Monthly Archives: September 2013

four times a year

I am sitting in the waiting room at my insurer’s Mental Healthcare Facility. We all sit together, on this stained and awful circular arrangement of olive green couches. Father Knows Best blares from the tv directly above and behind my head. Why did I choose this seat? What channel could this be? We all avoid eye contact, mostly via cell phone screen, except for the man in the wheelchair. He is staring directly at me, I can feel it even when I’m not looking. I can’t tell if he’s staring on purpose or because he lacks the motor control to look elsewhere. I try to avoid this place. I only come maybe 4 times per year, well under the allotted number of annual visits.

My parents have always been suspicious of educated strangers trained to help. “It goes on your record,” my stepmom used to say. She believed neighbors and employers would somehow find out, that your future could be ruined. I was raised not to tell anyone, not even close friends, my problems, my secrets, to push it down, to hold it in, to suck it up.

I heeded that advice for some time. I kept it all inside. I was very, very quiet. Eventually, something broke, and it came pouring out.

My dad asks me how my week went. I’m having one of those weeks I sometimes have when I feel low, like I am moving underwater. It only happens occasionally. When it does, it is intense, and recent external events have made things more hectic than usual. I tell him it has been a long week, and, to my surprise, he presses for more details. I begin to give them. He quickly stops me. He tells me about his girlfriend’s sister-in-law’s ALS. She can’t move her arms, he says. She can’t speak. We are still alive, he says. We can speak. I think he is trying to make me feel better. It isn’t working.

I hate myself a little when I go to therapy. It such a privileged person thing to do, to whine to someone about my problems when I have my health, enough food, good kids, a stable relationship, a warm home. I have pet turtles that swim in a 40 gallon tank, and some people don’t have water. I am not that man in the wheelchair who probably can’t move his head. I feel obnoxious for feeling like I have problems. I hate everyone in here, I hate my brain. I am sorry for the nice redhead who has to listen to me.

I come here anyway. I force myself through an awkward session of talking and, sometimes, crying. I blow my nose and wipe at my eyes with the cheap, scratchy tissue from the little blue cardboard box. I am exhausted when we are finished.

I would like to be able to sort out my head alone, to not need any help, with anything. I would like to be as strong and repressed as my parents tried to teach me to be. But I’m not. Sometimes I need help. At least four times a year.

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In the Pursuit of Knowledge and Virtue

This past New Year’s celebration, before reaching that level of intoxication where there is no return, I sat in a stool against the wall fighting off a virus sprayed onto me by the snot of an awkward middle aged man at work. I sat there, sick in body and brooding mentally. I began to feel old. I began to feel inadequate. I began to feel unfulfilled. Love has never been kind to me. I find no comfort in the embrace of lovers because they’ve always been temporary and mostly trivial. Part of it is my fault since I am too selfish to give up my time and pursue or care for someone else. But I am prone to constant silly crushes that make me act like a 17 year old. For most people, if they have nothing else they at least have a companion. The moment I think I may have a companion is the moment the universe spins the other way and scoffs at me “Did you really think it would be that easy?” I sat there wishing I could just turn off my brain, so I got drunk. I got drunk and made out with some guy that was in awe of my “nerdiness” and kept declaring he really liked me and I kept assuring him that he was really drunk. After the excitement of swapping spit wore off and telling everyone about it, I felt pathetic. I felt self conscious, maybe I had been a last resort? I haven’t made out with anyone, I’ll take that dumb drunk chubby girl there. That’s probably what he thought. And soon I started my first bout of private depression of the year. It’s fairly common for me to get depressed after things escalate from light flirtations to full make out sessions or drunken hook up sessions. Don’t get me wrong though, these aren’t things that happen every week. They happen very randomly, sparse and unexpected. One thing is for sure, I always get depressed. It’s hard to find people to make out with or sleep with who have any remote concept of the passions defined by Anais Nin. I daydream of that bohemian kind of love. That abstract passion that brings an undefined kind of longing found in modernist literature. Sure, misery is a by product as well but it’s the type of misery that yields itself to the beauty and power of ones unrestricted passions.

But this is 2013 not Post WWI Paris. Hemingway is dead so I get texts that read “why you gotta be like that yo” or get called a prude if I don’t want to shove my ass against a guy’s crotch in public. Whenever I seek advice about my post makeout or hook up blues, one of my best friends will often ask me, “Did you at least get anything out of it?” and I will respond, “I guess so? Maybe. I don’t know. No. Not really.”

Socratic ethics taught me that the good life lies in virtue. A virtuous person is a happy person. A virtuous person can transcend their passions. A virtuous person lies neither in extremes nor disparity. The good life is compromised of moral virtue and intellectual virtue. By nature, we yield to impulse because most of the times impulses feel good at their conception. The pleasure of impulse dies upon reflection. I don’t really tend to think about Plato, Aristotle or Socrates when I’m about to swap some serious spit. That’s just stupid. It’s upon reflection that I think, I must be the only fucking loser who would think about Socrates and sex. Socrates probably never hooked up with anyone. He died not for his passions but for his pursuit of the good life.

