Repeat after Me: I Like You. I Love You.

Digital illo from a graphite drawing: Love Letter #14Maybe it’s the approach of the fourteenth of February that does it, but I seem to hear relationship talk everywhere I go these days. Maybe it’s because the university (where my husband teaches, conducts, and works alongside singers and musicians of every level both as students and fellow College of Music employees) is in the midst of vetting and hiring a wave of new musicians and administrators to fill in the blanks as faculty and staff move to other positions or retire. Maybe it’s simply because I’m always attuned to what works and what doesn’t, as a person whose relationships shape my life in every way. Very nearly all of them for the better, thankfully!

In any event, whether St. Valentine is listening in or not, it strikes me that there are a huge number of three-little-word combinations that make relationships tick. Some, sadly, tick like bombs about to detonate. Those that tick along like a well-oiled machine tend to avoid the trios of words that begin and end with “I” and “you” but have negatives in the middle, even if that’s what the parties are feeling is most realistic at the moment. “I hate you” or any variant thereof has little hope of communicating anything other than that the speaker is not equipped to reason out of a problem, and whether that arises from sheer, stubborn, stupid self-centeredness or from lack of experience and skills, it would be wise for any of us to attempt to learn and use the necessary tools for genuine two-way communication. The risk of not doing so is far higher than the implosion of that one relationship, though surely that alone should be reason enough to try. Every being with whom we share oxygen in our finite little lives has the power to bring richness and beauty to our existence, or to crush our very ability to see and experience such things.

I know that’s a mighty far-reaching claim, but think about it: every successful interaction or failure on your part colors not only your mood of the moment or day but your ability to rise up on the next ready for joy or expecting disaster. You, in turn, reflect this attitude on those others around you, and while that poison or elixir-of-happiness is rippling away from you in concentric, if eccentric, rings, it is passed along in ever-increasing circles that will always find their way back in one sense or another. Some name this Karma, some Luck, some Destiny, and some, The Golden Rule. But if you can’t pull up your socks and look trouble in the eye and take pity on it with a rational yet heartfelt conversation or ten, you’ve not earned your right to complain about it.

Rational yet heartfelt, I say.

It does no one any good to have a weepy, foot-shuffling, embarrassed, or even joyfully conciliatory moment of rapprochement, no matter how deeply felt, if it isn’t given clear thought and the foundation for future prevention of recurrence. It certainly won’t fix any damage to plan it all out and chart the full course of the détente if it’s insincere or only marginally acceptable to one or more parties to the agreement. If your heart’s not in it, take the time to figure out why—preferably together—and fix the underlying problems before settling the current dustup.

An old but tried-and-true way of saying what one can’t seem to convey coherently in the heat of an argument or when just overwhelmed with emotions is to write everything you’re thinking and feeling down, set it aside for a short period (preferably overnight), and come back to review it. Clarify, edit, and make it say as honestly and fully as possible how you’re feeling and why you think that’s so. Consider whether your partner—at work, home, or play—would be able to understand your view of things better if that essay or letter were in front of him or her. Have you presented your thoughts as calmly and factually as possible, no matter how emotional the content? Did you state things with fair ownership, making sure that it’s transparent to anyone that these are your feelings and interpretations of the situation and that you take responsibility for them? Can you speak without assuming that all of the blame lies either outside or inside yourself, but realizing that perhaps both parties might need to concede a little in order to have a meeting of the minds? Do you admit that you might not even meet in the middle all of the time, sometimes needing to be the one who concedes more ground and others, being met more than halfway? Are you obsessed with being right or 100% satisfied, or can you allow that someone else with a wholly different feeling or goal might be equally entitled to those different emotions, tastes, or wishes? If you can add those recognitions to the ‘document’ before you, why not do it.

