The first time I visited my future husband in Forney, I stood in the middle of his yard and scanned the horizon. It curved around 270 beautiful degrees with a straight shot to the sunrise and another to the sunset. Directly across the street were three wheat fields intersected by tree lines. I heard nothing but wind and birdsong. I fell in love, effortlessly, completely. It’s a joke between us that I had to LEARN to love my husband.
He has had to accept my longing to turn places “fair”. I stole this idea from Tolkien and his description of elf habitations. The elves were minimalists, creating beauty not by altering nature, but by enhancing it. A standing rock became a carved pillar. A grove of trees became the poles for a tent. Tolkien said that even when the elves left, their lands remained blessed for long after.
So when I stood in Dan’s (quite empty) yard, that land called out to me and I ached to turn it fair. In my mind, rude cyclone fencing was clothed in flowering vines. A sluggish, shallow creek held the promise of a lovely pond, ringed by willows, a home to turtles. The leaning grayish deck was swept away and replaced by a patio of fitted river stones. Everywhere there was peace and beauty.
And that’s pretty much what happened. Though it took another two years for me to agree to marry Dan and move in. And I had to pay for most of the “enhancements” on my own and only after protracted “discussions” with him about how “he wouldn’t put any money into this place because he’d never get it back out” and “you say WE’RE going to do it, but you mean I’M going to do it”.
I loved my yard, especially the quiet. Used to be all we heard was the dull whine of Highway 20 when the wind was out of the south and the overly-enthusiastic train horns when it was out of the north. Now, I hear the rumbling and blaring of heavy construction equipment. And I watch as workmen mound up the dirt, tear down the tree rows and set out the plot lines for one thousand new houses.
One thousand houses on 300 acres. It boggled my mind. I paced it out near my outer fence and tried to imagine what kind of house could possibly fit. Piles of bricks with zero-lot lines. My beautiful field that for decades had brought forth wheat will now yield a crop of noise and trash. It’s already started. On my daily walk I see the remains fast-food meals, a lonely glove, a gimme cap.
Soon, instead of the horizon I’ll see the tops of houses stretching away to join the tops of more houses. Traffic, already increased by the proximity of two schools, will become locked. How soon before they put up a light? Now I know how the coyotes and raccoons feel when the trucks start rolling in.
I tread lightly when it comes to religion in therapy. As part of taking a patient history, I usually ask the client where he stands on “the whole God thing”. I respect his beliefs, or lack thereof and let them guide me as I try to help him pursue his highly individual path to healing.
Some people are immensely relieved to learn I’m a Christian. (They were afraid to ask.) But while faith can be a powerful tool in therapy, it’s not the only one and it’s not strictly necessary. Sometimes I find myself at odds with a client’s beliefs, even if we’re both Christian. One common point of departure deals with forgiveness.
Many of my clients have been massively injured by people they should have been able to trust. They’re grappling with hurt, anger and shame. Most of the harm was done long ago, often during childhood. So the adult in my office has usually been told, more than once, by more than one person, that he should have been able to “just get over it” by now.
Some of them are also told that they simply must forgive their abusers or they aren’t good Christians. So here we have a wounded soul, desperately trying to navigate his conflicting emotions about past abuse. But as if that wasn’t bad enough, he now has to magically summon forgiveness for the ones who hurt him or he’s worse than Satan himself. Talk about blaming the victim!
People who spout this belief usually have no comparable emotional damage to deal with. They come from the “Holier Than Thou” school of religion and consider themselves to be THE authority on what God wants. They’ve got the Bible down pat, except for that pesky little part about not judging lest thee be judged. And they’ve also managed to zero in on the motes in their neighbor’s eyes, while totally ignoring the logs in their own.
Now don’t get me wrong. I think forgiveness is a beautiful thing. But like a lot of beautiful things, it takes time to develop its full loveliness. I tell clients that it’s more important to first process their feelings of rage, betrayal and guilt before worrying about forgiveness. But if the day comes when they can forgive their abusers, they will finally be putting down a load that was never really theirs to carry.
What I would NEVER tell anyone is that he is not a good Christian because of what he’s feeling. I don’t have a direct line into the mind of God and I never trust anyone who acts like he does, even if he is the preacher. And while I try to live a righteous life, I fully admit that I fall short, consistently and sometimes spectacularly.
But guess what, all those “holy” people thumping their Bibles and shaking their fingers are sinners, too. Add to that the sin of pride for ever thinking any different. Oh well. To err is human.
