Nothing Stays the Same

I wanted to wait to post my next entry until I actually had something to say. I know that not updating my blog reduces traffic, thus dampening my quest for world domination. On the other hand, I don’t want to be one of those people who doesn’t take time to think before writing…. anything will do, because it’s not about craft, it’s about attracting views, visits, likes, and followers. I feel like I have enough already. Not believing I have enough just leads to verbal vomit for its own sake… and to me, that just doesn’t cut it.

I mean, I’ve always been the type to just lay out everything on this web site and let people make their own decisions about what they read, and when I post often, it’s because having something to say comes along that frequently. It’s organic, never forced. Lately, I’ve realized that most of my ruminations are just continuations of things I’ve already said, probably more than three or four times. I promise that I am not regurgitating content. It’s the way my brain works.

I think about a problem right up until I don’t. The interesting part (or, at least, it’s interesting to me) is that I tend to start a couple of steps back and rehash, but when I’m thinking about something a second (third, fourth, fifth, 17th……) time, the overall arc is the same and different small details jump out, often changing the course of the dialogue… conversations that happen between me and me. Though Shakespeare was not talking about discourse with oneself, he might as well have been. The play’s the thing… especially in moments where I’ve caught myself red-handed…. infinitely more scary than feeling caught by anyone else. I’m better at kicking my ass than you are. Write it down.

I’ve scared myself for the past couple of weeks because I make it a point to look at my Facebook memories, and along with all of my funny memes is this mountain range of emotions. Note to self: more peaks, less valleys.

WordPress propagates to my author page, which means that I am equally stupid and brave enough to post things to my own profile. If I skipped doing so, old entries wouldn’t appear at all. It isn’t about torturing myself- many, many more readers click through from my profile because I’ve been on Facebook for 10 years. The “Stories” page has only existed since 2015, and as of right this moment, only has about 100 followers. After a decade, I have 745 friends and 38 followers. The platform is exponentially larger. My Facebook profile propagates to @ldlanagan on Twitter, and my author page to @lesliecology. Again, I have more followers on my own Twitter feed than the feed for my web site… the difference is that @lesliecology is nothing but a WordPress feed, and @ldlanagan is everything I post on Facebook, period. My profile is public, and my Facebook statuses are generally longer than Tweets, so anyone can click through to the original post.

So there’s the setup as to why I wanted to separate out my blog entries from my Facebook profile/Twitter feed, and why it hasn’t worked out.

Scaring myself the last couple of weeks has been about entries from four years ago, starting with PTSD as a teenager and it unraveling my thirties into divorce, losing a good friend, and so much compounded mental instability that I needed more help than my friends and family could give. Poet Mary Karr gave me the phrase “checking into the Mental Mariott,” and I’ve used it relentlessly since.

Joking about it covers up deep wounds, and that’s why I write about them instead of speaking. When I am writing, I have a bit of clinical separation. I can look at the land mines without detonation. I cannot say the same is always true for reading. Occasionally, I feel the distance of having grown as a person, so that the entry feels like it was written by someone else. More often, I am remembering every tiny detail about the setting and the arc of the story. Then body memory kicks in, and if my heart and brain were racing in the moment, I feel it again; it doesn’t matter how much time has passed.

It isn’t all bad, though, because I write in equal measure about how good I’m feeling, and those excited butterflies also return…. sometimes, but not often, in the same entry. The other plus is getting to decide if what was true at that time is still true today, and as a rule with some exceptions, it’s not. There are truth bombs that hit me just as hard now as the day I wrote them, but for the most part, this blog has been dynamic, and has changed just as often as I have (which is, like, the point).

Whether I’m reading an up day or a down, it is exhilarating to see that few things stay the same.

I will always have the regular, boring adult problems… and at the same time, my life is bigger than that. Managing Bipolar II, remnants of PTSD (anxiety, mostly) and ADHD so that I am not a ball of negative crazy keeps it interesting. I emphasize “negative crazy” because I don’t know anyone who isn’t crazy in a positive way. I am not attracted on any level to the mundane. Regular people with big dreams are often lumped in with “crazy,” because most people don’t dream big.

Even my dreams have been adjusted. I am still dreaming big, but the focus is not on starting my own church anymore. Perhaps in the distant future, I’ll think about it again. But right now, when I enter into any church building, consecrated or not, “my mother is dead” becomes an ostinato.

From Google Dictionary:

Ostinato

os·ti·na·to
/ästəˈnädō/

noun: ostinato; plural noun: ostinati; plural noun: ostinatos

a continually repeated musical phrase or rhythm.

“The cellos have the tune, above an ostinato bass figure.”

Even the sentence used to illustrate the word is appropriate, because you don’t just hear bass. You feel it.

I have written before that she’s everywhere I look, because over our lives together, I cannot think of an element within church life where she was absent. I cannot think of a single thing that was all mine until I moved to Portland and began preaching at Bridgeport UCC.

I have always been the Mary. She was the Martha.

There was no judgment on her part. I just mean that I have always been the thinker and she has always been the actor…. Actually, I take that back. My mother was one of the few people I’ve met in this life that had extraordinarily creative ideas and the ability to execute them, which is rare.

Few people manage to live on the ground and in the air at the same time (it’s a miracle I can tie my own shoes).

In Luke 10:41-42, Jesus is speaking to Martha, who has complained to him that (I’m paraphrasing) “Mary’s just sitting on her ass while I’m doing all the work. Can’t you go rattle her cage?” And Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things. But one thing is needful, and Mary hath chosen the better part, which shall not be taken away from her.” He actually says this to the woman that invited him and his entire crew into her house and wants to feed everyone. Now, I don’t know whether you’ve ever cooked and served for 16 (fairly certain Lazarus was there- unclear), but I can see Martha’s point and I get a little bit irritated with Jesus. It’s not that one part is better than the other. Thinking is not better than doing. Doing is not better than thinking. They’re just different mindsets, and the evening wouldn’t have been possible without both.

