I was nine the year we lived in Berlin, Germany, in army housing off of Clayallee and a quick stroll to the Grunewald. Every weekday morning, an army bus would roll into our neighborhood, stop on Luchsweig and load up the American schoolchildren to go to Thomas A. Roberts Elementary School, which was located near the PX and the American Chapel.
Now, the place is a razed hole in the ground. Then, it was a stucco, square military house, sharing a driveway with its conjoined twin house, meeting at the carport. Then, the house was for majors or government workers. It was generally sturdy, but the sounds of the East Germans flying overhead and lowering the boom on us caused some of Mom's delicate knick-knacks to shudder and shake.
I wish I could tell you that snow covered the land that winter, but, alas, it didn't. We had a green Christmas, probably overcast, and a on a day shortened by the city's latitude.
Despite the lack of snow, we managed to have a Froehliche Wienachten in Berlin, including setting our shoes out the evening before Saint Nicholas' Day, hoping that we'd been good enough to merit some fine German chocolate. The saint did not disappoint: he left a gold foil-covered manger with a tiny sugar Christ in my graying old sneaker.
This was the last year I played with Barbies and had converted my closet shelving into a series of sets for Barbies' adventures. Because I was an eager reader and probably because I was a foreign service kid, my Barbie dolls lived lives of comic book action and Gothic adventure when they weren't serving milkshakes in their corduroy jumpers.
In Venezuela, my Barbies had the advantage of Spooky, our family cat, whenever they needed transportation. They'd jump stiff legged onto the back of the sleek and noble coal -colored panther, who often slunk and raced away as he tried to escape the jungle that was my bedroom. Sadly, In Germany we had no such cat, so Barbie stayed in frozen stride unless I moved her anywhere. Her adventures were limited to moving up and down the various shelves in my closet. Christmas, however, widened Barbie's horizon, as under our tree sat a turquoise Barbie airplane so that she, Ken and Skipper could cruise the altitude of the greater back yard, intimidating the East Germans with their own booming flight. If B and K wanted to skip off to Africa to be lost in the brush( the fir tree out front), the driveway afforded a long enough runway for a fashion doll to taxi, take off and coast out of my imagination.
Being Married: have been able think about things at a
more leisurely pace and have seen qualities in myself that I want to
change--like being bossy, introverted and too independent. None of
these qualities are terrible, per se, but when I reflect on my father's
two marriages, I can see how too much of them is a bad thing. And
while I have often trod the path of pondering what I contributed to the
slow unbinding of my first marriage, I've added my father's bossy
specter to the walk. I know that my parents had a knotty relationship,
but so much of our lives were taken up with moving and with my mother's
slowly dying that any problems my parents were having between each
other was out of my perspective. Also, I think that because she was so
sickly and because they had children, they gradually became more of a
team in working around every day home and hearth care.
With my father's second marriage, I got see how behaviors repeat
themselves and how unhappy one person can make another simply by being.
My stepmother was the more overt in her unhappiness and took it out on
her stepchildren in different and painful ways. Even though I was on
the receiving end of her woe, I could understand why she was angry. My
father was, in the Venn Diagram of life, a selfless man who could be
very emotionally selfish, or who,perhaps, didn't know or realize
better. He spent his retirement with his nose in a book and a bag of
The effect this had on me as a young woman
was that I honestly believed that all men were passive, chauvenistic
idiots who needed a wife's strong guidance and even stronger sarcasm to
get through life. In this way, I thought I was a lot like my mother,
who was strong-willed and sarcastic, and that it was all for the best.
And with therapy, I put my mother in the role of family bad gal, even
though intellectually I knew that both partners in a relationship are
equally responsible for its cultivation. Since my father was my
surviving parent, I know that there was always anxiety about losing him
impelling me to recall and repress my anger at him (well, maybe not
"repress"). Or, at least, to see him as another victim of my mother's
anger, which was never repressed as far as I can remember. And my
frustration with him always centered around the way he seemed to tune
everyone out (and yes, being a single, middle-aged parent of two teenagers and a elementary schooler would make having this ability an act of self-preservation).
Moving through young adulthood and therapy, I realized that in
so many ways I was like my father, especially in terms of
relationships. I, too, can be insular and emotionally distant and
selfish, tuning out everyone. What bothers me is that what may once have been a reflexive,
defensive behavior may have become a fixed trait. Flexibility and forethought in deploying emotion are what I'm after these days.
What do I have to fear? Nothing that I can't deal with. I didn't
marry idiots, not at all. Both men are extremely intelligent and
gifted. My first marriage didn't work out, and now I am married to
someone else, a person who demands that I be present in the relationship, and someone who doesn't need me to manage his life (not that my first husband did or wanted my help).
In sum, Dad's passing has cut me free from the tension that bound me out of loyalty and fear. So much of that energy has been rerouted into acceptance and validation of my mother and my stepmother; another packet of energy has been flowing into my sense of myself as I was and as I am.
