap, you'd better protect the world from your obvious narcissistic behaviour.  If you let yourself sit still for an hour, the next thing you know, you'll be an alcoholic pedophile pill-popping suicidal maniac who thinks the whole world owes her a favour!!!


I could figure out those damned shades of grey.  And the damned shades of all the other colours...

Hey... little Narcissist... I think you might be a helpful personality to have around sometimes.  Because, until Medusa showed up, Saturday was actually a pretty good day.  I mean, don't go overboard, there are others who have to share this body.  But...  I'll try to put that big club away, and stop whacking you in the head.  You're right, the idea of you taking over all the other bits of me and turning me into an alcoholic pedophile pill-popping suicidal maniac is a bit far-fetched.  I'll try to clear out some closet space for you, maybe let you buy a new pair of shoes.  Yes, I'll let you buy a pair of shoes, but we aren't going shopping for neo-citran or crack or anything, OK?  Deal?  Deal.

So, a la Ms. Markoe's heroine: What have I learned this year?

That having a jammie-and-cheesy-television day does not make me a crack whore.  That having a couple of needs satisfied from time to time does not make me a raging narcissist.  That having wants and needs does not make me a raging narcissist.  That saying "no" to things I don't want to do doesn't make me a raging narcissist.  That saying "yes" to things I do want to do doesn't make me a raging narcissist.

That people became narcissists in the first place because their needs weren't met.

That I run into more danger of becoming a raging narcissist by insisting my needs don't get met than by allowing myself to meet my needs.

Ooh, that one felt scary...  So much for being fearless.

What do I want to learn in the coming year?

How to let those needs raise their heads without whacking them down.  How to embrace my inner Narcissist.  How to not denigrate her by calling her a narcissist.

But hey, baby steps, right?  We don't find a balance until we swing to each side.  So...  First, I'm going to simply embrace my inner Narcissist.  Ask her what she wants, what she needs.  Buy her a pair of shoes.  Bake her a birthday cake.

She's been hidden away for so long, the lights are a bit bright.  And her head is a bit sore.  She might have some trust issues of her own...  I'll have to make sure she doesn't bid a hasty retreat.

Hey, Baby Narcissist -- welcome home.  Happy birthday.  Hope you like chocolate.  :-)

Monday, November 28, 2011

The truth will set you free

"The truth will set you free"

A lovely platitude... but total crap.

Not that I'm dissing the truth, here.  Anyone who knows me has seen me in action, my sword in hand, carving away at the B.S. and "beautiful lies" until left with that cold, hard nugget of truth.  Having grown up in a funhouse-mirror world of lies and illusions, finding the truth and seeking out truthfulness is more than a bit of a quest for me.  And I'm not just hacking away at other people's lies, I'm equally brutal with myself, forever holding my words and actions under the microscope and making sure I'm being true to and with myself.

The truth is amazing.  The truth is wonderful.

But, as you can see in my above metaphors, it doesn't set you free.  It doesn't really DO anything except sit there and be truthful, waiting for you to hack away at the stone and find its beating heart.

And when you find it, it ain't necessarily gonna give you magical fairy wings or sing hallelujah.  You will not be floating above the clouds on a golden saucer with your personal shiny, happy Cupids floating around you.

"The truth hurts."

Now THERE'S a platitude that makes sense.  Not all the time, of course, sometimes the truth can be quite wonderful.  But...

If you had to hack through a giant rock to find that beating heart of truth, odds are that you and/or someone else worked very hard to put that rock together in the first place.  That beating heart of truth needed protection from something, or someone needed protection from it.

The truth doesn't set you free.  You set the truth free.

And then you deal with the consequences.

So now you've found it.  You've left it vulnerable.  You've left yourselves and others vulnerable.  There will be a tremendous fight to cover it up again.  Depending on what truth it is, there may be a whole army of people swooping in.  You may not, as the movie says, be able to handle the truth.  Others might not want you to handle the truth.

The truth may be free, but you've still got a long, arduous battle ahead.

Not that I'm trying to dissuade anyone, just make sure you aren't expecting rosebuds and moonbeams.  You've only completed part one of your quest.  As any epic adventure writer knows, good stories come in Trilogies.  :-)

Part One: You set the truth free.

Part Two: You realize the battle has just begun.  You figure out if you can handle the truth.  If no, put it back, draw a map of where it is so you can come back to it when you're ready.  If yes, turn to page 45... You figure out if others can handle the truth... if yes, turn to page 52.  If no, turn to page 63...  Is this a truth that is ok to keep to yourself for a while?  If yes, wrap it up in a warm blanket and keep it safe.  If no, put on your helmet and draw your sword, it ain't gonna be pretty.

The human brain has this wondrous capacity for making up stories that help us stay sane.  That's not always a good thing, that's not always a bad thing.  Just because you're ready to explore and reassess your own stories doesn't mean that everyone else around you is in the same place.  In fact, odds are they aren't.  No matter how obvious the truth may be to you, as you stand with arms outstretched, holding its beating heart, there are those who cannot deal with its rawness.  Yet.  Maybe ever.

You need to decide if a battle is worth it.  Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't.  Nobody really wants to hurt another (except, of course, psychopaths), but...  All too often, we're willing to hurt ourselves in order to not hurt others.  In the more extreme cases, we convince ourselves that walking into the middle of the battlefield without no sword and no armour is a nice and peaceful way of solving things.  Which it could be, if the other party is similarly attired and willing to chat.  But walking into the middle of the battlefield with no sword and no armour while the other party continues to shoot guns and arrows and hack at you with their sword is not going to get you far.

Sometimes that rock is necessary.  Sometimes a fortress wall is necessary.  If you've got the truth and nobody wants you to have it, the world can seem like a nasty place.  You don't feel terribly free.  You just feel terrible.

You build up the walls and hire the guards and keep a vigilant watch.  You keep yourself safe.  You keep the truth safe.  You may verge on the over-protective but, heck, look how vulnerable that beating heart of truth is, and how single-minded those outside parties are -- they'll stop at nothing to get rid of it, so you'd better stop at nothing to protect it.  No matter how crazy they say that makes you.

The truth doesn't make you crazy, it's the people who want to get rid of it that make you crazy.

