Category Archives: Emotions

End of the year wrap-up 2017

2017 has not been a very good year for me. Nothing outrageous has happened. Work’s fine. No one close to me has died [1]. The kids are doing well.

But I have been smoldering all year long and I have been getting angry or hurt about small things. Of course I know why I am angry. I am angry that I don’t feel like I know the country I live in any more. It has become ugly. It is one huge Ugly American.

I’ve fought the ugly American label for so long, but now it doesn’t seem to matter what I do or how I act. I am from the United States, therefore an ugly American. I am from the country that voted a racist, misogynistic, xenophobic reality TV actor as our leader. I live in a country whose leaders are turning back progressive laws. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t vote for this man, it only matters that I have a U. S. passport.

I’ve spent this year eating too much, drinking too much and sleeping too much. Buying too much crap. I have likely been depressed since November 2016. I have let myself “go” in a number of ways and this has got to stop.

That’s why 2018 is going to be the year of hope for me. The year of setting priorities. The year of not being angry anymore.

I still have lots to do, so the Declutter series will continue.

Also, there is a new 365 challenge beginning on January 1. Follow along here.

  1. Well, not counting Leo []

Declutter 2017: Letter from Julia

When I was going though a box of correspondence from my mom’s house I came across a small, folded note in an unmarked envelope. Now, my mom kept pretty much every piece of correspondence she received, so it was not unusual that she kept this, but it was a surprise to me and made me very uncomfortable because 1) I didn’t know anything about it and 2) it put me in a very bad light.

It took me a while to figure out that the note was from Julia. I thought, at first, that there was someone I’d been unkind to named Pat Knight who I’d completely forgotten, then I realized it was from Julia.

Readers of this blog may recall that I briefly had a roommate from England shortly after I moved out of my mom’s house and it ended badly. She was beautiful, blond, British and outgoing. At the time I felt much inferior to her, appearance-wise. We’d go to a bar and guys would be lining up to meet her. There were times guys seemed to want to get to know me because they wanted to get closer to her. To put it bluntly, I was envious of her looks and ease with men.

I actually looked forward to her returning to the States [1] as my roommate before she arrived; and I know we had some fun together. The part about me only allowing her to come back to the States because I owed it to my parents is not right — I may have said it, but that was easier to say than admit that I was jealous of her looks and accent and how guys acted around her. I also was not jealous of the relationship she was growing with my family [2].

I know I was difficult to live with, but at the time I felt as if I were the injured party. I paid the rent and she didn’t always have the cash for her part of the rent. I paid for her medical bills when she went to the doctor because she had no insurance. I did the housekeeping and did our laundry. I definitely resented her for a lot of things and I am sure it showed.

There were other things that I won’t mention here, but both of us were on shaky ground based on societal rules (and U. S. and state laws) of the time.

The part about the letter is probably true. I don’t remember writing it, but I hated how I was acting, I hated the jealousy I was feeling. I’d long felt that there was something wrong with me because I had such a short fuse and would explode at the slightest provocation.

For years afterwards friends and family members would ask me if I’d ever heard from her or knew where she was living. I didn’t until I got in touch with her brother, and then got in touch with her in 2010. This year we became friends on Facebook.

And as I told Julia in an email nearly 8 years ago — she’s why Dean and I are together. Dean and I dated a few times in 1979, but I wanted to date someone else. A year later Dean, who  was a client of the salon where Julia worked, had her for a hair washer. When he heard her talk he asked if she knew me. She said yes and that he should call me. He did and the rest is history.

  1. She’d spent a few weeks with us during the summer, then returned to England to get a visa so she could stay longer []
  2. well, I say that now, but perhaps I was. I know I was jealous that my mom talked to Marcia about things that she would not talk to me about []

In which Arthur and Benedict bring me JOY!

As some of you know, my mother died last August, three days after my 60th birthday. She’d been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease a few years before she died, and I suspect she’d had it for even more years before the diagnosis.

I stopped sleeping well about two or three years ago – waking up at night worrying about my mother and feeling guilty that I was not helping out more. After her death, the feelings of guilt stopped, but other worries took their place, so I continued to wake up at night worrying about this or that – work, the election, and other things I don’t want to discuss here.