Since shortly after I got my license at 16, I’ve always had a car. A used car that I bought with my own money. You see, I grew up in the days before conspicuous consumption when high school grads didn’t expect a brand new car from their parents. (And then a $100,000 wedding later on in life.) Being a good kid then just meant your parents trusted you with THEIR car from time to time. If you wanted more than that you needed to get a job and look for a junker.
I never really had a junker. I’ve had extremely good luck buying used cars. And after I was done with them I was always able to sell or trade them for a good price. While my cars had the usual assortment of mechanical problems over the years, they never spent a minute in a body shop. In fact, I never had a serious wreck until just last month. And that one was a doozy. First, a little background.
Four years ago, my auto mechanic (my beloved husband) decided that I needed a new car. And he wanted me to get a brand new car because he believes that if you buy a used one, you’re just getting someone else’s problems. I agreed on the new car deal but only if he paid half. So we went shopping and I decided on a sky blue 2014 Chevy Impala.
Of course I had to have full coverage insurance on the car while I was paying for it. But I kept that insurance even after it was paid off. And it’s a darned good thing! In the four years I’ve had that beast, it has been in the body shop four times! And only two of them were my fault.
First I scraped up the door on our fence trying to block a wayward donkey (Susie) from getting out. A year later my husband did exactly the same thing during one of the rare times he was driving my car. A year after that, someone backed into me in a parking lot. And finally, this year I really screwed the pooch by hitting a patch of gravel, fishtailing off the road and plowing through a barbed wired fence.
The good news is that no one was hurt, including me. And the car had nothing but “cosmetic” damages. But oh, what damages! That barbed wire wrapped around my car and I drug it halfway across the field. There isn’t a panel or piece of chrome that wasn’t scratched at least a little bit. And some of it was scratched all to heck!
So I took it back to Gary’s. This will be the third time he’s pounded out and repainted my car. (The other guy’s insurance insisted on another shop when he hit me.) He thought it was going to be totaled, but the insurance company agreed to have it fixed. Now it’s for sale! Anyone interested?
Deep in our hearts, we all cherish a vision of the perfect childhood. Parents who were wise and loving. Siblings who were fun and supportive. A community dedicated to preserving our safety and offering us opportunity. The only problem is that no one actually HAS that childhood. It’s a sepia-tinted fantasy cooked up by the Hallmark Corporation.
Almost all the clients I see had it pretty rough coming up. But many of them note that everything looked perfect from the outside. In other words, someone looking in would see a happy, functional family, working in the yard, going off to church, gathering for carols around the Christmas tree, enjoying a Disney vacation.
What outsiders didn’t see were father’s drunken rages, mother’s preference for one favored child to the detriment of all the others, siblings locked in an unending battle for too few resources, tearing each other apart for a few scraps of love and attention. There’s often violence and abuse from verbal to physical to sexual. All of it carefully concealed behind endless posts of smiling faces.
This is exactly what came to light in what the media are calling “The California Torture House”. For at least 30 years, two very sick people kept creating children just to deny them even the smallest bit of nurturing or dignity. The 13 siblings rescued from that filthy hell were so malnourished, they appeared to be half their ages. Everyone is asking how it could have gone on for so long undetected.
Well, the “Torture House” is just an extreme example of the suffering I hear about day after day in my office. And trust me, it goes on in every part of the USA, in every part of the world. It could be going on right next door. You don’t know about it because the perpetrators – and the victims – are desperate to keep you from knowing. And therein lies the problem.
Let’s say a well-meaning neighbor had asked those lunatic parents why their children were marching around all night. At best they’d have gotten some nonsense about exercise and discipline. More likely they’d have been told to mind their own darned business. And in pretty short order, the family would be gone – moved away to someplace more secluded.
Let’s say you notice a local kid who’s always hungry and underdressed. You kindly ask what’s going on and despite the kid’s stone-walling, you decide to notify the authorities. Congratulations! You just signed that kid’s death warrant. Or, more probably, a fate worse than death, once the parents figure out who snitched. And you can bet that kid will never ask for help again.
Ferreting out the particulars of child abuse is a difficult and dangerous task. And once kids are “rescued”, their lives don’t necessarily get any better. Many languish in abusive group homes until they age out then face the world alone, with little training and no support. There’s simply got to be a better way. But what?
