Monday, June 17, 2013

Looking back, almost twenty-five years later...

On an unseasonably cool evening in the latter part of June 1989 I boarded a #3 MTC bus on Grand Avenue and paid my seventy-five cent fare. I rode down the big hill to the edge of downtown St. Paul, where United hospital was situated next to the new I-35E interstate highway construction. It had been a little over a year since I graduated with honors from Macalester College, also on Grand Avenue. When the bus stopped in front of the unassuming plaza fronting the low, brick-colored wing and tinted glass doors, I stepped off and walked into the comfortable, carpeted lobby with its tropical plants and sofas. I asked where to check in and proceeded to a desk behind the seating area. Seated by the desk with the impersonal secretary and the computer she never took her eyes from as she entered my answers to her questions, I wondered what she was thinking. I clutched an oversized patterned pillow in one arm and with the other kept my dark gray EMS backpack from tipping over as it rested against the brown metal legs of the chair. If she were thinking anything, it wasn't revealed, and my attempts to good-naturedly elicit a personal response of any kind went unheeded.

In the backpack were a change of clothes, some inspirational books, like “Be Good to Yourself Therapy” and “the Herb Book,” and an assortment of other things that were meant to create a feeling of comfort (I think there might have been a small stuffed animal) or remind me of academic achievements (a gold Cross pen and pencil set in a green leather case that my dad's boss gave to me for graduation). I had brought these things to the hospital as defensive talismans against the threats I thought likely to encounter – challenges to the values I was investing my identity in, like holistic health and a college degree...even though my presence at the check-in desk seemed to indicate some pretty significant limits to their usefulness at that moment.

When I began college four years earlier, my weight had been a hundred and forty-seven pounds. During the fall semester, it quickly dropped to a hundred thirty-five and my eyes sank back in their sockets a bit. That was less extreme than what followed the loss of the supportive, completely financed structure of residential academia. When I checked in at United hospital, I weighed around a hundred pounds, the result of trying to become “healthy” - well, actually I just wanted to figure out how to feel good - on a diet that consisted mostly of brown rice, and things like broccoli, almond butter, and the occasional egg. Food wasn't the real issue, and I didn't have a conventional eating disorder, but it had become the most visible stage on which my post-college drama was being acted out. That drama, like that of many others, was set somewhere on a sea of vague expectations bothered with storms of anxiety. Like the rest of us, I was suddenly expected to learn the rules of games I had not yet played and customs that I had never encountered before. For me personally, it brought out my lack of experience when it came to knowing how to care for myself emotionally, and it highlighted my neglect of social connections and nurturing relationships, which made it hard to feel secure and comforted as I fearfully ventured out into this new world, feeling like I had nothing except a college diploma and a lifetime of resentfully achieving for teachers and professors.

Two months earlier, I had left a job at a family-owned Vietnamese restaurant, which was, like everything else, on Grand Ave. I had worked there for about a month and hadn't worked since. I couldn't, I stated desperately and somewhat angrily to Rose, when she called asking me to fill in for someone. I just couldn't. I don't know why I couldn't, except that busing bins of plates and waiting on customers was hard physical work. I wasn't really sure what I could do or when to know that I had reached my limit. That kind of vague unknowing pretty much characterized my entire state of being, and I was intently focused on it. It was not the image I cultivated for myself. I was a hard-working successful student. Truth be told, I was afraid of many things.

After graduating, I had found some work in my field, as one might logically expect to do, but I either lacked belief in myself or had a somewhat arrogant sense of my importance, so these were insincere or uncertain efforts at best; at worst, I resented or discounted them. During the summer months, I had worked at a tiny environmental foundation in West St. Paul, run by an older woman onto whom I projected an increasing amount of frustration. One day I took my bag lunch, walked a mile down the road to the nature center, hiked around a little, found a staff person, and asked if they had a job there for me. Well, we don't really have anything, except an internship – it doesn't pay much...Okay, I said, eagerly and a little bit falsely perhaps, as I had been conditioned to do. No need to think about it. I'll take it. If I wasn't obsessively stuck on making a decision, this lack of self-respecting consideration was typical of my process, too.

For the next few months, I led tours and participated in events and staff meetings, and it went fairly well until late October, when, feeling an especially acute amount of anxiety, I uncharacteristically failed to show up for an evening event. I finished the internship the following month, looking rather unhealthy by that time, and traveled back to my family in Philadelphia for the holidays.

I've just now realized that the two internships were the last “jobs” I would have that were related to my college major – environmental studies with concentrations in geography and biology – until I began graduate school seven years later and taught physical geography labs. I must not have liked something about myself very much to have put so much work into a degree and then feel like I had to turn away from it to accomplish the basic goal of earning a living. Maybe too, I didn't really know much about why I had chosen those majors and lacked a desire or the courage to go deeper. Perhaps, also, I simply preferred to avoid the issue of putting myself out there in the world by staying in an academic environment, even though I often felt lonely there, too. Be that as it may, in the years that followed, I learned a lot about everyday jobs, almost as if to compensate for my flippant refusal to seek employment as a teenager, and I learned about the pressures and problems associated with not having a job.

After the good feeling of college graduation celebrations wore off, the comforts of familiar people and accustomed roles had gradually faded or shifted to less familiar ones, though I lived close enough to campus to continue to stay involved and occasionally hang out with friends. I wasn't part of the crowd that was busy working new jobs and I was too cautious to hang with those who sought to forge a less traditional path. Basically, I had to both appear responsible and avoid being overwhelmed by responsibility. I had relatives in the suburbs, but lacking transportation and feeling poorly about myself, I didn't take many trips out their way. This cutting myself off from people would be a habit I still have to work hard to change.

On the positive side, I was subletting a cozy room in a renovated horse stall that smelled pleasantly of old wood. Heavy wooden doors sliding along a thick iron rail separated my space from the hallway that lead to the garage in one direction and the laundry in the other. The stall/bedroom was on the lower level of a carriage house behind a mansion on Summit Ave. The other tenants, with whom I shared a sunny, modern kitchen and living area upstairs, where the other rooms were located, were friendly professionals and graduate students, two American men and a Canadian woman. The stairs were opposite my nest, next to a small room with bench seats and a wood stove.

In the house at the front of the lot, also divided into apartments, lived a woman who was a therapist and a member of the Twin Cities Society of Friends, a group I did things with in my kind of erratically shy and enthusiastic way. It was her vision of me living in the carriage house that had been all I needed to call Bill, who was heading to Hong Kong as an Outward Bound instructor, and arrange for a three month sublet of his room. I brought in my futon and turntable and the folk albums I was listening to at the time, browsed the books he left in the cases lining the end wall. One in particular, “I'm OK, You're OK,” stuck out in my mind. Since it was a popular self-help book at the time, and I was starting therapy at a clinic in the far western suburbs, having declared myself “all better” to the Jungian analyst who lived in the neighborhood, this was a bible of sorts that I should let people know I was studiously attending to. I probably read parts of a chapter or two.

I might have connected with the other tenants more than I did, but I was having a hard time hiding the effects of my insecurities on my emotional and physical well-being. Basically, I knew how to worry and feel frustrated as I studied furiously and got good grades. I liked seeing classmates and relatives, being part of a dinner or some other special event. The symphonic band wasn't the most exciting thing in the world, but it was a comfortably familiar ritual too, and there were several other groups, but to be honest, I didn't really value connecting with others socially as much as I thought I valued getting grades, even though I often felt desperately lonely. In fact, I recall badgering my roommate about his habit of heading off to someone's room at one in the morning, or bringing someone by ours, because they wanted to talk about something or go somewhere. As conscientious as I was about keeping a hard-working, studious attitude, he was about attending to the needs of his friends to be listened to, including mine. Maybe I just didn't know that such a thing was important. Maybe I didn't believe I could succeed socially. In either case, when I fell beyond the pale of what were the comparatively nurturing arms of the educational institution, I floundered.

One example of this was my attempt to turn the holistic health clinic I was frequenting into my next college and the chiropractor there into my next adviser. He did serve this role as best he could and connected me with both an analyst and a clinic in the suburbs, but my vision was producing more frustration than achievement. I still have a pretty clear memory of the tidbits of information I pored over following their classes and seminars, as if they were scraps of ancient texts of wisdom that offered a ticket to success and freedom from my prison of bad feeling and insecurity.

I had taken the initiative to start treatments there about sixteen months prior to that point. In December of 1987, at the end of my penultimate semester, before I moved into an apartment off campus, some of the people from the clinic presented at the student union. The staff included the chiropractor, his wife, an assistant, a macrobiotic, former French chef nutritionist, a receptionist and office manager, as well as a massage therapist and their professional friends and colleagues. Having had some kind of muscular back seizure earlier that fall, I followed the logical line of reasoning that treatments there were a diligent and rational decision, and I was attracted to the intriguing new perspective of holistic health care.

I sought to take them up on their introductory offers and convince my father to cheerfully pay for it. My father worked for the organization that oversaw the medical board examinations at a time when chiropractors were viewed by the medical profession as quacks. But at this clinic, I enthused, they would educate me about healthy food choices and cooking methods and I could get a massage and take classes and seminars with other like-minded, I don't think chiropractors really do anything, but if you think you'll learn something from them...well, I'm sure they're good enough, and if it will help your sound very enthusiastic about much is it going to cost? For how long will you be going?

