Good Things

Over the last week or so I’ve been struggling to find the positive in life. News of people being killed, lions being poached, politicians being politicians and my country’s insistence on not addressing any of its problems has worn me down. Today I found out I’m not the only one. A friend on Facebook mentioned he was having a hard time finding positive things to share. He asked others to post something positive and the first few comments were of people searching and failing to find good things.*

I am making an effort here to list the good that has happened recently. This is mostly an exercise for myself. Perhaps it will give someone else a well-needed smile or boost.

  1. Since Enya passed, Trixie hasn’t been eating regularly.  Before she would have to eat everything in her bowl on a schedule because a) Enya insisted on staying on schedule and b) Enya would finish her food and then go after Trixie’s if there was any still in the bowl.  Now that she is an only dog, she seems to have taken to eating only when she feels like it.  I can’t leave her bowl out with food because that is, indeed, how you get ants.  The last couple of days I’ve taken to putting a bit of peanut butter in with her dog food and joint supplement, and that’s just the motivation she needs to eat as soon as the bowl hits the floor and finish everything.
  2. As silly as it sounds, the new IKEA catalog is out and that makes me happy.
  3. While our gardening exploits haven’t been as fully realized as we had planned we have still managed to harvest a modest amount of greens and herbs.
  4. Stephan loves his work and his work loves him.
  5. I went to the library on Sunday and spent almost three hours writing with minimal anxiety.  This Sunday I am going to try it again.
  6. One of my dice bags was featured in a treasury on Etsy.
  7. Speaking of bags, I got my first order of Spoonflower fabric last week and made bags from it.
  8. I am going to the gym again.
  9. This .gif:

WTF Baby Jesus .gif

In the grand scheme of things a catalog or workout or dog isn’t much.  They won’t make the world a better place overnight.  What they will do, is shore up my ability to deal with the anger and sadness and frustration I experience every time I read the news.  They’re what keeps me from flipping the world the bird and hiding in a bottle of Scotch until the rising sea levels drown us all.  It is an element of self-care and it is important.

Tonight I am having a glass of wine and flipping through the catalog.  Tomorrow I will wake up to more atrocities and fights and causes, some of which I will be able to feel like I can do something about.

I hope those of you reading this can find more good to offset the bad.  It’s a rough world out there.  Take care of yourselves and each other.

 


*Eventually his post was overflowing with good things, including a link to this Tumblr.

RIP

When I wrote my love letter to my dog Trixie a while back, I meant to follow up with a post about my other dog, Enya on her birthday.  Well May 11 came and went and I didn’t get around to writing that post.  So here I am, July 15, and I am ready to write about her on the day of her death.

Enya came to us a month or so after my ex and I bought our house in 2002.  Her previous owner was a neighbor in the apartment complex we had lived in.  The owner had lost her job and was moving to another apartment which didn’t allow dogs.  It made sense to take Enya.  She and Trixie already knew each other and got along, and Enya was a sweet, beautiful dog. Over the years she was at turns funny, dumb, annoying and sweet.  Throughout it all she was a loving girl who didn’t know she wasn’t a lap dog.  When my ex and I separated, but were still living together, I moved into my office, sleeping on the futon there.  Enya was the one who made herself at home in the evenings, followed by Trixie, so that I didn’t sleep alone during that time.

Enya’s death didn’t come as a surprise.  Over the last couple of years she’s gone deaf and partially blind.  She had a stroke last year.  In the past couple of months she had been having accidents around the house.  But through it all she was her usual self: always wanting attention, always on the lookout for food dropped on the floor, always keeping watch for untold dangers (such as neighbors mowing the lawn, kids walking to school, etc.).  Last night she ate her dinner without incident.  Later in the evening she stood up, legs wobbling, unable to get her bearings.  I got her outside where she collapsed on the grass.  I recognized the symptoms from her stroke.  Stephan and I got her back inside and comfortable on a blanket.  We sat with her, checking on her, giving her love and attention.  At one o’clock in the morning she was gone.

Our friend, Chrissy, came over today to watch the kids while we buried Enya in the back yard.  I’ve never dug a grave before.  Really, it’s not different from any other kind of digging.  We could have been prepping to plant a tree or digging a well, or any number of other chores.  There was no pretending this was anything other than what it was, though.  And I was glad for the physical work of it.  As we dug through clay and rocks and roots I had time to process what I was doing.  All morning long I had engaged in evasive chores: folding laundry, cleaning the backyard, tidying the house.  As long as I didn’t have to think about my dog she wasn’t really gone.