So, having rolled up my cyberjeans and taken off my electronic socks, I'm wading back into the pixel-pond called blogging. I've missed it. It's MY place on the web, where readers come and go, reading whatever dream, idea or story that I've put up (like jams and jellies?)here (like a collage?). My blog is my focus, however meandering and illogical it may seem. And it's my writing, my exercise in using words. yes, I like Facebook and Twitter, but I've really hungered for returning to my platform. I've missed reading other blogs, writerly and academic. Your blogs are where I've gained so much professionally as well as personally.
And I want to do more playing around with the graphic elements of things--to create a new banner, for one. This "Bink in the Shadows" is simply a placeholder for things to come. I've missed playing around with graphic design--there's great satisfaction to be had in mixing colors and shapes and photos and fonts--multimodal glee, as it were.
When I look back at my September posts, I'm tempted to do a point -by-point update, but since laziness trumps temptation, I'll only do a few:
Walking--a great idea that fizzled down to walking up and down the stairs at work. However, I was seized with the fun to be had working in my yard, so it's a near-substitution of exercise. Of course, yoga continues, and I'm thinking of moving to a class and having a private lesson once a week. Financially, that would be great, but the truth is that getting into the groove of going to a class is going to take quite a bit of energy. I tend toward inertia at the end of the day. Oh well, another small, incremental goal, eh?
Meditating: this habit completely fell out of my life this year--and I used to meditate every day. For years. I need to schedule a time and a place every day in order to return to the habit, which I know will help me remain calm and lower my blood pressure.
Working: I have been pretty happy at work and have returned to being able to give my all without also feeling like if I do give my all, I won't have any energy for anything else. Now that the stress and the grief has faded, I feel good, and am grateful for that. Most of my energy has been going into my textspace--I feel more focused about what I want to have in it--have done a lot of "Big Picture" thinking about the needs of Basic Writers in terms of technology, and, of course, writing. My modest goal for next semester is to podcast the unit intros and the biweekly plans. Just podcast. Nothing fancy. And my modest realization is that, say what you will about Powerpoint, I like using it with BW's since it moves logically slide by slide, and contributes to slowing down and adjusting the pace at which the students zoom through things.
Okay. Blogging daily hasn't happened so far. I'm just not in the mood for it, and I don't want to. And it's a neutral detachment--not something filled with anger. Still, I want to keep my fingers and my mind nimble, and writing of any kind is useful for that. So, I've decided to blog weekly lists of various things that have struck my fancy. Low or no-pressure writing here.
1. Getting back in the swing has involved walking a few times a week. I hope that by the end of the month, my strides will have picked up the pace a bit, but for now, I'm glad to put on my Skechers and walk for a half hour a few days a week.
2. I've returned to doing affirmations every day, a few times a day, during walks or drive time. Why did I ever stop doing them, I wonder. As a person with depression, it's altogether too easy for my mind to hunker down in a negative pattern. Affirmations are a very powerful way of circumventing negativity. Do they make everything perfect? Nope. But I find that if I'm in the habit of doing them regularly, they come to me when my mind takes an impulsively negative turn.
3. I've returned to reading and listening to books about Buddhism, which is another comfort in my life. I suspect that what I read falls into the "self-help Buddhism" category (if one can be said to help the "self" according to Buddhism!) and not philosophical tracts, but again, the reading I do helps me find balance in my life--quelling enervating negativity.
4. We're into week three at school, and I love my classes, love my students, and have a good schedule. I've realized that the first two weeks of classes are a big transition for everyone, including this professor who is getting back into the swing. Adding the flu epidemic to the mix has students missing or anxious, but we still manage to get things done. So far, our community college hasn't been struck like some of the local universities-- I suspect this is so because we are not a residential school. But we have been made aware of it and are Purelling up a storm.
5. My cats have not been blogged about lately, but that hasn't stopped the Bink from bringing upstairs his latest hunting catch, a half-dead mouse. Props to my husband who swooped in, multitaskingly, and picked up the mouse with one hand while patting and complimenting the cat with the other hand. I stood down the hallway wondering why I freak out when the cats bring up treasures from the basement.
Meanwhile, Snickerdoodle is keeping watch over all of the birds on our property. He's more inclined to let the Bink do the work of actually catching mice, but birds and insects are his prey of choice. I heard a fly buzz while I meditated today, really, and I heard the gallumping of Snickerdoodle in hot pursuit. He's more likely to throw himself at windows and fall off of furniture when he hunts his out-of-reach projects--Bink is a big picture mouser, cautious and canny.
6. Alz Walk will be walking without me, I'm afraid, but my husband will be walking in New Haven, and that makes me happy. I have to be at our annual lit festival this year, which falls on the same day as the walk. Oh well.
7. New laundry game plan--the rule of eight. Instead of waiting for mountains of laundry to accumulate (which can be depressing), I've starting watching eight of everything we wear --tshirts, shorts, unmentionables. It gets the job done more quickly and gives me more time for other things.
Professional week starts tomorrow--it's the academic version of New Years', sans champagne and paper hats.
I'm looking forward to the year. Having spent the summer regrouping and organizing my important personal papers and cleaning out my office at school, I feel ready and excited in a way that I haven't in years. It feels so good not to feel that no matter what I do, I am only chipping away tiny flakes from a too- long list.
