There’s No Place Like Home

Military brat (U.S. subculture)

Destined to wander? (Image via Wikipedia)

I’ve been thinking a lot about home lately, and apparently I’m not alone. My friends Victoria and Maggie have both blogged about this in the past couple of days.

Victoria lives aboard her sailing vessel with her husband and two young children, the realization of a dream she and Tucker have had for many years. She expected that once she was on her boat, anywhere she sailed would be—and feel like—home. But on a weekend excursion down the coast to Monterey, she was surprised to find herself homesick for their little slip in the San Francisco Bay, which led her to reflect on the nature of home.

Maggie is three months into a year-long trek around the world. Her most recent stopover is Bulungula in South Africa, where she seems to feel a strong connection to both the geography and the culture. “And, of course, there’s that lovely backdrop — scenery that stuns the eyes, holds the heart and inspires you to leave your own home behind,” she writes. “Yes, I could live here.” She doesn’t say, “This feels like home,” but rather that she could “leave her own home behind” and “live here.” Is there a difference?

Eric Weiner in The Geography of Bliss talks about the phenomenon of travelers for purposes of business or study—anthropologists, reporters—“going native,” that is, abandoning their professional objectivity and the home of their birth to immerse themselves in an adopted culture. How does one know home when they find it?

I grew up a Navy Brat. We moved about every three years. All of our moves were in the United States, and I’ve only left the country once when I went to Toronto with my high school band. I’ve never even had a passport. All during my childhood, I had a craving for “home.” The thought, “I want to go home,” would come to me, but upon further reflection, I could never identify where home was. The closest to home I felt growing up was when we’d visit my maternal grandparents in Ohio each year. Their home was a central gathering place for my mother’s seven siblings and their children. Everywhere we went, I was surrounded by people related to me. In the town where my parents grew up, it seemed cousins of various degrees were everywhere. Grandma and Grandpa had a garden, and even now I think of them when I work with my own tomato plants. There was a spooky basement with an old refrigerator that was always filled with glass bottles of pop, that, when empty, we would return to the grocery store for money in what seemed a kind of alchemy. There were pickled eggs in large jars, grape juice that we drank out of jelly jars, hulless popcorn, late-night horror films on TV, and the tandem bike I rode with my aunt. In the summer, we’d watch the Fourth of July parade come by the house, and we’d collect the candy they tossed from the fire truck before we walked up to the high school for the carnival. One year I won a goldfish by tossing a ping pong ball into a small fish bowl.

When Grandma died, this all began to change. Then Grandpa sold the house, and there was no longer a central meeting place. The close-knit feeling of the family faded, as did my sense of home. For years, I’ve still felt the “I want to go home” sensation, but it’s not been connected to any particular place. As adults, my husband and I continue to move every few years, trying out different locations, looking for home. I’ve lately come to fear that the looking has become such a habit that I won’t even recognize home when I find it.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve begun to dream of Ohio. In my dreams, it is home. It is the place I’m longing to be. I see the rolling, green hills of northeast Ohio and yearn to belong to them. When we visit, I love driving out into that farmland and imagining a little house amid those green hills. But I wonder if it would still feel like home if I actually lived there. When I was in college there, I couldn’t wait to leave. I hated it there. I couldn’t stand the overcast skies, the decay of the post-Industrial Revolution, the culture of depression and helplessness. It feels different looking at it now from a couple thousand miles and a decade away. Is Ohio truly my home, and I could only recognize it by leaving? Or if I lived there now, would it soon feel as oppressive to me as it did when I was 20? How long would it be before I went in search of my next home?

I have a suspicion that my longing for home isn’t actually a longing for a particular place, but rather a longing for a feeling. This feeling is one of belonging and of being loved unconditionally. It’s an escape from the alienation I often feel as someone who is carving her own path through the world. I made an off-hand remark to my husband last night: If you’re going to rock the boat, you’d better not get sea sick. Even though I have a consistent need to rock the boat, I seem to experience perpetual seasickness. I want to find my sea legs. I want to be myself but still feel like I belong. Even more than happiness, I want to feel wholeness. I suspect that this feeling is something I need to come to on my own, and if I don’t find it, no place is going to feel like home.

