April 26, 2011

Jet Lag

I'm home in the U.S. for a "home visit." A  home visit is when the company pays for the round trip airfare; we get two tickets each year - one per person. Mr. Veronica is scheduled for a week long seminar in Michigan in early May, because his company paid for that trip, we used one of our home visit tickets for me to come visit. And why wait? So, I arrived on Wednesday, April 21st and will see Mr. Veronica on May 13th.

The flight home is about fifteen hours. We fly out of HK directly to Detroit, and then a connecting flight to Cleveland, which is a whopping fifteen minutes. About hour number nine of the first flight I wonder if I can really be on the plane another six hours. HOURS. But, of course, no option to leave, so I focused on watching another movie. On this flight I saw "The Kids Are Alright" with Annette Bening and Julieanne Moore. They play a lesbian couple who's children decide to find the man who was the sperm donor, played by Mark Ruffalo. The movie is interesting but let me warn you: there are some very explicit sex scenes (non-lesbian) and the only reason I warn you is in case you are sitting on a plane, with 200 other people, several in your own row, who can see what's on your screen.

HK is twelve hours ahead of the East Coast, thus I flew back in time as I left Hong Kong at 9am on Wednesday morning, flew 15 hours and arrived in Detroit at noon on Wednesday. My dad and Veronica, Jr. (surprise! I thought she was away at school!) met me at the airport with three dozen roses. My daughter later remarked it should have been Diet Coke, but I let the indiscretion pass.

And so the dance with jetlag began. One piece of advice I heard seems to have worked: stay up until your normal bedtime and get up at your usual waking time. I've also heard its one day for every 2 hours, so about day 6, one should be on schedule. Days 1 - 5 are anybody's guess. Mostly I feel a little wave of disorientation and then I know I need to eat something light and get a nap.

On day 2 (Friday), I had dinner with my darling dearest life-long friend. I took over a pizza and some ice cream (may I recommend the Lavender/Honey from Mitchell's?). I stepped into her back hall, and called out, "Hello? Hong Kong calling!" and I heard her call back, "Hello?" and then she screamed and I screamed and we were hugging and kissing and clutching each other. And that's when it really hit me how much I've missed my family and friends, Cleveland, Ohio, and the United States in general. More about that in another post.

I arrived at 6pm and we talked continuously until 11pm. And let me say, there are more hours of conversation left to be had! The evening came to an end when jetlag had its way with me:

Veronica: So, we went to watch the Super Bowl at Dan Ryan's - a local western-style restaurant. Mr. Veronica wore his (and here my mind starts to whirl and dip a bit) he wore his West Virgi- West Virgini- wait, his West Virginity - Virginity?-Virginity (and now I'm stuck on repeat and looking at my dearest with pleading eyes) Virginity Virginity?

Dearest: University? West Virginia University?

Oh, Mr. Jetlag - you do dance divinely!

April 15, 2011

Fixer Upper

Posted by Jamie

I certainly identify with our beloved Veronica’s post on relationships with “fixer-uppers.” Though some of the men in my past drank too much or drugged a bit, I seem to have a history of attracting men with mental/emotional illness. From the deepest of self-esteem issues to full-blown manic-depression (as it was called in those days) if they had a little crazy goin’ on, I was crazy about them.

Most of them, for the most part, were all good guys, intelligent, with potential. “With potential,” was always my weakness. I’m an artist, an organizer, a fixer. I see a bunch of trash and make a collage. I see a tangle of veggies and make soup. I see a guy with all sorts of diamonds in the rough of severe emotional morass and think: “I know with a little time and love he will be whole and THEN we can live happily ever after.”

In the late 90s when my personal life had hit yet another low, a friend mentioned that one usually attracted the type of person with the approximate level of crazy that you had. As I had been a practicing Buddhist for a few years at that point, I stopped and thought about how that fit in with my spiritual life: Everything in your environment is a perfect reflection of what is inside of you. To change the world you have to change yourself.

Now I’m the kind of girl who wants to help everyone. . .and time got away from me and taking care of myself, learning to love and respect myself, and discovering what makes me happy somehow went to simmer on the backburner as I took sword in hand to vanquish the enemies of friends, family and fellow employees.

 At 44 years old I was destined to be alone and figured I better make myself that special someone in my life. I put a lot of work and struggle into the fixing-up of me, the hardest thing I’ve ever done: Putting myself first. Asking myself what I really want. Quite the challenge for a person who has believed from birth she was put here to “help” people.

