Security

This morning I made a concerted effort to take care of myself. I took a long bath, shaved my legs, slathered myself in sunscreen, and put on shorts for possibly the first time this season. And, look at me, I am wearing sandals. My room is next, because Marie Kondo lies. She says that if you clean your room, you’ll never go back to it looking like a disaster area because you’ll be so proud of yourself.

Unfortunately, not so much. Maybe this advice is for regular people, who don’t have the type depression I feel, which a lot of the time centers around “nothing matters.” I don’t feel happy, I don’t feel sad, I just feel empty inside with nothing to fill it. Also, I think there’s something psychological about having everything I need within immediate reach. My house burned down when I was 11, and I think it triggered something in my brain that I need to be able to see all my stuff at once, because you never know when you won’t have it anymore. Additionally, even though it feels good to me (at times, anyway… maybe a nap), I won’t sleep naked, either… because what am I going to do if the fire alarm goes off? I don’t have time to look for pants. I suppose that is one advantage to being male. I’d only have to look for pants… otherwise, I’d be running down the stairs, as Dana & Counselor coined, “tatas akimbo.”

[Editor’s Note: Happy birthday, Counselor. I hope you get lots of cake and presents…. but mostly cake.]

For Dana, who I don’t think has seen it, “tatas akimbo” reminds me of a villain Arms_akimboon Freakazoid! called “Arms Akimbo.” I can’t think of one without the other. For those of you not in the know, it’s still one of my favorite Amblin Entertainment cartoons ever.

It’s about a teenager named Dexter Douglas who gets trapped in the Internet and the electricity turns him into a comic superhero. The humor is MUCH like The Tick and Venture Brothers, but of course the Internet angle speaks to me… as well as the double personality that goes along with being a mild-mannered nerd at home and an ADHD spazz when he “freaks out.” I suppose Dexter is kind of like Clark Kent, if Kent was constantly glued to a computer terminal alone in his room.

It’s voiced by the usual Amblin crew (meaning also on Animaniacs and Histeria!), like Tress MacNeille, Paul Rugg, and Maurice LaMarche- but adds guests that are equally hilarious, like Ed Asner, Ricardo Montalbán, and Craig Ferguson. I am still sort of bitter that F! only got two seasons, because every single episode is fall-down funny, particularly a standalone episode regarding a British “superhero” named “Lord Bravery…” conceived as an homage to John Cleese. He wants to call himself “Lord Bravery,” but quickly finds out it’s a copyright infringement. Hilarity ensues.

You can buy both seasons of F! on YouTube for $40.00, or $2.00 per episode. I am hoping that because Animaniacs is now on Netflix that they’ll add Freakazoid! and Histeria! as well, but I’m not holding my breath.

Histeria! is the least known of all the Amblin Entertainment cartoons, but it combines real historical events with extremely smart comedy… such as information about President Taft to the theme of Shaft. It was conceived as an animated version of Saturday Night Live, more a cartoon sketch show that met the WB network’s policies on education for  children… and, like all Amblin shows, built with jokes that go right over the kids’ heads and make adults fall on the floor. For instance, with the Taft thing, I highly doubt that the children watching would know the movie being parodied.

You know, this entry started out with me talking about taking care of myself, and it’s amazing how much my mood has lifted by talking about all this comedy… for instance, thinking about Dexter Douglas again, which I haven’t in years, reminds me of me. For all practical intents and purposes, Dexter and I are the same person… particularly when I get into Linux command line mode. Not so much with DOS. I haven’t used it since fifth grade, so I have to Google everything I need to do with it. I also hate that the commands are just different enough that it wastes my time. For example, in DOS it’s ipconfig. In Linux, it’s ifconfig. I am so lucky that the amount of time I have to use DOS is negligible. Otherwise, I think I’d be tearing my hair out on a daily basis.

Now, just because I’ve said this, my punishment will be that in my next job, my Microsoft operating system will be installed without a graphical user interface and coworkers who say, how did you make it this long in IT without learning DOS, n00b? It evens out. Most Microsoft people are terrified of Linux and won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. My entrance into Dexter Douglas-land started in college, when I had, as my friend Leslie so aptly put it, an idealistic Red Hat phase. One of my close friends was a Linux system administrator, and I was hooked from day one. I started using Debian-based distributions when they progressed beyond Slackware, which, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, just take it on faith that it is a lesson in gut-wrenching pain… unless you really know what you’re doing.

I did not.

With most operating systems, if there are pieces of software that you need to get another piece of software to run, it will tell you… like having to install the Dot Net framework to run Quicken. With Slackware, you had to find all the dependencies yourself, and most of the time, compile software from source code rather than it coming in a .deb executable (equal to a Windows .exe). I only knew one person in college that preferred Slackware because it was so difficult, because it gave her bragging rights. I would just sigh and rub my temple with my middle finger when it came up.

Joe, the aforementioned Linux system administrator, set up a web server for my friend Luke and me, and that’s how I really got started with the command line. That was in 1997, and I haven’t looked back… although I knew UNIX a little bit from just being in college, period. In those days, UH e-mail was hosted on either a UNIX or VAX/VAX box, depending on which one you were assigned, with pine as your client. Moving up in the world to Outlook and/or Entourage was a big damn deal.

We also had staff and students that used a popular e-mail client called Eudora. One of the funniest support calls I ever took was a lady who called up and asked how to configure her “Endora” account. I had to mute the phone I was laughing so hard. When I recovered, I said, “do you mean your Eudora account? I think Endora was the grandmother on Bewitched.” It’s been so long that I don’t remember whether she laughed or was peeved, but I certainly remember how quickly I started shaking with laughter, willing no sound to come out.

