Monday, September 30, 2013

On Second Thought...

I was all excited that today is the last day of September...but then I remembered that I said I would post an extra day because I didn't start until September 2nd.  So...there are two more days in my month.

This writing every day business is hard.  I have some things I want to do differently next time I do it (because I WILL do it again) that might make it easier for me.  I've got a couple ideas already.  We'll see how they pan out.  It'll be a surprise for all of us.

I LIKE this practice of writing every day.  I like the challenge, and I like making sure that I always have that forum open to sit and write.  It is, of course, always there, but so often I don't take advantage of it.  I compose something in my mind, but let it go as soon as it floats in, figuring I don't have time or it won't be worth writing down anyway, I have too many other (important) things to do.  The act of writing always falls to the outskirts of my being, although the heart and soul of writing never leave my core.  There's a mismatch there that's difficult to reconcile.

So I make myself write every day, and then I'm just exhausted.  The truth of the matter is, I still put it off until the last possible second.  I still let those bursts of genius float away, and I practically wave goodbye to them while I write something inane or unimportant instead.  I don't have a good way of grabbing those moments and saving them.  Sometimes I do, don't get me wrong...but most times I don't.  So then I wait around for inspiration, who doesn't come knocking until the last possible second when I'm nearly too tired to answer the door.  I do -- wearily -- and because I don't welcome her with open arms, she gives me a half-baked idea with some half-hearted metaphors that are just enough to fulfill the nightly quota.

It's not easy, this writing business.

Some nights -- like now -- the writing flows more easily.  Can you hear the difference?  I can.  I don't have to think the words in my head before they come out of my fingers.  It all just seems to flow together as my fingers and brain play music with the words in my heart, and it all comes out as a symphony, or smooth jazz.  Other nights, the words get stuck somewhere, and there is no music playing between heart and brain and hands, or it's all jumbled and disjointed and I get caught up in asking "but what are you saying?  What are you saying?  What are you saying?  What is it you are trying to say?"

More often than not, I don't know.  It's not my head that's doing the talking, and honestly, the more that over-controlling pain-in-the-butt stays out of the way, the better.  When I don't know what I'm trying to say, but I let the words come anyway, THAT is when I feel like a writer.  That's when I feel that moment of connection that's so freaking addictive I keep doing stupid things like staying up every night to write.

There is part of me that really wants to try to go for two months in a row.  I mean...if I did one month, I can do two, right?  I'm trying to talk myself out of it.  If I stop after tomorrow, I'll go back to not writing, or writing only once in a while.  If I keep going, however, maybe I'll fall into more of a rhythm.  That's what I want, after all.  I don't care if I write every day.  I just want to be writing regularly.  I want that to be as natural and important and necessary for me as doing dishes, or laundry, or taking the dog out for a walk.  Part of me wonders if I go for another month -- but change up the pattern --if maybe something will stick.

I understand why so many writers are known as kind of tortured souls.  Writing will do that to you.  It makes you crazy -- crazy when you do write, and crazy when you don't.  Basically, you're screwed regardless.

One of "my kids" the other day was very upset with me because she did not like the recommendations I made for a problem at home.  She cried through the majority of the session and argued with me as to why my "idea" was such a bad one, and cried harder when I told her this plan was non-negotiable, and suggested we talk about some ideas regarding how to cope effectively with the new plan instead.  She finally realized I wasn't going to budge, hung her head down in the saddest manner possible, looked at me with big, sad puppy dog eyes and a quivering lip and said, as calmly as she could, "Dr. Auto...I really think your idea needs an on second thought."

I paused, trying to figure out what she was trying to say.  "You say it," she prompted me.  "Say, 'on second thought...'"

I stifled a laugh, and told how I know she is so disappointed, but I was not going to change my mind.

This is one of my new favorite phrases.  Do something stupid or rash?  Think: "Oh man, that really could have used an on second thought."  Want to warn somebody to be careful?  Say: "maybe you should have an on second thought about that one..."

In thinking about writing daily for a second month...I'm seriously thinking I need an on second thought.  However, I'm pretty stubborn.  I can make even my on second thoughts agree with me when I put my mind to it.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

"Heeeeeeeere kitty kitty kitty..."

It's been a super busy weekend.  I got a lot of things done, which was good.  I dog-sat for my friend, which was fine.  I got my dog a haircut, which ended up being traumatic for both of us... Mo-Man was literally hiding under my skirt with just his little tail peeking out, whimpering.  (I'm pretty sure I'm now prepared for leaving my kid at daycare for the first time when he/she clings to me crying).  I saw a lady come into Petsmart with 4 huge parrots riding on her shoulder/cart.  I made food for this week, and also made pumpkin cookies to take to work tomorrow, just because I wanted to make pumpkin cookies.  I cleaned and organized the house, and took a boatload of stuff to Goodwill.  I did something that ended up being time-consuming that I didn't want to do, but I did anyway.  I went grocery shopping, and went shopping for a work event thing I'm organizing.  I went to church, I talked to a friend I've been trying to connect with for weeks, I helped my elderly Deaf neighbor set up for a big birthday party, even though I didn't completely understand what she wanted because she was signing too fast for me to keep up.  I wrote some notes for work, and I did my laundry.  I have a few more notes to write, but this is coming first.  I am worn out.  These were all things that needed to get done, but I'll also acknowledge that I needed a fast-paced weekend to keep me moving.  I had to keep myself busy so that I wouldn't think too much.  It worked, for sure.  Only now, I have to start the week and I'm already worn out.  Plus, that avoidance stuff never works.  It just doesn't.  But I got a pretty productive weekend out of the deal, right?  That's something!

Yesterday I promised some crazy neighbor stories from when I was a kid.  I could tell you the story of when our greyhound got out and my Scandinavian neighbor was in the woods next to our yard trying to herd his goats back in, and he caught the greyhound by his front legs.  He was shocked that the dog bit him (not badly...no broken skin or anything, but bit him nonetheless).  Can you imagine catching a greyhound by the legs?  I can still picture him standing there, holding the dog by its front legs, saying in a thick accent, "your dog bit me.  Your dog bit me!"

Or I could tell you the story of my neighbor who believed he was the second coming of Christ, was fired from every job he worked at for stalking women (including jobs overseas), and spent all his days writing his manifesto.  My mom decided it was an okay thing to give my 12-year-old writing to this guy to "get his opinion on," given that he was such a prolific writer.  That was awkward.

Or I could tell you about my alcoholic neighbor with the Civil War era rifles that provided blasts that punctuate most of my childhood memories.  I could tell you about the way he used to save us snakes and turtles to see, and the way he always mowed around the milkweed in the field after we told him that it attracts the monarchs.  Or I could tell you about the moose head and the wall of deer heads in his house, and the time he shot the owl, and the hawk, and the song birds, even though it's illegal.  I could tell you about the time the SWAT team was called and blocked off our driveway for hours trying to talk to him inside with a negotiator outside, but it turned out he was actually just passed out in the basement.  Or I could tell you about how he seemingly hit on my sisters and I when he was drunk, and how he would wave to us while he was peeing in the front yard, and how we always knew when he was drinking again because the stop sign would get run over, his wife would take his keys, and then we'd see him riding his tractor down the highway to the liquor store.  Every time.

