It’s Easy to Miss the Inspiration Around You

A few weeks ago, I went to see Kitty Dukakis discuss her book, Shock, about how electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) saved and continues to save her from debilitating depression. For any young ones out there, she is the wife of former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, (1975 to 1979 and 1983 to 1991). He was the governor when I first came to Boston in 1983, so I feel a nostalgic connection to them both. I was devastated when his bid for the White House in 1988 went down in flames, and George Bush, elder, won. Of course, time and perspective are everything, and I would not consider Bush that bad a thing right now.

But that’s a different post.

I thought it would be interesting, but I wasn’t dying to attend. A friend invited me, and at the last-minute he got stuck at work and couldn’t go. He asked me to go anyway and tell him about it. I’d had a hectic day myself, and I was tempted to go home to a cocoon of wine and binge watching “Will and Grace” reruns. But I didn’t want to disappoint him, so I decided to go, even though I left with just enough time to get there at the start, if nothing went wrong with the train.

Like that strategy ever worked.

I got a seat on the train and checked my watch — there was a good possibility I’d make it, so I turned contentedly to my book and settled in. Not long after, however, the lack of movement started to seep into my peripheral consciousness. I looked up and could see we were stuck in between stops. I wasn’t worried yet, as I knew this line often stopped briefly.

“Attention passengers, we’re standing by because of traffic ahead.” Actually it sounded more like, “crackle, hiss, pop, crackle standing pop, hiss, crackle, traffic crackle, hiss, pop, crackle.” But I’m fairly fluent in Boston subway speak, so I got it that we weren’t moving anytime soon.

Crap. Deep breath. Maybe it wouldn’t be too long. But we continued to stand still, and with each minute ticking away, I added a minute onto my arrival time. I began to hear the siren call of  wine and “Will and Grace” again. What’s the point of going if I’m going to miss half of it? I’d like to say that I put my big girl pants on and stayed the course. I did stay the course; however, it was more because waiting on the train was less work than figuring out how to get home from the line I was riding without having to backtrack or get out and walk to a different line.

Finally we lurched forward and moved along, and to my surprise, I was only 10 minutes late. Kitty was talking about her book, while I found a single seat in the filled up room. And in the next 50 minutes I was unexpectedly moved and inspired.

Kitty is turning 80 next month and he’s 84, but you’d never know it. In addition to writing two books and working on a third, she is also a tireless advocate for demystifying and destigmatizing ECT. She says most people equate it with electric shock in the 1975 movie, “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” While she doesn’t deny it was used indiscriminately back then, in the past 40 years, the treatment has been refined and targeted to the point where Kitty goes in every 5-6 weeks for a maintenance 15-minute treatment. She discovered the hard way that if she stops, her depression comes back just as deep and devastating as ever. She and Mike run an ECT support group in their home, and welcome people who have had ECT treatment and those who are thinking of having it. It’s usually a last resort for deep depression that won’t respond to other types of treatment.

Kitty’s passion for helping people navigate ECT came through clearly, and I was happy to see Michael there too. I had a moment of “it’s cool being in the same room with well-known people” feeling. I don’t really know what I was expecting, but I did not expect the amount of tenderness and respect that passed between them. She’d turn to him to help her find a word or remember a fact, and he did the same with her. They finished each other’s sentences. All this with the back drop of what they had both suffered, mostly in the public eye, due to her alcohol addiction. Before she received ECT, it was the only way she could blot out the depression. When he described coming home one day and finding her passed out from alcohol on the floor, I welled up. He said he was at heart an optimistic person and kept hoping each treatment they tried would be the one. She experienced this depression for 17 years. That is some kind of badass optimism.

He said that he is still an optimistic person, even now, in our current political climate. “We’ve been through worse, and we’ll get through this.” Hearing an elder politician who’s been around the block or two and is still so clearly committed to service to others made me believe he could be right.

And he is committed. He is just as passionate about ECT as Kitty. You could see how disturbed he was when he noted that 20 military vets commit suicide a day, many with depression. He and Kitty have been working with the VA to offer ECT as a treatment option, and they are very close to setting up a pilot in Massachusetts that they hope could be a model for the rest of the country. During Michael’s 1988 presidential campaign he was made fun of because he still had a 20-year old snowblower that he used himself, he took the train to work as governor, and to this day he can be spotted in his neighborhood picking up trash. These may have played some part in his failure to reach the White House, but from where I sat, they were hallmarks of a life lived with intention.

