Category Archives: Personal life stuff

Well, crap.

So, my dad is dying of liver cancer.

 

There’s more to the story than that, of course. Even so, when the bottom line is that he’s dying, I’m finding that the rest of the story rather less compelling.

 

Since receiving this news a few days ago, I’ve found myself with a desire to write about…something. Not my feelings, necessarily, since those are rather obvious (I’m sad, angry, et cetera). If not my feelings about the situation, then perhaps my actions. Which are fascinating, of course. Thus far I have cried, fretted, said maudlin things, failed to sleep, and perhaps played a few more computer games than is entirely healthy.

 

So I’m not really sure that there’s much to say that will be of interest to anyone other than myself, and I’m also aware that my parents might prefer that I not, you know, share every detail about what’s happening with the world. Even so, there’s at least a small sense of relief that I get from writing. For now, I’ll put these posts under a password, and share it with those who ask for it. The posts might become more public at some point. In the meantime, I figure the password protection will also make it easier to skip over this stuff, for those who might prefer to do that.

A few words about space, stuff and intention

It’s safe to say that the last few months have been rough ones for me. Emotional, interpersonal and financial stresses have been weighing on me, ranging from the pretty much usual frustrations about work and my minor role in contributing to the evils of the world (working for one of the largest banks in the world is not, as it happens, my dream job) to exceptionally unpleasant feelings of helplessness around my family, my home and the people I care about most. November and December, in particular, included several conversations similar to this:

Concerned friend: “Jason, how are things going for you these days?”

Jason: “Well, my life is just as shitty as they were last week, and since last week it was as shitty as I can remember my life ever being, I’d guess I’d say that I’m not doing so good.”

Concerned friend: “Oooooookay…..”

So, you know. Good times for everyone around me.

The biggest frustration, really, has been an acute lack of optimism. I’m not a rabid glass-is-half-full sort of guy, to be sure, but I’ve really tried to cultivate a sense of hopefulness in my life over the past 5 or 6 years, and mostly I’ve been successful at that. Lately, though, that well has been pretty dry. It’s become pretty obvious that I need to break some of my unhealthy patterns and lay some better ones in my life.

A few weeks back, I decided to try jumpstarting this process by shaking up my physical space. There has been some reorganization of space around the homestead, and as a result there was an empty bedroom down the hall from mine. Tempting as it was to just shove all of my crap in there and sort it out later (a strategy that I employed when we bought the place in 2010), I wanted to make this move – if you can rightly call it a “move” when it’s down the hall – a more intentional process than that. Also, it had been a long time since I painted anything around here and I clearly needed a reminder of how much I hate painting.

Over the course of about 3 weeks, I primed and painted the room, shopped for (and finally bought) some lamps and shelving and went through everything in the old room and asked myself whether it was necessary or added something of emotional value to my space. It was interesting to note which of my possessions made the cut based on those criteria and which didn’t. Most of my books, of course, did, though I put about 30 into a donation pile. All of my clothes that I hadn’t worn in more than a year, with the exception of one of a suit that I just haven’t had cause to wear lately, went away.

Of course, the spare hard drive and the spindle of DVD-ROMs that I haven’t touched in about forever? Those somehow went into the general tech bin despite serving no immediate purpose. Apparently they fall into the “Emotional value” category, since I have no real justification for calling them necessary.

Once that process was done, actually moving into the new room was pretty simple. I did the majority of the work myself, though I had some help getting the bed moved in and put together, and some advice as to where to put the shelf for my altar and exactly where to hang lamps and such. It was actually rather instructive to do so much of the physical labor myself – I found that I really appreciated the assistance I received for those few things where I asked for it. Also, as an intentional act, it carried a little more weight, knowing that most of what I now see around me was my own doing.

I still have a few more things to figure out. I’m waiting on a couple more frames so I can finish hanging some art on the walls, for instance, and I need a better storage solution beside the bed. I’m really happy with the outcome so far, though. It feels nice to know that what’s in this room is only what I actively want to have in here. It also helps that in the past week, I’ve had 2 of the best nights of sleep that I can remember having in a very long time.

One of the great luxuries we have in our home is that each of us has a space that’s completely our own domain. Not our own in the, “Everyone keep out at all times” sense, but in the, “This is my space and I’m happy to have you share it with me for a while” sense. This year, I’m hoping to both remember and take advantage of that abundance and luxury, and to maintain the sense of intention and choice I worked on when moving in.  

