Wednesday, July 22, 2020

I See You In a Different Light

Because of my openness, I have found myself in a lot of situations that end up being rather “literature-worthy.” That is because I apparently put people at ease, some friends tell me. So, people volunteer a lot of personal information. Funny because my partner had a fascination with Deanna Troy on Star Trek The Next Generation, and I have one with the companion Inara from Firefly, who were both confidantes. This has had a profound effect on how I see people. A lot of people are lonely or in pain, but the strongest people I know have a passion of some sort. When I say strongest, I mean they are the people most likely to continue to live a life of freedom without threatening the freedom of others in some way. They are usually creators of some sort, even if it is just to jot down a daily haiku. Oh, not to marginalize this noble endeavor; it is an art to use so little to say so much.

To know so much.

Because of what is going on in the world, I can’t stop thinking about the people I have known. Everyone was struggling before this started, even me.

I posit that the reason is because we have all been ridden hard and put away wet. Sorry for the language, I am the son of a son of a sailor. On both sides. My grandfather apparently went AWOL in the Philippines in the 30’s. He was in the merchant marine and a clever man. He had taken an alias sometime in his teens; his mother had disappeared and his father had cast him out. Nobody knew what happened to her; she was of German heritage, born to immigrants from Slupsk, Poland, and it was not a good time to be German. I did find her at the Bellvue Hospital Nurses’ School, I think, when he was registered with the U.S. Merchant Marine in 1930. When I saw my uncle for the first time in a quarter century a few years ago, he informed me about the alias and that led to the breakthrough in finding my grandfather in New York City listed under it. Apparently he was still using the alias when my uncle was young, but my grandmother told him he needed to pick a name and stick with it, so he used his birth surname, which of course is my maiden name. The reason he chose the alias, according to my uncle, was because the social services system had put him into abusive foster homes in the 20’s, during the era of the orphan train. Indeed, I found letters from her and the New York City orphanage she was living in to a relative in the western US asking if this relative (a US Statesman of Irish descent, living as a Scot to avoid persecution) could possibly send money for a coat, or allow my then 14-year old great aunt to come live with him. The relative had replied that while on the outside he may have looked wealthy, he no longer had money to pay the taxes on his land, and was losing it all. That is just one story of the way my kids’ ancestors experienced The Great Depression. My grandmother was not even 16 when they married, and she lied about her age. To make a living, my grandfather did lots of different jobs - whatever was needed. While originally the alias was to escape social services, he had begun regular employment and was listed with labor unions under his alias, and so to not lose his credits for his apprenticeships, he needed to keep the alias. There was something funny about getting favors from a secretary, though. It sounds, from what my father told me, that his father was always working. He died fairly young, at 54 years of age after developing sepsis from surgery. His children were just barely grown when it happened.

So, I have this genealogy hobby, and it can be a little expensive if you want to do a good job of it. To piece together that puzzle, I had to visit the Nebraska State Archives, which was an extra two days tacked onto a trip my son, father and I were making to Omaha, anyway. I once worked as a Title Clerk in a Title Company, and got to geek out on Vital Records every day and get paid for it. So to piece together some of my own personal ancestry in that way was a real gift, and the memories we made on that trip (during the Triton snowstorm in 2013) were unforgettable. I mean, sure, it was bittersweet to see how our family suffered during that time, but to see personal writings that confirmed the relationship to this statesman which had only been rumored before felt strange, too. It was a crapshoot; my great-grandfather’s second wife told me about the “famous uncle” in 1990 through written correspondence, and my father and I were always curious about it, only because there was quite a bit of correspondence held at the archive from this person, due to their influence.

