Brain Sputtering

I look at the clock. The arms don’t seem to be moving and the digits all look identical. Something inside me pushes against time, wanting everything to just hurry along. Does anyone have time for all the bullshit little things that we have to do and sit through each and every day? All the tedious things that seem to take forever? All the dreaded things?

I am not sure how I came out of that place, but I know it happened slowly as I sifted through my own mush and bullshit. During this period, I had to constantly remind myself to slow down, after all, what was the big hurry? Is it weird that I had to teach myself how to enjoy life’s every moment? Shouldn’t that just be a built-in part of being human? Shouldn’t that just be a given? Yet my anxiety-ridden nature could do nothing of the sort. I had to just get to the other side of things and quickly. The pattern was most noticeable with watching movies. I could watch a film I know I had seen and in some cases not remember a single moment of the film. I discovered the problem was, since all I was thinking about was getting through it, I rarely paid any attention to what was going on. At first, I thought the problem was my memory when really it was my lack of focus, my desire to just “get through it”.

I am not sure if it relates but I also battle a touch of dyslexia. I loved words so much that I fought back my constant poor choice of which letter was correct b p d or q (which ironically still happens frequently when I type). I find that both my hands and my mouth will betray me and either say or write a word that sounds similar to the one I want to use but is utterly incorrect. I catch it a lot when I am editing a piece that I have written really fast, my brain sputtering out a placeholder so that I can get the right word in the right place later. It happened all the time in my earlier years and I was dubbed “dingy”. It doesn’t help any that when I have this “verbal dyslexia” in public I get so embarrassed that I giggle uncontrollably. Ah, but what is life without all it’s little flaws and inconsistencies?

I have never had any kind of treatment for these brain misfires of mine. In my late 20’s, I luckily followed a path to study Psychology and in a storm of self-repair went through a wide variety of self-help books, classes, and therapy, shedding light and doing remodels of all the glaring personal blemishes that covered my interior walls. I also took my love of words for a walk and have challenged myself to improve my speech and vocabulary. Improving my typing speed has been the most challenging. After over a year solid of typing every morning at the computer for at least 20 minutes, I have not yielded any noticeable improvement in my speed or accuracy. That part is disappointing. Perhaps in another couple of years…

Oddly enough the one practice that has helped me the most is to just be grateful. I just stop myself for a still moment, close my eyes, take a deep breath, as I let it out I allow myself to smile. As I open my eyes I remind myself to just enjoy the moment. I don’t know if anyone else suffers from or experiences these things. I don’t know but I am guessing at least some of these things are familiar to most from time to time. I try to always smile, even through the bullshit. I try to enjoy every moment. Some days it’s harder than others, some days there is just too much bullshit and we all just have to do the best we can to get through it as quickly and painlessly as possible. No matter what though, I always have time to be grateful.

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Photo by Seth Doyle on Unsplash

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A Black Crayon

 

The smell of crayons always takes me back to my first childhood memories of creativity. Crayons were almost always available and easy enough to use though I was never “that kind” of an artist. To this day, I love the way the wax slides across the paper and catches every bump or imperfection both in the paper and from the surface underneath it. I still love the smell of a fresh brand new box and can hear in my head the sound of the paper being torn off as the crayon leaves itself behind on the paper.
The black crayon was always my favorite. I saw it as the most useful of all the colors because you can use it to outline anything, like the way a tattoo artist or coloring book does. It creates the lines and structure of your focus. It conducts your direction like the line on a road. It is the color of ladybugs and window frames.
Now as an adult, I get to show my grandkids the cool things one can do with a crayon and I love when they think I have some sort of magical powers. “How do you know how to do that Grandma?” my grandson Lucas will ask, his voice filled with wonder. “Because when I was your age, I practiced,” I tell him smiling.
I hope he always sees me as magical, just as I did my first box of 64 Crayola crayons, the cool one with the sharpener in the back. The box was so much better than that smaller, plain, nondescript box of crayons that mom got me before that, which broke, randomly melted, and honestly did not even write the same as the Crayola brand. I remember feeling rich when I opened that package on Christmas day! I am sure that it came with a coloring book but I have long since forgotten what book that could possibly have been.
I do remember emptying the entire box on a regular basis. I used the four inserts to arrange the crayons in color coordinating patterns, resulting in the colors beaming back at me like some confused sort of rainbow. Crayons, in some ways, symbolize my first OCD moments, which as an adult continue to play out in my color coordinated closets and pantry’s, outlined in black. I manage my OCD with a strong dose of writing and have long since traded my crayons for pens and my drawings for stories.

