All posts by Belle Chapin

Halloween is Coming!

Is it Halloween yet? Trick question, it’s always Halloween.

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Wedding gift.  But of course.

When the chill comes into the air and the days get shorter, Chris and are giddy waiting for everyone else to start putting out spooky things and black clothes and Addams Family memes. Then we put on our best boots and long coats, go to the Halloween stores and skip across the parking lot singing “It’s the most wonderful time…of the yeeeaaarrrrr…..”

A few years ago we were picking out some serving dishes shaped like skulls and a nice print for the living room. A young lady working there asked us if we needed help. “Can I help you find anyt….oooooh, you shop here for all year, don’t you?” We giggled prettily and skipped away. Yes, we do shop there for all year. Our goal is to be Gomez and Mortica and I think we’re well on our way.

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Every home should have a plague mask.

We love the fog belt in San Francisco, where there are many ravens hopping around being ravens, crows forming murders, fog horns singing a mournful song to the sea. Sorry, got lost in thought.

It’s normal to enjoy being scared, or Stephen King would be a copy-editor. As adults we know these things can’t really hurt us. But it gets us right in the fear receptors, something deep inside, whatever it is that scares each person. A big one for me is dread, what isn’t seen. I don’t like jump scares, I like the gut squeezing build-up, or the just barely perceptible mumbling or the thing that morphs into a menace that shouldn’t be.

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If you know what this is, you’ve seen one of my favorite scary movies ever. (The Haunting, 1963 if you haven’t.)

As an adult, I know that none of this is real but as a kid, oh it’s serious business. This happened when I was about 7 or 8, and it was one of the best moments of fear-imprinting ever, so I share it with you. (Fear-imprinting may not be a thing, I just thought it sounded cool.)

We had gone to visit an aunt who lived outside Chicago in a huge old three-story house, with dozens of closets to play hide-and-go-seek, and a giant basement. As a girl in a one-story ranch house with no basement in suburban California, this was utterly alien to me. But as bizarre as the basement was, it was the furnace, a coal furnace, that blew off the top of my vivid imagination head. I had never even conceived of such a thing, and except for a steam locomotive, I’d never seen coal used as fuel.

One day, I went to the basement alone, it must have been a game of “Truth or Dare.” I pulled the chain of each bare light bulb as I went down the stairs, step by squeaky wooden step, and down onto the cement floor of this otherworldly space, and walked slowly forward, my eyes on my feet. I could hear my heartbeat and very little else. A few more steps and then…I looked up.

And there it was, this giant beast. It was staring right at me! It had many red, rectangular eyes, angry eyes, but its mouth! Huge, gaping, glowing yellow and white. I stood, unable to move as it fixed its red eyes on me, as it frowned its open-mouth frown. What do I do? All I knew is that it was going to devour me messily with a great deal of noise that no one would hear because I was way down in the basement which was larger than my entire house. After a lifetime fit into a minute or two, it hissed at me! A long, cat-like hiss. I was going to die.

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It didn’t look like this, but this one looks like Bender from Futurama and that’s funny.

I have no memory of running through the paths of boxes, Christmas ornaments and forgotten toys to the stairs and up, but the next I knew I was in the brightly lit kitchen. I told my older sister and brother what had happened and they responded exactly the way an older sister and brother would, they laughed themselves dizzy.

I had kept my eyes on my feet because a long-accepted rule of kid-lore states, “if I can’t see the scary thing, it can’t hurt me.” The rule includes the subset “if my limbs are under the covers it can’t get me.”

Is this really kid stuff though? Is it any different than horoscopes or T.V. psychics? It’s a very small step from “there’s a ghost in my closet” to “there’s a ghost in my closet, call the Ghost Hunters.” It’s the same need, I think, to be afraid of something we know deep inside can’t hurt us, but we believe just enough to be afraid.

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 Ermastus is offended by the stereotype, quite frankly.

Anyway, when you watch a scary movie, especially a slasher type, there’s always that moment when someone does something that makes you think “No! Don’t go there, do go toward the sound, you dumbass!” Then you’re annoyed because nobody would ever be that stupid, I mean, who would ever be that stupid?

Um, about that.

Chris and I were visiting friends in Petaluma. It was a cold night and there was steam coming out of a manhole cover, that’s normal. But we got closer and heard what sounded like both metal scraping and a sort of growl. Did we – A: Cross the street with some urgency B: Note it, and walk around it or C: Walk right up to it, stand on either side, lean over and say “ooooh, what’s that noise?”