Part Three: You realize that the beating heart of truth is actually your own.  You resign yourself to the fact that there will always be people who want to hide it, to get rid of it, to destroy it.  You and your beating heart get stronger, wiser.  You don't let your crazy-makers in.  You learn to recognize the people who will treat your beating heart with respect, and you stop making room in your life for the crazy-makers.  You slip up sometimes.  A little bruising occurs from time to time.  But you and your beating heart surround yourselves with other beating hearts, and the resulting joy... well, it creates those hallelujahs and floats you above the clouds on a golden saucer and yes, there ARE rosebuds and moonbeams and rainbows.

So yes, the truth WILL set you free...  Just not instantaneously.

As with any of the good stuff in life, it requires an epic journey, a bit of grunt work, a lot of bravery, some dragons and ogres, a bunch of battles, a bit of luck, some trusty companions, and... a beating heart.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The birth of a note

I gave an improvisation workshop last weekend to a group of budding young singer-songwriters.  My main focus with them was on listening -- the most important part of any musical endeavour, in my opinion -- and we did many exercises that got them to open up their ears.  Of course, as I warned them, this was just an introduction -- "listening" does get more complex as you go on.  And eventually stops involving your ears... yes really.  :-)

This, combined with some discussions we had at the same week's Amity Trio rehearsal, has had me pondering about all the aspects of listening the past few days.

For many of us, the idea of keeping in time begins with us playing along to a metronome -- that clicking annoyance of sometimes painful rhythmic accuracy.  It's a good start.  It shows us where we're tempted to rush or slow down, where our sense of rhythm is completely off, where we're losing the "heartbeat".

However, if we were to listen to a metronomically-accurate performance of anything, it would be as exciting as watching paint dry.  Part of the tension and release of music comes from playing with the push and pull of the tempo -- making your audience wait, or surprising them by jumping in.

If you're playing solo or singing a cappella, you have total freedom in this endeavour (within the boundaries of taste and reason!).  As soon as you add an accompanist or ensemble member, however, there's a whole new layer of complexity -- how do you communicate the when and where of this push and pull?

If you're just listening with your ears, then you'll always be lagging behind a bit, reacting to what you've already heard a split second earlier.  You can't just react, or the whole piece will drag to a crawl as everyone lags behind.  You need to anticipate what the others are going to do.  Which is easy if the others are playing metronomically, but more complex if they're playing musically (which we all hope they're doing, or it's gonna be a lllooonnnnnnggggg performance!).

This is when music teachers and coaches around the world introduce the idea of eye contact -- at the beginning and ending of phrases, and whenever possible in between.  If your head is buried in your music, there's no way you can communicate with your musical partners.  If your toe is tapping the beat, you are not paying attention to your musical partners, you're attempting to take over as conductor and only paying attention to your own rhythm.  (Which might be OK if you're a soloist with accompaniment, but you still need to pay attention and communicate this rhythm to your accompanist and not the floor.)  Of course, as with our trio, there is often a great deal of verbal discussion behind the scenes, but when reading through something for the first time, or once you've decided on how you wish to play a phrase, then a nod, a breath, or a raised eyebrow is all it takes to ensure you begin a piece or a phrase or a note together.

As I discovered when playing next to a rather lazy and incompetent principal cellist who kept relying on me to keep track of our entrances, those visual cues aren't necessarily accurate.  ;-)

It doesn't have to be a resentful stand partner who is trying to "out" you and your sneaky ways by moving her head a bar too early (and then shrug and itch her nose like she almost had a sneeze, or carefully examine her bow-hair...).  But, as my former ensemble coach, the late Ken Perkins of the Orford String Quartet, taught me: what people INTEND to do is not always what they ACTUALLY do.  You have to pay attention to what they're actually doing, not just go with their best intentions.  Don't ignore their intentions, but do be aware of what's going on with the rest of their body.  For instance, they may be wanting to produce a sound at time point A, but their bow is too high off the string to get there on time, so you adjust to match the reality, not the intention.

These cues are getting into the much more subtle.

But think about it: a note doesn't begin when the sound begins.  Watch a string player, and you'll see all the subtle preparations the left hand has to go through to prepare the note, and the right arm has to go through to prepare the bow to make the string sound.  Watch a wind player or a singer take a preparatory breath.  Watch the pianist or percussionist lift their hands or mallets to prepare to strike.  There are at least a couple of seconds before the sound occurs when you can see the preparation for that inevitable sound.  Much like a diver jumping on the end of the diving board, you've committed well in advance -- and if you break that commitment after you've made it, you're going to have a painful belly flop!  :-)

Let's stick with the diver for a moment -- even before that final, no-stopping-me-now springboard bounce, there's the run or walk to the edge.  Before that takes place, there's the moment of focus and concentration.

It's the same with the first note of a piece.  Or of a phrase.  Before you can make that final "bounce", you've had to decide what you want to do after it starts!  You need to have the sound in your head, the tempo, etc.

Yes, this can all be communicated through eye and body language, through the physical preparations, but...

The next level of listening involves neither the ears nor the eyes.

Ken made our university ensemble rehearse with our eyes closed.  Very scary, and counter to all that had been drilled into us about ensemble playing up until then.  But once we were able to stop our nervous giggling... wow.  (The Orford String Quartet would do this regularly, going one step further by recording their rehearsal, and playing it back at half-speed to see if there were any even slightly ragged entrances!)

Victor Wooten calls it "listening with fox ears".  You're not just listening with your ears, you're listening with your gut and your soul.  Your intuition, your hidden psychic... your Music.

Our eyes and ears and bodies can sometimes lie to us.  Our eyes and ears and bodies make mistakes on a regular basis.  Our Music does not.

When you can tap in to the Music and ignore your eyes and ears and body, you realize that the notes begin long before you're even conscious of them.  They may never even "begin" at all, but be there constantly, waiting for you to invite them to come out and play.

On those rare occasions when all the members of an ensemble are tapped in to the Music, it's a blissful thing.  Music High.

Which, quizzically, requires that you have built up control of your eyes, ears and body and technique... and then totally let it go.

All that advanced preparation, all the training, all the planning.  And then run... bounce... dive... YIPPEEE!!!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

When will I be good enough?

One of my favourite questions from students is "when will I be good enough to not have to practise any more?"

