Monday, September 5, 2016
I won't try to sum it all up. Instead, just let me say this - sometimes you have to go away and spend time with people who care very deeply for you and who know you well enough to allow you to just be so that some wisdom can seep in the cracked places. I'm still trying to figure out what to do with the new information I have gained and I'm trying to be more intentional in my living. Hence, I'm starting to play with a simple "bullet journal." It's very easy for someone like me to get overwhelmed at all the "ooh, way cool!" versions out there (see the picture at the top of the post, for instance), so I'm trying to remind myself to keep things simple. As a costume designer once told me when I asked about a tan splash on one of her intricate renderings, "It's coffee. This is a tool to be used; it's not art." We'll have to see where this goes, but I'm looking forward to taking a few minutes at the beginning and end of each day to reflect and ground myself. It's far too easy to mistake work for Work, you know.
Thursday, July 21, 2016
It took some scheming and steely resolve to leave work behind (that was helped out by a very kind editor), but kind friends are opening their house to us out in the grand state of Utah for a badly-needed bout of R&R. Never having been to Utah, I wanted to discover what I might run into, especially after our host casually mentioned that we might be seeing something called "mutton busting" which seems to involve putting small children onto hyperactive sheep.
So - what have I learned about Utah? Well, according to this site, Utah -
1. Has coal as the state rock. Seriously.
2. Has the highest literacy rate in the country.
3. Also has the highest rate of online porn subscriptions in the country. (Look, I just report the news.)
4. Is home to the nation's leading manufacturer of rubber chickens.
5. About 2/3 of Utah's land is Federally-owned.
6. Polygamy is definitely not legal. "Sister-wives" were outlawed as a condition of statehood back in 1890.
7. Is nicknamed "the Crossroads of the West."
8. Residents of Utah get married younger overall than residents anywhere else in the US (it's not child marriage, either - 24.1 for brides, 26.2 for grooms).
9. It's illegal to hire trombone players to play in the public streets for the purpose of advertising an auction, so don't try it.
10. It's also illegal to hunt whales, although you'd think that wouldn't be necessary, being a landlocked state.
And perhaps most importantly, it ain't here, which makes it wonderful for a break! I hope to see some of the rugged beauty of the state and spend the majority of one day just nosing around a bookstore or two.
See you soon!
Thursday, June 23, 2016
So what's happened since then? I'm pleased to report that the answer is, "Mostly good things" and a slew of unexpected things, thanks mostly to wonderful people like you who have read the posts and encouraged me in a hundred ways.
I'm about a third of the way through a basic French language course, taught through an app. I've attended a couple of "French table" get-togethers here in town, although I'm still dreadfully shy about speaking the language. I've cleared out much of my wardrobe (although I still have far too many pieces - have to keep on that) and started putting together a smaller group of classic pieces. I've made a conscious effort to add luxuries to my everyday life, whether that be using a glass pitcher for my office water and adding limes to it or taking dance lessons with my much-beloved FryDaddy (one-and-two, three-and-four, five, six). I'm more likely to take better care of my skin and take time for the simple therapy of a hot bath. I've learned a bit about scarves and have tried new foods. (Still have a taste for embarrassing quantities of cheap drugstore candy when the chips are down, though.) I have a chaise!
Like any fundamental shift, it hasn't been a smooth trajectory. I've had a number of "course corrections" throughout the last year. For example, right now, a host of deadlines are threatening to overwhelm me. Prior to last year, Standard Operating Procedure would have been to flail about and put myself last on the list. (Who am I kidding? I wouldn't have made it to the list!) Now, it's different. I am far more likely to take a few minutes to get my desk organized before leaving work so I have the next day's work already cut out. I've found this greatly assists me in maintaining a more serene attitude. I have to fight the urge to power through like a Puritan sometimes - it really is better to take a deep breath, smile a half-smile and think before plunging in like a Pomeranian with a hula hoop. (Yes, I don't get that image either. Sort of the point.) Actually, today was a course correction day. I spent ten minutes tidying up the house - you can always tell how close writing deadlines are by how cluttered I let the house get - and I dug out the bread machine. Something about fresh-baked bread always feels a little decadent.
Look - life is generally difficult for everyone you meet and it's unlikely to get easier. Politically, things are a royal mess. The pocketbook is slim and the news makes any thinking person glum. And yes - I know that much of what I'm describing sounds frivolous and even shallow.
But it's not.
As American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson so memorably stated, "There is no beautifier of complexion, or form, or behavior, like the wish to scatter joy and not pain around us."