I am certain that Mary and Martha need each other. Martha is grounded, and keeps Mary from floating away. Mary reminds Martha to look at the stars once in a while.

So when I think about the work I did to investigate starting a homeless ministry in Silver Spring, what comes up for me is that my Martha is no longer with us. It rends the mental tapestry I created, and I descend into darkness.

I am still excited by theology of all types- Abrahamic, Eastern, you name it. But right at this very minute, I’d rather spend my time thinking and writing, sometimes posting sermons on this web site rather than waxing philosophic in front of a physical crowd.

What I do not know is whether I will always feel the same, or whether my time is not yet here.

What I do know is that the fight has left me. I am too mired in grief to get passionate enough to affect change. In fact, I wouldn’t say that I’m extraordinarily passionate about anything at all. When my mother died, so did several pieces of me. I know for certain that it would have been easier had I gotten to see my mother live a long life and there was no aspect of “dear God, they took her too soon.” I knew I would be sad when she died, but I was completely caught off guard by the rage at getting robbed.

Embolisms make great thieves who never need getaway cars.

I am still grieving the future that I thought I would get, and piecing together a new normal. It’s a good thing that on this day next year, I’ll read this again, and perhaps that new normal will have some structure. The concrete has been mixed, but I think I added a little too much water, because it just. Won’t. Set.

Shared

…there’s a ghost in this house,
When he sings it sounds just like you,
When he falls it brings me down too.

Does it get easier to do?

-Robyn Dell’Unto

When I listen to this song, I can’t decide if the ghost is internal or external. Are the people I’ve loved and lost following me, or is it the feelings I have about them? The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

For instance, if I could go back in time and not move to DC, would I do it?

I have many regrets, and this is one of them, but not because it isn’t wonderful, and I wouldn’t even think about it if my mother hadn’t died so relatively shortly after I did.

Dana made it clear that she did not want to work on our relationship, and I could not live in the same city with her and not obsess over whether I could abide by that decision and how and when to leave her alone.

Moving was a way to give her space to figure out her own shit while I figured out mine, without the need to check in with her every damn minute to take an emotional temperature. I don’t know if it was ever in her plan, but I thought that with time and distance, things would look different, that we might ultimately find our paths back to each other after an enormous amount of therapy on our own, because what we had together was spectacular.

I couldn’t imagine a lifetime of it just being over. I held on to that hope for about six months, and then I began to grieve in earnest. During that time, directly after I moved, we talked a few times, and then never again. And even in our discussions, it was never about how we were really doing, just catching up like ladies who lunch. It wasn’t a bad thing, but it was an adjustment.

I remember thinking, “this is not the Dana that I know… and that’s the point.”

I think the feeling of the rubber meeting the road in six months is relatively quick. At the time it felt interminable, but it wasn’t. Just a small part of the process in taking her from my reality to my past. The ghost that lives in my house, because I don’t lock her away and don’t care that she’s here. In a lot of ways, it’s comforting, because the memories that come up for me are of laughter and not of strife. I choose to block the bad parts and focus on the good.

And does it matter that these are the feelings I have when I’m alone, closed off to being with anyone else, because I just don’t want it? I don’t see it? That I am incredibly happy with having friends and family who love me, and that being the extent of my support system?

I am not over the way I treated her, and though I have made progress, I am not forgiven. It feels like letting myself off the hook too quickly, because I don’t want a repeat of this pattern ever again.

Also, I’ve never lived my life without a ghost that played tapes in my head, and I have work to do where that is concerned, as well. I’ve never had a mind free of wandering off into the past, reliving conversations of happier times and wondering why things went wrong… and two of them weren’t even romantic relationships, unless you count the complete mindfuck that went along with them. Although the second is self-inflicted. It didn’t have to be complicated, and I made it so.

But there’s a new truth in my life that is here to stay. Dana and I shared some incredibly privileged information that I won’t be able to bring up with anyone else, and I mean this on the serious. No one can ever know, and not because it’s dirty or bad or wrong, it just is. So part of my willingness to work on our relationship, no matter how bad things got, was the reminder that if I lost her safe space, there was no replacement, and never would be.

In that one way, our lives are connected as permanently as our matching tattoos. When I left, I made a point of calling them our honing beacons, but I wouldn’t use it now. It’s just another thing that is.

We were smart enough to be aware of the fact that we could break up when we got them, so we choose something that was meaningful to both of us severally and jointly. It’s not like I have a huge back piece that says “I love Dana.”

But in my worst moments, sometimes it feels that way.

I’m also not stupid enough to believe that her friends won’t read this, so let me assure them that I have no intention of moving backwards, of reaching out, of doing anything to endanger the peaceful silence we have achieved. My stuff to work out is owned, and I have no need for closure.

It’s been too long, it hurts too much to envision those conversations, and the ponderings of my heart are not to be shared… and by that, I mean that I don’t care if she reads my blog. Maybe she does, maybe she doesn’t. I’ll never know or care. What I mean is that it’s not her job to care about what I think or even affect her life in any way. My thoughts, again, aren’t meant to be shared.

They’re just brain droppings, and maybe not even healthy ones. They just are. It’s not my job to judge their merit, just to let them come and go, talking about them with myself and probably my therapist.

I’m not stupid enough to think that any of my ghosts aren’t secretly reading, and I can’t care about that, either, because then this space ceases to be my own and starts to be a reflection of what I think their opinions might be.

My thoughts aren’t meant to be shared, leading to common ground.

It’s my weight to carry, and they don’t deserve (in good ways or bad) to take off a few pounds.

I am a product of my own inner landscape, sharing common ground with strangers who have had similar experiences… perhaps learning about the ghosts that walk in their houses. Reaching out, but not to anyone in particular.

