Happy holidays, however you celebrate them, from our house to yours! I wish you all a multitude of blessings as you celebrate with family and friends and as you move forward into 2018. 🙂
Thursday, November 30: It’s time for our monthly cocktail hour again, but this time I’m afraid I can’t offer you any cocktails. It will have to be a non-alcoholic gathering, as our family has now come face-to-face, in the most unpleasant way, with the full-blown realization that we have an alcoholic in our midst. I’ll tell you more about it later, but for now, please come in and keep me company. I could certainly use a listener, and I’d love the distraction of hearing what’s happening in other people’s lives.
I can offer you soda, hot tea or coffee, or even hot apple cider, since it’s getting cold now. We also have tap water, of course, with a twist of lemon or lime, or I can offer you La Croix grapefruit flavored sparkling water. You all know I love my glass of wine, but I have to save that treat for when I’m outside the house.
“There’s not alcoholic in the world who wants to be told what to do. Alcoholics are sometimes described as egomaniacs with inferiority complexes. Or, to be cruder, a piece of shit that the universe revolves around.”
― Anthony Kiedis,
I hope November has been good to you. Have you read any good books, seen any good movies or performances, binge-watched any television series? Have you encountered any challenges or jumped any big hurdles? Have you welcomed any visitors? Have you wandered or journeyed; have you dreamed any dreams? Have you had any massages? Gone to any exotic restaurants, cooked any new dishes? Have you embarked on any new endeavors?
Our month started out well enough. My son’s girlfriend Maddy was still here and he was occupied with her, though he still hadn’t returned to work. I think they had worked out Maddy would pay for everything while here, as he had spent all his money in Australia. He wasn’t working so had no income coming in.
I was trying to play catch-up with some free webinars offered by a friend of mine, Pooja, under her business name of Daring Daydreamers. I hadn’t been able to attend the live versions, so I was trying to catch up on the first two replays: “Vision Boarding for Success” and “Intentional Mind Mapping,” in preparation for the third one, “Communicating Your Vision with Ease” on Friday, November 3. After attending this webinar live, I signed up for the two-hour “Business Planning Workshop” which was on the 16th. Pooja had given all attendees a Business Planning Worksheet to complete prior to the webinar, which was fairly easy to do as I had started creating a business plan before I left for Japan.
I also set a goal for myself to write two draft chapters of my memoir each week, and except for Thanksgiving week, I did just that, although I must admit they are very rough drafts.
I saw a lot of movies this month, probably to make up for not seeing a single movie in the theater in October, and to escape the house. I go often to Cinema Arts Theatre in Fairfax on Senior Wednesday for $5.50. I went to see the adorable movie Lucky, about a 90-year-old atheist who, after a sudden collapse in his home, has to accept that his good health may be declining and that his life may be coming to an end. He’s a gruff but endearing character who gets up every morning and does a few yoga poses in his underwear, puts on one of the five identical plaid shirts he has in his closet, and goes out for a walk, smoking cigarettes along the way and encountering his fellow citizens in his small derelict town. He questions his neighbors’ beliefs and fine-tunes his own along the way.
Mike and I enjoyed a fun vegan taco dinner with our friends Karen and Michael on Saturday, the 4th. This was the first time we’ve visited them in their new house and we had a great time. On Sunday afternoon, we went together to see The Florida Project, a depressing and hopeless story about poverty and generational problems in the shadow of the make-believe land of Disney World in Florida. It definitely gave us something to talk about, especially how the mother’s behavior in letting her daughter run rampant translated into a bratty spoiled child who didn’t have any likable qualities about her.
November 7 was Election Day and in Virginia, it was an important election as we were voting for a new Governor (Ralph Northam won!), Lieutenant Governor (Justin Fairfax), Attorney General (Mark Herring) and a new delegate for the 67th District (Karrie Delaney). It turned out to be a Democratic sweep, thank goodness, a clear message to Trump that Virginians want nothing to do with his brand of hatred.
After I voted I went to my tailor and asked her to take a picture of my “I Voted” sticker; it was recommended we put pictures on social media to remind others to vote. It just so happened the picture showed her “Alterations” sign on the window, and I noted on my picture that I voted for “Alterations” in our current government.
I found a picture on Pinterest, which I don’t often look at, of a meal that inspired me to make this meal of quinoa, black beans, roasted butternut squash, avocado, arugula & yellow tomatoes. It was delicious!
On Wednesday, November 8, I went to see Victoria & Abdul, about the aging Queen Victoria and her unusual friendship with a young Indian clerk. I always love Judy Dench, and she was her superb self in this movie. We’ve also recently watched the first season of the TV series, Victoria, about Queen Victoria’s early life. Now we just need the middle part filled in.
On Thursday, November 9, I went to visit my father and his wife in Yorktown, but I stayed less than two hours. I have a fraught relationship with my father and I haven’t seen him since I threw a birthday party for him in September of 2016. At that party, his wife Shirley told me Dad wanted to cancel three weeks before the party, despite the fact that I did everything in my power to get everyone together for that party, even my sister in California who hates to fly and rarely travels. Luckily, Shirley talked Dad out of cancelling or I would have been furious. He told me at that party that he would never make the trip to northern Virginia again (about a 3 hour trip by car under the best of traffic), yet he continues to travel about 30 minutes south of here to visit his wife’s family. He’s also a Trump supporter and a racist, so I really can’t take much of him. I know he’s getting older and more frail, so I try to do my daughterly duty periodically.
After a tense conversation, I left his house and went to Richmond where I met Sarah and Alex at Joe’s Inn, where Sarah has worked as a bartender and waitress for nearly 10 years. They were finishing up their drinks and Alex had to run off to meet someone, so we shortly left. Sarah and I went by ourselves to share a lovely dinner at Demi’s Mediterranean Kitchen.