Then read again. Is this something that, if shared in humility and a genuine desire to find common ground, could become the basis for a kinder, more thoughtful and productive conversation? Maybe you’ll even want to share it with your counterpart, but unless you promise yourself never to do so as an attack on your partner’s integrity, personal sense of  worth, and human value, think first about how you’d feel on the receiving end. Isn’t that the point, anyway? To find a way to understand how your relations feel and what you’d want if you were in their shoes? If it isn’t, then I’d venture that it’s not a real relationship but the desire to make someone meet your needs and wishes. A person seen as a toy or tool for your convenience and pleasure is not a relationship, whether it’s pragmatic or romantic to you or, no, you’re actually absolutely lacking in empathy.

You probably wouldn’t even be reading this if that last were true. The only exception I can imagine is if you’re interested in developing empathy, or mimicking it, and frankly, either of those beats going without, in my estimation.

So what is the real goal in relationships? I would say that it’s mutual benefit. What are the possible benefits? Endless. In a work relationship—office, school, community, organization—it’s the ability to be more productive as a result of combining complementary skills and knowledge or merely by virtue of doubling or further increasing the work force. Yet more: it’s also the ability to grow and succeed in the business at hand because the combined companionship and efficiency of a strong, smoothly working team allows more creative and meaningful thinking as well as better energy for the moment.

In friendship and love, I tend to think the goals needn’t be all that different. If romance or lust is the only commonality, for a minuscule few that might be enough, but for most of us it’s a relatively small part of the daily equation. Temperate, even affectionate, converse is a fine place to start and end. If our words are considered for their impact on the recipients, the respect for their beliefs and feelings, needs and wishes, they will not only effect a positive response but can reinforce the alliance and mutual admiration. It doesn’t matter if the language if flowery and poetic, or if the thoughts seem original.

What matters is that you are willing to say, consistently and regularly, some positive form of “I _____ you” to your partner, with modesty, commitment, honesty, patience, and kindness. What does your partner want from you? Most likely, the same basic things you want from your partner: respect, liking, sympathy, empathy, care for one’s well-being. I like you. I admire your intelligence, your beauty inside and out, your accomplishments. I respect your ideas, your hopes and dreams. I am sorry for your sorrows, even the ones that I can’t fathom because they aren’t obviously situational. I recognize that your pain and joy are real, and that I am a part of them. I had my feelings hurt, but I forgive you, and I crave your forgiveness in return when I’ve been thoughtless or foolish, too. I want to protect you from whatever you fear. I hope that you will always be confident in my faith in our partnership and that what I do will show my desire to make your life better. I value your opinion and will ask for it when I’m contemplating a decision. It affects us both! If all of that isn’t crystal-clear, I hope that you will always feel welcome to tell me your needs and desires and to ask me about mine and respond positively to them. I love you.

And whenever you can summon the courage to do so, say it out loud. Trust me, if it’s true it never gets dull. I like you. I love you. I wish you well in all things. I am thankful that you and I are partners in this. Life is good, isn’t it.

Don’t Make Me *Think*—Make Me *Happy*

Shallow as a one-sided gnat’s freckle, that’s me.

If asked what movie I’d prefer to watch, book to read, music to hear, I’m almost never the person in the crowd who says “challenge me!” I’m the one who wants to be effortlessly  and palatably entertained, and that rarely includes any sort of idea or activity that involves my working, learning, evolving, or—banish the thought! (literally)—thinking.

I have always known that I’m not fond of experiencing anything that makes me feel the slightest bit out of my comfort zone, and while I don’t think it admirable or something I find brag-worthy, I don’t think it’s shameful, either. Even the people that I know who crave the New and different and are energized by being amid the exotic, the confrontational, or the controversial mostly seem to find that very pleasurable rather than frightening, and so, choose it because being uneasy or even frightened is in its way pleasant to them. True adrenaline junkies are not alone in this: the great explorers among us, whether those of intellectual or physical, artistic or scientific realms, thrive on the jagged edge of the known and the safe.

