Progress and Perfection!
It's happened! The wood stove is installed! My whole existence is altered! Fire and warmth and dryness are not overrated--it is the stuff of civilizations! There is more food available and my brain is growing! I am converting my spoken language into symbols and I have created a counting system that goes above 5! I may even start plotting to seize the property next door...(Poor old Marv--what will he think when I show up at the fence with a trubuchet and Vernonian's head on a spike?) Expansion is inevitable --but I think I should avoid agriculture, don't you? It seems to ruin everything.
Next up: Space travel. What the heck's going on up there anyway?
Tigers and Time
I smell bad. At least, I think I smell bad. It's not the worst thing that ever happened to me.
Or is it....?
I have the most amazing life--one I never thought I'd have. For some reason though (can you say "alcoholism"?) I constantly feel like either there is something missing or that I am unsafe. These anxieties can easily be reworded: I constantly feel like I am not going to get what I want or that someone is going to take what I have. This is a basic definition of fear. At least, a certain kind of fear.
I have the privilege sometimes of accompanying other women on their trek to get sober. Fear is a big concept in alcoholism and addiction and most alcoholics and addicts are not quite aware that they make mostly fear-based decisions constantly. It is easier to blame other people for one's misery than to admit to having fear. Why? Who knows! But how about this: fear describes a larger picture--one that can be interpreted as weakness and vulnerability. Humans do not care for this--it threatens one's ability to survive. Survival instincts are crucial and still have functional relevance today--but, because we of the Western world typically do not live in little tribal clusters or nomadic herds, most survival instincts have become distorted, misdirected and misinterpreted. And the result of that distortion, misdirection and misinterpretation is fear.
For me, this directly relates to childhood trauma.
I have two close girlfriends here in Portland. We are all, surprisingly, similar in age, have similar sobriety time and have had similar quantities of childhood trauma. Today, this trauma is not by which we choose to navigate our lives--but the residue of abuse feels almost indelible. Even though all three of us are living lives that provide us with safety, the fear of harm has not just faded away. To change how we feel and how we behave we have (individually, of course) had to do a lot of work. Swimming to the surface after a lifetime of suffocation is a long journey. Differentiating between the true trauma and it's real impact vs. the self-perpetuated misery because of the trauma can be one of the hardest tasks. Self-awareness, like everything else, is layered and parental betrayal runs deep. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder may seem a bit trendy at the moment (like a lot of psychological diagnoses at different times)--but it is a real thing to those who truly have it--and treatment can be vastly rewarding. Being upset about something is not PTSD. Being upset for a long time is not PTSD. Resentment is not PTSD. Anger is not PTSD. Being traumatized does not automatically give you PTSD. My understanding of PTSD, which is limited to my own experience and exposure to therapies and literature, is innately characterized by the inability to differentiate between the situational present and the traumatic past. And by that I mean: What Happened Before doesn't feel like it has faded into the past like all of the other memories one accumulates in a lifetime --it feels like it is happening right now. It IS happening right now! The severity of this syndrome is revealed in the degree of the mind's, the spirit's and the body's "miscalculation" of time and place.
I remember watching a movie a long time ago, The Legend of Bagger Vance (it was okay). At one point, standing in the wooded area of a golf course, someone says to someone else (re: a horrible event): "But that happened 25 years ago!" and the someone's response was; "No, actually.....it just happened." When I heard this, without knowing why, I burst into tears.
Now, I know why.
There doesn't seem to be any Post-Happiness Rememberance Disorder. Or...is there?
Tyger, Tyger burning bright...There is good fear and bad fear. (Never trust anyone, by the way, who ever starts an argument with "There are two types of things, this one and that one..." They are always wrong. Also, never trust anyone who categorizes things into groups of "good' and "bad"--they are always wrong, also.) There are two types of fear, good fear and bad fear. The good fear is what I call the "Tiger Fear". Tiger Fear utilizes instinct and intuition in real time to alert the mind and body that something is amiss. Danger is present. It is extremely important to remain loyal to these messages--they are a birthright. How many people do you know that have walked into the strangest of situations with horrible consequences because they didn't listen to these "inklings"? How many of these people said later, "I knew something was wrong..."? I know plenty.
When one is drinking, one loses touch with this elemental language. It's worth getting sober just to hear it again!
The other fear is learned--it is based on experience. Almost no one wants to get burned twice--and coping skills are developed to both mitigate the chance of harm and/or to self-sooth after the harm has occurred. Most folk's coping skills were developed when they were children, and, big surprise, they do not remain effective into adulthood. More interestingly still, most people--and I include myself in this group-- never develop new coping strategies for a changed personality with a new life. Or--and I don't include myself in this group anymore--they will carve out a life to suit the coping skills and keep them relevant.
Ah, people! How noble in reason!
Tiger Fear and Learned Fear. Those are them, those are the fears I know about. I am constantly on the lookout for both. The Tiger Fear is there to save my ass and the learned fear is there to kick it. The Tiger Fear tells me when to run and the Learned Fear tells me where I need to go: usually through something. (Unless, of course, my goal is to battle the tiger--and I mean the actual tiger, not the metaphorical tiger--and I'm not really into that.)