For most people, a decision to treat their back at a chiropractic clinic would indeed have been a sensible thing to do. Others might have politely declined and taken care of themselves, but for me, there was nothing but to sell myself and my family and anyone else who would listen on their idea and become an enthusiastic “patient and student,” as I later defined myself on my resume. Um...yeah, sometimes, I think original, attention-getting ideas bordering on flaky are brilliant. I'm kind of learning to recognize these feeling and take a few steps back toward a safer, more practical stance. Another thing I'm learning is when to let go. I continued for years at this clinic and then switched to another chiropractor whose office was next to the Vietnamese restaurant. The man, who was at the time her partner and the father of their soon to be born son, befriended me after I got out of the hospital and began working at the grocery store across the street. When, after a couple years, she told me that I was too much of a victim for her to continue working with, I went back to my first choice, though as my life improved in the coming years, I reconciled with her and continued getting treatments until leaving for graduate school in the mid90s.

Suffice it to say that, although the treatments had had the expected positive results at first, I wasn't exactly getting healthier when I went to talk to a medical doctor about my weight loss and depression, and my choice to use a chiropractor and learn about alternative healing had become a nagging source of contention with my family, who were basically wanting to know when I would get a job and everything would be fine.

In astrology, four elements and three modes combine to create the twelve signs of the zodiac. I had learned about elements at the holistic health clinic, though that was the Chinese system, in which there are five. The astrological elements are four: fire (inspiration and intuition), earth (practical matters), air (intellect and sociability), and water (feeling). Planets, which loosely speaking include the sun and the moon, more properly known as the lights, represent components of the personality. Each uses the energy of the zodiac sign in which it is placed to express itself.

When I was born, there were no planets in the signs of the zodiac associated with fire, and I think that tellingly describes my lack of a certain kind of energy as I attempted to take on the challenge of doing the expected things, while maintaining my sense of health and well-being. My natal chart has many planets in mutable signs. There are three modes in astrology: cardinal (active), fixed (established), and mutable (evaluative, adjustable, educational). I found many ways to keep learning after leaving college, and had many new experiences despite the mounting difficulties. I showed initiative (cardinal mode) in trying things out that solved practical problems (earth element), but the learning, in the emotional arena (water signs), was an area of life that could no longer be ignored out of anxiety or fear of losing a certain attitude that had to that point driven me onwards. The emotional and mental stresses ate into my ability to function in practical ways (earth) and in intellectual and social ways (air), which are otherwise strong points in my personality.

I guess one could say that the therapy I had begun and the hospital mental health program I became involved in at the hospital were my first steps toward a degree in emotional knowledge from the school of life, though I always seemed to escape from the true lessons before they sunk in and would return to therapy to reach my latest, anxious goal.

The Moon intersects the Earth's orbital plane at two points. At one, it is moving into the space above the plane (to the north) and in the other, it is moving below the plane (to the south). These are the points where eclipses occur, because the Earth, Sun, and Moon line up in exactly the same plane. The points move as the earth moves around the sun. When viewed against the backdrop of the tropical zodiac, which is based on the Earth's seasons and made up of the four elements and three modes, they migrate backwards in overall motion, changing signs in a little over a year's time, sixteen years to cycle the complete zodiac.

When I was born, the south node was in the fourth degree of Sagittarius, and the north node, which is always exactly 180 degrees away, was in the fourth degree of Gemini. The south node represents things we are born already knowing well, a kind of default behavior or attitude, while the north node represents the things we must, without any real incentive, learn how to do to balance the south node and feel satisfied with what we've done in life. Sagittarius values freedom above all else and is scholarly, too. The Moon is located just past halfway between the North Node and the South Node in Virgo, another intellectual, analytical sign. Getting a book to study something and working toward some kind of career student hood seems to be how I approached my Moon's square to my South Node.

The South Node is in my natal tenth house, the part of life that is the most public. It represents the public roles people play and the part of life for which one gains recognition, such as a career. I would follow a career path that included college, and do well...that meant security, though it never honestly felt that way even when I was highly stimulated by the learning. The North node is in Gemini, a communicative energy based on immediate connections in the environment. It is factual in its outlook, and more local and everyday than the culturally astute and conceptually oriented Sag. It is in my natal fourth house, the most private area of the chart, representing one's home, family, ancestors, and inner life. I have learned to talk and write about my feelings, though with Gemini, one truth is often as good as another, so being honest with how I feel is a challenge as well – the Moon's square with the North Node. Becoming critical about everything is another associated with the Virgo Moon, and that makes acceptance of one's faults (so that one can actually want to change them) difficult, though I am getting much better at it. It is finally starting to feel okay to set aside cynicism and adopt a positive, but not pollyannish, attitude. Discriminating between the two is one of the strengths of Virgo. There's a lot more astrology in the words above. I discover it as I write it, or I think I do. It would take a long time and a lot of energy to patiently write it all out, and so I'll wait for a good reason to do so or let it go.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Autographical Essay You Don't Publish as a Bragsheet Bio But Might Really Want To

Late in June 1989, a year after graduating from college, I took an MTC bus to the hospital in downtown St. Paul at the strong urging of a medical doctor with whom I had recently spoken (not that he recommended taking the bus - that was just me being thrifty and practical). I weighed about a hundred pounds (down from a hundred and thirty-five) and didn't have a job.

Sixteen months prior to that point, I had taken the initiative to start treatments at a holistic chiropractic clinic, even though my family was not the kind that would support doing such things. In December of 1987, the folks from the clinic presented at the college I would graduate from in May. Having had some kind of muscular back seizure earlier that fall, and being interested in alternative kinds of health care, I thought it must, for sure, be a diligent and rational choice to take them up on their introductory offers. Plus, they would educate me about food and cooking methods and I could get a massage and take other classes. For most people, this probably would have been a very sensible thing to do, but for me, it was the first of many intractable, confusing lessons about self-responsibility, which have not been clear cut in any particular black and white kind of way.

Suffice it to say that, although the treatments had the expected positive results at first, I wasn't exactly getting healthier when I went to talk to the medical doctor about my weight loss and depression the following year. On the positive end of the spectrum, I was being exposed to some mind-expanding ideas and information about health and healing. On the negative end, it became one more source of stressful conversations with my family.

Astrologically, learning new things can be related to one's North Node, among other things. Mine is in Gemini, which is definitely about learning. Very close to the Node - about two degrees of arc past it, at 4 degrees and 56 minutes of Gemini - is Nessus. Nessus is a Centaur, which is to say, a comet-like body with a fairly stable, but somewhat eccentric orbit, in the neighborhood of Saturn and Uranus - the very edge of our visible solar system, or just past it. Except for Chiron and perhaps Pholus, the Centaurs were an ugly lot of louts - downright unsavory in most every way. How they were portrayed in one of the Harry Potter films is pretty accurate, mythologically speaking. In astrology, Nessus has been found to relate to victim behaviors that won't budge no matter what. They may reflect generations of suffering from some long dead misdeed or betrayal perpetrated by the family, whose descendant is now carrying the brunt of the burden. So, all that - and rashes. For instance, the creator of the first great urban parks, Frederick Law Olmstead, was born when Nessus and the Sun were in the same bit of sky. He suffered from a terrible poison sumac rash as a youth, and it prevented him from entering Yale University, so he took jobs as a merchant marine and journalist, among other things, which led to a vigorous, active life and opportunities that culminated in his taking over as designer of Central Park. The victim mentality or the profound suffering that is associated with Nessus has been found to remain in place until there is a significant transit (like a conjunction, square, or opposition) by a powerful planet, and then things rapidly take a turn for the better as the person claims his own power and becomes effective in life. I guess what this might mean for me is that substantive growth and victim-like wallowing have walked hand in hand for many years in my life.

It had, in fact, been a stressful senior year in college: In February, when I started treatments, I was moving off campus and buying things like groceries and a futon for the first time in my life, finishing a senior project, and speeding toward the end of the only script for living that I had ever known - being a competitive, grade-earning student who collected his rewards while missing out on more than a few of life's pleasures.

What else was going on? I was trying to decipher the demands and concerns of a stressed parent who was having anxiety about changes in his "faculties" and in his career job as well as my taxes (which were nothing out of the ordinary). And at the same time, I was holding onto the deeper, forbidden knowledge that in fact I felt afraid and unprepared for life after college - in a way that maybe was like most everyone else, but perhaps actually wasn't.

A couple years ago, I re-read a letter from that time and realized that the relationship with my father pretty much remained stuck at that point, mostly around the subject of finances, for the next twenty-some years. Temporarily I would do something about earning money to please my parents and help myself, and it would be a little nicer for a while, but its only very recently that I've really understood something about what was going on below the surface of things to help make me profoundly anxious and unhappy. My sister resolved that issue twenty years ago, but we all have a different path, and I wouldn't trade mine.

What else? I was experiencing the demise of my first sexual relationship, which I think was what had led to the back problem, along with the fears associated with wrapping up my college career. I'm not sure I could call what we had a relationship, in the real sense of the word, but whatever it was had been with another student who was gentle and kind and sarcastic and a bit odd. Not a bad match, although, with my ridiculous Capricorn standards, I felt, at the time, that I was "settling." (Not a very pretty side of my personality, but I won't understand it better or let go of it if all I do is beat myself up over it.)

She idealized compassion, could decorate a dorm room in a way that felt warm and nurturing, and had strange sounding reasons for not taking another English class (or was it just Shakespeare?). She was comfortably skilled at giving and receiving physical pleasures in a way that was sensitive toward others. This carried over to anything else that she introduced to me and was her stated guiding principal in life - to simply try not to harm. It was a quality that I proved to lack at that stage of my life - or at least would not share openly. And she talked about depression and her late father and why her study abroad was a terrible experience and all kinds of other "scary things" with a startling amount of emotional fire. (We certainly didn't do that in our family.)