C. We did C. We would have been dead before the opening credits. Now when we watch scary movies and someone says, “Nobody would ever be that stupid.” we just sort of glance away and munch our popcorn. Yeah, nobody would be that stupid.

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Would not put it past me.

Sometimes as a skeptic I get called on to help someone logic out of a situation they can’t explain. Sometimes that answer is very, very funny.

Imagine this setting. A big group of us are camping beside a river. It’s dark, some people are getting as crazy as near 50-year-old people do. (Wooo hoo! We’re gonna stay up until 11 tonight!) We weren’t really roughing it though, there was a building with toilets and showers.

So I’m sitting there near the fire, and two of my dear friends run down the path from the bathrooms, linked arm in arm, scared and laughing, wanting me to go with them to check out a ghost in the bathroom. Ok, fine. I set down my sparkling water, and off we went.

As we walk into the bathroom, my girls are giggling but also scared (I really should have messed with them.) “So it looks like your ghost has great taste, it carries a Louis Vuitton bag.” That was the first clue. Ghosts don’t have jobs, how can they afford to buy stuff? Think about it! Anyway, I moved further in and I heard the “ghost,” who was a woman, by herself in the shower, and was in fact moaning.

No ghost, just a woman with little shame and a lot of stamina.

So we laughed that release of tension laugh, and we talk about that to this day. So yeah, it’s not just kids who do this, most of us do to some degree or another.

One doesn’t have to be Gomez and Morticia year-round like we are to love Halloween. It’s just fun, it’s fun to be something or someone you’re not, just for a night you give yourself permission to be silly or play pretend. It’s not just for kids, dammit! You can go play too! Go look for the creepy monster in the basement, do the mind-numbingly stupid thing and lean over the manhole that clearly contains a chain dragging monster waiting to break free, or investigate the ghost with a designer bag and needs that just can’t wait.

It’s August 21 as I write this, just a little over two months until the big day. I do love Christmas, but it’s a different animal. I try to be a little Dickensesque and keep Halloween in my heart all year. Play, laugh at absurdities, be nice to kids, and never, ever go toward the creepy sound in the attic barefoot, dressed in a flimsy nightgown and carrying a candle.

Self-Care in Painful Times

This page is not partisan, I’ve made that very clear.

I address issues that are not left/right, issues that are simply about human decency and morality.

Ripping children from their parents is not a partisan issue.
Putting children and little babies into cages, physically and emotionally abusing them, scarring them forever, is not a partisan issue.
Gunning down African Americans on our streets is not a partisan.
Looking for answers to stop gun violence and spree killings is not partisan.

I woke up this morning to find that there has been another mass shooting, 13 hours after the last. Nine irreplaceable humans are dead. There have now been more mass shootings in the United States than days in the year.

On the Nightmare and Laughter Facebook page, I offered soft words for Gilroy and encouraged self-care.
Six days later I did the same for El Paso.
And now, 13 hours after El Paso, we have Dayton.

My page is becoming a testament to barbarity, to hopelessness, to death and crippling pain. I don’t want people looking at it and, instead of finding comfort or laughter or interest, finding themselves scrolling through tragedy after tragedy.

All of this affects everyone, and I am no exception. I want to be a comfort and a refuge for my readers, that is the mission of this page. But I have to take care of myself before I can do that. And posting what will later be reminders of atrocity after atrocity is already compounding the nightmare for me.

Put simply, I’m getting depressed.

I don’t want anyone coming to my page and finding themselves in the same position. I want you to come to my page and not find only condolences. I want you to come to my page and find hope and comfort. Of course in the heat of it, everyone will know what I’m referring to, but my page will read like an affirmation, rather than an obituary. That is what Nightmares and Laugher is, that is what I set out to do. It will keep the page a safe place for you and honestly, for me as well.

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So please know that should you be affected by a future event, (I wish I could say if there is a future event) that the affirmation is with you in my mind and my heart. Should you be adjacent to this tragedy, the affirmation is with you in my mind and my heart. And if you are a human in the United States or anywhere and this hurts you, the affirmation is with you in my mind and my heart.

Life many of us, my heart breaks and I cry with every bullet spent, every irreplaceable life forever gone. I am now crying as I type these words. It is simply overwhelming.

This is not a partisan issue. This is a national emergency that affects all of us. I will not hear any anti-regulation arguments, I will not hear any defense of what is happening, which is what an anti-regulation argument is. We need solutions, we need think tanks.

