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Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.
Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Aside

Om

I’ve had an especially rough time in recent years, having long suffered from severe depression and what is known as “complicated grief” but having experienced an exacerbation since 2011 whose violence I was completely unprepared for. I haven’t had the psychic or mental energy to rise above it; kind of a negative-feedback situation. I spent a lot of 2012 weeping in a fetal position in bed. I would force myself to get up & use a cheerful voice because the depression was affecting my dogs. But inside I was completely shut down, & of course my dogs could tell my chirpiness was counterfeit & were quite worried. Decades of talk therapy & other unsuccessful treatments led me to try to try to treat it pharmacologically, and although it took time to get the bugs out, I am doing much better. I stopped believing that I could not get better because of my character or because I was too weak to do it on my own. This just made me feel worse, like blaming the victim, but there’s a lot of that mindset in New Age approaches, like giving yourself cancer because you’re angry or whatever (I always wondered how that explained 5-year-old cancer patients). Self-determinism run amok, & I’m more self-deterministic than the next guy; to an unforgiving fault.

I do believe in the kindling effect; being exposed to overwhelming anxiety from a very young age & having one’s system flooded with stress hormones every day for 50 years, & the effect that can have on brain function. It’s just that the emotions that underlie these chemical effects are outside my control, & believe me, I’ve counted to 10 & done the therapeutic & New-Age equivalents an unimaginable number of times, always with the idea that this was something I “should” be able to control on my own. But I’ve come to realize that this is not something that can be addressed by joining a play group for normal neurotics or taping New-Age platitudes onto my bathroom mirror. Maybe in my 20s, when I still thought I was just “eccentric” (& so did everyone else). It changed at some point; changed in a way that scared me: I had come to believe that the Universe had actually let me down, left me in the dust. You just can’t imagine how that feels. This is one case where my self-determinism, the strong belief that the answer could only come from my own brute strength, that the buck stopped here & nowhere else, locked me in a cage for many years & threw away the key.

So I decided to (finally) try out the idea that it was a matter of chemistry rather than character, as a psychiatrist told me many years ago but which I refused to act upon because of a lot of reservations about pharmaceutical face lifts (a la Talking to Prozac) & a general distrust of the pharma industry, but I think I have as much chance of “thinking” myself out of this as I would have thinking myself out of hyperglycemia. I mean, I’m sure there is some yogi somewhere who can probably actually do that, but luckily for yogis, that is what they do for a living. As for me, I have a day job, so I can’t waste any more time in my life trying to regulate my bodily functions (including neurochemistry) mentally. Besides, the whole “mind-over-matter” thing has a decidedly [des]Cartesian feel, in the ugliest & most patriarchal sense. I’ve spent way too much time in my life trying to subjugate my body to my mind, so I’ve developed an aversion to anything that smacks of that kind of control. Quantum physics notwithstanding, when you are in that dark snake pit of depression it is virtually impossible to muster an affirmation. The voice in me that continues to clack that I am not good enough, not strong enough, because in over 50 years of applying my considerable mental faculties to stopping my demons from overtaking me, I have not been able to do it, is turning my life  into that bridge, you know, the one you can see on youtube, that was designed in such a way that a small breeze caused it to vibrate more & more wildly until it was an undulating, walloping, flailing structure that just ended up exploding in mid-air. The degree to which this post is me trying to convince myself I’m Doing the Right Thing is just more evidence of that voice. Total projection.

So I have to admit: I just can’t do it. There. So sue me.

I think AA members will probably understand this well. To New Agers, this kind of admission probably seems like the ultimate self-defeat. To me, it’s the first healthy step I’ve taken in a long time. So the drugs. This is the first time in a very long time that I have felt the bell jar lift somewhat. The pills are not magic, but they do open a window, space for me to draw a breath & perhaps (ack) say an affirmation. At the moment I think of myself as “in rehab,” like someone who is gaining strength after being unable to walk for a long time. I am a better mom now, so perfect solution or not, if it makes my dogs happier I am willing to do it.

My community is undergoing a lot of changes. Groups struggling to keep development under control, new residents trying to turn my starry mountain Shangri-La into a tiny Burbank, complete with floodlights. Even the best conditions, like “moderate” development and “only 60 watts” cause me so much distress that I almost cannot function. It is such an affront, I just don’t think I can–or want to–handle it any more, not that I want to give up the good fight. I’ve always thought of myself as rather permeable. Things come in, I breathe in my environment, & some kind of art gets exhaled, and I have not really been interested in filtering. My “personal zone” is quite a bit larger than the norm & easily invaded. Some people can “feel” alone when others are around. I can’t. It’s been this way since I was a little kid. I can feel alone only when I “am” alone, which was bad news for my ex’s and the biggest reason I did not stay married, other than the fact that none of my husbands were dogs.Now I have had to train myself to turn away in order to avoid seeing the ugliness cropping up around me. Me, a photographer, whose mantra for most of my life has been that statement of Kurosawa’s:”To be an artist means never to avert one’s eyes.” That meant ugly as well as beautiful, not that I’m going to work undercover for PETA any time soon. But I no longer have a choice. What I mean is that the situation has turned 180 degrees: Whereas before I could choose to turn away from my overall splendid environment to fix my gaze on something relatively ugly if I thought it was artistically or intellectually or spiritually expedient to do so, now the ugliness is crawling up my ass 24/7 and I have to keep staring at a little spot on the floor to get any relief. I have knots in my stomach every day, every time I either have to look at, or cast my eyes down to avoid, that screaming neon “NO TRESPASSING” sign that the new neighbor nailed into  a 200-year-old Jeffrey pine, which makes me feel like I am getting flipped off every time I look out the window. I feel my guts clutch constantly. I can almost feel those nails in my own skin.