On Saturday morning I went for a walk in Sarah’s neighborhood of Woodland Park while she took her dog for a slow walk. The trees were beautiful in her neighborhood. Then we had a delicious lunch at Chopt Salad at Willow Lawn.
I loved all the fallen leaves in Woodland Park. I don’t know why it makes me so happy to shuffle through colorful fallen leaves in autumn.
We celebrated our anniversary (29 years minus a handful of gap years) at Maple Avenue Restaurant in Vienna on Monday, November 13. Earlier that day, my son’s girlfriend Maddy left to return to Australia.
This night, though fun while we were out, marked the end of innocence for our family. Little did we know this would be the beginning of a spiraling decline in our son’s life.
At this point, still foolishly believing life was good, we enjoyed our dinner. I had an appetizer of crispy broccoli with panko breading, gold raisins, caraway, and yogurt herb sauce. It was a little too heavily breaded and deep-fried for my taste; I was expecting a light dusting of bread crumbs. Mike’s appetizer of house spreads was much better: burrata, liver mousse, bacon jam, herb ricotta, currant jam, and crostinis. For dinner, I somewhat enjoyed my Arctic Char Fillet with fresh herb spaetzle pasta, oregano, and smoky tomato sauce. Again, Mike’s meal was better: pork confit steak with fingerlings, brown butter, sweet potato, eggplant caponata, and chimi churri. I’m not generally a pork eater, but this dish was lean and flavorful and surprisingly good.
Finally, to top off our meal, we had fried apple pie with lavender honey, dulce de leche, and old-fashioned ice cream. This time mine was better than Mike’s Lithuanian Honey Layer Cake with cinnamon, allspice and caramelized honey, and whipped sour cream.
I continued to take my 3-mile walks all over the place, but on this Thursday after our anniversary, on a walk around Lake Audubon, the trees were glowing.
On Friday afternoon before Thanksgiving, I met my friend Leah in D.C. at Pearl Dive Oyster Palace for brunch and bottomless mimosas. She lives in San Francisco but comes home to D.C. to visit her father each year around Thanksgiving. Leah got the most delicious Chopped Salad with Buttermilk-Jalapeno Dressing, Market Vegetables, and Popcorn Crawfish, while I enjoyed a small portion of 3 Cornmeal Crusted Chesapeake Oysters served over Andouille Sausage & Sweet Potato Hash. It was a tiny meal but delicious. No matter, I was mostly focused on the bottomless mimosas for $20. This Bottomless Mimosa Brunch is hosted every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm with Reggae tunes playing in the background. We had a great time all around, catching up on our lives while also bemoaning the state of our government in the last year, with the despicable and greedy Republicans in charge.
We passed by Birch and Barley, which looked to be closed but I found out later is not. I recognized it as the place where my CELTA class colleagues and students went to celebrate after our last day of class in October of 2015.
Mike and I went to Arena Stage to see the musical The Pajama Game on Saturday, November 18 after eating at Masala Art, our favorite Indian restaurant in D.C. Here’s the review in the Washington Post: Splashy ‘Pajama Game’ at Arena Stage Aims to Seduce with 1950s Style. It was fun, and some of the music was great, especially “Hernando’s Hideaway,” which I played on Spotify on the way home.
The Pajama Game was first produced in 1954, with catchy tunes and sexy dance numbers. The musical’s themes revolve around protest and inequality in the workplace.
I finished reading three books this month: first, I finished Water from heaven: An American woman’s life as an Arab wife, by Anne Schreiber Thomas. I met Anne and her husband when I lived in Oman and she and her husband lived in Abu Dhabi. The story tells of an American woman, Cindy Lou Davis, who met and married Mohammed Ali, a Muslim from the oil-rich United Arab Emirates. Anne knows Cindy Lou and she did a great job of capturing Arab culture in UAE, not too dissimilar from Oman’s. I also finished Losing Julia by Jonathan Hull, which I really enjoyed. Lastly, I read the bizarre book, The Sexual Life of an Islamist in Paris, by Leila Marouane. I started reading this book because I planned to join a book group that is reading books from all the countries of the world in alphabetical order. The story actually takes place in Paris but it was chosen as an Algerian book, since the protagonist Mohamed Ben Mokhtar, who has Frenchified his name to Basile Tocquard, and his family are Algerian. If you’re interested in reading my reviews of these books, you can probably find them by clicking on the title links above.
On Sunday, November 19, Mike and I took a walk along the Fairfax Cross County Trail. It was a beautiful crisp fall day, but I was feeling a little anxious about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. Worried about our son’s drinking, I had counted the number of wine bottles, and was certain that two had gone missing. I knew when Sarah and Alex came for the holiday, the wine would be flowing and I didn’t know how Adam would cope.
On Tuesday morning before Thanksgiving, I woke up to hear a tense discussion in the basement between my husband and son, and I found a note under my empty wine rack. I had hidden all the wine bottles on Monday, but on Monday afternoon I had bought two more for the holidays and thought, He wouldn’t dare take these when they’re the last two. The note said, “Sorry for taking wine. I love you. Thank you.” Apparently he had drunk the two bottles over the night and was drunk first thing in the morning. A huge argument ensued with screaming and yelling. Things got so nasty that I threatened to call the police.
Slowly, we all calmed down and had a long talk, made up, cried and hugged. Later in the morning, I invited Adam to walk with me, again on the same Cross County Trail. We had such a wonderful day, talking about everything, about how difficult it was for him when in every social situation people are pressuring him to drink, and how he felt powerless. He talked about wanting moderation, being able to have just one or two drinks, but how he couldn’t seem to stop once he started. We talked about how it was important for him to go to AA so he wouldn’t have to go it alone, so he could have a community of people who also struggle with addiction. We could send him to rehab, I could drive him to AA, he could join some Meetup groups of people with similar interests so he didn’t feel so isolated. We talked about how he’d cope over Thanksgiving when people were drinking. We loaded him up with Kombucha, so he could drink that while others were drinking wine. He seemed receptive. After our walk, we went to Mom’s Organic Market so he could pick out some healthy food (he’s very picky about the kind of food he’ll eat) and we shared some healthy bowls at the Naked Lunch Cafe.