Then I cut myself some slack about five years ago when a teacher friend of mine said: “The world is not broken and we are not here to fix it. You are not broken and you do not need to be fixed. You are worthy. We are here to be joyful.” Pivotal life moment!

In a flash I realized there is no one I can “fix” because they are not broken. I’m not a savior or a saint, and a loving relationship is not about “saving” someone or them “saving” you. Attempting to change someone, fix them or please them is an eternal, merciless, and thankless impossible task. People get sane and sober because it is something THEY have a deep desire for, not because I  happen to think they need fixing.

I had confused encouragement and support with (the hint of arrogant) hope that if I carried everything on my shoulders, the payoff would be a guy noticing what a good girl am I. . .and THAT would lead to true love! I began laughing at myself and have continued to ever since when the urge to “fix” becomes confused with offering encouragement.

My life has changed profoundly and in miraculous and happy ways ever since. In fact, a couple years later, after getting into a fulfilling and joyful relationship with myself, the love of my life found me. He’s an amazing person who has his own tools to overcome the demons and dangers of his life. No fixing or heavy lifting needed from me. We just fell in love and continue to love ourselves first, and then each other, happily ever after.

This Is How I Know... (Veronica)

I read a website called The Hairpin. I found it through someone's link on Facebook. The writing is clever, edge-y, hip (if I was 28). One woman wrote a blarticle about why she chose to become an abortion provider. Quite provocative! There are some insider jokes in the comments section ( or maybe you just have to live in NYC and be under 30....) Its mostly women, but guys visit this site and post as well. In fact, Jane Feltes, producer of This American Life on NPR posts regular videos on how to... apply eye makeup, curl your hair, decorate your nails, etc. So, its lively, funny, and entertaining.

There are also advice columns - Ask a Dude, Ask a Lady, and something like Ask a Lady about a Lady. I actually read these columns as, you know, at 47 I don't pretend to have it all figured out. Or do I? Not pretend to, just actually have some stuff figured out. Maybe I'm reading them now so I can snarf at the screen, roll my eyes and think about what I would say, if I was asked. If I wasn't old enough to be their mother. OMG. hahahah - freaky. I'm old enough to be at least their mom's younger sister. So, I'm lurking around some young, hipster website feeling superior because you know, some of their questions are STUPID. And I'm going to give you an example that will have you shaking your head...and if doesn't cause you to shake your head, then you should be reading that website and not this one.

Routinely, and I mean every time one of these advice columns goes up, someone asks about why her boyfriend won't perform (sex alert) cunnilingus on her. And she asks about whether or not she should get a Brazilian, or whatever, if its not enough to just tidy up "down there." Perhaps she is malformed in some way - she's too big, too small, what can she do? And, routinely, people (men and women) respond with: if he won't do it, dump him. That's right! Dump his sorry, selfish, rude ass. Just get rid of that guy! Get another one! Find one who will do IT. Doesn't matter what else is going on this relationship - if he's caring, honest, patient, funny, forthright, industrious...no, no. If he won't, then you won't, and he should just know to do it and there are no alternatives.  If the sex isn't good now, it won't be later and you'll be sorry to have wasted years on such a loser.

And this is how I know that I am older. I've thought about this advice column nonsense for the last few weeks. I was standing at the sink, doing the dishes (I've had a dishwasher for a total of 5 months in the last 24 years), and thinking about the latest advice column and the usual nonsense about sex and getting rid of the guy who wouldn't/couldn't engage in oral sex. I realized I was sad for that woman who wrote asking for advice, sad for the people who said to break up with him, and sad for the man who was about to get dumped despite "lots of other good qualities."  When I was 28, I was married with a 5 year old daughter and a husband who had just lost his job because of a recession. That's real life, friends. Imagine him and I at the dining room table, talking about what we'll do to meet the mortgage in 30 days, pay the day care and keep the heat on. Then, I say, "You know, there's something else I'd like to talk to you about. I'm tired of you not meeting all of my sexual needs. There's this one thing, that lasts about 5 or 10 minutes and it could happen once or twice a month, but it doesn't happen at all and its ruining my life."

Washing the dishes, thinking about what has transpired since I was 28. So many years, so many layers, so many grooves in my record. I don't begrudge anyone being twenty-something. But this shallow, self-centered, egotistical notion that the world revolves around sexual satisfaction of self above all else is disturbing. I think they should have an advice column over there called Ask A Mother. No one would read it, of course, or they'd read it, roll their eyes and then run their forefinger in circles near their temple because old people are crazy. Old people just don't get it, how difficult and confusing this world is and how uncertain the future is. Nope, we have no idea.

