He Says He’s Always Lonely

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We were getting our travel trailer settled on our campsite on Lake Michigan on Monday and I noticed a man, about my age, sitting on a bench in front of his big motor home on an adjacent lot. He was sitting there watching us, just as we watch people setting up their campers. I talked to him, we laughed about him having a front-row seat, he said his wife had kicked him out, I replied with some lighthearted comment – maybe something to the effect of how lonely he looked, he said,

I’m always lonely.

I didn’t respond because, with my therapist trained brain, I didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t know enough about his life story to know how to respond. But JB and I have noticed their comings and going over the past 24 hours. It is difficult not to notice because they are less than 50 feet outside our dinette window. We noticed they have an electric chair and a fancy walker under the awning.

JB and I talked about how much respect we have for this couple because they are getting out and living life even though both have mobility problems. I haven’t seen much of him or his wife since that initial conversation when we arrived. The only time I’ve seen them is when they were leaving to visit the people at a neighboring camp site – they have been there all day except for short trips back to their motor home to get something. He has been with people all day long. I’ve been wondering what he means when he says he is always lonely.

His statement that he is always lonely didn’t match his reality today – unless he really is lonely when he is around other people. This would mean that he has closed off his heart, his being, and isn’t accepting the caring and nurturing that comes with being with the people he chooses to be with. People who have been really hurt in a previous time, when they were vulnerable and didn’t know how to protect themselves, build walls around themselves as a protection to being hurt again. That could be it but I would need to know a lot more about him and this is not the topic I want to write about today.

What I have been thinking about is what is going on in our brains that we don’t think about. These self messages that are just there, reinforced by years of repeating them to ourselves, without thinking. It could be that there are times that he is lonely – he may be an extrovert and when he is closed up in the house during the long, grey, cold Michigan winters (he said they never leave the state), he is lonely. Could it be that he is overgeneralizing – isn’t letting the reality of a summer day camping with friends intrude on his self message, or self definition, of being lonely?

I have been watching sunsets over water for many, many years. We have spent a good part of our camping days over the past 50 years on Lake Michigan and Lake Superior watching the sun set over the water. During the past 7 years we frequently watch the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico. Every time I watch the sun set, I feel a sense of sadness because another day of my life has finished. This evening we were sitting by our campfire and could see the sun beginning to set so we walked up the grassy dune to watch it. It was quiet and beautiful and I began to think about the loss of another day – gone, never to be lived again. And I began to feel the sadness.

But I stopped myself from thinking my version of “always being lonely” or whatever. Instead I thought, “What a beautiful end to a wonderful day.” I’m so glad I had this day to live with my husband. We did some fun exploring, relaxed, ate good food, took a wonderful nap, and watched a beautiful sunset. I don’t have to bemoan the loss of a day because I lived the day simply but well.

I have more to say, but it is getting late and I am looking forward to a good night’s sleep to refresh my mind and body. Friends will be joining us tomorrow and I look forward to sharing another day well spent with them. And I want to make sure to think about my thinking – so I can update my brain with current data.

Filters and Artists

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Taking a Photo of an Object

I ordered a new photography book this week and read some of it online. I want it yesterday because it started me thinking, once again, about how I see and what goes into making my photographs. I’ve also been thinking about some new photos I want to post of the hammocks at the botanical garden and I’ve been thinking about how much I enjoy doing the post-processing of my images. My mind has been pretty busy and then Cheryl put up the The Daily Post prompt of “filter” and that was added to the blender whirring of my mind.

All those thoughts produced a seismic shift in my identity – okay, maybe a little dramatic but not by much. I think I feel more at home thinking of myself as an artist than as a photographer. There are many people who would like to debate that there isn’t much difference between the two – but when I think about what I enjoy most and devote the most time to in producing an image, the scale tips towards the artistic.

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Three years ago, using macro photography to capture detail.

My visit to the botanical garden a couple of weeks ago was really different, I was in a different state of mind. Once again I was drawn to the hammocks but this time I was seeing them from a different frame of reference. I seem to have reset my filter.

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I am thinking more of setting a mood, touching an emotion. And I find that I have great fun using LightRoom to play with color, light, dark, composition, and clarity.

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I was able to experience and express a memory with this.

This week, for the first time, I took my camera to the botanical garden for some pre-sunset fun as they are staying open until 8 on Wednesdays. When I came to the trail to the hammocks, it was roped off. I set up my tripod and started shooting. An employee of the garden walked past and said I could go around the rope if I chose – it was there to keep people on the lighted walks after dark. I said thanks, but no. I was being forced to see through a new filter.

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This one won’t make my favorite list but it does create a memory of what I was thinking and seeing and wanting to experiment with – given the limitations of a very real world. It touches me in some way, working its way through the filter of a lifetime of experiences and memories. Even though it isn’t great, I will spend some time thinking about what works and what doesn’t as I read my new book. And then I may well delete it from my files because it has served its purpose as a learning tool – but nothing I would hang on my wall.

Does that make me a photographer or an artist, or just an old woman having fun as I exercise my brain and my body? Does it matter?

Who Am I, Now?

