Living Large by Living SMALL

I’m sometimes convinced my purse is cursed. It swallows the things I want to find (it has happened on more than one occasion that I’ve had to empty out the entire contents in order to lay hands on the cell phone that has eluded me through three thorough rummaging-searches) and mysteriously fills with things I don’t need to find.

purse kitchen sink

everything AND the kitchen sink–a bursting purse

Seriously. Why did I end up toting Pizza Hut packets of parmesan, plastic Communion cup,  cinnamon-scented pinecone, tire pressure gauge, metallic Sharpie markers, a pair of chopsticks, completed crosswords, a fishing fly in a prescription bottle… Okay, not all of these things at one time, but those are actual examples of things my purse regurgitates when I only want my phone!  The lesson here is that if I have space, I WILL fill it—whether that space be in a purse or in a home.

If I live in a house, the STUFF I own will inevitably expand to fit the space. (I’m certain this happens without any help from me— surely I’ve played no part in accumulating said stuff, ahem…) If I have an attic or shed or garage or storage space, that stuff-expansion will continue till all the corners are filled in. Picture a marshmallow swelling in the microwave–that’s the sort of bloat we’re talking about.

movingI’ve moved eight times in the last eight years, each time with enough boxes to build a fortress. Each time packing, hauling, and unpacking all that Stuff. I would intend to sort and dispose, but I’d cave to the “Keep-its,” afraid to get rid of things I might want or “need,” hesitant to let go of sentimental items or gifts… Every time I packed more stuff than the previous time, instead of less.

The stuff I owned was owning me right back.

I suppose I could take comfort in the fact that this is a thoroughly American dilemma; it shouldn’t shock anyone to hear that Americans invented the self storage facility, an industry that Slate magazine called “a surprisingly fertile cultural indicator.”

What’s the most ubiquitous business in America? I would have answered Starbucks, but the New York Times reported this country supports seven times as many storage facilities as Starbucks stores, with customers’ “third-most-popular use” admitted to be “storing items that they ‘no longer need or want.'”

from a LetGo.com ad

skydiving with sewing machine: a LetGo.com ad

The humorous ads for LetGo.com might be puzzling to people in other countries (the continent of Europe apparently has about 1 storage facility for every 25 in the U.S.) but we here in America understand the underlying truth that makes them funny: people here DON’T let go of their stuff…

I may not have been paying out extra monthly money to keep the stuff I didn’t want to keep, but I was still dutifully packing and moving all of it at least once a year.

fifth wheel RV camp

Home! 350 square feet…

This February I married Jon and we moved into a fifth wheel RV. It’s good-sized for an RV, 40 feet long with a toy-hauler “garage” section for the motorcycle and some storage. Still, we’re talking something like 250 square feet of living space and another 100 for the garage. Big for an RV, yes, but tiny-house-small compared to most American dwellings.

I was watching a marathon of “Tiny-House Hunters” the other day in the RV park-office where I work (or where I work in busier months, anyway—this time of year it may not qualify as “working”)… I’m amused by the whole “tiny house” fad, and even more amused by the fact that the people who enjoy this show are some of the same who seemed aghast that we would consider moving into an RV.  The home-buyers in these episodes riff on common themes: simplicity, sustainability, mobility & flexibility, financial freedom, minimalism…

packingSo I picked up a word that’s new to me: Minimalist. It’s fairly self-explanatory, but I hadn’t heard it (or hadn’t heard it capitalized) until an episode in which a buyer repeatedly used the word to reassure himself about tiny-house squeezes. When his pragmatic sister challenged him with almost any question (“Where will you put furniture?“) he would automatically respond, “That’s okay; I’m a Minimalist.”

Another episode’s couple reported that they had taken the “Minimalist Challenge” before deciding on tiny-house living. The 30-day Challenge calls for disposal of one possession on the first day, two on the second,  and so on until the player/experimenter/prospective-Minimalist has either jettisoned 465 items or decided that Minimalism doesn’t suit.