Stephan placed her body in the hole and I sprinkled a handful of dog food and a splash of water down on her.  “I don’t know where you’re going now, but in case you get hungry here’s some food and water.”  I cried … again.

Sitting with her last night, digging her grave today, I realize just what losing Enya means.  My Jerk Brain has made an art of calling into question others’ feelings for me.  It works constantly to convince me that people put up with me out of pity or because they want something from me.  It has told me time and again that people are blind to how shitty I really am.  “If they knew the real you, they’d abandon you like you deserve,” is the constant refrain.

But Enya was a dog.  Dogs just love you, no strings attached.  Why does Enya love me?  Because she’s a dog.  That’s what she does.  My jerk of a brain couldn’t tell me that her love was conditional or that she’d run if she knew what a bad person I am.  My relationship with Enya was Jerk Brain proof.

This hurts, despite knowing it was coming.  I feel ragged and raw.  I have spent a lot of today cuddling with Trixie, knowing that one day, too, she’ll be gone.  I won’t be ready then, either.

RIP Enya: my butt licking, rabbit poop eating, lap sitting, tail thumping, compost munching, old lady dog. (May 11, 1999 – July 15, 2015)

 

Putting a Face to the Jerk Brain

As long as I can remember, Jerk Brain has been with me.  My earliest memory of it was in kindergarten where it pointed out how my coloring wasn’t as good as the other kids around me.  This voice, coming as it did from inside at all hours of the day and night, I just took as being part of me.  If I ever thought about it, I figured it was my very own demon Jiminy Cricket.  A critical voice telling me like it is; keeping me honest and on task by reminding e that I had to always be on guard against my natural inclination to be lazy and a waste.

It hasn’t been until the last year or so that I have become able to treat the Jerk Brain as an entity separate from my person.  Therapy helped with that when one therapist asked me to give it a name.  My first instinct was go with “Adversary” or “Nemesis”.  But I rejected those ideas as granting that critical, inner voice too much stature.  I settled on Jerk Brain as the most honest label.

Giving it a name helped, but only so much.  The voice is still there, quick to criticize and blame.  I’ve come across other suggestions on how to diminish or weaken Jerk Brain’s prominence in my thought processes.  There are techniques of changing the tone of Jerk Brain’s voice, making it sound like Mickey Mouse, or turning down the volume like on a stereo.  Another suggestion was to minimize it like an annoying pop-up window.

None of those solutions worked for me.  Having lived all those years with it, I have a hard time dismissing it.  When I have tried, it fights back, accusing me of ignoring it not because it doesn’t have my best interests at heart, but because I just don’t like what I am hearing.   I engage with that line of thought, get dragged into a debate on why I should be able to ignore Jerk Brain.  It is exhausting to find my mind a hostile place where i have to constantly justify my existence.

Which brings me to the realization I had a few weeks ago.  I needed a way to undermine Jerk Brain, to cut it off at the knees before I got treated to yet another chorus of “You’re not really depressed, you’re just lazy and here’s the proof.”   And I thought to myself: if my Jerk Brain was a person I was actually living with, I would have moved out long ago.  On the heels of that thought came the image of someone in my life who has been thoroughly unpleasant to me the entire time I have known them. This is a person who has said truly hateful things to my face and when called out on their unkindness responded with “But it’s true!”

In other words, this person is the Jerk Brain personified.  More importantly, though, I know nothing they have said to me is true. I have no problem ignoring their words because I know they are calculated to hurt me.    It was that realization that has changed how I interact with Jerk Brain.

For the past couple of weeks I have been able to tell Jerk Brain, “I didn’t ask for your opinion.”  And because I can say it with confidence, it works.  Jerk Brain, in the guise of this person, shuts up.  It has been one of the most satisfactory feelings I have had in a good long while.  I can picture Jerk Brain’s sour, puckered mouth, the hunched shoulders and crossed arms, just as I would see in the real life person who has been so nasty to me.  I don’t even feel the twinge of guilt that would otherwise follow the satisfaction of telling someone off.

I don’t know if this is a permanent solution.  Jerk Brain is a tricky creature, capable of evolving it’s tactics in response to my defenses.  For now, I’ll take whatever respite I can get from my jerk of a brain.

Making it Work: Adjustments

It’s once again time to play “Just how poor are we?”  Since satisfaction, happiness, health and stress levels aren’t easily reduced to numbers, I’ll break down how much money we’re actually making off of this attempt to live by our creative efforts.  Our net earnings in February are below:

Etsy Sales $33.12
E-book Royalties $2.00
Commissions $98.00
eBay $100.00
Total $233.12

Royalties & Etsy are self-explanatory.

