Friday, December 08, 2017

Christmas memory

My parents got divorced the day after I graduated from high school. I had spent most of my unschool time raising my baby sister and baby brother (aged 4 and 7 when the folks got divorces, my babies of the heart!). Mom swore to the judge she would keep those kids in the State of IL even as she knew she had hired a moving company to come to our house that afternoon and remove most of the furniture, including the beds of a couple of her kids left behind.

She disappeared for a couple years with my babies. I used to drink 3.2 beer in my college in Wisconsin which allowed eighteen year olds, back then, to drink 3.2, get drunk and weep about my babies. It hurt so much that they had been ripped out of my life. [Not unlike the greater pain of having my only child begin to shun me at age 17 and she still does at age 35. . . wtf did I do to attract that karma, eh?).

My mom had the balls to go back to that judge and ask him to force my dad to pay his court ordered child support. That judge told my dad he did not have to pay a cent, and never had to pay it retroatively until our mother told us where the kids were in this world. Mom was shocked but she held out another year or so. She told us older kids she was afraid our father would kill her.

My father was a flawed man but not at all a violent one.  I was so appalled to hear my mother telling her older kids, three of us in college when she disappeared, that our father would kill her if she toild us where she lived.

He finally hired a detective to find his kids. He did not try to kill our mother. And then she showed up to demand her child support.

She had a lot of nerve. She left him with college bills for three of her children. She did not contribute a cent for our college. And, kinda pathetically, she had told me that my indentured servitude for her children and housekeeping for, altogether, about a decade, was helping her go to college and once she had her degree, she'd help me get mine.  I wrote to her once at the beginning of a semester to ask for a sall contribution towards my textbooks for that semester. She said, and she was married to a wealthy man and had a full time teacher job, that she could not possibly spare me $30 because she spent most of her salary buying a Winnebago.

I have not been well loved and here I am, 64, and still struggling to see myself as lovable.

To the Xmas memory:  when the kids did return to our lives, they would spend Christmas with dad and the rest of us in Chicago. As the only adult female on the scene, I took over Christmas planning, cooking, gift buying.

So one Christmas while I was in college, or maybe law school (the date eludes), I made sure every sibling got what they really wanted for Christmas. I baked and cooked.  On Christmas morning all the kids, including my two bros also in college, tore open all their presents and then settled in to enjoy them when my dad noticed that no one, not even he, had given me a gift. Not one.

I had chosen virtually every gift that my five siblings and my dad had received (dad paid) but no one had thought to give me a damned thing.

Dad got up, hitched his pants as he often did and said "Charles, come with me, I need your help." And they went to Walgreens. In those days, the only stores open on Xmas were a very few drug stores for medicine. But Walgreens sold other stuff. Dad had asked Chuck to go with him to help him choose something for me at Walgreens.

When they returned home, dad said "I found some presents for you in my trunk. I had forgotten to bring them in." This was not true. He had bought me a couple gifts at Walgreens with my creepy brother Chuck's input. I got some Cachet cologne, a candle and an odd address 'book' that was made of metal, with a slider for each letter in the alphamet. Closed, I was supposed to slide the slider to the letter of the alphabet where I was supposed to correctly post people's names and addresses.

I kept that weird thing for years. I never used it.

Funny. Dad gong to Walgreens and buying me junky presents was more upsetting to me than getting no presents. Truth told, I would have preferred fifty bucks.

Oh, he had also bought an electric hair dryer. That was useful. And he made quite the fuss about how he had kept the hairdryer in the trunk to 'surprise' me. 

I acted happy about my gifts. I did not say anything negative. I just moved our holiday feting along to our Christmas brunch.

My daughter did not like to give me gifts. The last time I saw her near Christmas, when, I believe, she had decided to shun me for the rest of her life, she special ordered a pendant for me that was crafted by a jewelry artist whose work I really liked back then. I had several of the artists earrings and the pendant went with most of the earrings.  It was costume jewelry but it was very important to me because it was the first time my daughter had been thoughtful and went out of her way to get me something she considered special.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

a miracle


I am how I see others

As a man is, so he sees.
William Blake

It seems to be time for me to study some of William Blake's work. I have always been aware of him. As a teen and twenty-something, I used to tell myself the really great poets were beyond me. Now I know this is nonsense (to think Blake is beyond my comprehension!). I wish I had known this when I was a teen.

