California Coastline

California Coastline

Monday, May 18, 2015

Eduardo the Adventure Bunny

Taunya and I were driving to the art store down in San Jose because I needed some illustration board. It's gotten harder to find good art supplies around here since some of the better places have closed, but the one down in San Jose is pretty good, though it's not in a very good section of town.

We turned left through one of the big busy intersections and we both saw a little brown furry thing in the very middle of the street. It looked at first like a squitty (a squashed kitty) but we looked again and realized it was probably a stuffed animal, maybe a bear. "Aww, that's sad" we said to each other, "someone must have tossed it out a car window and some little kid is going to be missing their furry friend" "and that poor stuffed animal is a lost toy now..."

About 1 minute later I had pulled a quick U-turn, pulled over to the side of the road, and Taunya was darting through traffic to rescue the stuffed animal. Some drivers looked at her like she was crazy, though a few had rueful smiles. She climbed back in the car holding a pitiful furry stuffed bunny, with a puzzled, slightly troubled look on her face. We turned around and drove on to the art store, and she looked the brown furry bunny over. The bunny's tummy crinkled like there was something inside of it. It was pretty beat up and grubby looking, and Taunya carefully put it down on the floor as we drove on, and didn't touch it again.

We went to the art store, browsed around and got stuff and eventually made our way back out to the car and drove home. We'd agreed we'd look the bunny over better once we got home and figure out what to do with it then.

Back home, the bunny crinkled like there was a plastic bag inside, and it was plain that he'd been stitched up very crudely in the midsection. He was grubby and worn and had rips in one ear and a number of other places, with worn fur as well. It was a pretty realistic looking bunny, and the design was pretty cute, but probably pretty cheaply made, maybe in China. Poor bunny, we agreed. What a sad bunny, to be discarded in the middle of a road. And what the heck was stuffed inside of him?

We cut the crude stitches and pulled out the rough threads and a plastic baggie with stuff in it was inside the bunny's middle. The baggie had a plastic section of a breathing tube and a wad of fiberfill stuffing attached to one end, with netting sewn over both ends of the tube. It was all pretty dirty and the tube was stained at one end; it had obviously been used for some sort of smoking, but we didn't know what the heck it was for; it was obviously homemade, crude and makeshift. There were no other things in the bunny, no drugs or anything else, though there were other spots where things might have been hidden at one time. Taunya did some research on the internet to see if she could figure out what the heck the stuff was for.

The internet is a pretty amazing thing, when you think about it. All the information you could want on just about anything is available right at your fingertips, even info about homemade drug paraphernalia... The baggie full of stuff must have been used for smoking meth, according to info on the web. The bunny was an innocuous way to carry around drug gear, and whoever had him must have needed to ditch the gear quickly and tossed the bunny out a car window. No way to know who or where it came from in such a busy intersection, really.

So now what, we asked each other. What should we do with this poor mis-used stuffed bunny? Everyone we showed the bunny to cringed away in revulsion, and wondered why we didn't just throw it away, but neither of us could bring ourselves to do that. So Taunya safety pinned the belly shut, and put the bunny in the washer. Three times, actually. We checked the bunny over again after that to see what was really damaged and decided to try to restore him.
I stuffed the bunny with new clean stuffing, and before we stitched his midriff up again we put a little net bag inside him with some lavender, a piece of yarn, a little stone for luck and protection, and a few other tiny things to counteract the horrible stuff he'd been forced to carry before. Sympathetic, protective magic, we told each other. I stitched him up neatly and then went on to repair and embroider his other torn parts. He would never be a beautiful bunny; the fur was too worn in parts and his face was pretty homely, but I stitched him a better face, one with some character, and we dubbed him Eduardo, because we both had the strong feeling that he'd belonged at one time to a little black-haired boy, and the bunny missed him.
Such a sad bunny. To us he seemed so lost and confused and puzzled about what had happened to him. I knit him a little cotton sweater after several people said his fur was kind of... creepy, or sad, or ugly, or weird. Nobody else seemed to get why we needed to fix him up. But both Taunya and I are moms with soft hearts and vivid imaginations. We've been on both ends of the lost toy spectrum, both as devastated little kids who lost their beloved toys, and as the helpless moms trying to comfort little children who have lost their special stuffies, so we were determined to save this one homely little bunny who might never have had a chance to be loved.