So, as I was wandering around the interwebs this morning and looking through a certain high-end vintage auction house’s catalogue of art, I was struck by how many works I could admire for their originality, their technical facility, their wit, and/or their power, but how many I could also truthfully say I was attracted to, myself? Not so many. Some there were that I thought incredibly impressive and deeply respect-worthy for numerous reasons, but few among them would I ever consider hanging in my own house or office or want to look at long term.  I do like mysteries and scary stories, and there are plenty of artworks and concepts and images that amuse and delight me for the very reason that I find them ugly or appalling, even to the point of painful laughter, but unless these things meet my own criteria for what I’d like to enjoy at length, it’s all for naught.

And of course, as a visual artist myself, and one who’s never made any particular headway with building a paying audience for anything I do, I am always intrigued to snoop around at such sites’ pricing of artworks. I marvel at what is listed as unsold, seeing artworks of phenomenal skill and complexity offered for what I think pretty reasonable prices (though I certainly couldn’t afford them, not least because of my aforementioned lack of success as an art entrepreneur); at what has sold that I couldn’t imagine living happily with; at what astronomical prices are being asked for things that in my opinion don’t even come close in material costs, labor time, or skill level to what I’ve sold of my own work in the past for comparative pennies. This kind of perusal is highly educational, occasionally frustrating, sometimes encouraging, and most often, just a great source of inspiring ideas and images that make me want to head back to my own drawing board again. Worth all of it, if only for that last.

On reflection, I do remember that I have made many images and told many stories myself that I didn’t want to hang on my own walls, and even a few times have destroyed ones that I knew someone else liked because I didn’t think it represented my ideals anyhow. That’s the strangeness and the delight of the arts, isn’t it. One person’s trash is another’s pleasure. Crazy. Wonderful.Digital illo from a painting: O Happy Day

Bloggy Froggy

Just a quick howdy-do from the little amphibian who visited me in the garden the other day. Sometimes it really does take very little to brighten the dullest, most common chores or the least exotic occasion. A little hopper leaps into view, and my heart leaps to follow.Digital illo from a photo: Leapfrog

Rivers of Tears, Rivers of Peace

Photomontage: Fox HuntingThe marvels and beauties of the natural world are inevitably balanced by equally intense harshness: death weighs against life, grief against joy, and unease against sanguinity. Angst steals peace. And life continues for all of those who grieve the loss of the dead and dying. We mourn, and we weep rivers of tears.

What do animals do? They suffer all of the losses that humans do, but are denied the relief, the respite of tears. Driving a country roadside at dusk, my husband and I spotted a fox pacing the length of a meadow, back and forth, back and forth, nose in the grasses, intent. A quarter-mile up the road, we saw on the other side a small heap of red-brown fur. It was very small. It was very still. The mother fox was searching for her kit, and when she eventually found it, her hunt would end sorrowfully. We stayed quiet in sadness for her.

What would she do? Sit silent watch? Yip, bark, whine? Surely, after a time, she would return to her den, her other kits; would they, too, feel the loss? It was clear from her search that the mother fox would go to great lengths to protect or find her young, and I can only imagine, from my perspective, that it would be with whatever is the fox’s form of emotion that she would seek, find, and suffer the death of her young. But she would have no tears for it. As much as I dread the causes of them, I am grateful for tears.

For, like the rising flood behind a dam, they signal an immense pressure and an enormity of feeling pent up inside us and growing in heaviness and strength until they are released. When we humans ‘let go’ of a dead loved one or comrade, it is not that we forget or no longer care; it’s that we are able to somehow vent the pressure of the intense, unbearable sorrow and suffering felt at the immediate loss. Tears are a benison in this, the floodgate opened in the bursting dam to permit some physical release of that intensity of sorrow, letting it abate enough to become manageable once more. When I weep, whether for an unknown fox’s kit or for my own lost loves, the river of my tears carries away with it some of my misery and leaves behind a kind of quiet that is washed of grief and open for peace.Digital illo from a photo: River of Tears