I went back to school today after a weekend of being depressed about the condition of my bruised ego and scarcity of love. Giving in to the passions of the moment brought on by pointless Dionysian like nights left me emotionally bankrupt. Sitting in class today, after a 2 year hiatus from real critical courses, I stepped back into my element. This was my first day of “real college.” I’ve been in community college for what seems like an eternity. I let my apathy and depression take over the first half of my 20’s and in turn hurt my goals and aspirations. I decided to stop that shit. I sat in my European History course and for the first time I was confident in my ability to recognize and dissect the material shown to me. I sat in my political science course and my mind flourished with ideas and concepts that I was once familiar with. I sat in my Museum Methods course and absorbed the zen of my hippie like left wing long haired professor. I sat in my Science and Technology course in a room stuffed with 150 students watching a documentary about technology trap. At the end of my day I was exhausted and overwhelmed with the amount of reading I have for this quarter. I got myself into this. I apologize if this sounds flashy or snobby but bear with me, I’m coming up to the point of it all.

I have nothing. I feel like I have nothing. Ok I have my family but besides that, I don’t have much. I wish I had a better job or at least a job that reflected my abilities. Don’t work at Barnes and Noble if you like books. Work there if you’re good at selling people stupid memberships and if you’re good at not taking no for an answer. I wish I was better looking. I wish I was thinner. I ate a cheeseburger yesterday so I’m not really helping myself there. I wish I had that thing that some girls just have. That thing that just makes guys want to get to know a girl. I was told I lacked mystery about me. I’m not really sure what that meant? Maybe this blog is to blame. I’ve been self conscious about my lack of mystery. I don’t even know exactly how I could be self conscious about something I don’t understand. Nevertheless, I have nothing and now I don’t even have mystery.

Nothing. I guess I should define Nothing in this context. Nothing as a first world problem. Nothing in western society. To have nothing means I don’t have what everybody else has. To desire what the many or privileged have. Money, beauty, status, basically to have things that are fleeting and have no spiritual nor ethical relevance. I’m conflicted. I’m a 26 year old brat, at least I’m aware of my faults? The first step is acceptance, totally. I have a week until my return of Saturn so after I turn 27 I won’t be so selfish and self diluted. Maybe.

The only thing I do have is my passion. Sometimes that passion is misdirected. Not being intellectually stimulated detours that passion because I have no other outlet but pointless shenanigans. Sitting in my classes today made me sentimental. This flood of Rousseau like sentimentality overcame me. That, oh my life is so pained but I must yield to and transcend to something bigger than me, because I was born this was way, sentimentality. I was born free but everywhere I am in chains, oh pitiful life. Ok, I’ll stop now. Anyway, it was that sentimentality and grandiose conjecture that I am destined for something bigger. At the end of the day, I was content. My classes brought a growing fulfillment that I haven’t felt in a very long time. I am probably being naive but who cares for now. I may not always show this commitment but I am married and tied down to the history of ideas. That’s the only thing I have. I have nothing else but my education and my passion for it. I’ll probably die alone in a dusty room filled with cherry wood furniture and spiderwebs hanging from the corners of the ceiling. I suppose people who lack mystery die alone, it would just make sense. I guess?

hiccup girl

I 8993036-smalldon’t watch the Today show very often, or ever, really, but somehow I happened to be watching it one morning in 2007 when 15-year-old Hiccup Girl was featured. For more than 5 weeks, she hiccuped 50 times per minute. I tried to imagine how horrible that might have been, a kind of torture. I was happy she found a cure, and I didn’t think about her again until a few days ago. A Facebook friend posted that Hiccup Girl, aka Jennifer Mee, now 22, was convicted this week of 1st degree murder. She was charged at 19. I can’t explain what made me so sad about this story.

Last night, my teenage niece moved in with us, at least temporarily. Her sister just moved back home and is in the early stages of rehabbing from a speed addiction. I had the pleasure of witnessing my brother, my niece’s father, through various bouts of withdrawal from addiction to the same drug when I was in high school. Once, I took a boyfriend home after a date and was greeted by my brother on the couch in the stinking, sweating, shaking throes of withdrawals. I was 17. My niece is 16. Her family lives in a small space. She is trying to do well in school and go to college and secure a different life for herself. I offered for her to stay with us for a week, just until things settle down, because I know how difficult it can be to focus on school and normal teenage life with a sibling unraveling on your living room couch. Her mother exploded with anger and kicked her out when my niece asked to stay with us. “Family first,” she said. “Your sister needs you.” “You always run away.”

Her mother is not a bad person. In fact, I like her a lot. But she is perpetuating a cycle, and it is difficult to break free from this cycle or even see it for what it is when you are in the middle of it, when that is all you know as normal. You are the crazy one if you see it. You are selfish. You are elitist, especially when you use words like “cycle” and “dysfunction.” You think you are better. You push and you struggle and you work hard to break free and, eventually, you do. But you break yourself a little in the process. The people you leave behind will never love you the same. You say, well, fuck them. You convince yourself you don’t need them. Maybe you do and maybe you don’t. In any case, to survive, you stop waiting for the people you love to change, to accept you for who you are, to stop hurting you. You shut down the soft, vulnerable parts of yourself. They harden and ossify. And they stay that way. The cost of breaking free is high, but the cost of staying is higher.