We took turns carrying him around and thinking what we should do with him. We decided to take him with us to go get Chinese food.
Once he'd gotten a couple of fortunes from fortune cookies, it seemed like he wanted more.
One fortune said: 'You have great physical powers and an iron constitution.' We agreed that seemed pretty true for a little stuffed bunny who had survived so much.The other fortune said: 'You must learn to broaden your horizons day by day.' Well then. Adventure Bunny it is, we told each other. Maybe we can take him around to places and he can have some positive experiences.
They don't have to be big adventures, we told each other. Just happy ones.
Taunya decided to set up a Facebook page for Eduardo, where we could post his adventures with some helpful links for things like how to get help if you're at risk, or you're afraid, or need someone to talk to. I decided to start some drawings that could be used for coloring, maybe eventually to make into a coloring book:
Eduardo is currently sitting at the piano, but I'm sure he'll be having some more little adventures soon, and new coloring pages will be linked on his Facebook page.



Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Holding Hands

When you have little kids, you hold their hands for everything. For comfort, for direction, for control, for safety. As they get older and more independent it becomes less of a constant thing. There's less of the automatic seeking by parent or child for the other's hand and it becomes more of a choice, more of a desire for contact and reassurance.

I knew when my guys got older that holding hands would be one of the things I would miss about their being little. I've had a recurring, vivid dream which has stuck with me. Riley is holding my hand as I lay, very old, in bed. His hand is large and angular, warm, muscular yet bony in that man-hand sort of way that many men have. My hand is old and the skin is wrinkled and worn, and I know I am near my end. He's just sitting with me, holding my hand, and I don't know if he even realizes that I know what he's doing. One of the first times I had this dream, I woke up with that odd sense of time wrapping in a loop around me and I got up and went and held his little hand while he was in the upper bunk bed in their room, and he squeezed my hand back, reflexively, and I savored the feel of his angular little bony hand in mine. I tried to imprint that sensation in my brain for later, because even then we were reaching a stage where hand-holding wasn't as everyday a thing as it had been.
So now they are thirteen, fast approaching fourteen, and any physical contact has become a much rarer thing, since they need their space to become more independent. They still hug me, which I'm incredibly grateful for, but hand-holding is right out, too babyish, too weird now to even contemplate.
Little kids hold hands with other kids without thinking; they hold hands with a buddy to cross the street, to line up, just because they're friends and they feel close. But at some point when we mature holding hands turns to different meanings; you hold hands when you're early in the dating process, maybe, you hold hands with your partner sometimes when you're walking together. Hand-holding is considered a public display of affection and can be fraught with meaning and consequences if you're holding hands with someone of the same gender in an unfriendly place. You don't ever just hold hands with good friends, at least in this American culture; it would be really weird. 

We shake hands, a brief hand-holding gesture, to greet formally, or seal a deal, to demonstrate a public acknowledgement of contact and willingness to be friends. Shaking hands seems to be disappearing as a social gesture, at least out here in more casual California, and in some ways it's a shame, since it's hard not to look someone in the eyes when you shake hands and acknowledge that they are a real person with feelings.
In services of various sorts, church, funerals, weddings maybe, we might join hands for a final prayer or special words, and everyone forms a link in a chain or a circle of hands being held. You end up holding hands with people you might not even know, or know only slightly, and in that context it's all right. You can learn a lot about a person just by holding their hand; hands tell so many things about us that we aren't even aware of on a conscious level; age, warmth, strength, profession, friendliness, a willingness to squeeze your hand back in an acknowledgement that you've just shared a small connection. Forming that larger bond of community is one of the few places and times we're allowed to just hold hands with anybody and have it be an uncomplicated good thing. It's a powerful feeling when done as a group after a shared experience, and it helps form bonds and sprout seeds of potential friendships. It's a good thing that seems to happen too rarely. I occasionally get to hold my boys' hands when we're at church or in a group now, and I can feel how much their hands have grown and how strong they've become in a way that I don't realize during day-to-day life. It makes me wistful for when holding their hands was a regular thing, and aware of how much they've grown.