And now that we’re on the subject of computer support calls, here are my top “favorites:”

  • A man called up and said that his computer wouldn’t turn on. I knew to check physical connections first, so I asked him if it was plugged in. We go back and forth for way too long, because he insists that it is. I am moments away from telling him that his power supply is toast when I hear, “wait.” It was plugged in, but he had plugged the power strip into itself instead of into the wall.
  • At the UH Helpdesk, like most others, when you first call in you get a list of network outages (if there are any that day). When I pick up the phone, she says, “I just heard the network was down and my monitor is blinking on and off. Are those two things related? Again, it was all I could do not to fall apart laughing, so on the verge of tears running down my face, I said, “ma’am, I hope not.”
  • It is simply amazing just how many people think you can help them solve their computer problems while their computer is at home and they are driving.
  • And finally, through no fault of their own (because why would you know this if you weren’t a computer person?), there were so many people who called in with their theses erased, their PhotoShop projects ruined, etc. because they didn’t know that a magnet would erase the data on a floppy drive and would stick them to the side of their CPUs or on the refrigerator in order not to forget them. And of course there weren’t any backups. Why would that be important?
    • As a side note, even though USB drives are more stable than floppies, please just put copies of files on them. Mobile drives are prone to errors, loss, theft, etc. With errors, sometimes they can be fixed, and sometimes the drive is bricked. Please, for the love of God, don’t let that bricked USB stick contain your only copy of your doctoral research. I used to be wary of cloud storage, but I got over it. Now, if I have sensitive documents I password protect them, zip them, and then add a second password to the zip file. I do very little with Google Docs, Office Live, etc. and just download my files to whichever computer I’m using at the time… including my phone and iPad.
      • I also use LastPass to keep track of all my passwords in an encrypted vault. The only password I need to know from memory is the one for my e-mail, and the rest are complicated random strings. For instance, my bank and blog passwords are 25 characters. In terms of hacking, your best bet at security is to make passwords so long that it takes years to crack them. It won’t stop a hacker if he/she is that dedicated, but most will move on to the people who still think Password123 is a valid option. LastPass is available for all browsers and mobile devices, and on my Android, works with my fingerprint reader (don’t know about iOS).

The bottom line is that there are very few computer problems I haven’t encountered in the 20 years I’ve been doing this… and in 20 years, those problems haven’t changed. There are still people who write down their passwords in a notebook and keep it either on top of their desks or in an unlocked drawer. There are still people who put their network credentials on a Post-It note and stick it to the bottom of their keyboards…. that way, no one has to hack your network at all. You’ve just let them in the front door……………….

Which is kind of like having to run out of a burning house, tatas akimbo.

Spirit, Moving Over Chaos

Sometimes I get them menstrual cramps real hard…

I apologize if this entry ends up being cranky AF (see above). I have taken ibuprofen, which now allows me to complain. As I have said before, in my family you are not allowed to complain about any malady until you’ve done something about it.


My stomach hurts.

Have you taken anything for it?

No.

Has it kicked in yet?

-or-

Well, you can’t get tachyphylaxis from nothin.’

The cranky is not all from pain, though. I’ve started panicking about Sunday, my mom & Dana’s birthdays. One grief compounds the other- in both directions. Even after two years of not speaking, I would bet dollars to doughnuts that Dana still knows me better than anyone on earth… more so than my mother, but that grief is obviously more devastating for two reasons. My mother has known me my whole life until now, and there will never be a chance in which those roles are reversed… that my mother will know me better than Dana as I grow. I certainly never gave my mother as much blackmail information. 😛

I feel I am making progress with the distance and time I’ve had to think since Dana and I separated, but there are distinct moments in time that I’m in love with her ghost… memories that are fixed points in time and visit me in the night. They don’t come to me nearly as often in the daytime… although some do. Generally, when I’m writing about a memory with Dana on this blog, it’s because I dreamed it the night before.

Speaking of which, the last birthday that the three of us spent together was in Portland, at Jake’s Grill in The Governor Hotel. I called ahead and got a reservation, then arranged for their menus to read Happy Birthday, Carolyn and Dana at the top. It was an evening to remember, something good in the middle of this garbage dump of a situation.

For the rest of my life, Jun. 11th will represent both death and loss, because I can’t remember one without the other. I have been divorced from Kathleen for over 15 years, and I still occasionally remember her birthday, because I have no anchor for it every year. Dana having the same birthday as my dead mother are the two points buried in the sand.

I am still so angry and lost about how Dana and I let it get so bad… yet another therapy session, I suppose. The one thing I’ve finally given up thinking is that it’s all my fault. Even if it mostly was, that doesn’t mean I need to take responsibility for anything and everything.

The thing I’ve learned over the years is that even if you only own five percent of the blame, you have to OWN THAT FIVE. It stops the victim mentality and shows you the way you participated and not how everything “happened to you.” Believe me, I am not in any way saying that I only own five percent of the blame for the end of that relationship, just using it as an example of my point.

It always takes two to tango, the dance of intimacy undulating between closer and further apart.

I think the reason it’s on my mind a lot is that I don’t ever want to repeat the same mistakes. There will never be a time in my life when I am blameless for a problem involving me, but there is merit in at least working through old “stuff” to be able to make room for something new.

Or perhaps reframing things altogether- they are not problems, but challenges to overcome. Hearing there’s a problem tends to make me fold into myself… but never dare a Lanagan. I am always capable of rising to meet an obstacle with the business end of a hammer. It may not dissipate altogether, but at least it’s in smaller, more manageable chunks.