I’ve started feeling like my relationship to my house is like a bad marriage. A cushy prison; terrifying to leave because jail may be jail, but it’s home. I need to get a parcel of land & build a tinyhouse somewhere where it is quiet & dark. Yeah, I know. There is some yogi out there who can feel happy & peaceful & sane & enlightened sitting in a subway station at rush hour. I’m sure I could do that too if I spent the rest of my not-so-abundant days trying for it & maybe achieving it on my deathbed. I have to be somewhere where I can look out my windows and see nature only or I will end up chewing on my furniture. I  can’t get peace of mind when I have to spend so much of my energy screening out psychic toxicity. I feel like I’m holding my breath all the time, & it’s not healthy. Less comes in, and less gets out. It’s so counter to the way I have lived my life.

Never

A friend of mine (& by now you know I don’t use the word lightly) took exception to my last post & gave me a Gandhi-style ass chewing, the message being that relationships were different now, the best you can hope for is an email now & again, you get what you send out, kumbaya. You know the drill. I don’t think he read my post “Better than Nothing,” so Scotty, if you’re reading this, you should probably do that now.

At first I thought it was just some random asshole posting a comment & told him to Fuck Off. Then I realized it was my Scotty & I provided a bit of an explanation by way of email, which follows:

Ouch.

Do you actually think I would be upset about someone not making an effort to stay connected that I also had not made the effort for??? What on earth do you take me for, Scott?

Obviously I’m talking about people who don’t answer emails and don’t answer calls and never write. Or they write just enough to make me think it’s a living breathing friendship and do the bare minimum (“Like” things on FB, which I’m really starting to hate, but never even have an actual conversation) and still think that qualifies as a friendship. Which it may to you, maybe you are willing to think that relationships have changed so much that they don’t need more than that any more, but not where I come from.

The mode may have changed, Scott, but people are exactly the same. Human evolution is not nearly as fast as technological evolution. Humans’ needs are the same as they were 10, 50, a thousand years ago, and what you give to love is the same, and relationships will die without what they need. Period. Technology has just made people lazy when it comes to friendships. It’s like mass hypnosis. Everyone thinks certain things are okay, but they aren’t okay.

For what it’s worth, I mentioned you in one of those posts as being one of the only people to offer to help me when I was really struggling. The form it took was that you said you would help if you could, but I appreciated that more than you know. Now here you are chewing my ass.

 Maybe I’m spoiled. I’ve been blessed with having been loved and cared for by truly loyal and generous people in my life. Not just generous with money, but generous in spirit, in kindness. Mark, my ex, there was nothing that guy would not do for you, it would make your jaw drop. My family was the same way. My friend Tom, the same. Mike, my neighbor, who just died. Absolutely heroic friends. And yet, their generosity was effortless. It was like breathing for any one of them to drop a line or ask if I needed anything or help in an emergency. Second nature. And there was nothing I wouldn’t have done, and plenty I did do, for any of them, either. They raised the bar for everyone else I’ll ever know, but so what. I’m sure not going to lower my standards because the rest of the world is complacent.

 I don’t know how your comment got through, I thought my presets were “comments off,” but I’m not really writing that blog because I want anyone’s opinion. I’ve listened to enough people tell me I should be satisfied with the crumbs that fall from the tables of people who are too busy or lazy to act like real friends, and who couch it in lots of New Age language that really just boils down to rationalization, and I’m simply not buying it. If you don’t like what I have to say on that blog, Scotty, change channels.

The people I mentioned, my incredible friends and family: The thing is, they are all dead. Every last one, and I don’t mean that metaphorically. So right now, all of this heated discourse I’m having with myself (did you think it was anything else?) is an(other) expression of grief, my attempt to acknowledge and accept that on ever deeper levels so that I can escape my past, my very rich past, because without my loved ones, the future seems so bleak.

I’ve made friends in the past 10 years, but I don’t take any of those friendships seriously. Not really. Somewhere in my mind, I think of the people I know now as  substitutes for the ones I’ve lost, the quality of whom cannot be matched. Terribly unfair, I know. The thing is, I’m like one of those people with amnesia you read about. Someone who has to be told every day that her mother, father, sisters, best friends have all died. The realization that I will never see them again cuts every time, dulled only slightly by the passing of time. So when I use the word “never,” as I just did in the last sentence, you can be certain I have raised the understanding of the meaning of that word to an art form. “Never” is one of those words that you understand only once you know death.

Before that, “never” is just a word mommy uses to prescribe certain behaviors, or it’s a word you use to measure relative durations, or to convey the internal chaos the notion of infinity makes you feel. But the first time you lose someone and you realize you will never see that person again…that’s when it really hits home. So it’s not really a function of age. If you are lucky  enough to still have your family walking around, or never to have lost a friend to cancer or AIDS or a broken heart, you simply do not know the meaning of that word, and no amount of explanation will do.

All those losses changed me. I used to think eventually I’d go back to who I was before they happened. It took a very long time to realize that I had lost “That Me” as well. Would never see her again. I had an inkling of this when I wrote once that not only did I want to go back in time to be with a certain loved one, I wanted to be who I was when she was still alive. And I tried like hell for a decade to do just that. But friends, you can’t go home again. You can only be who you are now and let those deaths inform your being like a car in a bad hail storm.

