Wednesday, April 11, 2012

To Know Someone

I have been thinking lately about how well we might know others, and also let others know us.  Just as a disclaimer, I want to make clear that I am not a psychologist, I didn’t go to college or grad school, and there are no letters at all behind my name.  But I read a lot about this kind of thing because it interests me deeply, and I believe I have learned a lot about it.

A guy I used to work with once said that everyone has 3 faces – the one they show to acquaintances and the bigger world, the second they show only to their closest loved ones, and the third (real one) known only to themselves.  Al-Anon lore says we should avoid comparing our “insides” to other peoples “outsides”.  And we do that, don’t we…compare our unseen innards to the visible, outer shells of those around us?  Does it make any sense? 

No one can really know another person completely, because all of us live inside our own heads to a large extent.  I’ve thought a lot about this and I believe it may be pretty close to the truth. We can really only guess at what someone else’s motivations might be and many times, I suspect that what we guess at and think we are responding to is not at all accurate.  Part of this is because everyone operates from behind (the shield/mask of) their own ego, which listens to what is said and then (mis)interprets it (I have found the writings of author Eckhart Tolle on the ego to be spot-on and literally life changing).  

Part of it comes down to semantics; certain words have different emotional overtones that define their meaning to an individual.  Part of it, I’m sure at least for me, is sloppy word choice.  My thoughts race (especially at certain times) and I quickly go to my brain when I am speaking to find the right words, sometimes grabbing a word that is not even close to the best one to express what my actual thought is at the moment.  To further complicate things, we take what others give us in the form of words and actions and fill in the abundant blanks with the byproducts of our egos… fear and self doubt, thereby producing a fundamentally flawed perception of our world.

Many times I find that others misunderstand me.  I say something that I intend to communicate a certain idea to someone, and from their response, I can tell that they think I was saying something else entirely.  Yet, it would be exhausting if I tried to correct every such exchange, plus I’d be talking way too much and I guess that others would think I was a huge boor and start avoiding me.

So how then can we ever hope to know each other as we really are, to any degree at all?  I think the only way is to try to listen to others not so much with our brains, but more so with our hearts.  If we can observe how someone lives and attend to the things they do, rather than just to that face they show us and also try to slow down and choose our own words more carefully, we might get closer to real communication.  I’ve been trying to do that.  It helps, but even so, my perception is not always going to be correct.  Still, it may be the best we can do with our human limitations.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Fence

Mac and I just completed a refinance on AT LAST!, our new home as of one year ago.  In less time than we’d ever imagined, by all our hard work we have increased the value of the place by a little more than thirty thousand dollars; less than we'd hoped, sadly…but alas, the real estate market!  And we were able to get an even lower interest rate than what we had originally (which at the time was thought to be rock bottom).  We switched to a standard mortgage, and were thus able lose the FHA monthly mortgage insurance, thereby shrinking our monthly payments; all good stuff.   But it would have been great, if we could also have gotten some cash out so we could start the downstairs renovations, but the “value to loan ratio” as they call it, would not cooperate.  When all was said and done, the check from the mortgage company’s lawyer wasn’t much, relatively speaking, but at least it was enough to pay off our most agonized-over expense during this, our first year as homeowners…THE FENCE.

The expansive feeling of our actually smallish (a third of an acre, roughly) yard seemed wonderful at first.  The closest house was far enough away (it seemed) for some privacy; peace and quiet would surely be the norm here, we thought.  Only two families within eye or earshot have young kids, and while contemplating the purchase, we neither saw nor heard them (of course).  And anyway, we both like kids.  The lilting sounds of children at play would be music, wouldn’t it?  It was not an issue…until the day we came to do work on the house and found four kids building a large snow man a few feet from our front door and our snow-laden yard, a minefield of footprints, snow boulders and toys.  On that day I felt a creeping concern (you might want to check this previous post about our former “Neighbors from Hell” at Catbird Heaven, to fully understand my sense of foreboding).  But still… We didn’t really mind much – just snowmen.  Kids are kids and it was harmless, winter fun.  Good outdoor fun!  We said: oh, whatever!  We asked ourselves: who cares?  It was not a big deal.  We had a lot bigger things on our minds, like how we were going to make this shack livable with practically no money, and by the deadlines we felt were unreasonably being pressed upon us. 
A year later, we have succeeded in getting it halfway there by completing the upstairs bedrooms and attic, and adding a half bath, all on a wing and a prayer.  Back then, however, it was all still in the beginning stages, on a frigid day as I helped Mac maneuver a stack of lumber in through the front door and two little girls ran up to my side yelping, “Hi!  Hi!  What’s your name?  We live next door! Can we come in?” In this modern day of missing kids, abductions and molestations, their fearless moxie and the lack of vigilance on the part of their family seemed completely inappropriate and was alarming to us.  Did no one care about these urchins?
On a sunny Saturday morning a few months later, Mac sat outside to have a smoke and contemplate his next move on the punky, funky house frame.  That’s when a young girl of about nine or ten popped around the corner of the house and plunked herself down on the step next to him and announced herself.  She proceeded to tell him all about her five siblings, their mother and their various fathers as well as a good deal of other personal information best described as “over-sharing”, before again asking if she could come inside.  Mac mumbled something about his lunch being ready and slipped into the kitchen where I was cleaning the ceiling fan to tell me about our pushy little neighbor.  He didn’t want to be unkind, but he needed help getting her to go home…Deedee the wicked witch to the rescue.  I cracked open the back door to the driveway where our little intruder was waiting, along with her four year old sister who’d just shown up.  “Hi girls, we’re staying inside now.  We don’t have any young kids and we have a lot of work to do, so you girls need to go back to your own yard now”,   I stated as kindly as possible.  After a few seconds, the oldest girl scrunched up her face, looked up at me and asked, “What?”, as if no one had ever suggested such a thing to her.  “Go back to your own yard now.”  I said, a little bit louder and more firmly. 