With grief and loss, it is challenging myself to hammer away at my isolation, because I cannot continue to be afraid of social interaction. There will always be people who accidentally say really shitty things to me regarding my separation and my mother’s death.

There will always be people who think that my emotions are too intense for them. There will always be people who seem to be trustworthy and aren’t, or vice versa.

There will always be times I have to wonder which one I am… and not to stop striving for excellence in all areas of my life, not letting the times where I fall short stop me from reaching upward and onward.

Part of that challenge is also to stop beating myself severely for past mistakes as if they define who I am now. I must realize that past trauma, anxiety, and chemical imbalance are contributing factors when I make the wrong decision, but are not indicative of my true personality. Bad decisions do not define bad people, ever.

I was just beginning to emerge from the desert of that line of thought when my mother died, and drinking water became a mirage.

I have been through so much, in a relatively short amount of time. I am so ready for peace and prosperity to rule over chaos… or, at least, in the words of David Ashley White, “spirit, moving over chaos.”

The prayer I pray the most often (second to “SHIT, God!”) is to let chaos swirl around me instead of inside me.

Even when I’m cranky AF.

Motivation

I mentioned yesterday that my grief presents as lack of motivation in most areas of my life. The one area it doesn’t affect is looking for a job, because especially since I passed my ITIL exam, I have a much better chance of getting an interview than I did before, because I’m still working on my Bachelor’s. In technology, the degree won’t matter much because it’s not in Computer Science (degree plan is BA in Political “Science”), but most companies want to make sure you can make it through college, anyway. It is a long, long, long story as to why I’m not finished yet- one for another day. As a result, I think my resume is getting kicked out of the automatic readers on principle, so that hiring managers aren’t getting to look at my resume at all. Basically the ITIL certification allows me to run a helpdesk rather than just being a part of one, but I’d work my way up if I got my foot in the door. For all the money I spent on it ($1,000), I don’t understand why I’m being kept in the dark. I am a computer badass, and I wish more people knew it.

However, I only put that stuff on my resume. When I introduce myself and people ask me what I do, I tell them I’m a writer. Of course it’s not my career. I think if it was, I wouldn’t have anything to write about. But at the same time, it defines me more aptly than computer badass ever will. Even when I am working full time, writing is a second full-time job because I don’t slow down on the blog, either. I write at lunch or after work, and just hope that people keep listening… but even more important than that, wanting to be a better writer tomorrow than I am today for all the tomorrows of my life.

If I’d had any kind of forethought, I might have used that money to enroll at UMD instead. I could finish quicker at University of Houston, using (ironically enough) the distance education tools I first helped set up from 1999-2000. However, now that I have in-state tuition, I would rather go to class in the flesh if I can swing it. I am positive that Blackboard would work well for me… after all, I am a writer and my thoughts come out clearly that way. But in political science, part of the fun is arguing in person.

There’s also a few classes I could take at community college that were full when I tried to enroll as a freshman/sophomore… or would work better online than others. For instance, I need a literature requirement, and I was dropped from Intro to Poetry when I got sick and missed three classes in summer school. There are few times in my life that I’ve been more angry, because as it was explained to me, it didn’t matter how sick I was. Rules were rules. The day I was dropped, I had an A+ in the class. I think it was because I never had to write poetry, just essays explaining what other poets meant. I, like most teenagers, had notebooks full of angsty, awful poetry… and I don’t think I’ve ever progressed beyond them. But Freshman Comp 1 & 2 were both Mickey Mouse classes for me, so I guess I’ve found my genre. Not every writer can be good at all of them.

I also need a math requirement, and I’ll have to check with UMD, but at University of Houston, you could sub Music Theory and Logic for things like Algebra and Calculus. I never took the SAT/ACT, but if I had, I assure you that my results would have been somewhere along the lines of verbal wizard and maths potted plant. How did I get out of taking placement tests, you ask? I missed three weeks of school, when both of them were being administered, due to migraine headaches that wouldn’t go away and was hospitalized. I had several spinal taps, so for a long time I couldn’t even keep my head up. I just took the entrance exams for community college and skipped standardized testing rites of passage altogether.

In terms of the hours I already have, at UH I’m a second-semester junior. My minor is in psychology, and all of those hours are finished… thank God. One of my friends made me laugh (because it wasn’t really a joke) by saying, “could you change your major? We’re tired of you trying to diagnose us all.” So, I waited until I had enough hours to complete my minor and changed my major to political science after having been bitten by the bug. When you want to get involved with social justice and governmental change, there’s no better place to be… although where Trump is concerned, I’m really glad I took Abnormal Psych and aced it.

At first, I chose psychology as a major because I didn’t want to be a therapist myself… I thought I would end up as a professor or something, because I didn’t want to unleash a crazy person on my poor patients. Lots and LOTS of people go into private practice because they got interested in psych when they were diagnosed with something themselves. I just preferred learning the theories, from William James to Sigmund Freud to Erik Erikson to Jean Piaget. I am interested in the way your core personality is set by the age of six, and further development has more to do with behavior modification rather than changing who you are.

For instance, I am a writer, and I have been since kindergarten. It is literally who I am, and not something I picked up along the way.

I picked up computers in the ’90s, and when I did, boy were they heavy. You haven’t lived until you’ve crushed your feet with a 21-inch CRT monitor, or cracked your head on a desk trying to hide cable.

It has been a blessing to see wi-fi, Bluetooth, and flat screens develop…. not to mention laptops with docking stations.