We hold a friend's hand, briefly, probably, when trying to comfort them in times of extremity. I've held hands with Dave, walking, to help be his guide since he can't see, and it's always been a pleasure to just hold hands and walk and talk with him, though it does require a bit of attention to not get distracted by the talking so much that I run him into light poles or off curbs and such. Holding hands and walking with Dave is a pleasure shared by his many friends, rather like being a part of a secret club; we get the pleasure of walking and holding hands again with a friend like when we were little kids, and more than a few of us have missed that simple bonding in our adult lives.
I remember when our friend Caroline was in the hospital in her last few days, it was just kind of tacitly agreed upon by the varied people visiting and staying with her that we would take turns holding her hand so that she would know there was always someone there with her, even though we didn't know if she really felt it or realized; at that point she was in a coma. We did it more for ourselves, really, holding her hand. I sat there holding her hand then and wondered why I'd never actually held her hand while she was conscious, awake, aware, and still her own witty, observant self, why I'd never held her hand even after she was diagnosed when we visited, while she was still joking around even though she knew how serious it all was. 

What is it with these social conventions,these strictures, that hold us back from just reaching out and holding someone's hand? It's such a simple, easy gesture, it's comforting, it demonstrates an uncomplicated love. We use it without even pausing to think at the beginnings and endings of life. Why do we have to limit it so much in the middle of our lives? 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Living Music

I'm listening to music by a couple of my friends, Kristoph and Margaret. They've come up on my custom Pandora internet station along with the likes of some very famous musicians. Their music has got me thinking about friends and music, so bear with me if I ramble on out loud here. Kristoph and Margaret are part of Avalon Rising as well as Broceliande, and they also play at times as just themselves
Margaret at Avalon Rising's 20th anniversary show
Margaret plays her harp at weddings and other events. She creates beautiful calligraphy for weddings, certificates and other documents that are heirloom pieces. Kristoph, in addition to being a multi-talented musician, is a hard working and talented recording engineer who has helped a lot of indie musicians create stellar albums of their music. They're both real working musicians who make their living by living their music.
It's never an easy thing, making your living by music. It requires exceptional musical ability, training and hard work to stay in it long term. It takes an enormous, long-lasting supply of commitment, stubbornness and bravery to do it as a long-term career, as they do. Any of us who know Margaret and Kristoph are well aware that they are both not only amazingly good musicians but they're also exceptional people. Good people, intelligent, wise people who value kindness and friendships and love. They celebrate those quickly fleeting things we value in life with their music and their art. They aren't the sort of people to climb over others on a ladder to fame and transitory success.