Apparently I qualify as a Minimalist. I spent most of January sorting and winnowing, taking daily carloads to Goodwill and watching with satisfaction as my furniture walked out the door, piece by piece, on the shoulders of Craigslist buyers. By the time my mother arrived in town for the wedding, my three-bedroom apartment was echoing and empty, save for a small stack of boxes and luggage in the living room. “You must have some serious storage,” she commented. I didn’t correct her assumption at the time, but in truth, everything I own is now in this fifth wheel.

RV living room fifth wheel

still roomier than a sailboat…

Also truthfully, to a person who has long dreamed of living aboard a sailboat, this roomy rec-vehicle didn’t seem squeezed or unfeasible at all. Like a sailboat, it makes the most use of every space, tucking storage areas under the bed and in lofts by the ceiling… Like a sailboat, cabinets are built to keep objects from achieving flight when the home is in motion. Like a sailboat, the shower sports a hatch skylight and the toilet sports a flush-pedal and the tanks have to be monitored and maintained… It’s all familiar enough to be comforting, even exciting.

And for a Gypsyish soul like myself, the wheels beneath have as much appeal as the compact home itself. I have sat in the park office and watched my house roll by, knowing that HOME will be somewhere other than where I left it. And guess what? I didn’t have to pack a single box! (I will admit, though, that it felt odd to affix a license plate to my house!)

Gypsy-mobility is its own topic, about which I could write volumes (and probably will), but for now let me just say that my life is open for Experiences. When my counselor asked me recently what I want out of Life, “Experience” was the word that flew out of my mouth.

sailing skipper

greatest riches are in my mind… Skippering a sailboat, 2008

“Living Large” is not my aspiration; my greatest riches are in my mind. The things that fill pages in the box of journals stored in the RV’s extra bunk, or the pages of this blog. These are riches no one can strip from me—they won’t go into foreclosure or get repossessed or have a tax lien put on them. I may be an “anti-packrat,” but I do collect one thing: Memories. And fortunately, memories don’t require storage space—not even in the form of mementos or souvenirs.

The idea of minimalist living seems to appeal to many people on the surface—just look at the popularity of magazines like “Real Simple,” which hawks facsimiles of Streamlining & Simplicity with exorbitant price tags! …but minimalism does require some Letting Go. Actually, a lot of it.

vase of flowers

“small space” DOESN’T have to mean “cluttered”…

I had a conversation in the park office the other day with another full-time RV-er whose possessions are piled up in storage units, and who expressed curiosity about how I had managed to minimize my own Stuff enough to eliminate the need for storage. Like most Momentous Things, it’s deceptively simple.

Um, I got rid of the Stuff.

I suppose a person (if she does want to minimize) has to consider the various reasons why she has been keeping the Stuff she has. Does she use it or wear it regularly? Is it Important to her for some reason or another? Does she feel “guilted” into hanging on to it? Does she love it?

Things in the “use-it-regularly” category I kept. You might be surprised what a small pile that is, compared to the sum total of the Stuff you own!

storage boxes

TWO sentimental-storage boxes… (AND some unused space)

“Important” things—well, that can be subjective. I kept the little fire-proof safe with birth certificates, passports, and the like. I kept a large-ish box containing four decades’ worth of journals. I kept a smallish box of mementos: a handful of my kids’ baby-things, my own baby-blanket, some other items I feel strongly about… But honestly, the majority of things I’d been saving for “sentimental” reasons could fulfill their purpose in a photograph as well as in person. I took pictures, and I let things go.

fifth wheel autumn

the view out my window: my Best Friend’s home…

Things I would have felt guilty about getting rid of, I offered to the other people who might feel strongly about them. I gave things to my children, who live elsewhere; I took family-furniture to my parents; I handed family genealogy records to my sister-the-historian. And some things I really didn’t need. The current FaceBook comments from high school classmates mean more to me than what they wrote in my yearbooks a quarter-century ago. I dismantled bulky photo albums and simply kept the pictures.

Living a mere mile from the Oregon Trail, I feel a strong affinity for its travelers of long ago: people who embarked on a new life with everything they owned stowed in a very small, mobile space. The trail is ahead of me—we’ll see where it leads.

imagehome is where we park itI’m packed, and I have more than I need. At the end of the day, as the country song goes, “Ain’t never seen a hearse with a trailer hitch!”