See how much help I tried to offer?! See how foolish, and how crazy, I was?
On our way home, Adam told me how he’d like to make some suggestions to his boss to improve his business so his boss wouldn’t be so angry all the time. It sounds like the business is growing and needs more employees, so I immediately thought of ZipRecruiter, an advertisement I hear every day on Modern Love: The Podcast. (Again, I’m so full of helpful ideas!) I told Adam that I listen every day to Modern Love and they play the same two ads: ZipRecruiter and Iconundies.com, about pee-proof underwear for women. We laughed about those and then he was interested in hearing the podcast to hear the advertisements. It just so happened the next podcast up on my list was this one: “Take My Son To Jail: Modern Love 72.” The essay, read aloud on the podcast, was about a son who was diagnosed with various things over the years, from autism to schizophrenia, but nothing ever seemed right. It turned out the son had told his mother at 18 that he wanted to be treated like an adult. Then he went through a stretch of time where he lied about everything and then stole his mother’s car. When the police in their small town called the mother, she told them to take him to jail, because he’d said he wanted to be treated like an adult and she was sick of all the lies and his behavior. She did it lovingly. Sadly, many years later, the son was found dead in his apartment at age 28 with no known cause of death.
We weren’t finished listening to the podcast when we pulled into our driveway, but Adam wanted to finish listening to it after we got in the house. As I had just threatened to call the police this morning, maybe he could identify with it. I hoped that maybe he understood where I was coming from.
We hadn’t shared a day that wonderful in a long time. All seemed good. And hopeful.
“I felt empty and sad for years, and for a long, long time, alcohol worked. I’d drink, and all the sadness would go away. Not only did the sadness go away, but I was fantastic. I was beautiful, funny, I had a great figure, and I could do math. But at some point, the booze stopped working. That’s when drinking started sucking. Every time I drank, I could feel pieces of me leaving. I continued to drink until there was nothing left. Just emptiness.”
― Dina Kucera,
But. Hope is fool’s folly when dealing with an addict. This is the dilemma. As his parents, we love him and want the best for him. We want him to be happy and productive and responsible. We want him to be a man. We are willing to do anything to help him. And this is where the problem lies. WE CANNOT HELP HIM UNLESS HE WANTS TO HELP HIMSELF. And though he SAYS he wants to help himself, he doesn’t actually take action to do it. This is where we want so desperately to believe, but we’re fools for doing so. In our belief that we can fix him, we’re as insane as he is.
Before he left for Australia in mid-September, he was doing so well. He was working, saving money, paying his debt, working solidly on a podcast which I thought was very well done. He was proud of himself for being clean for 70 days. But once he got to Australia, he was pressured constantly to drink, and apparently he did drink, so much that he didn’t like how he was feeling and acting, so he quit cold turkey. He said that weekend after he stopped was hell because everyone else was partying like their lives depended on it and he felt outside of things.
While in Australia, he lost his momentum on his podcast and spent all his money. And then he brought Maddy home with him, and he promptly got sick and didn’t go back to work. He and Maddy broke up and she left earlier than she originally planned. Maybe their relationship was doomed because of the hopelessness of being on opposite sides of the world. Maddy doesn’t want to leave Australia and he doesn’t want to leave the U.S. He has no career and no direction and knows he needs to get his life together, but he just can’t seem to muster what it takes.
This is the nature of the addict.
“A man who drinks too much on occasion is still the same man as he was sober. An alcoholic, a real alcoholic, is not the same man at all. You can’t predict anything about him for sure except that he will be someone you never met before.”
― Raymond Chandler,
Thanksgiving actually went pretty well. Sarah and Alex arrived, they drank wine and Adam drank Kombucha. We enjoyed chatting and we all watched several episodes of Fresh Off the Boat together, all bundled together under blankets on the couch in the basement. The next day, we worked together to prepare dinner, enjoyed our huge meal, and then played a rousing game of Malarky together. It was great fun; I haven’t laughed so hard in ages. But where all of us could laugh, make fun of ourselves, and relax, Adam seemed on edge, testy. He always wants to win and takes it personally when he thinks he’s going to lose. He can be condescending and difficult to be around.
The day after Thanksgiving was worse, with Adam staying mostly to himself and Alex working out. Sarah was her easy-going self. I suggested we all go see Lady Bird together and everybody was up for it. I enjoyed it. Sarah said it reflected perfectly the struggles of her generation. I’m sure all my kids could relate to the mother-child struggles, with the mother pushing her child to be the best she could be.
But later, Adam sat in front of the TV, lost in his own thoughts, not talking to Alex or Sarah or any of us. He was supposed to go to work Friday night, but called in sick. He should have gone Saturday, but he didn’t then either. Sarah and Alex left around 11:00 on Saturday, and Adam went back into his shell, seeming more depressed than ever.
“I was drawn to all the wrong things: I liked to drink, I was lazy, I didn’t have a god, politics, ideas, ideals. I was settled into nothingness; a kind of non-being, and I accepted it. I didn’t make for an interesting person. I didn’t want to be interesting, it was too hard. What I really wanted was only a soft, hazy space to live in, and to be left alone. On the other hand, when I got drunk I screamed, went crazy, got all out of hand. One kind of behavior didn’t fit the other. I didn’t care.”
― Charles Bukowski,
On Sunday, Adam got up early and went to work. He was at work from 7 in the morning till 7:30 at night.Mike and I went for a fun hike at Maryland Heights. In the evening, we got a text that he was going to his friend’s house. I know he needs to have friends, but I know these friends like to drink. I was on edge all night. He never came home until 9:30 Monday morning. I didn’t know if he’d been drinking but I couldn’t help but suspect it. He steered clear of me and later in the day, I found him sleeping the day away in the basement. I asked if he’d been drinking last night and if he was going to an AA meeting we’d told him about on Monday evening. He answered no to both and said not to bother him, he was napping.