Driven to Distraction

Today’s posts on Gretchen Rubin‘s blog are, I think, convincing me more and more that my goal isn’t really happiness, per se.

The first post is, “Consider the Elephant, or, Why Thinking about a Rhinoceros Can Make You Happier.” Rubin writes, “I often battle the familiar happiness challenge of keeping myself from ruminating about something that has annoyed, angered, or upset me. Studies show that dwelling on irritating feelings and episodes amplifies their power in our minds — a real source of unhappiness. If I take a moment deliberately to distract myself from bad feelings, I help alleviate them.”

Finding techniques to keep oneself from dwelling on the annoyances of daily life seems like a reasonable goal, and one that is likely to decrease suffering. But I’m not sure “distracting myself from bad feelings” would be a long-term solution to unhappiness. My brain frequently gets stuck in a continuous loop replay of things that irritate me. I can sometimes distract myself with reading or exploring the internet or watching a show, but I often find that when I’m done with the distracting activity, the negative feeling is still there. I’ve not dealt with it in any meaningful way, I’ve just postponed the dealing with it.

There are a few more lasting ways I’ve found to derail my brain from its circuitous path. One is to focus on my breath. I just count my breaths and let the thoughts and feelings wash over me without allowing them to hook into me. Another is the new practice I have of checking in with what’s going on below my neck. Taking a moment to scan my body for physical sensations and emotions can help get the hamster in my head off of its little wheel (yes, I’m trying to fit as many metaphors in here as I can). Yet another is vigorous exercise. When something’s really bugging me, if I can get to the gym and crank up the treadmill, I find that after 20 or 30 minutes, I feel much more relaxed and can put things into perspective better.

I think that a simple distraction could help with my momentary mood, but that in order to have a positive effect on my overall happiness, it’s not enough to simply distract myself. I need to find a way to change my perspective enough that I can revisit the irritation and work through it in a calm manner. In this way, I can transform my irritation into an opportunity for spiritual growth (or so I hope).

The other post on Rubin’s blog today announces that Kristin Davis (from Sex and the City apparently. Never watched the show.) is going to star in the TV version of The Happiness Project. This does not help to get me excited about calling my project a “happiness project.” I don’t know. Maybe I’m just being petty (and petulant), but I feel like what I’m doing with my project is bigger (at least for me) than a TV show. I suppose on the positive side, this could bring the idea of changing one’s life to increase happiness to a wider audience (one that includes those that don’t go in for reading memoirs).

Wow. Yes, I’m definitely petulant. I think the word the youngsters use is “snarky.”

OK, so I’m going to stop thinking about and writing about this TV thing. I don’t like it, but there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just not my thing. It’s surprising to me just how alienated I feel. It’s like my understanding of Rubin’s book and her project—and even my own project—has been turned on its head.

I suppose this is the perfect opportunity to practice some of my techniques for dealing with irritating thoughts. I think this time I’ll ask myself, What does this news mean to me? What does it mean to my happiness project? What does it mean that I’m so irritated by it? Is it just that I’m poised to be irritated because I’ve been stewing about the fact that my daughter’s soccer coaches announced this afternoon that their end-of-season party tomorrow will be at McDonald’s?

This is like the mental equivalent of poking at a bruise. What’s up with me tonight?

Conscious Sacrifice

Here’s part of what I read today in Marion Woodman’s Addiction to Perfection:

The overconscientious perfectionist knows she cannot control her obsession; she recognizes at the center of her whirlpool another power to which she is hostile. The whirling through her daytime efficiency and nighttime compulsion avoids as long as it can the confrontation with the Eye. That confrontation demands surrender of the rigid, self-deceptive “I.”

…The attitude of the ego towards the Eye is everything. If the ego is hostile, then it experiences itself as victim and sets itself up for self-murder. If the attitude is one of acceptance–not resignation, but open receptivity–then murder is transformed into conscious sacrifice. That change in attitude opens the heart to the power of love radiating from the Eye–the all-embracing, nourishing love that can support rather than destroy the “I.” Psychologically speaking, so long as conscious and unconscious are enemies, the ego experiences itself in constant danger of death. Once they are in harmony the ego experiences itself open and supported by the maternal matrix of love.

