Sunday, August 25, 2019

How I Nearly Gaslit Myself

"Clown Trashcans (Baeza)" by stinkenroboter is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0  

It's surprisingly easy to be 'gaslit'. You wouldn't think so - we all think of ourselves as smart and savvy, but the reality is, we are all susceptible to alterations of our memories of events. Sometimes, the people in our lives can use that tendency for evil purposes. Sometimes, we just confuse ourselves.

This is a story of how Lisa freaked herself out and had her questioning her sanity, her memory, and her reality all in one day.


Our trash day is Friday. I try to bring out the barrels on Thursday night because I have a standing event Friday mornings at 7 am which makes it a stretch to get out the trash Friday morning. If I leave it for Friday, it means not getting the barrels to the curb until I'm back around 9 am.

A few weeks ago, was one such busy Thursday. On Friday morning, as I headed out for my 7 am, I reminded myself to deal with the trash when I returned.

When I got home, the trash and recycling barrels were at the curbside.

Huh. I could have sworn they weren't there when I left. But maybe I just didn't notice. I figured my husband did the trash before he headed for work. He's normally more pressed for time in the mornings than I am, so it's a task that generally I do. But okay. I added recycling from the house to the recycle bin and went about my day.

The trash collectors came and went sometime late morning. I had a few errands to run and figured I'd put the barrels away when I returned.

When I got home a few hours later, the barrels were gone.

Hmmm. Sometimes our neighbor pulls them in, especially when he thinks we're out of town. So I went next door to thank him.

Readers, he didn't put them away.

Now, he has a good poker face and a sharp sense of humor, so for a moment I considered that he was pranking me, but after a few more minutes of conversation, I was convinced it wasn't him.

My older son has variable work hours, and we usually ask him to take in the barrels if we're going to be away for the weekend. It was possible that he thought this was one of those weekends. So I texted him to thank him.

He hadn't put the barrels away either.

Now, I was starting to get a little weirded out. Yes, it's just trash cans, but still. Weird.

Friday night, when hubby came home from work, I told him about the mystery of the returning trash cans and thanked him for putting out the barrels in the morning.

He looked at me funny and said he hadn't taken them out. He'd overslept his alarm and didn't even have time for coffee that morning. He said I must have done it but not remembered. Then he asked me if I checked the storage shed for the barrels.

I went to the little shed only to find that there was trash and recycling still in both barrels.

Which meant they had NEVER been taken out at all.

Hubby starts asking me if I feel okay.

I start quietly panicking inside. 

I am SURE I didn't imagine the barrels in front of the house that morning. Hell, I added the recycling that was in the house to the green bin. But I start thinking that maybe, just maybe I'm remembering from last week. You do something over and over and over again every week at the same time and sure - I could have just conflated all the memories into one.

Except that doesn't feel right. 

I kept trying to remember anything specific about taking the trash out that morning and bringing it back later in the day, but it doesn't feel real.  But neither does not taking them out.

Now I have, in essence, two competing memories in my head: one where I didn't move the trash cans, one where I did and the more I try to sort it out, the more I cannot determine which set of memories is real. 

I've been more forgetful lately. And I've been blaming it on 'menopause brain', but could this be something else? Something more serious?

I have a medical background, so my FIRST thought is "Oh, God, I have a brain tumor." Logical, right?

But then I remember I had a head/neck MRI a few months ago for a neck issue and surely, if there had been a tumor, they would have seen it then.

Okay, so I'm just really losing my mind. 

My husband keeps asking me if I'm sure I feel okay.

Well, that just makes it all better . . . NOT.

I remember how my mother would spin from confusion to anger when she was confronted by something she had forgotten at the start of her slide into dementia. The only saving grace is since I was adopted, I don't have her genes. But then I start to wonder how much of dementia is genetic. I've been having word finding problems for the past few years (a *joyful* thing when you're a writer). Maybe it is more serious than menopause brain.

I was at the point of calling my primary care practitioner for a recommendation and referral to a neurologist when a new possibility popped into my brain. I wasn't sure if the new thought was a genuine possibility or if I was grasping at straw in my frantic attempt not to be losing my mind.

You see, there had been a bunch of road and sidewalk work over the prior week or so in the neighborhood. So with a desperate kind of hope, I called my neighbor to ask her if by chance, she had put her trash barrels in front of our house.

Even I didn't put a lot of faith in that being the solution. 


I was truly holding my breath waiting for her answer.

"Why yes," she said, "sorry I didn't tell you. The sidewalk in front of our house was roped off so we couldn't put the trash out."

Relief flooded through my body. I wasn't crazy. I didn't have this unexplained memory gap. There was a perfectly logical explanation for the appearing/disappearing trash barrels. I was literally shaking for several minutes after I got off the phone. 


And that, my friends, is how easy it is to be gaslit, even by your OWN mind.

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Monday, July 22, 2019

Morning Walk, Rock Hall

Morning Walk, Rock Hall

The purple martins mock us
as we stroll past their crowded house.
For once, the dogs ignore them,
intent on sharper smells closer to the ground --
frogs and bunnies, decapitated fish
abandoned by picky osprey. It's easy
to forget how alive the world is. This morning 
I read that Iceland has written a love letter 
to a lost glacier. Closer to home, 
spring torrents have made mud where fields
once ripened with corn. For just an hour,
I would be as tunnel-nosed as my pups, 
seeking out the scent-trails in front of me, 
the hope of a filled bowl yet to be. Ambition 
has ruined us. The dogs are content 
to chase a handful of waddling ducks. A thousand 
squawking fowl couldn't satisfy their desire to hunt, 
could only confuse and terrify these two rescued, 
damaged creatures. Desire of a certain kind
can break you. Make you hoard misery
until the chambers of your heart 
silt in. Until your blood trickles
where it once flowed unconstrained. I want
the joy of a chase where the bird scolds me
for even trying, where I watch it soar, where I
laugh at how ponderous legs have disappointed me 
again. The dogs herd me back to the house, mouths 
soft,ears flapping, limbs gliding over the ground
with an ease I may never match. They forgive
my clumsy tugs on their leads, patient
and kind with all my human failings.  