I never did learn her birthday, but I'm thinking either Aquarius or Cancer, and there's definitely some Pisces and Aries involved, or some planetary equivalents. We were "together" from the spring of 87 into that fall, and I spent the summer in Europe, so it was probably Aquarius Sun. My next gf was an Aquarius, too, but that's getting years ahead of this story.

I'm pretty sure I was harder on her than she on me, and that my behavior was the cause of her pulling away, but I would guess that of the two of us, she was more resilient, because I took several years to feel okay about myself again, and it wasn't just my lack of success in the employment arena. We recovered a friendship for a little while after I graduated, exchanged letters when she was abroad, met up a few times, and eventually I convinced her to get treatments from the chiropractor. She did, it helped, the money ran out, she stopped. It's taken me twenty years to learn how to do things that way, but I've started to. Later, when I actually did feel better about life, I wrote a poem about all this, which would be a little different if I wrote it now, but wasn't too bad then.

What else? I didn't have a car and couldn't figure out a way to explain to my chiropractor that my dad was not the kind of person you could ask to help with something like chiropractor, whom I pretty much looked to as my post-graduate advisor. Not that he really wanted that role, but he did the best he could. I went to their house a few times for dinners, and tried my hardest to corral him into as many conversations as I could. He had high standards and many patients. It wasn't the best kind of situation for a person who pressures themselves to please those whom they admire while also feeling rebellious and a tad needy. Like I said, I learned some mind-stretching things and stretched a few of them too far.

After a year of trying to make it on my own with just a bicycle for transportation, I got my first car, sublet a cute little stall in a restored carriage house behind a mansion on Summit Avenue (first time not living with other college friends), and then talked to the concerned medical doctor and took that bus to the hospital. I went through admissions with a cold, detached woman who typed my information into a computer while I clutched a luxuriously oversized pillow and a travel bag of clothes and books. Got a room, requested a dinner, and spent the next few days on the phone, walking the halls (nice view from the top floor windows) and talking to my chiropractor, someone from the ACA group where I had attended a couple meetings, the nurses (some of whom were about my age and also getting on their own after graduating), and eventually, a psychiatrist, who cajoled me into taking my first antidepressant (prozac, new at the time) and transferring downstairs into the mental health unit where I was visited by anxious parents who had ran out and got an airline ticket, etc., cousins, a college friend or two, and the therapist I had just started with and his wife.

After three weeks I was up to a hundred fifty pounds (also perhaps rather stressful), switched to their outpatient program, and took a part time job bagging groceries at Kowalski's Red Owl on Grand Avenue. It was across the street from Taste of Vietnam where I had bused tables and taken orders for a month before moving into the carriage house and going into the hospital. I would be back in hospital for another three weeks the following January and again for a weekend in March.

About the grocery job....I'm still an accomplished bagger, but I wasn't the most motivated employee. I wasn't proud of having a job so much as relieved to be part of the world again and doing something my parents would feel comfortable about. Something to check off of the list of foreign things I suddenly "had" to do. My emotional stress became an issue at work, and it didn't help that I had an odd way of practicing verbal assertiveness. It was more defensively aggressive than assertive, I suppose, but I was going to try and use the information I had gotten in the hospital program to the best of my ability, and I thought I was doing that....even when I kind of knew otherwise. This is the kind of maladaptive behavior I think my parents would often support as being positive, which makes trusting intuitive truth more difficult.

Come to think of it, this is the same kind of self-sabotaging energy that caused my college friend to pull back, though, at that time, a couple short years prior but a lifetime in experiences, my aggression had been mutely physical. I had not yet been subjected to the shocks to my sense of security that came after graduation. These would prompt learning on a whole different level. It was, I can see now, done out of anxiety, out of fear of asking to talk about something I wasn't sure of and hesitancy to respect myself when learning or doing new things. Not so difficult a thing, really.

I left the grocery store after eight months and worked short stints at many other businesses - the Como Zoo popcorn and corn dog stand next to Sparky the Seal's performing pool, Napolean's Bakery, Uncle Matt's deli, and Pizza Man pizza delivery, before giving up once again. I took a creativity seminar in Duluth - my first real road trip as a driver, became part of a therapy group, went on two Apostle Island sailing workshops with my therapist and other clients. I took a trip to the Black Hills (where I first connected with my college friend) before my insurance was revoked for the many tickets and accidents I had been in - I switched to very costly high risk insurance....I also switched chiropractors, before the next one gave up on me, too. She had been a partner to a massage therapist who was bagging groceries at Kowalski's with me, and he was one of the new friends I made during this time. My college friend had introduced me to Unitarians, so when I needed something closer to home, I connected with the local Friends Meeting just across the street from my garden level apartment. I took a few continuing education art classes and one at MCAD - like my first chiropractor's wife has said, it's amazing what we do even when we aren't well....

Eventually, in the spring of 1993, my cousin called social services and the social workers came to scare me. In time, they provided a really needed buffer between myself and my concerned but not very helpful parents. We always want that easy kind of feeling with family, and steer our lives in directions that we think might create it, whether it's finding a girlfriend with a great family to replace ours or taking a job to mollify parental concerns. It can be the hardest thing in the world to see the subtle undercurrents of these dynamics clearly and act out of this knowledge rather than becoming hurtfully angry and acting out of this emotion instead. Its okay to be dramatic and emotional sometimes. It's a right that comes with being human. I tend to think that fear of emotion and subverted drama is a lot more destructive in the context of family relationships.

Parents who understand that their children need to rebel - and sometimes even need to do and say outlandish things - go farther to ensure their children's well-being than parents who protect them from every perceived danger or harshness in life, particularly when those dangers reside primarily in the parents' perspectives. And children given the space to rebel while still feeling supported will go farther than those who are controlled and manipulated by their parents, even when the pressure comes in the form of encouragement and positive feedback for doing things the parents think are safe or wise. I have a friend whose had some soap opera dramas in her life, much like my own in some ways, and I think this is one of the things I have been getting from our interactions. Even getting out of your own way when you need to rebel is likely to be better for your future well-being than forcing yourself to play it safe for someone else's sake, although this can be a strategic tool if you know what you're doing. Hence, the problem with acting out of anger and rebellion when it doesn't serve your purpose. Sometimes I just let some batshit crazy thoughts out when the pressures build to a crescendo, and I have to say, I feel more sane during those times than when I'm holding it in, trying to forge ahead and manage everything. I know what I'm saying at those times - I can just it be what it is. Kind of like having a good cry, it is very cleansing. 

Back in the mid90s, the social workers provided access to and encouragement for using resources that helped plan out ways to get on with my life. I kind of did that more enthusiastically than even they wanted me too, since within a few months, I found a job working at Brother Hogan's sandwich shop in the St. Paul Skyways, finished a geography major at Macalester, got into a photography class and a poetry writing group, played softball and used the new computers on campus, started drinking coffee at coffeehouses, moved out of my basement apartment, tried asking out the lesbian cashier at the coop where I once again became a regular volunteer, got fired from my job at Brother Hogan's, did temporary work for a year and a half, and then, at age 29, right on my Saturn return, accepted a teaching assistantship in a graduate geography program at Nebraska. 

All of this might sound like wow, what a success, except that I was back in counseling after one semester. I stressed over a required statistics class, questioned my whole graduate school adventure, and for the first time ever in my life thought I might have to consider suicide. Astrology friends might recognize a difficult twelfth house Sagittarian south node at work here - giving myself up to an institution rather than providing my own structures for learning and finding my own path - and jobs. Nessus, a centaur that is often associated with victim patterns and, on the physical level, rashes, is close to my North Node in Gemini, which could explain the difficulties I encountered while trying to get on in the everyday world. I think Saturn, which, in Pisces, works better without overbearing dictates, was also trying to teach me lessons, but I didn't trust its process. 

Actually I had been hard at work getting some Gemini type everyday experiences, as the north node in that sign would require - there was the temporary light industrial jobs, some of which I liked, even for reasons besides the fact that they were temporary....and as a grad student I started going out to bars for the first time in my life. I suppose expressing my freedom to subscribe to Penthouse might have been one of the less productive attempts to learn about being a regular guy, but that honestly was part of the motive for doing so. The other part, well, you know....

At least you're going through this now instead of waiting until you're forty and having a mid-life crisis, the psychiatrist had offered during my first week under his care. No, I would be going through then until my mid-life crisis, plus a year or two. When was that? Last year, this year, next year? Things would get deeper, worse, more intense...and better, even in the years since getting that PhD in 2005.

But what I just now realized...what I sat down to write about six hours ago, when this blog was going to be a mere facebook status post, is that going to the hospital on that late June afternoon in 1989 was a responsible, adult thing to do. What I also just now realized is that I did not believe that until now. I still believed I was different from the other patients and from the staff and that I couldn't just let myself be there and benefit from the program. I was, for instance, superior to them intellectually and much less than them emotionally (and very lonely for it). I clung to these beliefs even when I knew they weren't true, because it was what I had learned to do - and I thought I needed to do something right then. In fact, I had a plan that was going to work and the extreme ways that I applied the information I got at the holistic health clinic were going to help me succeed. (I haven't given up on it, by the way).