(If you haven’t heard the song, I recommend spending the three minutes—just click below.)  :)

 

 


Gypsying (OR: A Borderline Personality Working on Borders)

hand of cardsIf you’re not familiar with poker, the thing to understand is that you start a hand with some cards of your own, and you don’t yet know what other cards will be available to you to use in that hand. You have to “sign up” to play that hand by putting some money in the pot before the other cards are revealed, and there’s a minimum amount (the Blind) that’s essentially the baseline price of admission to play. Sometimes people will bid higher than the Blind (if the cards they CAN see bode well for play, or if they want their opponents to THINK that), but sometimes a player will hope to see the next few cards without investing a great deal up front. Calling the Blind, or going in for the minimum amount, is called Gypsying, or Limping in.

RV fifth wheel Grand Design

I literally do live on wheels. Here’s HOME cruising by my workplace one day…

The other day my counselor told me several times that the word “Gypsy” describes me. (I don’t think he even knows that I literally do live on wheels, in an RV!) In that same day, reading a book about Borderline Personality Disorder*, I got forehead-smacked by chapter-headings titled “Playing the Dealt Hand,” and “Learning to How to Limp.”

With the word “Gypsy” on my mind, and the poker-connection of Gypsying or Limping, those headings felt significant, so I read mindfully; I believe in Messages rather than Coincidence. (“As my first Sponsor always said, “Coincidence is God’s way of staying anonymous!”)

The chapter in question talked about practicing change, which can be “a monumental struggle” for a Borderline Personality. Okay, that sounded odd to me at first, given my own very-varied past performances in Life… On the surface, you wouldn’t tag me as a person who struggles with change.

Borderline Personality Disorder job changeIn fact, if you look at my behavioral patterns over recent years, you’d probably say that I don’t Limp In or Gypsy (at least not in the poker sense) in most decision-making moments.  I throw myself headlong into whatever I’ve decided to do, nothing half-assed about it.

You’d probably also say that my resulting Journey has been remarkably Gypsyish in nature—-in the sense my counselor may have intended, of “one who follows an itinerant or otherwise unconventional career or way of life”…

And perhaps the conflicting senses of that single word are suited in their own way—Borderline Personality seems to be defined by opposites.

contradictory notesI’m a black-and-white thinker in many ways, but I might change my mind about which is which. My old black is my new white. Or my old turquoise is my new pink. I’ve joked before that the surest way to ensure I WILL do something is for me to vow I will “Never” do it. In any given moment I am certain of my beliefs, and will act on them without pausing for thought… But I also coming to distrust my sense of Self because I’ve switched up my paths (and some beliefs) so many times.

Part of that is just LIFE happening. I have to make a choice based on the cards in my hand, before I get to see any of the other dealt cards. And it’s sometimes fitting that the “big reveal” of the next three cards is called the “Flop.” The trouble with a bad flop comes when I’ve bid high, putting a lot on the line rather than Limping In. And that’s where my Gypsyish propensity to go All In serves me more sadly than if I’d actually “Gypsied.”

Case in point: my ill-fated (and brief) marriage two years ago… I didn’t know much more about the man than his name when I said “yes”—and a great deal of what I did “know” turned out to be entirely fabricated. Within a matter of months I was broke, pregnant, and reeling, clutching annulment papers that he’d agreed to sign in hopes of evading criminal charges of polygamy.

That’s an awful example of a situation where there was no real reason to go “All In.” Instead of staking everything before gathering the pertinent information, I could have been unblinded by waiting to seeing his “cards” for the considerably lesser price of the Blind. (As a frustrated friend put it, “Have you heard of dating first? Maybe you should try it!”)

And here we have it—“Impulsivity” is one of the hallmarks of the Borderline Personality.

walking contradiction feet

a walking contradiction…

In other words, a defining trait of a Borderline is the habit of NOT consistently keeping habits. (Irony, anyone?) Along with that, consider the word describing Gypsyism: Itinerant, defined as “habitually traveling”… or you could say, habitually resisting Habit.