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The Divided States

In some ways, our country has always been divided. Our two system party, the American Dream vs. Big Brother, North vs. South, Rich vs. Poor, Cowboys vs. Indians… Yet even with the violence of the civil war, our current divide seems more dangerous and more deadly. Is it because of our ever-growing population? Is it because of the ease of modern communication? Is it because of our growing and impassioned beliefs? Is it because of politics and the political systems in place? Or does it simply boil down to the fact that we are human and have a very primal human nature? Or is it because these continuing issues seem to be uniquely American in nature and are forever woven into the fabric of our life and our flag?
Our divided states are like one big chopping block instead of a melting pot. Combining and emersion are not encouraged; keep things divided, separate from others not like you, alienate anyone who is different. This is how the dividing occurs and we are willing participants because we all have opinions and preferences. I would rather not indulge some of our cultures worst traits, yet maintaining freedom means those traits get to stay. It is a serrated edge that cuts and separates the “what could be” from the “what is”.
“They” have us fighting with each other, solidifying the division, closing our ears and our hearts off to viable solutions. Alienate. That is what an abuser does. If he can alienate his victim, then the abuse can go on as directed, without interruption. The abused usually is clueless as to what is going on, too busy trying to juggle the blame and horror of the situation. That is what many of us are doing or experiencing. And yet we are blind to it.
If you say to me, “The kids don’t know anything about gun control! They were just eating Tide Pods last month!” Perhaps you are right. Still, as adults we are supposed to protect the children until they are old enough to make their own decisions, that is our job. It is our job to raise “responsible members of civilized society”. Whether as an adult or a parent, you have to realize that if we don’t like what the children are doing, then we need to educate them and guide them, not belittle them. The age of abuse is passing out of existence and we must lovingly evolve our thinking. Let us use communication as a tool instead of a weapon.
I believe that we are mainly divided by those who want change and those who don’t. It’s almost like a couple who is continually fighting. One side thinks everything is “just fine just how it is” and the other side is showing all the ways things aren’t fine. Perhaps there are some things that shouldn’t change. But we obviously need to sit down and really look at what is working and what isn’t. Isn’t that what you would do with car trouble? Or financial issues? What is working well and what needs to change? And then how do we change it? It is pointless to constantly point the finger of blame and not provide or explore working solutions.
I believe sometimes problems arise so that we can (together) find solutions. Perhaps strength and change come from having the hard and difficult discussions. Perhaps this is where we find our true humanity. Perhaps in the process of breaking down is where we create the strength of building up. Perhaps this is where we bridge the divide. Let’s fix this rift before it gets wide enough to swallow us up. We can fix things without losing what we have. But if we continue to fight amongst ourselves we could lose all that we have built. Divided cannot be United.

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Happy

Growing up my immediate family raised German Shepherds. In fact, during my school years, I watched 17 litters of puppies come and go. We bred, reared, and sold them to families or we trained them and sold them to the local Sherriff’s department. I was known as and referred to as “the girl with all the dogs”, yet none of them were mine. That is until my step-dad brought home a dog that we didn’t breed.

She was the perfect dog in every way. She was a black and silver German Shepherd about 2 years old. From the moment my eyes locked with hers, I knew we were connected. She was well trained before she came to me, beyond obedient. Her name was Happy, and she always looked like she was smiling, yet I always felt she carried a heavy shattered heart, just like me.

I always loved how different each dog was. I loved them all, but I never bonded with another dog the way I bonded with her. Only now, have I realized that she probably saved my life. She slept next to my bed. She sat next to me where ever I sat (except at the kitchen table). She walked next to me but never once got underfoot.  She responded to everyone but responded to me with an urgency and loyalty that I have never experienced before.

I remember Bob saying we got a good deal on her. Shepherd’s contained the vitality of his life’s commodities. We started going with him to his weekly training class, but I knew it was to train me rather than her. He tried to get me to show her, but my heart wasn’t really in it and it showed. She would perform all the right steps, but she didn’t want to either. I felt claustrophobic the times I did show her, and it was obviously awkward for us both.

I remember her hair was short and thick with a little touch of a wave that you could only see up close. Her eyes the color of rich amber. She was a medium size dog with a good lineage and her actual purchase had been with the intent to breed her with our stud, Dago, who had been imported from Germany as a puppy. The two were a good match and I watched with growing curiosity afterward, as her belly swelled until it was round and tight.

Over the years, I had been present for only a handful of actual live births by that point, usually, I chose to watch from a non-threatening distance. Some of the mothers were very territorial during and after giving birth. I had been growled at and nipped at enough to know where my place in the process was. I had a deep respect for what these mothers had to do, and I mourned with them when they lost one of their babies.

