love, marriage, music, musings

Writing about my scars for the past nineteen years…

It’s time for another goofy selfie. Today’s featured photo was taken in Innsbruck, Austria, in August 2020. We’re both a bit broader and greyer.

Good morning, everybody. It’s November 16th, which means it’s my wedding anniversary. Nineteen years ago, Bill and I tied the knot under somewhat scary circumstances. He was a 38 year old man who had been through divorce, bankruptcy, foreclosure, domestic violence, and 9/11 at the Pentagon. I was 30 years old and recently graduated from a double master’s degree program that had put me in a lot of debt.

We met in a chat room in 1999. He was newly separated from Ex and had recently rejoined the Army as a full time officer. I had just started grad school and didn’t know anyone. We fell into a friendship in November of that year, finally meeting in person in 2001. When 9/11 struck and no one knew we were dating, we decided to go public… and not long after that, we got engaged.

I know I used this photo last year, but it’s really a good representation of us… and how we are. And we don’t have any recent photos of us. Maybe we’ll take one this weekend.

Now, here I sit, pretty much debt free, but never having used those degrees I spent three long years working to earn. Bill is retired. The last nineteen years have been full of adventure and, for the most part, a lot of fun. I talked to Bill and my mom last night. Bill is in Poland on business. Mom is in Virginia, watching ships pass from the windows of her apartment, which offer great views of the Chesapeake Bay. I didn’t have much to say to Bill, since I last saw him at 4:00am Monday morning, before he flew to Warsaw.

To my mom, I said I was surprised by how well marriage has worked out for Bill and me. Especially considering how and where we met. Lots of people had doubts about the feasibility of our relationship. My mom, especially, was creeped out that we met on the Internet. She thought it was WEIRD. Years later, she admitted she was wrong to doubt us.

My career didn’t work out the way I had hoped it might. Now I think that’s probably a blessing, even if it’s hard on my ego. I had always wanted to be a writer. Sure enough, that’s what I am. Almost every day, I write something, even if lately, I’ve been putting up a lot of reposts. I don’t mind the reposts, since a lot of them eventually do get read, especially the book reviews. The reposts are, for the most part, from days when I had good thoughts to put down, and I see nothing wrong with recycling stuff. I live in a country where recycling is the law. Aside from that, sometimes I just can’t think of anything I want to write about that badly. That’s not a bad thing. Taking the odd day off is good for the soul and helps me recharge, and sometimes old posts are still entertaining or educational.

This morning, I was reading some old posts I’d written. I was trying to think of what I wanted to write about today. I found a post I wrote called “My Special Brand of Shitty Sunshine“. I had forgotten what it was about, but was intrigued by the title. One might think that post would be full of vitriol. Actually, it’s a fairly thoughtful post inspired by Caleb Wilde, the guy who runs the Facebook page for Confessions of a Funeral Director. I wrote it on May 19, 2019, after having read an insightful post Caleb had written. I was struck by his thoughts on why he writes, and I related to it so much so that I quoted him:

Speak and write about your scars, not your open wounds. That’s the axiom you’re supposed to follow as a writer.

Anyone who regularly reads my writing knows that I often write about my scars. However, like Caleb, I also write about my gaping wounds. Sometimes people don’t know how to take some of my more “honest” thoughts, especially about certain subjects. I have occasionally been on the receiving end of unsolicited advice about some of my content or opinions. Some have warned me that sometimes I come off like an ass. Of course, that only stands to reason, because just like almost everyone else out there, sometimes I actually AM an ass. I’m just being authentic. 🙂

On the other hand, people have also told me that many times, the posts about my open wounds are useful. They relate to them, or are entertained by them. Or, sometimes they SHOW me the posts are useful to them, by stabbing me in the back and talking trash about me to a certain mutual former landlady, or to likeminded people who don’t like me and want to stir up shit among themselves. While I’d rather people didn’t use my writings to cause trouble, there’s not much I can do to stop people from doing what they’re going to do. That’s the price I pay for writing down my thoughts and sharing them. Besides, since we left Stuttgart, most of that juvenile crap has stopped, since I have made a point of not engaging with most of the military community in Wiesbaden.