I COULD tell you about the lady who was an alcoholic at the end of the street who lived behind the gates with the swimming pool and the tennis courts and drove like a bat out of hell.  There was a neighborhood story about the time she thought a kid disrespected her when she drove by, and she got out of her car and chased him down the neighborhood towards his house.  I tried to sell her a candy bar once to raise money for my Irish dance group.  She wouldn't buy a $1 candy bar with a $1 coupon inside.  Her husband was my dad's anesthesiologist when he had surgery a few years ago.  This fact creeps me out.

Instead, though I'll tell you about the neighbor who lived behind us named Donny.  Behind our house was a line of trees and then a big field.  Donny's house was in the middle of that field.  His driveway was off of a different street than ours was, and his house was rarely visible, depending on how high the grass was in the field.  Donny had a girlfriend, and together they had twins that, at the time of this story, were around 4 years old.  My alcoholic milkweed saving neighbor went over there once and reported back that the best thing to do with the house would be to dig a hole and push the whole damn thing inside.  Under the porch was infested with snakes.  There were cats everywhere.  There were pieces of cars and farm equipment scattered around outside.  We had been over once before and, although I had not yet met Donny himself, I can assure you that it was worse than you are imagining. 

I had seen "bad" before.  We had gone to a farm one time to talk about getting goats from them, and the farmhouse was so trashed and dark and filthy, I came out with my pink dance tights under my shorts turned black, and my sister had a wad of bubblegum stuck to her butt.  Donny's house made Goat Lady's house look good.  We passed dead deer carcasses on the driveway coming up to the house.  The 4-year-olds were running around mostly naked.  There was trash and beer bottles and whiskey bottles and broken glass everywhere you looked. 

But that wasn't the scariest thing about Donny.  Donny also had semi-automatic weapons that he liked to shoot off into the field at random times.  12:30AM on some random Wednesday, for example.  Or 1:30pm on Sunday.  Or 10:15 on Friday, or 7:10AM one Tuesday morning, or pretty much any time Donny felt like shooting off a round, we would hear "BAP BAP BAP BAP BAP BAP BAP BAP BAP BAP BAP BAP BAP!"  Sometimes there would be a second round.  Other times not.  We could only assume that, after shooting off his porch, or into the field, or into the air, or whatever it was he was doing, Donny would go back into his house and keep watching the soaps and drinking his beer, or whatever it was he was doing in there.  The boogey man of my childhood was Donny.  I had nightmares about him being in our basement.  I pictured him chasing us through the woods, when I had only my bent metal spoon to protect myself.  And this was before The Donny Story happened.

When I was about 11, we had a dog who was an escape artist.  He would dig holes under the fence faster than you could believe was possible, and both he and our little dog would escape and run free together.  Even when the fence was lined with railroad ties, that dog found a way to get out.  One day, the dogs got out, and we couldn't find them.  We called and called and called and ran through all the normal spots, but we couldn't find them.  Then, my mom came out of the house with her car keys.  "Get in the car, Auto," she said.  I did.  She didn't say anything else, and for a moment, I didn't ask.  As we pulled off of our road, however, I was confused.

"Where are we going?"

"We're going to go ask Donny."

I paused.  For real?  Is this a good idea?  "...about what?" I finally managed.

"We're going to go ask Donny if he's seen the dogs."

"Oh," I said.  I was silent as we turned down Donny's gravel driveway with the pot holes and the deer parts and the scattering cats and the "Keep Out" signs.  We pulled up to the house, and a man emerged with a drink and walked over to the passenger side.

"Hey Donny," my mom said in the too-loud voice with a slight Southern accent she gets when she's nervous.

"Hey," he said, raising his eyebrows at me, and looking at me in a way that made me want to hide.

"We're just looking for our dogs," my mom said, still too loud and Southern.

"Cat got your tongue?" he asked me, ignoring my mother.

I couldn't say anything.  He had wild, long hair, had not shaved in a while, had breath that smelled like alcohol and death, and he had only one tooth that I could see.  Donny in the flesh was even worse than Donny in my mind, which is generally not how those sorts of things are supposed to go, you know?

He looked to my mother.  "Depends," he said.  "What type-a dog?"  My mother described our dogs.

"Nope," he said, leaning onto the passenger window and bringing his alcohol and death breath closer to my face.  "Hey, kid," he said to me.  "How old are you."

"I'm 11," I said, a little too loud and Southern.

"11..." he paused.  "You know how to shoot a gun yet?"

I waited, hoping my mother would jump in and answer for me.  She didn't.  "Ummm...no," I said.  He didn't say anything, so I hesitantly added, "...not...not yet."

"Lady, you got any guns over there?" he asked my mother.

"Oh...you know...I know how to shoot," my mother said.  I could tell she was lying.  So could Donny.  He laughed.

"You know what I do, kid?" he asked me.  I shook my head no.  "I like to go out in-a woods...and I like to shoot-a little foxes, because they look just like little kitties, right?  So I go out in-a woods and I call'em.  I call'em like this, I go 'heeeeeeeeeere kitty kitty kitty.'"  He paused and stuck his head in the window, inches from my face.  "And then I shoot'em," he concluded.

I nodded.  "Okay," I said, unsure what other reaction might be appropriate.  I smiled, just because that seemed like the right thing to do.

"Okay, Donny, we're going to go look for our dogs.  You have a good day now, ya hear?" my mother said.  We drove off, kicking dust and gravel up behind us.  I didn't look back.  (We found the dogs elsewhere).

A few weeks later, my mother and I were at the grocery store down the street.  From way down the store, a vaguely familiar voice called, "Hey Lady!"  Neither my mom nor I paid any attention to it.  "Lady!"  Again, we ignored it.  "Hey Lady!" the voice yelled, slightly more familiar now.  We turned in the direction of the voice.  It was Donny. 

"Hey Lady!" he yelled again.  "Did you buy yourself a gun yet?"

While I quickly scanned the store for anyone we knew, my mom's voice got loud and deep and Southern as she bellowed back, "No, Donny....not yet."

Donny's girlfriend left him and took the kids shortly after, and then Donny was evicted and lost the house.  I have no idea what became of him.  The property is still there, barely standing, having changed hands many times and remained vacant for longer.  Most recently it was a "clubhouse" for a bunch of guys who rode their dirt bikes around the field.  I drove over there a few years ago, and although the owner has changed, I could still hear the gravelly voice of the man with one tooth calling "heeeeeeeeeere kitty kitty kitty..."

I wish I could say there was a point or a moral to this story...but there's not.  What you have here is purely story for story's sake.  I think you need to indulge in a little of that every now and then, no?

Mudpies, Tresr, and Sekrets

When I was a kid, my sisters and I always had a fort in the woods.  Our first "fort" wasn't much of anything at all.  It was two pieces of plywood nailed up like walls between some trees, and then a third piece down as a "floor."  Later, we had a deer-stand-turned-treehouse that was much more cool...but when we were young, that little fort was extremely important.  We played there for hours, had fort rules, and a pledge, and apparently, a song and buried treasure.  I remembered the rules (which were largely put in place by me to get my sisters to do what I wanted them to do), and I remember having a pledge that we had to say every time we started a new "game" (though I don't remember what exactly we said).

I didn't remember the song or the buried treasure until I was going through a box of old stuff today from my parents' house and came across this:

In case you can't see the image, the following message is written on folded paper in pink marker: "Fort Song I will nevr evr sow anywon are Tresr or Tell Them are Sekrets."

In case you can't read kid spelling, it says "Fort song: I will never ever show anyone our treasure or tell them our secrets."

