philosophy


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.

Christian A. Harvey tribute

Christian Harvey, November 15, 1976 - March 20, 2011

Sometimes life throws an unexpected gut-wrenching twist into your predictable routine, and like the first ice-cold blast of water shooting from the shower faucet – in that instant when your mind is cruelly jarred into alert panic, you realize the water heater is not working….

Then the dread creeps in, frozen fingers tickling your spine, as you contemplate how long you’ll survive without the comfort and convenience of warm water.

Freezing water is just the tip of the iceberg, pun poorly intended.
We take nearly everything in our lives for granted – the things which give us pleasure and amusement, the things which keep us safe and healthy, have all become such an integral part of our environment that we cannot imagine life without them.

We may romanticise life in Colonial America or Regency England, but I doubt whether any of us would survive one week in such primitive conditions, without having a nervous breakdown and subsequent re-evaluation of our priorities.

When we strip all the excess finery away, we’re left with humanity’s basic needs. One of those needs is companionship and social interaction with other human beings.

The greatest technological achievements of mankind were developed specifically to connect people to one another.
Transportation to bridge the gap between towns and families, telecommunication to send messages farther that people could easily travel, and the invention of various appliances meant to ease our workload – presumably so that we would have more time to socialize.

Christian Harvey, Lorrie Whittington, Tara Fly Facebook conversation

Friends react to my horrible confession... I follow Martha.

 

People need people.

Yes, it’s corny… and I cringed writing it, because I can just hear Barbra Streisand’s voice crooning in my head:
“…are the luck-i-est peee-ople…”

(Go ahead, I won’t tell… you know you want to sing it!)

But it’s the truth.
And sadly, people are one of the ‘things’ we tend to value the least.

We get short-tempered with the incompetence of our sales clerk or waitress.. and vise versa.
We belittle our spouses when gossiping with our co-workers… and vise versa.
We lose our patience with our children, our parents and in-laws, our supervisors and “The Man”… and sometimes even wish
We could escape from them all.

We desire a quiet island or mountain-top, to sit and meditate, to commune with our own thoughts.. a place free from those blasted people who dare intrude into our lives and demand our attention.

However ignoring people comes with a heavy price. When you shut people out, it’s like turning off the hot water heater.
You don’t notice anything has changed, until… you turn on the faucet to take a shower.
Then it hits you, the icy frigid water, the lack of heat…
The lack of human company.
Suddenly everyone is… gone.

Christian Harvey and filmmaker John Waters

Chris and legendary filmmaker John Waters (from his FB album)

I lost a friend over the weekend, someone very special to many of us, but unfortunately I can’t say I knew him as well as I should have.

He and I had both managed large departments for a global, evil retail super center (Toys and Grocery, respectively)…
We made small talk in the company break room and during group functions.

I knew that he was passionate about charitable and environmental causes, that he grew his hair long and then cut it off for Locks of Love (at least twice that I can recall), he had an anti-establishment view towards government and authority.
He listened to punk rock and heavy metal bands, worked in his spare time as a sound technician for local rock bands and theatre groups, and generally considered himself a misunderstood outcast.

Christian Harvey technician in recording studio

Christian in the studio, courtesy of his Facebook Tribute page

He struck me as having a somewhat esoteric nature, that I wanted to get to know better but my reserved nature held me at bay.
Nevertheless, when we both gave up our jobs in order to pursue other careers, I decided to locate him on Facebook to “keep in touch”.

And as I imagined, we clicked right off the bat, and he became one of the most engaging and entertaining commenters on my somewhat mundane posts.
Each morning when checking my e-mails, I’d see a notification that “Christian replied to your post”, and I knew I was in for a real treat:
“This will be good; get ready to laugh!”

Christian Harvey, Sarah Phillips, Tara Fly on Facebook

He was always quick to reply with a quip.

 

Occasionally, I’d post something especially bizarre knowing he wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation to respond; he was also one of the few people on my friends’ list who could appreciate the morbid side of my humor.

Christian Harvey, Michelle Ahlstrom, Tara Fly joke about meat cleavers

For the serial killer who has everything: sterling silver meat cleaver earrings?

 

But while we teased each other with observations and witty cracks, it was still the online version of break room small-talk. I never took the time to dig beneath the surface of Christian’s charming exterior, to examine the personal demons that he kept chained in the basement.

Christian Harvey Facebook photo album plaque

He was the 'nice guy loser' in his mind....

 

Despite how far we’ve progressed in the year 2011, how easily we can communicate and share every bit of our lives with the rest of the world, people are still keeping each other at arm’s length. We still maintain this level of privacy and anonymity, and are very selective about who we let into our inner sanctum.

The trouble is, we have so many “friends”… but we don’t really have any friends.

Who are these people anyway?
We collected them because we wish to know them better… but many of us never make that effort.
We just string them along on our social networking sites, leaving breadcrumbs for them to follow and nibble on, and pat them on the head with our thumbs up of praise.

