Archive for February, 2015

Another Gulliver photo

February 28, 2015

Gulliver Cabins0001

Bunks 8 & 9 at Camp Gulliver


Up on the roof

February 19, 2015

I went up to my study a few minutes ago and I saw something moving on the roof next door.  A snow rake?  From someone up on a ladder?  Bob does that from time to time.

This time Bob was up on the top roof himself, removing snow from up there while walking on the surface.  I couldn’t watch, I came downstairs.  A neighbor further down the street died after a fall from a ladder at his home.  It happens, even if it doesn’t happen often.

Whenever I see people walking a high roof (usually they are professional roofers on a dry roof in good weather), I have a sense that there’s a lesson in there for me, especially in my aversion to watching (even professional roofers).  It’s something like, “Well, that’s what you do (or did) and it was hard to watch you, too.”

And then I draw a blank about what that could be and usually end up doubting the entire messaging incident itself.  But these incidents come up fairly often, so I conclude that I haven’t yet understood something yet that would be helpful for me to understand.

The only thing that I can come up with is that I have gone in and looked at the world through the perspective of narcissists who have a severely underdeveloped capacity for connecting their conscious self with their subconscious self, and maintained (not without a struggle) my own bearing that this is just their point of view and that i [this is what I typed without realizing it, and I’m going to leave it] have been able to step out of it ultimately.  Maybe “the fall” would have been to have become completely swept up in it and forgotten my own perspective or not been able to get back to experiencing the world from it — I am certainly aware that those are hazards.  In fact some of them happened to me as a child and did not become fully resolved until I was in my early forties.  Perhaps experiencing that journey was the hazard, perhaps it was not a foregone conclusion that I would ever emerge and come back to my own worldview.

And what would have been the point of such a journey?  I don’t think I in particular did it because I had a personal desire to do it.  Maybe it provided something needed by the people whose point of view I looked out through temporarily, I guess they would be in a better position to speak to that.  Or maybe the point of the exercise can only be understood from a loftier perch with a bird’s eye view, I don’t know.  I do know that i am more comfortable in my own skin, even if it has its drawbacks.  Maybe that is the task the narcissists I have interacted with are working on, maybe I have merely mirrored their own task.  (It’s a tough one.)  Maybe that’s what this has been all about.

Adulation, love, and nurturing a child

February 15, 2015

I was interested in a comment David Brooks made on the PBS NewsHour the other evening, on the topic of Brian Williams and the futile pursuit of fulfillment through obtaining adulation.

Adulation may be a form of love, both as it is produced and as it is received, but I don’t think it includes a reciprocal vector of love in return — although I am not sure how public figures feel about their audiences, for all I know they do produce love in our direction.  I thought the issue bore some consideration because I think feeling fulfilled in love has a lot to do with the love one is giving out.  Certainly it is pleasant to be loved, but to love another, to produce an outflow of love, I think actually settles one’s yearning more.  And I don’t mean because it could be judged “morally superior” to love another, rather than to seek love, I think it is more fundamental than that, kind of like a “physics of love.”  Loving someone else is satisfying.

My example is the need I had to nurture a child.  I had always wanted to be a mother, to have a baby, and when events made that unlikely, we adopted.  I really didn’t think about whether the child would love me back, I just had all this maternal energy that needed to be gainfully employed, kind of like the breast milk that comes in after a birth even when the child dies.

Some self-help organizations also advocate service as a component of improving emotional outlook and contentment; kind of like priming a pump, it produces flow in a direction that seems to be needed, they seem to have found.

So I can imagine that adulation could be unsatisfying if it does not include a component of love in the other direction.  Not that public figures, unlike God, can be expected to love millions of individuals, but maybe that speaks to whether adulating other human beings is beneficial to anyone in the long run.

Blizzards on top of blizzards

February 13, 2015

My back roof has been cleaned off of its ice and snow.  I’m not sure how Joe (my contractor) did it, but it involved a tall ladder, an ax, and a snow rake.  The ice dams and the interior leaks they produced are gone (for now).  The flat roof of the front porch Joe shoveled the other day.  So the house is sort of ready for this next onslaught of snow this weekend.

What I am wondering about at this point is the effect of the wind on the piles of snow.  If the high winds that they are predicting sweep the powdery snow in the huge mounds of shoveled snow back onto the walkways, steps, and driveways, that’s going to feel like a Sisyphean task to remove it.

My mother brought up Sisyphus when I was called upon to empty her apartment immediately after (barely) unpacking her into it (there were cartons to be put into storage still in the middle of her living room), while she was in the nursing center.

Call me Sisyphus, not Ishmael, I guess.  Maybe that’s the current theme of my life.  It’s certainly a vehicle for learning to stay in the moment and to perform the task with less regard for achieving a personally satisfying objective.

