February 3, 2008

I want to write happy things in this blog.  I want to write about how every day I learned some new creative thing and how I pasted pink and orange flowers on my walls and wrote about fairies and gnomes and magical rocks that shook the earth.  But when I try to write the fantasy story my hand sits still on the paper.  When I open my heart and soul, this is the story that comes out.  So I will allow my pen to define how this journey through discovering my creative self will look.

This is a story about suicide.  I’m not talking about political, religious, or ideological suicide.  I know nothing about them.  I’m talking about suicide resulting from a feeling of despair when a person feels that living is no longer an option.

When I was a teenager, I didn’t know what purpose my life had.  It had no meaning – no up, no down, no forward or backward.  It was nothing.  It was as though I was standing in some foreign world, spinning around looking and asking, “Huh?  Where am I?”.  I read Carlos Castaneda, and books on witchcraft.  I thought over and over about how much I wanted to die, so that I could somehow find my way back to where I was supposed to be.  Eventually I ended up at the base chaplain’s door.  I had myself baptized.  The God/Jesus thing made me feel as though there might be hope.  If this was the REAL God, then the answer was simple.  All I needed to do was trust that He would guide me.  This sounded reasonable.

In college I became heavily involved with the various campus Christian groups.  I surrounded myself with my new Christian friends.  I prayed fervently day and night. 

College was extremely difficult for me academically.  My high school education was mediocre at its very best.  I chose Purdue University for college because it was far from home.  My major was chemical engineering.  The chemical engineering major was purely out of not knowing what else to major in.  The first time I’d ever touched a slide rule was a week before I left home.  I don’t think I’d ever seen a chemical equation in my life before college. 

I sat in exams staring at my slide rule, barely knowing which way was up and which was down.  My first roommate was someone who, unfortunately for me, turned out to be the hall’s antisocial over-achiever.  She faulted me for coming into the room late after studying.  She faulted me to having the light on when I studied in the room.  She faulted me for the very act of living within her personal sphere of existence.  She went to the dorm administrative offices and demanded that “that girl”, I, be moved.  Eventually the dorm moved me next door, into the room which had been left vacant after one of the girls who lived there was killed in a car accident.

My second year at college I moved into a small efficiency apartment a block off of campus.  I loved that apartment, and bought myself a guitar and learned how to play it.  I spent many hours by myself playing and singing Christian songs that my church youth group sang.

The Christian group that I was most associated with had the concept of “spiritual leaders”, and I was assigned a spiritual leader.  Spiritual leaders represented the voice of God, so to speak.  If your spiritual leader told you to do something, that was really God speaking to you.  It was usually not optional, unless you were willing to risk going against God’s will.

Well, my spiritual leader told me that it would be better for me to move out of my cute, cozy, wonderful apartment and into a two-bedroom apartment with three other girls so I could have more fellowship.  That’s what I did on my third year of college.

I was getting C’s and D’s in my classes.  Week after week and hour after hour I stared at organic chemistry, physical chemistry, physics, and engineering books, not knowing how to even begin.  I retook the classes that I failed and the second time would feel much more confident in what I’d learned.  I still would scrape by with no higher than a C.  It should have been a clue to me that in high school I would sit in front of my math books and pull my hair out crying, frustrated with myself at not being able to understand some concept.  But, to speak on my own behalf, I really had had nowhere to turn for guidance.  I had no idea what college major to pick that would both meet with my father’s approval and yet be something that I would have a prayer of achieving.

When I moved in with the three Christian girls, I lost the solitude and independence that I now realize are a fundamental part of who I am.  I was pushed over the edge emotionally, and began resenting a religion that would mandate a completely homogeneous society of happy people, all praying in fellowship and trusting God for their every need. There was no room for people to be different, and that left me out in the cold.  There was no place that I could go for help with my frustrations.  There was no one I could tell “I’ve been doing a shitload of trusting, and Jesus isn’t helping me with my issues”.

I began to spend nights away from the apartment so I could be away from my happy, bouncy roommates.  I didn’t believe any one of them had a clue what it was like to live a life of sustained death wishes.

I lost my virginity at this time.  I picked up men that I met in the campus coffee shop where I studied.  It was to one of these men, someone who was visiting the campus for a conference, that I fled from school.  I packed a small suitcase and took a Greyhound bus to where this man lived in a small town in southern Indiana, believing that his “I love you” in the heat of the moment was sincere.  No one had ever said that to me.

A few days later, while staying with this man, I took an overdose of pills.  I told him about it, and he drove me to the emergency room.