This is the San Francisco Bay Area, though, and it has one of the highest costs of living in the country. The Bay Area may be a haven for artists and musicians, but we're not a culture that values artists or musicians these days. Just looking at the schools and the way that arts and music has been completely cut from curriculum, except for a few dedicated volunteers, is a pretty good indicator of how little music and art are valued in this country. 
 Even here in the Bay Area, it's a really rare thing to find people who live their music as an essential part of their lives. Those few are people to be held closely, gently, with an appreciation for the gifts they let shine.
When Puzzlebox went to England to play music there, I was amazed at how many of the people we met there have serious musical training and really use their musical abilities in their everyday lives to sing, to perform, to create. 
They sing in big and small choral groups, they play multiple instruments, they perform lots of styles of music. They live in close, comfortable contact with their music, without embarrassment or apology. It is an integral part of their lives there, as it's so rarely done here. 
The way that everyone in a crowded room would just join in, singing in spontaneous harmony, just about made my heart burst. They had a closeness and sense of family that we struggle to find here with our large distances and busy lives. Here, finding like-minded people who play music and live with music as a part of their daily lives is a rare and precious thing.
Most of us are far-flung, and even those of us who live within reasonable distances are usually much too busy keeping our lives together to get together as often as we would like. We're lucky enough to have friends in our area like Jeff and Maya Bohnhoff, and Kristoph and Margaret, who all have exceptional musical ability. 
It's a lot of fun to listen to all of them geek out about music, and if you get Kristoph and Jeff going on about music and sound engineering they may never stop, since they're friends and a couple of the best recording engineers in the area. They're both top people to go to if you're ready to record an album. If you haven't heard Jeff's masterpiece Midichlorian Rhapsody, give it a listen. He wrote the parody, he recorded multiple tracks of himself, Maya, and a bunch of friends playing the many, many tracks of instrumentals and vocals and he made it all happen. He and Maya listened to Queen's original and figured out how to recreate the sound, but it's all new, all Jeff's doing. It's an amazing piece of work and really showcases his musical and recording engineering abilities. 
It's fun to be in the recording studio with each of them; they each have their own style and mannerisms, but they both put so much more into the process of recording albums than you might expect if you haven't recorded before. There's a whole lot of work that they each put into not just successfully engineering recording the sound so it is as good as it can be, but also the arrangements, additional instruments, the balancing and the sound qualities. One of the things that has always blown me away is how both Jeff and Kristoph end up adding in huge numbers of additional flavor music tracks like guitar, bass, additional vocals and more, to make the songs really stand out.
When Kristoph was engineering for Seanan McGuire on her Wicked Girls album, the musical arrangements and many of the instrumental and vocal tracks were his. Seanan had a vision for what the album wanted to be; she's such a talented writer and musician. She writes the lyrics and tunes for the vast majority of songs on her albums. There were a lot of great musicians adding tracks to that album, but it came into being and the album had a particular feel and sound because of Kristoph conducting, shaping and molding each song, and the whole album into a cohesive entity with a distinctive personality.
When I worked with him to record harmonica tracks for accompaniment on songs for a couple of albums, he made it all so much less stressful, and so much more fun than I expected, because he was relaxed, clear and easy to work with. The albums he puts out are exceptional because of Kristoph's abilities and all of the extra work he put into it. He really cares about producing a great album. Jeff is the same way, and the commitment to quality work on both of their parts is always impressive to watch in action. 

When we played at BayCon this past May, Kathy Mar invited us to play a 'braided concert' with Kristoph, Margaret, Jeff and Maya, and as many of the Puzzlebox crew as we could pull together. We couldn't really get everyone together much ahead of time to rehearse, but we managed a room rehearsal and we had a blast.
Taunya mugs at rehearsal with Socrates' fox, and Penny's cat that I made for them. :)
I'm certainly the least of the musicians among the crew we had for that concert, and listening to them working together was like sitting in on a master class in performing and arranging music. I can't really express how much I like all of them, and how wonderful it is to create music that is greater than the sum of the parts. :)
I wish for a lot more music in all of our lives, and for the joys it brings and not the heartaches of not being able to do as much of it as we would like. Thanks, guys, for making my little life richer by being in it.






Monday, June 02, 2014

The world for women

Anybody who has ever been to UC Santa Barbara would tell you that it's a laid-back, idyllic place that's a great place to go to college. It's a beautiful place, and Isla Vista, which is the little town in the midst of campus where all the students end up living and hanging out, is filled with beautiful kids getting pizza and going to the beach and surfing when they aren't stressed about finals. The weather is classic California beach weather. It's not a place one associates with gunshots and killings, that's for sure. But neither are any of the other places where kids have been shot and killed by disgruntled gunmen, either. Which just drives it home further that these killings could happen anywhere, to any of us. I'm not even going to get into the whole gun debate this time; but I do want to talk about women and men. I'll totally understand if you are sick of all of the talk and just want to leave it; I feel much the same way. I've been thinking on this post and re-writing and editing again for awhile now, and I'm having real trouble with it because the whole subject of men being mad at women for not giving them what they want is just painful. There's no easy way to approach it.
People talk about white male privilege, and how being a white straight male is the easiest road. Yet the gunmen who go on rampages and kill innocent people, students, little kids, are overwhelmingly white males. I can't claim to understand it. Writer Michelle Sagara thinks things through in a rational and cogent way; her thoughts are always well worth a read. Vixy also has an excellent set of thoughts about pervasive attitudes and what people can actually do, since most of us end up feeling powerless and helpless in the face of all of this.
Various people have mentioned the #YesAllWomen comments going on in Twitter; I haven't delved into it in any depth, for several reasons. It's all very familiar, for one thing. There are so many women with painful stories. There are so many hateful comments from men, or maybe trolls. There are too many ugly comments there to be bearable. And none of it surprises me much, though the amount of virulent hatred expressed by some is really frightening and disturbing.  The people who post these angry, hateful things either don't see them as being dangerously hateful or deliberately want to stir the pot and anger and upset others; whatever their reasons, their words are despicable and hurtful. It's hard to imagine why anyone would want to be around people like that, much less date them.