Whether or not it was the general feeling of anxiety, grief over my mom’s health and death, or a by-product of not sleeping, I must have been in a state of situational depression for some time. Not that I always felt unhappy – but I never felt completely happy and some things that used to interest me didn’t interest me anymore – birds, reading, cooking…

I’d vowed to get back into reading – especially books that interested me. Most of the books we’d read for book group were fine, but only a few really caught my attention and made me want to stay up reading them all night. Two of those books were about men of my general age who for different reasons discovered new things about themselves in the course of the books. One book was The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce and the other was A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman.

Cover of The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper. A man sitting on a sofaAmazon recommends books based on books you buy and in March a book called The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick was recommended and was on sale for $1.99 so I purchased it. It looked like something I would like, but I didn’t start reading it until last week. I liked it immediately and early in the morning on July 11th I was halfway finished with the book. Sitting on our back porch, I put the book down, took a sip of coffee, looked out through the screen at the bird-filled backyard and I felt something I’d not felt in a very long time. I felt JOY! All Caps with an exclamation point and bold font JOY!

It took me by such surprise and I realized that I could not even remember the last time I felt pure JOY! that I began crying. I cried because there were so many times over the past few years that I should have felt this way – when I saw my daughter after a long absence; when my brother married the love of his life; when my son graduated from Oberlin. I cried because I’d wasted so much time on being angry or resentful or guilty or scared or despairing.

Then I wondered where the feeling came from. Coffee? No, I drank it every day. Sitting on the back porch? No, I did that every day too. Hearing birdsong and watching birds? No, again, that was a daily event. The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper? Bingo, it was Arthur Pepper’s search for who his wife was before they met that did the trick, I am sure of it. In fact, I’ve been on a similar search – I’ve been going through items I brought back from my mother’s house and trying to find meaning in them. Why did Mom have them? Where did they come from? Who had them before she did? I think I suddenly realized that even though I’d lost my mother in August (really, years before that) I’d not lost the memories of her and could make more memories because of the items from her house. I mean, I have not even got to the letters and have only touched upon the photographs.

Cover of Rise & Shine Benedict StoneSince that epiphanous Tuesday, I’ve been able to sleep through the night (with a slight hiccup this week because of a work issue) and have been able to deal better with things that would have made me angry, resentful, or despairing before that Tuesday. Maybe I am done with the grief – the grief that I told everyone, including myself, I didn’t feel.

This morning as I sat on the back porch drinking coffee, watching the birds, listening to bird chatter I once again felt JOY! This time, the book I’d just put down was Rise and Shine Benedict Stone, Phaedra Patrick’s second book. Coincidently, I am halfway through it.

So this is not a book review but a too-long, twisty-turny open thank-you letter to Phaedra Patrick who I hope continues to write charming, witty, life-changing novels. And no, I don’t believe we are related but it would be cool if we were.

Pregnancy Shaming

Not long after my son was conceived in May of 1992 I suspected I was pregnant. Sometimes you just know. I peed on a stick to check and when the pregnancy test confirmed I was probably pregnant I told one or two people at work. I waited until the school year was over before I had it confirmed by my ob-gyn. My husband and I talked about it and we agreed that I would take more time off than I did with our daughter. Raising two young children 18 months apart would probably be difficult. We also began talking about selling our house in Alexandria and moving closer to my husband’s job in Bethesda.

In the fall, when I returned to my teaching job and more people discovered that I was pregnant, I was summoned to the principal’s office where she told me she heard that I was pregnant and asked me what my plan was for after the baby was born. I smiled and told her I thought I would be taking a year or two off, expecting her next words to be congratulatory. Instead, she asked me why I didn’t tell her before the end of the school year in the spring. I explained that I was not 100% sure about the pregnancy until after school was over. She said that she knew that I told at least one person and told me that I was irresponsible for letting her place me with the 6th graders who would need more consistency* than 4th or 5th graders would. Then she asked me if the pregnancy was planned. Shocked, I told her that it was planned — very much so, but after the meeting I wished I told her that it was none of her business.

I taught up until winter break that year, then was placed on bedrest for 3 weeks because of early labor. The rest of my time at the school that year was filled with feelings of guilt. I don’t think she ever acknowledged my son’s birth, even after my extended maternity leave was up and because I was unsuccessful finding a teaching job elsewhere I pretty much begged for forgiveness so I could work there again.