I did not get a really great education. Much of my education, especially in relation to great literary art, was about teachers telling me what things. What nonsense!  Like visual art means what the viewer gets out of it, what I get from a Blake, Dickinson, cummings, or whoever poem, is right.

When I gave weekly tours in a contemporary art museum, usually to grade school student groups but sometimes for adults, integral to every tour was my indivitation to the tour participants to trust their own vision, to trust that what they saw in any art I showed them was entirely accurate.

Who is to say what art means? Great artists know that as soon as they release their work into the world, they lose the power to define its meaning. Not just visual artists.

Once I had a then-new, not-not-a-friend ask me, when I had mentioned spending hundreds of hours studying Dickinson's poetry while I lived in Amherst, MA for two years, he said, and this guy has a doctorate from Stanford's English department and taught some kind of poetry classes (Yikes!), if I thought I could understand Emily Dickinson. 

I told my sister the English teacher, who has a MS on fellowship from Stanford and her PhD from somewhere else, scoffed at this guy and said "What? Two brilliant women like us couldn't possibly understand an Emily Dickinson poem?!"  I did not share sis' umbrage with the guy. And this particular guy did, over the seven or eight years we socialized but were not, as he once unkindly put it, ever friends [So why did he socialize with me all those years if we weren't friends? Sheesh.]  I remember feeling soothed by my sister's indignation, by her including me in her belief that anyone could understand an Emily Dickinson poem. Or any other poem.

Now I see the guy I just mentioned very differently than I saw him, oh, maybe ten years ago when he insulted my ingelligence about Emily Dickinson (did he ever spend two years in Amherst? did he read every book written about ED that was available thorugh the Amherst library and Amherst College library?!!! I think not.). Did he ever tour her home, feel her in that home, even hear her whispering upstairs to Lavinia?  I have.

Now I wonder if this guy is/was small and fearful and projected his smallness (smallness of thought) and fear onto me, wonder if he felt limitations and projected what he perceived as his limitations onto me.)

I just recalled an interaction with this guy, which is probably why I am thinking about him now. The day before Thanksgiving, maybe 7 or 8 years ago, we agreed to meet to talk about the stressors in our relationship. I prepared for this meeting carefully, listing specific examples of things he had said to me or things he had done, that had unsettled me. He prepped nothing. He showed up pretty late. He tried to leave early. He, and this struck me as odd, took notes on what I said. He, however, had nothing to contribute. He had nothing to point out in my behavior as unsettling or challenging to him.  He gave no indication that he appreciated the very sincere effort I had made, because I cared about him and our friendship, or what I then believed was a friendship -- who schedules a four hour meeting to work on a relationship and offers nothing?

Two things.

At the end of our conflict resolution attempt, he said "All you have done here is what you always do. Complain complain complain."  I did not always complain. And I had not complained that day. I had shared my experience of his treatment of me because I believed, obviously mistakenly, that he wanted us to have a better relationship.

I talked him to his car. When we got near it, he did say he regretted his complain complain complain remark.  I am sorry to say I did not forgive him.  I think I cried when he expressed regret.

And that brings me to a question:  is expressing regret the same as saying I am sorry? Cause that guy never once said he was sorry for any of his behavior. He would say he regretted my misunderstanding of his behavior, or that he regretted it if I had had an expectation different from his own (like when he showed up for my 60th birthday celebration with him -- and he had invited me to get together -- and said "Hurry up, I only have an hour. I have a work meeting." And it was a Saturday. When I said I was hurt about 'only an hour', he said "I knew you would be hurt." So why didn't he talk to me, during one of the three times I had phoned him the day before to nail down details of our celebration of my milestone birthday, that he was time limited.  I phoned once because we had not confirmed time or location of our birthday party. Then I phoned back to offer to show him how to make very inexpensive, homemade coconut milk. And then I phoned a third time to urge him to bring glass bottles for the hot coconut milk, for he had said he'd bring a plastic milk bottle. Three times we talked, yet he never mentioned he had made other plans and had to cram my birthday party in. And he later said "I knew you would be hurt".