I do remember that we "buried" our treasure -- which, for the most part, was nuts and berries and leaves, with an occasional bead or small "treasure" we found in the woods.  We buried it in a special spot next to a tree near the fort in a hole we dug with a bent metal spoon.  It was always devastating that the spoon could never dig quite deep enough to prevent the rain or the squirrels from ravaging our treasure.  It gave us endless games to play, because we, of course, had to chase down and avenge whoever had stolen our treasure.  We did lots of hiding from and stalking the pirates/bad guys/imaginary wild animals, and typically chased them off to far away places while adopting a new child from the pirate ship, or rescuing a hurt animal from their pack.  Along the way, we got "lost," sick, hurt, separated, and scared...it was a pretty rough, drama-filled imaginary life we led.  These games went on for hours, and one "game" could last for weeks.  We played until we ran out of things to do, got tired of our characters, or couldn't agree on where we left off in the last adventure and had to "start over" rather than fight as to whether we had actually found the pirates, or had merely seen their ship.

We played until the fireflies and mosquitoes came out and it was too dark to see.  I was snorted at by deer in that fort.  Barking fox ran past me.  We saw snakes, and squirrels, and chipmunks, and mice.  (We once had a nest of mice under the plywood, as a matter of fact).  We had a small herd of cows (okay, not a herd...but like, 6 cows) run by us one day.  I ran and opened the fence so they could run into the yard, and we hooked them up with their rightful owner (our scary neighbor in the back who was, apparently, cow-sitting.  Who knew that could be a thing, right?).  I have a very vivid memory of running up the back hill as fast as my 10 year old legs could carry me with 6 cows running in behind me.  When it became clear that, no, I could not actually run faster than a full grown cow, I was pretty sure I wasn't going to make it to the top alive.  About halfway up the hill, I realized I could climb the fence instead of running like I'm training for the Running of the Bulls.  When I stopped running, they stopped running, and I pretty much felt like an ass for seeing my life flash before my eyes.

(I'll tell a story about Scary Neighbor tomorrow.  I have lots of neighbor stories).

It's funny how we lose the perspective of how amazing and important these "games" were.  Keeping that fort clean, protecting the Tresr...these were real, important things that had to be done frequently.  So important that we had to write a pledge...and, apparently, a song.

It's funny, too, how we so often don't have the perspective of how creative and precious we all were as children.  Even me, with my Tresr and my thieving, baby-leaving pirates.  Even me, with my bent metal spoon, my mud pies, and my Sekrets.


Saturday, September 28, 2013

You're too nice!

I knew she was going to go there before she actually said it.  I've heard it enough that I could even anticipate that's what she was gearing up to say.  "Thanks so much for your help, Auto," my colleague said.  "I really appreciate it."

"It's not a problem at all," I said.  And it wasn't.  Genuinely.  It wasn't at all a problem.

"You're just so nice...and calm...and helpful...and...I mean, if I had to pick someone to be my therapist, I would pick you.  You're always so calm and nice and patient."

"Seriously," I said, "it's not an issue.  I remember how confused I was when I first started, and I know what would have been helpful for me then.  Just trying to pass it along."

"I know," she said, "but still.  You're TOO nice.  I bet you've heard that a lot, haven't you?  You're too nice."

And I wish she hadn't said that.  Too nice.  The phrase makes me want to punch something.  I'm not kidding.

She even followed up with exactly what most people follow this up with: "have you ever been angry?  I can't imagine you angry.  Do you get angry?"

This one just makes me laugh.

See, my colleague was right about one thing: I HAVE heard that phrase a lot.  I have been told for as long as I can remember that this is what I am -- too nice. 

Maybe I am, what do I know.  Maybe I'm too nice.  Maybe I need to practice being meaner, or bitchier, or more assertive, or whatever is the opposite of "too nice."  It's possible.  I don't agree with the terminology, but it's possible. 

(Full disclosure: I'm not entirely sure where this is going, but it's making me ridiculously anxious.  This "too nice" thing is a big deal.  No fluffy post tonight, k?)

As women -- and before that as girls -- we are (generally) socialized to be nice.  We are (generally) socialized to be pleasers.  We are (generally) socialized to put others' needs before our own.  We are (generally) socialized to go above and beyond in our niceness.  The nicer we are, the more feminine we are, the more we are succeeding in our womanhood.  At least, that's the message I got.  Because I wasn't just supposed to be nice: I was supposed to be perfectly nice.  No matter what.  I was not supposed to argue with my sisters, or be angry, or be upset...I was supposed to be nice, and I was supposed to grow up being nicer and nicer at all times, until I met a nice man and fell in love and had a couple nice children that I raised very nicely. 

And you know what?  I hope those things happen, but I want them to happen differently.  I want to be a good, strong woman who meets a man who loves her.  I want to have a couple children who are kind and healthy and strong, and I want to raise them in the best way I know how.  But I don't want them to be nice.  I don't want to be nice.  Not if "nice" means what I have come to understand it as meaning.

When I was in 2nd grade, I was being bullied by a group of girls.  When my mom talked to the teacher, she was told that the problem was that I was "too nice," which made me a "target."  The problem didn't stop.  I wasn't taught to be or encouraged to be more assertive.  I was encouraged to keep being nice.  It became part of my identity.  It had to.  How else could I possibly understand why I was being bullied, or how I should handle it?  The only explanation I had ever gotten was that I was "too nice" (which was a good thing), and the only cure was to continue being nice.  I was like a little nice time-bomb.

This story played itself out again and again in middle and high school.  I tried to be "mean" or "assertive" on several occasions, but it generally didn't work.  I couldn't be "mean" or "assertive."  I
was too nice, remember?  Mean or assertive was laughed off.  (Until that one time when I was in 10th grade when I turned into a mean, assertive teenager for all of about 2 minutes.  Then everybody left me alone for a bit.  But that's a story for another time). 

I heard that I was "too nice" throughout college, too.  People always wanted me to "be mean" or "be bad" or break rules to prove that I could do it.  And the truth was, I was too nice in college.  I routinely said "yes" when I wanted to say "no."  I agreed to do things that I didn't have the time or the energy to do, just because I couldn't refuse to do it.  I was the epitome of a "pleaser."  I was "too nice," I knew that I was "too nice," and I was proud of it.  Being too nice was a good thing, in my book.  Being too nice, and maintaining that too nice attitude was something of an achievement.  Every time I heard that I was too nice, my head swelled into a little too nice ball of doing-too-much-attempting-to-please-everyone-24/7. 

My senior year of college, though, that started to change.  It was a rough year.  A really rough year.  I lost two grandparents and my dog that year, and saw multiple family members through serious and life-threatening hospitalizations.  I simply had to learn how to say "no."  I could no longer be the person that just listened and played the role of the nice cheerleader.  I needed friends that I could lean on--and I found them.  And I learned how to let the others go.  There just wasn't time or the energy to be "too nice" anymore.  For the first time, with family and with friends, I learned that I could ask for things, too.  I learned that I could be a real 3-dimensional person with feelings beyond "nice."  I learned how to draw some necessary boundaries.

But, come the time that I entered grad school, I was quickly pegged as the person in the cohort who was "too nice."  Teachers wanted to change me, telling me I had to "find my voice."  (This lasted about two quarters before I wrote a scathing journal entry for my multicultural class in which I told my professor that if she thought I had not found my voice, then she wasn't listening in the right way, and I told her all of the reasons why.  She listened after that -- and she never told me I was "too nice" or that I had to "find my voice" ever again).  I learned to be active in making my voice heard and known, and most importantly, I learned that I am not "too nice."  I have a different voice.  I come to this life in a different way.  I hold a different perspective and a different way of thinking -- a way that is not better or inferior -- just different.  It is a way of kindness, but it is also an assertive way.  Just ask that teacher I challenged.