In my life I’ve owned and loved several dogs. Any animal I take in gets a cradle-to-grave assurance of food, water, medical care, affection and respect. That being said, I really don’t like dogs much. This should come as no surprise to my sons, both of whom insist on owning large canines. Most of the time I’m at their houses, I’m saying things like “Out of the way, dog!” and “Stop licking me!”
I’ll admit that dogs make good companions. Just try getting an iguana to hop up on the car seat beside you for a ride to the grocery store. And dogs will fend off intruders, but only at the price of barking like idiots any time something moves outside. Living next door to a pack of hounds or a herd of little yappers can quickly cause you to lose your sanity.
No matter how much I may love a dog, it is not allowed to sleep in bed with me. It is not allowed to lick my face and certainly not inside my mouth. (Ew!) Videos of people online “kissing” their dogs make me want to vomit. You DO realize that tongue has just been licking its butt, right!?
So I’m a cat person. Cats are clean, quiet and self-absorbed. Unlike the needy dog that rushes you (barking insanely) the minute you come home, a cat will look up slowly, yawn and blink a few times, as if to say, “Oh, you’re back,” before resuming the snooze. I’m often heartened by the Cat Philosophy of Life. “When faced with adversity, take a nap.”
But I’m not a crazy cat lady. I like to keep one cat at a time. And I won’t make my cat a prisoner in the house. Aside from not wanting to deal with the smell of a cat box, I believe cats are only semi-domesticated and I’m lucky enough to live on a property big enough to allow my cat, Shadow, to roam a bit. Though, like all cats, she spends most of her time asleep.
She’s more standoffish than most, but she lives like a queen. She has multiple snooze spots all over the house which I have made more comfortable with the addition of old towels. She also has a cat flap at both the front and back doors. She expresses gratitude for her freedom by bringing home the occasional mouse or bird (or parts thereof).
Another good thing about cats is that they’re all about the same size. You can get a collar or bed that will work for any of them. Which brings us back to abnormally large and powerful dogs. For me, a collie is the perfect size for a pet. Not so small as to be ridiculous. Not big enough to tear your kid’s head off, like a pit bull, which no one should be allowed to own. That would be like me keeping a cougar as a pet. Just plain wrong.
Donald Trump wasn’t my first choice for president. Or my second. In fact, the only reason I voted for him was because I simply refused to accept Elitist Hillary Clinton as my queen. Like all men, Mr. Trump is flawed, but I’m starting to like him. I like the way he isn’t a political insider, he isn’t taking a salary, and he says what he thinks, come what may.
So last week when news broke about him calling some countries “s**t-holes” my heart sank. “Please,” I silently prayed, “don’t let him have put it in a tweet.” Turns out he didn’t. He said it in a private (and probably pretty heated) discussion with our “representatives” about our messed up immigration policies.
Of course the Elitists in Washington, Hollywood and the media went ballistic. Never mind that Robert De Niro had just publicly f-bombed Trump - repeatedly. It’s okay when THEY do it. And that’s what I dislike about them - their hypocrisy.
Let’s just look at one of the allegedly “s***hole” countries – Haiti. Our Washington elites visit Haiti (in their private jets) and their hearts break over the conditions there. Our Hollywood elites might even document the suffering on film – the disease, hunger, over-population and corruption. They’ll edit it down and distribute it.
When it comes out, Hollywood’s collective mass will weep huge tears and proceed to give the filmmakers awards. Okay so far. But then Mr. and Ms. American Public go to see that film and, as they’re walking out of the theatre, they might comment that Haiti sure is a “s**t-hole country.
And the Elitists go ballistic again. How dare those deplorables condemn Haiti as a “s**t-hole”! But didn’t they just spend a whole lot of time and money creating a piece of “art” designed to show us exactly that? Again, it’s okay when THEY say it.
Elitists seldom do any real work to make life in “s**t-hole” countries more tolerable. (That’s for church mission groups to handle!) They just go back to their mansions in their exclusive, gated communities because it’s okay for THEM to build a wall to keep out the riff-raff. It’s just not okay to protect ordinary citizens from a wholesale invasion of crime and poverty.
So what’s the solution for the “s**t-hole” countries? Well it isn’t for corrupt rulers to keep taking everything while exporting their excess population to the USA. Giving them money won’t help, either, because the rulers always find a way to keep most of it. The citizens of those countries need to stay where they are and fight to make things better.