I try, so hard, to avoid doing things I know will hurt someone, anyone, but especially those I care about.  When he told me he had to rush our lunch (I had assumed an afternoon since he had initially invited me to dinner and I suggested lunch to save him money), I said I didn't want to go to lunch anymore and asked him to leave. He would not.  He tried to tgroup me. He asked "is there anything we could do right now that might help you feel better?"  I had already tried to do what would have made me feel better, which was see him leave so I could nurse my hurt in private. I felt a little threatened when he just sat in my home and pressed me to talk. He did not offer to talk, did not offer his thoughts. It was all about me fixing things.  All I wanted was for him to leave me with my sense of wounding and when he tgrouped me, I said we could do the coconut milk before lunch so it would have time to cool. I caretaked. I took care of him, using the coconu milk making to help me cover my hurt.

I didn't want to go to lunch with him after that. I really had asked for what I really wanted, which was for him to leave. Then it would have been up to him to call and try again, invite me again, under circumstances under which he did not know beforehand I would feel hurt. He knew I would be hurt and he behaved as he did anyway.

I am wading through some low days. I haven't thought about the sixtieth birthday thing in years.

I see I still blame myself, as if it were wrong of me to hold the expectation that someone inviting me out for my birthday wanted to show he cared about me.  I am ashamed that I wanted to be treated kindly.

As far as what I "see" in his behavior, I can say now, four years later, that I don't have any understanding of his behavior. I don't understand why someone would invite me out to celebrate my birthday and then show up announcing it had to be a quickie lunch because he had a business meeting on a Saturday.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

daddy's little girl? yeah, right. . .

I went to the Apple genius bar today to get help with a software conflict. The Berkeley Apple store is down on 4th Street. It's full of what looks to me to be high end stores. It's a bit of a shopping mecca, I guess. I have only ventured down there for the Crate and Barrel closeout shop and for the very rare trip to Apple. The whole street was lit up, with holiday lights but also lit people, lots of people.

I don't really shop. I see clothing I like in some of the women's clothing shops but they look expensive and they don't look like they sell clothes for not-thin women. I like Sur la Table. I used to be an art docent at the Henry Gallery at the U. of WA with one of the co-founders of Sur la Table, the wife from the couple that founded it. They were very serious art collectors and hosted all the docents at their home so we could see their art-soaked house. Just about everything in the home was a work of art. But, yikes, nothing on sale at Sur La Table. Do they ever have sales? I still use the cookware I acquired when I got married in 1979. but I did need a new garlic press so I got one.

I tend to forget that many people consider current styles in many, even most, areas of life. I bought really good cookware in 1979, and really good stoneware and really good flatware back then. It's all still perfectly good!

I did get a slight taste of the lure of impulse shopping. I walked by a tiny lighting store and they had a few stringy things hanging in their doorway: wires wrapped around stones on a string, or pieces of glass wrapped with wire on a string. Pretty things. Pretty baubles that caught my eye and I thought "This would make a perfect couple's gift for the couple I am spending Xmas with in Canada!" I walked into the shop so I'd have a little time to think about buying that bauble. The two people behind the cash register both perked up to have one customer in their shop. The item that caught my eye was only $25. At first I said to myself "Yes, I will get it" but by the time I looked around for another minute, I began to watch myself. Watch how I was getting caught up in the capitalist version of 'the holidays'.

The real reason I didn't buy the bauble is because the colors of the pretty strung glass bits were no my friend's colors. It was all blue-y. Blue is me.

I was reminded of the year my then-two-year-old insisted on giving her father a Smurfette puzzle for Xmas, post-legal-separation. He was furious over that puzzle -- with me, not her as far as I know. He said "What an insult, giving me a children's toy." I explained to him that our daughter dearly loved the Smurfette doll he had given her, she kept it with her 24/7 and she had been so happily thrilled to give her dad that smurfette puzzle . . . not a Smurf but a Smurfette. He did not believe me when I said she had so happily chosen it and so happily believed she was giving him something special. I don't remember asking him if he criticized that puzzle to her. I hope not. I also pointed out to him that all of her toys were at the house she and I lived in and I thought it wasn't so bad that she had a puzzle she loved at his home.

