Tag Archives: Relationships

We Made It: First Winter in the Country is Finished!

Happy first day of spring everyone! Of course, this is Minnesota, so it could continue to snow for another month.

View from my front steps this morning.

View from my front steps this morning.

Let’s hope not – even the cheeriest people around here are hovering somewhere between dead-eyed apathy and full-on stabbiness. I don’t blame anyone, either. It’s been a bad winter all over the U.S., and in MN it is the worst winter for sub-zero temperatures since 1979. Of course it would be a bad one during our first year of isolation out in the country.

Actually, I think that living  all the way out here in the stix has made this winter a lot more tolerable. We don’t have to deal with other people’s stabbiness so much. Nor do we need to deal with  the terrible on-street parking (and associated rules designed for maximum ticketing and towing. Big fundraiser in this state) that happen in the city. Minimal shoveling. We have a guy that comes and plows our driveway. We have a garage in which one of our cars can live so I haven’t had to do any of the dreaded car-brushing or ice-scraping this year. I work from home on the days when the roads are bad. All of this is a significant improvement from the slogging through snow drifts to dig out a plowed-in car only to move it to the other side of the street so it can get plowed-in again over there.

I did go through a little bit of isolation depression back in December. Or it may have just been the standard holiday season depression…hard to say. Otherwise I have been enjoying how quiet it is out here in the winter. The snow is beautiful instead of dirty and gross. Winter in the country feels like a time to rest and reflect rather than like a time to deal with the bad weather while doing the things that you always do like we did in the city. The main drawback has been that, since most of our friends still live in the city, we have missed a lot of events and happenings with them because of the impact of weather on driving.Well, and the other part is convincing myself to leave the house to attend events. Living here has made it hard for me to choose to venture out, despite knowing that connecting with friends is important and worth it once I get going!

The other drawback has been my commute. The fact that I still spend half of my life either  downtown, or traveling to or from downtown, is leaving me with some personal dissonance right now. I am doing my best to process that, but more on that later! For now, I hope you are enjoying a warm-ish spring day!

Welcome this is a Farmhouse

Since this is my blog, where I can be a sloppy writer if I want: I don’t know the rules about ripping off song lyrics to use as a blog title, so I’ll just say that the title of this post is from a Phish song called Farmhouse. You should listen to it.

As of July I live on a farm. This was my grandmother’s home for 50 years, and my grandfather’s home for the last 26 years of his life.

The driveway goes to the back of the house. So what we call the front is really the back

The driveway goes to the back of the house. So what we call the front is really the back

They moved to the farm from Bloomington when my dad was six. There is so much to say about the story of this place in relation to my family, but I think that’s for another time. This is just an intro to my personal relationship with this place, and my new way of being here.

This is technically the front of the house. But we call it the back.

This is technically the front of the house. But we call it the back.

My dad has been the primary caretaker of the farm for my entire life. My grandpa had a stroke when I was pretty young…maybe six or so? And from there on out, grandma took care of grandpa until his death, and dad took care of everything else. My dad worked nights when I was a kid, and during the summer he was at the farm at least four out of seven  days, which means my brother and I were here, too.

The barn in February. We have since torn the silo down.

The barn in February. We have since torn the silo down.

I was also very close with my grandma growing up, and spent the night out here frequently. So the farm was basically a second home to me. My brother and I ran wild outside here, did a lot of baking with grandma, ate a lot of her amazing pancakes, and hung out and watched TV with grandpa. All family holidays were here. I  had several childhood birthday parties here, including a hayride. And when I grew up, I got married here.
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Suffice it to say that the farm has never not been a very special place to me. And now I get to live here.

Despite loving the place, I was worried about whether or not it would be really hard to adjust to living here. I mean, I did live in the most populace neighborhood in Minnesota before moving out to the stix. I was used to constant over-stimulation. I was worried that I would be bored or lonely. I was worried that I would be scared to be there alone, especially at night. I was worried that I would grow to hate the commute to downtown so much that I would just hate my life. I was also really worried that it would never feel like my home; it would always feel like I was a visitor at Grandma’s house. That concern wasn’t so much about my grandma imposing her will, but was more about overcoming my own childhood attachment to the place.