There are two equally valid and truthful answers to this question:

1. You're already good enough, and
2. Never.

Neither answer, on its own, is honest or fair.  I always give both answers, weighting them depending on where I feel the student is at the moment.

One example I use is Yo Yo Ma's two recordings of the Bach cello suites.  The first was recorded when he was quite young.  Is it good enough?  Darn tootin', it's good enough.  It's fantastic.  But... a few decades later, with all he had learned in the meantime, he realized he had something more to say, and re-recorded the suites.  If you A-B the two recordings, they're completely different.  And yes, there's quite a good argument that the newer one is better -- although that, of course, depends on the listener's perspective and tastes.  But even if you're with me on the second recording being an improvement... does that make the first not good enough?  Absolutely not.  Cellists around the world would probably give their eye teeth to be that good.

But age and maturity, along with the wrinkles and responsibilities, does give us all both a broader perspective and a deeper perspective -- on life, on music, on pretty much everything.

When we start to learn music, to play an instrument, to use our voice, to play with others, our focus tends to be more in the "not making mistakes" department.  Our most pressing goal is to not screw up.  So we practise.  (Eventually, we learn that it's not actually possible to NEVER screw up, and also learn how to practise getting out of mistakes gracefully!)  And we get ourselves to a point when we're reasonably confident that we can make it through a performance or jam session or whatever we're trying to do without falling hopelessly on our face.

We get to that point, and realize that we want more out of music than simply not falling on our face.  We can manage to not fall on our face in many different circumstances (at least most of the time), but there's something more than that which draws us to the music.

That's when the fun begins.

That's why the first answer to the "when will I be good enough" question is so very important.  Because music really has very little to do with getting the notes right, and a student who is terrorized into thinking they're wrong all the time is never going to get to the fun stuff.  And the fun stuff is REALLY FREAKING FUN!!!

I often get students after they've already started with someone who's initiated them into terror.  It's a long haul bringing them back from that.  But last year, I was lucky enough to get an absolute beginner who really wanted to play cello (i.e., this wasn't her mother forcing her to do something).  I still remember the big, ecstatic grin on her face as she plucked the strings and said "listen to that!!!"  I seriously had to force myself to not burst into tears in her first lesson, lest I scare her off.

And yes, of course I still have to make sure she's holding the bow properly and not squeezing too hard and reading the notes correctly and blahdeblahdeblah... but we can also have fun with the music side.  And sure, she's an early teen, so when I tell her to make something up off the top of her head, she still balks and waits for further instruction, but... she is getting better at letting things flow.  I do keep having to remind her she's good enough.  But I don't have to tell her to practise or work hard, because she's paying attention to the sounds she's making, asking for help when it's not a sound she wants to make, and experimenting in the privacy of her room with different ideas -- sometimes coming to a lesson saying "I think I'm doing this, how can I fix it?"

I still try hard not to burst into tears.  :-)

A former student used to come to his lesson, look terribly guilty, and then "confess" that he had used his allotted daily practise time to work out songs he'd heard on the radio.  He always thought I'd be mad, because he wasn't "really practising."  Once again, I had to try hard not to burst into tears... I'd ask him to play it for me, he'd look sheepish, then play it, his head bobbing to the rhythms of the invisible drum kit. After seeing me do some of my singer-songwriter stuff with the foot percussion, he begged his mom for his own, and surprised me one day with his own composition -- he played it for the Kiwanis competition later that year and was rewarded not just with a high mark, but exuberant comments from the adjudicator.  This reaction made him want to keep going, to improve, to learn, to refine, to get better.

There's a common progression when formally learning to play music.  First, we want to make sure we play the right notes.  We get to that level, and then we want to make sure we're starting those notes at the correct time.  We get to that level, then realize we need to finish them at the right time, too.  Then we work on the articulation, then what we do in the middle, then how those notes fit together into a figure, then how they fit into the phrase, then how the phrases fit together into the whole piece...  It never really ends.

Take the Beethoven trio I was mentioning yesterday.  We performed it already in January, we'd worked on it until we thought it was performance-ready, and then we performed it.  By the audience reaction, we performed it quite well, thank you very much.  But we didn't sit back and think "OK, we're done".  We've spent the last several months trying to find more "meaning", subtle nuances, fix sections we thought could be more coherent, found different ways to express and bring out certain phrases.  And we're so much happier with how we're playing it now, we're very excited to present it in a couple of weeks -- and kind of hoping there will be people there who heard the previous version and will appreciate the difference.  But even if there are no repeat listeners, we're thrilled with the new interpretation.

If we play it again somewhere next year or in a few years, we'll probably change it again.  Because if we didn't have something new to say, there really wouldn't be much point in saying it.

I have been a part of -- and left, disappointedly -- several ensembles who got to "good enough" and stayed there.  No curiosity, no desire for self-improvement or ensemble-inprovement, they just wanted to get the job done and get out of there.

Honestly, if you're that bored of the music, if it's just a job, you should really not be a musician.  I'd say the same thing to someone in any other job -- if it doesn't excite you, get the hell out and find what will.  Because if you love what you do, you won't wait for the boss to tell you to get better at it (and then resent your boss for saying so), you'll be self-motivated to look for ways to improve.  Not because you were bad at your job, but because you want to be even better.

Between my "Big Ethyl" incident at the beginning of this year and Don's cancer and recovery now, life has given me a more-than-subtle nudge to figure out what's important and what to let go.  Part of the weeding-out process has been a question of "what do I have time for?"  (The answer, of course, is I haven't had time for most of this, but somehow expected myself to be able to bend the space-time continuum in order to accomplish six full-time jobs at the same time!)  But in the last couple of months, it's also started to come down to: what am I passionate about doing?  There are a few things I never was particularly passionate about, but did them out of guilt or obligation or misplaced loyalty or whatever other silly motivations there are to do things that completely bore you.  There are others I started off doing quite passionately, but realized in a number of recent "ah-ha!" moments that I just don't give a crap about any more -- which means it's definitely time (or past time) to hand these things on to someone who WILL be passionate about them, for everyone's benefit.

If you love what you do, you're good at it AND you want to be even better.

If you're taking cello lessons because your mother wants you to, neither one of us is going to have much fun.  If you're taking cello lessons because you want to play music, we're both going to have a lot of fun.  Like that one student on her first day, happily plucking the strings and listening in awe to the sound, you are already good enough.  Like that same student a year and a half later, bringing me pieces she wants to learn but doesn't know how to reach some of the notes yet, you will never stop practising and learning, because being good enough will never be good enough for you.

