Friday, March 30, 2007

Screams in the Night

My downstairs neighbor has a stormy relationship with her boyfriend. Often, their arguments rise up through my floor. I usually can't distinguish actual words but it's obvious the conversation has degenerated into a fight. Sometimes I can hear her telling him to get out. There is also lots of door slamming. Last night they were having another fight. Then at about 11:30 she began screaming, not words, just screaming. I was already in bed and this jolted me up. I didn't know if she was being attacked or if she was just letting it all out. So I called 911. And waited. During the next fifteen minutes my neighbor ejected her boyfriend, did some loud crying and then apparently went to bed. The downstairs apartment was now silent. Fifteen minutes after that the cops called. I told them that the fuss was over but they said they would come and check anyway. Would I lookout and let them in? Sure, I said. Then I waited some more. Another 30 minutes in fact. Still no police. I called the precinct to tell them that I was going to bed and the officers should not come. The woman who answered the phone was very cheerful for someone on the graveyard shift in a police precinct. She told me not to worry about it. The call was probably unnecessary but I didn't want the phone ringing again just as I'd gotten to sleep. I suspect the cops got called to something more immediate like a robbery in progress and just forgot all about this little domestic disturbance. What I found more troubling was the long initial gap. In half an hour my neighbor could have been dead. I concluded later that no attack had taken place. She was able to kick him out without a problem. But it might just as easily been more serious. Perhaps if I'd been able to be more positive about her danger the cops might have come sooner. I hope so. I also wondered if I would have intervened if I 'd thought she was in real trouble. I like to think that I would have even though I was a little frightened. We have to take care of each other.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Universe Provides

If you let it. Recently I have been paying more attention. Susun Weed and Dr. Northrup appeared to help me understand what was happening to me and this weekend my friend Bill came to visit. He has some issues similar to mine. Lack of satisfaction with his life, an inability to decide what to do, the feeling that he is behind somehow because he has not "accomplished" anything with his life. But his hole is much deeper than mine. His problems have been exacerbated by his second divorce which occurred three years ago. It caused him to retreat into his own head and he is only now thinking about coming out. Since his divorce he has turned to writing and has been trying to get published. So far he hasn't sold anything and this has been demoralizing.

I found as we walked around New York that I am feeling much more like myself. Like a Weeble I have bobbed back up. This morning we walked through the Heather Garden in Fort Tryon Park. The first crocuses of spring are up and I felt joy just to see them there, like hope rising out of the ground. But he seems to be incapable of this kind of feeling. Normally I love to show people New York City. They get excited by all the different things to see. And I get to see the city anew from someone else's perspective. This was not true this time. Though he commented on various things he seemed unmoved by the experience. I had trouble figuring out where to go and what to show him since he didn't have much interest in anything in particular. He did want to see Van Gogh's Starry Night but I think it was more to complete a set than to experience a work of art (he'd seen many other Van Gogh works at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam years ago but Starry Night was not there). I don't think he was affected by the painting. As I remember from college he was always self-absorbed but now he has truly closed himself off to world.

After three years he's finally hit bottom and is now trying to find his way out. This was really the purpose of this trip, to come and talk to someone new that he could trust. Apparently I fit the bill. We talked about his sense of failure and his dissatisfaction with his life. He's had much the same job history as myself. After the second divorce he moved back in with his parents (his ex-wife got the house) and started working with his dad who is a plumber. Now he has a place to live, few expenses, a good salary, and time to do his writing. But this is not enough. He doesn't have any sense of accomplishment and is envious of people who are successful. He seems to think that women in particular are successful and that they get things more easily. You can imagine what my response to that was.