Commissions were all Stephan in February.  He started making chainmail in earnest last month and had several people request customized pieces.

I added eBay just because it’s income.  We had a book that we got for free and that neither of us wanted.  Rather than let it gather dust, we sold it.  I’d rather have books go to people who want them and will read/use them, than sitting unread on a bookshelf.*

It’s clear, after the disaster that was Fan Fest, that we need to make some tweaks to our plan.  We do believe that we can make the convention plan work.  But we need to actually make it to the conventions, which requires an influx of money.  To that end Stephan has taken a part-time job.

I was worried that taking a job would invalidate all our plans and hard work.  It’s not even three months into the grand scheme and we’re already failing our goals.  I’m afraid that we’ll give up on the idea of living off of our creative efforts before we even got a chance.

Stephan, as is his way, is more optimistic.  The job is only part-time, with a manageable commute.  This means he won’t be out of the house ten plus hours a day.  He’ll still be here for the kids (his hours are 10-4).  He’ll still have time for chainmail.  He’ll still be able to go to conventions.

So, this is just a course correction.  Our end destination—living on our own, in our own way—remains the same, our route has just taken a diversion.

Image: Success by Demetri Martin.


*This reminds me that I need to update my Bookmooch account.  I have several books I picked up at library sales specifically to trade and I know the list has fallen to disuse.

VikingDad Pro-Tip #6 (Popcorn Trick)

OK, so if you have an infant/toddler who can eat popcorn but isn’t old enough to know not to eat the kernels, this is a bit more important, however, this trick is handy for those who don’t like to deal with the kernels at the bottom of the bowl when you make microwave popcorn.

Here’s the trick I learned.  Pop the bag as normal, but when you pull it out, don’t tear it open right away… open the bag just a little bit.  This may be a bit tricky since the bag is hot and may already be partially opened. See the picture below:

Open the bag just a bit, enough for the kernels to get out, but not the popped corn.
Open the bag just a bit, enough for the kernels to get out, but not the popped corn.

This bag was already partially opened, but like the instructions on the side of the bag say (who reads those anyway, right?), gently tug on opposing corners if it’s not open at all.  You want to make sure it’s big enough to let out kernels but not too big to let all the popcorn fall out.  You then shake it over a bowl like in the picture below:

Shake the bag over the bowl, occasionally tilting to get the ones that gather in the corners.
Shake the bag over the bowl, occasionally tilting to get the ones that gather in the corners.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  Do NOT shake the bag of popcorn directly over your garbage can.  While this may seem like a good idea to skip a seemingly pointless step, trust me, it’s not pointless.  What happens if you DO shake the bag of steaming hot popcorn and those steaming hot kernels go into your garbage is that they end up melting a bunch of little holes in your garbage bag (thus severely weakening the structural integrity of the flimsy plastic garbage bag) that makes garbage day at your house a bit more interesting when you try to pull it out (and it inevitably falls apart in mid air).  I speak from experience here.

So, shake the bag vigorously over the bowl tilting once in a while to either side to get the kernels that fall in those corners.  Once the kernels stop flowing while you shake (and have tilted) then you should be nearly kernel free and are able to enjoy a bowl of hot popcorn without worry that you’ll break a tooth when you’re watching your favorite movie and not really paying attention to what you’re putting in your mouth.

Enjoy!

Operation Overflow

There’s a mermaid who swims laps in the local rec center. I see her some mornings when Stephan and I sit in the hot tub. I’ve never felt the need to engage her in conversation, to ask her name, or compliment the green of her tail. I just appreciate her presence, the little boost of magic it gives to the rest of the day.

I feel the same way about our morning visits to the rec center’s gym. Or, more precisely, I feel that way after our visits.  Getting there is a struggle: the cold, the morning, the constant reminder of things to be done, they all work against me making the trip.  Stephan goes most days, taking Ben along so he can take advantage of the free childcare on site.  When I do make it, though, I am always happy that I did.

We have a week to go until Wizard World’s Fan Fest.  It’s our proof of concept convention: where we will peddle our wares to a larger audience than before.  We’re excited and nervous and scrambling to take care of the final details.  In all the hustle and the bustle it would be easy to loose sight of why we are doing this.  I’ve been there before, so wrapped up in getting to the convention that self-doubt gains a foothold when I’m not looking.  The next thing I know I’m heading to the event convinced I’m going to fail.  It’s a mindset that not only undermines my ability to sell, but it makes me miserable the entire time.