Short & Sweet

Digital illo from photos: Dark Waters

Waves of sorrow will pass soon enough…

The interlude between uneasy emergency-room visiting and the expected, probably not too fun, Expulsion of a certain little hunk of rock from the Paradise of my innards is a brief one, but it’s amazing how lovely it is to feel pretty good in between times. The stone has kindly opted to not move during this intervening couple of days, and I am grateful! It meant, among other things, that I felt well enough to deal with a heap of post-hospital laundry, tidying up the general wreckage of a house neither of us has been free to visit much in the last week, and just admiring how lovely it is to have an ordinary day. I fully intend to be a poster child for pain-free, speedy resolution to kidney stone fun, but I have to be fair and say that I’ve already had about the shortest and easiest passage through this little form of bedevilment anybody could have. And I am cognizant, more than ever, of how incredibly fortunate I am not to face the chronic or the deepest forms of pain.

Remind me of that when I’m whingeing about my suffering later. Because, being human, and being a pretty unspectacular specimen of the species as it is, I will. I apologize in advance. But I really, truly, and with all of my heart thank everyone who has been so stupendously kind and supportive when I do get all misty-eyed over my supposed sorrows and tribulations, because it’s you who make any and all of it bearable. And keep it, despite my foolish self-centeredness, in perspective.

Joy for the day!

Digital illo from photos: Time to Make Waves

Let the happiness and love wash over us all!

Most Surprises are Good Ones

After extolling the virtues of accepting life’s serendipitous gifts along the quotidian way, I got another big surprise. Ironic, I suppose, that I was surprised. It was, though, of a far less delightful sort: a quick descent into serious physical discomfort, followed by a trip to the hospital. Again. Only the third time in my entire life, yet the second time in less than a month. Not at all ‘life as planned.’

If you’re uncomfortable with reading about illness or medical stuff, skip the rest of this post and know that it’s about my having been sick but still being alive and well enough to write the post! And I’ll see you tomorrow. ‘Bye, now!

Saturday, sometime in the mid-morning, I started feeling less than fabulous. A slight pain around my middle started to come and go in varying waves, accompanied by a host of related symptoms that something unpleasant was lurking inside. From then into Monday evening, the symptoms worsened between shortening periods of calm. I was irritated, as much as anything, that I felt just as lousy as I had at the beginning of this month when I paid that previous visit to the Emergency Room and went home with a flu diagnosis and antibiotics, albeit feeling much better, on my release, for the ER treatment I’d received. It was more than a little irksome to think that I would have a case of gastroenteritis strong enough to make me think I had kidney stones not just once-ever, but twice in one month.

Monday night was kind of ugly. I already felt rotten at bedtime, enough so that I sent my spouse off to our bed by himself and tried to get comfortable enough to sleep elsewhere, since I felt too awful to lie flat. After hours of perching awkwardly this way and that on various pieces of furniture and the floor, alternated with pacing and a multitude of trips to the loo that were neither especially productive nor reassuring, I was no better, a bit worse, and much more anxious. I couldn’t even decide whether the success of those anti-nausea pills I’d been given but not needed after the weeks-ago hospital jaunt was that much of a boon, as (having taken one now) I was glad not to be spitting out my soul in a foul fountain of retching wretchedness, but still felt horridly nauseous. And I was loath to wake my beloved and have him drag me off to the ER again not only because I felt a bit like I was ‘crying wolf’ and just going to get hydrated, mollified, and sent off home again, but more importantly, because the upcoming day was the final day of recall-auditions for my guy’s larger university choir, after an already intense four days of preliminary auditions and the complicated, concentrated consideration of who would come together to make the fittest, most balanced choir out of the 180-some singers who had started the audition process.

All of that agonizing of his, and mine, went out the window by 3:30 yesterday (Tuesday) morning. I just plain felt horrible, and it wasn’t showing any signs of stopping. Fifteen minutes later we were off to the hospital again.

Photo: Are We Having Fun Yet?

Are We Having Fun Yet?

