Yes, I’m Still Here

Well, it’s been a weird and interesting few months! Following the news of my husband’s cancer, I went in for a rapid diagnostic breast exam and came out with a sore breast after a biopsy. Turns out the Doc suspects cancer and I’ll find out on June 7th. If it wasn’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all! As the saying goes.

I’m still working on disengaging emotionally from what may have been my codependent tendency to latch onto people and make them conform to my idea of said relationship. For example, my marriage.  I probably invested WAY too much baggage into this marriage thing and now I’ve reversed myself enough, taken a step back to re-evaluate, and come at it from a different direction so that I can see more clearly the person I married and what I do and do not have control over. Articles like this help me:

Dysfunction can occur if you misjudge the type of relationship that is required. Many people, especially those new in relationships, jump too quickly to the communal style. When they are wrapped up in the fantasy of new love they assume that they will be spending the rest of their lives together. They then give way too much of themselves, again, this can quickly lead to codependency.

That about sums it up for me. Assuming all along that I was the one with the level head, it turns out I can have issues of my own to sort out, perhaps laying an unfair burden on the other person! The stress of it all isn’t going to help me either, especially now.

Unlike my mother and sister who had and have made a fetish out of dieting and the foods they eat, I am not going to go down that route; thinking cancer is a result of diet choices. Cancer is such a complicated mix of environmental factors, our DNA, our ancestral history, and other things we can’t possibly understand, that believing you can control such a thing has to be classed with other mental disorders such as dysphoria. We humans do love to be in control don’t we?  Sure is devastating when we realize we aren’t.

My mother put herself in an early grave because she believed God was going to cure her without medical intervention. Uh, hello! How about IF there is a god, said god would use the things at hand such as doctors and medicine!! Why is it that God has to bear burden of ‘curing’ without anything else whatsoever. Does everything have to be a miracle? Is there something wrong with using the tools at had to fix things? Why? Anyway, I’m done with magical thinking.

I’ll let you know what the diagnosis is, but I suspect it ain’t good.

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Forming Ethics in a Dysfunctional Family

1950kinkI grew up in an extremely dysfunctional family. If you’ve read my previous entries I’ve detailed the problems I’ve had dealing with a father who abandoned me and a step-father who abused me, my sister, and my mother. We carry the psychic scars to this day and my mother carried them to her grave. Long after the death of my step-father, his abuse left the three of us unable to relate to each other in a reasonable and loving way. Is it any wonder that I have issues with my husband?

Needless to say, there was a nod to church and religion, but no examples of Christian behavior whatsoever. So, I did not form my ethical view from Christianity. Growing up, I formed my ethical view from my own experiences with people. I learned that trust is not automatically given but earned. I learned that forcing forgiveness is more damaging than healing. I learned that most people will use you for their own ends rather than treat you with respect and dignity.  I don’t recall thinking anything at all about marriage. Despite my mother’s horrible experiences with marriage, I did not believe that the institution itself was bad. Surprisingly, I always thought I’d get married.

Perhaps, because in a small Midwestern town, there is nothing offered but marriage and children, I automatically thought that it was my lot in life. Guidance counselors at school wrote off those who did not perform well and did not even offer to tell them of opportunities they MIGHT have if they concentrated on school work rather than partying every night of the week like I did. My acting out was a given. I drank alcohol like there was no tomorrow and I had one-night stands and no clue how to achieve a normal relationship with someone. My experience taught me that men demanded sex to cement a relationship regardless of what I wanted.  When I see women today who are so present in themselves and assured, I mourn for the clueless teenager that I was.

Ethically, I have never felt that non-monogamous relationships could work. Perhaps because in my world, there were NO examples of any. Theoretically I agree that people are not monogamous by nature. There is enough evidence in the world to show that marriage cannot contain the wandering eyes of men or women. I can count on one hand the couples I know who have not been divorced at least once. Marriage is a civil legal arrangement only. Now I can see this. Back then however, I had all of the romantic notions of any teenager.  I expected way too much.

So, as an adult I’ve tried to think in non-monogamous terms, but I also think I’ve narrowed my world too much. Forget monogamy and non-monogamy. I’m thinking in non-marital terms right now. Why be married at all? Perhaps marriage was never for me because my expectations would never be met or because I’m better off with my own company. I also feel that I’ve never allowed myself to grow as a person in my own right. I’ve always been in some kind of relationship. I do not know myself as a single person. I would love to find out.

