Digital Painting of Phantom Cat by TaraFly

We dance delicately in this transparent masquerade.

Since it’s 3:00AM, and I haven’t gone to bed yet… I thought it might be an excellent time to draft a blog about a serious topic.
Which may or may not get published later today when I wake up.

So many of my drafts never make it.

We, bloggers, are faced with a difficult decision every time we sit down to type.
The decision to share or not to share. And it’s a doozy.

Many of the blogs I love to read involve sharing glimpses into someone’s personal space:

how they decorate their homes, how they manage their time, how they run successful (fill-in-the-blanks), and even how they cooked dinner last night.

If they share the recipe, even better!

Some blogs go a few giant steps further by sharing too much information… but perhaps topics which seem unnecessarily sensitive to me are precisely what someone else needs to hear.

Whenever I consider sharing something deeply personal, I always ask myself whether anyone might benefit from reading it.

And then I ask myself whether anyone might get hurt by reading it.

Because we are not blogging into a vacuum, our words being sucked into cyber oblivion… even though it may feel that way at times. Especially when staring at numbers on a Dashboard.

Someday… somewhere…. someone will read our words.
What impact will it have on them?

Freedom of Speech may grant us the unalienable Right to say certain things, but does that mean we should say them?
It’s an ethical question, without an easy answer.

This post was inspired by a blog I’ve been following, written by a jilted ex-wife who has been recounting every painful experience of her divorce, along with her husband’s rebound marriage to his lover…
You can well imagine all the lovely fodder that goes along with that sort of drama, sprinkled with a heaping tablespoon of custody and parallel-parenting issues.

Although she never mentioned the ex or his new wife by name… various innocuous clues she has scattered across her posts could lead any curious (or bored) web surfer off on a merry adventure to find these abominable sinners.
I was curious and bored one evening, and found them quite easily using a combination of People Finder, Classmates Alumni, and a few other search results…

I had more than enough information about the parties than I cared to know. Thanks Google.

Now, granted, you know I’m not a malicious sort of person who would stalk and harass complete strangers to show my loyalty to a blogger (who is also a stranger to me). Nor do I blindly accept every accusation made against them…
Having dined at both ends of the table in my own relationships, I can assure you, the truth usually takes a seat somewhere in the middle.

Apparently other readers lack the courtesy I take for granted, and have left nasty online messages for the couple.
A form of cyber bullying – from adults, no less! Juvenile behaviour which prompted the couple to take the blog authoress to court, asking that she “cease and desist” from writing about them, and thus provoking her readership.
And apparently the judge denied their request.

The defense maintains that her blog is “helping” women to cope with the aftermath of messy divorce, by sharing terrible personal experiences and their outcomes, and serving as a model for wives wanting to reclaim control and reinvent themselves.

My blog, too, has become a personal reinvention project; an online journal where I can sort through my feelings, and reach out to sympathetic individuals who might be facing similar circumstances.
Perhaps one reader has already fought a battle I’m currently engaged in, and they’re willing to impart some of their hard-won knowledge…
And perhaps I’ve learned a couple of things worth passing along as well.

I’ve sat here at this desk many, many times… questioning whether or not to spill juicy bits.

And most of the time, I don’t spill. Sorry guys!

And here is why: most of these experiences involve not only me, but family, friends, co-workers, exes… a whole cast of characters, in fact… none of whom auditioned for a starring role in my made-for-internet soap-blog-drama.

I may joke about the ex who dumped me because the Hale-Bopp comet was interfering with his brain… or sigh with relief over the breakup with the obsessive man who texted me 156 times per day, and demanded I answer each text.

But did I give you all the dirty details? Do you really know anything about these people?

Nope. And I plan to keep it that way.
For their sakes, as well as for mine.

Once upon a time, only celebrities needed to worry about their private lives being exposed.

Normal people didn’t have an audience willing to devour the embarrassing published photos from paparazzi, the sordid memoirs of ex-lovers, and the unauthorized biographies of their estranged family.

We didn’t need a PR representative to maintain our “image” for us, working tirelessly to put out every fire, tracking down credible sources to refute the allegations.

But unfortunately, the internet has created a new breed of celebrity… and not the media attention-seeking teens like Justin Bieber and Rebecca Black.

Normal people are becoming famous simply by sharing too much information, and everyone associated with them will be dragged along for the ride, kicking and screaming in protest.

Mr. Comet Man could potentially become something beyond his control, a symbol of a man whose brain is easily manipulated by extraterrestrial influences.
And I’m sure he would thank me for that bit of disclosure. 😉

There are certain sensitive topics, especially pertaining to my childhood, which I’ve hesitated to lay bare… even though my stories may speak to someone, because they also have the potential to inflict a great deal of pain and embarrassment on people who aren’t prepared to handle the repercussions.

A couple of these people are no longer with us, and therefore unable to give their testimony.

One non-life-changing example involved a post concerning my mother’s aversion to owning pets.
My description of her attitude towards caregiving, which I feel is accurate (at least in my eyes), landed me in serious hot water!
She had never visited my website or read my blog until that moment… Coincidence or karma?

The issue I have with many bloggers is their total lack of consideration for the feelings of others, as I struggle each day with being considerate myself.

Balancing precariously on a very thin tightrope, taking one cautious step at a time… to avoid falling into the “Tell All” temptation which may feel like liberation for a few seconds, but in reality is a free-fall to the ground without a safety net.

In the case of this jilted wife – she and her ex have children… and all this mud-slinging and negativity will not help them develop a meaningful relationship with their father (who shares custody).

Whether her accusations are true or not…. Whether she is within her Rights to speak freely or not…
Publically disrespecting and humiliating the man who is actively helping to raise her children is the equivalent of a mortal sin under the Commandments of Divorce.
(I have cement copies of these stone tablets serving as bedroom nightstands, so I know they exist).

And the poor kids caught in the middle of this verbal assault will be the ones who ultimately suffer.
I know this also, sadly, as a fact…

I can hit the “fast forward” button 20 years and predict their futures… the emotional barriers, the jaded attitudes, the broken bonds of trust…

I’ve walked barefoot in their shoes for a long, long time…

Before reality TV created stars who were famous simply for being famous.

Before our neighbors were filming YouTube music videos and auditioning for American Idol.

Before divorced parents had blogs, and the internet.

We still had our words…
and words can hurt.

To share or not to share.

A question of ethics.

Acrylic painting of saluting ARMY cat by TaraFly, dressed in US military uniform

ARMY Cat was one of my earliest and most popular paintings for sale.

A few weeks ago, one of Etsy’s coordinators/admins, DanielleXO, announced her plans to host a “Holiday Boot Camp” to assist sellers with their shop preparations.

Since I don’t spend hours lurking in the forums, I found out a few days later from the head of EFA – EtsyForAnimals, Michele (MVegan5), when she sent me a personal convo congratulating “ARMY Cat” for being nominated as “Boot Camp Mascot”. …And politely admonishing me for not being an active EFA participant, although I’d removed most of the associated links and tags, in order to feel less guilty about riding on their coattails.
So I was obligued to replace the links, tags, join the various Yahoo and Facebook groups, and make a couple forum appearances.

TaraFly featured in Etsy Success Holiday Boot Camp Treasury

Nominees for Holiday Boot Camp mascot, voted on by the Etsy community

There was a public vote in Etsy’s Treasury, and Lou the Monster won by a landslide, but I do appreciate all the folks who voted for me (including many EFA team members)… it was humbling, and more than a bit embarrassing.

A few members were brutally honest: “TaraFly who?” Bwahaha. And I appreciate them as well, for voting according to their instincts, and not being swayed by a group newsletter endorsing a prodigal member. 😉

At last, I decided to join the bandwagon and enlist in this Boot camp experiment myself. I’ll admit to needing a boatload of motivation to keep up with everyone else… as I tend to dig myself under a rock during the holiday season, and my shop sales reflect it.
This year, I vowed to myself that I would do everything possible to promote and improve my business (on Etsy and elsewhere) because we could really utilize the extra income this season.

Etsy wanted us to write a mission statement… what inspires us to “work our butts off” this year. On the surface, my statement is simple and obvious: “I don’t want to feel guilty anymore.”

I felt guilty browsing for toys at the Goodwill last year, guiltier still for writing Lydia an IOU for a big-ticket item she really wanted.
“Let’s wait until our tax return comes, Okay?”

TaraFly's daughter Mia hugging a half-finished handmade stuffed cat doll

The kids loved the stuffed cat doll even before she was finished...

I’m content to live without wealth, and to make things for our kids to wear and play with, and we’re setting an example for them, right? Don’t expect a lavish spread of expensive gifts, because god-forbid it isn’t healthy to spoil the children and make them ungrateful little materialists. Blah, blah…
I’d still like to be able to purchase at least a couple things on their modest wish lists.

Under the surface, guilt plays a hand in how I feel about myself and my contributions to this family as well. I had always measured my worthiness by a job-title, a paycheck, or my value to a company.
Now I feel guilty that Joe carries the weight of our household on his shoulders, and every time he comes home under stress from employer-fueled issues, I want to tell him to quit, get a new job, or at least take a vacation. Unfortunately, none of those options are feasible right now. I need to be able to contribute more to our bottom line without sacrificing the family-oriented lifestyle we’ve built.
(i.e. NO daycare, we’ve had enough of that drama!)

TaraFly's son and husband taking a walk at the park

Joe and Jakey take off, exploring the park...

When we met, we were both working for the same company, and bonded over shared responsibilities. Although we have many other things in common (cheesy sci-fi movies, cats, gardening, Photoshop), I’ve noticed a shift in the way we discuss our day. He doesn’t share work-related things with me anymore, and I don’t “bore” him with my domestic frustrations much either.. because we’re living in two different worlds and we both feel the other wouldn’t “get it”.
Just watch the way his eyes glaze over when I mention SEO and Google in the same sentance. 😛

I reminisce back to our first lunch date, where he divulged his dream of owning a workshop, building furniture and various wooden objects… and he boldly suggested I could be the resident artist who embellished the pieces. I’d love to be able to afford all the tools he needs, and hire him to build some jewelry boxes, picture frames, lawn decorations, shadowboxes, shelves, and countless other goodies for me to add some painted Regency Cat scenes.

Optimally, I want to be successful enough, over time, to enable him to quit altogether and work for me!

I selfishly want to draw him into my corner, and teach him everything about running Zen-cart and Etsy, how to program code, list items, and upload promotional photos… I’d like to teach him about packaging and shipping safely, and let him run all my errands… my own personal assistant… so I could spend more time painting stuff.
Of course, I’d encourage his creative time in the workshop while I torture the children with a BBC mini-series.

And I occasionally need a break to practice my cheesecake recipes.

“What motivates you?” is not a simple question after all.. but I can appreciate the exercise which causes us to dig deeper and put a human face to the formidable obstacle on our calendars, and in our own minds. In my case, it has four distinct faces… keeping in mind that my family will benefit the most from a successful holiday season.

TaraFly's son Jacob sits in photoshoot of her artwork.

Jake crashes an art photoshoot with his rugged charms.

Etsy’s Bootcamp may end after December, but for me, the lessons learned will need to be revisited often in the up-coming months.
It’s time to take myself a few steps further from this shallow rock.

TaraFly's art Mr. Bennet Cat from Pride and Prejudice

My current work in progress, a digital portrait of Mr. Bennet

Chemistry was my worst subject in high school. I squeaked by with a B+… only because my lab partner was a whiz and did the majority of my work. (Thanks, Patrick!) But that grade ruined the straight A average I had been holding… not that I was in competition with anyone in particular. I wasn’t sweating every decimal point, trying to beat out the other nine people ahead of me to become the valedictorian.
I honestly didn’t care what my ranking was. Well, I did care a little teensy bit. 😉

But I hated chemistry, because I couldn’t wrap my head around it. All the other subjects came naturally to me, with very little studying required. Usually I could open a textbook, read the chapter, and everything made perfect sense. Even Latin was easier to learn than those freaking chemical equations and that damned periodic table.
Who needs to know how many electrons and neutrons an atom of iron contains?
It didn’t help that I had a teacher who (I swear on Willow’s grave) could’ve been the Siamese twin of the economics teacher from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
That my Chem class was scheduled directly after lunch didn’t help my focus either.

Subconsciously, however, I think I loathed that class because of what it represented to me: a science driven by studying the chemicals that maintain the operations of life on this planet. We all know that our brains function by electrical impulses and chemical reactions. Every chemical we put into our bodies interacts with already present chemicals, and causes psychological and/or physical changes within us.
Scientists are brave enough to assert that our basic emotions – love, fear, and loathing – are all chemically based. Some are experimenting with artificial potions to re-create abstract things like attraction.
If taken seriously, what does that say about people? That our thoughts and feelings aren’t stemming from a spiritual core, but from a cauldron of brew that can be altered by any added ingredient?

I love cats. Looooove cats. It is who I am. But is there a chemical that could reverse that attraction, and cause me to dislike cats?
Could someone technically slip me a drugged latte that would completely alter my entire personality?
Then who would I be?

That is why I hate chemistry, and doctors who push drugs on their patients after diagnosing them with multiple disorders. So many of my character traits that I assume are simply part of me, like my flakiness or tendency to daydream, can be considered “symptoms”…
In the past, I’ve had doctors tell me that I’m depressed or suffering from anxiety. They offered drugs to alleviate my stress and mood, but I refused to accept them. I felt I could manage my own feelings if I simply changed my way of thinking. It requires a lot of effort, though, and doesn’t always work.

This morning, I logged into Facebook and was greeted with a new post by Jessica Doyle. She hadn’t written anything lately, because she’s been busy working on her new top-secret e-commerce site… which I’m anxious to see.
She always strikes me as a person who has everything together. She seems organized and focused, a total workaholic. I’ve been admiring her dedication and work ethic for a while now, but after reading today’s blog, I admire her 10x more. Why? Because she has ADHD and there is an internal battle going on to stay ahead of her game, that many of us who casually correspond with her never really see. She hides it well.

She was mentioning some of her “symptoms” and how drugs aren’t readily available to people in her area (unless you have lots of money… which self-employed artists rarely have). Some of the things she mentioned triggered little alarms in my fuzzy head… and I looked up a website for adult ADHD to learn more.

Hmmmm. Uh-huh.

If you were to ask my former co-workers, bosses, teachers, and ex-lovers to compile a list of my character traits and flaws, here are some of the things guaranteed to be mentioned:

  • she’s easily distracted
  • she ignores me when I’m talking to her
  • she can work on a project for hours and be completely oblivious to everything else
  • she couldn’t arrive on time to save her life
  • she forgot her doctor’s appointment, even after they called to remind her
  • her car is always a mess inside
  • a million projects get started and are left unfinished
  • the electric bills keep disappearing
  • she acts on impulse without thinking
  • she speaks first, and inserts feet later
  • she’s very defensive towards criticism
  • she’s insensitive towards me
  • she snaps at people when she’s irritated
  • she undervalues herself
  • she lets “the little things” upset her

This list could grow quite long, depending on the source, and many of these points were actually communicated to me (in the form of job evaluations and break-up arguments).
Scrolling down the page, the portrait of myself – as seen through the eyes of everyone around me – became shockingly clear.

I could be over-reacting, of course. I could very well just be a stressed out, absent-minded flake who is trying to juggle too many balls… marriage, parenting, web-coding, e-commerce, blogging, painting and creating stuff…
As a child and teenager, I didn’t fit the stereotype of a trouble-making delinquent. In fact, I never EVER got into trouble at school… the teachers loved me… and as previously mentioned, I carried straight A’s (except for Chemistry) and loved to study and learn new things. Occasionally, my wise-cracking curiosity would cause me to question their theories – out loud – and we would start debating in class. But many teachers enjoy a good debate, especially if they are experts in their field; they enjoy seeing the students exercising their minds and reaching a better understanding of the subject.

I would happily settle for NOT having any disorders of any kind, because I was raised to accept personal responsibility for my actions, and it seems like crying “The devil made me do it.” to pin all my faults on a chemical imbalance.
The one and only reason why I never experimented with drugs and alcohol as a teen: I didn’t want something controlling me. Everything action taken was in full-knowledge and awareness. I never needed the excuse: It wasn’t really me; it was the drugs.

I’ve seen how chemicals can alter a person. My former father-n-law went to Vietnam, and came back with Schizophrenia. Apparently, living with him was a real trip, as he was constantly hallucinating… hearing gunfire and explosions, seeing apparitions. He lost his driver’s license after an accident, where he swerved the car to avoid a group of Vietnamese villagers who were crossing the road in front of him. They didn’t actually exist.
After being placed on some kind of medication that suppressed that area of his brain, the hallucinations stopped, but he became a walking, talking vegetable with very little personality. The entire creative side of him was gone.

That is why I avoid doctors and drugs. I’m afraid to have something controlling my brain, switching things “on” and “off”, and playing with my personality. My mind may be a cesspool of boiling chemical chaos inside… but it’s my personal chaos and I’m used to it. I don’t want to trade it for an unknown pattern of behaviour.

Chemicals can make us feel happy, relaxed, and focused… they can also make us irritable, fatigued, and depressed.
My favorite example of irony in advertising are those commercials for anti-depressants, in which the side effects include suicidal thoughts. Um… happy people don’t jump off bridges, do they?

Chemicals alter how we think, feel, and respond to our environment. Everything we eat and drink, the air we breath, even the detergents we use to clean our homes and clothes, can all have an effect on our brains.
Scary stuff, huh?!

Joe thinks I’m crazy. Not because I might be anxious, depressed, hyperactive, or schizophrenic. But because I’m obsessing over the possibility. He accepts me as I am… even when I misplace our mail and arrive late to my appointments, prompting one doctor to “fire” me from his patient roster.

Being crazy isn’t a disorder, it’s being human. We can’t fix ourselves, so we must learn to manage our weaknesses and utilize our strengths. How do we do that effectively? I have no freaking idea… that’s what life is all about. Figuring this stuff out.

Wanna be my lab partner?

woman standing on wooden bridge over water

Like A Bridge Over Troubled Waters...

I had many ideas stewing for a new blog post, and perhaps my deadline tardiness is due in part to indecision… however one reoccurring theme in my married life rose to the surface, and I figured it would be appropriate for Father’s Day, although it pertains to “days” spent with men in general.

I’ve spent a good chunk of time in recent months re-evaluating how I view my partnership and my role as a wife, and I’ve made a profound personal breakthrough.

I wouldn’t normally blog about a personal matter like this, but because my last personal blog about domestic violence was helpful to other women, I felt these ruminations needed to be shared as well.
Because many, many couples are suffering from the same issues – I hear the complaints all the time – but the answers are seldom clear.

I titled this, “Things I Wish We’d Learned in Marriage Class”, although Joe and I never attended one. My first ex-husband and I did, as a pre-requisite for having the ceremony performed by my family’s Methodist pastor.
The only lesson I recall was the importance of being in agreement on key issues, like disciplining children and saving money. However, it’s relatively simple to discuss your position on things, and even to agree with each other on paper… but putting words into practice is another story altogether. And what happens when your responsibilities shift unexpectedly?

Joe and I were great friends who also shared a mutual attraction for each other… the fact that our relationship and our marriage has lasted longer than any previous relationship of mine speaks volumes about our “agreeableness”, as I’ve been told countless times that I’m a “difficult” person to live with. heh.

I know that I’m moody, sarcastic, and apparently selfish; I recognize these failings in myself. I can also be extremely loving and lavish attention on others, which only makes the extreme reverse – my cold shoulder days – even more difficult for people to bear.
But Joe is like a cactus, able to soak up the attention when he receives it and go for weeks without complaint when I take his presence for granted…. to the point where he gives me a puzzled look,
“You take me for granted? I haven’t noticed.” when I attempt to apologize.
Like the cactus viewing the watering can… “Is it that time again?”

We never fight, rarely disagree, and I feel confident that he’d do anything I asked… however, for the past few months, I’ve been the one feeling neglected and under-appreciated – due to the fact that he rarely helps out around the house unless I request specific help.
Which I hate to do, as it feels like nagging, even when I’m being patient.

Without going into any boring details, rest assured he wasn’t always the type who spent 14 hours of each workday sleeping and vegetating in front of the TV.
When we both worked full-time outside the house, he would clean, do laundry, and cook like a champ, and I always encouraged him with compliments (because he cleaned very thoroughly, like those commercials where the room “sparkles” with special-effects lighting). Hmmmm, perhaps it was special-effects lighting that he installed into our former apartment… 😉

When I was pregnant and suffering from all-day sickness, he even took over my share of chores and kept a careful record of the foods and smells that disagreed with me. Knowing I craved pumpkin pie, he learned to bake it and stocked the cupboards with pie mix, as well as pumpkin bread and pumpkin flavored ice-cream. Fortunately, Mia was born during the pumpkin season, so Joe really “hooked me up”. 🙂

Things took a dramatic turn when I made the decision to stay home and care for our family. Suddenly “the house” was my territory and he left it completely in my capable hands.
I had been hoping to moonlight as an artist, but that dream became a literal reality as the kids grew older (and their napping schedules shifted)… I was forced to work on my projects “after hours” and would drag myself to bed at 2:00-3:00AM, only to be roused again at 6:30-7:00AM to start the day again. As Joe blissfully snored in bed, until the clock told him that any further procrastination would make him late for work.

In the last few months, I haven’t been able to find large blocks of time during the day to work on my business… and my 8-year-old makes an ineffective babysitter, although she tries her best. Bless her heart, but I wind up cleaning up Her messes as often as the younger kids’.

So I mentioned my frustrations to him, but in a general way, and his sympathetic response was this:
“They have to understand – [they, meaning, my customers and fans] – that with a family care for, you don’t have as much time on your hands as single people do.”

Um… that totally misses the real point, which is – if I can’t keep this thing afloat, I might as well hand my customers over to the competitors who CAN handle it. What I really wanted was for him to acknowledge that what I do is important, and chipping in with household chores in the evening would allow me to focus on my work.

I began to hold a grudge whenever he escaped to our room in the evenings to watch a Netflix movie (“in peace and quiet”) while I washed the dinner dishes, with kids squealing at my feet….
When he slept in late each morning, even on his days off, while I dragged myself out of bed groggily, because the kids were downstairs wrecking the living room – their batteries fully charged.
I brewed the coffee and told myself, “At least I’ll get a head start on e-mails.” Yeah. I wanted to push him out of bed and hog the pillows for myself.
So, if the kids ran upstairs – screaming and laughing – and pounced upon Daddy’s head, did I stop them?
Did I say, “Let Daddy sleep. He’s tired.” ??
Bwahahaha! Of course not! I relished it when he grumbled and pulled on a shirt.

These little “paybacks” turned into a series of small snowballs, being thrown back and forth, as we tried to sabotage each other’s efforts to escape from the burden.
He would walk away from a pile of dishes in the sink… and I’d leave his clothes damp in the washing machine… and he would leave the gas tank on empty (when I needed the car next)… and I would forget the milk on my grocery trip and make him run out and buy some, and he ignored this … and I refused to do that… and so on and so forth. Waging silent warfare that neither of us would ever admit to participating in. Not consciously.

It’s shallow and cowardly, and worse, the snowball fight escalates until both partners can no longer remember how it started… but both are left feeling neglected and under-appreciated.

Our selfish nature naturally wants to cast blame on the other partner – “They started it!” – We want to be the innocent victims.
You hear it all the time from co-workers and friends, and many divorces have been based upon less:
“My wife doesn’t do anything at all; the house is a wreck, and she’s watching TV.”
“My husband is a complete idiot; if you give him $100 for groceries, he’ll come home with junk food and nothing for dinner.”
“He doesn’t know how to operate a dryer.”
“She can’t cook to save her life… if it can’t be heated for 3 minutes on High.”

The key ingredient behind the majority of marital complaints, however, is self-absorption. John F. Kennedy’s famed speech “Ask not what your country can do for you…” applies equally well in a partnership.
It isn’t about you; it’s about your partner. And yes, I know how much this concept utterly smacks of religious doctrine “Submitting to your husband” and all that jazz… but if both partners are equally commited to putting each other first, just imagine how strong their relationship would grow.

Please don’t ever begin a heart-to-heart talk with, “When you do such-and-such, it really makes me feel unloved…” even if a quack counselor told you to “focus on your feelings”.
This is a typical approach for passive people, but it is accusatory nonetheless. Your partner, backed into an emotional corner, will have no choice but to become defensive and make excuses. Or withdraw.

Instead, simply step into your partner’s shoes first. Feel what they are feeling, and ask yourself, “What do they need, or want, in order to be happy here at home.” It goes much deeper than an afternoon of watching Oprah, although relaxation and quiet time will probably factor high on their list.

We need to discover what our partners really want and need from us.

I read an interesting book a few years ago, called “The Five Love Languages” that discusses how each person views acts of love differently. Our duty is to love our partners the way they want to be loved, which is not necessarily the way we would like to be loved ourselves.
Some people place a higher value on time spent together, some on household chores (making life easier), some are looking for flowery words and compliments, and still others crave tangible gifts. If we aren’t displaying the kind of love that speaks to our partners, all the romantic words and poetic gestures in the world will be lost on them.
Over time these values will also change; when I first read the book, “quality time together” and physical intimacy ranked high for me – that was before Mia and Jake were born, and now I’d much rather have Joe take the kids outside to play for a couple of hours, so I can catch a break from family drama and work on personal projects.

I highly recommend the book, although be forewarned that its author – Gary Chapman – is a pastor, so there are many spiritual references as well. If you assume it won’t be your style, it can’t hurt to give it a try anyway, because the real meat of his book (the way in which we communicate to our spouse) is so enriching…. you can always skim over the preaching passages.

It’s true that marriage is a team, and the attitudes of both partners play an equal role in the success or failure of the relationship, but since you can only improve your own behaviour… become the considerate and attentive person who makes your partner happy. Instead of throwing snowballs, throw hugballs (or “loveballs” if you have a pervy sense of humor) … and you’ll find that a positive attitude is even more infectious than a negative one. When we aren’t fighting for our personal space, we are more willing to give it, and when we’re in a good humor, we are more likely to get involved.

So I’ll let him sleep in, undisturbed… and when the Netflix discs arrive, I’ll pop him some corn, pour him an iced tea, and usher him upstairs for a front row seat.
Fluff the pillows.
Rub his feet.

He’ll return the favor. Someday. 😉

Chuck Walker as Horton in Suessical

Chuck Walker as "Horton the Elephant" in 2006


I’m a collector of odd things. Joe jokes that I’m a hoarder, but I’ve seen the documentaries, and don’t think it’s quite that serious.
But have you ever seen a discarded scrap of paper, picked it up, read it, and imagined who wrote it? Well, I do. And I keep it as a momento of two people whose paths almost crossed

For instance, I have this weird habit of pocketing lost grocery lists. I like to imagine the lives of these people, their eating and social habits, such as the author of my recent find:
Written onto a sheet of stationary, with the header: Elect Angela Rosenberry Krom for Judge… there was a link to Krom’s website at the bottom, and a disclaimer that this scrap of paper was paid for by the “Angela Krom for Judge Committee”. Was this customer a supporter who attended a rally, perhaps a secretary or associate of Krom’s, or even Ms. Krom herself?
(I have no idea who Angela Krom is, as I no longer live in PA)
But the list included:
• Fixodent
• Body wash
• Milk
• Clorox Bleach Pen
• White Raw Hides
• Bread
• and Bannanas [sic] 

Would suggest an elderly person from Pennsylvania who often stains their clothes, has a penchant for eating bread, bannanas, and chewing on bones with their dentures…. of course, I could be mistaken. 😉 However, isn’t it fun to speculate? I’ve often thought about crafting a silly list of my own, to “accidentally” leave on a store shelf for someone else’s voyeuristic amusement. 

Another object I have a fondness for collecting are orphaned photographs of strangers. I once found a picture of a couple, at the bottom of the office desk drawer, when I was working at Ben Franklin Crafts in Winchester, VA. I assumed that one of them was a former employee, who accidentally left the photo behind, but nobody recognized either of them. Even the assistant manager who had been hired at the store’s opening didn’t remember them. It’s a great mystery for me to contemplate, and a decade later, I still have the photograph… occasionally I’ll unearth it when I’m digging through my boxes of family photos, and wonder whether this couple is still together and what they might be doing.  (Next time I run across it, I’ll post it here… but everything disappears when you search for it). 

The most profound experience I had as a result of my “hobby” involved meeting a chorus of male drag performers. Once upon a time, my friend Don was working for a photo-developing store, located in our small town’s only shopping mall. We were both invited to a mutual friend’s party, and he needed a ride from work to her house, so I volunteered to pick him up at the end of his shift. I was waiting for him, as he gathered up the shop’s trash, and he reached into the waste basket and pulled out a stack of photo copies… “Here, you gotta look at these!”
The film was taken at a staged event of some sort, and chronicled the show from backstage beforehand, to curtain call, and portions of the cast party afterwards. The subjects were a group of handsome men performing in drag, in what appeared to be a variety show. My first inclination was to chuckle over their costumes, but it piqued my curiosity, as this was a smallish town where everyone presumably knows everybody. I was unaware that this subculture existed in my neighborhood, and wondered whether they were open about it, or if they lived quietly as school janitors and real estate brokers by day… donning the sequin slips and feathers instead of “working late at the office”.
Did they have families? Were they supportive? Were they in attendance? Something about the guys’ jubilant smiles and carefree attitudes made me envious – they seemed to be having so much fun! I could almost picture myself in the room with them, laughing over their dirty jokes and helping to lace their corsets.
Don suggested that I keep the photos, as they were destined for the trash anyway. “We’re allowed to make a copy of each film batch”, he shrugged. Of course it was wrong, an invasion of privacy, but he didn’t care… even if his job was at stake. It was just a part-time fling. My conscience told me to throw the photos away. My habit won. 

I held onto those photos for over four years, safely kept inside my nightstand, alongside my journal. Every so often, I’d take them out and look through them… looking at each person individually, and wondering who they were, whether they were happy with life in general, what other hobbies and passions they had… “Where were they now?” was a question that usually came to mind, because I’d never met any of them. Did they live in the area? Were these taken at a convention in some far-away city?
I can tell you, however, neither of my ex-husbands appreciated these photos, or the fact that I stubbornly held onto them. 😛 

In the summer of 2004, I was in the process of moving in with my second husband, and he decided to pile my belongings onto the back of his manly Ford pick-up truck, and throw a tarp over them, to haul everything to his house. Tragically, it began raining… HARD… and the tarp blew halfway off in the wind. Some of my things were soaked and had to be thrown away, including books that were literally falling apart in wet clumps. I also lost the photographs of my mystery male performers, the ink had smeared and many of the pictures were glued together. It pained me almost physically to say goodbye after four years, it felt like being dumped from a long-term relationship. Hmmm, considering neither of my first two marriages lasted that long, I probably knew those strangers better than my exes. 😉 

A couple of years later, my desire to break free from the marital cage, and a series of coincidences, led me to return to the community theatre where I had once participated after high school. I had moved out-of-town, and there were other theatres within my area, but I was hoping to meet up with the old crew I’d worked with years earlier. Unfortunately, many of them had moved on as well, so there were fresh faces all around, including one very talented actor named Chuck Walker, who was then starring as Horton in “Suessical”.
After the show, he invited me to his house for a party and an impromptu tour of the interior renovations that he and his husband were undergoing. (They had been legally married in Massachusetts in 2004) Our tour ended at the living room fireplace, where his original artwork and an unfinished painting were on display… but my attention was drawn to the mantle and his collection of framed photographs. One group portrait in particular looked strangely familiar… as well it should, because I had owned a copy of it myself for four years! 

I then realized Chuck was one of the male performers from my lost photographs, and here I was, standing in his very living room! 

I hadn’t recognized him at first, due to a change in hairstyle and a grown beard. LOL I probably should have kept my secret to myself, as it might have offended him to learn that copies of their photos had been handed over nonchalantly to strangers… but the irony gave me goosebumps, and so I found myself sheepishly confessing everything! It is difficult to read Chuck’s mood oftentimes, but I think he was amused, or else kept any irritation to himself. LOL
He asked whether I’d like to meet the other men from the photos, as some of them were also attending the party. Why, yes, of course! 

In 2004, I didn’t think I would ever see them again. In 2006, I was greeting them in person for the first time. I could write multiple blogs on the subject of Fate and predestination… for those of you who are curious to know my spiritual beliefs, simply pick up a copy of “The Belgariad” fantasy series by David Eddings.  It deals heavily with prophesy, the predetermined course of people’s lives, and how everyone on the planet is connected in some way. 

Whenever I pick up a scrap of paper, or study the faces in a photograph, my life becomes intertwined with theirs… perhaps in a minor insignificant way, perhaps in a more substantial way. If I reach out with my energy, I might as well be touching their hand. Reading someone else’s words, even on a simple grocery list, reminds me that I am not alone. Everyone has a story to tell.
I’m a collector of their stories.

“I wouldn’t want to marry anybody who was wicked, but I think I’d like it if he COULD be wicked and WOULDN’T.”
Anne Shirley, from Lucy Maud Montgomery’s “Anne of the Island”

artist TaraFly speaks against domestic violence

Controlling relationships remind me of cages, from whence I must escape...

I wonder why women idolize men struggling with inner demons? We can’t blame Hollywood, and their brooding bad-boy heroes, because authors have been romanticizing tragic tales of tortured souls for hundreds of years. Gatsby, Heathcliff, Frankenstein, Hamlet…
But true stories such as this – the murder of Yeardley Love by her estranged boyfriend, prompt me to lay my cards on the table in this blog post, which is highly difficult for me. Admitting that I’ve been involved in volatile relationships is something I’d rather not confess, because I tend to seek control over my environment and I refuse to acquiesce to a demanding partner or boss.
Never the meek and humble “yessir” from me… I’m a fighter who seeks to balance the scales, at the very least. I would never acknowledge that I cannot handle my own circumstances – that someone else can overpower me, emotionally and physically. I cannot allow myself to be considered a weakling or a failure.

Besides, airing personal drama has a tendency to backfire. There is nothing worse than confiding to someone, and then watching your problems become the subject of ridicule and gossip amongst your so-called friends. I’d rather put on a perpetual happy face and let their imaginations fill in the gaps… and believe me, they will concoct some wild stories!

I think people are afraid to admit that they’ve been abused or mistreated by their partners, because society still blames the victims. And for women like me, who adamantly refuse to be considered “victims”, the admission means we’re insecure and unable to stand our ground. People will judge us for being too blinded by infatuation, or too naïve, to recognize the “warning signs” and for not getting outside help… but ironically, many of us do turn to our loved ones for advice, to find they are also in denial. They mistakenly believe that if we “work harder at the marriage” or “avoid the anger triggers”, the relationship will improve. But it won’t. Not unless the abusive partner realizes that he/she is being a jerk-face and is willing to work on his/her OWN behavior.

People believe that women are seeking out abusive relationships, that we somehow want a strong man controlling us, which is untrue. I, for one, am a very stubborn-headed person who refuses to take orders from anyone… although a boss who signs my paychecks gets a bit more consideration than a disrespecting husband. 😉

In my case, none of my relationships ever escalated into actual violence – I wouldn’t have tolerated a second of that crap, and foolishly believed myself stronger for that decision. Verbal and emotional abuse were the main issues I encountered, however whenever he began threatening me with violence, I threatened back – with leaving his ass to rot in jail, and finding a better man.
For literally six months, I lived out of my packed suitcase, located in the trunk of my car. When all my “indoor” underwear was in the washing machine, I’d run outside in my PJs – pop open the trunk and grab a cold pair. One day, he called my bluff… and I called his. After a year of his broken promises “to change”, I walked out on him and never looked back. Our lives were a roller-coaster ride of drama, but I honestly didn’t seek out turmoil. I much prefer to live a quiet, unassuming routine at home.

This particular relationship began 6 years ago, when I was a recently single mother with a minimum wage job, and a cheap efficiency apartment. I was much too proud to live on welfare or in assisted housing, because I wanted to prove to the world that I was self-reliant. However, my car broke down on the way to work, and a stranger stopped and allowed me to borrow his cellphone to notify my boss. The assistant manager left the store, drove out to the deserted stretch of road where I was stranded, and brought me to work.
By lunchtime, word had spread that I was having car trouble, and most likely, deeper financial troubles. (You know how folks love to speculate). Mr. Future Nightmare, who worked in a neighboring department, was somewhat mechanically inclined, and secretly liked me, so he took the opportunity to introduce himself formally and offer his help getting my car fixed. After that, he checked in occasionally to see if I needed any help.

The man (who eventually became my second destined-to-be-ex-husband) seemed like a nice, dependable guy who genuinely cared for people… which in some respects was true. Unless he got angry or drunk, that is. Avoiding his intoxicated self was fairly simple, but you never knew when something would trigger this guy’s anger… any little annoyance or petty circumstance could spark an all-out war. Washing the cat bowl in the kitchen sink, for example. It supposedly would infect us with deadly cat germs, by transmitting them into the sink basin which will eventually come into contact with dirty plates. Apparently cat germs aren’t killed with normal bleach, so I was trying to poison the familywith my spiteful act. You think I’m joking, don’t you? You might laugh out loud, and so did I… which is baaaad.
You could NOT laugh at him when he was being serious.

His threats were often involving suicide and/or murder. He even threatened to kill Dominic if he caught me lying or cheating. I held my ground, in what I felt was a victory at the time, by declaring that would be his last act. Nobody touches a hair on my cat’s head in malice and lives to touch again. *smirk*
He then confessed that he had a foolproof plan to dispose of my body, by burying it in freshly dug grave the night before the vault is laid. Having friends in the vault-laying business, it seemed plausible that he’d have insider access to these opportunities.
Pssst, Law Enforcement Officers: when looking for missing homicide victims, check the recently buried. They might have uninvited company.

This idea that women are worthless whores seemed to be prevalent in his family; even though his 8 year old son was being raised by his grandparents in a “Christian” environment, I overheard a chilling accusation that he made against my then 3-year-old daughter, Lydia.
She was holding her doll “the wrong way” – by its legs – instead of treating it like a real baby. He scolded her by saying, “You’re a bad mother. You deserve to die.” and pretended to shoot her with his little toy gun. I told him that we do NOT joke about killing people, especially little girls, and later I mentioned to his dad that I wouldn’t tolerate it.
It is in their genetic code, I think, and fortunately I held firm against having children of my own with him. Of course, there wasn’t much time to start a family, as we barely lasted two years – from our first date, to the day I signed the lease on my Single-Lady pad… with our blink-of-an-eye marriage and separation sandwiched in between.

Although I did mention my concerns to close friends and relatives, I did so very tactfully, because a couple of them are easily excitable and I didn’t want to make a huge scene… I suppose that my carefully crafted confessions were so watered down that nobody really took me seriously. I repeatedly received brush-off answers, like:
“He doesn’t mean it. People say things when they’re angry.”
“Perhaps you should pay him more respect, and not try to provoke his anger.”
“He was raised in a strict military household, and has a bit of a drinking problem.”
“Stop kissing your cat on its mouth.”

Okay that last one wasn’t real advice, but I do kiss Dominic all the time, which made my ex angry. Petting the cats, and not washing my hand thoroughly afterwards, made him angry also.
But are any of those excuses really able to justify threats of violence?? Everyone seemed to believe them.

And deep down, even I believed them… I was the problem. I do have a wise-cracking attitude, which might be considered disrespectful. My tendency to argue and assert my opinions WAS contributing to our discord. A marriage counselor would suggest finding ways to bond, and to discuss our differences by keeping the partner’s point of view in mind… blah, blah, blah.
Oh yeah, and don’t chat with the mailman, because you’ll wind up having an affair with him.

Nowadays, every paper I open has a new story about homicidal abusive relationships; one can only hope that we, as a society, will finally open our eyes and actually see our neighbors and loved ones for the monsters they truly are.
We need to take threats more seriously, and give women the power to say: “It’s NOT me. It’s you.”

It’s easy to judge someone else suffering this kind of humiliation, and I’m guilty of judging other women as well…. I’m always tempted, when I encounter horrific verbal abuse in public, to tell the “trapped” woman to “Get the hell out! Leave that SOB!”
If he can’t see the value in her, there are plenty of decent men who can. Why give him the satisfaction of controlling her like a slave? Stand up for your basic human rights!
And this popular excuse makes me cringe: “If I leave him, he’ll kill me.” You hear it all the time from spouses of convicted murderers.
Honey, if the threat works, he’ll keep using it.
He’ll kill you if you forget to press his pants, he’ll kill you for talking on the phone to your mother, he’ll kill you for shopping in a different grocery store because they had a sale. Any sign of independence or defiance on your part is a threat to his sense of control.

However, we need to stop judging people and start helping instead.
Learn the WARNING SIGNS– such as jealousy, distrust, controlling behaviour, obsessive calling and texting, drinking/drug abuse, and blaming you for their bad behaviour, and so forth.
• Take the time to really listen (and ask probing questions) when a friend or relative comes to you for advice.
• Read between the lines, in case they aren’t comfortable discussing the graphic details.
• Don’t just find out the juicy bits so that you can divulge all her secrets to your co-workers… THAT behaviour will just shut her up and force her further into hiding. You might as well rub your hands in her blood and call yourself an accessory.

There is a book I purchased awhile back, entitled Men Who Hate Women, and the Women Who Love Them” by therapist Dr. Susan Forward, which does talk about how to break the cycle, and assert your independence, if you plan to stay in the relationship.

Alas, I’m not committed enough to stay with troubled people. I lack the resolve to marry for “better or worse”, when the “worse” might entail fighting for my life, and the lives of my children and pets. Watching my personal belongings get smashed in a fit of drunken rage, or being accused of infidelity with every man who says “May I take your order” from behind the fast food counter.

But it’s not me. Really. It’s you.

1950's House Wife Cat painting

Who is this woman, capable of "doing it all"?

I logged into my MSN Hotmail account, to check my messages for the umpteenth time, and came across this entertaining blurb in the sidebar:

“10 Things Women Do That Drive Guys Crazy” posted in the Lifestyle section by Glamour magazine.  Being curious, I deviated from the boring task of checking spam and reading Facebook updates, and clicked on the link to discover how men “really feel” about the women in their lives.  I always find these articles amusing because I tend to agree with the men on most issues, and have since realized that I must not be a typical female… if jealousy, clinginess, and obsession with commitment are truly “female” traits.  I’ve met some guys who would test that assumption.

This article, however, made me laugh for an entirely different reason. With each declaration, I felt myself dying to point out the similarities between the Pot and the Kettle. (Psst, they are both black)   

So here are my thoughts on your Top 10 Pet peeves, guys:

1. “Hair. In. The. Tub.” – Andrew, 31

Okay, so what about men’s shaving facial hair in the sink?! There is nothing grosser than walking into the bathroom to brush your teeth, and finding a layer of beard stubble clinging to the sides of the sink. Or how about men who cut their own hair using those electric razors, and then leaving the clumps on the bathroom floor, for us to sweep up.

2. “Examining multiple cans of soup” – Dave, 37

Yeah, this one gets me too. Everyone is so obsessed with reading the soup labels, looking for that evil MSG, sodium, and trans-fat, perhaps they should start making their soups from scratch and forget preserved canned food altogether. But I personally like how men can blow $100 on groceries and come home with nothing except snacks. 😉

3. “My girlfriend makes fun of me for laughing at my own jokes” – Chris, 37

Hmmm, I’ve had men make fun at me while I put on my make-up or fix my hair, because I guess they found my primping routine silly. And yet – surprisingly, they suddenly decide I’m more attractive once I’m “all dolled up”.  Go figure.
Do you want the steamy girlfriend/wife, or the girl in sweatpants and a ponytail?  If you answered ,”Steamy, baby!”, then close the bathroom door and live in ignorance while I apply this foundation and cover my dark circles.

4. “Disorganized loading of the dishwasher” – Chad, 27

Actually, that was MY pet-peeve towards certain male counterparts… nothing was getting washed thoroughly. Fortunately, I do all the dishes by hand now. 😉

5. She washes the bathtub before dinner guests arrive – Dennis, 31

Give her props! She wants a nice, clean bathroom that will not gross people out when they use the toilet.  If you don’t have a shower curtain to disguise the mess, they might walk past the tub and go, “Eeew, gross! Look at all your wife’s hair in the drain!” 😉

I personally wouldn’t scrub the tub for guests; it’s one of those chores I loathe to tackle, because it reminds me of that stint working part-time as a housekeeper at a Bed-and-Breakfast. Nasty stuff!

I guess my male equivalent to this mixed blessing would be not picking up after oneself. Men tend to shed their jackets, clothes, shoes and whatnot everywhere, and we walk behind them and toss everything into the laundry hamper.  Except the shoes.  And, hours later, they’re wandering aimlessly, asking
“Where are my jeans? I thought I left them over here.”
“Oh, you mean those dirty ones you’ve worn for 3 days? They’re being washed…. Sorry.”

6. “Women call and have nothing to talk about” – Chuck, 22

Oh, Chuck! Fortunately you have never met my ex-boyfriend! He was King of Calling for Absolutely No Reason… except to tell me that he loved me for the millionth time, because THAT was supposedly reason enough to interrupt the blessed few hours of peace I had.  He would also get very upset if I didn’t want to stay on the phone and talk about how much I loved him in return… indefinitely… or until his train arrived.

But seriously… that calling and chatting about nothing WILL end once you’re in a committed relationship (i.e. you’re living together). Pretty soon, she’ll get sick of seeing your face, and hearing all about your boring day at the office, and will welcome that bit of free time to herself.  She might not even answer the phone when you call. hehehe

7. Taking too long choosing from the menu – Ricardo, 39

My smart-ass side wants to reply, “Take her to a restaurant with a reputation for nasty food, so she’ll be forced to choose the only edible thing on the menu” …Or more rationally, “Stop taking her to NEW restaurants.” 
I’m sure she has an established “Gimme the Usual” repertoire of dishes at your favorite date places.

I liken this to the Great Mystery of Life – “DirectTV VS Dish Network”… raise your hand if you know a man who has obsessed for DAYS over that decision.

8. Talking while driving; being distracted – Glenn, 39

Hah! So we miss available left-hand turns… men, however, like to cut in front of people and flick the finger at the annoyed drivers beeping their horns behind us.
They also enjoy lane-jumping, to pass every creature on the highway in manuevers that should be reserved for a NASCAR track.. in some primeval urge to be the leader of the pack.  Not to mention the dangerous joys of spontaneous drag-race competitions with the fellow in the neighboring lane.  Pull over in front of this Taco Bell, and let me out! I’ll walk home.
9. Thermostat Wars – Charlie, 32

Yes! Finally, a point that I’m guilty of engaging in! I like my house warm and toasty, and most of my partners have preferred a slightly chilled room.
There is no right or wrong here… you can’t argue with personal comfort.  We averaged our desired temperatures together and found a median that serves us well.
Although I admit to playing upon his guilty conscience occasionally, by wearing an extra layer or two, like a sweater and coat. 😉

10. “The endless ‘Honey-can-you-do-this?’ list” – Shane, 30

Tired of the never-ending pile of chores? Awwww, poor baby. Hah! Welcome to adulthood!
Okay fine, switch roles for one week:
She can pay the bills, caulk around the tub, and repaint the deck… if you do all the cooking, cleaning, and baby-sitting. But don’t expect her to come running when junior takes off his diaper and smears himself and the walls with its contents. Remember, you’re the Mommy now! And that doesn’t mean letting the toddler run the vacuum while you play video games. 😉

Let’s face it, we humans have our flaws… and choosing a partner means taking their unique quirks into consideration.  Men: Is her disorganization something you can live with, considering how fantastic she is otherwise?  If the answer is yes, than don’t gripe about it! You have plenty of imperfections that she wisely chose to pardon.

I laugh at dating commercials, with their abstract ideals of “true compatibility”, because most long-term relationships are either bolstered or destroyed by mundane acts like this.  Many of my friends are divorced, and none of them confessed, “I’m a walk-along-the-beach-at-sunset type of person, and he wanted to spend his evenings at the bowling alley.”

So, in addition to asking how often a person feels satisfied in their career, and whether they consider themselves religious or spiritual.. they should include
such important issues as “How long on average does it take you to merge onto the freeway?” … and ….“How would you rate the amount of hair you leave in the tub?”

On a sliding scale: from (1) I rarely shed, to (5) I’m cultivating a rainforest.

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