When it comes to a matter of great importance, a matter of life and death, could we depend on them?
And could they depend on us?

The news of Christian’s death, knowing we had just chatted on Facebook days earlier, made me keenly and painfully aware that I never really knew what was going on in his life.
I wasn’t checking in with him regularly, and paying close enough attention to the changes in his mood and behaviour.

Instead, I was performing my joint roles as wife and mother, obsessing over my silly website portfolio malfunction, worrying that my allergies and the full moon were hampering my creativity… truth is, I’ve been completely self-absorbed.
And sadly, this revelation doesn’t come as a surprise, as I’ve been introspective for years.

Christian Harvey Tara Fly facebook conversation March 17th

Complaining about my allergies on March 17th... three days before

 

But I lost someone who mattered to me, and it was someone I didn’t even realize mattered so much to me… until he was gone.
Like turning on the faucet and fully expecting to get hot water….

And as I contemplate what happens next, and pine over the lost opportunity to reach out, and dwell in darkness over how his mother must be suffering to lose her precious child…

I’m also making a vow to myself.
And to my son and daughters, my husband, my relatives and friends – both off-line and on-line…
That I will be more attentive in the future.

I will take those extra few moments to write back, to click your profile and read your messages, to give you more lap-time and cuddle-time (if you live in my house!), and make sure that everything I say and type is expressed in a kind, compassionate manner.

It won’t be easy for me.

I’m one of those people who craves “space”, and that ever-elusive “peace and quiet”….

But anyone who has lost a family member knows how depressing that “peace and quiet” is, which comes with an empty house, an empty room, an empty chair…
In all that newfound space, you’ll see shadows moving, and you’ll turn to see – hopeful and still-expectant to find your loved one standing in the doorway, alive and smiling.

All the technological advances, greed, and ambition in the world cannot replace what we need most…. other people.

Without love, we are nothing.

So I give you my love. All of you.
Oh, and a can of SPAM too!

Christian Harvey, TaraFly joking about SPAM cans

Sharing some crazy craft project ideas...

 

Those of you who read these words, those of you who don’t… and even the ones who are too young to read, but are sitting on my lap watching me type. You get kisses instead. Unless you’d rather have SPAM. ;)

Let’s hug and embrace each other, reconnect, and share who we really are.

[And on that note, I'm going to confess share that one of my favorite songs was written and performed by Metallica.
I'm dedicating "Nothing Else Matters" to Christian, even though he preferred Pink Floyd.]

canned vegetables and food pantry

Getting a peek inside our cupboards...

Last week, I wrote a fairly difficult post (for me, anyway), confronting my prejudice against the criminally insane… and how I’ve struggled to change my perspective on judging others.

It’s extremely easy from where we stand, to look at people in less fortunate circumstances, and blame them for their own misery.
I was raised to think that way. And I still believe in personal accountability.

The year 2011 is not even 1/12 over… and already I see a pattern emerging: this is shaping up to become the year which tests my faith and personal convictions.

Beginning with prejudice.

I carry around quite a bit of prejudice, typically towards people who moan and complain about being victimized.
Society is against them.
Their employers are against them.
The government is against them.
They just can’t get anywhere in this world.

You know people like this. You might even be one of them.

I’ve encountered plenty of obstacles in my short lifetime, but if I failed to overcome them or find a work-around, I attributed it to a lack of motivation or laziness on my part… not on some conspiracy designed to hold me back.
“Where there’s a will…”

Like many people who have never lived without, I’ve frowned on the “abuse” of the welfare system.
I’ve never applied for food stamps, subsidized housing, or the like; it looked like a joke being played on a naive bureaucracy. Don’t those silly state workers know “single mothers” have live-in boyfriends?

But before you angrily grab your keyboard to respond how misguided I am… let me finish, mkay? ;)

This year, changes are taking place around here… too early to be discussed yet.
But in the last week, I’ve stared the possibility of poverty square in the face, and it scared me. So I’m re-evaluating where I stand.

When you have $0.00 in your bank account, after getting work hours cut and paying some large bills, and with two weeks looming until next payday… you begin to panic.

You think about the last full gallon of milk: it won’t survive a week with three kids. It won’t survive 2 days!
You think about that 1/4 tank of gas in the car. The diapers, the cat food, the laundry soap…

You also begin to think irrationally, and your choices suddenly multiply: you could beg for money, you could steal, move in with relatives, or apply for welfare.

Or you could get creative.

That’s the decision I made.

a nearly empty freezer with popsicles and tostitos

Joe has anxiety attacks when the frozen dinners are gone

Taking an inventory of our cupboards and fridge gave Joe migraines, but we had to look past our convenience “Go-To” foods – to see the full potential of what we had stocked away.
You know those boxes of pasta lying around? Elbow, Bowtie, Spaghetti… cook them!
The canned veggies that nobody wants to eat… find a way to serve them. (Bwahahaha)

Our biggest concern was the milk situation. We hadn’t anticipated that we’d be broke, and didn’t stockpile on our most frequently consumed beverage.
The apple and orange juice disappeared very quickly, so I made sure to conserve our milk exclusively for the kids to drink.
Which begs the question: What did we cook with?