My cohort, however, held onto the idea that I was "too nice."  When I refused to be boxed into that mold, I lost friends.  When I also refused to go down the road of behavior that did not fit with who I am, I lost other friends.  To put it mildly, it SUCKED.  It was downright awful.  But I made my decisions based on what I felt was the right thing to do, not what was the "nice" thing to do.  As a result, those decisions are still decisions I can stand by.

Then, though, shit happened.  People who thought I was "too nice" and who thought they "knew what I needed," but was too "nice" to actually get, acted in ways that led to me getting hurt.  Just like when I was in second grade, the perception of being "too nice" was perceived as a target, and they hit me (metaphorically).  When you are "too nice," you see, no one expects you to say "no."  You're not supposed to say no.  And when you DO say no, it's not supposed to mean anything.  When you're "too nice" and you do say no, there is this misconception that it's okay to ride over that "no."  It's okay for other people -- the ones who aren't too nice -- to say yes over your no. 

The other thing is that when people misinterpret you as being "too nice,"...and then they realize that you're not "too nice," ...you drop from "too nice" to "bitch" in a hot second.  I'd rather be the bitch than be too nice, if I had to choose.  And angry?  Dear lord, if only my poor colleague KNEW how angry I have been.  Anger and I have it out with one another sometimes, probably more often than you would expect.

But even with all of that, I didn't fall into people pleasing and over committing and blowing things over.  To the extent that I was able, I sought accountability.  I used my voice.  I did what I believed to be right, to the extent that I was able, when I was able.  I did things I never thought I would have been able to do. 

Although there are few who know the full story, I hang a good chunk of who I am on the belief that I am strong, and I am a fighter, and on the fact that I know that I can and will do what is just and right.  I  strive to be kind, and I know that I am patient and gentle and quiet.  For some reason, I appear to most people to be very calm (I'm not always, but I get that feedback a lot).  I know that I have a firm sense of my voice, and I know how to wield it wisely.  I can be angry, and I can be bitchy.  I try to live my life compassionately.

But I'm not nice.  I don't want to be nice.  Nice is not a compliment.  I will be known as many things, but I do not ever want to be known as "nice."  Let's teach our girls to be things other than "nice."  Let's
compliment other women on factors other than their niceness.  Let's compliment them on being compassionate.  Let's praise others for being smart, and strong, and assertive, and kind.  Let's take the word "too" out of our vocabulary, and let's allow others to be a smart and as kind and as assertive as they are.  Let's allow ourselves to be as sensitive, or bitchy, or smart, or kind as we are.  Let's do more than allow it.  Let's celebrate it.

Is there something you have been told (or something you are told) that you never want to hear again?  What is it?  Why do you never want to hear that phrase?

Friday, September 27, 2013

Tonight...you just get bullet points

(1) I started writing out a thoughtful post tonight, but then it turned all personal and emotional and I deleted it.  So you get bullet points instead.

(2) It's been 5 whole days since I wrote my post about not being perfect...and I'm still not perfect.  Damn.  It's going to take a long (long...long...) time to unlearn this "perfect" business.  My head is fighting me like you wouldn't believe.  She can be a real bitch sometimes.   


(3) I'm dog-sitting this weekend, and my friend's dog is 8 lbs.  I'm praying to god that I don't squish her.


(4) I went through a couple emails tonight to try to find something, and I instead found a bunch of emails from an old friend that made me bawl cry get a little teary.  I wrote about my friend here.  He is somebody I have thought about quite a bit lately.  We are singing "The Road Not Taken" for choir at church, and it makes me think of him because he told me he knew Robert Frost, and I was totally jealous.  At any rate, we had a long string of emails that started with him quoting the UU hymn:

"How could anyone ever tell you
you were anything less than beautiful?
How could anyone ever tell you
you were less than whole?
How could anyone fail to notice
that your loving is a miracle?
How deeply you're connected to my soul." 

I needed this.  I like to think that he knew that.  Thank you, my friend.

(5) I also recommend that you listen to this song, just because it's beautiful:



(6) This week, one of my very favorite little guys made me sad.  When talking about his challenges with focusing during homework, he burst into tears and sobbed, "my brain is always fighting me.  I need to have surgery to cut out the bad part.  Just please.  I want to.  I want to have surgery to just cut out the bad pieces that don't work right."

 I took a deep breath to check myself, and then told him earnestly how everyone loves him for who he is, including his diagnoses and his difficulty focusing, and that nobody wants to change him.  We just want it to take less than 2.5 hours to get his homework done, and sometimes that means cutting back on video game time...but it certainly doesn't mean cutting out pieces of his brain or trying to change who he is or how he thinks.


 His tears and his comments pulled on my heart.  He is beautiful, and amazing, and smart, and creative, and fantastic, and I wouldn't change anything about him or his brain for anything.  I know his parents feel the same way.


 Me, though?  Is there a surgery to cut out the "not perfect" part of the brain?  How about the anxious part?  Is there a way of removing the anxious part that doesn't work quite right?  


(7) Tomorrow is Friday.  This is glorious news.  

(8) My brain is never going to slow down enough to sleep.  It's already 1AM.  Anybody got a ball peen hammer?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Texting with my sister

My sister and I are officially nerds.  The following is an actual conversation.  Get ready to groan.  It's pretty bad.

Me: Dude, you should try drinking less coffee.  You're addicted.  Drink tea instead.  I did.  Just to SPICE things up a bit.  (Get it?)

Sister: Yeah...maybe I should chai that.  Haha.

Me: Oh geeze, thanks a latte.  Jumping on the pun bandwagon, huh?  You've gone down a STEEP slope into Punville with me, my friend.

Me: Also, why are you still at lab?  I'm sure you have everything down to a tea.

Sister:  Lame.  I can't think of another pun.

Me: I win...I'm the pun queen.  I've got this one in the bag.

Sister:  Well remember...winning comes with strings attached.

Me: Oh dear...I think you should leaf the puns to me from here on out.

Sister: Oh no no no...ummm...I'll wait.  You'll need to brew over some new puns soon.

Me:  When it comes to puns, I'm the cream of the crop.

Sister: I'm half-and-half...sometimes it's a hit, sometimes it's a miss.

Me: Okay, that was a good one.

Sister: I'm STEAMING!

Me: Don't get too hot with your own success...you don't want to make my blood boil.

Sister: Hot with success?  That's the pot calling the kettle black.

Me: ...I totally set myself up for that one.



This is today...

Freaking Tuesday....

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A post in which absolutely nothing happens

I turned on all the lights downstairs, just so I could be prepared.  You never know what will happen on missions such as this, and it's best to have your home base well-lit.

The door, of course, was locked.  I moved the purple yoga mat and the bag of books going to Goodwill from in front of it, then hesitated as I moved my hand towards the knob.  It had been over a month since I ventured forth into this land of The Upstairs, and the time was nearing the Witching Hour. 

I slowly unlocked the door and turned the knob.  Propping the door open carefully with the bag of books, I reached for the light switch on my right and leaned into the stairwell.  The dark, musty scent of a place seldom visited greeted me.  Upstairs still smells like all of the people who lived here before.  The ones who left crayon drawings in the closet, and stains and scratches on the wooden floors, and nail holes where nothing of mine has ever hung.  This place is their house: it has never been mine, in spite of the two years I have lived here.  Their scent still pervades the corners where I don't reside: the cabinet over the microwave.  The bathroom in the basement.  The small upstairs with the one purple wall and the slanted ceiling.  At night, this smell becomes not just "not mine;" it becomes the Boogey Man's body odor. 

