Tag Archives: childhood

It’s OK To Not Feel Jolly at Christmas

Christmas is almost here, which is stunning to me, but I thought I’d share a thought for the many of us who sometimes have a problem dealing with it.

You don’t have to be jolly every minute of Christmas.

There’s a lot of pressure around this one day, a lot of messages to be happy and joyful, to bake cookies, watch some version of “A Christmas Carole,” smile at children, or something. If you’re religious, there’s a whole other level of pressure; I remember it from my youth. Sit and be happy with your family, smile, be loving, give meaningful gifts. Also, you must have gifts.

If someone in that family has abused you somehow, this can be devastating. Maybe you seethe all day, maybe you act out, maybe you self-medicate, or worse. I did all three. The only way I could even remotely deal with this was to medicate with alcohol or weed. It tarnished the holiday for me, darkened it, and that took years and the removal of the toxic person, to overcome. I still feel down now and then, but less often and with far less intensity, and I’ve remained sober. I also had help from the family I kept in my life, my friends, and my husbands. I’ve been married twice, my first husband remains a wonderful man.

This brings me to “Mr. Robot.” Chris would say he just got whiplash from that segue but bear with me.

“Mr. Robot” is one of my favorite shows. Recently there were two episodes with disturbing scenes involving attempted suicide and a mind-exploration (I’m being as vague as I can to avoid spoilers) that were graphic. I didn’t really key in on the first too much because I was wrapped up in whatever horrible thing was happing to Rami Malik that week.

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This guy just cannot get a break.

But the second scene hit me to my core. Chris knew it would, so he asked me if I was ok. We talked about it, and I was able to center and appreciate the art of it, but it did, in fact, rock my world for a bit.

Here’s the thing though, at the end of both episodes, a message came up listing the appropriate contact numbers. I was shocked to silence for a few minutes; I have never seen anything like that.

This is what I mean when I say we must watch out for each other, that we are all in this together. It’s why I’m very careful with what I say or the images I use and include the appropriate references at the bottom of any article I believe could be provocative. Also, because I write about such personal things, and I write without blinders, many articles have thrown me for a loop, and I have to find a way to process my own words. My therapist told me she loves that I do all the initial work at home and bring in what needs to be worked on. It’s a timesaver.

You may not know this, but I am incredibly protective of you. I spend a lot of time editing words or photos I fear might be upsetting to someone, so sometimes I do find myself completely paralyzed. “Is this word inclusive enough? Could this hit a button for anyone? What if I make a joke so bad that it makes someone pass out with rage?” That last one is pretty likely to have happened.

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An article about my favorite movie took six versions.

People need to feel safe and nurtured, but that word seems especially vexing for some. Why? Is there a bottle somewhere full of nurturing, with a message like, “Expires at Age 20 – Please Place All Bad Feelings in Your Stomach.” I really don’t think so.

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 I did a search for “compassion,” and most of the results were compasses. Admittedly this is pretty damn cool so I’m using it anyway.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I am all about play, giving yourself permission to have fun, whatever it is, go to a meadow and make a chain out of wildflowers. You know, I never figured out how to do that, I tended to just blow the fuzz off of dandelions.

Christmas is hard for some of us, to one degree or another. It’s gotten easier for me, and I enjoy it and my chosen family. I love the traditions the family has. Chris and I have our tree up, pride-of-place on the tree goes to a severed finger ornament, all bloody, wearing a Swarovski crystal ring, Crazy Legs generally leaves it alone. I have my own Hello Kitty tree set up, and of course Ermastus, greeting people as they come up the stairs. He’s friendly, but he can’t hold his liquor!

chritmas finger

christmas tree

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Hello!  I hope you’re doing well!”

My family is largely gone, my parents and brother have passed, my sister and brother-in-law moved to Oregon, but Chris’ family is here, so we spend the day together, we enjoy each other’s company, exchange gifts that can be fun toys from Think Geek (pay me Geeks, and I’ll do that more} or something sweet and meaningful, it doesn’t matter. Then a huge feast of Indian food, Christmas Crackers, listening to each person read their horrible joke and show off their prize, lovely desserts. No caroling though, I’m the only singer. I do miss that, but it’s all good.

