“Be Content to Seem What You Really Are.” ~ Marcus Aurelius

Light of the Harem 1880 Frederic Lord Leighton

“Light of the Harem,” by Frederic Leighton (1880)

 

“And it is me who is my enemy
Me who beats me up
Me who makes the monsters
Me who strips my confidence” ~
Paula Cole, “Me” 

Well, I finished two Ann Rule books since Friday night, and I have partially sated my book craving.  In case you are unfamiliar, Rule writes true crime novels, but she eschews high-profile cases, choosing instead to focus on stories with which more people can relate. Many of her books deal with women who have been terrorized and eventually killed by their husbands/boyfriends.

too late to say goodbyeI reread Every Breath You Take, which is the story of Sheila Blackthorne Bellush and her compulsive, possessive, arrogant ex-husband Allen Blackthorne. I also reread Too Late to Say Goodbye, the story of Jenn Corbin and her dentist husband Bart Corbin, who almost got away with two murders by fashioning them to look like suicides. 

I’m not giving anything away with these very brief summaries. The reader always knows the basic characters and the barebones’ scenario when approaching an Ann Rule book. But what makes Rule’s books well-written as opposed to sensationalistic is that she delves deeply into character and background and takes the reader through years of material. One of her first books was The Stranger Beside Me, about serial killer Ted Bundy. As it turns out, Bundy worked with Rule at a crisis center long before he was disclosed as the prolific killer of young brunette women in over three states.

I have read a few other true crime novels, but they never seem to equal the quality of Rule’s work, most depending upon the more lurid aspects of a crime to draw the reader in. I’m interested in the psychology behind these people: their early lives, events that shaped them. Anyway, Corey is on a search for more Ann Rule books in the storage bins.

“It’s not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.” ~ Sir Edmund Hillary 

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I pay attention to my stats, not just the numbers, but what people are reading. It’s actually pretty interesting, to me, at least. I have two posts that almost always show up in my stats, and both of them have to do with beauty. I wonder why that is, exactly . . . I have reread these posts, and my main point in both of them is that women have unrealistic role models held up for emulation and that we are constantly bombarded to become thinner, more regular, less bloated, have whiter teeth, be more effective at cleaning our houses and to shop wisely.

the-biggest-loserIt’s a bunch of whooey. How many commercials are on prime time television telling young, impressionable women to further their educations, be self-reliant, believe in themselves just the way they are? None. Zero. Instead, we have television programs about people trying to lose weight and get in shape because their lives will continue to be less than ideal if they don’t. Witness, “The Biggest Loser,” “Celebrity Fit Club,” “Diet Tribe,” “I Can Make You Thin.” Well gee, if I had a personal chef to cook low-calorie weight loss meals, and a personal trainer, and that was the only thing that I did in my life for months and months, I’ll bet that I would lose weight too.

Don’t misunderstand: I know that obesity is one of the fastest-growing problems facing Americans, especially young Americans. Obesity, which can lead to a world of health problems, very often arises because people are not taught early how to eat correctly, or eat too much fast food, or foods that are high in saturated fats or overly processed foods in which the nutrients have been leeched out during the cooking and canning.

And then there is the whole problem of not exercising. I know all too well that not exercising, even walking, can be detrimental to individuals who have family propensities for diabetes, heart conditions, and other disorders and diseases. But as a nation, we do not exercise, not like other, more health-conscience nations.

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt 

What I have a problem with is how we as a society continue to perpetuate the theory that being slender is the end-all and be-all without acknowledging that just losing weight is not necessarily going to change a person’s life. For me, I know that I would feel better physically and mentally if I lost some weight, but I don’t have delusions that I am ever again going to weigh what I weighed in my 20’s. But what bothers me is my inability to accept myself until I lose this unspecified number of pounds, as if, somehow, I am going to be a different person when I achieve this goal. Truth is, I am still going to be me—for better or worse—me.

elemis-ultimate-pro-collagen-collection
Yet another expensive collagen beauty regimen for women

I hate that about myself. I really do, especially because it falls right into that trap that women must be optimum in order to be happy. I mean, I have had all of the courses about empowerment and the psychology and sociology behind what makes women women, yet even armed with that knowledge, I am still easy prey for ads that promise to burn stomach fat. Why???

Why do women who are otherwise secure about their intelligence, experienced in life and all of its pitfalls and nadirs, continue to allow themselves to keep a number in the back of their mind: If I can just reach X pounds, if I can just lost X pounds, then everything will be all right . . .

Obviously, I am not the person to ask because no matter how much I rail against socialization and unreal expectations, I am still smack in the middle of it. I buy this mascara because it will make my lashes longer and fuller. I use this body wash because it will keep my skin soft (well, actually, that one isn’t true. I buy based on smell). I use this moisturizer because it will replace my collagen (that one is true).
 
