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

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.

Snark Tank

Nice is nice. But Nice ain’t funny.

“If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothing’s at all.”

-Thumper

Did you catch the double negative, there?

Thumper, go over there and sit on Alice Roosevelt Longworth’s needlepoint pillow (“If you haven’t got anything nice to say about anyone, come sit next to me.”)

Nice is nice.

But nice ain’t funny. Not usually, anyway.

If you’ve been a trouper and you’ve read this blog from the bottom up, first to latest, you’ll see that I’m a widow, and I’m trying to live the lessons I learned from loss, primarily that love is what matters, and a little laughter, too, and every person has their stuff, and anyone you run into or sit next to on the bus could be in the midst of their own tragedy, and everyone deserves respect and compassion.

And that behaving that way all the time is exhausting and really difficult for me (see, “The Briefcase Maneuver“).  I have confessed to being someone too full of judgment, impatience and an ugly sense of superiority (see, “And What Do We Learn from This?)

But sometimes I just can’t help myself, especially if something strikes me as stupid.

And nothing is more irritating than avoidable stupidity. And it is often funny, too.

And in such situations, I tend to lead with my big mouth, not my big heart.

I’ll say something that makes people laugh.

And then I’ll go home and feel really bad about it.

I own a T-shirt that says, “I’ll try to be nicer if you’ll try to be smarter.” Snark. Which was basically my theory of management for a long time. Yeah, so, that didn’t work out so well.

I have another T-shirt that says, “Pretending I’m a pleasant person all day is exhausting.”

I will reveal both of these during my talk on “Confessions of a Toxic Boss,” if I ever get that one written.

Not nice. But honest.  Nice is not often funny,  but honesty often is, which is why improvisers are taught to go for the emotional truth on stage, because most of the time, nothing is funnier than the truth.

So far, I’ve written honestly about loss and grief and a little about some coping strategies (Middle Aged Woman Rules).  But when do we get to the funny part?

Well, I have a plan. When I feel the snark surfacing, and I can’t resist the temptation to think or even say something that is kind of mean but also kind of funny, I’m going to dump it right over there in the Snark Tank.

Yes, I’m going to make a whole separate page on this blog where I can dump all my little pet peeves, my moments of self-righteous superiority, my little rants, and just get them out of my system so I can get back to the love part.

No politics, though – we all get plenty of that on Facebook or Twitter.

And as the parent of a developmentally different young adult, I’m definitely not a fan of making fun of others just for being who they are (although my love of accents has gotten me in trouble that way – I hear an accent and impulsively imitate it, often right in front of the person with the accent. Oh, nice. I’ve embarrassed my family and literally made children cry, when all I thought I was doing was joining the fun and expressing delight in the music of a different way of speaking. Oddly enough, the people whose accents I “joined in on” didn’t find it amusing.)

But people who have all their intellectual faculties and physical abilities, neurotypical and physically able people, who are ungifted with and unchallenged by differently wired brains or physically different bodies, often do or say stupid or funny or illogical things, and they misuse words a lot, which either drives me nuts or makes me laugh hysterically, so I may take the opportunity to point a few of those things out. And if it happens in the middle of a blog post about something entirely different, well, I’ll just link over to the Snark Tank and dump it in there.

My additions to the Snark Tank will likely be short and unrelated to each other, unless I really get on a roll and unleash. And I’ll just keep on editing that page by adding new stuff on top.

And if you are so moved, you can jump right in through the comments, and we’ll all just get it out of our systems, and the world will be a better place, because we will have done a service in pointing out errors and inanities that are avoidable, preventable and therefore needn’t be repeated. Won’t everyone be so grateful! So let’s dive in!

Fall Excursion, Part 2

…hopes for some local cafe with soups and sandwiches and pie. I end up with grey, greasy burgers and torn barstools erupting with ancient, stained foam.

It started out great – a beautiful trail ride in a state park I didn’t even know existed until a few months ago. We rode through a savanah with a marsh in the middle of it, saw and heard (incredibly loud!) sandhill cranes, I think, and wended our way up and down ravine-like terrain populated with huge, beautiful old, gnarled burr oaks. The sun was shining, the dappled leaves were changing, and adult child was happy.