A cluster thickly clumped glows bluely between rock and anemone.
All is vague but for the shining which are mine to keep but just out of my reach
And I can’t hold my breath or fathom icy water.
Just want to find my pearl and shimmer to the surface
With the jewel between my teeth.

I wrote that, premonitorily enough, in my 20s. Who knew those pearls would be the result of decades of loss grating against my insides? I figure that if I can stick it out I will be out of pain and have something of value in the end. I read an interview with Mia Farrow once, she said Life is basically just a string of losses, one after the other, and you show your grace by how you behave between them. At the time I did not know the meaning of the word “never.” Now I think of those pearls, that necklace, myself, that haze of blue glowing.

Dear

I’ve spent the last few years delving into my past, resurrecting old friendships. Facebook made it easy & tempting.Very few of those have panned out. Either time had simply moved on and we no longer had anything in common, or the person just wanted to be a picture on my Facebook page and nothing else, which I found kind of irritating. I’m not so sure how to think of someone who acts like s/he wants to know me but doesn’t want any type of contact. To me, you might as well just watch television. You can tune in to any sitcom and there they will be, your  friends, the ones who have never met you and never will; who have never called you, don’t call you now and will never even know your number. You don’t have to think of them, call them, remember their birthdays, send them Christmas cards, nothing. It’s fantastic. If you forget to tune in & miss an episode, they will never know and never care. Friendships for the new millennium.

All this separating of people who “are” my friends from those who “used to be”: I guess it’s my way of re-confirming to myself what it means to be a friend and to not be swayed by the Facebook definition, which is to say, “Friend” equals a person you don’t know, don’t see, don’t talk to, have nothing in common with, but who “likes” your posts occasionally, & there is not a day I’m not shocked & saddened by the idea that there are people who actually believe that that is what constitutes friendship. The language hasn’t caught up with the concept; i.e., we still call those people friends, but they aren’t really. I don’t know what they are exactly, but I know that  if you can’t have a meal with someone because, say, they live too far away, there have to at least be periodic newsy emails, an IM once in a while, a phone call. Otherwise, what is it, really? What are those relationships, who are those people? The answer may have just come to me: They are memories, at least as far as old friends are concerned, and a person is really a friend or a memory, one or the other. They can’t be both. Had (as usual) to learn that the hard way.

But this is huge. It really answers something for me. I used to feel a little grab of anxiety whenever I would describe someone as a friend who I knew was really not. Had been, but wasn’t now. The chill of self-betrayal. Now that’s gone. I have the correct word for the concept, something I’ve always been really big on, even if I don’t have the people themselves. The language just took awhile to come up with a word for whatever became of the people I knew and loved.

Hippie Mythology

Recently I joined a hiking group. Not so much to go hiking, since I do that every day anyway with my dogs. I thought it would be fun, & good for me, to do it with others now & again. So I signed up with this group through MeetUp and suggested a hike I do often & ended up kind of leading the group that day because over the years I’ve learned a lot about our local wildflowers. The hike was a total success and I was surprised that I’d enjoyed something that involved other humans and that other humans had enjoyed something that involved me, although most of the time I can don a very amiable demeanor  with people I don’t know well, so actually that was not too surprising.

Then I got the bright idea to start a group of my own. This was something I had thought about doing before, but MeetUp seemed like a pretty organized way to go about it. They offered me a discount so I signed up. Big Mistake.

I thought I’d teach people how to make bread. I’ve been doing this forever & am really good at it. A couple of people just seemed normal & curious & that was who I figured I’d be teaching. It wouldn’t be the same as with the hiking group. I mean, I was the “leader” on that one hike because it was my idea and one I was familiar with and I had a lot of info to impart about the wildflowers, but in the context of the group in general, I’m just another member. With the baking group, my vision wasn’t the same. We wouldn’t be like a sewing circle, just a bunch of people coming together to bake, I was teaching a class; at least, that was how I pictured it. Maybe I should have made that clearer, I don’t know. Anyway, right away I started getting all these suggestions on how to do the meetings. Now, I found it kind of odd that, without having attended a single meeting, & without knowing what they were trying to improve upon, people would start suggesting ways to do exactly that, like those people who add salt to their food without tasting it first. Maybe it was that particular day or the number of comments I got or the type of comments, but I just came unglued & could not get out of there fast enough. Undid, backed out, canceled, stepped down, got refunded, you name it. Done, ended, over & out. In the space of a couple of hours you couldn’t even tell a group had ever been there.

I had wanted to charge a small fee. Mostly to cover the subscription cost for hosting the group. Money I don’t really have, but at the moment (maybe my early a.m. caffeine buzz speaking, I don’t know), it seemed like this would be a good thing for me & I’d be willing to put up the cost of the actual products I demonstrated. One of the comments I got was “Would we get to take home a loaf of bread for the 2 bucks?” and suggested I provide sandwiches or wine & cheese. At least, that was the way I read it. She told me later she was just offering “suggestions” for future meetings, but I read it as “if you have the gall to charge $2 I should be getting more for that than just your 30 years’ experience making bread plus the bread itself.” So of course I came unhinged.

Another comment: “Why don’t you do whole wheat because white bread destroys your teeth?”

Now I have to tell you, there is little that pisses me off more than hippie mythology (& I wouldn’t say that if I hadn’t been the world’s muddiest hippie at one point). For one thing, there is nothing about the effect of flour on one’s teeth that a toothbrush cannot solve. Whole wheat flour may have other benefits like the germ and the additional fiber, but it has all the ingredients necessary to make plaque, as does every carbohydrate. I just don’t believe in living a life where entire huge chunks of the food pyramid have to be deleted because of alarmist misconceptions.