Oh, Indian food, yes. Most of Chris’ family cook and they love to show off at Thanksgiving just for fun. Years ago though, long before me, they decided that Christmas was stressful enough without having to do all the cooking again, so one of the only places open for delivery would be Indian food and there it is, a tradition that makes me happy, and very full.

But this was not always the case. And the messages we get from every direction are we must be happy at all times, that a sad face is somehow an affront.

You do not have to be jolly every minute of Christmas.

In the spirit of taking care of each other, which Christmas should be about, remember that. Feel what you are feeling. Try to not compound it with guilt because you don’t want to skip down the street singing, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

Anyway, that’s nonsense, the most wonderful time of the year is when the Halloween stores open. Then Chris and I skip hand-in-hand through the parking lot to find batties and ravens and skeletons that will sit outside and greet our neighbors.

No, no, I’m kidding, Ermastus. Nobody can replace you.

So, taking a page from Mr. Robot, I’m listing some numbers for you below in the closing credits so to speak. If you are feeling overwhelmed by this holiday, if you need help, do not hesitate to call. There would be nothing worse at any time of year than to lose 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

Home

LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL AND TRANSGENDER NATIONAL HOTLINE

Toll-free
1-888-843-4564

HOURS:
Monday thru Friday from 1pm to 9pm, pacific time
(Monday thru Friday from 4pm to midnight, eastern time)

Saturday from 9am to 2pm, pacific time
(Saturday from noon to 5pm, eastern time)

Email:
help@LGBThotline.org
https://www.glbthotline.org/national-hotline.html

Nurturing Little Humans – Creating Healthy Adults

Say what you will about Facebook, it can serve as an enlightening peek into human opinions, I said, as a master of understatement.

A friend shared this picture a while ago. She commented that she’d prefer her children feel comfortable coming to her, so if they did something stupid like drink at a party, they would feel safe calling her for a ride rather than try to drive impaired. There will be consequences for drinking, but they made a mistake that can be fixed, rather than a potentially devastating, life-changing decision.

Child abuse 2

 

The first and fast response, from the father of a small girl, was one word – BULLSHIT!

His argument eventually boiled down to he is the boss, he is the authority, his child fears punishment, and his child obeys because she is afraid. He actually said, “I would rather be feared than loved.”

I suspect he will get his wish.

I am not a parent, I knew decades ago that it would not be good for a child or me. I like children, but motherhood was not a good idea, since mental illness is heavy in my family, and I didn’t want to hurt a child during either a manic or a depressive place. I wasn’t willing to take the risk. It is precisely because I like children that I chose to not have them. What my mother did was due to her illness, and a response to all of ours. Nothing that happened was due to malice on her part, it was a reaction to an illness that was not her fault, an attempt to turn a blind eye to how absolutely broken we were. She did not set out to be abusive.

This man, however, not only set out to be abusive, he bragged about it. “My child is afraid of me, as she should be. I would rather be feared than loved.”

Child abuse 1

 

I’ve had parents try to shut me down by saying, “you’re not a parent, you don’t know, you can’t have an opinion.”

If we’re talking about proper bedtimes, getting the child to eat some damn food – “What do you mean you want mac&cheese with no cheese, but still with orange color, OMG I’ll just melt an orange crayon on it then” – (that’s a direct quote, by the way,) the headaches my friends suffer, then no, I don’t understand, especially since I never see it because I’m auntie and I get perfect behavior. Sorry parents, that’s the way it is.

Child abuse 5

 

So with everyday struggles like that, I agree 100%. But if you belittle them, demean them, call them stupid, or hit them when you are angry, that’s very much my business. It’s everyone’s business. (I’m not entering into the debate about physical punishment as a concept, strictly of objective abuse.)

Now, a parent is absolutely going to screw up. My friends are good and wonderful, loving and intelligent parents, but sometimes that child decides he absolutely will not wear those red socks and forcing them to wear the red socks is the worst affront to a human person in the history of the world and if you don’t give me the yellow socks I swear to the old gods and the new that I will scream so loud your ears will bleed, and you will be late to your job, and now you have to feed me the food I will not eat! NO! Now I want to orange socks! (That quote is exaggerated for comedic effect, but only just.)

child abuse
A toddler is a toddler, no matter how long the nose.

 

In such a situation, the parent may overreact. We are all of us human.