Which kind of sounds like a negative thing on the surface, but... it's actually the really fun part.

There's a reason why it's called "playing" the cello, not "working" the cello.

As I tell my students all the time -- go find a video of Yo Yo Ma performing.  Even if you don't know the first thing about all the mechanics and technical things his body has to do to make that cello sound, the one thing ANYONE will notice is that he's smiling, often laughing, having a musical conversation with his fellow performers, with the audience, with his instrument.  He is PLAYING the cello.  He's not worried about getting the notes right (granted, he's had several decades to work on the notes, but even so...), he's not worried about whether he'll screw up (and if you follow his career, it's not because he's remained stagnant in a safe place -- he's constantly pushing his own boundaries and putting himself in unfamiliar musical genres and situations), he's PLAYING.  It's a joy to watch and a joy to listen to.

Even Yo Yo Ma practises, kiddies.  Because he knows he will never be good enough.  But he knows that's a good thing.  And as we all know, his version of "not good enough" is pretty darned fantabulous!

So is yours.  :-)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Using the right tools

In talking about life and emotional fitness, I talk a lot about having the right tools in your toolbox, and knowing how and when to use them.

It was in my Amity Trio rehearsal yesterday that I discovered it's a good thing to remember with many things in life.  You see, we were rehearsing Beethoven's "Archduke" trio, which I've played many times before.  But December 4 (our "Gift of Music" series concert at St. Luke's in Creemore) will be my first time performing it on Lady Jo, my beautiful new-to-me-but-275-years-old cello.

After over two decades struggling with my "old clunker" of a cello, fighting to simply get the notes to sound, I've finally got an instrument that responds to everything I ask her to do.  It is heavenly.

Of course, after two decades with the clunker, it's often difficult to remember I don't have to try so hard.  I still see a passage coming that used to give me difficulty, and can feel my body tense up and try to will the instrument into submission.  I have to remind myself the very same things I tell my students -- if you fight the instrument, the instrument will fight you.  Coax it, don't force it.  (One of the reasons I love teaching -- often a student will hold up the mirror and make me see something that has slipped in to my own playing.)

And so, the fingerings that were awkward but necessary on the old cello can now be switched to something more elegant and, dare I say, musically-inspired on Lady Jo.  I don't have to saw away to get the g-string to speak on the upper positions, I can just tickle the notes out (yes, that does sound dirty... you're welcome).

Of course, I can no longer blame a bad instrument and allow my left hand to get lazy on those blistering runs any more -- the strings WILL speak if I do my job properly.

When you have a musical partner like Lady Jo, you don't have to spend so much of your energy putting up a fight, you don't have to compromise musicality for reliability, you don't have to worry if she'll do her part, you just have to worry about doing your own.

I imagine it's like being the female half of a skating pair -- you do your job much better when you don't have to worry your partner is going to drop you on your head.  :-)

What's that about art imitating life?  Or life imitating art?

I spent so much of my life with no tools or bad tools.  What a relief it is to finally be in a place where I don't have to try so damned hard.  Life just works as it should.  Music just works as it should.  I am able to put more into the world, because I'm not spending so much energy fighting it any more.

My cello students are used to my endless "don't conform your body to the cello, get the cello to conform to your body" and "if you ask it politely it will sound better than if you beat it into submission" and "don't try to play like me, play like yourself" comments.  Sometimes I wonder if I'm teaching them cello so much as teaching them life.

Either way, I hope they get it more quickly than I did.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Abuse of people, abuse of power

In the process of pondering personal abuse, I was silly enough to watch some of the footage of the NYC police department closing in on the Occupy Wall Street protesters.

And my heart broke further.

It's the same premise, really.  The abuser / oppressor fails to see the other as anything less than, well, a thing -- a means to an end, a plaything, something in the way of their needs or goals, or a way to meet their needs or goals.  The victim tries to explain, fill in the picture, help the abuser / oppressor see things from their side, pleas for compassion, for reason, for empathy...

And wastes a whole lot of time doing so, because the abuser / oppressor doesn't really give a crap.  Be it narcissist, sociopath, psychopath, or corrupt and greedy system, it doesn't care about the victim because the victim is just a roadblock or stepping stone.  Bring out the bulldozers.  Or the SWAT team.  Or the billy clubs.  Or a few choice words to send the spirit reeling.

Trying to explain the faults in a system -- be it a multi-national system or an interpersonal system of two -- is almost guaranteed to fail, when you're trying to explain it to the person / entity who perceives itself to be the winner.

"Look at what you're doing to me" will not fly.  A corrupt / greedy / narcissistic / sociopathic / psychopathic entity doesn't recognize you're even a "me".  It just wants to keep winning.

The only way that human or structural entity will take pause is when he / she / it understands that he / she / it is also on the losing side of the equation.  Which is difficult when that entity has a very limited view of what winning entails.

In an interpersonal relationship, there comes a time when you simply have to walk away.  In a relationship with a multi-national system... where the hell do you go?

Hmm... more questions than answers today.

Monday, November 14, 2011

When too much is finally enough

For many years, I have been watching someone I love living in the receiving end of verbal and emotional abuse.  Having been through this myself -- in five relationships of which I am conscious -- I have, unfortunately, become a bit of an expert in the field.  And as that "expert", it's heartbreaking to watch someone you care about going through the exact same steps you've gone through, and the colleagues from your support group have gone through, and the steps are depressingly similar and predictable... and the inevitable heartbreak of realizing those steps just aren't going to work.

But you can't stop them from going through those steps, no matter how much you want to protect them from their actions.  They won't stop until they've tried it all.  Sure, you can try to make suggestions, ask questions, give whatever guidance you can offer, introduce some new tools to their emotional toolkit, but there's nothing you can do to get them out of the situation until you see in their eyes that "ah-haaa!" moment.  When THEY realize that nothing they are doing is making a dent of difference in the other person's behaviour.

And that moment is enlightening.  That moment is relieving.  That moment really and truly sucks.

