Now

There are these rare people who have the ability to be fully present….I am not one of them.

“Be still and know that I am…”

…God (well, Psalm 46:10, actually, but same thing, really)

There are these rare people who have the ability to be still, to be fully present, right now, where they are and whoever they are with, and to listen, intensely, to others.

I am not one of them.

Being still is not my forte.

I always think of that verse up there as ending with “I am.” But it is actually, “I am God.”

Either way, to me it is basically God’s way of saying, “Shut yer pie hole and remember that I’m here; listen for me.”

Failing to be still and to be present to the people in the same room with you is a form of toxicity. I did it at work, and I have done it for years at home. My thoughts were and are always racing around, to the past and future, to the “to-do’s” and the “fix that”s and the “will you f…in get ON with it already?”s. Never focused on the right NOW.

I come from a long line of women whose behavior indicated a belief that the cure for any kind of illness or upset, depression, bereavement, disappointment, setback etc., was a good round of vigorous housework followed by a brisk walk outside, preferably in sub-freezing weather. Move, do, bustle, hustle.

Being still was not on their list.

These women also kept up a running commentary of self-talk – Grandma and Mom did it at a whisper, under their breath. I do it out loud (no surprise to anyone who knows me personally.)

Keeping my big yap shut is a constant challenge to me.

I love words, the more syllables the better. I love to sing, and I am prone to sudden outbursts of song, regardless of my surroundings.

When I go for one of those brisk walks, I often exclaim, out loud, to no one in particular, usually when no one else is anywhere close, about the beauty I see around me.

I spend very little time being still.

Which makes it very hard to be fully present in the now. All that activity is an effective way of avoiding being still, being present, now. Because really, who wants to do that? If I stop doing stuff, I’ll notice that “now” kind of sucks. Mike’s gone, I’m unemployed and gaining weight, it snowed 15 inches and I just barely saved the new kitchen from a bad ice dam situation, but a bit of the paint is still ruined.

The point of being still, though, is to notice that “now” does not actually suck – in fact, it is pretty damn miraculous. If I have learned anything from losing Mike, it should be how precious every breath, every moment in this world is – and to cherish each simple thing here as the miraculous gift that it is, right NOW. Even the little bubbles in the paint on the ceiling from the almost-leak. Reminds me of how bad it used to be and isn’t, now.

I’m going to give being still a go. The old college try, anyway.

I took myself off the dating sites again. I really don’t need to go back to the playground and be the last one chosen for the team, just now. (Besides which, there were the two guys who listed “Dexter” among their favorite TV shows – you know, Dexter? The one about the serial killer? The kicker was the guy who listed his most recently read books, every single one of which had the word “killing” in the title. I kid you not. These are men who are trying to attract women, not send them screaming in terror for the exits.)

I have unsubscribed from lots of promotional and political emails I had been getting. They feel too intrusive, grabby and, in the case of the political ones, hysterical. The notifications of their arrival caused me to attend to my phone when I should have been attending to my child, whose existence is by far the most miraculous, and absolute, proof of the existence of God that anyone should ever need.

And this being “non-toxic Tuesday,” I have set myself what should be a simple, non-toxic love challenge: I’m going to try to get through an entire day without “thinking out loud,” also known as “talking to myself.” I have to be able to do this first, before I even think about trying to learn to meditate. I mean, meditate? You have to shut up inside your head! Who does that? Really, who can actually do that? Not me, not yet. Not NOW.

On the simpler task of not talking out loud to myself?

I already failed at it. Within seconds.

Seriously, seconds. I narrated my way through the house just to get to my laptop to write this. The only time I really succeed in being quiet (in terms of not having sounds come out of my mouth through the mechanism of my voice) is when I’m writing. But when I’m writing, words are still coming out, and I’m throwing the flag on that. Writing, while pleasurable and cathartic for me, will not count as stillness.

Talking to the cat, however, is exempt. She counts as another sentient being and talking to her is paying attention to her, now, so there.IMG_20171128_131842496.jpg

Talking out loud to my late husband is also exempt. It just is, OK?

Reflexively saying “excuse me” out loud in an otherwise empty house when I sneeze or commit some other involuntary bodily expostulation is also exempt.

Listening to music is OK as long as I don’t talk back to the radio (e.g., Oh, come on, Carl! It’s 6 a.m.! Do we really need crashy-bangy Beethoven at 6 a.m.? Would it hurt so much to start the day with a little Palestrina or Bach cello sonata or something?)

