Sunday, March 24, 2013

Zombie Love and Cupids Crooked Arrow

Recently, I went to the movies with friends.  It was part of a very special birthday celebration.  I love birthday celebrations, even when they aren’t mine.  I don’t get to the movies much these days.  It’s one of those things I don’t like to do alone.  I am alone more these days than ever before,   which isn’t all bad, it surprisingly turns out.  I just don’t see many newly released movies in the theater.   When I’m out, which also seems to be happening more these days than ever before, I prefer to enjoy the company of friends, well-chosen, talking, laughing, eating, drinking, and otherwise engaging fully in our shared moments.

I get to see movies in the comfort of my home via streaming technology, or cable when I have the time and the patience, or my son suggests, or requests a movie on a Sunday night. The Sunday night movie request is from a little ritual I started a few years ago when we relocated to our safe haven 3 miles southeast and a lifetime away.  We were shell-shocked and stumbling and in need of some level of routine and normalcy.  Rituals and routines are important for children, especially in times of distress.  He was, it seems, much younger, and more innocent, and about ½ a foot shorter at the time.  His innocence quickly and abruptly ended as we attempted to begin a new life.   We were both in need of suspended reality from what had become a severed reality.  Horror movies seemed to offer therapeutic comfort.  I know it seems a bit strange, over the top, and maybe not quite in keeping with maternal nurturing, but it had a very protective quality to it. 

Movies offer an escape and an outlet.  Horror films gave us a chance to be afraid in a safe and predictable manner with a predetermined time-frame.  It even gave our nightmares a break and offered respite to our over stimulated subconscious minds. We were able to gain control of distress, a practice that became necessary in light of the fear and terror we were both coping with that we had little, to no control over. I named Sunday nights, “Bubbles, Squeaks and Squeals”.  Loosely based on Bubble and Squeak, which was fun to say,  at the time there was not a whole lot of other fun happening around us.  The ritual included soda or seltzer (bubbles), dinner in the living room and a horror movie that I could manage.  When it comes to scary movies, I scare easily, and jumpily, and squeamishly, hence the squeaks and squeals.  Needless to say we both outgrew our fear of the boogieman, real and imagined.  We grew stronger, one of us much taller.  We eventually stopped looking over our shoulders.  We watched movies together less frequently and fell into a normal and predictable routine.  We continued to function as a family, if much smaller.

It’s ironic that the movie I recently enjoyed with friends was about zombies.  Warm Bodies, a romantic love story, left me crying, and my friends over joyedI've revisited this film again and again, it was smart and funny. The movie is a clever retelling of Romeo and Juliet with modern day references.  Leading up to the movie, each friend was convinced I would not go, I would be bored, I would painfully endure the experience and I would be a bit of a buzz-kill, but a necessary attendant in the birthday festivities, just the same.   I’m not exactly sure why, but it is believed that I am more of an art house film aficionado.  Really? I don't even like to use the word aficionado, it is rife with pomposity, which is a pretty far cry from anything closely related to me.   Most art house films try so hard to be deeply intelligent they seem to underscore a need for cannabis legalization.  Not so the films can be understood, but simply because they can’t otherwise be enjoyed, unless one's mind completely distorts the experience.  IMHO.

The last art house film I did not enjoy?  The Tree of Life.  I had imagined it would help comfort my son and explain some great mysteries of his life at the time. Family structure, gender roles, dysfunction.  It went a lot further to help confirm that he already knew more than I, about how to choose movies.  It made us both laugh.  Me, as though I was smoking a great deal of cannabis.  Him in that "told you so" snort.  That close up of the swimming vagina fish made me giggle like a 12 year old boy, uncontrollably, and immaturely, with attempts at mouth covering to muffle the sounds.  And I’m not sure a twelve year old boy would use the word muffle, unless it made him think of sex, and then he would just start laughing again, uncontrollably.  I was also laughing because my son had made a few comments before going to this movie.  He was rolling his eyes, and mumbling about how movies at this particular art-house theater were almost always annoying, stupid, and gave him headaches.  I encouraged him to give it a chance, in my nurturing maternal way.  I also promised dinner out, in my bribing, go along with this, maternal way.  He happens to work at the theater and gets to see any movie for free, a perk that is not used often.  He went along to appease me, and to use his otherwise wasted perk, but mostly to get a good meal out that would more than likely include duck fat in the preparation, or some such high-end local and maybe, pompous, food making.  What he lacks in movie interest, he makes up for in culinary desires.  As the movie went on, it became clearer and clearer that it was trying way too hard for placement on some iconic cerebral hierarchy.  It became outrageously funny instead.  Maybe, on second thought, I did enjoy this film, but not for any typical reasons.