The thing is, the little child is also human, and wants to be understood and has an ego and a need to be heard and can’t yet communicate what they want. They have bad days like we all do.

Child abuse 6

Overreacting is not necessarily the bad thing, as long as we’re not talking about actual abuse. Going back to that child and apologizing and then talking about it can help a hurt, possibly angry child feel validated and respected. It also sets a good example of human behavior, yes adults make mistakes, parents are not infallible, might is not right, and you have an absolute right to be human too.

No, I’m not a parent, so the regular day to day frustrations I can’t speak to. But this, I certainly can. We all can and should.

I don’t believe that anyone is irredeemable. The potentially abusive father there can absolutely find a better way, make amends, and become a better person.

He could decide to work with his child, to change his fear-based approach to parenting. He could do all of these things, and I would applaud him.

But for that little child, it could be too late.

Children look at the grownups around them for guidance, to learn how to be adults and what to expect from adults.

A little girl with an abusive father, she may grow up to believe that’s what she deserves, and there are plenty of men who will agree with her. She may internalize the lesson of fear he is bragging about, and take from that low self-worth, or respond with anger. At the very least, she will put in her heart the fear and pain from physical and emotional abuse. This is the place she should feel safe, and the first man in her life.

Little boys can learn might is right, and bully the children in school and later, their partners. They can also be filled with a heartsick pain that may not be addressed since they were most likely raised to believe that men should be strong and asking for help is weak. That’s toxic, and it’s how unhealthy men are made, and it’s how abuse is passed on. We all suffer, society suffers, and the man who believes he cannot ask for help is in pain. A little boy is no less worthy of protection, safety, and humanity than a little girl.

This father bragged about causing her pain and fear. He bragged about it on a public post.

These are about the biggest red flags that can fly. A parent who is comfortable enough to loudly and proudly proclaim this, I fear what goes on behind closed doors.

No, I’m not a parent, so I can’t comprehend the day to day frustrations and power plays and envelopes being pushed.

But I can watch out for them, I can look for red flags that are visible from space. I can speak out. We all can and should.

Children are not playthings, they are not going to obey commands or do anything to please you at all times or submit to your authority without question.

You’re thinking of a dog, and you shouldn’t have one of those either.

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“I don’t think so, buddy.”

 

Vulcans, Emotion, and Childhood – Why Star Trek Matters

As I write this, September 8, 2019, it is the 53rd anniversary of Star Trek’s premier. (The Original Series, pedants. Don’t even start.)

I always get a little misty about this, because Star Trek means the world to me. I wrote about how much Close Encounters touched my heart, so I’m going to wax poetic about Star Trek too, and the real lessons to be learned. And Spock. Just a lot of Spock.

I don’t remember the first time I saw the ocean or knew about the redwoods, and I don’t remember a time I didn’t know Kirk and Spock and all my friends. I have no memory of seeing Star Trek the first time, it was just ever present. (In fairness, I don’t remember the first time I saw the visual acid trip that was Sid and Marty Croft either, but I digress.)

What was it about this sci-fi show that was canceled when I was 1-year old that moved me so much?

I loved that Starfleet Command and Academy were here in San Francisco and Marin. Did you know that the Golden Gate Bridge is the only one still standing because of course bridges are no longer required, but they left it because it is simply too beautiful to not exist? Remember in “The Voyage Home,” how proud Sulu was when they saw it? “San Francisco. I was born there.” <swoon!>

Quick fun fact –Starfleet was located here because it’s where the U.N. Charter was signed. Ok, I’ll stop.

My irrational adoration of this City aside, Star Trek hit a lot of buttons for me. The Salt Vampire was genuinely terrifying, nothing else on the show scared me that bad, and actually it still creeps me out.

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I know it’s a sympathetic character but, sheesh!

The episode “Mirror Mirror” filled me with undefinable joy that perhaps I will expand on at another time. Suffice to say, Bearded Spock. Bearded Spock, my first boyfriend.

star trek 5

Bearded or not, I loved him so very much. He was handsome, brilliant, and without emotion. I wanted to be a Vulcan since I was very little. Actually, I wanted to be T’Pring, but without the stupid decision, but anyway.

star trek 9
Even Kirk is shocked, and he’s about to fake-die.