Another person mentioned she had a wheat allergy. Now, why on earth would you sign up for a bread-making group if you had a wheat allergy? I couldn’t figure that one out, but apparently I was going to be expected to change the entire format of the group into gluten-free lest the wrath of the ADA descend on my head.

Pretty soon (like, 5 minutes later), I realized that running this group was going to be a minefield of food allergies & food religions, & I totally lost my appetite for doing it at all.  When we had gone on the hike, it was just simple & lovely. No one challenged me about a route they had never been on or argued the relative merits of one flower over another or made me feel like I was imposing anything toxic on anyone. I thought I could achieve the same thing with bread. Maybe I can, but not in the context of a nebulous power structure. When it comes to teaching, you have to respect that dynamic. It’s unequal, one person has more power, that’s just the way it is. Otherwise there would be no reason to have our collective panties in a wad over teachers who sleep with their students or sexual harassment in general. The power imbalance inherent in that relationship prohibits certain interactions (ideally, anyway) but facilitates others. It’s not so great in friendships, but it’s what makes teaching and therapeutic relationships possible.

So I have to wonder what I was really trying to accomplish. I wanted to be Divine Poobah of my bread baking group. Was that too much to ask? I mean, if I wanted to have a “bread discussion group” I would have billed it that way. People do take classes all the time, and in general one does not challenge the syllabus on the first day. This doesn’t make every teacher a control freak, it just means this is the most efficient way to impart certain types of information. Ideas, no. Bread, yes. Wait, I take that back. Even with the dialectic that leads to philosophical answers, someone has to be the Dialectic Monitor. Unless like Socrates you do this for a living and have all day to let people reinvent the wheel. This was bread. This is how I do it. I get amazing results, and I’m prepared to let you chop 29 years off your wheel-reinvention time. But No, offering the class and providing all the materials isn’t enough. We want wine and dinner and sandwiches AND we want to dictate what you are baking that day, and fuck your syllabus. We just want to be one big happy sweat lodge.

Jesus, what ever happened to gracious acceptance of gifts? I guess the “Giver” and the “Giv-ee” is just too hierarchical for some people. Everything has to be leveled lest God forbid one person has more experience than another. A throwback to the 60s when “the Man” or “the Machine” or any other manifestation of localized power was getting an incredibly bad rap. Even in classrooms.

Channeling Andy Sipowicz

People like blood. Maybe it’s the times. I read somewhere that mano-a-mano sports are more popular in times of economic recession. Every man is for himself, duking it out at work and with his checkbook, so that’s what we like to see when we, um, relax. I notice I get a lot more likes on this blog when I tear someone a new asshole. It’s true. I have the dubious talent of being able to tear new assholes with great style. For awhile I considered marketing it. You know, like “Rent-a-Thug,” except in writing. Hard to do for something I’m not passionate about, but as long as I can find a thread of greater good in there, I could probably deliver. I don’t know what effect it would have on my karma. I certainly wouldn’t want to get one of my letters.

But people like that behavior everywhere they see it. It’s probably why Dr. Laura was so popular. Not because she had any great wisdom, but because people were absolutely bloodied by conversations with her, & I have to admit, I listened in once in awhile because occasionally she did this to the right person. Judge Judy. All of them. It’s like going to a hockey game.

So pissed off about so many things am I that I thought about taking meds to fix it. Right after I considered making a living off it. Then I thought No, just like the woman with 17-stone legs or the artist with Tourette’s (I suppose it can be argued that everything every artist does is just a tic), anger is what makes deenibeeni deenibeeni. There has to be someone to yank the world out of its Ikea complacency. How boring would the world be if everything were hunky-dory & there were nothing to bitch about.

I’ve had it all my life. That anger. My first clear memory of it was being in my sister’s car when I was 3 (many clear memories of that age and younger). We were on our way to the drive-in to see some sword & sandals movie, which we did a lot of. I would go with her to the snack bar in my jammies & we would play frisbee with the the pizza plate. I was trying to explain how a certain song that was popular at the time (“killed on a motorcycle” ditty about someone named Johnny) made me think of, I don’t know, Jason & the Argonauts. She didn’t understand what I was saying (I don’t either at the moment, but at the time it made perfect sense) and I became enraged. At not being understood. This has become a running theme, and knowing the first instance of it hasn’t helped me figure out why I’m like that. I mean, people pay a lot of money for hypnosis or analysis or whatever, ostensibly because remembering an occasion like that will unlock your psyche in some deep way, but it never has for me. I guess I saved a lot of money, but in the end it was just another instance.

I do love Andy S. Just for a day I’d like to be able to do what I do in writing, in person, call some idiot a fucking mouth-breather. I don’t think I think that fast on my feet, though. I need lots of rewrites, during which I hone every sentence to draw maximum blood.

There’s a moment when you feel yourself crossing a line. It’s an actual physical feeling, what I call The Chill of Self-Betrayal, suddenly I feel cold & tight around my solar plexus. I don’t do it too often, but it’s something that runs in my family. One of my sisters could do it anytime, anywhere, to anyone. Reach into your psyche and pull out the thing that was holding up everything else and rub your face in it. Really deadly. She’d have these screaming rages where nothing was off-limits. I drove around with a 2-foot piece of pipe in my car, she was that scary. The last time I saw her she was sitting on a gurney in an ER with carbon all over her face, she had stolen my mom’s pain meds, swallowed most of them and rear-ended a cop car in the little Honda she had stolen from my other sister. You laugh, but welcome to my family of gesticulating Mediterraneans. Anyway. Man. One Thanksgiving after I started carrying the pipe my mother decided she just wasn’t going to be happy unless all 3 of us girls had dinner together. I remember watching my crazy sister while she did this strange little explosive dance all by herself in the dining room, unaware I was watching. That little performance became the inspiration for a presentation I gave to my Abnormal Psych class on bipolar disorder.

