A recurring theme in this blog is the celebration of people and/or organizations that have a positive impact on their communities. What they do is not easy, but it’s inspirational, and we don’t hear enough about them. So I’ve decided to commit to singing their praises at least once a month. I’ll be calling it Mid-Month Marvels. If you have any suggestions for the focus of this monthly spotlight, let me know in the comments below!
When I first got to the Seattle area, I didn’t really know anyone, and I was kind of lonely, so I decided to take a pottery class at the local community college. I learned more in that class than I anticipated (and I blogged about it here.) That’s also where I learned about the Lifetime Learning Center.
This center believes, as I do, that you’re never too old to learn something new. According to their website, their mission is to promote successful aging and maintain the social, cognitive and physical well-being of adults within our community. They do this by providing a variety of reasonably priced classes that meet once a week. (A $15.00 registration fee is required each quarter, and most classes are $35.00 per 8 week session.)
They don’t require that you be a senior citizen to attend their classes, but that is their target audience. And I think that’s wonderful. Learning is a great way to keep the mind sharp, and it gives you purpose and reduces isolation. We could all do with a bit of those things.
A quick glance at their course catalog definitely got me interested. Here are some of their offerings this quarter:
A History of the American Musical
Life Stories Writing Group
The Earth and the Oceans
India: The Past is Present
Quilt Making Basics
Watercolor: An Innovative Approach
Positive Psychology: Choose Your Own Adventure
Contemporary Arguments About Philosophy
If and when I retire, and my schedule becomes more flexible, I hope that I remember to take advantage of the classes on offer at the Lifetime Learning Center. Because I don’t want to ever stop learning.
I remember very little from ages 11 through 13. I had been through a lot up to that point. Raised by a single mother, never knowing my father, never seeing one penny of child support, and relying on welfare, I always felt the financial stress radiating off of the head of my household in large, turbulent waves. The earth never felt quite stable beneath my feet. It was as if we could all be washed away at any moment.
Then, when I was 7, she married my stepfather, mostly as a financial hail Mary, and it worked for a time. I was uprooted from my life in the projects, a known quantity at the very least, and transported to mansions and vacations and rooms full of presents. It was all very disconcerting, especially while being an outside observer of a mutually beneficial yet loveless marriage.
Then at age 10, they lost everything. And by that I mean everything. My stepfather lost his job, and everything came tumbling down like a house of cards.
We wound up camping our way down the east coast, and going to Florida, where we hoped to find a better life. This was a culture I didn’t understand. I was taken away from everything I knew, everything that made sense to me. We continued to “camp” for 7 excruciating years.
During my whole childhood, I buried myself in books. Books were my shield against the instability going on around me. A recent meme that I saw on Facebook really hit home. It said, “Reading is just staring at a dead tree and hallucinating. This happens to be my favorite hobby.”
Books were my safe place in an unpredictable world. I carried one everywhere I went. Disappearing into a book was good practice for what was to come.
At age 11, the sexual abuse started. I was unable to cope with having my stepfather, an adult who I was taught would always know best and do what’s best for me, do this. So I went away. It wasn’t a conscious decision on my part. It’s just what I did.
Oh, I was still there, physically. Unfortunately. But “I” was gone. I had crawled deep inside myself, where no one could touch me or hurt me. I hibernated deep within my mind. I checked out. For two years.
And the funny thing is, no one around me seemed to notice. In fairness, my whole family had a lot to deal with at the time, but from an adult perspective, I find it exceedingly strange that no one saw that I was just going through the motions that entire time.
During that period, apparently, I was learning how to multiply fractions in school. To this day, I can’t do it. People have taught me over the years, and what they say makes sense, and I get it, for about a half hour. Then it’s gone again. Fortunately it is a skill I’ve managed to live without.
I remember “waking up”. Suddenly, one day, I became aware of what was going on around me. It was a very abrupt transition. It was like having the lights turned on and realizing, whoa, there are things happening outside of myself.
I think it had to do with the fact that at age 13 I threatened to kill my stepfather if he ever touched me again, and he looked at me and realized I wasn’t joking. I’d have done it.
And just like that, the abuse stopped. (And yes, I told my mother. She told me I was making too much of it, and she stuck to that opinion and carried it to her grave.)
My stepfather and I maintained an uneasy, awkward, uncomfortable and distant relationship until my mother finally wised up and divorced him when I was about 23. They both died within a month of each other three years later. I kind of expected that to be liberating. It wasn’t, really.
To this day, when things get too much for me, I go away. Usually for short periods. Often it’s just a few minutes, so that I can gather myself. Mainly it manifests in the desperate need to be left alone and the desire to pull the sheets up over my head to take a nap. Sometimes it’s just escaping into a game app.