And this is how I know I'm old because I'm complaining about kids these days and how back in my day there was no Internet or email or texting or sexting.

And that's how I know how much I've grown. I realize how much less complicated some parts of my life have become. Other parts continue on in their shadowy, what-to-do fashion, and I've learned that ambiguity is my friend. There are still questions to be answered and unknowns to be solved. For example, what is a Brazilian, exactly?

April 10, 2011

Balancing- Veronica

*****I preface this entry with the notion that I can't write everything I'm thinking otherwise posts would be three miles long. For this blog you should know: I am married. I am insanely happy. I love my life. I love my work. I feel this way 98% of the time. What you are reading is the other 2% of stuff that I reflect on and life questions I ask myself. *******

Before Mr Veronica, I had a light switch relationship (on/off/on/off) with a guy I'll call Sam. Our relationship developed over several months. I can't say we were ever a "couple," although I think many people saw us that way. Sometimes, I wanted us to be a couple. I loved talking with him about a million different things. He would cook us dinner and we'd smoke and drink long into the night. On one occasion he said he had considered asking me to marry him but didn't ask for fear of what the answer would be...and I told him he was right to be worried. Sam was an alcoholic and drug addict, and despite some very strong feelings for him, I wouldn't marry a known disaster.

Here would be a good place to note my first husband also had drug/alcohol issues that he eventually overcame; underlying those issues were the reasons he was self-medicating, and those he could not overcome. During one of our post-divorce arguments he screamed down the phone line that I had abandoned a sick spouse. He said, "That's the kind of woman you are - you abandoned me when I needed you most."

I think about that accusation, about Sam, and I think: where are those boundaries?

I used to think I was the Florence Nightingale of dating. The guys I attracted were the underdogs in some way. Drugs, alcohol, abuse, loneliness, despair, so many broken hearts and lives...all mine for the fixing. And, I thought I could do it! Then they'd be so happy and then I'd be so happy and then we'd be loving partners and dance off into the sunshiney rainbow world drinking 7 UP and flowers would bloom under our bare feet.

Then I got married and as previewed in the above paragraph, it ended in divorce about 12 years later. By the end, I was an emotional disaster. Exhausted, fragile and turned inside out, I didn't know anything other than I felt like I escaped with my life. Nine years later the Universe checked in to see if I had learned anything about myself. And I had! I learned to recognize lecherous men within the first three or four sentences they spoke. I learned to say no when I needed to and I was still tempted by the good-but-troubled man. I like to feel needed, necessary, motherly.

Eventually Sam's life came crashing down around him. I know he's sober now, day by day, via Facebook. There is a part of me that wants to reach out to him, to tell him I still care about him, that I worry about him, that I wish I could be a part of his world in which he feels my support and love. This is where I wonder: what is anyone's role in another person's mental health care and does one do more good or damage by fulfilling their own needs when contemplating a relationship with someone with serious addiction issues?

I would have liked the chance to meet the real Sam, not Sam the addict, Sam the manipulator, Sam the liar. I would have, maybe not married him, but certainly explored a committed relationship with him. It might have led to marriage. There are people that get sober and stay sober. But that seems like a crap shoot. But don't addicts have a right to happiness, love, ...I'm arguing in my head. My other voice, the one that kept me from making this leap says, "They do have rights! But those rights - to be in a romantic relationship, to be intimate with someone's feelings - come when they can prove they can take care of themselves." (Am I just trying to make myself feel better?) Is it right to want a friendship with someone because that's the best I can do? Sam has the same right I do to say "no" to someone or something. I can offer friendship, he can say no, and there we are. I go my way, he goes his way, and I learn a little more about recognizing when things are finished, no tags attached, just finished.

I didn't abandon my spouse. I left because I couldn't take care of myself. I didn't marry Sam because I knew he couldn't take care of himself. People need to be loved and cared for, and it takes a person with a different kind of strength to marry a known addict. I think of a couple I know, not well, and both are recovering addicts. They've been married for many years, now. I often wonder how they keep their balance.

April 8, 2011

A Little Pregnant

I'm not pregnant. Not even a little. There was a time when I was a little pregnant and then I became more pregnant as time went by until Veronica, Jr. was born. And that was the last time I was pg....there may have been an incident or two, but without talking biology here, no other actual positive pg tests were ever achieved after that one time.