When I first became obsessed with homemade baked goods, I went crazy in the Baking Aisle of the grocery store, and purchased everything I might ever need:
Brown and white sugars, all-purpose and whole wheat flours, baking soda and powder, packets and refrigerated yeasts, condensed and powdered milk

When the milk alternatives ran out (every recipe seems to require milk!) we moved on to the heavy cream that Joe had purchased over the holidays for my homemade eggnog. We still had an entire pint of cream leftover!

I Googled “milk substitution” and one Know-it-All posted an article that you could NOT substitute heavy cream for milk.

However, I knew that 3/4 cup of milk + 1/3 cup of melted butter could be substituted for heavy cream, if you had none on hand.
So why not the reverse??
Since our butter was also low, and every recipe wanted butter, I tested the theory.

I made our pancakes with heavy cream replacing BOTH milk and butter, and guess what? It worked! Haha
The pancakes were still fluffy and delicious, and the kids gobbled them up without complaint.

So screw the Know-it-Alls. Don’t listen to them! ;P

The kids are huge junk-food fiends. Mia’s favorite snack is the Pop-Tart, and she can go through an entire box within days.
So once the two boxes of strawberry and cinnamon flavored Pop-Tarts were gone, despite our best efforts to teach a 3-year-old about conservation, Joe looked up recipes for homemade variations.

And we found an excellent one here, but you can Google “homemade Pop Tart” also…
Basically, it’s just a pie crust recipe rolled flat, cut into rectangles, and filled with jam, jelly, applesauce, a brown sugar cinnamon mixture, or whatever you like. :)
It turned out light and flaky, and reminded me of a Toaster strudel.

A handmade baked pop tart using pie crust and jam

Joe and Lydia's initial tasty attempt at Pop-Tart baking

We had a nearly full jar of strawberry jam in the fridge, and we also experimented with cinnamon applesauce.
It’s an easy recipe, with very few ingredients. Joe and Lydia made the first batch together.

Little girl hanging upside down on chair

Some days I measure my worth by those empty baskets... sad, huh.

My obsessive goal to keep up with our laundry was put to the test, when our industrial size bottle of detergent decided to run dry at the worst possible time. Sure, I tore apart the top of the container and rinsed the residual soap from its plastic sides into our machine. But it wasn’t enough.

That green box of Borax sat on the shelf, mocking my laziness.

Last year, a few soap sellers in the Etsy forums helpfully posted links to their favorite recipes for handmade laundry detergent… but they involved shredding mild hand soap with a cheese grater and boiling the scrapings into 5 gallons of boiling water.
I had all the ingredients, including the 5 gallon metal pail, but who wants to cook soap shreddings?? Not when detergent is more convenient. ;)

With no other alternative, I spent one afternoon boiling soap. It wasn’t terribly hard, and the loads came out smelling clean, but I won’t be using the grater for food anytime soon. LOL

“Going green” and “living sustainably” are hot buzzwords that many of us equate with expensive energy-star upgrades or tree-hugging communes. Those folks who ride bicycles in 15 degrees farenheit, trying to avoid snowdrifts.

But in reality, sustainable living includes finding creative ways to cut expenses, and being frugal with your resources.

Growing your own crops, canning veggies, using cloth diapers, boiling your own detergents, upcycling clothing, and making your foods from scratch (instead of buying factory processed Pop Tarts)… are just some of the ways to ultimately save your family money.

It’s terribly easy to become complacent when money is lining your pocket, and those microwavable chicken nuggets are tempting you.
I can totally sympathize – remember, I’m the girl who worships the clothes dryer! (Who wants stiff laundry crawling with spiders?)

But perhaps we can help out our less fortunate neighbors by teaching them to live sustainably, helping them to stretch their meager incomes.

You feel less “poor” when you have control over your environment.

I’m adding the decision to live frugally to my personal goals this year.
When our tax return arrives, the bulk of it will go directly into an emergency savings account, and we’ll continue to “live poor”.
Not starving and devoid of milk, mind you, but really taking to heart the recent lessons we’ve learned: Utilize everything we have, and find alternatives to save money.

Even if it means a bit of elbow grease… or in this case, grating soap! LOL

Do you have any awesome money-saving tips you’d like to share with me?

Orphan Stray Kittens, an acrylic painting by TaraFly

The Lost Ones - an acrylic painting of two stray kittens.

I’ve always had a morbid fascination with people who commit crimes because ‘the voices’ commanded them to do it.

What do these voices sound like? Is it your own voice… a loved one, friend, or complete stranger? Are they audible or suggestive? Do they echo inside your head, as if coming from headphones… or enter the room like disembodied specters?

I seriously want to know.