I found myself talking about different kinds of success and about taking action, any kind of action, to break out of a self-destructive cycle. And discovered that I am really coming to believe it myself. Nothing like seeing your problems from the outside to gain perspective. Confidence is coming back, slowly, but it is coming back. I am coming out of the darkness. The deep despair is gone. It may well return at some point in the future but now I am better prepared. First time is usually hardest. And thank goodness. I really didn't like that person I'd become. It's good for you too, gentle reader, since you won't have to endure all that sadness.
My friend is on his way home now. I hope he starts moving. He's taken the first step. Now he must take another and another. Hard, cruel hard, but so very rewarding.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

When It Rains, It Pours

My horoscope for this week by Rob Brezny:

Here you come dragging your exhausted but redeemed ass out of the deep dark forest of symbols. The red-eyed monkey demons fall off your back as you straggle toward the light. Your sunken eyes see wonders they were blind to before your ordeal. Your heart rages with a wild angelic love you've never tapped into before. And as you realize the magnitude of your tough miracle, you feel glimmers of gratitude for the rude tests you had to endure. Maybe you should get totally lost in limbo more often.

And just in time too. Last night I got a call from a friend I haven't spoken to in several months. She is not doing well. First, she's got some of my problems; worry over money, a feeling of listlessness and a lack of desire to do anything. She's a writer who has no will to write, a crafter with no will to create.

As if this were not enough she just learned that her parents are getting a divorce. After 30 years of marriage her father has had an affair.

My heart aches for all of them, especially for her mother. What must that be like, to face divorce after 30 years? She must be frightened of being alone, of dealing with all of her life. Her husband took care of all the financial things. Now she will have to learn. I feel for her father too. He may find that he's made a terrible mistake and that there is no way back.

My friend and her sisters are angry that their father has not tried to speak with them. I told her that I am not surprised. He feels guilty and he is afraid of what they will say. He has betrayed all of them. The worst thing is that now the past becomes tainted. They were a close family who went on vacations together, the parents still holding hands after 30 years of marriage. It all seemed wonderful and safe. Now it's all changed. The memories will be darkened by his act.

I was about 4 1/2 when my father had an affair. He too was weak and sat on the fence for a while, wanting to have his cake and eat it too, afraid to take the leap. My mother finally told him that he must choose and so he went. He stayed with that woman and they've been together for more than 30 years now. She is better suited to him than my mother was. But that does not justify his behavior. He should have made a clean break even though he was afraid and didn't know if the relationship with this new person would last.

As I was very small I didn't get the full story. But my 13 year old sister did. I think my mother was like me, she didn't have a very close best friend that she could talk to so she dumped a lot on my sister. I understand why, but it was unfortunate. My sister has never reconciled with our father and that is a shame. Not for his sake but for hers. One day time will run out. And it is easy to judge from a distance. We cannot know for sure what we would do in a similar situation. We may like to think we would act well, ending the first relationship before pursuing the next. But we don't really know. We are only human after all.

I told my friend about my father and my sister. I hope that she and her sisters will be able to forgive their father. It's important to be able to let it go. Otherwise it festers in your mind and it affects other relationships. But it's so hard to forgive when you hurt so much. I find it hardest of all to forgive myself for mistakes and bad judgements. And that is the most necessary thing of all, to forgive oneself.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Toilet Seat

I've been wanting to replace my toilet seat for some time. It's definitely seen better days. But My bathroom is an odd shade of pink. The chances of finding a matching seat are pretty slim. So I decided I should get something whimsical. A couple of years ago I found some clear resin seats that were pretty cool but they were only available in the UK. They were kind of expensive and the shipping was really steep. After a while I forgot about it then today something made me think of it again. It seems the market has really opened up. Target has some, Kohler has some, and ebay has 12 pages of toilet seats. Here are some of my favorites.

First we have simple, yet elegant.

Then we have girly.

A seat for the marine enthusiast.

Or the nature lover.

Or the Wild West type.

Or the urban sophisticate.

Or for the zen bathroom.

And for the archaeologist we have the Egyptian God of Eternity

So many choices. It makes it very hard to decide. What do you think?

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Dream 1

I used to keep a dream journal. Writing down your dreams helps you remember them. I'm going to start that journal again and this is the first entry.