I remember explaining this phenomenon to Argo, when she wasn’t a ghost, but very, very present, talking about someone else. That when I found out a piece of my past was lurking, she thought I was writing to it on purpose. I told her that quite frankly, when I found out the blood drained from my face and I nearly threw up. She got it, and we didn’t have to discuss it again. Once was enough, and I love her for that. She believed me the first time, and I didn’t have to convince her. It just was. She let it be, and it was the right thing to do. I don’t think I would have been willing to continue our unusual kinship if it had become a thing.

I could easily have let Argo become a ghost, listening to our made up whispers in my dreams instead of grabbing onto reality. The truth is that she is very present in my life. But those conversations happen in daylight, steeped in what is really right in front of me and not pipe dreams.

Probably because we didn’t have as many connections as Dana and me. I never shook her hand, thought her hugs would be memorable but never experienced it firsthand. A virtual x had to do. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if virtual became real, but only from the standpoint that it would have changed operatic swells of emotion into daily normality, letting minutiae temper the page. On paper, it’s easy to run off into flights of fancy. When someone is right in front of you, it isn’t. Reading when I was making her eyes glaze over or her temper flare was different than seeing it. It would have changed my direction and my distraction.

But what I know for sure is that I achieved my own peace with it not happening, it not being likely to happen, and just smiling like an idiot that I got to meet a piece of her at all. That for a short time, we walked in each other’s inner landscapes and it adding galaxies to me that I didn’t know I needed.

Still need, but okay with it being a long time ago and far, far away.

If I could go back and change anything, I would. In a hot second. But that’s not how life works. I got on the “think it, say it” plan without realizing its consequences, which were devastating in their scope. Knowing it was all at my own hand is the worst part, and something that 25 years from now, I will still look upon with regret and shame. Not being in my right mind doesn’t erase or excuse any of it.

But because I’ve seen her picture, her face does cross my mind, choosing to ignore the raw parts and focusing on the joy she brings me now. Memories are powerful, as is happiness surrounding them.

The one that makes me laugh all the goddamn time is, “you like to rap to Eminem? Explain to me exactly how I’m not going to fall in love with you. USE BIG WORDS.” Because of course, I was kidding, but she took it seriously and said, “you might fall in love with honesty coming through our chord, but you won’t fall in love with me, as adorable as I might be.” And that makes me laugh just as much, because it is so undeniably true (both that she was right about misreading falling in love with honesty and falling in love with her as a person, AND that she is, in fact, adorable- she’s so much funnier than me, and the degree is annoying. As an aside, there was one joke between us in which I came in kings full over aces, and though I don’t remember which one it was, I do remember feeling like I’d checkmated the king using just a pawn and a knight, when every day previously had felt like grasshopper would never reach satori).

To paraphrase Maya Angelou, people may forget your words, but they will never forget the way they felt. I’m paraphrasing because I don’t like the actual quote, which is that “people will never forget the way you made them feel.” No one can make you feel anything. Your response is your response, and not anyone else’s to own. What is yours to own is either the laughter or the fallout.

I feel like that is what I do on this blog to a tremendous degree. I deal with my own responses, and their consequences. I can’t take responsibility for anyone else’s. What I can do is learn from the fallout, and try to make new mistakes. To think that everything will one day go perfectly is its own delusion.

What I do reflect on is interconnectedness, how my every response creates consequence, and how I live with it.

Because my thoughts aren’t meant to be shared.

Life, Abridged

Today has been all about scrambling to find an original copy of my birth certificate, which I thought I knew exactly where I’d put it. It was supposed to be in my top dresser drawer, where I keep all my important documents, like my ordination papers in case anyone needs to get married in a hurry. So far, it’s just been the one. Since I have completely torn my room apart, and I have no other stashes in any other areas of the house, I have decided that I must have given it to an employer and they failed to give it back.

Update: I mailed it to my dad for safekeeping. Total dumbass attack that I didn’t remember. It will be here in plenty of time to get a rush passport.

I need it because my dad and I booked a trip to Paris just after the new year, and then my sister and her husband asked if they could come, too. My dad and Lindsay have been before- not sure about Mathew. Years ago, when I was living in Portland, my whole famn damily went to Paris for vacation, and I could have gone, but there wasn’t enough time to get a passport by the time they invited me, because they thought I already had one.

I did get a passport when I went to Mexico, but the story behind that is my (now estranged, but still Oregon legal) wife accidentally gave it to Goodwill, when I left it in a pair of shorts I threw in what I thought was the laundry pile. I’ve been thinking of her a lot lately, what with the cooking and all. Dana has actual Le Cordon Bleu badges, and I don’t. I would have loved to take her to the real thing. And while I still love her in a friendship sort of way, we’re also estranged for good reason. Mostly because I was a total jackass to her and vice versa. In separation, universally, no one gets away with clean hands.

There’s nothing I’ll ever hold against her, but there’s nothing I’ll ever (ever, ever) forget, either.

But I do remember her a lot, and Paris is a place we both wanted to go, both from the food perspective and the several couples we asked to leave locks on the bridge for us to find when we eventually made it. Those conversations are memories that now make me indescribably sad, because I will indeed experience the divinity of Paris, just not quite the way I imagined.

But then again, I experience the divinity of The District every day, but not the way I imagined, either. It’s a good thing that I now think everything worked out the way it was supposed to resolve. I am glad that we never took a vacation here together, as I love living in a place that doesn’t trigger me all over the place. As I was telling a friend, being with Kat in my early 20’s is the part of my memory that is not so good (we lived in Alexandria, VA), and for that I am grateful.

Many, many people have now given me their recommendations for places to eat, although I hear that I need to go to a cafe rather than a restaurant, because they take forever. I can’t imagine that we won’t go to a restaurant at some point, but it’s a relatively short trip, so we shall see…..