Later in the evening, I was determined that we talk to him together. We went downstairs and told him we wanted to talk to him about going to AA. Highly on edge, he said he wasn’t going and he didn’t want to talk about it. We insisted that we need to talk about it because our agreement was that he would start going to AA if he lived in our house. Tempers escalated and things got ugly, ending with him pounding a hole in his door, another hole in the wall, breaking his computer, and picking up an ottoman and trying to throw it at a TV. He said horrible things to us and was out of control. He told us he was more powerful than us and he became threatening. I threatened to call the police.
When things escalated even more, the decibel level nearly explosive, I did just what I threatened. I called the police, telling them we had a domestic situation. Adam left the house and sat outside waiting for the police. He wanted to tell his side of the story first, I guess. It was a horrible night. I told the police I wanted him out of the house. They told us we couldn’t just throw him out at that moment. They told me there was nothing they could do unless he actually hurt us. Wow, that might be too late, mightn’t it? The officer was a good man, kind and sympathetic. He said, with all his experience over 20 years with this kind of situation, there is nothing we can do to help our son unless he wants to help himself. He told us our options; we could go to the Sheriff’s Office and file eviction papers, post them on our house, and have him evicted in 30 days. We could file charges for property damages. He suggested we should wait till our tempers had calmed to continue our discussion. Then he left the house. I stood up, said I was done talking for the night, and went upstairs to bed, saying I had nothing more to say. But. I couldn’t sleep because I could hear Mike and Adam talking for two more hours, voices raised.
Later, Mike told me that in two hours of talking, our son said that when he came home from Hawaii, he spent two full weeks trying to detox by sleeping and spending a lot of time alone. He said Mike didn’t know how much he suffered because he was at work all the time (I was in Japan). He said he really does want to change.
I won’t believe it until I see it. I’m ready to file eviction papers at a moment’s notice, but I said I’d see how it goes over the next week. I hate the thought of evicting him in the middle of winter, but I don’t know what else to do. We have absolutely no control over him and I actually feel threatened in my house.
“You’re walking down Fool’s Street, Laura used to say when he was drinking, and she had been right. He had known even then that she was right, but knowing had made no difference; he had simply laughed at her fears and gone on walking down it, till finally he had stumbled and fell. Then, for a long time, he stayed away, and if he had stayed away long enough he would have been all right; but one night he began walking down it again – and met the girl. It was inevitable that on Fool’s Street there should be women as well as wine.
He had walked down it many times in many different towns, and now he was walking down it once again in yet another town. Fool’s Street never changed, no matter where you went, and this one was no different from the others. The same skeletonic signs bled beer names in vacant windows; the same winos sat in doorways nursing muscatel; the same drunk tank awaited you when at last your reeling footsteps failed. And if the sky was darker than usual, it was only because of the rain which had begun falling early that morning and been falling steadily ever since.”
― Robert F. Young,
On Tuesday night, we watched the DVR of Madam Secretary we had recorded on Sunday. In the show, President Dalton was upset because his son, a drug addict, had checked himself into rehab. After an international incident in which the U.S., at the President’s insistence, tried to negotiate with Mexico to turn over an imprisoned drug lord to the U.S. to be prosecuted, Secretary McCord tells the President she’s sorry about his son. He says the worst thing is that no matter how many times his son goes to rehab, and how often he gets clean, he’s always going to have that demon on his shoulder, threatening to send him spiraling again.
Why has it taken us so long to face the fact our son is depressed and an alcoholic? Sure, we’ve had our suspicions. But I have tried to normalize it. I know depression runs in our family and all of us have grappled with it. I remind myself how many young people drink, how much I used to drink when I was in my 20s. But, then I never drank alone. I was always able to get up and go to work. Could I quit after two drinks? I often didn’t, but could I have?
How many times have we deluded ourselves? I’ve lost count. I had a wonderful day with my son on Tuesday before Thanksgiving, my sweet and brilliant son who was once so close to me. Now, less than a week later, we are in dire straits. I never know when another bomb will drop; it’s like I’m living in a war zone. He is depressed but refuses to seek help because he doesn’t trust doctors and he refuses to go on anti-depressants, yet he continues to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. He is isolated and lonely, but he won’t go to AA. He thinks he’s more powerful than we are and we can’t force him to do anything. And he’s right about that. If he won’t help himself, how on earth can we help him?
Plainly and simply, we can’t.
But we can’t let him drag us down into his abyss. That I know. I am considering options. I am leaving open the eviction option. I am considering leaving the house and going to stay somewhere else until he’s out of the house. I am figuring out ways I can take care of myself and stop offering him help and solutions. He doesn’t want our help anyway, and in fact resents our meddling. I will work on myself, as I’m the only one who is any of my business.
“There are millions of people out there who live this way, and their hearts are breaking just like mine. It’s okay to say, “My kid is a drug addict or alcoholic, and I still love them and I’m still proud of them.” Hold your head up and have a cappuccino. Take a trip. Hang your Christmas lights and hide colored eggs. Cry, laugh, then take a nap. And when we all get to the end of the road, I’m going to write a story that’s so happy it’s going to make your liver explode. It’s going to be a great day.”
― Dina Kucera,
I grew up with a mother who was paranoid schizophrenic and who attempted suicide (and failed) too many times to count. The first time, she walked in front of a neighbor’s VW van when I was 13 years old. Another time she drove into a tree. She was in and out of mental hospitals, undergoing electroshock therapy, and she was constantly on cocktails of anti-psychotic drugs. She was also an alcoholic. I survived those years by detaching and I’ll have to survive this by detaching. I love my son deeply, but I’m going to stand back for now. I have to, to keep from going crazy. Until he gets his life together, I need to keep distance between us. The whole environment is too toxic and too heartbreaking.