A few years ago, I briefly attended some sessions with a psychologist… and during the initial consultation, she asked me a series of ominous mental-health questions, such as “Have you had any thoughts of homicide or genocide?” and “Do you hear voices?”

I asked, “How would I know if I heard voices?” That unnerved her, I think. ;)
But she calmly replied, “Oh, you would know.”
Really?

It was eventually determined that I “suffered” from minor bouts of depression and anxiety, so minor in fact that I simply decided to deal with them (and save money on prescription drugs). They are lovingly referred to as my “mood swings”.

But there are no voices in my head, except my own.

Having never experienced a severe mental illness personally, I have a difficult time understanding and sympathizing with its victims.
I actually had to refrain from typing ‘victims’ in sarcastic quotes, because whatever we may think of them, they truly are victims of their own minds.

I’m sure many of you reading this have probably felt a similar sense of prejudice.
Raise your hand if you harshly judged Andrea Yates for drowning her own five children in their bathtub?
Oh, yeah…. my hand is waaaaay up there.

So she didn’t take her medication and was subjected to “voices” from somewhere, demanding that she murder her babies. If it were me, I would tell the voices to go jump in the tub and drown themselves instead.

After watching Shutter Island last weekend (my explanation for these ramblings…), I’ve been dwelling on the mental state of criminals, and how reality is an abstract form that differs from one person to the next.

I begin to realize that from where I stand, everything appears crystal clear.
Naturally, the voices people are hearing are malicious and wrong, I tell myself. Why presume this?
Because my conscience tells me so!

Ah, but what if the conscience and the Voice are one and the same?

That inner light of morality, which warns us of indiscretions with twangs of guilt and fear, is merely a by-product of our upbringing and environment … or as religious people would argue, it’s the “voice of the Holy Spirit”, warning us against sin. And everyone understands right from wrong…
Right?

But what if that same conscience could lead people astray, and convince them to do horrible things?

Perhaps this voice boomed down from Heaven like a divine Commandment. What spiritual person would dare reject the apparent Voice of God? By the way, it wouldn’t be the first time He’s demanded the sacrifice of our children (see: Genesis Chapt.22)
Maybe the Voice was testing Yates’ faith?

When we judge someone, we’re simply holding them accountable to our own moral code.
I’m guilty (a million times over) of making absolute statements: “I would never consider….”

Those presumptions are wrong, however, because although I would not commit murder in my current state of mind, there is no guarantee that if I were sharing her experiences as my own that my response would be any different.

You simply cannot know why an individual chooses one path over another, without swapping brains with them Frankenstein-style.

Scientists say that we live by a unique roadmap which was shaped long before we were actually born.

What your mother ate for lunch each day during her pregnancy, any drugs she might have taken, and even her emotional state (and stress levels) contributed to your physical and mental development as a fetus.
After birth, your immediate environment continued to impact you… the hospital staff, your first home, your siblings, teachers, neighbors, television, church, and if you listen to health fanatics on my Facebook wall – even those Brown Sugar & Cinnamon Pop-Tarts that are loaded with HFC and brain-altering chemical additives.

Life may be full of choices, the options are quite limitless… but depending on how and where you are raised, your personal view of the world has been conditioned to be quite narrow and absolute. Although, being “narrow-minded” in this particular case isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Some would never consider having an abortion, or foregoing college, or voting Republican, or cheating on their spouse, or eating tofu…

So how could they possibly understand or sympathize with their neighbor down the street who is struggling with a messy divorce or pregnant 13-year-old daughter?

Have you ever been in a situation where you felt belittled and misunderstood?
Perhaps on the phone with a bank clerk or creditor?
…Or in the check-out line when your card is declined?
…. When the officer pulls you over, and you’ve left your wallet in the other pair of pants?

Have you accidentally bumped into someone with your shopping cart?
…Or your perfect child suddenly throws tantrum in the store over a box of cookies?
… And your sincerest apologies fall on deaf ears?
And the faces of everyone around you are scowling with disapproval or blatant disgust?

You worthless and sorry excuse for a human being.

You should be ashamed.

You shouldn’t be a parent.

Hold onto that memory… and think about how it really feels to be judged by others.
When your best explanations turn into ashes in your mouth, unable to convince people of your innocence.

They don’t understand your situation.

They aren’t hearing your voices.

Dominic the tuxedo cat looking out window at snow

Dominic was disappointed by the snowfall this morning.

Being a working artist, whether self-supporting or struggling, is a mixed bag of delight and disappointment. I can’t paint a rosy picture for you, and if I could, I’d sell it for a billion dollars because everyone wants one.

There is one thing about being an artist that totally rocks, however… and that is my social circle. I have the creme of the crop talent-wise at my fingertips, and not only do they inspire me daily with their imagination and ingenuity, but these kind-hearted creative folks are always willing to give me a few words of knowledgable advice or thoughtful encouragement.