Not surprisingly, our Elitists love to import poverty. (Poor people are SO much easier to control.) Secretly, they’d love to be like the rulers of those “s**t-hole” countries and be able to rob us all blind without any pesky Constitutional rights getting in the way. And none of them, from Washington to Hollywood, wants to be anywhere near a Haitian refugee, unless he’s busing their tables.
Over the holidays I went to visit some dear friends who not only don’t have the TV on all the time, they don’t even OWN a TV. It’s so peaceful to be without the constant screeching of that idiot box. I can focus, come up with new ideas and refine existing ones. Every time I come away from there I’m determined to end my dependence on TV. And for a few days, I do.
But gradually I begin to stray. It starts with watching a single program or checking the weather on the news. Before I know it I’m inert in front of the set, binge-watching Forensic Files or Futurama. I tell myself I’ll stop after the episode is over, but the TV programmers have figured out that dodge. They don’t let you wander off during the break, but start up the next program while the credits of the first one are still running.
A lot of people who have the TV on all the time aren’t really watching it. They say they just like the background noise. My treasured stepmother is one of these. She has a TV in each room of her house playing CNN non-stop. (Now tell me THAT’S not depressing!) She says it’s comforting to have voices in the house. She doesn’t really hear them, but I do.
My problem is that I can’t NOT hear that TV. If the thing is on, I’m attending to it and find it difficult to concentrate on anything else. I can’t keep up my end of the conversation or even work on a project. But when I ask people if they’d mind turning off the TV while we work or talk, they look at me like I’d just asked them to strip naked and sing the Star-Spangled Banner while hopping on one foot.
Most of the week, I’m working and my attention is focused on my clients and the ever-increasing mounds of paperwork the government demands. So it’s only on weekends or holidays that I succumb to the siren song of televised entertainment. Saturday I was thus hunkered down in front of the set when an awful wave of depression ran through me. This was no way to spend my precious free time!
Instead I turned off the TV and made up a list of things I really needed to get done. Then I started on the list. Instead of being depressed, I felt good that I was accomplishing something. And accomplish I did. Projects that I had been sitting in piles, shaming me for months were suddenly gone, finished. My mood was definitely better.
I always tell my clients that watching TV all day is a sure way to get and stay depressed. You aren’t moving and you aren’t engaged in anything productive. So when watching TV seems more enjoyable than pursuing your real life, it’s time to turn off that boob tube and get to work making your actual life really great.
Like all old coots, I have deep concerns about the up-and-coming generation. I worry that, by spending the bulk of their days pushing buttons and watching “content” on a screen, they’ve become so disconnected from reality that they can’t function in the natural world. To them, all knowledge is instantly accessible, so there is no reason to actually learn how to do anything.
The bulk of them have no idea how to build, repair or maintain any of the hundreds of machines they take for granted. Ask for a show of hands in a high school classroom and how many would know how to change a tire? Or how to change the oil? How many would even know that you HAVE to change the oil?
How many know where all the food they eat comes from? Most of them couldn’t execute an acceptable grilled cheese sandwich without a quick check on You Tube. How many could get a fire started without matches and then keep it going long enough to cook that sandwich?
How many could fix a leaky pipe? More importantly, how many know how to turn the water off at the main before they start trying to fix that leaky pipe? At the office building where I work, I’m the only one of five women who knows how the flapper assembly works in the toilet tank or how to release the stopper plug in the sink so you can fish out all the hair.
I’m also the only one who isn’t terrified (to the point of hysteria) by bugs and rodents. These young, strapping women, who would take on a man in a fist fight, dissolve into shrieking, quivering wretches at the mere sight of a mouse weighing no more than five ounces. Can you imagine how they’d respond if they had to field-dress a deer?
Heck, I can’t even get them to let me SHOW them how to get out the hair that’s clogging up the sink. And it’s THEIR hair! I’m totally bald, remember? Their solution is to call in a plumber and so I guess they deserve being overcharged. (Maybe I should start charging them?)
So why does any of this matter? Well, I have a theory that the further you stray from the fundamentals of existence, the more dependent and depressed you become. I truly believe that what ails our young people more than anything is that they don’t do enough real work, with real things. It’s the kind of activity that builds character!
For example, before he became a king, David was sent out to watch the sheep. I image him being a mouthy little brat who was then just learning to play the lute. I’ll bet no one missed him much while he was out in the fields. But that’s where he learned to spy out the land, be vigilant and bring down wild animals with nothing but a sling. How many kids today could do that?