I know a lot of people make lifelong friends through ties to the military. My parents had some dear, wonderful friends from my dad’s 22 years in the Air Force. Bill and I have made a few friends, too. But, by and large, I’ve found that trying to make friends with most people is kind of a fruitless exercise. It’s kind of like dating. You date someone for awhile and break up… and sometimes you can be friends afterwards, but a lot of times, there’s too much pain and the relationship falls apart. I haven’t dated much in my lifetime, but I have found that I’ve had a lot of “friends” who turned out to be temporary. On the other hand, I’ve had other friends who have been around for decades, even if very few of them are “close friends”.

Maybe finding real friends is more like panning for gold, which in some ways, is harder in the age of the Internet. It’s easier to find “friends”, but harder to find quality friends. A lot of people think I’m weird, anyway, and don’t take the time to get to know me well. But, in fairness, I don’t invest a lot of time in them, either, because I sense that they don’t quite accept me the way I am. At my age, changing for the sake of a friendship that will probably be temporary isn’t worth the effort. So, those who take me as I am, like Bill… and even my mom, these days, are people I make an effort to keep in my life. There are a few true friends, too… including a couple of people I’ve never met in person and know little about.

But, in all seriousness, having been associated with the military lifestyle for the past 19 years, I gotta say that as much as I loved living in Stuttgart– especially since a total of six of our years as a couple were spent there– it really is the most toxic place we’ve ever lived. It’s even more toxic and dramatic than living on Fort Belvoir was. We spent four years living there, and we saw a LOT of drama. And that was before Facebook or Twitter! Stuttgart the second time was even worse, even though we didn’t live in a stairwell apartment but, in fairness, that probably was because of social media.

Caleb continues with this: “Burnout, secondary trauma, PTSD, depression, fear, disassociation, social anxiety . . . these are all a part of my concoction of diagnosed open wounds (more on the diagnosed part of things when I’m feeling up to talking about it). And these wounds rarely have time to heal when their source is your job. For some of us, like me, writing from our scars isn’t entirely possible because some wounds just remain . . . open.

Well… he’s a funeral director, so he’s bound to see and hear a lot of sad stories. He’s not unlike a bartender or a mental health counselor of any stripe. I wrote the post that fathered this one in May 2019, before COVID-19 was a thing. Caleb’s business is bound to be even more difficult today than it was two and a half years ago. In fact, it occurs to me that I haven’t seen any recent posts by him. I just checked his Facebook page, and it looks like the last fresh post from him dates November 13, 2020. I can only assume that he’s very busy with his work. I hope nothing worse has happened.

But this is what he posted, almost a year ago… and I guess it offers some explanation:

There’s a sliver of time in a person’s life when society actually encourages us to care for ourselves. That sliver of time we’re afforded for self-care happens when we experience a loss. After we lose someone or something, it’s like all of a sudden everyone around us becomes caring and encouraging with phrases like:

“You can get through this!”

“It’s okay to express your feelings.”

And . . . “You need to take some time for yourself.”

And for a minute we believe them. We allow ourselves to let our space get a little dirty. Or maybe we stop shaving. Maybe we order out and watch more Netflix. During a loss, we let ourselves take care of ourselves.

But in the back of our minds we have an imaginary clock that’s counting down the days til self-care takes a back seat to “responsibility.”

Right now all of us are experiencing a loss. A loss of normality, of the rhythms were used to dancing to. Just like with the loss of a loved one, we’re suddenly having to learn an entirely new dance with no promise that the old dance will ever play again.

We’re friends, right? You’re here because you’ve read something I’ve written and you connected to it. So, as your friend, let me tell you:

“You can get through this.” There’s no promise the end of this will be the same as the beginning. It won’t be. But we can get to the other side.

“It’s okay to express your feelings.”

A lot of us don’t like the COVID versions of ourselves and that’s okay. It’s okay to be less patient, less stable. Take all the time you need to accept yourself as you are right now.

“You need to take some time for yourself.”