Outbuildings

Outbuildings

So far all of my worries were for naught. There is so much to do out here in terms of actual physical labor that being bored is practically a sin! Also, I have been spending a lot more time on writing and reading than I did with all the distractions of the big city, and that makes me very happy. Basically I’ve been making up for lost time with all of the introverted things that I like to do and haven’t done enough of while I was busy being hyper-social.  I have been  enjoying the peace. And being a little on the hermity side.  However, it is also very important that I have still been making an effort to get together with my friends. I’m no longer able to go to everything that I once did due to the distance, but I’ve still been trying to get together with people a few times per month.

Crazy jungle-like garden which I intend to tame this spring!

Crazy jungle-like garden which I intend to tame this spring!

The commute is long, but I finally relented a little bit of my Luddite  tendency (and gave up on feeling that I was  somehow cheating on actual books), and got a Kindle. I’m so in love with it I can hardly stand it. I’ve been reading double-time (which is excessive since I already read a lot before!). Anyhow, I actually enjoy the commute at this point because the 20 minute drive to the park and ride is pretty, and then I get an uninterrupted hour of reading or journaling time!

So far I have not been scared of being there alone at night (well, except for a couple of times when I’ve been letting the dog out and my brain dared to think: what if that thing crashing around in the pasture isn’t a deer or a racoon or a coyote, but a human being? It doesn’t take that long then for my brain to go down the path of adding an ax, chainsaw, etc. to that human. *Shutting mind to possibility of human in pasture*). Otherwise there is nothing creepy about the place, and I think my childhood experience there actually helps a lot. It feels very homey and comforting to me.

Despite the childhood memories, I’m actually surprised by how not weird it feels for me to live there. I feel like the extensive interior updating (pics forthcoming. This time I promise I will actually do it. I will post pics!) has made the house feel like my own, but the memories still overlap the facelift in a way that makes it very comfortable for me. In any case, right now I feel very much like I get the best of both worlds in a lot of ways: City for work and fun and country for home and rejuvination. After a full year of more intensive chaos than is even usual for me, I am feeling pretty blessed.

A Small Gift Amongst Many Big Ones

Holy Crap. This has been a strange week. It’s not often that a family patriarch passes away at the same time that you’re just beginning to pull yourself out of a three-week dead-eyed depression. But that is what has happened this week.

The man in question was my husband’s grandfather. He was truly a patriarch in the old-fashioned sense: He was an active Lutheran pastor for 70-some years. He had 5 children and 11 grandchildren, and he performed baptism and marriage ceremonies for almost all of them (including our wedding!). At age 94 he was still a fountain of support for his family, spiritually, emotionally, and physically, right up until he got sick less than a year ago. Even though he was quite elderly, he was the type of person that it was nearly impossible to imagine ever dying. My husband said “I just really have always felt like he was invincible.”

Grandpa (which everyone in the family calls him, regardless of whether or not he is your grandpa, specifically) lived simply in terms of material wealth, and was a very busy person. He was a master gardener, a key member of the senior cooperative he lived in, a family man, and continued as a substitute pastor and otherwise active church-member until the end of his life. He was passionately faithful, and he lived it out by being passionately giving and open to others. I knew him for nine years and never heard him utter anything remotely judgmental.  In other words, the man did not pull any punches. He was the real deal, a true model of what it means to “live a good life.” Because of all that, his passing, once his discomfort ended (he wasn’t in pain, but for some people, dying can be hard work. One of the last things he said was that he felt “dead tired;”and yes, that was meant to be a joke!), hasn’t been terribly mournful. Everyone is sad and grieving because they will miss him, but everyone knows that he was satisfied with his life here, and was ready to move on.

I am lucky to have known him, and to have had him as a little bit of a surrogate grandfather (both of mine passed away a long time ago). As for the depression, it is impossible to remain in a funk when contemplating such a well-lived life. He wasn’t super-famous, or accomplished in any superhuman ways, he just did a really good job at life. It’s a little gift that he didn’t even know he was giving: whatever you’re doing, don’t be bummed that you’re not doing something “better,” don’t think so hard about it. Just do a good job.