“Why would you do such a stupid thing?  Do you have any idea how irresponsible it is to try to kill yourself?”  The ER nurse’s voice was cold and accusatory as she berated me.  I felt alone.

A day or so after I overdosed, the man I was staying with dropped me off at the Greyhound station and drove away.  There was nothing said and no reason to turn around after walking away from each other.

I took a Greyhound bound for Daytona Beach, Florida where my older brother lived.  In Daytona Beach I worked first as a waitress, and then became a factory worker.  My first job was at a Chinese restaurant.  I lived in a boarding house.  When I flipped on the light switch at night, thousands of cockroaches scurried from the floor, walls, and ceiling.  Cockroaches slept with me.  Cockroaches fell from the ceiling into my food.  Cockroaches crawled up my legs in the bathroom.  One of the men that I shared the house with peeked in the bathroom keyhole whenever I went to the bathroom.  Another old man who lived in the house next door sat in front of his window which was about a foot away from my window and watched me.  I always had to make sure the flimsy plastic curtains were positioned so that he couldn’t see me.

I went to disco clubs and biker bars and learned to drink and pick up men.  I read an ad about free kittens and got a kitten.  The partying made me forget I owned a kitten.  One day I walked in from spending a couple of nights away and discovered that this tiny kitten had gone feral, no doubt having subsisted for days on just cockroaches.  I put him in a box and took him back to the woman who gave him to me.

Someone introduced me to marijuana at this time.  It was the best stuff ever.  I learned to roll my own joints.  I even sprayed my joints with Raid a couple of times, as I had heard from someone that Raid gave you a better high (For anyone reading this who is wondering, don’t do this.  No, Raid does not give you a better high and smoking it will NOT do good things for you!).  Pills were great.  I took whatever pills anyone had to give me.  I even walked the streets asking people if they had any pills to sell — of any type.  I inhaled bottles of amyl nitrite, a heart medication.  It caused my mind to instantly spin out of control into the ozone.  I would have graduated to heroin except I only knew one heroin addict well.  He was pathetic even by my standards.  What few teeth he had were half rotted and discolored.  He was skinny as a rail, never bathed, didn’t have a job, and spent his days sitting on a filthy couch in his living room, smiling and barely coherent.  He was my best friend’s brother.  This was the same best friend who once wondered whether she should let her boyfriend “break in” her daughter.  These were the people I partied with daily.  They were, in their way, good people.  They were part of a subculture which existed under society’s radar.

I eventually set up house with a man (I was 20, and he was 31.) who was a carpet layer by profession.  He had never learned the art of temper control.  He would punch dents in his car if he was angered by something.  He would accidentally hammer his thumb and respond by punching a hole in the wall or in a door.  It could be a very small thing, but he would scream “Motherfuckin’ cocksucker!!  Fuckin’ goddamn cocksucker!!” and in the next instant something would be smashed, damaged or completely destroyed.

Our primary form of entertainment was going to the strip clubs on Main Street and drinking and watching the strippers.  The strip club crowd regulars drank and partied together.  Most of them had nicknames such as “Big Bill” or “Iron Mike”.

The two of us had frequent arguments that were often screaming matches.  I thought nothing of standing in the middle of the street screaming my lungs out at him.

One day, a little while after an especially bad fight where he had used my face as a punching bag and broken one of my fingers, I swallowed a bottle of pills.  I was alone in the small 1-bedroom house we were renting.  Just to make sure the pills “took” this time, I chased them with as much as I could drink of a jug of wine.  What a great, peaceful, settled feeling I had.  I didn’t have to live any more.  Could anything be sweeter.

I woke up sometime later in an ambulance in between convulsions.

Something in me realized after this that since I was at rock bottom I may as well take a chance on myself and try to do something useful with my life.  Lucky for me, this was the beginning of my climb out of a life spiralling out of control. 

Until this writing, this part of my life has only existed as a nonchalant comment dropped here and there.  Now, looking back on it through this story, I can see so clearly that this period of about 5 years has established the basis for every subsequent belief in my life, both spiritually, as well as philosphically and politically.

I periodically hear or read people describing suicide as “the most cowardly act a person can possibly do”.  The next time you hear this, or you feel compelled to say it or even think it, I want you to ask yourself something.  Who is the greater coward?  Is it the person who wants to die?  Or could it be the person or people who have contributed in creating a picture of life for an individual that is so consumed with bleakness and despair that the individual feels that his or her only thread of hope is through the void and darkness of death?

