an orphaned state of mind

July 31, 2016 § Leave a comment

I have been dealing with chronic pain in my hip, back and shoulders. Yesterday I finally went to the chiropractor after the combined effects of moving an entire library up a flight of stairs, stumbling and falling on a cement sidewalk while running with my dog, and loading half a dozen 50 lb. bags of cement onto a construction site. When the chiropractor checked the musculature in my shoulders he was surprised at how tense they were. He worked on releasing some of that tension and I left feeling relief and gained new awareness about the toll my body is sustaining from stress about family of origin.

I woke up this morning for the first time in a week without a big ball of pain between my shoulder blades. I lay there feeling comfortable and warm. Thoughts of my family of origin drifted into my mind and I realized how much tension I accumulate on a daily basis due to un-grieved loss of family connection and the pain of not belonging in my family. It was as if there were these invisible filaments of longing radiating out of my body, searching, constantly searching, for connection. Remember the Chrysalids by John Whyndam? At the end of the novel, the Sealanders come in air ships to rescue the telepaths as they flee a group of villagers. Just as the telepaths are about to be captured by the villagers, the Sealanders rain sticky drifting filaments onto the scene that coats everyone in suffocating cocoons. I imagine the filaments radiating out from my body in a similar way, except mine hang in space, helpless, useless, constantly seeking connection and never finding it. In that moment I could clearly see how my yearning for family was causing the tension and pain in my body.

I have been thinking about the state of being an orphan, even in the midst of a large public family that show public displays of affection through music performance. I have been thinking of this state as a form of amputation, an emotional absence that never, ever seems to dissolve into the background. If my real state in life is that of an orphan, whose amputation from family is never openly acknowledged and actively denied, then the pain can never become softened by time. The current condition is what is so painful, not a historic event that can eventually drift into obscurity with the passing of years. I don’t know what it is like to lose a limb, but I do know what it is like to lose a family, a family that is all around me but disconnected from me.

My clarity this morning is confirming my resolve to block all incoming email from my family. I am no longer willing to continue putting out those feelers. My mental exercise this morning is to imagine myself cutting those sticky ties whenever they start to drift out from my body. To allow myself to feel the pain of disconnection and move on with my life. I do have people in my life today that love me and that I love in return. I am no longer willing to carry the pain and suffer the distraction of these non-functioning family relationships. I have more important things to attend to.

I am feeling better today. With each passing day I am noticing my creative energies are invigorated. Yes, my body hurts, but now it is a pain that is right sized and appropriate. It hurts to have to say good bye to family. It feels good to turn my attention to people and projects that reciprocate my contributions.


a pretty sweet Sunday

July 31, 2016 § Leave a comment

It feels like every muscle in my body aches and every joint is strained. I have worked six days straight in construction. Yes. I am a 60 year old female carpenter. I ran out of money and options while I was writing up my doctoral thesis. Our heritage house needs extensive repair and renovations. I was unable to find secure employment in academia. The contractor that built our first phase renovation was willing to hire me as a carpenter apprentice. I was able to earn more money as an apprentice carpenter than I earned at the university as a research assistant or an assistant professor. To finish my degree and prepare for my own renovations I switched course and became a carpenter.

I do love to build. I have been building tree forts and shelters since I was a kid. All my life I have tried to build a secure, comfortable home from my family. It has taken me this long to get this far. I love the feeling of strapping on my tool belt, measuring, marking and cutting accurately. I love the solid “thunk” as a piece I have cut fits neatly into its spot for fastening. I love standing back and looking at what I have built, knowing it is going to stand 50, no 100 years. I love the feeling of solidity, of the permanence of building.

I also love to write, and I fell in love with the thesis I developed during my graduate career. I find that thesis helpful every day. My thesis explains the relationship between learning and transformation. It explains why learning and transformation are continuous social processes that can become self sustaining through practice and the development of new social and technological skills. What I love about writing is the process that allows new ideas to take shape, that makes a space to identify thoughts and feelings, that makes way for imaginative development.

As I enter this next phase of my life – 6th decade, post graduate, renovating; I am seeking to balance all the facets of my character and personality that need to be expressed in order that my life feels in balance. What I am developing is daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal and annual practices that constitute a sustainable quality of life.

I have lived my life with the added dimension of an invisible disability. Every day I cope with the effects of PTSD as a result of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE). These ACE took place at key cognitive and emotional developmental moments and were undiagnosed until I was in my mid-forties. By then I had endured an abusive 18 year marriage, which included horrific abuse of my children by my ex-husband. The PTSD was largely formed in relationship with each of my parents. To this day I am unable to relate to my own father, who, at 89, has continued to be a source of invalidation, dismissal and disrespect toward me. My mother, who is now 85, has suffered from severe mental illness since I was a child. She has mellowed somewhat with age and medication and is now a source of strength in my life, instead of terror.

