“Oversensitive” Is A Compliment, Mom

It’s not a problem, it’s a gift.

Never underestimate what an autistic person understands, or especially, remembers.

It is bound to be a helluva lot more than you think.

Even with an autistic person who is verbal, communication can be oblique, indirect, hinted. Somehow, the direct route got derailed in the brain, or entangled in what science has found are far more neural connections than “neurotypical” people have. There’s a LOT more going on in the brain of an autistic person than in a “typical” brain.

As our daughter matures, I am reminded of this daily, and often, I’m amazed.

How did she….? Where did that idea come from? I didn’t know she even know that word!

When I was writing the other day about missing Mike’s centering influence in our lives, I mentioned how he loved to discover new music, and how he and our daughter would learn a lot of great songs by artists I had never heard of before.

One of those was a Canadian singer-songwriter named Jann Arden. They started listening to her when our daughter was a toddler.

Thursday, I noticed she was listening to Jann Arden on her phone.

We hadn’t played Jann Arden in this house for more than ten years.

Suddenly, as I am writing about Mike finding new music, she starts listening to Jann Arden again?

The truth is, Jann Arden’s music was the soundtrack to the most painful period of our marriage, a time that had ongoing traumatic effects for the rest of our lives together.  But Mike had gotten our daughter so hooked on that music during that fraught time that I actually took it away, with the promise of return if she mastered an essential skill.

Denying an autistic child something they are attached to is agony.

But it worked.

It was also the beginning of the end of our listening to Arden’s music.

Until Thursday.

I’ve been writing about how we’ve been going through another wave of grief, unexpectedly, and how I tell her to hang on to the happy memories.

Was playing Jann Arden, within earshot, her way of telling me the sad memories are there, too? She remembers listening to Jann Arden with him, and she remembers me taking the music away and giving it back again after a week of painful deprivation.

She also remembers the wrenching, raging discord too often present in our marriage.

My Mother used to accuse me of being “oversensitive” when things other kids did or said upset me, or when I objected to her nit-picking about my hair, my clothes, my reading habit (“go outside!” – I realized she nagged me about this because she wanted to go outside) or my choice of activities, jobs or diets. When I explained I felt attacked, she called me “paranoid.”

Mom often started her criticism with, “what will people think of your Mother if you (wear that hairstyle, leave that job, eat that food…?)”

Not what would they think of her daughter, but what would they think of her.

It infuriated Mom when I called her on this – that her complaints and criticisms had more to do with her than me.

The idea that I might have some insight into the motivation behind her criticism offended her.

The idea of insight itself exasperated her, I think. Who needs insight when something needs doing. So stow your precious little feelings and don’t forget to unload the dishwasher. We’ll talk about your feelings later. As in never.

Mom saw sensitivity as a threat. Acknowledging undercurrents means uncovering pain. Lost father, lost brother, kid-thwarted career, lost mother. Regret.

She did not want to open that box.

Whatever she had packed away so tightly burst out of her occasionally, as tears or anger. But she wouldn’t say why.

Other than I had forgotten to unload the dishwasher, again.

Or that she felt unappreciated.

I wish my “oversensitivity” had been comforting to her, not annoying. Not a threat.

Sensitivity is receptivity to expressed emotion in people, or observable beauty in nature, music, dance, literature or art.

“Oversensitivity” is the ability to discern things unexpressed, unspoken, unseen, but present, meaningful, and worthy of discussion, or at least acknowledgement.

That’s a gift, Mom, not a problem.

A gift your granddaughter displays in the unique, sometimes heartbreaking ways she communicates what she has discerned, through whatever alchemy of receptivity her overconnected brain employs (sensing tiny blips of my neuroelectricity? or a disturbance in the local magnetic field? glancing over my shoulder?) as I sit here, writing about Mike and music and our lives together.

So thanks for the compliment, Mom, but it is your granddaughter who really deserves it.

Listening again, after a very long hiatus, to Jann Arden, and allowing myself to remember the pain that is the flipside of love, I remain,

Your “oversensitive”

Ridiculouswoman

Meta…for?

Surviving without a center…

Split down the middle, but surviving.

