My Outdoor Bedroom: Thoughts on Living Weird. Happy and Weird.

May 26 2017

I used to think I didn’t like the outside. I’m not a long-haul backpacker like my most outdoorsy Oregonian friends. I don’t enjoy endurance hikes, forced-march style. I don’t even go on leisurely grandma walks around the block. But once I was able to tackle outside on my terms — biking in the sunshine, kayaking because I get to sit on my ass in the water, and hiking where hiking means sauntering through the woods and meandering up mountains rather than tight timelines and a race to the top — I was IN. All the way in. Mud in my toes, scrambling over boulders, bugs in my bed, IN.

I started sleeping outside this week, but not in a sleeping bag on a hard pad on the ground. Nope; I started sleeping outside, but in a real bed with sheets, soft pillows, and a ragged, faded plaid down comforter I bought for my first apartment 26 years ago.

{Psst… Greg and I made out on that comforter a lot.}

It’s pretty close to heaven on earth, and it’s 100% Outside My Way.

Greg only grumbled a little when I pestered him for days and days to pull the old iron bedframe from the storage loft, and I went ahead and ignored his eye-rolling while I stole the nightstands back from our Goodwill pile. I mean, I don’t want to brag too much, but I’m really good at ignoring eye-rolling now. Also, sighing. Also-also, the slow shaking of Greg’s head side to side in weary disappointment. I can ignore it ALL.

See, Greg is of the opinion that one bedroom inside a house with things like Protection from Inclement Weather and Temperature Control — Not Very Many Giant Fuzzy Spiders and Zero Raccoons with Razor Blade Teeth and Beady Little Demon Eyes Peering from the Blackberry Bushes — is plenty of bedrooom for me. Greg thinks I don’t need a second, outdoor bedroom. Greg thinks, if I’m going to invest time in a house project, maybe I should finish painting the hallway — or the other 47 things I’ve started — instead of creating a redundant living space in the backyard.

Poor Greg. Bless his heart. And we can pray for him. <– This is our Greg Liturgy. Amen.

As for me, I’m certain this is the Best Idea Ever.

I’ve been fighting Depression again lately. It’s been a rough couple of months. I think. Maybe a rough couple of years? I don’t know. That’s one of the symptoms of mental illness, really; the Not Knowing. The trying to decide if this is Normal or Unhealthy. Is this a Phase or Do I Need Help? So I’ve been fighting Depression again lately; I just don’t know what “lately” really means. I’m bobbing up and down in Ocean of the Unknown. Getting hit by waves of Anger and Hurt and Worry and Blah. Finding myself underwater. Pushing again to the surface. Suspecting this is just part of what it means to be human in all its complexity. Suspecting this is just circumstantial and easily explained. Suspecting none of that’s right at all.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Mental health is a giant jigsaw puzzle, after all, except we only have some of the pieces. The rest we have to go on a scavenger hunt to find with murky clues. We never find them all. And so I manage my mental illness a lot of ways. Partly through medication which saved my life. Partly through pursuing Joy these days instead of the Approval of Others which has made this life richer and fuller and weirder than ever.

So I keep doing Weird Shit that makes me happy instead of Normal Shit in its tightly controlled box of Acceptable Behavior. These days, I’m spending my time building fairy houses out of wall holes. And making my bed outside.

 

I feel like I just keep leveling up on Weird. Things that make No Sense to others, I’m pursuing anyway, and I’m finding Joy there. It turns out making my bed where the dirt gets in is a piece of the puzzle — the piece that looks like watching the stars before I fall asleep and hearing the wind in the cherry trees and waving at you, always waving, in the dark.

With love, friends, from this little piece of earth,

 

 

 

 

P.S. I want you to know, so I get credit, I ironed the stained bed skirt before stacking the mattresses, which was wasted effort entirely since it’s all covered now by the wrinkled comforter. I suppose I could have ironed the comforter, as well, but I’d already ironed one whole thing and felt there was no need to go to ironing extremes. Besides, now the ironed bed skirt is symbolic of all the work we do that never sees the light of day. And it’s also symbolic of my guiding principle which is that Half Assed Is Good Enough. After all, mathematical integers prove that anything more than zero is in an infinite percentage more than nothing; since I ironed something, that is infinitely more than ironing nothing. INFINITELY MORE. And infinity is a LOT, you guys. A TON.