It feels great to be organized. Having cleared out everything that I haven't worn in a few years, I can enter my closets and find things. And I don't need that much--I have all that I need to get through the school year. I've found my beloved celtic horse pin among the various piles of junk near my jewelry. I'm hanging my bracelets up, alongside my necklaces, in the hopes that seeing them displayed will prompt me to wear them. All of my wristwatches--except for the one I wear everyday and one formal one--went to Goodwill. A long time ago, I was seized with the idea that it would be practical to wear different wristwatches instead of bracelets. The only catch was that each of my watches ran on batteries, so as the collection grew, so did my trips to have worn batteries replaced.
I've sorted through my earrings. Two years ago, when things started to get really intense concerning my father, I bought myself a pair of rose gold hoop earrings that I have worn day in and day out. They look good with everything, so I haven't had to worry about them. However, I have needed to weed out the rest of the earrings and ask myself if I really, really, really want to be saddled with anything I don't use. So I've about six pairs of earrings fewer than when the summer began.
I read somewhere that as we move into our fifties, we start divesting ourselves of stuff. We have everything we need (and then some), so the thrill of getting things is no longer the adrenalin-fueled experience that it once was. I've been ruthless in getting rid of things that I simply don't use or like. Sentiment has been steamrolled, I'm afraid, in my desire to have less stuff. And I'm embarrassed to add that digging through piles of stuff has unearthed several versions of an item that I bought because I couldn't find the original!
Here's the difference: when I was younger, I had the luxury of dreaming of the time when I'd have a place where I could use all of this stuff. But times and tastes change, and I find that some of the quilts I bought long ago just don't appeal to me anymore. I have a place, but I am less interested in using the stuff I have hoarded over the years (a mismatched spectacle if ever there was one) than in just finding exactly what I need and buying it. Period.
So, goodbye to that 1930's style armchair in the basement--the one that belonged to my first husband and which several generations of cats have shredded. I've been dreaming of the someday when I'd learn how to reupholster it, and I think that that time has passed. Hello, freecycle.
I've been reading other blogs, but the urge to write has been lacking this summer. I think that grief has had a few more tasks in store for me, and so I followed its urging and took it easy. Slept, cried, wrote in my journal, and let things be--finding meaning in the stillness of letting ideas bubble up and then move on.
More than anything, I've wanted to be alone for big chunks of time, and as a college professor, feel blessed to have had the summer to do that. Last year was the denoument of a highly intense period of my life, and I've needed this time to meditate on how my life has changed.
And the changes are internal--I feel much more adult that I ever have. "Adult" in the sense that I'm parentless. "Adult" in the sense that I feel a stronger responsibility to my family and to the younger people of my community to speak up and be honest about things.
I've noticed that as my father aged and then died, my perspective on my mother has become more compassionate. I understand now that feeling compassion for her and forgiving her doesn't mean that I am condoning what she did. For years, my willingness to feel sympathy for her was predicated on other people's acknowledging that she did treat me badly. These days, I don't care. I've been able to have the best therapy, the best medical help and support a person could want. My mother, born in another time, wasn't able to have that. I honestly believe that she did the best she could, but both her physical deterioration and mental health problems made it impossible for her to have been the kind of mother I needed.
As an INTJ, I need to be alone and to process things. I need to be able to sit quietly and mull. As a person with depression, I need to be able to determine when mulling has become a rut that I need to get out of. Over the past few months, I've been reading about cognitive techniques to use to get out of the rut, and have been trying them out, establishing new patterns along the way.
Yes, this summer has also afforded time to get all of the practical tasks of adulthood back in an organized rhythm--filing papers, sorting out recyclables, and gathering up items for Goodwill. The older I become, the less materialistic and the more unburdened I feel about things. Things used to be a part of my identity--they were a kind of anchor: the story behind each piece of furniture and trinket reminded me that I had worth. These days, that worth is more intrinsic and based on what I do for others--that's my legacy, not any jewelry or dish.
The older I become, the more I feel the need to be healthy and be even more proactive about taking care of myself, so I have spent three hours a week stretching and holding into my yoga practice. I've been even more disciplined about watching what I eat.
But there has been time for fun, too. Visiting with family, catching up with friends, playing Scramble and Scrabble on Facebook have been part of the plan. I've been very happy to have worked with Molly Fisk on my poetry and am looking forward to doing more of it in the coming semester.
One aspect of blogging that has been sorely missed around here has been the Friday Blogging of the Cats. Our team of tabbies has spent the last few months languishing in unpostedness. And now that the time has come, there doesn't seem much to post about the charming critters except to say that someone (whose name rhymes with "ickerfoodle") has been soaking his toys in his waterbowl. Not all of his toys all at once, mind you--just whenever he's playing and gets thirsty. He trots over to the bowl and dunks the toy while drinking, a la "Stone Soup," and then leaves it there. I don't really care since I won't be drinking the stuff, and the Bink has his own bowl of clear water to sip from.