I could say that 2016 was a strange year, but then most of them have been strange lately in this modern mixed-up world we live in. I could declare that it’s been challenging, but so is life in general. I could lament that it’s flown by too quickly, but this is the price of growing older. I want to say that 2016 has been happy, and I did find many bright spots among the dark days.
But what I will say is that 2016 gave me permission to let go, to start over, and to find my joy through intentional living, my reason to exist. May 2017 be a continuation of this journey. And to all of you, dear readers, may the new year bring you fulfillment in whatever way you wish to take.
The morning after the US election, I woke up strangely calm. I didn’t expect that reaction. And then I remembered; I’ve been through this rodeo before. On a personal level. Ironically, or maybe fortuitously, I’d been studying our president-elect’s particular personality disorder during the months leading up to our national November surprise, trying to get a handle on the kind of panic and physical paralysis I experience every time I hear him speak on TV.
His rhetoric throws me back to my old childhood and even recent adult showdowns with family members who exhibit the same traits. In or out of therapy, I’ve used all the tactics that have played out on the national stage in social media and comment threads. Anger, denial, defensiveness, sarcasm, blame, finger-pointing, compliance, withdrawal, pleading, compromise, escape, negotiation, a blind eye, even an occasional proactive offensive — you name it, I’ve tried it. Some of them seemed to work, at first. But in the end, what little gains I’d thought I’d made were just illusions, part of the narcissist’s great charm in promising you the moon but vanishing before you come to collect at sunrise.
I have neither solutions nor cures to offer. As long as the narcissist is getting what he or she wants, there is no motivation to change. It’s a very hard addiction to break. But what I do know is this: that hunger for the spotlight can never be satiated. The more attention (negative or positive) that is fed, the hungrier the appetite. I can only imagine that the gnawing search for more must be a form of hell on earth. And while I must forgive in order to be set free from the vicious dance I participate in as a narcissist’s compliant partner or even adversary, I will not forget.
What’s at stake is the sanctity of life for all of us, narcissists included. The ones in my life have taught me the hard way that no matter what I do or sacrifice for them, it’s never enough. Instead of beaming all our attention on the insatiable ones, I vote that we focus on ourselves, the stars of our own reality shows. We may not determine our outcomes, but we can control our outlooks. Do we sustain healthy boundaries? Do we care too much about what others think of us? Are we doing what’s important or just marking time, filling up space? Are we aware of the lessons being taught to us, supporting us, warning us? Are we awake?
I, for one, have seen the enemy, and behind all the bluster and bravado, they look just like us. In fact, they are us. We all play our parts in this tango, whether we lead or not. And if one partner changes the steps, the other must react, one way or another. Sometimes we follow, sometimes we break apart. And maybe, just maybe, we find a new rhythm, a new dance.
As a kid, better holiday plunder was only to be had at Christmas; as a young adult, the all-important party behavior was a gateway persona to an alter ego; as a mom, my photo albums are still full of my child’s timeless cuteness from costumes’ past. This year, there is nothing, the scariest Halloween of them all.
That’s right, no holiday decorations, no industrial-size bags of candy, no never-ending stream of trick-or-treaters, no holiday parties, no laborious dressing up for those same parties, no spooky music or creepy movies. “The Great Pumpkin” has already aired, and the Halloween aisle is currently being packed up to make way for its jollier rival.
We have downsized ourselves into a whole new world, and I can’t say that I miss the old ways of celebrating All Hallows Eve that much. I can get my fix from streaming favorite music and shows on demand, or walking around our nearby affluent neighborhood with a “more is better” philosophy in decorating. The kids in our apartment complex trick or treat at the fire station across the road, or leave in cars to canvas distant housing developments more expertly than door-to-door salesmen.
But this year, I find that what scares me the most comes from turning on the TV news, or scrolling through Facebook, or even reading the homemade billboards showing up in concerned citizens’ yards. I am horrified by the hateful viewpoints and polarizing contempt exhibited by people I thought I knew, much less strangers.
Lately I find myself frozen with fear like the small child lost in the night who can’t discern what is real from unreal. But as an adult who thought I had the dark all figured out–I am truly more frightened than ever–not by the masks, but what I see when the masks fall away, mine included.
May we all find our way home to the light after traveling dark paths, and forgive us our own mischief.
While I really enjoy the month-long photo prompts that are prolifically offered on Instagram throughout the year, sometimes you just have to go maverick and wander off on your own. All the storms and fast-moving weather fronts during the past two months in my neck of the woods have led to plenty of drama in the skies, so I’ve found my camera tilting upward daily (when I’m not cowering in a first-floor hallway while the tornado sirens wail nearby).
After the first two days of sky photos in September, I said what the heck, why not a month of skies, unfiltered, shown just as they are, or as much as my limited but convenient iPhone camera can capture. I wasn’t sure whether thirty days of sky shots was sustainable, but I found ways to incorporate them as reflections on water (or car hood), and as metaphors for a mood to match the front-page antics of the country I live in.
Indeed, with all the drama manifested this month in both sky and earth, I can’t help but think that the ancient adage “As above, so below” is still a very relevant one.
We said goodbye to our cat this summer, the last of five pets who came with us when we moved from the country back to the suburbs 13 years ago. With his departure, our 30-year streak of caring for a dependent (pet and/or child) ended, as well. We are truly empty nesters now.
I won’t lie to you — it feels strange. I’m having a hard time adjusting. No more trips down the grocery pet aisle, no more lugging cat litter up two flights of stairs, no more fur in the dryer vent. Okay, maybe I don’t miss those. But on the other hand, I do miss his greeting at the door after a long trip, his purring for no particular reason, his warm body hogging most of our bed on cold winter nights.