However you choose to live that quote - whether you organize protests or plant a garden, whether you raise money for your chosen cause or canvass for your candidate, whether you read to a child or needlepoint a cushion, whether you experiment with a new recipe or dig out the sprinkler to spend a late afternoon playing with your kids instead of preparing that quarterly report - go forth and scatter joy. Regardless of whether you consider that American or French, few enough people are doing it these days - and we could all use more of it.
Thursday, June 9, 2016
Huh? you say. I get it - my "calendar birthday" has me as being multiples of fourteen. This isn't that birthday. However, for a very long time, this has not been a "birthday" that I told many people about - such is the stigma in our society of addiction, although it's estimated that 1 out of every 10 Americans over the age of 12 suffer from addiction. (For those of you keeping score at home, that's over 24 million people.) Even though it's dirt-common and we'll watch Dr. Phil quiz people about it and go tsk, tsk a lot, addiction is not something "nice people" talk about. Well, I'm a nice person (most days, anyway) and silence kept me sick for a long time. So - deep breath and here goes.
When people meet me today, they tend to think that I'm confident and friendly, and I hope that I have those traits. Such was not always the case - ever since I was very little, I remember feeling insecure, worried, and downright fearful. My skin never quite seemed to fit and I constantly had this low-level hum of apprehension that I just didn't understand things correctly. Other people seemed to know how to do things; I hung back, tried to find the prevailing wind and set my personal sail to catch it, all the while hoping no one would notice that I was just bobbing along.
If it sounds miserable, well, it wasn't entirely. I was a bookish child and I had parents who supported that. I grew up out in the country and there was nothing especially unusual about spending time alone in the woods or in a stable with horses, dogs, and barn cats. Horses and cats are upfront about the fact that they judge you (or at least are quick to take your measure) and that sort of unvarnished honesty I could deal with easily. And dogs, of course, are just compassion in fur. On the other hand, people are just weird sometimes and I lacked the confidence necessary to not need nigh-constant affirmation and approval. (Still do, sometimes.)
Then I discovered alcohol and it was as if a bright light shone warmly upon me. I was funny, I could talk to people, and there were all these rituals that I could learn and feel confident about knowing! Wine was my specialty, although I had flirtations (and a few brief flings) with beer and liquor. But wine! Heck, the red stuff even has health benefits! (It really does, you know. Just not for me.) I moved from wine coolers to Boone's Farm (ah, Strawberry Hill - I daresay many a young 'un has memories of you), went on tasting tours with friends and learned about wine-making. I could talk intelligently about grapes, growing conditions, microclimes, sugar content and the various qualities of aging the wine in barrels of American vs. European oak. I learned how blush wine is made and I learned a trick or two about how bars turn cheap Chablis and a dash of grenadine into "blush" for the unsuspecting when they run low on the real stuff. I thought that meant I couldn't be an alcoholic. It didn't. And eventually I didn't care about that high-falutin' stuff.
I'm not going to bore you with a "drunk-a-log." Suffice it to say that at some point, my body didn't metabolize CH3 CH2 OH like a normal drinker. Most people have a "switch" in their head that tells them "Whoa! Starting to feel that - time to quit for tonight." I don't have that and when I drink, I'll drink until. (By the way, this has nothing - underscore and bold, please - nothing to do with willpower, so if that's your take on things, just shut it. I've got willpower in droves. Addiction is biochemical in nature. To put it crassly, the next time you've got the stomach bug and you're moaning on the floor of the bathroom, just try using willpower to stop what the bug is doing to you. Doesn't work so well.) As I continued to ignore the fact that drinking was no longer fun, but flat-out necessary, consequences began to pile up. I now view these as missed opportunities to take the exit ramp from Addiction-Land. It took me quite literally years to accept what I was told early on in recovery, which is, "It takes what it takes." I drank myself out of jobs. I lied, cheated, and stole to get what I wanted, which was to drink the way I wanted. I ruined relationships - in a few cases, I didn't even have "relationships" with people as much as I took hostages. In short, I was selfish - as long as I got what I wanted; fine. I could even be generous and kind. But if I couldn't get what I wanted from you or you got in my way, the hell with you.