It may seem strange to be writing about anniversary celebrations, going to movies, reading books, meeting friends, and celebrating holidays in the midst of the hell we are going through. But that is life, isn’t it? We can choose to sit around wringing our hands in desperation, hoping that something good will come of all this or, alternatively, bracing ourselves for something horrible to happen. Or we can try to eke out moments of happiness in whatever ways we can in the midst of it all. I’m going to try to do the latter, for my sanity, which I’m determined to preserve. I did it when growing up with my mentally ill mother, so I’ll do it with my son as well.
We are at a stand-off now. I haven’t laid eyes on our son since Monday night, and he lives in our basement. Mike goes down once a day to check to see if he’s still alive. I cannot forget our terrifying Monday night and I’m sure he is furious at us. He probably feels hopeless, and that makes my heart break. But we feel hopeless too. Forgiveness will be slow in coming.
On Wednesday, November 29, I went again to Senior Wednesday to see Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. This may have been one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time. The characters were complex and grew and learned from their experiences. It gave me a little hope for all of us.
Friday, December 1: I went to an Al-Anon meeting today at an Episcopal Church I used to attend. This group works on the 12 steps, one step each Friday at noon. Today, it so happened that they were working on Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. It helped me to listen to nearly 20 people share their struggles with the alcoholic or drug addicts in their lives. It helped me feel part of a community, that all is not hopeless, and that I need to focus on myself and to ask for help from a Higher Power. One thing I learned in Al-Anon today is that I have to trust in my Higher Power, whatever that means to me, and then I have to let go and believe that my son has his own Higher Power who will take care of him. They said to me: “Keep coming back.” I’ve dropped into Al-Anon meetings in the past, but only periodically, when things were in crisis mode. This time, I need to commit to going regularly, at least once a week, if not more.
Many people may be put off by my sharing of something so personal. But I am a strong believer in deep sharing, rather than superficiality. Looking at social media, one would think everyone’s lives are fine and glorious things. There is deep shame in society about talking about mental illness, depression and addiction. But I believe if we don’t talk about it, and we continue to sweep it under the table, it will continue to infect our societies, generation after generation, ad infinitum.
One day, you might be able to read all about all of this in my memoir.
In the meantime, I hope you’ll tell me something about your November, your life, your experiences, whether exciting or challenging. Anyway, I wish you all a fabulous December and a festive holiday season. 🙂
Saturday, October 22: This Saturday morning in late October, a walk in the woods. It’s been Indian summer and the leaves have been slow to change. Things feel muted, quiet, not jubilant, not exciting. Dull, quiet, intractable.
Last October, I was excited to be back home in Virginia after my year in China. I looked forward to spending more time with my family. Now, a year later, I’ve lost my enthusiasm. I came home hoping to spend time with my kids, but alas, they are growing up, slowly, and growing away. I came home to spend time with Mike, but alas, he is working long hours and on weekends doesn’t have the level of energy or wanderlust I have.
Last year, Mike and I went to Chincoteague for my birthday, October 25, and to Antietam for our anniversary on November 13, but this year he’s been inundated with work and we are combining my birthday and our anniversary by going the first weekend in November to Fayetteville, West Virginia to see the supposedly beautiful Babcock State Park and the New River Gorge. We had a wonderful time in Iceland and we renovated our house this year. All of these things I should be happy about. I am pleased about these things, but it’s not enough. Something is missing — a sense of purpose, a sense of moving forward, a sense that I’m not bogged down in stagnation. A sense of love, belonging, acceptance.
I look around me at an America that is teetering on the edge. I fear that instead of progressing in our values, we’re going backwards. I’m afraid that the upcoming election could be the start of regressing to 1950 or before. I look around me and see nearly half of all my fellow countrymen full of hatred and fear and anger. I am uneasy and anxious.
I am carefully considering whether go abroad again. When I go abroad, I meet people of all nationalities who are generally more open-minded than many Americans. I learn that most people are not that much different than I am. I learn that though cultures may vary, people are the same. They want justice, fairness, love and success. They want opportunity and acceptance for who they are. They want to participate in the wealth the world has to offer. They don’t want to be struggling to put food on the table. They want to be happy.
No matter how much I try to escape it, the old reverse culture shock is kicking in. I’ve talked about this phenomenon before, upon returning home from abroad, that uncomfortable and disoriented feeling you get when you don’t quite fit back into your own country after spending an extended amount of time abroad. Though at first I was happy to be back, that old feeling is creeping in. I try to shake it off, to ignore it. I’ve tried to assimilate, to melt back into America. But I can’t quite do it. I feel acutely the need to escape. Wanderlust is like a genie dancing before me, enticing me back out into the world at large.
I need a purpose. I need adventure. I need to have like-minded, progressive people around me. I have been waiting until our disgraceful election is over, then I’ll be making my decision. Leave or stay?
This October has been the worst one I’ve ever had, as far as my outlook, my mood. Usually, I love the fall. I love the freedom, the change that is promised with cool crisp air and the bright burst of color in the leaves. But this year, I just feel trapped, bogged down, frustrated.
I don’t have a complaint about the people in my family except that their lives go on without much understanding of how I feel. Maybe it’s because I try to put a smile on my face and pretend I’m fitting in. But inside, I don’t really feel that.
I think whatever feelings you have in life, they’re bound to rear their heads and make themselves known. No matter how much you try to put a lid on them, to deny them, they sit percolating beneath the surface. I just love it (not!) when well-intentioned people say, Get a job! Get a hobby! I have tried to find a job to no avail, and I occupy myself with writing (my blog, a memoir), daily walks, and cooking. These are solitary pursuits. I need to get out and interact with people and have a purpose and an adventure. I don’t want to volunteer my time at this point in my life, as I have experience to offer that I should get paid for! My hobbies — travel, writing, photography — all call out to me. They’re intertwined, my three loves, and they’re beckoning me, as a package. I find it dull doing one without the others.