When I did return to the school I discovered that one of the women I told about my suspected pregnancy in the spring had been reprimanded by the principal for not telling her.

Even now, nearly 25 years later, when I think about the principal’s words that autumn my gut clenches and instead of remembering my second pregnancy with pure joy, much of what I think about is what the principal said to me and the guilt she made me feel.

Some of you, maybe teachers or principals out there, may think the principal was right but it never occurred to me that my leaving mid-semester could do any harm. Perhaps, if you agree with her, you think it is good that eight years after that conversation, I decided teaching just wasn’t for me.

*I was a special education teacher. Our teaching practice involved a special education teacher supporting a mainstream teacher in a grade level for the year.

Moonlit Merry-go-round

When? It was probably 1980 or 1981, it could have been later, but by then we were living in Pittsburgh. Where? It was probably Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg. I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but I do remember the emotion. I don’t even remember who I was with when I first saw it — maybe Mom and Aunt Ginny. All I really remember is walking past the window and seeing the painting and having a powerful feeling of sadness, but also a feeling of desire. I wanted to own the painting.

I must have talked to Dean who probably reluctantly agreed to visit the Merill Chase Gallery in the mall to see if he wanted to own it too. I do remember going into the gallery and telling a Merill Chase employee that we were interested in purchasing the painting in the window. The employee showed us a small room with a sofa or comfortable chairs and invited us to sit while she had the painting brought to us and placed on an easel. She left us alone for a few minutes while we talked about it. I explained why I liked it. I don’t recall Dean’s responses. I really wanted it. It was not too expensive, as I recall something we could afford, but not easily. It turned out that the painting was actually a serigraph and came with a certificate of authenticity.

We bought the serigraph and it hung in the living room of our Pittsburgh apartment. It must have hung in our Alexandria homes — in places where visitors could see it. For many years it hung above our bed in Bethesda. One night Clare and Andrew asked me the story of the painting. Since I didn’t know the actual story, I made one up. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it had something to do with the merry-go-round being magical so the horses could still run on it but one horse wanted to run free and jumped off the carousel, only to freeze a few hundred feet away from the merry-go-round. No happy ending. I think it made the kids very sad.

Once I realized that the Internet knew everything, I looked up the artist, Robert Addison. I found a few things about him. His other work was often as depressing. The merry-go-round in my serigraph is featured in some of his other work. Its origin is based on seeing a bombed out merry-go-round when he was stationed in England during World War 2. The painting was completed in 1979. I think he did two versions of it because there is mention of “Moonlit Merry-go-Round, II” on the Internet. More recent searches have found that Dennis De Young from Styx used Moonlit Merry-go-Round on an album called One Hundred Days from Now.

Once I established my attic office the painting was taken there. I think it makes Dean sad, and he doesn’t really like it — I don’t think he ever did. But I do, I still do. Only I ever see it now — or Dean when he comes to the attic. Very rarely do guests visit the attic so, the only actual piece of art (by an artist who is not a friend or family member) is hidden away for only a few sets of eyes. And that makes me sad.

Declutter 2017: Little Golden Records

For the past few decades I’ve been in the market for an affordable record player that was capable of playing 78s because I had a pile of Little Golden Records from my childhood that I wanted to hear again. I remembered playing some of these records over and over again and even wrote about them in a memoir essay for a college class. I felt sure that I was going to be suddenly transported back to that pink room on Mountain Street.

little golden recordsA few months ago I pulled out the records and looked at the titles. I figured I probably didn’t need to play them again because I assumed I could find them on the Internet. While I did find some, I could not find all of the recordings. But it didn’t matter because I realized that my memories of the records were somewhat false. For instance, I was sure that Walt Disney himself was singing “Bibbity Boppity Boop!” on one of the records but it turned out to be Mitch Miller and the Sandpipers.

Not long after I’d decided I should just toss the Little Golden Records in the trash, I found a great deal on a small portable record player capable of playing 78s. It was about the size of my childhood record player. I bought it and when it arrived I immediately plugged it in and played one of the records. No feeling of nostalgia. I tried another. Same thing. Nothing. Looking at the titles, I don’t think that any of these records will give me that warm, slightly bittersweet feeling of longing for the simpler days of being a kid that I was hoping for, expecting.