So it’s in my genes, in my jeans, in my spleen, whatever.

Anyway. Where was I. Oh yeah, crossing the line. I did it to my ex on a regular basis, but we did it to each other. Somehow the line got fainter & fainter & pretty soon it was godawful kitchen sink, & we even smacked each other a few times. He died now, you can imagine the mixed feelings–and they were mixed. Other than the fact that he was a brutalizing wack job, he was an incredibly loyal person. But pushing down the Chill of Self-Betrayal. Overriding it. If you do it often enough, it doesn’t prevent you from doing anything; just sits there, limp & inert & pathetic, like most people’s consciences.

Other people are spared this most of the time, but if it sings to me while I’m writing, gives the perfect shine to an otherwise dull ass-reaming, it’s in.

The Phone’s Off the Hook in Case No One Calls

So going a little further out along this “person who needs the least has all the power” twig, you might be tempted to pretend like you want less. Thinking that will get you some power, restore some balance. Trust me, it won’t. It might work in business or some other arena, where bluffing is a legitimate way to win, but not in love. Because you will know. Even if the other person doesn’t, you will.

Let’s say you try it. Let’s say you leave things as “Don’t call me, I’ll call you.” The reality is that you are going to be a) still waiting, no matter what you tell yourself, and b) afraid to call because, if your feelings haven’t changed, the moment the person turns you down in whatever way, the cruel facts of your ugly dynamic will immediately be apparent.  You will feel the chill of self-betrayal instantly & have to start all over again.

If you decide not to call, then don’t. Ever again. Your heart may not be in it at first, but this is how you start changing the dynamic in your relationship. Really changing it.  This is a lot easier said than done. It may never happen. Depressing, I know.

But you have to get the point where you really don’t care, the point where whether the phone is on or off the hook is of no consequence. Anything else is delusion.

This requires brutal honesty. With yourself. You have to get to the point where “will power” is not a factor, and if that day never arrives in this particular relationship, then you have to consider yourself finished with that person.

Will power. Now there’s a phrase. I once talked about this with someone I know, the one who cheats on her taxes & says she’ll have integrity when she gets more money. I was telling her about this approach because she was on the short end in a relationship. Why was I not surprised when her response was that she agreed and Yes, she was going to get to the point where restraining herself felt like second nature? I said No, you are missing the point, but I said it kind of weakly because this is a person whose ability to confront herself is not her forte. Who thinks “not wanting” and “acting like you don’t want” are the same exact thing. The latter may be the best one can accomplish, but if you think you can get to that stage and continue in a relationship with the need-ee, you are only fooling yourself.

Turn off the Frikking Lights

I’ve had it with people trying to turn the mountains into mini-Burbank.  When I first moved here 10 years ago, my street was so lovely & dark, you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face and the stars were brilliant & amazing. Now the lights on every street are so bright you can read by them. So for awhile I thought about starting some kind of campaign to have our Dark Sky Ordinance enforced. I posted on a local board, & here are some representative samples of what I got. There’s no escaping projection.

Idiot #1: I’m just curious…if your neighbor decided they didn’t like you having a dog in your yard, or say they didn’t like you playing music in your own yard, do they have a right to stop you? Are lights on your neighbors house any different? Please don’t attack me…I am asking a legitimate question. When do we get to tell our neighbor what they can or cannot do, and when are we just overstepping our bounds? We have a neighbor that leaves the lights on at his parking pad, when he is here. We have bears…he wants to see what he’s approaching. He’s been broken into and robbed. He wants to see who’s around his house. I understand. But those lights shine in my bedroom. My solution…curtains.

Me: “When do we get to tell our neighbor what they can or cannot do?” When there are laws against that behavior. If I exceed the limits imposed by the county noise ordinance, for example (45 dB at night, 55 during the day), then they have a right to complain about me. If allow my dogs to bark continually for hour after hour, then they can report me to Animal Control. But I don’t do any of those things, because I am a considerate neighbor. Part of that consideration is understanding that everyone gets to do things once in awhile. But you can’t keep doing things day in, day out, night after night, against which laws are in place for a reason.

There is a light ordinance in place. I’m not going to let my house become a curtained prison in which I am prevented from viewing at my leisure the main thing I came to the mountains for, just because some idiot is afraid of the dark. And I am within my legal rights to prevent it.

If someone moves to the mountains because they think it is Haus of Cuteness and then, once they get here, see that it is darker and scarier in some ways than the places they are used to, then they should 1) do what they can to assuage all their insecurities within the bounds of what the law allows, and if that doesn’t work, then 2) not let the door hit them in the ass.

Idiot #1: Do you do much viewing while you sleep? If you’re not sleeping, why does it matter if you see your neighbors lights?

In the evening, before I go to sleep, is when I do my star-gazing.

I agree that if there is an ordinance, it should be enforced. But it sounds like people want to accomplish more than just enforce the current laws. I’m asking where is that line drawn?

No, I don’t want to accomplish more. I want the current laws to be enforced, which are adequate. If they are enforced, and it still bothers me, then the door should not hit ME in the ass.