I didn't want to be at the hospital, except to rebel and express my hurt and let someone know I needed to take the pressure off for a while. And in truth, that might have been the only way I could have gotten it across to my parents - aside from having a truly honest conversation with them, which probably wasn't going to happen since I didn't have very honest conversations with myself or with other people. At the time, I was only there to get back up and keep running. For all these years, I have run around in my head like a chicken without his (head), dressing up the windows of my life to make them look presentable when there was no need (though there may be a use for such things). What was it that Winona Ryder's character said at the end of Girl, Interrupted? "Crazy is just you or me amplified"...

Just to get into the hospital, I put myself through tortured rationalizations and there was my dad's anxious "he'll be up and out of here soon" to the Macalester chaplain whom we ran into in the hospital lobby. It was a lot like what he assured the insurance agent when I finally did get a car: "Oh HE won't have any accidents"...We know how that turned out....

I am very grateful and a bit amazed by this drive to learn and create and express myself, even when all this other stuff is going on. Even with my subsequent hurrying up to find a job, then more jobs, then another major, then a graduate school program, then a career job....and always more counselors, therapists, healers, and an occasional doctor when nothing else worked...I've managed to learn many different perspectives and put together useful information that has helped me get by in life and feel intellectually satisfied.

But I want something a little different, a little more....that feeling of belonging, of feeling normal, connected, and so I guess I was also there at the hospital to begin educating myself emotionally and begin learning how to connect with other regular people, not just the pretty ones that succeed. Begin learning how to connect with the less acceptable parts of myself. And the fact that I just realized something new about my experience there, says that I keep learning.

These emotional minefields that get in the way have opened up considerable new talents, obsessions, and goofy behaviors, but I think I am finally getting it - as Chiron completes its last pass of an opposition to my natal moon and Jupiter chimes in halfway between them - I think I am finally starting to get it on a personal level, within me, that I am not different in some flawed way, from anyone else. Quite the opposite. I am as normally flawed as my most wonderful friends, acquaintances, and family members. Finding the flaws is what finding one's humanity is all about, and I don't mean finding flaws in a critical way. Flaws are proof of our humanity, and it is in human bodies and minds that our souls take residence and do their work.

So the only thing that separated me from the responsible, goal-oriented anorexic girl whose attention I wanted to get at the hospital, or the angry, self-destructive teenager who was going to live on the street and whose energy excited me, or the psychiatrist who threw up his hands and said, with mock exasperation, okay, we'll try eastern - contemplate your navel for ten minutes every day...maybe that will help! - the only thing that separated me from them and the nurses I tried to help so I didn't feel like a patient, was the fear of being normal, of being human, of being flawed. Bit of a paradox really.

From the Heron Dance daily inspiration: "Though he (Chuang-tzu) did not follow other men in their follies, he did not judge them severely—he knew that he had follies of his own, and had the good sense to accept the fact and enjoy it. In fact he saw that one basic characteristic of the sage is that he recognizes himself to be as other men are. He does not set himself apart from others and above them. And yet there is a difference; he differs “in his heart” from other men, since he is centered on Tao and not on himself. But “he does not know in what way he is different.” He is also aware of his relatedness to others, his union with them, but he does not “understand” this either. He merely lives it.
     - Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu

Monday, September 24, 2012

Why Can't I Honestly Say That I Want To Teach?

I don't know when I'm going to feel clear about this teaching thing, though it seems like what had been an insoluble knot of vague conundrums is beginning to break into more distinct forms.

I like, even need, to have a class to teach to feel happy, more than any other activity or job, because I get to share what I'm uniquely interested in, which encourages me to develop it more, and because I have an enthusiasm for giving to others valuable and important perspectives that I hear more and more often are appreciated and well-received.

And yet, I still don't believe it. I still doubt and am extremely sensitive to how my skills and insights are received, to the slightest perceived drop in interest or perceived frown of disapproval. I still assume guilt or shame or feel frustration about how I share what I learn and what I see. Am I too aggressive, rigid, or extreme? Do I want to be liked too many different kinds of people? Am I still too angry for polite company and successful interviews, do I feel like I disregard others' perspectives or sensitivities more than I wish to? How about my own?

The enthusiasm I can often deliver in a lecture comes with doubt that feels healthy to some extent and, in another form, clearly detrimental. Humility and honesty, good - overly critical view of myself and others, bad. I'm pretty sure by now that part of that is just how I do things - how I learn by experimenting with different attitudes, different approaches, different ideas, some of which are more acceptable and appreciated by certain groups than by others. I'm beginning to catch myself when I'm being overly perfectionist and idealistic about this issue, but I still really don't like it when people toss the whole thing aside and tell me not to worry about how I do. It feels too much like how I've seen some others in my life handle things, without enough depth or attention to detail to do something well enough to get it done and enjoy it at the same time. I feel like I still have some lessons to learn in humility and care-fulness myself. But I shouldn't try to solve that by being hard on myself, should I now? It doesn't work. Just know that when I am being critical or crazily focused about something, it has always been with a very good and innocent intention that suffers from poor training and years of frustrations.

I believe deeply (while not being entirely convinced, at the same time) that I am holding back a lot of frustrated feelings, which clearly detract from my interactions with others - students, administrative folks, friends...or at least make my own being stressed, anxious, and lonely. The issue - how I learn how to handle myself more skillfully so that I have the opportunities to teach and socialize that I say that I want, while also being more honest about how I feel so that I can express myself more authentically, more confidently, more fully. It's like working on two things at opposite ends of a spectrum: being more honest, less afraid, more trusting of a deeper, internal process, while also trying to be more skillfully diplomatic and emotionally aware in my interactions with others.

It's hard to teach, interview, or prepare a course proposal, let alone wait to hear the outcome, while all this is going off in one's head. While there is the issue of being unpleasantly surprised by negative emotions I wasn't aware of when sitting alone at my computer assembling these nice slides and handouts, thinking how awesome it's going to be, of not knowing how to handle them, find a suitable outlet, a positive way to express them, I'm starting to feel more satisfied with my delivery and less driven to make it perfect. That is a good thing. Yes, I'm practically comfortable with that! And getting better with the proposals, that is, when I get around to them, I mean, but maybe it needs to take its time to work through. When the anxiety and tension builds over getting a class to teach, those negative emotions and doubt and shame are much more likely to come settle around me.

So, it's not the kind of basic, surface thing that bothers me as much anymore, though I have to keep at it, of course. It's just that I have this sense of not being as connected or as truly conscientious as the teachers I deeply admire - those for whom teaching is a calling and an attitude, and not just a job they grumblingly accept. I don't know if I'll ever feel that I can comfortably own the role of "teacher," no matter how much skill and panache I develop as a researcher or lecturer. Sometimes I even think I'm just stuck in my parent's unfilled dreams, but then I look at my natal chart and see that, no, there is definitely reasons for you to want to teach. And I fantasize that if someone were to believe in me and my abilities, give me a break I truly needed and was ready for, that I would become open to hearing criticism that would help me become the really good teacher that I think I want to be in life. That I would believe I could do it. Believe in myself. I suppose there is also an issue about accepting the imperfect, less idealistic, but more practical routine of life and not getting so caught up in these ambitions and aspirations, so that I could have more real world successes. In the meantime, there is still that sense of being not yet satisfied with something I need to "get" about teaching, and about myself, while already going beyond the requirements and expectations of the people I teach or teach for.
How is this resolved?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Witnessing the Inner Voice

Got into another fight with my dad over the gardens at the house. I tried to find a way to address the feeling that my wishes were being given a back seat to the other person's, the one who is always more important, but I just couldn't connect with him and it turned into another awkward, slow-motion slugfest. But it didn't get out of control. And then we talked about other things. And that conversation too, was, like most, a ponderous, arguing slog, where every question was responded to with a long recitation of every fact known about a situation, most of which I've heard before multiple times (okay, I should lay off - my analyst gets the same from me some days). Every suggestion was met with dismissals or problems. Simple desires for self-expression were taken and turned into things presented for judgement as to their worth, and that, I decided, was the most tiring aspect of the whole process

Anyway, some time after the fighting was pretty much over, he dropped this story about the woman he bought the house from in 1965, and what happened when she came back to visit. (This woman had extensive rose gardens and many other plants - you can still see the indentations where the beds crossed the lawns. When I consolidated the one bed that was left, I took especial care to create a level area for seeding, and when the grass is green and healthy, you can't tell it wasn't always part of the lawn.) "You killed my baby!" she cried when she walked around the back of the house (he imitates an excited voice and there's the incredulous surprise at someone talking like this to HIM - see grand trine).

It turns out that he had cut one of her vines down from the back porch trellis because he thought it was dead, but it actually just hadn't leafed out yet. He said he didn't remember what it was, and even though I told him twice, he didn't hear me say that it was probably a clematis - that's what I think was on the other side of the old iron trellis that supported the canopy over the back door. It was there when I was very young, and I remember peering at the purple flowers and wondering what this plant was. And somehow, I also knew, by the way my mom talked about it, that it was left here by someone and was for some reason, special or different. Now perhaps I know what that was about. You see, this is how our family history is worked out - the stories about events that I imagine an ideal family would use to build their daily interactions around, the stories they fashion into the very structure of the relationships between them - in our family, they come out forty years later as an unintended side comment that is stuck somewhere or discarded like yet another piece of scrap paper.