Being a geek has gotten easier, while writing has stayed the same amount of gut-wrenching difficulty. I carry these words with me all the time, given to me by a friend and they’ve just stuck………… “looking inside yourself isn’t for sissies.”

But to be fair, neither is teaching a little old lady how to e-mail picture attachments.

What I’ve Learned About Grief… So Far

There are so many books out there on how to deal with grief, but it is as individual as a fingerprint. No one grieves the same way, and there is no right or wrong answer. I am writing this to share my own process in hopes that it might be helpful to someone else… but again, my experience is going to be different from yours.

In some cases, the person you’re grieving might still be alive. In others, the process of your loved one dying might be so protracted that you will absolutely get a chance to wrap up loose ends and say goodbye. Lastly, some of you will lose loved ones in an instant, because tomorrow is never promised.

I have probably said this before, but I fall into the last category. At 65, after just retiring the last May, my mother broke her foot and kept it elevated so much that an embolism developed in late September. When it blew, it killed her instantly on October 2nd… not even really enough time to enjoy being retired. Because none of her doctors knew it was there, they could not have removed it while it was still in place. It was no one’s fault, because the best surgeon in the world, had he or she been standing right next to her, could not have saved her. She was in the midst of reinventing herself, because teaching had defined her for so long, and I would have loved to see the person she would have become…. especially since, selfishly, she would have had a lot more time to come and visit me. 😛

In those first few days, my sense of loss included lack of control… as if the most experienced surgeon couldn’t have saved her, but somehow, I could’ve. Eventually, it went away as I internalized what had really happened, but I still felt guilty that in the two weeks before, I’d thought about driving back to Houston to visit my father as he went through multiple surgeries to remove the cancer on his nose, and when I told my mother that I wanted to do so, she told me that she thought it was a bad idea. The guilt was that I had plenty of money in the bank to stay in a hotel, that my car gets 40 mpg so fuel wouldn’t have been expensive, and I could have been there to visit my mother in her last days, as well as been there for Lindsay when it happened had I stayed in town long enough. I still was, because I rushed to Houston immediately when I heard the news, but it wasn’t the same. I had to let go of those feelings as well, because I did the best I could with the information I had.

My grief process started out the way every emergency in my life ever has… make sure everyone else is okay, and break down later. What emotions I couldn’t stuff down naturally, I took anti-anxiety medication so nothing rattled me. In a sense, my natural response coupled with the meds made me feel as if I was having an out-of-body experience, as if this were happening to someone else. I needed it to be that way, though, because otherwise I would not have been able to function. The visitation and funeral would have been too much, and not because my mother died. Because I am not big on crowds of people I do not know, and though my family was in attendance, including my dad, it was a small number of people with which I was comfortable. My medication allowed me to rise above, and in most cases, return to the “show mode” of my PK upbringing. I was polite, my breathing deep and even, though I was screaming obscenities inside (come on… we’ve met). I felt sympathy for everyone who lost her, because it wasn’t just Lindsay and me. It was our stepsisters and their families, her first family, my dad (not only were they married for 23 years, they’d been friends since elementary school), and a whole host of friends, former students, and their parents as well. As an empath, it was hard not to pick up on all the pain in the room… but perhaps it was for the best, because it was another tool to keep me functioning. Again, I could break down later. I felt that in the moment, my best bet was to be strong for everyone else. Plus, I gave a short eulogy at the funeral, and I had to be able to make it through without falling apart so that I could be understood.

However, not everyone understood that about me. For some, I didn’t seem sad enough. They wondered why I didn’t cry.

When I got back to DC, the floodgates unleashed and I came undone…. just not in front of all the people that probably needed to see that I was grieving, too. Of course I was, just not in the same way. Part of the reason I was so incredibly calm was that I was in shock. I think I’ve said this before, but it was akin to the high you feel when you break a bone and adrenaline kicks in so hard that you really don’t feel the pain until it wears off. Even seeing my mother’s body at the visitation didn’t allow the shock to wear off, which was entirely surprising because in the beginning, I was convinced that I would believe she was dead when I could see it.

Not so much.

Again, the shock didn’t wear off until days later, in, strangely, the bathtub of all places. In retrospect, perhaps it was being naked physically that allowed me to be naked emotionally. I was reading a book and one line broke the dam. Before that, I was my own best dike (literally, although it’s okay with me if that makes you laugh. It made me laugh, too.).

So, in no particular order, here are the feelings I’ve had and the actions I’ve taken over the past few months… the things I’ve learned about grief that I didn’t think I’d have to learn quite so young:

  • I am so angry at the time I view as “stolen from me.” I thought I would have 15 or more years with my mother.
  • I am so jealous that I have friends much older than I am whose mothers are still alive.
  • I am irrationally filled with rage every time someone says to me that this was God’s will, she’s in a better place, or it would have been so much harder for me had I lost my father rather than my mother, as if I was happier I lost my left arm than my right. I also wear an ichthus necklace that has my mother’s fingerprint etched into the silver, and people have commented that it’s creepy because they’re focused on how said fingerprint was acquired at the funeral home.
  • I am ashamed of all that rage because I know that they have no idea that they’re saying the wrong things and only meaning to be kind… except for the necklace comments. That’s just mean, and it’s been said to me more than once.
  • My cost of living is very, very low and I had a lot of savings in the bank. I used that money to be able to completely fall apart, and in retrospect, it was the wrong thing to do because I didn’t have a routine to allow me to return to some semblance of normalcy.
  • Alternatively, no one had to see me in the stage of my grief where I was metaphorically tearing my clothes and literally unable to take care of myself… even with medication, I was still completely undone.
  • Now that months have passed, I am able to take care of myself, but rarely amenable to leaving the house, for two reasons. The first is that I still have anxiety attacks and I don’t want anyone to see them. The second is that when the subject of my mother dying comes up, people start to treat me differently. If you don’t know what I mean, it is such things as pushing me away, treating me with kid gloves, and asking how I am every five minutes when the way I feel hasn’t changed in months, much less between the coffee being served and the bacon & eggs arriving.
  • I have empathy for the people who push me away, because they’re not doing it on purpose. They simply don’t know what to say, and view saying nothing as “better.”
  • If you are reading this and have never lost anyone close to you, please know that you don’t have to say anything. I would much rather have touches- a hug, a cheek kiss, an arm around my shoulder, and you not minding if in the middle of that hug, I start to cry and you get tears (and possibly snot) on your shirt.
  • Also, do not say “call me if you need anything.” I will not call you under normal circumstances, and I need a lot of things. I just don’t know what they are and guessing is a losing battle. If I wrap my brain around something that I think will make me feel better, it won’t five minutes later.
  • Do not listen to anyone who says “everything will be okay,” because it won’t be for a long time. That’s a piece of advice I got from a friend, which I have extrapolated into nothing will ever be okay again. I will get moments of extreme joy, and life will go on, but there’s never going to be an event in which I don’t wish my mother was there. I will grieve in some measure for the rest of my life.
  • I’ve pushed away people I really love, and have come to regret it immensely. At first, I just wanted to be left alone. Now, I’m more careful what I wish for.
  • My grief also presents as not eating and then EATING ALL THE THINGS when I get hungry enough. I thought about setting alarms on my phone for meal times, but discarded the idea when I realized that I couldn’t force myself to eat, either.
  • I have little motivation for my dreams, because again, my mother is not there to witness them materialize. I find myself willing to settle in all areas of my life. I have no doubt that the motivation will eventually return as I get a sense of “the new normal,” but right now I would be just as happy working at Taco Bell as I would starting a new church plant…. because What. Is. The. Point?
  • I am realizing more and more that I can’t wait until grief is over and my mood changes. I am in charge of changing my own mood, but sometimes I don’t have the motivation. I want to sit in my sadness, because thinking about and grieving my mother is all I have left of her. When I don’t want to sit in sadness, I play happy music, like Aqua, and go for a walk. There is room in my life for both.
  • I am a lot more scatterbrained than normal, a brain fog that will not lift. Just a small example… I’ve told many people that I’m watching Wentworth. I’m watching Westworld.
  • I read books on grief in small doses, because I am determined to finish them, but I can’t take it all in one sitting. I would rather escape into novels that have nothing to do with my current situation.
  • Alternatively, over the past few months I’ve also escaped into TV shows where people come back to life, fantasy I wish was reality, such as:
    • Santa Clarita Diet
    • iZombie
    • The Returned
    • Deadbeat
  • There have been so many things I perceive I’ve done wrong during this transition, and just have to hope that they were right for me. I am jealous of people that are able to achieve post-traumatic growth quickly, as if it is a flaw in my character. Again, I’ve only done the best I could with the information I have.

Grief is so weird and terrible, but it also teaches you, in some measure, who you are. It will separate out who you were before and who you are now. It will shatter all of your illusions of what you thought life meant…. in some cases, allowing for a greater purpose. In others, shutting you down into the smallest version of yourself. Sometimes, both ideas present all in one day.

I never knew until last October that the smallest version of myself is I miss my mommy. The process is how not to get stuck there, because there will always be moments.

Getting “bigger” hasn’t happened all at once, because there are moments where I feel six feet tall and bulletproof, then a movie will run across my mind and I am paralyzed with fear… mostly the fear that I’ll never feel better than I do in that moment.

And then another great moment comes along, a bulwark against the storm…. because grief often feels like being pushed overboard into terrifying water- you can’t see land. And if you could, it wouldn’t be a beach you recognize.

Get. Up.

The first time I tried Cafe Bustelo,™ I had a 16 oz mug and I thought I could smell numbers. It’s an espresso roast (which I didn’t know at the time), and left in the basket as long as coffee will not only put hair on your chest, but delusions of grandeur in your brain. You know, like, “I can DO ALL THE THINGS!”

I can, for short bursts. Grief, as Sheryl Sandberg points out, is a demanding companion, and it has settled into my muscles so that everything takes longer- even with the miracle of caffeine. My mission is how to move faster.

Logically, I know it’s time to move on. It may seem cruel to say, but I don’t mean forgetting that my mother died altogether. I mean truly internalizing that there’s no going back. There’s no relationship with which to move into the future, nothing I can do or say to get my mother to come visit. I have had little post-traumatic growth because logic and emotion are two different things.

The other day (because I have no sense of time passing) my sister and I went to get our nails done at a salon in DC, and the whole time, the music overhead was solo piano. After an hour of it, I was panicking internally. Shortness of breath, brain race, anger, the whole bit. I had so little Klonopin on board that I could have taken another one, but because my nails were wet, I couldn’t exactly get up and get one. I just had to breathe through it, not dissimilar to Lamaze.

Logic went out the window as the night my mother died played in my head, as if it was happening right the fuck now instead of last October. Hearing the panic in Lindsay’s voice as she told me over the phone. Knowing I could borrow some of her clothes or just buy new ones when I landed in Houston. Frantically packing up my backpack with just my iPad, iPhone (with just wireless), keyboard, wallet, and phone. I don’t know why I packed both my iPhone and my Android, but I didn’t know what I needed in that moment and electronics were the thing that made me feel comfortable. I also brought my Kindle because it had a note from Argo in it that I knew I’d need to survive the next few days. When I felt the most afraid of what was going to happen next, I’d read her words of assurance and for a moment, the storm would calm.