New branches growing independently on either side.

“Things fall apart; the center cannot hold….”

I thought of myself as the center of our little family; I was the breadwinner, the Toilet-Unplugger, The Parent-Teacher Conferencer, the Finder of Doctors and Dentists, the Internet Impresariess and the Did-You-Brush-Your-Teeth Reminderer.

When not at work, my attention was split down the middle between Mike and our daughter, halfway between them in the house, trying to respond to each of them simultaneously.

I’d get home from work and play picture-card games with her until we’d eat the meal that Mike had prepared, ready hours earlier, when they’d get home from school, because he knew she’d be hungry.

After, he would wearily retreat to his room upstairs, to read, play over his chess games and wind down after what was typically more than a 12 hour day caring for, entertaining, feeding, cleaning up after, chauffeuring and comforting an autistic child.

He never complained (although he would rage if I tried to make her something different for dinner, something that included a green vegetable, since she had already eaten whatever he made right after school. His style was to make vats full of spaghetti and meatballs or chicken soup, and then expect us to eat them for three days running, until they were gone. Inexpensive, but not exactly variety-packed.)

He said he liked his job, taking care of her. He was really good at it, exhausting as it could frequently be.

He was Fun Dad. Director of Entertainment. Leader of “excursions,” usually with no cost other than gas for the car. He was a genius at finding fun things them to do, for free. He pedaled her along on the tandem bike. They visited parks and playgrounds. They often took drives just to listen to music in the car. He introduced her to bands and singer songwriters I had never heard of, and they listened to the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s station: she knows all the songs from our high school years through the early years of our marriage.

We hear them now and remember.

If you are a young adult who has lost a parent, what are you going to remember? Doctors’ offices and tooth brushing? Or rockin’ out in the car?

I thought I was the center?

Like that tree – at first I just thought, cool, split down the middle and still growing.

That must mean something. Take a pic.

Now, looking at the photo, I see the magnitude of the emptiness in the middle.  Not like an “I lost myself for years in marriage and mothering- I don’t who I am anymore! Woe is me!” crap metaphor.  I’ve always known who I am and I’ve always had a habit of being who I am quite a bit more forcefully than most people can tolerate.

Mike tolerated it. At first, he loved it.  For years he just put up with it. Then for a long time, he ignored it.  At the end, he came to love it again, when the finality of his illness dissolved the hard shell around me and revealed the innocent heart he first fell in love with, battered and patched, but still there. The heart now permanently exposed, worn on my sleeve. I couldn’t generate that shell again if I tried. I’m an open wound.

The metaphor is, of course, about the branches with no connecting trunk at the center.

The two of us trying to forge new lives without him, parallel lives, still growing, but disconnected from a center.

We look at each other across that gap and wonder, how could this have happened?

She keeps going over the day he died, as if repeating what happened could explain it, or make it hurt less.

It doesn’t.

I tell her we will miss him for the rest of our lives, but that he wouldn’t want us to be sad all the time – when we miss him, think about the happy times and it will feel like he is with us.

She doesn’t believe me.

Neither do I.

Things fall apart.

I tell her that we will still cry sometimes, that it is normal, that it is OK. It will pass.

Until it happens again.

Car crying, suddenly, on the way home after a good chorus rehearsal. Two pieces about the mysteries of death, but only one of them includes hope of resurrection – “de morte transire ad vitam.”

Sometimes I feel held together with twist-ties and tape, or made of wire, like an old-fashioned dress form – the vacant outline of a woman.

Wind goes right through me.

I’m always cold.

Kyrie eleison.

I’m so, so damn tired of being cold.

The sun is out, but our backyard rabbit won’t leave the shade.

nos ad lucem

-Ridiculouswoman

Gaga Wha?

My tongue is bleeding – from biting it…..

Just wanted to be sure you knew that when I referenced “La Vie en Rose” in my post yesterday, I was thinking of Edith Piaf. I hadn’t seen the Cooper-Gaga version of “A Star is Born,” where the song, and it’s title, in neon lights, are featured.

Watched it last night.