As I turn on the light switch, the orange-brown carpet on the stairs strikes me once again with its ugliness, and the steepness of the stairs seems daunting.  These are not steps made for running down.  I did once, last year, and ended up skinning my back on the last 4 or 5 as I skidded down too quickly.  The actual steps are narrow, as well as steep, and there is dark wood paneling on either side, which makes it feel even smaller.   The only light is a single light bulb at the top of the stairs, facing the opposite direction. 

I take a breath and push through the feeling of claustrophobia on the steps.  This is the worst part: the closing in of the walls as I leave that-which-is-familiar and move into Boogey Man's Body Odor land.  I take the steps on my tip-toes, wanting to leave as little trace as possible, but also hang on to the railing.  My back doesn't want to be skinned again.

I turn left at the top of the stairs and walk into the small room with the purple wall and the slanted ceiling.  On my immediate left is the closet housing my blanket and other miscellaneous items.  I imagine things living in the closet: raccoons.  Squirrels.  Real scary men.  Imaginary boogey men.  Aren't I too old for this crap?

Hand on the door-knob, I imagine a rabid raccoon flying out of the closet and grabbing onto my chest and face.  Why this is an image I always have, I'm not entirely sure.  I picture squirrels running out around me and biting my ankles.  I picture that homeless people have taken up residence in my upstairs, given that I never use it.  They could have been there for a month and I never would have known.  They are, perhaps, hiding in the closet this very second...  Or perhaps it is just the imaginary, elusive, unpredictable unknown we call the boogey man.  That would be scary enough.

I open the door, which creaks noisily, like the floor under my feet.  There is the container with my blanket and a couple sweaters on the floor.  I open it, take the blanket out, close it up, close the door, and start towards the steps before I have the opportunity to exhale.  There is nothing here, and I know this.  There is nothing to be afraid of, and I am aware of that.  I stop at the top of the steps and see the dog at the bottom.  His ears are back, his tail between his legs.   He refuses to come to the stairs, but peers around the corner, as if to check that I am coming back.  I take another deep breath and exhale, just to reinforce to myself that there is nothing frightening here.  I know there isn't. 

I take the stairs down, slowly, in spite of the closing in of the wood paneling and the orange-brown carpet.  Once at the bottom, I turn off the lights.  I lock the door.  I place the yoga mat back on the handle.  The books in front of the door.  The dog and I return to the bedroom, as though nothing has transpired.



Monday, September 23, 2013

Perfectionists Unite!

I left yesterday's post up.  It's amazing to me how, when I feel like I am taking a risk I'm not quite comfortable with...when I feel like I'm putting myself out there a little too much, people start commenting and messaging and texting me.  The thing is, a lot of these messages and comments and texts say the same thing: they say "me, too."  They say, "I feel you, and similarly, I..."  They say, "thanks for that.  I hear that and live that, too."

So even though I still want to (AND STILL MIGHT) go back and delete that post, right now I feel like I can't.  What sort of message does that send to all of the "me toos?"  I'm stretching myself, guys, and I'm pushing that comfort zone a little bit because of the "me toos."  This follow-up post is for those who said to me, or said in your head "me, too." 

A bit of a conversation came about on yesterday's post on Facebook.  One friend shared her "me too" and then said, "perfectionists unite to screw up!" Another reminded me that "perfect" is, of course, a socially constructed concept -- but took it a step further to remind me that if it is socially constructed, it can also be deconstructed. 

As silly as it sounds, I hadn't really considered this.  Of course, I know that the idea of "perfect" and what "perfect" means is entirely socially constructed and likely based on a variety of economic and cultural values.  The idea of deconstruction I have often considered.  To an extent, my posts about gratitude and forgiveness consist of me deconstructing these topics.  My entire dissertation was about deconstructing the lens by with we try to understand mothers of children with disabilities, and about allowing them to reconstruct their understanding of their children, their families, and their needs.  It was powerful, powerful work to have those conversations.  To gather understanding from their lived experience and find common threads and themes that differed from what we (as people outside of that lived experience) perceive their life and understanding to be...it kind of blew my mind at first.  However, I love thinking in this way.  I love getting outside of what I think to be true and throwing away my lens (to the extent that I am able) and reconstructing from the ground up.  In college, my research paper for my qualitative research class was on reconstructing shyness from the lived experience of those who self-identify as shy, without the constraints and constructs imposed by outside views.  Qualitative research is my THING, people.  If you want to see me geek out and get REALLY nerdy and excited, talk to me about qualitative research. 

(Actually, you could probably talk to me about pretty much anything and see me geek out and get really nerdy and excited.  Qualitative research is just one topic of many that's sure to elicit that reaction).

All of that to say, I get the idea of deconstruction.  I commented back to say that I like that idea...but that deconstruction is hard.  I mean really, have you ever tried challenging your lens, beliefs and ideas and creating new ones, all in your own head (and, preferably within the 5 minutes I gave myself to think about this matter)?  It's hard stuff.  Awesome idea...but hard.

My wise friend replied that "social construction and deconstruction is a group activity."

Oh.

Ooooooooooh.

Lightbulb moment.

Right.  You can't do all that in your head.  This is something you do in community.  This is something that is a process and a conversation, and something that is just a radical act of challenging yourself and your world.  Got it.

So then I started imagining: what would it be like to have a group of self-proclaimed perfectionists sit and talk about this issue?  Not in a therapy group sort of format, but in a "let's sit and look into each other's faces and say 'me, too,'" sort of way.  Imagine how much power there could be in holding one another's stories of the struggle to become the ever elusive "perfect," and drawing out those common threads.  Imagine the relief we could learn from hearing "this shit ISN'T all in my head.  It's me.  And it's her.  And it's him.  And here is how we learned this thing, and this is what it means, and we don't have to drink that Kool-Aid anymore. 

Imagine being able to take this thing called "perfect" -- this golden, gorgeous, gleaming ball of sunshine and sweet dreams you've been chasing your entire life...imagine being able to hold it in your hands and unwrap it, and unwrap it, and unwrap it, past all its layers of false hope and bullshit, until you find whatever is in its core.  Once you get there, you have the choice to do what you want to do with it.  You can wrap it back up as is...or you can recreate it.  Maybe perfect isn't racing to achieve 24/7, or being the perfect weight, or being able to wrap your knees behind your neck in yoga positions, or being off the charts in intelligence, or never putting a toe out of line. 

I want to offer an alternative right now...what should follow next is "maybe perfect is this other thing that isn't like perfection but sounds really good, too."  But, I remember now -- deconstruction happens as a group.  I don't have an alternative at the moment.  I don't even have a good definition of what perfect is.  Deconstruction has to happen in community.  I believe that it has to come from the voices of those who have this lived experience residing in their bloodstream.  What powerful, powerful work that could be -- for you.  For me.  For our communities.  For our world.  What a radical, subversive act that would be! 

I love being radical and subversive.  It makes my blood tickle in my veins. 

Let's do an experiment.  I may abandon this little mini-experiment at any time.  But I'm curious.

Knowing that I may (anonymously or with your name/self-chosen pseudonym, given your blessing) use your ideas/words in a future blog post, how would you answer these questions?