I’m lucky to have a good husband who will support my dreams. He will support them, but of course he really doesn’t want me to go. This means I’ll feel guilty, as if I’m abandoning him. I feel bad that he might be lonely while I’m away. But he has his hobbies too, and he can do them perfectly well without me: biking, watching sports, and of course, work; though it’s not a hobby, it’s a time-consuming activity nonetheless.
I’m reading a cute Swedish book, A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman. In the book, 59-year-old Ove is informed at work that they are “retiring the older generation.” Suddenly, he’s not a person, but a “generation!” Ove is a curmudgeon, that’s for sure. But he speaks some truth when he thinks, later in the book, “This was a world where one became outdated before one’s time was up.”
I’ve talked to many people of my generation who are not seen, not heard. I want to be seen as a person who can contribute, not a burden, not a has-been! I often think back to the disheartening time when I faithfully applied for 250 jobs, every day for a year, only to never hear anything back. At that time I had just completed my Master’s degree at age 52. Now, though I haphazardly apply for jobs, my heart isn’t into going through all that hassle for no return! Especially now that I’m 61. I have the best chance of finding something abroad, although I know I’ve aged out in many places. But at least I know I have a better chance of finding a job in some far-flung place than in the “land of opportunity!”
I’m waiting. After November 9, I’ll decide whether to begin a search in earnest either here or abroad. I’m not ready to call it quits yet.
You can find my previous post from 2013 about this trail at: a weekend of indian summer & work, & a little walk in nature.
Sunday, October 16: This Sunday morning, we talk a walk along the Potomac River at Great Falls Park. It’s a pretty day but not quite as cool as I’d like it to be for the middle of October. The trees are not yet in full color down here in the lowlands, but in a week or so, I expect they will be.
Great Falls Park is a small National Park Service site in northern Virginia, with 800 acres and 15 miles (24 km) of hiking trails. The park also has a Visitor’s Center and several viewing platforms that offer views over the cascades.
The park has a picnic area and parking spots for about 600 vehicles; most of them are filled today and there is a line at the entrance to the park.
The falls drop a total 76 feet (20 m) over a series of major cascades and are rated Class 5-6 Whitewater according to the International Scale of River Difficulty. The first kayaker to run them was Tom McEwan in 1975, but only since the early 1990s have the Falls been a popular destination for expert whitewater boaters in the DC area (Wikipedia: Great Falls Park).
As Great Falls Park is only about a half hour from our house, we come here almost once every year, either spring or summer. Sometimes we walk on Billy Goat Trail along the Maryland side of the river, and sometimes we walk on this, the Virginia side.
Today, the park is swarming with people anxious to get outside in the fall weather. It’s only when we hike further down the trail along Mather Gorge that we can have some space to ourselves.
Downstream from the falls is Mather Gorge, named after Stephen Mather, the first director of the National Park Service. For the most part, Mather Gorge is lined on both sides by cliffs, which are often used by rock climbers. Here, the Potomac River is rated class 2-3 and has been a popular kayaking run since the 1960s.
Towards the southern end of the gorge, the cliffs become tree-lined bluffs as the gorge widens out into the wider and larger Potomac Gorge (Wikipedia: Mather Gorge).
Mike is always willing to walk closer to the cliff edges than I am. I always feel a little dizzy when I get close to steep drop-offs.
Across the river, on the Maryland side, we can see the hikers on Billy Goat Trail and some rock climbers. On our side, we also see some ropes dangling over the cliffs, but unless we go stretch our bodies out over the edge of the cliffs, we can’t see the actual climbers.
This is about as close as I’ll get to the edge.
I feel quite sad today as we leave this place. When we first arrived for our walk, I ran into an old friend of mine from Oakton; our kids used to play together in various playgroups. She’s here with her husband and her father. She seems to be giving me the brush-off and I feel quite hurt by this. I try to think what I’ve done wrong, or why she’s so obviously uncomfortable talking to me, and I guess it could be several reasons. The major reason, of course, could be that Mike and I separated for a 7-year period and I went off the gallivant around the world, living and teaching in Korea, then Oman and China (although Mike and I had reunited before I went to China). I have found many do people judge me for this. If that is the case, then so be it. If people want to judge me for choices I make in my life, then I can’t change their minds and I cannot consider them friends. I myself try not to judge people who struggle over difficult personal decisions, and who do what they feel is necessary in their lives. That being said, I do often question whether I can in good conscience maintain friendships with people who are racists, misogynists, liars, or haters as a general practice.
Of course I could be wrong in assuming that is why she behaved the way she did, and if that isn’t it, then it could be that I didn’t make much effort with people in Oakton once I started living abroad. I do have to say that I found many of them boring and superficial, focused only on their kids or how big their houses were or how much money they had. I felt like none of those Oakton mothers had lives of their own. To be honest, I had simply lost interest in the suburban life myself. This was part of why I needed to escape.
I never did feel this way about this particular friend though. She was always interesting and kind. She went back to school at the same time I did, and we both pursed careers of our own. I liked her a lot. But living abroad, it takes an extra effort to stay in touch with people, on both sides. She didn’t make an effort with me, and neither did I make much effort with her. So, it seems the friendship, which was at one time a nice one, is gone. This is what happens, I guess; friends are in your life for a time or a season, and then they’re gone. It made me more than a little sad to have this encounter and this realization. Combined with the upcoming third presidential debate on October 19 and the overall oppressive political environment in the States these days, I feel pretty depressed when I leave Great Falls today.
Oh well, life is not always happy, even when skies are blue and it’s the middle of October in a beautiful place.
Sunday, June 12: The Weekly Photo Challenge asks us to show something pure:
not mixed with anything else
I love these peonies I found blooming at Meadowlark Gardens in May. They seem the perfect embodiment of pure.