I sit here wondering why these circles of yellow plastic don’t bring back fond memories. Is it that I am so old that I’ve forgotten actually playing them? Is it because I don’t need to feel nostalgic about these songs? Is it because I’ve got lots of better memories than being 5 years old listening to records in my bedroom? I don’t know, and I think I should stop wasting my time on wondering.

These, warped and scratched up as they are and worthless, will go in the trash today. Also, they smell bad.

Here’s a video that someone with an unscratched record posted on YouTube. It’s the only record with a singer other than Mitch Miller and his orchestra plus the Sandpipers.

Declutter 2017: The Hamburger Pencil Holder

Except for a misplaced electric wire, our basement remodel is complete. We spent this afternoon putting items back where they belong and deciding what to toss, what to donate and what to keep. It is very hard to me to get rid of things because …what if I will need it in the future even though I have not used it in two decades and it is beginning to rust? (toss) …but that was my mom’s! (keep)  …maybe someday I will find a record player that plays 78s! (keep for now).

So, apparently, there is a book that says if you hold an item and it gives you joy keep it, if not get rid of it (or something like that we have a copy of the book but I cannot find it so I have not read it yet). Some of the things I held today definitely did not bring me joy (toss), but some did (keep). One of the items that I held today was a gift from my favorite student ever whose mom is my favorite mother of a student ever. It gives me a lot of joy because of who gave it to me.

It is unique and kitschy and  full of memories and I want to keep it but since I really don’t use pencils or pens that much anymore, I really don’t use the pencil holder. It has sat, empty, for years on the shelf in the basement office but once sat on my desk at work and held extra (sharpened) pencils for my students to use. I may end up tossing it, even though it brings me joy, but not quite yet…

The Ghosts of Christmas Traditions Past, Present and Future

While enjoying a tasty pizza dinner together a few weeks ago, my son surprised Dean and me by telling us he was not going to be spending Christmas Day with us this year, but, instead, was traveling to Atlanta to spend Christmas with his friend, Alex and her family. I acted brave, but cried when I got home, and texted him that I was not ready for my kids to not be with me for Christmas.

I’ve spent the time in between thinking about him not being home on Christmas Day and realized it was okay — he would be there the day after and we could squeeze in a family Christmas on December 26 before Clare left on December 27. We often moved our personal Christmas celebration around when the kids were small because we usually traveled back to Elgin for the actual day.

Andrew and I had lunch earlier this week and he confided that he was a little nervous because he’d never not spent Christmas with us and we had our own traditions. He was going somewhere where they had their own traditions, ones he was not familiar with.

I thought about this and remembered that my first Christmas away from my family was in 1978. I was a year younger than Andrew is now and I was gone from early December through March. That year I did student teaching in London and left Elgin early to spend time with my English friend, Jeremy, and his family. I also recalled that I, too, was nervous — although I’d spent months with this family over the previous four years — because I was not familiar with their traditions. It was wonderful though. I was introduced to wine with Christmas dinner, Christmas cake, chocolate oranges and Christmas crackers.

While I never did attempt to make a Christmas cake, I did insist we have wine with Christmas dinner the year after I returned from England. I also always made sure to include a chocolate orange (and a real orange) in everyone’s Christmas stocking. Once Christmas crackers became readily available (and affordable) in the US I always buy a box Christmas crackers which we pop before the Christmas meal, wear the silly hats that come in the crackers, read the lame jokes and play with the included toys.

I sent Andrew a text telling him about that Christmas and that many of the unfamiliar traditions I experienced that year were such fun that I incorporated them into our family celebrations.

His reply made me cry a little again. He thanked me for telling him about my first Christmas away and then said he was bringing chocolate oranges and Christmas crackers for her family.

Stewing Away on the Back Burner

I know I should let it go. There’s nothing to be gained except a small satisfaction for me and perhaps my brother. My mom wants to just forget about it.

But I don’t want to let it go. I want an apology. A real apology, not an offhanded remark about “getting off on the wrong feet”.

And then there is the fact that perhaps there is nothing to apologize for. That we were hyper-sensitive and that any rational person would have let it slide. Perhaps we should have not gone to the funeral home the day Dad died, but waited until the next day. But we were ready for it to be over. We’d already spent 4 and a half days knowing that this was how it would probably turn out.