I'm trying to raise two boys to be intelligent, kind, respectful people. I have been fighting against stereotypes laid out for boys and girls from the beginning of their journey, but everywhere we turn there are assumptions surrounding all of us. My guys aren't under pressure to be thin, to be pretty, to appear sexy, to be as nice and malleable as they would if they were female. Bad behavior is more tolerated, even expected, from boys, and I've often been grateful for the tolerance and forgiveness we've been shown for the boys' occasional miss-steps; parents with energetic and mischievous girls aren't often given the same level of forgiveness. My guys are also given the benefit of the doubt as far as having parents who work and contribute to society and care about them and try to do their best. I believe that people are more willing to work with me on any issues that come up with the boys, perhaps partly due to an initial, visually-based assumption that I'm a safe, upstanding citizen, as a friendly-looking white mom who is at least trying to do a good job of parenting. It's certainly an advantage for me, as long as I can resolve any conflicts with honey rather than vinegar. I may not get taken as seriously as Paul would, since he's male, but I can generally resolve things without having to work uphill against open prejudice on that front.
The boys haven't had to face open prejudice. Because they are white and male, they'll have an easier time of it than if they had darker skin or were female or both. Hard things happen in life to just about everyone, but it's easier to get a good, better-paying job, easier to get respect, easier to not get attacked if you're male, if you're white. It would be all too easy for them to grow up without even having a clue about just how easy they have it. And I'm frustrated with how to combat that easy sense of entitlement that can result. To be honest, I'm not sure how to avoid it in raising young men in this society, except by sharing stories, giving them examples of how to behave, how to respect others. And we constantly try to reinforce the good qualities we're hoping to instill.To give them some credit, they are appalled when they see examples of racism in the media, or of obviously sexist behavior, which is heartening.
We watched an old courtroom drama from 1959 recently with Jimmy Stewart, Anatomy of a Murder, where the rape of a pretty woman becomes a central feature of the case. The underlying cultural assumptions in the way that the movie was written, the attitudes towards the woman, the dated way they all spoke about women in general, all had our boys' mouths hanging open in shock, and they kept looking over and seeing me seething with rage at the misogynistic attitudes and way that she was treated. It did at least lead to some discussion about attitudes towards women, rape and basic human rights, aside from the actual courtroom procedure that Riley was researching. At least in some ways there's been obvious progress since that time, but it really didn't feel like enough, at least to me. The way she was treated by all the men hasn't progressed enough, since it's still common. That assumption that she was asking for it, or that she instigated it with they way she was dressed, that she brought it on herself, are all too familiar to just about any woman. Women deal with the world differently than men because of things like that.
I see that easy sort of lack of gut-level understanding of how women have to deal with the world even in Paul, for example, though he's a very good person, and would never even joke about sexual harassment or anything like it. It's hard to admit it and say it, but even he doesn't really understand that underlying fear aspect of being vulnerable the way I and my women friends do. And while he's certainly supportive and understanding, he's never had to deal with sexual harassment or attacks, like I have, or like most of my female friends have. Of the friends I have who are close enough where we can talk of such things (which is a hard thing to speak of for most of us, due to shame), I'm really hard-pressed to think of even a few who haven't had something frightening and horrible happen to them simply because they are female. There must be a few who haven't lived through a serious incident, but I believe almost all of us have had to deal with discrimination and harassment, though the incidents might not be labelled as such.
We women live with it on a daily basis, at least during some phases of our lives, so it becomes just the way things are, and we adapt and go on as best we can. Nobody likes to listen to complaints. It's only when some women start speaking up, bringing it all out into the open, that we start realizing just how widespread the harassment, the subtle and not so subtle attitudes are, and how much we simply endured and then put quietly, deeply aside into an inner place we tend to wall off from everyday thought. Or at least that's what I've tended to do. The last few weeks got me all roiled up, and a lot of those old incidents came roaring out of the closet, insistent on being seen and recognized. I've been an angry person lately, and hard to get along with, especially for the males in my household. I'm the only female in my household, even including the animals, so you can imagine...
I know it's possible to raise good, sensitive, thoughtful men, since some of my dear friends are managing to do that. I want my boys to have long, happy lives; it's one of the things I regularly wish for. And I just can't bring myself to wish suffering on them in order for them to better understand what others go through, so they can really understand, so they don't just turn into arrogant jerks with a sense of natural entitlement.