This was Happy’s first litter and she grew wearier as the birthing day approached. She seemed confused as to what was going on and often watched her own stomach move as the puppies wormed around inside her. As it happens, I was alone with her when she went into labor, with no back up arriving for hours. I had already staged the birthing area weeks prior, just in case.

The containment was a custom wood box Bob had made to keep the puppies enclosed until they were bigger and had been used by a handful of mothers before her. My job was always to cover the floor of the box with a thick layer of newspapers. Then making a nest of old blankets for the first few days in one corner. She looked worried as I ushered her into the box. I rubbed her stomach gently and gave her a lick at the water bowl when she looked like she needed it. We were both scared.

When the first sack came out it was unbroken. Happy and I both just looked at it. A little moving sausage with puppy ears smashed against the clear encasement. I moved cautiously towards the sack, seeing her trust and bewilderment, I poked a finger through the sack at an open spot between limbs and fluid spilled out onto the blankets. The pup moved wildly now, it’s head still stuck in the deepest part of the sack. She heard the peep it made and went to work bringing her first pup into the world, fully wet and shivering. After that, each new pup came out and was cleaned up without my assistance and by the fifth one, she was a pro.

In the end, she finished with four survivors. All beautiful and strong like their mother.

She was a natural in the weeks to come. You could tell she wasn’t one of those mother’s that just want to get away from the little parasites that draw their teats down into a funnel-shaped cone. Instead, she showed her offspring the same loyalty and dedication that she showed me. She cleaned them often and kept them close, concerned about the slightest peep, circling them when they played in the yard.

1983 ended up being one of the worst years of my childhood. There’s nothing like coming home from school only to have your parents tell you that they sold your dog. They gave me no warning as if it was a band-aid being ripped off a painful wound. That was a pain that I never really recovered from. I never forgave them for it and went into a pre-teen depression that matched my gloomy devastation. I was truly lost without my best friend.

I don’t currently have any animals. I’ve had cats over the years, mostly because they are easy and so independent. I’ve thought many times about getting a dog, especially a Shepherd, but I doubt that any dog will ever compare to her. She is long gone by now, no doubt. I still think of her and her non-offensive dog breath and wonder how many puppies wander the earth with a piece of her smile or her huge heart.

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The Girl No One Saw

Growing up, I had what I will call, an alternative childhood. I loved books and one of my greatest unmet childhood desires was to be read to. My mom and step-dad worked crazy hours and there was rarely anyone around to guide me or nurture me let alone read to me. Without a present parent, the circumstances were far from ideal. I did not have sleepovers or even a best friend. How could a girl have a best friend when she had no clue how to even be a friend? Now, as an adult writer, it is my job to not only write about what happened to me but how it affected me and how I grew because of it. Most importantly, how I managed to get through to the other side.

I’ll be honest. I made it through by stumbling my way along, picking up experiences as I went. I learned life-lessons from sharp comments and public humiliation. I learned how to laugh because of social ostracization. I learned how to do things by watching others from the sidelines of life. The perpetual wallflower. The fly on the wall. The girl no one sees. Finding better ways to be ignored rather than to be abused or humiliated was my central goal during my early years. During this period, I tried to make myself small and insignificant– to which I succeeded for the most part but also hindering my growth.

Also, my alternative childhood left me too scared to try new things, a problem which has continued to plague my adult life. I was not taught that it was okay to make mistakes because that is how you learn; I wish I had been taught that one. Instead, I was taught that not only was making mistakes a bad horrible thing but that I was only good at making mistakes. That was my everlasting teenage state. I was always wrong. I was born wrong into a world that would always see me as wrong, a single weed in a valley full of beautiful flowers.

But in a way, these turned out to be good experiences. I learned to entertain myself. I learned to embrace my weirdness and used it to create laughter when I could. I was semi-cautious and managed to stay out of trouble for the most part. However, I’ve struggled as an adult to learn all the things I missed out on as a child. I’ve found that as a writer, I must observe everything around me in detail, and in doing so, I also am able to shine a light on my own flaws. “To succeed in life is to be able to transform.”

I think this is why I like writing so much. I can write to my heart’s content. I can let it all spill out on the page. I can use what I find within myself, deep below the surface. I can take what I learn about myself and transform my ideas both on paper and in my mind. I can choose what I focus on and how I focus on it. I can find my own alternatives and develop positive action.

When I share what I have written, I am always surprised to find others who feel how I feel, have had similar experiences, or who share my perspective. It reminds me that no matter how alone I feel, I’m not. There might not be many people like me in the world, but there are enough of us that I can finally open to the world around me. I cannot change it no matter how much I want to. All I can do is observe and adjust my own sails. I will always come up with solutions. Being resourceful is how I have made it to my alternative adulthood. Growing is how I made it to the other side.