My iPhone came in handy later because I was at a gas station and tripped on the sidewalk, smashing my Android into a million pieces because it was in my pocket and I landed on it… coming absolutely unglued because it was just the shitty icing on the burnt cake stuck to the tin pan.

At the time, I was trying to stuff down every emotion I had so that I could function until the funeral was over. The Android was a birthday present from my dad, and it was less than a month later and I’d already ruined it. If I hadn’t been in public, I would have screamed loud enough to be heard for three blocks.

When I was less anxious, I went to AT&T and activated my iPhone so at least I’d have navigation. Houston is my hometown, and I still don’t know where anything is, even when in complete control of my faculties.

If there’s anything that defined those first few days for me, it was lack of control. There’s nothing I could have done that would have saved her, or even made any difference at all.

Which is what brings me back around to the futility of continuing to grieve in the same way. “Snap out of it” is always derogatory to a depressed/anxious person, but it’s definitely how I feel about myself at times. It is in those moments that I realize I’m being extraordinarily hard on myself, which I generally am, anyway….. but still. I remind myself of the scene in The Matrix where Trinity is running from agents and rolls hard to the bottom of a flight of stairs, momentarily frozen in place and says to herself, “get up, Trinity. GET. UP.”

Spoiler alert… she does, by sheer force of will.

Frozen at the bottom of a flight of stairs is an apt description of my mindset, because as hard as I’m trying to force myself to get up, spoiler alert….. I haven’t.

I do all the necessary things to keep myself going, but I am not making room for fun or laughter most days. In fact, because everything I need to do is tied to the Internet, I rarely leave my house. To be here is to be comforted in a safety net of my own choosing, and no one is kicking me out of my nest…. or even trying to pull. Right now my best friend is the cashier at Safeway… and not because we really know each other. Because she’s the one I talk to the most during any given week.

For some people, this would seem sad and depressing. For me, it is comforting and safe. I am always lost in several books at once, have podcasts going as I work, and when I have time, there’s a few TV shows I enjoy. In a lot of ways, my life hasn’t changed any since I was married, but people tend to think that you’re isolating when you do this on your own, and, in a word, not when you’re doing the exact same thing with someone else. The stigma is that cocooning with a spouse is right and natural. Cocooning with yourself means you probably need medication.

They say that everything happens for a reason, and if there has been anything that’s been good to come out of getting divorced, it has been that time to myself where I didn’t have to care about anyone else’s feelings, because I just wasn’t capable. I would have been a horrible wife because Dana would have no frame of reference as to what I was going through, and at first I couldn’t stand anyone around me whose parents were still alive. I would have been angry and jealous WITH HER, something she wouldn’t have deserved, but would have happened, anyway.

I only wanted friends who’d been through the same thing, because only someone who’s been through it can comprehend the ups and downs. They also don’t say EXTREMELY STUPID SHIT…. the main reason I avoided everyone for a while. I just couldn’t handle it. Cortisol and rage raced through my body as I would just get irrationally angry, because these people meant no harm. They just didn’t know what they didn’t know, and wouldn’t until it happened to them.

The people who showed up for me weren’t the people I expected. People I’d been extremely close to retreated and people I hadn’t heard from in years rushed in… along with people I only knew virtually. Facebook was excellent for this, because it allowed all my friends (in the cloud and on the ground) to know at once what was happening. This blog was also a great help, because I could express what was going through my mind the entire way through those first few days.

But now, my entries are starting to sound repetitive, even to me. Missing my mom, Dana, Argo, blah blah blah… have a Kleenex and get on with it, kid.

I’m hoping that now I recognize this, kicking the shit out of Option B will become a reality, rather than being mired in the past. Not only is it time to let go, it is time to “get up, Leslie. GET. UP.”

“Exitstentialism” (Fiction)

I used to write short stories all the time. In fact, I won an award from The Houston Chronicle for one of them. That memory reminded me to try again.


Everything has been figured out, except how to live.

-Jean-Paul Sartre

The thought that keeps running through my mind is that I have to get it done. There’s no way out, only through. I find a couch that’s seen better days, and sit down. The smell of burning crack fills the air, an aroma that unless you’ve experienced firsthand is hard to explain… close to putting baking soda under the broiler and just as loud.

There’s a black man sitting next to me who has also seen better days. He’s got missing teeth, white hair and beard, shirt off with ribs showing- the perfect picture of years and years of neglect. Within minutes, he hands over a pipe, small and industrial, already loaded and waiting for fire. He’s not beautiful, but at least he’s generous.

The flame comes at me, a symbolic inch of salvation, and I inhale deeply. I don’t feel anything, and take another deep drag. This time, I feel even less of nothing, and decide that is the point. I don’t want to feel anything, anyway. If I did, I wouldn’t have started the evening with two watermelon Four Lokos, the national system of doing dangerous shit faster. But what I’m doing isn’t dangerous. It’s necessary. Alcohol, caffeine, and crack are just tools.

As my heart beats faster and faster, I notice that I am the only white person in the room, which isn’t a big deal except that I know I’m being watched… not that I’m in danger. A curiosity, like a chicken playing chess. I close my eyes and lean back into the haze of smoke, my extremities glued in place.

The high is magnificent, because I’m not thinking about anything except how good I feel. I can’t and won’t do this again. It’s too powerful… better than love, better than family… it would take over my whole life if I let it, because who wouldn’t want to live in this? Who wouldn’t want the universe to open up and say you’ll never feel pain again?