“O me! O life!…of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless — of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these O me, O life? Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.”
Walt Whitman

The Experience of Change

It seems like a lot of people that I know are currently going through big changes in their lives, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how change is experienced (well, and I’ve been experiencing my own changes, too!). Change, whether it is self-imposed or imposed by the universe, can feel very scary. I think change is scary because it feels lonely. Even if it’s a positive change. Even if you have a lot of support. Even if you feel cared-for. Even if you know that you are loved. The experience of change is very personal, and nobody can know how it feels to you. Depending on where you are at, or what the change is, your perception of the situation can make the responses of others feel very thoughtless and mean when they are actually quite innocent. Also, you know that nobody can really know how you feel, because they aren’t walking around in your head. So, even if people are trying to give you support, your mind can twist away from it, just because you know that they don’t really understand how it is for you. Finally, change is transformation. It is moving away from what your loved ones, and sometimes society in general, expect from you, and a lot of us have a very hard time tearing ourselves away from what other people want from us.

For me, the changes that I’m intensely trying to make in my life are imposed by me. They are only loosely dependent on my relationships. Nothing catastrophic or sad has happened to me. The process is, for the most part, under my control. I feel lucky for that: not only do I get to choose own perceptions about my results, but I am also the instigator of the change in the first place. However, it can be a little bit confusing sometimes. I get frustrated or sad because I feel isolated. But I’ve been isolating myself deliberately, so I can’t really go shaking my fist at the sky! I chose to take it easy on the social front because I needed some space to get into a new groove before putting myself in situations where I’d be likely to derail myself. When I look at it that way I am forced to acknowledge that feeling sorry for myself is silly and unhelpful and not a real problem but one I’m creating in my head. And then I feel like an asshole and immediately make myself feel better by laughing at what an asshole I am being. Problem solved!

Another side to the loneliness of change is that my default is still, though much less so than at other times in my life, to want to put the desires of others before my own needs. I struggle with guilt, and feel like I have been a terrible friend/daughter/granddaughter/sister/etc. But, as cheeseball as it sounds, I’ve grown to really believe that you can’t really love others fully if you don’t love yourself – kindness isn’t as kind as it could be if your acts of kindness are, deep-down, about self-validation. This concept is totally self-help 101; I’ve frequently heard it on The Biggest Loser, for god’s sake. But for some reason it’s a hard one for a lot of people to grasp.  Ultimately the thought that helps me get through those moments of guilt is that I want my relationships to be about mutual love and support and happiness. Not about validation or control on either end (I realize that there are some relationships that are dependent by nature – they have to be! But I am not a parent yet, so now is a good time for me to get a grip on these concepts!).

Are you experiencing a big change in your life? How are you feeling about it? Is it scary? Lonely? Exciting? Invigorating? All of the above?

The Connection

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Abby, Shannon, and me at the Gala, 11/2009

Over the last week I have been thinking a lot about how connected all of my big goals are with each other. Good health, strong spirituality, wealth, and a satisfying career are nodes on the same loop.

Good health is biggie. We’ve all heard the phrase “you haven’t got anything if you haven’t got your health.” This is true on so many levels. The first level is obvious: if you are sick in any way, you are not able to function to your highest potential. If you are tired, can’t breathe, are in pain, can’t move properly, etc., it is going to make it all the harder to reach any goal you set out for yourself. Obviously, people overcome all kinds of physical obstacles to achieve their dreams; but at this point in time I feel like if I have any control over the obstacles, it’s best to just remove them. I have enough “issues” to get over without adding physical problems to the pile! The more energy I have, the more I can devote to spirituality, career development, and wealth.

The second level is that physical issues feed into the psychological issues. If you don’t feel good, it affects your brain chemistry and how you perceive the world; which then affects your behaviors, which affect how others perceive you. The perception of others can affect a lot of things – from your personal relationships to your career. It’s all a self-fulfilling loop. Feeling bad begets feeling bad.