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Personal Essay #49

Are you coming into middle age? Welcome to gray hairs that have minds of their own and skin that seems to hang a little looser than it used to. Welcome to noisy joints and slower moving muscles. Welcome to a mind full of experiences, knowledge, and perceptions, yet still able to learn new information, making middle age the most fertile ground since infancy—only now mixed with the largest number of possibilities. It’s also a time for re-evaluation and making life-altering directional changes. So, settle into the middle part of your life’s story and see what more you want to write.

When we hear the phrase ‘coming of age’ we usually think of the ages between 13-21 depending on various factors. But I never hear anyone talk about the ‘second’ coming-of-age, (the stage that happens between ages 40-60) other than the overused negative phrase ‘mid-life crisis’. I believe instead that this is a mystical and magical time in ones’ life, this middle life, this second chance that not everyone makes it to. For me, I personally feel like I am coming into middle life like a toddler who is learning to run, but I simply keep propelling myself forward as fast as I can, in order to keep from falling flat on my own face.

So, what does this next section of life feel like (other than the aches and pains)? Well, hopefully by middle age, most of us have enough life experience built up and are brimming full of knowledge and wisdom. Yet at this point, most of us are still young enough to use that wisdom as a tool while still being young enough to try new things and to push ourselves to new limits. Many of us also now have grown or almost grown children giving us a huge portion of our time back and with this new found freedom a second childhood or second attempt at creating the life we truly want.

This can also be a time for stepping out of comfort zones, trying things that have sat on the back-burner while we raised families or even the secret longings forgot since our own childhood. Perhaps this step is fueled by the sands of time sliding past the narrow neck of the hourglass, by the knowledge, that time is absolutely running out. There’s so much life still left to live, we are at the halfway point, looking at our future with the fuzzy vision of declining eyesight. Unfortunately, it’s also common for potentially fatal health issues crop or pop up, disrupting any and all of our plans. As my granny used to say, “When you have your health, you have everything.” Life has no quality to it when you no longer have good health.

In this next stage of the adventure, we continue on with everything we have left. It’s the time to make a difference in the world–if we can. The perfect opportunity to figure out what else we can bring to the table of life. The focus is often on overall improvement and trying to make good on things we might have gotten wrong earlier in life. It’s a time for enjoying the years left ahead of us to the fullest as well as accomplishing things that have merely been dreams. Some say it’s all downhill from here and perhaps that is true but it’s more enjoyable than that. I feel middle life comes with a unique freedom that other stages of life are lacking. What will you do with this precious stage of your life? What dreams do you have left unfulfilled? If you are lucky, you still have plenty of time to find out.

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Personal Essay #45

The time I fell in love with a narcissist.

I didn’t know he was a narcissist when I met him. It took me about a decade to figure it out. It was by far the strangest love affair of my life and it nearly destroyed me. I never understood which was worse the fact that I let it all happen or that he willfully hurt me time and time again. I learned many things about myself during that time and in the reflection of his mirror, he showed me what areas I needed to work on. Just like all things, there was some good with the bad.

During that time I suffered from a lowered self-esteem. Now whether this was just who I was then or whether or not something he did made it worse, who can say? I try not to talk about it. He had me so crazy in my own head for far too long. My friends still cringe when his name comes up. This one particular heartache is one that I don’t think will ever fully heal.

This all came to the surface again recently after I read an article on “Why empaths are attracted to narcissists.” Suddenly that entire relationship made sense to me. Every misstep, every low blow, every complaint, every odd quirk, every dishonest or telling moment… now it all made perfect terrifying sense.

Now, let me be clear. This was not physical abuse. I know he would never have laid a hand on me. He’s not that guy. But I do think he emotionally hurt me and did so with intent in order to keep me attached to and dependent on him. It took years of no contact in order for me to be able to look back and see things clearly.

After these years, I can now see the clear path of destruction and the grieving and the eventual rebirth of my path. It was a growing experience that taught me things I couldn’t learn any other way. It gave me a new perspective on life and love and intentions. It also planted a permanent seed of distrust which has taught me to be cautious in general.

I finally did the update to my email that Yahoo has been reminding me to do for months. There now appeared a place with pictures from old emails. When I opened it there popped up pictures from an outing we went on but no pictures of us together. There never were. We were never like that. It didn’t hurt like I thought it would, it just made me remember. Now it seems that all happened another lifetime ago.

I am still grateful for the lessons even though the cuts were deep and took forever to heal. The scars keep me protected. They’ve thickened over time with maturity and learning. The lessons I learned gave me the strength to walk away from any situation that is no good for me. I learned that I keep the key to my own happiness. Because the old adage is true…

If someone else holds the key to your happiness, they will drop it, they will drop it every time.

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