P.P.S. This is my view right now.

 

P.P.P.S. Good night.

The Definitive Answer to the Public, Private or Home School Question

May 22 2017

WE HAVE FINALLY FIGURED IT OUT. The answer regarding which is BEST — public school, private school or homeschool. After having our children in a cumulative 54 YEARS of school (five kids is a lot of kids, guys), we know the definitive answer, which is YES.

Question: Which is best — public, private or homeschool?
Answer: Yes. All of the above. Depending on the child, the year, the circumstances, the environments, the family, and the outside challenges, yes; each of them is the VERY BEST option.

Please understand; no one is more disappointed by this answer than I am. I was raised, after all, to believe in SYSTEMS. There are Good Systems and Bad Systems. My main job was to revere and adhere to the good ones like Evangelical Christianity, Public School, Republicanism, and Making My Bed Every Day.

Clearly, I failed.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Now, we’ve had our kids mostly in Public School over the years. We’re big fans of public schools. We’ve always voted for school bond measures and support tax increases that benefit public schools, even during the years we had kids in private school, because school bonds and paying for public education benefit all of us. In fact, we’re dismayed by reports this week that the federal government plans to gut public school funding and are wholeheartedly against Betsy DeVos’ plan which will undermine them horribly. Because blech.

So we’ve mostly had kids in Public School… and one kid in Private. But at least I didn’t do anything TOO radical like homeschool, you know? I had boundaries. LIMITS.

I mean, I wasn’t opposed to homeschooling in principle. I understand people can homeschool effectively. Especially if those people have things like a background in education and, well, patience.

I, on the other hand, LOVE sending my kids to school-school where school = Anywhere But My House.

I am the parent who NEVER CRIED on the first days of preschool.

I am the parent who ONLY LAMENTED PRESCHOOL DAYS WEREN’T LONGER.

I especially love school-school for the teachers. The TEACHERS, friends — real, not make-believe, who dedicate their WHOLE LIVES to educating our kids, preparing them for a future the teachers often don’t get to see. Yes; teachers are real but also MAGICAL. Teacher-fairies, if you will. And teacher-fairies put up with a LOT. Ever-changing rules, administrations, and markers for student success. They put up with PARENTS. They work weeknights and weekends and spend money from their own pockets to subsidize what kids don’t receive from the school budget. They receive lower rates of pay than jobs that require the same amount of education. And most of them are GOOD AT IT. Like, really great. Showing up day after day as a holy calling.

I, on the other hand, am not a teacher. Not by education. Not by calling. Not by talent. There are no teacher-fairies in this house. Which is why I decided to never, ever, EVER pull my kids from school-school and homeschool them.

^^^That’s what I said for YEARS.^^^

And I was RIGHT.

Except I just pulled my kid from school and I’m homeschooling him.

In retrospect, I’ve identified how this happened and will disclose it so you can avoid the same mistake: When our kids started school 100,000 years ago, we made a commitment to evaluate on an ongoing basis what each child needs from her or his education. <– That’s our problem, right there. Treating kids like individuals who may have different needs at different times.

And this kid? He needs to be home for a while.

We tried to get around it. We tried to delay and avoid going to HOMESCHOOL EXTREMES. But he asked on repeat that we reconsider. He wants freedom to fly through a higher math curriculum. He wants a break from the anxiety of attempting scholastic perfection. He wants to conduct computer and science experiments and to build a fort in the backyard. He wants more time to read for pleasure. It became more and more challenging to look this kid in the eye — this kid who adores learning, and is motivated, and already performs in the 99th percentile in his grade in every subject — and give him a reasonable answer as to why he couldn’t try. HE WORE US DOWN is what I’m saying.

So even though he had a teacher-fairy who was working her fairy magic…

And even though his twin brother is still going to the school-school…

And even though the school year is almost over…

And even though he has a mother who is not a teacher-fairy AT ALL…

Here we go. Homeschool is upon us.