Being in their presence was very powerful:  in their 80s, over coming alcoholism, depression, bitter political defeat. And still passionately working together to make things better for others, both one-on-one and on a bigger scale. Thank you to both of them for reminding me that we have been through worse, and we will get through this. And the way to do to it is head down, doing what you can small and large every day that makes a difference for someone. Some days you have to get off the delayed train to wine and Will and Grace. But when you can, it’s better to stay on the train and make use of where it leads you.

Visit Kitty’s educational ECT website to learn more.

Hope Is a Thing with Feathers

Or at least hope is a thing, my apologies to Emily Dickinson. I’d been running low and trying not to get too freaked out about it. Why am I so tired and drained? Why do I just want to go home and watch old reruns of “Will and Grace”? What is wrong with me? It can’t possibly be because I had a hectic summer launching the kid to college and then I moved myself. That’s ridiculous. I’m waaaaaay stronger, tougher, and more resilient than that. Ha!

I crack myself up sometimes.

Anyway, newsflash genius. Yes, that’s why. And being tired and drained leaves you more vulnerable to things like, say, Cheeto Flea antics. And that stranger on the subway who you are certain is giving you the stinkeye. They are definitely not having their own moment of “Why the hell do I just want to go home and watch ‘Will and Grace’ reruns?”.  That’s reserved for yours truly.

But then the feathered thing landed. My new neighborhood. It’s a real neighborhood, in a way I haven’t experienced since I left a similar place in 2001. Now that says more about me than the places I’ve been in the last 16 years. I witnessed plenty of people being neighborly, and I had my moments of neighborliness, and I learned a lot, but it never felt quite like home.

But this new place does. When I walk down the main street to do my errands, in less than I mile I have witnessed a man opening a door for a woman with a baby carriage and he wasn’t even going into the store. Three women chatting over the library books one had just taken out, any number of people in twos and threes standing on the sidewalk chatting like it’s Sesame Street. The guy in the minimart/liquor store around the corner from my house didn’t care that I went in there and bought 1 banana. Just 1. The helpful guy in the hardware store apologized because the bolts I bought weren’t as shiny as the sample I had. He gave me a discount.

What fresh heaven is this? Let’s be clear. This is not in the Midwest, where I’m led to believe this happens all the time. I’ve walked in a shopping mall in Iowa, and everyone said hi to me and it freaked me out. If I don’t know you, I’m good without a greeting. Don’t they get tired putting out all that friendliness?

No, this is appropriate friendliness. People who know each other are chatting (and not engaging me needlessly), and people in the stores are giving great customer service, and strangers are showing kindness and courtesy by opening doors for each other.

Relax, this is still Boston — in the morning, the road rage honking surpasses my old neighborhood, which is saying something. But I don’t have to drive to work, so I don’t care. And it helps me know this is real. Because I’m still pinching myself.

Cheeto Flea is running amok. The shootings continue unfettered with the NRA still saying more guns will solve the problem. Hate groups are oozing out of the woodwork like cockroaches coming out on a crumb-filled night.

But I’ve found a little piece of hope, civility, and poetry to keep moving forward. And a shout out to my friend Becky whose love for Emily Dickinson made me pay more attention to her poetry than I would have.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

 

 

 

Beauty’s Where You Find It

I’ve missed posting for a couple of weeks, and I fell into the trap of wanting to write a really good post to make up for it, or at least something that makes sense. Between work and life stuff, I’m a little low on the “really good post” tank, and I admit the 45 nonsense has been wearing me down. My good friend and talented blogger at the Creative Part-Timer  put it perfectly: It never ends with that rotting orange peel for a minute. A better time ain’t coming, so I decided something is better than nothing, at least for me. I hope for you too.

So here are some random snippets of my scattered brain:

I saw this scene during the summer after work, walking from the train to my car. A perfectly human moment. Not a Muslim, Christian, Black, Brown, White, or Purple moment. A human moment of a mother and daughter picking flowers together.

humanmoment

I’ve heard that emphasis on being human (as opposed to its many subcategories) a few times in the past several weeks, and it’s starting to resonate. One was a conversation between Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle. They were talking about how to deal with all the polarization. Deepak was pretty human, admitting he does a lot of social media and gets caught up in emotion of it. He talked about even a post saying “It would be great if we could all live in peace” gets you haters. That was actually kind of comforting — even Deepak is struggling! Eckhart was more removed, but still practical and helpful. He talked about how your identity is separate from your viewpoints and perspective. If it’s not, then it’s your ego having a big ole party and wanting to go into any situation swinging.