I am trying to remember how this relates to my poor floor making skills and my still uninstalled attic stairs.
I do remember this connection though: I am a horrible judge of when I smell bad.
The change in the weather has brought a considerable alteration in my energy level and willingness to be active. In the last month my husband has been repairing the barn roof, putting plywood and siding and windows on the woodshed he built, filling potholes with gravel and rocks he collects from various locations on the property, storing yet another vintage vehicle (1967 VW Bug), creating a workshop in one of the barn rooms, restoring and installing a beautiful wood stove for the cabin and God-knows what else, all while basically working full time for his business. PLUS, everywhere he drives on the property, he is on the lookout for any autumnal creature that might be in the road--and--if he spots somebody--he will get out of the truck and move them to the side of the road. This includes tiny frogs, bigger frogs (sometimes need moving), snakes (don't need moving), slugs and caterpillars (always need moving) and, surprisingly, salamanders (always need moving).
(For some reason the salamanders have left the protection of the spring and are contributing to their amphibious nature by setting out on land. They are popping up in unexpected places.)
I don't know how he does it, but my husband gets done what needs to be done AND doesn't mow anybody else down in the process. One of the many reasons I love him.
I, unfortunately, am not always looking out for others. Sometimes, I am just thinking about me. Sometimes, I might drive right over a slug--not intentionally of course...unless you call neglect intention. Meaning I'll neglect to care about a slug in the road. But I do my best.
So, that's how my husband spends a day. Not doing just one of those things but doing most or all of them.
Here's how I spent a day recently: I dug two more holes for two more trees and then cried when I got overwhelmed with mental and physical exhaustion. I had been working a total of maybe 45 minutes. I planted the trees and then--completely depleted--returned to the cabin to read my book (The Plague Dogs, by Richard Adams) and sleep the rest of the day. By the time we had to drive back to Portland, I was cranky, despite a nice nap, in anticipation of traffic and the crazy driving we all encounter constantly now.
Here are my trees:
There is an excellent depression in between all three trees in which one can meditate. I did it once and it was great. (I don't believe I've ever used the term "excellent depression". It is refreshing!)
On another day I set out to complete the floor in the loft and install the attic stairs. Finishing the floor was going to be pretty easy--except it wasn't. And I had everything I needed--except I didn't. And I was super motivated--except I wasn't. After attaching mending plates (the most dangerous of plates!) and some metal strips to both ends of a 2 x 6 I cut, attempting to nail it up between the rafters and then messing up several times and then realizing I couldn't hammer above my head forever....:
.... I went in the cabin to read my book (same one) and sleep. I may have thrown something somewhere in frustration.I get frustrated a lot out there. I probably cried, I don't remember.
This is the beautiful wood stove my husband restored for us:
To accommodate this lovely wood stove, I endeavored to clear out the cabin of its temporary furniture. I hauled all my blankets outside and put them on the fence to air out; I moved everything that was IN the way, OUT of the way; I swept and I moved a piece of lumber I was using as a headboard:
Many moths under the headboard! This is one thing I've learned about country living: every time you put something down, someone goes to live in it. Or on it. Or under it. Every time I move something, there's somebody's new house or nest or "place". These moths were in some sort of autumnal stasis. Except for the one on the left, who was in the blankets, they didn't move at all. I swept the area real fast and then just put them back where they were. That seemed only fair considering they weren't out to sting me or bite me or crawl on me or poo on me like everything else out here. The message to the indigenous population of Vernonia: If you don't want to STING me or BITE me or CRAWL on me or POO on me, you can STAY.
By the time I finished cleaning I was hungry. After I ate I was tired. So after my husband single handedly moved the stove from the woodshed to the cabin, I grabbed my blankets off the fence and lay down to read my book (Still, The Plague Dogs, it's long) and sleep.
(Side note: Yes, it's true--the floor is not yet installed, nor is the drywall or wainscoting. However--I am freezing! And it's damp! I asked if we could just get the stove in there and my loving husband was very accommodating. So, the black marble slab (we found in the grass!) and the black sheet metal may only be temporary. I stuffed the stove pipe with a towel to prevent uninvited guests (the stinging, biting, crawling poo-ing ones). The stovepipe will be installed shortly and I am excited to show you the chimney blocks my husband procured for free.It should be an interesting process.)
So, I'm sure you've caught on to the current pattern here. I do a little work, I get tired and discouraged and I go to the cabin and read and fall asleep. Then I wake up feeling like I did not accomplish as much as I should have/could have--and then I judge myself. And the difference between "should" and "could" is massive. "Should" almost never ends without judgement--and that rarely leads me anywhere I want to go. And "could" is almost inarguable--a dead end. Any of us almost always "could" do something--but that's not really the issue is it? I would like to start speaking to myself with a different voice and with a different vocabulary. In fact, I would prefer to not consult with myself so much at all! What would it be like to turn to a different source for most information? Do I honestly expect that I can think myself into feeling differently about anything? If I happen to do that the results are temporary. For a true shift in perspective, I have to turn to the Great Unknown.