Why do I do these things to myself? Conditioning. My mother. My insecurities.  The weather . . . yes, it’s that variable and that illogical.  Want to know a dirty little secret? I think that if I had the money, I might already have had some work done to my neck, my arms, my belly, and the fact that I know this makes me a little ill because I swore that I would never be my mother, who began having plastic surgery in her 40’s.

“The man who trims himself to suit everybody will soon whittle himself away.” ~ Charles Schwab

Do I ever sit here and think to myself, “I’m a great woman. I’m smart. Relatively witty. Talented, somewhat”? Of course I don’t. I search the mirror each morning to see if any wrinkles have appeared. I play with my neck to see how unfirm it is because my mother has pulled at my neck since I was young, telling me that I need to be careful of my double chins, which I now lovingly (not) refer to as my sixteen chins. If I really want to torture myself, I turn sideways to see how large my belly looks at the moment. 

janicedickinson2
Janice Dickinson: Plastic Surgery Queen

I can say, with all truthfulness, though, that my desires stem not from an attempt to look younger, just thinner. I really don’t like the way that women who have had a lot of work done look, with their taut cheekbones stretched to their ears. Kind of reminds me of Klingons, as in that’s just not normal.

So my rational self says BEH to all of the societal conditioning and yearning for no double chins. My emotional self says, well, maybe just a little. How bizarre. How utterly inane and yet complex. I know but I feel. Descartes never said that. Do you know why? Because he was a man . . .

Enough of this blather. I hate it when I dwell on this.

More later. Peace.

Paula Cole singing her beautiful song “Me”

 

Weathering a Storm is No Guarantee of Calm Seas

rough-seas

Stormy Seas

Why Does It Always Rain on Those Who Are Already Wet With Tears?

“When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

 

This afternoon a song from my past came to me from nowhere. I wasn’t listening to the radio or any of my playlists, or even a CD. It just came, but I’m pretty sure that I know why this particular song rose from my subconsious: The title and words are so close to what I am feeling right now.

“Helplessly Hoping” has been interpreted in so many ways, but I have always seen it as a love song about two people who are floundering. There love isn’t floundering, which is made apparent by the refrain, but individually, they are both losing themselves to confusion and circumstances. The words of the refrain symbolize how these two people are better together. As one, they are individuals. As two, they are separate but alone. But when they merge their separate selves, they become another person altogether: three. And always, they are “for each other.”

I find myself in a very perculiar position. A someone who has long suffered from severe depression, bordering on bipolar disorder, I have always been the one that has needed support and understanding from my partners. I have never had a more supportive or understanding partner when it comes to my mental health than Corey.

But now, I am watching someone I love more than life itself being consumed by self-doubt, depression, and guilt. And I finally realize just how helpless it feels to be in this position, how much you want to fix things but cannot. How much you want to take on the pain of your loved one, but how impossible that task truly is.

I can listen when he wants to talk. I can try to remind him of how talented he is, how much training and education he has acquired on his own to become better in his field. I can tell him that being unemployed is not something that he should feel guilty about, that taking a dead-end job for slightly over minimum wage wouldn’t give him benefits, nor would it pay as much as the unemployment for which he qualifies.

That’s a point that many people don’t understand. They say things like, “why don’t you just take any job for the time being?” never stopping to think about the realities of doing something like that. I’ve been in a dead-end job just to get by, and believe me, it does nothing for your self-esteem or your mental health. If anything, it only makes the problem worse.

Corey has always had his spells, his times in which he turns inward for a little while, and I have learned, or attempted to remember, that pushing him does nothing to help. Instead, it is better to let him work through these times, and he always has. But this time is different.

With each passing day, I am watching him feel as if he is less of a person, and this infuriates me. Mostly because my husband is one of the most caring, honorable, and hard-working individuals I have ever known. When he joined our family, he gave all of us a renewed sense of hope. He gave so much of himself to me and to my children, never doubting that we were working to come together as a family. He has been there countless times for Alexis when her father dropped out of her life. He has taught my sons about honor and respect and love just by being the man that he is.

How could you possibly want more of someone?

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.” ~ Mary Anne Radmacher

We never ever dreamed that his unemployment would drag on so long. He has written, sent resumes and applications, and made so many telephone calls that we have lost count. We thought that the course that he took last year would be enough to make the difference, but it wasn’t. We thought that this AB course would help to make the difference, but now our plans have been derailed once again.

I no longer feel as if I am surfing on quicksand. I now feel as if I am treading in quicksand. The safety of the board on the surface has disappeared. I try not to sound as if I am feeling sorry for myself, and the reality is that self-pity isn’t what I am really feeling. The emotions are more a combination of hopelessness, anger, and guilt in my abilities to make things better for this family.

I cannot help but think that if I had never been put out on disability, things would be different. I still wonder if I shouldn’t try to go back to work, although considering my health background, I don’t know who would take a chance on me.