The dream begins in the middle of a battle of some kind but it's a quiet moment. In fact the battle never gets loud or chaotic. I am with several people, not people I know in real life. The enemy has 10 operatives that we are trying to find and eliminate. We've been doing pretty well and only number 1 is left. I am out on the battlements (we are in a fortress of some kind) and I decide to call out to the enemy troops, call out for Number 1. I am surprised when he answers. We talk for a moment and then I hurry off to find our leader and tell him I know where Number 1 is. I do, and then a woman and I rush back to the center of the fortress. I'm going to be late you see, I am playing Hamlet in the theater. I arrive breathless at the theater and despite my best efforts I am late, the curtain has gone up. In my haste I manage to spill both the coffee and the wine that I am carrying. I go to the backstage area and look for somewhere to rinse my stained clothing. I find an open room with a sink. As I rinse I ask the man who is there for a script. I don't know when I'm supposed to go on. When is Hamlet's first entrance? He tells me it's a 1 minute 35 seconds in. I tell him that I've never actually had a chance to play the part, what with the battle and all. But I do not actually seem that concerned about it, nor does he. I run out and for some reason out of the theater. I'm on a crowded street and as I realize I have left the theater, I ask myself, "Where are you going?" then I turn back. It seems a long way but then I see the marquee. I am almost there. At this point I think I become a bit aware of the fact that I am dreaming. I wonder, don't they have understudies for this kind of situation? Then I wake up.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

It's That Time

The last few months my mind has been in turmoil. The last several weeks have been the worst. I hardly recognize myself and often feel as if someone else is looking out of my eyes. I've been asking myself what is the cause? Is it the risk I took starting the business? Is it self-recrimination? We often have questions and if we are willing to listen the universe may send us an answer.

I have been thinking of moving to a rural place. One of the places I have considered is Woodstock, NY. It's only 2 1/2 hours from New York City and has a pretty lefty, crunchy population. Last Wednesday I was thinking about it and Susun Weed popped into my head. She is an herbalist who has an apprenticeship program for would-be herbalists. I knew that she lived in Upstate New York but not exactly where. So I went to her website and she lives in Saugerties which is a little township a few miles from Woodstock. She's lived there since 1962. I also discovered that Susun was speaking at The META Center here in the city on March 1, the very next day. I dithered about it until the next day and then I went.

She's a very dynamic speaker and she is passionate about her subject. At the end of the talk she was going to answer questions and in order to prevent any embarrassment she had us write our questions down on a card. I wrote: "My digestion has always been very good and then in the last 5 months it has gone haywire." I went on to describe my symptoms. When she got to my card she read the first sentence and said, "Well, here's a woman entering menopause." That brought me up short. I know that our hormones can start fluctuating in our thirties, but menopause?

Then last night I watched a talk by Christiane Northrup. She was addressing the audience on the subject of women in midlife. The second section of her talk was about perimenopause. It's kind of like PMS, the part that happens before. Some women have a short transition. It's over in a few months. But this transition can last for as long as 15 years until your menses stop completely. I went online and googled perimenopause. Several sites had a list of common symptoms.
sleep disruption
digestive irregularity
joint aches
fluctuating menses
short term memory lapses
trouble maintaining focus
mood swings

Right. So there we are folks. It seems I'm not crazy. I'm just perimenopausal. There are a couple of ways to deal with this. I could get upset about it and run around trying to find ways to supress my symptoms. Or I could embrace it. Dr. Northrup talked about this second option and it seems like the way to go.

I started taking birth control pills about 8 years ago. It was such a relief. My periods had been irregular and painful and now they were as regular as a clock and I had no pain at all. I did gain some weight and my blood pressure went up a bit but that was all to the good as it had been very low before. Then a couple of years ago I switched pills and took more of them so I only had 4 periods a year. I did have some concerns about taking so many hormones but it was soooo convenient.

Now I think I need to get off. Maybe not for good. Maybe I can go back just with a different pill that has a different hormone mix. But I have to figure out where my hormones are now. They have obviously changed and the pill is not going to stop the change. The pill worked for me because it provided what I was missing. Now that the mix has changed the pill may be making things worse. At least as far as my emotional state and my stomach are concerned.

Today I feel better than I have in weeks and better still now that I know I haven't lost my mind. Now I have to listen to my body and do my best to give it what it needs. This includes letting go of the past and honoring myself. It's also a time to let go of expectations.