Paris also reminds me of Anthony Bourdain, because I’ll never forget that he stayed in the hotel where Oscar Wilde died, his last words being, “I’m in a fight with the wallpaper, and it’s winning.” Bourdain did the ritual of absinthe, dripping it over a sugar cube, and realized what Wilde meant. 😛

It tastes like Fernet Branca, rich and herbaceous in all the right ways. I know because they sell absinthe without wormwood in the United States. I may or may not try it. I hardly ever drink, so my tolerance for alcohol is incredibly low. But I’m sure my dad, sister, and brother in law all want to hear how much I love them at 0200.

The last cocktail I had was when my sister took me to a Mediterranean restaurant here in DC. I wanted a something that would complement the food, so it was pomegranate and ouzo. I thought it was delightful, but I love the black jellybeans. Lindsay was not nearly as enamored with it.

I’m glad that I will have a passport again. The next dream I have is going to Helsinki for December 6th,fid Finnish Independence Day. I would tell you why, but it’s a long, long story and one that I don’t want to let go…. more than I already have, anyway. I’m sure if you look through my archives, there’s something in there somewhere. But the story reminds me of a dark time in my life, and how one celebrated holiday had to become another, and Finnish Independence Day was available. I basically had to bring a lantern into the dark, and for better or for worse, it came from a country I’ve never studied, and never cared about one way or the other for most of my life. But now, sufficed to say, my love for it is real and it’s deep. Finnish Independence Day threw me a life raft, and I took it.

Plus, Anthony Bourdain went there and now I know some good places to eat, if they’re still open when I eventually make it. I don’t know what I’m doing with my culinary life if reindeer pizza isn’t #goals. I also tend to buy soccer jerseys when I travel, or ask for them if others are going to another country. I would proudly wear the Finnish one for the entire month of December…. although I doubt it would make as many people jealous as my Honduran one. Half my kitchen is Honduran, and every staff member there has said they wanted to steal it when I’ve had it on. I didn’t wear it during service, just over my t-shirt on the way there so I’d have something to wear afterwards that wasn’t covered in food. I had to make sure it was completely hidden, because I don’t think they were kidding.

It feels nice to relax now and be able to enjoy my day off, but I do have to put my room back together after completely tearing it apart in fear that my birth certificate was buried somewhere. I think it’s time to read or watch a movie. I’ll flip a coin.

 

 

Blah, Blah, Blah, Computer

Today I have a bit of nerd advice, and a bit of what’s been going on the last few days.

Nerd Alert

When my iPad Mini got really, really old (as in, I could no longer download current version of apps or iOS), I took a chance on the cheapest Kindle Fire (7-inch, 7th generation). I thought that if it was terrible, I could either return or re-gift it. I have not been disappointed. It’s not the fastest tablet in the world, but it’s also not a $400 Facebook machine. I also have a 10 inch regular Android tablet that I got last Christmas, but I went to Houston and the gentle, careful hands of the TSA ripped that bitch to shreds. I contacted Amazon about it, and there was nothing they could do.

The whole reason I wanted a 10 inch tablet was to completely replace my laptop to make my backpack lighter, but I got over it. There’s just nothing close to the feel of a full-size keyboard, and the newest Synaptic touchpad driver has a feature I can’t live without. There’s a checkbox in the settings that says “turn off touchpad when mouse is detected.” I wish I could say you can do this in Linux, but I honestly don’t know. I tried installing Ubuntu Mate and the driver for my Realtek wi-fi card isn’t out yet, except for downloading it from GitHub, which is hard to do when you don’t have access to a wired connection. Besides, I like taking Microsoft Ultimate Word Games with me on the go. Addictive. Perhaps I’ll end up installing Ubuntu Mate alongside Windows so that I can check every once in a while to see if the driver has been added to the kernel. I know that to most of you, that won’t mean anything. They’re just geek words that come across as “blah, blah, blah, computer.” That’s OK. To the three readers to whom it does mean something, you’re welcome.

Having the option of my laptop or my small Kindle Fire with Bluetooth keyboard is invaluable, because what I love about it is, in fact, its size. I can fit it into any bag I carry, even the smallest purse (shut it- I always carry a purse or backpack so I don’t look like I have tumors in my legs) if I’m willing to type on the screen. The Amazon keyboard is better than any of the others I’ve tried.

Last night, though, my Kindle Fire became even more invaluable, because I discovered the hack online where you can add the Google Play store and get out of the Amazon universe, whose catalog of apps is limited and also sucks. Apps specifically written for Amazon OS are just a poor ripoff of actual Android apps, and they’re buggy AF. Also, I don’t think I’d purchase another 10 inch Android, and this is because most of the apps are coded for phones and thus, not designed to stretch to a large tablet, anyway. The Google suite is fine. Everything else is a crapshoot.

I’d rather have a smaller tablet than shell out the big bucks for an iPad. Again, way too expensive for my purposes, which is just mobile e-mail, Facebook, and WordPress. My phone is actually a shit ton faster than my tablet, because it has a quad-core processor and mind-blowing graphics… but it just doesn’t have enough screen real estate. I also noticed that my phone has more space than I thought it did, so I moved my 128 GB expansion card back to my Kindle Fire so that I could download the crap out of Amazon Prime video and music, plus Netflix and Stitcher. Even with all that, it will take me forever to fill it up, which is exactly the point. If my 32 GB phone fills up, I can always add a different expansion card for cheap. But mostly, I’d rather use my tablet and save the battery on my phone, unless I’m taking pictures. I haven’t really tried it out, but I think the camera on the Fire is only front-facing for video calls (which reminds me that I need to install Google Hangouts). I could have made the whole Amazon universe thing work if it wasn’t for one app. I use LastPass, which is a plug-in for all browsers on a desktop, but a full browser replacement on mobile devices, basically Chrome with LastPass already built in. Before that, I was using Silk (the Amazon web browser), and just logging into the LastPass web site every time I needed one of my passwords. When that started to drive me bonkers, that’s when I started looking up how to hack a Fire.