I do not have the answers. It is not my job to come up with the answers. We need the people we elected to do their damn job.

It’s easy to feel helpless but there are things we can do.  Here is a list of five things that any of us can do to help, to be proactive.

My beautiful, talented, irreplaceable niece hid from the shooter in Gilroy, while shrapnel flew beside her. I watched my dear friends receive a text from her, with no idea if it would be her last. My friend, her father, who is comfortable with guns, and knows how to use them safely, texted her back to remind her what to do in that situation. This is not acceptable. This is not normal. And this is not something I want anyone else to go through.

But it’s likely they will. So I want to remind you, and myself, to exercise self-care and watch your mental state, especially if you suffer from a mental illness. You can’t take care of others if you are broken. It is not selfish, quite the opposite. The consequences of ignoring and not treating your pain can be dire, and your family would suffer horribly.

I’m including resources that can help. It is not selfish to accept that you can’t do it alone. You are important, you are irreplaceable, and you are in my heart, even if I don’t know you.

 
National Helpline

SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.

1-800-273-8255

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Creative Spark and Age – Keep your Brain Alive!

So I’m back from my writing escape to Boise, Idaho. While I did return with a lot of work done on outlines, three new ideas, inspiration from a few of the really cool spooky places they have, I did learn something interesting about myself.

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Seriously Boise, well done.

I’m older than 30. I’m significantly older than 30.

I’ve never been coy about my age. Every year and especially every decade that turns for me is an achievement that I didn’t expect to see. I never thought I’d see 30. Then, 40 was unlikely. Now I’m 51, and that’s just shocking really. Wonderful, but perplexing. How did I make it to this age?

I made it here by working hard to address my demons and to come to peace with and even start to embrace my illness. This is wonderful, and it makes me happy when I realize that I am, in fact, 51. That’s just weird.

So here’s what drove it home over the last week. My plan was to hide away in a hotel, no commitments, no interruptions, I asked the lady when I checked in to please tell housekeeping I don’t need them, just blackout curtains, a fridge with enough to keep me alive, and my laptop. I have 15 stories I’m juggling, and I’m anxious to see them bloom. Or bleed. These are spooky stories. I wanted to do what I used to do when I wrote – look at the clock and wonder, is that 4 a.m. or 4 p.m.? I loved that, getting so lost in my art that I had no concept of time at all. Suddenly I’d look up and say, “What is that feeling? Why am I dizzy? Oh, right, food. I need food.” That is what I was hoping to recapture.

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My personal idea of bliss.

Now, getting lost in my work, that’s no problem. I do that even when I write on the couch, as I’m doing right now. Becoming completely absorbed just comes with the creative process. Getting lost in time, though, that’s a different thing. When I was in my 30s, as I painted I could wonder if it was a.m. or p.m. Well, not anymore. My body shuts down around 10. I find myself fading, my brain not up to trying to figure out why my protagonist is near the creepy sidewalk in the first place, (spoiler!) so I just go to bed.

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But for the fire-from-the-sky heat, this would be a fine goth retreat!

At one point, my eyes shot open about 3:30 in the morning because I had an idea. I leapt out of bed and wrote until about 5. I got some good stuff, I felt happy about it, but by about 2p.m. I was useless. I’ll mark this trip as the moment I realized a new limitation on my former habits. But this is not the first time. One by one through the years I’ve watched my body change.

In my late 20s, I wouldn’t even leave the house until 11p.m. because who gets to a club before 11? I’d be out until around 3, and get home around 4. My alarm for work would go off at 6. Getting two hours of sleep is worse than none at all, so I’d just stay up and work through the day, crash when I got home, and I’d recover fine. (This is not while I was drinking. That’s a whole other thing with no fond memories.) Then, when I was around 33 I think, I did this and the next day – even though I was not drinking – I felt hungover and wrung out. It was awful, and I realized well, I can’t do that anymore. It was a major change in my body, an “over-30” wake up call. I would still go to the clubs, but not if I had to work the next day. Huge bummer.

Then, pushing 40, more changes. I could no longer stay out too late on a weeknight or I’d be useless. For someone who’s playtime didn’t begin until 11, now I couldn’t stay out until 11. Huge bummer.