This reminds me of a few years later, when the Berlin Wall had fallen. Dayton's, which eventually was bought out by Macy's, sold little pieces of the Berlin Wall as meaningless Xmas gifts, sorta the pet rock of that year? I tried to talk her out out of giving her dad a piece of the Berlin Wall because I knew he would see it as an insult, as me making a commentary on how I was, by then, free of any chains to him. And, sure enough, that is exactly how he interpreted that piece of the Berlin wall. and he refused to believe I had tried to talk her out of it. She thought it was a thrilling gift, to have a piece of real, exciting history he could touch!! She was thrilled to give him that gift.

Ironically, even kinda funnily, his favorite 'gift from her' was something I had purchased without her input and I had bought it to mock him. He had a mustache and I bought a ninety nine cent mustache clipper on clearance at a Target and had her give it to him. He bragged about his daughter's thoughtful gift for years. And I never told him she had nothing to do with it. How I loved it that he was so thrilled with that very cheap mustache trimmer. I had been pleased to get off so cheaply.  And I had the grace to never tell him it had been a 99 cent present. Nor did I ever tell him that she had nothing to do with that choice.

Until she left me, I bought him Father's Day, birthday and Christmas gifts (his birthday is tomorrow, Nov 26th!) every year after we separated, even when he was at his height of assholery regarding our custody litigation, such as having me followed 24/7 to collect evidence. Evidence of me driving to daycare, driving to my office, driving to my health club and driving to the shelter for battered women which was hidden in an old CAtholic orphanage.

One year I ordered a baseball from Neiman Marcus signed by Sammy Sosa in the year Sammy Sosa was a very big deal. Our daughter was at college and I did not consult her about that Sammy Sosa baseball but it thrilled him, as I had known it would. He could be like a little boy when it came to sports. Once he asked me how I knew exactly what to get him (this when still married -- he never credited me with any of the gifts I paid for and shipped to him on our daughter's behalf after we separated) -- did he think our four year old begged me to take her shopping for his birthday, or even remembered his birthday without my reminders? Yes he did -- Once he asked me how I knew what gifts he would like and I sang "Because I've got you under my skin . . . ". Which was true, in a bad infection kind of way. Upon reflection, I am not sure our daughter ever even registered the fact that 'she' had given her dad that Sammy Sosa baseball and yet he gushed and gushed over the awesome gift his daughter gave him. He seriously believed that.

Guess how many times he took her shopping for me, or just reminded her that maybe with Christmas coming, she might want to get me a gift? Never. Not once.

My daughter did not give me many gifts. No one had ever mentored her with the idea of giving her mother gifts for Mother's Day, birthday or xmas. The last time I saw her at Christmas, she did give me a nice gift. She special ordered a pendant made by a rhinestone jewelry maker I liked. I had lots of the jewelry maker's earrings and she ordered a pendant to match one pair of the earrings. In hindsight, I think she ordered that gift because she knew she was leaving me. a parting gift?

karma choking me

We attract forces according to our being. - Gurdjieff

go easy on yourself


Thursday, November 23, 2017

saying thank you

Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions
back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you
with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is
–W.S. Merwin, From Migration: New & Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2005).
Copyright © 1988 by W. S. Merwin.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

is she my people?





the holiday hell hole is gone

My daughter told me in 2001, as I dropped her off at Cornell, that she never wanted to see me again. She was 19, not yet a full adult. I did not believe she would shun me forever. She has not interacted with me since, except for me to complete financial aid papers while she was still in college. I wonder if she ever considered the deep love that allowed me to ensure her education was paid for, while her father refused to participate in financial aid, even after she had told me she would never see me again.

I have had many years to keen in grief. And the holidays are still harder for me than the rest of the year. In the beginning, however, I would be engulfed in heartache before Halloween, dreading the upcoming holidays. Every note of every holiday song I happened to hear, every well-meaning question such as "Have a happy Thanksgiving" stabbed me, even gutted me.