Let’s just say I’m very relieved that the Oscar Lady Gaga won was for best original song, and that it was the only Oscar the film was awarded. If it had been otherwise, I’m afraid we’d be spending a lot of time together over in the Snark Tank.

Whew. That was a close one.

Trying to observe the Thumper rule (but still snickering about its double negative) I remain,

Your biting-my-tongue-but-damn-I’d-really-love-to-dish-on-this-one,

Ridiculouswoman

Passion vs. Practicality; or, Is That A Burning Heart, or Just Heartburn?

My redecorating has taken on an aura of set design – creating spaces for an imaginary life.

(Spoilers ahead, if you haven’t watched all four seasons of “Mozart in the Jungle.”)

They play “with the blood.”

They drink, do drugs, and jump into bed with each other spontaneously, joyfully, seamlessly.

No fumbling around with condoms, no awkward conversations about past sexual and health history, no qualms, no jealousy, no regrets. Coitus with no consequences.

Artistic lives. Hollywood sex.

Passion unfettered with practical concerns.

Oh, except the first violinist/concert master with three daughters in college who tried to run an insurance scam by faking the theft of his priceless instrument.

By now, you will have figured out that I have been binge-watching “Mozart in the Jungle,” and getting a vicarious thrill out of the character’s lives in classical music. Who knew these longhairs (that’s what classical musicians were called when the cool kids were sporting crew cuts – before beatniks, before hippies, before I was born) were so lusty, so wanton, so drunk, so high?

They live with no boundaries, other than the demands of their art. Their hearts burn for music, for love. They play “with the blood.”

I finished season four last night.

Only then did I discover that the series has been cancelled.

Mozart disappeared. Rodrigo got fired and doesn’t know what’s next. Hai-lai (Hayley) seems to have taken over the symphony, based on Rodrigo’s faith in her, plus an unrealistically small amount of training and practice as a conductor and a second place finish in a major competition.

We’ll never know what happens next.

Bwaaaah! Curse you, Amazon! Why?

Back to the real world, where I impulsively signed up to go to the Midwest Writer’s Conference “agent fest” in early May (go for it, Annie! pursue your passion for writing! maybe you’ll meet someone! burn for love!) while worrying about spending the money on it (did I say money? I meant credit) and about how I’m going to manage care for my daughter for the one night I’ll be away.

What’s that pain in my chest?

The musicians in the show travel internationally on someone else’s dime and never seem to worry about who is taking care of the kids, if they have any.

Meanwhile back in heartburn land I watch my funds dwindle and frantically apply for jobs. Had two interviews, both went well, but I’m not hopeful. Even if I’m offered the weekend job I don’t think I can take it – two hour commute each way, on the weekends, when the trains and buses run slower and less frequently. The other is temp and part time, but it’s close to home and would bring in some funds, for a little while, anyway.

My redecorating has taken on an aura of set design – I seem to be creating spaces for an imaginary life.  I set up my “boudoir:” the little fantasy I created in my bedroom, which should have had that very expensive art-deco-y mauve chaise, but instead has an oddly oversized, mid-century style, eggplant-colored fake velvet chair, and a weird little round Moroccan leather footstool that’s just a bit too low and a bit too blue, purchased from a warehouse full of unsold, unwanted items crammed in long dark aisles under a crumbling, water-stained ceiling.  Together they cost a tenth of what the chaise alone would have cost.

Across from the chair is the TV with the Roku stick, connected to a network that has, oddly, gotten slower and weaker after the fraught installation of a new router, even with the signal booster.

There’s a chrome and glass bar cart, optimistically (who am I kidding, more like ludicrously) supplied with two champagne glasses, two cordial glasses, two cocktail glasses.  I sit alone in the cheap purple fake velvet chair, next to the cheap (but really cute) glass and chrome side table, watching stories on the cheap TV of people who live brave, passionate, unfettered lives, with hearts aflame, mysteriously available funds and few regrets.

Passion! Music! Bubbly! Wealthy patrons! La vie en rose!

In between job applications and query letters, I’ll keep writing, imagining that before I die I will add the words “author of….” after my name on Linkedin (in lieu of “non-profit/higher education administrator” and “certified forklift/electric pallet jack operator.”)