What Used to Be

Budapest Opera HouseI used to be a woman of faith. After a spiritual experience in 1983, I began going to church and the rest  I’ve written about extensively on this blog. Since then I’ve given up my religiosity and my beliefs in certain dogma.  I no longer go to church per se, although I’ve been going to the Quaker meeting house with my husband for a few years now.

I still cling to some notions about Christianity, but the one thing I don’t believe in any longer is prayer.  By prayer I mean an action the believer takes to attempt to move the Maker into changing the Laws of Nature or the minds of other people to affect an outcome.  Now, I believe in meditation and silence and prayer in the sense that it helps the person praying, but I don’t believe that some Divine Being is listening to our prayers and deciding to rearrange the universe to answer them.

What made me realize this is that in times past, my first inclination when faced with bad news is to pray for the a positive outcome that happened to suit me at all times. Now, faced with my husband’s cancer diagnosis, I realize that no amount of praying will change the news of how large or small this tumor is. It just is. It’s been there unknowingly and will continue to be there no matter what I believe in my mind about it. No amount of prayer will affect that. No one will hear this prayer but me.  I don’t mean to say that prayer is not good, but I believe it’s only good for the one doing the praying. It acts as a meditative tool to calm one’s nerve, bolster one’s resolve, and to give someone the much-needed cool-down time before doing or saying something rash.

The reasons I came to this conclusion is by observing the world around me.  Despite a prayer force of billions of people in the world, we still have death, famine, abuse, rape, murder, cancer, wars, and all the evils that man can devise. Despite faith in a Divine Being we still have those idiots who believe that God wants the deaths of everyone who doesn’t believe the way they do. Despite billions of the faithful praying daily we see no discernible difference in the outcomes of cancer deaths or salvation from it by miraculous means. No, I have faith in medicine and science to find the cures for most ills before I have faith in prayer.

Now I know all the arguments for and against such things, but this has come from years of experience and it hasn’t come lightly. I’ve struggled mightily to keep an innocent faith in God, Jesus, and prayer, but at some point I had to face the cruel facts of reality. So, as I face the cruel facts of an uncertain future with a cancer diagnosis, I will face it with prayer like I always do, but I have no expectation that the cancer will disappear. I don’t believe it’s some kind of test or sent by God to make me more faithful. How awful to believe such things! I am of the idea that we will do everything available to us to stop it or at least slow it down. I have every expectation that prayer will make me calmer and able to face it. I suppose that makes me the double-minded man in the book of James, doesn’t it? Ah well, better that than be in denial about the cruelties of nature.

Is That All I Do?

desk_job_1201245Some people must think all I do is complain about my marriage. No, I do other things, but the state of my marriage is what occupies my thoughts most of the time. I have a lot of time to think. I come to this blog, as I have always done, to get things off my chest, to write reviews about books and movies I’ve seen, and to comment on news items of interest.

I started this blog ages ago to give myself a writing outlet when I finished, or was about to finish, studies at university. You see I am one of those odd ducks that loved to write the research paper, bringing all sorts of disparate bits of information together into a cohesive whole. Unless you keep at it though, you tend to get rusty. I’ve fallen into lazy thinking habits and I rarely write anything except in my journal.

My day now is pretty easy-going. Rather than a 9 to 5 job, I can get up when I wish and come to my desk and do whatever my husband needs done to prepare for his gigs, his radio show, or errands about town. Since he can’t drive, I am the designated driver for most everything unless he goes by train or taxi somewhere without me. I am not wedded to my desk and being so was the absolute worst part of a desk job. That 3 p.m. lag after lunch and before getting off work was sheer torture. It was all I could do to stay awake if our office happened to have nothing going on that day. And let’s not mention getting up early to drive 35 minutes one way to get there. I definitely do NOT miss a job like that.

When I first came to this country I tried to find work outside the support work role that I found myself in, but even with a degree, I did not get any second interviews. I barely got an acknowledgement of application. I must have filled out 30 or 40 applications in the first few months, but heard back from none of them. I wanted a job; any job. I was willing to work for peanuts, but employers just did not care. There were meticulous rules about even filling out the correct application forms. Everything was regimented down to how you could answer an application question. After being here some years I have come to realize that there are so many employment shysters out there and so many rules and regulations regarding EVERYTHING job-related that I wasn’t so sure I wanted a job outside the house.  No wonder there is benefit fraud. It’s MUCH easier to stay at home than to jump through those regulatory hoops for a minimum wage.