Idiot #1: BTW…you jumped to name calling pretty quickly. Idiot? Really? You’re an idiot if you don’t want to be startled by bears or intruders, both of which you have actually had at your home? I think you’re an idiot if you ignore these hazards!

Ok, “…because some incredibly frightened person is afraid of the dark.” But personally, I think he should have gotten over it by now. He can move next to a neighbor this sort of thing doesn’t bother and who won’t ask for the laws to be enforced, or he can leave the mountain, or he can work within the legal limits already in place. Those are the choices. Period. Hey, I’m just the messenger.

& BTW, I asked this guy twice, nicely & in person, to be more considerate with the multiple 100-watt floodlights. He completely blew me off, turned on the lights earlier & left them on longer, just to be an asshole.. Finally I called the sheriff, & that worked. He’s been turning them off before they go to bed. At least there’s that. But they are still too bright while they are on, & no, sleeping in the front of the house isn’t a possibility because there isn’t a room in the front of the house my bed will fit into, not to mention, I shouldn’t have to rearrange my entire life to accommodate some incredibly frightened person who is breaking the law.

I have lived here for 10 years, had bears and coyotes wander around the front my house, & it doesn’t bother me. As for intruders, I haven’t had one. But again: The point is that you can take care of these fears within the bounds of the law. There are no exemptions for “really scared” or “have been robbed before.” The laws were created with all this in mind. My problem is selective and non-enforcement of existing law.

Idiot #1: Gotten over it by now”?! Considering Dorner was just on all our proverbial doorsteps, I find this rather insensitive! My neighbors break-in was last summer. I know I’m not over that, let alone don’t expect him to be. But that aside…I doubt most people are even aware of the ordinance, so I think public awareness is a first step, and enforcement is the second. Personally, I have motion sensors outside, because then I know to pay attention if the lights come one.

My neighbor started doing this before Dorner was an issue. I have never seen a person so addicted to lights. But I get now that we are talking about you, not my neighbor. It doesn’t change anything. If someone wants to start a thread that says we need a new ordinance allowing all the lights to be twice as bright because of Dorner, they are welcome to do that. Yes, awareness is a first step.

Idiot #1: Ummm…no…we are not talking about me. We are talking about the valley as a whole. I already said that I agree a law in existence needs to be enforce. I apologize for derailing the conversation. Please resume on your original mission.

Idiot #2: It is reasonable to me that if you have light entering your bedroom late at night to glose the shades. I had a similar problem when I worked nights with daylight entering my room. I put tinfoil in the offending window. Guess I could have had the cops go after God.

You must be joking. If I were a day sleeper, I would totally agree. I would use shades rather than call the cops to force god to put the sun out. But this is at night, when it is supposed to be dark other than the natural light from the moon.So no, I shouldn’t have to use blackout shades to sleep at night, which will cause me to miss the moonlight, then wake up in pitch darkness and also miss the natural light coming from the sun.

I also think this and some other comments would be more appropriate if I were considering having a Dark Sky Ordinance implemented for the first time. Then we could have the argument over whether I have a right to have it dark when it’s dark and light when it’s light.

But we’re past that. There already IS an ordinance, and I already DO have that right, and the ordinance has been in place for almost a decade. Obviously it has been an important enough issue to enough people to have that county ordinance passed in the first place. So I’m not going to get hung up arguing about the merits of Shall we have it dark when it’s dark or light when it’s light? That question has already been answered by the ordinance itself. My only concern is that it is selectively enforced or not enforced at all–and I’m not talking about sheriffs driving around randomly busting people, I’m talking about responding to people making a specific request that an ordinance that is on the books be enforced.

I thought if there was enough support for some kind of presentation to whatever governing body would be able to deal with that, I would be willing to lead the charge. But I’m beginning to think it’s going to be every wo/man for him/herself. So I don’t know.

Show of Support #1: I think you have a valid concern. There is an ordinance. If there are lights in your immediate area that infringe on your rights under the ordinance, then I believe you should file your concern with the proper authorities. Do not allow any bullying from anyone deter you from doing so, if you feel that is what is right for you and your family.

Idiot #1: Bullying? What bullying? I posed a question. Consider it or ignore it. Your choice.

Now that we are crystal clear that I was not talking about you or your neighbor, I will say again: my neighbor is an idiot who, at 50-something, should have gotten over being afraid of the dark.

When I said “I get that we are talking about you” in a later post, it was because of your extreme reaction to that, which a person usually has when she feels it is she who is actually being talked about, not the person who is being named in the conversation. It’s called “projection,” and it’s when one ascribes one’s own feelings about something to another person and acts as though that person had said it, when it actually came from inside. (I’m being careful to say “one” here and not “you,” lest I hasten that process.) I think that if, inside, you did not feel like a bully, you wouldn’t have reacted so to [show of support #1]’s post.

I did feel attacked at moments during that exchange yesterday. I took it as good practice for the kind of stuff that was going to be thrown at me if I were to take this into a wider arena. But I also came away feeling I have to choose those types of battles wisely. I don’t have the energy to patiently explain the crux of the issue over & over again to the public at large. (For the record, here it is one last time: Selective enforcement, not “shall we have an ordinance.”) At least, not for an issue like this. I’ll do it to stop vivisection of lab animals or what have you, but it’s a waste of my energy to feel as I felt at the end of our exchange for an issue I can deal with in another way. I’d rather not set myself up to be caught in the crossfire between a lot of people and themselves. It’s just too painful for me personally. I don’t have the stoicism that politicians must have.