You can stay safe and not be a martyr. Nobody is asking us to sacrifice ourselves. Do something you like (the pic is me doing something I like). Stay away from things you hate. Train your mind to think on things you enjoy, not things that make you angry and fearful. You have total permission to care for yourself. I’ve been telling myself that it’s okay to be a little more patient and gracious to myself right now. I give that same grace and patience to the families I serve at the funeral home. I don’t have to starve myself of what I give.

I don’t know what Caleb Wilde is up to right now. I hope he’s alright, and the realities of life in 2021 haven’t buried him, either figuratively or literally. It occurs to me, though, that his writings about his scars and gaping wounds have inspired me, and taught me new things. Likewise, I hope some of the things I write are inspirational, educational, entertaining, or even just offer some reaction of some sort. Even if that reaction is disgust or anger… or something else negative.

I’m sitting here writing this post today, on our 19th anniversary, mainly because 19 years ago, we said “I do.” I didn’t go off and work for a public health agency or take a job as a social worker. I didn’t become a grant writer or lobbyist. I didn’t do what I had been planning to do when Bill and I had that chance meeting in a javascript chat room, back in 1999. We later progressed to mIRC, and then Yahoo! Messenger, which is where I got the news that he’d survived 9/11. I remember the first time I heard his voice was over VoIP, rather than on the phone or in person. I never thought that would lead us to marriage. In fact, I never thought we’d meet in person, let alone become husband and wife. I have to admit our partnership has really worked flawlessly on all levels, in spite of everything, including COVID… 😉 And yes, it’s worked out “in spite of ourselves”, too…

Wish COVID-19 hadn’t taken John Prine… because this song could be our theme song.

And… just as I’m about to close today’s musings, James Taylor’s song, “Daddy’s All Gone” just came on. As I sit here, wishing Bill was home on our anniversary, and I’m reminded that his career has taken him away so many times… though so far, not permanently… I realize how prescient that song could have been for him. He wasn’t a James Taylor fan before he met me, but he’s come to appreciate his music. I’m sure I’ve played “Daddy’s All Gone” for Bill. It might have made him choke up, especially given that he missed out on raising his daughters.

This song has meaning for Bill…
And this song has meaning for me… especially this particular version.

We were supposed to see James play in Frankfurt on February 11. We have second row seats. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has fucked that up, and James had to postpone his European tour. I hope he gets here eventually. I really could use another show by him. I’m not surprised the tour was postponed, though. A year ago, we were supposed to see Keb’ Mo’ play in Mainz. He has postponed that show three times. At this writing, we’re due to use our tickets for last year’s concert on May 11, 2022. I had to look it up, because I can’t keep all of the updates straight anymore.

Well, I guess I’ve prattled on long enough. Those songs remind me I really need to practice guitar. Thanks to COVID-19, I may have more time for practicing, because I fear there may be another lockdown soon. Anyway… we’ll probably do something celebratory over the weekend. And maybe I’ll put up the fucking Christmas decorations while he’s gone. Wow… this year has flown by. Before we know it, I’ll be thinking about what to write on our 20th wedding anniversary.

Edited to add… Bill and I walked down the aisle to “Highland Cathedral”. I just happened to stumble across this rendition, and now I’m a blubbering mess. Seriously… it is GORGEOUS.

I could listen to this all day.

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social media

Noise I don’t need in my life right now.

In praise of “real friends”…

Last night, just before I went to bed, I read yet another derisive status update by someone I don’t know particularly well. This guy, famously or infamously known as “newnamenoah” on YouTube, has over 4000 “friends” on Facebook. People tend to love him or hate him. I’ve always mostly thought he was interesting and entertaining, with big brass balls. Here was a guy who invaded LDS temples with pinhole cameras and recorded “secret” ordinances, then posted them on YouTube.

There’s no telling how many people newnamenoah, aka Mike, has helped with his videos. He’s probably pissed off just as many people by ruining the “mystery” of the LDS temples. He’s been arrested for trespassing, too. I followed his antics for a few years, but had no personal dealings with him. I often thought he was funny, especially when he dealt with self-righteous people who wanted to tell him what to do. I had respect for his “work”, although lots of people were angry at him for exposing something they considered “sacred”.