William Least Heat Moon wrote about traveling that “you are what you are right there and then [because] people don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.”  Imagine the freedom of defining yourself only by the present moment, without the context of habits or roles or expectations.

borderline personality disorderNow imagine the confusion when a Gypsyish Soul is asked to describe herself honestly. In order to accurately answer, I’d need a time-tag to the question! I’ll happily tell you all about myself yesterday, or two years ago yesterday—but those will be two drastically different depictions. No single snapshot-in-time would actually explain ME.

Where some people could self-assess with examples of accumulated life-choices, I’m truly at sea when faced with such an inquiry. (Please pause to send a prayer-of-patience to my poor counselor.)

sailing ship dictionary page

at sea without definition…

I’m at sea. “A ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for,” observed John Shep. Apply the analogy to people, and I’ve definitely been out there on the open swell—but feeling none too seaworthy of late, and I’m pretty sure my compass is fried.

My latest foray (and a type of travel for which nobody plans or packs!) consisted of ten days in a psychiatric ward. Strictly speaking, a foray isn’t just a brief excursion, but a sudden attack. Precipitated by my own mind’s attack on my Self, and reciprocated by the attack of the Self on the problem of that mind, those ten days functioned like a Pause button on the stimuli of daily life, giving me some time to study myself in something like a vacuum instead of in situ

The hospital environment certainly fulfilled Least Heat Moon’s vision of a place-and-time where a person does not have to fill any expected roles. In there, I wasn’t defined or identified by being anybody’s daughter, mother, employee, wife. I was simply Kana. I hung out in hospital scrubs and (ironically, given the intensive amount of reflection going on) didn’t see a mirror for the duration.

tinker

…and my brother-in-law calls me “Tink”…

While I was there, I began the Project of becoming more Self-Aware, questioning the assumptions about myself that I had been holding as absolutes, tinkering with my self-image and behaviors. (“Tinker” is an act of repair or invention. It’s also used to mean Gypsy.) And while Gypsycraft might usually refer to foretelling the future, I’ve undertaken the assignment of dissecting my present and past for clues to my Self. Clues to my own role in my own life.

When Kreisman & Straus wrote about borderlines finding “different aspects of their personality emerge in different situations,” I identified completely. As a kid, I loved a song my mother taught us that began, “If everybody had a tail and chose its shape and size”—and went on to enumerate the different types of tails one might choose for different functions. I was so enamored of the idea that I created an entire wardrobe of interchangeable tails to pin to my pants, and my sister and I played “Tail Monsters” for months.

If I offload the accessory appendages, who am I really? I find I’m overturning assumptions, and even some of the trivial discoveries can shake me a bit, just because it’s disconcerting to realize I’ve been wrong about mySELF. Case in point: I’ve been certain, for years, that I hate pink. My passionate protestations have achieved the level of “family joke”–I refused to dress my infant daughter in pink even though the world assumed the blue-clad baby must be a boy, and my husband Jon jokingly threatens to dress ME in pink if I misbehave…

pink shirt

test-driving PINK…

Yet one evening in the hospital I found myself choosing a pink set of scrubs. (“These appeal to me. Do I wholly hate the hue?”) Imagine Jon’s amusement when I told him over the phone that I intended to buy a pink pullover when I got out. Yup, that’s right: I’m test-driving pink.

And okay, I like it. But even with an adjustment that is more symbolic than substantial, my brain can create complications. My black-and-white thinking (or in this case, pink-and-turquoise thinking) urges me to decide between the pink and my habitual turquoise shades of dress. Of course there’s no earthly reason for this to be a mutually exclusive choice, but my mind wants to make it one.

image

It’s no mystery which side of the closet is mine… turquoise!

My entire closet (minus the single pink top) consists of shades of teal-and-turquoise, to the point that acquaintances refer to these as “Kana’s colors.” (I respond by joking that “when everything goes with everything, it’s easy to shop, easy to pack for a trip, easy to get dressed in the morning… When I find a great purse or scarf, it goes with everything!”) Apparently this has become important to me. I literally won’t buy a sweater I (otherwise) love, if it’s not in “my” color palette. If the addition of one pink pullover throws me into mental turmoil, I’m definitely having some identity issues.

All I can conclude is that some Gypsying (of the poker variety) is in order. No more jumping in till I’ve seen at least some of the cards.

stay where there are songsAnd probably some Gypsying of the exploratory variety is in order as well—continuing to get to know myself, as it were. I don’t yet know what that means, but I’m open to the journey.

 

image

hubby Jon reading the “User’s Manual” to ME…

*The book on Borderline Personality Disorder  recommended by my psych-doc “to see if it resonates” with me… Um, YES.

Kreisman, Jerold J. & Straus, Hal. I Hate You–Don’t Leave Me: Understanding the Borderline Personality. Penguin, 2010.

 

 


Singing in the Shower

Fozzie Bear : Singing in the Shower is all fun and games until you get shampoo in your mouth. Then it becomes a soap opera.

I’ve been chewing shampoo!

It’s fairly telling that my most “recent” post here dates from almost two years ago. It’s even more telling that I haven’t FELT like writing for two years. (That should be a red flag for a person like me, right?) And the real irony is that there was plenty to be writing ABOUT in those two years, which have played out like a soap opera on the screen of my life…  (To borrow the analogy from Fozzie Bear at the left, when suds get in your open mouth, your shower-song becomes a soap opera. I’ve been humming along as if everything were fine, when really I’ve been chewing shampoo!)

But after two years of twists & turns (or twisted turns) I found myself singing in the shower for real the other morning—which is a GOOD sign for me. Even though this particular rendition of “What a Beautiful Morning” took place in the uncurtained shower of a psych ward.

Clinical Depression isn’t new to me (or to this blog), but thanks to my little vacation psych-stint, my medical chart has a whole new line-up of initials added. B.P.A.D… P.T.S.D… O.C.D…B.P.D…. Bipolar Affective Disorder. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder. Borderline Personality Disorder. With all those disorders getting applied to me, I think an out-of-order sign is in order for my forehead!

out of order signJoking aside, I’m grateful. For each of those sets of initials, there’s now a treatment plan in effect. And with a new sense of perspective and self-awareness, I’m actually dealing with [cringe!] my emotions regarding events of the last couple years. I’m not good at emotions, but I’m tackling them.

In a blog that has previously served as a pretty comprehensive Journal of my Journey, I feel I should fill in that two-year gap with at least a “Cliffs Notes” catch-up before I start writing about THE NOW…  No doubt I’ll be treating a lot of this in greater detail at some point, but for now, for those who wonder what the heck has happened…

October 2014. Husband Keoni leaves me by means of his successful suicide attempt, literally in front of my eyes. I close our restaurant and try to contemplate an entirely changed life.

December 2014. I think (now) that the manic side of that Bipolar diagnosis can go pretty far in explaining my impulsive remarriage. (“Impetuous risk-taking behavior, anyone?) I will get to enjoy a few months of an imagined new life before I’ll start discovering all the lies on which that new life has been shakily constructed. In short, Dustin is a con man—among other things.

April 2015. Dustin doesn’t want me to work, but doesn’t want to hold down a job himself. When we do have money, he’ll do something like buy himself a guitar (which he’ll never play)  instead of paying the power bill. I’m becoming increasingly stressed about finances… And I’m utterly shocked at the sight of two pink stripes on a pregnancy test! I decide to treat this bombshell as joyful news (but note the revealing fact that I had to DECIDE on joy).

September 2015. Unexpected pregnancy may have been a jolt, but that’s nothing compared to the shock of Dustin getting served with divorce papers! The woman I had believed to be his EX-wife turns out to be his OTHER wife. (Well, one of them–turns out he hadn’t divorced his first wife either!) Oh, and it turns out that he had gotten fired from the “graveyard-shift job” for which he has still been leaving me most nights. Don’t know who “she” is, but she is not a job, and there’s not a paycheck. And now that I’ve kicked him out and filed for annulment, there’s not a husband.

baby ultrasound

growing a baby boy for Jennifer

My mother specializes in Adoption Law, and I ask her to find my baby a great family. When she introduces me to prospective mom Jennifer, I’m suddenly certain that God had a plan all along.