I’ll go to that “agent fest” I can’t really afford, pitch my book and dream of a deal, but happily settle for some good advice.

As the money dwindles, I’ll wear a name tag and clean toilets if I have to.

But I’m damned if I’ll drive a forklift again.

Pinballing between dreams and reality, with heart occasionally aflame but mostly just with heartburn, I remain,

Your occasionally optimistic, frequently floating in fantasy,  but mostly moored in the mundane,

Ridiculouswoman

How Not to Fix A Router; or, How Many Expletives Does It Take to Connect?

Maybe if I had just changed the name of my network in the first place….

Late Monday night, after choir practice, I was looking forward to settling in with my new binge-watching obsession, “Mozart in the Jungle” (how did I miss this one before? – blog post on it coming soon). I turned on the Roku and found it was disconnected from its network.

Thus began a three-day saga of unplugging, plugging back in, disconnecting, reconnecting, losing my network, finding my network, connecting to my network, getting no internet on my network, followed by phone calls to Linksys and Comcast (and good the support from both – yes, you read that right,I got good support from Comcast – pigs were flying and hell was freezing over, but yes, I got good service) that didn’t solve the problem.

Through trial and error (“maybe if I unplug this or shut that device off or switch to that network and then back to this one”) I got the high-throughput network that feeds my Roku stick back, so I could watch the ongoing story of Rodrigo and Hai-lai (Hayley never corrects him, I think that’s sweet) without calling support, but I couldn’t get my regular network back.

It’s times like these that make me long for a much larger repertoire of expletives.

The modem was fine. The router was working. I could connect to the internet on one of my networks, but not the other. WTF?

Something the Linksys guy said, that neighbor networks could be causing interference, caught my attention. There are a ridiculous number of networks in range around me. (Don’t people know that other people can see the names of their networks, whether or not they are secured? I have neighbors who don’t change the name of their networks from whatever their provider called it, and some who don’t even secure theirs. I have  other neighbors who named their networks something cutesy. Or weird. Or scary. Don’t look through the list of available networks when you connect at home. You will discover things about your neighbors you don’t want to know.)

Back to the old router: based on that idea of interference from nearby networks, I Googled around and found that 2.4ghz is the frequency most commonly used by everything from garage door openers to microwaves to all my neighbor’s networks, but I could change the channel I used to try to minimize interference.

Didn’t work.

Drat.

Expletives.

Surrender.

Go to Best Buy. Purchase new router.

Set it up.

Re-establish my networks with the same names and passwords I had before. That way, I thought, I wouldn’t have to tour the house redoing all the networks and passwords on all the devices (a ridiculous number of devices for only two people. “What an amazing modern age we live in.”) Brilliant!

Didn’t work. Devices could connect to one network, but not the other.

We’re a good 12 hours into all this now.

Oh fuck it. Rename the networks, deploy new passwords.

Success!

Which is when I realized maybe I could have saved more than $100 by just changing the name of my network in the first place.

Expletives.

Oops, forgot the signal booster. Need to reconfigure that.

Can’t I find its signal.

Reset.

Wrong button.

Oh, there it is.

Reset.

Move closer to new router.

SSID appears!

Configure signal booster.

Success! I am genius, dahlink! (in fake Russian accent, a la Natasha. You know, Boris and Natasha? Rocky and Bullwinkle? If you don’t know, you led a deprived (and much more recent) childhood.

Smugly settle in to check email.

Oh, I should print that document I’ve been sent.

Oops, forgot wireless printer.

Configure. Printer says “connected” but laptop can’t find printer.

Call Brother support.

Refrain from swearing when they told me to redo everything I had already done.

But, discover I connected the printer to the range extender, not the underlying network.

Redo.

New error message:  “Print unable.”

Run through troubleshooting protocol three more times.

New error message: “Clean unable.”

Call by-the-book Brother support people again.

Repeat everything I had already done, three more times.

Swallow expletives and go with it.

“Clean unable.”

“Requires maintenance.”

Oh, fuck it. That will cost as much as a new printer.

So, this network genius gets to go spend MORE money (did I say money? I meant credit) at Best Buy on a new wireless printer.