It’s been just over a week now.

On morning one, I woke up with tiny thoughts of dread, like “WHAT HAVE I DONE?” And, “I CANNOT DO THIS.” And, “THERE IS A REASON TEACHERS ARE TEACHERS. It’s because they have an AFFINITY FOR TEACHING, and TALENT, and EDUCATION TO BACK THOSE UP. On the other hand, Beth, YOU ARE A FOOL AND A PRETENDER and YOU ARE GOING TO RUIN YOUR CHILD.”

And then Cai, the 4th grader, walked into my room and said, “OK, Mom, I have the schedule all figured out. I’ll be reading a time travel series for Free Reading time, and working on dividing fractions as a refresher for math in preparation for the more extensive curriculum you’ve ordered, but then I need you to take me to the library so I can study 19th Century French Architecture. Unless we already have a curriculum on 19th Century French Architecture somewhere around the house? No? Then definitely the library, Mom.”

And I thought, like I often do with parenting, “Hm. OK, then. Maybe I won’t screw this up quite so bad if I just get out of his way.”

So that’s the new plan. We’re homeschooling — the Thing I Said I’d Never Do. And maybe I can get far enough out of my kid’s way so he can fly.

So far, he’s studying exponents, chemistry via bread baking, touch typing, magnets, hard drives, and, of course, 19th Century French Architecture.

He’s happier than I’ve seen him for months. More confident. More engaged. More interested in learning.

And that — definitively — is the RIGHT school choice. At least for that kid. For now.

With love, friends,

I KNOW THE ANSWER

May 6 2017

Is it mental illness? Or just my personality? I asked you yesterday, and today I’m happy to report I KNOW THE ANSWER, at least as far as the toast is concerned.

I know the answer, friends, because Greg, bless his sweet heart, made me a video.

This video, which you should listen to, as I did, with the volume ALL THE WAY UP:

Yes.

Yes, I definitely know the answer now, and the answer is this:

I AM A TOAST TORTURE VICTIM.

And Greg is so good at Toast Torture that I have a form of Stockholm Syndrome.

I have developed a deep psychological alliance — an ABIDING LOVE — for the very man who butters his toast in this manner. He video tapes it. He sends it to me at midnight. He sends me instant messages and texts until I watch it with the scritch scritch scritching turned to HIGHEST VOLUME. And, even as I cringe, friends, I also laugh and laugh and laugh, so complete is his brainwashing of me.

But it is NOT mental illness that drives me to want to love/murder this man.

It is NOT a personality flaw.

It is the fact, becoming ever clearer, that I AM A TOAST TORTURE VICTIM
and RAGE IS THE ONLY THING THAT MAKES SENSE.

The End

Love,

Is It Mental Illness? Or Is It Just My Personality?

May 5 2017

There’s a fun game I like to play. It’s called “Is It Mental Illness? Or Is It Just My Personality?”

I thought we might play together today, instead of keeping this delightful game selfishly to myself.

Ready? Here we go.

Lately, I’ve been pissy. <– That, right there, is a true truth.

Lately, I’ve been pissy, and mostly at Greg because a) he’s the luckiest, b) he’s in the closest proximity, and c) he thinks I’m the type of animal who eats from a trough, which he continues to insist he doesn’t think at all, but I believe I’ve made my case.

Now, about my pissiness, my family would say, “So? How is this any different than normal?” But that’s just because my family is mean and full of terrible people. Yes, technically I’m mouthy, and technically I’m mouthy with great frequency, especially where mouthy = opinionated and verbally demonstrative. After all, the Bible says whatever you do, do to the best of your ability, so I’m obligated by Christian duty to use my mouthiness to its full potential. Yes? Yes. That’s theologically clear. But I do try, honest, to use my mouthiness for good as much as possible; words of love, words of joy, words of kindness, words of peace. I’ve even learned, in recent years, to be OK with my volume — which is LOUD — and to own, more and more, the Power of Voice. The Power of Vulnerability. The Power of Using My Words — of Knowing Things and Not Knowing Things out loud and in public — as if it’s OK to be both human and divine, made of magic and mess, grace and grime intermingled.