2011 Calendar designed and illustrated by Jessica Doyle

A 2011 Calendar, designed and illustrated by Jessica Doyle

Jessica Doyle is one of the most talented artists/illustrators out there; she specializes in ink drawings, colored pencil and watercolor, although she can jump to acrylics or digital media effortlessly when the mood strikes.
If you aren’t already familiar with her work… you soon will be, but remember where you “discovered” her first. M-kay? ;)

I first found her while searching for a review on the Epson line of printers that Carrie Hawks, another awesome cat artist, recommended that I try. Carrie’s favorite model, the R2200, was discontinued … and a search for the next upgrade (the R2880) led me to Jess’s fabulous blog.
I devoured a year’s worth of posts in one afternoon, and one private goal of mine is to read the entire blog from beginning to end.

2011 calendar illustrated by Jessica Doyle

Printing and measuring the calendar

Following her on Facebook, Twitter, Etsy, WordPress, Buzz, and Flickr… eh, does that sound stalkerish? …over the last year and a half has been really meaningful for me, because she is full of insight and wisdom. And she doesn’t mind sharing it with us.

I’ve especially enjoyed watching her e-commerce baby being born… The Handmade Cloud, she calls it.
We both took the self-hosted webstore route, but her patience and dedication has paid off with a beautiful online retail shop to showcase her work, that she designed herself with some help from a coding expert.

Imagine how tickled and honored I was to be invited to test-drive a new feature! A select few lucky folks (hehe) were able to freely download a PDF copy of her very-much-in-demand 2011 calendar…

Cutting the Jessica Doyle calendar with X-acto blade

Trimming Jess' calendar with an X-acto knife

The calendar is available for purchase by everyone else here on Etsy, and on Handmade Cloud.

I didn’t yet have a calendar purchased for next year, so her gift was greatly appreciated. The other day, I organized the studio (again) and de-cluttered it, so today I enjoyed a bit of quiet time printing Jess’ calendar on – our - Epson printer… and assembling it under Merlin’s supervision.

Merlin the cat and Tara Fly in art studio

Merlin demands a chin scratch or else the printer gets it!

I guess he didn’t trust me with X-Acto knives. Funny thing, I’m scared to death of pricking myself with a sewing needle, but the real danger in slicing into one’s finger with a razor blade never occurred to me.
Did Sleeping Beauty traumatize me as a child?
I’ve ripped into hundreds upon thousands of cardboard boxes during my 12+ years working retail, that box cutters seem like a useful claw attached to my hand.

I did, however, encounter one particularly terrifying thing while printing this little calendar.

A scary nightmare alternate reality Jessica Doyle calendar

Mushrooms from my nightmares....

Mushrooms!

One of Jess’s paintings featured mushrooms… and I’ve been scared of toadstools and mushrooms since childhood.
Seriously.

Did I ever tell you about the evil mushrooms that hide in tall grass, waiting for young children?
They spring up and attack the innocent frolicking girls, and tear into their flesh with razor-sharp fangs… blood-thirsty toadstools can eat an entire child in a few grizzly hours.

As a five-year-old, I commanded my grandfather to hunt and kill all the toadstools in our yard before I would play in the grass. I stood fearfully on our brick patio and watched him scour the lawn, uprooting any he could find. He also fashioned a piece of twine into a lasso, as a weapon for me to use in self-defense. I practiced throwing it over their monstrous heads from a safe distance.

Yeah… don’t get too philosophical with me. I’m sure there’s a Freudian explanation buried in it somewhere. ;P

Jessica Doyle 2011 Calendar September and August artwork

Those paper mushrooms will not hurt me...

So… anyway… I might just cut August’s page in half and reuse that artwork for September. ;)

Jessica Doyle 2011 calendar with ribbon tie

Tying the pages together with a scrap of ribbon.

A bit of leftover ribbon that was too short for any other purpose was perfect to hang it from the wall, in place of my ugly, utilitarian calendar. It was still displaying the month of June…

My goal for the new year is to actually make some long-range plans, to set deadlines for myself, and to create my own calendar (and some Christmas ornaments, too) for next fall.
If the world is going to end in 2012, I can’t procrastinate too long, huh? :P

Jessica Doyle calendar on wall with stink bugs and computer

I discovered two stink bugs while hanging her calendar...

When I took the current calendar down (hey, it was June, for crying out loud! I doubt it’ll be missed) I found two stink bugs hiding underneath it. Everyone following my updates on Facebook or Twitter knows about the obsession I had with our infestation of stink bugs this summer. (They taste like cinnamon!)