And that’s when I realize I’ll never do it again, anyway.

When I open my eyes, there’s a rape in progress, so close I can feel it happening… that poor girl, whomever she is. I sit up straight, the hair on my arms standing at attention. How could I not know, not feel that what I saw was actually happening to me?

Everything fades to black as I realize I don’t care about anything, much less this. Just one more thing that’s gone wrong in my bottomless shithole of a life.

I feel a light slap on my face, a different man trying to wake me up. I was already awake, daydreaming with my eyes closed. He wasn’t there to help, just to make sure I wasn’t dead.

I wasn’t.

I just dissociate and close my eyes again. This literal clusterfuck will be over soon or it won’t. Nobody cares. As despicable as the experience will seem later, it’s still an orgasm before I die. I know I will. I can feel it. I’ve been locked into the warehouse while they decide what to do with me. Even in a dream state, I hear the doors close and the padlock click. If they’d had guns, I doubt there would be discussion at all.

I still don’t care.

I have to get it done.

It’s logical, really. I’ve stolen documents from a three letter agency. There’s nowhere in the world I’m off the grid. I’ll be chased my whole life, which won’t be too long if I’m lucky.

I am not. The doors are pushed open, I’m helped to my feet, and sent on my way. I hear a man say “she’s so high she’s not going to remember any of this.”

I get into the backseat of my car and my teeth start to clench. I’m coming down, and the withdrawal is so fierce I’d do anything for another hit… but I made a promise to myself. It was going to be a once in a lifetime thing, something to ensure my comfort on the way out.

What I didn’t count on was what would happen if the plan failed.

Last evening I had one problem… how to get off the grid. This morning, I have two. I wasn’t high enough to forget anything. The situation, for all its horror, has its amusing moments. As my teeth grit more and more tightly, I figure out why lollipops must be popular among this particular crowd.

As morning slowly becomes evening, the smell and the withdrawal abate… but not the regret. I have flashbacks to the old ratty couch, the feeling of my spirit flying high above my body, looking down at the woman I never thought I’d become.

Or perhaps the person I’ve always been… the one whose missions always fail.

I couldn’t even achieve death on my own terms.

The prison is cold, unforgiving… waiting for someone else to finish what I could not. I do not fear death. I fear even one more day behind the even tighter security of my mind. They could let me go, and it wouldn’t matter. I’d still never be free.

There’s no exit.

Every Topic of Which I Can Think

There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not obsessed with becoming the person I want to be instead of the person I am. I think that’s a good obsession rather than a bad one, because it drives me forward in order to achieve my version of success. Of course I want to have financial success, but for an INFJ, money is never how success is defined. It’s becoming who they want to be in interpersonal relationships, often leading others to wholeness through “commanding from the back.” I’d like to think that it’s what defines this web site. I lay out all my flaws and failures first, and if others find comfort in knowing they’re not alone, I’ve done my job for that day.

For me, success is defined as looking at my regrets in order to make new mistakes rather than repeating old ones. This is because I can never strive for perfection, but excellence is an achievable goal. I have come a long way with this, because my pattern is to give up on something if I can’t do it perfectly. For me, there has never been such a thing as it’s good enough. Honestly, it wasn’t until I started blogging this time around that I began to change my focus away from everything being perfect, because I realized that if I wanted everything to be perfect, I’d never publish anything. I look at my old entries and see tense changes, typos (which drive me ntus), and any number of grammatical errors because formal writing in blogging is not the goal. If it was, I would have hired an editor long ago. I often read entries after I’ve hit “Publish” because I began to realize that over-focusing on tiny things made it where I didn’t have enough courage to put my writing out there.

I decided to just write like I talk, and that in and of itself was good enough………..

However, even that didn’t dawn on me until I looked at my stats over a year in 2014 and every country in the world was represented. Every. Country. In. The. World.

When I told my friends that, they said “prove it.” So, I used the WordPress app on my phone and showed them the breakdown. There wasn’t a single one of them that didn’t say something to the effect of “holy shit, Batman.” And this was after “you don’t have UAE… oh, there it is.” “You don’t have Angola… oh, there it is.” “You don’t have Liechtenstein…. oh, there it is.” Etc. Etc. Etc.

I am most popular in the US, because that’s where my friends live… but Australia and the UK are catching up fast.

That’s the part that makes me the happiest, because there is nothing better than putting out my words and having so many people read them that have no horse in the race. They can listen objectively because they don’t know anyone I’m talking about, and can’t even guess.

I also really like being a part of the WordPress community, because I read a lot of other writers that are much better than I am, upping my own game. Of course I still read Dooce and The Bloggess and all the other insanely popular blogs because they are insanely popular for a reason. Plus, she’s not exactly a blogger, but Anne Lamott has started writing really long Facebook statuses that sustain me- part humorist, part theologian- all grace.

I’ve actually met Anne- she did a reading at Powell’s Books in Portland and I was so sick I thought I might be dying…. but unless I was actually dead, there was no way I was going to miss it. I had a dumbass attack during the Q & A when I said, “my only question is ‘can I give you a hug?'” She said, “of course!” And afterwards, I thought, “oh my God. I hope I didn’t just kill her, metaphorically speaking.” If I remember right, it was tonsilitis.