This idea of murder being “transformed into conscious sacrifice” is intriguing to me. In the book, Woodman writes about a woman who eats compulsively choosing to fast for a week. The choice to sacrifice through fasting yields remarkable insights for this particular woman. This leaves me considering what the difference is between the “Biggest Loser” boot camp model of weight-loss and the inside-out sacrifice of fasting.

Listening to RadioWest on KUER this afternoon, I caught a portion of an interview with Judge Thomas Buergenthal about his memoir, A Lucky Child, which deals with his past as one of the youngest survivors of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Buergenthal spoke about one instance in which prisoners were selected for hanging and then their close friends were ordered to perform the executions. One young man went to put the noose over his friend’s head. The friend took the noose and put it around his neck himself, kissed his friend’s face, then jumped from the platform. He turned a murder, literally, into a conscious act of sacrifice.

I don’t mean to imply that my situation is anything near that of a concentration camp prisoner or a compulsive eater, but I do think there are common human experiences from which I can learn. I don’t need to be a prisoner sentenced to death to engage in a conscious act of sacrifice. But the haunting story of this prisoner’s final act of rebellion, which was also an act of love for his friend, could give me insight into how I might move towards a similar state of psychological harmony.

Getting to the Nitty Gritty of my Perfectionism

My mom just visited for about a week and a half, which gave me the chance to observe perfectionism in action from the outside. Usually I’m just trapped inside, observing my own actions, which isn’t nearly so enlightening as watching from outside.

The way my mom’s perfectionism manifests itself during her visits is in non-stop projects. Those who have been reading the blog this past week or so have some idea of the frenetic levels our home-improvement (and “me”-improvement) binge reached. I get the impression that when my mom looks out at the world, she sees all of the things that are wrong with it. Then she focuses in on the things that she might be able to change and gets to work. I can recognize this because this is pretty much what I do (less with the home improvements and more with the self improvements, although I do move furniture an awful lot and used a caulk gun for the first time last night instead of going to bed at a reasonable hour).

This is where my perfectionism gets in the way of my happiness, I think. In addition to interfering with my sleep and causing me to ignore (or attempt to ignore) my children, the underlying belief driving all of this fault-finding is that things just aren’t right. There’s something wrong in my surroundings and there’s something wrong with me. There’s a related belief, which is that if I can eliminate everything wrong with my surroundings, that the wrong things in me will disappear, too, and vice versa. When I feel stressed and I get that “wrong” feeling, I immediately retreat to perfectionism. I make lists, schedules, routines. I track my food intake and develop rules for my eating. I either avoid social interaction or my conversations are peppered with long pauses as I attempt to say just the right thing (or at the very least to avoid saying the wrong thing). I can keep this up for a few days or as long as a week, and then I start to falter and quickly descend into chaos, from where I then lift myself out via perfectionism and the cycle begins again.

What’s interesting to me is that the chaos I feel inside doesn’t seem to show itself on the outside. We had dinner out with some friends from North Carolina last night whom we hadn’t seen in seven years. I don’t know how we got to it, but at one point the other three adults at the table all emphatically declared that I am very organized. I don’t often feel organized. I wonder if this suggests that the chaos and disorder I feel are mostly on my insides but because I don’t recognize that reality, I try to eliminate the chaos by changing my outsides.

My mom’s visit was like an orgy of perfectionism. Oh, look! This thing I’ve not done anything about because, you know, I’ve got two kids and I’m homeschooling…I can complete it and 15 other things I’ve not even thought of doing because my mom’s here to help. It was awesome and it was exhausting and now I’m trying to let myself down easy so I don’t drop into a pit of disappointment at my relative lack of productivity.