It'd be nice to say that one day, I woke up and realized that I was crazy and needed to stop, and I'm sure that happens for some people, but that's not my story. I consider myself wildly fortunate in two areas - first, I was arrested before I hurt anybody (remember me saying I was selfish? That extended to me using the public roads when I had a blood alcohol level in the "embalmed" range). I didn't even hit a mailbox and the cop couldn't have been nicer. (Personally, I think he was a little shocked by me. While it's not on my résumé, I have been told, "Ma'am, I have to tell you - you're the politest intoxicated person I've ever arrested.") Second, I had insurance that covered in-patient treatment when it became obvious that I needed to be removed from society for a little while to really dig into figuring out how to get better. I completed treatment and somewhere up in the attic, I even have an official paper from the state asserting that I am, in fact, sane. Despite that, I relapsed a week after leaving treatment. Let me be clear that in no way means treatment was a failure - that scary-as-the-hinges-on-the-gates-of-hell realization was the "what the hell?" experience that changed everything for me.
Psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Jung once wrote that the only thing he'd ever seen work for hard-core alcoholics was a fundamental shift in thinking brought about by a spiritual experience. And many addicts express the idea that their drinking is a low-level search for -- something -- that is ineffable and seemingly out of reach. Jung was struck by the fact that we also call alcohol "spirits" and he thought that alcoholics were intensely spiritual people who had this hole in themselves that they tried to fill with substances. In other words, the effective solution was spiritum contra spiritus, or (roughly) "spirituality against spirits." (Jung also understood a good bit about the dark shadows that are part of us and encouraged people to face them, not fear them. As someone who spent so much of her life so afraid, I take great comfort in much of Jung's work.)
All well and good. I'm not a saint, but as of June 9, 2016, I'm fourteen. I'm an alcoholic and I always will be - but I'm a recovering alcoholic, and that makes all the difference. I'm a bit more cautious than most folks about the alcohol level in mouthwash, in cough syrup, and in delicious dinners cooked with wine sauces. (Yeah, a lot of it burns off in the cooking. Not all.) Even Communion posed a dilemma for me for a while - probably all in my head and there's intinction, so problem solved. For me, there is no "safe level" of beverage alcohol to consume. Most people are fine with that, although I've had a few (very few) people try to apply some social pressure, at which point I think it's fine for me to be blunt to the point of rudeness. I've got a great life these days, and I'm not throwing that away to make some yahoo feel okay about putting the screws to me because I don't have a glass in my hand.
I'm a recovering alcoholic, not an axe murderer. And I'm fourteen years clean today.
Thursday, May 12, 2016
|My first Slayage|
Sometimes when life strikes us, we chime like a bell.
Then in late 2014 (a few months after the squirrel-ridden Sacramento conference), I was blindsided by a diagnosis of ductal carcinoma in situ. Junior auxiliary breast cancer, if you will. I was scared, nervous, and apprehensive, but mostly scared. Slayage friends rallied around me and the support did a great deal to carry me through some dark months with good cheer and optimism. In response to that, I decided that my paper for the 2016 Kingston conference would center on collaboration in Whedon's work - both onscreen portrayals and offscreen production work. I hoped to touch on both positive depictions of collaboration (Scoobies!) and not-so-much (think Vichy France).
It's not going to happen. While my surgery and subsequent radiation treatments were wildly successful, they were also quite expensive, even with insurance. (I know my Canadian and European friends don't quite get this part, but - trust me - the American health care system is responsible for nearly two-thirds of all personal bankruptcies in this country - and three-quarters of those are WITH insurance!) The financial meltdown of 2008 affected colleges and universities across the country and, in North Carolina, we handed the reins of government to a legislature who cut and cut and cut the educational budget to a ridiculous degree - think of a giddy Sweeney Todd. My college hadn't been contributing to my Slayage journeys since 2010 and it was made discreetly clear to me that asking for international travel expenses under current conditions would be met with a swift, albeit regretful, "no."
Ensley and I tried hard to soldier on - we even made our reservation at a lovely, in-walking-distance flat near the conference site. But the more we looked at things, the more our hearts sank. To go to this conference would involve going deeper into debt at a time when we just can't. And we would have to be on strict austerity measures instead of me getting to show Greater London (with just maybe a trip to Hadrian's Wall for my Roman-loving husband) off to my husband, who's never been there.
I hate being a grown-up.
I will miss this gathering more than I can say and I will be eagerly refreshing my Twitter feed and scanning the internet for conference pictures and comments. Have fun, be clever, rant, compliment, disagree, and support!
Sunday, April 24, 2016
So. Time to call a halt and re-group.