Because, while it is the moment you realize it's not your fault, it's also the moment when you realize you're not super-human.  And, like any good co-dependent, you have based your expectations of yourself on your incredible super-humanness.  You are proud that you can do things nobody else can withstand.  You can deal with pain that would make lesser people whimper at one-tenth of a percent.  You are so much better at enduring this stuff than anyone else on the planet, you might as well take it on and save the world!!!

Until your body finally reaches out and throttles that part of your brain, and shows you, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that you really, truly, can't take this any more.

And then you mourn.  A funny type of mourning, because the abuser hasn't really left (typically, they're still calling you or e-mailing you or harassing you at your workplace or your front door several times a day, telling you how they wouldn't have been so awful to you if you hadn't really deserved it...), and the end of the relationship as it stands is, indeed, a good thing that even your battered brain can recognize.  But you mourn for what you wanted the relationship to be.  For what you tap-danced and cartwheeled and juggled fire to make it be.  And now know it may never be.

Not that it necessarily will never be... of the five relationships where I had to completely pull the plug, two came back into my life, after they (and I!) learned what my boundaries are, and they (and I) learned how to respect them.  Of course, those relationships are still not the sunshine-and-lollipop fantasy relationships I had to mourn earlier, but they're healthy, reasonably satisfying relationships.  The other three could never be, because the other part of the duo had no desire or ability to change their part of the equation.

And that's the hardest lesson to learn.  You can't force somebody to be compassionate.

As children, we don't know enough to tell ourselves that our parent / caregiver / authority figure has some severe emotional issues of their own and are not competent to look after us.  We can't think that way about the people who are charged with looking after us.  Instead, we tell ourselves that we must not deserve that care, and then start looking for all the reasons we can think of.

As the damaged adults growing out of those children, unless someone is able to give us the tools we missed in our childhood toolbox, we continue to hold those thoughts about our undeservedness.  And when, inevitably, we run across someone who treats us in the same cold way, we see it as confirmation of those lies about ourselves.  So we accept it.  Anyone who tells us we deserve better obviously doesn't know us that well...

But the beauty of the world is that even a decades-belated adolescence is still an adolescence.  It's still fraught with the same pain and grief and angst... maybe not the acne, but the pain and grief and angst.  And it's not much fun.  But if we're surrounded by a good support team of people who are compassionate and do care for us, our emotional maturity finally has a chance to catch up to our physical maturity.

I used to say I was 18 going on 80, and many parts of me were -- by that age I had experienced, suffered through, and come out the other side of more traumatic movie-of-the-week-ready events than many people go through in a lifetime.  But many other parts of me were, later, still 30 going on 5.  I was missing a lot of tools in my toolbox.  My family never taught me how to play baseball, because there were no baseball players in my family who knew how to do it.  My family never gave me the proper tools for my toolbox because they didn't have the tools, either.  I'm sure we can go back many generations and find a lot of tool-less individuals (and yes, some tool-less tools!).

I was lucky.  I found some wonderful people in my life who gave me the tools I needed, and taught me how to use them properly.  Yes, sometimes I still try to use a hammer to change a light-bulb, but I'm getting better at figuring out which tools are needed when.  That whole "trusting my gut" thing.

It was a conscious and difficult effort to build my toolkit.  And now it's my responsibility to help whoever's looking for it put their kits together too.

Number one tool, by the way, is trusting your gut.  (I never said I was perfect at using my toolkit, just that I was much better at it than before!)  There is a time to sit back and just be there, there is a time to offer assistance, there is a time for emergency intervention -- your gut will know.  Just listen.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Crying Wolf

Yes, I have been silent.  There have been a few adventures over the past few days.

What started as a minor fever developed into a ridiculously high one on Monday night, resulting in Don being taken by ambulance to emerg (I've never called 911 before -- it kind of felt like getting away with something, which probably necessitates a whole other self-examination!), where they fought like hell to get control over the fever and a raging infection.

This outcome, of course, left me feeling rather chastened for my rant about men and fevers.  And mad as hell at the home care and TeleHealth nurses who had told us there was nothing to worry about, and I should just feed him ginger ale and wait 48 hours for the fever to subside.

There is a connection between those two previous sentences.  Crying wolf.

My rant about men and fevers was, at the time, perfectly valid, as the fever hadn't gone more than one degree above normal at that point, and my experience with Don and other y-chromosome carriers with minor fevers had definitely been of the sucky-baby variety.  Can't and won't take that one back!  :-)

But the problem in the face of mild-fever-sucky-babytude is that it's hard to notice when the fever actually gets worse, because the pinnacle of sucky-babytude was already reached at 37.4 and had no further to go.  The only way to tell if the temperature has gone up past 40 is to stick your hand on his head and pull it back like you've just touched a lit stove.  And then wish you'd paid attention to the moaning a few hours earlier, even though it sounded exactly like the moaning from two days before.  And then wish he weren't a y-chromosome carrier, which is really a silly wish to make, but at least you wouldn't have stopped paying attention to all the cries / moans of "wolf", and known when there was actually a wolf at the door.

That's the first sentence.  How does crying wolf apply to the second?

In times of high stress, we tend to revert to our childhood knee-jerk survival strategies.  One of my more prominent ones was to hide in the background, not raise my voice, be insanely careful to never "cry wolf" or be perceived as doing so, so that when the time came when I had big reasons and big proof, somebody would listen to me.  (Not a terribly successful strategy, as it turns out, but that's a whole other blog entry...)  The other biggie was to never question authority, even if I knew they were wrong, because there would be severe consequences.  (This was an incredibly realistic survival strategy at the time, not terribly helpful any more.)

So when I first called the home care nurse about Don's fever on Saturday, and she said it was probably nothing to worry about, he'd just picked up a bug from a visitor, I took that as the voice of authority.  I did ask if it might have anything to do with his surgery, or the catheter, or if there anything to worry about or keep an eye out for, but pretty much got laughed off the line and told to feed him ginger ale until he got better.

Of course, silly 'lyssy, don't bother the poor nurse with your petty concerns about minor fevers when she's got more important things to deal with.  If you're a thorn in her side now, she won't listen to you when it really matters.  Don't be a sucky baby.

And, lo and behold, the fever was gone Sunday morning, so she was obviously right and I was obviously just a glass-half-empty worrywart with trust issues.  Right?