We must be willing to let go of the life we had planned in order to come in to the life that's waiting for us.
Joseph Campbell

Daylight Saving Time

It seems I've been living under a rock. I had no idea that daylight saving time is happening 3 weeks earlier this year. We spring forward this coming Sunday, March 11 rather than on April 1. I also have to remember to change all the items that normally change themselves like my computer and DVD player. Apple has a patch up on their site but I don't think it's really worth it. I have to change all the ordinary clocks in the house anyway. But what a pain in the tukas for business! So much stuff runs automatically now and is time sensitive. This issue is being called a mini Y2K. Hopefully it will turn out as well and not make everybody too crazy.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Lucky to be in New York

As a self-employed soul in this country I am responsible for providing my own health insurance. Here in New York State the choices are limited and this has made it difficult. But it could be worse. In the New York Times today there is an article about health insurance or lack there of, in the middle class. The woman profiled in the article is a freelance real estate agent living in North Carolina. At the beginning of 2006 she lost her COBRA health insurance. She was unable to renew that insurance because she had had surgery for breast cancer in 2005. When she tried to get new health insurance she was turned away by just about everyone and those that did not turn her away wanted to charge her $2300 a month with a $5000 deductible per year. She rations her medication and puts off going to the doctor in case he does something expensive. She has even put off getting married because health providers have been known to go after a spouse's assets to recover their fees.

At this point I had to acknowledge that New York State is a very good place to be. The reason our insurance choices are so limited is because of the strict laws imposed on insurance companies. You cannot be refused coverage regardless of your health and you cannot be charged more than anyone else. They can decline to cover a preexisting condition but only for one year. It would still be hard for this woman but only for one year. She does make enough that she could afford pretty decent coverage especially if she joined up with the Freelancers Union.

Members of the middle class have rapidly been joining the ranks of the uninsured. Many companies are hiring more independent contractors and part timers in order to avoid providing coverage. Many people now work for themselves or for small businesses that cannot afford to offer health insurance. If you've ever tried to get coverage on your own you know that costs are high and getting higher. Health care has become a vital topic in the 2008 presidential campaign and has spawned a variety of ads on television sponsored by groups like AARP.
Health care has become a consumer product driven by market forces. We need to reclaim it as a force for good rather than profit. Polls show that most people are still resistant to government sponsored health care. It's true, our government doesn't have a good track record with benefit programs and it would be a logistical nightmare but wouldn't it be worth it? Instead of spending 10 action packed minutes with your doctor you might be able to spend long enough that he or she could get to know you. If profit was not an issue we could concentrate on preventive medicine, learn to maintain health rather than cure illness. A number of clinics specializing in the treatment of diabetes have closed recently due to not being financially viable. In other words, they don't do lots of expensive tests or use enough expensive drugs. Our very lives are at stake but we do not want to give up our consumer control. As the numbers of uninsured grow we are becoming a voice too loud to ignore. Maybe we can find some middle ground before it is too late for too many of us.

Sunday, March 04, 2007


This past week has been tumultuous, and that is putting it mildly. I am in real crisis for the first time in my life and I'm having to learn how to deal with it. My mind crashed and I can't just reboot it. Yesterday I was sitting out on the street watching people go by and I had the strangest sensation that it wasn't me looking out. At least not the me that I'm used to. To add to the storm I managed to have a terrible email conversation with my friends. Email is not the best place for pouring out your turmoil. It creates this odd and disjointed picture and you are missing facial expressions and tone of voice. But as awful as it turned out it did serve a purpose. It let the darkness out and now I have to learn to love having it out.

All of this got me to thinking about relationships, specifically the ones I have. I realized that my relationship with my friends is much the same as my relationship with my family. I love my family, they are all pretty great. I don't see them that often, mostly at holidays, but when we do get together we have a good time. But we don't really talk about anything more than skin deep. When my sister had a crisis of her own recently it was very difficult for her and her family. It took her a long time to reveal her troubles to us and when she did it was in an email that sounded almost casual. When she and I talked about it on the phone that too was almost casual. It was not an intimate conversation. And I understood perfectly. It's just what I would have done. Keep it light. If you keep it light that means it isn't as terrible as it seems and you won't be quite so vulnerable.