By the way, for those not in the know, hacking is not a bad thing. If you think it is, you’re thinking of cracking, which is hacking with malicious intent. Hacking makes things better. I know I’ve told this story before, but it’s so funny it bears repeating. When I interviewed at Alert Logic, one of the questions was, “what is the difference between hacking and cracking?” I said, “hacking is an attempt to make software better to suit your own needs. Cracking is generally software written by 13-year-old script kiddies to see how much damage they can do to a network in the shortest amount of time.” The interviewer said, “that was great. Can I use it?” Unsurprisingly, I got the job.

Life Update

Yesterday was the second anniversary of my mother’s death. Lindsay had some great ideas as to places I could visit that would mean a lot to her, but I just couldn’t even. I spent the day doing my usual, which is lying in bed with my laptop and watching movies and TV shows. I ended with the episode of The Newsroom where they report that UBL has been killed. I absolutely squalled my eyeballs out, which is generally how I cry. I put on something that I know will elicit tears and then just transfer into whatever it is I need to cry about for real. It’s a concrete way to make sure my emotions don’t stay bottled until the Mento drops over the Diet Coke.

Especially because I take medication for my mental health, sometimes I am not so good at being able to tap down far enough to show real emotion. It’s not that the emotion isn’t there, just harder to reach and bring to the surface. I’m not a walking zombie or anything. I still feel. It’s just that the highs and lows are more muted, which is invaluable most days. When I’m not taking my meds, I get angry and/or cry over damn near everything. But there are some days when all I need is a good cry. I finally wised up enough to let myself have one.

Today, I’m going to work at 1500, something also invaluable because it takes my mind off of everything else, and I do mean everything. I can’t work without total and complete focus, because the stakes are too high in terms of injury. Dan said she was worried about me- “just look at your arms!” I said, “would it help if I said it was worth it?” I do wear my Kevlar wrist guards that she gave me, but they honestly just can’t compete that well. Perhaps I need to buy a chef’s coat, but even those are only three quarter sleeves. I just have to wear the badges of my profession and realize that they are part of me. The only thing with which I see a true problem is that I have burned scars into the tattoo on my left forearm and my right wrist. It remains to be seen whether that will carry lasting damage, because it’s hard to tattoo over scar tissue. But the next one I’ve planned has been in the works for five years, and will be placed nowhere near anywhere I can get burned. However, it will be expensive artwork, which is why I haven’t done it already, and only two people in the world (and the artist, obvi) know what it is. Let’s keep it that way, at least for now.

In other news, I’ve finally gotten over my need to spill my guts over grief regarding the living. Separation just isn’t important anymore. I still think about Dana every day (how could I not, working in a kitchen?), but it’s only good things. I wish her well, and that is the sum total of my feelings about that. I made my peace (piece by piece by peace) regarding Argo, and that’s the end of that. I’ve finally reached a place where I just don’t think about it. It is what it is… though I also remember her often and wish her well, too. Both women still carry enormous weight in my heart, but it’s clean, pure, white light. In Argo’s case, I am comforted by the fact that we sleep under the same modicum of sky, and that is enough for me, because she once called me her goddess of the moon. I highly doubt I still am, but I’d like to think so in moments where I remember how badly I screwed things up. In both cases, I have forgiven them completely for what I perceive was done to me, but I still haven’t forgiven myself for what I perceive I did to them. It’s strange how that takes so much longer, considering I live with me.

But the plain truth is that there are no do-overs, only begin-agains. I’ve gotten used to it by now. There have been so many times in my life where I’ve just had to say, “OK, Mrs. Lanagan. What’s next?”

It’s kind of fun waiting to see.

What Am I Going to Be Weepy About Today?

One of the universal signs of Aunt Flo’s arrival is that I can start crying immediately for no reason at all… or I just make them up as I go along. Menstruation, depression and anxiety are such a lethal combination. It becomes heightened awareness of everything I actually have to cry about, although the impetus is generally nothing and expands into everything. I finally got tired of not knowing when this was going to happen, so I found a period tracker online and signed up. I also track my ovulation, because sometimes that causes cramps as well, when I am tricked into thinking “it’s time,” and it’s not. I used to have a premonition of the big arrival, and it has gone away through the use of so much Aleve and Tylenol.

Why I didn’t think of this before is obvious. Why track it when I don’t sleep with men? Why track it when I’ve been abstinent for over three years? Why track it when women’s sperm count is incredibly low? 😛 As I used to tease Dana, my then wife, “maybe boxers would help.” Of course, this was when we were thinking of trying to conceive, and after that, it was just an inside joke…. because in the Lanagan family, if it’s funny once, just run it into the ground.

I also hate changing my usual underwear. I generally go for boys’ boxer briefs because they double as knock-off Spanx. I find tampons incredibly uncomfortable, so there’s really no way around having to wear those sexy “Granny panties” we all buy at Target.

As I have said before, this blog is about my own journey, and you’re invited. I’m not trying to exclude men, but I think it’s important to reach out to other women with this entry. Women are the majority, so saying “most Americans get periods” is entirely accurate. And, in fact, I am not entirely excluding men. There are plenty of men that get periods until their transition to male is complete, an awareness that most people just don’t have, but should. For transgendered men, they also have the ability to get pregnant, so unless they’re actively trying to conceive, it’s important for them to track as well.

Transgendered men get pregnant for all sorts of reasons, the usual being that their wives aren’t capable, so they offer. It’s convenient in gay relationships as well, not having to use a surrogate.

Back to you, Bob. Let’s go to the phones.

I am overwhelmed when I’m on my period, because unless I’m in the kitchen, I tend to flood out emotionally. I’m not generally irritable, but weepy and need contact comfort, which currently is snuggling with my Postman Pat doll. You can’t get the one I have anymore- my parents bought it for me when I was eight and we were on a trip to London. It’s one of the few things we were able to rescue from our house fire when I was 12, and I am entirely grateful for “him” now. He’s big enough to be the little spoon when I feel like hiding under the covers. I kind of want to put him away for safe keeping because he’s so rare that I don’t want him to unravel. For this reason, I started a birthday (Sept. 10th) wish list on Amazon in which I added a large stuffed dog. It looks incredibly lifelike and not something that looks like I  have wished I was still a toddler. But no lie, the Gund Grover was appealing. I added it to the list and then took it back off, because I realized quickly that I would get embarrassed by it and give it away, like I did with my Alf and bigger-than-life SpongeBob dolls. I shouldn’t have given SpongeBob away, though, because I remember clearly being in the ER at Inova Alexandria in 2001, when Kathleen brought him to me and I wept into it for most of the day, when there weren’t enough beds and the doctors just pumped me up with morphine and set me in the hallway.

That is an interesting story in and of itself. When I finally “got seen,” I was having abdominal attacks that looked just like appendicitis, and I was minutes away from being prepped for surgery when the doctors realized that wasn’t it. I had a hole in my esophagus that had become infected. I was actually born with that gap, but since it had never become infected before, I’d never noticed. But, I was doubled over in pain, and since it wasn’t like there was room (or even appropriate) for Kathleen to climb into bed with me, SpongeBob was an excellent second choice.

Why yes, I know I’ve revealed I’ve been married and separated twice. Thanks for noticing. It’s not painful or anything (/eyeroll). The reason I’m not officially divorced from either of them is that one is a civil union in Vermont and one is a domestic partnership in Oregon. For the civil union in Vermont, it was 2001, when it wasn’t even recognized in other states, so the legal advice we got was to just let it lie, the idea of national marriage not even on anyone’s radar.

Dana has said that she’ll file in Oregon, and as long as I don’t contest it, it will just be over. That was long, long ago, and I am still waiting……………. I should really take matters into my own hands, but I haven’t for two reasons. The first is that I’m really hoping for some follow-through on Dana’s part. The second is that honestly, I just haven’t cared enough. Why that is, I just can’t say. I could spitball a number of reasons, but it would be just that; I’d only be guessing, not knowing for sure. The one thing I do know is that it’s taken me years to get over losing her, so with no one on the horizon, it just made sense to put it on the back burner and wait it out. I don’t feel like it’s waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’m fully prepared to receive said dissolution. It’s more like waiting to close a really great chapter in my life and move on to the next one.

I don’t know if the rules have changed for dissolution in Vermont or not. In 2002, you had to live in Vermont for six months before you could file, and neither Kathleen nor I thought that was a good idea. “We’re not getting along, so of course we need to move to a place where most of the time it’s cold and dark.” For that reason, I am surprised I lasted in Oregon as long as I did.

But now that I have two failed relationships with legal complications under my belt, I am gunshy about ever getting married again. It is now my view that commitment and loyalty don’t need a piece of paper…. and as long as there are no health insurance or federal and state tax implications, I think that advice to myself is sound. If a wedding is important to my next partner, should I be so blessed, she’ll get one. But that doesn’t mean we have to file a marriage license. Being supported by our community is way more important to me than getting the government involved. I feel as if I’ve already been there, bought the t-shirt… and now it’s way too small…. and the tag itches. Besides, it’s already got stains on it. I don’t want to wear it anymore if I can help it.

One of the things that really bothers me when I am in the throes of being weepy is that I can’t believe I have two divorces under my belt when all I really wanted in the beginning is to marry my high school sweetheart and be together for fifty years…. Ten years after we broke up, having been friends the whole time, she accidentally gutted me in a Canadian Starbucks when she said that she regretted not being able to be partners as adults, because she thought it was something at which we would have been good. My inner 18-year-old cried big alligator tears that night. But during the conversation, I managed to hold it together, even though my insides were screaming. Most of the screaming was due to, “I treated you so badly when we were young that how dare I come back and ask for forgiveness.” My inner monologue was just wailing that she’d taken away my choice to forgive her or not.

However, the angst didn’t last long, because I think what was supposed to happen did. She used to be the friend that knew me best in the entire world, and then years later inexplicably unfriended me on Facebook and stopped answering my e-mails. It was truly painful being ghosted by someone who’d been an enormous part of my growth and development, with no explanation as to the whys and hows. I can’t think of anything I specifically did to offend her, so to this day I have questions.

She did reach out when I posted on a mutual friend’s page that my mother had died, but after that one conversation, she was gone again. I didn’t even know you could message people who weren’t your friends, so after that, I completely blocked her. It isn’t that I don’t love and value her. It’s that seeing her comments became too painful to ignore…. something that I have done with other friends as well. It’s not about my feelings for them, exactly. It’s that seeing their faces/comments on social media, especially when Aunt Flo is telling me to cry about everything, is just a painful reminder of things ending badly.

The last time I got really, really angry was when I specifically asked Dana to leave my family and me alone after insisting on no contact with me directly, then liking a picture of my sister and me on my sister’s Instagram account. But did I do anything about it? No. I pretended it didn’t matter and just ignored her. But pretending is the key word, because obviously it bothered me enough to write about it…. this was about 30 days ago, so you can guess why it got to me…………

Perhaps Dana thinks it’s been long enough that these things don’t matter… but there are parts of that relationship I’ve had a hard time forgiving, and I’ll never forget. The first is that a relationship that was so mutually beautiful still ended in a fistfight of enormous proportions, the result of keeping so much bottled that it got violent when the Mento eventually dropped into the Diet Coke. The second is that Dana’s parents live relatively close to me (within 40 miles or so), and when she came to visit them, she made a point of telling my sister through social media (they don’t actually talk, because when someone hurts me, my sister also burns the bridge). I got butt hurt that she didn’t reach out to me directly and then I realized that e-mail goes both ways. I sent her a short e-mail saying that if she wanted to see me, I was open to it, and if not, that was fine, too. What I got back was an e-mail from her sister that said not to contact Dana again through any means. The double standard is rage-inducing, so I literally took a chill pill and got on with my life. I figured if that was the kind of behavior I could expect from her, I didn’t need that temperature in my life, anyway. I think I was shocked more than anything else, considering that when I first moved to DC, we talked a few times and it went well.

But the last thing I truly have trouble forgetting (although forgiven) is that she didn’t come to my mother’s funeral. I didn’t need her there as my emotional support person. I already had “my person” there for that (thanks, James). I also wasn’t using my mother’s death as an excuse to reconnect with her romantically, because not only would it have been wildly inappropriate, I didn’t want it (not then, not ever again).

We’d had a great conversation when I was waiting to go to the airport, a distraction I sorely needed because at first it was crying, and then it was laughter until I was crying again, the kind of laughter where you’re just shaking in silence while tears and snot run down your face.

I continue to feel it was about respect for both me and my mother, and it was surprising to me that she was willing to be my friend for a few minutes, but not enough of a friend to come to the funeral of her former mother-in-law of over seven years…. and that a friendship of over four years before we ever got involved was not enough of a reason to just be there…. and not even for me directly. Just to look out into the crowd and see her face as I was giving my eulogy would have been enough.

And, of course, being weepy makes me miss the contact comfort of my mother’s hugs even more intensely than usual, because there’s nothing like needing your mom when you’re in pain and she literally can’t be there…. won’t be ever again.

I count on my friends who are mothers to fill that void, because as I have said before, they love differently than everyone else. It is enormously comforting to be in the room when they’re with their kids and soak up the mother love radiating through the room…. and with the exception of infants, remembering when I was those children’s ages and how my mom was (and what she was to me) at that time in my life.

The last thing that truly dogs me during these few days of ALL THE FEELS at once are the mistakes I made when not being as careful with Argo’s heart as I should have been, because it invariably leads to what could have been…. and how most, if not all of the destruction of that friendship was at my own hand, and I just feel that shame over and over, even though I’ve talked about it with therapists and have coping mechanisms not to get stuck in those moments, reliving them and empathizing with the pain I must have caused. There’s plenty of context, but not excuses. I hope I’ve taken enough responsibility that something like it will never happen again. It was painful enough the first time around to stop that behavior cold. Losing such a beautiful woman, inside and out, with my own cortisol and sin was akin to cutting out part of my heart with a dirty knife. When I am truly depressed about it, I think of all the things I shouldn’t have said and all the things I wish I’d said instead. Maybe things worked out the way they were supposed to, but I don’t really believe that. What I do believe is that it is a regret I will continue to carry, never truly letting it go because the reminder that I am capable of causing pain to others when I am not careful with my words doesn’t seem like a bad thing.

It only becomes a bad thing when the feeling that I can’t forgive myself rises from the ash.

Not being able to forgive myself is so much harder than forgiving others for what I perceive has been done to me. I am so much more infinitely tolerant of other people’s words than I am of my own.

It has caused me to become extremely withdrawn, so that when I’m around others I am reminded to think deeply before I speak, or let the moment pass and not speak at all…. and when I’m alone, thinking that it’s better that way because I cannot possibly hurt anyone if I’m not talking at all….. limiting what one friend calls “crazy spatter.”

Which will be infinitely worse for the next four to seven days.

Empty

I feel as if my writing brain has gone empty, because my energy has been zapped for every minute I’m home. I just don’t have much brain power after I get out of the kitchen; for me, that’s part of the point. I am often wandering the earth with my head in the clouds, and not all memories/thoughts are pleasant. I got divorced, I lost a great friend, and my mother died… memories that are still extremely loud and incredibly close, because even though I can count years between all of those memories, I can’t often count distance. I am sure there is a lot I will forget about losing Dana and Argo. Losing my mother divides time into “before” and “after.” Grieving the death of a parent is infinitely more severe than the loss of the alive… or is it?

I am occasionally not sure which is worse. I will never see my mother again, our last conversation being truly the last. There will be no news of her. There will be no updates. There will be no future. It is devastatingly final. On the flip side, memories of the living flood my brain, and I think about both women, people I love dearly, out in the world living their lives without me. Grief that I won’t again know who and how they are is often just as painful as finality. Growing and changing with them has stopped.

Even the grief between them is different, because of their levels of participation. With Dana, I can honestly say that we destroyed each other, and with Argo, I can own up to the fact that because I was in the middle of the worst time of my life, shit rolled downhill. I abused the absolute privilege it was to be her friend. Our connection was explosive, to the point that the chord that used to run between us was akin to touching a live wire and living to tell the tale.

What sticks with me about the relationship with Argo is that we could be angry to the same extreme we could love each other- that live wire alternately overclocking my brain to its limits and burning me up inside. I have since come to believe that we are both minds you only meet once or twice in a lifetime… but for very different reasons. Logically, she can see all 75 sides to a problem and have them figured out before you can even tie your shoes. Emotionally, I am one of the most intense people that everyone who’s ever met me says they know. Therefore, I think we each served each other magnificent dishes in which the other had only a few of the ingredients.

She was my soulmate, but not in the stereotypical definition… in the Elizabeth Gilbert definition in Eat. Pray. Love. Argo was one of the people sent into my life to shake me up, to get me to see things that I could not see on my own, and those people are generally not designed to be permanent, and not always your partner. Anyone can be an Elizabeth Gilbert soulmate, and the analogy I draw is that she is Richard from Texas. It was a mistake to feel those in-love butterflies where she was concerned, but two things about that. The first is that I am not unique or special. It was transference, like falling in love with your therapist when they uncover the root of your problem and the AHA! moments they cause in you. The second is that I was aware the entire time that was all it would ever be. It was all my shit to work on, my shit to move past, and when that day came, there was much rejoicing (yaaaay). But by the point I could sincerely look at her as a ride-or-die, we’d broken so many plates it was impossible to glue everything back together…. or perhaps a better phrase would be that the live wire burned our whole house down….. and everything inside will always smell like smoke.