I would stay in the bathroom and hold my eyebrows up at the corners to see if they would stick that way. I used the words “fascinating” and “logical” all the time. I tried to be smart like him, well-read like him, I played guitar because I didn’t know where to get a Vulcan harp. To this day I want that glowing red animal thing he had in his quarters. Luckily Chris is also a nerd, so if we could find one it would go directly next to the dining table. For the life of me, I can’t find a picture of it.

To my child mind, being a Vulcan meant no pain, no sorrow, no regret, no fear. If I had no emotion, I was free, really. I couldn’t get in trouble for expressing increasingly volatile emotions, because I wouldn’t have any. I’d just raise an eyebrow and flash an amused little smile.

star trek 4
Ok, he was high here, but still.

Being emotionless would be impossible, of course. A human can’t be devoid of emotion. Vulcans aren’t either if I’m honest. Sarek for example, Mr. “You should have gone to the Vulcan Science Academy, not Starfleet Academy I won’t talk to you until you give me your blood.”

Anyway, to kid-me the whole Star Trek world seemed ideal. Food on command, twinkly lights and poof! you’re anywhere, pretty sweet. That brings up something that has always bugged me, though. In “The Enemy Within” why didn’t they just send down the shuttlecraft? Maybe it was too cold for that too. But damn, that bugs me.

So, being emotionless is impossible, what is the alternative? If we follow Trek canon, I suppose I could be a Vulcan from their distant past. For those who haven’t spent their lives in front of the T.V. box, Vulcans used to be emotional and warlike, until they got all enlightened and went too far the other way.

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Wasn’t all bad.

The thing to do is find that middle way, that balance between modern Vulcan and ancient Vulcan. Between the Vulcans who tore each other apart and the ones who could never tell their mothers they love them. (From “The Naked Time,” which is also the episode with the best off-hand line ever, when Sulu calls Uhura “fair maiden” and she says “Sorry, neither.” Perfection.)

Star Trek taught me other lessons about honor, friendship, communal good. Trying to emulate Spock actually helped too, I think, because he was inconsistent, he broke his own rules. He was a scientist, but he also loved music. He was logic and dignity personified, but he went to jam with space hippies. He had no emotion and no capability for love or friendship, but his reactions really didn’t bear that out.

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“Jim!”

In our lives, I think we need both and a middle ground. Sometimes we do put up a hard shell to get by. That’s fine, that can be important. But we also need to be able to be passionate, to let ourselves be blissfully happy and climb a tree, to be so in love that we forget who we are for a bit, and sometimes we need anger. Sometimes anger is appropriate. Sometimes it’s warranted. Sometimes it is absolutely necessary. Sometimes, we fight. But if we must it should be as defense. Starship Enterprise (NCC-1701 – don’t even start!) had a mission of exploration – a five-year mission, if you will – but she also fights if necessary, frequently with Klingons, aka Star Trek’s Daleks. I like Romulans better, honestly.

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In my Top 5 Episodes, and that’s totally not Sarek.

It’s the human condition I think, to try to figure out when to use emotion, and when to curb it a bit. Do I need my passion right now? Is this worth getting angry about? Is this, as a friend put it, the hill I want to die on? If you decide it’s time to be heard, be heard. But be safe.

One of the constant messages in Star Trek was equality among all races, genders, species. Gene Roddenberry wasn’t exactly subtle with this subtext, to the point now and then of being a bit heavy-handed.

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Pictured – subtlety.

But it was a different time, the late ‘60s. Some people, including women, lost their minds because Nurse Chapel was so strong. There was a Russian on the bridge, and a Japanese man, and a, well, some people actually said Spock was a devil, because pointed ears. Sometimes I weep for humanity.

But these characters, these stories, they reached more than a messed up little kid in the suburbs. They made a real difference. Here’s a link to an interview with Nichelle Nichols, Uhura. Yes, Roddenberry saying “a black” hits our ears wrong now, but take it for the time it was said, and hear the story she tells.

Star Trek was just a show, a sci-fi T.V. show that could be written off as fluff. But it wasn’t. Looking at it now, the cheap costumes, the plywood sets, the saltshakers McCoy used as medical instruments (no, seriously) sure, they look cheesy. But look deeper. Try to imagine it’s 1966, and you’re an impressionable kid. There is likely something or someone you relate to.