October 2015. I’m six months pregnant, unexpectedly single, and my van has just broken down. A kind man at my church sees me walking to Sunday services in hundred-degree heat and asks if I would like to borrow his extra car while I get myself sorted out. Jon has been widowed for five years, and he invites me to dinner when he gives me the car keys.  I’m not even thinking of this as a DATE (are you kidding?—did I mention “6 months pregnant“?) but I fall for him before the evening is over. (Literally. He picked me up on his motorcycle, and I landed on my rear in the parking lot trying to dismount. Ever graceful, that’s me!)

preemie premature baby

Greyson: 10 weeks early & just over 2 pounds

Baby’s not due till Christmas, but mid-October I’m in the hospital for an emergency C-section. Medically speaking, everything has gone haywire and sideways; I won’t get out of the hospital for several weeks, and tiny Greyson won’t go home with Jennifer for several months.

Jon visits me in the hospital and when he holds my hand I feel school-girl-giddy, even in a hospital gown and draped with tubes & wires and other unappealing accessories that comprise hôpital couture

December 2015. The annulment has gone through, my health is improving, the growing baby is a feisty fighter, Jon & I are getting serious… In other words, things are looking UP for the first time in a while. The illogical response of my alcoholic brain is to let down my guard—and pick up a drink. A LOT of drink.

“the new black” is NOT my color

After dropping my kids at school, I am arrested for Excessive DUI at eight in the morning.  Driving Jon’s car.  My kids are frightened and furious; neither one will talk to me for months. (Christian still hasn’t.)  Jon is furious but forgiving. I begin adjusting to life-without-license. Life-without-my-kids. Life-with-Probation-Officer.

On New Year’s Eve the ball drops—and so does Jon… to one knee, with a ring. I say “yes please!” My mother points out that I’ve been divorced, widowed, and annulled; I’ve gotten out of a marriage every way possible, so “how about if this one sticks?” Once again: yes please!

wedding day… waiting at the starting gate (OK, the church nursery)

February 2016. On the lucky 13th, a wedding. Not an impromptu spontaneous leap this time, but a real wedding. In our church, with our pastor, friends & family invited, “for as long as we both shall live,” Amen.

A week after our wedding we move into the 40-foot Fifth Wheel RV Jon has just bought us—he moving from his brother’s house and I from my now-too-empty three-bedroom apartment. Consolidating households and offloading extra STUFF is extremely satisfying. I’m offered a job working in the office of our RV Park situated right on the Boise River. I become fast friends with a near neighbor.

So….  This year has had its highs and lows… I gained a husband and a best friend and a home on wheels. I enjoyed my first seaside vacation in almost a decade. I lost my share in custody of my teens. I lost my dad. I grew a new person and gave him into the loving hands of an amazing mommy. I’ve enjoyed my job and RV living, but I’ve been virtually unable to get myself writing. I’ve had a more solid “safety net” (emotionally, financially) than I’ve enjoyed for years, but my moods have hit some new lows that don’t align consistently with the circumstances.

Newport Oregon

with My Jon on the Oregon coast

The above fill-in history should provide enough context for me to be able to write about my current life without confounding my previous readers, but there’s another bit to add today. The thing is, the last couple years have been over-full of drama & trauma—and until now, I haven’t actually dealt with a lot of that. I’ve been stuffing shit under the rug until I’m standing on top of a rug, on top of a pile of shit, and still maintaining that “I’m okay!” Yeah, that was awful, but I’m okay now. And “being okay” has seemed so important to my own self-image that I’ve even fooled myself into believing it. Throw in some additional un-diagnosed mental health issues, and my emotional life was becoming inexplicably dark. Hence my recent ten-day tour in a mental health facility.

It’s time to peel back the rug and start actually cleaning out the accumulation beneath. So here I am at the keyboard. And I’m happy to report that when I sang in the shower this morning, it wasn’t a soap opera. I’d call it a Praise Song.

sandal feet on the beach

feet on a fresh path…


Jon (Desert Storm combat vet) holding Service photos of himself, his brother, and their dad

Jon (Desert Storm combat vet) holding Service photos of himself, his brother, and their dad

An unrelated thought on this post-Election Veterans’ Day…

Heartfelt THANKS to all who have Served our country and sacrificed for others. 🇺🇸
We live in a country where people DO that for others, and THAT is something of which we should be proud. Let’s remember this week that we don’t have to be defined by our politicians–we can be defined by our heroes.