I like movies that offer escape without causing jet-lag or messing with my time zone.  I don’t want to have to go back in time every third frame, so I can pretend to be solving a great puzzle.  I don’t want to work at watching a movie.  That’s the one escape I want from the experience.  I don’t want to have to participate in someone else’s distorted mind labyrinth to determine the outcome.   

I have a few easy rules.  A love story is almost always a definite good thing.  Romantic comedy even better.  And, well, I love nationalistic, cold war adventure spy films as a rule.  Hunt for Red October.  I don't know that I can explain that, it might be my inner twelve year old boy.  John Candy movies, bingo!  It’s not so much the escape, as something familiar, sweet, schmaltzy, and nearly lame that I want. Winners. Good guys. I like movies with happy endings that also remind us that goodness is all around, and if you can throw in some flag waving pride, butter up the popcorn and sit down beside me.  So if a zombie is able to make me cry and give me hope in love and romance, bring it on. 

Tonight, I decided to watch Crooked Arrows.  My young, fierce warrior has decided to join lacrosse for his senior year athletic send-off.  Much the family tradition, or ritual of his siblings before him.  Senior year, shake it up, try a totally new sport, kinda thing.  My oldest son, started Cross Country his senior year, and went on to run in college.  My daughter, jumped into rowing and made it to the semi-finals at state championships after an impressive season in both the Varsity 4 and Novice 4.  Lacrosse?  Why not?  I picked this movie to help introduce me to the sport.  I will say, Crooked Arrows did not win any academy awards.  It is fairly formulaic.  Super schmaltzy. And so, of course, it made me cry, and rally for the underdog, and believe in goodness.  It helped me recognize, my family rituals may be a bit off center, and my arrows may not always fly straight, but I’ll take zombies and hope over pretentious, cerebral, swimming female anatomy any day. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Luck (curse) of The Irish

This is my weekend. MY weekend.  The glorified weekend of flag waving, chest-pounding, proud-standing, celebrations of my people.  The Irish.  All of us.  All of you, on this day, St. Paddy’s Day.

I was surely, "born with mischief in my eyes, and fire in my veins" (Emish). I grew up amidst tales of the “troubles”.  I learned about the role my grandfather, Thomas Long, deLong, played in getting Ireland free, the south anyway.   I learned about my great uncles and how they fought and struggled, and my grandmother’s journey to America, alone at fourteen, in 1928, six years after Michael Collins died, and the Irish Civil War began.  These stories were discussed proudly and at times in hushed tones.   Whiskey was raised, beer cans were popped, backs were slapped, or mothers consoled. The children were never protected from these talks, as we were from so many others.

Needless to say, my tribe is scattered around and about and it was very long ago and far away that I traveled with my clan.  90 miles south to be precise, on 5th Avenue up and down and all over Manhattan, that I was skinny legged and shouting, chanting, at the top of my 12 year old lungs  “Get England Out of Ireland!” 8 cousins strong, without adult supervision, we were set freeA sight for sure. And each year after with different companions and different shouts, and laughs and then smiles, flirtations, and afterwards at McSorley’s or Rosie O’Grady’s or up and down Third Avenue singing rebel songs and pounding back beers.

With nary a tribe, and half a century under my belt, I’m feeling a little separate from the festivities.  I made the sacred Irish Soda Bread, I’m not a fan of the pink boiled meat floating about with the pale green odorous leaves.  So, what better to do than head north far from all festivities and go on an impromptu college visit with my son, the Gaelic named laddy?  Off we go 6 hours north for a visit 1.5 hours in duration.  We get there, pleased, grinning, hopeful. We walk around, impressed. Head into town, larger than expected, satisfied by our journey, we leave.  We drive southeast another 3 hours toward our small cottage in the Adirondacks for a brief overnight check in.   We decide half way through to stop in Lake Placid, enjoy dinner, do a little shopping, watch the ice skaters, the crowds teaming into the Olympic Arena for the CanAm games.  Hockey!  As we are driving past, I feel this tinge of wishing to be part of a tribe, festivities…. I am, however, happy with my Gaelic named co-pilot and content in our day.