***If you had to prescribe perfectionism to someone who is not perfectionistic in 3 words, what words would you choose?***

***If you could talk back to perfectionism, what is the first thing you would say (two sentences or less).***

Answer below, or email me (autodidactpoet@gmail.com), or respond on Facebook, or...you know...smoke signals or carrier pigeon or certified mail, or whatever works best for you. 

Perfectionists unite!






Sunday, September 22, 2013

On (not) being perfect

In spite of evidence to the contrary, I was not raised to be a perfectionist.  I wasn't raised in such a way that I was told to try harder, or do more, or do better.  In fact, I wasn't supposed to try at anything.  I wasn't supposed to work too hard, or do too much, or strive to be anything.  Being a perfectionist is a bad thing.  Being a perfectionist means you're anxious.  Being a perfectionist means you have to try so hard to be perfect.

See, I was just supposed to be perfect.  Effortlessly, beautifully, simply, articulately perfect.  I was not told how I was supposed to behave, or what I was supposed to achieve, or what I was supposed to do.  I was just supposed to do it, and I was supposed to do it in an effortless and perfect manner.  It was just all supposed to fall into place.  If you let people know you were trying too hard, it wasn't perfect.  If you let people see that you were anxious about it, it wasn't perfect.  Perfection wasn't something we were supposed to seek.  It was just something that was supposed to be.  Perfection was just something that had to happen, automatically, without trying, because to try would indicate that you weren't inherently perfect.  And that is what we were supposed to be: inherently and ultimately perfect. 

By that logic, I couldn't be a perfectionist.  Being a perfectionist means, inherently, that you're not perfect, so that couldn't be me, right? 

Unsurprisingly, a by-product of this environment made it such that I had no choice but to be a secret perfectionist.  Our public family face was one of perfection.  Any imperfections happened behind closed doors and were never mentioned to others.  I was (and by some, still seem to be considered to be) perfect.  It is still the image I am supposed to present.

*****CONFESSION TIME!*****

I'm not perfect.  I have been failing at perfection since forever, and not for lack of trying.  I'm still really bad at failing at perfect.  Even after all this practice at trying to be perfect, perfect still doesn't come easily.  It doesn't come naturally.  In fact, it doesn't come to me at all.   

Failure, however, is even less natural.  It's just not an option.  It's not supposed to even be on my radar.  Failure is a devastation and disappointment that I'm just not supposed to contact. 

But you do sometimes.  Or, I do.  Or I did.  And it feels like the world has caught on to 27 years of pretending.  It feels like, finally, that which I have been trying to avoid has been made known.  It feels like I have been called out by Life.  Life has finally caught me, ripped off the ill-fitting mask of perfection I've been trying to mold to my face, and shown "everyone" who I really am. 

It's so bad, in fact, that I even feel like a failure because I don't know how to fail perfectly.  I want to be able to fail and bounce back quickly.  I want to be the perfect person who has such strong self-esteem that a little failure doesn't send her for a loop.  I want to maintain a cheerful, beautiful, strong, effortless position on failing, and I want to write something motivational about how to fail in the best possible way.  If I can't be perfect, which we've established I can't, I at least want to be able to be a perfect failure.  Not perfect feels not lovable.  Failure feels unthinkable.

This is some fucked up shit, y'all.  And it's really hard to write about.  It's really hard to write about.  In fact, I totally see myself deleting this post after I post it (which will be problematic, because then I won't have a post for every day, which means that I failed at posting every day which I set out to do, so maybe I'll just edit it or something else, because...failure makes me anxious).

It's hard to separate out "that thing I failed" from "I am a failure."  I mean, there are some mornings that if I burn my toast or spill my coffee I spend the rest of the day obsessing about the fact that I'm a failure.  Real failure -- something beyond burned toast -- it makes my bones hurt.  I realize that sounds melodramatic and silly, but I'm not kidding.  It makes me feel unable to eat, and it makes my bones hurt. 

Have you read Jonathan Safron Foer's amazing book "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close"?  It's a gorgeous book.  The movie doesn't do it justice.  At any rate, in the book the main character says, "Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I'm not living."

I hear this.  My bones feel like they're cracking under the weight of all the perfect I'm not obtaining.  Failure weighs heavy on my bones.   Perfect weighs heavy on my bones. Their combined weight is breath-taking.

Anne Lamott reminds us that "perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor."  I need a freaking emancipation.  The tyrant in my head is unrelenting. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Good enough

So...today was not such a good day.  It was such a not good day, in fact, that I was GOING to say "screw posting every day, I'm going to go watch more mindless episodes of "New Girl" on Netflix, because Zooey Deschanel is freakin' adorable, and that's about all I can handle at the moment."If you know me, you know that I don't watch mindless TV.  Like, ever.  In fact, I haven't had a TV hooked up to anything other than a DVD player for 3 years and haven't missed it.  I watch dumb things only when I am (a) sick or (b) in a super not good spot, from which I need to attempt to mindlessly distract myself.  I'm not sick, so...

So I watched some mindless episodes of "New Girl."  And I also kept my hands busy (because, if you
know me, you know that I can't just sit and watch a movie/TV.  I have to be doing something with my hands).  I saw this craft on Pinterest for turning old CD cases into super cute coasters.  It sounds weird until you have a bagillion old CD cases sitting in your office that you don't know what to do with and feel badly throwing away to fill up the landfill.  Then it sounds like an awesome idea.  I made two sets of 4 each.  Let me know if you want some.  Tomorrow isn't looking like it's going to be so awesome either, and there MAY be more "New Girl" episodes in my future.  I will seriously make some and send them to you, and will include a thank you note for giving me a reason to be distracted. 

At any rate, after a few episodes, I had my fill of about all the mindlessness I could handle.  It's around 11PM, and I'm exhausted, no longer distracted by mindlessness or duct tape, and...I was just going to go to bed.  I mean really.  Who cares if I post every day, right?


But then I checked Facebook, and stupid Anne Lamott (whose page I "liked") posted a status which included this: "Try to get a little writing done every day--it will help you know and forgive yourself, which is why we are here. Earth is forgiveness school. What you are looking for is already inside you. "


Damn it.  Really, Anne?  Right now with the insights and reminders?  You couldn't just wait until tomorrow or Sunday to post such a thing?  Or better yet, you couldn't have said something like "try to get a little writing done every day -- except for the days that suck.  On those days, have a glass of wine, watch Zooey Deschanel be all wide-eyed and ridiculous, and go to bed"?  I mean seriously.  Really right now with the "write every day and forgive yourself" business?  Ugh.


So I got my butt in gear and I'm writing.  See, Anne?  I'm writing.  All thanks to you, I'm writing.  Anything I could possibly say right now is fit much more for a personal diary than for a public blog, so I'm not going to go there.  Given that, however, I don't have much to say other than this: I have so much to learn about this thing called life and how to do it well.  I wish I could learn that love is not and should not be contingent upon anything external  (and this includes self-love).  I wish I could learn that perfectionism just isn't fucking worth it.  I wish I could remember that perfect isn't even a real thing.  I wish I could learn to be patient with myself, and I wish I could learn to talk to myself gently, even on the bad days.  And yes, Anne, I do wish I could be more forgiving of myself.


But I'm not there tonight.  In fact, I'm really far from knowing or understanding or believing or living any of those things...but I wrote anyway.  And now, I'm going to curl up with my snoring puppy, and I'm going to turn on an episode of "New Girl" and be mindlessly entertained until I hopefully fall asleep.  It's the best I can do.  It's just going to have to be good enough. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Hot mess

Have you ever had those times where you just confuse yourself?