Unfortunately, the fever was back Sunday night, along with nausea and vomiting.  It was too late to call the home care nurses, so I turned to TeleHealth instead.  Explained the history of Don's surgery and the fact that he had an indwelling catheter, and specifically asked several times and in several ways if this could be an infection we should worry about?  Again, no, couldn't possibly be, because the catheter bag wasn't cloudy.  We should just wait 48 hours for the fever to clear, don't bother the poor overworked folks in emerg just for a trivial fever.

Of course, silly 'lyssy, you've done it again.  Stop bugging people with your overactive imagination.  They know what they're doing, they're the experts, stop pretending you're something you're not (intelligent, knowledgable, capable, competent...) and go back to being quiet.  Stop crying wolf.

Yes, even in intelligent, knowledgable, capable and competent adulthood, in times of stress it's really hard to shake those ingrown voices.  What we hear as children seeps so deeply into the psyche that it becomes our own voice.  On my better days, I'm fully conscious and aware of whose voice it truly is.  In sleep-deprived, stressed-out, uber-care-giver mode, however... I'm still easily duped, even by myself.

And yet, when those "never cry wolf" voices scream their loudest, it has ALWAYS been when there's an actual wolf in the room.  The "never question authority" voices have always screamed their loudest when the people in authority were not to be trusted, and my gut was correct.  This was the case when the adult voices shouted this at my childhood self.  This is the case when my inner daemons shout this at my adult self.

Listening to those voices has always caused me harm.  Not listening to my gut has always caused me harm.

Yes, I have trust issues.  Maybe there's a good reason for that.  Maybe I have trust issues because certain people can't be trusted.  That's not a fault, it's simply good perception.  I should learn to trust my trust issues.  :-)

So... how do you train yourself to trust the gut you know has never led you astray?

This is not one of those rhetorical questions I'm going to give an answer to.  I would really, really love to know the answer.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Patience for the patient

This'll be a quickie, because there's too much going on today.  But, for my own sanity, and the safety of my dear hubby, I do need to take a few minutes...

You see, he popped a fever over the weekend.  After going through the checklist with the emerg nurse, we realized it was nothing to do with his surgery or any sort of infection, he'd probably just picked something up from one of his visitors.  A relief, to be sure, but...

OK, call me horribly sexist, but there's something about the combination of fever and Y-chromosome that is NEVER a good thing.  It seems to produce sucky baby at the best of times, and this is not the best of times.

The man was stoic through major surgery, hospitalization, sutures, staple removal, catheterization... and now give him a tiny fever and I JUST WANT TO SMACK HIM UPSIDE THE HEAD!!!

The man who wanted to get out of bed immediately post-surgery so I could have a nap now feels the need to call me downstairs in a panic because he needs a glass of water -- and I find him standing directly between the glass and the water source, thereby having to move him from between the two to provide him with the desired clear beverage.  SERIOUSLY?!?

After over a week of playing nurse (and not in a fun way), doing all the errands, shopping, cooking, cleaning, lifting, catheter bag tending, scrubbing down bedroom and bathroom from catheter bag going awry, washing untold loads of urine-soaked sheets, towels and clothes... and now a weekend of holding the barf bowl, cleaning the barf bowl, calling nurses and wiping fevered brow and getting maybe a total of 3 hours sleep because every time he wakes up and remembers he's sick he lets out a ginormous sigh and moan until I wake up and ask him what's wrong and he says nothing... THEN he's complaining about the messy state of the KITCHEN?!?!?

Where's my frikken' gun?!?!?!?   !!!!!!!!!!!!

OK, I know I'm not supposed to use this blog purely for ranting, I'm supposed to come up with some humanistic solution that helps all the readers and will make the world a better place, right?  OK, so...

Yes, this whole Movember thing is lovely, and all the folks who have mentioned Don in their pledges have been much appreciated.

BUT if you REALLY want to do a good deed for men's health (and the women who love them), how be we all chip in for some research in to the Y-chromosome and FEVERS?

If there is a doctor on this planet who can find the cure for the male fever -- or at least get rid of the damned symptoms -- I would give my first-born child.  You're right, I haven't given birth.  But I would turkey-baste myself this very day if it would help cure the feverish baby males of the world.  :-)

Incidentally, I also have a fever.  Yet, as a possessor of a perfectly intact pair of X-chromosomes, I am still somehow perfectly capable of taking care of both myself and my feverish victim of testosterone poisoning (my 3rd year male psych prof's term, not mine), and of pouring both of us glasses of water, without sighing moaning or whining.

Ranting, perhaps.  ;-)

I will be patient I will be kind I will not dump the barf bowl in his underwear drawer I will be patient I will be kind I will not empty his catheter bag into a glass and pretend it's flat ginger ale I will be patient I will be kind I will not allow myself near sharp objects I will be patient I will be kind...

Thanks for letting me vent -- you've probably saved a life (or at least a marriage) today.  :-)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Routine and Ritual

It's a fine line, sometimes...

My daily routine is ritualistic most days.  A way to bring my self, my life into focus, prepare the way to get things done.  Some days, such as yesterday, I begin to resent the restriction of it.  Unlike most days, where I force myself through it, yesterday I gave myself a break.  You will notice there wasn't a blog.  There also wasn't much else.  :-)

Not true, I should give myself credit -- there was lots done, many errands, much work.  And a whole lot of sitting around with my hubby on the downstairs sofa bed watching DVDs.  It was exactly what I needed.

Seems kind of funny, after the previous day of awareness and spirituality that all I wanted to do was zone out in front of the screen.  I kicked myself for much of the early afternoon.  But then, once I'd managed to get done all the things I had to get done, I simply embraced it.  I needed to sit with my hubby and watch DVDs more than I needed to reflect or write or clean the oven.  And that's OK.

I have to keep reminding myself WHY I gave myself the daily routine, including meditation time, writing time, exercise time, reflecting time, etc.  It wasn't to constrict myself and make myself feel bad about failing to do those things.  It was because, knowing my propensity for checking off to-do boxes, the only way I would allow myself the "ESC" (extreme self care) would be if it allowed me to check off a box.  (I even assigned myself a weekly bubble bath, so the time wouldn't feel wasted.)  It was to make sure I actually looked after myself.