At one point, I actually followed a group of them around, documenting their every move with my camera… with the intention to write a dramatic dialogue for them. No need to worry if you don’t recall reading it, because I didn’t post it anywhere. LOL

two stink bugs on wall

A Few Days of Our Lives, starring Annie Bugstede and Taylor Stinkler

I took this romantic interlude as a good sign. I am slowly surrounding myself, and my workspace, with positive vibes from dear friends. With Jess’s artwork now hanging on the wall, and Merlin the cat cuddling with me, and the stink bug couple dreaming their dreams and building a nest…

The life of an artist is pretty fulfilling, sometimes scary, always colorful, and slightly cinnamon flavored.

cat dressed for communion with Jesus portrait

My cat Flicker all dressed for Communion ... (circa 1991)

I’ve been involved with every Protestant religion known to man or God at some point, and dabbled in a few earth-based religions as well, before deciding that the Universe and I would never agree. Not that my opinion holds much weight in the face of a Black Hole.

But for some reason, Catholicism has escaped me. Or rather, I’ve never set foot inside a Catholic church except to attend my cousin’s high school graduation.
(She went to one of those all-girls’ schools – St. Something-or-other – operated by nuns)

That isn’t to say that I haven’t done some homework on the subject however, especially with my love of ancient history and British literature. I also seemed to gravitate towards Catholic friends, unconsciously, and even married one. Although he was one of those wayward-types who doesn’t attend mass anymore.
But the mysteries and protocols surrounding their practice provide me with hours of curiosity…
And too many questions.

Take confessionals, for example. Simply put, you step into a phonebooth-style closet and discuss your sins with the priest behind the curtain, who as God’s appointed earthly emissary has been given the holy power of absolution… so he forgives you, and then requires that you repent with x-amount of prayers performed on a beaded necklace.   (My mother gave me a rosary as a child, but never taught me to use it).

What would happen if I suddenly decided to confess… would I be bound to recall every sin I’d committed in the last 25 years?  I’m almost 31 years old, but apparently the first 5 years don’t count against me. ;)
….Or is the age of reason seven years?   (I’m afraid to Google it and become sidetracked for 3 hours reading articles on Thomas Paine)

Lord, there have been so many regrets and bad decisions made in the last 10 years alone… it would be a very daunting task indeed to list them all, and just imagine, I’d probably be praying on beads for the next 30 years.

When I was studying Latin, I got a kick out of watching the Catholic TV channel. It was a fun challenge to keep pace with the sermons, and every time I could successfully translate phrases like “tertia die resurrexit a mortuis, ascendit ad caelos, sedet ad dexteram Dei Patris omnipotentis”   I would squeal with excitement.
I imagined the priest and I had our own secret language.

[Lord, the spell-check had serious issues with that phrase! Perhaps I should program my Latin dictionary into WordPress.  Or is there a widget?]

But I also remember watching the nuns reciting their “Hail Marys” – over and over and over and over – and how truly forlorn and tired they appeared.  I couldn’t help but wonder what the Once-Virgin Mary thought about all these depressing rituals… I mean, if you’re going to say “Blessed art thou amongst women!” you could try to sound joyful about it, or the point is being lost.
Isn’t it?

A former co-worker of mine was sitting in the lunch room, reading an inspirational book written for Catholics… although it’s been 10 years and I can’t remember its title or author (too many sins clogging my mind), she left it lying on the table where it sat until she left, and then I opened it to the page she’d bookmarked.

It was discussing the damnation of Protestants having forsaken “The True Religion”… now there is a phrase that would send icy chills down the spine of many Dark Age prisoners. People were beheaded for simply refusing to accept The True Religion, which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
If their souls were damned, why not at least let them live until a ripe old age before sentencing them to burn in Hell?
One of the biggest complaints against the Church is why everyone is so Hell-bent on damning everybody else.
You’re a Methodist, therefore you’re going to Hell.
You Mormons and Lutherans will burn too.

We are all reading the same Scriptures, except for those “lost” passages that might explain everything, and yet there are hundreds (perhaps thousands) of groups professing wildly different interpretations. But we’re willing to condemn and kill people to maintain that we are right. Right?

I wonder what cats think about religion? See, cats supposedly do not have souls at all, and therefore do not have to worry about Hell and confessing mortal sins.
It is accepted that animals don’t even commit sins… although we cat owners would beg to differ.
Spitefulness is a sin, is it not? And my cats will puke in my shoe just to spite me.

Grace Christian church day school in Bowie Maryland

My kindergarten class at Grace Baptist School (1985)

I’ve been arguing the point of animism (animals having souls) since childhood, and the clergy have been adamant against the idea. Although if you talk with ghost hunters, they’ll admit to running across animal spirits occasionally. Hmmm.
One of the reasons I studied paganism for awhile, was because it seems implausible to think that human beings are the only creatures worthy of possessing a soul. Every living thing shares energy that cannot be destroyed. If you’re tempted to quote Genesis 1:26-28, don’t bother…

In fact, I just read the first two chapters of Genesis last week, when Mia grabbed a Bible off the shelf under the assumption it was a bedtime story. Fortunately, she drifted off to sleep before I reached Chapter 4, where Cain bludgeoned his brother to death with a rock. I didn’t want to give her any nightmares… or any ideas. ;)

There are very few Old Testament stories appropriate for children, including Noah’s Art, which is a popular nursery theme…. WHY?! For Heaven’s sake… people and animals drowned due to God’s rage, but their bodies aren’t painted floating in the pastel waters underneath the pretty rainbow.