I should be more specific.  I confuse myself frequently.

Basically, I feel like I am made up of a bundle of contradictions and opposites at the moment.  I just got home from choir practice, and I feel relaxed and in-my-body and calm and joyful...but I am also utterly exhausted and had a long, stressful day talking about issues that made my heart hurt, because people can be cruel, and some people among us are just so very vulnerable to that cruelty.  I'm sleepy and happy and also anxious as heck about this exam tomorrow morning.  I want to study, even though I don't know what else TO study, and I want to go to bed because I haven't really slept all week, and I want to go through my flashcards one more time, or answer some practice questions, or read that one section again...and I also just kind of want to lay and stare at the ceiling until this feeling of overwhelm passes.  Or cry.  I could do that, too.  Not a sad cry.  Or an angry cry.  Just...like in "Moonstruck."  Have you ever seen "Moonstruck"?  You know, the old movie with Cher and Nicholas Cage?
 It's one of my favorite movies.  It's one of about three movies that I can and do watch over and over and over again, even though I know it almost word for word.

There's a scene near the end when the whole family is together, and Loretta (Cher) is telling the family that she fell in love with Ronny (Cage) while her fiance (Ronny's brother, Johnny), was in Italy.  Loretta's grandfather starts to cry, which prompts Loretta's father to ask him, "whatsamatta Pops?"  The grandfather (referred to as "Old Man" through most of the movie) holds his head in his hand and wipes his eyes and says, "I'm confused..."



That's me.  I'm the old guy.  I'm confused.

In other words, I'm a hot mess, which is a saying I've never understood, but continue to use anyway.











Hopefully, by tomorrow morning, I will be a fully licensed psychologist in the state of Maryland.  After that, the quality of my posts should improve dramatically.  I've been quite whiny this week.

In the meantime.....this picture makes me laugh.



Stay strong, ya'll.  Don't succumb to confusion like me and Old Man.  It really doesn't help matters.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Not now, I'm studying....For real.


I'm going to be good and just study tonight.  For real.  I need to.  I need to memorize a whole bunch of stuff so I can forget it on Friday afternoon.  From that point on, I will always be able to look up the information when I need it.  But until Friday, I need it on recall.  I have hot chocolate.  And a heater.  And my computer.  And I cleaned off my kitchen table so I'm not distracted.  And I have non-distracting music.  And I'm going to study.  For real.  This is the last hurdle, friends.  It may be the last big test I need to take.  Ever.  Until I decide to get my BCBA...but...ya know.  One day at a time, right?



Monday, September 16, 2013

Disheartened Day

I am in that place where I am so deeply saddened and disheartened by the world that it hurts.  It physically hurts.  I don't know what else to say, other than that.  My heart -- it just hurts, you know?  There is such a long list of pain and suffering -- the list is too long to possibly think of making so I'm not going to try.  It was a combination of an article I read about Syria today and the shooting in DC that put me just over the edge.

In my work, I have the ability, the privilege, and the honor of being able to assist people in a variety of ways.  Maybe I help reduce problem behaviors.  Maybe I help keep a family or a child safe.  Maybe I hook them up with resources.  Maybe I help them see each other more clearly.  Or maybe, all I do is give them bus tokens at the end of a boring hour.  I went into this work because it is the work that I love, and it is the work that fulfills me, and it is the work that I believe I am called to do.  I went into this work because it is my passion, and because I hope to leave a small mark on that corner of the world to change it for the better.  I like to believe...no, I can say that I know that I make a change in my families lives.  It may not be a big change.  It may not be all families.  It may not be the change I thought I was going to make.  It may not be lasting change.  But it is change.

I believe that we all do what it is we are called to do and able to do in this life.  For some people, it is performing life saving surgeries on thousands of people.  For some people, it's going to other countries and providing assistance where it is needed.  For some people, it's educating the next generation.  For some, it's raising the next generation.  For some, it's helping me check out at the grocery store.  For me, it's working with children with developmental disabilities in a little corner of MD, and maybe writing some words about issues that make me angry or about gratitude.  We're all interconnected, and necessary, and important. 

And yet, in all of that doing and being and helping and interconnection, it's still just not enough.  There is still so much hatred and evil and wrong.  There is still so much suffering and illness and pain.  There is so much that needs to be changed and so much that needs to be done, and I don't know how it's going to change.  I don't know what can possibly happen that will change things in the way they need to be changed.  I don't know what I can do to make that change happen.  It's hard to just bear witness to pain and suffering (to the extent that I am able/willing).  I do believe that bearing witness makes a difference.  But it's not enough.  I don't know what is enough, and I don't know how to get there.  I'm not even sure of really how to have this conversation, because it's not about any one thing in particular.  It's not just about guns, or about religion, or about poverty or race or ableism or violence against women.  It's about the whole underlying issue of fear, and pain, and anger.  It's about not knowing how we can move all of us from here to compassion.  It's about knowing that we are so, so, so far from that goal, and knowing I'm just one person, and knowing that I'm just not smart enough, or enough of a "big-picture thinker" to have any sort of idea of what to do other than help that one family.  Talk to that one kid.  Sign that one petition.  Write that one blog post that touches that one person.  Save that one worm from the sidewalk. 


So I keep talking.  And helping.  And writing.  And signing.  And saving worms.  In spite of all that I want to do, these are the only things I actually know how to do.  I have no choice but to keep doing them until the world doesn't need it, or until I can come up with a better plan.  

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Have you heard?

In your perusal of news the past week or so, you may have seen the name Issy Stapleton come up.  Or maybe you didn't.  I didn't, actually, in my typical news readings.  News of this came through other means.  I'd be interested to know if you've heard about this.

*Warning: this issue really makes my heart hurt.  I do not apologize for any emotional reaction you may have to what I write, but I do hope that it makes sense.*

Issy Stapleton is a 14 year old young woman from Michigan who is currently hospitalized due to carbon monoxide poisoning.  Her mother allegedly attempted to kill her and herself in the family's van.  Both of them survived, and her mother is being held without bond.  Issy is in the hospital, making slow gains towards health, but will likely suffer lasting brain damage.  This story by itself is horrific, is it not?  What are your thoughts about Issy at this point?  (Probably something along the lines of how terrible this is, and what a tragedy it is, and how could something like this happen, right?)  What are your thoughts about Mrs. Stapleton?  (Probably something along the lines of being glad she is going to be punished, wondering about some sort of mental illness, wondering how a mother could ever do such a thing to a child).

Now here is the last piece of information.  The piece of information that all the articles I read put as the very first thing:  Issy Stapleton is a young woman diagnosed with autism. 

For some reason, that fact changes everything.  Does it for you?  Did you hear yourself say, "oooooooh," as if that provided an explanation?  Did you start to ease up on your thoughts about Mrs. Stapleton?  Did you wonder what sorts of behaviors Issy might exhibit, and did you start thinking about the stress of raising a young adult with special needs?

Maybe you did, and maybe you didn't...but if you did, think about why.  What is it, exactly, that changes the act of a mother attempting to murder her teenage daughter when you hear that the daughter has a disability? 