He is still defensive about Daisy's reaction (also the first time I heard her name mentioned, though he used it familiarly, as if he were talking about something that happened yesterday). (There were daisies that grew next to the clematis, and I did the "she loves me, she loves me not" thing once or twice when I grew a little older. There were a lot of those petal things on a daisy, even back in the seventies.) The defensiveness is one of his characteristic traits, and its a kind of anxious demanding defensiveness - "I didn't know and so I can't be blamed" and there's a background of  "I can do whatever I want, anyway."  Which is his Uranus in Taurus. Not that I ever do anything like that - well, I do temper it with more awareness than I used to.

I think I'm getting a good bead on the astrological configurations in his chart, and how they show up in his personality, which helps me understand things more objectively, as fraught with danger as such an attempt might be, but that isn't legitimate to him, and I usually don't help my own case if I try talking about it, so I really can't explore it WITH him, which would make me feel like I was making a connection, if I could do it fairly. He's the one with the PhD in psychology and it seems like only he gets to know what goes on in the psyche. No, really. It gets this childish and would be cute if he weren't so insistent that his version be right. People that you are close to can be very hard to interact with on a higher than personal level. Many times I yearned achingly to be part of a family with clean, supportive discussions and stimulating exchanges of ideas about life or friendly, ideal relationships between parents and their children that functioned on rational and emotional levels. It would seem so natural, so freeing, I fantasized. And every once in a while we would get a visitor that would stir the stagnant air of our collective mind before we scurried back to our private corners to work out our frustrations, carry out our missions, alone, in loud silence. Yet, this is the family I come from for a reason, and it wouldn't work to have had it another way. It works to stay connected with this one, as crazy as that sounds. Until I am ready to do it differently. 

There was a college friend I talked to a lot during my last year there, and the one after, a time when I was experiencing some intense anxiety without any apparent source (other than the stresses of graduating with the same crazy feelings that kept me awake in high school years and a lost love or two, plus anxious, puzzling letters and phone calls from family). Much of my own emotions were kept at a distance then. She had a similar problem with her father - not being able to talk about her serious issues - which was very important to her, and I was probably as stiff and impatient as my father is today as I stood there while she talked, having no clue as to what to do, but being more than a little scared about her apparent self-knowledge and wondering if I should know something about myself in this way, too - and talk about it. Or maybe I should just avoid it altogether and work harder to make things alright in the outer world - even harder. Moon at the door to the eighth in Virgo. 

So, like I was saying, defending himself often is the most notable reaction he has to other people's upsets. "I didn't know, so you can't blame me," because that is very scary for some reason, and has gotten him out of being truly responsible rather than just acting responsible for everything and everyone so they'll be in control. Mars T-squared to Pluto and Mercury on the vertical axis. Sounds like I'm playing Clue or Battleship. I think I'm starting to unravel the craziness here. And I hope this sounds plausible to others. Because it bothered me for a long long time but I felt compelled to support his version because...well, he had a PhD, and "he works hard," as my mother would say, trying to keep the peace (Libra Moon in a family of Virgo Moons), and "He's a very decent man, always ready to help other people." "Yeah," I would say, sullenly - or angrily, depending on my mood. "But he just thinks life is a G-rated happy movie, and it drives me nuts." Sun combust Ceres conjunct Jupiter, part of a grand trine. Actually, me words were, "He lives in the era of gosh-shucky-darns." I was a little harsh. Still can get that way. I attribute it to asteroid Lilith malfunctioning in Cancer, opposite my Sun and semi-square my Virgo Moon (over-reactions). My Moon is also coming into opposition to Saturn, but Saturn is coming into opposition to Uranus and Pluto. One balancing act isn't enough.

Getting a real sense of the astrology, one that feels right...stable and sound...helps put all these disorderly emotional thoughts into some kind of functioning system. It's a way to view things from beyond the pale of whatever you're feeling at the moment, and know that you're building awareness rather than continually trying to make sense of the same meaningless routine. Getting it right by trying it out over and over again - and it does really improve - builds a sense of learning something important, a useful skill being mastered a bit at a time.

He cut the clematis down because he though it was dead (death and vines are both Scorpio things, so this has some symbolic significance; he has Pluto on the MC and Black Moon and asteroid Lilith in Scorpio). It was a late leafer, like the Crepe Myrtle I planted (mostly by coincidence) the day they told me my Aunt Bea had passed away. I thought maybe that might be dead, too, when I looked at it the next spring - was I connecting with something from back then? Is the story about him killing the clematis still floating around the property, about to be released finally, after forty-some years? I hear my father's criticism and dismissal even as I think it. Crazy thought. Perhaps. And perhaps not. Maybe he really isn't the expert. But he sure makes you feel like you should think him so. That Mars-Pluto square again, and, I think, the Chiron T-square in Gemini to a Pisces Saturn - Virgo Neptune opposition. Needing to appear to have a strong, rational mind, but wrestling with a structure demanding perfection while being completely and unknowably vague. Hmm. Open to spiritual ideas and contemplating religious beliefs and political ideologies rationally and fairly, on the positive side. I think I overheard a neighbor comment about the myrtle, too. Well, I didn't cut it down, and it eventually leafed out. Slow down, observe carefully, wait for the truth to reveal itself to you. I value that in me. That's my Venus retrograde.

And I still worried compulsively about the crepe myrtle every spring - will someone else think it's dead and cut it down? Now I know of at least one person who did such a thing, to a vine with beautiful flowers. Bad feeling. I've done similar things, even when I know what I might lose. The lure of the dangerous risk. The power of loss so easy to make real, wanting to teach you something. The thrill of powerlessness over it. I am learning to discipline it by not denying its allure.

Late in leafing out, and he's impatient. I'm a late bloomer. That impatience led to a wrecked car a couple months ago. I was careful but wanted to get all the bins in and the last one pinned my arm against the wheel when it slid off the one I had to set it on. I had been worried that others were doing too much at the house that had been my home for four years and so I pushed myself to go against my better judgment, which itself was challenging my father's anxiety to get things moved out. I also let myself wander rather than stop and plan the route ahead of time, and ended up on the back road that wound and curved, which caused the bin to slip (for once, not my speed or carelessness), so there are two things I can do better next time. And many things I did right, which is probably why I wasn't hurt and, by the way, not that it's important, still got the things into storage by the end of the day. It was a week to recover momentum. My mother fell on the same day and is still in skilled nursing, and may be for the future. This was a good lesson. It gave me a more sober perspective, which I felt again, very strongly, when I drove past a serious accident last month. It gave me a much deeper conviction to give my inner voice a bigger seat at the decision making table.

He wasn't going to stop moving forward with the sale of the house even then - I think he's kind of on auto-momentum - until my sister suggested he wait a bit. I have to talk about this stuff. We've kept things quiet to calm others for too long, and it isn't healthy or nice. And I still feel a little bad. 

On the phone with him, I wondered aloud about the ghosts of stories and plants. I'm not very good at making these things sound convincing, and he doesn't help make you feel like you can give voice to it. I wondered, perhaps it was baiting him a bit, but I need to bring this stuff out in the open for my own good, when I can, I reason. I wondered whether it could be possible that that story about the clematis vine is still playing out today. Was playing out unconsciously for who knows how long. I got confused as I started trying to explain it, because I remembered a conversation between my sister, Ed, and I about how things don't get said in the family and that divided my attention. "Well, I...processed all those there's no residual unconscious things left functioning today" he whipped off dismissively. Where did he get those words to use so handily - geez, maybe he actually does have a PhD and is keeping up with the new language?! Yeah, processed in a whisper chipper, I wished I had thought of to say, but by that point, I wasn't going to start a second war of words, and he wasn't sounding very open to second opinions. The word "process" came off with a tinge of disdain, not unlike my own careless bantering about of language to kill time or to scramble for a way to keep someone else at bay when there was too much going on. And that is usually what these conversations feel like. But at that moment, I was focusing on the feeling that my story wasn't anything but ridiculous. Sigh. Its so easy to get angry about this but it is only head anger and it just hurts me, makes me all tight and frustrated. Yet, its harder to believe you're not crazy in pondering these possibilities, as half-formed as they may be. If all my neighbors and people I talk to could take something like this and say, "of course, that is something like how it is, it is true without a second thought, that is how reality works," there would still be a brake on it in my mind because he dismissed it. 

So, I sat down to write a note to a relative who sympathizes, and it turned into a spilling out of about four or five pages of memoir material in a rough stream of consciousness, so I saved that for future material, and the next letter turned into this blog. In the first, there were all the things about him that would make me lie awake thinking I was crazy, something I did regularly since I was a teenager. They spilled out on the page quickly, but calmly, rationally, like a reporter's assemblage of notes, like I was finishing up with them, linking a thought or a puzzling memory from one part of my life to one from another, putting in the emotions, not holding back nor dramatizing besides what was there. Thoughts I had been holding onto for years, just getting finished, making a bit of clear space in my emotional self. Following them into the dark, dusty corners, for once not believing it was the way to do it to keep them in the dark, an obligation, a duty. I can see these things now and report them straight up, again, not without emotion or a certain subjective viewpoint, but without letting that certain kind of head anger overtake the recording and the reporting of facts. The childish anger. This time I'm deciding to act childishly, putting down all the thoughts, the emotions, the things that were just there, all equal parts of the experience, each given equal measure. None insisting on one of us still having to be right or wrong. It is hard to do. Begin defending or justifying myself too strongly, and he has won, my inner voice is silenced, angry and inaccurate. A simple witnessing works, and from someone or somewhere during that process, I got an epiphany - I really don't need to control what his opinions are about my attitudes and the things I do. That's what makes me nuts. Makes me rant. Makes me wrap myself in knots and argue hurtfully and ineffectively. I mean, I don't defend myself well, and he's very good at making you think he's right and you're an amateur. That therapist said we both have that attitude. Capricorn Mercury, I said. Maybe a Capricorn Sun trine Uranus, too. I don't apologize for it or want to fix it. It's just good to know when it's getting in the way of seeing something important. So, I just keep writing and ranting until I find that balance, until I find the right attitude, the one that says let go, let him have his opinions and don't sugar-coat or dramatize your reactions to them - just let them stand as a fact, as a thing that happened, that was said, something that doesn't require anyone to make a decision about who is right and who is wrong, but acknowledge your feelings about them, notice them, record them, witness them. Then something is released, a kind of healing energy is perhaps set a little more firmly in place.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Why I've been rather quiet the last week

On Saturday Feb 25, I was in my car, transporting plastic bins full of things from the house to a storage unit near West Chester, which I had rented earlier in the week. Everyone in my family has been working to get the house ready to put up for sale as soon as possible this month, and because I moved into a very small, affordable - and also fantastic - apartment, storage has become a necessary, but stress-inducing, step in the process.