A couple of folks have asked for pictures, so I’m attaching them here. Please try not to cringe too much at the many flaws in the painting job you may see.

BR1

BR2

2013-01-07 18.54.53

2013-01-10 21.50.04

A reminder of why the Catholic Church and I don’t really get along

 

Elizabeth, Melissa and I traveled down to my hometown of Springfield, Missouri last weekend to celebrate my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary with about 80 of their closest friends. Overall, it was a rather rushed but great weekend. The party on Saturday, in particular was a great deal of fun, particularly chatting with a number of people I hadn’t seen for a long while (in some cases it had been 20 years, which is just baffling to imagine.)

 

On Sunday, my parents were renewing their vows, so I did something I haven’t done in at least eighteen years – I went to Mass with them. I haven’t identified as a Catholic for more than half of my life at this point, but I still carry a certain affinity for the church that I grew up in. I expected the experience to be a strange combination of the familiar and the strange, and that expectation at least was certainly met. Some of the highlights of the day included:

  • My parents’ church was remodeled about 15 years ago, and this was the first time I had spent more than 3 minutes inside the building since that happened (Mom and Dad had pretty significant roles in the fundraising for that project, so I got a nickel tour once it was finished, but I certainly hadn’t attended a service there). One neat thing is that the altar is now in the center of the church, with the rows of pews on opposite ends so the congregation is facing one another. I really liked that setup.
  • Apparently, the Catholic church occasionally changes up the wording of the liturgy. Who knew? I was surprised at how much this threw me off, actually. Even some of the little changes took me by surprise, which…good grief. I didn’t realize just how ingrained the language was, but even after almost 20 years I remembered how it used to be.
  • When I was younger, passing the collection plate (well, collection basket) was an essentially invisible part of the service to me. It happened at a particular point, and people were singing while it happened. It didn’t really make much of an impression on me then. On Sunday, though, it felt almost unseemly. Not because of the idea of soliciting donations, mind you – I am absolutely in favor of supporting one’s spiritual community in whatever form it takes. If I’m fed in some important way by a community, I should support it in whatever ways I am able. What I hadn’t really pieced together before, though, is what else is happening during this time. In a Catholic Mass, the collection is taken just before the consecration of the host, which immediately precedes the opportunity to take communion. During the collection, the priest is preparing for the consecration, preparing to offer communion to the parishioners. This is, for many (perhaps most) people, the whole point of going to Mass in the first place. It’s the part that, if you believe in this church’s teachings, that helps you get into freaking heaven. And just before that we’re going to ask for money? I just…wow. I do not like that message, at all.

 

Now, my discomfort with the way Mass is structured is basically immaterial. I’m not a Catholic, and by no means do I mean to suggest that this is inherently wrong, it just doesn’t work for me. To put it bluntly, my comfort is of essentially no importance whatsoever, because it’s not my church.

 

Having said that, when we were getting ready to leave I had a different experience that’s been weighing on me quite a bit this week.

 

Out in the vestibule of the church, there’s a large rack of pamphlets, most (or all) of which are distributed by the Knights of Columbus. While waiting to leave, Elizabeth and I flipped through a couple of them, wondering which we would find the most hilarious to read during the drive home. We picked out, “How to Be a Real Man of God” and started flipping through it once we hit the highway.

 

It was exactly the sort of drivel that one might expect. Today’s “politically correct” culture erodes masculinity. The greatest gift that a real man of god can give is to “share his love” with a woman. A real woman’s greatest gift is to “accept that love” (and yes, they make the connection that your inner 12 year old is already giggling at). Men and women have inherently different ways of communicating, loving and being loved, and deviating from that “norm” is bad.

 

Oh, and one of the greatest problems preventing males from being “real men of god” is the growing acceptance of homosexuality. Of course.

 

Now, look. None of crap this is unexpected. If I was hoping for an open-minded view of the world, the free literature rack at a Catholic church was not the right place to go looking. Even so, though, I spent the rest of the drive and much of the last few days just feeling…not angry, really, but sad. I had a conversation with a friend last night that helped me clarify why this has been bothering me so much.