I have a strange relationship with the pastime, because I got into it to learn more about what forces my ancestors experienced that ended up shaping me. A lot of people I meet who have some casual interest in it get really excited about finding a relationship to Charlemagne, and I kind of figure that far back would be an extremely long book to describe how that relationship actually influenced a person. People get really excited about cousin relationships to famous people, but I don’t really see people being transparent about the ways that economics over the last 150 years or so impacted their family. It’s like if people’s ancestors had to overcome some sort of economic or health hardship, they want to hide it, because those kinds of hardships were greatly stigmatized, and still are. People see these things as being at odds with success, because nobody really understands what success is.

In my other writing, I described the numerous names my maternal grandmother used during the post-War era after her short-lived stint as a secretary in the Richmond shipyards before becoming pregnant with my mother in her teens. It’s kind of interesting to think about this on the level of perhaps having wondered “what kind of people” have aliases and why, and that it might be because of hardships. I actually found much sadder stories doing research for other people, and it is not difficult to see how the people were affected by these stories on some level, although I sense a general reticence about thinking too hard about it. That kind of growth takes a lot of time and energy, both of which are in short supply for most people.

Anyway, the general point in bringing up genealogy is that I learned that big events in history absolutely had an effect on my family and who I became. Also, looking generally at the U.S. population, we have come a long way in our awareness about what freedom is.

I suppose this is all to say, that I have been perplexed by the behavior of Americans with respect to how they choose to spend their time and attention. Perhaps it goes back to much of the immigration here to escape the forces of oppression, but because thinking larger than the sources of our previous oppression requires time and energy, we only advance so far each generation. But we do advance. It only takes looking at one’s family history back to the Depression to see that.

The tragedies that beset my family actually originated during the tuberculosis epidemic and were a direct outgrowth of society’s failure to perform as a community. I am wondering why anyone “fails” when our communities have the resources they do, and the conclusion that I came to is that we are living outside our means, which makes it harder to help each other, because we perceive that we need more, which robs us of time and energy.

I have been conversing with a gentleman friend regarding writing, art, inspiration, and motivation. For a long time I had trouble getting motivated to make art in my studio alone. I don’t have any trouble writing alone; the barrier to writing is just making the time alone a priority. I conquered the battle with art, for the most part. I am just going through a period where I am having to reimagine some of the ideas I have a burning passion to complete in media that do not pose a  health risk to myself or others, but in a way that still conveys the original spirit of what I perceived. There were many things I imagined 3D printing, but we really need to install ventilation in the garage to do that safely. The fumes do indeed permeate the bedroom space and the rest of the house. I had read that keeping chemicals in an attached garage is the largest source of chemical exposure for most people, but it wasn’t until I got a cheap portable VOC meter that I actually got to *see* the difference. So, long story long as I like to say, as things started heating up this summer I had to do an emergency “evict all chemicals from the garage” day because we have all become sensitive from being isolated indoors with chemicals for so long. I am not preventing other people from printing, but my efforts to try to get fresh air into the garage in an old skool way were not always appreciated. Not everyone was affected by the plumes as intensely as I was. Anywho, that was a left turn! Or as my mom likes to say, "There goes a bird!"

And that is why I need to be mostly alone while I work. I am easily distractible. I was trying to explain that to this friend, who like all of my single friends is pretty isolated. He said he just can’t seem to get motivated to paint unless he is around other people, and wondered if maybe he came to paint at my studio, he would be motivated. It is clear that we see things differently. I once also needed to be around other people to make my art. But for myriad reasons, I learned that I need to make it on my own without a lot of distraction. My stream of consciousness is very important in my work, and because it is traveling at light speed most of the time, it’s kind of hard to get the canoe in and out of the water so frequently. I already have a lot of distractions from personal health needs - things I may need to take care of without most company around. I think if I were ever to share studio space with someone, they would need really strong self-esteem because I tend to be really independent, strong-willed, and sometimes easily frustrated by people needing my already not great listening skills when I am in lower consciousness states. Staying in higher levels of consciousness requires a lot of time and effort on my part, and I like to use that time to create things that can encapsulate the messages I want to share in the most efficient way, which is more difficult if I am trying to listen to someone else. I suppose I am not opposed to all smalltalk, it’s just that what I’ll tolerate is pretty specific and uncommon. I suppose that’s to be expected or maybe comes with the territory of being an artist. But suffice it to say, I can be an unpleasant person if my canoe trip gets interrupted.