Show of Support #2: The dark is part of the beauty of our mountains. Our street has been adamant that we don’t want street lights and we have all put in motion-sensor lights. Living on a hillside, I setup my telescope out front. It takes but a second to turn-off my lights. Also, living on a hillside eliminates folks from looking in my bedroom windows. I don’t close the blinds because I like the dawn. A house across from me is often rented out and the renters often would have every exterior light on..all night. I’ve spoken to the owner and he does tell the folks to kill those lights but it doesn’t always work. This is Big Bear..we have blizzards, mountains,curvey roads, forests, wild animals, and beatiful dark skies. That is why I’m here…how about you?

Phoenix

I thought The Blair Witch Project was a terrifying film, but not for the reasons you might think. Josh is screaming at Heather to turn off the camera, furious because she just won’t stop filming.

Later he trains  the camera away on her to teach her a lesson, directing her.

“Okay, here’s your motivation: You’re lost! You’re angry in the woods! And no one is here to help you! There’s a fucking witch and she keeps leaving shit outside your door! There’s no one here to help you! She left little trinkets, you fucking took one of them! She ran after us! There’s no one here to help you. We walked for 15 hours today! We ended up in the same place! There’s no one here to help you. That’s your motivation! That’s your motivation!”

That was always a little too close. Too close years ago, when the movie first came out, because I had just lost the last member of my family and the silence was so overwhelming; too close now because it’s what I’ve (re-)learned in the past year. During this little crisis of mine, the one it looks like you’re all invited to. Maybe it always true, even before the Grim Reaper came to call; I don’t know. Maybe it was always an illusion that if anything bad ever happened, really bad, there would be phone calls & door knocks & emails. Because it did, & there weren’t. I walked 54 years and ended up in the same place, and there was no one here to help me. All those years I sang Lonesome Valley on the street, I thought there was some moment when one emerged, but the truth is, you are alone in your skin and no matter how close people seem to get, in the end anything but that solitude, the gap between electrons, is an illusion.

I remember the time right after my sister died. She couldn’t live without my mother, who had passed away 11 months before. I was getting acupuncture for something, I can’t even remember what. I told Dr. Ou I now had no father, no mother, no sister. She said “Now you’re free.”

Something is going on with me right now that might be the final snip that separates me from my past, to which I have clung for so long & tried to live & relive & relive again because…because why? the terror of the realization that there’s really no one there was just too much? So I tried to create this reality for myself, a life with family where there was none? family I tried to create from friends I dragged kicking & screaming to their roles?

That life is gone. When I look behind me, there’s just a smoking rubble where a life used to be. The thing that comes to mind is something from years ago, when I lived in an area where there had been a devastating fire; I remember how healing it was to learn that one of the effects of the fire was that seeds–possibly decades old–had been scorched by the fire & sprung to life like popcorn & the following year, when everyone really needed it, the area that had burned was now covered in wildflowers.

I’ve clung to the past because it was so comfortable and the future so terrifying (present even more so, I suppose). Used it to try to keep my loved ones alive, to escape putting one foot in front of the other. Been terrified to leave a house that’s gotten more & more toxic until it’s finally caught fire like a fracked faucet & still I’ve been crouched in the corner terrified to leave.

What is that secret other people have, people who have made lives on foundations that have gotten bigger, added on rooms, windows, paths, patios, garages? Instead of sitting in one room that has gotten closer & more crowded & harder to move around in. A strange kind of psychic agoraphobia. Physically I’m outdoors all the time, & I do walk among the living, but psychically I never go outdoors & maybe never have. No wonder the hermit down the street bugs the shit out of me.

As with all dreams, all the characters are me. The house, the prisoner, and the firebug, who is the Witness, the Deepest Self, the True Voice. The psyche resorting to extreme measures to get someone off the proverbial ledge. In the end, we save our own lives.

So I decided to go outside today. Outdoors in my life, in my mind. This is a big deal for me. I’m going to look back on this period and recognize it as the time I went outside, maybe for the first time. Did you hear the one about the dyslexic agnostic insomniac who lies awake at night wondering if there really is a dog? I’m going to do it, step by step, in this blog, in front of Dog & everybody.

What Happens on LSD and Nitrous

What happens indeed. This was back in my college days at UCLA in the 70s, when everyone was a pharmacology major. I loved LSD, I really did. I love it to this day. I don’t do it anymore, but it’s the kind of experience that, done right, you don’t need much of. It’s like Kesey said (I think), it’s a door, but it’s not a revolving door. You go through and you stay there. If you find yourself Evel Knieveling for the next great experience, something is wrong.

Back in those days we were lucky enough to have a great connection to someone who manufactured very pure stuff that would come to us as liquid made the day before, not some icky back-pocket blotter that sends you on a clenchy, paranoid trip that feels like an old stepped-on newspaper.  The experiences, I tell you, were at once unfathomable, tortuous, pure, exhilarating, inspiring, exhausting, but of course all language pales next to the experience, because you are trying to use language to describe a different universe, one where language is primitive, ancestral; a throwback.

The first time I did acid I became a puddle of protoplasm sitting in the back of Ron’s VW bus (with Ron, stoned but experienced, driving us to Santa Barbara), synesthetically reading Sylvia Plath with every poem having taken on color and texture. We went to the beach, & the patterns the water made on the sand as it slid away from me are the patterns it still makes. We used to laugh at the fear-mongering “flashback” rhetoric.