There’s (always) something wrong

February 13, 2015

I’ve probably written about this before, but I have been thinking about it recently, in part because of the challenges our weather in the Boston area has been bringing.

The difficulties are real, from finding parking at the supermarket because of the snow piles to water damage in the house from ice dams to delays in transportation and communication and to just being able to get stuff done.

So I try to see these difficulties objectively, and when I find part of my mind wanting to see them as more existentially threatening than they are, I start wondering what lies behind that.

For me, it’s the legacy of the Holocaust as my family of origin seemed to process (or not process) it.  “There is always something terribly wrong, threatening, and dangerous, perhaps it is obvious, perhaps it is lurking in the shadows,” was the message.  I think that fundamental attitude results in that part of me trying to tie any new challenge to existential issues.

I didn’t see things this way until I heard of a similar issue in another context.  It was about families struggling with a member’s alcoholism who are pressured to subscribe to the idea that no one can be happy until the alcoholic is happy.  Something like that.  Anyway, it got me thinking about family habits of mind about how to handle the very real suffering of some members.  Putting everyone in an emotional prison does not seem to be a helpful answer to the suffering or to the needs of the others.

The Holocaust issue in my family included the more obvious factors, but it also included a sense of betrayal, and not just by gentiles.  My dad never got over his sense that the rabbis, at the very least, let down their communities, by not adequately reading the writing on the wall and guiding their congregants to plan and take steps while there was still time.  So I grew up with a sense that it could be around the next corner again, something that we are not prepared for and is an existential threat.

I’ve had many personal losses that came quickly and as a shock to me, that were surprising and devastating on that account as well as in their own right.  Some of them also involved people who in the structure of the situation would be thought to know better but dismissed my concerns.  Ultimately what I took from this is that the universe will guide me through these experiences, I may get dinged up, or worse, but if I open myself to the universe, I get through (and I learn, as a consequence, how to mesh with the universe in a way I probably wouldn’t otherwise).  A lot of it for me is learning compassionate detachment and a lot of it is learning to reframe.

On the reframing front, since I wrote my fairly recent post about lava, it occurred to me that my struggle with feeling slimed by others dumping their stuff on me and my having to process it (kind of like cleaning up somebody else’s mess) could be reframed so that I take such episodes as indications that I am doing my job and things are going well — if water ends up in my “sump hole,” so to speak and my pump is working, maybe this is evidence that things are in order, not that something is amiss.  If I take it that way, that I am just doing my part, and being given opportunities to do so, my resistance diminishes; it has seemed to me that resistance usually is a large part of the problem, even if the underlying situation is painful and unpleasant and I don’t like it in some way.

I don’t see who it serves, even the innocent who have been slaughtered, if the living are paralyzed and miserable, or angry and belligerent, or bitter and ego-centric, or anything else that cuts us off from the universe and each other — I don’t think that can be the response to which we are called.

Ice dams and porch roofs

February 10, 2015

This is probably the fourth time we’ve had ice dam problems in the house.  Water was streaming inside Jordan’s back window between the sashes, water was dripping on the first floor through the ceiling near the back door, the upstairs bathroom window had a persistent drip — these were the most egregious symptoms (although the water damage to the kitchen ceiling is pretty outstanding, too).  After more than 24 hours of this, I texted Joe, our contractor, in part because I was going to have to get up during the night even more frequently than the previous night to empty the collection containers and in part because of the coincidence of the leaks with the new storm windows he installed this fall — previous ice dam damage had been elsewhere in the house.  It was late, he said he’d be over in the morning.

Joe and Nick showed up while I was still shoveling this morning.  Long story short, they came back in the afternoon with a snow rake, and removed snow from the first floor roof in the back of the house, below the dormer.  Now, it was pretty clear that the water was coming in from the dormer roof above the second-floor windows, but Joe’s ladder was under 5 feet of snow, so he started working on what he could reach from the ground.

And the drips have slowed considerably.  Maybe the water now has a way down on the exterior of the house.

Joe also shoveled off the snow on the second-floor porch.  The snow on it was pretty high, but the snow on the porches across the street is higher — above the railings.  Mine apparently benefited from favorable winds and maybe the way my house is kind of set back and nestled between two other houses at a slight curve in the road.

So we are good to go — to sleep without frequent interruptions.  So I can, in turn, bring the car in for service tomorrow — the windshield-wiper fluid isn’t coming out, even though the tank is full and cleaning out the jets with a pin hasn’t helped.  I guess “it’s always something” during the winter, but when there’s progress on the previous issues, at least it feels more like a hurdles race than a slog.


February 7, 2015

The red bar on the heating oil tank gauge is at the bottom.  We had been on the home heating oil company’s automated routine delivery list for today.  (I had been told that earlier in the week.)  At noon, I called, since there had been no delivery.  I got a maybe yes, maybe no sort of answer, “You’re one of many.”