So here’s what I’m going to try to do. I’m going to follow my own advice and Not Jump to Solutions. When I feel that “wrong” feeling, I’m going to just sit with it. I’m going to observe it, take note of it, and just move along. I’ve got my decluttering, which I think will help to relieve some of the pressure that builds up when I just need to pull out the stove and clean behind it at 11:30 at night. But I’m going to do my best to avoid going to extremes and focusing so much on cleaning or on scheduling or on finding the perfect spot for the coffee table that I ignore the underlying feelings and beliefs that are driving my need to change things.

Last night I had a dream that I was in charge of planning nine weddings that would take place over the course of three hours. And I still had my kids to take care of. I had all of these favors and table decorations to assemble and the kids kept walking off with things I needed. I would stare at these tables covered in supplies and try to reason through how to get everything put together before the weddings began. Two of the weddings were for people I knew and one was for myself (the other six were for people I didn’t know). I updated my Facebook status (in the dream) saying that I was getting help from my friend in fixing my hair for my wedding. I remarked that it was something of a lost cause. My friend was getting exasperated with me because I was so clueless about how to pretty up my hair for an important occasion and because I kept trying to do more prep work for the other weddings. Then, even though I’d not finished all of the things I’d planned for the first wedding before it began, I saw that everyone was having a great time and the bride looked gorgeous. I cautiously considered devoting the rest of my energies to preparations for my own wedding, which was the last of the nine.

I don’t know. I think this dream just reinforces the importance, for me, of paying better attention to my own needs and improving my skills at observing and caring for myself. Most everything else can pretty much take care of itself, or at the very least won’t fall apart if I’m not in complete control 100% of the time. Another bit of my own advice comes to mind: If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly.

Like Alice, however, I always give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it.

Houseguests and Routines

One of my resolutions this month is to develop daily and weekly routines. I’m doing OK with the weekly routines, but I still struggle with daily routines. I sort of let myself off the hook this past week with my mom here, since having visitors always changes routines anyway. Now that she’s on her way back to Ohio, my thoughts have returned to this topic, and I’m pondering how to proceed.

I snuck in a few minutes of reading this afternoon. In the section I read today of Addiction to Perfection, Marion Woodman writes about routines as rituals. Whether they are positive or negative, these rituals serve to fulfill archetypes (she’s a Jungian psychoanalyst; they seem to use the terms “archetype” and “shadow” with some frequency. I’m not entirely certain I’m understanding them completely or using them properly). These rituals aren’t always consciously applied. In fact, we often don’t even realize we have them until they’re disrupted.

She uses the example of a morning routine. You wake up, go to the bathroom, go to the kitchen for a bagel and coffee (or, if you’re me, a green smoothie), brush your teeth and wash your face, etc. Then one day you have a guest staying at your house. You wake up and the bathroom is in use. You find yourself annoyed at chatting with another person during breakfast. The whole day gets thrown off and you’re in a bad mood because a ritual you didn’t even know you had was disrupted. These rituals are there to meet needs that we have, and if we don’t follow our regular ritual, we must have a substitute ritual or we feel out of sorts.

I wonder if this is part of why I’ve been having trouble applying daily routines to my life. I’ve been just trying to adopt other people’s routines, which haven’t really been sticking very well. Maybe the answer (or one answer) is to start by identifying the needs I’d like to meet and then building a routine from there. Another starting point could be to identify what routines I already have in place, what needs they’re meeting/what archetypes I’m acting out with them, and then shift the routines so that they are more positive rituals that still meet my needs.

Woodman talks about the overarching “masculine” energies in our lives and our society and how many of our negative rituals are attempts to grasp some “feminine” energy (through our relationships to food, among other things). I guess the goal would be to find more positive ways to balance the feminine and masculine in our lives. My inclination is to sit down with my brain and reason through this whole thing, develop myself a plan, and then record, apply it, and reflect upon the outcome, a process I’m fairly certain is tipped way over to the “masculine” side of things. I’m not sure I’m ready to use only my intuition, but I think I may be able to release my dependence on just my intellect. I have the sense that just having this awareness is starting me along the path to greater balance.

Best Project Yet

Or perhaps it would be better if I didn’t get your expectations too high.

This was just a little something my mom and I threw together this week.