In the following weeks we were to come to realize what a dysfunctional mess existed next door.  There is no such thing as normal speaking for this motley group...the constant mode of voice is screaming.  The adults scream at each other and at the children, the children scream at the adults and at the other kids...they all scream at each other, all the time.  There is no concept of normal speech in these folk.  They scream when they are happy, when they are angry and whenever they happen to open their mouths.  One of the mothers routinely harangues the five kids, liberally sprinkling her rants with the "F" word, as in: “Get the F outside”, "Get the F away from my car!”… “put the F-ing cat down!”,  “ Get the F away from the F-ing windows”.   She uses the entire four letter word, and seems not to mind at all that the entire neighborhood, not to mention her own small children are hearing it.

There were also late night bonfires, set almost on top of our property line last fall which they heaped with trash, sending flames raging into the night sky, scorching the surrounding trees.  And parties, attended by as many screaming kids as loud obnoxious adults.  In good weather these gatherings were held outside, spilling over into our yard.

And so dear friends, THE FENCE.  It was not in the budget, and we really couldn’t afford it, but we found it to be necessary.  In addition to delineating the property line and discouraging small hangers-on, it helps deflect the sound, bouncing some of the noise back at them and away from us. Worth every cent, it is.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Tilting Skyward

We finally have the roof replacement underway. Mac has been up there stripping, putting down new plywood and shingles, and repairing the crumbling chimney.

  Here he is working on the chimney flashing a week or so ago. Over in the lower left corner of the picture above you can see the new skylight he just installed in our master bedroom. Below is the view from inside.


It is surprising how much brighter the room is all day now. I see that willow across the street gilded in morning sunlight when I rise. On clear nights I can see the stars and sometimes the moon shines in and floods the room with a magical glow.  Mac is currently installing another skylight in the little guest room.  The happy result is that our upstairs is now a bright haven of golden light each morning.


The only down side is that now when it rains,we can hear each drop.  Before the skylights, the upstairs was incredibly quiet, due to all our insulating.  During hurricane Irene a few months ago we were looking out the second floor windows, watching the driving sheets of rain and the trees outside bend and twist wildly in the wind and we were amazed that we could not hear a sound.  Now when it rains hard at night, the sound wakes me up and keeps me awake (not Mac, though- he could sleep through a stampede).

There are handles to be installed that will crank them open to let air in, and special blinds to shut out the hot sun in the summertime but those can wait until spring.  Right now we are focused on finishing the roof, getting a floor installed in the attic so we can have storage space, and getting the living room to a usable state.  One day at a time!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Music To My Ears

I don't know about you, but music is an essential part of my life.  I have gotten away from listening to the radio, because of the constant barrage of ads and babble, but when I am alone in the house I turn up the volume on my cds or mp3s and let my mind get lost in the sound as I go about my household tasks.  If Mac is home I will still listen, but with much lower volume as he can't stand it too loud.  When my son is home and awake or my daughter is around, I pull out the headphones and try not to sing along too much, because that drives them crazy.

 Mac likes pop music from the fifties, sixties and seventies, primarily and listens to it almost exclusively.   I like music from that period too, but my musical taste is much more expansive and eclectic.   I love everything from The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Red Hot Chili Peppers, to Native American flute, Gospel, Gregorian Chant and Enya.  In fact, about the only types of music I really don't enjoy are gangsta rap, cacophonous jazz and country pop (I do like most hip-hop, a lot of different types of jazz, and I really like progressive and folky, country rock a whole lot). 

Mac enjoys the musical arrangement and the overall sound of a song and pays little attention to the lyrics.  For most everyone that's probably sometimes the case; who doesn't occasionally like to sing or dance around to a nonsensical tune?  But for me, the greatest pleasure to be had from music comes from listening to a song with a great sound, wonderful instrumentation and lyrics I can completely relate to.