And yes, there are those days when I still DO need to schedule in some me time, because I'm still likely to get carried away doing other stuff and ignore myself.  But ignoring the routine yesterday was, in fact, giving myself some me time -- just in a different format than usual.

I still had to talk myself into it, though.  Those check-boxes can be a curse as well as a blessing!

It's so easy to get stuck in routine -- even a good one.  And for rituals to stop meaning what they were originally meant to mean.  Sometimes they need some shaking up.  Sometimes they need some letting go.

With my family and loved ones, for instance, I always make a point of saying "I love you" when hanging up from a phone call, or saying good-bye in person.  You never know when or if you'll have a chance to say it again.  Overall, it's a good thing, I think.  But then, several years ago, I was on the phone with a recently ex-ed, being screamed and cursed at, and finally realizing what a horrible excuse for a human being he truly was... and as I was hanging up, it popped out of my mouth.  Oy... stupid habit, way to give him power, Lyssy.  Around the same time, an abusive family member phoned to similarly scream and rage at me for being so stupid as to get into an abusive relationship in the first place, and hung up with "I love you."  From both sides, it didn't really mean what it was supposed to mean, it was just routine.  (Of course, the combination of those two phone calls definitely helped me get to the "ah-haa!" moment about how I ended up in an abusive relationship!)

My sister and I both sang in the church choir from an early age, so while most kids were at Sunday school crayoning the baby Jesus, we got to be like the grown ups and stay for the service (hey, it was exciting for us to be considered grown up, and we could sneak books in under our choir gowns for the sermon!).  Within a couple of years, we had the regular Sunday service and communion service and wedding and funeral services memorized perfectly (my sister would even hold perfectly accurate Anglican weddings for her stuffed animals, but that's a whole other blog entry...), both the parts we actually got to say and the parts the ministers usually said.  (Once, when I was an older teenager, I was asked to give the readings -- and accidentally launched in to the minister's spiel when I was finished, because it just flowed so naturally from my brain.  He was gracious and let me finish.)  I loved the ritual, the calm, the knowing exactly what went where, the lack of surprise (decidedly different from my real world at the time), the comfort of the words and gestures.  But then...

One day, I actually read the words of the Nicene Creed.  Somehow, I was reading it with fresh eyes.  And when I saw all the "I believe"-s I'd been rattling off for over a decade... I froze.  Here I'd been declaring two or more times a week, in God's house, all the things I believed.  But I wasn't sure I actually did believe these things.  I'd never thought about what the words actually meant until that day, just the comfort of the ritual.  And suddenly, it was topsy-turvy.  I mean, let's forget for a moment about all those references in the services to God as our father, and my experience of fatherhood at that time, because that's a lifetime of blogs in itself.  But how about in the Creed itself, " all things, visible and invisible."  Pretty mighty stuff.  How do I know if I believe in all things invisible?  Does that mean everything invisible, like poltergeists and stuff, or just church-y invisible things like angels and heaven?  How do you know which "all things" are supposed to be on the list?  Will God be mad if I've forgotten to consider an invisible thing I don't even know about yet?  My father saw giant coke bottles chasing him home one night, but nobody else saw them; I saw things happening right in front of our faces that everyone else seemed to be totally oblivious to -- where do those things fall on the scale of things I'm supposed to believe in?

When you grow up in a family of gaslighters and questionable mental and emotional wellness, announcing you believe in all things visible and invisible can open a rather large can of worms.

I mouthed the words from then on -- although in later years, I would subversively insert "she" and "mother" and "her" into the recitations, just to make a point.  ;-)

That ritual lost its meaning.  But others took its place.  Some came and went, others are still an important part of my life today.  I'm sure there's some I have that I'm not even aware of, but I do try and take them out of my pocket every once in a while, hold them up to the light, check for wear and tear and fault lines.  Some are still useful and comforting.  Some have gone the way of all things visible and invisible.  What gives me comfort one day doesn't necessarily do the same the next -- but here I am, writing again, despite the "vacation" yesterday.  Today it feels good, yesterday it would have been just another chore.

When the ritual becomes mere routine, it's lost its meaning.  Time to shake it up, do something different, see what happens -- whether you miss it or feel relieved it's gone.  Put it back in your pocket, but not if it's poking you in the arse.  :-)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Early(-ish) morning

I had to get up early today.  OK, not early for most people, but early for yours truly.  I have to edge the diabetic cat's injection time a bit early so I can do his meds before leaving for trio on Friday, plus the Rogers guy was coming in the morning to see why our internet was not working and I had to make his pathway to the modem and incoming cables a little less embarrassing.  So... unlike most days, I was the first person up.

And, you know, if it weren't for that whole waking up part, I could certainly see the appeal of being a morning person.  :-)

It's just not possible.  I've tried, many times and many ways, to adjust my inner clock.  Even as a little kid, I missed most of the Saturday morning cartoons, because I couldn't get up before 10:00 -- even Bugs Bunny at 11:00 was tricky most weeks.  My greatest joy when I graduated high school was that I'd never have to wake up before the sun again.  (Well, that assumption turned out to be faulty, but at least I didn't have to do it on a regular basis!)  I have seen many beautiful sunrises, but the majority of them have come from staying up to see them.  The couple of people who have tried to wake me to see the beautiful sunrise have been greeted with incoherent grunts and moans and the odd finger gesture.  I am a living example of that Garfield cartoon "I don't do mornings."

So... no sunrise this morning.  Hell is still just as unfrozen as it was yesterday.  But there was morning light.  And morning quiet.

I had the house to myself, in effect.  Don was still fast asleep.  The phone wasn't ringing, because we've got people well trained to not call before the crack of noon, when we've got some coffee into us.  Couldn't check e-mail, because the internet was down and our neighbours' signal wasn't strong enough.

So I sat at the kitchen table.  Drank coffee.  Bathed in the morning sun like the well-fed cats on the floor.  Immersed myself in my own thoughts.  Ahhh...  Nobody needed me.  Nobody interrupted me.  I was alone.  Just me and the sunbeam.

Nobody needed me.  A delicious sentence.  Let's revel in that a moment, shall we?