I'm fighting some of that sense of entitlement already, as the boys enter the difficult teenage years. They expect to be given rides to their various activities, to get to do things like baseball and gymnastics and other sports that take money and time. They get to do these things, they're in the honors classes as smart kids and they take almost everything for granted; it's what they know and have been raised with. They haven't run into very many 'no's' in their lives yet. I think partly because I was raised fairly poor, I've always wanted to give my kids the chance to do the fun things, to do sports and have friends over and get to do things. They live in a household with a little more money and privilege than I did, and I wonder now if it's not coming back to bite me in the ass. I wanted them to have a happy childhood and not a painful one, and now I'm wondering if that may have been an idealistic and shortsighted attitude. I'm not saying they're bad kids, mind you; they're not. But the news lately has got me thinking about it all and how we can give our kids a good childhood without turning them into spoiled brats.
I've gotten into some ugly fights with them lately because they've acted arrogantly, blaming me for their own tardiness or demanding things I regard as an earned privilege. Some of the incidents I've been (what I at least) thought was tough but fair, but there's been a build-up of incidents and I've reacted out of proportion to some of them, losing my temper and yelling my head off like a crazy person. My patience and ability to deal rationally, reasonably, responsibly, seems to be shot. Last week Riley gave me a hard time while I was driving him to a game; he was late and stressed about it and he foolishly criticized my driving (never do that to me, just fyi). He blamed me for the lateness when it was his own procrastination that caused us to be late. I yanked the car off the road and made him get out of the car. Nearly drove off, too, except it wasn't in a place where he could walk home, so I pulled off a further distance and  let him panic for a while about what to do. Eventually, when I felt I could talk to him without physically ripping off his head, I got out and yelled at him about respect and how it was a privilege to get a ride and to even get to play baseball at all. Much later when Paul asked him what he'd learned from the incident he told Paul "uhhh, respect the driver?"

And just today, Casey ignored me and argued and gave me attitude when I was trying to give him a ride over to his friend's house to work on a school project. So after giving him several chances to pull himself together, waiting on him and then enduring some attitude, I pulled the plug and grounded him. Boy was I the evil mom then. I lost it, cut loose and yelled at that boy. A lot. So after an ugly scene of arguing and discussing and trying to get to the bottom of it all, I just left, removed myself and my computer from the scene, leaving Paul there to deal.
So here I sit, writing it here. I used to think of myself as a person with some amount of patience and that it took a lot to make me mad, but I don't think I can claim that anymore. Any signs of arrogance and unfair assumptions, especially from males, maybe especially from the closest males in my life, just really sets me off these days. I think as I get older I'm less willing to put up with the crap, the sexism, the unfairness of things that I felt I had to let slide when I was younger. Maybe this impatience goes along with getting older, where a woman goes from being an object for catcalls to complete invisibility. I get so angry about the way women are treated at all the various stages of their lives, at all the crap that happened and is still happening. It's happening to the daughters of my friends, now, the same shit that we endured, the sexism, the harassment. It makes me so angry. I'll be damned if I want to raise boys who treat women like second class citizens or worse.