Reading is OK, and talking back to my favorite literary characters, laughing with them, crying with them, all good. (See, “it just is, OK?”, above).

Other than that, however, I am declaring my constant stream of babbling self-talk to be a form of displacement activity: a way to avoid being still. Being still requires being QUIET and listening. A kind of surrender (also not my forte. I’m a stand-my-ground-and-wear- you-down type).

The photo up there is of the male cardinal who lives in the yard. He’s in the crabtree by the deck, in all his crimson glory. What you probably can’t see is the female, who is always with him, and is near him in that tree, hidden in the background, far less ostentatious, quiet, steady, faithful, constant. Present, but not presenting. I want to be more like her. For the time being, anyway. For now.

When the sun comes back out, regardless of the temperature, I think I will take that brisk walk. I hope the only sound I make will be my breathing and the crunch of my boots on the snowy path. I’ll watch the red tailed hawks soar and circle, but I won’t exclaim. I’ll work on being still.

Oh, and I’ll mute notifications on my phone, for the duration of the walk. It’s a start, anyway.

I’ll keep you posted.

Until then, I remain,

Your most devoted, humble, obedient, etc.

Ridiculouswoman

The Kindness of Strangers

I asked the advice of about 6,700 of my closest friends, all of whom are strangers….

“I have always depended upon the kindness of strangers.”

…Blanche DuBois

Another easy one for Thankful Thursday: today I am grateful for the kindness of strangers.

A little freaked out by it, too, but grateful.

Allow me to explain.

I asked about 6,700 of my closest friends, strangers all, for some advice. How can strangers be friends, you ask? Well, it’s a Facebook group of people with a shared interest in my favorite books. I thought they might have some insight as to why my charming profile on those dating sites, which included mention of my love for those books, was getting me nothing. Crickets. Lots of scams (“I’m doing this for a friend. Here’s his email. Contact him, go ahead!”) and and a surprising number of fake or hacked profiles (really? three pictures three different men, in one profile?) but no actual interest from anyone I might be interested in back.

I mentioned I was a widow having lost my husband (first lieutenant, chef, coxswain and most particular friend) to cancer, and I was trying to find someone new to be my boon companion. And my surprise that mention of loving these books got me nothing.

This set off an exceptionally long thread of commenting, where I received much compassion, many helpful suggestions (“perhaps start off a little slow, and introduce the love of  these books later?”), lots of support (“don’t dumb yourself down!”) a few private messages and a long, really lovely compliment to me that would have made my day if it hadn’t been based on a lengthy, unkind comparison to the author’s wife.

And then things veered off into complaint about the off-topic nature of the thread (hey, c’mon, not really – I’m looking for the dating sites you guys would hang out on!) and then the thread seemed to inspire another one in which the author confessed their own cancer diagnosis and in the most poignant terms, asked for help identifying music for the eventual memorial service. I sent my love and prayers, and all those kind strangers sent their support and suggestions not just for great seafaring-related music, but also for not giving up, fighting it, employing non-traditional healing methods, etc.

These two threads have been, in my experience with that group and others, the longest, kindest, most personal and most supportive I have seen in any online environment in which I’ve spent time, ever.  They were filled with authentic concern, great good humor, and personal commiseration.

Which gave me the courage to re-activate one of my online dating accounts and, after softening my profile a bit (I took out mention of using multisyllabic words unapologetically, the aside about never missing a chance to overdress when going out, the mention of my tendency toward sudden outburst of song, and the bonus points for knowing the difference between “effect” and “affect.”), I sent direct messages some likely fellows.

None of them have responded.

So, hell with it. I put all that stuff back in (except the “effect” and “affect” stuff – it really was getting too long). I reminded prospective suitors that I liked to laugh, and had been trained in improvisation, which has weakened my inner censor and causes me to say what I’m actually thinking. Meaning if you can’t take a joke, take a hike. (And, come to think of it, take a hike if you don’t know what the word “suitor” means, in this context. But that’s not in there, because I’m not thinking about getting married again. Just need some kind, respectful, fun-loving male companionship). Honesty is the best policy, Right?

As soon as I published that final version of my profile and made myself visible again, wouldn’t you know it? Almost immediately I got a fake profile response. The one with three different pictures of three different men, and a canned profile (“I used to be shy but now I’m a social butterfly”) that I’ve seen attached to several other guys.

Sigh.

Someday my prince will come, but until then, I remain,

Your devoted, humble, obedient, etc.