The end result of some serious pondering has been revelatory. It's taken some serious planning and some open discussion with FryDaddy, who has repeatedly agreed to support me in my hare-brained plan over the next four weeks, but I'm about to embark on 28 days of radical self-care by making some big-time shock-to-the-system changes to my diet, my approach to exercising, and my notion of taking time for myself. Since I've been having such good luck with my "going French," I've decided this may as well be the "28 Day French Challenge!" (I think the exclamation mark is key.)
|Ooh la la!|
This is not a particularly good time to start this - the end of the semester looms, and that tends to be a busy, chaotic time. My anniversary is coming up, which is often an excuse to eat large quantities of rich food. Tomorrow, which is Day One, is also Book Club Night, which I've often used as an excuse to eat large quantities of rich food - and so on and so on. But a girl's gotta start somewhere, and this is where I find myself.
Look - it's not impossible to change. I know that better than some. I've got running friends a-plenty to help me. I've also got friends who can't run who inspire me. My parents are making changes in their own diets to help Dad's recovery and going through cookbooks with them made me realize how much processed junk I've been stuffing myself with. A couple of my friends are now full-fledged gym rats and have agreed to be my coach and stern taskmaster.
I'm excited about doing something so big, but - truth be told - I'm also nervous about going through with it all. That's why I'm writing and posting this. This way, it'll be harder for me to do "backsies" when things get tough. I said I'd do it, I told you that I'd do it and there it is in print, so I'll do it.
Look for weekly postings with summaries of what I've learned along the way!
En avant, mes amies!
Sunday, March 27, 2016
Case in point - I'm getting into an intense 3-month period where multiple threads all converge. Responsibilities for my classes, responsibilities for the new book (oh, you'll be hearing about that), responsibilities for my academic work - all of these are about to crash into each other for about 12 weeks. (Of course, I also have a house, marriage, friendships, and other relationships and commitments to attend to. It's going to be a hoot!)
Then, just over a week ago, I got a stark reminder that you must always be careful to check whether the things that are driving you are actually important or if they just look that way at first glance. My dad suffered a mild-ish stroke and everything needed to be dropped or postponed in order to deal with immediate, important issues. My dad's condition is stable and his prognosis is excellent, although it's going to take some time and patience is not a strong suit amongst my people. (Some would argue it's not even a card in our deck, but that can be disputed.) So FryDaddy held down the fort here and I spent most of the last eight days up at my parents', lifting that barge and toting that bale, and I'll return there in a couple of days.
I can do this because (a) it's spring break at my college, so I didn't have to cancel much; (b) all of my classes have an online component, so I simply explained to my students that they're grown-ups and here's what they need to do, so go to it; (c) I have a marvelously supportive husband who understands the importance of family; and (c) I've been working on "being French" for a while now, so I can prioritize better than I used to.
One thing that fell by the wayside, though, was my commitment to self-care. I've been eating bad food, relying heavily on coffee, sugar, and processed food-esque substances, sleeping poorly, and exercise was hurled to the wayside like a golden apple flung by a desperate Paris. (Oooh, Greek mythology reference!) But last night I had a chance to change that and I'm proud to say I took it.
modern form is a type of smooth swing dancing. Like all dance, it looks deceptively easy and the basic step isn't that hard, but the beauty of shag lies in the unspoken communication of the dancers as they improvise - and that IS hard! FryDaddy and I signed up for lessons - these are easy to find in our neck of the woods and they're not expensive - and started to learn the basic steps and turns. Around here, every little town has a shag group and we'd been invited to several get-togethers, but we always refused. Finally, we tried our steps out in public last night.
Now, the shag is a male-led dance and I kept anticipating the turns and not letting him lead, which results in a shambles. But we had fun, both dancing and socializing. We hope to keep it up and actually become members of the group. As I said, the groups are easy to find - just look here!
See how the pros do it . . .
I'm also keeping up with my "trying to learn French" goal. Turns out there's an informal group in town that meets once a month (the third Wednesday) at a local wine bar to chit-chat in a melange of French and English. They were VERY kind to the newbie and I could understand a word or two. (According to Memrise, the app I'm using, I've mastered 349 words. Not too shabby, since it turns out that with a vocabulary of about 600, you can stumble around. Fluency, of course, requires many, many more.)
I'm also working on a cross-stitch project - my first in decades - and I really am finding that doing these things keeps me better able to help my mom and the rest of my family during this difficult time. So honestly - don't overlook the importance of taking care of yourself! Wearing yourself down to a nub may make you a martyr, but that's all it's gonna get you.