What does this have to do with Jennifer Mee, Hiccup Girl? Probably not very much. I want her to remain a funny story I caught in passing one time on tv, maybe in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, or in my in-laws’ living room. I look at that broken girl in the mugshot, who is guilty of breaking someone else. She had schizophrenia, Tourette’s, and “low normal” intelligence. She admitted to setting up the murder. I don’t feel sorry for her, not exactly. I look at my own broken self and the people around me who are breaking. Like I said, I guess it all just makes me sad. Sometimes I wish things were different than they are.

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hitting kids

Lots of parents I know and respect spank their children. But I never have and never will.

I was spanked as a kid. From the ages of 5 to about 16, I was also subjected to a variety of additional punishments. My stepmother made me kneel on rocks holding heavy items, hit me with her high heel shoes, forced socks or underwear, clean and sometimes dirty, into my mouth if I laughed or talked too loudly. I didn’t realize how much this impacted me until I had my own kids. I could not imagine doing these things to them. When I look at my children and I think back on all of this, I get a flush of anger, but also embarrassment. It was humiliating, all of it.

My kids have not been “easy.” Ben screamed nearly constantly from the moment he was born until he was almost four years old. He was always mad, always defiant. He spit on my face. He punched me. He peed on the floor on purpose. There was only one moment during all of this when I thought I might spank him. When he was three, he went into his bedroom and ripped every item from the wall, tipped his bookshelf over, destroyed several of his toys, and pulled the mattress off of the bed. In that exhausted, desperate moment, I took it very personally. I looked into that angry red toddler face of his and I thought about all of the things he had that I didn’t at his age, from his own room, to all of the toys and books, to a stable household. I picked him up and he thrashed in my arms, and I placed him, roughly, on his mattress, which was now haphazardly placed on the floor. I looked down at him and I took a deep breath and I walked out of the room and shut the door. Later, when he had stopped yelling, and I had stopped breathing so hard, I went into his room and took everything he had destroyed away from him, which worked very well. If I hadn’t walked away, I would definitely have spanked him. But I was committed to not hitting my kids.

And then there is Elliott. This morning, I went to check on whether or not he had put his school clothes on, and he was sitting on the couch with no pants on, casually flicking his penis. I asked him to put his clothes on, and he screamed at me, and when I tried to help him, he screamed at me. And then he screamed at me that he wants to be nice but that he does not want to try harder. I feel the anger rise and I let it go and we get through it.

With many years of patience and time outs (which I know are also controversial) and positive reinforcement and redirection and all of those things you read about in books, Benjamin is one of the most delightful and caring people I know. And given Elliott’s challenges with autism, he is making huge strides. Applied behavior analysis has helped tremendously. His empathy and self-awareness grow every year. He tells me he loves me and crawls into my arms and asks me if I am okay. He gets frustrated when he can’t control his impulses and he tries to do better, which is all I can ask.

When I was 16, my stepmother hit me for the last time. I don’t remember what I had done wrong, but I cowered in a corner of the upstairs hallway and she hit me again and again with her shoes. It didn’t hurt very much anymore because I was older. It didn’t stop being humiliating, though. As I curled into myself, I grew angrier and angrier. I was very tall, about 5′ 9″, and my stepmother was 5′ 0″. I watched her face as she hit me and I hated her in that moment. I stood up, and, surprised, she stopped. I was trembling with rage. I felt the largeness of my body in comparison to hers, and, feeling a new sense of power, I looked down on her. Fear flashed across her face for just a second. “What are you going to do?” she asked. “Hit me? You don’t hit your mother.” My feelings were complicated. I felt a twinge of guilt for making her afraid. I didn’t know what I wanted. It might have felt good to hit her, but I don’t think that was it. I just wanted her to stop. For good. I was done. “Don’t ever hit me again,” I said. I stared into her eyes, hard. I believe I would have hit her if she hit me again, but she didn’t. So I just walked away. I didn’t feel good about this, but I didn’t know what else to do.

I realize that spanking is not the same thing as some of the more abusive things my stepmother did to me. But to me, it is the same to a lesser extent. It still makes children feel afraid, humiliated, and powerless. It makes them feel their smallness acutely, and they already are made to feel so small. We romanticize being “old school,” but old school isn’t always better. Reading parenting books, striving to do better, and being thoughtful about the ways in which our actions impact our children is something to be proud of. I am strict with my children. I am consistent. I set firm boundaries. I do not allow them to misbehave. And both of them have challenged me a great deal. If I have been able to discipline these two crazy boys without ever hurting them physically, I believe anyone can. I never want them to feel about me the way that I feel about my stepmother, not even a little bit. And I know that they never will.

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