A reading I heard recently stated: "Abandon yourself to God as you understand God..." and I thought "abandon" myself? I have heard this many times before but for the first time I thought, "What does that mean? To "abandon myself"?" Leave myself behind? Is it anything like: "Abandon yourself in the woods, as you understand the woods?" That doesn't sound promising...
I have a long lineage of people in my life, both family and friends, who turn to the dictionary consistently as a launching point for clarification. In this context, "abandon" (according to the Oxford English Dictionary) may be referring to: "v. to cease to support or look after (someone); desert:" Clearly, this fits; it least it fits in the way I've always perceived it. AND it's informative and inspiring. "Cease to look after yourself and let God, as you understand God, look after you instead." However, there were a couple of other definitions that were pretty relevant also.
(These are all from the O.E.D.)
v. "To give up completely (a practice or a course of action)" This is subtly different. The first refers to the abandonment of another being for whom you are in charge--or--in this case--of yourself. But this suggests a change of practices and actions. "Give up completely on what it is you normally do and let God, as you understand God, do it for you instead."
v. "To allow oneself to indulge in (a desire or impulse)" Again, subtly different. Abandoning one's self to something in this case refers to a secret desire or impulse that has gone unfulfilled. An act of desperation, maybe--a desperation to no longer deny one's self something elemental or something that one has longed for, both consciously or unconsciously. "Indulge in God, as you understand God..."
n. "A complete lack of inhibition or restraint:" This one is a noun, but that doesn't mean it doesn't apply. As an alcoholic, I sought relief from both inhibition and restraint but also containment of the chaos in my head. Alcohol was the panacea for me for a long time. It did what I wanted, when I wanted, and how I wanted. Until it didn't. I kept drinking and hoping all the good feelings would return long after alcohol stopped working (it never was again to work very well). I was stuck inside me with no way out. I was trying to claw my way out of myself constantly. At any given moment during those last years of drinking, I either wanted to kill myself or everybody else--most often both. Until I got sober AND joined a recovery program, I lived in fear of my own brain. Now, I rely on a different set of principles to navigate my life; I rely on my ability to be honest with myself and I rely on my willingness of be authentic wherever I go (which means I am the same person no matter who's company I keep!) But most importantly, I have to rely on this power greater than myself--it is the only way I am able to do any of those things. "Abandon yourself to God, as you understand God..." or "Surrender your inhibitions that are based on everything you thought you knew to be true; restrain yourself no longer from your true nature--your spiritual self; let the boundaries of who you thought you were dissolve so that you can consciously become a part of the Greater Whole, as you understand the Greater Whole..."
I don't know. It is likely that the concept of abandonment shifts and contorts, as it should, every time we abandon ourselves to God (as we understand God)--the act meaning one thing and then another. It's not important really what anything means. What's important is that I do it regardless of my understanding of anything.
But it is interesting.
So (as they say) what?
It has become abundantly clear to me that I am completely obsessed with Self. MY Self. It is an illusion--this way of life, this way of living--it is confined to my head and has very little to do with what is "actually going on".. I no longer wish to be constricted by this illusion--but how to walk through that threshold to another way of life? Books? Buildings? Abandonment? It's almost never when I want to walk through to that Other Place that I do--but somehow, on some days, I wake up I realize: "...I'm here..."
The good news: Somebody's always already been where I want to go. And I can follow.
If the closest I can get to an indoor bathroom in Vernonia right now is "The Outhouse"--I'll take it!
Believe it or not, city kid that I was, I had a periodic outhouse experience as a child. My mother owned a publishing company with a couple of other left-wing extremists. They published poetry, art, short story anthologies and public domain stuff they thought worth re-printing (Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist, My Life by Emma Goldman, Poetry by William Carlos Williams to name a few.) These "involved" folk bought some land on top of a hill about 65 miles North of San Francisco (think "intellectual militia") There was a house and a few outbuildings that were later used to house the presses and books, but never any electricity or running water. The access road was 1 mile straight up--unimproved on purpose. "We don't want people just driving up here for fun!" (Besides the number of cars that were destroyed by this road over the years, one of them ended up driving off one of the many cliffs--unintentionally, of course. He was loaded out of his mind and died immediately. Every car-ride up and down that so-called road, I was always waiting to go over the edge- everyone was always drunk or high.) At the top, near the house, there was an outhouse perched on the edge of one of these cliffs. The thinking went like this: why dig a hole when you have a cliff? It was a little breezy. There was a bucket of lyme on the floor and a plastic man on a unicycle resting on top of the toilet paper roll whose feet turned the pedals when one pulled the paper. That was my favorite part. Anyway, I know what's what. I'm good.
So, my multi-talented husband is going to fashion for us a dazzling specimen of an outhouse out of a used shipping crate. A major shipping company is just giving them away! Cha-ching!
Which one do you think captures the concept of "Outhouse" best?
So, there you have it! We will be picking up one or more of these next week. Which one do you like?
Gillian Gontard wants a lot of things--she's trying to change that..
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