Ridiculouswoman

Non-Toxic Tuesday, At Last

In “And What Do We Learn From This?”,  I explained that I originally named this blog “nontoxicwoman,” because I really did, and still really do, want to take the lessons that I learned from losing Mike and try to apply them in daily life.

Basically, these lessons boiled down to, “be kind.”

Be kind to everyone.

And right there’s where I get tripped up.

Why should it be difficult to be kind?

Well, for me, two reasons (with apologies to Hunter S. Thompson, whose books I have not read): fear and loathing.

The fear comes primarily from a concern for personal safety, health or hygiene. There are some people that make being kind feel risky.

Case in point: the online dating thing got so creepy so fast that I de-activated my accounts. I wish I could consider getting a large, loyal and protective dog, but that won’t work for us, so I’ll have to figure something else out.

The loathing just comes from my inner (well, not so inner, that has been the problem) patronizing, little-miss-smartypants attitude. And that’s the part I’m really trying to work on. Hence, the non-toxic Tuesday challenge.

I will challenge myself to find the person in my life who most drives me up a wall. The human embodiment of fingernails on a chalkboard.

And be nice to that person. Not just today, but from now on.

When I was working, it would have been easy to find that person at any of the many jobs I’ve had. I would have started slow, with just a nice, “Good Morning!” or a “how’re you doing?” They would have been suspicious, because with a person who rubs me the wrong way, I had probably been trying to minimize interaction. Or worse, I was muttering under my breath, rolling my eyes and using the indoor version of the briefcase maneuver to steam right by. Sweet, huh?

But I would have hoped that if I had been successful in being consistently kind, the person would have softened, would have become less annoying, less defensive and more humanized to me.

Or, they might have become clingy, or weirdly resentful, or they might have remained suspicious of my motives. Which wouldn’t have absolved me of the duty of trying to be kind. Because in the words of that Jewel song, “in the end, only kindness matters.”

I hope I have enough time left on my life’s clock to try to put kindness into effect in every corner of my life.

(This may require wallowing in the Snark Tank from time to time, just to get miss smartypants off of here and out of my system, if something sets her off).

It is going to be difficult for me to rise to this challenge right now. I’ve been keeping to myself too much lately. I’ve been skipping church and spending too much time on Facebook and on those online dating services, which have only succeeded in creeping me out. I’m going to stay deactivated for quite a while. I felt so much better so immediately after abandoning the online man-hunt that I now realize I was not ready for that at all. I intend to return to more traditional methods, where you actually interact with live human beings in reasonably safe public or social settings. Wow, brilliant. Shoulda thought of that first.

However, because I’m not working right now, which has fueled my isolation, I’m going to have to work a little to identify the actual live human I interact with regularly who most reliably drives me nuts, so I can consciously be kind to them. One day, I hope it won’t take conscious effort for me just to be kind.

There’s the lady in the neighborhood who knows, has known for decades, that our child is afraid of dogs, yet persists in letting her large, goofy, completely untrained pooch run around unleashed, which freedom the animal uses to stop traffic in the street and to come bounding around our yard.

But I don’t really see her often enough to interact, and the last time didn’t go so well, on my part. I may have pointed out, in not exactly a kind tone of voice, how the lady was the only person around for miles who doesn’t seem to understand how to leash her dog.  Yeah, so, that was a kindness fail, there.

There are drivers, of course. Too fast, too slow, never use their turn signal, weave in and out from lane to lane, text, etc. etc. Lots of material there. That’s a long swim in the Snark Tank that I’ll probably have to take someday soon, but for now, I think I’ll just try to stop swearing and using the word “moron” so much. Not kind.

There are the check-writers, I suppose. You know, the people in the grocery store who still write checks? They always take the extra time to carefully enter the check in their ledger and carefully replace the checkbook in the wallet and then carefully place the wallet in the purse, all the while blocking further progress for the next person in line, which would be – me. Is there a briefcase maneuver for grocery check-out lines? But, it is someone different, every time.

I need to get out there and meet someone more consistently annoying and regularly in my face. In the meantime, I’ll just try deep breathing and reminding myself that I’m supposed to be trying, really trying, to be kind. Maybe someday it will become second nature. I can dream, can’t I?

Sadly, I had another big fail today, when I received a message from someone saying that the message I sent to them was the meanest they ever received. The message to which they referred, the one I sent, that they thought was the meanest they ever got, was a message that contained an apology. Yeah, so, need to keep working on those communication skills, it seems.

Sigh. If at first you don’t succeed…

I’ll keep you posted.