Next goal, winding roads, pumpkins and lunch.

We found an odd, small little farm that billed itself as a winery, mostly, but sold decent looking pumpkins and what’s called “Indian corn,” which I like to hang on my door this time of year. Pumpkins accomplished.

Winding roads of fall color? A little, and following my nose and the compass embedded in the mirror of my car, found the town with the store that has the chicken feed we needed.

But first, lunch.

A likely place, menu looked OK, even a bit sophisticated for a rural town. The place is mostly empty, which I put down to the hour of the day, not the quality of the food or service. Which was my first mistake.

So, I thought, OK, not crowded, great! Will get adult child fed and happy and be on our way in a jif.

Not.

I should know by now, through years of fall excursions, that I am particularly cursed at choosing lunch places. I always harbor hopes for some quaint out-of-the-way find, a local cafe with great soups and sandwiches and maybe some pie.

I usually end up with grey, greasy burgers and persons with whom I dare not converse lest the subject turn to politics, arrayed on torn barstools erupting with ancient, stained foam.

But this place looked much more promising.  Tin ceiling, nice old bar, highboys and regular tables, tile floor, interesting historic thingamabobs all over.

Adult child was very hungry, so I thought, OK, bruschetta – how hard can that be? Essentially some toast with tomatoes, basil and a little cheese.  That will be fast and take the edge off.

Ten minutes. Fifteen. Breathe. Head in hands, pulling at my hair. One waitress, only two other parties in the place.

Breathe.

Mom, are you OK?

Yes, sweetie, just trying to stay calm.

Thirty minutes, at last, the bruschetta.  Ice cold. As if it had been defrosting. And coated with something that was supposed to be balsamic but looked more like chocolate sauce.

Thirty minutes for a COLD appetizer.

Breathe, head in hands, Mom, are you OK?

Yes, sweetheart, just trying to stay calm.

Thank God the burger and fries came immediately after, as if the lone inexperienced waitress figured out that I was about to lose it if my child didn’t get something edible RIGHT NOW. Adult child likes the fries, at least, but tells me the burger was fried. As in, fried in oil, or worse, butter, which adult child on the spectrum can’t stand.

My salmon salad was pretty good, but I realized it too had been fried, not broiled.

OK, whatever, we ate. I admit to myself that I have zero skill in stumbling upon the one cute “supper club” or diner in town that actually might be worth trying, where they actually might have some retro comfort thing for my child to eat (big old shake in one of those tall, heavy ice cream glasses? No whipped cream, that is even worse than butter. Mac and cheese? Too many carbs. Tomato soup! Why can’t I just find a damn bowl of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich? In friggin’  WISCONSIN???)

So what do we learn from this? Fast food next time. Don’t even try. Go somewhere generic, cookie cutter, where you know exactly what to expect, and quit trying to make lunch any significant part of fall excursion.

On to feed store. No time for any more winding roads.

Will there be any more of October’s bright blue weather? Please?

Ah, God is great. Yes, yes there will. And the third time’s a charm.

The briefcase maneuver

More, better, faster. Fun, right?

Wrong.

There was a specific moment in time when I finally understood, after decades of confusion and bewilderment, why, even though I think of myself as funny, self-effacing, engaging, and enjoyable to be around, my late husband got so frustrated and yes, furious with me.

And kept saying I was my Mom (oh, yes, my “professionally dissatisfied” Mom).

It was a fight about housekeeping, when after he had meticulously completed a difficult cleaning task I’d asked him to do, I said “hey, that looks great! It would be even better if you also…..” (This is described as “the incident of the cobwebs” in the book I’m writing. I’ll post excerpts when I’m ready.)

Essentially, ‘thanks for that, but now do more, better.’ And he knew that the list of things yet to do, and do better and faster, would be never ending. More, better, faster. Fun, right?

Wrong.

It wasn’t just at home. At work, whenever there were tasks to complete or goals to reach, especially if they were “time bound” (Oh, just take that SMART goal crap and shove it, OK?) I paid much more attention to the work than the worker; cared more about the productivity than the people and persistently telegraphed my anxiety and irritation that things weren’t moving FASTER. Geez, didn’t everyone feel this way? How come everyone who I work with eventually starts avoiding me? Tink-tink, is this thing on?

