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.


Sunday morning

May 22, 2016 § Leave a comment

It is a quiet morning and I don’t have to go to work. And I don’t have to go to work tomorrow, either.

Writing is transformative. Even writing to an imagined reader, a non-existent reader, is transformative, because, in effect, I am writing to myself. I am writing to my own imagined reader, and in the process, I am in dialogue with myself. This dialogue constitutes dialogic imagination. The possibility for dialogic imagination emerges through the process of writing to myself.

Yesterday we worked a hard day on our own place. We were up early to pick up a rototiller from the equipment rental company. It was an 8 hp rear tine rototiller, too heavy to lift into the back of the truck. Instead, it had to be run up a ramp to get onto the flat bed of my truck. I would have been too scared to attempt such a maneuver, but, luckily DH (Dear Husband) was with me and he drove it up.

When we got home it was time to walk the dog before any further work. After I got back from the dog walk, we did the next task on our list. We headed out for coffee at our favourite coffee shop.

a clean slate

May 16, 2016 § Leave a comment

I start each day the same. I awake early, before the sun comes up. With the start of each day the slate of every day that has gone before me is wiped clean. At least on the surface.

Below the surface the cellular activity that continuously gives my existence shape is busy re-constructing this entity that I know as me. The neural synapse sending electrical charge from one cluster of memory to another light up to remind me of who I am in the world, what is possible for me, and how I will be received. I re-construct my existence as I re-construct my possibilities for my future existence.

These processes of re-construction are not guided by a blueprint for the future, but rather a familiar sequence of operations guided by history. The default is to follow historic patterns. However, the shape of these patterns can be configured in present time. The emergence of these patterns can be modified by changing the conditions of their emergence. Over time, the history of the emergence of these patterns can be modified as well-worn grooves of habit are left to atrophy through lack of use and new patterns take root through conscious choice.

I become an active participant in my own transformation through conscious activity that makes it possible for new patterns to take root. My investment in new patterns means that I am no longer endorsing old patterns. These old patterns gradually disappear because I am no longer devoting energy to their existence. I may not notice these changes as significant from day to day. I might notice that I am not as upset by an event that might have derailed me for days. I might notice that I am not compulsively eating something that I know will make me feel sick later. I might notice that I am spending more time outdoors and less time staring at a computer screen. Or I might not.

Writing is a transformative practice. For these twenty minutes that I am engaging my dialogic imagination, I am not endorsing old, unexamined patterns of existence. I am breaking with the routine reinforcement of historical precedence. In my case this is a good thing. My historical precedence is so damaging to my contemporary well-being as to be considered a hazard to my health. The act of writing refutes notions of disempowerment, invisibility, invalidation, dismissal. The act of writing endorses notions of empowerment, visibility, validation, and consideration. If only for myself.

My morning routine can include twenty minutes of writing and I can transform my life. Or not. When I choose to write, I choose to change. I choose to transform what I am capable of perceiving as possibilities in my life today. It is mysterious. It is not a to-do list. It is energizing the unknown and de-energizing the well-worn, familiar, but uncomfortable.

On the surface, nothing has changed. No one even knows that I spent this time tapping on a keyboard instead of surfing the Internet. But I know. My brain knows, the entire cellular structure of my being knows. The day is a clean slate and I just wrote something new on it.

exceptional mediocrity

May 15, 2016 § Leave a comment

At this stage of my life I no longer seek thrills. I no longer seek variation for the sake of change. I have weathered many changes, and still more to come. I no longer wish for change. Rather, I wish for a median. I seek mediocrity.

This morning I ate the same breakfast that I designed years ago. I balance nutritional benefit with gustatory pleasure, ease of preparation with responsible budget and carbon footprint. I have settled for a perfect combination that I look forward to eating every morning when I get up. I do not want a variety of different foods for breakfast. I don’t get bored of the breakfast I have. Instead, I eat my combination of oats, granola, a few raisons, a few almonds, and milk with satisfaction.

I have spent a lifetime in the pursuit of exceptionality. Impelled by the belief that if I was exceptional my life would mean something. I believed that achievement of exceptionality would mean something. It would mean recognition, validation, respect, importance, belonging, connection, security, acceptance. I believed exceptional accomplishments would result in new interest and love from my father. I believed this new interest and love from my father would inspire my siblings to take an interest in me. To love me and appreciate me rather than taking it upon themselves to give me advice about how I could improve my life.

Each morning I make my coffee on my espresso machine. I boil the kettle to heat up my coffee mug. I grind the beans and tamp them. I fill the machine with fresh water and run it through its first cycle to heat up the machinery. I fill the milk jug to just the right height so that when it is steamed it fills the jug to the brim does not overflow. I pour the coffee into the mug and then fill the mug with the steamed milk. Every morning I enjoy my own abstract design of white milk foam and rich golden crema.

There are those who would say I have achieved some measure of exceptionality in my life. Modest by standards of fame and fortune, but exceptional in terms of courage, persistence, hard headedness. With each of these accomplishments, each of which could be seen to escalate over time to achieve greater and greater recognition (albeit in small, exclusive circles) I was perplexed to realize nothing had changed in relation to my father. It didn’t seem to matter what I accomplished, at what cost of time, energy, personal security or financial investment. Whatever exceptionality I was finally able to achieve in my lifetime, it did not change the indifference, the disregard, the outright diminishment, my father conveyed to me through word and deed.

With my coffee in hand I play a computer game that has seen me through many difficult times. I enjoy the smooth warm bitter sweetness of the coffee and milk with my feet stretched out beside my sleeping dog. My husband kisses me briefly before heading off for his weekly singing gig. The dishwasher churns in the background. I am surrounded by a house that needs cleaning and renovating. The grounds need landscaping. I need to remember to get laundry loaded into the machines. I need to put away clean laundry. I need to make progress on my chair repair.

Whatever I have achieved in this life, I have failed to make a dent in my father’s consciousness. Perhaps one of my most exceptional accomplishments in this life has been to grieve the reality of a father who has been unable to love me over the time of my entire life. In being able to grieve that absence, I have found the strength and inspiration to live a good life and love my own children, my husband, my mother, and my siblings, and to build truly supportive relationships with each one. Today, in my modest morning routine, I am able to give myself the love that I have longed for, yearned for, these many decades. Instead of being filled with resentment and bitterness, I am filled with love and contentment.

At this stage of my life I no longer seek the thrill of a loving father affirming my worth and exceptionality. I don’t need to make any major changes in the hopes that this one, final change, will bring me the attention and validation that I have craved all my life. My median is a quiet Sunday morning filled with loving attention to my home, my husband and my dog. I can let my absent father go, I no longer need his panoptic gaze to validate my life choices.

For me, this is truly an exceptional accomplishment.