In the States, getting a job is pretty straightforward. You either work full or part-time.  The applications are easy to fill out. You either get benefits or not. You will get a letter of denial or be called in for an interview usually within a week or so of applying. Everything is stated up front. Once you’ve gotten the job you pretty much have it unless you royally screw up and get fired. Not here. Here, you could get stuck in a 0 hours contract with no assurance you would have a job in 6 months, even if you did an absolutely fantastic job and didn’t screw up once. They use your talents and discard you.  Not only that, paying train fare can leave you penniless unless you find a job that is close by. Commuting into London could cost you upwards of £6,000 a year, not to mention parking 5 days a week for 8 hours or more a day! You’d better have a damn good job then!

No, in many ways, despite my unhappiness with my relationship, I have a pretty good job right here. When I’m not being his eyes or organizer, I can go read or watch television or play the many video games that I’m hooked on at the moment. I can be interrupted at any time when he needs something, but it’s a small price to pay for the freedom it provides. I can set my own hours and take time off whenever I wish. We can go see friends for a couple of days between gigs and not have to arrange it with anyone.

The downside of all this is that we are together 24 hours a day. All of these factors come into play when it comes to relationship matters, so I know it’s complicated. So, if I complain, I’m letting off steam. It’s not like I don’t have a legitimate gripe after all. I just wish I knew what the answer was. Perhaps there is no answer.

That Jealousy Thing

Anonymous Mormon girls

Image via Wikipedia

I am absolutely fascinated by that TLC Channel television program Sister Wives. Although religion is hardly EVER touched on in this program, we know that the particular sect they belong to is a fundamentalist LDS sect that still practices polygamy openly in their Utah town. And really, it’s not polygamy because they don’t legally marry their extra wives. They are only legally married to the first one and then have “spiritual” marriages after that. We will also never see the ceremony because Latter Day Saints are notoriously secretive with their ceremonies.

Last night was the season finale with the fourth wedding for Kody Brown and while it may be a flash in the pan or a tiny glimpse of what goes on in polygamous marriages, the entire season was worth watching. I watched all of them with mixed emotions. At first you are curious. Then you find yourself really sympathizing with the wives. I must say there were some very touching moments, like the birth of third wife, Christine, and Kody’s baby girl and a very poignant scene where Meri, Kody’s first wife, is helping him get dressed for his fourth “wedding.” There’s a moment where it’s just the two of them looking at each other and smiling and you can feel the love and/or sexual tension in the air and then you have to snap out of it and go, “wait, what?” she’s helping her husband marry again!! In a very odd sort of way, it works for them. They share duties with the children and they share the husband. What they cannot seem to get away from is the jealousy and that’s only natural. How can you not be jealous that the man you love is sleeping next door with another woman, even if it is another “wife?”  What’s even worse is that they DO consider it marriage so that you cannot even protest it. Meri and Kody go out for their 20th anniversary and Meri confesses her struggle with jealousy to him. She asks him, “What would you think if I wanted to have another husband?” and he answered, “I think that would be vulgar!”

And that right there is the message of polygamous marriages where the husband is king and the woman is an object used to satisfy her husband’s needs, wants, and fulfill his dreams of fatherhood; populating the earth and the next realm to come with little Browns. He can sleep with whomever he wishes after a “spiritual” marriage, but if she does, it’s “vulgar.” Yet these women all appear very happy with Cody and I guess kudos for him for keeping them all satisfied…. ahem! Or maybe in their innocence or ignorance they don’t know what that means. Who knows?  However, they are not really breaking any laws. Their children seem well-adjusted and happy. And the wives? I wonder how many wives will be “allowed” into the family fold before it’s all over?

“The True Meaning of Pictures”

Today I watched The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Addams’ Appalachia, a documentary about the Appalachian people of Kentucky. I found this documentary strangely compelling. I felt a huge kinship with these people, living poorly by our standards, leading simple lives, and making music to amuse themselves. I think I feel such a kinship because my grandfather’s people come from the hills of Tennessee. Grandpa Brown was a man of few words with a wry sense of humor, and who could fish like nobody’s business. He made his own fishing lures and then stuffed the large fishes he caught. One that he stuffed was displayed on the wall in the house where I grew up. My grandfather played the fiddle and my Grandma played the piano. I remember listening to them both playing hymns together and my aunts and uncles sitting around clapping, singing, or dancing.