Many scientists cite the show for sparking their interest in astronomy or what have you. Sometimes it gave a person a glimpse of self-worth, of dignity, of pride.

Remember what MLK told Nichelle Nichols? About how she was a symbol now, a non-stereotyped black character?

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“Well, when I was nine years old, Star Trek came on, I looked at it and I went screaming through the house. ‘Come here, mum, everybody, come quick, come quick, there’s a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!’

So no, it’s not just a show. It made a major difference in many lives, in myriad ways. And it is relevant still. Despite J.J. Abram’s best efforts, it will live forever.

Live long and prosper.
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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.

fear 4
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.

Golden Spikes and Memories – Not Just for Rail Nerds

Guess what I’m doing?  If you’re in my general circle you know because I won’t shut up about it.

Chris and I are going on a road trip, listening to podcasts in the daytime and then spooky old time radio shows after dark, and eating cheese-poofs with chopsticks because it’s tidier.  We’re fancy.

https://www.relicradio.com/otr/show/horror/

We’re going to Utah for the 150th Anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad — (aka Golden Spike)  May 10, 1869.

https://www.visitutah.com/places-to-go/parks-outdoors/golden-spike/

One of the line of the largest steam locomotives ever, Big Boy No. 4014 is there, and I get to see it.

https://www.up.com/heritage/steam/4014/

There are probably about five people reading this who know what that is and also, are excited about it.  Maybe six.  But those half dozen folks are really impressed.

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Yes rail fans, I know, this is 4019, not 4014.  Don’t freak out.

On Friday morning there is the ceremony of the Golden Spike, and I will possibly cry because that is a thing that I do at any given moment.

I come by this passion honestly.  In the ‘50s my dad became a member of a railway museum that opened in 1946.

http://www.wrm.org/

I cannot properly put into words how much I love this place.  It is a shiny blissful memory in a childhood that was not always so happy.

My sister and I had absolute free rein to a degree that my mother probably would not have approved of.

We would ride the cars, swing the heavy poles when we got to the end of the line to go back the other way.  This would have been in the late ’70s to mid-’80s so I would have started when I was in the 11-year-old range.  Not sure we’d get away with that now.

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Those poles are heavy and wobbly and I loved it!

We’d poke around the car barn and its many pointy bits and pieces, run down the mainline tracks to find dead sheep.  After closing time dad would let us run one of the cars.

I also got to work in the bookstore, an old building warmed entirely by a Franklin stove. In the cold days of winter, it was perfection.  There was an old-timey cash register I got to use.  Eleven-year-old me felt very important.

“The House” where the guys stayed was full of dusty, weathered antiques, mismatch dishes, a probably-safe-why-not fireplace.  I would spend hours in there too, enjoying the privilege of being my dad’s daughter.  It was private, set far back from the public areas, but we came and went as we pleased.  There were also many stray cats and kittens who would sleep in the planter boxes in the sunroom.  We’d pick them up one by one, snuggle their kitten faces, plop them back down when their mothers came back.  There was a small room crammed with bunk beds; this is where mom drew the line.  We always stayed in a hotel in Fairfield.  In hindsight, I would have done exactly the same.

Since I grew up with all this, it was normal, and I took it completely for granted.

I would like to go back in time right now and just sit there.  Actually, I just did.

In the summer the valley was surface of the sun hot so we would alter our activities accordingly, so we did not actually die.

But the winter, the winter was magic.

There’s a thing called “tule fog” that is thick and cold and billowing.  It hugs the ground in a flowing blanket that made me feel calm and contemplative, as it blew wisps of ground cover that made everything unreal.  There were few tourists there if any, and only a skeleton crew, so I could be absolutely alone most of the day.  I would sit by the duck pond and imagine that I was the last person on earth, that the ducks were my only source of food and I’d have to scrounge to get by in this new, human-less world.  I would walk through the fog around the trees and grass, around the tracks, back into the empty house and imagine utter solitude.  It was bliss.

Rail TULEY 3

Tucked inside this blanket of fog was the nonfunctional steam locomotive #334.  I bonded with her very early, and she will be in my heart for the rest of my life.