(Daniel and the Lion’s Den, David and Goliath, Shadrach and the Furnace… they are gruesome and violent enough for Hollywood to prey upon for plotlines)

But if animals do have souls, did Jesus die for them as well?
If we could translate Scripture into a language understood by our furred friends, would they accept their salvation?

For awhile now, I’ve envisioned doing a series of paintings surrounding Biblical stories recreated with cats. Even Joe read my mind recently, and suggested I paint the Birth of Christ – depicting the holy family as a mother cat with her litter.  Which one would be Jesus?  It might confuse the wise men, eh?
Perhaps all the kittens were saviours…. now that would be an interesting twist.

My grandmother was a huge proponent of Christmas celebrations.  Every year, the extended family would travel hundreds of miles to our Bowie home for the holidays.   She was the glue that held everyone together – the reason for our season – and the feasts and parties were such a large part of my childhood that one wonders why I shun them now.
I guess my holiday phobias stem partly from the degeneration of our family after her passing.
Anyway…

December was a flurry of UPS packages arriving daily and trunks of decorations migrating down from the attic. She was an avid collector of knickknacks, and for Christmas, her enormous collection of Nativity scenes would appear on bookcases, end tables, windowsills, and inside glass hutches.

One year, I sculpted her a gift from oven-baked clay – a feline Nativity, and she praised its creativity and placed it alongside the others, without any mention of the potential blasphemy of portraying Jesus and family as cats.

Blasphemy.

There are so many paintings that I’d love to create, but that word scares me into pushing them aside.
But why?

I’m not interested in shock-value… it’s never been my intention to create disturbing or derogatory artwork. Honestly, I’m not trying to put down anyone’s faith.

Looking back, I see that sculpture as my way of reaching out to God to make peace.   Cats and Christianity have been themes in my art for some time … Medieval Priest Cat and Church Choir Cats are two recent examples … because it reflects the conflicted position I find myself in.

Reject the religion of my childhood, or those beliefs which have always felt honest to me. And who would I be, if not part cat in a human skin?

Child playing with cat

Flicker and I caught playing with cat-toys...

Cats are fascinating because they live outside our rules and don’t abide by religious dogma (hehe, and why should they? It’s merely Dog-ma after all)… yet they seem to be fully in tune with their purpose and what life is all about. Cats attend to their basic needs, for shelter, food, procreation, and company.
They provide for their young, defend their homes, and seek out relationships with humans and other animals.

I don’t see them consulting Dead Sea Scrolls, constructing marble temples, or embarking on Holy Crusades.
They don’t question which Truth you believe. They don’t even ask you to confess.

I wonder, if you did manage to drag a cat into the booth, and he admitted that the stinky pile of poop behind the sofa was his… (and those paw prints in the pumpkin pie), would the penitence be divided by seven to accommodate his shorter lifespan?

Otherwise he might be praying on rosaries for the next 2.5 lives.

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?

Gypsy Belly Dancing Calico Cat Twirling

My Gypsy Dancing Cat was inspired by celebrating freedom and life.

The Snow lies deceptively.
Its reflective purity covering the soil beneath.
But Judicial Sun shines truth upon the fragile web.
Deceit retreats in tears.

- TaraFly, circa 1996

I wrote this little poem in my junior year of high school, for a creative writing assignment. I had completely forgotten these four lines until recently, when I began mulling over the direction I’ve taken in my creative career.

It was originally written about a boy I knew; a cunning liar who fooled everyone with his charms and honest face.

Today, it speaks to me about personal integrity, and the importance of being authentic and true to your vision. Otherwise, the false pretenses will melt away under the intense scrutiny of friends and strangers alike.

When your life is an open Facebook, you cannot sustain a lie very long.

I wanted to blog about “embracing your inner odd-ball” and turning off those pompous voices who demand that you surrender to trends and fads.
I’ve rewritten this post 3 times already, and the first one was pretty humorous, but it took the entire day to write and didn’t quite come together.
I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such trouble putting my thoughts into words – perhaps because it’s a tough subject to tackle with confidence.

I’m still battling these demons who tempt me.. wanting me to imitate the style of my competitors, under-price my efforts in order to “sell more”, and get caught up in the whole marketing game.

I’ve lost sight of what inspired me initially – to share my humorous cat-obsessed view of the world with others who would appreciate it….
I’ve transformed my love of painting into a chore – “I must paint something new this week”
I’ve pushed myself too hard in order to keep up with my peers – many of whom don’t have young children to raise, and their 14-16 hour workdays are providing their only source of household income.

The melancholy I’ve felt these past few weeks is the burden of self-deception… a fragile blanket spread over my life that was suffocating my creative spirit.

I need to be honest with myself, and honest with my friends, fans, and fellow competitors…
I need to remind myself every day, “If the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t wear it.”