We drive through these majestic Adirondack mountains and I can see, feel, the spirit of this man, my youngest son, beside me, as he longs to get back in and up them.  He was also "born with mischief in his eyes and fire in his veins".  His fire is more of a steady low burning flame.  Reliable and calm.   I can detect his adventurous desires, the memories of the climbs dancing before him.  We have climbed 15 together.  As we drive through in mid March, they are still snow covered. There is a starkness and a ruggedness that you don’t feel in the green lushness of summer.  As we approach some of them from the distance, it feels like we are in Colorado, or Montana.  They are huge, imposing and stretching long and far.  There is a quiet, hushed tone about them.  A pride in their stance.  We are both, equally drawn to them and calmed in their sight, smug in our sense of mastery at conquering more than a few. Proud.

We travel onward toward the cottage.  This cottage, simple, and sufficient in it’s features, offers basic comforts and an abundance of love and spirit and warmth.  I imagine, not unlike the home of my grandmother, when she was a girl, or at least it’s intent.  It too, was basic, and beautiful in its simplicity amidst the Connemara Mountains of Kenmare.  Perhaps it was filled more with somber tones and hushed voices as my grandmother and her siblings suffered under the reign of British soldiers who seized their land and the farm that was generations owned by Sullivan’s. A clan, a tribe, many strong, helpless against the intrusion.

We get to the door, I fumble for the keys in the dark, the cold, ready to fall into the comfort that it is still standing.  (I await the worst each time we get here.)  I’m not so comfortable in my role as north country cottage owner.  As I find the right key, I am instantly thrilled by the warmth, (I was certain the monitor would have been shut-off by a power outage).  And just as quickly I am alerted by the sound of the waterfall that is surely gushing through, where? The bathtub left on? The toilet froze and cracked open?  It’s coming from downstairs, the cellar.  Suddenly the true Irish in me comes out.  Fervor. My Murphy has arrived full on. Curses! The luck of the Irish is always wrapped in a bow and provided by Murphy’s law isn’t it #@!?!   Whatever can go wrong, will!  OH, for fecks sake, I knew I should have come up earlier to check!

My son, the curse-ed Gaelic named one, is now muttering about the heater that should have been left in the wet, dripping cellar.  I am carrying on about the hundreds of dollars worth of electric pipe warmers that are already plugged in and meant to do the same trick, efficiently and appropriately! #@!  He is trying to turn off water supply nozzles, numerous, throughout.  He gets it down to a hissing spray as opposed to the gushing waterfall and goes on a hunt for duct tape, eyes rolling and annoyed.   He knows better than to cross the Irish matriarch he’s been bless-ed with in this moment.   I locate the source of the hiss, some odd nodule in the pipe from the main water line and hold it into place.  We fix it for the night, all Murpheyed up and out and return to the comfort of the warm, glow of the cottage above sea level.  He awaits my black Irish seething, or my mischief eyed snark.  I just sigh. He has gained many skills working with a contractor over the past 2 years.  I ask if this is something he can handle with tools and materials.  He starts, “Ummm, NO” with a growing confidence I respect.   He is happy that we have kept the Gerry Adam's peace treaty. No blood shed tonight.

It’s 8:30 but I retire for the night.  I reflect, as I do, about the day.  It was a good one.  I remind myself that there are choices, and I choose the better one.  I choose to focus on the good.  The pipes in the cellar have grown from centuries of DIY’ers, Irish and otherwise, that had no rights to even attempt to hold these pipes in their pale and ruddy hands. Truly, least two.  Ethan Allen's brother lived across the street. No doubt his bastard brother, the feckless plumber.  They descended from Brit's, what can I tell you?   There are about 6 different lines coming in and out of elbow pipes and three way connections, copper, pvc, and black hose, random extensions all cluster-fecked together. These pipes are like some intestinal puzzle reaching 4 miles long inside of ten feet of cavernous mud and rock.  It really has nothing to do with Murphy or Sullivan or MacNamara’s Band.  They will be fixed, correctly, and the next time I come with Murph, Sully, or maybe a member of Mac or McNamara's band, with "the girls", or solo, I’ll have no troubles a’tall and my Irish eyes will be smiling.

The next morning, March 17, my day, the day of my people, I walk down to the brook and fetch a pail of water, much like my grandmother must have. I’ll use it to wash up and make some coffee.  I’ll attempt to call a plumber before heading home, 3 and a half hours south.  I’ll pray to Saint Patrick, and Saint Brigid, and Blessed Mary, Mother of God, in hopes that the Gaelic-named bless-ed son gets to go to the school he so desires and grows to become an engineer.  Hopes and dreams my tribe could never before aspire to, a tribute to the hard-work and grit and determination of my people, my grandmother, single, working mother, born for certain with "mischief in her eyes and fire in her veins".