I also attribute my continuing love of books and sleep, my healthy imagination, and my need for travel and all other escapist pursuits to a minor form of dissociation. So is the fact that I thrive while working alone on my drawbridge. I don’t think that’s particularly unhealthy or destructive. No one gets hurt. The bills get paid. For the most part I’m really happy now, which is very unexpected and never ceases to feel like a miracle. I’ll never take that for granted.
As a psychologist once said to me, I was born 30 yards deep in my own end zone, so the fact that I’m playing on the field at all is pretty darned impressive. Dissociation was an effective coping mechanism for me, as such things go. I survived. I doubt I could give up this lifetime habit at this late date.
Dissociation comes in many forms. At the extreme end, you have multiple personality disorder. I’m fairly positive I never went that far. At the opposite end of the spectrum, you call in sick from work, stay in your jammies, and binge watch Game of Thrones for several hours. That’s not so bad, is it?
Now, if I could just shake the feeling that I’m much weirder and more out of touch than the average person. That would be nice. That would be heavenly.
On our cruise to Alaska, we were some of the youngest passengers aboard, by decades. I get it. It’s an expensive trip. It’s the trip of a lifetime. But there’s something to be said about doing your major trips while you’re still able-minded and able-bodied.
We often shared a dinner table with strangers, as is often the case on cruise ships. Some were a delight. But most were complaining about being in pain. Or about not liking the food. Or about the ship rocking. Or about their ungrateful grandchildren. Or about feeling trapped. Or about the cost of things. You name it, they complained about it.
We were having a wonderful time, so listening to these people grouse was, to be honest, annoying. It did make us grateful that we are not yet in pain, or plagued with digestive issues or the like. It made us try harder to be patient when caught in the middle of the migration of these waddling grey penguins. Our time will come soon enough.
But jeez. Why take a trip if you know it’s going to make you miserable? Eat your salad during your salad days. Or, if this is your only chance to travel, at the very least, don’t rain on everyone else’s parade.
Okay, so I guess this is me complaining. But you get the point.
If, like me, you are an introvert, welcome to the American minority. As such, you probably can relate to being treated as if you are strange or broken. You’re considered antisocial. You are expected to explain yourself. You don’t fit in.
You have probably been accused of being depressed, even when that isn’t necessarily so. Introversion does not always equate to unhappiness. The phrase “social anxiety” gets bandied about by your critics. It’s not an anxiety so much as a preference. You are often misunderstood.
Believe me, I get it. I am so sick of being treated like I’m somehow less than, simply by dint of my position on the Introversion/Extroversion bell curve. I genuinely believe that we all have our place, and every place has value.
Introversion simply means that people suck energy from you, as opposed to energizing you. But why is that description couched in that way? Why does no one say that extroverts need energy from outside themselves, while introverts are much more self-sufficient? Why does no one say that introverts thrive in the quiet beauty of isolation? Why are we not praised for our focus and depth?
And no two people are alike. I wish that were more understood. Just as with gender, it’s about time we figured out that this is not a binary situation. For example, I personally don’t dislike people, even though introverts are often accused of hating mankind in general. I just prefer interacting with small groups that I know well, as opposed to large crowds of strangers. I don’t consider myself to be shy. I have no trouble speaking up or asking questions. I just don’t feel the need to constantly put myself out there. I enjoy observing more than interacting.
And I love time alone, which means my job as a bridgetender is perfect for me. Extroverts don’t last in this job. They just can’t handle it. There really are places for us “quiet types”. They’re just sometimes a bit harder to find.
As a child I was constantly berated because I wasn’t making enough friends. I have friends. But I go for quality, not quantity. I don’t see anything wrong with that. I think it’s cruel to make an introverted child feel as though there’s some score card that is not up to snuff, simply because that child has a richer inner life, and that’s hard for you to see. We don’t need to be fixed. We are fine just the way we are.
There is no shame in thinking of alone time as a gift. It’s not rejection. It’s not a mental illness. You are still capable of love, loyalty, and friendship. And so much more.
I think that the only time we introverts feel free and well-adjusted is when we stop caring what other people think. Unfortunately, those other people are still out there, thinking, and loudly shaping society. The world would be a much nicer place if people learned to listen to the quieter voices as well. We, too, have our stories.
Ever since I turned 50, my hands have been giving me problems. First it was de Quervain’s Tendonitis, which got so bad that I was in a brace for 9 months and then had to resort to surgery. Most recently, it was trigger finger, in which my finger seemed to have a painful mind of its own, and would vibrate and snap against my will. Surgery was suggested for that, too, but how many tendons can one cut before losing functionality?
As a last resort, I went to an acupuncturist, and now my finger is fine. But during one visit I lamented that this kind of thing would keep happening to me, and I need my hands to type this blog. She told me something very interesting.
She said as we get older, we tend to curl our hands more and more, and that plays hell with one’s tendons. It made me think of a desiccated leaf in the Autumn of its life. Curling. Shriveling up.