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I had a fleeting thought the other day as I was sitting in my favorite chair in my favorite room. I was looking at the bookcase on the other side of the room – the one that holds the books I currently refer to when I am ready to learn a little more about LightRoom or have a question about my camera or need to identify a wildflower. Along with those types of reference books, I also have the books from my studies, the ones that informed my professional identity and I used to inform my teaching. I still enjoy picking some of them up and reading a page or two – the books that read like poetry as they explain human development or theories of therapy. Most of them, however, are pretty dusty.

I had a fleeting thought that I could be ready to get rid of them. In that fleeting second I felt freed from the pining that I have had over who I once was, or maybe who I could have been. I am enjoying retirement and have no desire to work again, in any role, not even volunteering. My miss-firing nervous system won’t allow it. Even though I have the head and heart for helping people, my body doesn’t allow for even a few hours of sustained work because of chronic pain and fatigue. But sometimes I still feel that empty, hollow place deep within my soul that doesn’t want to lose what I once had, who I once was.

Those books are a symbol of who I am, what I value, what I believe in. They have my back when I stand up and say, I Am. These books are very important to me. I grew up in the 40’s and 50’s, formed my initial identity in the 60’s and 70’s. In those growing up years I frequently heard my mother say, “Little girls should be seen and not heard.” From my father, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Pretty crippling messages to me, someone who loved learning and playing school when I wasn’t in school. It is hard to process and retain learning in memory if it can’t be spoken and rehearsed.

As I grew older my most exciting days were when I went shopping for school supplies and could pick up my text books. I started reading them before school started because I just couldn’t wait. Maybe I loved school and textbooks because I thought I would learn something important enough to finally be heard, or maybe – just maybe know what I was talking about. I earned degrees and got jobs that fulfilled my desire to be someone who made a difference in the lives of others. I didn’t start working in “real” jobs until I was well into my 30’s and when I turned 60, I told people I wanted to work forever. I loved my work and the continued learning as I read new books.

If I box up my professional books and ship them out, will I loose who I am? Will I become a has been? Will I forget that I once knew a lot about human development, individual and family therapy, group process, teaching and curriculum design? Does it really matter that the information I once learned and used may no longer be relevant to the life I am living?

I feel myself in the middle of a shift – what is called development in childhood, then maturing in adulthood, but now feels like accepting the aging process. These shifts in personal identity and ways of relating to others don’t happen quickly. When they involve our core personality characteristics they take some time. We feel unsettled for a few months as we ask the who-are-we and what-does-it-mean questions.

Getting rid of all of my professional books now feels premature (would preaging mean the same?) Writing helps me think through my life-cycle tasks as I form the questions I need to ask. The take-away for me today is that I want to keep some of my books, keep them like the keepsakes from my travels and my early years of parenting. Seeing these books every day gives me great joy as I remember traveling down that path of my life’s journey – a journey that was rewarding and exciting.

When I return to Michigan in the spring I think I will do another culling, keeping the books that most represent my life’s work and my personal identity. Something like the culling out of old family photos completed a couple of years ago. I think I need to take time to hold each book, reflect on it, pass judgement, and maybe shed a tear or two. It kind of feels like another of those minor rites of passage that rids life of the baggage that slows me down, making me freer to live my life to its fullest, as I am, into my future. I like to travel light.

 

A Need for Place

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We had a difficult week. We did a quick trip to Texas to help our 50 year old, very accomplished and independent baby girl who was scheduled for surgery last Friday. It was a fast-growing lump on her thyroid that might be cancer. All is well with her, but we are feeling the aftermath of the stress when someone we love develops a serious health issue.

During this time we had a couple of really early mornings, over-the-top stressful problems with our airline tickets, and it was really hot and humid in southern Texas. All of these impact my body and mind because of fibromyalgia. I have learned how to take care of myself, but sometimes life is hard and I can’t seem to do enough to counter the stress. I told my children, as they were growing up, that life isn’t fair. It isn’t. It’s hard.

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Michael Watson wrote a post this past week called The Power of Place. Michael’s identity has been shaped by his dual presence in Native and Anglo culture. This post was in response to the Native American gathering in North Dakota to protect their sacred places from destruction by the building of the oil pipeline. Michael helps us understand the different world views that are clashing as Natives and capitalists come face to face. I always appreciate how much I learn from Michael’s posts because the Native world view is so different. What struck me most in Michael’s words was this:

I was raised to understand that places have the capacity to heal us. They may also hold us, offering safety and comfort, and, as Don Juan famously said, power.

20150816-dsc_0110I think JB and I are looking for comfort, healing and safety in place. As we were returning home we both made the decision that we need to spend a few days in familiar places in northern Michigan before we head to Florida. I have been culling photo files and find that I stop to study those photos of places that have a special feel. All of them places where I felt the power of life flow through me. Places where I feel the presence of God.

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The places that we are seeking right now are not grand scenes, like World Heritage Sights or the U.S. National Parks. We seek them out, are moved by their majesty, and they enrich our lives. But these are not what I need right now. I need places that are simple and pure, that sooth and calm, that heal. These are places that allow me to be with myself while being aware of where I am. These are the places in nature where I am at home within myself.