My grandmother’s people came from a long line of God-fearing preachers of the independent Baptist variety here in Illinois. Many a night we listened to Grandma talk about the farm she grew up on and the chores she had to do. The tale she tells is of seeing my Grandpa for the first time coming over the hill toward their farm looking for work. He had walked and hitched rides to Illinois from Tennessee. He was 19 and she was 17. They were married a year later. My favorite picture of my grandfather is one where he is sitting on the floor of a porch attached to a cabin in the middle of a forest. I believe it’s the actual cabin where he grew up with his mother and father and sisters and brothers. His knees are drawn up and his arms are resting on his bent knees. He’s wearing a hat and staring off into the distance. The lines of outdoor work are heavily etched into his brown, leathery face. I have a great respect for those who can capture true emotions and lives on film and Addams can do that. When Addams interviews people outside of this culture, there are those who express suspicion, stereotypical attitudes, and fear of the subject. It points out to me how much people fear things outside of their own sense of place and familiarity and the patronizing attitudes that comes from such an attitude. And that works for rich and poor alike. I have a huge respect for documentarian filmmakers who can share the experiences they have lived with us. There are those who wish that the stories could have accompanied the pictures and perhaps we would lose some of the stereotypes if we knew those stories.

I think the reason this film resonated so much with me, by listening to their speech patterns and observing their faith, I can so see myself and my family members in them. There are some that want to politicize the subjects. Oh what education could do, they ponder. It becomes like a media zoo when someone goes into the woods or the midwest or into small towns like a modern-day Margaret Mead and “observe the natives.” Oh what shall we do about poor white folk? Look at those strange beliefs! Oh my God they still slaughter their own animals! We should feel sorry for them! Is it exploitative? When you photograph them, put them on display, and walk through such galleries and thank the powers you no longer believe in that you aren’t that poor, it’s easy to make fun of things you don’t know anything about. It’s easy to romanticize poor lives or imagine that they inbreed or other unnatural things. It’s easy to imagine you have just what they need to “fix” them.

And what shall we say about religion in Appalachia? Addams’ explores the serpent handlers of this area, whose practices are based in the last chapter of Mark. They believe in the signs of the Kingdom of God literally; speaking in tongues, handling serpents, and drinking poison. The folk in this area handles rattlesnakes even though it’s illegal in a public area. Churches are considered public areas, so they have services in their homes. They also drink strychnine. Addams captures the stories behind such beliefs and thankfully provides just the stories others are asking of them. I’m glad he did that, because I can’t say I wouldn’t be one of those who made a snap judgment if I just observed them in a book. When you think of all the popular cultural stereotypes, especially in the movies, about people who live in ‘hollers’ and those in the woods, I can only say I’m glad these folks are unaware that we use their family lives as fun fodder for our movie going habits.

All I could say after watching this and reacting with such a gut reaction is, these people could be my people. Oh, no doubt, these are very, very hard lives. They are dirt poor. They live in shacks, and they are often dirty, missing teeth, or sick with some disease. My family would be considered several rungs up the social ladder from such a life, so I count myself among those that stereotype easily. But as I get older, I have learned to empathize with so much that is different from my world. And I thank those people who have shown me love and encouraged me to do just that. I’m glad I watched this film. I encourage you to do so as well.

Of Mad Men and Conspiracy Theories

I watch entirely too much television. How do I know this? Because I can’t seem to read enough books that I want to that’s how I know. I have stacks and stacks of books in my place and haven’t read half of them. So, some television shows have to go to make more reading time. It is indeed a hypnotic box that keeps us transfixed in front of it for no good reason. However, that said, I cannot give up good quality TV no matter what beckons me and there are only 24 hours in a day and 7 of those I spend sleeping and 8 working. So what am I watching and what have I given up? Let’s list those I’ve given up first:

Survivor: I’ve watched this show since it started. This is what… the 17th season? Unreal. I mean, how different can each season be? You watch ruthless people win through lying and manipulation and you watch the others lose because they weren’t willing to compromise their principles or friendships for $1,000,000. It’s the same thing over and over. What the losers don’t seem to realize is that it’s just a game and if you don’t play by the rules of the game, you’ll lose. You’d think someone would be learning this by now. The last straw was watching this season’s premier. Every season they seem to want to find the most unlikeable characters they can so people will watch who they LOVE to hate. I was sitting there listening to the latest blowhard talk about how smart he was and how dumb all the women were and how easily manipulated and I said, enough is enough. Here’s one woman who’s not falling for that again. End of story. I haven’t watched it since.