OK, that last part was me, not him, but if he weren’t so organized and German, he might have said it. Don’t confuse who you are with your perspective. If you can do that, then you can create some space between who you are at a deeper level and your viewpoint. And once you do that, rather than sputter and try to defend yourself, you can really just listen and recognize the space in another. Then you see them as a human, not a fill-in-the-blank subcategory. It’s a straightforward idea that will take me a while, maybe years, to fully digest, never mind practice. But I like that task better than fretting over the Rotten Orange Peel’s newest ego party starter.

I am such a light user of social media, it’s a wonder I find anything useful, but I recently I stumbled on this very interesting TED talk by Theo EJ Wilson,  a police brutality survivor. He is clear and pointed and adds touches of humor. The caption provocatively says, “A Black man goes under cover in the alt-right.” And yes, he does go undercover via the internet, but it’s what he uncovers there that is interesting. As part of going undercover as a white supremacist lurker, he learned to separate himself from his views and finds the space to listen (refer back to the above paragraph with Deepak and Eckhart).

As he engages with this group, he finds they tend to be “regular Joes,” and he starts to hear a common theme: They want to know why they are being hated for being who they can’t help be — white men. Despite everything else they say, Theo finds himself in the awkward position of understanding that feeling and is surprised by his “unexpected compassion.” Not enough to offer olive branches to people who would prefer he didn’t exist, but enough to understand how they got to where they are.

And that leads him to a few insights that resonated with me, and like Deepak’s and Eckhart’s simple statement about separating self and perspective, will take me some time to unpack.

This one is hard, but felt true to me: Part of the rise of the alt-right can be traced to “the left-wing’s wholesale demonization of everything white and male.” Then he jokes, “If you’re a pale-skinned, penis-haver, you’re in league with Satan. Can you believe some people find that offensive?” I would add “straight, white, male,” and I have done this demonization myself — condemning a whole group based on the bad behavior of a few.

He also talks about how text books are filled with Cliff Notes versions of our dark historical past, which “severely decontexualizes race and the anger associated with it.” I’m sure there are entire theses written about this, or should be.

These were two new thoughts to me that I feel called to spend more time with. If they seem like hogwash to you, please feel free to move on — I’m not really into debating ideas. Remember, I’m still sorting out how to separate myself from my viewpoints, and I’m trying figure out how to update my viewpoints. So I’m not even a JV debater at this point.

Lordy I need a nap. I often feel overwhelmed by all the things I feel I need to understand better in this new world of the Rotting Orange Peel, so this is my way of looking down that long, long road and taking a small step. Find a spot of beauty, learn something uncomfortable, take a nap.  Repeat. Sounds like a plan.

Leave the Curtain Rods

Well, I did it. I’m moved, and the unpacking is down to a dull roar. My new place is fantastic. You know what else I did? I left the curtain rods, which I’ve done for pretty much every place I’ve moved. And you know what? There are never any curtain rods where I’ve moved to. For the record, my current place gets a pass because it has fancy wood blinds. But why? Why do people take their rods? What exactly do you think you can use them for? This is Boston/New England and most windows are 50 to 100 years old, and no two windows are the same. If you’re lucky, you may get to use one or two of your current rods, but you will still need to buy new ones. Trust me. And if you are moving to one of those fancy, new deluxe apartments in the sky that have been popping up all over Boston, you ain’t need any curtains up that high, sweetheart.

As I was taking down the curtains in my old place, and leaving the rods, thankyouverymuch, I remembered how I bought them for the whole place, and all of the windows were nonstandard. There was an absurdly long front picture window, a wide kitchen window, and the teeniest, tiniest bedroom window that couldn’t even accommodate a window fan. There were more normal double French doors, but I had to position the rod carefully because of the way the doors opened to make sure I didn’t get trapped by the curtain.

And anyway, those badly fitting rods you take with you won’t help you after a long day of moving, as night starts to fall and the clear, uncovered windows mock your false sense of privacy.

Have mercy and leave me something I can put my old curtains on or at least a towel or old blanket for a night or two.

And I don’t care if the rods are cheap. I will swap them later if I care that much (I won’t). If fancy window “treatments” get negotiated and left behind as part of a house sale, you can leave your stinking rods behind in a rental apartment.

Now perhaps some people leave them like I do, and the landlords throw them away, if they feel moved to paint. But I say unto you, landlord: leave the curtain rods on the floor, for the love. Plus, who are we kidding, but most landlords don’t paint (except mine, she’s awesome).

So, how about this crazy idea. If we all left our rods behind, there would be rods when we arrive at the new place. How about that? No? Fine. Then you can go stick your precious rods. I don’t care, I’ve got fancy wood blinds.