 I was thinking the other day, about certain songs that always have a profound effect on me.  Some of these are: Fields Of Gold by Sting, I Fall To Pieces by Patsy Cline, Katie Melua's version of The Cure's Just Like Heaven, and Bob Dylan's Sara.

I've been a Dylan fan since I was a kid, and over the years of listening I've come to the realization that Bob writes songs based on dreams, stories, movies and his own life experiences.  I love listening to him spin out a tale in his craggy, slightly off-key voice and drape it in layers of guitar and harmonica.  He's penned some of my very favorite songs, but one of the most poignant and heartbreaking is Sara, written for his wife.  The wistful song recalls their life together, describing moments from their early days, and vacations and beach days with their small children in bygone years.  It's an ode to their love, and to his lovely wife, whom he places on a musical pedestal, extoling her faithfulness and virtue as well as her beauty, and the listener soon realizes that he is begging her not to leave him.  But alas, it was too little, too late.  The lilting notes of hope and whimsey at the beginning of the tune change to sounds of despair as the song finishes.  Their marriage ended in spite of his beautiful and haunting tribute. 

I prefer not to hear the song Sara when I am in the company of other people, because even though I have heard it hundreds of times, I simply cannot listen to it without my eyes welling up.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Cee-ment Pond

The other day, my friend Jude came by to pick me up for a movie date.  As she strode up the driveway she announced that she had just had an argument with her husband.  He told her we had an in-ground swimming pool here in our yard, and (although she had been here many times since we purchased the place back in January) she was quite certain that we did not.
 "Sure we do", I said, and with a dramatic arm sweep toward the eastern edge of the yard and a laugh:  "Welcome to the jungle." 

It is there, although you would never know it looking in from the road, covered and hidden as it is by grape vines, bittersweet, wild roses and black raspberry cane.  It is standard size for a backyard pool, a rectangular shape surrounded by a rusted chain link fence which has been padlocked for years.  The liner has long since rotted away nearly completely; only thin shreds of turqouise vinyl hang from the sides in various places under the tattered remnants of a dark green cover.  Since we have lived here, there has been a foot or two of stagnant, muddy water in what used to be "the deep end". 

Upon first examining it on a walk through late last year, I was astonished to see that reeds and cattails had established themselves there.  Several frog species have taken up residence, and now a flotilla of  bright green algae floats on top as well.  It is a real "cee-ment pond" that would have made "The Beverly Hillbillies" proud.


Right now it is a mysterious, secret garden, full of birds, chipmunks and amphibians. I almost felt like I was in Costa Rica on a rainy Sunday a week or so ago as I took some of these pictures.

When the frost comes back, all the vines and vegetation will die off and expose the ugly pit and the rusty fence again which event I am not really looking forward to. It was a bit depressing last winter to be greeted by it each and every time I walked out the back door, and no help for it in sight ( as it is the last priority for us; so much else needs to be done here). It is a daunting reminder of all the overwhelming work and expense lying in wait for us in the years to come. Still, I have no will be so worth it.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

More Upheaval

No sooner had I received word that my position was stable, than our manager announced she would be leaving.  She was taking another position with a different government agency, and a new manager for our office was being fast-tracked.  The following week, one of two remaining job counselors, and the only remaining woman except myself also gave her notice. 

Now just three short weeks later, the office has changed radically.  Since I started there in January of 2010, seven co-workers have either transferred, resigned or been let go and five of them were women.  I grew up with five brothers, and was, by anyone's standards, a tomboy.  I don't feel uncomfortable at all around men and I can hang with the best of them, but it is still a bit odd to go from such a diverse team (young, old, multi-racial, mixed gender) to what exists now (five middle-aged guys and me). 

The man chosen as the new manager started this past week.  His first order of business was removing lamps, artwork and all manner of decoration from his office.  His blinds remain closed all day, eliminating the panoramic view of the skyline and a nearby, wooded pond.  He keeps the light off in his office and sits in the dark except for the pale light of his computer monitor.  The ongoing discussion of team sports (boring to me) now fills the air for long periods each day.   Where my previous manager was a strong woman who treated me (almost) as her equal in the office, he assigns me secretarial tasks and says "Thank you, dear", (mildly irritating) when I complete them.  This is definitely going to be a major adjustment for me.

My former manager speaks very highly of him, having interviewed him herself for a different position some months ago.  It is way too early to tell what sort of manager he will turn out to be.  I will certainly reserve judgement for a month or two.   He asked to meet with me yesterday, and for a little bit under an hour, asked about my observations, ideas and concerns for the office, which I found promising.  Personally, he seems nice.  He appears to be generally serious and well-intentioned and I am reassured by that, as well as by the fact that he has a corporate background.  Hopefully he will run the office in a fair, no nonsense way.  We shall see.