When I put things in perspective, I can see how far I have come, the great progress I have made to improve the conditions of my life. Yes, my muscles and joints are aching, but I am super strong these days. Yesterday we started dismantling a shed and I worked until I had a blister on my hand from pulling nails to be able to salvage the lumber. I feel good when I look out in the yard and see the partially demolished shed and the neat stacks of lumber ready for re-use.

Writing is an essential part of my daily life. I don’t know exactly what it does, but somehow it clarifies, comforts, and helps me make sense – gain a new perspective on my life.

It is time to walk the dog, clean the house, and take my mother out to a family reunion in the afternoon to hang out with my 90+ Aunti and Uncle. That is a pretty sweet Sunday.

tearing down the shed

July 30, 2016 § Leave a comment

It is a quiet morning. The sky is overcast bringing welcome relief from the heat wave. The air is almost perfectly still. The vaguest wisps of air movement gently push the leaves outside the window. Up the street I can see the gusts are stronger, but here, around the house, it is relatively calm.

We are in the middle of our mid-summer construction push. Our house has been in a continuous state of renovation since we took out our first building permit was issued in 2011. Husband and I are now both working full time as carpenters, pursuing accreditation for our red seal certification. I am 60, he is 56. Yes. That is what we are doing. He has a masters degree in music composition. I have a bachelors degree in fine arts, a masters degree in technology studies in education, and a doctorate in education. And now we are both carpenters working furiously to stabilize our housing situation.

We bought this house in 2009. At the time we knew that it was going to need extensive repairs and renovation. We put a new basement underneath it 2011 – 2013. During this time we were still pursuing careers in music and academia so we were seriously under funded for the work we were attempting. An innocent error (missed student loan payments) during the months that our house was up on cribs in the middle of the winter resulted in a significant interest increase when it was time to re-finance to finish the renovation. This pushed us from A-side lending rates to B-side.

At the same time, a miscalculation by the architect led us to relocate our mechanical room out of the basement and move it upstairs to the main floor of the house. This meant the main electrical panel was now also re-located. When it came time to close the permit for the basement renovation, the electrical inspector forced us to take out another building permit and electrical permit to re-wire the upstairs. This meant that our house was technically still under construction and we had to continue with a temporary mortgage based on B-side lending rates.

We had always planned on renovating the upstairs, so we used this time to develop plans for phase 2 of our renovation. We have been working evenings and weekends to get ready to pull the revised permit that will allow us to implement these new plans. We have been living in a partially gutted house for over a year now. Our front porch roof has been up on shoring for two years.

Today we are demolishing the old construction shed that was built for the basement renovation. It was an eyesore and a magnet for clutter. It made it almost impossible to get anything done because fasteners, tools, and equipment were so hard to reach. We have been working to disgorge the contents of that shed and either properly stow the contents so they are accessible, or get rid of them. With the shed gone we can start work on building the tree barrier fences required by the City before we can pull the permit.

Through these years Husband and I have become damn good carpenters. I have also applied my graduate level skills to project management. It is proving a boon to keeping us organized and focused on what would otherwise be an overwhelming prospect of endless amorphous convoluted tasks.

It looks like it is is a very good day to take down a shed and move ahead with the rest of our lives. At some point, we will look back and heave a sigh of relief that this phase of our lives is over. Like I do already when I think about my life as  a graduate student.

suppressing bad behaviour does not contribute to lasting change

July 27, 2016 § Leave a comment

It is a quiet morning. Except for a seagull squalling east of the buddhist temple. The early morning orange of the rising sun illuminates the linden tree across the street but it hasn’t yet reached my house. The sky is a clear cool blue. It is already warm enough for bare feet. The air is still. Not a leaf twitches. The dog is sprawled sideways on the couch on the other side of the room. The moment I close the laptop lid he will be alert, knowing that is the signal that our first walk of the day is imminent. I hear the floor creak upstairs as my husband shows signs of awakening. I am comfortably reclining on my own couch, laptop in hand. Coming to consciousness.

The dog is prone to bark at sudden changes in the environment. He is also prone to attack things that he deems worthy of his attention. That whole ‘attacky’ thing. It means he can never go off leash in public areas. We don’t have a fenced yard, so it means he is never off leash when he is outside. He is a big athletic dog, very intelligent and he loves to learn new tricks. He is actually quite loving and friendly, except for the barky defensive attacky thing.

Some days his barking can be unnerving because he is just doing too much of it. I can tell when he is barking too much because I have a feeling of irritation and overwhelm at the sound of his voice. Usually at that point I just want to shut him up. But my wanting to shut him up does not equal him reducing his barking. It is the opposite. My attempts to suppress his barking leads to escalating barking over time. Why? Because his barking is expressing a need and the need is not addressed when I put my efforts into getting him to stop barking.

When I am in a responsive frame of mind, I note his barking as a signal of his boredom, his frustration, his need to express his energy. I engage him to learn a new trick, I get him to run obstacle courses, I run with him, I train with him to manage his aggression in increasingly challenging situations. I give him something to lick, to tear apart. I give him instruction.

When I do these things his barking incidents decrease.

Husband has come downstairs and Dog has moved from the couch to the floor. We will go out for our walk next.


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