On one particular occasion I died, or came pretty close. We had gotten a tank of nitrous oxide from someone who worked for a dentist, but stupid us, we inhaled it without the benefit of any attached oxygen & so watched in acidified stupor while each others’ lips turned blue (after that, we swore we would have a tank monitor). I was already flying on acid but the nitrous gave me this powerful feeling of acceleration downward, like flying low into something.

I always wondered about that. About how the body and the way it is organized has dictated the priorities we place on certain things. Like our eyes are at the top and look out, so we are quite familiar with the 135 degrees or so in front of us. Is this what makes us such persistent planners? makes us so addicted to the future? If our eyes had evolved to be located behind us would we not give a shit about tomorrow? If our eyes were at the bottoms of our butt cheeks or the insides of our thighs, would introspection be a more natural state of being? Who knows.

Anyway, that feeling of going down down down was close to flying fish dreams, the ones where you skim like a barracuda and can breathe. Suddenly I was in space. I don’t know what kind of space, just space. I was accompanied by two entities. I’m certain it was two. We were communicating. They communicated to me that the universe as we knew it was a sad experiment, the technological equivalent of a coat-hanger on a Philco. It hadn’t really gone anywhere great, so they were going to call erasies and start over. I was offered the chance to let go of something and to go with them. It was delicious, sweet, warm; a psychic Cinnabon. I felt the thread to my earthly existence strongly. I felt I could not let go of it just yet and this was communicated to them. I felt myself moving 3-space-ward until I was hovering at the ceiling of the little apartment on Stoner Avenue (you can imagine how much we loved having that address), watching my lifeless self and my stoned companions trying to get some kind of response. My consciousness was about 10% in my body, 90% at the ceiling. I tried to move a finger. My consciousness reentered by body gradually, like a curl of smoke. I woke up. I have not feared dying since that day. The experience imprinted me permanently, changed the way I see everything.  Also made me sort of homesick for a place I’ve never been.

Well.

Furthur.

The Day the Earth Stood Still

I’ve lived here for almost a decade. When I first got here I liked to say I was going to be carried out feet first, more a statement of how tired I was of having all my addresses written in pencil in address books everywhere. How tired I was of moving. Of feeling that the next place would be different.

For awhile it was different. I loved it, then I hated it, then I loved it, then I hated it again. Now I can’t move because my relationship to my house is something like the hostage syndrome. I’ve taken too much care of it for too long, and now I simply can’t kill it.

Or I don’t know. Maybe it has taken care of me for all this time & it can’t kill me. The roles depend on the day.

I tend to get attached to inanimate objects.  I really must stop naming everything.

When I first moved in, the place felt pretty rural. I mean, I live in a neighborhood, but most of the houses around me are empty most of the time (vacation homes), and there are only a few of what we call “full-timers” on my street. There was lots of empty forest. It was so dark that you could walk down the street and quite literally not see your hand in front of your face. The stars were a glittering crust on the black sky.

Then the housing boom came. The place was overbuilt. The guy who owned a lot across the street decided to build on it. And build he did. Not a little cabin, but an obscene tumor of a dwelling that has become a blight on the entire neighborhood. Because not only did he light up every square inch of the place in a way that makes standing in my front yard at night feel like you are in a police interrogation, quite soon afterward he realized he couldn’t afford it after all and rented it out to one set of derelicts after another, including an actual drug rehab place where the inhabitants were drunk at 10 in the morning and ambulances were constantly screaming in and out.

I could dwell on the details, but the biggest lesson I got from this is that, thinking back to the day I saw the owner & his son come up to look at where they were going to build this monstrosity, I realize that is the day I should have stuck a For Sale sign in the ground. Unfortunately that was during my first “love my house” phase and it seemed unthinkable. Did I think I could deal with it? Did I think would get used to it? I don’t even know any more, but I do know that I was waiting for something. Waiting for something to change. I’m not sure what, exactly, but I’m certain that in my heart of hearts I thought something would be different, would go back to the way it was. This was not something I could have articulated at the time. I wish I’d had the presence to take that line of thinking apart a little more.

Only two things could possibly have changed: me or the house. I know myself. Everything bugs me, so I’m fairly certain I didn’t think it would be me. I worried out the window while they broke ground. My stomach clenched into a knot that has never subsided. I suppose this all must point back to my lack of realization at the time that things are permanent. Unless I torched the place, that house wasn’t going anywhere. But on some deep level I must have thought it was just some kind of trial run, like the way I used to picture all of humanity & creation as some kind of weird chemistry experiment on the part of the godhead, whatever that entity was. Otherwise I would have moved. Been up & out before they even finished the place. I must have thought waiting would accomplish something, but it accomplished nothing. The lesson? Things either stay the same or get worse.

It’s probably not news to people older than I, but I think when you reach your 50s you start to realize, & not just in an intellectual way, that This Is Not a Rehearsal. I’ve lived my life as though it were. As though I had endless amounts of time to try everything I was interested in, which is, unfortunately, everything. Even worse: I was good at almost all of them. Just stating a fact. I’ve always been so envious of those child prodigies who were good at only one thing and knew from day one that that thing was what they would do forever. Not I. I dabbled endlessly thinking one thing would sweep me off my feet, but it really never did. I wanted the romance of work I loved, but I did not find that. Anyway, this is the decade when all the dabbling came to an end, because I finally realized that I was running out of time, this wasn’t Groundhog Day, that house wasn’t going anywhere.

So. I’m back to my original choices, which are 1) to change the only thing I can:  me; or 2) to wait for everything around me to.

You’ll be happy to know that between the time I started this post and now, I stuck a For Sale sign in the front yard.

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