sigh.
Obviously I need some work on patience and working conflicts out, but I can't even pretend to be some perfect angelic mom who never loses her shit and never gets hurt and never yells. Let them learn to deal with a real person, a real woman, a real mom who hurts and bleeds and gets mad and calls them on their arrogance.
So how do you teach humility and awareness? How do you teach men to understand the world women live in? Can someone who hasn't lived with fear or harassment or just a lack of respect on a regular basis really get it on a gut level? Can a person really understand something like rape, if you haven't been through it yourself? How could anyone who actually understood what it's really like joke about it, or dismiss it as no big deal?



Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Chrysalis

It's true, I've been absent, dormant, fallow, in a slump. Or maybe in a chrysalis, waiting for the right time to re-emerge in a new guise. Or just really busy, depending on who I'm talking to. The constant, nagging need to make money seems to end up outweighing most other things, and yet I haven't gone and put on my big girl pants and seriously looked for regular, salaried, decent paying employment.This isn't a new struggle; it's been going on for years. I remain stubbornly freelance, as I've been for lo these many years. From a financial standpoint, as a mom with a family, a still-unemployed spouse at this point, and two boys hurtling quickly towards college, it seems like a ludicrous, willfully destructive position to take, and yet I can't bring myself to just go do it. All of the common sense, merciless voices in my mind tell me that I'm being unforgivably selfish, that I'm a slacker, and much worse. They are such pitiless voices. And yet there is a tiny voice that rings clear through all of the negative voices. Life is short, that little voice whispers, I want to create things. It's surprisingly persistent against all of the angry, shouting voices that ridicule it and try to drown it out. I'll die inside if I can't create something, it whispers. I don't want to waste this...
My personality is much better suited for being a freelancer, I think, though there are aspects (like a regular paycheck) and people I miss from my days as an employee. But my life now is wound around with the boys' needs, my own reluctance to give up my time with them, and the inescapable knowledge that time is flying by. They're 13 already, and they may not need me in the same ways that they used to, but I remain convinced that they still really need a parent at home, maybe more now in different ways than when they were tiny. So I nose around for projects that allow me to work within my self-imposed constraints.
Paul and I have been taking a workshop on career transitions being given by my dear friend Terri, and it's been helpful for both of us. I don't really fit into the traditional mode of employee seeking employer, unless I decide to go the Big Girl Panties route and look for a regular job. I do have my regular gig with Boldly Me, but it can't pay enough, at least for now, to be my sole paying gig, so I need to seek more money from other avenues. Terri's workshop has helped me clarify my thoughts on the confusing morass of small money-making gigs that I have been pursuing, and her workshop content and feedback from the others in it has allowed me to look at my own situation with a much less critical eye. Most of my own internal voices have been merciless, and there's no doubt that they damage me and hold me back. I know, I'm working on that too. It's a real gift to find that other people see my abilities with a fresh, and surprisingly positive perspective.
When I went through and made a list of the various career/money-making gigs I have been doing or have wanted to pursue further and actually really enjoy, I surprised myself with about 10 different professions, though they're all art related in one way or another. I've known for a long time that I have serious hangups about money, and asking for money is actively painful. I've been working on it for years, but that's peeling layers of an onion. It goes right along with the hangups about asking for help, accepting compliments, all that self-esteem stuff.
At least I found that I do have a deep-seated sense of confidence in my art abilities, though even that has taken a beating in the last few years of being mainly a mom, with my art always taking a lower priority. The endless cycle of care-taking chores can really wear a person's self esteem down. It turns out that my little voice is really right; if I don't get to create something of my own regularly I get depressed and my self esteem takes a dangerous nose dive, and it was never robust to begin with.
What if my time is short? I was given a gift to be used...
Life is slipping through my fingers...