Before moving to HK, a good friend of mine and I talked about putting together a writers' group. We planned to Skype once a month or so, and she created a FB group for the members. We are a small but mighty group of 6? (You know who you are!) One of our first writing assignments involved posting a recent grocery shopping list as a way to introduce ourselves and where we were in the lifeline. I pulled out my last grocery list (written in purple ink on a yellow post-it note) and read through each scribbled off line: dry cat food, cat litter, chicken, onions, yogurt (plain), celery, raisins, pg test.

"Pg test?" you may ask. Well, I didn't know what else to think! It had been two months since my p, I felt nauseous, various parts of my body hurt, emotions were all over the place. And I'd heard of late-life pregnancies (and just how late is 47? Okay - in terms of childbearing, it is late...) and there was this little-ish part of me that sort of could see Mr. Veronica and I being parents. Once we worked past the sleepless nights, diapers, bottles, pediatrician visits, not to mention the actual 9 months of pregnancy, labor and delivery....I'm tired just reading about it. Nonetheless, I had momentary daydreams of holding Little Boy's hand, walking through Wanchai Market, watching him play soccer, playing with his cousins... typical, romantic notion stuff that tells you just how far removed from reality I am when it comes to babies, kids - and - I'd be 64 when Little Boy got his driver's license. 64. That's something to consider! And this is all just nonsense because I didn't buy the pg test. I made a doctor's appointment because it had been so long since I'd been to the doctor that I needed the annual maintenance checkup anyway.

There were the usual questions, including, "When was your last p?" I responded, "About 2 months ago," and out came the plastic cup and off I went to fill it. I kept telling myself I wasn't pg, couldn't be pg and that this really is the beginning of a new time in my life. And, the doctor confirmed it. I wasn't and it is.

Its been a bit of a bumpy road, but not awful - yet. When I first started reading about symptoms of peri-menopause, I almost couldn't get out of bed. It sounded life-ending. I thought I'd shrivel up and blow-away with the first strong wind. I'd decompose into a wad of wrinkles and incontinence, too-bright lipstick and eyeshadow highlighting the crevices in my face. I know I'm painting this over-the-top picture, but you also know, I'm kinda right. And, it is kinda scary - things changing. But its also kind of awesome!

For the last two months, despite some very minor physical discomforts, I have been p-free! Meaning, cramp-free, leak-free, bloat-free, responsibility-free! What a delicious, heady feeling! I feel like the world is opening up before me. So many options and opportunities. I've done my time! Soon, I'll never have to wonder, wish, deny, hope, dream about being pg again. Okay - there is some background here, I've known for at least twelve years I couldn't have any more children. And, back then, I did grieve about it. I came from a large family, I understood large families, I wanted to create a large family. "Knowing" I couldn't have more children never really stopped me from hoping, though. And you know what? When my p finally stops for good, then I don't have to hope anymore. The answer is final ("Its final now!" you're yelling at the computer screen. And I'm here to tell you, its not over til its over). And its a good answer. I am so excited to look forward and see months, years of freedom! I get there are physical changes coming, some having arrived already. But they're not the life-ending, heart-breaking disasters I thought they would be.

When I first posted my shopping list for my writers' group, I commented that not having a monthly cycle made me feel out of sync. In my mind I picture a board game, and there are 28 spaces, all in a circle. Every day I advance one space until I have gone all the way around the board. I have spent the last 36 years going in a circle. I knew where I was in the span of time because of what day it was in my cycle. Feel good and sexy? Must be ovulating! Feel fat and furious? Must be pms-ing! Feel average and even-keeled? Must just be a regular day.

But now, as I advance, square by square, there is no circle. The circle lays behind me and there is a straight path before me. I'm free to go forward and explore; to be a part of a different kind of mystery. Really, its like receiving an honor badge! Remember when we first got our periods, people would say, "Oh! You're a woman now!" I think that entering menopause makes you the most woman-est you'll ever be and I wish women would congratulate each other on a job well done! Children, no children, fertility issues, physical anguish, joy, pride, sorrow, loss - the race is done. We've made it. Cheers! Bottoms up! Woo-hoo! On to the victory par-tay!

April 4, 2011

With Your Hands in the Air...

I've always been a spiritual person. Always? Yes, I think so. Raised Catholic, I spent my childhood going to a gigantic church, physically and congregation-wise. This structure was built out of huge slabs of stone and marble. Twin bell towers stood two or three stories over all the other buildings on the block. Inside, deep red marble pillars supported beams stained a dark brown with mysterious symbols painted in gold. Rows and rows of pews (why do they remind me of the tile holders in Scrabble?) faced the enormous alter also made of marble. The physical presence of power, holiness, sacredness was undeniable. From here I get my love of entering a silent church, kneeling down, and praying. I can think of nothing more spiritually satisfying than those moments of feeling close to God in the sacred silence.

