Thursday, January 31, 2008

Is she venting AGAIN?!

All my life, MY environment has, unfortunately, been much affected by emotional turmoil. We never seriously thought of our mother as mentally ill until we were in our 50s and she was evaluated by a psychiatrist in a nursing home. Dr. Shrink was transparently excited at finding a genuine looney in his caseload of boring, demented old ladies. He immediately put her on all kinds of ‘helpful’ psychotropic drugs, but we made him stop because he was making her sad and we simply could not see how making her unhappy was going to help her at the age of 86. What if, we asked him, he could convince her that her life and her relationships had all been sick and useless? Who did that help? It was far too late to help the children we used to be, now that, no thanks to him, we were all grown up and had all created stable lives, thank you. Dr. Shrink was not a happy camper and, in the end, we had to call in Hospice care just to get him off mom’s case, and we never regretted that decision. She eventually died peacefully, secure in the knowledge that she was the center of her universe. It still seems odd to me that the Outside World saw problems in her. To us she was our mom, the only one we knew.

So I am skeptical of these widespread diagnoses. The Namesake, who in many ways takes after our mother, can (and did) go into a new, strange city, walk up to people on the street and announce to them her name and her intention to live and work there. That is supposedly not entirely 'normal.' But she has had more friends, and job offers, and excitement in her young life than I have had in a life twice as long. And yes, yes, she and my mother have had deep low points and have suffered, and it has hurt me to see it. But oh, the highs they experience, and the courage they show in the process!

I could use a few highs in my life, if I weren't such a chicken!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Wordy Wednesday

Well, thank goodness, the Namesake has safely arrived in NOLA land. She was happy when I talked to her, and said that the building man helped her carry her bags in. I am not surprised, and I smile as I picture her, a small pretty woman, dragging a 50-pound carpet bag in each hand, walking deliberately toward her new home in her 3-inch stiletto heels. (But it was a nice change from New York, where she was greeted by the theft of her MAC cosmetics, and tried to comfort herself that at least it was a High Fashion crime.) She also met a neighbor, CG, and CG gave her an air mattress, which will be a big help until she gets furniture moved in. I envy her, I was always the sensible one, the “smart” one, but there is a side of me that yearns to break out and go on adventures like the Namesake dares to do.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

As you sow . . .

The Namesake flew off to NOLA today. I wish her godspeed, and will hold my breath until she’s settled. I so yearn for her to find a community and a place of her own. People look at me with wonder when I try to explain that I never knew, growing up, that I had mental illness in my family; I thought my mom and aunts were merely colorful. Very, very colorful. But now, trying to mentally revisit my childhood --and my daughter’s childhood -- with these more educated eyes, I can clearly see the signs I never saw before. I guess, growing up in my ‘colorful’ family, I thought that a lot of manic behaviors were normal, or nearly normal, or only unpleasant . . . I was hurt and still resist the diagnoses of my mother and questions about her Namesake, physicians’ notes sum up their lives in one pejorative word. The Namesake is charming and bright, most of the time, and exceptionally talented; and I suspect that, except toward me, her scapegoat, my mother was, too. People of value, I promise. And I want to see the Namesake succeed at creating her own unique and independent life.

But enough of that. I started this journal to push myself into living a greener life, and it’s time to get back on track. Environmental-wise, I am doing such a good job at using my cloth bags for all shopping, and I kick myself when I forget them because I genuinely prefer them to the cheap and nasty plastic bags (or even the flimsy paper bags) that merchants use. I am trying not to buy plastic toys, trying not to replace still usable or fixable appliances. I finished a cloth doll for my granddaughter this week, and look forward to making her more doll clothes. I am planning to preserve more local foods when they are in season this summer. Just wait until I learn to make cheese! And I have planted a beautiful fantasy garden in my head, filled with kale and potatoes . . . now we’ll just have to wait and see if it ever hits the ground!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Self Absorbed

The Namesake of my mother says she is going to get on a train this week and move, without job or plan or credit or savings, to New Orleans. She was there exactly once, on a vacation provided by me, years ago before the Storm. I am worried half to death.

I heard a piece on National Public Radio lately where someone mentioned that the defining characteristic of the middle class is choice. I‘ve sadly watched the Namesake chip away at her choices over the years, by dropping countless classes, by opting out of training or education, by pushing friends beyond their limits, by never holding a job for more than a few months. I have been the steady one, holding firm. Although closer to middle age than to childhood, the Namesake is still a sparkling faerie, flitting from flower to flower.