 

The changes to the Mass (many of which seem pretty clearly intended to make the Church more conservative, which isn’t a huge surprise given the Pope’s philosophy) or even the newly-discovered awareness that the timing of the collection feels really squicky to me didn’t really bother me because they’re global changes. They’re decisions that come from Rome, and they’re fundamentally about the liturgy of a religion that I don’t identify with. So it’s easy for me to laugh those off or to at least to say, “Hey, it’s not my religion, and that’s part of why.” The “literature” at the front of the church, though, that’s not dictated. To the best of my knowledge, it’s the parish’s choice to have that kind of stuff at all, much less what’s actually presented there. So we have this community that I used to belong to, and their “Hey, this is who we are and what we’re all about” message includes that sort of narrow-mindedness and intolerance.

 

Ugh. Really?

 

I’m glad to have at least figured out why this has been bothering me, I guess.  And it’s not as though I’m going to be setting foot inside that building again for another 18 years, give or take, which is probably a good thing for everyone involved.

 

Pondering right action

On Saturday, Elizabeth and I went out to our favorite Thai place up on Western Avenue. The food was, as usual, quite good, and I tried an appetizer that was new to me – beef satay. I’d had chicken satay before, but it turns out that the combination of fat from the beef and fat from the peanut sauce makes for a delicious combination of fat and yumminess.

 

Unfortunately, this post is not really about mouthwatering, greasy, delicious food. It’s about what happened when we left the restaurant. Walking the couple of blocks back to the car, we encountered a couple, one man and one woman, having a very loud argument. They were on the other side of a 5 lane, heavily trafficked street and we could hear every word that they said (well, shouted) to each other. At one point the woman started walking away, and the man (in a fit of great chivalry, of course) positioned himself to cut her off two or three times. She sort of pushed him out of the way, at least half-heartedly, and then they started yelling again.

 

Now, a little context. At home, we live next to an apartment building where confrontations between residents happen often enough that I’ve called 911 a couple of times (receiving approximately no response from the CPD, but that’s a topic for another day), but in the time we’ve lived here I’ve never brought myself to get involved directly in one of those confrontations. Some of it is a conscious desire not to be noticed by those neighbors, frankly. Anyone willing to shout at the top of their lungs on the sidewalk (no kidding – one woman in particular has yelled loudly enough that it hurts my throat just listening) is not someone whose radar I really want to be on.

 

Somehow, this situation felt a little more immediately worrisome. At least part of it was because this was happening in such a public setting, and I guess my thinking was that anyone who didn’t care that people were certainly watching this unfold might also not care if someone watched them become physically violent. After watching for a minute or so, silently wishing that one of them would back down, I sighed and did what I tend to avoid doing in most similar circumstances – I crossed the street toward the angry people.

 

About halfway across the street, I thought, “Huh. A smart person would have asked Elizabeth to get her phone out.” Oops.

 

When I got to the corner, I realized I didn’t really know what to say. I got close enough to be heard without raising my voice too much, but far enough away that my patented Flight or Flight Response(tm) would be effective, and said, “Um, guys? I don’t mean to intrude, but I noticed that you both seem really angry right now. Are you okay, or do I need to call someone?”

 

Both of them looked rather stricken for a moment, and the man said tersely, “No, I’m fine.”

 

I looked at him a little incredulously, trying to silently  communicate, “Um…what in the world makes you think I was most concerned about your safety, dude?” without implying that he should come and kick my ass. Either I succeeded at this task, or it was dark enough that my expression was unclear. Either way, he didn’t come to kick my ass, which is always the cornerstone of a good plan in my book.

 

After a couple of tries, I managed to get the woman’s attention and asked if she was all right. She nodded, then said at least fairly convincingly, “Yes. Thank you for checking, sir.” They began a more quiet conversation when I turned to leave, which…I guess is good. Maybe.

 

If nothing else, this served as a reminder for me about how adding an unexpected person to a conflict can serve as an energetic jolt. Who knows, maybe one or both of the people thought, “Oh, geez, we’re making a spectacle here, maybe I should dial it back a bit.” On the other hand…well, I’m not convinced that “quieter” really means “better” in this case. In some ways, I wonder if they both would have been safer if they continued having an audience. If one of them (I’m enough of a gender-normist to assume that it would be the guy) had crossed the line into physical violence, I imagine someone would have at least called the cops. By interrupting them, did I accomplish anything other than reminding them that if they really want to scream at each other, they should take it home and do so there?

 

I really don’t know, and can’t know. I know I would have felt guilty if I hadn’t said something, though. Now I just feel thoughtful and sad, so, you know…yay? I wish I had a better sense of what The Right Thing to do would have been, but at least the path to doing  a right thing was pretty clear in the moment.