I hadn’t noticed anything new for a while until this trip. Now I know, while I can lose time, I can’t cheat it. My body starts to fade around 10. And my body is the boss. But you know what? This is not a huge bummer. Not at all. These are the changes in a 51-year-old woman who is healthier and happier than I ever could have expected given what I’ve done to myself all these years. Given the number of times I’ve walked to a bridge with no intention of coming back, held a knife tightly and purposefully in my hand, fallen into a manic/depression cycle so severe I spend two days in the hospital. After all of that, I still have my health, my husband, my dear friends and family, Crazy Legs, and…my mind. My functioning, powerful brain that can’t do math like at all, but still.

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                                                                     MATH!

My brain is my joy and my treasure. My looks will fade, my body will change and get more limitations, but my mind, I will keep my mind sharp. If I have that, and my fantastically inappropriate sense of humor, I’ll be just fine.

Another thing I had to accept on this trip, writing fiction is really really hard! I knew that, but I did underestimate how difficult, how much I’m going to have to learn to do it. It’s a whole new world to me, entirely different from anything I’ve ever done.

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So much inspiration!

I got discouraged at one point, so I changed gears and wrote the last article. Yes, I wanted to be sure I didn’t have too long a space between them, but quite honestly, I needed to do something I know. The last article came because I was feeling inadequate. I mean, I respect my readers, no doubt, but I also really needed to convince myself I can actually write.

This new thing I’m doing, this new craft I am years from mastering, is making parts of my brain spark that haven’t in a long time. This blog is my happy place, my comfort zone. “Life Songs” and its poetry, my happy place, my comfort zone. There’s nothing wrong with that. But my new work, it’s causing my synapses to sparkle. It’s also giving me headaches and self-doubt, but that’s part of the process I suppose.

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My sparkling synapse which is the moon, apparently.

So I am 51, I can no longer stay out all night and function the next day. I can no longer stay out late and function the next day. And I can no longer keep my body up creating after about 11pm.

I truly don’t care. I am happy where I am, I am happy with what I can do and accomplish. I am awed that I have lived this long and still have a brain. I have some wonderful memories, I lived a colorful youth. I am not young anymore, but I am not done. Not by a long shot. I have plans and things to create. I have my advocacy and help for the mental health community as best I can, and that alone is a reason to live.

One of the best things about getting older is being able to help with compassion from a place of “Oh, I’ve been there.” I can help in a way I couldn’t when I was 30.

So this past week I wrote and fretted and got inspired by the organ in the Egyptian Theater (seriously, how cool is that place?) and I learned a new piece of information about my body. And that is as cool as a pack of ghost dogs at a race track.

Oops. Spoiler.

Millennials, GenZ, and Stigma

I just saw this on Facebook.

kids stigma

 

Leaving aside for a moment that, like everything else, it jumps from Boomers to Millennials and GenZ, skipping over my entire generation like we were the embarrassing child you pop into a backroom when company comes over, where we sit and sulk and listen to dark music and smoke Cloves and talk about how everyone else are conformists and we don’t need their approval, and…ah, sorry.  Got lost in thought.

Anyway, my main point here is the message, not the fact that GenX is just non-existent as if we had no effect on the zeitgeist at all, as if Clerks wasn’t a movie and grunge wasn’t a thing or whatever.

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Oh, come on!

OK, that’s out of my system.

I like the message here, that younger people are more accepting of therapy and mental health issues.  That it’s being spoken about more openly, that’s it’s no longer so taboo.  I decided to look into it because that would be amazing.  And since the Millennials and GenZ now outnumber the Boomers, this is a huge wave.

This is a very hopeful article I found on the National Alliance on Mental Illness – NAMI’s site. Millennials And Mental Health

This paragraph in particular really hit me:

“Mental health conditions run in our family. My mom had depression. My youngest daughter and I have recovered from panic disorder. Mackenzie was aware of our family history, and maybe that made it easier for her to talk about her symptoms. But I think the main reason she was encouraged to get professional help was that she heard her friends and coworkers openly discuss their mental health issues. Mackenzie didn’t feel ashamed or alone.”

I cannot imagine discussing my illness at work.  The idea of anyone “finding out” has caused me crippling fear all my life, caused me to use a pseudonym on this blog, almost took away my name so that I could hide.  It caused me to fear and hate the thing in me.  The idea of coming into work and saying, “Sorry I was out yesterday, I had a serious bipolar episode, and I was in the hospital.  Hey, can I have a donut?” is still just inconceivable to me.

But if the younger generations are getting a handle on it, (Millennials run from 1981-1996, please stop calling them kids) that could be a huge turning point for all of us, even GenX who are totally a thing and I’m sitting right here typing.  We could all benefit. This is not just a question of openness, of comfort, it’s potentially a matter of life and death.  If mental illness is so hidden and stigmatized, if people feel so shameful about it, it may go undiagnosed and untreated.  No one should have to live with that burden, and if it’s starting to become more accepted, this is something to be celebrated.