Later I’ll throw together a succulent stew steaming in Guinness for dinner.  Proud and pleased and feeling the luck of the Irish.  

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Devil, The Deep Blue Sea and Me

It’s been a while since I’ve written for pleasure, or relief, or for personal gratification of one sort or another.  I’ve been knee deep in school work and playing a very strategic game of cat and mouse.  A few shell games and maybe a bit of chutes and ladders, as I attempt to tackle the arduous task of pursuing an MPA while curating a couple of art shows, launching my last little baby boy college bound, working full-time in that otherwise known field of calm and relaxing, or special education.  So I do all sorts of couch acrobatics to see how I can stay seated long enough to at least be ready to work on reports and essays and reviews.  I move to the kitchen table to take it a bit more seriously.  I gather my belongings and lay everything out on my bed, better known as command central.  I peruse the photos for the art show, I create a web site,, I self-promote and send out submissions, I read a few essays on public policy, I receive invitations to one show and the potential for another. 2014 is already becoming busy.  I listen to another chapter on my kindle, bureaucracies are soooo sexy.  OK they aren’t but I have to reframe a lot these days to make it all palatable or at least approachable.

If I could illustrate the process it would have to be animated.  It would be me on my couch with some other-worldy power holding me down against the couch, or a wind machine, locking me into place, forcing me to finish my budget review, my literature reviews, my forum discussions at 12:50 AM prior to the fast approaching deadline of 10 AM Monday mornings, when I am at work, and have been for 3 hours.  This week is the final week.  I decide to tackle Domestic Violence and look into government agencies that have been created to deal with the issue for my 18 page paper.  Honestly, this should result in a quasi doctorate, don’t you think?   

There is a new process rising from this particular exercise.  For this topic, I am in need of scuba gear.  It's going to take me into some deep, dark places under the surface.  So I gear up, the foamy neoprene suit, tight and constricting.  My tactile defense system on high alert, but my goal attainment system has the upper hand.  I will have to suffer the chafing and breathe through the screaming itch.  Slowly, the tightness, the pressure of the suit will comfort.  Or maybe that’s been my reframing system at work.  I think of it as comfort, but it is really submission.  I can’t do submission without some outside force.  Which is really just oppression with a sunny disposition.  But not exactly.  At times I needed to be held down against myself, my need for flight, my need to curse and yell down the inequities and injustices and subversive oppression that exists in plain sight.  For me, for quite some time, this occurred often between the dinner making and the polite kisses goodnight, nearly unrecognizable.  Subversive.  Oppression.

I’m in the suit.  I have adapted.  I have quieted and stilled my need to rip it off and feel air, and sweat, and nothingness on my skin.  To make sure I can handle this, I need to add more. Weight. The Bouyancy Compensator, the tank.  The yin and yang.  One to help me float. One to ensure I sink.  Not exactly the fight and flight apparatus that I had been erratically tap dancing to in my effort to deflect the neon-colored classic signs of deception.  The abuse, emotional, manipulative and charmingly delivered was often missed because I was thrown off by my own reactions.  That’s how it works.  With ease and calm.  Control. Triggers.  Reactions.  Shame and submission, or repentance, which makes the victim feel… culpable.  Deserving.  At fault.  Why doesn’t she just leave?  She must like it.   It was hard to come to terms with my emotional responses to intangible stimuli, imperceptible provocations, and gaslighting.    The emotional manipulation meant to confuse, or lead people into doubting themselves.  A type of manipulation easily used on women.  It supports the generalized view that we are crazy, irrational, sensitive, unpredictable

I have this report to complete and I realize I am adrift.  In and out of research and personal experience.  Unfortunately, for me, going into the depths of the issue to see it directly, to understand my role in it, is necessary.  Although seemingly sadistic, I want to be certain I have the proper skills and attire to ensure I am more than just a survivor when I am through.  I want to be informed.  I want to unlearn aspects that have made it possible to be in this position.  That my voice can only be heard when it is emotionally charged, and sounds like rage, or fear, or is otherwise incomprehensible.  That it is OK to be dismissed and disregarded.  That it is expected to be second, or not at all, on documents, finances, decisions.  That I will never be equal, or have equal rights.  I want to unlearn these now still common truths.  I want to dispute them and advocate against them. 

I have been in between the devil and the deep blue sea, like all that suffer domestic violence, physical and/or emotional.  Overtime, or at some point it starts to feel like there is no way out, no where to go.  It also feels familiar and not exactly safe, but maybe at the very least recognizable.  And nothing much else is.  I lost so much of myself.  Handed it over, laid it down, gave-up and gave in, I forgot who I was.  Forgot who I could be.