I would hunker down and avoid human contact, unfit for human interaction and crippled by my emotional pain.  I came to think of the span from October through after New Year's as the holiday hellhole.  And it was a hellhole for me.

I had just completed a graduate degree when she left me, ready to launch into a new career. Actually I had already launched that new career. But as it gradually saw that she was not coming back, that my only child would go on shunning me, I spiraled into horrible depression. I never got that new career going. I was well and truly too unwell to work.

Writing this is bringing me down, making me cry. And all I really wanted to write is this:  It is Thanksgiving tomorrow and I am not in the holiday hellhole.  I am not in intense emotional pain. I grieve. I wish my daughter would act like a daughter.  What might that look like? An occasional phone call. A birthday card. Let's get crazy, maybe a birthday gift. An occasional visit, face to face.

I seem to be accepting she is gone gone gone, forever.

I am grateful this Thanksgiving that I am not in the holiday hellhole. I am not happy to no longer have a daughter but I am not in the holiday hellhole. Progress? I am not sure.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

cranberry pear pie

Every Thanksgiving week I think about my holiday pie. I can't eat cranberries anymore because of a medication I take. I have been thinking about making my cranberry pear pie. I like the way memories can float about, like the smells coming from a kitchen readying a holiday feast.

It is a simple recipe. A bag of fresh cranberries (usually a pound) and less than one cup of real maple syrup and a bunch of beautiful pears. Prebake the pie crust slightly. Peel and slice the pears. If you are baking this pie with a child, let the child eat all the pear slices s/he wishes to eat. Layer the fruit artistically. And use a lattice top. It is a very beautiful pie. The red cranberries shine like rubies nestled in the pears. The red peeks through the lattice crust nicely. Serve with unsweetened whipped cream. Let the child taste a fresh cranberry too, if they wish. Explain the word pucker afterwards.

The recipe is not really what I was thinking about. I was thinking about the real reason I love to make this pie.

You put the maple syrup in a saucepan with the cranberries. The actual recipe calls for two cups of maple syrup but one of the reasons I like this pie is that it is not too sweet. Cut way down on the maple syrup and you really taste fruit. Cranberries are tart so they need the syrup but use as little as possible.

Heat the syrup and cranberries gently, slowly. Here is the  reason I used to make this pie: as the cranberries warm up and start to both cook and absorb the maple syrup, they make a very soft puffing sound.

Oh my gosh, I love the sound of the cranberries puffing. I love to do this with a child. I love to enjoy the hushed anticipation as we listen for the first puff. While waiting, this is a good time to kiss the child on top of the head a few times.

As soon as the cranberries start puffing, you have to quickly pull the saucepan from the heat. The thrill does not last long, the puffing is only a few seconds and the sounds very soft. Yet it is a very fine experience. There is a temptation to keep the cranberries on too long in the hope that you will get to hear another mild puffing sound but you must resist. Resolve to make this pie again soon.

Then you layer the cooked berries, the pears and bake, not too long, just long enough to meld the flavors, to lightly bake the pears.

gentle sound of cranberries puffing in maple syrup

Every Thanksgiving week I think about my holiday pie. I can't eat cranberries anymore because of a medication I take. I have been thinking about making my cranberry pear pie. I like the way memories can float about, like the smells coming from a kitchen readying a holiday feast.

It is a simple recipe. A bag of fresh cranberries (usually a pound) and less than one cup of real maple syrup and a bunch of beautiful pears. Prebake the pie crust slightly. Peel and slice the pears. If you are baking this pie with a child, let the child eat all the pear slices s/he wishes to eat. Layer the fruit artistically. And use a lattice top. It is a very beautiful pie. The red cranberries shine like rubies nestled in the pears. The red peeks through the lattice crust nicely. Serve with unsweetened whipped cream. Let the child taste a fresh cranberry too, if they wish. Explain the word pucker afterwards.

The recipe is not really what I was thinking about. I was thinking about the real reason I love to make this pie.

You put the maple syrup in a saucepan with the cranberries. The actual recipe calls for two cups of maple syrup but one of the reasons I like this pie is that it is not too sweet. Cut way down on the maple syrup and you really taste fruit. Cranberries are tart so they need the syrup but use as little as possible.