The next level is that your health affects your appearance, which also affects the perception of others. Let’s face it, as much as we all want to say appearance doesn’t matter, it absolutely does. Despite our advanced self-awareness and cognitive ability, it’s my opinion (based on some stuff that I have read that I am too lazy to go find for reference!) that humans still have some holdovers from “survival of the fittest.” Above and beyond obvious conscious biases (ie., if you look like a supermodel or an olympic athlete, chances are that people might be “drawn” to you!), if you’re not healthy, there are a million little subconscious ways that other people are going to know it and be subconsciously biased towards you. I think that is some of the basis for “gut feelings” about people. If you have the opportunity to remove biases that others might have towards you, it is only going to be helpful in developing the relationships that a person needs for a successful career, etc. In other words, I think that health touches every part of our lives.

The next part of the “loop” is money. I don’t think that a lot of money is necessary for good health. But I do see where the more money a person has, the more they can afford to spend on maintaining their health, and they will definitely be less stressed out without debt nagging at them. Furthermore, there’s the old adage, “it takes money to make money,” you need to spend money on education and/or on other resources and supplies in order to gain a successful career that will earn more money. More money can also mean more free time- which can lead to more time for spiritual practice.

Next we have career development. Having a fulfilling career leads to a better sense of confidence and well-being, which contributes to good health in all kinds of ways – higher levels of endorphins, lower levels of stress, etc. People tend to be more successful at things they are passionate about. Success leads to wealth. I also believe that having a vocation, or doing what you are “supposed” to do for a living, can be part of a spiritual path.

Finally, there is spirituality. Like health, I feel that spirituality touches every single part of our lives. Part of it is that I believe that we are each active participants in creating our own realities. Every thought that we have has the potential to be a “prayer”- we are constantly asking the universe, or God, or whatever your preferred title, for what we want via our thoughts and intentions. If you think negatively about your health, money, or career, your experience is going to be negative. If you think positively your experience will be positive. I believe in this both psychologically and physically (I put weight on the whole theory that thoughts have physical bearing). The more energy I can devote to training myself to live with intention, and gratitude for the life that I have at any given moment, the better off I feel that I will be.

So really, the main point that I am trying to make is that having a lot of goals doesn’t need to be overwhelming, because if you are working hard on one of them, it is also going to make a gain in the others. Everything is a big web, and when you make positive changes in one area of life, all areas will be positively affected. Personally, I feel really good about focusing most of my energy on good health right now. It seems like a strong cornerstone. But it’s been a nice side-effect of that focus to begin noticing other, seemingly unrelated changes!

Letting Go

Colors

©2007, Chaos to Clarity

I have been stuck on Week 3 in the Artist’s Way for two months. Sad, but true. I have still been intermittently writing my pages and going on Artist Dates; but I haven’t really been sticking with the program; doing the exercises, etc. The biggest reason that people give for falling out of the Artist’s Way is that it is so time consuming. This is true. It does take quite a bit of time; at least an hour per day. I think that the other reason that people fall out of it is that it requires you to dig in and touch places that you might not want to touch. In fact, it requires you to poke those places especially hard, because they could be the places that are most likely keeping you blocked. It feels easier to walk away from the path that you know you should be on than it does to to face the things that are keeping you off from it. However, it doesn’t make much sense to embrace a lifetime of anxiety because you aren’t doing what you are meant to do in favor of temporary relief.

The first three weeks of the program have a lot to do with letting go of impediments, whether it is letting go of your inner critic/editor, or letting go of toxic relationships with other people. I made it through the first two chapters with flying colors, and took the major step of going public with this blog. I did that even though I was terrified to show my writing to anyone. The way I look at the world has changed a lot from just those two weeks. However, Week 3 is something that I clearly have a problem with. It is called “Recovering a Sense of Power.”