In most cases of domestic abuse, the situation has not been discussed elsewhere.  It has been masked.  At times foggy, but still protective, the mask has a few purposes.  It covers the shame.  It shields the view in as well as, out.  Occasionally it brightens and clears and makes everything seem bright and possible.  My mask helped hide all that was wrong.  I became the mask for another and helped perpetuate further deception.  Again, making me somewhat culpable, or an accomplice in my own demise.

I was drowning.  Much like decompression sickness, I was trying to metabolize impossible amounts of nitrogen, or reality, and as a result started to paralyze my sense of intuition and increase my dangerous need to adhere to the choices I made.  I needed to let go somewhere, I could no longer hold on to anything.  But what?  The choices seemed equally devastating.  It seemed I was between the devil and the deep blue sea, and neither were very appealing.  If hell, or death by drowning are your only choices, you might as well get the proper gear needed for optimum survival.
I started to suit up, maybe prematurely.  I gained confidence.  I started to catch glimpses of my earlier self.  I began to feel alive again.  I stopped questioning myself and was able to see much more clearly.  I no longer needed the mask or wore it.  I stopped being the mask for another.  I did not feel culpable and I did not blame.  I looked forward.  But I rocked a boat that had been moored for a long time. To survive the rocking, I jumped ship.  I was accused of rocking the boat.  Craftily.  Devastatingly, but in the end, not.  It was eye-opening and revealed more than I had ever imagined. Worse than I ever wanted to see.

My research is helpful.  But most of the findings are common place and relate to power dynamics.  Controller and submitter.  Sadly, this is all considered a new issue and courts and advocacy groups are not trained well in it, yet.  There is a new trend growing that is remarkable in it’s evident and transparent manipulation.  Jeff Landers writes about it in Forbes magazine.  His article explains how men are upending domestic violence laws in divorce proceedings.  Of course, it's not always gender determined. Men can be the victims, but it's not typical and statistically it has a very different dynamic.  For me, it seems pretty easy to spot, although for many years it was not.  In spite of the ritualistic silencing and guarded privacy that victims often exude, there are signs.  Perpetrators don’t leave.  With the kids, that they had to ask permission for.  Without a car.  With only what they could carry, or take out quickly. Perpetrators victimize.  They feel entitled.  They make demands and act out when they are not met.  They stalk.  They come too close long after they were told to stop.  Last week in fact.     

I was not able to speak up for a very long time. I was ashamed and unable to face the truth of it all.  After, I was made to be quieted by the very agencies in place to protect.  Had I attempted to speak, I would have been emotional, erratic, frustrated and angry at the court sanctioned and supported victimization.  I gave up, and gave in, and lost assets.  I traded them, anyway.  For myself.  Maybe that’s a sadistic view of equity that I needed to reframe to come to terms with.  I settled for little to make sure that I would not be victimized any longer.  I am worth more than all of the combined and hidden assets, so in the end, I got more. I got everything of worth and value.   I came out on top, ready to dive into crystal clear waters. 


There have been starts and stops.  Ear-popping, lungs deflating, surface mishaps that I needed to be pulled out and rescued from.  Quickly.  I have adjusted the pressure and tried again.  My lungs expanded too much, I could barely keep myself grounded.  I was elated by the freedom.  I overreacted, and swam too fast attempting to catch up with the sea turtles and the shiny fish and show them I was there.  I tried too hard to play, to jump back into the water before I could scream “Marco Polo”.   I met up with a few sharks.  One, and another, coming too close, poised to intimidate, in my pool.  They took a few big bites out of my fun, slowed me down, reminded me that danger is real and easily recognizable.  I don’t need to question that any longer or react to it ineffectively.  I can name it, with confidence now.  I am learning to let go of fears and fights that belong elsewhere, far behind me, at the bottom of the deep blue sea

It is sometimes said; what you don’t know can’t hurt you.  In scuba diving it is said; what you don’t know can kill you.  This resonates for me.  Scuba diving is not about speed or reaching a destination.  It’s about knowledge, and conditioning, and exploration.  I’m just about ready for my giant stride entry.  If that fails, I can backroll, or try a forward roll entry.  There are safety stops built in.  Oh, screw it all! I am going to dive off the high dive and make a loud, splash.  But a giant stride entry?  We all need a few of those.  

Big, Confident, Hello, happy to be right here.  And how the hell are you?!