Here’s what happened. (I know I’ve mentioned this on Facebook and have told many friends about it — so feel free to ignore this post if you already are sick of hearing me talk about it).

In a nutshell, we believe that the young man who helped us plan my father’s funeral was rude to us in the initial moments of the planning process. I called him on it and he changed his attitude. Perhaps that is all that needed to be done. However this was not someone selling us a wrench at Ace Hardware. This was someone who was supposed to help us deal with the grief of losing a loved-one.

I stewed about this for about a month, then wrote a letter to the director (who was out of town when we used the services of his funeral home). I’ll post the letter (names removed) after the break.

When another month passed and I’d not heard back from the funeral home director, I sent him an email. I never got a response to the email.

I sort of figured that if he got the letter and the email and didn’t respond, it was not worth dealing with anymore. I’d gotten it off my chest and that is all that mattered. I nearly forgot about it until my mom callled me a few days ago and said that the funeral home director left a message on her answering machine. I asked her what he said and she said he wanted her to call him back but she was reluctant to do so. She thought she’d ramble on and make no sense. I said I’d send her a copy of the letter I’d sent him and then she’d know what was in it.

That evening I accessed Mom’s voice-mail account — we had it set up for that when she was here and I was curious to know what he said). Here is, verbatim, what the funeral director said:

Yes, [Mom’s Name],  this is [funeral home director’s name] of [name of funeral home]. I’ve been meaning to get ahold of you but I’ve…I’ve…it’s just been on my back burner and I really wanted to talk to you regarding a letter that Dona had sent me regarding the funeral services for your husband. I just wanted to kinda touch base with you and I had a couple of questions for you. So if you could, at your convenience, give me a call back [phone number] I’d appreciate it and I’d like to speak to you. Thank you.

The next evening I called my mom to see if she’d called the funeral home back. She hadn’t and pretty much said she didn’t want to and didn’t know what the big deal was. Maybe the person who helped us was young and inexperienced. She said it was part of the past and didn’t want to deal with it any more.

I can completely understand her point. After all, I was already done with it before she called to say they had called. But now I’m upset again. Upset that it took him 70 days to call. Just another, in my opinion, insult to us.

I may call him myself to tell him that Mom’s done with it and doesn’t want to reopen old wounds. I may tell him that I’m disappointed that it took so long for him to contact us. I may write a review on Yelp. Or I may just sweep it under the carpet and move on.

There are not too many other options for funeral homes in my home town. This family owns the two main ones and as Pastor Keith said on Facebook the other day, they’re the “biggest game in town”. I don’t know what we’ll do when we need funeral home services again — many many years from now of course.

Letter I wrote after the break.

Continue reading Stewing Away on the Back Burner

A Door Opened

Door at the National Cathedral
An open door -- taken by Clare F.

Back when I still liked watching news programs like 60 Minutes or 20/20 I remember seeing a segment on one of those programs about a woman with autism who developed a better slaughterhouse. I may have been a vegetarian at the time, so the idea of slaughtering cattle was not as upsetting to me as it is now that I eat the end result.

Having worked with autistic children during my tenure as a teacher and having read a number of books about autistic individuals, I found this woman’s story fascinating and kept it tucked in the back of my mind ever since.

That’s why my visceral reaction to the preview of the HBO film, Temple Grandin, surprised me.  I adore Claire Danes and I find Temple Grandin’s story amazing but I was dead-set against seeing this film because… why? I’m not sure, but I think it was the whole cattle slaughtering thing and the fact that a gentle hug made the cattle less upset about their death. I didn’t want to think about the cattle’s last moments. I just wanted to buy meat at the grocery store and pretend it grew on trees. Or just materialized there in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. Hey, magic!

I recently commented on a post by Lali that, when I was a vegetarian, I vowed that if I ever ate meat again I’d first have to kill an animal — to prove I was not a hypocrite*. Since I’ve never killed an animal, I am a hypocrite and while, on a day-to-day basis, that doesn’t bother me, occasionally it does. Perhaps that’s why I refused to even consider watching the film. I didn’t want to confront my hypocrisy.

Last night I did watch the film. It was excellent. It changes nothing. I’m still a hypocrite but at least I admit it.

*when I was young and had not had that many life experiences, being a hypocrite was probably the worse thing I could imagine being — it ranked up there with murderer in my mind.