There are too many unanswered questions. Life has become like a maze with nothing but dead ends and no clear paths.  And so for today, I find solace in an old song. Tomorrow? Who knows?

If suffering and adversity make a person stronger, then by the time all of this is over, we should be like superheroes. That, or we will be like flowers deprived too long of the sun: withering and unable to withstand much more.

Peace

 

“Helplessly Hoping”
by Stephen Stills

Helplessly hoping her harlequin hovers nearby
Awaiting a word
Gasping at glimpses of gentle true spirit
He runs, wishing he could fly
Only to trip at the sound of goodbye

Wordlessly watching, he waits by the window
And wonders at the empty place inside
Heartlessly helping himself to her bad dreams
He worries, did he hear a goodbye
Or even hello

{Refrain}
They are one person
They are two alone
They are three together
They are for each other

Stanby the stairway, you’ll see something
Certain to tell you confusion has its cost
Love isn’t lying, it’s loose in a lady
Who lingers, saying she is lost
And choking on hello

{Refrain}
They are one person
They are two alone
They are three together
They are for each other

My mother’s daughter

My Mom
My Mom

Just so you don’t think that I’m laying the blame for everything at my mother’s feet, I’ll try to spend some print time on her for a change. I love my mother, I really do. But it is a love that comes at a steep price. My mother once went almost four months without speaking to me, and to this day, I’m not really sure which sin I committed. I called her during this time, and left messages on her answering machine, but she would never pick up. Actually, I hadn’t committed the sin, my eldest son had, if memory serves me correctly, but somehow, the entire situation grew to enormous proportions, and everyone in my house became persona non grata, even my youngest son, and he had no idea as to why. And then the cold war was over just as suddenly as it had begun, and no mention was made of the offense or the treaty. My son had called and apologized, just as he had done in the beginning. But apparently, this apology was better than the first, and so we could all move on. This is how my mother operates.

As she gets older, she becomes offended more easily; however, I do not know what offends her, so it is always prickly. For example, she pulled my Obama 08 yard sign up and threw it off to the side in my front yard several months ago, and then pretended that she had no idea as to who would do such a terrible thing. I pretended that I did not know that it was her. We pretend a lot.

I have gotten used to her method of conversing, which can best be described as non sequiturs in action. For example, start of conversation:

Mom: Well I told him about it. (pronouns have no antecedents; actually they do, but the antecedents were mentioned days before).

Me: Told who about what?

Mom: You know (exasperated at my ignorance). Bill, (names made up for privacy), Mary’s nephew. You remember him. I told him about the door.

Me: (at this point I can either pretend to remember Bill and Mary, neither of whom I have ever met in my life, and the conversation will progress more smoothly, or I can be honest. Which way I go is based on how much time and patience I have). Which door?

Mom: The storm door. Remember I told you that it needs to be replaced/painted/fixed?

Me: I thought that you had decided to buy a new one from Home Depot (conversation we had on Saturday)

Mom: I never said that.

Me: Oh.

Now other people might be frustrated at starting in the middle of a conversation discussing people you are supposed to know, but after years of doing this, I’m pretty much used to it. I will admit, though, that at times it drives the ever-loving bejeezus out of me and I start rebelling by saying that I’ve never met this person or heard of that person, and then we begin to have a stalemate.

This is not to say that my mother does not have her good points. She is very generous with most people, and she loves her grandchildren unconditionally but not uncritically. But she doesn’t have an internal censor button. For example, when I was pregnant with Eamonn, she actually said to me, “I knew that you weren’t carrying a girl because you weren’t pretty like you were when you were carrying the girls…” Let’s talk about the roots of my self-esteem problem, shall we? And then she does love to point out to me that I have put on weight, or ask me things like, “What in god’s name are you wearing?” because I obviously got dressed without a mirror or a clue.

I have tried many times to unravel the mystery that is my mother. She was the baby of 12 children—eight boys and 4 girls—a child of the great depression. At one time, her family was fairly well-to-do, but her father drank most of it away. She lost her own mother when she was just eight years old, and that had to affect her own ability to mother. Her father was a stern man. She grew up in a small town in North Carolina, but ended up traveling all over the world as a result of marrying a sailor. She had to have some rebellion in her; after all, she married a Filipino man when it was still considered an interracial marriage. She has lived through hurricanes and monsoons. She has lived without much at all, and she has dined at embassies. She is a walking contradiction, my mother. That’s probably why I really don’t understand her.

But I suppose that I am not unlike most adult women. We love our mothers, but we wonder why they continue to tax us and demand so much of us. Will we ever get to a point at which we feel adequate in their eyes? Or is this just me? I don’t think so, not after talking to my friends. Is this one of those puzzles in life that is never meant to be answered? The more you ponder it, the more confused you become by it? Is it the mother enigma, the holy grail for daughters, the real answer to the riddle of the Sphinx: Can any daughter truly please her mother during her mother’s lifetime without going mad in the trying?

Uh, that would be a no.