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I was a healer in a part of my working life and I respect our ability to heal in body, spirit, and mind. I have experienced this powerful healing within the bonds of human relationship and have been a part of helping others heal. What Michael helped me realize is how much I need nature for healing and growth. To use a popular phrase in sociology and psychology, I need both nurture and nature. I hope we have enough time to heal our planet so my new great-granddaughter will be able to find her places of healing.

Linked to The Daily Post: Recharge.

Thankful after Thanksgiving

mt ranier 061It is easy to sit down on Thanksgiving Day and make a list of what I am thankful for – but I felt almost repulsed by that exercise this year. Besides, after 50 years of adulthood lists they begin to look very similar – except for the occasion year when all I could be thankful for was that the prior year was over. My one daughter is there right now after a difficult year for her and her family.

This year I feel a need to do something different than think about what I am thankful for. This year I feel a shift in my being – a shift from a pause to be thankful to a different way of being in each day. I think it has to do with the aging process. I no longer need to “make it” in the sense that I did when I was in my younger years, when I was thankful for events and accomplishments that made me more “adult.” I now live with a sense of peace that I accomplished what I needed to accomplish and can forgive myself for what I wasn’t able to do. I also know that I lived a good life, attributed in part to good decisions but also because that unpredictable, uncontrollable fickle finger of fate worked in my favor bringing opportunity and wonderful family and friends into my life along the way. Occasionally I have brief moments of sadness over paths that I could have taken “if only…,” until I remember the joys of the paths I chose. Sometimes I’m hit with grief over family and friends who have died, but also feel the joy of having had them in my circle of love.

That seems to be where my mind goes when I pause to be thankful – I think about the past. Then I start thinking about the future and how I want to live my life in my remaining years. Those thoughts seem to spring from some notion that I need to give back for all that I have received. I think about how I could use my mind and ability to write – to make a difference in our national politics. Maybe I could even write so powerfully as to convince a few people that wanting to ban semi-automatic weapons has absolutely nothing to do with wanting to take guns away from law abiding citizens who use them for hunting or the sport of target practice or who collect antique guns. (Oops, how did that editorial slip in??)

When I start thinking about all the things I could do I begin to feel dragged down. If I am honest with myself I know I am limited in the things I can do, and what I choose to do I need to plan well and be vigilant about energy and pain levels. I don’t feel like I have the energy to give as I would like – and that makes me sad. Really sad.

How can I be thankful when my life is limited and, because of my age and fibromyalgia, I know it is only down hill from here? Do we reach an age when we are no longer expected to give; when we can just take? When I taught about adulthood and aging, I discussed with students the theory of role reversal, the reversal of children taking care of aging parents. It was clear then – now that I feel it beginning to happen, not so much. Back then the emotional part was more theory than real. Now it is in-my-face real.

I still want to age gracefully, with joy and peace and love and laughter and stimulating activities. I thought I was doing a pretty good job. I had decided to take each day as it came – finding joy in doing chores and fun activities (like making quilts). Being thankful each day for what I could do without thinking about what I used to be able to do or want to do in the future. Today. Joy. Thankfulness. Wow.

Then we brought the Christmas tree upstairs, the pre-lit one that we cut all the lights off last year because half weren’t working. I had a plan. I would sting the lights securely so I could leave them on. I started stringing the bottom third with colored lights in the center (JB wanted colored) and white on the ends of the branches (my choice). I did a little and then would do something else that allowed me to sit and rest. Then I did a little more. I was able to make the strings of lights end so I could start new ones on the middle section. I worked on the tree Monday and Tuesday. Took lights off on Wednesday because they weren’t ending at the top of the middle section.. Decided on Thursday (with tears of frustration) that we wouldn’t have a tree this year, but instead I started putting lights back on. Friday I bought two more strings and put them on. Friday I took those off because I had bought LED and they didn’t look right with rest of tree. They also weren’t long enough so JB went out to buy two longer strings. The lights still weren’t going on right so Friday night I took most of the lights off. Saturday I put lights back on, with a new plan of taking them off after Christmas. JB’s worked with me on the top third that gave me the energy to finish with the light stringing.

It is beautiful. JB and I agree that it is the most beautiful tree we have had in many years. But it took me a week to put lights on the tree and it wasn’t a graceful process. I cried and cussed and was surly. I gave up several times, lost sleep over it, and felt very little joy during the process. Not the way I want to live – but it isn’t my normal way of living.

During this same week I designed and bought fabric for a darling quilt for my new two-year-old great-grandson. I am so excited about it, and thankful that Kaden is a part of my life and that I can bring joy to my grandson and his new wife. And what about the tree? Yes, I wasn’t at all graceful but I kept going back, I kept doing as much as I could, I persevered and changed my plan as needed, and I “got er done.”

Maybe I don’t need to always be graceful. Maybe I need to take on challenges and fight my way through even if it isn’t good for my body and spirit. If most of my life is lived with joy and thankfulness, I think I can forgive myself for those moments (or weeks) when I’m not feeling it so much.