To combat those negative thoughts and feelings I’ve adopted a new strategy: Operation Overflow.  The idea is it fill our lives with so much joy and positivity there’s no room for negativity to flourish.  I have made an effort to concentrate on what is going right in our lives, to keep the house lit with candles and clean and good smelling, to feed us food that is good and warm.

It takes a concentrated effort to remain positive, while also working to get ready.  It’s an effort that has paid off so far.   The atmosphere in our home has been relaxed and happy.  We’re looking forward to the event, rather than dreading the looming deadline.  Even facing uncertainty as to whether this plan will work or not, our confidence has grown.

Over the next couple of days, should I lose that positive state of mind, I’ll head over to the rec center and watch the mermaid swim.

Making it Work: Being a Pain in the Butt

We don’t have to be heroes to be stubborn. We can just be pains in the butt.—Steven Pressfield, Do the Work

In therapy last week the topic of self-esteem came up.  My therapist asked me to make a list of twenty positive qualities about me.  I got three down before I gave up.  Most of that has to do with my abysmal self-regard, but I also felt put on the spot.  When I showed her my list she zeroed in on the first word: Stubborn.

Surely I meant “perseverance”?

No. Stubbornness.

We spent the rest of the session talking about why I thought of stubbornness as a positive thing.  She couldn’t quite wrap her head around the idea, and my arguments didn’t sway her.  I understand, though.  She is right that to be stubborn is often seen as a negative trait: to continue on against the advice of others out of misplaced pride.  And her suggestion of perseverance makes sense … just not for me.

I’ve always felt that perseverance was a word for those on the outside and after the fact.  We say someone persevered, not that they are persevering.  it is a word to describe the struggle after it is over, not while it is ongoing.  And when you are slogging through the shit on a daily basis, when you are struggling to keep your head up, when your goal has been obscured by all the obstacles, perseverance is a euphemism, wholly unsuited for the situation.

I’ve spent most of my life stubborn, in ways great and small.  Sometimes it has bit me in the ass: I stayed in my previous marriage well past the “Use By” date, for example.  But more often than not it has been armor against those who told me what I was doing was stupid/rash/foolish.  The ability to say, “Oh yeah?  Just watch me,” when told I couldn’t do a thing has propelled me through several tough times in the past.

Is it easy?  Hell no.  Every day that negative self-esteem eats away at what little self-confidence I have.  I am assailed by doubts all the time.  “Am I really doing this?  Is this the right path?  Do I actually know what I am doing?”  Mere perseverance  would tear like tissue paper under the weight of my insecurity.  Only pure stubbornness has provided me with the strength to carry on.

At the end of the session, my therapist remained unconvinced.  She didn’t dwell on it, though.  Instead she gave me homework: to come up with seventeen more qualities.  My Jerk brain has been whispering to me that I won’t be able to finish the list because I don’t have any other qualities to write down.

“Oh yeah?” I tell Jerk Brain.  “Just watch me.”

Border Patrol

Last night I went to the local Changeling LARP*.  It had been a high anxiety day, and I almost stayed home.  Even the first half hour I was there I contemplated bolting to the car.  But it was cold out there, and I had gone through the effort to put on a corset, and my hair was looking particularly cute.  By the end of the evening I was glad I had gone.  I had a good time.  I ate cupcakes and meatballs.  And I got lots of good role play in.  Being able to be someone other than myself for a few hours has always been helpful in ways that I can expound upon later. Today, though, I’m spending time reflecting on two incidents that happened at game that highlight one of the issues I’ve been dealing with lately.

My social anxiety fluctuates.  Sometimes it is high, and I have a hard time leaving the house, or even letting people I don’t know into it.  Sometimes it has eased up enough that I can run errands and attend events with little stress.  But there is another aspect to it that involves touching.  I am physically demonstrative in ways: I talk with my hands, I am affectionate with Stephan out in public, I love to cuddle with my kids.  But I find touch with anyone outside of a small circle of people to be uncomfortable.

This goes beyond sexually motivated touching.  The pat on the ass, or the shoulder massage that creepers use as an excuse to touch targets.  Those bad touches are universally uncomfortable for the recipient.  I mean the personal space invasions that are part of our culture, most specifically hugging.  With the group of gamers we played with last night this is a regular form of physical contact.  And none of the huggers first ask permission before they swoop in, arms wide, for some physically enhanced social contact.   And thanks to social conditioning, people go along with it because it would be rude to not.**

The first half an hour of game, I was approached for a hug from a regular.  Previously I have acquiesced to his embrace, but I couldn’t this time.  The game room was small and crowded and I knew I would have issues if I didn’t firmly establish my boundaries.  As he came at me, I spoke up.  “I’m not really a hugging person,” I told him.  He seemed to understand and offered a high-five instead, which I found reasonable.  Of course later my words came back to bite me in the rear.