Finding the core of my soul

January 29, 2008

I recently thought about people finding themselves.  I wondered how many people actually do.  We have layers and layers of outside influences, which have built up over our lifetimes, and one day we wake up and are completely unaware that the other person (who is the real US) ever existed.

How is it possible to strip away all of the layers of emotional, reactionary person that gets created as we 1) survive childhoods with less-than-perfect families  2) run around building careers and supporting families and 3) live up to everyone else’s expectations of us?  How many people even care?

I think back on my childhood and how I always felt that there was something very very wrong with me.  It wasn’t an outward thing, it was an inward thing.  I remember writing poetry where time and time again I would feel that I was really from some other planet, and had somehow dropped here.  I felt in the core of my being that I somehow wasn’t made of the same stuff as the people I knew.

As I reflect on that now, I realize that my gut feeling as that child was absolutely right.  That wasn’t me.  I was learning to build, on top of the “real” me, a shell of a person who would be able to survive in the world.  I needed to do this to make my parents happy, be acceptable to my friends, and be able to go out into the world and make a living.

I don’t regret any of that because at the time, that’s what I needed to do to survive.  I’m not sure that as a 17 year older, with the intense pressures that were put on me, that I would have ever been enable to do anything short of molding myself into a survivor of the moment.

Now I’m 50 years old, and I’ve been through a lot.  I’ve graduated from college, built up a successful career, have a husband that I love, a home that I also love very much, and I’ve also survived cancer.  All of these things have gradually given me the ability to work on stripping away all of the superficial “me” that has been the survivor.  First I needed to recognize it and go back to the “me” of high school to realize what had happened.  Then I needed to make peace with the circumstances that created that situation.  Now I need to take my mental/spiritual hand and dig deep into myself to see who has been dormant all these years.  I need to grab onto her and pull her out of my soul, out of my core, and nurture her.

My Missing Twin

January 15, 2008

I recently read a book called The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. There is a woman in that book who spends her life feeling that she has been missing something important. She can’t put her finger on it. She has an emptiness, a void in her life that she can’t describe.

I’ve felt that exact same thing throughout my life. Felt that there has been something untapped, something missing, some very critical part of my being that is being ignored and suppressed by years of superficial demands, stress, urgency. Life goals created by others, by my implicitly trying to accommodate what others are expecting of me.

I had a turbulent teen era, and finally settled into being a software engineer, which I have been for the past 25 years. I’ve gone in and out of “is this the place where I should be spending my life”. Managers in my past have criticized me for not going home at night and reading the technology books to enhance my technical skills. I’ve given up many hours of free time to fixing the next bug and meeting the next deadline. I like the thought process, but I don’t like the book reading, and to be honest, I must not be too enthralled by the details of the technology. Because as much as I buy books thinking I’m going to magically absorb the contents, I end up doing absolutely nothing with them. Nothing. Maybe cracking a cover to find the answer to a problem once in a while, but letting all of the precious knowledge that the author has to offer dissipate in the corner of the bedroom, to gather dust or be a coffee cup holder on the table.

I think I’m beginning to see that I have an “invisible twin”. Something or someone deep down inside of me who has been ignored all of these years.

I’m reading a book called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. In the first lesson, she asks you to think about 5 people you would be if you had to live your life over again and choose. I found that I had (1) an artist living in a loft (2) a mathematician doing research or something academic (3) a writer (4) a biologist going out into the field and collecting insects/animals/flowers and (5) A musician. Maybe a piano player, or a folk singer singing in coffee shops and composing music.

Another book I’m reading, the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey talks about something called a “paradigm shift”. That is, a shift in a basic assumption that you’ve made. For example, he talks about a man who goes into a subway with a couple of children. The children run around wildly and annoy all of the other passengers. Stephen eventually turns to him and asks him to try to control his kids. He looks up at Stephen and says “oh, I’m sorry. We just came from the hospital where their mother just died, and I guess they don’t know how to deal with it”. At that moment Stephen experienced a paradigm shift. He shifted his thoughts away from “why doesn’t this guy control his kids” to “what can I do to help?”

Anyway, the reason I’m talking about this is because I think I’m experiencing a paradigm shift. A complete 180 degree shift in the way I’ve always thought of myself. I’m not an engineer, I never was. I am an artist. There is an artist in me, just waiting, waiting all of these years, to be allowed to come out. A third arm, a missing twin, a void in my life that has yet to be filled.

Hello world!

January 15, 2008

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