I get to spend more time in the canoe than a lot of people. And that, to me, is freedom.

Wanting to create during the pandemic is a no-brainer for me. There is inspiration everywhere on the personal level. The pandemic has created a lot of material complications that are both an impediment and an inspiration for creation, specifically around the realm of emotional labor. From the standpoint of a caregiver, it is a very BDSM thing. I have guilt for the time I need to create, and guilt for not creating, and not taking care of myself and others while I am creating. It can take a long time each day to wind out of the guilt to a place where I can create. Luckily, I learned the art of stoicism as a child, so my outward face can be calm, even when I am falling apart on the inside. When I was 7 my father nearly died of an infection. When it happened, my mother told me she didn’t know what she would do. I was privy to a lot of my mother’s secrets, and I think this is important because her open humility let me know that she never saw herself greater than me. There was of course plenty of authoritarian undercurrent in my upbringing, more so than some of my friends, and less than others. What I got to see from my mother sharing her experience with me (I was sort of her therapist as a child) was the soul inside the monster. I’m not saying that my mother was a monster, but she certainly had some old fashioned views of society because of being raised by a man who was born in 1899, the grandson of a prominent politician, who was disowned for adopting a bastard. There’s a story in there for sure. Gotta love how easy it is to manipulate politicians and businessmen through family shame.

For some reason, I get offered a lot of sex. It is kind of destabilizing to me. It is difficult to navigate consent as a mother. It caused me to have to do deep meditation on my personal sex drive and how it relates to my life satisfaction, to know what my own personal needs are. As I have stated before, sexual satisfaction is an important part of my health regimen. And as an aging person, entering the years of perimenopause, libido can be a challenge. I think this is because of metabolism, and so I have, for years, been tailoring a diet which maximizes my libido. It is pro-metabolic and has had some miraculous consequences for my health, despite all the challenges we have had from the environment.

Thank goodness for vasectomies and slightly bigger houses and writer friends who remind me of all the sex I had to turn down over the past few years. I was thinking about why I turned it down in each case, and it wasn’t due to lack of sexual attraction (although this was the reason I gave), it was because I do not want to decouple love and sex. There are some strange reasons I feel this way, mostly owing to the nebulous territory that is friendships, sexual favors and feelings. I learned that it is an insult to assume a single man would be satisfied with a “friends with benefits” relationship (I’m sorry), and how difficult it is for bisexual and transgendered people to navigate the long-term relationship world. There was no road map where I was, and all the while I kept wondering how I would feel to be my children in these situations. The situations caused me tremendous angst because I was worried about hurting people, but the truth is, a healthy sexual relationship outside of my life as a mother might be a beneficial thing for me, and the best way I could be an example of a sexually liberated person for my kids. I did have multiple people suggest this to me, including my therapist. I didn’t really know how to talk to my family about that stuff, though. It was probably unheard of when they were my age for a therapist to suggest an alternative marriage arrangement.

Sort of by accident, my husband and a good friend of mine became very close, and I had said that I was okay with them going as far as they wanted, but they didn’t get very far. They really enjoyed each other’s company and she helped him understand a lot of things from a menstruating married woman’s perspective that I was unable to over the years. They didn’t have the little frustrating things between them that we did. Ultimately, though, the time element was a tremendous problem because we had poor communication around scheduling and I often ended up being abandoned with an empty fridge after a long energetic push with the kids, bills, or some other thing I didn’t have a choice about. This is around the time I got sick from all the VOC and formaldehyde stuff and had to push everyone in my life away to be able to handle all the things I had gotten behind on.