Later, as I was leaving game, I gave my friend Chrissy a hug.  Reasonable Regular saw this and I found myself having to explain to him that there are exceptions to my no-hugging.  An awkward situation was made worse when he took it to the place of “Oh, I get it, you just don’t like me.”  Even though he was joking, I found it infuriating that 1) I felt I had to explain myself, and 2) he seemed unable to accept that there are distinctions and levels when it comes to social interactions.  If I say I’m not a hugging person surely that might not apply, say, to my husband or children.  So why is it unreasonable that I might have different levels of touch when it comes to others?

Later, I had to deal with another regular.  While sitting in a circle during mass combat, he tried to cut in front of me.  When informed that, actually, it was my turn, he patted me on the shoulder and said, “Okay, you can take your turn.”  Around the circle of gamers I heard snickers and laughter.  Oh how funny!  How cute!

The shoulder pat is the snot-nosed, sagging-diaper baby brother of the head pat.  Insecure men—and it is always men—use it to get their patronizing misogynism on but still maintain plausible deniability.  Having been on the receiving end of such I knew exactly what had just happened.  As did the regular.  As did all the others in the room.

My feet firmly planted on the ground of “You Fucking Did Not,” I looked down at my shoulder, swiveled my eyes to his face and stared at him for a long, uncomfortable second.  Then I turned my back to him and addressed the storyteller.   Suddenly it wasn’t cute anymore.  The circle of others acted like our personal live audience and provided a collective “Oooooohhhhh!”  Once I had finished my conversation with the storyteller I turned once again to my would be belittler.  “Okay, you can have your turn now.”  I patted his shoulder and turned away from him again.

Like my social anxiety, my ability to maintain my boundaries is ever changing.  Tomorrow I may find myself unable to speak up.  I might feel obligated to accept another hug.  I might find my borders crumbling again under enforced niceness.  However, there are at least two gamers who now know where they stand with me.


*LARP = Live Action Role Play. Where you dress up as your character, only to end the evening standing around in a crowd to resolve mass combat.

**Oddly enough, in game, if a character refuses to shake hands, no one bats an eye and accepts it, no questions asked.  Of course game has rules about touching.  Go figure.

Viking Dad: Snippets of Ragnarok #1 – Wrecking Ball

There are few moments in parenthood where we actually have joyful control of a situation involving our kids. Such as at six A.M. when the children aren’t awake yet and you’ve already got breakfast on the table.  There’s nothing quite like the joy you feel when you burst through their bedroom door, and bellow out “I came in like a wrecking ball” from that song by Miley Cyrus.

Yeah, it’s moments like these I cherish.

Puppy Love

This is the look of a dog who has come home!
This is the look of a dog who has come home!

In October 2001, my ex-husband and I brought home Trixie.  She came to us from the West Suburban Humane Society.  A lab terrier mix, the Society put her age at five months when she was found roaming stray.  She’d been in their care for three months, due I am sure to the fact that she had an atrophied front paw that left her limping.  What she may have lacked in four good feet she made up with character.

This dog has been with me for nearly fifteen years.  In fact her birthday is today.  I can’t imagine my life without her.  She has kept me company, made me laugh, comforted me when I was sad, herded me to bed when she thought I was staying up too late.  When we would take her to the dog park, she would find the biggest, baddest dog there and play fight them until she was either defeated or victorious.

Trixie and Enya
Trixie took to having a sister pretty easily.

When we brought Enya, another kind of rescue dog*, she welcomed the big goof to the family.  When Charlotte was born, she kept a cautious, but curious distanced, never knowing what to make of the squalling, squirming thing we had brought home.

During my separation and divorce, Trixie stuck by me.  She slept with me on the futon in my office.  There was never a doubt that she would stay with me.   And when Stephan and I started getting serious, I made sure that he understood the dogs came with the package.

The years show with Trixie now.  She has a hard time getting around much of the time.  White has taken over much of her muzzle and chest, and her fur is patchy and red-rimed in places.  But she eats and cuddles and loves her family just as much as she always has.  She keeps my feet warm at night.  She nudges me when she wants attention and won’t take no for an answer.  She follows us around the house, from room to room, despite the obvious discomfort it causes her at times, just to be near us.  She is my dog.  There are no others like her.  And she is mine.

 


*Her previous owner was a neighbor of ours who couldn’t keep her any longer.