There was much to do today.  First, the internet had to get fixed -- the Rogers guy actually showed up over half an hour early (good thing I'd already put clothes on, rather than sat around in my PJs, as was my original impulse!), replaced the pooched modem and was out of the house before his scheduled earliest arrival time, or before Don even woke up.  Then several loads of laundry, dealt with the incoming mail, cleaned up the kitchen and cat boxes, a bunch of other less-than-exciting but necessary small jobs.  Later this afternoon, I was able to get back in touch with customer service for our database, and got that back up and running.  In the middle, got a bunch of phone calls and e-mails and other chores done.

But... even though I was able to check off a lot of to-do boxes, it didn't seem like a frantically busy day.

There ya go.

Just as I was questioning the value of my morning meditation versus getting boxes checked off, life conspired to convince me to get my arse on that zafu.  Not only am I having a better day (despite turmoil with technology), I'm also checking off more boxes.  And that makes me happy, despite the fact I keep telling myself it shouldn't.  :-)

Today's Tarot: 4 of Swords in my "works" -- take time to rest, recoup, regenerate.  Done.  The rest all pointed to new energy, big change, and digging deeper into the spiritual world.  Done.  Hey, I seem to be getting better at these cards.

If only I were genetically programmed to be a morning person...

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Trick or Treat

You might have noticed there was no blog yesterday... our internet gave up late Sunday night and I spent much of Monday trying to get it back online.  No luck, the technician from Rogers will be in on Wednesday.  In the meantime, I'm "borrowing" the neighbours' wireless when possible, and using the internet stick when I have to.

Once again, life is forcing me to slow down.  Or at least stop wasting too much time online.  :-)

In the spirit of slowing down, I did not give in to the pressure to give out Halloween candy last night.  Figured I had a good excuse...  Put a sign on the door saying "recovering from surgery, please don't knock," so I didn't even have to subject myself to the guilt of not opening the door.

I was laughing with Ali about that later -- I've been quite good at saying "no" with the whole cancer surgery scenario providing a good excuse.  Why do I need a good excuse to simply say "no"?  She's doing the same thing -- has written an e-mail a dozen times to say she can't do a presentation next week, but she keeps deleting what she's written, because it goes into the long list of reasons why she can't.  We really should just be able to say "no" and not have to fan out our reasons, we should just say "no".  Why does a room full of total strangers need to know the intimate details of all that's been going on in her life, just so she can say no?  They don't, it's none of their business.

Why I didn't feel the need to invite dozens of strange children into my house and give them free food is really nobody's business, either.  "Recovering from surgery" was the simplified note on the door.  Imagine what I would have written if given a chance?

Dear ghosts and goblins,

I'm so very sorry that I can not answer the door and give away tons of expensive candy that will make your teeth rot and drive your parents insane from the sugar buzz.  But I'm dealing with a diabetic cat and a husband who just got out of surgery and several handfuls of people who are holding out their proverbial pillow bags and expecting me to just give and give and give more and more and more.  And I'm exhausted, I'm really bloody exhausted.  So having dozens of you little people come to my door with real pillow bags and similarly demand what's left of my resources makes me want to curl up in the fetal position and suck my thumb -- or at least a bottle of tequila.

There is no candy on the premises, and if there were, I would defend it to the death right now.  Because I'd really like a few minutes out of the day where I could be selfish, but there are several days before that's going to be possible.

Furthermore, even if there hadn't been all these deaths and strokes and illnesses and family chaos and all the other stuff life likes to dump in your lap all at once, I can't say I'd really feel like it anyhow.  Maybe I won't do it next year, either, let's see how you feel about that?  If I'm going to give away my resources, it should be to a good cause, rather than sugar-poisoning small children.

Even that's a sorry excuse, I'm grasping at straws.  The truth is, dear kidlets, I'm an introvert and an emotional sponge, both of which make shopping malls and sporting events and strangers coming to my door to demand things of me kind of a hellish experience.  It was actually a relief to have a really good excuse this year.  Nothing personal.

And then there's the decorations -- oh lord, the decorations!  Every holiday has its own set, and it's a constant reminder that I am an utter failure in the decorations department.  Either they don't get put up on time, or they don't get taken down on time.  Hell, our wedding cards are still on prominent display in the living room, and we were married a year and a half ago.  They're growing their own dust bunnies to keep themselves company, because I haven't been paying them any attention.  You don't even want to look at the basement...

Trick or treat?  Between the basement, the cat, computer frustrations, the number of people who want a piece of me, my own personal stress level, and my husband's catheter and open wound, you kids really don't want to push me in the trick or treat department, trust me.

In fact, you know what?  Drop the bag of candy on the front porch, tell your dad to hand over the flask as well, and you guys make a quick get-away, before mama blows...

10... 9... 8...

Happy Halloween
Zelda, princess of fury

So, what d'y'all think?  Yup, probably a good thing I didn't answer the door!  ;-)

And probably a good thing to just learn how to say "no", without becoming Zelda.

It's been kind of enlightening, being able to wave the "cancer card": I'm much more easily able to see what I don't really want to do.  I can more easily recognize the people I feel I need to give an excuse to -- something to explore and deal with when I don't have the excuse.  It's also much more easy to see the people who just don't give a modicum of a crap about my well-being, provided I continue to drop everything and do what they want.  Guess which people are going to be gently (or not-so-gently) nudged out of my life?

Between "Big Ethyl" for me in January, and now Don's cancer (he never named his tumour, I guess they weren't too close...), and the myriad other things going on in our lives, this year has been showing me, bit by bit, subtly and with a big honkin' hammer, that I don't have time for all the things I've been trying to cram into my life.  I don't have time for the people who take and take and take and never consider giving.  I'm weeding... slowly, but I'm weeding.  Separating the wheat from the chaff.  Whatever natural metaphor you prefer.

I'm done scrambling to get things done that don't really matter, or that someone else could easily do if it was that important in the first place.  I'm done babysitting and rescuing people who don't lift a finger for themselves, let alone anyone else.

I'm done filling up everyone else's pillow bags with my stuff, and having nothing left in mine.

Tarot card yesterday -- Six of Pentacles.  No surprise.  A card of generosity.  You have many gifts and are in a position to share them with others.  But beware of all the outstretched hands, and make sure you're sharing yourself in a balanced manner.  Don't give people what they don't need, and don't give it all away, leaving yourself with nothing.  Give where it will make a difference, don't give more than you have.  Sometimes what people say they want is not really what they need.  Share your gifts, but share wisely.

Trick or treat.  :-)