The hard thing about chapter 3 is that to recover a sense of power, you also need to take responsibility. You need to look at what you are doing that robs you of a sense of control over your own destiny, and at what other people in your life are doing to do the same. I think that the reason that I have been stuck here is that I have a problem with letting go. Of anything. I am a pack-rat, both physically and emotionally. I am a big fan of shrouds and safety blankets. I like, to a certain extent, security. This means that I have trouble letting go of anything that I once hid behind, particularly images. This is what makes it hard for me to completely let go of smoking. I have trouble letting go of anything that can be an excuse; like being fat, or being too “busy,” for example. I have trouble letting go of anything that has been in my life for a long time; like toxic relationships. All of these years I have thought that I have no will power. No strength. The truth is that I have extreme tenacity and an unusually strong will, but that I have been using those character attributes against myself rather than for myself. I already have the tools, I just need to work on transforming them.

My guiding question right now is, in the words of a famous hash-smoking caterpillar, “whoooooo are yooou?” I feel like at this point in time I have a pretty good grasp on who I am at my core.  The exercises in Chapter 3 have helped me find that person even more. Now I  need to work on becoming that person outwardly, and to do that I need to hold on to her, and let go of the other things that are trying to destroy her. When I can do that, I will know that my sense of power is recovered. The thought of feeling really in control of my own destiny has been creeping in for me, and is really exciting, rather than terrifying as it has been in the past. I plan to finish my Chapter 3 exercises and do my artist date tonight and tomorrow. It will feel good to finally charge forward again!

The Doors of Perception

Lately I have been pondering perception. I’ve been wondering how much misery is created in this world by our perceptions of situations, rather than by the facts. It has caused me to look back on my life and wonder how many of the situations that have been painful for me were at least half in my head. I’m thinking specifically of situations in which I felt victimized by other people.

One of the things that got me thinking about this was, oddly enough, an episode of 30 Rock. I tried to find some clips from the episode, but was unsuccessful. I will try to just sum it up: in the episode Jack talks Liz into attending her high school reunion. Liz doesn’t want to go because in her mind she was tortured and ostracized by her classmates. There is a flashback scene that shows her defending herself against the cruel teasing of her classmates. When she gets to the reunion, she discovers that her classmates viewed her as the cruel one, always being defensively mean in response to their friendly advances. The same flashback is shown from the perspective of her classmates, in which Liz, rather than defending herself from their cruel teasing, is cruelly lashing out at them. I remember seeing that episode and wondering; “huh, I wonder how much of that was true for me”?

As I’ve mentioned before, I was extremely shy for most of my childhood/early adulthood. I spent a lot of that time bemoaning the fact that the only attention that people seemed to pay me was to make fun of me. In hindsight I wonder if I didn’t kind of invite that. The problem with being shy is that people often perceive you as being stuck up – they think you don’t talk much because you think you’re superior somehow, when it is really the opposite. I know that I spent most of my time frowning and looking unapproachable (which is so strange to me now, because for years now people have told me the exact opposite – that it’s my smile that makes me seem so approachable!). Also, in hindsight, I responded defensively to pretty much everything. I was so convinced that most people were out to hurt me that I’m pretty sure I was inappropriately rude to people sometimes.  I spent a lot of time hiding behind my hair rather than engaging with people. I lived in a constant state of embarrassment and defensiveness.

I’m not saying that there aren’t some people who are just cruel for no reason. What I am saying is that when you feel like you are being victimized, it might do some good to check yourself. Perception in human relationships can be a big viscous cycle. First off, sometimes you can’t control how others perceive you. What you can control is how you perceive them. For example, if there is someone that drives you crazy; ask yourself why. Is it because that person is really trying to piss you off, or is it because of that person’s own set of issues, exacerbated by the fact that they sense that you are perceiving them in a negative manner? A little compassion can go a long way. If a person perceives that you are not responding negatively to them, they are less likely to continue negative behaviors, so on and so forth into infinity. In other words, the best way to influence the perception of others is to temper your perception of them. If you try to be understanding of others, it opens a doorway for them to be more receptive and understanding of you.

I still have a little bit of a problem with feeling like people are judging me, and being overly defensive about it. It’s just some of the remnants of a long perception of victimization. The idea of feeling compassion towards people that seem to take jabs at me is another useful life lesson for me (and is, duh, a basic tenet of many of the religions I’ve looked into!). It is something for me to keep in mind while trying to invite patience and positive experiences into my life! It will only make my own experience, and that of people I encounter, better.