While writing this, though, I found an alarming statistic.  I found several articles that all came down to the same general conclusion; Millennials and GenZ are reporting mental health concerns at a higher rate than before, but self-harm/suicide ideation/and suicide is higher as well.  I found several articles with possible reasons for this, but I think this one covers them.  Gen Z more likely to report mental health concerns

But there’s a paragraph that brings us back to my original point.

“At the same time, the high percentage of Gen Z reporting fair or poor mental health could be an indicator that they are more aware of and accepting of mental health issues. Their openness to mental health topics represents an opportunity to start discussions about managing their stress, no matter the cause.”

They are more stressed for a variety of reasons, and they are more likely to report it and talk about it openly.  So why are they also hurting themselves more?  Pain does not disappear solely because it is talked about, there are still root causes for it.  The younger generations are getting a handle on openness and throwing out shame, but are we taking this seriously?  Are we giving them the help and support they need?  I can identify my broken arm, but what if no one will fix it?  I didn’t find anything specific to those questions, so I’ll leave them as questions. Hopefully, someone with more knowledge than I have will chime in.

What I take from all of this is that while there are alarming things, there is also room for celebration.  If stigma is truly being chipped away, if every new generation is more open about mental illness and that it is a medical issue like any other, then that is something I didn’t expect to see in my lifetime.

So many of the problems that are so specific to Millennials and GenZ – not enough real interaction, comparing themselves to the happy smiling lives on Facebook or Instagram  – are attributed to social media; I think the changes in stigma can be traced to that too.  The concept of privacy is changing, even on this blog I’ve posted pictures of myself and my private life that sometimes give me night-terrors, so the people who’ve grown up knowing nothing else, wouldn’t their concept of privacy change?  With so many celebrities self-revealing and talking about what it is and is not, wouldn’t that have an effect on the thinking, on the world view?  How can that be anything but good?

I have more questions than answers here because I’m not a doctor and I don’t want to try to simplify such complex issues.  But really, it does make me hopeful.

It took me 47 years to slowly begin to reveal.  I had to work through exhaustion, pain, crippling fear.  I hid my legitimate illness because I was afraid of not getting jobs, being fired from jobs, being mocked, feared, treated with eye-rolling dismissal, even now, as I look for work, I can’t help but feel these familiar pangs.  So I am hopeful that the younger generations can look back at that, at stigma, at fear, and furrow their brows and say “What was the big deal?”

I would also like to point out the obvious here – all of this sprung from a meme I saw on Facebook.  That just amuses me.

I’m including the list of resources for you since this article talked about some painful things.  Please do call one if you need to.  Remember, it’s a legitimate illness and stigma can fuck right off.

 

National Helpline

SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.
https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

 

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network

Free, confidential, 24/7 support.

https://www.rainn.org/

 

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.

1-800-273-8255

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

 

PFLAG Support Hotlines

The hotlines listed below provide services to callers across the country. If you’re looking for a local support network, also contact one of PFLAG’s more than 400 chapters in the United States.

https://pflag.org/hotlines

 

Goats – Nature’s Most Absurd Animal

Recently my friends gathered up their kidlings and we all headed off to the Oakland Zoo.  One of the things the kids wanted to see is the petting zoo, which is perfectly reasonable, but when we arrived we found out that the only animals in the petting zoo these days are…goats.

As in, goats.

I tried to prepare myself, I did.  I tried to remain composed around nature’s most perfectly absurd and hilarious animal.  I failed.

goat 4
He has a beard.  A beard, you guys!

 

There are several times goats have tried to kill me.  Once when driving down the freeway, Chris said, “Hey Sue, look to your right.”  And there it was, a large goat, with a beard and that disproportionately tiny, always disgruntled mouth, standing in the bed of a pickup truck, tethered down with ropes.  I lost it completely.  Then a hand reached up from a man clearly laying on his back beneath this bearded personification of ridiculous and scratched it on its belly.  Just a hand, attached to an arm, attached to a man lying in the bed of a truck.  If the large creature had decided to drop, if it had suddenly laid down, that nice man would have suffocated underneath the belly of a furry, rectangle-pupiled beast, and there is no way in which that is not heart-stoppingly funny.