I was experiencing a lot of ambivalence about doing anything (and also nothing) that day. I felt disheveled and jittery as I went down the stairs of my apartment's deck to the car sometime in the mid morning, wishing I could sleep, or at least rest, so that I could relax some of the knotted muscles and racing thoughts that pervaded my body and mind. I've been keeping things relatively balanced lately, but on this particular day I felt on the edge, exhausted from twice driving to New Hope the previous weekend for lectures at Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve, where I volunteer, and from a busy Monday followed by my usual four afternoons of work, which involves cleaning out coolers, pricing packages, packing up orders, stocking shelves, creating produce displays, and breaking down cardboard boxes. In fact, I was pretty much freaking out about how tense my body felt and when I was going to find the time to get it back into a more relaxed state. The previous evening I had called a friend who gives massages to set up an appointment, as I had enough money at the end of the month to afford one. I felt like I was barely keeping things in control.

One of the compromises I made to take care of myself was to not rent a truck and carry all the boxes for storage out of the house and then into the unit that day, but to merely pack my car and begin the process of filling the storage unit that way. I was able to load all of the plastic bins that I had grouped together in the master bedroom, though I had to set one last bin on top of another in the passenger seat to get them all to fit, which I did, knowing that it was a little risky, but making sure that the bottom bin was squarely set on the seat and that the top bin was set firmly onto the recessed lid of the lower bin.

The bins were packed with childhood belongings, such as matchbox cars, letters, drawings, toys, and stuffed animals, as well as things from more recently that I hadn't a place for in my new digs. I headed toward the storage unit by a roundabout route (another manifestation of my ambivalence perhaps), ending up on Goshen Road, which is a beautiful, winding country road that passes estates and farms that lie between the Main Line and West Chester. Just beyond a curving hilltop past Delchester Road, the clear Sterlite bin with folding white lid halves slid off the lid of the bin below it and lodged against my right arm. Shit, I thought, with alarm, this is not good, but I'll shove it back and steer the car back into the curve ahead of me. SHIT, I thought, when the bin would not slide back onto the other, and instead, was keeping my arm from turning the wheel. I don't remember if I got around to putting my foot on the brakes after dealing with the surprising fact that I could neither turn the wheel nor shove the bin out of my way, or if my leg, too, way somehow impeded by the bin. I gave it one more effort, then looked up and concluded, Well, that utility pole is going to stop me and there's nothing I can do about it.

And it did, very quickly. But I was unhurt. It felt like I imagine a hockey player would feel, when he stops quickly at the boards. Both airbags went off, and I don't know whether my head hit the one on the steering wheel or not, but I was relieved to find out that it wasn't as bad as some people had told me. The cloth was strong and soft and if I did hit it, I didn't notice, and there were no bruises or broken appendages from the air bag deploying. The car, on the other hand, was a mess.

The first thing I noticed was thick, white smoke coming in through the vents and then, that the car was still running. I remembered going to a movie or reading a newspaper article about a race car driver who was in an accident and told the person who came to help to turn the key off because he didn't want to die. I turned the key and the car shut off, but for some reason, it wouldn't come out of the slot. The tow truck driver apparently succeeded at that, because it was on the floorboards when we arrived at the junk lot to empty out the car an hour or so later.

I got out of the car, moved around, and felt no aches. Because I would really be upset with myself if I took a chance of the things I had been working for so long to organize, of burning up in a car that might catch fire, I began unloading them and setting them on the side of the road by a driveway. Sorting and organizing things is one of my routine behaviors that I do to calm myself. I guess it served me well this time. I patiently found places to set the things while a retired gentleman, who was the first to pull up behind me, with his wife in the passenger seat, called the police.

I had not gone back to get my cell phone when I left my apartment in my car, without it, that morning. I have some old recalcitrant attitude about being at the beck and call of a phone all the time, which I was still working on getting over, and am being more diligent about now. I was very grateful that I had gone back to get my homemade knit hat, though, as I waited later in the cold wind for a ride.

At some point, I went over to look at the pole. There was a hole about two and a half feet deep and a foot wide on the side opposite where the car had hit it and pushed it through the soft, thawing ground. I was probably driving about thirty or thirty-five, the limit for that road, and generally being as mindful as I could, when I lost the ability to turn the wheel. The pole was badly splintered and occasionally made alarming creaking, splitting, and groaning noises that sent me running but hadn't concerned the gentleman on the phone. The police later said the wires could hold a pole up, no problem, they were that strong. I once saw a tree resting on wires, so I guess they are right. Still, I worked all the more diligently to remove (and keep organized) the bundles of things that had been in the now-splintered plastic bins in the passenger seat. I actually had to remove them to get into the glove box to retrieve my documents for the officers. One of them called my sister, who had also been moving things out of the house that day with her fiance, Ed, and they came to pick me up. It was the only number I remembered, and I knew they would be home. There were breaks in the bins in the back seat, and trunk. I had a collection of reusable shopping bags in the trunk, so we used those to put things in for the time being. There are still a few in the storage unit. As you might guess (or should), I am operating with a different attitude about getting all these things done now, being more reluctant to push myself beyond what I feel okay about doing.

When my ride arrived, I waved them off the road into a driveway right away. My sister got out and gave me a firm hug and started crying. My body also shook with the tensions it had been holding in while I worked to keep things together and safe. One of the things I thought at first after crashing, and I didn't have anyone to talk to, was, Well, there, now - doesn't that just perfectly get across how much I want help with all these things I'm supposed to be doing. Not that I tried to crash a car to make that point, because that would have put me at risk of being hurt and I wouldn't have been able to do that, but all of it came bubbling up from just below the surface, as I had been doing the best I thought I could to balance responsibilities to others with responsibilities to myself, which is always a little harder to justify until something like this happens.

I got my first car when I was twenty-two, and I've been in more than a few mild and not-so-mild fender benders, and there is an odd history of car crashes in my dad's family, which I am just learning about, but totaling a car was not something I had ever done before. In fact, up until this past year, when rebellious Uranus moved into rambunctious Aries, I had five and a half years of clean driving. Since then, I have been rammed once by a new driver pulling out of an intersection, I backed gently into someone's door from my driveway, I've been warned twice about driving a little fast, and I narrowly missed a collision when I myself was pulling out of an intersection. I know I have to watch out for these things, and that there is a chance they will happen when I am trying to do too much at once or do things I don't want to do. It has become a major focus of my life to watch out for the subtle signs that I am getting myself into potential trouble, and even with the events of the last year adding to that challenge, I think I'm still getting better at it. Given that I was unhurt, and had been conscious (though not enough so) of safety, I tend to believe that I'm learning what I need to, though I am wanting to drive less and remain more cautious than I have been. Some people have problems with cars, and I think I might be one of those some time yet into the future. Better to accept it and work with it than keep denying it because it doesn't fit someone's image of what they want you to be. Sometimes making everything come to a stop is a good thing. I just don't want to have to be in a car crash to feel grounded.

My sister, and Ed, and I got everything from the car into the storage unit by the end of the day, then, because I just admitted to rather not wanting to spend the evening by myself, we went to a diner a few blocks from my apartment. Despite the dramatic events, all of us got everything we planned to do that weekend in. Rushing and panicking doesn't help, I have learned, but quiet, persistent, patient effort will finish what needs to be finished, in time, and that attitude is the star I'm steering my ship by.

That evening, or maybe it was the following morning, my sister talked to my father and told him about the events of Saturday, and he relayed to her that our mother, who has Alzheimer's, had, that same day, fallen and received a hairline crack on her pelvis while they were walking out of a Target in Lancaster. She is being taken good care of in a skilled nursing facility at a retirement community near the one in which our parents live. I think how much her life is changing. While much of her daily routine was for a long time spent working by herself in the home, now she is usually in groups of people involved in some kind of activity or care. For the first time since she was a child, she eats heartily, though the caregivers say this will reverse itself later and she will lose the weight she has gained recently.

My father, at the advice of my sister, postponed the meeting with the realtor for ten days, but he remains anxious to sell the house. I have withdrawn from most any involvement with the house or my father's plans for it, because I do not feel it is emotionally safe, though I will spend some time cleaning up the yard and removing the things of mine that remain there rather than fighting with him over what should be done when. It is so trivial. But also a learning experience.