And bonus, while angelic daughter (who endured, with spectacular equanimity, my full day and a half of expletive riddled fury, running up and downstairs to modem and router and back to devices  “not mad at you, sweets, just venting frustration, I’ll be done soon!”) is out at her dance-exercise class, I get to spend my free evening configuring a new wireless printer.

Something tells me my vocabulary is about to expand.

Marveling at technology and while simultaneously cursing it, I remain,

Your digitized, encrypted, dual-networked, wireless and nearly broke,

Ridiculouswoman

The Wearin’ O’ the Grief

Sometimes a hat is more than a hat….

I look terrible in green. I’ll wear it in a Campbell plaid, offset by enough navy to keep my face from turning sallow.

I’ve been wearing Mike’s Campbell plaid scarf all winter. I’m sure it originally was mine, but he wore it as his sole neck-warmer through all the blizzards and vortexes we endured together. He also took my little black Russian-looking hat, which I have also been wearing all winter.

Green everywhere today, not only because it is St. Patrick’s Day in Chicagoland, where more than one river has been dyed green, but because the annual miracle of spring has begun. Perhaps slightly more miraculous than usual, because this has been one bitch of a winter – grey, snow, thaw, rain, freeze, vortex, snow, snow, snow, ice, slush, grey, rain – until you are going mad and believe you may never see the sun, or a blue sky, or green grass, ever again.

And then, there they are. The sun, the sky, the grass.

The immortal snowpiles that won’t melt until June are still blocking views in parking lots, but still.

In spring, Chicago’s headwear changes. Even though the nut cases who will actually sit in the stands at Wrigley in early April will freeze their ears off, they’ll be wearing baseball caps.

So, despite my habit of not getting green too close to my face, today, I put away the little black Russian looking hat, and  put on Mike’s green, be-shamrocked Cubs hat.

Not just because it is the only completely green article of clothing I have, but because it was Mike’s.

It still smells like him.

Mike’s middle name was Patrick (derived from the Latin for “father:” appropriate, because Mike was a great Dad). He was only one quarter Irish and he never made much of St. Patrick’s day, but in Chicago, you can’t avoid it. Green river, green beer – one year my Dad’s train-commuting seat-mate gave him a green bagel and a green yarmulke. I was relieved when my brother’s genealogical research turned up an Irish great-great grandmother. OK! I surrender. Kiss me, I’m Irish.

But I’m not sure still wearing Mike’s scarf and hat is all that healthy.

Spring is bringing some kind of emotional, as well as physical, thaw, and grief keeps busting out unexpectedly, suddenly, like bulbs I forgot I planted, or last summer’s un-pulled weeds emerging overnight from under the melting snow. It startles me like a smack of spring thunder when you were still expecting the silence of snow.

Driving aimlessly down the road last night, looking for, and oddly not finding, anyplace featuring live Irish music, even in the two close-by towns-full-of-bars, and listening to the radio, just because I had some me-time available, wearing Mike’s hat, I passed the lane that leads into the small industrial area, back to the odd little crematorium – I thought I had put that out of my mind, but last night? Oomph – like a punch in the gut.

This morning, on the way to church, “Landslide” came on the radio – the mature, more recent one recorded by the older Stevie Nicks:

“Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
I don’t know…

Well I’ve been ‘fraid of changin’
Cause I built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Children get older
I’m getting older too…”

Tears, under sunglasses. Grateful for the sunglasses. Don’t cry in front of her, our child, anymore. She’s getting through it.

Better than me.

I still haven’t figured out how to sell his game collection.

Or his telescope.

Or the tandem.

Maybe all the redecorating I’ve been doing (or attempting) lately has just been a frantic effort to suppress grief. Push it way down, keep it down, don’t let it surface.

But, I wear the scarf and the hat, not just for the green, but as present, physical symbols of his absence, worn with love and remembrance, giving form to my shadowy, inner void.

Time passes. I get older. If I give myself the time to really wear the grief, put it on like a coat with the hat and the scarf, I fear I will run out of time to take it off enough to really live what’s left of my life.

You can’t do something significant for others, or feel gratitude and joy to their fullest, if you are a shrouded, diminished, half-empty version of yourself.