Lost: Like The X-Files, I thought I would watch this to the end; because I like Science Fiction and because I like mysteries. However, the mistake I made in watching the X-Files to the end was assuming that Chris Carter would give us some answers. Instead, I don’t think he knew any of the answers and just strung us along and made things up as he went along. However it was vastly entertaining and each episode pretty much stood on it’s own. Lost however grew tiresome very quickly. After watching two seasons, I wasn’t willing to take this trip any longer. I am convinced J.J. Abrams has no idea where this show is going or where it went in the last couple of seasons. He did an EXCELLENT job on the last Star Trek movie!! However, Lost is no longer on my list of “must see TV.”

The Mentalist: (Tuesday nights at 9 p.m.) I gave this show a whole season because I like the lead character played by Simon Barker. He’s amusing. But I can’t seem to work up any liking for Robin Tunney’s character. The plots aren’t compelling enough; not that they have to feature murders and gore. Mad Men supplies none of that and delivers the goods week after week. It’s just not substantive enough for me.

Shows that I continue to watch:

The Amazing Race: (Sunday nights at 7 p.m.) This is a fun show that uses my favorite game format: a scavenger hunt. The values promoted are worthy; play dirty and it usually comes back to bite you in the end. Take your time and read the clues and you’ll be fine. Rush too quickly and sloppily and something’s going to go awry. Plus you get to learn a little bit of history and see some cities along the way. Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego for grown-ups.

Ghost Hunters: (Wednesday nights at 8 p.m.) Do I know it’s probably fake? Sure. But just the fact that there are no psychics on these hunts, that they have “scientific” equipment and that they are trying to debunk evidence and do many times, is enough to keep me watching. Oh and Jason and Grant and Steve are just the type of guys I’d love to hang out with especially while visiting spooky places. What more fun is there?

Supernatural: (Thursday nights at 8 p.m.) Well there are only two reasons why I watch this show at my age: Jenson Ackles and Jared Padalecki. ’nuff said.

The Closer: (Monday nights at 9 p.m.) I love the whole cast of this show. They work well together. However, Kyra Sedgwick’s character can be annoying sometimes and there are moments that even I want to slap her. The plots are standard police procedural and even though the whole premise was ripped off from the UK’s excellent Prime Suspect series starring Helen Mirren, it’s interesting enough to garner a TiVo slot.

Project Runway: (Thursday nights at 9 p.m.) The chief thing going for this show is to see how people can creatively design clothing and make it out of fabric. Fascinating. I can’t create a paper bag, let alone a dress. Oh and let’s not forget Tim Gunn! “Five minutes people!!”

Dancing With the Stars: (Monday and Tuesday nights at 7 & 8 p.m.) The judging is snarky and inconsistent. The stars only have nominal talent sometimes.  So why do I watch? Because I want to do that. I love dancing and seeing someone blossom into a good dancer is fun and rewarding.  The elimination shows are a complete waste of time however. Just post it on the internet already!

My new husband :-)

My new husband 🙂

Mad Men: (Sunday nights at 9 p.m.) Probably THE MOST intelligent show on television right now. This last episode should be Emmy material for next year because the underlying themes are so complex and intertwined and the actors so flawless in their delivery that you actually believe Sterling Cooper ad agency exists out there in an alternate time-line somewhere. Brilliant, brilliant is all I can say.

And speaking of conspiracy theories….Sadly, the books I managed to read recently I can count on one hand: The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown is only worth throwing with the other hand. I can only say the ending did not justify the plot or to put it in fictional terms: Did I have to wade through this stupid plot to get to THIS???  Ugh.  Someone let his own positive press over Angels and Demons get to him. Kind of like Book 6 of that other series people are wild about. Mr. Potter or Twilight whose popularity still stuns me as its horribly written and the main character is a stalker let alone a vampire!

On the good side, I read Ruth Rendell’s Adam and Eve and Pinch Me. (I hate it that some books are only available in the UK, like Barbara Erskine’s books. Why?) Anyway, Rendell’s was available, so I picked this up over there and finished it very quickly, which is saying something. Ruth Rendell is always, always a good read. I also did NOT know that Ruth Rendell wrote under the name Barbara Vine, whom I also like. Go figure. Why do people do that? Dean Koontz’s last Odd Thomas book Odd Hours wasn’t as good as some of his others either. I suppose some authors can’t be consistently good. Or maybe it’s just me and my tastes have changed. That’s probably it.  I seem to have less patience with some that are mildly books and more patience with some that makes my brain hurt. Perhaps I get a sense that time is precious and shouldn’t be wasted on such things? Age. Hmmm. Sometimes we have to let go of a few things to make room for others. This is a great time to do some letting go and to hunker down for winter. Gather the acorns, so to speak.