Another time I was certain it was over, and my friends would have to stifle giggles as they told others how I died, was in Aswan, Egypt.  We were at Abu Simbel taking a break because it is surface-of-the-sun hot there.  So we’re resting on a slab in the shade of other slabs and Chris pointed out a herd of goats.  Chris is a very bad man. We started talking about goat cheese and he begins to wonder what a goat cheese shop would be like.  “They’d be angry because they can’t use the cash register, just banging on it with their goat-hands, *bleating* all mad, then slamming on it again.  When they helped a customer they’d just slam their goat-hands on the display case and *bleat*, then they’d…” I don’t know what he said next.  Between the picture of the cash register scenario, “goat-hands,” and the fact that every time I wrote bleat in those sentences he actually bleated, I scream-laughed and bent double until my face nearly hit my feet.  Several people whipped their heads to see if I was about to die.  I love Egypt very much, it was my life-long dream, but I wasn’t quite ready to be buried in the Temple of Ramses.  Also, Chris is a very bad man.

goat 7
There are worse places to die, actually.

Last example, we were sitting on the couch, surfing the Smithsonian Archives and Project Guttenberg – or Facebook and Reddit, one of those, when Chris says “This is for you.” and holds his laptop where I can see it and plays…this.  From Sunflower Farm Creamery

If you’re in a spot with slow internet let me tell you that what we have here is a video of tiny goats in pajamas leaping up in the air and running sideways, jumping onto hay bales, and generally being adorable and absurd.  I  mean, why do they run sideways?  Why do they leap and wag their heads?  How can someone be so adorable and so preposterous at the same time?

goat 6
Touché

 

So you see, a petting zoo full of goats is pretty much the best and worst thing in the world for me.  I explained to my friends my “goat thing” and off we went.  The kids, the human ones, were so well behaved and gentle and generally quiet.  The grey-haired “adult” though, yeah.

Will you please look at this guy?  Will you just take it all in for a moment?

goat 1

 

It’s our bearded friend, just laying there being bearded.  I’m mocking him!  Does he care?  Does he have any idea how hard I am making fun?  No!  You know why?  Because he’s a goat and they have no concept of such things!  I mean, no animal does, but still, he looks so smug about it!  This is more exclamation points than I’ve ever used in one article I think!

So while I’m walking away, starting to compose myself, this guy peeks around the corner.  “Hey, you know, what’s up?”

goat 2

 

Seriously?  This is what’s happening now?  All I can see is those goat-hands whackin’ at a cash register, the always-annoyed look on his face, and then…he head butts our friend!  Just puts his head down and rams him with his curly horns.  There was no reason!  There was no call for that!  Maybe there was an argument earlier and this brown and white guy was still angry.  Maybe there are unresolved issues from high school.  Maybe the white one deserved it, I don’t know, I don’t know what kind of sordid past these two have.

So that was my day at the petting zoo.  We left, ate at the café, and then went to Aquatic Park.  All the while I am looking at these children with the thought I have frequently…they are more mature than I am, and then I giggle when I see a ship and think of a “dinghy.”

Here is the picture on the front page of this blog.  It is a caption magnet, plus I can hear the “mlep” every time I look at it.  It’s just funny, even if you don’t have my goat thing.

blep goat

Anyway, several of the last articles have been kind of heavy and hard to write, so I figure it’s time for the laughter part of “Nightmares and Laughter.” And damn if goats don’t make me laugh.

***You know, reading this over, it occurs to me that the three examples above were all initiated by Chris.  If I die suddenly, be sure to show the police this article.  I’m pretty sure he’s trying to kill me, slowly, over nearly 20 years.  He’s a very bad man, but patient.

When “You’re beautiful” is not OK.

I have an article for today that is nearly finished, but something just happened that got under my skin, so I want to talk about it instead.  You see me at my best, now here I am pissed off.

Ok.  I am not young, I’m 51, so I have a pretty good handle on how to deal with nonsense of all kinds, how to slap it down hard if necessary, and how to, as my dad would say, “consider the source.”  My days of worrying about unwanted advances are behind me, I thought.

I’m unemployed so I’m signed up with the usual suspects, Indeed, Glassdoor, and LinkedIn.  These are professional job boards. There’s a social aspect to them as well,  but people are there to get connections and find work, get better opportunities, that sort of thing.  So when I get a connection request on LinkedIn, I always take it, you never know what might lead to a job.

So shortly after I accepted one, I got a message.

“Hi.” Oddly uninformative but ok.

I replied, “Hello, how are you?”