My week since the accident was spent simply getting back to normal and climbing steadily back out of the depression that set in while I focused on taking care of myself. First, I tried to think of ways to get where I needed to, wondering if I could get along without a car, and then, starting Sunday (the 26th), talking to insurance agents, getting a rental car, trolley tokens, and, finally, when I felt ready, researching cars on the internet, all of which went pretty darn well. I purchased a used Civic yesterday from a small, private dealer in New Jersey with the money from the insurance company. My thinking is that it is a car that can serve me for the next two and a half years, maybe more, if I am vigilant, though I'm also seeing how much of my life I can manage without a car in case that should prove necessary, given the costs that might be involved. I take the trolley to work now - it's a rather pleasant ride and I enjoy reading a sci fi book instead of waiting for traffic lights. I am actually sleeping better these days, too, though I still could use more, and I've taken another load of things out from the house to storage without incident. As for knitting, I have started on the pair of mittens that I have been trying to get right for a couple years now, and if I need help with something, I may come by to the group I've been knitting with on Monday nights, but for now, it really feels like the right time to make some changes, which includes reducing the number of things I am committed to getting to and shifting into or focusing on the interests that really reflect who I am becoming and what I most need to learn.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I wrote this letter a week ago in response to an article in a full moon newsletter by Dianne Eppler Adams, and rather than send it, I saved it and waited until my current crisis had a bit of time to work itself out without my "running to someone" to help me with my emotions once again. I am getting pretty good at riding the waves out and wanted to see if I could do it this time, having been prepared to send it if things didn't settle down. It helps to have a connection when things get rough, and I told myself I would make it if I felt I needed it, even though it might be an imposition on someone else's time or energy.

Seems like I'm overly sensitive to imposing on someone else, even though I might do so without much apparent sensitivity, so this attempt to ride the wave out was also an attempt to go easy on myself in that regard, and see if it would work. Sometimes, pushing oneself doesn't work the way therapists and others want you to believe. If you're used to being a little aggressive, or doing the hard thing, letting up actually works better, even when it feels like the "weaker" response. This is especially true if you're a person who isn't sure his issue is worth the bother, despite the agony involved.

I've let this grow into a big story once again, but, I'm a good writer, and I'm getting a story out pretty succinctly that once seemed infinite and untellable, so I'm going to present it as is and let it become another blog post.

The back story is that over the past three or four months I have been adjusting to the upsetting reality that I really was not going to be able to stay in my childhood home much longer, the one I have lived in, on my own, over the last four years, with my cat, while transforming both the living space and myself. The house is owned by my father and I work about twenty hours a month here, cleaning it out, maintaining it, and improving it all in exchange for a stipend equivalent to the rent I pay him each month.

We didn't have this arrangement at first. I was "helping them out," he told people gladly. This seems to be his perspective on many things in life, which tends to run a bit past the rose-colored end of some amorphous spectrum and sounds a lot like Bil Tierney's description of a characteristic grand trine. My father has a Moon-Jupiter-Uranus grand trine in the earth signs, which conjuncts a Sun/Ceres combustion in Capricorn. He doesn't get off easy, because there are also two big T-squares - the first involving a first house always-equivocating Libra Mars t-squaring a Pluto-Mercury opposition on the MC-IC axis and a ninth house Chiron in Gemini T-squaring a Saturn and Neptune opposition. He perceives many communication challenges and seems to wonder and wander a lot, without finding any solid answers to things, but the Mars T-square is domineering and sometimes frightening - hard to refuse, though I usually have.

Something someone said to me one day while I was working out in the yard gave me the idea of drawing up a contract to get some boundaries around this arrangement, which sort of helped, though it didn't seem to change to change his perspective much. For myself, it gave me a more disciplined approach, a task-oriented perspective, which became a valuable skill applicable in other endeavors, though my gaze too was clouded by wishes and denials and more than a little hanging onto the past and wanting him to respect what I was doing. In the end, he was right, I needed to move on, but he wasn't one for giving me the precise kind of push I needed in that direction - one that combined firmness with reason and a sense of nurturing interest in what I was doing. I seemed to become obsessed with pointing this out more than actually getting the support I needed to get on my own.

There was a good reason I was hanging onto the past, and it wasn't just that that's what my parents did. No, it was that the future was also unknown, and the communities and friends that would support me in my independent endeavors were still vague shapes on the horizon, though, there, too, I had drawn up a plan and was, in many ways, working quite diligently on it, though the money was slow to materialize. There wasn't enough motivation because my father, despite frequent angry whines and criticisms, generally gave me what I asked for, and then, exasperated, asked when I would be through with this phase of my life.

Eventually, an arrangement with a trust company was mysteriously manifested to manage the transfers of money, though, as I had to figure out on my own three months into the deal, my father was still in charge of okaying purchases and paying for extra expenses. Apparently, he thought he was giving them that job, and appeared to relish the thought of them telling me "no."

It was a wake-up call enough for me, and after a few angry letters, detailing my feelings and emotions and why what they were asking me to do seemed like a bit too much, I found the place in my brain that said, this really was the way forward and would be supportive rather than detract from my life, so I secured it there as best I could (it got lost a few times along the way) and began moving on, earning the extra I needed each month, with great complaint and insecurity at first, and then, a little more easily and successfully, until, in November, I began working a small part-time job, so I wouldn't have to continually think about earning all of the extra money on my own.

Uranus was squaring my natal sixth house Vesta in Cancer at the time - it provided the shock that shattered my remaining home-bound ways and told me it was time to get to work, to find a way to put all those skills I had mastered (or at least gained an initial familiarity with) - things like plumbing, painting, cleaning, organizing, and gardening - to use in the paying world. And that is, to a large extent, what I've done, and it's been greatly appreciated by those whom I've worked for.

The second part of the process involved putting the house on the market. After a few months of finding ways to earn the extra money I needed, I was faced with this additional hurdle - and the necessity of finding a place for myself which could cost a lot more, since I was paying a very low rent and getting utilities paid for by the trust company. I had found many ways to cut costs in the last few years, but this, I feared, was stepping it up a level I was not ready to handle. To this day, I don't think my father grasps the concept of nurturing independence - to him, it was just, we are going to move you out of this house so we can sell it. It was a fun project to him, and he was happy to start loading boxes. Linking that to my feeling confident about my ability to support myself didn't seem to cross his mind, which still mildly infuriates and frustrates me and boggles my mind in a kind of self-righteous, self-serving way that I really need to move on from.

In any case, having his real estate appraiser show up with him one day in September and go through the house, sizing it up and tallying figures, hit me emotionally in a way I've not really experienced many times before in my life. I've Chiron conjunct Saturn in Pisces opposite Uranus and Pluto (both retrograde) in Virgo in the second and eighth houses respectively. These square Jupiter retrograde in Gemini, in the fifth. It felt like all of these challenging aspects were firing on high that week. My voice trembled and my arms shook as I told my story to the people I knit with. They have seen me struggle at times over the last few years, but I really needed their support and suggestions to calm me down that night and I was grateful for it.

As I've said, I've gained a lot of practical experience and skills and learned much about process and values while creating my own environment here. Every scrap of paper, old art project, toy, and photograph has been gone through, organized and boxed, reflected on, written about, photographed, or sent on to another destination in one manner or another (trash, recycling, yard sales, donations, gifts, etc). I've created multiple native plant retreats around the house and cleaned up many areas that seemed neglected for years, another process that helped me discover values through learning what kind of work nurtured me and how to "tune in" while doing it. It was always a house in good shape, but many things had just been left where they were, like the emotional issues they represented, perhaps. My father is set on putting the house on the market by spring of next year as part of his plan to pay for his future at the retirement community to which he and my mother moved after I returned in 2007. This is also being done to fund my mother's expected future care, who is experiencing profound transformations associated with Alzheimer's.

I have often rejected but also, I realize now, deeply despaired, of ever getting my point of view across to my parents (Nessus in Gemini in the fourth and a twelfth house Mercury perhaps?). Getting through with what I considered reasonable, never seemed to happen. Well, my father has a grand trine in the earth signs with his Moon, Jupiter conjunct Sun/Ceres, and Uranus, and I have Jupiter square Uranus, Moon sesquisquare Sun, and Mars/Venus semi-square Ceres. It frustrated me to no end and at some point I just locked in a great despair and bitterness because I felt unheard and powerless to get my view across. In the last few years, I have given it a try again, using many different approaches to see if something would work for me, including open verbal conflict, which was something we always seemed to avoid while I was growing up. Exchanges then were often not pleasant, usually critical (there were three Virgo moons in the house) but seldom confrontive nor illuminating.

On the day when Saturn was squaring my Sun and transiting his Ascendant in mid-October, we "happened" to have an appointment with a psychologist for one of our occasional discussions together, and we talked about my conviction that he wasn't sensitive to my values and need for process in relation to this moving on from the house and the belongings I have gone through while living there. It didn't feel like a very productive session, and we both seemed very set in our attitudes and decisions. But we had lunch afterward and then I called him that evening and we talked. At some point in that discussion, while I was sharing my reactions and fears of not being heard, I felt like there was an understanding that happened. And when he came in to the house the following week, he actually followed up on a suggestion that psychologist had that he said he liked, by playing the role of "me" in the house and then he had me do the same for him. He proceeded to pretty much perfectly convey and act out my perspective, and I have to say he put in a more honest effort than I could do for him. He hasn't followed up things he said he liked since then, which is typical, but when pressure builds up and we have the difficult conversations now, we do more often than not have that little breakthrough in understanding that heretofore has been absent in our relationship. It comes when I stop holding back what I want to share, positive or negative, because I don't think he's capable of hearing it, or whatever the reason, and when I at least listen to what he has say, regardless of how I feel about it.