From what I understand, Issy did demonstrate challenging behaviors, much like many of the children and young adults I work with and love.  Challenging behaviors are just that...they're challenging.  And they can be awful, and stressful, and dangerous, and they can seem unrelenting.  They're painful and destructive, and when they're occurring, challenging behaviors can make life a living hell.  I'm not kidding.  I'm not exaggerating.  And I'm not even a parent.  To deal with these behaviors 24 hours a day, to fight with service providers, and schools, and try to find something that's going to work, and to have your family live in fear of one of your children is awful.  I see it.  I hear it.  To the extent that I am able, I get it.  I've had black eyes, sprained wrists, bites, bruises, and chunks of hair pulled out, and I've got the scars to prove it.  I see the look in parents eyes when they feel they have reached the end of their rope.  I feel it in my body when they come into my office and their bodies are heavy with exhaustion and depression and anxiety and straight up hopelessness regarding their children's behaviors.

But the thing about challenging behaviors is that they are just that...they're behaviors.  Each of us is made up of so much more than our behaviors.  Underneath of all of our behaviors is our humanity, our self, our personhood, our soul, whatever you want to or choose to call it.  When a person can't see that piece of another person, it is nobody's failure but their own.  It is not my place to judge or condemn Mrs. Stapleton, and I can't pretend that I know what was going on for her and her family anymore than the picture that the brief news articles have shown. (Further, I can only assume there must have been significant, significant factors that we are unaware of that pushed her to see this as her only/best option.  This is not meant to be an attack or a judgment on her, but on the rest of us.  We don't know what the factors were for Mrs. Stapleton.  We're making assumptions.  This post is about those assumptions.  It's about the rest of us).  But, if we're going to blame Mrs. Stapleton's actions on Issy's diagnosis and on her behaviors, I think we need to take a look at the other side of the coin as well.  I can't imagine being able to see the humanity/self/personhood of another person and still imagine taking their life.  Is this what was missing for her?  Had she reached a point where she was unable to see beyond the behaviors?

Beyond that, autism is not a tumor.  It is not a thing that grew that changed a person's life.  In a social story I wrote for a child recently explaining his diagnosis to him, I wrote, "autism is just another way of thinking."  It is another way of being in the world.  It is not wrong, I explained to him.  It does not make him better or worse than other kids.  It's another way of thinking.  Autism is another way of being.  There is an essay written by Jim Sinclair, a man with autism, entitled "Don't Mourn for Us" in which he writes: "It is not possible to separate the person from the autism. Therefore, when parents say, 'I wish my child did not have autism,' what they're really saying is, 'I wish the autistic child I have did not exist, and I had a different (non-autistic) child instead...' This is what we hear when you mourn over our existence. This is what we hear when you pray for a cure. This is what we know, when you tell us of your fondest hopes and dreams for us: that your greatest wish is that one day we will cease to be, and strangers you can love will move in behind our faces."  (Read the whole essay here).  For her to attempt to kill her daughter because of her autism is for her to attempt to kill her daughter for who she is.  In other words, it means that she did exactly what her behavior indicates that she did: she attempted to kill her daughter.  Why are there any shades of gray here?


The news articles consistently cite Issy's diagnosis and her behaviors as the trigger for Mrs. Stapleton's actions.  "Caregiver fatigue" and "extreme stress" and "isolation" and "depression" are all terms thrown around behind the disclaimer that it is "too early" to determine her motive.  But let's stop for a moment and think: if this was a mother of a child without a disability, would we be looking for these excuses?  What if she was the parent of a child with a  terminal illness?  Would we be citing any of these things as reasons or excuses?  Would we still be grabbing at these explanations?

Mr. Stapleton is quoted in several articles I read as saying that Issy's mother likely thought that she was "doing Isabelle and everybody around her a favor."  Perhaps--perhaps--this really was Mrs. Stapleton's thought.  And perhaps--perhaps--this is really what she believed.  If this is the case, though, let us see this as a reflection on Mrs. Stapleton's mental status at the time.  If this is the case, let us see it as a tragedy that she was unable to recognize and access the support that she needed.

This quote, however, sounds dangerously like the idea that people with disabilities are better off dead.  The fact that people will hear this and be able to swallow it and that it will evoke some sort of compassion in their hearts lets me know that the lives of people with disabilities are not valued in the same way as the lives of people without disabilities.  Saying that a mother attempted to murder her daughter as a potential favor for the lives of everyone around them is saying that Issy's life was a burden for the people surrounding her.  It is saying that, because of that burden, Issy is not deserving of the right to life the rest of us accept and live and offer to others without question.  Do you see what a short road it is when following this logic?  This statement, which will elicit compassion, is dangerous.  It is dangerous, and it is wrong.  I don't have words for the anger this stirs inside me.  Are you angry? 

The other issue cited as potentially a contributing factor to Mrs. Stapleton's decision was her difficulty obtaining services and funding for necessary and appropriate services.  Again, I get it.  The whole system is broken, and kids who need services don't get them or can't afford them, insurance only covers some treatment or the wrong treatment or evaluations only, schools don't know what to do, or can't do what they're supposed to do, or sell you a bag of goods and don't do what they're supposed to do at all.  I get it.  It's an endless, exhausting struggle full of red tape and dead ends.

But when do we ever say that an alcoholic man abused his wife in a drunken rage because he couldn't get into a treatment facility, or couldn't afford quality drug and alcohol treatment?  When do we say that a parent sexually abused a child because he was a stressed out parent who couldn't find a decent babysitter?  When do we say that a mother abused or neglected her child because social services is just spread too thin and couldn't help her out?  Even in the example of rape, where there is victim blaming galore and much more focus on the victim than on the perpetrator, would we ever consider that the extenuating stressful circumstances of the rapists life should have any bearing on the crime?  On what his punishment should be?  If we don't consider lack of services and support in these situations, why is it relevant here?  If we don't consider extenuating life circumstances in other situations, why are they relevant here?  Why is it that, in this case, the "extenuating life circumstance" can also be the victim?  How is it possible to lose sight of the fact in all of this that what we are looking at is the attempted murder of a 14 year old girl?

Although an entirely different situation, you remember that I wrote about Ethan several weeks ago.  His family continues to wait for answers, and continues to be denied an independent investigation.  When lives aren't valued, there are often extreme, painful, and terrible consequences.  The stories about Ethan and Issy are just two of these stories.  I'm not into playing Oppression Olympics, and I don't think that benefits anyone.  I will say, however, that I think it's important to acknowledge that in discussions of oppression, in discussions about the "isms," and in discussions about violence and systemic and societal problems, stories like this often don't even come to the table.  People with disabilities (particularly developmental disabilities) don't often come onto the radar.  We need allies to give voice to these issues.  We need to listen to self-advocates.  We can do better.  We have a long way to go, but we simply have to learn to do better.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Sensitive Heart

There are days
that I can feel the nerves in my spinal cord jingle
like car keys hitting together on a heavy carabineer.
Each piece of harsh, cold metal clangs against the next,
scratching, cold, unfeeling, loud,
like the key ring of the janitor, one key for every door,
every clink and clack sends nerves running down my back,
their feet pound my bones with steel-toed boots,
those nerves waste no time in hammering relayed messages from my body to my brain
from my body to my brain
from my body to my brain
those nerves
run potholes in the pathways they travel most
like deer paths turned 6 lane highways
like my mind
will turn not just molehills into mountains
but dust into desert,
raindrop into waterfall
my mind makes garlands of forget-me-nots
tied to old reminders:
I try to make them handsome;
even doctors
cannot see these freaks of nature inside my skin--
these are not metaphors
but ways of turning all that is
into something beautiful
my heart can understand.