Saturday, May 7: The Weekly Photo Challenge: Earth invites us to share: On this day, between the global Earth Day celebration, and Mother’s Day in the United States, share your vision of our glorious Mother Earth.
To celebrate the earth, here’s a walk among the skunk cabbage carpeting the Difficult Run Stream Valley along the Fairfax Country Cross-County Trail.
Skunk cabbage is a flowering perennial that is one of the first plants to emerge in spring, especially in woodlands, wetlands and near streams.
Apparently, skunk cabbage gets its name from the unpleasant odor it emanates. The scent attracts pollinators that are attracted to rotting meat.
I do have to say I didn’t smell anything unpleasant on our walk. 🙂
It’s amazing how the earth is a living, breathing system that abides on its own terms, beyond our understanding.
Happy Earth Day and Mother’s Day! 🙂
I have apparently designated this as my year to declutter, clear out, demolish. This has happened without my full realization, but as each month progresses, I’m sure that the year is meant to unfold this way.
In the process of cleaning out and demolishing, I hope to create space for new possibilities. I am spending this year in a process of self-discovery, and my quest is multi-faceted and I hope, life-changing.
This process started in January after I read the book: the life-changing magic of tidying up by Marie Kondo. She dubs her method The KonMari method, advising her clients to work by category, not by where clutter is located in their houses. She outlines a specific order to the categories, beginning with clothing, followed by “books, papers, komono (miscellany), and finally things with sentimental value.”
Marie Kondo says in her book: “A dramatic reorganization of the home causes correspondingly dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective” (p. 3). Why? Because “when you put your house in order, you put your affairs and your past in order, too” (p.4). She says, “When we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future” (p. 181). She suggests that when you get rid of clutter, you should touch each item and let it go with thankfulness for the part it played in your life. I have found her method freeing, and so far, though I’ve only gone through clothing and books, I’ve been able to let go of things I’ve been holding on to for sentimental reasons while giving thanks for the part those things played in my life. I feel unburdened every time I let something go.
Marie Kondo claims by decluttering and tidying, you will experience a dramatic change in your life. You’ll clear up space where you can fill it with only the things you love. Choosing to keep only those things that “spark joy,” you can focus on only the things you love without distractions.
At the same time I began my decluttering project, I started taking a real estate course through Moseley Real Estate Schools that lasted from early January into mid-February. I took the course like the perfect student I always am, passed the class test on the first round, and then passed the state and national exam, again on the first round. I cleared all hurdles to get my real estate license and to sell real estate, but after talking with numerous firms, all of whom want me to come on board (at no cost to them, I might add, as selling real estate is totally commission-based and you have to pay a couple thousand dollars just to begin), I just cannot take that final step. No matter how much I try to tell myself I could do it, my heart just isn’t in it. So I’m back to my perplexing dilemma: what to do with my life? This has been a quandary for me since I was in college, and at age 60, I still haven’t figured it out. I’m not ready to throw in the towel yet, and I want desperately to figure out what I can do that gives me pleasure and some sense of accomplishment while I’m still “young at heart!”
In the early part of this year, I was seeing a Sikh therapist who I’ve seen from time to time over the last couple of years. She recommended that I read The Dynamic Laws of Prosperity by Catherine Ponder. Though the book is Christian in principal, my Sikh therapist thought it was applicable for people of all faiths in teaching the power of affirmations. In a chapter titled “The Vacuum Law of Prosperity,” Ponder says: “Basically, the vacuum law of prosperity is this: if you want greater good, greater prosperity in your life, start forming a vacuum to receive it! In other words, get rid of what you don’t want to make room for what you do want.” She poses that nature abhors a vacuum, and by getting rid of what you don’t want, you’re automatically making room for what you do want. She says that you should talk about prosperity, not lack, and envision that your prosperity is already visible in great abundance (p. 41-51).
At the book’s suggestion, I’ve made a vision board and a list of affirmations, but I have to say I haven’t been totally devoted to using them because I’m still unsure what vision I have!
In the midst of my personal self-discovery project, a major remodel of our kitchen, laundry room, and screened-in porch/deck has gotten underway. We’ve been planning this since the fall; during that time, we talked to several contractors and ended up choosing Northwood Construction. It took us a long while to go through the planning and the many choices of cabinets, countertops, deck material, floor plan, appliances, sink/faucet, lighting, etc. Following are pictures I took in early February of our kitchen, family room and deck BEFORE the project began.
Friday, February 5: Our kitchen is original to our house, which was built in 1981. When we moved here in 1994, we replaced the floors throughout the first level with hardwood, painted the kitchen cabinets white, replaced the countertop with formica, got new appliances, removed wallpaper throughout the house and put new wallpaper in some rooms and painted other rooms. Twenty-two years later, after many years of neglect, things were looking pretty ratty, especially our deck, which was literally about to collapse. The steps off the deck had broken in several spots, leading to a dangerous situation.
The previous owners had moved the laundry room from the basement, which they’d refinished nicely, to the garage — into a kind of small makeshift room that wasn’t heated or cooled. We decided when we moved in that the laundry room was the first thing that needed fixing. Despite our declaration to fix it immediately, we’ve lived with it for 22 years, despite it being uncomfortably hot in summer or icy cold in winter and in such ramshackle condition.
Our family room is adjacent to the kitchen and is a very narrow rectangular room. Its strong point is that it has four long floor-to-ceiling windows that let in beautiful natural light. We decided we’d like to have the more open plan seen in modern houses, where the kitchen and family room are one big room. However, because of the narrow dimensions and the four nice windows on the opposite wall, there is only one place to put a couch, on the wall between the family room and kitchen. In three-dimensional drawings made by the contractor, I didn’t like seeing the back of the couch from the open kitchen. Since there’s no space behind to put a sofa table, we decided on a knee wall behind the couch. This change requires major structural changes, as the wall we’re partially removing to give a more open feeling is a load-bearing wall and needs a steel beam and major structural changes to make it work.