We’ve been with this oil company for years, probably twenty.  They used to say customers would never run out, that they’d give you a free tank if you did, they were that sure that you wouldn’t and they put that much emphasis on customer service.

Now they say, “We took on a lot of new business recently and we can’t keep up.  Your pipes won’t start freezing for 8 to 10 hours after your heat stops running.”

I signed us up on the emergency list, which should get us a small amount of “fluid” to tide us over until they bring the full amount.   We’ll see what happens.

This is what we get from systems and norms we as a society accept, if not embrace.  I see contributing factors from capitalism, greed, inadequate conscientiousness, insufficient ability to think ahead, and just not thinking about others to whom commitments have already been made and who are depending on those commitments.

It could be worse.  I have no babies here or elderly ill adults (as they have across the street), it’s just Jordan and myself.  But it does impact my peace of mind, my trust in others, and my sense that if I do my part (pay my oil bills and keep my walkway clear), they will do theirs and all will go smoothly.  And it could lead to damage (to house, to health, to my ability to get done what I need to get done later today).  As it is, they questioned whether I was opening the door more or something, to require more heating;  not only am I not, but, as I pointed out to the fellow, our energy consumption should actually be lower because we had six new storm windows installed this summer.

So much for good will, customer service, and the market.

Update:  We received oil late this afternoon.  While the emergency technician was preparing to hand-carry five-gallon vessels of oil from his van to pour into the tank, the company called my house to say the delivery truck would make it today after all.  I put the technician on the phone, he was relieved, as he had been trying to contact his company, and I was fine with waiting for the substantial delivery, so long as I was being told it really would come.  And it did come, about an hour later, around 4 o’clock.  The technician had told me to make sure the furnace was running while the oil was being delivered (by increasing the thermostat setting), to make sure the furnace didn’t need to be primed.


February 7, 2015

While I was helping my mother unpack into her apartment in November, we came across some pieces of lava, probably souvenirs from a vacation trip abroad.  My mother didn’t want to keep them.

I was thinking about them this morning.  I was thinking about a spiritual practice Gita was encouraging me in some time ago, to connect deep within in the direction of the earth.  I think it’s harder to conceptualize infinity in that direction, but, analogous to the idea of physics on a level of particles and strings and such, I think it’s possible.  This is in contrast with prayer connecting me upwards and outwards to the cosmos.

When I connect inwards and in the direction of the earth and its molten core, I tend towards conceptualizing in imagery of soothing reddish-brown substances welling up within me.  When I pray up and out, I usually end up with light or water images.

Anyway, it occurred to me this morning that lava can be so porous and yet it is a rock of sorts.  Can I use this combination to help me feel well-dressed to deal with other people?  I am protected by something hard and yet it is a porous substance allowing for exchange of some sorts of things.

I don’t know, but I find a theme of my life is looking for a way to interact, as myself, with others and without becoming too damaged by the interaction.  I don’t see sealing myself off, I prefer not to withdraw from interaction, but I am as porous as the day is long and I don’t think I am supposed to change that or to incur crippling damage either.  So I am always open to figuring out a way to feel protected and porous at the same time.  And while I can “turn over” to the universe particular difficult situations and interactions, and I do, I feel that I need to improve my overall posture so that I have a more continuous, baseline sense of well-being.

One practice is to let incoming assaults pass through me instead of engaging with them.  I can feel them become diluted and dissipate through my connection upwards and outwards, as clean energy mixes with such incursions.  But that does not speak to my sense of being a sitting duck sometimes for material from others I don’t want to deal with, especially stuff they should be addressing to forces greater than ourselves, not to other human beings.  In this category lies huge anxiety and distress and a sense that everything is terrible — I have people who try to interact with me who have more of those than I can process comfortably, and my posture is that they should stop trying to get me to process it on their behalf.  But they continue, I suspect because we have an instinct to survive that does not always get channeled in constructive ways.  And so I look for what I can do at my end to maintain my equanimity while they do, because it takes a lot of time and energy of my own to clean myself up after being slimed by such incursions.

I think lava may be a helpful concept for me to do that.  I think it can help me feel strong and soothed and protected and porous.  Hardened it is brittle, molten it is suffocating (I think), but like light being both wave and particle in some way (again, my caution that I may be misunderstanding the science), I think it is possible in some way to think of lava as both protective and porous, flexible and brittle.  If lava can participate in all of these characteristics over time, then I am hopeful that on a spiritual plane, without the constraint of time, I can participate in those characteristics simultaneously.  Surely one of our human difficulties is holding paradoxical ideas in our limited heads — doesn’t mean that such paradoxes cannot be understood in other ways.