“Are you at work?” Odd.

“I’m not working right now, I’m home writing.”  I answered reflexively, even though I was feeling uneasy, because I thought it would be rude not to. Clearly, I have more work to do.

“What do you write?”

Now I did listen to that inner voice.  He did not introduce himself, “are you at work” was abrupt, I just had an uneasy feeling.  In context his next comment was a logical question, “what do you write,” but it made me give my laptop the side-eye.  Put together, this all seemed off.

“Can I ask how I know you?”

“You don’t, I asked to connect.  I’m xxxx. I’m just looking to socialize plus you are beautiful.”

Pardon my French but, oh fuck no.

I replied that this is putting up alarms for me, LinkedIn is not a dating site, I am not interested, and removed the connection. That’s all well and good; I was firm, had my boundary and enforced it.  But the very next thing I did is turn to Chris and say, “Maybe I should change my profile picture.  Is it sending the wrong message?  I wanted to look friendly for employers to see that side…”

“There is not a damn thing wrong with that picture.  Are you going to change it to something less attractive because of one man?”

I cannot believe it even crossed my mind.  I’m so disgusted I was about to give him power over me.  Which is what it would have been, power over how I choose to present myself.  I love my profile picture, it was taken in the garden of a beautiful Victorian in the Haight.  I look happy, my unpredictable hair was cooperating, I think it looks nice.

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 I’m upset, so here is a picture of flowers I took at a friend’s house.

But this one man made me second guess it, made me wonder if I brought this on myself for smiling in a picture.  Do you know what I would say to a woman who told me that?  “Are you kidding me?  Don’t give him that power!  You have total agency over your body, you don’t owe anyone anything!” But I did not say that to myself. I worried for a few minutes, I considered changing my photo to something stiffer, in a blazer, an uber-professional no-teeth smile.  You know, a picture that doesn’t look like me at all.

So many flashbacks. “Hey baby, gimme a smile.  Fine then don’t bitch.”  “I’m just trying to be nice, you don’t have to be so uptight.” “If you didn’t want the attention why’d you dress like that?”

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Here’s another happy picture in case you’re getting upset too.

I did not expect to still have to deal with this idiocy at my age.  I did not expect to have to deal with this idiocy on a professional job board.  And I did not expect this idiocy to still knock me for a loop.  I’m not as self-possessed as I thought.  That’s a bad realization.

Shortly after this, I got another connect request, another man trying to flirt. Now I will not accept any connections without mutual friends and a note from their mother.  This is sad, because who knows, that one random person may have found my profile and said, “Say, let’s hire her and give her legal currency.”

Ladies, I want to be clear.  I am not talking about all men.  Please recall that the one who pointed out that there was nothing wrong with my photo and that I should not take it down was my husband.  I have no men like these in my life, not one.

Gentlemen, if you don’t pull this kind of crap, I’m not talking about you.  If you respect women and the concept of boundaries, then I am not talking about you.

If you are reading this saying “I don’t get it.  What’s the problem?”  then I am, most definitely, talking about you.

This is really more of a rant I suppose, but it just happened, it’s fresh in my mind, and I think it is worth visiting.  We have to put up with this bullshit all of our lives, we have to learn to wear armor and how to respond or not, how to walk down the street and not look like a victim. We have to learn how to respect our bodies, and not respond the way women are trained to.  We have to learn that it is not our fault, that we are not responsible for the thoughts and actions of another, and that we have every right to firmly say no, and if that is not accepted, to be more forceful and absolutely clear, no means no.

No means no 4
Time to laugh.  I need to laugh.

It never occurred to me I would have to deal with this on a job board.  It simply never entered my mind.  I thought that adults would behave like adults, but I was incorrect, and now this is just one more place where I have to keep my guard up.

chicken nike feet
I don’t know about you, but I need a chicken in Nikes right about now.

One last thing, ladies, if a man is making you uncomfortable, if you are in person and he says something that hits you wrong, trust your voice and get away.  You do not owe him anything.

Trust your voice, use your voice, get up, get out.

You are worth everything, and you have the right to say…oh fuck no.

Note:   I used the cisgender words “Ladies” and “Gentlemen” for the sake of a narrative, I mean no offense to my LGBT or non-binary readers.  It’s the next day, my head is clearer, and I realized that could also hit a button.  I see you.