Thanks to my buddy, Dana, and her miter box, we were able to make a frame for it. Thanks to my son, we needed to buy some white satin spray paint to touch up where he sprayed green food coloring on it. Of course, he’s also the one to thank that it exists at all, so I suppose it all evens out (plus, I was the one who said, “Hey! I’ll fill a squirt bottle with water and green food coloring and hand it to the baby! That’ll keep him occupied while we work on this one-of-a-kind art object!”). And a very special thanks to my doula, Stacy Smith, for helping to capture my off-center belly in plaster.

 

Painting the Board

Waiting for the paint to dry. (Have you guessed what we're making yet?)

Choices

Better A or B? We painted both so we could choose which we liked better. The one we didn't use (the one on the left) became the new insert for the cover to our crawlspace.

Belly on a Board

In process. My son was quite interested in the project at this stage.

Voila!

The finished and mounted belly cast. This is on our bedroom wall and will likely freak me out when I see it in the middle of the night tonight until I remember what it is.

 

For those unfamiliar with belly casts, this is an actual plaster cast of my torso from when I was about 37 weeks pregnant with my son. It involved cotton impregnated (tee hee) with plaster, lots of oil, and me sitting in my underwear in my kitchen. I’d intended to get one while pregnant with my daughter, but my water broke before I could have my friend make the belly cast for me. It turned out I would have had plenty of time to have my belly cast done before my daughter made her appearance, but we didn’t know that at the time and missed the opportunity.

At any rate, I have this one, which has been collecting dust on top of my dresser for nearly a year. I’m quite pleased with the result! My husband’s reaction was, “Wow! That’s really nice! Those aren’t real flowers, are they?”

My mom’s flight was delayed, so she’s staying an extra day and most of tomorrow. We’re planning an outing, though, so we’re unlikely to complete any major tasks before she needs to be at the airport. I plan to bake two loaves of bread and she plans to prune a tree and two bushes and maybe rake some leaves. Just a casual morning at home before we head out for a picnic lunch.

Week 11 Review: Reflecting on my Mom’s Visit

This week, my mom has been visiting from Ohio. As usual, we’ve been busy doing projects non-stop. My mom leaves tomorrow afternoon. The week has just flown by, also as usual. As a creature of habit, I will likely feel relieved to get back into the normal, boring daily routine, but I’ll miss having my mom to chat with and to work with (and to pitch in with the kids so I can finish a task without someone crying and grabbing my legs).

During the week, we’ve cleaned out the garage (including hanging the bikes for the winter (all but my husband’s since that’s his commuter vehicle)), re-covered our kitchen chairs, bought me a couple of new dressier outfits and cute shoes, brainstormed ways to organize the utility room, cleaned out and made a new insert for the cover to our crawl space, took three trips to the thrift store to drop things off, dropped off glass recycling, and hung two sets of sheers in the living room. We’ve got one other project we’re hoping to finish tonight and early tomorrow, but I’m going to keep that a secret until it’s done.

In addition, we attended Suzuki Celebration VIII (in which my daughter played her flute), took my daughter to her regular classes and lessons during the week, visited the aviary (and fed sun conures), and grilled out twice. So, like I said, we’ve been busy.

We also attended Mass two Sundays in a row, something that I’ve enjoyed more than I imagined I would. I find that the readings and lessons from the services are easy to apply to my life, even though I don’t hold the same specific beliefs. During this morning’s homily, the priest spoke about the moments during our day when we’re conscious of the Lord. He asked, will the Lord find faith and trust in our hearts during these moments of openness? I relate this fairly closely to my mindfulness practice and those moments I take to stop, breathe, and feel awareness and openness to life, to myself, and to those around me. During these moments, I can either close myself against the truths that threaten to confront me, or I can remain trusting and surrender to the lessons that await me. I may fear these lessons, but I know that they will bring greater fullness to my life and connect me more compassionately to the people around me.

On a more basic level, I think I enjoy attending religious services on Sundays because it sort of resets me. I get to start the week with quiet reflection. And singing. I really love to sing in a group.

So, on to Week 12 and to greater heights of decluttering and organization! The month is more than half over, and I fear that the most difficult decluttering tasks lie before me (the filing cabinet in the office and upstairs closets that contain the innards of scrapbooks I’ve not yet started, my Homecoming dress from 1992, and a large number of craft supplies, among other things).