This particular cat was MY cat, my familiar. In early years outside, he left me half-dead gifts by the backdoor; in later years indoors he brought me tiny trinkets carefully placed on the floor by my side of the bed — buttons, toe nail clippings and plastic bits, choking hazards that a lesser being would ingest and end up at the emergency clinic. But not him. He caught elusive flies and terrorized the house spiders, leaving their gigantic crumpled carcasses in full view as evidence of his love for me.
He was a sickly, flea-infested stray who showed up at our door 14 years ago, and pushed the limits of my husband’s patience when I called to tell him that “we had a situation” with a stray kitten. “You didn’t feed him, did you?” he asked warily. And of course I had.
I must admit, this was always the plan. Child off living her own life, pets gently ushered out. But the empty rooms devoid of hairy tumbleweeds seem sterile now, and the silence that greets me when I turn to say we’ll be back soon is hard to bear.
Life goes on, however. Every day I notice more spiders moving in, rejoicing in corners free of feline tormentors, still alive.
More painting than writing is happening these days, as you can see over at Paints in the Parks. However, I’ve been enjoying some poetry hikes in a local state park as part of our Indiana Poet Laureate’s Arts in the Parks grant. Poet in residence for the summer at Fort Harrison State Park, Shari Wagner has led us along poetic paths to history and nature, providing thoughtful prompts along the way. Last week, her prompt to write in an element’s voice inspired me to start a new poem by a creek in the woods. Though destructive at times, water has always had a calming effect on me, whether in the bath, near an ocean or beside a babbling brook.
What The Water Says: Fort Harrison Poetry Hike
ground I could
not stop myself
from gleeful giggling
with the faster flow,
seeking a rush in
down the stone-
silent elders who
tried to hold
me back, before
cascading full of
laughter into a
tide of carnival
tunes and siren’s
Please check out Shari’s website called Through the Sycamores featuring her workshops and wonderful poetry as well as submissions from poets all over Indiana.
Well, the whole “cord-cutting” experiment didn’t go as smoothly as expected. I won’t go into the ridiculously complicated and frustrating installation fiasco that lasted most of June, but let me just say that it involved two weeks without Internet. That’s TWO WEEKS, fellow readers, cut off from the sustenance of the cyber webs!
Two weeks of waiting for a repair that didn’t need to be done, arguing with several reps on the phone who were incapable of deviating from their scripts, multiple miscommunications and errors that couldn’t be replicated or fixed if you tried, and two weeks of data overage on our cell phones.
BUT it was also two weeks of ignorant bliss, removed from the horrible news reports and vicious Facebook posts by righteous vigilantes, of less time wasted on online games and more opportunities for naps, and finally, the return of a peaceful and calm bedroom devoid of the squawking black box that lulled us to sleep for years with the mayhem and murder of the late local newscast.
Now that speedy connection to the horrors of bad memes and incomprehensible spelling has been restored with many apologies and a little compensation from the corporate goliath we are forced to use, I can look back on the whole nightmare like you would that horrific camping trip where it rained the entire time and your body was covered in chiggers. You’re very glad it’s over but you can afford to be generous, proud, nostalgic even. Was I frustrated? Of course. Angry? You bet. Paranoid that this was all an elaborate plot to punish us for cutting the cord? Guilty as charged.
In our latest downsizing venture, we’ve decided to take on the corporate dictators controlling what we see on the talking boxes, and cancel our cable subscription. After much help from our “cord-never” daughter (defined as someone who has never fallen for the cable TV trap) and vigorous research on the wireless internet we still need to keep, we’ve opted for one of those slim digital antennas and a Roku streaming device to fulfill our minimal entertainment needs. My family’s devotion to the sports gods has kept us from going cold turkey for years, but now there are alternatives to the big game gatekeepers.
So this week, I’m saying goodbye to the indentured servitude of bundling and contract confinement, the 300 channels we never needed, the painful phone negotiations every year when rates soared back to “normal,” the eternal rebooting when the power “blinks,” and last but not least, that nest of snakes full of cat hair behind the TV stand.
The few shows I’m giving up are well worth the clean sweep, clear surfaces and a single outlet.
I’ve been busy in April launching a new adventure, so no daily poetry for National Poetry Month. However, I did participate in Susannah Conway’s April Love prompts on Instagram and enjoyed her “love letter” theme where we wrote to a particular love every day. Some of them were tough — “feet” for instance, or “money.”
And then there were the easy ones like “sky” or “books.” But my favorites by far were the esoteric prompts like “intuition” and “truth.” The above photo accompanied my love letter for “magic” on Day 23:
Dear Magic . . . You are the song from faraway chimes, the bite into June’s first strawberry, the felty down on a freshly hatched chick, and the smoke pouring from a heavenly genie’s lamp.
Here we are again at the end of the month and edge of the nest. For me, March has been full of fearfull flights, fledgling emotion, grounding relapse, molting ineptitude and wind. In my travels I’ve seen old friends, learned new history, felt familiar pain, entered fresh territory, shaken off recurrent doubts, and given myself a good talking to on several occasions.
My clipped wings are sprouting new feathers in spite of national extremism, world pessimism, and the personal bogeyman under my bed who grows more aggressive each day. I don’t get up early. I eat like a bird but continue to gain the weight of a collective conscience. I dismiss social media but can’t stop pecking at it. I look for worms in all the political promises. I tweet desperate songs.
Yet, here I am on the ledge to renewal, twigs of shame and muddy negativity crumbling beneath me, what I called home a shell of my former idealistic imagination. I’m ready to look for a better roost in which to lay my hopes and dreams.
Tomorrow, I open April’s door in search of the great birdhouse in my soul.*