Afraid but Doing It – You Are a Lion

All my life, I’ve been somewhat crippled by fear. I was afraid of failing, so I wouldn’t start, afraid of being rejected, so I wouldn’t put myself out there, afraid of looking foolish, so I didn’t try new things. I remember as a child being terrified to jump off the backyard fence, it seemed so high. I sat there for a while before someone helped me down. I just couldn’t make that leap.

When I turned 30, I decided I would try to not live in fear anymore, so when my friends decided to go skydiving, I jumped at the idea. (The joke there is just too easy, so I’m not going to take it.) I put on a hot pink jumpsuit and harness, took the mandatory class, and headed out to the runway. At this point I wasn’t scared which was unlike me since I was about to leap willingly from a perfectly good airplane at 15,000 feet with a man I didn’t know strapped to my back and a trust that he knew what he was doing. That 8-foot wooden fence had given me vertigo, but here I was, resplendent in pink and thinking of paratroopers in old movies.

There was one moment when I actually thought I might throw up, just as we were leaping directly into a cloud. In the pictures you can clearly see the what-the-actual-fuck-was-I-thinking look on my face. I’m sharing that moment with you because I’d rather be funny than cool.

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Skydiving was scary and exciting and made me question my decision-making skills, but once I did it I felt like a rock star for a while. In the grand scheme of things though, it was a fun diversion and nothing more. I overcame a fear and then went to get pizza. Life changing leaps, the sort of make-it-or-break-it moments, those are far riskier. Ok, the dive was also risky had the chute not opened, but you see what I mean.

When the first tech boom happened in San Francisco in the mid-‘90s, I was working as an Administrative Assistant, which was good steady work, something I could do and make a livable wage, but I wasn’t happy and I wanted to do more. I knew nothing about computers; once a friend told me I could download my work to a floppy, and I had no idea what that meant. But I started to look at the techies sitting in their toy-covered offices and realized they weren’t actually any smarter than me, I just had a gigantic learning curve. So I made a bold decision; I was going to save six months of living expenses, which one could do in those long-gone days, and then quit my job whether I had a new one or not. I figured that would be a great incentive to hustle.

I lived alone with my cat, so it was all on me, sink or swim. I was terrified. I deeply questioned my decision-making skills. But I did it anyway, and I ended up working in I.T. for 20 years. It sounds as I write that like it happened quickly and easily, but it did not. I worked hard to get there, paid my dues, got hand-me-down equipment to tear apart and put together, learned what it meant to download to a floppy. I put in the time, and I succeeded.

Then, after 20 years I decided it was time to move on for a variety of reasons including my health, but that’s a story for another article.

My point here is that skydiving, and taking a giant risk to change careers didn’t make me brave, doing those things while every fiber of my being is screaming “Are you out of your damn mind? Terror! Death! Homeless!” is what made doing them brave. I was scared and unsure, but I did it anyway, I took the chance.

None of this makes me special. Like the techies rolling through their offices on Segways, I am not any smarter than you. I am pretty average and I can’t do math in my head. I can barely do math at all, honestly. I don’t like math is my point, I guess.

Bravery is not going in, metaphorical guns blazing, confident and bad-ass and fearless, bravery is going in when you’re scared and doing it anyway. Bravery is taking a deep breath, squaring your shoulders, and moving forward.

The things I talked about would never have happened if I had not taken the brave steps of saying the words “I am an alcoholic” and confronting the illness I was self-medicating. My book would never have been finished. This blog would not be happening. My art and my budding photography would be gone.

This does not happen overnight, it is not easy, and you may fall. I got sober, and then I relapsed, and then I got sober again. And each time I felt like a failure, and my illness agreed, so I drank more. But I got back up, did the work, and succeeded. Now I’ve been clean for years and work hard to live and thrive with bipolar disorder; I have the correct medicine and support and do the best I can, day by day.

None of this makes me special. But it does make me brave. Facing these demons, getting out of bed even now when I feel depressed, these are the regular, personal victories that should be celebrated and praised.

Whatever you’re facing, big or small, makes you bad-ass and strong, you are a lion or whatever image you like. You are diving out of a plane at 15,000 feet into a cloud, every fiber in your being screaming “This is a really bad idea!” but doing it anyway. Don’t forget that.

Oh by the way, contrary to what cartoons have told us, clouds are in fact not bouncy and soft. They are really really cold and wet. I had an ice-cream headache when we landed.

And it was one of the best things I’ve ever done.

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If you are suffering, and afraid to ask for help, remember – you are awesome. You are bad-ass. And getting help if you need it is every bit as brave as taking that leap.

National Helpline
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https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline