Tag Archives: purpose

Daily Existential Angst Diary (I’ll let y’all do the acronym)

**TRIGGER WARNING** UNALIVE ATTEMPT DISCUSSED IN BRIEF.

In October 2019, I attempted, feebly, to unalive* myself by trying to swim into a rip current. That day, in essence, initiated the path of separation and divorce. Someone said at the time: “You can’t save him (my husband) or the marriage. You can only save yourself.”

Since then, in trying to sort out who I am vs who I was vs who I want to be, I have felt some fear that I simply don’t care if I save myself. Whence comes this resignation?

A friend told me (and I have heard this sentiment many times in my life and from various sources) that he is nothing without God. In the moment, that made me sad. I considered what an extraordinary person he is and the potential he still carries in his many years ahead and thought, how can you limit your understanding and value of yourself to what your religion tells you that you are?

However, upon removing the fogged lens of a strained conversation and now seeing it through the clarity of distance and time, I found that his “nothing” was little different than mine.

I am nothing without purpose.

I am nothing without family.

I am nothing without my art.

On any given day, I may believe I have none of or am achingly distant from all of those things that I believe make me something.

Is there a qualitative difference, then, between my nothing and his?

I might be able to convince myself that there are no arbitrary rules (defined by a select entity or a group of self-appointed “lawmakers” over the course of decades or centuries and put forward in a text) that I am required to follow to get back to something.

I can find purpose, art, and perhaps even family without someone’s approval of my actions (or rather, without letting myself fear disapproval and condemnation).

I can probably convince myself that my nothing is self-imposed, therefore can be self-resolved: not easily, mind you, but easier, perhaps than meeting someone else’s (God’s, the Church’s, a spouse’s) expectations for ideal behavior.

On the other hand, when I was a Christian, I was trained to believe that as long as I had accepted God’s grace, perhaps also as long as I “washed up” properly after being less-than-perfect and got on my metaphorical knees and begged His forgiveness, the slate was wiped clean and I was good to go again.

But I, with no god and with my own will and heart being the arbiters of my behavior and my nothing vs something, am the only one who can/should judge me.

And I am one judgmental beyotch.

I would love to just throw my hands up and say, “Oh, ok! I believe again. Help me, Lord.” and have that belief back and the comfort it was supposed to bring in those desperate moments.

It rarely brought me comfort. There were days I got caught up in beautiful church music, powerful hymns, and fellowship. There were days I felt less ill at ease and felt I could carry on. But, more often than not, I felt unheard by this supposed deity that I’d been told would be there for me. When I made that feeble attempt to unalive myself, I felt utterly alone.

There is no point in me thrashing about here with the existence or lack thereof of a God/god. No point in discussing why I failed at unaliving myself as “evidence” for a god. Whatever rationale one can provide for why it should reinforce my faith, I can give a rationale for why it furthered the deconstruction of it.

So, here I am in my nothing, struggling often without purpose, and some days, without art. Most days, I still feel utterly alone. I judge my heart, my behavior, and my lack of progress perhaps harder than any church or spouse/partner can judge. It makes me vulnerable to falling in with people who only want to take from me. It makes me especially vulnerable to my own selfishness.

It makes me potentially vulnerable to rip currents.

What keeps me out of rip currents now? Not hope. Certainly not faith.

Obligation.

And here, I realize another similarity to my friend and his “nothing without God” — being good enough. My obligation is to those I love and those for whom I work. It should, in part, be to myself and my art. However, a major symptom of depression (of artistic pursuit?) is imposter syndrome: the belief that we are never good enough to be devoted to our art and thereby our own needs rather than that of others. This is little different from “man is never good enough (original sin) without God.”

I’m sure this isn’t a new thought, just new to me.

There will be no rip current adventures for me again. I sometimes think if I just stay angry over the loss of the love and marriage, that alone will keep me out of threatening waters. I don’t believe I can maintain resentment that long. So, I must find a way to believe I am something by my own authority.

I must be obligated and devoted to my own needs for a while. Not dismissive of that of others, but not taking on their needs to the point of, once again, vanishing into their kowtowing version of me.

To that end, I write as often as I can now:

1) Poems (and short stories) that stir every part of me and heal me and maybe will stir and heal others in the future.

2) Letters to friends who tell me it is a delight to get them and who send equally delightful response letters.

3) And finally, pieces like this blog post which seem dark and sad, but in the end, lift me out of the currents that might carry me into frightening depths.

I write and this reminds me that I have a small gift with these words. I do, perhaps, have a purpose.

*I use this term to reduce anxiety for others and myself as well as hopefully to soften the tone of this entry.

It’s Not Too Much to Ask: Revisiting and Requesting Respect

(Dec 18, 2018). I reach into myself—my past, my present, my imagined future—and find emptiness.

From the time I was small, I have sought [men’s] approval and rarely received it. I am so very tired of failing them and feeling the need to meet their expectations as if they were god(s). That includes God—I hear he demands fealty, supplication, bowing and scraping—like my [ex]husbands, boyfriends, and other male friends who knew better than I about damn near everything. Men who felt the need to “protect” me when I was in no such need.

(March 2021) I am still tired, but may be gaining strength.

It’s clear to me from the above entry, discovered when I unearthed a journal a couple of days ago, that in December of 2018, I felt my marriage and my connection to my faith were falling apart in a substantial way.

It’s also clear that I stopped myself from thinking any further on the topic should it take me down a more painful path. The only entry after that is a blog composition about Big Dog.

I have met and clung to a couple of perfectly pleasant men since my divorce. They placed their value to me in how they could help and comfort po’ little ol’ me. I don’t deny they have helped me in various ways. However, they placed my value to them in the predictable arena; I am a walking, breathing, please-don’t-talk-too-much sex toy. I offer nothing in terms of intellect, care, or actual companionship. They demonstrate this by treating my time as their commodity, not my precious resource. One of them gets sullen and distant if he asks a question (apparently rhetorical) and I answer with knowledge I earned in college or on the job.

I’m too old for this game and I’m not going to pretend I have no brain or heart. I did that enough in my marriages: 1) was told I was using “big words” to talk down to my exes when in fact I was talking to them as equals because I presumed they had the same pliant and ready mind I had, open to learning and growth, 2) was expected to take on the lion’s share of care for my child while my first husband partied all night and picked up women.

I’m not brilliant, but I am not scared of someone else’s intelligence. When I meet intelligent and confident men (and I have recently, thank goodness), I revel in it. They are never intimidated by me and only challenge me politely.

I used to be angry that my parents pushed me to be precise with my language and open to all knowledge. My most punishing memory of my father is of him throwing up his hands during my 2nd grade math homework and barking, “Oh, come on, Karen! You’re smarter than that!” (I recall, with great regret, saying this to my daughter when she was small—ugh! Legacies.) That meant, to eight-year-old me that, of course, I wasn’t smart at all. When I married men that reflected this in their actions, and often their words, I lost all faith in myself.

I realize now, having spent the last year in divorce recovery, that my dad was expressing his frustration with his inability to teach me. It was his failing, not mine. I also realize my ex-husbands were reflecting their failings and fears of their own weaknesses, as well. Easier to make me feel small by telling me I had no common sense or no motivation or was forgetful (and reinforce small human errors until these statements became true(r) in many respects) than to face that they were afraid of their own intellectual or emotional shortfalls.

I can’t say the men I’ve known recently don’t think they have valid reasons for being disrespectful of my mind or my time. You would have to ask them.

I can say I have valid reasons for wanting to be respected. I’ve received two degrees, both of which required long hours and significant mental and emotional commitment. I’ve lived through two marriages, both of which required significant mental and emotional commitment, and both of which drained me of a great deal of my self esteem. I raised a child, held jobs at which I performed well, and helped my 2nd ex-husband build products for and run a home business for twenty-two years. I may be struggling right now to find my place in the universe again, but I am trying. That said, even if all of the above were not true, I am human, have feelings, and responsibilities and, on those counts alone, I deserve respect. I deserved that respect when I was married. I deserve it now.

Distressed table. Distressed books. Fossil shells.

Loose Ends: Dangling

I let the day go by without comment.  January 13th — the first anniversary of the day our Big Dog left us. I couldn’t bear to note it or comment. I’d been sick (Christmas flu leftover cough) and various levels of grief were simply too much to tolerate. His picture showed up in my social media feed several times that week. I reposted some of them.

The fourth anniversary of my father’s death was January 12th. The fifth anniversary of my mother’s death is January 29th. June’s anniversary of my sister’s* death will leap out on a Texas summer day and throw its cloud over everything.

Dominoes falling in my heart.

My heart was beaten and bruised with the losses of my parents. My heart was absolutely shattered when Big Dog died. I have never recovered. I keep waiting. We have adopted a new dog and I love the furry monster, but I feel the loss of Big Dog daily.

I have struggled with this constantly; why this sticks in my heart like some sort of parasite chewing away until I have so little to give anymore. I have tried to pull it out by loving Sammy the Mutt as much as I can. I spend a great deal of time with him. I hug and kiss him (he loves it, he’s weird that way), let him sleep on the bed with me when I’m writing, and take him for long walks. When I’m well, I run him alongside my bicycle. Love and spoil him as I do, my heart aches every time I see the large box of ashes on my dresser. Some days, a moment of complete silence in the house without BD snoring next to me is a moment gone dead.

Big Dog the last summer of his life.

Articles on the internet about grief are, by and large, about the loss of our human loved ones. I can’t, for even a moment, imagine the loss of a devoted spouse or a child, nor do I want to. I know that, in the long run, the loss of a pet is not the same. But bear with me, for this loss is still no small loss.

I have avoided this blog entry. It is difficult. It is self-centered. It is self-pitying and self-indulgent.

It is time.

The few articles I’ve seen about the loss of a pet focus on the idea that we miss our pets because of the love they devote to us and how innocent and good they are. The words “unconditional love” are thrown around.

I don’t, honestly, believe in anything called “unconditional love.” My dogs have all, to varying degrees, had conditions: food, water, medical care, attention.

And this is where I think a lot of these articles fail to really understand or address at least one major reason why this loss of a pet is so profound: This little creature we have spent every blooming day feeding, watering, giving treats, loving, walking, seeing to their toilet habits, bathing, doctoring, training, playing with, sleeping with, framing our day around, has died.

This constant presence in our lives, like one of our limbs, is just gone.

Suddenly we are at loose ends.

My days** with Big Dog were completely structured around his needs. I got up at a certain time to give him his meds. I took him up and down in a lift at all hours of the day (we live in a beach house) because his hips were failing. If the lift failed or he simply insisted, we took the stairs and I held onto his harness to take the weight off his hind end. He always handled his blindness well, but in his last months he lost his hearing and suddenly he was getting lost in his own house. Now I was having to help him find his way around the house. Of course, I took him to the vet regularly to monitor his failing heart. Come nighttime, there was the last round of medication for the day, diapering (one of the drugs was a diuretic), and finally settling in. At least, until a 4 a.m. wake-up because he didn’t like using his diaper. Down we’d go in the lift in freezing January or rainy March or mosquito July. He’d shuffle into the grass while I kept my eyes open for coyotes and back up we’d go. We went nowhere without first considering the impact on Big Dog.

The point of all this is not to tell you what a great dog mom I was. I had many failings: missing medication doses, losing my temper at silly stuff and scaring him, forgetting to fill his feeder. The point is, every day was Big Dog day. Every day revolved around this furry little being that had the mind and utter dependence of a toddler. He could not have survived without us.

By extension, I became completely dependent on him. He became my reason for living. My husband can live without me. My child is grown and can survive without me. (technically, I’m not talking emotions, here). There was no one in my life that couldn’t keep moving on without me. Sammy, this big, Shepherd-mix goof sleeping next to me at this moment, is self-sufficient and could survive without me and has done so before.

SammyRoo. Mr. Independent.

Big Dog needed me absolutely. My husband had all the tools to care for him but not the time and BD would not allow a stranger to care for him.

And he’s gone.

Being needed may be the most basic human requirement for existence. Many suicidal people can often justify leaving this world by saying the words I implied above: the people I love will be okay without me. I can go.

When Big Dog died, I felt I’d lost purpose. I still do.

I spend a lot of days at loose ends.

This January 13th my head was filled with the stress of upcoming doctor appointments for both my husband and me, but I’m thankful for those things because I’d probably have simply dangled off those loose ends until I couldn’t breathe. Now I just have to breathe and look toward the next domino on January 29th.

*Elise was my sister-in-law but she was my sister in my heart.

**My husband did this many times as well. As I said, this is a self-indulgent post because I was the primary caretaker.

Porpoises and Purposes

You might have noticed (you probably didn’t, so I’m telling you) that I haven’t written an entry in quite some time. That isn’t strictly true. I’ve written multiple entries. I simply haven’t posted them.  Most were typical writerly whining: grief, new house, more grief, lots more new house, topics too topical to discuss (Politics! Yuck! Outrage! Yuck!) None of what I wrote seemed to belong here. Either it contributed to the bile that everyone else was spewing or it was self-serving schlock. (Well, it’s a blog; all of it is self-serving shlock.)

We have a new home. It’s small and sweet and near the beach and I’ve never prayed through hurricane season so much in my entire life. It’s a joy and I wouldn’t trade it for any amount of money.

july1.JPG

A pod of porpoises often comes close to shore near our new home. It seems, if you’ll forgive the anthropomorphism, that they are making fun of the fishermen on shore. At times one pod member performs something similar to a gymnast’s tumbling line, making its way through the trough between beach and sandbar with one leap after another. It’s not all fun and games, I’m sure. The pod is likely snacking in their high tide hijinks, mixing purpose with their play.

My purpose has finally shifted back to writing to a point.

The stressful and time-consuming process of setting up the house has slowed. I no longer spend my days looking for stuff for the house or ways to stuff the stuff we already have into the much smaller place.

The grief flutters in and out several times a day. Little reminders arise that I won’t see or hear my parents ever again. Momma and Dad come to me in my dreams in various ways—good and bad—that leave me near tears upon waking.

The national and international topical topics grind away on my sanity daily. Politics and its cohort Societal Entropy are driving me to wish I drank. I am attempting to cope with them by reading a book that stretches me considerably. Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy by Susan Neiman. It’s a bit like drinking vinegar to cure acid indigestion, walking on hot concrete to heal stone bruises, or hiring someone who bankrupted his own businesses to balance your books. Neiman poses these questions: “Can there be meaning in a world where innocents suffer? Can belief in divine power or human progress survive a cataloging of evil? Is evil profound or banal?”

Meanwhile, my news feed tells me about earthquakes killing hundreds in Italy, chlorine bombs dropping on innocents in Syria, and my fellow citizens arguing over how many flags one must wave to be a true patriot and whether one can sit during the national anthem. Nothing has changed in fifteen years. (“I’ll take ‘Banality for Beelzebub’ for $400, Alex.”)

Still, I have this idea, perhaps unrealistic, that at the end of this book, I’ll better understand a purpose for evil, unfairness, and complacency, or at least be better able to stomach it.

My best response might be to retreat to our little island home and watch for our pod of porpoises. I think they know the answer to the questions that book poses. Evil is just a function of being an animal on this planet and must be lived through (or not). Move on to the next shore. Play and dine in the waves.

There are wonderful days ahead in this sweet home by the beach. I do know that. Purpose and play, not just politics and banality. I am grateful for, if yet baffled by, my world.