I’m such a “A” type that I get visibly, rudely frustrated when things don’t move FAST. Everything from how you move your body through space to how you move your thoughts through your mind and out your mouth.

I think I’ve only met one or two people in my life who talk faster than I do. And I’ve met people a foot and a half taller than me who don’t walk as fast as I do.

When I worked downtown, I even came up with a strategy to get around people who weren’t walking fast enough for me. I called it “the briefcase maneuver.” If there were two or three people strolling abreast down the sidewalk, there almost always would be just not-enough room to barge between them and keep barreling on down the street.

So I’d swing my briefcase up in the not-quite-wide-enough gap between them, pretending that I just always walked that way, swinging along with my briefcase, and they’d instinctively look back, flinch away from said swinging briefcase and separate, and through the gap I’d motor.

Sweet, huh?

Now, in my defense, when I telegraphed my frustration it was usually on behalf of my husband and child, when I thought they were becoming frustrated, or bored or anxious that the food wasn’t coming fast enough or the line was too long to get in to the museum, or whatever. But it only made our child more anxious and my husband angrier.

As a parent of a young adult on the autism spectrum, a young adult who used to be an infant, then a toddler, a tween and and then a teen, I’ve had a lot of practice with patience. And I’ve always tried to quell that zippety quickness with persons who have differences or physical disabilities. And I never cease to be amazed at my child’s ability to bounce back, to forgive, to persevere and to keep trying and keep learning.  Even if it took 45 minutes to button one button, or six months to learn how to tie a shoe. And now that I’m on my own as a parent, I marvel at my late husband’s stamina in raising our child, as a stay-at-home-Dad, to adulthood.

When Mike entered hospice, I thought that A-type briefcase-barreling, busy-bee, more, faster, better, get-outa-my-way person, was gone for good.

And for the most part, she is. I’m able to slow down, allow others to go first, to breathe and wait patiently, to smile more and remind myself that every person deserves respect, has their own “stuff,” which may include hidden tragedies, disabilities or disease, and every person should be approached from a kind and loving perspective.

Sounds great. But in practice, on a day-to-day basis, it is difficult and exhausting. For me, anyway.

Case in point: the fall excursion, part one.

I thought the orchard closed at 3. We had things to do in the morning, but we headed out there at 1. On a Monday.

And it was mobbed. C’mon, it’s Monday! A school day! I thought we’d have time to sit and eat lunch, and a nice pleasant stroll to pick some apples.

Not.

Twenty minute wait for a table, but there are hot dogs over there. And you can buy your apple-picking bags right over there.

Right over there in that line that isn’t moving.

And the slowest moving human I have ever seen (at least it seemed like that at the time) behind the counter.

I am unable to process the idea of a working person who has no sense of urgency, ever, even when there is a line wrapping all the way around her counter.

Oh boy. Breathe, breathe, breathe. Adult child is fine, looking around at all the kitsch. Adorable kid in front of us is well behaved and patient unlike the two other kids in front of him.

And the counter person with the truck-stop hairdo (wait, too critical, excise that thought, toxic, toxic thought, she can wear her hair any way she wants to) is moving at a snail’s pace, wrapping soooommmee dooooonuuuttss forrr the fiiiirrst personnnnn in liiiieeeen.

God, help me. Patience, breathe, smile.

Ten minutes later, our turn.

And in response to my question she tells me the orchard is open until 5, not 3.

Whew.

OK, hot dogs. Adult child is very hungry, it is almost 2.

Another line.

And another extremely slow moving human with no apparent sense of urgency.

Breathe.

10 minutes later, two hot dogs. OK, adult child is fed.

And we made it on the haywagon and we had a great ride around the orchard and we picked more than enough apples for a pie.

And those very slow moving people were polite, even though they could tell I was working hard to quell my inner zippety-bitch, and we had plenty of time left over for the big slide, which adult child loves. And I love to watch the happiness and glee.

OK! Fall Excursion part two should be much easier!

Wrong.