Monday, November 11, 2013

The Briefcase

Seems there's a bit more controversy than usual this year about Veteran's Day and how and whether to celebrate it. However you choose to mark it or not seems a very personal decision to me, but I can't get behind the idea of telling others how they should treat the day. It's only a day, after all, and everyone has their own family history. But I find I do have a problem with other people telling me that marking the day ends up celebrating war. Not in my family.
I've mentioned before that my dad was a WWII vet; he served in the Navy on the USS Kitkun Bay. The Kitkun Bay was in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the Battle of Samar and other battles in the South Pacific that aren't talked about now, but at the time were big news. The Kitkun Bay took at least one kamikaze attack and suffered a lot of damage, though fortunately not as much as her sister baby flattop the Gambier Bay, which was sunk, like many other ships during those battles.
My dad joined up when he was 17, though he lied about his age. He was young and cocky and a lot of guys were doing it; it seemed like the right thing to do at that time, under those circumstances. He went from this young man:
To this, taken shortly after he was discharged:

I've talked before about the kind of father he was: silent, moody, unwilling to put up with noise and frequently yelling. I had always thought he was unnecessarily harsh (at least until I had my own kids and found myself bellowing much like he had when provoked). He had a dark side which was always, unrelentingly there with him, wreathed around him. I couldn't understand it, as a kid, but I was aware of that darkness and learned very early when to quietly dodge around him and wisp away like a ghost.
He didn't talk about his time during the war, not until much later when he was closer to his own end. Veteran's Day wasn't something we celebrated, but I know he marked it in some way on his own. It wasn't a happy day, certainly.

Earlier this year, during the summer, I got a call from a lady I didn't know, claiming to have my dad's old briefcase. She had come into possession of it through a convoluted and very unlikely set of circumstances, and had looked into it after being asked to throw it out. Inside the briefcase was a treasure trove of old papers and photos that my dad had carried around with him for decades. I had grown up with that briefcase, but we were never allowed to look inside it and it was strictly off limits. He carried it with him all of his life through many moves; even when he lost all of his other possessions, he managed to hang onto that old case. I had thought it was lost for good after his death, since his second wife had kept it and we'd lost track of her. I arranged to go pick up the briefcase from Judy, the sweet lady who had found it and kept it for me, and we went to visit and there it was, sitting on her kitchen counter, the heavy black leather case that immediately brought back the scent of my dad and the memory of his hands opening that case with his permanently bent and broken little finger.

There were a lot of the usual things you might expect in it, though there was almost no record of his life with us as a family, but there was a surprising amount of things from his time in the Navy, including his discharge papers and photos he'd taken, like this one:
as well as magazine articles, newspaper clippings, and then old yellowed newsletters from the Kitkun Bay, printed and distributed while he was on board.
If you click on the pictures you may be able to enlarge them enough to read them a bit. There were a lot more of these in his briefcase. And in one manila envelope in the bottom of the case, were some letters from me to my dad, with my address and others to contact if he needed to in case of emergency, during a late period in his life when he was homeless for awhile. He did end up coming and living with us for awhile to get back on his feet, and he had his case with him. I thought at the time he used it for job hunting, but he also must have been carrying around these older documents and photos.
When my sis Leslie saw this last photo, of the hospital ship, she gave a little gasp and said 'he's just a baby!', which was my reaction as well. That injured soldier is just a kid. Look at how young he is. He served in a war and was injured and who knows what he saw and endured. He was lucky to be alive, of course, but even ones who lived were never the same again. My dad carried that darkness around with him until he died. He would have been a very different person, and a different dad, had he not been on that flattop and gone through those battles.

So when I hear or read about people saying that Veteran's Day or Remembrance Day glorifies war, I say they and all of the merchants who have sales may be missing the point. It isn't about that stuff at all, of course. It's not a comfortable holiday, actually. For me, it means to pause and contemplate war and how damaging it is to all of us. Pause and remember these kids, then and now, who serve their country. We may associate Veteran's Day with old men now in their uniforms, hanging out and maybe having a parade, but they were this young when they went through hell.Whether they volunteered or were forced or are pushed into it by economic necessity, at the very least they deserve our respect, not just for today but all the time.