What sticks with me about the relationship with Dana is that I could have been better to her, and she could have been better to me. Our demise did not happen overnight, but a series of years in which we thought we had it handled and in fact, did not. Life gets in the way when you take your eye off the ball. But that time in my life is just one of the many things that make me want to be a better person in the future. I could have gone my whole life without learning all those painful lessons, thinking that she’s the only one I’ve ever wanted to chase around a nursing home. Because of this, it’s been years and I still feel like being in a relationship would be inflicting myself on someone else. I don’t yet have that internal sense that I would be a good partner for anyone until I have learned to be a good partner to myself…. and in fact, I think that was the biggest problem I had in the relationship with Dana altogether. My self-esteem was low, as well as self-reliance.

I feel that these years of being alone has increased both, and I am grateful for them. You have to find gratitude in divorce so that it doesn’t eat you alive forever. I count the good things about being apart from Dana like a rosary. I have to, because otherwise the self-esteem I’ve gained gets flushed down the toilet and I focus on all the mistakes I made that led me to this often lonely place. That being said, there is gratitude in loneliness as well.

Don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly. Let it cut you more deep. Let it ferment and season you as few humans and even divine ingredients can. Something missing in my heart tonight has made my eyes so soft, my voice so tender, my need for God absolutely clear.

-Hafiz

Gratitude for loneliness has allowed me to crack open to let some light in. But, there are things in which I miss specifically about being married to her, and things I miss about being a wife as a role, rather than being attached to a specific person. I don’t miss romance as much as I miss simple contact comfort. The former, I have learned I can do without…. the latter, not so much.

But I hear that in order to get those things, you actually have to put yourself out there, often where I fall short. It is a universal axiom that hurt people hurt people. and I am reminded of that fact every time I think I’m ready to date…. and then I hide. I keep thinking, “one day, I’ll be ready, and I have to be prepared for it.” But at the same time, there’s never going to be a moment in which I truly feel prepared, because introspection is a lifelong process. Some things I won’t know until I do meet someone, and have the chance to act on the things I’ve learned while in isolation.

I do take comfort that I am a good friend, that I have at least learned that much. It is the basis for all good relationships, and I feel solid in my ability to love my adopted brothers and sisters like the family they are.

For instance, I think the biggest lesson has been learning not to pour from a cup that is empty.

 

An Open Letter

Dear Dana,

I couldn’t have done it without you.

kcstrI got the job at Denizen’s, seriously one of the most popular brewpubs in the DC Metro. Believe it or don’t, I haven’t tried any of their beers, which seems like a prerequisite for working there, but I’ve got time. I’m not so much on the alcohol these days, because living with a Middle Eastern family, it’s not that there’s any prohibition against drinking, we just don’t. My tolerance is so low that the other night I had a cocktail and I felt like I was losing my mind, and as we all know, I don’t have much to spare. 😛

It’s a different atmosphere than we’re used to. Front of house and back of house barely have any interaction, because the pub is built on three levels, and the kitchen is at the bottom. I feel damn lucky I got a job in BOH, because I cannot imagine with all my movement wonkiness that I’d be good at carrying food up stairs. It’s funny to picture, though.

But the thing that makes me the most happy to picture is learning to cook from you, and I remember everything in bits. When a ticket comes across, your voice in my head tells me what to do, and we debrief endlessly in my dreams about what I could have done better or faster.

The most important thing was ordering my own knife, because just like everywhere else we’ve worked, the community knives are not up to our standards. I got the same Chicago Cutlery we loved at Biddy’s before you got Lenore, and if anyone borrows it before I get first blood, I will have a hard time not coming unglued, as I have every right to do. This time, it’s personal.

They’re on sale if you happen to need extras, because the original price was $27.99 for 7-1/2-inch Chef, 4-3/4-inch utility and 3-1/2-inch parer, and I got them for $17.49, the cost of the Chef on its own. They should be here before I start on Friday, God willing and the creek don’t rise…. but I don’t think I’m going to carry them all. Just the Chef…. it’s all I need. The bread knives seem to be solid, so I’ll skip that, at least for now. Maybe a santoku later on….. I thought about buying a second set for home use, but I am terrified that someone will put them in the dishwasher while I’m not home to be vigilant.

I still have a shot at the job at University of Maryland, which is customer service for a new GPS app in the Engineering College, and I’m excited to say that the pub is flexible enough I can still work on the weekends if I succeed, because I can’t think of a better cure for customer service than continuing to follow what, thanks to you, has become and incredible obsession/passion. I knew that I needed to do something when I realized that I was cutting all my water bottle mix-in packs on the bias. They look very professional.

I wanted to write just to say that you’ve given me an incredible gift, because since my mom died, this is the first thing that has really “cut through” the fog of grief. For the first time in what seems like eons, I am excited about something, as if life is starting to bubble up from the spring in my soul. It is such a kick in the ass, one that will knock you down with incredible force, when you realize that your parents are not immortal. I feel like I have been crawling on my belly, and am just now starting to crawl on my knees. Maybe in a few months, I will even be able to walk. Let’s not talk about running just yet. I still feel like hiding under the blankets when I think about Mother’s Day.

But right at this very moment, it helps that your spirit is inside me, because I can do more and be more in the kitchen with it than I ever will be without. I’ll never be half the line cook you are, but it’s my goal to try…. and to never, ever give up. I am no stranger to working hard and with pure excitement, because few people would understand better than you what it’s like to feel that much adrenaline at once.

Even though we don’t talk in words, I hope you realize that every time I pick up a knife, we are in communion with each other. You’ve never given me a better gift than your knowledge, and I won’t forget it.

Best,

Leslie