Now, I’m no doctor, so I can’t tell you how accurate this is, but after she told me that, I began looking at people’s hands. And I did notice, in a purely unscientific way, that young people seem to hold their hands flatter than old people do.
After that, I started doing hand stretches. Bending my fingers back as much as I could. And while driving, I’d place my hands flat on the steering wheel instead of curving my fingers around it. (Of course, I only did that when it felt safe to do so. I’m not encouraging you to be reckless.)
And I’ll be darned if I’m not feeling an improvement in my hands. I mean, a serious improvement. I’m going to keep this up.
Since then, I’ve noticed I also tend to curl up in my shoulders and feet, too. I hunch over the keyboard. I curl my feet in bed. So I’m stretching those areas as well. If my work schedule weren’t so weird, I’d get back into yoga. When I did yoga, I felt great.
Still, I’m opening myself up. Flattening myself out. Flexibility is important. I wouldn’t want to shrivel up before my time.
Recently, on a cruise in Alaska, I had my very first massage. At age 54. There are several reasons for this.
First and foremost, of course, is the expense. Massages are not for poor people, who usually need them the most. It’s hard to budget for this type of luxury when you are struggling to keep a roof over your head. It is only very recently that I’ve stopped counting myself amongst that number, and even now, it’s hard to get out of the habit of avoiding unnecessary expenses.
Second is the fact that I really don’t like being touched by strangers. It takes me a while to feel comfortable with that level of intimacy. Sure, once you’ve broken down that barrier, I’m all about the affection. I just couldn’t imagine having someone’s hands all over me, invading my personal space, five seconds after meeting, you know?
Third, as I described at length in my post Cruise Ship Feudalism, I don’t do well with the whole class division thing. The thought of someone laboring over me in order to make a living kind of makes me squirm. I hate being catered to. I hate being served.
Fourth is that I’ve always struggled with the concept of being pampered. I was not brought up to believe I deserved such treatment. And I’m not a girly girl. I’ve never been to a spa. I’ve never had a facial or a manicure or a pedicure. I don’t use lotions or creams or gels. I come from a background that’s all about pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps and getting on with the business of living. My idea of luxury is a hot bath in a nice deep tub, followed by an afternoon nap. Now, that, I’d do 4 times a week if given the chance. I’m worthy of that, I feel, because it’s free, and it doesn’t involve strangers or servitude.
So you can imagine how much extra tension I was carrying when I went for this massage, which, by the way, I did not book myself. I didn’t know how to act or what to think. I couldn’t look the massage therapist in the eye. My first impression of her was that she was very tiny and that English wasn’t her first language. I thought that she must be lonely so far from home, and her little hands must ache at the end of the day. But that was probably me projecting my unease upon her.
In the end, she was very courteous, dignified and professional. She certainly knew what she was doing. And she used a salt scrub and hot rocks, too. When she finished working on one leg, I could do a physical comparison of the other leg, and I was absolutely shocked at the difference. I had no idea how much my stress manifests itself in physical form. Maybe I do need this. Maybe I deserve it.
In the end, I felt like I had no skeletal system at all. I was just relaxed mush. It was heavenly. They could have taken me out of there in a plastic bucket. My brain was mush, too. I was grateful that the tip is included in the fee, because at that point I wouldn’t have been able to work out what to add on.
So, yeah, that first massage won’t be my last. Maybe. Probably. We’ll see.
I love it when one of my readers comes across something amazing and thinks of me. (Hi, Bob!) In this case, it was Spread Goodness Day. That’s something I can definitely get behind.
Anna Dravland came up with this idea even before she had a personal crisis. She wanted to make the world a better place. She wanted to create an annual day that is all about “goodness in whatever way is natural to you.” She has a positive spirit.
She worked hard and she planned this day, and then one day she had a stroke on the sidewalk by her house. She couldn’t talk. She couldn’t walk. She lost the use of her right side. And Spread Goodness Day almost fell by the wayside.
But her friends and family stepped in and took up the torch for her while she struggled to recover. And seeing that goodness spread, she feels, is part of the reason why she was able to recover so fully. You can see a 12 minute video about her story here.
What I love most about this is that her desire to improve the world wound up improving her life as well. That, dear reader, is some cosmic karma. It gives me hope.
The next Spread Goodness Day is March 13, 2020. Mark your calendar. Do something good. It can be something little or something huge. Just do something. And then head on over to her website and document it. Anna is living proof that goodness is magical. It’s worth spreading. And the goodness you share will encourage others to do their own good thing.
Personally, I try to be a positive force in the world every chance I get. But if it needs an official day to catch on, if having a day to really focus on will inspire others, then yes. Let’s do this thing. Celebrate Spread Goodness Day with the whole wide world.