I have had to engage the services of repair people for my air conditioning and my washing machine over the course of the pandemic, and in both instances I went to lengthy efforts to discuss the way my home would be entered and exactly what the problems were before they came. In both instances, the service person who arrived was not wearing a mask correctly, and in the words of The Lobster, “His entire snout was showing!” This guy had his paws all over his face, and violated my personal space repeatedly. Our roof needs repair, but because of previous experiences with workers in my home, I am wary of having work done on my property at all. I am a small business owner, so I understand the need to work during the pandemic, but the right to work does not equal the right to expose people to a deadly disease. I have not decided how to best channel the energy about that situation other than to write about it. Should I contact the business owners? I feel like business owners should have to provide appropriate personal protective equipment for their employees. This is a no brainer.

When my great-grandparents died of tuberculosis, it was incredibly difficult to get work, especially if one was sick. There was no social system to catch them. The stigma made absolute sense, but the failure of society to support workers who could not work was inexcusable.

I feel like this is an important discussion to have right now due to Mary Trump’s new memoir about the President. I have read the Prologue, and in it she states that Donald is the way he is because he “never knew hard work.” I don’t think she means that. That is ableist and meritocratic thinking. I just think he has the beginnings of dementia. He learned everything he knows from a man who had dementia for who knows how long, and whose song, line and dance was about work, because it wasn’t creative, because he had dementia. He doesn’t know any other way.

Over the course of my isolation I learned that for my best mental health, I need to experience something magical every day. It’s up to me to make this happen. I have to have a certain amount of time that is left for my mind to wander. I think that’s basically it. If I can’t get that, then I can meditate or have an orgasm, and that usually does the trick. The shorter I am on rest, the less effective those methods are. I think it probably helps on a number of levels, but the one I’m thinking of is how meditation increases theta waves in the brain, and also cleaning of cellular debris by glial cells. Through these processes I have near death experiences which kind of consolidate all the data I have taken in from the recent time stream, and then when I have a dream or near death experience, I get a message from the aggregated and simplified data regarding whatever I have studied. I am essentially using my subconscious mind like a supercomputer. This is an important learning process for me. I often get insight into situations I am dealing with in the process.

Taking the time to do this has had a profound effect on my psychological health. So it’s not difficult to see how having someone I’m not comfortable with on a very intimate level in my studio space would be an imposition. This may come from trauma during my childhood around my mother’s surveillance of my behavior. I haven’t had a lot of time alone in my life, so I have complicated feelings about what constitutes voyeurism vs. what is potentially helpful if shared with society. My methods are certainly unconventional, but they are healthy and sustainable. Our cultural knowledge comes from stories of real people, and I am, last I checked, a real person living a very different life, which if I felt confident sharing, could help others. I just don’t know what level of sharing is acceptable for my level of anxiety.

My art muse is much gentler and more about just doing. The doing itself is the reward, so I don't really need other people around to want to make art. I do, however, love me some good artistic dialogue about process, unique uses of materials, and sustainable methods of self-expression. I am not short on ideas, just time away from the BDSM muse.

Every day I spend some time gazing out my basement window. This time is religious for me. Right now there is a beautiful pastel gradient behind the cottonwood on the other side of the ditch; the greens are muted with lavender, or at least that is my instinct if I were mixing the colors with a knife. I have not painted it, but I do it in my mind. I notice new animals and plants, noises and sounds every day, from the very same window. I hear messages on the wind and see them around the earth and in the sky. In this time I can become aware of my own energy and my connection to the life source. It fills my cup. There are rabbits who live outside my window and I have seen them frolicking together, and dragonflies mating, and baby grasshoppers.

This is so different than my upbringing in the city; we have had several bears in our yard, elk, raccoon, bats, owls, foxes, and turkeys. It's really wonderful to remember that we are part of a living earth. It gives me peace in a constantly changing reality to be in tune with the cycles of the earth.

I know I don't owe anyone any explanations for my love history, but it occurred to me that some explanation might be helpful for others.

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