Our deck was a hazard. Not only was it dilapidated, but it also got the sun full-on in summer, making it virtually unusable. Also, mosquitos are a big problem in Virginia. Thus we opted to demolish the deck and build a screened-in porch, with an open deck behind the garage for outdoor grilling. Our backyard is a very narrow sloping yard, perfectly useless in my opinion. Hopefully this will give us a more inviting outdoor space.
Friday-Sunday, April 8, 9, 10: Before the project began, I attended an intensive 3-day “transformation course”: The Landmark Forum. The reason I signed up for this was because my son had done the Forum in March, as well as the Advanced Course in April, and I was seeing a positive change in his behavior, his confidence and his willingness and ability to communicate. The change in him so far has been dramatic.
At my forum, about 140 people gathered every day, Friday through Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Three thirteen-hour days! All the description in the world can’t equal experiencing the Forum. However, I can say I discovered some realizations about myself that have dictated my life since I was a child and a teenager. Some of the discoveries I made are things I knew at a superficial level before, but after participating in the Forum, listening to other people share, sharing myself, and engaging with the speaker in a kind of Socratic method of dialogue, I felt a deeper understanding of the limiting beliefs I’ve been governed by, “stories” I made up about actual events that happened in my life that have been determining my behavior for my WHOLE LIFE. The speaker guided us to understand how ludicrous it is that our behavior is totally governed by “stories” and fears based on something that happened to us when we were 3 or 5 or 10 or 15 years old! Again, a kind of decluttering, a demolishing of old beliefs and an opening up of possibilities for a transformed existence.
At the end of my forum, I signed up for a series of 10 “Commitment” seminars, weekly or bi-weekly, to keep me on track applying what I learned. I also signed up for the Landmark Advanced Course, which should enable me, now that I’ve been stripped down to “nothing,” to create a life of new possibilities.
You can find allegations online and elsewhere that Landmark is a “cult,” but I don’t believe it to be so; they actually address that allegation by emphasizing that the Forum is about YOUR life. It’s not about a group mentality, but about transforming your relationships and reaching your dreams and goals. I guess you could say that many things in life are cults, including addictions and religious affiliations. I have to say I don’t care for the marketing aspect of Landmark, as they encourage you to bring more people to sign up, but I do see the value in the Forum itself, especially when I can witness the transformation in my son, as well as my own self-realizations.
Monday, April 11: On Monday morning after I completed my forum, our contractor showed up and in one day demolished our deck. All the debris was carried out to the street awaiting delivery of the dumpster.
Thursday, April 14: By Thursday, our laundry room was demolished, materials were delivered, a dumpster was set up for construction debris and a porta-potty was installed on our property. The contractors will be working on our house through the end of June, apparently. At this point, they were waiting for us to move everything out of our kitchen and family room, so they could begin the inside demolition on Monday morning.
Friday, April 15: On Friday, the concrete was delivered for the porch footings. The holes were already dug in preparation for this and the concrete was poured and leveled and left to dry over the weekend.
Saturday & Sunday, April 16&17: We spent all weekend going through every item in our kitchen and dining room. We boxed a lot of stuff which we took to Goodwill. We packed unessential items into boxes and put them in the basement. We set up a makeshift kitchen in the dining room with essentials: refrigerator, coffee pot, wok, rice cooker/food steamer/slow cooker, hot water heater, toaster, toaster oven, plastic dishes and utensils and cabinets of food.
Monday, April 18: Our contractors are here every weekday by 7:30 and they leave promptly at 3:30. They work non-stop while they’re here. So far, I’m impressed by their professionalism and capabilities.
On Monday, the foreman let me do some of the first strikes to begin the kitchen demolition.
Don’t laugh too hard. I know, I look like a wild woman!
I’m surprised by how quickly our construction foreman demolished the entire kitchen and the drywall between the kitchen and family room all by himself. The porch is also being framed simultaneously with the kitchen demolition.
Tuesday, April 19: Now we can see the backbone of this portion of our house. When the drywall was pulled off, the contractor found a number of ant colonies and wood destruction. Two times we’ve had to call our pest control person to treat certain areas under floorboards and on the ceiling.
In addition, we found a lot of water damage in the area where the skylights were. That means the plywood and several joists on the roof need replacing, adding another $800-$1,000 to our already expensive project. 😦 We knew we would find some degree of water damage, but we didn’t know it would be this extensive.
The kitchen is open to the garage now, so we have to be careful of critters getting into the house until the laundry room and wall are rebuilt.
The porch flooring is framed.
Wednesday, April 20: Today, the contractor spent most of his day shoring up the load-bearing wall was so that he could place a steel beam sandwiched between two wood beams.
And the work continues.
So, here I am in the middle of my story, with a demolished house and a stripped down set of “stories,” beliefs, and “rackets”: an unfinished life with possibilities. I’ve given a lot of thought to both the house and my life possibilities over the last couple of months.
As for the house, at this point most of the decisions have been made. We’ve picked almost everything except the cabinet hardware, and the ceiling fan and outdoor lights for the porch and deck. Now we will move forward with our choices, seeing them set in place and watching the evolution. The possibilities presented by creating new spaces in our house are set in motion and all we have to do is sit back and trust the process.
That’s the thing about decisions. Once you make them, other possibilities fall by the wayside. Well. Maybe that’s not true. If we don’t like the choices we’ve made and decide to make changes, it will cost us in some way, more money or more time.
I think that’s one reason I’m so afraid to make decisions about my life. Once I make a decision, all other possibilities are off the table, unless I’m willing to pay the cost of lost time or money. I’m not getting any younger or any richer, so I want to make the right decision. I’m hoping the “Commitment” seminar series, the Landmark Advanced Course, affirmations, my vision board, and being open to the universe will help me to find my way to creating a transformation in my quality of life. 🙂