The last bit of the back story is that I depend on him largely for financial support. This is a problem that he was in with his mother-in-law for the last thirty years of her long life, and this situation has been equally immune to the frequent complaints and argumentative reasoning that we frequently have engaged in. I think it has something to do with asteroid Lilith in Cancer opposite my Sun and the largely unaspected Mars-retrograde Venus conjunction in Aquarius.

It's clearly crazy, the kinds of rationalizations I pass off on him as my need to stay dependent, but they, I now realize, they get mixed up with real needs for emotional support and a deep desire to have someone close to me recognize my values, separate from their own, and say they're legitimate. Once I could finally begin seeing the dynamics more clearly, and I had had time to experiment with my values and living situation to create a space and a lifestyle that reflected them, and I began to earn some money doing things I had set up and could succeed at, then I began feeling more responsible for myself, self-respectful, and confident about what I could do. My father's criticisms can still have a devastating impact on me emotionally, on the occasions that I feel powerless to avoid them. And then, I needed a little bit of a nudge from the trust company folks before I could work through the grief stages that came up with accept the new demands for more of my own money and find a new place to live, all within about six months. It seemed unfair when I was feeling stretched to my emotional and physical limits to expect one thing and then just add another on top of it. At times, I still it was, but another part of me recognizes it is for the better, and it will work out if I can find the pieces to put into place. When I don't have them is when it gets real rocky, really quick.

I reached this place a couple weeks ago when I suddenly felt like my position which I was excelling at wonderfully at work was in jeopardy. I kind have always had this expectation of people treating me like a superstar (and I'm very competitive about it) - probably my Sag south node in the tenth and the fifth house Jupiter quincunx to the tenth house Neptune, with that first house Mars in Aquarius thrown in to boot. It's been a hard one to work through while I try to get up the motivation to do well at something honestly and simply adequately. This got piled on top of a recent, fearful thought while apartment hunting that I would not be able to move my precious things into a big enough space to feel comfortable in. And I don't have many belongings compared to most people. These added to the underlying feeling that I would be once again be taking a risk that I would be stretched beyond my ability to support the costs involved with moving into an apartment, and this more than anything else precipitates emotional anxiety crises in me, occasionally leading to sweaty, sleepless nights of elevated heart rates punctuated with terrifying thoughts trapped in my tense, tired body and followed by days that feel like twilight zones.

So, here now is the letter I wrote as I was working my way out of one of these episodes during that recent Gemini full moon:

I always find your messages, or those you share, bring an insight or affirms something of value. This lunar eclipse is affecting me as well, as it creates a mutable grand cross with my opposition of Chiron in the second to Pluto in the eighth (conjunct to Uranus). At the beginning of last year's MAC conference, there was a solar eclipse in Gemini and journaling revealed that the frustration I experience fell in area of mind and communication. Understanding this, getting to that place, digging those words out and putting them on the page - it gave me something to work with and I relaxed and enjoyed the rest of the conference.
Now I feel the insecurities coming to a head again in the area of money and the ability to create a comfortable home environment. I realize that means both physical and emotional spaces to me. The physical aspect is outside of my control (though not my ability to communicate about it) and changing sometime in the near future. These have combined with the challenges of communicating in what is for me at least a difficult situation, such as the part-time work I am trying to incorporate into my life to build some of that security.
While I was feeling pretty good for a while, and Pluto was trining my natal Moon, at this eclipse I find myself in the process of fall your guest contributor describes, and it is something I could feel coming and knew I would have to deal with. Honestly, I don't like these situations, and yet I know they are valuable because I can get to a truth and ground more firmly in it.
I am trying to find the perspective that says, it is okay to let go of control, to not be the one who can figure it out on his own and arrive at the answer all by himself, to trust what is around them to be enough. Yet I also want to feel comforted, affirmed, and just plain more comfortable than I do, physically and emotionally, and, above all, I guess, know that that counts for something. Feeling that I do communicate effectively with others is a central part of that process and yet it is also one fraught with the perils of neediness and being overly intellectual, full of the books I have read and the information I have forged into workable sentences and paragraphs.
Somehow it has to be simpler, I think, it has to just flow spontaneously. I do have a North Node in fourth Gemini and a mercury in twelfth Capricorn, so I know, as someone who has learned a fair deal of astrology, that my wrestling with these kinds of issues, working them out, is on track...but how to let go while retaining some necessary comforts, positive affirmations, and when to know that I've done enough...that still feels overwhelmingly difficult at times.
I notice that Saturn is coming close to a trine with Neptune and I think I will just review the notes from the Saturn-Neptune lecture you presented at MAC two years ago.
Paul Kelley

The story since I wrote this letter is that I worked and "cared" my way out of this panic within a few days. I didn't avoid planned activities that I thought were important to me (even after two days without any significant sleep), and I tried to be reasonably sociable when I sought out supportive connections with friends and family members, rather than dumping my needs on them, and this seemed to help. Even despairing to the point of panic when I thought about it, I went into work on Tuesday holding onto the attitude that I would just focus on my job for this one day, and not do more than I was asked to or could reasonably ask of myself to do, and then deal with tomorrow tomorrow. Well, last week, work was lighter than it has been and I was able to stay on track, feeling quieter, calmer, and more stable than I have in a while. In fact, for a few days it was almost as if an outside force or spirit were keeping my head on straight and my feet on the ground. I began really feeling like I understood what another astrologer-blogger whom I sometimes correspond with meant, when she explained to me how difficult it can be for a person with a Jupiter-Uranus interaction to stay on the ground. How difficult to know what grounding energy in your body might feel like when you never seem to experience it! This time, I felt like perhaps I was grounded.

In the housing area, too, I experienced a breakthrough. For a few days, I felt too fragile to take on the internet search of ads I had been plowing through with fortitude, but, as the weekend neared, I logged on, almost on a whim, and found an ad that was either new or which I had overlooked before. It was in an area I was considering and seemed very reasonable in price. Most importantly, there was an outdoor area, which is absolutely essential for me. I called the number and another one - only the second and third contacts I made, and this one was the first that responded. It was the first I visited, which was on Monday afternoon. It seemed very small inside, but everything else was so right. The other apartment was usefully spacious and nicely cleaned up, like the ad said, but everything around it - asphalt, telephone lines, junkyards, and traffic noise - was so wrong for me. Last night I took my tape measure on a tour of my things and this time I wasn't despairing about, how could I get into a big enough space for them and find a way to earn more money so I could afford it while settling for something that made me unhappy? I was on a really focused mission to clear books off of shelves and set aside any piece of furniture I really could do without (but still including what I really wanted). I measured everything, recorded it in a notebook, then did some more shelf-clearing. On Tuesday after work I called again to let him know I was really interested, and drove over with my tape measure and a check book. When I walked in and the owner turned on the lights, it seemed the place expanded or my vision seemed not so limited as it had the previous day, when things looked dingier and tinier. No, this was roomy enough for my things, and nice enough for my Aquarian sense of aesthetics to work with! I gave the owner a deposit and set a move in date for January 21.

When I got home and fed my cat, I sat down by the computer to do a chart, and what an interesting and significant chart it is, with a Saturn-Neptune trine in the transits and all sorts of Lilith connections and other things! I posted a picture of the house it's in on facebook, too, and a friend mentioned "house-warming party?" in the comments. Of course, with my twelfth house Sun, retrograde Venus, and second house Saturn, and so on, I never assumed anyone would want to come to warm up a house that I lived in! It hadn't even occurred to me to consider something like that.

But after a moment's thought, a memory came of writing in a journal during an exercise led by the writer Christina Baldwin at Macalester College. This was shortly after I graduated from in 1988, and there wasn't a lot promising going on in my life. Still, it was a nice, comfortable, successful vision that I wrote about and shared with the group. There was a deck filled with merry friends, overlooking a lake in a woods. Well, the deck and friends were there, but come to think of it, the reservoir is also just right up the road (in an otherwise lake-bereft area of the country) and two arboretums and a state park are within a few minutes drive. Now, I'm not as wealthy as the people in the Michelob ad from the 1980s that my dreamy wish seemed to be based on, but it's eerily close.

I remember Christina's one comment at the time: "Money. That costs money, and where are you going to get it?" "Bah" was my reaction. It didn't seem fair that I would have to consider that. Why not just let me dream and let someone else pay for things like they always had. (I have that second house Chiron in Pisces trined to Neptune in my chart, and a trine from an eighth house Pluto to my Sun that might help). It was about the same reaction as the one I had when my dad announced I would be getting a summer job that one time during my early teenage years. About the same reaction as the one I had a few years ago, when he exclaimed "well, some day the money just isn't going to be there!" as I asked for extra to pay down yet a few more little credit card debts a couple years ago. Well, okay, there was less bravado and more resentment by that time, and the despair was a lot closer to the surface. Yes, I've been trying to find the way to earn money and yet also manifest that vision for over twenty years. It seems I'm turning the corner on that at last.

Finally, I want to mention another promising and turn of events that backs up this sense of impending arrival. A couple of weeks ago, I submitted a scholarship application to AFAN. It was for an astrology conference, and it was done minutes after taking a risk to submit a last minute membership. It paid off when I was awarded enough money to take care of my registration and workshops. This was not the big news for me, though. I'm used to getting scholarships for myself instead of earning money. What was rewarding was that I had earned the money for the registration first, and had just sent it to Donna when news of the scholarship came through. How sweet to do the real Saturn work, feel satisfyingly accomplished, and then be rewarded again with a scholarship.