But coronavirus has changed things. Some things have changed for the better. Some have changed for the worse. Some things have just plain changed. I think the virus has forced most people into a different lifestyle… things are topsy turvy, with people not knowing what they’re going to do about certain major issues like accessing childcare, going to school, caring for elderly parents, and paying their bills. I don’t know.

People are stressed out and pissed off. Some are depressed. Many people are frustrated and worried about the future. For some folks, this is about simple survival on the most basic level. Some people are reacting by trying to exert some form of control, whether it be by haranguing rule-breakers or rebelling against the rules. It’s causing a lot of people to be ruder than they might otherwise be, although I think Mike has pretty much always been dismissive and rude to people he doesn’t respect. Fair enough.

At this point in my life, I am very fortunate. I currently live in a country where the virus has been mostly contained, and it appears that we’re going to get to stay for awhile longer. Life is not completely normal here, but it’s close. I’ve been “locked down”, but not really because I’ve had to be. I’ve mostly decided I’d rather stay away from the risks and hassles of being out and about. But I realize that’s a privilege that many people don’t have. As fortunate as I am, though, I have found that the virus has made me a lot less tolerant of things I used to brush off with relative ease.

It’s not even so much that I’m feeling upset anymore. It’s more that I just think I fell into a path that had me putting up with stuff that I shouldn’t. A lot of shit is just that– shit. It stinks and needs to be flushed.

Prior to the virus, I tolerated things that seemed important… I put up with an abusive landlady, griping all the while, yet acquiescing when I was told I didn’t have the right to complain about the shitty way she treated Bill and me. I put up with people being “mean” to me on the Internet, when really all I had to do was unfriend or block them. I wrote many words about being upset or disappointed by people I thought were better, when I really should just expect that a lot of people are jerks and don’t have regard for other people. Just let them go and be done with it. It is what it is. Bitching about it makes me feel better temporarily, but doesn’t really change anything.

I recently wrote a post called Mask-Misanthropy. I’ve noticed a lot of people hitting it lately. I don’t know why people are reading it. Are they reading it because they agree with me that people have gotten a lot less “civilized” lately? Or are they reading it, thinking I’m a clueless “Karen” (hate that term) who needs a reality check? You know what? Who fucking cares? If you read my stuff and come away with the idea that I don’t take the virus seriously, then I must conclude that reading comprehension isn’t one of your strengths. I don’t like masks and I go out of my way to avoid wearing them. But I do so by staying home most of the time. I think that’s more effective than wearing a mask, and I’m lucky enough that I can do that. When I go out, yes, I wear the mask. I hate it, but I do comply with the rules.

The main point of the Mask-Misanthropy post is that I don’t think being rude and nasty, calling people names, being insulting, and lecturing so-called “friends” is the way to get them to cooperate. I understand that people are feeling tense and frustrated. I get that they’re scared and rightfully worried about the future. I just don’t understand how cursing at and shaming “friends” is the way to make the situation better. If someone is a “friend”, doesn’t that mean you hold them in some kind of positive esteem? How is it friendly to call your friends “morons”?

That was where I was last night as I was looking at Mike’s Facebook page. He’d written a post insulting people who are “anti-mask”. It was one of many I’d seen by him on a variety of controversial topics. He basically called them “mouth breathers”. Someone on his page took him to task for name calling. He insulted her, too. Then, I guess when she decided to unfriend him, he wrote a rant on his page about how he doesn’t lose a minute of sleep over people who unfriend him (I think he might have called them morons, but I don’t care to check). In the past, when he’s done that, I’ve laughed it off. But then it occurred to me that it must matter to him on some level, because he took the time to post about it. And what he posted was just more of the same bile.

I had absolutely nothing to do with last night’s drama. Before I unfriended him, I almost never commented on Mike’s posts. I read some of them, enjoyed a few of them, but mostly they were just “noise” on my page. A lot of his posts were about what a schmuck Donald Trump is. And I agree, Trump is a schmuck– putting it very mildly. A lot of posts were about how damaging Mormonism is. And I agree, Mormonism is pretty damaging to a lot of people. Sometimes, he posted stuff about him living his best life, which was nice to see… but he also posted about being arrested when he stepped on LDS church property. But since a lot of that shit is public, I can read it whether or not we’re “friends”. And I’m getting tired of reading angry, insulting, shaming, frustrated posts by people who paint anyone who doesn’t agree with them with a broad brush and dismiss them as “stupid mouth breathers”. It’s noise I don’t need in my life right now.