I will walk barefoot instead, at a slower pace, and I will take the time to be inspired by the world around me, and to appreciate what I’m actually working towards.

Because in the end, the only gift worth giving the world is our true selves – our unique vision. So reach our your hand, and let someone accept it.
Speak from your heart, and someone will listen.

I drew my Cat Plant in honor of my mother… partly as a sarcastic joke, and partly to remind myself of how mysteriously our genetics work.
Everyone has limitless potential to grow into a unique character – there are oddballs in every family – and yet we are essentially connected.

Green Leaf Plant Growing from Cat

Colored Pencil drawing of a "Cat Plant" for my mother.

History repeats itself in many ways, even in our personal lives, where individual human nature causes us to seek out familiar situations and like-minded people.

As a child who was obsessed with cats, fancying myself as a human vessel for a cat spirit, it seemed only natural for me to detect the sub-human wavelength that signified another cat person was present. Ages ago, I was told that boys would find me more attractive if I stopped behaving like a cat, and yet boys who grew up with cat-obsessed mothers were drawn to me like …well, like cats to a bowl of cereal. LOL

Both my husband Joe and my ex-husband #1 (Lydia’s dad) were raised by “crazy cat ladies”… in households shared with fifteen cats at one time.

I didn’t realize Joe was a cat person when we started courting, but it became obvious when his cat eavesdropped on our phone calls… and purrred her approval into the receiver.

I’ve started wondering whether people have a genetic pre-disposition for cat-obsession… if it’s an addiction or disorder of some kind.

My oldest daughter likes cats, but isn’t obsessed with them by any means. She loves animals in general, has owned rabbits and fish, and has inquired many times whether she can adopt a puppy “when the cats die”. :P
Our 15-month-old son treats our animals like toys to chase and carry around. He thinks cats run on 4-AA Energizer batteries.

However,  2-year-old Mia didn’t fall far from her family tree… in fact, she fell with grace and landed on all four paws. She developed a full-blown cat obsession; she loves all-things-cat. She even pretends to be a cat just like her mother once did.

She walks like a cat, talks in “mrrrrws” and “purrrs”, she licks and scratches herself, and curls up in our laps. It has been adorable to watch, except that she occasionally takes it a bit too far. Joe has become annoyed with her less sanitary behaviour… the determination to eat her dinner from the floor, to “drink” from the cats’ water bowls, and even to bathe their fur…. yes, with her tongue.

Whenever we are forced to reprimand her, he growls,
“Mia, you are NOT a cat! Act like a human being.”
…and my residual childhood rebellion kicks in and replies,
“She can act like any animal she wants. There is nothing wrong with having a lively imagination.”

…except where germs and bacteria are concerned.

I always joke that she’s inherited it honestly…. but I do feel a slight apprehension for her, if it continues for too long.
She’ll wind up being teased and humiliated by her future classmates, and if she is anything like her stubborn mother, she won’t care a cat’s lick.
Although I’d love to see my kids grow up to be well-liked and sociable, I suppose that I’ll be in a good position to give advice and consolation to a young kindred spirit, who feels lost in this cold-hearted world of realism.

My own family valued creativity and imagination, and they never pressured me to change (although I’m sure they secretly hoped I’d outgrow the novelty of scratching and meowing)… but I always felt like an oddity, even at home. Like an exotic pet that amused them.

I’m not sure from whence my own behaviour originated, however, as none of my relatives hoarded animals or acted strangely. I grew up in the city suburbs, with a strict 2-pet maximum law (and they had to be restrained on leashes outdoors – even cats!)… but I doubt my grandparents would’ve owned 20 cats regardless.

Lady in the kitchen feeding fourteen 14 cats.

My late mother-in-law and her cats... circa 1980.

In fact, we moved to the countryside when I entered high school, and gained 5 acres of land. But no additional cats. Once the two family cats passed away, the house became vacant of furriness… as I had moved out, my grandfather’s health was failing, and Dad had remarried a lady with cat allergies.

My own mother was arguably the strangest person in my immediate family.
I recognize a few of her characteristics in myself, despite not having had much direct influence from her, after she relinquished custody of me at an early age.
However, she was never much of an animal person. Pets required too much maintainance. She didn’t want an animal that needed to be cleaned, walked, fed, or groomed. Nothing that shed hair on clothing and furniture, caused property damage with teeth and claws, or needed a scooper or litter.

She did own a hamster once …that survived for over 2 years somehow, trapped inside his poor little cage.

She likes cats in theory, but not in practice. She finds them attractive, provided they remain a decorative accessory. Something to brighten up a windowsill, that will sleep quietly all day and soak up sunlight, and require infrequent watering…

Orange cat with green plant leaves

…like a plant.

P.S. I’m sending this drawing to my mother, who won’t grasp its sarcasm. She doesn’t get online much or read my blog, so it’ll be our little secret joke… *wink*

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.
Why?
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. ;)

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