Eventually, I left the Catholic church and spent about ten years as one of Jehovah's Witnesses. I actually enjoyed most things about being JW (as we called it) but there were some things I didn't enjoy and ultimately left, which was spiritually difficult for a number of reason. I will summarize by saying, I left without knowing whom I could trust or what I should believe. I was also going through a divorce and that had its own debilitating effects.

For awhile I didn't attend church and I missed it. So, I started venturing out to different churches. It seemed no matter what church I went to, I found the same thing: terrible sermons. Why do we have to have sermons! Let's sing, let's pray, let's meditate! Let's break bread, pass the grape juice, wish each other well and move on.

I also found lots of "contemporary" services - where the organ has been replaced by drums, flutes, guitars, and hymns set aside for "Me and Jesus are FB friends" music. Along with that music comes: people who put their hands in the air, palms wide open, fingers splayed, reaching, swaying, feeling. Oh gosh. I just hate that. I'm sitting alone in my own living room as I type this and can hardly bring myself to make such a display of what? Zealousness? Letting-go-ness? Acceptance? What is this thing about! Why do people do this thing?

Here's what I find odd. Just a few weeks ago I went to an Eagles (yes, Peaceful, Easy Feeling Eagles) concert. They were rocking- so much energy and excitement! And guess what I did? I rocked out! I clapped, I sang along, I swayed, its possible I even put my hands in the air, palms wide open, fingers splayed, reaching, swaying, feeling. That was Friday night. Fast forward to Sunday morning at 11a and I am standing in the pew at church, arms folded, singing along to the words presented in Powerpoint style on the screen above the alter. Not everyone has their hands in the air, but lots of people do. People my age, older, younger. The singers up front are performing the church version of American Idol. They squeeze their eyes shut as they try to convince the microphone they really, really love Jesus. I'm sure they do, I just don't understand why they have to be so exuberant about it. Its sort of overkill - you know? For me.

I want to tell you, however, that I love going to this church! Union Church. For the first time in many, many years, I look forward to going to church. The pastor gives excellent sermons! They make sense. They are timely. They are meaningful. He is human. He is funny. He is serious. He gets what life is like and about. He knows we need guidance - we are strangers in a strange land, on several levels. We are all far from home. So is he! He's from Minnesota. God bless the Midwest!

When I attend the contemporary service, I sometimes toy with the idea of raising my hands in the air (like I don't care). But I do care. I can't lose myself in church - its not a rock concert. Maybe that's part of it...I see my relationship with God as serious (I can write about His humor another time). To me, He is powerful and holy, just like that church I grew up in. I want my worship to reflect that level of seriousness. And that requires me to keep my hands to myself. If I ever do get my hands in the air, I'll let you know. It might be sooner than either of us imagines.

April 2, 2011

Guest Blogger: Rob

As a fellow scribe who strives to become better at my craft as the years go by I have learned there is a vast difference between emotional honesty and The Truth. There is so much ballyhoo and righteousness bandied about concerning The Truth and how important it is and how we must be honest at all times. In honest, true real interactions with other people NOBODY wants you to be 100% honest and truthful with them. No one! And what is The Truth and Honesty? What is true and real for one person can be the polar opposite for another. Facts? History. Read a little, and you will soon see that there are few "facts" that are not fuzzy and foggy, that do not change as time goes by. Science? Fact? Most science is one person's hypothesis and they "prove" it. But what was solid scientific fact 100 or even 5 years ago can be discounted as ridiculous today. Honesty? I've had the skin flayed from my heart by people who felt they HAD to tell me the truth, as they saw it, about me ("I'm just being honest.").

I've come to believe that it's much more honest and truthful to be AUTHENTIC and COMPASSIONATE. Emotional honesty in writing is, I think exactly this: Sharing an authentic emotional situation, feeling. being able to communicate it with words and characters. A "real" name or an alias is not as important as the authenticity of feeling you elicit. Some of the most moving stories in the world (the Quaran, the Bible, the Gosho, the Upanishads) were written down by scribes whose names are lost, whose identities are nebulous and mythical.

Be authentic and compassionate, particularly towards yourself. You have a wonderful gift and thank you for sharing it.