Photo credit: Asulka.com

 

Now I’m Worried 

You’re only getting a short tease this week, because I’m packing up to move, and a bunch of other things are going on, including I got to see the kid for parents weekend at his school this weekend. It’s 4 hours away, so I stayed at a Days Inn, a cheap, but clean, no-frills kind of place. But maybe it was too clean. I found this little gem sitting near the TV:Hotels these days have all kinds of messages they place around the room to either tell you how efficient and all saving-the-planet they are with solar energy and washing things in a cup full of rain water collected from the green roof. Alternately they berate you to use less energy by choosing to use your towels and sheets multiple times. But I hadn’t seen this little number yet, so I took a closer look. Turns out this remote is built to allow for full disinfecting. 

Um. Eww?

I appreciate the effort, but 1) the rule of hotels is to work to make me think I’m the only one who has ever stayed there. Ever. So referring to disinfecting the remote very much violates that little fantasy; and 2) now I’m thinking about where that remote has been that it requires disinfectant. And believe me, as I sat staring at it from across the room, I went waaaaay past, sneezing and germ ridden kids. 

Suffice to say, I did not touch the remote or the TV. So maybe that’s actually how the disinfecting works. 

See you on the other side of the move! 

Goodbye, My Friend

Just a short post to say I recently lost a long-time friend–she was my age and left us much too soon. She passed a few days after losing her teenage son to suicide. Why do these things happen? I haven’t a clue. We all struggle with things, physical and emotional, and sometimes it’s all too much. But she had a big heart that connected to everyone she met. And many, many people will never forget her easy, squeaky laugh. A busy life has a way of making us forget what’s truly important, so I want to honor her and remember as best I can to love, live, and be grateful. Goodbye, my friend, we will miss you. We wish you all the peace and love you deserve. 

Mission Accomplished

Just a quick one this week. Life has been coming at me from all sides, some good, some not so good, so I feel a bit like a little kid tossed in the 3-ft wave surf. I come up gulping for air, only get tossed back under. That’s why I missed last week’s post. If I’m lucky, you didn’t even notice. I’m back and staying more above water than below, so this week this I’m concentrating on the good.

A week and a half ago I dropped the kid off at college. A couple of work colleagues said, “You must be sad,” and I got a pretty big raised eyebrow when I said I was actually really good. My neighbor across the street asked me if I missed my son now that I was all alone. They are a lovely older couple, but our relationship is pretty much regulated to waving when we’re getting in and out of cars, and they once drove the kid to school when my car had a flat. I never told them he was leaving. But I forget they are those kind of neighbors you want because they watch everything going on, including apparently us packing up the kid in a very obvious “going to college” kind of way, and not a “hauled off to jail” kind of way. I was a little less direct and said I missed him a little, but was getting used to it. Which is also true.

A long-time friend got closer to it when he asked me if I was done yet running around the house yelling, “MINE! All mine!”

I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to be one of those mopey, weepy empty nesters, but I also thought it would be an interesting idea to have minor surgery on my 30th birthday, so you know, I’m not always right. But I was right about this. The weeks before were definitely up and down for both of us. The day of, as we were leaving the house, I told him I would give him a hug now so I wouldn’t embarrass him at school. He asked me not to cry, and I told him I was going to do my best not to. We got to campus, and after 2 hours of unloading and unpacking, his relief that whatever horrible thing he had worried about hadn’t happened was so great, he was actually happy and comfortable. He sent me and his dad on our way with a hug and an “I love you.”

If he had looked stricken, I would have totally lost it. But there was perfect happiness all around. I got in the car and drove home singing joyfully to my tunes.

See, the thing is, the kid never really liked school. And yet he was an honors student and knew he wanted to go on to higher education. This always mystifies me —  I only did well in school because I loved it. If I had disliked it as much as he did, I really have no idea what would have happened. I was scared of the druggy kids, I wasn’t an athlete, and there wasn’t an internet yet to offer me a career in blogging.

Since he’s been 10, I’ve been telling him college would be different. Harder, yes, but also more fun and fewer educational restrictions. In the past year, I had more than one panic attack, thinking, oh god, what if college isn’t more fun for him? Way to lose parental cred, if I ever had any to begin with. So I softened my pitch to, “Just try it for a year. If you hate it, we can come up with Plan B.” I’m such a back-peddling weenie. But nothing ruins stuff like high expectations, so back-peddle I did.

Seeing him standing by his college desk, mostly unpacked, fussing happily over his computer, was the best thing I could have hoped for. Sending us on our way was icing on the cake. Oh, I know, there is still going to be hard times, and he still may tell me at the end of the year that he hates it and is going to sell electronics on eBay for a living. But for now, he is content for the first time in a long time. And so am I.

And I’m still running around the house yelling, “MINE! All mine!”