So now you know my stories with both of my writing heroes, which are humorous and memorable because I am a master at tripping over my own feet in the presence of greatness…. and cuteness, apparently…. but what lesbian can avoid walking into a closed door in the presence of cuteness? I haven’t met one yet. ;P

Technically, I was opening the door and banged my own face on it. I can laugh about it now, but oh my fuck did it hurt. Dana never would have let me live it down had my nose started bleeding. I miss sharing girl-watching with her, because it was always understood that we could look at the menu, but we couldn’t order.

And we damn near always looked at the same menu. ;P

I don’t do girl-watching these days, because I’d rather put my energy into self-improvement…. with my writing, with my job-hunting, with my hopes and dreams for the future. But they’re funny memories nonetheless.

Although one woman did write to me recently based on my OkCupid profile that said, “your blog reads like the inside of my head.” Good Lord. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone…. same with a friend that said “I’ll live vicariously through you.” I’m sorry, I wouldn’t wish that on a dog I didn’t like…. I actually love dogs, it’s just a NE Texas saying that hasn’t gone away. You can take the girl out of Texas, etc.

My other favorite is, “she can’t help it that she’s ugly, but she could stay home.” Or from Molly Ivins…. “you wouldn’t say he was dumb, but you might want to stop by and water him three times a week, bless his heart.”

It is a trueism in Texas that you can say just about anything mean about anyone as long as you follow it up with “bless their hearts.” I suppose this is because it is meant to convey insincere compassion for their maladies.

It is especially prevalent in a small town where, in the words of the movie Doc Hollywood, “you cain’t take a shit in this town without everybody knowing what color it is.” Everybody knows everything because the grapevine is tall and strong.

It was both a relief and a hardship to get out of Texas all the times that I have, because of course I miss my family, and at the same time, I enjoy finding out who I am outside of who they are. Although part of moving so much is ingrained from being a preacher’s kid. We never stayed anywhere longer than five years, and it instilled wanderlust in me, as opposed to wanting to stay in the same place for once.

I did put down strong roots in Portland, where I’ve lived the longest (so far), but even then I still went back and forth. It’s a strange feeling when no place feels like home. Now that I’m back in DC, though, I can’t imagine living anywhere else. The wanderlust is now internalized to exploring my own city, because I could see a new thing every day for the rest of my life and still not see everything DC has to offer. A few days ago, I downloaded a hiking app that has all the trails in the entire country mapped out and driving directions to the trailheads. There are several right in the city, and even more in Maryland and Virginia.

I need to get on it, because one of the things that’s truly important for people post-PTSD and/or grieving is getting back into your body, because pain settles into the muscles as easily as it settles into the brain.

I go to therapy for my mind, and I need to exercise, even if it’s just walking a beginner trail. It’s also about two miles from my house to the Metro, and that is just enough time to really think while mobile. I just need a bit better weather. Right now it is 63 and cloudy, with rain predicted for later, and I absolutely hate getting caught in the rain as I’m walking when it’s cold out…. or, cold for me, anyway. When it’s 80 or 90, getting caught in the rain is delicious, even when it’s not Portland spitting and Maryland downpour.

I really should rethink the whole umbrella thing, because the reason you don’t have to carry a bumbershoot in Portland is that it hardly EVER rains hard. Here, the skies open up without warning and you can get soaked to the skin in a matter of seconds. But here’s my take on umbrellas in that situation. I tend to get soaked to the skin, anyway, because the rain blows sideways. And in fact, the last time I actually owned an umbrella, it was raining so hard that my umbrella bent backwards and was rendered unusuable about five seconds into my fifteen minute wait for the bus.

Granted, the umbrella was kind of flimsy, but there’s no way in hell I would have been willing to carry a heavy golf umbrella in addition to my loaded down backpack. There were so many days that my back was ripped to shreds because I have a corkscrew scoliosis and my backpack rubbed the skin on top of those vertebrae raw and bleeding…. even with a bandage, because even then, there wasn’t enough padding.

I tried honey, I tried Neosporin, I tried carrying a different bag, and nothing worked. So I just had to grin and bear it, often gnashing my teeth in pain.

Getting a car solved all that, but it has also made me a bit complacent. Walking was good for me, especially home from therapy. I could have taken the bus, but I didn’t unless I got tired. I generally walked everywhere I went. I remember the exact moment I broke down. I was trying to get to SuperCuts out in East Jesus Nowhere because I couldn’t find one closer (didn’t know about local salons yet). When I got there, Google Maps was wrong and it wasn’t there. It was such a long trip with so much walking (about six miles all told) that I just sat down on the pavement and cried until I remembered I could create an Uber account. Just please, God, come and pick me up. Stick a fork in me, I’m friggin’ done.

And then there was the time that I found a SuperCuts on Wisconsin Ave., and the route home was through Rock Creek Park in the pitch black. I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared in my life. Until I found a salon in Silver Spring, I wouldn’t drive there. I took the Metro every time, because I didn’t know how to get home without navigation, so there was no way to avoid having to creep along in the park, still blind even with headlights on because the trees are oppressive in those hours. Now I go to the mall in downtown Silver Spring, another place to which I can walk and often don’t.

But I should. Self-improvement comes easier when I am comfortable in my own skin, and walking alone, thinking and listening to music that lifts my mood, is the fastest way I know to get there.

I have a friend who says she doesn’t believe in God, but does believe in running. Now I know what she means. Perhaps my prayer should be that I start running, too… just not away from anything. There is no way out, only through.

Now that I’ve exhausted nearly every topic of which I can think, it’s time to get going. I have a few errands to “run,” but unfortunately, today’s just not the day to take it literally. Perhaps it will be sunny tomorrow. I am sure I can make up an excuse to walk to the Metro, even if I don’t actually get on the train. Sometimes the destination isn’t the important part, anyway.