I am most definitely middle class by the npr definition, but perhaps the luxury of choices has been my downfall. Because it occurs to me lately that the Namesake, with her limited options, seems to be happier about, and certainly more open to life than I am. I want to live on the land and raise chickens, be a social worker/ preschool teacher/ chef/ seamstress/ folk singer/ science teacher/ author/ earth-(grand)mother/ nurse/ politician/ seashell crafter/ medical technician/ crew member at Trader Joes. I want to work full-time/ part-time/ no time/ only as a volunteer. I want my hair to be long/ short/ curly/ straight/ natural/ color-enhanced. I want to live in the city/ country/ suburbs/ island, in Michigan (Saginaw, Grosse Pointe, Traverse City)/ Florida (Sanibel)/ Alaska/ Wyoming/ Maine/ Washington/ Montana/ New Mexico/ coastal Texas, in an apartment/ single-family-ranch/ farmhouse/ A-frame/ cape cod/ straw house/ log cabin. I want to share that home with a husband/ dog/ cat/ extended family/ nobody at all.

And I know that I could have had any of my choices, every one was (and many are still) within reach, but I cannot seem to have all of them. And so, in typical middle class fashion, I make no choices at all and let myself drift with the choices of others, ending effortlessly in the job/ place/ house/ lifestyle where, these days, I am not sure I want to be. I do not dare make waves, because my life is safe and predictable and, really, very good. The others who helped create the non-choices have moved on, leaving me with the results of their decisions and wondering why I never figured out what I, personally, might like to do.

Today’s lesson: don’t judge the Namesake too harshly as she goes from one wild adventure to another. Her impetuous style frightens me, but there is something to be said for choosing when there are choices to be made and risking a few regrets of our own making.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Pretty is as pretty does

I was thinking this weekend, in connection with the new year, about what things I might regret if I were to die today. To my shock (and yes, horror) the things that immediately came to mind were that I would regret: never having had a really good haircut, never having found a really comfortable pair of shoes, and never having had a properly fitted bra. When did this child who came of age in the 60s, peace, love and no make-up, become such a consumer? This was not a pretty insight.

I think often about how much we pretend that we are not aware of how our lifestyles affect the future. And then I wonder when my grandchildren will see the 1973 campy-classic movie, Soylent Green, and realize that we did know (or should have known) that we were destroying the world and that, despite that, we continued to buy blackberries from Ecuador, drive SUVs, and worry about our appearance?

And I think, too, about how complex we all are in our denial. Because, in fact, I do not buy out-of-nation fruit or drive a gas guzzler, I dial down my home energy (shiver), I try to be conservative with water and chemicals, I do slow-cooking at home, I support my local pesticide-free farms, I use and wear local products as much as possible, I carry my own shopping bags (no plastic!), I have changed all my lightbulbs to cfls. . . but I do fly to Florida several times a year for no (really) good reason and yes, even at an age when surely it shouldn’t suddenly matter, I am vain. And I did drive unnecessary miles just to go for an unnecessary bra fitting.

Today’s lesson: I need to worry less about the bad eco-choices other people are making and spend more time rethinking my own. I will try to be more mindful of my choices and less tolerant of my impulses. The bra fitting could, at very least, have waited to be part of other necessary errands if it needed to be done at all. And surely there is some local place that knows how to cut my hair!? If, in the Little Red Riding Hood story of my grandchildren's lives, I want to be the Good Grandma instead of the Wicked Wolf, I simply need to do better.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Out of Africa

My niece told me, after living in an African country for six years, that she had finally adjusted to the local custom of using the description “fat” as flattery. She talked about how locals would call out to her that she was looking especially fat today, and she was expected to answer with thanks and to assure them that they, too, appeared extremely fat. Here in America, life is good, and I can truly say, without fear of contradiction, that I am, indeed, looking unusually fat in the new year.

I think a lot about all the many resources I figuratively gobble up, and feel guilty as I drive to work each day, even though there is nothing I can do about it at the moment. It would not be safe for me to walk to work (trust me on that one) and there are no available car pools for my schedule (thank goodness for that, I really hated car pooling . . . the nightmare experience with never-ready-Mindy will remain with me forever!)

But it has dawned on me that I am wasting my eco-energies on things I can’t change, instead of addressing the areas I can.And so, my fat. It may not save the world for me to eat more sensibly, by which I mean not only more locally but also more sparingly, but it surely would not hurt.