If I must wear a coat of grief, let’s make it a lighter, spring coat.

Our next forecast for sun is Thursday, and highs in the 50’s (F) Friday.

No need for a scarf or hat.

Until then, I remain,

Your unpredictably weepy but going with it until it passes, and it does,

Ridiculouswoman

 

 

 

 

And What Do We Learn From This? or, Sometimes, Nothing Is Something

Sometimes moving forward requires looking back.

So what the hell was that all about? The “Pardon Our Dust” thing?

I wanted to change up the look of my blog. I thought it needed some freshening.

I spent the last four days messing around with a new theme.

I dithered over palettes. I added new fonts.

I spent a lot of time trying teaching myself enough additional Illustrator to make a banner that with images I had made or chosen previously to symbolize the blog.

After a lot of trial and error, Googling and help chats, I finally figured out how to create a “clipping mask” in Illustrator to round the corners of the image I made of my face and shoulders, with the heart on the sleeve.

I wanted it round.

Like me.

Mike liked my roundness.

I got mad about how much elements of the “Creative Cloud” that I wasn’t using cost.

I unsubscribed.

Then I freaked out (hey, no project is truly complete without a little OCD smeared on!) about whether I’d still have the right to use the stuff I had previously created if I didn’t keep subscribing.

The (very nice and helpful, by the way – thanks Adobe) chat people said I can keep and use what I already downloaded and created. (Sorry, OCD, take a seat. Or a knee, as the case may be.)

Then, as I was scrolling through the blog with the new theme applied, to make sure I liked the (eleventy-hundreth) palette I had chosen, I noticed that all my “featured images” from past posts had disappeared.

Apparently, I neglected to notice where, if anywhere, there was space for a “featured image” in the new theme.

I’m fond of some my photos used as “featured images,” and refer to them occasionally as “that picture up there” in the posts where they appear; I didn’t want to spend weeks going back to putting them wherever they might fit in the new theme.

Which made me take another look and realize that new theme was a bit too cutesy or “whimsical” to encase my content on grief and loss, despite some other content that is funny. Or that tries to be.

So, feh.

Back to “2016.”

When I switched back, I remembered the reasons I chose 2016 in the first place.

It’s clean.

It has elements I want and doesn’t confuse me with stuff I don’t need.

And Mike died in 2016.

Which reminded me that, when I started the blog, I chose the “2016” theme as a way to keep Mike close while trying a new thing without him, missing him.

So good things came of the whole manic, circular, redesigning exercise.

I got new art that I made myself, even though I’m a total amateur as a designer. I won’t have to settle for banner images I don’t like much, anymore.

I learned more about using tools I’d have to use if I ever need to modify that art again.

I tweaked things a little – a slightly modified color here or there. I’m not even sure exactly what I changed, anymore. But during the process I learned which parts of the “palettes” go where, and where I can use a custom color.

I got the pleasure of days filled with creative flow: that feeling you get when you are working on something you care about, and you forget what time it is and you only think about how to make your project better and get it right.

I also got to remember my Dad with gratitude.  He taught me to apply reason to observation to solve a problem, accomplish a task, fix things that are broken or assemble things that are new.

He called that process “using your bean.”

Dad enabled me to “use my bean” to accomplish something I didn’t know how to, but very much wanted, to do.

Dad also had an expression, usually uttered with sly determination and a not a little glee, while forging ahead down an unknown country road or pressing on through eight inches of recent snow on less-than-optimal tires: “We’re takin’ her through!” he’d say.

I don’t remember ever getting stuck, when Dad was driving.

And then finally, it all came back to Mike, whose bravery and generosity in the last weeks of his life were breathtaking, heartbreaking and inspiring. Memories of Mike and of 2016 were, and still are, central to helping me move forward, fight my fears and carry on. They help me “take her through.” I’m grateful for the bittersweet reminder of him whenever I think about my blog’s “theme,” in both content and design.

So, “redecorating” my blog turned into a pretty good Harold.

Still climbing life’s spiral staircase, I remain,

Your clumsily creative, sometimes manic, mostly anxious but still takin’ her through,

Ridiculouswoman