--LJ Cohen, July 22, 2019

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Sunday, June 16, 2019

The complexities of fathers day

I've been thinking a lot about fathers lately. Not just about the wonderful man who raised me and who I said goodbye to for the final time four years ago, but also about the word father and its multiple meanings.

While the noun versions of both father and mother denote the people who raise a child, the verb forms hold quite different connotations:  To mother is to nurture. To father is to contribute genetic material to a child.

That dichotomy says a lot about our society and the roles - often highly gendered and artificial ones - we allow/encourage/support for mothers and fathers. There has been much written about that double standard and I won't rehash it here, other than to recount a personal story: 

My husband and I are parents of two sons; now grown adults. But when they were small, I often played the role of solo parent while my husband had to travel for work several times a year. It was not seen as anything unusual, and I wasn't offered any special support during those times from friends and family.

When the children were young - perhaps 3 and 5 - I had to travel for a week to a conference on the west coast. While my husband was fully prepared for his stint as a solo parent, judging by the reactions of friends and family, you would think that either he was utterly incompetent (he's not), or that somehow the job of parenting itself had suddenly changed to require a village (spoiler alert - it has always been so) in the absence of a mother.

Again, I think this is inherent in the language we use. Mothering: provides all needs. Fathering: provides chromosomes. I prefer to simply say we both parented our children. 


My father didn't father me, but he most certainly parented me.
The man who fathered me didn't parent me.


I've been thinking a lot about this in relation to being an adoptee. Finding my genetic family over the past year and a half has been both a life-changing discovery and also one that hasn't really altered my core identity. Perhaps this is because I was in my 50s and fully settled in my life with a family of my own at the time.

I have more to relate in the ongoing story of my adoption search, but last summer, I found my birth father and spoke with him on the phone for the first time. I am grateful for his life. I am grateful that I was able to find him and complete a piece of his history. (Short version - my birth mother was his girlfriend. Her mother didn't approve of him and sent Robin out of town when she became pregnant with me. He never knew.)

There's no way to know who I might have been if the people who created me had also been the people who raised me. How much of me is genetic/nature, how much is environment/nurture? Even learning about much of my genetic family over the past year and a half, I can't answer that question.

Perhaps it doesn't matter. I am the sum of my influences and experiences, as all of us are.


While I would like the chance to meet my birth father, I'm not looking for a new parent. There's no way to encapsulate a lifetime of history and caring and transfer it to a new relationship. We are just an interesting coda in each other's lives. He went on to parent three other daughters. I was parented by a wonderful father. Even if it were possible, I wouldn't change my past.


And to the father of our children, my co-parent and partner in all things: my love, always.


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Monday, May 13, 2019

What's the appeal of so much pain?

There will not be any specific spoilers to Game of Thrones material here, though I will talk about the show in general ways.

I don't actively watch GoT. My husband follows the show, so I tend to hang out in the living room and either knit or work on my laptop during it. There is a lot to appreciate about the series, not the least of which is its production values. But I don't enjoy it.

There's a critical difference between stories that show characters battling darkness (internal or external) and finding their triumph versus stories that glorify pain.

I don't enjoy the latter. Not to read. Not to watch. Not to write.

When I was in my teens/20's, I read a lot of dark stuff and loved it. (The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant comes to mind.) Now, it just magnifies the dark I've experienced. Over the past several decades, I've lived through the slow decline of my mother's mind and her eventual death from complications of dementia. Helped my father through his end of life journey when 7 years of dialysis were too much for him to bear. Mourned so many loved ones. Escaped a burning house with my family and the clothes on our backs. Experienced great disappointments and great pain. Nearly lost a dear one to suicide.

The longer I've lived, the more pain I've experienced and witnessed in my life. And the less I want to find that kind of pain in what I read and watch for entertainment. 

It's why I can watch a zillion versions of Twelfth Night or Two Gentlemen of Verona, but I don't think I can ever sit through another King Lear.

I recently saw The Ferryman on Broadway with some friends. It was a masterful performance that left me reeling. It was like King Lear meets Ethan Fromme and as incredible as the play, the staging, the acting were, the ending was a gut punch. Not a sucker punch, thankfully, because the show laid enough foreshadowing that you knew it wasn't going to end well.

I don't think I would have chosen to go to this show on my own. It was recommended to me as a writer by a writer friend I trust. And yes, on a craft level, there was a lot to learn and absorb from The Ferryman.

While I don't regret seeing it, I don't need to ever see it again. And thank the gods of writing that there was humor and lightness in the play, because otherwise, it would have been unwatchable.

It's not that I want false cheer in my entertainment. I enjoy cotton candy or peeps now and again, but that does not a healthy diet make.

I don't understand the appeal of so much pain. It's why I never read past GRRM's first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. Not because it was poorly written - it wasn't. I've often said you could run a masterclass on writing point of view using that first story.

It was because the pain depicted became (for me) the point of the story, rather than a part of the story.

I will never write that kind of unremitting darkness anymore. I have several trunked novels that will never see the light of day because they are full of pain for no other reason than I had internalized a lot of stuff from my early reading.

My stories have pain and sadness in them; that's part of life and I don't want to shy away from expressing a full range of human emotions in my work. But, even Pandora found hope after freeing all the misery and evil trapped in the box. 

If you enjoy SF&F stories with some hope and endings that leave the characters transformed, but not tortured, I have a bunch you might like. You can check them out on my website. 

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