That’s her in the featured photo, as I knew her back then.  But this is the view I generally had, leaning out the window of the cab staring down the track as I flew along to points unknown.

Rail LONG SHOT 4
“The House” is dead ahead.

There was a decaying wooden seat inside, held together only by habit. Sometimes when I sat down I could hear it creak out a warning, there will be splinters soon, but I didn’t care.  My heart and my mind were worlds away.  For hours and hours, I would go away.

The levers and knobs inside still moved a bit so I could control it, and the cover of the firebox would open with the grind and squeak of very old metal so I could stoke the fire.

Every now and then Casey Jones was the engineer.  I was already fairly morbid.

Rail CASEY JONES 8
An American legend.  If you don’t know who he was, check it out.  It’s a heroic and tragic story, complete with a folk song.

Anyway, sometimes I would be on a track, sometimes I would be in the clouds.  Generally the wind blew so strong that with my head out the window it was all I could hear. I was absolutely free as I was nowhere else.  My dad was doing his thing, any siblings were doing older sibling stuff, so no one was watching me, no one was bothering me, no one was telling me to get out of that fantastically dangerous, tetanus-ridden jungle gym.

It was magic.

So off I go to this incredible event, this huge event, and I will be there. I will write again about it I’m sure, and I’ll post some photos.  Probably not ones where I’m crying but, besides that.

I hope that even if you are not a rail fan, you can enjoy the story and pictures.  Maybe you’ll find yourself getting lost in the daydreams and fantasies, the utterly romantic and spooky glory that is rail.

Rail 1
Dream fodder.  I don’t think I would ever leave.

 

 

Journaling – or – I Wrote this Whole Article and Forgot About a Title

There are so many good tools to use for self-care, like painting, hiking, meditation, cooking. These are all wonderful.  They focus the mind on a single activity, put issues on a temporary time out, and provide goals to reach.  I enjoy all of these minus the cooking.  My husband keeps me alive with foodstuffs.

I want to focus on one particular tool, journaling.  I have kept a diary (called a journal when you’re over 19 maybe 20, not sure why) since I was eight years old.  I have many volumes of hand-scribbled books, with covers of puffy stickers to unicorns to Celtic designs.

I leaf through the pages and find the traumas I survived, some of which I don’t remember, many that I do, and I shake my head that I am still alive.  There are joys I can relive, and little treasures I stuck between the pages. Some of them take me to a time and place, others had a meaning that is long lost.  Whatever it was, younger me loved it enough to tuck it away, so I leave it where it rests.

See, it is your most private sanctuary, it is yours to express yourself however makes sense to you.  Record the events of the day.  Write your dreams.  Draw pictures, watercolor, tuck things inside that are meaningful to you.

Can’t draw?  Can’t paint?  So what!  Does the act of drawing or painting or whatever make you happy?

Do you see that picture right there?  The blonde lady with floating bubbles and what yellow bubble lady paintingappears to either be a yellow aura or she’s standing in front of a blinding light bulb?  The one pained by someone who has apparently never seen a human body before?  I painted that!  That’s my painting!  And it is objectively horrible!  But I love it.  I love coming into my studio, gathering my brushes, putting up a canvas and playing artist.  It’s living a dream for me.  It just makes me happy, and that’s enough.

What about you?  Do you give yourself permission to play?

If a unicorn journal made you smile, would you buy it?

There is a truism I have found in life.  People tend to restrict themselves with “I can’t because”…I’m an adult, I’m a professional, it would be stupid…I respectfully disagree.

Here’s the thing…I have a very large collection of a certain mouthless white kitty (I don’t want to get sued.)  I get annoyed if someone refers to her as “it.”  I have only one drawer left in a 6 drawer chest for clothes.  I’m 50.

She makes me happy, and that’s enough.

So please, go out and do something that makes you happy.  If you are in a depression this will seem Herculean, but if you can, walk to the sidewalk.  Then another day to the end of the block.  And celebrate each accomplishment.  You are awesome!  You did it!

If you can’t, truly can’t, then find a pen and some paper, and try to spell out what you feel.  It really does help.

Or paint a picture like my malformed bubble lady, which I did while deep in the bowels of a pit.  Because now it makes me laugh, it makes me happy.

And right now, at this moment, that’s enough.

Journaling