I had the good fortune to be taken in instantly and examined by the night’s ER team in rapid succession. I had virtually identical symptoms to those of my previous visit, so the tests and questions were pretty much as expected. The one benefit, I suppose, of my having waited longer this time was that although I’d had longer to feel bad, I’d also had those brief windows of feeling marginally better, and thinking I’d kicked the bug or it had at least retreated, I’d been able to eat a bit at times and, more importantly, drink fluids, so I wasn’t nearly so dehydrated. The immediate bonus of that being that on ER intake, I did actually have more than a half-teaspoon of fluid in my bladder when asked for a sample.

That ‘donation’ of mine should have been easily more healthy by mere reason of better hydration in the days and hours preceding the visit, but it was concentrated and looked orange. The latter, it emerged, was because it contained a bunch of red blood cells. To my surprise and, I think, to the ER doctor’s. Because everything was generally pointing flu-ward again. He’d generally ruled out appendicitis (yay!) and heart attack (YAY!), but said that this small curiosity was not one to be brushed off casually, so he sent me down the hall for a CT scan. Where, in a couple of pictures that looked comically like those prenatal sonograms with their adorable babies waving in amniotic bliss, my “baby” was a little alien blob, quite egg-like in shape and about the size of a brand-new pencil eraser, perched slightly below my right kidney. My own personal meteorite, staking its territory inside and making me feel kind of nasty and more than a little ticked off at its invasion.

Let me just say that I don’t fault the previous ER doctor in any way for not finding this, although I can’t imagine by any stretch that it took less than a month from start to finish for me to produce a stone of this size. It was already there, and on the move. But because of its size, it seems entirely possible to me that the thing hasn’t wandered as much as typical kidney stones, not having so much room to maneuver, and so has paused at whatever cubbies and intersections it could squeeze into, thus having those in-between times of stillness when my system could temporarily adjust and not keep actively trying to evict it. Still, it would have been nice to uncover the culprit by showing the right symptoms on first try, rather than having to come back for a sequel.

The sequel to this actual diagnosis should have been straightforward enough. Question: is it small enough to ‘go through the pipes’ and leave under its own momentum? Answer: not likely. Safe to guess that passing a pencil eraser through plumbing that narrow would be ugly, if not impossible. Impassable. The doctor’s recommended urologist happened to be ‘in the house’ at the time of my visit, so he was consulted on the spot and tentatively recommended ESWL (extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy), to be done at his outpatient clinic after a consultation. That consult happened earlier this afternoon. Tomorrow (Thursday) is the procedure. Yay?

Meanwhile, back at the ER, among the many tests administered were those aimed at determining whether I’d had or was having a heart attack, despite the complete lack of chest or arm pain on my part. I’ve read that women’s heart attacks do sometimes present less obviously than men’s, and of course, that anyone can have an anomalous episode of pretty much any ailment. So I wasn’t alarmed. But my heart enzyme levels were just enough higher than expected that the ER doctor decided to monitor them, strictly for insurance and assurance if for no other reason.

That’s when the second-most unexpected element of the whole episode came into effect. He had me admitted to the hospital for overnight observation and re-testing of something almost entirely unrelated to the cause of my hospital visit in the first place. The downside of this was, of course, being put in the hospital. First, and I hope last, time ever. Chances were fair that any elevation of the enzymes might have been attributed to the stress and pain of having a kidney stone, not to mention the concomitant upset of having to go back to the hospital for diagnosis and treatment.

As there was little worry on my part that anything dire was about to be revealed about my heart, and I already felt worlds better for having been ER-treated for my pain, the prospect of my observational stay in the hospital wasn’t frightening. I decided to treat it as a cosmically granted day of education and R&R. So while I don’t recommend hospital visits as either a cool substitute for a community college night course, let alone an even trade for a spa vacation, I found I got a few similar values from it overall.