Book Review: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Man's Search for MeaningMan’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Emil Frankl

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve read a lot about Germany during World War II from various perspectives. Frankl’s experience was unique in that at the time of his imprisonment in a succession of concentration camps, he was a practicing psychiatrist who had pioneered a method of therapy (“logotherapy”) that focused on changing our attitudes surrounding unavoidable negative situations in order to make them bearable, from a psychological standpoint. The ideas he presents are simple but paradigm shifting for me. This is a book I would like to read over again, probably several times, in order to get out of it all of the depth that I can.

View all my reviews

Errand Day

I was going to post that we hadn’t gotten much done today, but that’s not exactly true. First thing this morning, we swept, vacuumed and mopped the house. On the way to my daughter’s gymnastics class, we found a new drop-off location for glass recycling that’s closer than the zoo. On the way home, we dropped off give-away items at the thrift store and then ran the car through the car wash and utilized the “free vacuums with car wash.” Then lunch and dishes, then while the babysitter was here my mom and I ran errands. She bought me shoes!

Shoes

My first heels in I don't know how many years. I didn't even wear heels at my wedding.

And some clothes for me and the kids. And she bought steaks for dinner. While my husband was grilling those and my son was playing in the driveway salt, we ran out to the the hardware store and bought some stuff for a project we’re going to tackle tomorrow. Turns out my friend a block away has a bunch of saws and other cutting implements, so we plan to borrow from her rather than buy a new skill saw. Hooray!

Tomorrow we’re going to be car-less for most of the day due to the rehearsal schedule for my daughter’s concert, so we should get something besides errands done. Then we’ll get all gussied up and listen to 2,000 children play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (among other songs) for more than 2 hours.

Setting Them Up and Knocking Them Down. Figuratively.

Another day of getting ship done. (Yes, I said “ship.” I feel self-conscious writing gratuitous swear words, so I opt to pseudo-cuss.)

Today we finished re-covering the chairs (see yesterday’s post for pictures) while the baby napped and my daughter played on pbskids.org.

We put up the double curtain rods and hung the sheers while the children clung to our legs.

Window

The curtains were already up. It's the sheers that are new. Or rather, not new, just newly hung.

 

We cleaned and organized the garage while the children dug in the garden (insuring that there are no bulbs planted in that section), watched the dogs next door, pretended to talk on the phone, and helped sweep.

Garage 1

This is one wall of the garage. Notice the buckets of bird seed and salt hiding the entrance to the eerie crawl space.

 

 

Garage 2

Another wall of the garage. Mom says the task for next time will be making it so daylight isn't visible through the walls. Visible outside the garage are items formerly in the garage that are now in the trunk of my car to give away.

 

 

 

Garage 3

Same wall, different section. (The large rectangle of daylight coming through the wall is intentional. Previously it was obscured by spiderwebs. *Shudder*)

 

 

 

Garage 4

First wall again, different section. (Um, yes, the insulation is actually better than it was before my mother put the staple gun to use.)

 

 

We re-hung the portions of the alphabet that had fallen down in the dining room while the baby dumped crackers and crayons on the floor and my daughter collected box elder bugs outside.

 

Alphabetical

Thanks to my mom, my children no longer believe that the alphabet begins at E and ends at L.

 

And I made peach cobbler while my daughter was at flute lesson with my husband and my mom took my son to see the digger working on some part of the brand-new house that’s being built down the street. (No photo available of the cobbler. We ate it before I thought about photographing it, and I didn’t want to photograph it after we’d eaten it.)

My mom’s got two Post-Its filled with to-do and to-purchase items for tomorrow and the trunk of the car is filled with glass recycling and give-away stuff to drop off on the way to gymnastics class in the morning. Rumor has it I may own a skill saw (?) and a label maker before my mom’s visit is over. I feel considerably less trepidation about the latter than about the former. But up until now, we’ve been using a hacksaw for all cutting needs that can’t be handled by scissors or pruners, so perhaps another tool might be a reasonable idea.