As the old song goes, “what the world needs now is love, sweet love”. On the whole, I think being kind and supportive is better than being angry, derisive, and confrontational. I realize that I’m not always one to practice what I preach, but I’m working on it. I mostly try to keep my rantings to my blog, which people have to actually navigate to if they want to read. I understand the impulse to lash out at people who aren’t doing what you think they should be doing, but it seems counterintuitive to call these people “friends” if you’re going to also curse at them and call them names.

I’m finding that the stress of the coronavirus and my need for some semblance of normalcy has made me much less willing to tolerate unnecessary “noise” and drama. I’ll probably unfriend a lot more people as time goes on… or maybe, as I have been threatening, I’ll just dump Facebook altogether and become a recluse. By the way, as of yesterday, I finally lost my “orange badge of shame“. Glad it didn’t take a year.

Bill does this all the time. It drives me nuts.

Mental health is very important. There’s no point in staying physically healthy if your mind is so fucked up with depression and anxiety that you can’t enjoy your life. It’s already stressful enough reading the news every day, listening to Donald Trump speak, and realizing just how much he has fucked up the world. I don’t need the extra noise in the form of angry accusations, constant insults, and non-stop political rants. If I wanted that, I could watch Fox News.

Given that he has over 4000 friends, I doubt Mike will miss me anyway. On the other hand, having tons of friends isn’t a guarantee that unfriending won’t be wounding to some folks. Last month, I got blocked by a guy I unfriended because I didn’t want to read so much about politics. Since we didn’t actually know each other offline and we almost never engaged, I figured he wouldn’t care– although I did know he had a “friend tracker”. Boy, was I wrong! He sent me a PM, apologizing if it was something he said. Then he got all pissed off when I explained that the constant barrage of negativity was causing me mental stress. Guess he wasn’t really a friend, after all. Ditto for the woman who blocked me when I unfriended her for the same reason. I can’t say that I mind being blocked by either of them. It’s not like we were actually friendly.

A real friend wouldn’t want to cause me stress, strife, or anguish. Instead, they would wish me well. A real friend wouldn’t call me stupid, clueless, moronic, or a mouth breather. No one has really done that to me personally, but when I see things addressed to a group as a whole, it turns into an insult that includes everyone who reads or hears it. And I just don’t need it. No one does.

I often like to say good things can come out of almost any situation. Maybe one thing that will come out of the coronavirus is that it will help me streamline who I allow into my life. Real friends are rare and valuable. I’ll do my best to keep them, since I’m lucky enough to have some of them– a few are even people I have never met offline. Fake friends on Facebook are just noises I don’t need in my life. I’m going to learn to let them go sooner rather than later.

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holidays

Christmas adventures in France…

Merry Christmas, everyone. Here’s another quick post for Christmas Day. I don’t have a lot to write about today. I suppose I could come up with something from the news, but I like to keep things light on major holidays like Christmas.

I’m in Nimes, France right now, visiting my friend from high school and college. We became close in recent years because we have a lot in common, and because we grew up in the same area and know many of the same people. She’s been in France for years and has children and family here, since she married a local.

It’s really been nice to be welcomed into Audra’s home and treated to a French style Christmas. In fact, this may be the best Christmas I’ve had in many years. Bill and I usually have very low key holidays, bordering on the boring. This year, we’ve had the gift of being able to make new friends and enjoy the old… and Audra and her husband are especially great to be with, because they don’t mind my unconventional sense of humor. They’re great for other reasons, too.

We will open our presents on Sunday, when we get back to Germany. We don’t have many to open, mainly because of this trip to France. It’s been nice to get out of Germany for a few days, and I look forward to writing the story of our travels, as I always do…

I hope those of you who celebrate the holidays are enjoying yourselves. And I hope those of you who are feeling depressed or lonely find some way to make the holiday season less painful. It’s hard to believe 2019 is just about over. The year flew by. A lot has happened, and I expect more will happen in 2020… the year of perfect vision.

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