As the twenty or so professionals who took over my life and well-being for the remainder of my stay were unfailingly kind, patient, and willing to answer any question or explain any mystery, I found them to be highly informative company. As the majority of them were also tremendously gracious and good-humored, they were just plain good company—the sort I’d happily visit with over lunch any old time. Assuming I didn’t require a morphine cocktail just to sit through lunch, on the day. Hospitals being what they are, I wouldn’t necessarily trade the amenities of a designer-decorated seaside spa with its celebrity chef and rose petal-strewn massage chamber for a place where even the sweetest people are wont to wake you every twenty minutes to two hours to stick needles in you, squeeze your arms and feet, ask how often you’ve visited the toilet lately, or—without a trace of sarcasm—ask how you’ve been sleeping. But (hospitals being what they are), I had a fairly peaceful and definitely worthwhile recovery from feeling anxiously, very uncomfortably, unwell.

Now, if I can just get this blasted nephrolith blasted. Delightful as it is to learn all kinds of new and interesting things about my heart through my echocardiogram yesterday, about hospital procedures and history through talking to staff, and about yet more of my million limitations as a frail humanoid creature through the last few days’ adventures. Oh, and I learned why I’ve always been so averse to mathematics: internalizing calculus turned out to be a regrettably vexatious experience for me.

Here’s to ejecting the little pest and returning to my delightfully dull self!Digital illo from CT scan: Extreme Closeup

A Week Full of Surprises

Odd, the things that one does, and doesn’t, expect in the course of daily life. So seldom do the actual happenings of that life match up exactly with the expectations. I find that, quite often, the mismatches work in my favor; life is almost always so much better and more colorful than I expect it to be.

Earlier this week, I was admiring the red yucca out in front of our house that had its first blooming season this year, and it presented me with a couple of pods simply crammed with ripe seeds. I’d no idea that those plants could be grown from seed, but apparently—albeit very, very slowly—it’s true. Maybe I’ll just have to give it a try, to reward the plant for being so effusive in its performance at such a tender age. If plants have feelings, the yucca deserves a cheery surprise, too.Photo: Red Yucca Seeds

Yesterday at supper, my husband looked out the window and saw a tiny bit of movement at the far end of the backyard.Photo: I Spy with My Little Eye

It was a different garden worker than the man who usually comes by with his crew to care for our lawn. A sweet, long-eared wild grass trimmer happily snipping away at the greenery without a seeming care in the world other than to pop up from time to time to listen more closely to the birds whistling overhead. So I did that, too, all the while checking to see if that little creature was still doing such dedicated gardening. Too charming to let the time pass without giving him full respect.Photo: Our Little Lawnmower

Today was no different in being, well, different.

After dropping off my spouse at work for a longish day of auditions, I headed out to do some much-needed shopping to replenish the larder. As I got into my car between stops, I looked across a vast suburban parking lot to see this uniquely Texan vision: an equine parade streaming down the road between lot sections to the main street, one mounted cowboy in the lead pausing to signal the automotive traffic out there to slow down so the stagecoach could pass through. All very matter-of-fact and unhurried, yet not quite what I would have assumed was about to happen as I went about my grocery rounds for the day.

Nor was the sequel anything I would have imagined until it happened. I finished the last grocery stop at a store across town from home and was loading the car when a lady asked me for directions. I believe it’s as obvious to all of you as to everyone who has ever spent time in my real-world company that I am possibly the worst person to be giving any other person directions from anywhere to anywhere else. But the place she wanted to go turned out to be pretty much around the corner from my neighborhood, and during our short conversation, I found her engaging and interesting.

Photo: Surprise Bouquet

Life is always bringing me surprise bouquets…

Rather than try to tell her how to get there, I just told her I was heading her way and she should follow me. She got that. I liked her right away. So I said, Come on by my place for a glass of iced tea or sparkling water, and then I’ll explain the short remaining route to your destination. And so she did, and we did, and I did. I had no inkling, when I got up this morning, that I’d watch a stagecoach pass by in the middle of my shopping, let alone that I’d meet an interesting person who, as it transpired, has all sorts of intriguing life history and shared interests, along with a whole lot of new stories and ideas to interest and inspire me. It was certainly an amazing day.

I wonder what’ll happen tomorrow!

Photo: Stagecoach a-Comin'

If nothing else interesting arises, maybe I’ll have to go over and see if I can catch the stagecoach somewhere…