However, the truth is, I sometimes… occasionally… move past the Magical Mouthiness and the Messy Mouthiness and into a sort of Prolonged Pissiness produced by Inexplicable Rage, which is, well, less than ideal.

And then I bottle my rage, seal it, and bury it deep, deep inside, where it cannot harm me or others. Except when it leaks. Which it does all the time because rage is corrosive and does quick work on both the bottle and the seal. That’s when the rage bubbles to the surface and breaks in adorable little pissy pops. *pop* *pop* *pop* … mini-rage bubbles bursting beautifully. Iridescent, shimmery, and suffocating the wildlife, just like an oil sheen on the ocean. Just as persistent. Just spreading everywhere, you know? Impossible to clean.

Now, my friend Heidi, who ruins everything, is trying to teach me how to be mindful; how to accept my feelings as they come; how to judge them as neither good nor bad; how to recognize and acknowledge them — Hey, look! I see you’re here to visit, Rage… or… JOY! I’m so happy you’re hanging out today! — before deciding what to do with them, or before, say, jumping Rage in the back alley, wrestling it to the ground with a switchblade in its kidney, shoving it in that bottle, lowering it into an unfathomably deep grave, covering it with dirt, and whistling while I walk away, pretending not to be bruised. So, sure, sure; Heidi’s way may be better, more healthy, and less brutal in both the short and long term, but my way is FASTER, friends. I think we can all agree.

Unfortunately, as we have discussed previously, inexplicable rage can be depression in disguise. UGH. And blerg. And boooooo. The trick, then, is to figure out what is a normal, human amount of pissiness to experience, and when have I plunged over the cliff into the eternal, turbulent sea of unmitigated fury? A sea where I sit my sexy siren self upon the jagged rocks with my hair whipping in the storm-driven wind, hungry for blood, and sing the song that lures my loved ones to their deaths? So. You can see where this gets complicated.

Usually, when I’m trying to decide whether my pissiness is a symptom of my mental illness or just, you know, my awesome personality, I use the Toast Test.

See, Greg has a very specific way of buttering his toast. First he takes the teeniest, tiniest bit of butter — a modicum of butter — an particle of butter — on the very tip of his knife and spreads it on a speck of toast. Then he studies it. The layout. The structure. He does a mathematical analysis of the next spot to put butter. Writes algorithms. Considers the best foundation for laying the next fleck. He conducts a study. He publishes his results in a peer reviewed engineering journal. He builds computer models. And then he takes another teeny, tiny bit of butter and applies it to a new granule of toast. Then he repeats. And repeats. And repeats ad infinitum, scritch, scritch, scritching that butter onto the toast. It takes days to butter toast. Weeks. Veritable years, I tell you. Whereas I do nothing annoying ever. The way I butter my toast is a model of grace and efficiency.

Logical Beth believes people should be free to butter their toast however they like. Reasonable Beth believes this is an inalienable human right. Rational Beth believes we needn’t come to marital or household consensus on the Correct Way to Butter Toast, nor do we need to Belittle Those Who Do It Wrong, even if they do it really, really, really wrong. Sensible Beth believes we Live and Let Live and We Love Each Other, Always, Anyway, even if we have different Toast Convictions, and, in this way, we shall not smother each other with a pillow.

Pissy Beth believes none of these things. Not a single one. And Ragey Beth feels the scritch, scritch, scritching inside her skull.

The Toast Test, see? When murder-by-pillow feels like a super reasonable alternative to witnessing the buttering of toast, it’s time to up my meds, friends. Or past time. You know… WAY past time.

Unfortunately, Greg hasn’t had a hankering for toast in, like, FOREVER, so I’ve been pissy but I have NO WAY TO KNOW whether this is a flare-up of the mental illness or just my darling personality.

I suppose I could simply ask Greg to make himself some toast, but I think he might do it quickly and with suspicion, so it kind of ruins the test.

In conclusion, there have to be ways OTHER than toast buttering to play this game. WHAT ARE THEY? Is it mental illness? Or is it just my personality? I’m on a need to know over here…

Delightfully yours,