This is how I have always liked my relationships. At a slight distance. Makes me feel safer. This is the relationship I have with all my friends. Casual, relaxed, calm. And about as deep as a puddle. That's the rub. Without depth there is no where to go. I haven't had a best friend in a long time, not since high school. This is the price you pay for invulnerability. Or at least perceived invulnerability, for the real truth is that when you keep all that turmoil inside, you become vulnerable. It's like a building succumbing to dry-rot. It may look solid on the outside but don't slam a door to hard or it will just cave in.

I can't change my behavior over night. It will be a work in progress. I also have to get more friends, ones who share interests that I don't share with my current group. And I need to see them more regularly, face to face. Email is very convenient but it does not support intimacy. The hardest thing will be to open myself up, let the fears and the weaknesses show. I know that I did not feel any differently about my sister once I knew she was in trouble. On the contrary, I wanted to know more about her life and how she feels. But it's hard to change patterns of thought that have been around for more than 30 years. For example, yesterday, after all the emailing was over, I thought, how can I get back to the way it was? I can't of course nor should I want to. It may be awkward at first but in the long run it will be better.

I've always been ready to help my family and friends in any way they might need. Now I must learn to ask for help when I need it. But I also must be ready to stand firm when it comes to what I want to do. One of the other reasons that I don't share is that I don't want people trying to talk me into or out of things. I will accept suggestions and advice but I may not act on them. I don't watch Dr. Phil really but one day I happened to see a few minutes of his show and I had to agree with what he was saying. The gist is, people can to say whatever they want to you, you can't stop them. But you can choose not to react to what they say. Ooooh that's tough. I've got my father's genes after all, debating is in my blood. It's very hard for me not to defend my position. And I like to win, to be right. And this is okay when dealing with superficial stuff, e.g. politics. But when it gets closer to home I lose my perspective and it ceases to be a debate and becomes an argument. This happened the other night when I spoke to a friend of mine on the phone. Before we spoke I'd been feeling better. I'd made some decisions and was feeling much more positive. Then this phone call, that started out well, turned into an argument. Not an acrimonious one but I let myself get on the defensive. And at the end of the call I felt battered, filled with doubt again. But it was my own fault. I should not have allowed it to turn into a match over who was right. Because of course that's not the point. I should have stated my objective and my reasons. Then I should have listened to my friend's objections. Once he was done I should have said, okay, I will consider what you've said, thank you. And that would have been that. Instead I let myself get worked up into this storm of emotions over what wasn't even a proper debate. Once more with feeling: They can say what they want but you don't have to react to it. If I can remember that then I don't have to be afraid to tell the truth. I can make a statement and walk away even if the other person thinks I'm wrong. I don't have to prove that I'm right to anyone. And maybe I'm not. Maybe I will fall flat on my face. But I've done that now. And it turns out, despite the storm and the pain, that I'm okay. I have more work to do before I feel well again but I have made the first move. It's that first fall that's so hard. The later ones aren't so bad because you know that the pain doesn't last forever. And in spite of my cynicism and my tendency to imagine the worst, deep down I am really an optimist. I believe it will all turn out all right. This part of me gets suppressed sometimes by bleak thoughts but it doesn't last. My father says that when I was a child I was very cheerful and I think I really am still. It is glorious just to be alive. That is the part if me I need to nurture. These last two or three years the self-recriminating part has gained supremacy. I became consumed with the idea that I had not done enough in my life, that I had failed to live up to my potential. There's the inner guidance counselor talking. What I should have done at this point was to do more for my soul, my spirit. Instead of complaining about The Pit I should have gone out and done some volunteer work and gotten involved in some spiritual work. Gotten some perspective. Instead I let the toxic atmosphere poison me.
It may be that like many hard times it will turn out that this crisis was just what I needed. Many recovering addicts say you have to hit bottom before you can make a real change. Maybe that's true no matter what your self-destructive vice of choice might be.